Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the Doctor was special for me. I’ve only recently come into the world of Doctor Who, watching all ten (modern) seasons of the show last year. I began in the fall of 2017 with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor (well, technically I started with David Tennant but my friend Theresa kept making sad sighs when she heard I didn’t start at the beginning so I went back and did) and finished Peter Capaldi’s run in the spring of 2018. So Jodie Whittaker became the first Doctor I got to watch as the season aired. It was so exciting! As this eleventh season (or series if I’m being English about it) of Doctor Who unfolded, I kept thinking of a post I wrote awhile back about being exhausted by binging and streaming TV shows. Jodie Whittaker and company have consistently delivered everything I’ve come to love about a Doctor Who episode! But I think part of the magic of this season came from watching it on a weekly basis.
Before I get to the whole “streaming vs. once a week” thing I have to say – I adore the Thirteenth Doctor!!!! To be fair, I’m a David Tennant guy. His Tenth Doctor is solidly my favorite. But with a season (where several episodes already got repeat viewings) under my belt, I can confidently say Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is a strong second place. I felt it with her first episode but was hesitant to say it, not wanting to speak hastily while caught up in the excitement of the new. But if Jodie Whittaker and new showrunner Chris Chibnall keep creating episodes like I’ve seen this season through the rest of her run, there’s the chance she’ll become my all-time favorite Doctor. She effortlessly delivers the two things I like most in my Doctor – manic energy and an infectious joy in creation.
One of the earliest things I remember realizing about this show is the Doctor loves everything. Even viruses out to consume an entire planet or computer programs designed to destroy a species are brilliant and beautiful in their own right. What a wonderful way to see the universe! The Doctor loves it all and she makes you love it too. I’ve legitimately felt a fresh sense of awe at human potential as I’ve watched this show, a not insignificant feat in the dark and cynical days in which we live. I quickly came to understand why Doctor Who has endured for over fifty years.
I’m happy this was the first season I got to experience live. It was so great! I laughed. I cried – because I was happy and because I was heartbroken. I was moved. I was inspired. There were thoughtful, socially-conscious episodes along with the ones filled with goofy, sci-fi fun. There was adventure! There was intrigue! And her companions! I enjoy when the Doctor has more than one person with them in the TARDIS (the Ponds – Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) – being my favorite companions ever) so I’ve loved the “fam” she’s built this season :). There’s such a warm, interesting, and adventurous heart to the show with Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) alongside the Doctor. What more could I ask for??
I was so excited by the Doctor’s adventures this season I’ve begun reading my first Doctor Who novel!!! This is a big moment for me, moving the Doctor into a category in my life once occupied solely by Star Wars. I have dozens of Expanded Universe novels I first began reading as a kid because I wanted to know more about that universe. I wanted more time with those characters, more time inside their world, learning all I could about it. That’s how I feel about Doctor Who now! I’m presently reading Doctor Who: The Good Doctor and I have the two other novels starring Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor waiting to be read after this one :). I may also have picked up a TARDIS owner’s manual… Just like I once wanted to know everything there was to know about the Millennium Falcon or the X-Wing, so now I want to know everything about the TARDIS.
So, the season was amazing. I’ve already pre-ordered the Blu-ray on Amazon because I can’t wait to rewatch it all. Getting to watch this show on a weekly basis was part of what made it special too. As I’ve written before, binging exhausts me. Part of the fun I had diving into Doctor Who was tempered last year by rumors Amazon was going to lose the show. I didn’t want to get stuck only having seen half of it! So I watched it but I moved at a fairly quick pace, realizing definitively this isn’t how I like to watch TV. I’ve learned it’s particularly rough with a show like Doctor Who. Sure, for a repeated viewings it’s fine. But the shifting of the characters – from the Doctor’s various regenerations to the changing companions in the TARDIS – make watching a dozen episodes in a weekend less than ideal.
I found I’d fallen in love with David Tennant but then all of a sudden there was Matt Smith! I had no time to get ready for the transition, to say goodbye to Ten and get excited for Eleven. How could I be ready to see a new Doctor when I was still mourning the last one (whose final episode I’d watched the night before)? As a result, I’d be a half dozen episodes or more in before I could begin to appreciate what a new actor brought to the character. I had the same issue when Peter Capaldi took over. Companion changing can be just as hard. A more “traditional” TV schedule helped me tremendously! Having finished up with the Twelfth Doctor in May, I wasn’t just ready but excited to meet the Thirteenth Doctor come October.
