Get Out of My Dreams And Into My TARDIS

 

Something significant happened when I changed my ring-tone. I don't often mess with the ring-tone settings on my phone. They are usually set to vibrate and I end up missing almost all the calls that I get. That is the way I prefer it. A recent entertainment discovery has driven me to the bold move of downloading an extremely loud and strange ring-tone. If you were to call me right now, my phone would start shaking and a screeching robotic voice would yell "EXTERMINATE!" I have changed my ring tone to a Dalek sound effect.

In the last couple months I have completely immersed myself into the world of Doctor Who. As a child, I occasionally watched a Tom Baker episode on public television, but I can't say that I was incredibly drawn to it. I had no idea that there were Doctors besides Tom Baker, therefore I had no knowledge of the mechanics of how The Doctor worked. I got stuck on the cheap special effects and the bizarre nature of The Doctor. As a kid I couldn't quite figure out what The Doctor was up to. I lost interest and no longer saw any Doctor Who episodes. I have had a lot of free time the last couple months, and some friends who are keen on the show. So a couple decades after the first aborted attempt, I gave it another shot. I love it.

Right around the time that I wold have first seen a Doctor Who episode, I was getting into comics. Perhaps if the timing would have been just a little bit different, I would have stuck with The Doctor the first time. My little brain hadn't been exposed to the big ideas of parallel worlds, evil robots, and time travel. The Flash hadn't quite expanded my grey matter yet. In catching up with Doctor Who; I realized it is the closest a television show has come to capturing the best qualities of comic books. In some ways it has perfected those qualities.

The Doctor is the ultimate super hero. The mechanics behind how he works as a character are an example of how to take the limitations of serial storytelling and pound them into storytelling strengths. Doctor Who first aired in 1963 starring William Hartnell as The Doctor, a time travelling alien. The show was aimed at a young school age audience and heavily featured adventures into the past, educating children about history. The Doctor was a bit of a cantankerous old man. You knew he was a good guy but he could be impatient with his cohorts and was not above manipulating people to achieve his goals. The significant moment that would elevate the character to a new level was Hartnell leaving the show. Patrick Troughton was cast as The Doctor, and a momentous decision was made. The creative forces behind the show decided that  when The Doctor was grievously injured, would be able to regenerate his body. His physical appearance would change, and his personality would change. He would retain his memories, and would be the same character…yet different. This gave Troughton a chance to put his own spin on the character. He would make The Doctor a bit more impish and mischievous, but also more playful. This precedent would would be the solution to a concern that long time comic readers should be familiar with.

As reader of long term serialized characters, I am always interested in the consistency of the character I am reading. I want to read Fantastic Four and believe that The Thing is the same Thing that I read five years ago. That doesn't mean that the character can't do surprising things, or change attitudes. It just means that any work that writers or artists do on the Thing simply gets absorbed into the larger tapestry. It gets mixed into every other version of the Thing. Some elements will survive and some will be forgotten. It is all secondary to the fiction that The Thing is always the same Thing. The character is larger then the creators that work on it. The characters are resilient but they are slow to change. It is both a strength and a weakness. The Doctor is a perfect end-run around that problem.

It is expected that The Doctor will change. It is integral to the fabric of the character. The actors and writers get to put their stamp on the character and it doesn't just blend into the mix. Jon Pertwee's karate-chopping man of action is The Doctor. David Tennant's manic hipster is The Doctor. Why are they different? That is is just how the Doctor operates as a character. There is no need for years of storytelling to subtly shift a decades old character into a new phase. The Doctor regenerates and it is done. The fans know it is coming. The creators know it is coming. There is actual anticipation for how The Doctor will change. Fans still have their favorites but change is always on the horizon. The Doctor gets to eat his cake and have it as well.

The Doctor also has an endless supply of Kitty Prydes, before there was a Kitty Pryde. Kitty Pryde's introduction into the X-Men comic book was the perfect impetus for getting kids interested. The X-Men weren't kids anymore and Kitty gave children someone they could see themselves in. While Kitty learned the ropes of the X-world, the readers could as well. The Doctor has his companions. These are humans (most of the time) of various age that the Doctor invites along for his journeys. They have been school teachers, Scottish bagpipers from the 19th century, engineers from the future, and robotic dogs. The companions come and go but they serve as a great window into the world of The Doctor. His personality can bounce off of them, allowing us to get the know the Doctor aside from any science babble. Their excitement is our excitement. Through their eyes we can see a decades old character with new perspective.

