It was a Saturday afternoon when I first met the Doctor, completely by accident. There was a Barbeque at my aunt’s house; I was dragged there by my mother. I was the only kid there. All the adults huddled together talking about politics and Carter and taxes and Iran and gas prices. All of which were uninteresting and somewhat painful for an 8 year old to bare. So I moped in the corner drinking Kool-Aid and wishing I could be somewhere else, anywhere else. Maybe another planet.
Eventually my aunt took pity on me and led me away to a back bedroom with a TV. She turned it on for me and the channel was set to the local PBS station. On the screen in a jungle set was a tall man in a floppy hat and a ridiculously long scarf talking to a woman dressed like a female Tarzan.
“What is this?” I asked.
My aunt waved a hand in the air, “Oh, some British thing,” she said, “Should I change the channel?”
I shook my head, “Oh, this should be good.” She left me there with some Kool-Aid and ham sandwich and a package of Wise potato chips. I spent the rest of the day watching a mini-marathon of episodes of British science fiction children’s program.
Doctor Who has been an immense source of pleasure for me. I adore the show, even the bad bits. Oh yes, even at the age of eight I could tell the special effects were not so special. The sets wobbled, the costumes could be a bit tacky and there was a tendency for the actors to ham it up a bit (to be polite). But none of that mattered – even added to the charm. I loved the stories, the premise of the show, the fact that it could be and do anything. It was a unique vision, a mix of science fiction and fantasy and a unique way to tell stories.
As a kid growing up in the 70s it was completely unlike anything I had seen. As much as I loved things like Star Trek or Star Wars, and for everything wonderful about those franchises, they is a definite air of militarism about them. Group, honor, discipline are all extolled. The Captain is always right, trust the system and follow the rules. Do as you are told. And this adds restrictions to the stories.
Doctor Who, on the other hand, is about the individual, spontaneity, adventure. Rebellion. The Doctor is the Trickster who not only breaks the rules, he makes them irrelevant. It is a show about freedom. And that freedom extends to the storytelling. When given the entirety of space and time the staggering amount of stories to be told is overwhelming. And for that matter, never-ending.
We live at a time of constant reboots, reimagining of old properties, modern updates and starting over. Doctor Who has that idea built into it. From the moment William Hartnell became Patrick Troughton the defined itself as something that could be anything. Periodically the show would change, completely and utterly and yet still remain the same. There was no need for a reboot, just a page turn to the next story. It could be an adventure on a far future planet filled with ant people in a Vaseline haze followed by a Shakespearian romp with King Arthur. Maybe a trip to an observation deck to watch the Earth destroyed followed be a visit to Charles Dickens and Victorian ghosts. How about a trip to the land of Fiction itself?
Doctor Who can be anything. And that’s the beauty of it, the simplicity of it. The Doctor in the TARDIS, destination anywhere.
After all these years, after all these stories, I’m still that kid saying, “What is this?” and “Oh, this will be good.”