I am embarking on an overhaul of this website. The goal is to make it about my writing (fiction and non-fiction) in general rather than strictly advertising my services as a freelance writer. I have a couple of stories that are in various stages of production, and there are a few Doctor Who-related blog posts that I have been meaning to write.

I have been watching “Trial of a Timelord” for the first time in 20 years and it has been a revelation. I have been meaning to do a 6th Doctor retrospective, so this is a great place to start.

I will share more about the fiction I am writing as well.

In the meantime, I wanted to put the blog back on the front page where it belongs.

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.

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!

Back cover of a dog-eared "New Adventures"

Back cover of a dog-eared “New Adventures”

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:

Fast forward to 2003. My friends and I started a news website called the Athenaeum. One of my first stories was about the unthinkable happening: Doctor Who was returning to TV!

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…

Adventures of an American Whovian, Part 2

In Part 1 of Adventures of an American Whovian, I described how one particular American child growing up in the 1980s became a fan of the television show “Doctor Who” by watching endless repeats of the show on PBS. The cliffhanger of Part 1 was when I discovered a comic store that sold issues of the US “Doctor Who” comic. Looking back, this was the moment that I “regenerated” from being an American kid who was a huge fan of a weird foreign show on PBS to a Doctor Who fan. This regeneration, if you will, came about as a result of discovering information about the show.

Sometime in the Fall or Christmastime 1985, Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA

Although it sounds strange to say, I can pinpoint the purchase of one particular comic as a moment that changed my life. Up to this point, I had a) only thought Doctor Who was a TV show from England and b) been into comics, or Marvel comics more specifically for about 2 years. Until I had begged my mother to take me into Superhero Universe in Downtown Boston that fateful day I had never set foot in a comic store. When I had bought them previously, I got them in convenience stores, cigar stores, bookstores, or any place that had a comics rack. While the racks had the usual big name comics, if they didn’t have it, you weren’t going to get it that month if at all. In the back of all Marvel Comics was a checklist where they had information on each comic they printed in a given month with blurbs about the big stories. Every other month, the checklist showed Doctor Who, but I could never find it on the racks. It was only by chance that I saw out of the corner of my eye the comic store on the upper floor of the building on Winter St. in Downtown Crossing and convinced my mother to go in. To discover that there were actually stores that sold only comic books was one thing- to discover that they were the only place you could get some comics- like Marvel’s Doctor Who- was absolutely mind-bogglingly wicked awesome. For better or worse, I have never really been the same after seeing an entire store full of comics.

When the comic store guy sent me to the back issue bin (he didn’t have the heart to tell me the series had been cancelled in the Summer of 1986), I found the motherlode of Doctor Who back issues and instead of picking Issue #1 with the Tom Baker Doctor, I picked #15, which was the beginning of the Peter Davison run as he was my favorite at the time.

The comic that changed my life.

The (actual) comic that changed my life.

The comic’s cover price was $1.50 or over twice that of a regular Marvel comic of the time (an issue of Spider-Man from that same month cost $0.65). It was only available through comic book stores and was printed on “Baxter Paper,” a glossy stock that still looks good almost 30 years after it was printed. It came inside of a plastic bag just big enough for a comic taped in the back and had been marked up to $1.75. I’m not sure how I convinced my mother to buy what to her was probably the most expensive comic book she had ever seen in her life, but she did.

I was so concerned even then with keeping my investment safe that I didn’t even read it on the subway and bus ride home. When I opened it, however, the wise nature of the investment became apparent. Not only did I get a great Doctor Who comic and a backup story with the Autons, there were several articles on Doctor Who. I learned about Doctor Who history (and that there were six Doctors!), what was currently happening in Doctor Who (they weren’t making new episodes for some reason but they weren’t cancelling it- it was on “hiatus,” whatever that meant), and the name of the original comic in England (“Doctor Who Monthly”). Even the ads were helpful- there were ads for Doctor Who conventions (the one slated for Boston had already happened by the time I got the issue), mail-order merchandise and listings for fan clubs. Little did I know that there were so many other Doctor Who fans out there!

