Call For Comments: Doctor Who – It’s Bigger on the Inside!

“Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.”

– Dimitri Marianoff,  Einstein: An Intimate Study of a Great Man

From Wayne: I came to Doctor Who fandom fairly late, which, considering my hobbies and interests, is strange. Even so, I feel like I have always been aware of it, probably though the various science fiction and horror-themed fan magazines I read in my teens. My houshold in the hollow, with an TV antenna on the roff, didn’t pick up any PBS stations, so if episodes ran on my local affiliates back then, I had no access. It’s possible that I saw an episode sometime in the 80s, but I don’t specifically remember. Never the less, I was certainly aware of the Fourth Doctor and his iconic hat and scarf. I wasn’t intentionally stealth-cosplaying him, but I wore a lot of trench coats, slouch hats, and scarves back then.

Sometime after the 2005 relaunch of the series, a good friend of mine, Stephen Segal, and an avowed lifelong Whovian, tried to talk me into watching it. I was resistant. It felt like there was too much history, too much I didn’t know. I had also, in my role working in a comics shop, ran into too many Who fans who were a just a little… too fannish. He convinced me, though, primarily by saying that I could just start with the new stuff. So, reluctantly, I began to rent the DVDs through Netflix.

And I was hooked.

This show is unique in the annals of television scifi. Its longevity is part of the appeal, as is the convoluted history that accompanies that longevity. I still haven’t watched very much of the pre-2005 Who, and honestly, don’t feel really compelled to. I appreciate the history, and look up anything I feel I need to know to understand contemporary Who. But the very conceit of the character is fascinating to me. The concept of regeneration forces the show’s creators to reinvent the show just a little bit every time it happens. New actors bring new nuances that builds upon what has gone before. Each iteration of the Doctor is, to paraphrase the end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, a different point of view. Fans debate who their favorite Doctor is, and there is no consensus – though Tom Baker seems to be the gold standard. But at base, they are all the same character.

The Doctor is very different type of hero to the typical western archetype. Problems are solved using wit and intelligence rather than with guns and force of arms. This makes for a significantly different type of role model, one that bears exploring in the context of what lessons heroic fiction have to teach.

By the time we record this the final episode of the Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who will have concluded. Her turn in the role of the Doctor brought about huge changes in many of the underlying assumptions about what the character can be, not only in terms of the form they take, but the entire history of what we thought we knew.

In the book, Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture, edited by Stephen Segal, Steve makes the point that, ‟At some undefined point in time between 2006 and 2010, Doctor Who became the new Star Trek. Which is to say, it ceased to be that goofy British sci-fi show with the laughable special effects that even most American nerds had never really watched, and instead it became the new geek pop culture touchstone, general knowledge of which marks someone irrefutably as one of the tribe.”

He goes on to ask, ‟Why did this happen?”

It’s a good question, though the recent rise of new Star Trek series may have swung the pendulum back. Why has Doctor Who survived for six decades when so many other franchises have simply disappeared? How has it managed to reinvent itself and can it continue to do so?

Join us, along with our special guest companion, Stephen Segal, for a trip through time and space.

From Mav: Like Wayne, I was sort of a late convert into Doctor Who lore. I was aware of it as a kid, and probably caught an episode or two on PBS or whatever… but I was never the biggest fan of British media as a kid, and to the extent that I was interested in watching a UK sci-fi adventure series, I was much more into the Tomorrow People. And again, like Wayne, I sort of changed my mind and got more into it after the 2005 revival. Part of this, is that — hot take — the new series is just much better written… by like A LOT (that’s right… come at me old school Whovians!) but also as I matured as a culture fan, I became more and more invested in the overall project of what the regenerative nature of the Doctor character means.

For me — like so many other new school fans — David Tennant Is “my doctor”. But, even when he was the current Doctor or when he left to be replaced by Matt Smith, I was never at all precious about it because the reincarnation and reinterpretation of the character is the one thing I like most about him (or rather them). Seeing the choices that Tennant makes that are informed by but distinct from Chris Eccleston and ultimately Tom Baker and the others is a more interesting metanarrative to me than whatever is going on with Daleks or Cybermen or whatnot.

I combine this with Doctor Who‘s loosey-goosey approach to continuity and canon. As I’ve said on the show, one of my biggest frustrations in geek fandom has always been the obsession over “how to I make 80+ years of continuity mesh perfectly in this box and be logically consistent”. I adore that Doctor Who is able to say “there’s been twelve Doctors… ok thirteen, because we don’t talk about one… and also he is half human… or not and has two hearts we think and stop asking question or you know what… just for that here’s another previous doctor that we never mentioned before… look this is a world that has to somehow fit 60+ years of stories across tv, film, radio, novels and comics AND then we have to somehow deal with the Torchwood and K-9 tv shows theoretically happening in the same universe which… just don’t get us started… so why don’t you lay off and just deal with it because we’re about to do a story where he meets Santa Claus.”

So when you take that, it’s always been amazing to me the level of vitriol some… less progressive… fans will resort to when the powers that be dare to case a woman or a black person in the role. Of course, I’m also the guy that petitioned for the Doctor to regenerate into Doctor Dre all the way back in 2013 (with Eminem and Skylar Grey as his companions… it was a whole thing).

So yeah what makes this show tick? What are your thoughts?

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