Doctor Who? Ctd

Nov 22 2013 @ 8:09pm

A reader writes:

Following up on your question, “Are you excited as I am about the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who?” I just felt like writing in and saying that I’d match your excitement with mine any day. It is what Joe Biden would call a BFD. I’ve been devouring every spoilerific release and every fan theory like it’s a newly-discovered passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It helps that, unlike the last time there was an anniversary, the show is unquestionably fantastic television. It portrays a Britain at ease with its modern cultural identity and talks up to its audience. Its twists and turns receive media coverage almost on a par with major political developments. Its uncloseted fanbase is loud and proud, and for a whole country the cultural icons it has created are universally recognisable. For me, the core of the show is regeneration: the idea that one man can have thirteen selves who, despite their vast differences in personality and appearance, retain the same soul over time. And of course, as Craig Ferguson said, it’s about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.

By the way, I hope you have been able to catch An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ drama about the creation of the show in 1963. I watched it last night and I’m afraid my eyes were quite soggy towards the end. It’s not only a wonderful show; it’s an institution and an old friend.

A scene from An Adventure in Space and Time is below, along with several other reader reflections on the anniversary:

Another superfan writes:

I’m baking Dalek cookies and trying to decide what juice goes in a Sonic Screwdriver. And the past year I’ve been catching up with classic Who episodes. When I was in high school, the Baker episodes were on endless repeat on PDS here in Chicago, but I almost never saw anything else.

But even after reviewing them, I’m not surprised you featured a Tom Baker clip. The three men who came before him all did some terrific work (one of Troughton’s good episodes having just been rediscovered), but they were basically playing the Doctor as a clever human Trickster character – the smartest guy on the block who’s always a couple of moves ahead of you. They all told you they were alien (and Pertwee had the costume), but Baker was the first to really ACT alien – to react in ways that confounded his human foils (as in the scene you posted), as they looked on with this confused look on their face (“What is wrong with hims? That’s not how a human being behaves!”) unsure how to respond to waht they’re seeing. Sadly, Peter Davison couldn’t pull that trick off, and it all unwound after that.

Another dissents:

I am trying to keep my temper here, but your Doctor Who? post is so off base it’s making me furious. If I didn’t know you had grown up with the old series – and I am not questioning your honesty on this point – I would think you’d never watched it.

First off, your statement that the 4th Doctor is “querulous, curious, funny, and yet also all-powerful.” None of the first six Doctors were all-powerful or even close to it, Tom Baker being no exception. Just about every 4th Doctor episode ends with him in some sort of life-endangering peril, and the whole dramatic impact of these scenes is their ability to get the audience to suspend its disbelief and really worry that the Doctor might die. You seem to have a special affection for the Sarah Jane Smith character, and yet you’ve forgotten the many occasions on which she had to save the Doctor’s life. Here’s a very incomplete list of the numerous times she bailed his sorry Time Lord ass out of trouble:

  • Robot – Prevents the title robot from crushing the Doctor’s head with its foot after it’s knocked him unconscious.
  • The Android Invasion – Frees the Doctor when he’s tied to a bomb and rescues him from the Kraals’ duplication machine.
  • The Seeds of Doom – Saves the Doctor from being ripped to shreds in Harrison Chase’s fertilizer machine.

The Doctor didn’t become “all-powerful” until a knucklehead script-editor named Andrew Cartmel decided to turn the character into a left-wing superhero in an attempt to use the original series as a propaganda machine against Margaret Thatcher in its final years. (Seriously, Mr. Cartmel has proudly gone on record about this.) This was taken several steps further after the show was ressurrected – by fans of the original series, many of whom considered the Cartmel years the very apex of classic Who due to its political content – and now the Doctor is basically a god. As a result, the new series lacks tension. We know the Doctor and his companions are going to be fine, because he knows absolutely everything and is basically Superman on steroids.

Second, your statement “The Dr. never kills, unless by accident.” Another far from complete list of the 4th Doctor deliberately killing his opponents – or worse:

  • Terror of the Zygons – Locks the Zygons in their space ship and then blows it up.
  • Pyramids of Mars – Locks the character Sutekh in a trap he’ll be stuck in for the rest of his life and mocks him by asking him how long he thinks he’ll live.
  • The Brain of Morbius – Kills a mad scientist named Solon by pumping poison gas into his laboratory.
  • The Invasion of Time – Shoots a Sontaran with a demat gun.

The Doctor, while essentially a moral character, was never meant to be perfect or a role model; the first Doctor could be a downright anti-hero for crying out loud, willing to sell out everyone except his grand daughter to save his skin. The Doctor started out as a mysterious and eccentric, but vulnerable and dignified, scientist and explorer and has become an all-powerful superhero with as much dignity as Pee-Wee Herman. If you prefer an “all-powerful” and never violent Doctor fine, but don’t justify this squishy and bland version of the series and its title character by retroactively applying its flaws to its predecessor.

Another:

I thought of sending this last week when I took the picture, but there is no window pane in the photo. Today’s post on the Doctor changed my mind. Last week, I’m in a meeting at work when the TARDIS flew by:

photo-36

One more:

I started watching Doctor Who while in college in the mid-’80s. It aired on Friday nights on Iowa public television. At that time they mostly re-aired Tom Baker episodes. As you know, back then the show was a serial, with the story broken up into 4-6 half hour episodes; missing an episode would be like skipping half an hour in the middle of a movie. One Friday afternoon I drank way too many pints in my favorite bar before getting in the car to drive to a friend’s house for dinner and Who. I never made it because I was (very appropriately) pulled over for DWI and ended up spending the night in the county jail. Fortunately, booking was done before the 7:00 airing, and I somehow convinced the other five women in the cellblock to watch Doctor Who on our shared T.V.

I stopped watching after college. When the series re-started in 2005, I had no interest, but my geeky husband and kids loved it. One day in 2010, my daughter was watching “The Time of Angels” in the same room as me. I immediately became ridiculously hooked, and have since watched and re-watched all of the new Who episodes. I love them all, but Matt Smith’s Doctor is my favorite, and it will be a sad Christmas seeing him regenerate.

But before that, we have the big 50th anniversary episode tomorrow! No doubt it will be fantastic. We’re watching it at home on Saturday, and then will see it in 3-D at the theatre on Monday. Allons-y!