Yesterday on io9, Alasdair Wilkins posted a terrific piece on his inexplicable love for classic Doctor Who. He really nails a lot of what’s bad about the classic series while expressing a delightful obsession with the show. I completely understand where he’s coming from.
When I was in middle school, one of my best friends tried to get me into Doctor Who by inviting me over to watch Tom Baker episodes that were shown on our local PBS station on Saturday nights. The show just didn’t grab me at all, though. (To this day, the Fourth Doctor is my least favorite Doctor, even though his run had some brilliant stories and one of my favorite companions.) But a little bit later, my mother and my brother started taking karate lessons on Saturday nights, leaving me home alone. I was flipping channels one night and landed on PBS. The announcer spoke of a new Doctor Who “movie” (they would combine all of the episodes of one serialized story into one big episode and show that) called “Kinda.” The name intrigued me, so I stayed to see what was up. The Fifth Doctor’s “star field” opening immediately grabbed me, and while I didn’t really understand who any of the characters were or what the premise of the show was, the story (still one of my favorites today) blew my mind. I was instantly, fundamentally hooked. I became a diehard Doctor Who fan pretty much overnight. I’ve watched as many episodes of the classic series as I can, I’ve read novelizations of early episodes now lost. I love the show…well, in a way that’s difficult to explain.
Now, I love the new series. LOVE. IT. I think Christopher Eccleston was really good as the Doctor. David Tennant was my ideal Doctor in appearance and behavior. And then Matt Smith came along, and I think I like him even more than I liked David Tennant. I think the stories are tighter and more provoking than the classic series, the scripts have much better dialogue, the acting is better, the cinematography is better, and the special effects are clearly miles beyond what the classic series was able to do. In every way, the new show is a gazillion times better than the classic series. And yet, for all that, I still love the classic series more. And like Alasdair Wilkins, I’m hard-pressed to express or explain why.
Yes, there are scenes, there are episodes–hell, there are whole stories that are so bad, they’re painful to watch. Yes, the special effects are generally laughable. Yes, the sets are creaky, it’s frighteningly obvious when they switch from video to film (interior to exterior shooting) and the pacing of the show can be excruciatingly slow. I can completely understand how someone could not like the classic series. But for me, it’s divine! With all that’s wrong about the show, there’s so much that just feels right! In fact, I’d say that one of the big reasons why I love the show so much is because it gets so much right despite the limitations of a shoestring budget, erratic writing and its place as a “children’s show.” Add the “Little Engine That Could” can-do attitude to stories that pretty much define “high-level imagination” and you have a show that has captured my heart and my dreams. There’s nothing else like it. And while the new series thrills and delights me, it will never replace the classic series in my heart.
I think classic Doctor Who is like jazz or musical theater. You either get it or you don’t. I don’t expect anyone else to love it like I do, and when I meet others who do, I’m thrilled. But this love of mine still remains intensely personal for the most part. And I’m good with that.