By Adam Esquenazi Douglas
I have a confession.
Hello, my name is Adam Esquenazi Douglas…and I have never watched Doctor Who.
Yes, yes, I know, my geek credibility is now totally suspect. I willingly admit my crime and expect to be punished to the fullest extent of the law of pop-culturalism. If that means I have to wait to read The Winds of Winter two weeks after its release, so be it, but the fact remains: I am a Doctorless patient.
I grew up exploring the universe with the crew of the Enterprise or making the (totally not like dusting crops) jump to lightspeed with Han and Co., but Who never landed the Tardis in my backyard. Sure, I’d heard of the show, but my true geek adolescence was during the dark ages of no Hulu and when Netflix was by mail only. I wanted to enter the police box, but I wasn’t able to pull hard enough.
Now in this modern age with new-fangled modern marvels of online entertainment and whatnot, I can have all the Who I can eat. And for a show that’s been running twenty-six seasons strong, that’s some feast. And while Whovians far and wide all agree the show should be watched, they can’t quite agree where exactly to start, or, especially, who’s truly Who.
Joel vs. Mike? Dick vs. Tim? Jon vs. Danny? Y’all ain’t got nothin’ on the Whovians. The debate as to which Doctor dominates puts most world wars to shame. There are camps, there are cliques, there is chaos. This is a debate that’s MUCH bigger on the inside, and there will never be peace.
So where the hell was I supposed to start?
I asked my best Whovian fan friend what are some of the stronger episodes of the modern series. While I recognize that Who’s past well outweighs its present, Doctor Who: The Next Generation is still much more accessible these days, so I decided to start there.
Today, picking one iconic episode from the three “modern” Doctors, with little to no previous knowledge or exposure to the Whoniverse at large, I am going to decide which Who truly deserves to be the Doctor.
WARNING: Mild spoilers for Who episodes: “Dalek”, “Blink”, and “The Doctor’s Wife”.
THE NINTH DOCTOR
I’ve often said the greatest villains in the history of anything ever are the Nazis, so of course I was drawn to their sci-fi robot proxies, and this episode, I was told, was one of their best. Curiosity piqued, I decided this was to be the episode to introduce me to the man who would be the first face of the next wave of televised Time Lords: Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.
I know it’s clichéd, but what I knew of The Doctor didn’t go much beyond one had a WACKY scarf, and one was David Tennant. So when I came across this somewhat somber, oddly reserved, and totally damaged individual calling himself The Doctor, I was a little flipped around. There was a pretty marked lack of anything particularly silly, which was kinda what I was expecting from the character.
To be perfectly honest, this Doctor scared me. Between the wild-eyed enjoyment he took out of torturing the last remaining, seemingly-sympathetic Dalek to the would-be willful execution of Rose, The Doctor didn’t seem like the universe-hopscotching superhero I was expecting. Instead, it looked like this dude had PTSD.
And as I learned from the episode…he kinda did. Credit to the writer here, from this episode I was able to gain a cursory knowledge of what happened between The Doctor and the Time Lords and the Daleks. It was just enough to not detract while still also not leaving me completely wondering just what the hell these Brits were talking about. No easy task, so well done Robert Shearman.
Upon learning all this, I looked at The Ninth Doctor from a new perspective:
The Ninth Doctor was a lonely orphan of an immortal being with hands permanently stained with blood.
There was a complexity and depth to the character that you don’t usually see in most science-fiction (this was pre BSG, folks), and kudos to Eccleston for tip-toeing a very fine line between what could have been another war-grizzled protagonist or a hacky 1,000-yard stare scenery chewer. Add on to that the pressure of inheriting the mighty mantle of one of Britain’s favorite sci-ficons, and Mr. E becomes an even more impressive Dr. W.
However, I knew his tenure as Time Lord was brief, and while I did enjoy this black cup of coffee of a Doctor, I wouldn’t be able to drink it every day. And so my Netflix queue regenerated…
THE TENTH DOCTOR
Calm down, I know: The Doctor is barely in it! But what can I say? Without a doubt this is THE most celebrated episode of Doctor Who of the modern era, and, possibly, of all time. And we all know why: razor-sharp plotting, a brilliantly inventive mystery, and some scary-ass statues. It’s Steven Moffat at some of his very best, and the world of science-fiction is a richer place for it.
But what about The Doc?
I’d argue that The Tenth Doctor barely gets ten minutes of screentime in the ep. But like any good showman knows: less is more. Every second with The Doctor is all the more sweeter with him taking backseat in his own show, and with the million-volt performance style that David Tennant has a tendency to utilize, perhaps that’s for the best.
