Friday, January 3, 2014

Doctor Who; or, you never really forget your first

If I have learnt nothing else from my foray into Doctor Who, a show with completely rabid fandom, a new experience for me, it is that people are always asking me who "MY doctor" is. Like others who are behind, that is a tough question as I have only seen two so far. But, like the Queen herself (allegedly) I think it might be the 9th Doctor. I am not always sure, and I have my moments, but in the end I think there is something about your "first."

When I decided to watch Doctor Who, I asked for advice about when to start. I wasn't sure if I needed to watch the episodes in order, or if I needed to have watched any from the 1960's. At the time, I knew that David Tennant had been incredibly popular and I knew that Matt Smith had replaced him. I didn't know about regeneration, so I wasn't clear on exactly how much the story required new casting, I just sort of assumed it was a show that couldn't keep its star. So, my interest level in starting was really, as I said before, more about curiosity about such a cultural movement than anything else. But, the answer to my question about where to start had an answer I wasn't expecting and my ears perked up when I was told that I should probably watch the Eccelston year even though some people say it "isn't as good" as the others. What? Christopher Eccelston? In truth there are prolly very few people in world who have actor crushes on Chris Eccelston, and it turns out, I am one of them.

I first saw Eccelston in the early 90's movie Shallow Grave. It was a little British film that also marked my introduction to Ewan McGregor. If you haven't see it, I do recommend it. It has been awhile since I saw it, but it is about some friends who end up with money that isn't theirs (maybe from a drug deal or something) and they face some pretty massive ethical decisions about what to do about the money. It was very low budget, very well written, and I loved it. After that, I sought out films with both Eccelston and McGregor and was not disappointed. The second film I saw was Jude. A film version of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure with Kate Winslet. It was haunting, and sealed the deal for me as an Eccelston fan. So, when my friend mentioned Eccelston was the Doctor in the first season, I was in. All in.

It is interesting to me now that I am through the Tennant years and know just enough about Doctor Who to realize just how different the 9th Doctor is from the rest of the Doctor pantheon. From what I can tell, he is the first not to wear a suit, 9 is implied to be working class and much is made of the fact that he is from the north, and I loved the little joke about how "Lots of planets have a north." The little jokes about how he appears to be a "navvy" which was slang for a laborer or a construction worker. This idea is not one that would ever be applied to 10th Doctor who does not look like he has ever done a day's labor in his life (and I don't mean that in a bad way). The class aspect becomes doubly interesting when you hook 9 up with Rose who is also working class, someone whom Cassandra calls a "chav."

I don't know the show insider gossip. I've seen enough things that for whatever reason when Eccelston refused to return for another season the fans were outraged and never really forgave him. For a while, I thought I was going to be able to catch up on old seasons on BBCAmerica and I was DVRing them (until I realized that they are hacked into pieces and are missing as much as 10-15 minutes of show from each episode, something that will actually become a problem soon, as Netflix does not have S7, yet). At one point I had nearly 100 episodes in my DVR and not one from 2005. Not one S1, Eccelston, 9th Doctor episode. Not even "The Parting of the Ways" which was technically Tennant's debut. I don't really care about the kind of in-fighting that leads to these kinds of feuds and character's early deaths, except in the way they affect the show. I don't take sides; but, I do find it interesting that S1 is not played on TV. There is a lot of history there. I can't imagine the show without having seen S1.

I came into this experience with a predisposition to love Eccleston and I was a bit resistant of the change to 10. As I have said before I actually had to go back and re-watch S2 because it wasn't until "The Satan Pit" that I realized that I was digging on 10 and I wanted to re-watch those shows a bias towards Tennant rather than mistrust. And as my BFF predicted by the time of Tennant's regeneration into Matt Smith, I did "mourn" the loss of Tennant. I will start S5 in a couple of weeks and I might want to come back here and take it all back, although I doubt it, and I might be a Matt Smith fan... or even the next guy. Knowing me, I will probably love them all.

I have talked a little about my favorite episodes from S1 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. But one thing I have to add is that the real reason why I think I love those episode so much is that it seems to be the first time 9th Doctor is happy. There is not really a villain to be defeated as the nanogens were not a villain so much as a *good thing* gone wrong. The joyous shouts of "everybody lives! For once, everybody lives!" give us an insight into how hard it is to be the doctor, that he knows that happy endings are the rarest of things. I just love the joy in that moment.

It is the elements of a goofy sort of reticent urge to hope that make me love 9th Doctor. He has these moments where he is so serious and you can see just how deep he goes and then he throws on this goofy smile and sparkly little almost crazy look like he just can't care about that right now that is just heartbreaking. And he is the reason I love Rose as much as I do. She doesn't love 9 the way she loves 10, loving 10 is easy, he is charming and attractive, and even though he has all the darkness of 9 he just wears it differently. In "Father's Day" when 9 tries everything to allow Rose to keep her father KNOWING that it is destroying the world. It's beautiful. He seems to be so much more willing to give up his life for her than the others, and it isn't surprising that in the end he does. It makes sense to me that 9 regenerates into a man that Rose would love, because it just may be what 9 was thinking about when he "dies." Without 9 there is no 10, and I just wish that somehow that history was respected a bit more.

