My First Doctor Who Experience

Since the summer premiere of Doctor Who, BBC America has been asking viewers to tweet their first Who experience. While I’m following the spirit of the campaign, I’m afraid I can’t stick to the letter of the law. (Well, they’re really more like guidelines…) You see, I’ve had several first Doctor Who experiences. I think the Doctor would be proud that I violated the rules and kept to the spirit; the show and the Doctor deserve as much…

When I first heard of Doctor Who, I was a teenager in the mid eighties growing up in Detroit, Michigan, where I once again reside. There were no American broadcasters showing the TV series here in Detroit, however, on the occasional random evening, without any sort of rhyme or reason, a Canadian station would periodically come in just clear enough that I could watch whatever they happened to be broadcasting at the time. Until the U.S. digital television switch over, we in Detroit could easily pick up CBC channel 9 from Windsor, but this channel of which I speak was decidedly not channel 9. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere in the 30s… Anyway, I recall one day stumbling across Doctor Who and watched two or three episodes in a row trying to figure out exactly what the hell it was all about. I couldn’t pick out the Doctor any of the episodes, at the time, and couldn’t understand why. I now realize that the station had been running a marathon at the time, and showing different Doctors played by different actors. But at the time it left me very confused and I didn’t try to figure it out. So, for the next twenty years or so, I’d hear murmurings of Doctor Who and the TARDIS, but I really didn’t get it. I respected it, but I didn’t get it. It just wasn’t my thing.


When the channel formerly known as the SciFi Channel started showing the rebooted — or should I say, regenerated — incarnation with Christopher Eccleston, I decided to give it another try. I don’t remember which episode was my first episode… It might have been Dalek or Father’s Day, I’m really not sure. I just remember thinking that I once again didn’t understand it, and I didn’t watch it all the way through. There were other shows on, in the same time slot that I knew something about and cared more for. Looking back on that first season, however, I think the problem was that I never latched on to Eccleston, though I certainly liked Billie Piper as Rose. I kept wondering why he kept treating her like an idiot. Now, it’s no fault of Eccleston’s, but I think that incarnation of the Doctor was intended to be something of a jerk, but nonetheless, I’ve generally disliked the actor ever since.


At this time, I still didn’t know much about the show in all honesty. Hell, I’ve been watching Doctor Who since 2010 and understand a tremendous amount about it now, but I still don’t know everything. That goes to show that there is an incredible amount of depth to it and its mythology. I love depth and history in a show. Especially one that bounces around real and imagined history…


If I had to, if I absolutely positively had to pick a single moment as a definitive first experience with Doctor Who, I think it would have to be the David Tennant and Martha Agyeman episode Gridlock. That is the earliest specific episode I can honestly recall that I watched any significant portion. I still didn’t know what was going on, but I found it fascinating. I thought Tennant’s performance was spectacular, and it was written in such a witty and zany style as to just mock criticism of the absurdities. I still wasn’t hooked, per se, but I started to see the beauty of the show.


Sadly, I didn’t get hooked on the show until after Tennant’s term was up. By that point in 2009, I’d moved back home, gotten laid off from my job, and got enrolled at Oakland University, in its Cinema Studies program. On mornings when I had a late class, I would get up, turn on the TV and browse around the channels looking for something to watch while I got ready for class. And that’s when I fell in love with the show and David Tennant’s performances.  Tennant’s energy, activity, underlying excitement, warm embraces and occasional cold and calculating performances drew me in day after day, even when it was an episode I’d seen several times before. Not to mention the Scottish accent… I’m not a Scot nor am I homosexual, but there are times listening to David talk — usually as the Doctor but not exclusively — that make me wish I were… But, I digress… Regardless of the companion du jour,  I’m a Tenth Doctor Man. David’s performances varied from excited to cocky to tired to moody depending on the companion and the situation, but Piper, Agyeman, and Catherine Tate all felt perfectly at home by his side. And to this day, I get choked up watching the final minutes of The End of Time, especially when he says his final words as number ten: “I don’t want to go.”


So that brings us to my final first Doctor Who experience, with the most recent incarnation, the eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith. My experience with this Doctor, however, really isn’t about him. I like Matt Smith, and I think he’s doing a great job as the Doctor, and frankly, I love the feel that his Doctor is a paradox in and of itself: an incredibly old being lying beneath the surface of a young body. Matt does an outstanding job, but my final first experience isn’t about him or the Doctor. It’s about his companions. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amy Pond and Rory Williams are the first companions I have genuinely loved as characters. Their relationship and interactions with each other and the Doctor have been absolutely amazing since day one, and I am so very, very sad to see them leave the show. As the summer finale just went off a little more than an hour ago, I’m not going to comment on it, but Amy and Rory have been the most spectacular characters I could have imagined on the show, and considering they were “merely” companions of the Doctor, as many have been before, I find myself wondering how anyone could possibly fill their shoes or the spots they left in my heart and the Doctor’s hearts. As clear as it is that the Doctor was in love with Rose, it’s clear to me that the Ponds will be missed much, much more. Clara Oswin, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, will have two pairs of really big shoes to fill by herself… While I loved her early appearance in the show, I think it’s too early to really say how well she’ll mesh with the newly heartbroken Doctor.


