Dr. Who is one of two scifi phenomena you can thank–or blame as the case may be–for my becoming a science fiction author. The other is Star Trek, and the two series do have certain parallels in their history.
It used to be part of the Canadian identity to feel as if one was somewhere between being British and being American…stuck in the middle, as the song says. No offense. Canadian humor tends to be a bit offbeat and not always understood. Star Trek was an American creation, while the British Broadcasting Corporation kindly gave us Dr. Who. Canadians liked to watch both.
At least, as much as they allowed us. There were years of reruns of the original Star Trek series while Dr. Who just kept changing actors. The problem was that the doctor wasn’t allowed house calls during the day, ie, episodes were played late at night when much of the intended audience (made up of children) was already in bed. In Canada new episodes tended not to be aired until some time after their original broadcast in the UK. And it seemed like we never got all of them.
Between all those things I always wondered what the dear old ‘Beeb’ was protecting us poor, innocent Canadians from. We live next door to the United States. We’ve seen it all. Heck, we even tossed it a towel to cover its naughty bits.
By the time I began watching the doctor was already being played by John Pertwee, the third actor. Slightly before that a teacher had tried to get me interested in a book that featured the second doctor. She thought I might like it. In a strange and somewhat appropriate twist of fate, that novel made it back to me decades later. The scribbling in the front pages is unique. (Not my writing, I only sign books I’ve written.)
If you don’t watch Doctor Who you need to know that the doctor is a Time Lord who regenerates into another man when he’s dying. He can do this a total of twelve times. The current actor is the eleventh if you count the movie, which many North Americans have never seen. According to the original storyline the doctor becomes the ‘valyard(?)’ for his last regeneration and tries to cheat an earlier version of himself (the 6th doctor) out of the regenerations No. 6 still has coming.
When Tom Baker took over as the fourth doctor it was shortly before my father passed away. I was ten. The church I was raised in preached about life, death, Heaven and Hell quite often. I had a solid grip on the difference between fantasy and reality but on one level it didn’t quite seem fair that the Doctor got to come back when my dad wouldn’t be returning from Heaven any time soon. And few physicians could make that phrase “don’t worry, I’m a doctor!” come across quite so eerily. I confess, it took me some time to start to like Tom Baker in the role. Happily, a person does get over these things.
During those years I came to realize that the wonderful thing about fiction is that you can rewrite what you don’t like about reality. Not only was regeneration a handy device to keep the storyline going, it allowed the producers and writers to make alterations to the character that wouldn’t have been possible any other way. The same man, yes, but slightly different. Sort of like cloning with variations.
When I came into my own as an author I decided to write some Dr. Who episodes to see if I was ‘ready.’ For a twist I wrote several episodes for some of the earlier actors to play the role. They were surprisingly easy to write and I placed them all in a file called Dr. When. They’ll never be made, it was just a bit of fan fiction. It did help me to realize that what I need most from writing is the personal enjoyment I get from the creative process. When it stops being fun I’ll no longer be a writer. Apologies to those of you who have to work so miserably on it but we all have our talents and our daily grinds. I hate editing. I do it, but I hate it.
One thing has always bothered me about the Dr. Who series. He often gets blamed for deaths that occur when he’s around. Of course readers and viewers get to see the whole picture but it surprises me that so many of the other characters can’t seem to see past the dead and realize the doctor has just saved the day, the planet, the universe, time and space itself, etc. And is it ultimately wrong of him to bring about the extinction of species that are Hell-bent on destroying everyone else? It’s not like they’re willing to stay put for peace talks.
So, who’s my favorite Dr. Who actor? I’m afraid I’m a bit fickle on this one. Who’s on at the moment? What about you, who’s yours?