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!