Happy Doctor Who Day! If any of the previous articles I’ve written didn’t make it apparent enough, I am a huge Doctor Who fan. I love writing about it, talking about it with friends, and most of all, watching it. I could write reviews of classic series episodes, share my thoughts on the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, or write any number of other articles on the subject.
But, as the 60th Anniversary is approaching, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how my Doctor Who journey began, and just how much this show has impacted me. To me, Who is not just a show: it was my childhood, a huge part of my formative years.
This #DoctorWhoDay we're celebrating the past, the present and the future! ❤️❤️➕?
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) November 23, 2022
The beginning of my Doctor Who journey
It all started on a summer afternoon in 2010. I was nine at the time and was in the midst of my Harry Potter binge-reading phase. I walked past my mom’s room and heard the distinct sound of frantic British accents emanating from her doorway. Thinking she was watching Harry Potter (because I didn’t know about literally any other British media at the time), I wandered in, hopped onto her bed, and peeked at her laptop screen.
“Are you watching Harry Potter?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “This is Doctor Who.”
I’d heard of this show before. My mom had mentioned that it was really long, and it was about a man who travels around in a phone box. I also distinctly remember picturing “Doctor Who” as Steve Martin, for some reason. Not sure where that came from.
Intrigued, I sat down and began to watch David Tennant and Freema Agyeman arrive on Earth, and begin their investigations. Having no clue what was going on, my mom explained to me that the Doctor (Tennant) was a time-traveling alien and that Martha (Agyeman) was an ordinary human who traveled with him. In each episode, they would go to some new exotic location, fight aliens and save the day. As I later found out, the episode that I just happened to sit down and watch with my mom that fateful day was called “The Lazarus Experiment”.
Everything started pretty normally. That was until Professor Lazarus (Mark Gatiss) transformed into a giant, badly-animated scorpion monster who kills his laboratory assistant. The monster, at the time, shocked, horrified, and disgusted me. The second that CGI abomination showed up on the screen, I ran back to my bedroom and cowered under the covers, terrified that Professor Lazarus was coming to get me. I didn’t sleep well that night. Or many nights after. Needless to say, I was traumatized. Looking back on this episode, it’s almost comical how much it terrified me. But, of course, when you’re nine, everything is scary.
Coming back for more Doctor Who
It was a wonder that I even returned for more Who. And yet I did, for the very next episode, “42”. This episode similarly terrified me, because of the large, hulking, sun-possessed people in space suits. I found myself oddly allured by the grimy sci-fi aesthetic, the frantic urgency of the script, and the emotional drama. On top of that, the concept of a living star was so incredibly cool to me.
I decided to stick around with my mom to watch another episode. That episode was “Human Nature”. Of course, this episode is top-tier Doctor Who. Nearly perfect. But once again, this was terrifying for a nine-year-old. The scarecrows, the inhuman Family of Blood, and the little girl with the red balloon were all so nightmarish to me. And indeed, some of these characters would later appear in my nightmares. And they say Doctor Who is a children’s show.
After that point, I’d sworn off Doctor Who. The evil acts of the Family of Blood were far too much for my young mind. I didn’t want to scare myself silly anymore than I already had. My mom continued to watch the show without me, and I was doing very well without this chilling series in my life, thank you very much.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t last long. I don’t quite recall which episode I jumped back in, perhaps “The Planet of the Ood” or “The Sontaran Stratagem”, but there really is no better place to get hooked on Doctor Who than Series 4. I mean, come on. There is not a bad episode in that whole season. Every single one is practically a masterpiece.
Yes, the Vashta Nerada are possibly the scariest sci-fi horror monsters in history, and yes the “Midnight” creature haunted me to no end, but I was officially over my fear. I needed to experience this show in full. I set out on a mission to watch Doctor Who in its entirety. Starting with “Rose” was a little odd, as up to this point, I hadn’t seen Nine or Rose hardly at all. Still, I was not disappointed. Rapidly dashing through the entire series, my mind was blown. I couldn’t believe how many stories, drama, character development, wonder, magic, aliens, spaceships, explosions, and joy were packed into this series.
I was lucky enough to have friends in elementary school who were as into Doctor Who as I was. Keep in mind, this was in the United States in 2011, so the whole Tumblr SuperWhoLock era hadn’t hit for us quite yet. My friends and I would play Doctor Who on the playground. (I was always the Doctor, of course.) There was a great big circular tile mosaic on our playground; that was the TARDIS control room. Everything outside of the mosaic was whatever new planet we would go to.
