My date with The Doctor (and some dragons)
If you know anything about me, you know that I am something of an anglophile (and that is probably a nominee for understatement of the year). I was a history major in college and concentrated on 20th Century Europe. I’ve got literally hundreds of books in my house on English (and British) history, most of them by or about Winston Churchill, my favourite historical figure. I know the meaning and correct usage of English vs. British, no small feat for a Yank. Much of my favourite music is British (I’m listening to The Stone Roses and Joe Strummer while writing this). My favourite sports team is Manchester City football club. I just used football instead of soccer without a shred of irony or self consciousness. My favourite comedians ever are Monty Python. Three of my favourite TV shows ever are Spaced, The League of Gentlemen and Fawlty Towers. I think Sherlock wipes the floor with Elementary, and it’s really not even close. We’ve already discussed my feelings about Misters Cumberbatch and Hiddleston. My favourite director is Edgar Wright. I spell words like favourite and colour and honour with a “u” for the love of pete.
So anyway, I think that establishes my anglophile cred. There’s little wonder, therefore, why just about everyone who has met me has always assumed that I love Doctor Who. But here’s the thing – I’ve never really cared for it. I watched a few episodes of the original incarnation of the series back in the day when you could catch it on PBS and it just struck me as overly campy and pretty silly, so I never gave it another chance when it was resurrected back in the mid-2000s. I didn’t dislike it per say, just never had the urge to revisit it. Part of that probably has to do with my tepid relationship with science fiction in general: I’m not against it, I saw things like Star Wars and stuff when they came out, I just never obsessed over them and preferred to go outside and interact with the 3-D people occasionally and try (and usually fail, but at least I tried occasionally) to get dates with girls instead off sitting around rolling polyhedral dice. Again, didn’t have anything against it or the people who were into that stuff, most of whom I was friends with, but it just didn’t become any kind of obsession. Or maybe I just thought a grown man running around fighting tin cans with a whisk and a screw driver was overly silly.
My good friend, emissary to the world of geek, and GFOTB (Great Friend of the Blog) Shawn, just happens to be one of the biggest Doctor Who fanatics alive, and he offered to personally curate a selection of episodes for me to watch, as long as I agreed to give it a fair shot. I agreed, figuring if nothing else Steven Moffat’s involvement demanded at least some of my attention. I texted him (Shawn, not Steven Moffat) one time about “Dr. Who” (I forget the context) and he replied with that special terminal intensity that only the most ardent of fandom can muster when you have committed an unforgivable sin against the canon that it was DOCTOR Who and ONLY DOCTOR. Never Dr. Bless his little hobbit soul.
The episodes that he chose, carefully calculated to my interests, were thus:
3rd series, 10th Doctor – David Tennant: “Blink,” which a) had Carey Mulligan and b) was the first appearance of something called the Whispering Angels. One of these I found extremely enticing and the other may have well as been written in Sanskrit for all of the sense it made. I will let you guess which.
5th series, 11th Doctor – David Smith: “Eleventh Hour,” this was the “Amy Pound one” in my novice shorthand.
1st series, 9th Doctor – Christopher Eccleston: “The Long Game,” aka “the Simon Pegg one”
2nd series, 10th Doctor – DT: “The Girl in the Fireplace”
With those four episodes under my belt, the plan was for me to watch the 50th anniversary special that aired in November last year and then start with Series 1 from the beginning if I found it interesting enough to continue. Being a game sport I set to my task methodically, and watched the prescribed episodes in the order I was given them, and tried to go in with an open mind and without any preconceptions. I was only sure of one thing: given my love of all things, well most things, Simon Pegg, I would most likely enjoy “The Long Game” the most.
The verdict: Of the four that I watched, I really enjoyed “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink” a lot, and thought “Eleventh Hour” pretty good. I ended up liking “The Long Game” the least of the bunch. As I’ve come to find out, your enjoyment of Doctor Who ebbs and flows in direct proportion to who you prefer in the title role (and to some extent whether or not Stephen Moffat is writing – seriously “The Girl in the Fireplace” was really excellent) and I definitely favored David Tennant from what I saw in those episodes.
With these four down, I stuck a tentative toe into the wider world and watched the Day of the Doctor special, which I liked though again I found myself more drawn to David Tennant than Matt Smith (though both of them wilted just a bit when confronted with the awesomeness that is John Hurt, but then again not many actors can compare to him). With those five in hand, I decided to take the plunge and watch the series in its entirety from the reboot. I’m not binge watching, I don’t think I could take that, but rather am watching an episode or two at a time as the opportunity presents. So far I’m halfway through series 3, and here are my impressions:
- I’m glad I watched the anniversary special, because the background on the Time War shed a lot of light on why Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor reminded me of a singer who lost his emo band most of them time. Not enough to make me like him that much more in the role (and I love him as an actor), but it was good to know.
- The downside to having watched the anniversary special and seeing how good John Hurt was? I kept comparing Eccleston to him, which again was unfair.
- I thought series 1 was pretty uneven from a writing standpoint. I liked the really creepy gas mask kids episodes and the one where Rose creates the paraddox by trying to save her father, but did not care for the Slitheen eps at all.
- From what I’ve watched of the Tennant episodes, my early preference for him as been confirmed and solidified. Just like him a lot. Plus, he has way more fashion sense then the other two.
So anyway, I’m not a massive Doctor Who fan now, but I will keep on watching, and am intrigued enough by Peter Capaldi to want to watch the new episodes when they start airing. And from what I have been told, the writing picks him considerably when Moffat takes a larger role in the Matt Smith episodes. The writing has been noticeably inconsistent, and “The Girl in the Fireplace” shows me at least that he is definitely the guy who needs to be at the helm here. (So long as it doesn’t detract from Sherlock. Hey, anybody smell a crossover opportunity? I’m going to get hate mail from the Who fandom for suggesting that, aren’t I?) If nothing else, it gives me some clue into the broader culture (it’s pretty amazing how many references to it I recognize now when out and about) and when Shawn launches into one of his spasms of Who-vian ecstasy.
The other cultural touchstone that I vowed to catch up on recently was Game of Thrones (no spoilers here). And when I say recently I mean last summer, because after running a quick poll of my GoT obsessed friends and acquaintances, I decided to read the books first (And discovered the secret to massive page hits on the internet in the process.) For those of you who aren’t familiar with the books, that meant a LOT of reading (on paper of course, e-readers are the devil’s spawn.)
Since the books take you well beyond where the HBO series is, I’m not going to say much about them other than this: Books 1-3 were pretty great, if occasionally long-winded (the ending to book 3! And I’m not talking about the famous “Red Wedding,” because that takes place halfway through.). The second half of book 5 was very good. Book 4 – first 400 pages of Book 5, however, were painfully slow. In fact, it took me much, much longer to read Book 4 than it did the other 5 volumes combined. Despite being urged to skim, I pressed on, and ended up reading every word of it, and on the whole I’m glad I did it.
Now I’ll dive into the TV show when I can and I have seen a couple of episodes already. HBO NAILED the casting so far as I can tell, with my only quibble being that Peter Dinklage is far too normal looking to truly pull off the Tyrion Lannister from the book, but I like him in that role so far nonetheless.
Now if you will excuse me, this has gone on far too long. And winter is coming.