by Stylin' Steve
As I said on the podcast, this week my friend Gerry asked me "What is Doctor Who and why is it so popular these last few years." Word for word, here is my answer;
"Doctor Who is a British Sci-Fi show that's been on for the past 50 years. It's about an alien time traveler who calls himself The Doctor and his adventures with different people tagging along."
Now I know what you're all thinking, that's a pretty general and a lot vague for an answer. I can hear it all now; "You didn't explain the TARDIS! You didn't mention his two hearts! What about the Sonic Screwdriver? The Time War? UNIT? Rose? Sarah Jane? K-9? Daleks?" And a host of other whys and why nots of things I didn't get into detail with.
Honestly, my answer to his question was intentionally vague. He was interested already to see what it was and I gave him just enough information to make him that little extra bit curious so he'd check out the series. I could have given him all the information in my head, which is considerable, but my feelings are, why do that to him? Why overload a newcomer to Doctor Who with the incomplete history of it and every little detail about gadgets, gizmos and people? Let him discover all of it as he watches, the way we used to find things out before the advent of Internet and Wikipedia and Podcasts.
I told him to start with the 2005 series and he asked, if the show started in 1963 then why not start at the beginning?
The easy answer there most Whovians know is that 2005 is a beginning of sorts, it's the start of Doctor Who for a new generation of fans. I hate to say this, given how much I love the classic series, is that if everyone discovering Who for the first time went back to "An Earthly Child" the show wouldn't have even half the new following it does now.
Today's audiences expect a certain level of action, of adventure and a fast pacing to stories and movies and tv shows. The new Who series certainly delivers on that, as Donna Noble said in The Doctor's Daughter: "He saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot. Seriously, there's an outrageous amount of running involved."
Granted there are some episodes that slow the pace down a bit, The Satan Pit, 42, Love and Monsters, Gridlock, Human Nature, etc. But for the most part, the pacing is pretty quick and there's a "get in, sit down, shut up & hold on" feel to the new Doctor stories.
With that said, take a new fan of the show and then sit them down for 100,000 BC or The Aztecs or The War Games. All great episodes, all well written, brilliantly acted (for the most part) but all slow in execution. That was because in the Classic series they had time for epic length stories. It was common for a story arc to go three, four or sometimes even six or even ten episodes. There are 159 stories broken into almost 700 episode to the Classic series.
Combine that with the special effects of the time, a lot of which sadly don't hold up by today's standards, duct tape, tinfoil and chicken wire only go so far, and a new series fan will call into question if what they are watching is even Doctor Who. Those of us who grew up with the Classic series watch it now with a sense of nostalgia that today's fans just won't have.
So when someone asks about Doctor Who, start them with the 2005 revival and let them get used to the Doctor, to the aliens and monsters, to the T.A.R.D.I.S. , to regeneration and Time Lords and Sonic Screwdrivers. Let them see the wonder that is this epic Science Fiction series and then guide them to the Classic episodes. My Personal recommendations for some would include, Planet of the Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Seeds of Death. That's just the first two Doctors. There's an entire universe to explore.
- Stylin' Steve