Recently I interviewed four fans to try and work out why Doctor Who is so popular. Lots of television shows come and go, but Doctor Who has been a mainstay of British television for 53 years (the hiatus never happened, the hiatus never happened). The show has even branched out worldwide and the fiftieth anniversary special in 2013 was broadcast in over 75 countries. I’ve asked Joshua, a relatively new fan, Chris, a Youtuber who has watched the show for nearly thirty years and Josh, a life long fan who’s currently rewatching every episode ever made (impressive) and Andrew, who writes and stars in Doctor Who Dark Journey, an audio series available to download (http://amaudiomedia.com). All four gave very detailed and different answers as to why they loved the show. So why is Doctor Who the best show on television?
Firstly I asked what were their first memories of Doctor Who?
Andrew: “I can vividly remember watching Episode 1 of Robot and having a mini nervous breakdown, I was only 5, as the lead character of my favourite show was now completely different and 100% crazed it seemed.”
Josh: “I was first introduced to Doctor Who through a childhood friend when I was 9. The first story he showed me was The Five Doctors. Bonkers, right? You’d think that you’d only be able to enjoy, or even understand, that story if you had a solid working knowledge of the program and history watching it. Funny thing, I think it may have been the perfect story to see first, for me. It served up a distilled taster of each of the previous eras of the program and hinted at such a rich universe to explore. It hooked me pretty quickly.”
Chris: “My first memory of Doctor Who was my father watching it back in the late 1980’s on PBS. It was Tom Baker episodes that PBS would air. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time. I finally got into Doctor Who as an adult after hearing about the show’s rising popularity and checking it out on Netflix. I started with the 2005 episodes with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor, and I was hooked immediately. I watched every season available over the summer, and was all caught up right before Matt Smith’s second season aired on TV. “
Joshua: “The first episode I ever watched was Cold War.”
The Five Doctors is a great starting point in my opinion for any new viewers. You get a look at the madness that fuels the show. Regeneration and time travel are what has made the show so robust and are a huge part of why it is still running today and this multi-Doctor story offers such an entertaining and intriguing exploration into both of these features.
I then asked, who they would describe as “their Doctor”?
Joshua: “I have seen all of the Doctors in action, at their worst and at their best, but I’d have to say The Ninth Doctor because he was a mess of emotions, he had just come out of the Time War, so he was very unpredictable, but added to that he was also kind and very sassy, plus I love his clothes.”
Andrew’s favourite Doctor was simply Tom Baker.
Chris: “My Doctor would have to be David Tennant. He was brilliant as the Doctor. So much intensity mixed with charm and humour. He could make a joke one second, then threaten an evil alien with extinction in the next breath. He perfectly portrayed the Doctor’s tortured soul, dealing with being the last Time Lord, but still keeping a smile on his face. His relationships with Rose, Donna, and Martha were excellent too. He went from clearly being in love, to being on the rebound and needing a friend, to meeting his best friend in Donna. It’s the ups & downs of love that we all go through, and even a Time Lord experiences them. I love re-watching David Tennant’s time as the Doctor.”
Josh: “It was the dark whimsy of the Seventh Doctor that really sparked my imagination. The Doctor had always been heroic – although I hadn’t seen Colin Baker at this point – and brilliant and funny, but the Seventh Doctor had extra layers of plotting and internal conflict and mystery thrown in to boot. He was a complex character. Still undeniably the hero and cosmic adventurer he always had been, but he was nobody’s fool. Absolutely my Doctor.”
Personally my favourite Doctor is Peter Capaldi. I never thought anyone would or could replace David Tennant but Peter Capaldi’s performances in series nine just got better and better to the point where it was impossible for him not to be my all time favourite. This piece is called “Why I love Doctor Who” and one reason is that the four people that kindly shared their thoughts with me all named different Doctors from each other and from myself. Usually a show has a character that is particularly adored by the fandom, but Doctor Who allows everyone to be someone’s favourite character somewhere, and absolutely nobody can say they are wrong.
The next thing I asked was what was their favourite episode of all time?
Chris: “My favourite episode is the Christmas Invasion, David Tennant’s first full episode as the Doctor. The way he strolled out of the TARDIS in a robe without a care in the world. He took the time to greet everyone, smile at Rose, and couldn’t have cared less about the Sycorax. After that, he got down to business and sent them home, even after losing (and regenerating) his hand! Then at the end he gets completely serious with Harriet Jones because the Doctor abhors killing, and he was not pleased that she shot the Sycorax out of the sky. Such a fantastic episode from beginning to end.”
