Doctor Who has inspired me like no other thing ever has. I’ve been a fan of many things before. When I was a kid, it was Spider-Man, and to a lesser extent, the Monkees (in re-run; I’m not quite that old). In high school, The Greatest American Hero occupied me for a good two years (ok, now you can figure out how old I am). In college, I didn’t have a TV – actually, haven’t watched TV regularly since I entered college – but I did obsess about an online computer game which I won’t name because you won’t have heard of it (it’s an online game that was developed in 1979 – talk about obscure). I did, however, get addicted to Forever Knight (have you even heard of it?) and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and after graduate school and getting married, Firefly. Heroes was next, but that fizzled out with the awful second season. And through most of this, I shared with my husband a love of the MMO Asheron’s Call (played for 13 years!) and Marvel comics. Oh, and Jane Austen. I’ve seen the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries a countless number of times.
The thing is, while I loved all this stuff, and consumed the content and bought the merchandise (for some of it, anyway; disposable income wasn’t available through a lot of it), that was it. I’ve never been to a convention of any type. I’ve never belonged to a fan club. While I do paint miniatures and do other crafts, I’ve never applied those skills to any of these fandoms. I have sewn a Regency gown, but that was specifically for going to a non-themed high tea with some friends: we spent about six months, getting together occasionally to sew our dresses and hang out. It was a social thing, not a fandom thing.
And then, about five months ago, I watched my first episode of Doctor Who. If you’ve read the “About” page here, you know the story: my husband had been a fan of the show from the Tom Baker years through the cancellation in 1989, but hadn’t want to watch the reboot because he was afraid it would ruin his memories. We finally watched “Rose” last year, and I was completely hooked. We devoured the seven available series as soon as we could, geeked out about the 50th anniversary and the Christmas special, and I’m slowly working my way through seeing all the classic seasons.
The thing is, Doctor Who didn’t just hook me. It inspired me like nothing ever has. I spent the first two months finding out everything I could about the show, which meant pretty much constantly reading Tardis Data Core. Over two months, I created costumes of the Fifth Doctor and the Fourth Doctor for me and my husband. While I play in a concert band as a hobby (and I’m not very good), the show’s music inspired me to learn to arrange it for concert band, and so I’ve been learning music theory. And most recently, though I’ve never done any writing before, I’ve started writing fan fiction. (I hope that last one doesn’t pigeonhole me into the teenage fangirl stereotype.)
What is it about Doctor Who that I find so inspiring? Why do I think about the show all the time? Lots of shows explore space, travel around in time, and defeat baddies. Lots of shows have great characters and interpersonal relationships. But I don’t watch them every day. I don’t write a blog entries about them because my head is too full with it and I need to spill some of it out on a computer screen. I have a cricket ball on my desk, right here. Why is Doctor Who so compelling?
I know that there are tons of treatises dealing with Doctor Who about themes and heroes and philosophy and social psychology and tons of other really long words, but I can only answer this question for myself. What is it about Doctor Who that satisfies some personal need and inspires me to expand myself in previously unknown ways?
Part of the answer is the Doctor himself. I see him as an alien who is driven by his compassion. The incarnations have their reasons for traveling, but they all share the yearning to help others: their friends, their enemies, as well as all of the life in the universe. He tries to offer alternatives to conflicting groups, so that both sides come out better. He avoids violence whenever possible, and instead relies on his intellect and charm. The first part gets him into all kinds of dangerous situations and the second gets him out of them.
That in itself is interesting to me, as I prize intelligence over violence, but the show adds depth with the personal interactions with the companions and guest character and with the morality of the situations encountered. There are philosophical questions posed on the small scale, in a single episode (Is killing the last Dalek in “Dalek” considered genocide? Does it matter that it’s a homicidal life form?), as well as overarching questions (Does the Doctor bring death and destruction wherever he goes? If he saves millions, how much is he responsible for the few deaths that happen along the way?). In most cases, the dilemmas are part of the story, rather than exposition from a character, letting the viewer think on them in his own time. We think about these problems, and answer them for ourselves, as part of thinking about the characters and the story.
And then there’s the heroic side. The Doctor and his companions find ingenious solutions to their problems, and there’s a triumph of good over evil. It’s not always absolute – in particular, the Tenth Doctor often seems to lose a lot while still winning; I think we counted it up, and he loses something important in over 75% of his episodes while still winning the day – and perhaps that’s part of the appeal: we are watching this man, just one single man, who continues to try to triumph over evil in spite of all he’s lost and all that he continues to lose each time he takes up the battle. A protagonist who either is far stronger than the evil he faces or never has anything to lose quickly becomes boring.
Lastly, the character development of the Doctor and his companions keeps the show fresh. The Ninth Doctor started as a cynical, war-weary, regretful soldier, and through Rose’s influence, became a cynical but hopeful man who remembered what the promise of the Doctor was. The Tenth Doctor started as rather happy-go-lucky with Rose at his side, became lonely and callous when she was torn from him and he traveled with Martha, then began to heal and moved on from Rose when Donna gave him what he needed – a best friend – then struggled with his dark side when all his companions were torn away. The newer storylines favored complicated plot over character growth, and so while the Eleventh Doctor grew very little, we got to watch Amy and Rory grow from happy little excited tagalongs to a devoted couple and heroic companions.
And this is what makes the show so compelling. There’s this huge, established universe, with a main character that is heroic and identifiable (and yet alien enough to keep the mystery alive), but changes every few years so that his story starts afresh and you get to know him all over again. He comes with companions that also come and go, so they’re always fresh, too. Because the core of the show is time travel, you can explore any event in past history or any event you can imagine in the future or in the universe. And, there is all the time and space in the universe in between televised adventures for you to think about what other things might have happened and imagine adventures of your own creation; the show practically invites you to step into the universe and join in on the fun.
That’s why it’s everything I think about. Every day, the Doctor Who universe invites me in and says, “Where would you like to go with the Doctor today?” Sometimes it’s an adventure on the TV, or in an audio, or in a book. Other times, it’s sailing along with the soundtrack music I have on my iPod. Sometimes it’s an adventure that I’m making up in my head. And it’s all with a hero – a single, mortal man – that arms himself with a screwdriver, thinks his way out of every situation, runs a hell of a lot, and does it all – while personally risking and losing a lot – because he really does care about everyone.
“The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop, everywhere.” – Professor River Song