A noob watches Doctor Who
Last year I finally decided to start watching Doctor Who. I’m not sure why I hadn’t before. I think it always seemed too hardcore. Everyone I knew who watched the show was constantly making in-jokes with other Who fans. (One indication of how out of it I am: are fans of the show Who fans or Doctor fans?) This is in part because when I was growing up, and indeed up though most of my college years, the show was still on the air. And the folks I knew who watched it? They didn’t just watch the current seasons. No, they went back and watched all the seasons from its start in 1963. (Come to think of it, what did they do before VCRs became readily available? That scarcity might go a long way in explaining the fanaticism of my friends. You have to be hardcore to watch a show in its infancy when it’s not available on streaming, or DVD, or video. You’d have to bond with other people searching out the series instead of sticking with the more readily available Dallas or M*A*S*H*.) (It’s not that I wasn’t a science fiction fan—I have treasured memories of watching Star Trek with my mom, even though that series had stopped, so clearly syndication was available, even back in the dark days of my childhood. But somehow Doctor Who wasn’t part of our picture.)
If I can’t quite explain why I hadn’t watched it before, neither can I explain why I decided to start watching it last year. I suspect that somehow I stumbled across it streaming on Netflix, had nothing else to do, and thought, why not? It might have been after Sherlock was over and I was desperate for something British to watch. I’m not sure. But in any case, the show was baffling and inexplicable and I couldn’t stop watching.Since then, I don’t think I’ve converted to an obsessive fan. Yes, I laugh knowingly at Dalek jokes, but those are just funny. But a conversation on twitter recently made me realize that I might have my own obsessive corner after all. A tweep announced that he was going to start watching Doctor Who and asked for advice on where to begin—the most recent season? Or back to David Tennant? The consensus, much to my horror, was to begin with David Tennant, aka the Tenth Doctor, who took over the role in the final episode of the return of the series in 2005. I certainly don’t want to cast aspersions on Tennant’s Doctor — he seems a lovely fellow and all. But the right answer to this question is to start at the beginning of the revived series in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, aka the Best Doctor.
I didn’t mean to start the series with the Best Doctor. And I’ll confess that I’m only halfway through the 3rd new series (aka the 2007 season), so perhaps Tennant will grow on me, or I’ll discover that Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, is the best of them all. But I doubt it. I think Eccleston has imprinted on me and he’ll be what I always want the Doctor to be. Here’s what I love about him: he’s dangerous, he’s sardonic even when he’s sincere, he’s manic, you don’t quite trust him even when you do, and he needs his companion to keep him from going over to the dark side (whoops, a bit of childhood Star Wars in there) and becoming too destructive. I suppose that seems like it might reveal more about me than about the show, but I’m not really that much into dangerous men. (Ok, given my previous attestations of love for Paul Newman, that might not be entirely true, though I will stand by my position that his dangerous persona goes hand-in-hand with his real-life loving-husband, do-gooder one.)
What makes Eccleston work in ways that Tennant doesn’t is that he gives the Doctor an edge. Without that edge, it’s too easily just a series of romps through time with someone who is all-powerful and yet has a tragic history. With Eccleston’s manic danger (a trait that he brings to many of his roles, but that here is balanced with some joy and goodness), you get a sense that there’s something at stake in the Doctor’s adventures. Is he going to destroy the world or save it? There’s no fun in the hero always being the hero. It’s the tension between saving and failing that makes a story compelling. Maybe Tennant comes to that later on, but in his first seasons, he doesn’t hold a candle to Eccleston.
Doctor Who, currently streaming seasons 1 through 6 of the new series: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Doctor_Who/70142441
Some earlier episodes of Doctor Who seem to be streaming on Netflix, too, but honestly, the search interface is such a nightmare that I can’t figure out what order the shows go in, so you’re on your own for finding those. Sorry. I recommend you search on the Instant Watch Database to see what’s what. If this link hasn’t degraded, it will take you to a nice page with the available episodes listed in order. Good luck!
Who is the best Doctor from the modern Doctor Who?
The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) by Sarah Werner
The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) by Gavin Craig
The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) by Sarah Pavis
River Song (Alex Kingston) by Matt Santori-Griffith
Sarah Werner has two sons, at least one job, and too many books to read. As a result, Netflix Instant is her constant companion. She blogs about books and reading and is known to a corner of the twitterverse as @wynkenhimself.