My 20th Who-nniversary

Today marks twenty years since the Doctor Who television movie aired in the UK. I’m in the US, so my actual Who-nniversary was on the 14th of this month, but I didn’t even realize it’s been twenty years. It feels like yesterday. To celebrate, here’s a post I wrote back in 2012, but a little different after its regeneration.

My first Doctor, MY Doctor, is the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.

Eight has the dubious distinction of being the Doctor with the shortest television run, but his epic adventures span dozens of books, comics, and over seventy Big Finish audio dramas. It is truly criminal that we didn’t get more time with Eight on screen, because he was the perfect bridge between the classic series and the new, in which The Doctor became more “human” and showed self-doubt in a way the previous Doctors didn’t.
In 1996, after being off the air for seven years, Doctor Who made an attempt to resurface in the United States. If you watch the television movie, you get a glimpse of what the American reboot would have been like, and it’s not too different from the tone of the Russel T. Davies series. A quick summary: The Doctor is transporting the mortal remains of The Master, who has been executed by The Daleks, from Skaro to the Time Lord home planet, Gallifrey, in accordance with The Master’s final wishes. As the TARDIS travels through space, the Seventh Doctor kicks back and relaxes in his bad ass, totally Steampunk TARDIS, reading H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and eating jelly babies. But The Master’s plan all along was to funnel his essence into The Doctor to secure more regenerations. This goes awry when The Doctor makes an emergency landing in San Francisco, 1999, and gets shot in the crossfire of a gang turf war (no, really). He ends up in the hospital, where a brilliant, sexy cardiologist, Dr. Grace Holloway, assumes he’s human, performs a heart procedure, and kills him (she does this all in a ball gown I would still kill to wear). Because he was anesthetized at the time of his death, his regeneration is delayed, and when he regenerates, he has no memory of being a Time Lord. He has to recover his memories in time to stop The Master, and to stop the universe from being destroyed at 12AM on January 1st, 2000.
At the time the TV movie aired, I was fifteen, and possibly the biggest nerd on the planet. Convinced that TV hated me and everything good, I had taken to videotaping literally everything I watched on television in case it got cancelled (this strategy also paid off for My So-Called Life). When I heard there was going to be “some time travel show thing” on Fox (my mother continued to refer to Doctor Who as “some time travel show thing” for the rest of my years at home), I thought it might be kind of cool to check out.
My reaction was somewhere between “holy shit” and “where has this been all my life?” Keep in mind, I had no idea that the show existed before 1996. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and whoever had come up with this startlingly brilliant new idea should be immediately handed heaps of money and the keys to the Vatican.
I was in L-O-V-E.
It should have come as no surprise to me that since I loved the show, it never got picked up for an American series. But I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a series, so I was perfectly happy to watch the story of The Doctor and Grace over and over again. I learned about amnesia as an exposition device. I learned about atomic clocks. And I was torn between pride that Grace was an independent enough woman that she wouldn’t forsake her own life to ride off into the time sunset with The Doctor, and furious that he didn’t pick me instead, because I would totally have gone with him. Also, jealous because she got to kiss him.
A few months after the movie aired, I was flipping through the pathetic five channels that I could get at my grandparents’ house, and I landed on PBS. Immediately, I was struck at how bizarrely similar to my Doctor Who this weird show with a funny looking, curly haired guy and his assistant, Sarah Jane, was. And she called him The Doctor… and they were in… the… TARDIS… and they…
I swear to you, I get teary-eyed remembering the feeling I had upon learning that The Doctor had other adventures. I didn’t know about regeneration yet. I just figured that in Great Britain, people were very high-brow and could overlook the fact that The Doctor’s appearance changed wildly. But as time marched on, and my love of The Doctor grew, I learned more about the show. I wrote fanfic. I tried to knit the scarf. I failed, but damnit, I tried.
(A couple years ago, I finally managed to knit the scarf for a cosplay:
Me, dressed in a velvet frock coat, long 4th Doctor scarf, a tweed corset, hat and goggles, and red converse sneakers. I'm posing in a hotel hallway, with my best impression of Tom Baker's worried face.

Gender-swapped steampunk 4th Doctor with 10′s shoes and a tool belt full of jelly babies. Crushing it.)

But then it became time to put away childish things. I went out into the real world. I got a job, and a guy to live with, and a kid. So, when I learned The Doctor was returning, I didn’t pay much attention. I wasn’t that nerdy little girl anymore, I had very important things to do. Plus, The Doctor was wearing a leather jacket. I was so terrified that they were trying to “update” my beloved Doctor, to make him into something sleek and polished for a jaded modern audience, the way they’d tried and failed to do in 1996. I didn’t want Doctor Who without cardboard walls and papier mache monsters. So I put off watching the new series… until 2008.
When I started watching it again, friends, it was all over. I had regaled my husband with stories of my childhood nerdiness, and he watched with amusement as I geeked out all over again. And he started watching it, too. And my son made a Doctor Who puppet show, with Daleks he drew and taped to popsicle sticks. And so, here we are again. I guess it must be fate. And other Peter Cetera lyrics.
I still watch the movie every once and a while. It feels dated, of course, but dated like the sofa you grew up with. I feel echoes of Dr. Grace Holloway in Dr. Martha Jones, because they were both the girls who didn’t wait. When I watched the mini-episode The Night Of The Doctor, I immediately recognized Eight’s voice when he spoke his first line unseen.
I love Doctor Who. It is, without exaggeration, one of the most important things in my life. And Paul McGann’s Doctor is the one who guided me into the fandom. Someday, I hope I can go to a con to meet him and let him know that.
paul mcgann, in civilian clothes, hugging a dalek, a rapturous expression on his face.

