Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tom Baker was 'my' Doctor

In the late 1970s, science fiction suddenly became the next big thing, in no small way thanks to George Lucas and the Star Wars phenomenon which was just bursting forth. It seemed everywhere the nine-year-old me turned, there was some new science fiction movie or television show to watch, or novel to read. Of course most of those movies and shows were dreadful, just Hollywood trying to cash in on the sci-fi craze. However, there was one show that was different.

And that was Doctor Who.

I wasn't aware of all the show's history at the time, but I did know it came from British television, the BBC. Where I lived in central Kentucky we could pick up a few Chicago channels on our TV from time to time, this being back before cable, and the Chicago-area PBS started running episodes of Doctor Who. The episodes began with Tom Baker's first appearance as the Doctor and ran through a few seasons or thereabouts.

I had no idea there had been three other Doctors before Baker, though I did catch on quickly that he was not the first actor to portray the role, that his character was an alien who changed form, thus different actors could be used. I also had no idea back then that Doctor Who was something of a phenomenon in England, with its own cult following I suppose not unlike that of Star Trek in the U.S.

Keep in mind, this was all before cable, before VCR, before DVR, before the Internet, before the modern Doctor Who show, before the popularity of the new Doctor Who show.

All I knew was Tom Baker. He was my Doctor, and even today, he still is.

When one talks with Who fans, the majority of them seem to have one Doctor they prefer over the others, usually whomever was Doctor at the time they became a fan or the Doctor they grew up with. At this moment there have been 12 Doctors, though the 13th begins his run quite soon.

Funny thing, I don't really consider myself much of a Who fan nowadays. In my late childhood and early teen years, yes, there was no doubt, I was a Who fan. Even though Baker was my Doctor, once VHS came along I sought out as many non-Baker episodes of Who which I could find, which was quite difficult until the '90s. I also read as many of the novelizations of the shows I could find, and there were a lot of them. I also read books based upon the show and its characters, and I read books about the show and its characters. I was ate up with it.

But then in the late 1980s the show was canceled by the BBC. It sucked, but it happens. Life rolled on, I got older. Every now and then I'd hear something about a Doctor Who resurgence, but it never seemed to happen, even in 1996 when there was a Doctor Who televised movie.

Years later, the BBC finally brings back Doctor Who, and the show becomes more than a success. It becomes a massive hit, and not just in the UK, but across the globe.

As I said, I no longer think of myself as a fan. I've watched maybe a dozen episodes of the modern series, and I have enjoyed them. It's a good show. Perhaps a little too fast-paced for my liking, but that's today's world and today's media, and I'm sure my opinion of this reflects my earlier love of the original series.

The newer shows have far better special effects, generally better acting, and for the most part also better writing. Better directing? Not so much in my opinion, but by no means awful directing. I also appreciate that the modern show has its own tropes and themes and new characters but does so without destroying anything from the original run. I like the modern Doctors, all of them, and think they have done great jobs with the character.

So why am I not as big a fan today?

I got to thinking about this recently because the BBC, and to some extent the world, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Also because there was a 50th anniversary special episode of Doctor Who. I watched it and loved it. It tied in quite well the old shows and the new, and honestly it's probably my favorite of the newer Who shows I've seen.

Perhaps one reason I'm not as much a fan as I used to be is because I'm older and I'm not as much a sci-fi fan as I once was, my interests leaning more towards fantasy and horror. Also, there's the nostalgia factor.

And then perhaps there's a little bit of ... hmm, I'm not sure what to call it ... jealousy?


Yeah, I'll admit, there's a small part of me that kind of feels like all these modern Who fans are johnny-come-latelies. Admittedly a large number of those fans are too young to remember the original series, but it does irk me a little that Who never really made it in the U.S. until the modern series came along with its flashy graphics, darker stories, etc.

But all that's just a small part of me. It's not like I go around holding a grudge over any of this. It's not even like I go around think about it. Like I said, heck, I don't even watch the show all that often any more, and when I do I always go away pleased.

I don't have an answer. I don't really know why I'm not as big a fan as I once was.

But I do know one thing. Watching that 50th anniversary episode, it reminded me of a big reason why I loved the show in the first place. It all comes down to one word: Hope.

Doctor Who doesn't generally promote a positive future, as to some extent does Star Trek, nor does it usually focus upon enormous, sweeping stories that are epic in scope, as does Star Wars. But Who does focus upon the individual quite a lot, most times through the character dynamics of the Doctor himself, though sometimes through his sidekick characters and every now and then even through the villains or lesser characters.

Doctor Who forces us to look deep inside ourselves and to find hope even when things are at their most bleak. Doctor Who shows us we can be our most noble selves, and we don't necessarily have to stand tall to do so, we don't have to act tough or have a weapon or do awful things because we think they are right under certain circumstances.

We just have to be human.

Which is interesting coming from an alien.


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't even have a doctor.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, I'll give you Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor from '70-'74. He dressed as a bit of a dandy with fluffy shirts and the like, but he's probably the most action-driven of the Doctors (at least the original ones) and is quite a tough character.

jakeescholl said...

I've tried watching the show, but I could never quite get into it. It's funny how many people that knew nothing about Dr. Who are all of a sudden fans...I might give it a chance again, and start with the older Doctors.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I like it all, old & new.

And yes, sometimes the new stuff goes by at an exhaustingly fast clip.

On the other hand, when I look back at the old episodes, sometimes they weren't slowing the pace for the sake of it. There was a lot of crazy padding sometimes, when they had to fill-in for episodes that fell through the cracks. (not so much Tom Baker's era forward, but the three Doctors before.)

I am very interested in how Capaldi will take the reins. He can't be as energetic as the last three. How they can keep an older, more cerebral Doctor interesting to the younger masses of today will be interesting.

I enjoyed "The Day of the Doctor." For all the surprises that were there, what surprised me most was the tone. After the darkness & gravity of "The Name of the Doctor" and "The Night of the Doctor", the levity caught me off-guard. Not to say it wasn't serious when it needed to be.

But Moffat was right to do that. The episode was a celebration, so levity, joy & hope were the right way to go.

Ty Johnston said...

Paul, yeah, I had 3 small quibbles with the special episode, and they're related to what you mentioned.

1.) The tone too often seemed too "fun," and as you said, sometimes in inappropriate places.

2.) The War Doctor was foreshadowed as this deep, dark, somber character, and then he wasn't so much, or at least no more so than some of the other Doctors when facing trying circumstances. Though John Hurt was still awesome.

3.) We had been led to believe the Time Lords had become as bad as, or nearly so, as the Daleks themselves. Yet I saw no evidence of this.

I'm not suggesting I wanted a darker tone, because I love the sheer fun of Who, but damn it, we were taken down a path, in my opinion, and the delivered goods were not quite as promised. Still, a great episode, and despite my possible harsh tone, I mean them only as minor quibbles.

Ty Johnston said...

Jake, if your interests are more action oriented, I'd suggest the Third Doctor, played by actor Jon Pertwee.

If your more in the mood for some comedy, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) or the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) should do fine.

But the modern show has plenty action and comedy, as well.

Keith West said...

I haven't seen any of the modern episodes, simply a matter of time. But Tom Baker is my doctor.

The Wasp said...

Tom Baker's my Doctor. Ch 9 here in NYC started playing the first four or five Tom Baker seasons back to back.
I watched the first few seasons of the present show and found Tennant never quite clicked for me. And, yeah, as an older fanboy I'm a little miffed/jealous at/of all the new fans suddenly all over the Dr. Who bandwagon. Grumble, grumble.