Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Doctor Who: What have I been missing all my life?

Similar to Clara, I had a curiosity for BBC’s Doctor Who series, and walked away feeling mixed emotions of happy, sad, ecstatic, scared, confused, devastated, surprised, silly and excited. This show has a way of making you feel. Which is saying something because at first glance I did not expect for the show to have the depth, heart, and resonance to its various stories and characters. I started as a curious, casual viewer and ended a new Whovian (so I'm told the term is). 

A Fantastic Adventure

I had heard a lot about Doctor Who for a long time, but didn't really understand what it was about. I mean I thought Doctor Who was a name. 

I knew he traveled around in a blue police box, the show had been around since the 60s, and people are seriously obsessed with the show. I wanted to know why.

So as I said, it was plain, simple curiosity that led me on my next Netflix adventure. I started with the new seasons of Doctor Who on New Year's Day and have steadily gone through them all. I finally made it through the 50th Anniversary Special and the Christmas Special from this past year. Since I've finished I've watched a few of the Old Who episodes and plan on watching more, just to get a taste of what each Doctor is like.

When I started Season 1, I will admit it took me a couple of episodes to get me really invested in the show. It's a kooky, weird premise involving aliens and humans and space travel. The show could be silly and ridiculous and I wasn't sure if it was for me. It was fun, no doubt about that, but I needed more for the show to be sustainable. However, I had promised myself I would watch the whole first season and am so glad I did. The back half of the season is much stronger than the first half and before I knew it I was hooked. I needed to know what comes next.

It wasn't the stories that always kept me wanting more, but rather than the characters. There are some admittedly weak plotlines, episodes, and even finales that while distracting, didn't lessen my love of the Doctor and his adventures. There is an amazing character development in the show that is surprising and has you caring for characters you only meet for one episode, and loving the characters who travel along with the Doctor.

The Doctor? Doctor Who?

This show considers hard questions about what is right, what is it to be human, and how much we need one another. The Doctor is a tragic hero that struggles with his need of company and fear of losing them. It's that age old question- is it better to have loved and lost, than to ever love at all?

The Doctor is a complicated individual who is such a compelling hero because he struggles. He doesn't have all the answers and sometimes loses amazing people because of it. He simultaneously is brilliant but arrogant, ridiculous but serious, honest yet a liar, he loves and loathes. He makes you think and consider your own actions. With the whole of space and time before him his existence could be seen as both a gift and burden. He is a good man, but not a perfect one. He makes mistakes.

In response, I love him and pity him and laugh at him. He is struggling just as much as the rest of us in making the right decision, with loneliness, and grief. He runs away from his problems before meeting them head on. He is relatable in his flaws, his anger, and his compassion. The only difference is he just gets to handle this across the entire realm of time and space and sometimes even beyond that.

The Rose Tyler effect

So Rose Tyler is my favorite companion. It is through her that I got to know the Doctor and with her I got to be introduced to the Doctor. Thinking back I can't exactly point to why exactly I connected so much with her character. I'm not especially like her and didn't identify much with her home life. Yet, in spite of that I am a huge Rose Tyler fan. She is an ordinary individual given the chance to do the extraordinary.

And sure, I'm a romantic. I think their relationship dynamic also plays a large role in my feelings and I love considering the idea of the Doctor being in love (which for the record, I fully believe he was/is). It doesn't elevate Rose from the other companions, it is simply just a different kind of relationship. One the Doctor needed at time as the show seems to point out.

The Season 1 finale is scary and dark. It's full of death and destruction and the writers let you feel that hopelessness. Rose Tyler counters that effect. She is the light and shows an incredible will to sacrifice her life. She was an ordinary, average person who made decisions that I only wish I could make- that I hope I would make.

Her effect was so strong that even seasons and years later, her character is remembered and important and relevant to the Doctor. Slight spoilers, but Rose eventually leaves only to be remembered and missed again and again. She was my first companion, and her effect has not been lost on me.

