Friday, April 17, 2015

The Face of Doctor who and the Science Fiction Fan

Some time in 1976 I discovered that my favorite television show at the time, Star Trek was listed as "Science Fiction" in the TV Guide.

Since this was a fairly "dry" period for new science fiction television, I thought I would scan the guide and see if I could find more shows that were also "Science Fiction."

I stumbled upon a show on PBS called "Doctor Who."  I had never heard of it before and neither had my parents or anyone else I had talked to at the time.

Now I grew up in the US in pretty big city, Doctor Who had been on the air in England since 1963, but it was still a pretty obscure thing in the states in the 1970s.  It was relegated to the "Nerd-ier" section of TV on the PBS stations as an unusual import.

Without knowing any of this, I watched my first episode "Pyramids of Mars" and was totally confused.  Still, the inside of the TARDIS seemed pretty cool, so I stuck with it.  I watched other Tom Baker episodes, not knowing anything about the history of the show, it's mythology (which it had even then) or it's fans.  I remember watching Tom Baker's regeneration into Peter Davison and scratching my head.
With Star Wars' release in 1977, pop science fiction and simple space opera became common.  We got some great surprises like Battlestar Galactica and some abominations like Quark.

Doctor Who remained in obscurity in the US.

In 1982 I met a guy in school who was an overly serious Doctor Who fan.  He was just happy to find ANYONE who even knew anything about the show.  He was convinced that Doctor Who didn't need a fan club, it needed an "Appreciation Society."  Yeah, I know it doesn't get any nerdier than that.

I knew he was a little overly serious, but the whole history of the show drew me in.  The older episodes were not yet available in the US and I learned there where whole seasons of the show that were supposedly lost or destroyed.

He lent me books of older episodes, which I devoured quickly.  It allowed me to catch up on  the long history of the TV show without being able to see the old episodes.

In the months that followed, PBS aired some of the Doctor previous to Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee.  Here is when I think I became a real "fan" of the show.

Unfortunately, the show's popularity was waning and it was cancelled in 1989.  Other than a few rumblings, it seemed Doctor Who was going to fade into British Myth and US obscurity.

In the 1990s, there was a ray of hope with a US produced Doctor Who movie.  The movie itself, featured Paul McGann as a rather like-able Doctor.  The show had some beautiful sets and an excellent performance by Eric Roberts as the Master, but the show's publicity was lackluster and the story dragged quite a bit.  It seemed to only appeal to a few Doctor-Who-starved fans.

When it returned in 2006 with Christopher Eccleston, I assumed it might last a season, if that.  I figured it will either be so removed from the original that it will annoy fans of the classic Doctor Who (like the new Star Trek movies), or it just would not have enough promotion and it would die like the McGann movie did.  

In an amazing turn this new Doctor Who (and BBC America) brought the show to the main stream.  It also helped to re-ignite a lot of intelligent science fiction again.  It's not completely uncommon for Americans to know what a Dalek is now.  Torchwood spin off even made Doctor Who sexy (who knew).

 The Doctor is now even in music videos!  Talk about making it into pop-culture!

Here we are almost 40 years after my first viewing experience and more than 50 years since the first episode.  It's come a LONG way.

I still find it gratifying that my favorite shows growing up were Star Trek, Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica.  My favorite movie was Star Wars.  I guess I picked ones that would last.

1 comment:

  1. Tell me SciFi has not come a long way in the mainstream: