Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How I Was Seduced by Doctor Who

(There are plenty of spoilers here.)

I've always had friends who love Doctor Who, the British science-fiction television show, but I could not get into it. I saw the old series on our local PBS station back when I had television, but it never pulled me in. Maybe it was the clunky special effects. My friends would enthusiastically try to explain the show to me, arguing over which actor was the best Doctor. I would blink at them dazedly, wondering how anyone could take this seriously.

When the current reboot of the show appeared on Netflix, I told myself I would try it again and see what all the fuss was about. I tried twice to watch the first few episodes with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. And I couldn't get through it. Both times I fell asleep. Clearly this show is not for me, I thought, and gave myself permission to ignore it.

But my friends kept raving. People whose opinion I liked and respected. People whose recommendations for movies I usually solicited. Maybe I should try one more time.

So I did. I struggled manfully through the first two seasons. I may have fallen asleep a couple of times, but when I woke up, I tried again. While washing dishes or folding laundry, I watched almost the first two seasons until I felt I could solidly have an opinion on the show.

And I hated it.  I hated the Doctor's arrogance, and his inexplicable loyalty to one timeline over another. I hated his contemptuous dismissal of his companion's "human morality." I hated the inconsistency of a randomly generated universe alongside discussions of morality, as though the two can exist together.

Most of all - and probably because it's presidential campaign season here - I hated the manipulative way the Doctor claimed two horrifying options were the only choices available, and his companion had to pick one. You must EITHER desecrate human dead OR commit genocide against an alien species! You must EITHER kill your father OR destroy the planet! You must EITHER enslave genetically modified humans OR condemn people to die horribly of disease!

Like I said, the campaign season is making me more than a little hostile to being told my ONLY options are lousy ones, and no, little voter, you cannot question the false dichotomy we've set up; just shut up and pick one. I was so fed up, I found myself shouting at the screen one night: Is this why Doctor Who fans are so rabid?  Does this show self-select for sheep?

So I was all set to give up on this show again, but there was still laundry to fold, and looking for a new show would require me to move the stack of wash cloths from my lap. So I kept watching.

And then there was the episode where The Devil tries to convince the Doctor to choose between EITHER freeing this devil creature to harm worlds OR killing the Doctor's friend Rose. And the Doctor refuses to accept the options. "I believe in Rose," he says, and trusts the rescue to his friend's ingenuity.

Hmm, I thought. That's interesting.

And then there was the season with Martha Jones as companion, and her insistence that saving individual lives matters even in the midst of catastrophic death. Her morality was particular and personal, and the choices presented in the episodes began to change.

And then I saw "Blink."

Wow, I said to myself when it was over. That was great television. I may never turn my back on a cemetery angel again.

I can't remember the last time a show scared me AND made me like it.

But what really sold me was Donna. I could not stop watching after Donna. She was played so perfectly - brash and abrasive and immune to the Doctor's charm. Donna made me a Doctor Who fan. In fact, if Donna Noble were running in our current presidential election, I wouldn't be nearly so reluctant to cast a vote.

(But she'd need to have been born in the US first. Or the Constitution would need to be re-written. I'm sure the Doctor could arrange either one of those.)

So now I have watched all the 2005-2011 seasons available on Netflix.

Erm. Twice.

It got me. It has completely, irrevocably got me.

(You are now free to say "I told you so.")


  1. Seriously? There are no comments after this?

    Well, I am glad you liked it. Now, the big question is, do you now like the first two and a half seasons that you hated before? And which of the newest doctors do you like the best?

    Also, my hubs refused to watch any more Dr. Who after he saw Blink. THAT was the one I chose to show him so that he could see why I liked the show.

    Interesting. I saw episode one of the new season and was underwhelmed in the extreme. V. disappointing.

    I have also enjoyed Being Human, both the UK and the US versions. Clearly the UK version is superior, but the US version isn't horrid. And, I actually really liked the Vampire Diaries. I was surprised by the character development.

  2. As it so happens, I am watching Doctor Who right this very second. ;)

    I actually think your experience of growing to love Doctor Who makes perfect sense. I happened to like it right from the beginning, but I was disposed to like it. British, sci-fi, sure why not?!

    I had mixed feelings about Season One - the story lines and special effects were cheesy and lame, but I personally loved Christopher Eccelstone. His arrogance and silliness didn't bother me, especially when you got to see that they were a cover for real pain and anger.

    Season two was ok...there were enough good episodes to keep my hooked, and I was gutted at the separation of the Doctor and Who. Sobbed my eyes out.

    But you are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT - Blink was the first truly great episode of Doctor Who. Before that episode, I liked the show despite it's flaws. Since that episode, I have loved the show. Some episodes are still better than others. The Steven Moffat episodes are usually the best. And I agree, Donna Noble was utterly brilliant.

    I am just now finishing up the 10th Doctor specials before moving on to Season 5 - still haven't seen any of the 11th Doctor yet.

    Like you, the morality of Doctor Who has from the beginning leapt out at me as worth pondering. I have the better part of a blog post about it written in my mind. I just need to finish my thoughts and start typing!

    1. BAHAHAH, laughing at this: " I was gutted at the separation of the Doctor and Who." Obviously I meant the Doctor and Rose. Just one of many typos in that comment - I really should proofread.

    2. Amy, I knew you meant Rose, but figured you were using some fan lingo I didn't understand.

  3. I was a little put off by wacky Christopher Eccleston and the low production values of the very beginning of the reboot but it did not take me very long to start really enjoying it. And "Blink" will be one of my most memorable TV moments for a long time to come. I loved David Tennant and was sooooo sad to see his run end, but now I find myself coming around to Matt Smith.

    We have friends here in town who are named Rory and Amy and they just had a baby girl.

  4. I'm so glad you posted this. I watched the first episode of season one and I couldn't...really just couldn't handle it. And I want to like it. I want to be cool!

    So maybe I'll try again, but start with Blink? What season/episode is that? Do I have to start from the beginning? Where do I start?

    1. "Blink" is in the the third season. I don't know if it's a good place to start exactly, but it is a stand-alone episode, and it might give you a better idea whether you could like the show. The two preceding it are also good: "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood." If you try those and still don't like it, I'd say either give up or try a different Doctor. I've been enjoying Matt Smith too, who started in season 5.

  5. Sadly Canadian netflix doesn't carry the newer Doctor Who series. And like you, I just can't get into the older shows. Have you tried the Sarah Jane Adventures? My boys love them.

    But David Tennant's Doctor is so lovely. And yes! Donna Noble. So much fun. Have you seen Catherine Tate and David Tennant's Comic Relief skit? It's so good. Here's the link:

  6. It was 1965 when a friend had a birthday party and we went to the film, "Dr. Who and the Daleks." We thought it stunk, but the word "Exterminate" became stuck in our lingo. It was in the 1980's that I caught up with the Dr. and I have followed the series as best I could on American T.V. I almost quit when the BBC obsession with alternate sexualities became too overbearing, but soldiering on, this year's episodes on BBCA have been quite good.