Continuing on my Whovian journey
During middle school in early 2013, I discovered Doctor Who Magazine. I just happened to spot it on the shelves of a local bookstore that I often went to with my parents. I even remember what issue it was: DWM 457. On the cover of that particular edition was a man I didn’t recognize. I was overjoyed to find a magazine dedicated to my newfound favorite show but confused. Who was this strange, white-haired person? I didn’t recognize him from any episodes. That man is now my favorite classic series Doctor: Jon Pertwee.
Doctor Who Magazine opened my horizons to the world of classic Who. With what little allowance I had, I purchased a copy of the magazine and read it, front to back, religiously at home. I even took it to school with me, to show to my equally nerdy friends. In the magazine, there was a review of the Third Doctor adventure “Planet of the Spiders”. There were advertisements for classic Who novels and audio plays. There was even a gorgeously drawn, well-written comic strip featuring the Eleventh Doctor, alongside Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (“Hunters of the Burning Stone”, pt. 2).
NuWho was no longer enough. The floodgates had really opened. I had to experience as much Doctor Who as I could possibly shove in my eyeballs. At the time, Netflix had a somewhat random (and questionable) selection of classic Who episodes in its catalog. I started at the very beginning, “The Aztecs”, which was the earliest serial available. At the time, I think I was going through a bit of an anti-B&W phase. Between that, and the lack of aliens and monsters in the serial, it failed to capture my attention.
Skipping ahead to the full-color era, I watched “Spearhead from Space” and “Carnival of Monsters” in full. These were much more my speed. I still have such fond memories of sitting in the pews, waiting for my parents to be done with church stuff, and watching the Third Doctor blow up the Drashigs with his sonic screwdriver on my dad’s phone.
I kept watching through the Third Doctor serials, but it still wasn’t enough. (Netflix had quite a high concentration of Third Doctor stories, for some reason.) I had to go back to the very beginning. At the time, my family had a DVD subscription to Netflix as well. As soon as I could, I queued up practically every surviving First Doctor story into the Netflix DVD queue. My mom was not entirely on board: she told me I had to share the Netflix queue with everyone else in the family, so we would alternate between Doctor Who and non-Doctor Who DVDs.
Thus began my long, slow classic Doctor Who journey. A journey that ended up taking me through practically all of middle school and high school. But a journey that was well worth it. I am still on that journey. Although I finished Season 26 shortly after finishing high school, I decided to go even harder and read the entire New Adventures series. There are 61 novels in this series, primarily following the Seventh Doctor, set in between the end of Season 26 and the Doctor Who TV movie from the 90s. I am currently on book 22, Conundrum, so we may be here for a while.
My Doctor Who journey leaves no regrets
I don’t regret for a second how much time I’ve poured into this series, though. To me, that’s what’s so wonderful about the Whoniverse: it is infinitely large, ever-expanding, and endless. Every time I look into it, there’s some new Who novel, or some Big Finish spin-off, that I’ve never heard of before. I doubt whether any one person could consume every piece of Doctor Who media ever created (though I’d certainly like to try). But then again, that’s not really the point.
Doctor Who is a masterpiece of communal storytelling. Most pieces of fiction work best when they’re written by one person, or a small group of people, who have a single, unifying goal in mind with the story they’re trying to tell. But Doctor Who is decidedly not that. Between every showrunner, every one-off episode writer, every Big Finish producer, and even everyone who’s ever written Who fanfiction, there’s a common love for science fiction and the character of the Doctor. Everyone has something to bring to the table.
Doctor Who is a story that can be about literally anything, and therefore, literally anyone can write for it. Sure, there are some varying degrees of success: some stories work, and others definitely don’t, but the saga of the Doctor, their companions, and the TARDIS is one that is infinitely mutable and endlessly engaging. It’s like a great, big, complex, 60-year-long game of telephone that everyone is playing simultaneously. It’s chaotic, bizarre, messy, and beautiful.
I would not be the person I am today without this show. As a college student who is studying to become a writer, Doctor Who has had unparalleled impacts on my inner life. It has inspired me by showing me the power that storytelling can have. It has influenced my fascination with the aesthetics and patterns of science fiction. Classic Who has shown me just how captivating old, low-budget sci-fi can be. (I would say my obsession with old Godzilla and other B-movies directly results from watching the classic series.)
Doctor Who may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is, and will always remain, my favorite show ever. I will never get tired of delving deeper and deeper into its complex and wildly inconsistent lore, its vast universe, and its stories.
Classic Doctor Who is currently streaming on Britbox, with Revival Who streaming on HBO Max. How did you become a Whovian? Let us know over on The Cosmic Circus Discord or Twitter! And if you haven’t already, check out Brian Kitson’s review on the first ever Doctor Who serial, “An Unearthly Child”!