A couple months back, I wrote that liking Star Trek is like liking anchovy pizza. Some people are going to get it. A lot of others are going to go, "Ewwww."
Well, until eight years ago, liking Doctor Who was like liking edamame, hamburger patties and corn on your pizza. A handful of people would get it. A few more would go, "Ewwww." And most would go, "What now?" In America, anyway. In the show's native England, I'm guessing, most would go, "You bloody wanker!"
That's because in Britain Doctor Who used to be seen as a tired old kiddie show. In the U.S., on the other hand, it was seen (by those who were aware of its existence) as a camp space opera with the production values of Robot Monster as recreated by a high school AV club.
Then an amazing thing happened: In 2005, the BBC relaunched Doctor Who, and it went on to become far, far more popular than ever before. A reboot actually worked! (Though for the record it should be noted that it took two reboots to get it right. Which is probably a good thing. Did we really want to see what Doctor Who would have become on Clinton Era Fox? I mean, really -- just imagine Sliders with a TARDIS. Shiver.)
Yet long before Doctor Who had a huge international audience and decent special effects and solid acting and sets that didn't look like they were going to fall down if someone slammed a door too hard, I loved it. Yes, I was Whovian when Whovian wasn't cool. And as much as I enjoy the new Who, I can't bring myself to embrace it with the same warts-and-all passion I brought to the original incarnation. And there's one simple reason for that.
It's not 1982.
That was the year I discovered Doctor Who. Just in the nick of time, too. My family had moved to a new town hundreds of miles from where I grew up, and I was feeling lonely and isolated and out of place. I was an outsider in a small, rural town, and I found it hard to make new friends at school. So I made one on TV instead.
Doctor Who is, after all, escapism at its most literal. A big, blue box appears on your lawn, and when you step inside a friendly stranger whisks you away from all your troubles.
Speaking of that stranger, let's play a quick round of every Whovian's favorite game -- Who's Your Favorite Doctor? Nine times out of 10 you can guess a fan's answer if you ask them this first: "Who was the Doctor when you started watching the show?"
In my case, the answer to both questions -- "Who's your favorite?" and "Who did you see first?" -- is indeed the same name: Tom Baker. Was he over the top? Only by a mile or two. But that even-bigger-than-bigger-than-life quality he brought to the role was just right for a show that was, by turns, clever and stupid, ambitious and juvenile, shoddy and...well, shoddier. Baker's flamboyance made it possible to laugh with and at the series at the same time and, for me at least, it turned something pulpy into something magical.
There's not a Doctor I don't like, by the way, even if some make it harder than others to laugh off the show's flaws. In fact, one of my least favorites is Christopher Eccleston -- who helped save Doctor Who when he stepped into the TARDIS for the reboot -- because his take on the character was (to my mind) so cheerless and drab. But you know what? A lot of today's fans probably love his Doctor because he was their gateway to Whoville. And that's just as it should be.
Today it was announced that Peter Capaldi would be the new Doctor. I have mixed feelings about that. I like that the Doctor's a little older again -- he started out as a doddering old codger, remember -- and Capaldi's a fine actor. He's best known for playing cynical, foul-mouthed S.O.B.s, though, and I prefer my Doctors with a nice, big dollop of whimsy.
But you know what? My reaction doesn't matter. As long as the TARDIS is landing on new lawns and whisking more lonely kids away from their problems, the Doctor will always be exactly Who he's supposed to be.