Once upon a time, I didn’t watch Doctor Who. I didn’t know why the blue phonebooth was important and I didn’t know if that garbage can thing with the whisk and plunger was a good guy or a bad guy. Once upon a time, I was too intimidated to even think about watching Doctor Who. Then I started a new job and met Theresa! We became fast friends and the only way I survived my first year teaching was because of her friendship and guidance. Theresa’s the best. One of the many things we bonded over was our shared love of Marvel, Star Wars, and all those nerdy corners of pop culture fun. But I couldn’t discuss one of Theresa’s favorite shows/characters/universes with her – Doctor Who. Eventually, trusting Theresa and her taste, I jumped into the world of Doctor Who and my life has become better in every way for it! But you may not know Theresa. Maybe that’s why you’re here. Maybe you’re curious if you should watch Doctor Who and/or how you even begin watching Doctor Who but you don’t have Theresa there to help you. Well, that’s why I’m here. I hope this short piece helps answer your questions, calm your concerns, and ignites your excitement for Doctor Who in the way being friends with Theresa did for me :D.
One of the unique things about a show/story/character as long running as Doctor Who is its potential to fold back on itself, to tell a story that opens a new path for future narratives while also inviting you to return to older stories and see them in a new way. As I explored last week, Chris Chibnall’s addition of the Timeless Child to the world of Doctor Who certainly does that. This week, as I’ve been filling my time between Doctor Who: Flux “Chapter One: The Halloween Apocalypse” and Doctor Who: Flux “Chapter Two: War of the Sontarans,” I’ve been continuing my journey through all 695 episodes of Classic Doctor Who. As I’m moving through the Third Doctor’s era (which I ADORE), I’ve been thinking of the Timeless Child. Specifically I’ve been thinking of how seamlessly it brings together a few plot points which felt a bit disconnected to me.
On the eve of the premiere of Doctor Who: Flux, “The Halloween Apocalypse” (best. title. EVER.), I figured it was apropos to reflect on the Timeless Child. Tomorrow, the first episode of Jodie Whittaker’s final full series as the Doctor will air. Shortened due to Covid affecting filming, Doctor Who: Flux will be one single six episode serial story. It, along with three feature length specials with Jodie airing next year, will also mark the end of Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner for Doctor Who. The Timeless Child is the largest narrative plot point developed during his time at the helm. It’s one of the most hotly debated, too. I wanted to write about it as soon as the episode aired…but I had SO MANY feelings and I had NO IDEA how to sort any of them. They needed to percolate. I needed time to think. But now, with Doctor Who: Flux about to begin, I want to discuss the Timeless Child. And, oddly enough, it was the model set in Spider-Man comics which helped me get to the point where I could see how the Timeless Child fits within the world of Doctor Who.
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece reflecting on the seemingly unbearable struggles of pandemic teaching. At the time, I used Tony Stark’s journey through Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as my frame to help me understand what I was going through and all I was feeling. Writing it was very personal and deeply cathartic. In the end, I survived last year! I didn’t quit! I even managed to find incredible beauty in all the struggle, too. Now I’m a month and a half into a new school year and, well, I thought it would be easier. Yet I find myself pulled down in this dispiriting emotional mire once more. This time Doctor Who offers a more apt lens to frame my experience. Given today is World Mental Health Day – and we’re all struggling in our own ways and we all deserve to be heard and validated in those struggles – sharing this seemed appropriate. When the school year returned, I needed the Doctor. I still do. I think we all do.
The world of Doctor Who has some big news! Russell T Davies, who brought Doctor Who back to television in 2005 and served as showrunner during Christopher Eccleston’s time as the Ninth Doctor as well as David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor, will be returning to helm the show once more. On July 29th it was announced Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall – having completed their “‘three series and out’ pact” – would be “handing back the TARDIS keys” after Series Thirteen (a six-part event serial) this fall and a trio of event specials through 2022, ending with a feature length special as part of the BBC’s Centenary Celebrations. Often, a hallowed air surrounds discussions of Russell T Davies time as Doctor Who showrunner amongst fans (with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor being the most widely favored of the modern Doctors) so people have understandably been freaking out all day. Well I’ve got thoughts and feelings, too! So let’s chat about the potential future of Doctor Who shall we?