There is also the villains of course. No superhero is complete without a villain. My personal favorites being the Cybermen and the Daleks. Both are races seeking to dominate and destroy mankind. Both have really cool and scary robotic voices. Various incarnations of The Doctor have fought various incarnations of these enemies throughout time. No matter what the outcome of the last battle is, you can be assured that they will return. They might be from a parallel world, or from the future, or the past, but they are coming back. Just like in comics, where Lex Luthor will always be back to fight Superman. The one area where Doctor Who might have perfected this relationship is that the stakes always seem high, which should be a rarity in this kind of long term fiction. Personally the stakes come from seeing how each incarnation of the Doctor will react to the return of his gravest enemies. One of my favorite episodes is the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), coming to terms with how his seemingly endless battles with the Daleks has changed him. There is the danger that he has become so fixated on killing the Daleks that he is not all that different from their drive to "Exterminate!"

Doctor Who is weird, magical mix of elements. There is tremendous history to the character, yet he doesn't seem bogged down by it.  He constantly changes, yet he is the same character. His foes always return, but they seem just as scary every time they pop up. By embracing the shortcomings of four decade old character, they have kept the character fresh. They have given fans a lot to hold on to, but a promise that something different is on the way. The most prized promise that serialized fiction can honestly give.


Tom Katers is going to go look for some Doctor Who comics. Let him know which ones are good.

 

Comments

  1. Great article and can agree with Doctor Who being the ultimate super hero, even when he doesn’t show it at times with the various cohorts he’s picked up over the years.  My personal favorite villain right now is the Weeping Angels.  Whoever thought of those characters is a genius – freakin’ statues that move when you don’t stare at them.

  2. It’s like your life is mirroring mine.  Like you I knew of Tom Baker, but recently came to love the new series and enjoy it’s call backs to it’s history. I feel it’s very much like comics in the sense that a new "creative team" comes aboard and re-invents and redoes things all while paying respect to what has come before.  I’m curious, are you watching all of the series from the 1963 beginning, or pick and choosing different episodes from different eras?

    As far as comics go, I’m currently enjoying IDW’s ongoing book that is tied into the 10th Doctor incarnations. I also picked up the Doctor Who Classics Omnibus that IDW put out. It’s colored versions of the B&W stories that appeared in the early 80’s in Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Weekly (now the monthly Doctor Who Magazine from Panini). It’s a little corny (like that era of the show) but showcases talent such as Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, Bryan Hitch, John Wagner, and Richard Starkings.

     

  3. I was never into Doctor Who.  I kind of attribute this to an episode I saw on PBS when I was really young and a character was put into some machine and his arms and legs were ripped off.  Looking back, it was a really corny early green screen effect, but at the time it creeped the hell out of me and put me off of the show.

    I decided to give the newest incarnation a try after hearing it being talked up on Murmur and I have really been enjoying it.  Matt Smith is hilarious in his manic, oblivious, lacking an inner monologue delivery.  And Karen Gillian is so damn adorable.  Huge crush on her.  I love that the mechanics of the story allow for infinite setting and conflict options.  One episode they can be fighting Daleks with Winston Churchill in WWII and the next, Starship UK on the back of a space whale.

  4. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great stuff. I’ve only been a fan for a few years now, but I’m really enjoying the latest episodes. The Eleventh Hour is a great jumping on point for anyone interested in checking it out.

    Like you, I’ve been wondering about good Doctor Who comics too. 

    Chris? 

  5. Isn’t Pia Guerra of Y The Last Man fame illustrating a Dr. Who comic these days?

  6. Yay Doctor Who!!

    I started watching Doctor Who (the new series) around the same time I got into comics, so I’ve always thought of the Doctor as a superhero type – I’m glad I’m not the only one 🙂 But for some reason, I’ve never really been able to get into the Doctor Who comics. I just prefer it as a TV show. I did get issues #1-25 of the Marvel run from the 80s for my birthday last year, so I probably should read them at some point.

  7. I’ve just gotten into the Whoniverse in the last year or two, but boy have I gotten into it. The TV show, the comics, the books, the audio dramas, you name it.

    The ongoing IDW series isn’t bad. I hear they are planning to replace Tennet’s Doctor with Smith’s pretty soon. That should be a good jumping-on point.

  8. I recently started watching Dr. Who a couple of months ago, due to some rant that Paul went on , I believe. Thank You Sir! 

    I havnt read any Dr. Who comics yet but over that last few weeks I have found myself eyeballing them harder and harder in the shop.  So while I cant recommend any books I can highly reccomend the sister series, Torchwood.  Fuckin Great! And it starts Captain Jack Harkness from the ninth Dr. episodes.

  9. Oh! And in case anyone hasnt seen the series but wants to check it out, all the past modern series (seasons) and some of the older stuff, of Dr. Who and Torchwood, can be streammed with Netflix!