What do you think about the 9th Doctor? What is your favorite S1 episode?


  1. In college I had friend (yet another Erik) who used to keep track of "conversation killers" in a little book. Yes. Really. He showed it to me one time and it was just a list. I can't remember all of them them, but I remember "Hockey" "The merits of Mediterranean food" and "dental procedures" pretty clearly. I will have to add "the 9th Doctor" to that list ;)

  2. Hah! I was just taking a little time to do other things and think it over. Oh, and maybe I was a little intimidated to be the first.

    Actually, I agree with a lot of what you say here. I was introduced to the show on Netflix, so I started out with the Ninth Doctor, and although I didn't like all the episodes in the first season (I was nonplussed by the out-and-out silliness of the business with the Nestene Consciousness in the first episode), I did enjoy Eccleston's performance.

    I also think you're totally right about his working class status and how well it matches up with Rose's. I know he was the first Doctor to have something other other than a BBC-standard accent, and I love that--it stretches the character of the Doctor a little further, so even if we still don't have a female Doctor or a Doctor of color, there is at least a working-class Doctor, and I think it would be interesting to go back to some of this S1 stuff now that I know a little more than I did, and see how this works as a commentary on the show and its status/history/etc, because most of the Doctors can be pegged one way or another.

    Anyway, I like him a lot. He's funny, well, all the Doctors are funny at one point or another, but the humor of the Ninth Doctor is related to the bluntness of his character. He doesn't bother hiding either the darkness or the humor, and when he's happy, it really means something. The first episode I really liked was "Dalek," which is the first time you really get to see him have to react to something out of his control, and Rose's empathy for the Dalek versus the Doctor's well-grounded anger and fear was really well done. (Each of the new series companions seems to represent something: I think Rose is empathy, Martha is intelligence, Donna is passion, and Amy is imagination. I haven't seen Season 7 yet, so I don't know what Clara is. Hmmm, maybe I'll have more to say about that later.)

    But, like you, my favorite S1 episode was "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," and what you said about the joy is absolutely one of the things I love about it. So, thank you for articulating that for me. I also thought it was just a really well-constructed ghost story about war and guilt and growing up too quickly. I guess this makes it a good episode for the Ninth Doctor particularly, since he seems to be closer to the traumas of war than the the others; he comes in as such a hard, closed off character and Rose is in the process of softening him--so here he is needing to deal with the results of someone else's guilt. But I cared about the human characters themselves, too.

    And, you know, Captain Jack.

  3. It's funny that you thought the whole Nestene Consciousness thing to be almost too silly. I actually thought it was just the right amount of scary/weird. But, I am sort of scared of mannequins anyway.

    The more I think about S1 the more I realize how much I truly liked it. I also like how funny The Ninth Doctor is.

    "Dalek" was a good episode and I like it for a lot of the reasons you have here. It's also the first time (I think) that Rose gets locked on the wrong side of a door. The Doctor chooses to let her go, and then can't do it a second time. She gets to use her powers of empathy in this episode too, and it does change the Dalek. For me, change and the possibility of change is a pretty major theme, so I find the Dalek's constant "regenerations" pretty interesting. Also, just a side note the first time I saw a Dalek was as a birthday cake on the blog Cakewrecks and I had no idea what it was. Now, I am sort of mystified as to why someone would want that... but hey, people are hardcore I guess.

    "Father's Day" and "Bad Wolf"/The Parting of the Ways" also stand out to me.The Slitheen stories are not my favorite, although I do enjoy Harriet Jones. Overall, I get sort of frustrated when I hear people say to skip S1 as I just think they are really missing out on a lot.


  5. I later saw a classic episode ("The Terror of the Autons") in which the Nestene appeared, and in which I was surprised to notice that I actually found them kind of menacing, but yeah, in "Rose" they didn't have the same effect for me. At the time, I assumed that it was because the notion of plastic had a slightly different cultural meaning in 1971 when the older episode originally aired, but maybe I just had a different perspective by then?

    I think Rose was first on the wrong side of the door in "The End of the World," when she was almost burned to death by the sunlight.

    My reaction to a lot of S1, especially the first half of the season, was that there was good stuff there, but that lots of people didn't like it, so people don't like it--so that was where my warnings came from, especially not taking into account how your tastes had changed. But, if I look back on it, there were plenty of good episodes: "Dalek," "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," "Father's Day," and of course the season finales (and looking at a list of episodes reminds me that I quite liked "The Long Game" as well, even if it didn't stick in my memory like the others.)

    I also like Harriet Jones but dislike the Slitheen, EXCEPT, I really like the scene in "Boom Town" where the Doctor and the Slitheen leader meet in a cafe and she makes pointed remarks about his self-image. Somehow, the Doctor is written so that I can simultaneously believe in his greatness and goodness and still really enjoy it when people either laugh at him or resist his perspective a little. I also liked the fact that her perspective is allowed to be seen.

    And that cake is fantastic, although the Portal one may be my favorite.

  6. Ha. You are right. Rose is ALWAYS on the wrong side of the door. Always.

    1. And the whole "skipping nine" is pretty common. Common enough that there are now t-shirts.