I didn't dislike the following companions. I loved Amy and Rory, Donna, and even Martha. Just none connected with me in such a way that Rose Tyler did.

The David Tennant, Matt Smith effect

Christoper Eccleston was excellent as the Doctor. He was the Doctor. And then he wasn't. Then it was David Tennant and I was convinced there was no way I would  like the show as much.

And then I did. Then David Tennant wasn't the Doctor and Matt Smith was. You see where I'm going with this. I think credit is due to the actors who so convincingly embrace a character and make him their own, yet still remember their past lives and build on that. Each Doctor is different but still the same man.

I loved David Tennant's doctor, just as I loved Matt Smith's and Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. The Doctor is an engaging character that doesn't disappear and reemerge with each acting change. He rather evolves and remembers going forward. He isn't someone new, but an old friend who has simply changed over time.

He is a traveler and always looking for new things to see. He recognizes how big his world is and how much there is to see and do. One of my absolute favorite moments in the show is when the Doctor is talking to Amy and describes the reason for his travelling. There is just so much to see. Time isn't something linear to measure but a messy ball of experience and memories. Personally, I think that sounds more fun.

The choices he makes aren't made arbitrarily (usually) but under the weight of knowledge and experience. There is gravity to his character that makes him so compelling.

Sharing the Story

Doctor Who made me think about timelines and humans. About the humanity and morality of the universe and the consequences of the choices we make. This show has depth inside its ridiculous premise and somewhat absurd plot lines. It isn't afraid to be weird or silly one moment and the next serious and emotional. The show writers have the courage to take risks where sometimes they work and other times they don't. But, it's all okay because, ultimately, it's the characters that drive this show. Their stories make me willing to suspend my disbelief or just roll my eyes at some plot points before moving on to the next episode.

Doctor Who means something different to everyone who watches it. It has touched so many people and built a strong community across generations. Everyone has their story about what brought them to Doctor Who and I just think that is so amazing. I have my take on the Doctor and favorite episodes that may be completely different from someone else who watches the show. I love Rose Tyler, but others may connect best with Amy or Donna or maybe Jack. I  think that is the measure of a show with true depth. It is all up for debate.

Characters are left to be interpreted. It is not always completely spelled out. That leaves us as viewers the ability to imagine, observe, and ultimately make our own conclusions on what this show means to you. You can be drawn into discussions, debates and even arguments about various aspects of the show. Just do a quick search online- I promise you'll find what I'm talking about.

Stuff that matters (kinda sorta)

  • So who's my doctor? I love them all, but the talented Christopher Eccleston holds that position. He was the first doctor I saw and has a place in my heart.
  • The music also cannot be forgotten. I'm someone who pays attention to the soundtracks and Doctor Who's is exceptionally good for a TV show. I am of the firm belief that the emotional moments in this show would be significantly lessened without it. It is a part of the story and works with the show to share the story. 
  • Doctor Who returned in 2005, nearly 10 years ago! I would have been 14 years old. While I worked through the seasons I kept thinking about how fun it would have been to grow up with this show through middle school and high school. What? I think about these things. I know I would have loved it. But may have connected with it in a completely different way. Who really knows? If only time travel was a thing.

This show is silly and weird, no question about it. It has some storylines that fail, or bore, or don't make any sense at all. But it also has storylines that shouldn't work yet do, plots that pull at your heartstrings, plots that absolutely terrify, and characters you connect with. It's that amazing part of being human and interacting with the Doctor. Doctor Who means something different to everyone and I for one am so glad I jumped on this crazy ride.

Bottomline: Give the show a chance. I'll admit it does take a few episodes to get into it, but I promise by the end you'll be hooked. The characters come to mean too much to you. The moment I realized I was a fan is when the Doctor starts quoting The Lion King to an alien race looking to take over Earth.

I've got you convinced, right?

What are your favorite episodes of Doctor Who? Favorite companion?

Any suggestions for must-see from the Old Who?

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