More than just the transition time between actors though I found I enjoyed each episode more this way too. Sunday nights often find me thinking of an old Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin tells Hobbes, “I can never enjoy Sundays because, in the back of my mind, I always know I’ve got to go back to school the next day. It’s like trying to enjoy your last meal before execution.” But with Doctor Who Sundays became my favorite night of the week! (Well, second favorite because nothing beats dinner at Grandma’s every Friday night.) I enjoyed looking forward to watching the Doctor. I enjoyed the anticipation and I liked having something special to build my night around. I liked that I had time to think about the episode afterwards before jumping into another. I liked that Theresa and I could spend the week discussing it. And we could talk about it when we had the time! We didn’t have to worry about one of us getting way ahead of the other because we had one episode a week giving us plenty of potential banter time.
Also, there’s the ritual of it all. Rituals are important to us as human beings. For just this reason, all religions have rituals as a core of their religious life and experience. Rituals mark important moments in the lives of believers and offer opportunities to draw closer to God as we experience them. But there are more than just religious rituals to our lives. Birthday parties are rituals. Having to wear a certain shirt when you watch a certain sports ball game so you can “help” your favorite team win – or wearing or carrying something specific when you compete yourself – is a ritual action. Anything that marks moments in time in a significant way is ritualistic to some degree. It may seem silly to think of it in this light, but watching TV can be a ritual action. To watch a certain show at a certain time on a certain day of the week is an example of a secular, personal ritual. For me this makes the TV show more special. It proves it’s more important to me too! When I stream and/or binge TV, I watch it when I have a free moment and when I feel like it. But no matter the lessons to be planned, tests to be graded, books to read, or movies to see, come Sunday night at 8:00 my world revolved around Doctor Who.
This week-to-week watching helped me share my growing love of Doctor Who too! I gave up cable years ago. Given my job, I just don’t have the time to watch a lot of TV. I had trouble justifying $90 a month to watch a few episodes of The Daily Show. So I dropped it and went with Netflix and Amazon Prime instead. I still rarely watch them (I haven’t even started Daredevil Season Three and I STILL haven’t finished Black Mirror OR Stranger Things 2) but the cost is far more reasonable so I don’t feel bad about it. However, watching Doctor Who the moment it was airing – which is what I NEEDED TO DO – required access to BBC America. Thankfully my parents still have cable so every Sunday night I’d go home to watch Doctor Who. I’d often get there earlier to have dinner with my parents and, because I was occupying their TV each Sunday night, Mom decided to give the Doctor a shot (Dad, was already in bed). She came to really like her! Soon I found myself talking about the Doctor through the week with Mom as well as Theresa! We’d talk about the last episode and speculate about what was awaiting her this week.
Kalie, when a break in her reading for comprehensive exams could be taken, would join on Sunday night as well. She wasn’t about to be left out of the fun! Kalie started digging the show too, intrigued by what Doctor Who does with the idea of “the monster.” But I’ll let her tell you all about that sometime on her blog :). As I hung out at my parents’ over Christmas vacation to watch the Doctor Who Marathon, Dad finally watched some episodes with me. He really got into David Tennant’s humor while Mom appreciated Matt Smith’s heart (although her favorite Doctor remained Jodie Whittaker). The fact that I ended up sitting around the table with my parents discussing their favorite Doctor was too much fun! A year ago I couldn’t’ve imagined it.
None of this sharing of Doctor Who with my family would have happened if I was binging the whole season online. I needed my parents’ cable to watch Doctor Who so I ended up at their house with them. The fact that it was on one night a week led to Mom and Kalie watching (and enjoying!) it with me too. Dad came on board with the marathon, intrigued by how much Mom had come to like and talk about the show – “Once you get to know the characters it’s really fun,” she said, “I just love her!” I mean they were willing to pass up Hallmark Christmas movies for the Doctor people!!! For my parents this is BIG. (Okay, so they were always going to let me use their TV to watch what I wanted to watch because they’re my parents and that’s how they role BUT they didn’t go watch TV upstairs because they were into the show and willing to pass up Hallmark Christmas movies for the Doctor.) I loved sharing not just the show but Sunday nights with my family. I forgot watching TV could be like this :).
I know it’s a product of my age. And I’m sure my students will be waxing poetic about the joy of binge-watching their favorite shows as their grandkids get an entire series instantaneously beamed into their brain or something. But for me, TV shows are best enjoyed one episode at a time, once a week. Jodie Whittaker’s first season as the Doctor reminded me of the magic of experiencing a TV show like this and gave me the unique gift of sharing the joy of a show I love with my family. I can’t wait for Season Twelve and more of this magic! I mean I have to wait until January 2020 because I guess that’s how Doctor Who operates when you watch it live. But I’m okay with that. Good things are worth waiting for. And this – all the fun and adventure of the Thirteenth Doctor and getting to share it with people I love – is certainly a very good thing.