Adventures of an American Whovian, Part 3:The Wilderness Years, or Chillin’ With The Shobogans (1989-2005)
It is late 1989. I’m in eighth grade, and my adolescence is beginning to unfold. There are lots of changes happening in my life, but two constants were the Boston Red Sox and Doctor Who. In fact, with all the frustration and heartache involved being a Doctor Who fan during this time and being a Red Sox fan had a lot in common. Not only that, Doctor Who was changing as well. With Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, the show was a lot edgier than it had ever been. Apparently the people in charge at the BBC didn’t get the memo about how great it was and, while not exactly cancelling Doctor Who, did not bring it back for another season.
Doctor Who was never officially cancelled but there was always the hope, at least for the first year or so after the announcement that it would come back like it had a few years before. But it didn’t- not for a while. At that point, there was no way of knowing- for all I knew that was the end of Doctor Who. It was time for me to regenerate into the longest- and loneliest- phase of my Doctor Who fandom…
The non-cancellation of Doctor Who was a grievous, unforgivable outrage that I was powerless to do anything about and had like the ending anything else and move on. The blow had been softened a little by the fact that I discovered a new friend who was a fellow Whovian that had cable. We talked shop, traded Target books and watched Doctor Who (and Red Dwarf, which turns 25 this year!) over at his house Saturday afternoons on New Hampshire Public Television. Eventually my parents got cable too and I soon amassed a formidable collection of Doctor Who on VHS.
Not only that, but about a year after the non-cancellation, a new range of Doctor Who novels put out by Virgin Books appeared. The old Target/Pinnacle books were just novelizations of old stories and they were written for kids. These new Virgin Doctor Who novels were full-length novels that were literally “New Adventures” of the Doctor and Ace. The last two seasons of the Seventh Doctor had seen the show go into a more adult direction. The Doctor seemed to know a lot more about things than he did before and was openly manipulating events to the point of being almost, well- he wasn’t always the clear-cut good guy he had been for nearly the entire series. The British TV viewing audience apparently wasn’t ready for such a shift in the Doctor’s personality. These more adult themes were able to be explored in the New Adventures. A big shout out to Tyler at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA for always keeping Doctor Who books in stock!
The writers of the New Adventure books were Doctor Who fans who were older than I was but were new writers. It sounded as if I had a good story idea, I could submit it to Virgin. I came up with quite a few good ideas but never sent anything in, but it gave me a peek into the publishing world that I have found useful now that I am a writer.
High school happened. Girls, music, homework, sports, and a thousand other things vied for my attention, yet if I needed to unwind I would throw in a Doctor Who video. College happened. My freshman year, I got internet for the first time, and by internet, I mean the old school e-mail (my email handle was “matrix”), newsgroups and Telnet version. I soon discovered rec.arts.doctorwho, a newsgroup featuring a lot of posts by some of the guys who actually wrote the New Adventures. While it was cool to know that there were apparently millions of other Doctor Who fans out there, I was completely isolated from them. Nobody in my life I liked Doctor Who, and if I eventually brought it up to a new friend or potential girlfriend, I would get some strange looks. “Oh, you mean the weird old English show they used to show on PBS with the afro guy who had the scarf and the weird theme song? Woo-eee-ooo! You still watch that?”
During my sophomore year of college, wonderful rumors began to fly around and eventually coalesced into some sort of fact. They were finally going to bring Doctor Who back as a TV Movie of the Week on Fox. After I came back from Christmas Break in early 1996, the UMass Amherst computer science department announced that they were giving out floppy disks with one of those “web browser” programs we had been hearing so much about that allowed you to look at “web pages” and “surf” “the Internet.” Of course I used my new web browser to look “online” for information about the new Doctor Who film. One of the first things I ever watched on the modern Internet was the Fox trailer for the movie.
Here are the Doctor Who Movie promos in all their cheesy 1990s Fox commerical-style glory:
Fox Promo #1:
FOX Promo #2:
FOX Promo #3:
As the date of the Doctor Who Movie premiere- Tuesday, March 14, 1996- neared, I knew I had to do something. I reserved the TV in my dorm common room for that evening and started to put up flyers all over campus urging people to come and watch Doctor Who. That night, about 20 people showed up. How many of them were actually there because of the flyer or just wandered in, I don’t know, but it was so exciting to see it on TV once again. I have a special place in my heart for the Doctor Who movie- I always thought Paul McGann, if given a proper chance, could have been one of the best Doctors, but the Fox executives didn’t see it the same way. The movie was up against the final episode of Roseanne or something, and got blown out of the water in the ratings in America. Despite good ratings in England, no series was commissioned.
This looked like it was truly the end of Doctor Who.
Life continued on, however. College graduation, real world, jobs, girlfriends, other interests, but Doctor Who was always a part of my life. Throughout the 1990s, however, nearly every episode of Doctor Who was put on video and the trend continued on DVD and quite a few made it into my collection. An interest in the missing episodes of Doctor Who turned into a job and nearly a career as a film archivist.
Every so often, I would try to introduce someone who I thought might get it to the wonders of Doctor Who, and they would politely watch an episode or maybe soldier on through a whole story but that usually was as far as it went. Anyone who knew me knew that it was this huge thing in my life but weren’t interested in talking about it with me. I had all this knowledge now about Doctor Who, but no outlet or anyone to share it with.
In 1999, there was a brief glimmer of light. A BBC-produced parody called Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death was made for the Comic Relief telethon. Rowan Atkinson (!) played the Doctor along with many other famous guest stars. It was a funny, loving valentine to the series, was written by none other that Steven Moffat, and proved there was still a lot of love out there for the Doctor. As this was the pre-youtube days, the only way I was going to see it was to pledge to New Hampshire Public Television to keep Doctor Who on the air and received a VHS copy as my gift. Here it is in all its glory:
Every scrap of news about the potential new series was a treasure. I was skeptical of the casting of Billie Piper, a former teen pop star as the assistant but thrilled when I heard Christopher Eccleston was cast as the Ninth Doctor. I moved across the country from Boston to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004. That fall, the Red Sox won the World Series and my friend and I celebrated by screaming our heads off in our Koreatown apartment. A few months later in the Spring of 2005, another cathartic moment happened when I saw the first episode of the new Doctor Who series.
Like the Red Sox winning the World Series a few months before, it was such a cathartic moment, it forced this Doctor Who fan to “regenerate” once more…