This week, however, I thought we’d take a few moments to chew on an issue which has been referenced time and time again the Docbacks, but has never really been discussed editorially in my regular musings here.
The question at hand is, in fact, the one question I am most asked by friends aware of my shameless and undying DOCTOR WHO fixation, by the wonderful multitudes of folks who attend BBC Home Entertainment & Aint it Cool’s Alamo Drafthouse screenings of DOCTOR WHO episodes, and even by family members who still refuse to watch DOCTOR WHO because they’re afraid of what it might be. That question is: “What are your hopes for the 50th?”
“The 50th,” of course, refers to DOCTOR WHO’s 50th anniversary in 2013...right around the corner. And, I’ll say up front, I’m impressed by the number of non-WHOvians who are aware of this milestone. Somehow, be it through promotion, general scuttlebutt, or bizarre Geekly instinct, the word seems to be getting out: DOCTOR WHO has been around for a long time, it should be celebrated, and it doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. This...is fantastic. And such awareness can only be a good thing for DOCTOR WHO in general, particularly at this very special juncture in its existence. But what is the ANSWER to that question: what are MY hopes for “The 50th”?
My answer may well evoke an immediate “Duh” - but it’s also not as easy as it appears at first glance. My answer to “What are your hopes for the 50th?” is: “I’d love for people to become more aware of the WHOLE of WHO.”
“Duh! Isn’t this implicit when celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary?” Not really, actually. Celebrating awareness of something’s existence does not intrinsically denote our UNDERSTANDING of what is being celebrated. It’s great to be commemorating DW’s 50th anniversary, but what does this actually mean beyond the show being 50 years old? And herein lies a quandry I’d very much love for y’all to discuss in the Docbacks below...
Even in the very earliest stages of my exploration of DOCTOR WHO, one peculiar factor became immediately apparent: many, many people draw a distinct line between “new” DOCTOR WHO (i.e. 2005+) and vintage DOCTOR WHO. For some, “new” DOCTOR WHO doesn’t even begin with Russell T. Davies’ 2005 Christopher Eccleston-starring relaunch. Instead, it begins with Matt Smith’s 2011 debut in Steven Moffat’s current iteration. This is an understandable dynamic: one of the keys to DOCTOR WHO’s endurance has been the show’s ability to change styles, flavors, and even leads. In this regard, DW is a unique beast on the television landscape - as much as it’s about regeneration, the show itself survives by regeneration.
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Accordingly...what I’m seeing in my current exposure to DW’s fan base...is a tendency for folks to celebrate a different facet (or era) of DOCTOR WHO during the 50th - rather than appreciate the phenomena as a whole. I find this very frustrating as, at the end of the day, the DW phenomena IS very much a whole. Is this, in itself, a bad thing? Isn’t it better to celebrate something, rather than nothing at all? Yes. However...
As I’ve mentioned more than a few times on the WHOTININNIES podcast in which appear alongside Ken Plume - one can look at the first twenty minutes of An Unearthly Child (the first ever DOCTOR WHO broadcast back in 1963) and sense a WHOverse template and narrative mechanic which persists to this day, unaltered in many regards. Meaning this very first episode...EVER...of DOCTOR WHO laid out an easily identifiable groundwork that is still being utilized: the Doctor’s interaction with his companions, the nature of the companions themselves, the unpredictability of the Doctor’s life and how it impacts those around him, etc. are all pointedly introduced by the conclusion of An Unearthly Child. While tweaked and finessed a tad over time, DW’s lifeblood remains very much the same as when audiences first experienced the show on November 23, 1963. Yet, because of many viewer’s propensity to pick and choose their WHO - and even discriminate against early WHO because of its perceived “silly effects” or “goofy monsters” - a number of fans are depriving themselves of exposure to countless highly valuable, imminently worthwhile WHO adventures. Depriving themselves of a “bigger picture” so to speak, by dismissing tales and eras which nonetheless form the spine of the Moffaty WHO we enjoy today. So influential is this early WHO that the current Matt Smith era has incorporated a number of callbacks to “classic” adventures, even to the point of having Matt Smith step out of a projection featuring the ten previous Doctors before him.
It’s the same show...merely wearing a slightly different wardrobe. DOCTOR WHO may’ve survived by...and thrived on...its ability to regenerate, but...paradoxically...it has also remained consistent in a surprising number of ways.
Which brings us back to “The 50th.” It it my deep hope that The Powers That Be somehow find a way to entice audiences towards all DOCTOR WHO - to somehow connect the fibers of various eras, to clearly illustrate that what happened “then” remains extremely germane “now.” Creating such a bridge would bolster the whole of WHO in a number of ways (not the least of which is perceptually, economically, practically) and break down barriers which, at the end of the day, are in place primarily because a number of fans simply do not grasp what “old WHO” or "NuWHO" is...that they're one in the same.
