Adventures of an American Whovian, Part 4: “…And then I was you!”
Spring 2005, Koreatown, Los Angeles, California
After 9 years of waiting, the moment had arrived- a brand new episode- an entire series (!) of Doctor Who was waiting to be watched. I pressed play and was blown away. I knew right after watching it that the New Series could actually be a hit, but little did I know what was going to happen, but that was way in the future. That day, all I knew was that I would never again have to pine for the return of Doctor Who- I just had to wait for the next season. The curmudgeonly American Whovian was full of hope once again…
The Fox Doctor Who Movie may have not been a success at the time, but it is a critical bridge- Doctor Who was never “rebooted;” it kept the historical continuity, showed what Doctor Who could be like with good American-level special effects, and introduced the possibility of a younger, more handsome Doctor who could find romance (or at least his companions could have an unrequited love crush on the Doctor). It was a test case, and ultimately was probably a key component in both the series not getting picked up by Fox in America in 1996 and getting the new series green-lighted in 2003.
The New Series of Doctor Who while billed as being a different series, is nonetheless understood to be a continuation of the Classic Series. From the first episode of Series One, you know it is the Doctor, and we haven’t seen him in a long time, and big things happened while he was gone. The Ninth Doctor was, in terms of keeping the series going, as important as the Second Doctor. In both instances, they turned to great actors who had to re-invent the role. Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor ensured that the series would continue after “The Doctor” (now referred to as the First Doctor) left the series. Christopher Eccleston had to update the role for the 21st century and create a character that a new viewer would find intriguing yet still satisfy the fanboys.
The Ninth Doctor was fantastic indeed. Eccleston played the part like none of the other actors before or after him. Russell T. Davies, the producer (who was a huge fan and became a famous TV writer/producer in England) and the guy responsible for bringing Doctor Who back, created a perfect story arc for the first season. It introduces new viewers to the big Doctor Who universe without overwhelming them, basically telling the entire story of the Doctor through one particular Doctor over 13 episodes. People may beg to differ, but I think this was intended from the beginning- it’s the only way I see Eccleston agreeing to take the role. Not to take away anything from Russell T. Davies’ vision or the writing, but without the performances and chemistry from Eccleston and the unexpectedly fantastic Billie Piper, the show would have been a one and done.
I knew something was different when other people watched it. My girlfriend at the time, who had politely watched “The Ark in Space” one time with me, was riveted as we watched each episode of the new series every week. A dear old friend of mine who had seen more than a few episodes of the classic series told me that I had been right all along about Doctor Who. After the series premiered in England, the ratings were huge- the general public was clamoring for more. The only question was- would it catch on in the US?
January 2006- Gallifrey One Convention, the Marriott Hotel near LAX, Los Angeles, California
After a long and strange trip to Northern California, I found myself newly single and back in Hollywood. It just so happened that the day after I arrived back in town, there was going to be a Doctor Who Convention. Free to set my own schedule once more, and seeing what a great lineup they had (no Doctors, unfortunately) I decided to finally attend my first-ever sci-fi convention of any kind- Gallifrey One (in the Seventeenth (and a half) Century).
While there were unfortunately no Doctors in attendance, there were two companions from the classic series, Mary Tamm (RIP) and Louise Jameson. The big attraction was that there were a lot of the people who had worked on Series One, including Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Briggs, and Noel Clarke.
My first day at the convention was something of a massive letdown. Whereas I had hoped to enter a crowded convention and meet a bunch of new friends and a hot female Doctor Who fan or three, I was shocked to see not a whole lot of people. I chalked this up to it being a bridge year- even with the new series, nearly all the people who attended this year were old-school hardcore fans and since it hadn’t even officially been shown or released in the US yet, there were no new ones in attendance. Since it was all old fans, the audience skewed much older and I was one of the youngest people there. Despite repeated attempts to deliberately strike up conversations, I did not really hang out with anybody.
After dinner, most of the fans, who seemed to have all known each other for a long time, retreated up to their hotel rooms to do whatever serious con-goers do in their rooms. I was about to leave for the evening, but I decided on a whim to get a nightcap at the hotel bar. Much to my surprise, a big contingent of the convention guests- specifically Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Noel Clarke were hanging out at the bar as there really wasn’t anywhere else for them to drink. The crazy thing was that none of the other convention goers were in the bar. I went up and introduced myself and spent the weekend drinking with them.
