When I was about eleven or twelve, in a summer in the very early eighties, my cousin Mike came from Wisconsin to stay for a week. He started telling me about this science fiction show he’d been watching. He was really excited. There was this crazy time-traveler. Monsters. Adventures. It was British…
It was, of course, Doctor Who. For those who don’t know, the show debuted on British TV in 1963 where it ran until 1989. Then it disappeared until it roared back onto TV in 2005 where it was, and is, a HUGE hit. The show follows the adventures of a Time Lord called “The Doctor” who travels through time and space battling monsters and evil-doers and protecting the defenseless. To date, the character has been played by eleven actors, courtesy of a nifty plot device called “regeneration.” When the Doctor gets old or is mortally wounded (the actor who plays him has decided to leave the show), he “regenerates.” The Doctor comes back to life in a whole new body. New look, new personality, but same memories and obsessive need to save the universe.
Sitting here now, an adult, professional, father of two, I think the show is awesome.
When I was eleven, filled with the energy and freedom of youth, I thought the show was AWESOME!
That day cousin Mike told me about Doctor Who, we immediately started to try to find it on my local TV. I had to see this thing. These days, Doctor Who is everywhere; BBC America, SyFy channel, DVDs, the Internet. But back then, the only place to find it was late night weekends on PBS. How the hell Mike heard about it, I have no idea.
It just happened to be a Friday night and PBS was showing the first part of the six-episode adventure “Genesis of the Daleks”, an awesome story featuring Tom Baker as the fourth incarnation of the Doctor. (By the time, I discovered Doctor Who, the show was well into the fifth Doctor’s era – Peter Davison – but there was a huge lag between airing new episodes in England and getting the repeats here – again this was in the relative stone age of media). In “Genesis of the Daleks”, the Doctor was going up against the show’s most legendary villain, the soulless Daleks; evil mutants who live in huge metal canisters and destroy anything – “EXTERMINATE!” – that isn’t them. It was a fabulous episode for your introduction to the show.
The show was amazing. The books – at that time, just novelizations of old episodes rather than original stories – were a goldmine for playing catch-up with the then nearly twenty years of Who history I needed to catch up on. This new thing in my life, this new universe to explore, was thrilling, riveting, consuming.
I met Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka) who stared on the show with the 5th doctor at a fan convention a few years later. I’ve met a lot of authors and presidential candidates at events like that, but so far she’s my only TV star.
I haven’t talked to Mike in a long time. It’s been even longer since I went to a pop-culture convention of any kind. (Got my eyes on Comicon, though. Someday). But I still watch Doctor Who. And the story I just wrote in this post has been on my mind the last couple weeks. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s because one of my other favorites, “Breaking Bad” starts its final season tonight, while another, “Eureka,” airs its final episode Monday.
But like many things that rattle around in writer’s heads, a blog gives us somewhere to dump it. You’re welcome.
I suspect we all have something from our youth that, even though it was a vicarious experience, shaped who we are as much as anything we actively did ourselves. That might be a TV show we treasured, an amazing game we were in the stands for, or a concert we heard. Whatever it is, we hold onto it. It shapes our entertainment choices forever. And, once in a while, we have to share it, to remind ourselves why we like what we like and, maybe, to help our loved ones understand what might, to them, seem like quirky tastes.
For me, the entertainment itch relieved by this little sci-fi show with the often borderline acting and ever worse special effects (the budgets for the rebooted series now are WAY better and it shows) has never quite been replicated since. The show “Lost” was huge, of course. “Breaking Bad”,”Sherlock” (another British import), “The West Wing”, “Eureka”, and other “event television” type shows are all great. And when they leave, we miss them like a beloved friend who moves away, certain that we’ll never meet anyone else…until we do.
But, still, my response to none of those other shows compares to that first summer night when I was a kid and The Doctor came on the screen. I’ve got cousin Mike to thank for that.