With the recent passing of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith to you Whovians reading this), I’ve had Doctor Who on my mind.
Growing up, my first exposure to Doctor Who was late Saturday nights on PBS. Even on Saturday nights I had a bed-time, but unlike weeknights and Sundays which were regulated by the clock (in bed by 9pm), Saturday’s bed-time was based on when my parents went to bed. This could be as early as 10pm, (which was still a whole hour saved from the wasting disease of sleep) or as late as (glory-be to hallelujah) midnight.
It was during one of these late-night Saturdays that I stumbled upon a very odd show on PBS. Up to that point in my young life I tended to avoid PBS, because I strongly suspected they were trying to make me learn something. And I didn’t know much, but I knew that learning things was by-god not what television was for! Bad enough I had to go to a building five times a week and have knowledge crammed into me. But to have it thrust on me in my home? And by the same wonderful device that brought me Airwolf and Super Gran? No sir, this would not stand!
But flipping past it this particular night something caught my eye, so I flipped back. Yep, that looked like a blankety-blank alien. And wow, that guy has a long scarf. But this was definitely science fiction, and on PBS of all places. Man, were they going to be pissed when someone found out about this… And thus began my on-again/off-again love of Doctor Who. Any Saturday night I wasn’t playing D&D (and some when I was) would find me watching the adventures of the Doctor and his companions, as he, they and that magnificent scarf traveled through time and space. When the Tom Baker episodes went away and the next Doctor appeared, I started to lose interest. I would still watch, but it wasn’t as fun anymore, and slowly I slipped away from the good Doctor.
Over the years I still kept Doctor Who in my life. I read the sporadically good books written about his exploits, I tried the various attempts at Doctor Who RPGs. And whenever I found an episode on PBS I would settle in to watch it for a while.
When it was announced that Doctor Who was coming back, I admit to being interested but not particularly excited. At that point, too many things I loved from my childhood had been brutalized by “re-imagining”, and so my response was tepid…until I saw the first episode. Yes, things were different, how could they not be? But everything I loved from the original episodes seemed to have carried through to the new series. While still an entirely new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston reminded me very strongly of the Tom Baker Doctor I first fell in love with. Couple that with Billie Piper (and in fanfic I’m sure that happened) and there was no way I wasn’t watching this show! When Eccleston gave way to Tennant, I didn’t suffer the same ennui I had during my first Doctor switch; Tennant was different, and didn’t bring the same pathos as Eccleston, but was still entertaining to watch. And it prepped my quite well for the Tennant to Smith change-over.
I loved and love Doctor Who for many reasons. It is an amazingly positive and optimistic show, without being saccharine. Every week, for 45 minutes, it encourages us to be our best, sometimes by showing us at our worst. It is the show I point to when I want an example of good story trumping special effects. It is at least partially responsible for my love of history and mythology (and space, astronomy, zoology…) And while it may not be a bastion of scientific accuracy, it has never promised it would be, and so I have no problem with the rather flexible nature of science and engineering in the Whoniverse (sonic screwdriver + microwave= deep space radar? Allons-y!) Yes, I could delve into a critical analysis of the show, based on its place in history, the writing, the acting, a Fruedian interpretation of that scarf…but why should I?
Simply put, I love Doctor Who because when I watch it my heart races a little and my default expression is a smile. You can’t ask for much more than that from any show you like.
(And if I ever find a blue police box in my backyard, I am gone-baby-gone!)
That someone who was a part of that is gone makes me a little sad. Farewell Elisabeth Sladen, and farewell Sarah Jane Smith. I wish you well on your next great adventure.