I can’t believe that it has been over a year since Doctor Who has returned to television and I haven’t said one word about it on my blog. It has been like an old friend returning after a long absence. I can remember as a child sitting in front of my grandparents old Magnavox Stereo Theater console television – you know, the old fashioned “entertainment centers” with a record player and radio on one side, the whole thing encased in wood and probably weighed as much as a Mini Cooper. When you turned it off, it would quickly shrink down to a point of light in the center of the screen that would hang there, glowing for what felt like minutes. Like it was holding its breath. Like it was reluctant to go to sleep. Like it was, somehow, alive. Then it would wink out. I would sit in front of the television, cross-legged, or sometimes lay on my stomach with my chin in my hands and become lost in time and space with my doctor, the forth: Tom Baker. His scarf and anti-authoritarian glee, his poetry and his foolishness, his bravery and his heroism that were somehow so casual and accessible.
When I moved to Berkeley and found out that the PBS stations carried the show I was so happy – I hadn’t been able to watch the show regularly for at least five or more years. Every Saturday (or was it Friday) I would watch the show, usually making a bit of a ritual of it by getting something fun to snack on and maybe a good beer or two. As they showed a story-line every week and had a good number of the early Doctor’s I had never seen before, it brought me back to a younger time, a time before I had lost myself to the world, before I had come into contact with my “darker” sides and habits and thought-patterns.
Maryland also aired the show, so I was able to watch and tape it for the three years I lived there. After the first year or so, I stopped watching religiously, unless it was either Sylvestor McCoy or a particularly good Tom Baker episode. No matter how often I hear the theme music, to this day I still feel that seven year old inside me leap for joy and excitement. Dave White is probably the only person I’m close to who is a bigger fan than I am and I’m really glad we were both at VCU last year when the new series started, because having another fan to watch them made the experience all the more enjoyable. Joya enjoys the new episodes (which is great and I love that we can watch it together), but she didn’t grow up with it and there is something inaccessible to her about my feelings regarding the show, something only those of us who grew up with the Doctor can feel. We incorporated the characters and stories and universe into our imaginations with the depth and intensity that only children can bring to narrative and something of that incorporation remains in our minds and bodies. Or at least it does for me.
Bless Russell T. Davies for making the new Doctor Who series happen. More importantly, bless him for making it so darn good! Yes, Chris Eccleston was on for too brief a time. His Doctor was goofy but with a core of sadness and pain that created such an intense performance. There was no question that the Doctor was back and that the show was in capable hands. From his first word “Run!” to his response to the question of who he is:
“D’you know like we were saying, about the Earth revolving? It’s like when your a kid, the first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it cause everything looks like its standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles and hour and the entrie planet is hurtling round the sun at 67,000 miles an hour and I can feel it. We’re falling through sapce, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world and if we let go… That’s who I am.”
Doctor Who has always been at its best when it makes us see our world in different ways, when it makes us question what it means to be human. Indeed, that is what makes good story-telling in any genre. Of course, as a seven-year-old boy, I was not thinking about the show on this level, instead I was caught up in the story and the characters, borne on wings of narrative and imagination, adventure and horror, humor and heart-quickening fear. Perhaps the reason I still love the show is much is that it wakes up the boy inside of the man I’ve become. When I sit down to watch it, there is a part of me that can analyze different elements of the production, such as the writing, the acting, the music, etc. But there is another part of me that is flying, in the TARDIS and with the Doctor, to a simpler time and a safer place.
Yet, it is not simply about returning to my youth. Russell T. Davies understands exactly what The Doctor in particular and heroes in general offer an audience. He has Rose speak the words that ring true with every fan of Doctor Who, or Buffy or any other story of a true Hero:
“But it was. It was a better life. I don’t mean all the traveling and aliens and seeing spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life… That you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand, you say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away.”
We all have different heroes in our lives. Some are fictional, some are real. Some have adventures through time and space while some get up at 5:30 every morning to go teach English; some fight aliens or vampires while others fight drug or alcohol addictions day by day, hour by hour in the hope and promise that they will do right by their loved ones. Despite the infinite variety of heroism in this world, the underlying message that the hero embodies is exactly what Rose says: that you don’t give up, you don’t just let things happen and that you have the guts to do what is right. Am I more “heroic” now that Doctor Who is back on television? Probably not. It would be ridiculous to hold any television program up as an enabler of moral courage. However, in a landscape of public corruption, political dishonesty, rampant corporatism and the media’s endorsement of extreme individualism and greed, perhaps The Doctor provides just a tiny dose of medicine to a sickly world. If we all had the “guts to do what is right” just a little bit more often than we do, our world would indeed be a better place.