Can this actually be done? Yes. The last few Alamo Drafthouse screenings we’ve run here in Austin (Planet of Giants, Tomb of the Cybermen) were attended by a number of audience members (a majority, actually) who had never seen an episode featuring William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton. Viewers applauded loudly at the end of the show - and came back for more the following month. They were able to see past each episode’s shortcomings, and find the truth...the heart...of the story they were watching. People of all ages were there: older folks, middle-aged folks, and...most importantly...children. They were there. They watched. And they cared.
Based on the audiences’ applause during my introduction to these episodes, they were crazy for Matt Smith’s Doctor - yet they were there at the screening to explore the mythos in greater depth, to see how it all began. After the screenings, a number of audience members mentioned their initial resistance to “classic” WHO - a resistance I once shared - but indicated how happy they were to have finally given it a chance, and how much richer the entirety of the mythos seemed now that they have done so.
So, I have to believe this CAN be accomplished on some broader level. It happened with the Drafthouse crowds, it happened with me. It can happen. The matter now becomes: how to make this trend develop on a larger scale? Would a very well-considered documentary do the trick? Basically outlining the history of the show and how then connects to now, etc? Or, might some sort of interactive website could illustrate the show’s carefully honed interconnectivity? Perhaps a series of “then and now” broadcasts which will drive the point home inescapably. The possibilities are endless, and I truly hope The Powers That Be work find some way to work towards these very meaningful ends.
It’s ironic - although somehow appropriate - that one of DOCTOR WHO’s greatest assets...its capacity to reinvent, shift gears and styles, etc....is also one of its greater vulnerabilities (as this flexibility ultimately gives rise to the more insular picking and choosing outlined above). Perhaps this is a good as it’s ever gonna get...a “classic” camp and a “NuWHO” camp which occasionally share members, but pretty much do their own things (not dissimilar to the trends we see on “classic” WHO -vs- NuWHO Docbacks here on Aint It Cool). If this is the case? The situation could certainly be a lot worse - and I in no way mean to suggest there are any “problems” with the WHOverse, or its fandom in general, at the moment.
I’m simply wanting...and hoping...that hesitant viewers on either side of the fence - be they “NuWHO, no classic!” people, or “classic WHO, not Nu!” - or somewhere in between (a three-sided fence?) - can someday be compelled to grasp this inter-connective “big picture.” Because once that bigger picture is seen and understood, an already remarkable DOCTOR WHO becomes something far more amazing. A fifty year old show which has reshaped itself, built upon itself, and perpetuated itself for half a century. That’s a mind bending realization - one which also means DOCTOR WHO is only a few decades younger than home television itself.
As you may've guessed, the whole of WHO is, for my money, the way the show ought to be seen - the way it is best seen and perceived. And, I think, it’s what the show’s makers would’ve hoped for, and clearly intended.
Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? What do YOU want from the 50th? What are YOUR experiences when introducing other folks to DOCTOR WHO? Discuss below!
[Season / Series Seven Docbacks - MOST RECENT DOCBACK IS HIGHLIGHTED]
[SEASON / SERIES SIX DOCBACKS]
"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)
[RETRO-WHO DOCBACKS ]
"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)
"The Daleks" (Story #2)
"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)
"Marco Polo" (Story #4)
"The Keys of Marinus" (Story #5)
"The Aztecs" (Story #6)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7 - full DVD release)
"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9, full DVD release)
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)
"The Rescue" (Story #11)
"The Romans" (Story #12)
"The Crusade" (Story #14)
"The Space Museum" (Story #15)
"The Chase" (Story #16)
"The Time Meddler" (Story #17)
"Galaxy 4" (Story #18)
"Mission to the Unkonwn" (Story #19)
"The Myth Makers" (Story #20)
"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)
"The Tomb of the Cybermen" (Story #37)
"The Mind Robber" (Story #45)
"The Krotons" (Story #47)
"The Seeds of Death" (Story #48)
"Spearhead from Space" (Story #51)
"The Abassadors of Death" (Story #53)
"The Colony in Space" (Story #58)
"The Daemons" (Story #59)
"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition
"The Three Doctors" (Story #65)
"Carnival of Monsters" (Story #66)
"Death to the Daleks" (Story #72)
"The Robots of Death" (Story #90)
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)
"The Sun Makers" (Story #95)
"The City of Death" (Story #105)
"Nightmare of Eden" (Story #107)
"Kinda" (Story #118)
"Snakedance" (Story #125)
"The Five Doctors" (Story #129)
"The Awakening" (Story #131)
"Frontios" (Story #132)
"Resurrection of the Daleks" (Story #134)
"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136)
"Vengeance on Varos" (Story #138)
"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)
"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits
"Dragonfire" (Story #147)
"The Happiness Patrol" (Story #149)
"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (Story #151)
"Doctor Who: The Movie" (aka TVM) - McGann)
Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)
"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)
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