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I Was a Teenage American Whovian
And I earned the right to gloat
In late 1993, I was thirteen and visiting my aunt Beth in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. At the time, she lived in a small but nice house which was kind of in the middle of nowhere. While I was in her bedroom, I saw a book entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The cover, featuring a green planet with a tongue sticking out at the Earth, intrigued me and my aunt let me borrow the book later. I read it and enjoyed the adventures of ordinary Earthman Arthur Dent, his best buddy galactic researcher Ford Prefect, President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox and his human squeeze Trillian enough to get the other books in the series and enjoy them. I later saw a video with the name and same cover at Suncoast and got that before Christmas. It was the 1981 miniseries which is often referred to by American fans, inaccurately, as "the movie". It was cheesy and 80s but kind of fun anyway.
But Chris, you must be asking, what does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Simple. I got hooked onto Doctor Who thanks to the late Mr. Adams' frequent documentarian Kevin Davies' making of the Hitchhiker's miniseries which I also got around Christmas that year.
This was where I learned that while Douglas was waiting for the BBC to make up its mind about whether they wanted to make a full first season of his baby in its original (and best) form on BBC Radio, he wrote serials for a show called Doctor Who.
I had heard this title mentioned in passing once, on Beavis and Butt-Head of all shows. When I mentioned it to my late, beloved grandfather, he told me the show had aired on PBS here in the 70s and that I would like it. Pop-Pop always had an ear for what I liked so I took his advice and bought some videos of the show, which, like Adams' original work, I got hooked on enough in six months to seek out books, further videos and whatever reruns aired on Saturday nights on the New Jersey PBS channel after Fawlty Towers. Now, I admit that it was cheesy to look at with tin cans as the face-changing alien protagonist's arch enemies and monsters that often looked like they would have fit right in with the Muppets, but the mythology behind this character and the essence of the show was so much fun and so cool to me that I just ate it up with a spoon.
For the next two years, and in fact through the rest of my grade school career, I would talk about it to people at school, random grown-ups, etc. Most people I described it to here in America would just stare at me blankly but every once in a while I'd run into somebody who would be proud to admit they loved the show (my late mother's boyfriend was one such person).
In 1996, FOX TV aired a film that starred English actor Paul McGann as the good Doctor and Eric Roberts as his arch enemy the Master. I was delighted by this and actively campaigned via this new tool called the Internet the following Fall for FOX to make a TV show out of it. In hindsight, this was more or less because I wanted the show to return and not because of the quality of the film itself, as other than star McGann (who was and, since he still plays the role for Big Finish audios, is excellent in the role), there wouldn't have been much good in FOX's version of the show. But FOX and Universal Studios, who co-produced the film with the BBC, passed on making more of the show so for the next decade, I was resigned to keep collecting the videos and the BBC novels continuing the adventures of the (then) Eight Doctors.
Then something unexpected happened in the Fall of 2003. Something unexpected that I remember like it was yesterday.
I woke up that morning, turned on my old desktop and while I was getting my shower ready before class at the community college, I was leafing through a sci-fi newsletter I had signed up for a few years before but hardly ever read and there was some question somebody asked about, "How are they gonna handle such-and-such in the new Doctor Who series?" And immediately I gaped and looked up the information for the new show, which I learned they planned to have released in 2005. Needless to say, it taught me a lesson about taking a look at publications I signed up to receive every so often.
I waited with baited breath for three years, even though I was appalled when I saw a photo of a croppy-haired actor (Christopher Eccleston) in a leather jacket standing by the Doctor's standard London police box spaceship The TARDIS. The Doctor is usually a wild-looking dude who dresses like either Sherlock Holmes or Willy Wonka, I was even more worried when I heard the young lady playing his companion, Billie Piper, was the British Britney Spears because that should officially have meant she had no talent. I was relieved when it finally hit the Sci-Fi Channel in 2006 and I saw that Eccleston and Piper were great in the roles and the new series, while not your grandpa's version of the show, was quite good.
I did not get to see Eccleston's immediate (immediate being the operative phrase, he promptly quit after the first series) successor David Tennant for another three years because I missed his tenure on the Sci-Fi Channel. However, the handsome young Scotsman had dreamed of playing the role his entire life and immediately won many fans over, including me, with his likability and charm and he remains one of the most popular incarnations of the character to this day. By 2010 when the show was now on (relatively) upstart cable channel BBC America, it looked like it was finally coming into its own in America, but it really exploded when Tennant left and was replaced by upstart actor, Matt Smith, the first actor to play the role who has ever been younger than the author of this article, who digresses.
Anyway, Smith, whose incarnation was a decidedly more alien than Tennant's, quick-tempered but compassionate old man with a young face, somehow finally paved the way for the show to explode in America once he took over in 2011.
Since he's been the Doctor, every Hot Topic, every Barnes and Noble, etc., has sections devoted to the show. There is now Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, etc. versions devoted to the show. People had parties in 2013 celebrating the 50th anniversary and its particular special episode The Day of the Doctor, pairing Smith up with his predecessor and a hidden incarnation played by Sir John Hurt, was one of the best episodes of the show in recent memory. When the author went to the movies to watch the episode, it was a Monday night a few days before Thanksgiving and he didn't expect anyone to be there but it turned out to be a regular Rocky Horror Picture Show. A fellow near me even took his elderly mother, who lamented that he wouldn't buy her a sonic screwdriver remote control.
Today, the same people I knew in the 90s who stared at me like I was nuts when I'd talk of the show have pictures of Daleks on their Facebooks, have children who love the show, have friends who watch the show, etc. Aunt Beth told me two and a half years ago I was ahead of my time.
I really was, wasn't I, guys? And that's why you should have listened to me then!