Sunday, June 9, 2013

Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who#2

Hello, Fellow Citizens of Earth and any visiting Extraterrestrials!

Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that solves problems with a kettle and a piece of string! I'm Dave-El and I am mostly free of the more debilitating mental illnesses. Usually.

Last week I began a series of posts to reflect on my time as a Doctor Who fan, one of the things I'm doing to bridge the gap between the end of series 7 and the 50th anniversary special. (For Part 1 of this blog series, go to here.)

Last Saturday, within moments of hitting that little orange "publish" button, my little blog post was but a rowboat upon the stormy seas of really, really, really big news.

Now, in case you were working on some shelving last Saturday and you hit your head so hard that it knocked you into a coma of which you are only now coming out of and your first conscious thought was to check on this blog (Thank you, by the way), you're in for a shock:

Matt Smith is leaving
Doctor Who.

If you were NOT in a coma, you knew this already within seconds of the BBC press release hitting the internet. There was, of course, much wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments of those who could not believe (COULD. NOT. BELIEVE!!!) Matt Smith would do this to them!

Among the more sanguine Whovians, there was much sadness over the news as well but also the thought, "Well, it happens sooner or later." Some had already done the math and realized that Matt Smith was on camera as the Doctor for 3 series, just like David Tennant as the 10th Doctor; if David had set some kind of precedent for how long one stays as the Doctor, the coming of Matt Smith's going was only a matter of time.

I loved Matt Smith as the Doctor. I was a big fan of both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the Doctor. But while they had different approaches as actors, both in their own way made the Doctor more...human.  I'm not being critical of these acting choices; I enjoyed most of those 5 years with Russell T Davies at the wheel. But Matt more fully embraced the quirks and oddities of the Doctor's alien "not quite in sync with the rest of us" nature.

So I will miss Matt Smith. *sigh* OK, who's the next guy?

There was a time, however, when I was only just beginning of my journey as a Doctor Who fan and stuff like this freaked me out!!

Part 2
"I still have a lot to learn."
Spring 1982: The "dumbest thing I had ever seen" had taken up residence in my life. I and my new found friends would gather at the student center of wherever we could find a TV and get our 6:00 PM fix of Doctor Who.*

*And kudos to NC Public Television which also ran Doctor Who at 11:00 PM.

I thought I was getting a good handle on this TV show I was now dedicated to following at every opportunity. Let's see:

It's a show starring Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen about a tall, curly haired man with a ridiculously long scarf named Doctor Who and his plucky assistant, Sarah Jane Smith as they travel through space and time in their TARDIS,
a machine shaped like a blue box outside but is bigger on the inside.

Yeah, at this point, I still have a lot to learn.

  • Of course the big one up front was that Tom Baker wasn't playing Doctor Who, he was playing The Doctor. Doctor Who was only the name of the show. To put that in perspective, no one and no thing was called "Star Trek" on the TV show Star Trek.

**Of course, it didn't help that credits at the end of Doctor Who identified Tom Baker as playing...Doctor Who. Just another element of quirkiness about the show.

  • I was surprised to learn that the TARDIS isn't really supposed to be shaped like a blue box, that another TARDIS would not necessarily look that. The TARDIS has a chameleon circuit that is supposed to disguise the TARDIS to fit in with the surroundings of wherever it materializes. Except, of course, the chameleon circuit for this TARDIS got stuck.

  • Sarah Jane Smith was not a "plucky young assistant". We were to refer to her as a "companion". But whatever inferences one might draw from calling Sarah Jane a companion, there was nothing LIKE THAT going on in the TARDIS, so get your mind out of the gutter, mister.

  • Elisabeth Sladen may have been a star on the show but that didn't mean she would always be there. Sarah Jane moved on from her travels with the Doctor. Enter Louise Jameson as Leela, a savage warrior from another world. And the Doctor got a dog, the robotic K-9. So the role of the companion was one that would change. But at least the Doctor was constant, right?

  •  Tom Baker was The Doctor, the star of Doctor Who. Surely, that couldn't change could it?


Boy, I still have a lot to learn. I was about to encounter...


Before I move on, a bit of clarification. Yes, I saw Destiny of the Daleks where Romana regenerates at the start of the episode as Lalla Ward was replacing Mary Tamm in the role. But the sequence was played for laughs; in fact, it struck me as a particularly lame one-off bit to justify bringing in another actress.***

***I later learned more about Time Lords and regeneration and that Romana's transformation was a not a one-off thing invented for the show. It was still kind of lame.