I even wrote one from the list, a club called the Scarf Trailers based in Scranton, PA. I got a hand-written letter from the president of the club on Sixth Doctor stationary (the first time I had ever seen an image of him). She informed me that they were going to be disbanding soon so I never officially joined, but have kept the letter all these years.

Other things I got from the Marvel Doctor Who comics was the number and ordering system of the Doctors, and the news section (called “Who Cares”) informed me that they were going to start showing the Sixth Doctor episodes, followed by the First and Second Doctor! They were eventually shown on WGBH, the Boston PBS station in the spring and summer of 1987.

Whereas once upon a time I would go with my mother on these shopping trips to Downtown Boston under duress, now I had a reason to go. I saved up my allowance and would get to go to the store and buy more issues. Eventually, the comic book guy told me that they carried issues of the British Doctor Who magazine, which had the even more outrageous cover price of $2.75. These issues had even more in-depth articles about Doctor Who then I could have ever imagined and I read them so much they too were well worth the investment.

My first issue of DWM.

My first issue of DWM.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, I received a surprise when I wandered into the Young Adult section of my public library for the first time. It was there in the Science Fiction section that I discovered that there were Doctor Who books! They were novelizations of old Doctor Who stories instead of new adventures and put out by companies called Target and Pinnacle, but in those days, unless you were lucky enough to see them on TV, this was the only way you were going to get the whole story.

That spring and summer of 1987 were the “golden era” of my Doctor Who fandom. The show was on every weeknight and through the discovery of the Doctor Who comic, magazine, and Target novels. The American Doctor Who comics were the information gateway but Doctor Who Magazine in particular really expanded my knowledge. I soon began throwing around terms like “the Second Doctor” with my brother and father and we all knew what that meant.

All good things must come to an end, however, and this one happened pretty fast. At the end of the summer of 1987, ominous new commercials began to appear on Channel 2. “Doctor Who is moving to a new time zone!” the ads proclaimed. The only problem was that they were changing the time from weekdays at 7:00 PM to Sunday nights at 11:00 PM, which to a kid about to enter the sixth grade whose family didn’t have a VCR, basically meant I was never going to get to watch Doctor Who again.

My dad let me stay up to watch the first episode in the new time slot, which was a “Whovie” (American PBS stations often spliced together the entire story) of the first episode of “The Trial of a Time Lord”. It was pretty awesome to finally see a new episode, but my father made it clear this was a ultra-special treat.

Not too soon after this, however, my family got a VCR (thanks, Dad!). My Dad stayed up late before work on a Monday morning a few times and recorded several Fourth Doctor stories for me (thanks Dad!), but eventually, Channel 2 stopped showing Doctor Who in 1988.

Given the fact that I had yet to find another person my age who liked a) Doctor Who and b) had cable TV, these well-watched videotapes (and the few that they had for rent in US video stores) were all the Doctor Who I had to watch for nearly two years. Did I mention that I know nearly every line of dialogue from “The Ark In Space?” The thing that kept me going during this long dry spell was my growing collection of Doctor Who media. I think it is safe to say that without my comics, Target books, and Doctor Who Magazine, I could have easily slipped back into becoming a casual viewer once more.

Adventures of An American Whovian, Part 1

In case you are not aware, November 23, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. There are a lot of articles out there commemorating the occasion, but I wanted to do something different. This article series is about my experience of growing up as a Doctor Who fan in America in the 80s and 90s. It was definitely an interesting experience being a foreign fan of something that is so British and watching it go from being a cult weirdo thing to a celebrated part of modern geek culture.

Doctor Who is, at its core, a television show about one man’s adventures traveling through time and space. If you are unfamiliar with Doctor Who, I suggest you read a primer I wrote about the program.

Or, if you like, watch this vintage PBS telethon documentary:

Once you are up to speed, I will now take you on an adventure in time and space. First, we will go back to…

December 23rd, 2012 A.D. Newbury Comics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

It was a crisp December 23rd in Harvard Square, which is located just outside the grounds of Harvard University. It is full of interesting shops, bars and restaurants and I spent quite a lot of time there when I was growing up down the road in Watertown. I now live in Seattle with my wife and daughter and we had come back to visit my parents for Christmas. I had just seen some old friends for lunch while my wife was in Boston exploring the Museum of Fine Arts. I took advantage of the after-lunch opportunity to get a couple of small Christmas presents.

