This Doctor should be part of your plan
On the Mark — By Craig Marks
Just a warning: If someone asks you this week the name of your favorite doctor, the question has nothing to do with health care options in the Affordable Care Act.
They’re talking about “Doctor Who.”
“Doctor Who” is a British sci-fi program celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. Basically, it’s a show about a human-looking alien — the Doctor — who travels through time and space having adventures. His spaceship, the TARDIS, looks like an old-fashioned British police box, but its interior is quite spacious. There’s enough room in it for the Doctor and a traveling companion, who is human (usually) and miniskirted (surprisingly often).
If you’ve never heard of “Doctor Who,” don’t feel bad. It was pretty much off my radar until about three years ago, and I’m someone who can conjugate simple Klingon verbs.
In the ’70s, “Doctor Who” might appear on PBS or “The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show,” but the show never held my interest for more than a few minutes. Its special effects were cheesy, and I found the British accents off-putting. I associated all non-Monty Python British TV with high-brow stuff like “Masterpiece Theatre,” though, based on the robots and monsters, I was fairly sure this wasn’t an adaptation of Dickens.
Time and ratings caught up with “Doctor Who” in 1989, and it was canceled by the BBC. At the time, the show was on its seventh Doctor. (A key to the program’s longevity is that when the actor playing the Doctor leaves the show, a “regeneration” takes place and a different actor goes by the same name. It’s similar to what happens when area mayors change, in that, by ancient decree, they must all go by the name “Don.”)
Except for a terrible Americanized TV movie in 1996, the show was off the air for 16 years. The program returned in 2005 with a bigger budget and more complex stories, but, in a grievous oversight, I did not get the memo. It wasn’t until 2010 that I sat down to watch the rebooted “Doctor Who,” an episode called “The Eleventh Hour.”
It was quite an introduction. Ideas came at you at light speed: A mysterious crack in a child’s bedroom wall. A frenetic hero who is equal parts madman and genius. A shape-shifting fugitive alien. A whole bunch of English and Scottish accents that became much easier to understand once we put on closed captioning.
From the first episode our family was hooked. Even our 14-year-old daughter, whose viewing preference is dramas about fashionable felonious teens, watches with us. (She’ll even admit as much to friends, a sure sign the show has reached an audience beyond geekdom.)
We spent a summer binge-watching all the episodes on Netflix, enjoying every funny, creepy and poignant moment. We now know our Daleks from our Cybermen, our Donnas from our Roses, and we can debate ad infinitum which Doctor is the best.
And if you are asked the “who’s your favorite doctor” question, what should you say? Well, if you answer the fourth, 10th or 11th Doctor, you’ll get approving nods. If you answer the first, second or ninth Doctor, you’ll provoke a discussion. And if you answer “Dr. Shapiro, the guy who treats my lumbago,” you’ll get a discourse from a passionate Whovian like myself who won’t stop babbling until you agree to watch an episode. Consider yourself warned.
“Doctor Who” specials and episodes are airing this week on BBC America, culminating with a new episode, “The Day of the Doctor,” Nov. 23.
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