And so, those are my first Doctor Who experiences… Decades after my earliest experience, I can now say I’m a fan of the show, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the Doctor. Mr. Moffat, Mr. Davies, Mr. Smith, Mr. Tennant, Ms. Tate, Ms. Piper, Ms. Agyeman, Ms. Gillan, and Mr. Darvill: THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH FOR ALL THE ENTERTAINMENT THAT YOU’VE PROVIDED ME!


Ms. Gillan and Mr. Darvill, I hope to see you both in something else in the very near future, preferably together if you can swing it!

Sponsors Bailing on Skins

I know that I’m not responsible for it, because I have zero influence, but it’s interesting to find out that sponsors are not at all impressed with MTV’s version of Skins. So far, they’ve lost at least four sponsors,  because the show is too controversial. Now, I still haven’t watched the MTV version, and I’m not likely to since it conflicts with my school schedule and a far superior show — Castle; more on that in a few minutes — but I find it hard to believe that a company that’s as big and active as MTV would go out and make child porn (as some people are calling it). Nor do I think they would stray too terribly far from the basic formula of the BBC version of the show, which I think would fit in perfectly with my skewed impression of MTV’s programming.

Nonetheless, I’ve been wrong before. As I’ve watched over the years, MTV’s programming has become significantly more “edgy” and risky as they try to capture the attention of the generations they’ve molded over the last thirty years. (Thankfully, they had little influence over me since I didn’t have cable television in any way, shape, or form for most of my life.) The drawback of always pushing the envelope is that you start to lose sight of when the envelope has reached its limits, and though the BBC version of Skins might have once been perfectly at home on the MTV I stereotype, it’s entirely possible that MTV sees it as a “good start” and have taken it to an extreme that it never should have approached.

Even if they’ve only taken it as far as the BBC did, and no further, it’s also entirely possible that the verisimilitude of the series was too much for mainstream America to digest on such a major television network. (One day, I promise you, I shall unleash my wrath on American censorship and conservative restrictions.) In any event, MTV is reaping what it has sown, and I do not foresee a long life for the American series. At least not on MTV.

Attack of the Clones

Despite what the title my imply, I’m not referring to the Star Wars film by George Lucas. In fact, I’m not referring to the movie industry at all, but to some of the television networks many Americans turn to for daily entertainment. What I am referring to is the reimplementation of popular British television series here in the United States for no good reason. It started off innocently enough: versions of various reality shows produced with people from the United States instead of the United Kingdom. You know their names: American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and so on. As much as I detest them, especially because they’re “reality shows,” at least it made sense to do localized versions of them.

Now, a few years later, it’s taking a turn for the worst.  Tired of not knowing anything about it, I started watching Doctor Who last year via both Netflix and BBC America. I quickly fell in love with the series, David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Billie Piper, and more recently Karen Gillan. (Matt Smith is still growing on me.) Watching BBCA for so many hours on a regular basis got me to be familiar, in concept at least, with some of their other shows, especially Top Gear, Being Human, and Skins. Aside from Top Gear, I decided that these other shows simply weren’t for me, and chose not to watch them. Being from Detroit, Top Gear tickles my automotive funny bone, and the three hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — are hilarious. So, I started tuning in to Top Gear whenever I got the chance.

Then I saw a commercial on the History Channel that I simply couldn’t believe: Top Gear was coming to the U.S.. Well, it was sort of coming to the U.S.; Clarkson, Hammond, and May weren’t coming with it. Instead, it was going to be filled with homegrown motorheads, that don’t seem to have any working chemistry with one another at all. While TG is indeed a television show about fast cars and silly challenges, I’d like to point out that it is driven strongly by the personalities, chemistry, and relationships of its hosts; so much so that if it lost any two of them, the show would fall flat on its face. Having watched the American version of Top Gear, I have to conclude that I was entirely correct.

I don’t blame the hosts on the American show, it’s not their fault. They were tasked to do the impossible: start filming from scratch with a known formula but with their individual and different personalities substituted for those in the U.K. version and make it work right from the start. The problem is their relationships or at least the roles they’re trying to fulfill may be similar to those of the original show, but they are not the same. The three hosts, Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood try and fail to bring the same excitement and entertainment of the original to their version. What the producers have done, at best, is to create a mockery of the original Top Gear by trying to use the same formula down to some of the smallest details. It’s a shame that the producers and the History Channel think that the U.S. version is acceptable to anyone that has watched even a single episode of the U.K. original.

