I don’t remember why I was up so late. It’s possible that I’d just gotten used to staying up late to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was eight, and TNG came on at the IMPOSSIBLY late time of 10:30, after the local news. I believe it was on Fridays, although I could be wrong about that. Well, one Saturday night I was up late again, and I ran across a strange little show on my local PBS station. I grew up without cable, so we had a total of five channels to choose from. NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and the religious channel. So if you were up late, there weren’t a LOT of choices on the weekend if you didn’t like whatever random stuff the networks put on at night. There was a strange man in a floppy hat and scarf and big coat with big eyes and curly hair with a pretty girl with dark brown hair in a white dress. They were on an adventure that took them from an old English estate to Egypt and then to Mars! There were robot mummies and pyramids and gods with green glowing eyes.
The show was, of course, Doctor Who, and the episode was Pyramids of Mars. There could have hardly been a more perfect episode for me to stumble onto. Ancient Egypt and mythology were huge early interests of mine, coming right after dinosaurs and Masters of the Universe. I had just started getting into more sci-if thanks to Star Trek: The Next Generation, so a show that combined sci-fi with ancient Egypt was primed to get my attention. I still love The Pyramids of Mars. And part of it is because I remember so vividly how exciting it was. An explosion of imagination on the screen unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Tom Baker—still my favorite Doctor—was charismatic and fun and mysterious. The Doctor was strange and a touch dangerous, but you had Sarah there, too. She was relatable and funny and you felt like you could probably be her friend very easily. Most of develop a separation from what we watch on a screen, eventually. Which is a shame, in a way, and I love when a great show or movie breaks down that barrier and pulls me fully in. As a kid, it’s so much easier. I was there with the Doctor and Sarah. Unseen and unmentioned, perhaps, but still a part of the team. Over the course of many Saturday nights, I felt like I had become friends with the Doctor and Sarah. When the Doctor was forced to leave Sarah behind—not even in South Croydon—I was devastated. I think it’s why, when Lis Sladen passed away, it hit me so hard. In a way that (at the time) I couldn’t fully explain and felt silly or almost disrespectful to her actual family and friends, it’d felt like I lost a good friend.
He Can Do WHAT?
But I liked the new friends the Doctor made. Leela. Romanas I and II. Adric, who was a very early crush for me although I didn’t quite realize it at the time. And of course K-9, Tegan and Nyssa. I was devastated anew, of course, when my hero fell from a satellite dish and lie dying on the ground. Surrounded by his friends old and new he began to change… the strange white figure that had been stalking him merged with him…. and up popped someone new! I cannot express how startling and CONFUSING this was to an eight or nine year old boy from the US, who had no clue how Doctor Who worked. Doctor Who was not everywhere. Books were impossible to find. I had no clue there WERE books until much later that could explain what was going on. Suddenly, the Doctor changed… and the next episode PBS aired Robot! Instead of playing the 5th Doctor’s episodes, they went back to the start of the 4th Doctor! Which I was grateful for in the long run, but was not any more helpful. Eventually I figured it out. Eventually PBS started airing ALL the Doctor Who episodes. I learned that “my” Doctor was not the “current” Doctor. In fact, when I started watching Doctor Who, the actual show was coming to a close.
Doctor Who stayed with me. Throughout my teens, I bought some Dapol figures from the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Newsletter. The 4th Doctor, Davros, and a Cyberman to be exact. I would get the occasional Doctor Who Magazine or Comics special from the comic book shop, which was a half hour away. I eventually started seeing the New Adventures books in bookstores as well as the Gallifrey book. There were a couple teachers who knew what Doctor Who was, but for the most part it was something I enjoyed on my own. Then 1997 brought the Doctor Who TV movie. On Fox! The home of the X-Files! I was so excited. Taking in every morsel of info I could. I taped the TV movie and watched it over and over. I bought the TARDIS key replica. Paul McGann quickly became a favorite. I awaited news of the TV series that would come out of the TV movie… and it never happened. I was pretty crushed. The TV movie has problems, to be sure. But there was so much potential there. Its failure truly felt like the end, but my fandom simmered away. I read the odd book here and there. I started buying DVDs of the old episodes.
Everywhere & Forever
When Doctor Who returned in 2005, it all felt like a dream for the first series, to be honest. I was astonished that it was back on. Joyful at every episode. And while that first season is rough around the edges, I still think it’s uniformly excellent in so many ways. But most of all, it has such energy and verve. It really felt like the start of something special. And it was. Eventually Doctor Who became ubiquitous HERE. In the US! Merch at every store. Everyone knew who the Doctor was and what a TARDIS was and what a Dalek was. This is truly still hard for me to comprehend, fifteen years on. The main illustration for this blog was an illustration I did for Whotopia magazine. I’ve contributed a lot to it over the years, and other parts of Doctor Who fandom. I’ve listened to LOADS of Big Finish stories. Especially the 8th Doctor. I’ve welcomed each new Doctor with excitement, and found something to love in all of them. I’ve bought all the Character Options toys and the Big Chief 1/6 figures. I’ve created fan comics and illustrations and written short stories. The Doctor has been with me most of my life so far. And it looks like he or she will be a part of it for the rest of it.
To all the remarkable people who brought the Doctor and his friends to life—whatever the medium—I have to say thank you. Thank you for fifty-seven years of stories. Of dreams. Of new friends I’ve connected with because of Doctor Who. I’d be lying to you if I said there’s still not a little part of me that imagines I might see a big blue box on the corner some day, it’s door open and waiting for me.
Self portrait. In a tiny apartment bedroom I painted red and black. With my season 18 scarf. One of my most-prized possessions, knit for me by my friend Laura.