I ended up drinking with Moffat, Gatiss and Clarke every night for the rest of the weekend. It was one of those experiences that I’m pretty sure you don’t usually get to have at a sci-fi convention. Now, remember, none of these guys was as famous in America as they are now, but Gatiss and Moffat were, at least in Doctor Who circles. I think they were appreciative of the fact that I had no ulterior motive except to shoot the breeze, give them tips on stuff to do in LA, and talk Doctor Who- but not too much. I remember Mark Gatiss in particular being really cool- he politely listened as I explained my theory of how the Doctor Who Movie was so important and how Russell T. Davies had taken so much from it, and he made fun of this Doctor Who button that I had picked up:”Oh, I bet you pick up lots of girls with that one!” My only regret is I didn’t come out and ask either Moffat and Gatiss how I could become a writer for Doctor Who, which has been a lifelong dream of mine and one I am still actively pursuing.
The next 2 days during the sparsely attended convention were less exciting than the evenings. I couldn’t go and hang out with those guys during the day as they were being carefully shepherded around by con staff. The panels, however, more than made up for it, especially the one where we watched “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” with Steven Moffat doing live commentary. I just checked and the 2014 Gallifrey One convention is already sold out months in advance, but I bought a ticket the day of and was one of maybe 20 people in the room for this panel.
Another thing that I got to do was be one of the first Americans to see “The Christmas Invasion” with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. I thought he gave a solid performance and was looking forward to see where he took the role.
Little did I know that David Tennant would become THE Doctor and create a whole new generation of fans, which I have always been happy about, as he grew up as a fan.
While I enjoyed him as the Doctor, I still can’t believe how popular he became. While the Ninth Doctor made Doctor Who a critical and ratings success in England and ensured there would be at least another season, the Tenth Doctor is the one who turned the show into the phenomenon it has become today. In the minds of most casual viewers as well, David Tennant is “The Doctor” of the New Series as Tom Baker is for the Classic Series. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that he is also a great actor and a handsome man. It seems that injecting some sex appeal and a dollop of romantic tension into Doctor Who was the golden ticket to widespread popularity.
Another big factor was the fact that the New Series came out 8 years P.B.T.V.S (Post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Buffy was, in my mind, the moment when geek culture finally became part of the mainstream. The CGI special effects coming into their maturity in the late 1990s-early 2000s helped quite a lot as well, but after the rapid-fire dialogue and non-stop action of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sci-fi in general has never been the same. The New Series of Doctor Who has the same frenetic pacing popularized in Buffy. The Doctor Who Movie was one of the last bits of sci-fi TV before the new pacing kicked in. At least the New Series was able to capture this; by contrast, the Star Trek franchise was in the same boat Doctor Who was in the ‘90s until they put out the new “rebooted” J.J. Abrams movies.
Something about David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor really captured the zeitgeist and it became a huge hit through word of mouth in the geek community. I was delighted to hear that Steven Moffat was going to become the producer of Doctor Who after Russell T. Davies left. With Moffat as the producer and Matt Smith nailing it as the Eleventh Doctor, the show started to really crack into the mainstream in the US, making the cover of mainstream magazines like Entertainment Weekly.
Whereas the 40th Anniversary of Doctor Who in 2003 wasn’t really celebrated at all, the 50th Anniversary is a worldwide media phenomenon. The 50th Anniversary show will be shown live at the same time all across the world on Saturday, November 23rd, 2013. On Monday, November 25th, the episode, which was shot in 3D, will be shown worldwide in movie theatres (of course I have a ticket).
These days, I will be at the grocery store and see a mother with a Doctor Who t-shirt or on the road and see a car with a “My other car is a TARDIS” bumper sticker. I even went into a drugstore in Seattle the other day and there were all sorts of licensed Doctor Who merchandise for kids to buy. The Eleventh Doctor has proven, in America at least, to be the most popular of all. For most of my life, I felt like the keeper of a flame and had to zealously guard lest its memory be snuffed out forever. Now, I think it is safe to say that Doctor Who isn’t going to go anywhere for a long time- and I couldn’t be happier.