One thing that Doctor Who has helped me with is understanding British accents. There’s this guy in my office who’s from Britain and I could never really understand what he was saying. Now that I’ve been watching Doctor Who (and Sherlock, All Creatures Great and Small, Downton Abbey, and Broadchurch), it’s gotten much easier. I talked with him for a while last week, and I understood him a lot better. It turns out that he actually does swallow his words a lot, so he specifically is difficult to understand, but grokking the accent was the first step. I’ve noticed the same thing happening within the shows themselves. All Creatures Great and Small, set in Yorkshire, has a lot of characters with very thick accents, and after listening to them, the Ninth Doctor is far clearer to me. Similarly, listening to David Tennant in Broadchurch has taught me to understand the Scottish accent, which used to be completely obtuse to me. His accent is far thicker than Karen Gillan’s, who I had no trouble understanding when she was playing Amy. I’m really hoping that this will all help me not be a complete dumbo American when I visit England later this year.
I’m also starting to be able to identify regional accents. For example, after listening to Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara for a little bit, I could tell that she came from north of London, with a similar accent to Christopher Eccleston’s. I find it fascinating how much variation there is in accent, given how small the UK is compared to just the state of California. The state I live in has some regional difference in accent, but it’s due to a geographical barrier (read: big honkin’ mountain range dividing the two halves). There aren’t any major geographical divides in the UK to cause such differences.
Another interesting side effect of watching British television is that when I watch American television, I can hear how diluted the accents of British characters are. My husband and I are watching the first season Grimm (which, by the way, we’re enjoying a lot), and there have been a couple of British guest characters whose accents were so slight, they often disappeared from scene to scene. I wonder if they’re told to water down the accents they use, to make sure that the American audience can understand them? We happen to also be watching series 3 of Doctor Who, one episode a night, and we’re on “Daleks in Manhattan,” and the actors speak with perfect American accents. In fact, Frank spoke with a thick Southern accent, so it seems that the British don’t mind heavy American accents in their TV shows.