I went with my friend A.J. into Newbury Comics. Newbury Comics is a Boston institution. It started out as a comic book and punk rock record store on Newbury Street in downtown Boston and expanded across the region. Their music selection can’t be beat and has long been one of those stores where its clientele, most of whom are under 30, can get “cool” stuff.

When we went in there, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There was a massive section of the store given over to Doctor Who merchandise- TARDIS tchotchkes, action figures, talking Daleks, and Doctor Who-themed knee socks.
“Where were the girls traipsing about in TARDIS knee socks when I was in high school?” I somewhat jokingly lamented to A.J.

Nearly all of the merchandise was Eleventh Doctor-related. The last time I had been in the store, which had been about 2 years previously, they also had Doctor Who stuff, but it was a couple of rows of action figures and some sonic screwdrivers in a corner. But this display- this was pretty huge was angled so it could be seen by anyone who entered the store.

Then it hit me. Doctor Who was…cool? This was one of those things that I thought I would never see. I have been a Doctor Who fan since I was a young child and experienced a lot of teasing, ribbing and joshing over the years for liking such a strange TV show. The last thing I ever thought it would be was “cool.” Given the evidence in front of my eyes, it was definitely cool enough amongst the kids of today for the managers of this particular Newbury Comics to devote a large amount of floorspace to Doctor Who merchandise.

Doctor Who is celebrating its 50th anniversary in November 2013, and it is as popular worldwide as it has ever been. The original series was on the air from 1963-89. It was started up again in 2005 with a much larger special effects budget and has received much critical acclaim. It has become so popular now that the 50th anniversary episode has been filmed in 3D and will be shown in theatres across the world. I already have two tickets to a screening in Seattle, but nobody to go with me yet, which sort of sums up my experience of Doctor Who fandom.

Doctor Who has meant a lot to me over the years, but it has been, for the most part, a private devotion. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to share it, but it is something that is, most certainly, an acquired taste for most people. Let’s put it this way- just about everyone I know thinks that Doctor Who is really weird. For me, it was just something that I have loved for as long as I can remember…

Early 1980s, Watertown, Massachusetts, USA

It was 7:00 PM on a weekday evening, and my father and I (presumably at least 4-5 years of age) were sitting on the floor in the living room in front of the TV, which was tuned to WGBH Channel 2, the Boston PBS station. My father is a sci-fi fan himself, so I don’t know if he intended to watch it that night with me or not, but Episode 1 of “The Ark in Space” appeared on the screen…

It was the awesomest, coolest, scariest thing that I had ever seen on TV and I was forever hooked. Doctor Who’s format during the original run of the series (1963-89) was a single story broken into 25-minute episodes with a cliffhanger at the end. Most of the stories were broken into 4 or 6 episodes. In England, they were shown on Saturday evenings, but when they were re-run on Channel 2 in the late 1970s-late 1980s, they showed one episode every weeknight. Needless to say, if you come in during the middle of a story, it can be a bit confusing. “The Ark in Space” finds the Doctor (played by Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor) and his friends landing on what seems to be an abandoned space station…

While Doctor Who has a rich history in England, it gained a foothold in the US in the early 1980s when PBS stations played the Tom Baker episodes over and over and over again. Before the new series began, if you asked an American if they knew who Doctor Who was, they would mention something about the guy with the long scarf and the afro and the song: “Wooo-eeee-ooo!”

As a child, I found the episdoes featuring the Tom Baker Doctor scary, weird and funny- exactly what you want out of a TV show character at that time in your life. The special effects of the original series have always been rightly derided (you try to make 14-45 episodes of sci-fi TV/year on a TV channel funded by taxpayers look realistic without the aid of computers!), but to a kid who was willing to suspend his disbelief, they were absolutely perfect.

