After the record-setting broadcast of the “Doctor Who” special “The Day of the Doctor” on Nov. 23 that everyone can’t seem to stop talking about, I think it’s about time to address what exactly makes this long-running television series so damn good. For me, it’s a lot of things, but it starts with something personal.
Growing up with Monty Python-loving parents, I’ve always had a fascination with British entertainment. From comic books to “Star Wars,” I’ve always loved science fiction. There are few things more quintessentially British and sci-fi than “Doctor Who,” the BBC program that follows the quirky adventures of a time-traveling alien who makes the universe a better place to live, so when the series was revived for modern audiences in 2005 and increased in popularity in subsequent years, it immediately piqued my interest, but I didn’t have BBC America at the time, and when I finally did, I only caught bits and pieces of episodes. Then I met someone who was a hardcore fan, which can simultaneously be the best and worst way to be introduced to anything.
At the time, she was my girlfriend, and she loves “Doctor Who” like I love Marvel Comics. Like most fans, she was eager to familiarize me to the show but wary at the same time, hoping I would dismiss the complicated backstory and cheesier elements and embrace the solid writing and eccentric vibe. She had trouble deciding who my first Doctor should be, considering so many great actors have portrayed the character over the years, but we ultimately went with Matt Smith, who had just taken over the role at the time. It only took one episode, “The Eleventh Hour,” to hook me, though I continued to watch the show on and off simply due to life getting in the way.
That “life” thing really got in the way when we broke up. Anything “Doctor Who” related made my eyes well up and my heart ache because my brain automatically associated it with her. Every geeky website and magazine I read was encouraging me to enter the TARDIS, but I just couldn’t separate the two in my mind, so I stayed away and focused on other things until life started nudging me back in the Time Lord’s direction.
More and more of my nerdy friends talked it up. Facebook posts became increasingly frequent. It seemed to be playing every time I flipped through the channels. It was time. With a new girlfriend, a new house, and essentially a new life, I no longer had any excuses worth expressing. I stopped worrying and learned to love the Doctor, and I couldn’t have picked a better time to do so.
The reason I’m telling you this is because, if you haven’t been watching, I’m here to convince you that you need to start – yesterday, in fact, so scream “Geronimo,” jump in your TARDIS, and correct this injustice. “Doctor Who” is reaching an all-time high in its popularity, and it isn’t just hype. “The Day of the Doctor” was seen by over 12.8 million viewers, and its simulcast in select theaters made $4.77 million in the U.S. in one day. It’s always had a cult following, but it’s now becoming a worldwide phenomenon, and deservedly so – “The Day of the Doctor” was the best piece of television I’ve seen since the premiere of “The Walking Dead” in 2010, and I think I may have enjoyed it more – it delivered enough fan service for longtime aficionados while effectively introducing newer viewership to the sometimes dense mythology in fun and exciting new ways. “Doctor Who’s” continued embrace of female fandom is also a welcome change of pace.
It was a remarkable achievement for the actors, production staff, and the BBC, but to me, it was even more than that. It was the sonic screwdriver that officially opened the series up to me again, offering me and every Who noob the chance to hop onboard, no matter what our previous experience with the series, or lack thereof, was, and just enjoy an epic episode that felt cinematic and yet simple at the same time. Catch it, or any random episode, in reruns and thank me later. You really can pick it up almost anywhere.
The show’s timing couldn’t be better, particularly for me. It’s really that good that it made me put aside any past bias and see it for what it is – witty, sad, smart, goofy, dramatic, and just plain brilliant. It’s everything good science fiction should be, so it’s about time, after 50 years, that it gets its due. “The Day of the Doctor” indeed.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]