Joshua: “This is a tough one, because there are so many great Doctor Who episodes out there, but I would have to say “Genesis of the Daleks” with Tom Baker. I thought it was really cool to see the Dalek’s creation and their home planet, not to mention the spectacular performance of Sarah Jane and the Fourth Doctor.”
Andrew couldn’t pick a favourite as there are simply too many to choose from.
Josh: “For the classic series, it’s a tight race between Talons of Weng Chiang and Remembrance of the Daleks, with Remembrance winning by a nose. In the current series there are many contenders. Blink, the Silence/Forest, The Beast Below (yes, I actually love that episode – it reminds me of the McCoy era), The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and skipping forward slightly The Day of the Doctor. Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express, and Heaven Sent are all very worthy episodes as well and, depending on my mood, any of these (and a few others) could be my favorite. But I keep coming back to the same episode over and over: Vincent and the Doctor. Objectively speaking, it has its flaws,I know, but I can’t help feeling it could be the best 45 minutes Doctor Who has ever produced. A simple story, but well told, with a focus on character, Vincent’s, Amy’s, and the Doctor’s. And Tony Curran is brilliant, especially in the climactic scene (yes, this is the climax, even though all the plot tension has been resolved) in the Musee D’Orsay. Amazing stuff that only Doctor Who can do.”
Again for me, this a question where there is no wrong answer and that is why show is so brillaint. I’ve read people rate Evolution of the Daleks as the worst of the modern era, but I recently rated it 9/10 in my ongoing modern series marathon. I wouldn’t dare tell someone they were wrong though. I’d say I disagree by all means but Doctor Who is so subjective that one person may hate it one week and love it the next whereas the next person may be completely the opposite. That’s the wonder of the show. You can turn off in complete disgust one week (Sleep No More), and next week you’ll see a masterpiece (Face the Raven).
Next up I asked, if they could travel with any Doctor/companion TARDIS team, who would it be?
Josh: “There are quite a few Doctor-companion parings/teams that I love watching, but inserting myself into those pairs/teams would, of necessity, change the group dynamics. Would I like the team as much with me in it? For instance, the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Fantastic duo, possibly the best of the classic series, but they were a closed loop. I don’t see much of an opening for anyone who wouldn’t be anything other than a third wheel. Eleventh Doctor and Amy too. I’d either end being the Rory, but without the romantic angle, or Rory would be there too and I’d be the fourth wheel! There are also some TARDIS teams that I would avoid like the plague. Fourth Doctor, Romana, and Adric, for one. The late season 18 Doctor and Romana didn’t have the best relationship so that would be awkward to deal with and Adric was just untrustworthy, despite his (possibly) good intentions. Also, Sixth Doctor and Peri. That was a toxic relationship bordering on or past the border of abusive. Though I might consider it if only to convince Peri, as soon as the TARDIS lands in Totter’s Yard in Attack of the Cybermen, that her relationship with the Doctor isn’t going to get any better – or won’t for a loooong time, after which it gets much worse and she dies – and she needs to get out and run for her life! But really, I think my favorite TARDIS team is Fourth Doctor, Sarah, and Harry. They really bounced off each other wonderfully. They all seemed to be great friends and having a lot of fun. So I couldn’t join that one; I’d ruin it. Instead I’d wait until Harry left and I’d take his spot with the Fourth Doctor and Sarah.”
Andrew: “I would say the 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Victoria. The Doctor would be in his formative years and that would be interesting to me character wise – I could tell him I have read the Target novels to freak him out or pretend I was a great Fortune Teller instead. Jamie is a fellow Scot so we could make jokes about kilts and Emmerdale Farm. Of course we would meet Victoria and I could actually experience Evil of the Daleks as I would be actually be in it, running around and repeating everyone’s lines before they said them. That and the imminent threat of extermination would really annoy them. And to top it off, fans would ask me….“Oh my God! You were in Evil of the Daleks?… The classic episode that was destroyed by the BBC?…Being in it must be tons better than actually just watching it? Man, you gotta tell me…What was it like?”
Joshua: “If I could travel with any team/duo, I’d have to say The Ninth Doctor and Rose, I really loved their characters and they are one of my favourites.”
