As a single mother of a young child, it’s a rare occurrence for me to do things when I want to—like catch a movie, take a nap, or watch a television show first-run. But movies come around on cable rotation, I sometimes nod off after dinner, and the bonus to not seeing a show when it’s first aired is that I don’t have to deal with all that pesky suspense—waiting from week to week to see what will happen next. After I tuck the kid into bed I can indulge in a mini-marathon of whatever is my “it” show of the moment.
Take Doctor Who, for instance. But first you’ll have to figure out which one. The Doctor has got to be one of the all-time lovable, exasperating, interesting and annoying characters ever on television. And he’s been on television a long time. I’ve caught different Doctors through the years. I remember some ’60s movie that I watched after school one afternoon, Dr. Who and the Daleks, with Peter Cushing as Doctor Who. It was corny and silly, but I liked the time machine/police telephone box. It intrigued me. It was years later before I learned it was called a TARDIS. I got more of a sense of the character when the Doctor Who series ran on PBS in the ’80s and my mom, who had a crush on Tom Baker and his ever-present scarf, would watch faithfully. I couldn’t really make heads or tails of the plots, but it was my mom’s show, so I probably wasn’t really paying too close attention.
I didn’t independently watch a Doctor Who series until he was inhabited by Christopher Eccleston. I was surprised at how his shows seemed darker, more action-oriented, then what I expected and had seen previously from the Doctor. I liked them a lot. It really felt like my kind of sci-fi.
After catching a few syndicated reruns recently on the Syfy Channel, I was eager to watch more of Doctor Who. But I haven’t so far been able to watch a complete story arc, or even the escapades of just one Doctor. At first I was a little put off by watching Doctor Who on-demand—I’d been recording shows and then catching one or two when I get a chance. It’s not at all like getting a DVD and immersing oneself in a series or a season like I used to do with shows I’d missed on their first time out. I’m watching the Doctor Who episodes, and also the Doctors, out of sequence. I might see David Tennant try to save the world from Miss Hartigan and the Cybermen in Victorian garb and powering a gigantic robot in “The Next Doctor”—a very steampunk, very fun episode—and then the next episodes on the DVR might be ones introducing Matt Smith’s Doctor, only to be followed by a familiar favorite featuring Eccleston. It’s at times a bit confusing, but that only seems right, where the Doctor is concerned.
I’m finally getting to see what all the fuss was about with the latest Doctors: David Tennant and Matt Smith. Tennant’s Doctor is as quirky as he should be, but he has a dark side. He wants to help people, but frequently thinks that he is the only one who knows how to do that, sometimes with disastrous results, as in “The Waters of Mars,” where his manipulations to alter history have some very serious consequences. I am still wading through his shows, but his incarnation of the Doctor has all the fun and high spirits of how I remember my mom’s Doctor, Tom Baker, with a dash of Eccleston’s more melancholy, darker Doctor. Matt Smith’s Doctor takes his predecessor’s enthusiasm and brings it up a notch as he races through time and plots, always two or three steps ahead of his companions and the audience. He seems a bit more light-hearted, but I’ve seen fewer of his shows than Tennant’s.
Watching this Doctor Who 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctor mash-up has actually enhanced my appreciation of the series and showcased the continuity as well as the differences in the actors’ and show creators’ approaches to the character. I will definitely have to go back and start these Doctors’ stories from their beginnings, but at the moment I am enjoying not knowing which Who I wlll experience next. I recommend jumping around in time, and in sequence, with Doctor Who. I recently noticed that our local library has some early B&W Doctor Who episodes on DVD. I hadn’t realized how many more Dr. Whos there were to discover. This could take my television time travel up another notch.
The Doctors, from top to Bottom: Tom Baker (4th Doctor), Christopher Eccleston (9th Doctor), David Tennant (10th Doctor), Matt Smith (11th Doctor)