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Why You Should Watch Doctor Who
Most of the time when I write a new entry for my Why You Should Watch series, it concerns a lesser known show or movie that I think deserves more attention. Doctor Who probably doesn’t need the endorsement, but I’ve developed a love for the show with an intensity that I haven’t experienced since childhood. What is it about this long running show, with seemingly silly roots, that struck such a cord with me? Well, if you’ve never seen it, allow me the chance to explain.
After the relaunch, the original series is now referred to as "Classic Doctor Who"
Doctor Who is a science fiction adventure show that first started in the 1960s. It began as a family/children’s show about a mysterious doctor and his daughter who could travel through time. His ship, called the TARDIS, allows anyone inside to move to the past, future, or virtually anywhere in the known universe. Because of this, numerous stories focus on distant worlds and alien plots to destroy the innocent. It then falls to the Doctor to thwart them, time and again, with only the help of his wits, his companions and his trusty sonic screwdriver. As the show progresses, more about the Doctor’s past is revealed and the central cast is changed out for a new one. Because the Doctor is a timelord (alien) he can regenerate before dying, which was the studio’s clever way of keeping the show alive despite fatigued actors. To date, thirteen men have portrayed the Doctor, with countless companions accompanying him for the ride. But, if you’re not a fan of science fiction, you might be wondering why Doctor Who is different from Star Trek or any other genre fiction show from the past fifty years. The answer is also my favorite thing about the Doctor.
He doesn’t solve problems with violence.
Fans of the show will know that, every once and a while, the Doctor can waiver in his convictions. This usually happens when he travels without a companion, since they serve as his continuing moral compass after over 1000 years of life. But, for the most part, the Doctor solves problems by outsmarting his enemy. He’s clever and he uses his unparalleled knowledge to find the flaw in his enemy’s plan, which he then exploits to save whatever world or space ship he’s landed on. While there have been a number of clever heroes over the years, few rely on it so consistently. The Doctor is not a warrior; he’s not a muscular barbarian who wins because he can punch harder than the next guy. He’s a gentleman with a taste for trouble (he’s also a bit crazy). I’ve always identified with this aspect of the show because it’s very much how I see myself. I’m not muscular, courageous or heroic. But, if given a puzzle, I believe I can reason out a solution with the power of my mind. And, in a world where violence is often glorified to the detriment of our children, it’s refreshing to see a man (or timelord) using wits to win the day.
As I mentioned above, the Doctor has the ability to ‘regenerate’ when he’s about to die. While it was conceived as a way to keep the show alive, it had a fortunate byproduct that opened up new opportunities. Each incarnation of the Doctor gets his own unique outfit, sonic screwdriver, and acting style. Few other shows can shake up such a core part of their appeal and survive. In fact, the show was almost lost after the Doctor’s eighth incarnation when ratings were low. It wasn’t until almost two decades later that it was resurrected as a modern continuation. It’s true that, with each version, there is the risk of losing fans. But it’s that same mechanic that has the potential to bring them back, or even expand the viewership. The first three Doctors, after the reboot, each increased the fanbase with their own unique take on the character. It’s a wonderful way to keep the material fresh and, with all of space and time for a backdrop, you need a hero who can constantly reinvent himself.
It can do what no other series can.
When I was a teenager I feared ridicule, as most teenagers do. So, if something was perceived as cheesy, silly or over-the-top, I generally avoided it to keep myself distanced from such negative associations. Kind of like how we proclaim the stuff we liked as children is ‘stupid’ to show how mature we are. Yet, as adults, it’s the teenage years we shake our heads about. But anyway, it was this reluctance that kept me from watching most genre shows. I didn’t watch Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Hercules, Xena and a host of other science fiction and fantasy media for fear that I would be seen as ‘uncool’. In retrospect I was being stupid, but it’s a moot point because I was able to watch all of them after my head cleared. Doctor Who was one of the last series for me to take a peek at and it solidified a realization in me. A show that attempts a storyline, but does it cheesily, is superior to a show that never attempts it at all. This is why I’ve taken a liking to direct-to-dvd superhero cartoons because they present storylines that Hollywood would never touch. Who else is sick of the same old origin story or the predicable cop drama? I want to see the impossible; the kind of things that sensible writers would never dare to touch. Time travel? Too many plot holes. Space travel? Too ‘out there’ for moderate audiences. Old main character? The young people won’t be able to connect. To those dangerous pitfalls Doctor Who has responded with ‘Geronimo!’ It is fearless in its mission and skilled in its execution. The fact that the writers can juggle all these concepts (and Doctor Who’s lengthy history) while still producing something that is entertaining is nothing short of miraculous.
I will acknowledge that Doctor Who is not for everyone. Obviously, if you’re not a fan of genre fiction, then it isn’t very likely that you’ll take to this show. But I thought it was important to highlight why it is different and why it is exceptional. The series has persisted for over fifty years now and, even though there have been some speed bumps, there is every reason to believe it could survive for another fifty. If you’ve never watched an episode, I recommend you take the plunge. You might just discover something great.