The 2013 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
Doctor Who came back to television when I was sixteen. I didn’t have a television, so news tended to come filtered through from other people. I hadn’t really paid any attention to the news of its return. I didn’t really have much of an idea what the show was. I’d once read a Doctor Who book called Black Orchid when I was about ten. I loved it but had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. That was the extend of my knowledge.
A friend at the church–a devout, unimaginative girl–told me one Sunday evening that Doctor Who was awesome. Being a teenager and uninformed, I naturally defaulted to a position of blustering judgement. I told her it was terrible (I hadn’t seen it) and really stupid (again, I hadn’t seen it) and that was that. My only defense is that, every Sunday, my default position was antagonism. If she’d told me it was terrible, I might have searched out a copy then and there.
So all the way through the first Christopher Eccleston series I saw and heard nothing, even though from what I know now, it was proving a runaway success. It came to the end of the school year–summer holiday. That year I had joined an online dvd rental service, and was devouring film and television, but six weeks was a long time, and so I shored myself up by borrowing piecemeal anything media I could get my hands on. Kat in the Attic leant me a whole pile of things–this was also the summer I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer–including a knock-off dvd of the first series of Doctor Who.
We’re talking shaky, dodgy quality. To make it even worse, I watched it on my lawn, in the blazing sun, barely capable of making out the action on the screen. Within an hour, I was eating my words. This show was superb. I watched the whole series in two days.
And that was the start of it. I’m not one for fandom–which seems to be an increasingly monetised and fetishised thing these days, with tumblr and online communities and endless memes–but I was always one for being a somewhat obsessive fan. Those things (shows, films, books) that I love I cling to for dear life, and love whole-heartedly. The two years of college introduced an entire raft of things that I would become a rabid fan of, but it would still always be in a solitary, insulated way.
I talked in last years advent calender that real core stories that I love are those in which I would happily pick up and run away to join their world (Buffy, Brenda and Effie, Star Wars, Adele Blanc-Sec, Secret Diary, Harry Potter, The Crow, the entire Steampunk genre…) and Doctor Who really is the ultimate in that version of escapism. The TARDIS can arrive, the door can open, and you can be whisked away anywhere. If I wanted to get meta, I could argue it’s an endlessly refineable metaphor for literature. When I was watching the first series, I wasn’t thinking that deep: what I loved was the sheer, giddy joy of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love gritty, I love realism, I love dark. But sometimes it’s great to watch a show in which it seems as if the principle characters actually bloody love what they’re doing. Be it big or small–and I think Doctor Who triumphs in being able to prize both–there was a boundless glee to be found. At the time, caught in the hormonal pit of confusion and ecstatic melancholy, that was its own kind of escapism. A decade on, its more in line with my basic philosophy on the world: joy in all things.
For all that, I wasn’t a rabid fan. I loved the show. I watched it regularly, and I watched its spin-offs. Post-university, it was a staple of Saturday-night viewing. A year ago, in the aftermath of a horrible break-up, a salve to the woes of the week was watching Doctor Who projected eight foot high on my wall. I had all the DVDs, I could name you a raft of facts, I could recite the details of every episode of the new series. But I still wasn’t, properly, a ‘fan’.
Then, earlier this year, I read a book called Queers Dig Time Lords. It’s a collection of essays about Doctor Who fandom and its links to queer culture. It’s mostly the recollections of LGBT contributors about growing up with the show. It articulated giant swathes of ideas that clicked with my viewing experience (the asexual, gentlemanly hero so easy for a gay youth to identify with; the camp, theatricality of it all; the dawn of sexual frankness with Captain Jack…) Perhaps most interesting was the scores of people for whom their mental image of Doctor Who is a grainy, slightly shaky production–which tied all the way back to the knock-off, wobbly DVDs on which I first viewed the show.
But aside from all the theory bubbling around, Queers Dig Time Lords infected me with the absolute love and excitement of the fans contained in its pages. I might have loved everyone from Eccleston onwards, but I didn’t know a damn thing. There were eight whole Doctors before I had even begun watching. I felt an overwhelming urge to plunge into the fandom, and start watching. So I did: I began from the very beginning, with William Hartnell’s Doctor. Which, when you’re only used to the new series, is a bit like being plunged into an ice bath. The unfamiliar characterisation and starkly contrasting production values are quite hard to overcome for someone of my generation, but I’ve eased in slowly, and started to really enjoy the show, and hopefully I will, slowly, watch through the entirety of the series.
And of course, by the time you read this, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary will have been and gone (and I will have watched it in 3D at the cinema). At the time of writing, there have been two trailers. The second is the standard clip trailer which (in all honesty) looks quite flashy and bit, well, smug. The first, however, was the beautifully compiled teaser that features all the doctors and a wealth of in-jokes and nods to the fans. I don’t get half of them, but the detail and attention with which its been constructed speaks to the core of what attracts me to the show: it feels like mythology, like a story that traces back into history, with a past, and a future, and a huge cupboard full of stories that I just haven’t found yet. My Doctor was Christopher Eccleston, in slightly blurry quality, underneath a tree in my sunny back garden, but scratch the surface of any number of people, and you might find the ties that stretch all the way back to whoever their Doctor was.