Me and You & Every Doctor Who

23 Nov

Doctor Who

The man waits in line. It is a Friday night and he is in line at a bookstore in lower Manhattan. For some reason he thought it best to reserve his copy at the bookstore near his job and not the one near his home, and has come to Manhattan this evening. It is July 20, 2007. Many of the people in line at this Borders that will in less than two years’ time be shuttered and then repurposed as a Duane Reade are dressed as characters from the books. There are several Harrys and Hermiones. A Hagrid or two, if the girth fits. The man waiting in line (okay, it’s me) has always felt himself a Neville Longbottom at heart, forgotten until deemed necessary for the plot to move forward.

A few minutes later it is July 21, 2007, Saturday, and the book is on sale. A few minutes after that, the man (still me) sits on the subway with several other people. All reading our individual books. All alone. All together.

***

I was never a comic book guy. When I was younger I somehow slalomed past that nerdish roadblock, all the while stumbling over many others: Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, virginity, Nintendo. I was the kind of guy who…

I could have easily written that I wasn’t a Doctor Who fan. Somehow my blind spot was low production values. I didn’t even respect the damned show. It was so foreign to me, so very…British. The silly little police box. The last hero of a dying empire bullshit. The spotted dickishness of the whole thing. Also, let’s be frank, plungers aren’t scary. And what’s with the main character’s clothes? And the kindly dimwits who accompany him all over the known universe? And the music! Gah, the music!

I could not understand how my friends liked this crap. Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching PBS. (I think that’s when it played, I could be wrong, but it would be the perfect time for a Lonesome Nerdfest.)  We still had things in common, Star Trek and Star Wars of course, but the further outside the Doctor Who loop I got the more I resented the show for being so crummy.

***

We stand outside the Ziegfeld Theatre. We are three friends who go to school in New York and we are outside the Ziegfeld Theatre. It is January 31, 2007. It is a Friday. We are waiting to get inside and watch the re-release of Star Wars. We call it Star Wars, and when we refer to it this way no one asks “which one?” No one has begun to call it Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. That is still a few years and one JarJar away. We have something planned for the movie. We are going to shout something out at a certain point. It is a perfect gag, a regular zinger. It is cold outside and we want to go in. Finally, we are allowed inside. It is the Ziegfeld and seats something like 1,500 and when you get into the actual theater, if you’ve never been there before, you kind of have to stop and stare at it. This is how movies are supposed to be seen. This is a palace. A movie palace. There are going to be something like 1,500 crazy Star Wars fans in here and it’s going to be awesome. We find seats and when the curtain is pulled back and the Fox fanfare goes up, the whole place explodes. Someone’s got a lightsaber and is waving it around. About thirty-five minutes in Luke Skywalker encounters Ben Kenobi and asks him if he knows of some dude named Obi-Wan Kenobi

Ben: Obi-Wan Kenobi…Obi-Wan. Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time…

The Three Amigos: HOW LONG?

Ben: …a long time.

Something like 1,500 people crack up at the silly stupidity of the joke. It is perfect. Afterwards we repair to a local tavern (dorm room) and discuss how awesome the movie was and our hopes and expectations for the prequels.

***

For about ten years I didn’t have cable. During those ten years Doctor Who decided to come back to life. There had been part of me that was pleased as punch that the show so many people loved but I could not had died via not a crash, but a whimper. It hadn’t even been officially canceled. It sort of faded away. And the fans got older, and I got older, and I thought, finally we can get back to quality television. And now it had come back. I felt – though I didn’t realize it yet – like a Dalek or a Cyberman, and my fucking nemesis had returned. Suddenly all those people that were made joyous by the reincarnating fop would be spouting their little in-jokes at the water cooler during the day and the tap room at night. I would soon know what it was like when I talked Lost with my friends and some sad sack was left in the dark.

And then, not only did the old Whovians begin to get their communal fix, new converts emerged. People I know who had once exclaimed “I hate science fiction,” and who were adamantine in their refusal to watch even one episode of Star Trek, were suddenly getting Tardis ring tones and were looking at the Doctor as a, gulp, sex symbol.

Well, I thought, at least I still had Hurley.

***

Date: unknown.

Location: O’Hare International Airport.

Circumstances: Lack of reading material.

Character: Moi.

I’m going to assume it was the summer because there is no way you’re going to catch me in Chicago outside of those rare blissful months. I can’t remember if I was reading something and had finished it, or had misplaced my book, or what. But I was in the airport, my flight was delayed, I didn’t want to spend ten bucks on a Miller Lite, so I repaired to the local bookdealer. First I checked to see if there were any new Stephen King novels. He was arguably my favorite writer during my teen years, but I had stopped reading him as I had gotten older. Maybe one of his new books would put a sentimental smile on my face. But none of the newer ones interested me. I thought of just getting a magazine, but then I noticed a stack of books that I had heard about. A few months back, once again between books and unsure what to read next, I asked a bookworm coworker for a rec. He quickly gave me one. “Oh, he said, you have to read it. You won’t be able to put it down.”

