Many years ago, when I was a small child, I remember watching and enjoying episodes of Dr. Who on PBS. This was episodes from the Tom Baker years, with the improbable scarf and the robot dog and sets made from the finest cardboard. I loved the robot dog.
I have never gone back to re-watch these episodes, because I think that it’s probably one of those shows best experienced through hazy childhood memories, or by actually being a child.
So a few years ago, when I became vaguely aware that there was a new Doctor Who series on the air, I didn’t exactly run out and start watching it. I did catch an episode late one night while riding a stationary bike in the exercise room of my apartment complex, and it made no bloody sense whatsoever.
For the record, it was “World War III”, and I came into it about 10 minutes late. If you are a Doctor Who fan, I recommend going back to that episode, fast forwarding to about 10 minutes in, pretending that you do not know who any of the characters are, and trying to follow along.
Some while later, a friend gave us the first four seasons of the show to watch, and I made it through the first two episodes before putting it aside for later. I had the vague sense that I should probably watch it eventually because it was getting an awful lot of attention, but I didn’t have any real motivation to do so.
Then, we started planning a trip to the UK and were trying to plan some touristy things to do, and my wife ran across a mention of a Dr. Who-themed attraction, which sounded neat in a geeky sort of way but that also didn’t sound like it would make much sense without actually seeing the new stuff, so we went back to season 1, episode 3, and started watching from there, putting in a couple of episodes a night.
This meant that we caught up to the currently airing shows with only 3 episodes left in season 6, which was pretty good timing inasmuch as our departure for the UK was only a week after the end of season 6 was to air. This is a pretty good way to watch the show, in my opinion, because while it turned out to be quite fun to watch when taken as a whole it does have some terribly, terribly bad episodes. If I’d been watching it week-to-week, I’m not sure I would have made it through the Daleks-meet-1920s-showgirls episode, just as a for-instance.
What genuinely surprises me about Dr. Who is not just that it’s quite popular in the US, but that it seems to have become the king of the hill when it comes to science fiction. Part of this, I think, is that Paramount did its level best to run Star Trek into the ground before giving it some well-deserved time off, the Star Wars franchise is under the thumb of a maniac who is trying to run it into the ground and shows no sign of giving it any time off, and Stargate, well, Stargate had a good run and then the producers looked at the numbers the new Battlestar Galactica got and we got Universe, which was one of those shows where running it into the ground might have been a mercy had it happened sooner.
That’s not to say that there are no good sci-fi or fantasy shows from this country. Fringe and Supernatural come to mind, but Fringe is, for all its weirdness, relatively grounded; alternate Earth may have dirigibles and buildings trapped in amber but it’s still modern Earth and Supernatural started off as a monster-of-the-week show and has gone on to dance a merry jig through the weirder bits of the Old Testament.
When it comes to flying about in space, meeting aliens and blowing stuff up, the mantle seems to have been, well, ceded rather than formally passed I suppose, but passed to a quirky British show about a man in a blue box abducting innocent bystanders and trying to get them killed.
Or, in the case of Rory, turning them from a helpless geek into concentrated Awesome.
PS: The robot dog has been back a couple of times and I cannot properly express how annoying he is now, which is just another indication that I should not go back and try to relive my youth by watching the old stuff.