April 12, 2016

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Trust Me, I Love the Doctor

Writerly Friends, we often chat about the books that influenced our writing, and how much we love the authors who wrote them.

But we don't often talk about the things that nurtured our imaginations. What made you -- young, not-yet writerly you -- long to spend hours inventing people and worlds only you could see? What made you want to share those people and worlds, realistic or not, with others?

It may have been a book:

But it may just as well have been something else.

Meet my something else:

Tom Baker played Doctor Who from 1974 to 1981 --
from the time I was five, until I was twelve.
I met the Doctor on my own childhood travels to visit my English grandparents. They lived in the Old Rectory, a big old Tudor house in a small Nottingham village. It was another world from the suburbs of Manhattan, where I was growing up.

I loved watching the children's programming on British TV. So different from Sesame Street and Electric Company. And what a treat it was when Doctor Who came on!

Usually, our visits to England lasted a few weeks. Because the original episodes were shown in installments, I almost never got to see a full story arc. I was always entering in the middle of a time-traveling adventure, and rarely saw how the Doctor saved the day.

The Doctor and Romana are in trouble again.
Back at home, my father was a huge Star Trek buff. And there was Star Wars, of course, which we went to see one Mother's Day without Mom (who was treated to a kid-free afternoon). But I always wondered about the Doctor.

Doctor Who's monsters scared me out of my wits, but it was a delicious kind of scary. To travel anywhere and any time--isn't that what authors get to do? (Find a full list of Who monsters here.)

Then, when I was in my late teens, PBS began showing Doctor Who late on weekend nights.

There was an off-season trip to the beach with my neighborhood friend, Liz. Fittingly, dishy Fifth Doctor Peter Davison was battling seaweedy monsters, the Silurians and the Sea Devils, on TV. We were alone at Liz's beach condo and the slithery aliens made the howling storm outside extra spooky.
By the time I went to college, I knew I wanted to be a writer. And at NYU's Dramatic Writing Program, I found my first fellow Whovians.

It became a ritual. Roommate date night was Friday, 11 PM, just me, Jenna, Pam and the Doctor. Sometimes my friend Diana joined us. PBS took us through the end of Tom Baker's reign, all the Peter Davison episodes, skipped right over Colin Baker (I know, right?), and ended with Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.

After Sylvester McCoy's era, Doctor Who
was cancelled for several years.
There's a lot of Who to love, but one of my all-time favorite episodes is "Enlightenment," featuring my favorite Doctor, Peter Davison. 

You may recognize Peter Davison,
who also played Tristan in
All Creatures Great and Small.
The TARDIS (Doctor Who's time traveling machine), has landed on an 18th century sailing ship, or so it seems. The ship turns out to be on a race through space, captained by immortal beings.

What attracted me to Doctor Who, and still does -- even when the cheesy monsters make me scream at the telly -- is its inventiveness.
Racnoss, more silly than scary.
The basic story is bare bones (despite modern Who's attempts to give the character more back story and complicated emotions):

a brilliant time traveler takes his ship through history and the universe in search of adventure. His unflinching morals make him dangerous to humans, and to aliens, who oppress others.

Add monsters, add explosions, add the occasional Queen Elizabeth sighting, and you have a platform for endless imagination.

This Saturday was Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary. My 13-year-old daughter has fallen in love with the modern iteration of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is her man...

because bow ties are cool...
but the girl appreciates a good classic episode, especially if it features companion Sarah Jane.

(Some of my favorite modern Who episodes are "Blink" -- weeping angels are truly horrifying--, "The Impossible Astronaut," and "The Girl in the Fireplace.")

So, there were we on Monday night, sitting in the local movie theater, watching the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special on the jumbo screen. The audience was packed with fez-wearing, long-scarf-wrapped fans and their sonic screwdrivers.

We had a blast. 

Writerly Friends, the human imagination is a beautiful thing. It has created fifty years worth of monsters, adventures, and stories -- and that's just one television show.

Our boundless imagination is what keeps the good Doctor coming back to our backward planet.

But it's also what keeps me, and probably you too, plugging away at our stories. Doctor Who reminds me that the well of the imagination is deep. And for that, I am truly thankful.


Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I should have seen this post coming. ;) Seriously though, you're so right. The well of imagination is deep and what fun it is to fall in and drown occasionally!

BookChook said...

Tom Baker is still my favourite Doctor. Earlier episodes now seem so one dimensional but like old books and old friends, some of that first time frisson has stayed with me - cybermen and daileks still populate my dreams!

Tabatha said...

Did you know that David Tennant is married to Peter Davison's daughter? Kind of a funny circle :-)

Has Julia seen The Sarah Jane Adventures? My Who-loving kids watched all of those.

Jeri Baird said...

I also fell in love with Tom Baker's Doctor in the mid 80's on PBS. My boys were grade schoolers and it was a just before dinner ritual. I think it came on at 5 and again at 10pm. When I found out there was a Doctor Who convention a couple of hours away, my husband and I went. Somewhere I have a picture of me with Tom Baker. He's very tall! I was so thrilled to see him in The Day of the Doctor. The girl wearing the scarf was such a tease!

Thanks for a great post!

Author Amok said...

Thanks for your comment, Jeri. Oh, how much fun to have a picture with Tom Baker. I do have one with Sylvester McCoy somewhere (maybe that's where my K-9 figurine is hiding). The Day of the Doctor was SO much fun. I loved seeing Billie Piper too.