Who taught me to love “Doctor Who?”
It was a rare case of love at first sight.
I came across the long-running British science fiction show in my youth while exploring PBS in the after-school hours. It was there among episodes of “Square One” and “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?”
Compared to those education programs, it was otherworldly.
Of course, it WAS otherworldly.
The Doctor, a Time Lord who could travel through time and space in a TARDIS that was stuck in the form of a British police box, visited foreign planets, even other universes, and inevitably was faced with an evil menace he felt compelled to subdue.
The mostly primitive special effects in the original run of the series, which were and still are derided by many adult viewers, served to make the show all the more authentic and powerful in my young eyes.
Speaking of eyes, like many American viewers, my first encounter with the program featured the wild-eyed, scarf-cloaked fourth Doctor played by Tom Baker.
Between the three PBS channels we received, I could catch “Doctor Who” every day of the week. That made it easy for me to catch up on the years of adventures the Doctor and his companions had managed to accumulate since 1963.
The Doctor was a hero to me. He prized intelligence over violence. However, that did not stop him from taking a stand against evil. He was fearless, and his curiosity always got the better of him.
These were qualities I admired.
Plus, he always had a strange assortment of items in his coat pockets, a trait I had also acquired.
I suppose “Doctor Who” fueled my interest in aliens, the supernatural and other strange topics at a young age — an interest that was also helped along by “The X-Files” in later years.
My intense interest in “Doctor Who” was a bit of a mystery to my parents, who tolerated the show but declined to become engaged with it. My grandparents and an uncle were more understanding. I could talk to them about this wily Time Lord. In fact, my grandpa would sit down and watch the show with me on occasion, and I would dutifully explain to him what was occurring.
Once I became acquainted with all seven Doctors featured in the original 25-year run of the series, I decided that the seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, was my favorite. I liked the darkness that lurked within his incarnation. He was the jester, but he seemingly pulled all of the strings.
When it was announced that the show would be revived in 2005, I was elated.
I had never stopped watching “Doctor Who,” listening to the audio adventures produced by Big Finish or reading the novels.
The Doctor was still very much alive to me, and to hear he would be returning to the screen was a dream I had nurtured since learning of the show’s 1989 cancellation.
I knew “Doctor Who” was an amazing creation, especially with its ingenious concept of the regenerating Time Lord that allowed various actors to be cast in the role, but even I have been surprised by the mainstream popularity the show has attained in America.
The cult of “Doctor Who” was increasingly forgotten as PBS channels gradually dropped the show from their schedules. When I mentioned my love of the program, most people had faint memories of Tom Baker fighting off a creature whose intimidation factor was handicapped by dodgy special effects. That was about it.
Now, “Doctor Who” is a genuinely mainstream phenomenon, and the show has even acquired a large female fan base thanks in no small part to the casting of some young and charismatic actors in the role of the Doctor.
It’s a bit hard to believe how far the franchise has come since my childhood.
As we get ready to officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who,” I cannot fully express the joy I feel to have “Doctor Who” in my life and my gratitude to the hundreds of people who have brought it into existence all these years in various formats. To think I’ll be sharing that joy with people in at least 75 countries when the anniversary special is simulcast today places a warmth in my heart so reassuring I’m tempted to believe I have two hearts. (Note to non-“Doctor Who” fans: The Doctor has two hearts.) 🙂
The Doctor is still my hero.
I hold out hope that one day I’ll earn my TARDIS and fight evil and injustice alongside him …