So I approached the stack. There were four different books. The first three in paperback and the newest one in hardcover. They all looked rather massive and imposing. I was unsure. I was not a high fantasy kind of guy, and was not really feeling like committing to not one but four 1000+ page books. I picked up the first one and turned it over and read the back flap. Meh.

“Oh, you’re going to love that book. It’s great.” I turned, she was beautiful. How could such a beautiful woman like a book that was written by what appeared to be – by his author photo – a middle aged virgin in bad need of a razor? “Trust me,” she continued. “You will be talking about this book for years.”

And so I entered the world of Game of Thrones.

***

Okay. Fine. I’ll do it.

Doctor Who was on Netflix streaming and…

Okay. Fine. I’ll do it.

I’ll plunge in, tippy toe first.

At least it was the new and improved Doctor and not the old crappy one. At least the production values were up to snuff. Hey, and the guy who played the Doctor wasn’t bad looking after all. And he wore a leather jacket. And the girl was cute. And killer mannequins.

That lasted for about five episodes. I thoroughly enjoyed the show but I also felt lost. I felt like I had come to the party after all the introductions were made, that I could never be part of this little fanbase, that I would always be an outsider in the Whoniverse.

This stems from the one aspect of my life that I am truly obsessive compulsive over: narrative chronology. I need to know everything about invented universes. I can’t miss an episode of a show. And I can’t just read it online in wiki format. My knowledge of a narrative mythology has to be complete, as close to Godlike omniscience as possible. (It was a problem I had with comics when I was younger, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.)

I got stuck on an episode called “Dalek” that was about the Doctor’s main nemesis, or as I like to think of them: Plungebob Squarepants. Because they have a plunger as a weapon. Still. After all these years.

What the fuck were the Daleks? What was their history within the show? And who were these Time Lords the Doctor spoke of? And….GAH! SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!!

***

It is a Friday night. August 2005. A friend and I are in Blockbuster (R.I.P.) perusing what to watch that evening. She and I are going to order food and drink beer and watch something stupid. It’s Friday after all. We can’t come to a consensus. I want a romantic comedy and she wants a bloody action movie, or maybe I have it backwards. Whatever. I spot something in the new releases. “Hey,” I say, “wanna watch Lost?”

Roll of eyes.

I had been talking about Lost for the past couple of weeks. I had missed the first season, but ABC reran it over the summer. But they didn’t rerun it in total. There was an episode where a character was kidnapped and the next episode they aired the character was already returned. ABC had taken great serialized TV and fucked it with a giant rusty spork. I (oh, did I mention this already?) have a problem with discontinuity in narration. So I stopped watching Lost, even though I thought it was great. Then the DVDs came out and I binged on it. And two weeks later I was in the video store with my friend.

“Oh, c’mmmmoooonnnnnnnnn…” I whined with perfect nasal vibrato

“You know I’m not going to like it,” she said.

“Actually.” And I thought about it for a couple of seconds. “Give it two episodes. If you don’t like it, I will never bring it up again.”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll do it.”

And a monster was born.

***

It was about a year ago that I gave up on continuity and gave in to the new Doctor Who.  It was rewarding on two levels. First, Doctor Who is ridiculous fun. It’s giddy and silly and sometimes deadly serious. I am still out of the loop on many things. But the show understands that many of its viewers are entirely new to the Doctor, and it has done an admirable job of making both vets and newbies feel welcome.

But on another level I have joined a community. It is true that a fanbase is not the same kind of close knit group as a family is, or a neighborhood or job. But with all three of those there are differing degrees of non-consent. You don’t get to choose your family, you take the job that you can get and buy the house that you can afford. But being a fan of shows like Doctor Who or Lost, a movie series like Star Wars, or books like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, that’s a choice. It’s a choice that signifies what kind of person you are. “Oh, you like Lost? I do to. Let’s talk.” We could be as politically, religiously, financially, and philosophically different as possible but we still have this one thing in common.

I realized the real reason I had hated Doctor Who was not because the show was terrible. It wasn’t. I didn’t like it because I didn’t get it. I hated it, however, because I wasn’t part of the community. I was an outsider. I was forever apart.

I will never be someone who watched all the old ones. I will never have fond memories of Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching PBS in Chicago and chatting about it with my friends on Monday morning. I don’t have fifty years of history to look back upon. I can never hop in a little blue box that is bigger on the inside and go back to the start of the party.

But the best parties are the ones which are always welcoming to newcomers, where when the door opens one is greeted with smiles and hugs and warm hearts. Where the inside is infinite and there is always room for one more companion.

 

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