Last night was the premiere of Being Human on Siffie. (Yes, I know that they spell their channel name SyFy and pronounce it “sci-fi” but I refuse to call them by that title since they decided to abandon the audience, the hardcore and not so hardcore science fiction junkies that kept them in business all these years.) As I stated above, I had previously decided that the U.K. version of the show wasn’t for me, but at the urging of a close friend that just moved to England, I watched it last night to report to him. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Being Human, the show’s premise is that a werewolf, vampire, and a ghost end up living together in a townhouse and try to take care of one another as they each try to overcome their monstrous nature. In truth, the show wasn’t too bad; in fact it was almost enjoyable. But it did somethings that I simply didn’t like. Given the nature of the show, the first rule is that YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! The second rule is quite simply, YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! Go do your own thing, don’t even acknowledge the existence of another franchise in another medium that uses some similar formula, especially not one that is as both loved and hated as the Twilight saga. What did Being Human USA do in the very first hour? Make Twilight references. A good television series like the original Being Human can stand alone without depending on silly and stupid references to other pop culture curiosities; the premiere episode irritated me as a result of that reference because I now fully expect other silly crap like that to appear throughout the rest of the season.

Putting that aside, my other irritation with the show is really and truly insignificant: they changed the names of the main characters. I’m assuming that Mitchell, Annie, and George, the names of the main characters in the U.K. version, were just a little too European for the producers’ tastes, so they instead changed them to Aidan, Sally, and Josh. With the exception of Aidan, and with no offense intended to anyone, they successfully dumbed down the names. I’m not trying to say that Sally and Josh are dumb names, but they’re simpler and I guess more common than Annie and George, but in truth, it really doesn’t make any sense to me why they changed the names at all. It may be a stretch, but I’d bet that just about every American has known a Mitchell, Annie, and/or George at some point in their lives, so why change the names? I’d have to say that the producers looked at statistics of popular names among their target audiences and picked the most popular ones. With the exception of Aidan that is.

I’ve never met anyone by that name, and while I do recall it being one of the more popular baby names in recent years, I suspect I know why the producers chose that name for the vampire character in the U.S. version. In the U.K. version, the vampire Mitchell is played by actor Aidan Turner, so what the U.S. producers have done is create a bridge between the two versions by naming the vampire character after the actor that originally portrayed him. Call it an Easter Egg. Call it homage. Call it whatever you like. The simple fact is that they wouldn’t have needed to do that if they had just kept the original character names. But, seeing as I one day would like to work in film or television as a screenwriter, I’ll just write this irritation off to contractual obligations that necessitated the change in character names.

All that said, I’ve heard tale that the U.S. version will being using the original scripts from the U.K. version, touched up here and there for the States. If that’s true, then this could be a pretty good series as long as they steer clear of pointless pop culture references that weren’t in the original. I still haven’t seen any of the original series, but I just added the first DVD of the series to my Netflix queue so I can compare the first episodes. Over all, though, it’s still not my cup of tea. Oh, and one more thing. “F” you Siffie.

This brings me around to the last clone I definitely want to mention today: Skins. This also debuted last night, on MTV, and is the only show that I think could possibly work in the U.S. as a rip off reimagining of the original. I’ve only watched a few episodes of the original series thus far, but intend to watch it from the beginning at some point in the future because of the gratuitous panty shots. I’m a pervert, deal with it. What I have seen, however, would fit naturally in MTV’s line up of television shows assuming that MTV decides to label it as a work of fiction, rather than the endless lineup of crappy reality shows they usually air. Since I didn’t watch the U.S. version last night, and I really don’t know a whole lot about the U.K. series,  this is going to be brief: Skins might fit in perfectly among the network’s lineup, but wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot cheaper to just license and syndicate the original series rather than recreate it from scratch? Face it, MTV, you got us used to foreign accents by doing The Real World all over the world, so don’t you think we could have dealt with the British version of Skins? Think about how much more you’re spending to shoot each episode versus the licensing fee to just use the already available episodes… Is this about future DVD sales? Come on…!

Now, I’ve heard rumor that there’s been some casting efforts for the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, but I’m not sure if it’s to create a U.S. version of the show, or to just revive the original. I like Torchwood, but I’m not a regular watcher. But if I even hear through whispers of rumored conversations overheard in a crowded restaurant of Doctor Who being cloned for a U.S. version, there will be hell to pay… Doctor and Amy, I look forward to your visit to the States, but I want you to know that this is the one official warning that my domestic television producers will get regarding you: DON’T CLONE THE DOCTOR!

Sunday January 23, 2011 11:30 pm EST: Just a quick follow-up, I can summarize Being Human UK vs US like this: UK > US.