There were times though where I got a bit too scared and stopped watching for awhile. Once, when I got the courage to watch it again, I got the surprise of my life when I found that they had started showing episodes featuring a completely different actor playing the Doctor!

The only clues that I had to prove it was the same show were the theme song, the name of the show of course, and the “Tartus” (AKA the TARDIS, the Doctor’s blue box) appearing in the background.

Right away I found the new Doctor with the ruffled shirt (the “Third Doctor,” played by Jon Pertwee) was better than the “Scarf Doctor.” For one thing, it was just as scary and exciting, but there was more action- the Doctor even would get in fights once in a while (I am an American, after all)!

Then, inexplicably, Sarah Jane Smith, who had travelled with the Scarf Doctor showed up! Then the Ruffled Shirt Doctor went to the “Planet of the Spiders” and died and then came back to life- as the Scarf Doctor! I was totally confused, but pressed on nonetheless.

Eventually, they started showing new Scarf Doctor episodes that I had never seen before. Then, the Master, the Doctor’s archenemy from the Ruffled Shirt days, came back but another actor was playing the part. He and the Scarf Doctor fought and then Scarf Doctor died and came back as a young blonde guy!

Even though I was ready for the change but it was still pretty jarring. I quickly grew to love the Blonde Doctor (the “Fifth Doctor,” played by Peter Davison) as much as I loved the others- what was even cooler was the realization that these were brand new episodes- they were still making Doctor Who in England!

Fall 1985, Downtown Crossing, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

By the time I saw the Blonde Doctor episodes, I had been watching Doctor Who for at least half my life at that point, but I knew very little about it. About this time I started going with my mother into downtown Boston on the T (Boston’s subway) for shopping trips to Filene’s and Jordan Marsh department stores.

On one of these trips, out of the corner of my eye, I saw pictures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk in a random third-story window. I begged and begged my mother to take me up there. Despite my mother’s fear that we were going to be mugged in the stairwell going up to the third floor, she took me into Superhero Universe, my first comic store.

Having been used to comic racks at drugstores, I was completely blown away that there was an entire store that sold only comic books. I have always been more of a Marvel comics fan, and I had noticed in my reading that they were advertising a Doctor Who comic book but I could never find it on the racks. I asked the Comic Book Guy if he had any issues, and he had all of them! I got a forward on my allowance to pick up Doctor Who #15, which featured the first part of a new story with the Blonde Doctor. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, the back of the comic had articles about Doctor Who! It was like a message in the bottle for me. Up to this point, I had no idea that Doctor Who was anything other than a TV show. A whole new world was about to open up for me…

Find out the exciting conclusion in Part 2 of Adventures of an American Whovian!

Who- Or What, If You Like- Is Doctor Who?

The BBC science fiction television series “Doctor Who” celebrates its 50th anniversary this November. While Doctor Who is a beloved television institution in England, it has been, for most of my entire life, a fringe cult phenomenon. Recently, however, “Doctor Who” has been something I never thought it would become in America- cool (well, cool among the sci-fi geek crowd, anyways). In honor of the 50th anniversary I wanted to start writing a series of articles on my experiences as an American Doctor Who fan. I think it is a story that may be of interest to longtime as well as new Whovians, wherever they are, and maybe to people who have always loved things that nobody really understands.

Before I begin telling that story, however, I realize that there may be people out there who may have never even heard of “Doctor Who” so I am going to to give you my own personal overview of the show and let it serve as the intro to my future articles on the subject.

What- or who, if you like- is “Doctor Who?”

“Doctor Who” is a science fiction television series produced by the BBC. The protagonist of the series is “The Doctor,” a member of a highly advanced, nearly godlike race called the Time Lords who hail from the planet Gallifrey (formerly in the constellation of Kasterborus) of indeterminate age who travels around time and space with a variety of friends he picks up along the way in his semi-sentient ship, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which is “disguised” as a Police Box, which was a common sight in London when the series premiered in 1963. A bit of a run-on sentence, and I apologize, but it is about as simple as I can make it. The original conception of the show was a semi-educational show suitable for family viewing where The Doctor (originally played as a grandfatherly old man by William Hartnell), escorted his teenage granddaughter Susan (Carole Anne Ford) and Ian and Barbara- her two high school teachers who were unwittingly along for the ride- on a series of historical and scientific adventures.

