Monday, September 5, 2011
My Time & The Doctor
David Tennant as The Doctor
I was living in England with my mother, going to The School of St. Claire in Penzance as a day student. We lived in the end unit of a stone row house, just as you imagine a British working class neighborhood. We had just moved out of an artsy Mousehole hotel to less expensive Newlyn, to the last building on the top of the hill above the harbor. Behind us was a field with dairy cows and a stubby, well-worn stone circle, through which I walked every morning, taking the back way over the headland into PZ. We rented our telly and paid license fees, like everyone else on the street, and I began watching my first regular doses of English entertainment. It was black and white in those days, rather different from what I’d been accustomed to back in the States.
I only saw two shows containing the original Doctor, William Hartnell. Although I remember keenly enjoying Dr. Who, it was never completely clear to me what the heck was going on. I remember being thrilled to realize that this show was not only about history—and with costumes which were actually period correct (astonishing in and of itself as this was the early sixties)—but also about the science fiction notion of time travel. The Doctor and his two companions eventually escaped from trouble inside their odd little time machine—in this case, a blue police call box, the kind I’d seen standing, by the sixties dusty and unused, on street corners here and there in London. They called this handy device the TARDIS*.
Well, wow! Stories about history and time travel all in one show! The main character was not only mysterious, aged and professorial, but a little sinister, too, as if he was not entirely to be trusted. As someone who liked fantasy and science fiction but who was also loved to read about famous characters in history, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Unfortunately, I never saw any more than those two shows. Soon Mom and I pulled up stakes again and headed for Barbados. In those days, the West Indies had no television.
Years later, The Doctor and I reconnected. My kids and I were sitting on the floor together watching public television on our Zenith, also parked on the floor. (In those days furniture was something of a luxury.) A British import began. Lo and behold--there was my time traveler and his blue box—again! Of course, the original doctor had gone. The new one was still domineering and mysterious, but far less of a stuffy old professor. Instead he now appeared to be in his forties, with a gorgeous head of wavy hair and Victorian get-ups by way of Carnaby Street. John Pertwee might have just stepped out of the Yellow Submarine.
Okay, I thought, I’ll go with the flow. My brief, earlier acquaintance with that absent-minded elderly Doctor was a pleasant memory. This, I realized, would be a great show for the kids to watch while I made dinner. (In those days 30 Minute Meals was not a “marketable idea,” just the way everybody cooked.)
My boys became fans, but almost immediately there came a change in Doctors, as reported to me by my oldest son. He was about equally disturbed and fascinated by the fact that the main character in a series might abruptly “regenerate” into someone else, all while essentially playing (more or less) the same character. Tom Baker immediately captured our fancy, perhaps because his clothes were utterly Boho- trippy. The hat, the scarf, the manic manner, the comic timing, his diction, and his “funny walks”—Baker was like a speaking, Oxford-educated Harpo Marx . The kids, and their Mom too, adored Baker, and we watched the show faithfully during the years of his reign. My youngest son begged his aunt to knit him a floor-sweeping Whovian scarf for Christmas, and we hunted used clothing stores for a cool old hat to go with it.
Time passed for us, as it never quite does in the TARDIS. The kids got older and began to lose interest when the Doctor "regenerated" again. We never entirely warmed to the handsome, dapper Peter Davidson with his question marks and 1890s university cricketer’s garb. We drifted away.
Years went by. The kids grew up and had kids of their own. I became a senior. Time Lords (the Doctor's species), however, regenerate with some regularity. And although I hadn't been paying attention, he’d done it again.
One day I was channel surfing and happened upon BBC America. And Wa-Hoo KA-ZAM! There he was, a brand new Doctor. This incarnation had a budget and enjoyed all the benefits of the CG revolution. Somewhere in the hiatus, the hoary old Doctor had become a “valuable property.” Forty-seven years after our first meeting, I’d found him again.
You might think I'd be too old now for a "kid's show," because I'm wrinkly and gray, but I'm still turned on by Doctor Who's fizzy cocktail combo of history and space/time travel. It's been great fun to be a fan at the same time my grandgirls--21and 12. Not only monsters, but more ordinary human problems are regularly explored here, such as the inevitably of change and the blessing of friendship. Rarified concepts like immortality, the persistence of evil, and the--let's face it--scariness of eternity are also pondered. There are many reasons why this series, conceived in the early days of television, is still going strong. I may myself soon vanish out of Time, but it seems there will always be another Doctor.
Doctor Who, Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
* TARDIS= Time and Relativity Dimensions in Space. Sort of silly, but there you are. ;)