Over twenty years of watching Doctor Who (looking back at...)

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Summary: This week, I watched the Brain of Morbius, one of the "old Doc" episodes of Doctor Who. It has now been over twenty years since I watched my first Doctor Who episodes. Come, watch me reminisce.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

(04:32:18 CST)

Over twenty years of watching Doctor Who (looking back at...)

My grandfather died somewhere in the 1980s. My mother's father. And my step-grandfather. They died very close together, and I never can remember which one went first. In a strange coincidence, they both had the last name of Wiggins. My grandmother married two unrelated men with the same last name. I wonder if being pragmatic had anything to do with it? No changing of the address forms or checkbooks or anything. Whatever her reasons, by the end of the year (and I was eight or nine at the time), I had inherited an old black-and-white TV set from one of them. And that is how I always remember that TV: the TV I got when one of my my grandparents died.

A television set is a particularly enclosed type of freedom when it only gets three or so channels; but what it did get me was the chance to watch something different from what my father watched. As true of most kids in single-set homes, my control of the TV lasted only from the time I got home from school to the time that he got home for work, a period of maybe a couple of hours. Having that dinky little TV in my room meant I could watch whatever I wanted to, assuming it was on. By the time I had gotten that freedom, though, that window-of-time between my-school and his-work led me to consider PBS the absolute pinnacle of television. NBC would have random talkshows and boring stuff on. CBS might have some after school special, but those are meant for adults to watch and worry about their kids. I do not think we had ABC yet, but even if we did, it would have been no better. At that time afternoon programming was mostly TV for the older folk who might be retired. PBS, though, had all sorts of goodies, and upon getting my TV, it was my primary channel to watch.

Those who know PBS know that it is not the best channel for keeping kids interested, at night, unless they are into things like Antique Roadshows; but a couple nights every week there was something interesting. The Edward Gorey inspired (drawn?) opening of Mystery, the Classical-infused opening of Masterpiece Theater, and, most importantly, the weird techno-drum stylings of Doctor Who's opening. Saturday nights on PBS, starting about 9 P.M., right after The Lawrence Welk Show, it would kick in: dun de dunn de dunnn de duuunnn...weeeee wwooooooo, wwwwoooo weeeee woooo. Then the blue police-box TARDIS would show up, and then Tom Baker's face. The first episode I saw was somewhere in the four episode ark called The Face of Evil. I try, and fail, to recall how PBS aired them. Was it two or three episodes a saturday night? Maybe four? I know it was more than half an hour. It went on long enough that I would often fall asleep in the middle and wake up hearing The Star Hustler talking about some planetary alignment that was awfully boring to a nine-year-old. Then PBS would go off the air. What an odd thing to end with, you know? Anyhow, after my first night of watching Doctor Who, I was introduced to Leela, the savage woman companion, who would become my first crush.

Sure, it was somewhat chauvinisitc: here's a diamond in the rough who gets to be civilized by the Doctor. It's not quite the same as a guy fantazing about a woman giving sexual favors for fixing a flat tire, but it is about the same. It also formed something of an important prototypical fascination with womankind for me. When, a season or so later, she left; I was so broken up over it that I woke my mom up at 11 P.M. to say, sadly, "She's gone!" (My mom somehow understood)

Over the next few years, I would guess six or seven, I watched the Doctor and his string of companions go through all sorts of cheap sets and deep adventures. As a kid, I never quite appreciated the older three Doctors, Tom Baker and on were my favorite. I sort of regret that now. The rules changed a lot under Tom Baker's years, but still; there was some classic and groundbreaking SF going on before he showed up. For those not in the know, the Doctor "regenerates" every few years to become a new person. This both allows actors to move on without the show having to come to a stop, and it makes up part of the mythos of the show. Another regular aspect of the show is that the Doctor gets several companions, most often but not always female, who help him out on his various adventures. They get shed more readily than the doctor, some only in it for short bursts, but several of the important ones (Romana, Sarah Jane, Rose Tyler) end up being just as big of a part of the show as the Doctor himself.

About two or three years after I started watching Doctor Who—we should be coming up on 1990 or so—PBS began airing episodes of Are You Being Served? in the first thirty minutes of the time slot DW had occupied. I was kind of amazed at first, and pissed a little, too. Here was comedy that was like American comedy, but, to me, better. The trade off was less Doctor. Then, sometime later, AYBS went to a two-episode block, and there was even less Doctor to watch weekly. Eventually, the show went off of PBS altogether and a block called "the Brit-coms" took over. Each week there were four different British sitcoms played, almost always with an episode of Are You Being Served? in the lead and other series including Keeping Up Appearances, May to December, To the Manor Born, and The Good Life. I missed Doctor Who terribly and kept wanting it to come back, but eventually grew to love, and even be a little addicted, to these new shows.

Go ahead and fast forward years later. I had heard of random Doctor Who tidbits here or there: "longest running SF show on TV" and "highly influential television". What I did not hear is that the show had basically went off the air about the time PBS had started paring it down in time, and this was likely linked to them not wanting to just reloop the same episodes they had already played through before.

Skipping to the end, I was excited to hear that the show was being revived. However, outside of catching maybe six episodes of the first of the new seaons, I fell behind. When it came out on DVD, the $75 price tag kept me back. Then came the next season and the next, and everyone was getting excited and making references to sonic screwdrivers and such and I was an outsider to the series that defined my imagination more than any other television show. It was an odd feeling. It's like an old time Trekker watching spinoffs like Enterprise and the new JJ Abrams movie get some traction into the canon and not knowing what to do with himself. I eventually sucked it up a month or two ago, bought the DVDs, and started watching them. The sounds of the TARDIS fading away, the classic beats of the opening theme...ah, memories. They connect to a deep part of my brain and it makes me quite happy, even with the cheesy special effects that creep through.

Speaking of cheesy, by the way, Sarah and I sat down and watched The Brain of Morbius yesterday, a four parter back when Sarah Jane was the companion. Really cheesy but so much fun. I am going to buy at least a handful of the older story-arcs and watch them. It's not just about reclaiming some lost sense of childhood, it's appreciating the genius that sometimes comes out of low-budget creativity; the sort of thing that I would not have appreciated as a child. While it is not exactly a trip down memory lane, I have to say, it does bring back some good old nostalgia. I'm loving it.

Si Vales, Valeo

2 Comment(s)

If you wish to comment, please use the form below or contact me in some other way and I'll add it as soon as possible. Thanks!

Niko says "Holy shit! Comments and RSS! You are now scrolling below my status bar with the Escapist, BoingBoing, and the Huffpost."

Doug replies: "Thank you, my good man. It took me a bit (and I know it's all like 2003 styled and could be better) but I am proud to have gotten it up."

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