The show truly exploded in popularity when they encountered what would become The Doctor’s mortal enemies, the Daleks, in the second story.

The Daleks became the ultimate kid fad in England from the end of 1963 to 1966 or so, and are a recognized part of their pop culture to this day. The series was immensely popular but by 1966, Hartnell was getting tired of doing 40+ episodes per year (no, really!) and decided to leave the show. The producers came up with an amazing idea: when The Doctor is mortally wounded (aka the actor playing The Doctor decides to leave or is fired), he can, due to his Time Lord physiology, “regenerate” his body and be reborn as a completely different-looking man with a completely different personality.

The Doctor (now known as The First Doctor) fell ill after an adventure and got up as a much younger but still middle-aged man played by Patrick Troughton.The audience went along with this startling change in lead actors and the series continued for 22 more seasons and five more Doctors (including the one most Americans remember- the guy with the afro and the long scarf- played by Tom Baker), ending its original run in 1989.

In 1996, there was a BBC/FOX co-produced television movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor but the series was not picked up. For the first time, however, the special effects- for which the original series was always rightly derided- were finally well-done and you got a glimpse of what the series could really be like. At the time, many of the fans of the original series chafed at some of the changes made by the producers, one of which was making the relationship between The Doctor and his (usually) human companions possibly romantic. In the original series, which was always supposed to be aimed at kids, The Doctor always ran around with a bevy of younger girls and sometimes boys, some of whom wore outfits that were more for the dads watching with their children. The Doctor never batted an eye at all the eye candy around him, and he was always portrayed as a chaste alien uncle who would never ever even think anything untoward about his young wards.

In 2005, Russell T. Davies, an award-winning British television producer and lifelong Whovian brought “Doctor Who” back. In the intervening years, a Time War had occurred between the Time Lords and the Daleks and The Ninth Doctor was now alone, the last of the Time Lords and a battle-scarred tough guy played perfectly by Christopher Eccleston, the highest-profile actor to ever play the role.

He meets a plucky nineteen year-old working class gal named Rose played by former pop star Billie Piper who, over the course of the first series, helps heal his hardened heart. The first series of the new (not a reboot) “Doctor Who” was a huge hit in England, and at the end, the Ninth Doctor regenerates into the Tenth Doctor played by David Tennant.

In the second series, the possibly romantic relationship between The Tenth Doctor and Rose becomes a little more explicit- not sexually, mind you, but you can tell they are in love. All good things come to an end, but the adventures of the Tenth Doctor continued. David Tennant was one of the youngest, certainly the handsomest guy and the first fan of the series to play the part. “Doctor Who” was once again a ratings hit and soon his episodes started to trickle over to America. American fans, most of whom were unable to suspend their disbelief of the admittedly terrible special effects and appreciate the amazing storytelling of the original series were now ready to take a second look. Doctor Who started to become a geek phenomenon.

David Tennant left after 3 series and the Eleventh Doctor appeared, played by Matt Smith, the youngest actor to ever play the role.

After Matt Smith took the reins, “Doctor Who” achieved a level of popularity and visibility that it has never had. Most notably “Doctor Who” made the covers of Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide
Insert pics of magazine covers as well.

This can be explained by several factors: the Tim Burton-esque balance between weirdness, wackiness and seriousness the series has taken under producer Steven Moffatt, the witty banter between the Eleventh Doctor and his first companion, the attractive redheaded Scot Amelia Pond (played by Karen Gillan), and the fact that Matt Smith has nailed the role in a way that few of the actors ever have.

The most recent episode of the series, “The Snowmen” was broadcast on BBC America on Christmas and was its highest rated (check) show ever. Now we are back to January 2013. “Doctor Who” will celebrate its 50th anniversary and is as popular as it perhaps has ever been worldwide.

Check back in next time as I talk about starting to watch “Doctor Who” when I was 4 and to see it go from this very strange thing that very few people had even heard of let alone understand to being on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.