The meeting will look like this, except I will be Paul McGann and Paul McGann will be the Dalek and also calling security, probably.

A lot of people have been into Doctor Who a lot longer than me, but that’s one of the most amazing things about a fandom that’s been going strong for over fifty years: new people always come along to join up, and then the new people become less new as more roll in. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a fan for twenty minutes or twenty episodes, and I’m proud to still be a Whovian, twenty years later.

 

10 thoughts on “My 20th Who-nniversary

  1. Whovians unite! I think it is wonderful that you can remember so clearly when you first discovered Doctor Who. I didn’t find him until the new series with that “guy in the leather jacket.” I think he is still my favorite. But it didn’t take me long to catch up. Love your cosplay costume!

  2. I’m British, so Dr. Who has been part of my life for all of my life. Except Jon Pertwee, because I was doing something else on Saturday afternoons at the time, and video was a non-thing in our house.
    When the BBC cancelled it, after Sylvester McCoy (over here, we call the incarnations by the actor’s name rather than the number. I had no idea he was seven, before you said), I was heartbroken. It was deliberately killed off by changing its time slot and putting it against what was then THE soap to watch.
    But it came back. It regenerated, and America saved it by going apeshit over it. Thank you.
    My Doctor is Tom Baker. He just is. But I love Peter Capaldi, because, despite the terrible scripts he’s been lumbered with, he’s a proper Doctor. Arrogant, irritable and with that touch of “I can’t wait around for you to catch up” vibe that I love.

  3. Ahhhhh, I have no idea when I first started watching Doctor Who, because my mum loves it too, so it was always on in our house. My grandparents were the first people we knew who had Sky and they used to tape it off UK Gold every weekend for us. But only from Three onwards because so much was missing from the first two Doctors. I actually didn’t watch any of their stories until HMV had a special offer on Who videos and I was sent to buy some and found Tomb of the Cybermen, which had just been rediscovered. That sparked my love for the Second Doctor, so of course, when they found even more of his missing episodes in 2013, that made the 50th anniversary celebrations complete for me.
    I’m still annoyed they didn’t animate the missing episode of Web of Fear though.

  4. I saw the very first one, all those years ago, on a cold November Saturday night, the day after Kennedy was shot and the world was looking elsewhere. I dip into and out of Doctor Who: there for Hartnell and Troughton, off for Pertwee and Baker (T), back for Davison and Baker (C), out again for McCoy but back for McGann, no to Eccleston and Tennant, yes to Smith. I’m undecided on Capaldi, who I think is a Good Doctor putting up with awful writing from Moffat, who’s lost it totally after being so spectacularly good with Smith, and Amy and Rory…

    Bless you and love it all to bits.

  5. I met the fifth Doctor today. I’ve never been a Whovian (Tried, but just couldn’t get into it), but it was still fun.
    Especially when he spelt my friend’s name wrong.

  6. When I was a kid, it would come on our PBS station every evening at 6:00, it would be on after 3-2-1 Contact. They mostly showed 4 and Sarah Jane stories, but every so often they run a 5 or 6 episode. I remember being confused with the whole regeneration thing, but my brother was like “it’s just a TV show, shut up and let me watch.” I remember being absolutely terrified of the disembodied hand that possessed Sarah Jane (I think that is what happened, my memory is fuzzy).
    I had totally forgotten about the series once we got cable and were no longer confined to 4 channels. Then one day I was flipping through the channels and saw Sci-Fi (not SyFy) airing Rose and it just brought all those childhood memories of sitting in front of the TV with the family and watching these weird little stories about a guy in a police box.
    I must admit I have soured on Moffat’s turn at the helm, and haven’t really watched the past couple of seasons. But this show does keep a special place for me, and no, I will never, ever, ever, be over what happened to Donna Noble.

  7. Paul McGann probably won’t call security if you ask him first. He gave my friend Rel a hug when we went to Gally a few years back, after she asked.

    The feeling of delight you describe when you first watched the movie in ’96 sounds like my own. I was 16, and practically bouncing off the walls waiting. I’d discovered Doctor Who only a year or so earlier, thanks to the Star Trek fan club I’d been part of in middle school. And I was mesmerized by the movie. McGann was the Doctor from the moment he regenerated, and I adored him (even though it meant MY Doctor wasn’t the current Doctor anymore – I’d latched onto Sylvester McCoy when I first saw the show). I rewatched the tape I made of the movie that day so many times I ended up breaking it, and having to retape it years later when I was visiting my mom and it was randomly on the Mystery Channel.

    Happy Who-niversary, Jenny! It’s such a lovely day to celebrate!

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