So what happens next catches me off guard.

NC Public TV had cycled up to The Leisure Hive. All of a sudden, there was a new, modern looking visual effect for the show's opening, a re-designed logo and driving new arrangement of the theme song.  This story, by Doctor Who's standards, looked like somebody spent some money on it.  And the Doctor was wearing a revamp of his classic attire, now done up in burgundy. This looked so cool!

 I noticed, however, that the quirkiness, the off-kilter humor that I thought was central to Doctor Who felt a bit more repressed with each successive episode. The creative direction of the show was becoming more serious.  It was like someone was trying to shoehorn Doctor Who into the role of a more typical science fiction show, the kind of show that I initially dismissed Doctor Who for not being more like when I first encountered the program. 

Then came the day when the TV viewing area that the Doctor Who fans frequently camped out to watch new episodes was more crowded than usual.

It was time for Logopolis.

Side note: you may be wondering why my fellow Whovians were not doing their part to bring me up to speed. As I noted in Part 1, my social skills (to put it politely) needed work. Mostly, I showed up at the periphery of the group to watch the episode then make my way out with little or no interaction. I was learning their names mostly by osmosis as I heard them speak to one another. Later, they would become friends...when I let them. But up until then, for all they knew, I was just a painfully shy (yes) but nonetheless true blue dyed in the wool scarf fan of Doctor Who (working on it but not quite.) But they were about to hear from me and discover there were my knowledge of all things Doctor Who

Fellow Whovians, can you image sitting down to watch Logopolis with no idea at all what was going to happen? In those long ago days before the internet and Wikipedia and chat rooms, I was about to be surprised. No, freaked out would be a better term for it.

Of course, to be fair, I'm not sure anyone watching was sure what was happening, never mind was going to happen. Something to do with The Master using MATH! and satellite dishes to destroy the universe. There was also some white glowing person--called The Watcher--who kept showing up mysteriously and making The Doctor look very, very worried indeed.

It was time for Part 4 and the TV area was packed. Why were so many people here today? My curiousity overwhelmed my shyness as I spoke timorously to a fellow student sitting near me, "Man, there are a lot of people here today." He replied, "Yeah, everybody wanted to be here for Tom Baker's last episode." And he turned back towards the TV as the stars burst forth and formed the Doctor's head with the driving beat of the new theme heralding his arrival.

I was stunned. "Tom Baker's last episode?" What the hell? But...but...

There was no time for questions or answers. The show was on and everyone's rapt attention was focused on that TV set.

We come to the last minutes of the episode, The Doctor seeking to stop The Master's mad scheme against a whole universe. The plot is foiled. But The Doctor is left dangling from a high scaffolding where the two Time Lords had met for their final battle. This is the point where the hero makes a last second effort or discovery that saves his life from certain doom.

Not this time.

The Doctor's hand slipped from the railing.

Then we see The Doctor's companions--Adric, Nyssa & Teegan--race up to where The Doctor's body is lying, broken and near death on the hard ground. Wait! The Doctor is going to DIE? This is how Tom Baker leaves the show, with his character dead?

Wow, still so much, so very much more to learn.

The Doctor looks to his
companions and said,
"This is the end. But the
moment has been
prepared for."

Then the Watcher appears and merges with the Doctor. Then the Doctor's face began to blur and shift and....


 There's a  young blonde man in the Doctor's clothes.


What. The. HELL? Who is THAT guy?

A few months later, one of the Doctor Who fans who became one of my friends told me she was actually envious of me that day. Everyone in that room know what was going to happen. They didn't know how or why but they knew the Doctor was going to regenerate. But I had seen this with a totally different perspective. I was surprised by everything! What a rush that must've been, she remarked.

Yes, it was! I had only been flitting around the edges of Doctor Who. There was much, much more to learn. And those Whovians who became my friends were more than eager to teach me.

One last note.  In the moments after Logopolis ended:

So this Peter Davison, he's The Doctor now? Wow, it's going to be so weird seeing someone different in The Doctor's super long scarf.

Yep, so much to learn.


Later: "Hold on, what's the deal with the yellow car?"


On the next Journeys With
the Doctor: My Stories of
Doctor Who, we go Forward to the Past!              

Sometimes my own journeys through time and space take me to Twitter.
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