The Thing About Doctor Who

I post a nauseating amount of crap about Doctor Who on my Twitter feed, don’t I? Don’t worry. If you’re not sick of it yet, I promise: I’ll get you over the hump.  There isn’t a thing in the world I can’t make people sick of if I put my mind to it.

Before you get there, though, maybe I should try to explain what went wrong in my brain, and why.

I never intended to watch Doctor Who. I’d seen a few episodes – my friend Brent brought over a handful of classic serials once – but though I didn’t have anything against it, it just didn’t seem like it was worth any real effort. It was neat, sure. Time traveler who changes faces and personalities when he dies?  What a cool way around actors leaving a popular part.  You never need a reboot of Doctor Who, and you never need to do the comic book thing and keep a character around and unchanged forever and ever.  The concept has charm.  But charm isn’t everything, and it came in a basket with cheap sets, inconsistant writing and often terrible guest acting.  Sure, the reboot had Christopher Eccleston (what, you haven’t been all over him since Shallow Grave?), but did a shinier, newer package really matter that much?

There was an entire season of Battlestar Galactica on the SciFi Channel that followed its airing of Doctor Who, and over the course of the year I saw the last two minutes of every episode of its second season.  Cybermen crashing through a window, Queen Victoria knighting, then banishing the Doctor…I saw it all.  What I got out of it was that Billie Piper looked a bit like a porn star and the show looked higher budgeted, but just as cheesy.

You can blame the change of heart on Netflix Instant Watch. There it was. The whole series, available to watch with a click.  The great thing about Instant Watch is that you don’t feel at all bad ignoring something that sucks, and it gives a bit of background distraction for when you really want an excuse to look away from the three sentences you’ve been rewriting for the past hour.  I could give the show a look, quit when I wanted, and earn the right to an opinion on it for the next time my friends started in about how I should give it a try.

I didn’t fall in love all at once. I got a childlike smile in the first episode, when the Doctor says he’ll defeat the living mannequins with “anti-plastic”, and I found myself really liking the energy and fun that pulsed through everything.  But love? Nah. It was a good show, but flawed, and not great.  Still, by the end of the first season I was enjoying myself more than I guessed. I didn’t need to keep watching, but I did want to.

It went like that for four seasons.  Eccleston left, and Tennant took the role of the Doctor.  I liked Eccleston, but Tennant was something new to me. I’d call it a man-crush, but that would be entirely too honest.  Companions came and went, the Daleks returned ad nauseam, and the show hummed along at a fun but unremarkable clip

With two exceptions.  This is where Eric falls in love with Steven Moffat.

I always tell people not to do what I did.  Don’t watch the whole series, not until you feel like you get the vibe of Doctor Who enough to get through the early flaws.  No, what you want to do is slam your face directly into Steven Moffat’s brian. Find season 3 and watch “Blink”.  You don’t even need to know anything about the Doctor, except that he’s a time traveler. Even that they basically explain to you. “Blink” is one of those episodes of television that makes you giddy and scared and excited all at once. It’s 40-some minutes of pure, unfiltered excellence.  As soon as I watched it, I made Erin sit down and watch it with me.  But it was a blip, a great episode in a sea of mediocre-to-good ones.  Then, in the next season, Moffat returned with the baseball bat and slammed his best work yet into my head: “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”.  Again, an unexpected jolt of wonderful, unblemished writing.

This. This was the show I wanted to watch 13 episodes a season of.

Somewhere during all of this, I learned that the fourth season was Russell T. Davies’ final one as show runner, and that Steven Moffat was taking over.  Awesome!, I thought. But there was a concern: who was the guy taking over for David Tennant? Matt Smith?  Boy, he’s kind of odd looking, isn’t he? Like, super-duper British looking.  When season 5 rolled around, I wondered if I was going to love the writing only to hate the new Doctor.

I shouldn’t have been worried.  “The Eleventh Hour”, the first episode of Moffat’s tenure on the show, works both as a soft reboot of the series and as a perfect transition for long-time watchers.  It’s everything that I loved about the more mixed early seasons, but with a class and confidence the previous series lacked.  Even my concerns about Matt Smith were gone.

The real sign that something had changed was Erin. She watched bits and pieces of the show before, but she didn’t miss a moment of the new era.  We tore through the fifth season, all the way to the brilliant, twisty, timey-wimey finale, “The Pandoria Opens”/”The Big Bang”.  We were sold. Hooked. Obsessed. We rewatched episodes.  A lot.  We texted each other quotes. It’s embarrassing, I know. But it’s true.

I didn’t start out as a Doctor Who fan. Even when I started to turn, I saw it as a guilty pleasure. Something to chat about with other fans, but not to be suggested to any but the most welcoming of friends. Moffat’s run changed that.  And the amazing thing about it is that it’s totally, completely faithful the series’ spirit and sense of fun.  The reason Moffat’s writing on the show is so damned good is because he crystalized everything that made the show what it was, and finally found a structure that grew up the narrative without sacrificing the childlike joy.

On the commentary for “The Eleventh Hour”, Moffat talks about the Doctor’s relationship with his companions – the people he takes with him on his adventures – and said something that totally captures what makes Doctor Who so wonderful at its best.  The Doctor and his companion isn’t the story of a man and a woman, or of friends adventuring together.  It’s about a child and a magic man from space.  It’s that feeling, the wonder of a child and a magic, time-traveling spaceman, that forms the heart of the show.  The humor, terror and joy all flow directly from that.

And now? Now I’m a slobbering fanboy. Doctor Who, at least the last two seasons, is the perfect mixture of hilarity and fear, of sadness and wonder.  There are episodes where you won’t stop laughing, and ones where you’ll catch yourself tearing up before you look unmanly in front of your wife.  There are even episodes where it all happens at once.  So, yeah, I’m a little over the moon for it.

Before I make you puke from the endless, overpowering wave of quotes and youtube clips, go find the third season on Netflix or wherever you grab stuff to watch, and sit down with “Blink”.  If that’s all you ever see of it, it’ll have been worth it.  Don’t believe me? Listen to Neil Gaiman. He gives the best introduction you could ask for to the show.

There’s a blue box, it’s bigger on the inside, it can go anywhere in space and time, sometimes even where it’s supposed to. There’s a bloke in the box, he’s called ‘The Doctor’ and when he gets where he’s going there’s going to be a problem and he’ll try to solve it and he’ll probably succeed because he’s awesome. Now shut up and go watch ‘Blink.’

 

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