Chris: “I think I would love to travel with 11, Amy, and Rory. They had a very unique relationship with a bit of silliness to it. I feel like the show was a bit goofier at times during 11’s run. Amy and Rory were always bumbling about, getting into trouble, and making the Doctor work harder than he had to. I would’ve like to be a part of that and befriend Rory as well as 11 & Amy.”
This is my favourite set of answers because Josh specifically said he wouldn’t want to travel with 11, Amy and Rory while Chris said he’d like to travel with them the most! And they’re both right and entitled to their own opinions. Personally 10 and Martha would be my pick to travel with because they complemented each other so well, there was room for somebody else and the Doctor helped develop Martha superbly as a character, despite not even treating her perfectly.
Finally I asked simply, why do you love Doctor Who?
Joshua: “I love Doctor Who because of its diversity compared to other shows, not to mention it’s extensive history and plot lines. The Whoniverse is just so big and so fantastic (pun intended), and the Doctor’s peaceful style makes him a unique hero, certainly the best in my opinion.”
Andrew: “I think that the character of The Doctor is very inspiring and therefore is a great role model for not only youth. I think he seeps into our souls a bit and fans spend a lot of time speculating “what would The Doctor do?” and perhaps doing it. It’s viewed by families on every level which is great and the stuff of fond memories no doubt. Inspiring wee splinters of the past to inspire us as life gets more involved and perhaps loses a bit of hopeful colour. Not all the time of course, that would be pessimistic, but the show is a great memory machine isn’t it? As long as 4 year old’s are running around dressed as Patrick Troughton and adults cannot stop saying ‘Exterminate’ when, plunger in hand, they’re unblocking the toilet, and people buy a scarf that’s just a little bit longer than usual. We have an inspiring show that gives us more gifts than a drunken Uncle who has just flown in from Australia and that’s great indeed. Taking hope from chaos and running with it, grabbing people around you and whisking them along for the ride, that’s what Doctor Who is about. An unbridled hope that strikes a brilliant chord in all of us.”
Chris: “I love Doctor Who because of the complexity of the Doctor and the wonder of time travel. He’s a man that’s lived a dozen lives, travelled the stars, and has no reason to help anyone, but he does. At the end of the day, the Doctor wants to help people. He’s had relationships of all sorts, fought every evil alien in every galaxy, but he just wants people to be happy & safe. I have a 6 month old son now, and I can’t wait until he’s old enough to watch & appreciate Doctor Who. I’ve got so many cartoons, movies, and shows I want to share with him, but Doctor Who is at the top of the list.”
Josh: “I love Doctor Who because it’s a show with no limits but the writer’s imagination and the viewers’ ability to suspend their disbelief. It can take you anywhere and do anything, address any topic in any style. It’s been said that, at least from a writerly perspective, the TARDIS isn’t a time and space machine; it’s a genre machine. It can marry the past, the future, present reality with the potential and the impossible, all with wit, charm, and often a knowing wink. It’s a show that’s infinitely mutable and, as such, can be written by, produced by, and star anyone with enough imagination and enthusiasm to survive it. Don’t like what you see on screen at the moment? Come back next week. It’ll be different. Don’t like the main cast or the production style? Come back in a year or two. Those will be different too. Doctor Who is not and never has been just one thing. Doctor Who is adventure storytelling in its most pure and open-ended state. Take any story from any other show, any other medium. Doctor Who can tell that story and not even break a sweat. Then next week it’ll tell a story that no other show, in no other storytelling format, could tell. At times, it can be crap, especially when those involved have lost their enthusiasm for it or have found themselves drained of fresh ideas (it does eat ideas like I eat popcorn). But it’s nearly always magical in one way or another and when it’s on form nothing in any era of televisual entertainment can hope to keep up with it.”
Me: I love Doctor Who because it is the only show in television that can educate you, enthrall you, excite you, make you laugh, sadden you and make you wish it was real all in the same second. I agree with Josh in that the TARDIS is a genre machine. The TARDIS and regeneration are the two finest ideas in television history. This means you can go from having a favourite character one week to having a completely new favourite character the next while still loving the show.
Thank you to the participants. You can follow them on Twitter:
- Josh – @TheWholeWho
- Chris – @ChrisRobinsonNJ
- Andrew – @AMAudioMedia
- Joshua – @paulaski_joshua
So tell me why you love Doctor Who?