Say what you will about the lack of The Doctor, I actually think “Blink” is the perfect introduction to the series. First of all, it’s brilliant and thoroughly compelling even if you’re absolutely ignorant to Police Boxes and robot dogs. But even more helpful is that the episode’s protagonist, Sally Sparrow, acts as our conduit to the wild and weird world of Who, asking the questions that we would ask if we suddenly found ourselves there. As for everything else, it’s not too much or too little It’s the perfect episode if you’re someone who needs to get used to the water before diving into a new show.
And The Doctor? Well…he’s pretty damn adorable. Kooky without overdoing it. Fun without being kiddy. You never want him to leave when he’s onscreen. But whenever he is, you get a blast of kinetic energy from head to toe. There was a lust for a life, an attitude for adventure, and Devil-may-care joy that one only finds after putting the pieces back together. This was a far cry from the rough-around-the-edges Ninth. No, no, The Tenth Doctor was something else entirely:
The Tenth Doctor was a man who had lost everything, but decided that everything wasn’t everything.
It’s easy to see why The Tenth Doctor is so popular. We all want to be able to relight the candles and continue down the path when life blows them all out. Tennant’s Doctor did just that. And while it’s the easiest thing in the world to give up, The Tenth Doctor really proved that he’s not from this planet and continued to care.
But still. His performance was just a blink in this episode, and while I know the depths of his Doctor performance is considered more diverse than a thousand Tardis interiors, I journeyed deeper into space, leaving the parking brake on, of course.
THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR
EPISODE: THE DOCTOR’S WIFE
There was no way I wasn’t watching this one.
Neil Gaiman? Stop. I’m there. I don’t care what. The guy could be selling rotten hotdogs in the middle of the Atlantic, I’ll rent a dinghy.
When I learned Neil had written an episode of Doctor Who I knew I’d be watching it sooner rather than later. When I found out it also happened to be one of the best episodes of the entire series, sooner became sooner.
Watching this episode actually made me slightly angry at my sci-fi show of choice: Star Trek. With the exception of a handful of episodes (“Trials and Tribble-ations” coming to mind, “A Fistful of Datas”, too,) Star Trek rarely allows itself to put on the silly hat and have fun with introspection like this episode does by turning the Tardis human. Or as I shall always refer to her now: Sexy. But don’t be mistaken, while there’s certainly a spoonful of sugar in this episode, it’s far from saccharine, and definitely much better for you.
This episode is nostalgic, charming, and, like most Gaiman creations, served with a modestly-sized side of total creepiness. Sublime storytelling matched with spot-on sci-fi. And while I underwent this experiment to learn more about Who, I’m glad that I wound up learning just as much about his Robin (or, arguably, Alfred ((Or maybe possibly Catwoman?))) This episode even got me a little misty-eyed. I can only imagine the reaction for the die-hards.
And that Doctor.
So much of what I love best from the United Kingdom seems to have just the right amount of something you’d never find States-side: whimsy. Monty Python, Spaced, Douglas Adams (great name!), Eddie Izzard, they all just have a little bit of extra bounce in them that makes them as endearing as they are entertaining. More often than not, they become my very favorite because of this.
And when I opened this page of the book of Matthew, I was a convert.
Matt Smith’s performance as The Tenth Doctor in this episode encapsulates what I think brings people to Doctor Who. Doctor Who is not your typical hero, and, thus, not your typical show. Instead, it survives through its willingness to be bizarre. There are so many stereotypes all throughout television and science-fiction, so many “rules” that people believe must be there in order for anything to work. The Doctor looks at these rules like they’re funny little fish with legs. And that’s why we love him.
And that’s why I love The Eleventh Doctor. To me, he is everything I had hoped for when I decided to finally take the Who plunge:
The Eleventh Doctor is 100-percent pure quality quirk.
His sense of eccentricity shines above all and makes him instantly likable whether you’re a Whostorian or a Whoniverse Noovice. He is a talking heart with teeth, that’ll make you laugh one second, and be the biggest bad-ass in time and space the next. He’s utterly unpredictable which makes him completely fascinating, frightening, and fabulous.
And besides, if you can make bow-ties fashionable, you’re doing something right.
So, next time I’m a little under the weather and need to see my physician, I’ll start with The Eleventh Doctor in the phone book and work my way down.
Now, tell me, companions, where should I let The Doctor take me next?
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameover.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.