I’ve always hated science fiction. A Wrinkle in Time frustrated my 9 year old mind. I groaned through Ray Bradbury in 8th grade. My best friend’s Star Trek obsession puzzled me. I didn’t watch Star Wars until I was in college. What’s more, aliens terrified me. Even as a teenager, I had nightmares if I encountered space creatures on screen.
So I’m the last person who should like Doctor Who. But ever susceptible to hype, I started watching it in May. It was weird and campy yet oddly compelling. That first day, I watched three episodes. Four the next day. My family thought I’d lost my mind, because it was all I talked about. I plowed through all seven seasons of the new series in a month plus started the classic series. Not to mention endless hours of rewatching episodes, DVD commentaries, and more.
If you’re a sci-fi phobe like me, don’t be afraid to try Doctor Who. The show exterminated my preconceived notions of what science fiction is supposed to be:
Doctor Who emphasizes that (almost) all species are people. Everyone from humans to Time Lords to talking trees to homo-reptilia are sentient beings capable of joy, sadness, fear, and pain. The Doctor treats everyone he meets with respect. The only creatures he kills indiscriminately are those devoid of emotion and mercy, like the Daleks or the Cybermen, and he makes exceptions even for them.
It’s a different perspective than the big-green-head, evil, take-over-the-world aliens that dominate TV and movies. By its emphasis on the equality and worth of different kinds of people, Doctor Who exemplifies what’s best about science fiction: its ability to make social commentary in an indirect yet understandable manner.
The variety of Doctor Who monsters is fun, but I stuck with the show on the basis of the character drama. I love the Doctor, because he is a desperately lonely man haunted by the death of his species, the Time Lords, and constant guilt of the collateral damage he unintentionally inflicts every time he tries to save the universe. Yet he manages to find joy and adventure in the smallest of things and can’t resist helping anyone in trouble.
He travels with companions, each of whom develop a unique, meaningful relationship with him. The companions make the Doctor relatable to the viewer. I fell in love with the Doctor alongside Rose. I was his best friend with Donna. I grew up with him with Amy. And when each companion inevitably leaves the Doctor, I fall apart. I never would have imagined sobbing into a pillow over an alien TV show.
Doctor Who was intended to educate children about history when it debuted in the 1960s. While it’s known more for science fiction now, historical episodes still play a significant role in the show. History buffs like me will salivate at the opportunities posed by time travel. We meet Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, and Van Gogh. We travel to Pompeii on the eve of its destruction, the London Blitz, 17th century Venice, and more. My personal favorite is solving the mystery of Agatha Christie’s 10 day disappearance in 1926. Even though the inclusion of monsters is (presumably) fiction, Doctor Who brings the past to life and humanizes historical figures in a way that few other books or movies ever do.
Doctor Who is a show intended for all ages to watch. It reminds me of Pixar films and even The Simpsons in that it has layers of humor. There’s plenty of physical comedy to please young kids (and, I’ll admit, me). But there are also jokes meant for adults, for readers, for film buffs, for clever people. What other show will feature Shakespeare subtly coming on to the Doctor, to which the Doctor wryly says, “And 57 academics just punched the air!”? My favorite comedic moments often feature Donna, the fourth series companion. Such as:
“Donna: I finally got the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, and hardly ever speaks a word. What’s that say about me?
The Doctor: Everything. Sorry, did I say ‘everything’? I meant to say nothing. I was aiming for ‘nothing.’ I accidentally said ‘everything.’”
Doctor Who never fails to make me laugh, even if I end up crying a few minutes later.
How refreshing is it to watch a TV show that values brains over brawn? Most save-the-universe adventures feature a hero wearing tights who looks like he spends more time at the gym than a library, carries huge guns, or can run at the speed of light. The Doctor is played by actors who are unconventionally attractive and generally dresses more like a lawyer than a superhero. He is largely subject to the same physical limitations as humans. Rather than wielding a gun, he carries a sonic screwdriver and saves the world with his knowledge of science, logic, and the vagaries of “human” nature. Neither is the Doctor infallible. He makes huge mistakes and is frequently saved by his young human companions.
What’s more, Doctor Who expects the viewer to be intelligent. You can watch it for the glitz and glamour alone, but it is full of subtle clues, themes, and symbolism purposely placed to tantalize the viewer into analyzing every detail until the big secret is revealed months or even years later.
Doctor Who has something for everyone. It will make you laugh, make you cry, make you think. It has shown me that my preconceived notions of science fiction may be wrong and that I should give Star Trek or Robert Heinlein or Firefly or Douglas Adams a try. If I can tear myself away from Doctor Who, that is.
When Alison isn’t rewatching Doctor Who, she blogs about YA novels and manga on her website.
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