Yesterday I talked in quite a negative manner about Doctor Who, which might have been a surprise to a few of my longer-term readers who will remember me as a huge fan. However, I also said that I hadn’t given up yet, and the show is still one of my favourites. Today I intend to explain just why that is.
Doctor Who is about ordinary people doing wonderful things.
One of my problems recently was that the people weren’t as ordinary as they used to be. It was that ordinary quality, the normality of the companions, that made it so easy to relate to them. It was a show about people who started out with nothing becoming something wonderful, and learning to do what they had never imagined.
Doctor Who addresses real-life issues without getting political.
Though this isn’t something many viewers would associate with the show, I still maintain it’s quite clear. For example, there is an episode in series four with the Ood where Donna seems horrified by the society she finds – “A whole empire built on slavery.” The Doctor, ever tactless, replies, “It’s not so different from your own time.”
She says, “Oi! I don’t have slaves.”
The Doctor responds, “Who do you think made your clothes?”
This exchange is actually quoted in a book published by the anti-trafficking charity, Stop the Traffik, for whom I used to do a lot of campaigning, but it’s something I picked up on at the time. That throwaway line might have made a few people stop and think about it.
Doctor Who is different from the other shows on television.
When people ask what it’s about and you reply, “It’s about a 900-year-old alien called the Doctor and he travels time and space in a police telephone box,” they look at you like you’re mad. And then reply that they don’t like science fiction.
Though obviously your enjoyment is going to be limited if you hate aliens and stories involving them, at the same time it’s a show that appeals to a huge range of people from all sorts of backgrounds, whether they’re die-hard sci-fi fans or have never heard of Scotty.
When I turn on the TV at any given time of day, most of what I find is reality TV shows, documentaries, celebrities blathering on about nothing, re-runs of sitcoms and soap operas, and Top Gear. Although occasionally I’m interested in documentaries, I couldn’t care less about soap operas. Doctor Who is Saturday night entertainment that is very different from other programmes on at that time. Strictly Come Dancing? Britain’s Got Talent? Or a programme about a guy who saves the world and the people who help him do that?
Doctor Who unites nerds.
I’m not even talking about the Whovians who see the dalek badge I wear on my school jacket and become my friends. I’m talking about the pop culture references within the show itself. When Rose tells Jack that the Doctor’s name is ‘Mr Spock’ because she’s fed up of introducing him as ‘the Doctor’. When Martha and the Doctor share an exchange about Harry Potter, before defeating aliens with the word ‘Expelliarmus’. When Donna and the Doctor went to Pompeii and happened to meet Caecilius, a character highly familiar to anyone who has ever studied the Cambridge Latin Course.
These little things say, “Yes, we’re nerds, but look – we know about other shows as well. And we like them. If you like them, you might like us, too. But even if you don’t, we won’t judge you.”
Some episodes are freaking amazing.
In recent Doctor Who series, there are more specific things that I’ve enjoyed. Here are a few of my favourite episodes and why I enjoyed them:
The Girl Who Waited
This emotional episode is from series six, focusing on the dynamics between Amy and Rory. Amy, trapped in another timestream, ages at an accelerated rate – she is there for 36 years while only hours pass for the Doctor and Rory. She becomes a bitter fighter, angry at being abandoned and forced to fight for survival. I fell in love with this version of Amy, because she showed so clearly that she could function without the Doctor but that Rory was everything to her, and I liked that.
Rory says to her, “I don’t care that you got old. I care that we didn’t grow old together.”
Towards the end of the episode, he has to choose between the older Amy and the young Amy. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t got that far, but oh, I cried. I cried so much.
The Doctor’s Wife
This one-off episode was written by Neil Gaiman. It’s reasonably free from story arcs and what was so wonderful about it was that it showed us more of the Doctor’s past and the mythology of the Time Lords. We learned several things about other Time Lords that we’d never heard before. Neil Gaiman said that in the writing process, a friend compiled a list of every room ever shown or mentioned as existing inside the TARDIS – now that’s dedication.
Although the episode had its flaws and seemed to be suffering from budget cuts (admittedly, I can see it as having been an expensive episode to film), I enjoyed this new take on the TARDIS and the functionality of it.
It also had plenty of humorous one-liners.
The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang Two
Although I’ve criticised this as a finale to series five, since it seemed to have little to do with the crack in the wall and also had so many paradoxes and mind-boggling twists as to be completely unfeasible, I actually really enjoyed it. It was funny. It was interesting. And I think it heralded the beginning of the end for the Doctor.
He didn’t realise that the gathered aliens, his past foes, were there for him. He confronted them and told them to come and take the Pandorica from him. It was the first time that we really saw this aspect of his self: the shouting instead of running. And his enemies teamed up to fight him.
For the first time we are seeing the Doctor as the horror he’s seen as by the rest of the universe. It’s been hinted, but never explicitly spoken. Following the whole Time Lord Victorious incident, we’re seeing that the Doctor had his dark moments in the past, and that his good moments weren’t necessarily as good as he thought they were. The rest of the universe hates him and not just because he beat them, but because he’s dangerous.
So again, I found this raised various questions and was very interesting. It also showed us a beautiful aspect of Rory’s personality as he becomes the Last Centurion and waits 2,000 years for Amy to keep her safe. That, I think, was the moment I fell in love with Rory Williams.
But the simple reason I love it is this:
Doctor Who is a show that is always reinventing itself and becoming something new. And while we complain about the changes and criticise whoever is head writer at the time, while we moan about the new actors and admire the companions, while we complain that the new logo is ugly – that’s been happening the whole time. Whatever they do, people will always complain. You can’t please everybody.
But while it angers people and divides people, it also unites people, because it’s an iconic show. It’s a show about heartbreak and ecstasy and devastation and the wonderful glorious things that people can do – but also the terrible things that people are prepared to do. It’s about the demons inside us, the ones we fight and the ones we run from. It’s about being better than the bad guys, about doing the right thing.
And that is why I will not give up on it. Because in the long run, it may go through changes and we might not like all of them, but Doctor Who is still a show about a 900-year-old alien in a blue box who travels in time and space and saves us all a thousand times and there is nothing else on television quite like it.