  10. Tom, you are the Yin to my Yang when it comes to most things geek. But when our interests coincide, I can be sure that’s going to be THE kick ass stuff. 🙂

     

     

  11. You had some free time?  Where did you find this elusive, magical thing?

    But seriously, great article.  I grew up on Who, from the Peter Davison years and feel that the reboot was beyond my wildest hopes.  Also, not even remotely disappointed by Matt Smith’s mad professor bit, loving every new episode.

     

  12. Great article Tom.

    Although I am a bit behind on the Tennant episodes I have really enjoyed the modern Doctor Who episodes. A lot of fun and some good laughs at the bad CGI. Smith is turning out to be a pretty good Doctor, even though I felt like he was just mimicking Tennant for the first few episodes. I try to watch the very first couple of episodes with the First Doctor……I just couldn’t do it.

    After seeing ‘Time Crash’ I might want to see the Peter Davison episodes though. 

  13. I’m about in the same boat, I had watched quite a few of the Baker episodes on PBS when I was younger but never really go into it that much.  I ocassinally watched some of the newer ones on PBS too and one of my friends convinced me to check out all of them on Netflix so I did and now I’m hooked.  The new season has been really good and as mentioned earlier, the first episode of this season (The Eleventh Hour) is a good jumping on point and almost all of the past episodes are streaming on Netflix (a couple of the specials are not).  I think my favorite episode of the new series was "Blink", which is funny because the Doctor is almost a side character in it but the villains are extremely creepy angel statues (Weeping Angels mentioned above) that seriously gave me nightmares.

  14. Yeah I’m a huge Doctor Who fan! I’m going to Enghland in two weeks and have been planning what filming locations I can hit and of course go to the mueseum in cardiff! To all UK readers and clever with proxy readers may I recommend going to the official bbc Doctor Who site and downloading City of the Daleks. You get to play as 11 and Amy and it is a blast.

  15. I wasn’t going to mention this because it actually crosses a geekline that I didn’t know I could cross, but I have too. It’ll bother me the entire day if I don’t.  TARDIS is actually an acronym, for Time And Realitive Dimensions In Space, which the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan came up with, and must therefore be written in all caps. Like the ASPCA. Just saying.

  16. @CatEyedFox

    lol I thought the same exact thing when I read the title but I just let it go.

  17. The Forgoten by IDW is a good start for new Dr Who comic readers, it features all previous incarnations in flashback.

  18. Nerds are nerds…and I can’t believe I screwed that up. TARDIS is fixed. 

  19. Brilliant!

    Just because!

  20. I have to agree, The concept of regeneration in Doctor Who is writing genius. 

  21. For comics, I suggest the IDW Doctor Who Classics series is probably the way to go.  They’re reprints of the Doctor Who Magazine strips that have also been collected and reprinted by Titan in the UK and Marvel in the US the 80s.  They’re a lot of fun, and as someone else mentioned above, they feature early work from a lot of writers and artists who are now pretty huge in the industry.

    And if you really want to get adventurous in the backissue bins, you should try to find the old Marvel collection of AWESOME spin-off character "Abslom Daak – Dalek Killer", whose story I freaking adored as a kid: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abslom_Daak

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of the IDW original 10th Doctor comics.  "The Forgotten" had a fun concept, but Pia Guera left midway through the series and the art was painfully inconsistent after that.  And I tried the first few issues of the new ongoing and wasn’t a big fan of either the script or the art.  If you want to try something of the IDW original stuff, I’d suggest either the Rich Johnston one-shot "Room With a Deja-Vu" or the Ben Templesmith one-shot "The Whispering Gallery". 

    But really, the collected DWM strips in the old Marvel or the new IDW reprints are where it’s at.

  22. My first experience of Doctor Who was with Tom Baker, who was an impossible act to follow. I was disappointed with all of his sucessors but, for me, the closest to his quality of performance came from Christopher Eccleston. However, the new series is one of the best post-Baker runs that I have seen. The stories are complex and dark, the atmosphere captures a sense of the uncanny and the cast is stronger than most. Matt Smith is too young but has a genuine eccentricity which carries him through. My kids look forward to it every week and then get scared shitless every week, just how it was with me. The comments on Doctor Who comics are very useful.

  23. I am kind of a douche, and didn’t read the extra long comments, but I am pretty sure that no one mentioned the Alan Moore written Doctor Who comic. If you did, that just proves my douchiness. If not, I would look into finding said Alan Moore Doctor Who stories.

     

    Also Tom, I am having a bit of a worlds collide moment, since the two podcasts I used to listen to all the time where the Whocast and Around comics. I am glad to hear everybody on here has an appreciation for such a rich character.