Doctor Who came to me when I was 13, over the summer between 7th and 8th grade. The Sci-Fi Channel had launched, and they were airing the Tom Baker episodes daily at or around noon. Despite the wonky special effects and very complex -some might say impenetrable- mythology, I quickly became enamored with the series. I doubt I could’ve told you why then, but I know now. It was because Tom Baker as the Doctor introduced me to the concept of an eccentric, and pointed the way for me in the treacherous world ahead.
The Doctor was always thoroughly out of step, in his own world. Sometimes to his detriment, but he almost always found a way to persevere. He represented hope, brilliance, flamboyance. Happiness. Maintaining a sense of the inner child, listening to the truth that you know is inside of you. Being stubborn when it’s worth it. The Doctor didn’t just feel like family to me, he felt like the family member I should’ve had, but didn’t. To paraphrase John Waters talking about Vincent Price, I always felt like Tom Baker was my friend. I still do.
I was an odd kid, always interested in things that no one else seemed to know or care anything about. I loved the Beatles, which was a subject of derision in class during the Vanilla Ice era. Being an avid reader gave me a vocabulary that most found puzzling. I loved comic books, Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Evil Dead movies. Things that are now cult favorites, beloved by millions. The hipster credo is “I liked it, but now it’s too mainstream.” I was 20 years early, but my love burns unabated. Looking back, I always knew what I learned from Tom Baker: That I was right about these things, and so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. They belong to me.
But not just me.
When Doctor Who was resurrected a few years ago, I was a bit curious. It seemed like treason to call the first bit “Season One.” Friends with taste that I respect liked it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try wading in. It wasn’t just the lack of Tom Baker. I understood the nature of the show, and in fact hold a soft spot for Sylvester McCoy and even poor Paul McGann. It was that the guys they have playing The Doctor now are so young. Not a man much older and wiser than me. It seemed like a bit of a betrayal, these doe eyed teen idol types.
It’s easy to be a grizzled old fart about these things. For those who came before this mass acceptance, we fought a cultural war for you. I’ve got a couple decades in, but that’s a drop in an ocean of time for friends that I have. Anyone who’s ever had the opportunity to say I told you so and have truly earned it knows how hard it is not to spit it in a Johnny Come Latelys face. The superego stops me, but the id asks where were you in ’92? It’s an internal struggle, but I know what Tom Baker’s Doctor would do. He’d say something very sharp and somewhat hurtful, then let it go and offer you a Jelly Baby.
I just got back from a showing of the 50th anniversary special, Day Of The Doctor. If you ever loved Doctor Who, you should see it. Even if you have the issues that I did with the young guys you should see it, as no less of an actor than John Hurt serves as your audience avatar. I won’t post any spoilers, but I’ll just say that I felt like I received a visit from an old friend, one I never expected to see again. When I heard the young girls in that audience squeal for him even louder than they did for the moppets, I knew the kids are allright.