Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

24 November, 2013

It Was 50 Years Ago Yesterday

Happy 50th to Doctor Who! It's strange to think that 50 years ago it all started with this:

With the help of the incredibly handy BroaDWcast site, I have determined that my decent into DW fandom began in the spring or summer of 1980 when Chicago's PBS affiliate was broadcasting the show in the evening and I'd cozy up to the 1970 Sony color TV that we had. It had maybe a 15" screen which seems so paltry these days. But it was still working just fine when it was finally gotten rid of in 2002. Back then the show came in 25 minute episodes with 4-6 of them per story with each episode ending in a cliffhanger. Ergo I'd catch part 1 on Monday and would usually have to wait until Thursday for the resolution. My earliest memory of watching the show is being thoroughly intrigued and terrified by "The Ark in Space".

How could you not like Tom Baker as The Doctor? He was fearless, funny, irreverent, and clever. Plus he had the world's longest scarf. DW was just like nothing else that I was watching at the time. Looking back, I think that my television diet at that time consisted mostly of comedy. There was M*A*S*H* and Good Times, for instance. I distinct remember being completely flummoxed by Soap yet kept watching it hoping that I'd figure it out. Oh, and I cannot forget The Carol Burnett Show. Of course there were also the children's programs like Gigglesnort Hotel and The Muppet Show. Considering this, it doesn't seem like a stretch that I should adore DW. The Doctor and Hawkeye, my favorite character from M*A*S*H*, were both iconoclasts and very funny. Gigglesnort Hotel and The Muppet Show were both 99% puppets so the low budget plastic Wirrn of "The Ark in Space" were, in a sense, a continuation of what I'd already been watching, simply having moved from the realm of comedy to sci-fi/horror. In addition, The Doctor was incredibly smart and he used his intelligence for the good. He was improvising technical solutions long before MacGyver. The Doctor was all about brains over braun which, as a proto-nerd, I found tremendously exciting.

The show's time slot eventually got moved to late Sunday nights and it took a while before I could A) stay awake that long and B) get permission from my parents to do so. Several of my classmates were also DW fans so, once these goals were achieved, Monday mornings at school were all about discussing last night's story. We were all saddened when the show was put on hiatus in 1985 but happy to hear of its return the following autumn and the eventual announcement of Sylvester McCoy as having been cast as the Seventh Doctor.

And then everything changed.

Earlier this year I watched all of the 5th through 7th Doctor episodes. It was quite an experience as I hadn't seen some of those stories in ages. A lot of memories also came flooding back; some good and some bad. You see, after my freshman year of high school, my family moved from the big city to rural Wisconsin. My parents' marriage proceeded to end and everyone in my family was just miserable. Loneliness engulfed me and I had never felt so lost in my life. The dislocation from friends, family, and the culture of Chicago was unbearable.

Then that autumn, I discovered that the PBS station out of the Twin Cities showed DW and I was absolutely thrilled to find myself watching "The Trial of a Time Lord" one night. This was an important story in that it brought the show out of its hiatus but, even more importantly for me, it was like a light in the darkness and little bit of home for a very homesick kid. Watching it again this year, I was taken back to those dark days of my youth but also recalled just how enthralled I was by it. The opening shot showed that the BBC had spent some significant money and it had a unified look as the program was shot entirely on videotape with 16mm film having been discarded for exterior shots. "The Trial of a Time Lord" is not perfect by any means, but I still love the Agatha Christie-in-space of "Terror of the Vervoids", the mystery of the identity of the planet in "The Mysterious Planet", the return of Sil, and the surreal adventure in The Matrix. Plus how can you go wrong with Brian Blessed? And let's not forget there's the Master and the big reveal of The Valeyard's true identity. However imperfect "The Trial of a Time Lord" may be, I still adore it and can remember getting sucked in when I watched it for the first time.

I have very similar feelings towards watching the Seventh Doctor stories for the first time. I'd gone to see Sylvester McCoy in Green Bay in the summer of 1987 when he was on a promotional tour to drum up interest in the show again but it took a while for his episodes to actually make it to air. Again, I just ate them up. I loved them. I remember watching a Dalek ascend stairs for the first time in "Remembrance of the Daleks" and being very perplexed by "Ghost Light" but loving every minute of it. There were many highlights in the show's final few seasons but perhaps the most interesting elements were that the stories hinted at The Doctor's past and Ace. Unlike most previous companions, Ace was very proactive and did much more than ask The Doctor questions. She even destroyed a Dalek with a baseball bat!

The show was taking on a new life and it felt like it was truly mine in a way that it hadn't previously. I was no longer watching episodes from the past; instead I was watching current ones (more or less). And then it was gone again.

And it stayed gone. I was incredibly disappointed when I heard that the show would not be coming back. It was the end of an era. But I couldn't dwell too much on it as a new era was beginning for me - college.

I found new friends in college who were also fans of DW but the show was off the air and all we could do was revel in the past. Then, not long after I graduated, news broke that the show was going to return on Fox with a new Doctor. The excitement returned. Although the resulting movie was very mediocre, I liked Paul McGann and looked forward to seeing how the show would develop from there. But it was not to be as the TV gods decided against continuing the series.

For the next several years my involvement with the show went on hiatus as I focused on other things including truly becoming an adult and finding a career. However I would "rediscover" my love for DW at the beginning of the new millennium. In the wake of a failed relationship I found myself single and feeling that I'd become someone I didn't like. It was as if I wasn't me anymore. And so I undertook a rigorous regimen of getting back to the nerdy basics and doing what truly made me happy instead of what I perceived as making someone else happy.

DW was a part of this. I bought my first Past Doctor Adventures, which featured Sixie. Soon after I discovered that someone was making

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|| Palmer, 1:53 PM


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