Literally my first impression of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor was he seemed stern. I thought this long before I saw him play the Doctor or even knew his real name. It was just my immediate reaction to the images/pictures the BBC usually chooses when they show all the Doctors. Maybe it was the dark hair? Maybe it was the piercing stare? I don’t know. But once I began my journey through Classic Doctor Who I knew I’d see if there was any truth to my uninformed first impression (my bet was there wasn’t). And my journey’s progressing! This is the second installment in my series of feelings/impressions upon meeting each Doctor! Patrick Troughton’s run as the Doctor would span three series, from 5 November 1966 to 21 June 1969.
When I began watching Classic Doctor Who, it was like a whole other world. The show – from its pacing to style to the character of the Doctor – felt very unfamiliar. But I soon found my rhythm, loving it for what it was and how it flowed into the Doctor Who I fell in love with. I was immediately fascinated by Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter! So often I’ve seen the Doctor mourn their lost family, grieving all those who died when Gallifrey burned, leaving them the last of the Time Lords. But here Gallifrey still hung in the heavens and the Doctor was travelling with his granddaughter! I couldn’t wait to learn all about Susan and her relationship with the Doctor. It left me wanting to explore her character, what it felt like to meet one of the Doctor’s blood relatives, and ponder what happened to Susan after she parted ways with her grandfather.
We love a good team-up, don’t we? The Avengers. Justice League. Even Godzilla vs. Kong. Part of me expects a movie where Annabelle, the Nun, and La Llorona team-up to haunt Ed and Lorraine Warren (which won’t happened as the Conjuring Universe has more narrative integrity than that and the stories are based on true events (or at least truth-adjacent)). Doctor Who has been doing the multi-Doctor team-up for decades in TV, novels, audio dramas, and comics. But there is a fascinating dimension to different Doctors teaming up that none of these other stories have. When the Doctor encounters other incarnations of the Doctor it’s not just a group of our favorite heroes coming together. Rather they are, in effect, meeting themself at different moments in their life! Can you imagine that?!!? I can’t stop imagining what it would be like if I found myself in the same situation! Can you imagine meeting yourself at different points in your life, some younger than you and some having seen things you’ve yet to see? The idea is captivating and this is exactly what happens whenever the Doctors team-up.
It was only a matter of time. I love Doctor Who and the show means too much to me (not to mention how my crazy completist mind works XD) to not go back to the very beginning and watch its original 1963-89 run. The timing was motivated, in part, by continued pandemic life leading to much more time at home…but I was always heading here. At first I was hesitant to get another streaming service but I realized I’d be watching 695 episodes of classic Doctor Who. I’ve not watched 695 things on Netflix if you add up everything I’ve ever seen on it and I’ve had it for years. I’ve not watched 300 things on Netflix! Nor Hulu. Nor Disney+. Nor HBO Max. So 695 episodes of Doctor Who means I’m getting more for my money with BritBox than any service! To commemorate such an undertaking, I felt a series of impressionistic pieces as I met each Doctor was apropos. Naturally, I began at the beginning with William Hartnell, whose run as the Doctor went from 23 November 1963 to 29 October 1966.
So…I may have a problem buying sonic screwdrivers. I’m not going to say how much I’ve spent but I will openly say I’ve purchased eight. But they’re worth it because I almost always have one on me and I almost always point them at any light as I turn it on or off. Regardless of the financial cost, my life is obviously immeasurably better being able to do this. On more than one occasion, while waving a sonic around at work, a student has asked if it was a lightsaber (an understandable mistake as a) Doctor Who isn’t as big in America as Star Wars and b) they know I love Star Wars). I explain that, no, it isn’t a lightsaber. It’s much better. A lightsaber is a weapon, the sonic screwdriver a tool. One has the potential to dismember and kill (which it’s often used for); the other to analyze, augment, and repair (which it’s always used for). When it comes to heroes, I’ll take the Doctor over the Jedi ten times out of ten. Early this schoolyear a student posed a question – If I had to pick just one fictional universe to enjoy for the rest of my life would I choose Marvel, Star Wars, or Doctor Who? The answer was surprisingly simple. There are many reasons I’d choose Doctor Who but the most important is the way the Doctor moves through space and time, always modeling an ethic of kindness and sowing the seeds of hope across creation.