What a wonderful example of serendipity: Doctor Who, one of my favourite televisual delights, will be following me to the prairies for the next season. He wears a stetson now. Stetsons are cool.
Hubby is jealous of our Doctor Who tradition, as he can’t think of an equivalent this side of the ocean. For those of you who have never heard of the show: it’s one of our longest running series, having first aired the day after JFK was shot. You might be wondering whether the title character is now in his dotage, but actually he’s in his late twenties. The Doctor, you see, is a Timelord, which means he can regenerate when badly hurt. Every so often the series receives a reboot in the shape of a new actor, with new quirks and traits, and new companions to travel all of time and space by his side.
Every time this happens, the nation mourns. Until last Christmas, the Doctor was played by David Tennant. He was much-loved and, on hearing of his imminent sort-of-death, we all swore we’d hate the new Doctor. Most of England scowled at footage of his successor, Matt Smith, muttering that he would never be a proper Doctor and that we’d probably have to boycott the show.
We do this every time. Five minutes into Matt Smith’s first episode, we adored him and had forgotten all about our beloved David Tennant, except to declare that he can’t have been as good as we remembered because Matt Smith is the best Doctor there has ever been.
All of us have our own Doctor: the one we watched first, the one we mourned first, the one we quickly forgot all about first. For me, it’s Sylvester McCoy, who, in hindsight, was barking bloody mad. My granddad actually managed to despise him for his entire run, thus entering the history books as the only recorded case of Doctor Hatred that lasted past the first episode.
Hubby now has his own Doctor, of course, but it’s not the same. Particularly as he managed to go backwards before he went forwards, replacing David Tennant with Christopher Eccleston before coming back to David Tennant in time for the Matt Smith regeneration. David Tennant is doubly his Doctor, you might say.
I hadn’t really thought about it until he explained his envy, but the US doesn’t work quite the same way when it comes to long-running shows. In England, we appear to have mastered the art of refusing to let things die: Blue Peter, Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale, Antiques Roadshow and many others have been gracing our screens since before I was born. In the US, a ten-year run seems to be the maximum, according to Hubby (whose knowledge I trust, as he does love his tellybox).
Perhaps this is a product of the BBC being our first broadcasting company. They can pretty much do whatever they like (as long as the licence payers are happy about it) and what they seem to like is 50-ish years of hokey science fiction that made our parents hide behind the sofa in terror when they were wee.
Whatever the reason, the upshot is that England has several shows that have gone on for long enough to have been absorbed into our culture in general. No matter our age, we all have our own Doctor, and, for a high percentage of Brits, we discovered him in childhood. It’s a similar story with other shows: we all have our own specific Blue Peter presenters (and dog), we all think of the Queen Vic in Eastenders as belonging to someone in particular.
But Doctor Who is the best example of all. You can watch it on BBC America, which will happily be running only a week behind the UK when the new season begins in the spring, and I strongly recommend it, but you might need a bit of a primer first, as it’s got terribly complicated over the years:
1) Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever, as previously affirmed. He is a Timelord, hundreds of years old, and each iteration has his own personality. Matt’s is the best. Yes. We know him only as the Doctor, we have never been told his real name.
2) The Doctor is not only a Timelord, he is the last of the Timelords. His arch enemy, the Master, keeps popping back up, but he’s a crap Timelord because he’s naughty and just wants to take over things willy nilly. The rest of the Doctor’s race was destroyed in the Time Wars, fought against the Daleks.
3) Talking of Daleks, you’re not allowed to laugh when you first see one. We are all aware they look like bollards with a plunger and a whisk taped to them, yes, but wait till one comes at you shrieking “EXTERMINATE”. You won’t be giggling then. You’ll be behind the sofa with my mum.
4) The Doctor travels with a companion at almost all times. Currently, his companion is Amy Pond, the first one not to drive me up the wall since I forgave Billie Piper for her “singing career” and allowed her to charm me as Rose. Some companions end up as loved as the Doctor they travel with; Sarah-Jane, for example, now has her own spin-off. I doubt any companions will ever be as loveable as Matt Smith though. He’s the best Doctor ever.
5) The Doctor travels in a Tardis, which looks like a 50s police box, which in turn looks a lot like a telephone box and/or portapotty, depending on your reference point. It’s bigger on the inside. There’s a swimming pool and a library in there somewhere (at one point they were in the same place, but that wasn’t on purpose).
6) The Doctor does not kill people. He’s never armed, unless you count his Sonic Screwdriver and his rather brilliant brain. He commands a healthy respect out there in the universe: several invading alien armies have recently fled in terror when they spotted him on the Earth. He sees himself as our protector, as he has a soft spot for the human race.
It’s sometimes cheesy, was made on a shoestring until recently and the humour is very, very English, but it’s meant to be that way, the stories are always amazing and Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever. Seriously. So, if you’ve yet to spot it on your tellybox schedules and you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you could do a whole lot worse than making Matt Smith YOUR doctor.