Following exactly one day after JFK’s assassination, another event that loomed large in my childhood took place: Doctor Who, a low budget children’s sci-fi show, premiered on the BBC.
As with Kennedy, I didn’t become aware of the phenomenon until the 1980’s. By that time, if I can get my own memories in sync with the chronology, they were already on the Fifth incarnation of the Doctor (Peter Davison) and it had become a worldwide cult favorite.
I don’t remember where I saw my first Who, or when, but I remember gobbling up the slim Target novelizations of each episode and imagining what the companions looked like, so it was at best a fleeting glimpse of the show itself.
Later, a PBS station here in Milwaukee began playing Doctor Who in chronological order every night at 10pm, one half hour episode at a time. I’d often pull up a chair in my Grandma’s kitchen and watch it with her – oh! The sacrifices she made for me! I enjoyed Hartnell, was not as in love with Troughton as most people seem to be, adored Pertwee (still my favorite Doctor) and was fond but not overjoyed with Tom Baker, etc.
Did I mention I fell immediately in love with Sarah Jane Smith, and still feel a pitter-patter at the mere mention of her name?
Around the time the PBS station caught up with the Davison era I stumbled upon a Madison affiliate that was broadcasting the very first episode of the 7th Doctor! It was probably a year old by then, but no matter; to me I was blown away at the “awesome” special effects, which seemed sooooo much more advanced than the rubber suit monsters I’d been watching every night!
I joined a national Who fan club and subscribed to their newspaper, once writing in and objecting to their casting the BBC of the “enemy”, and getting a personal response in turn. I had a Doctor Who mug, and a Tardis key on my key ring. My Mom crocheted me a reasonable facsimile of Tom Baker’s scarf that I still use. For my 15th birthday my Grandma bought me a retrospective of the show’s first quarter century. I frequented the Turning Page, a niche bookstore on the East Side that specialized in Who, and my Dad let me drive all the way there when he was teaching me to drive.
I LOVED that show.
And then it was cancelled, packed off forever into the land of reruns. Our PBS station refused to pay for the rights to the show and it was dropped from their schedule. The Turning Page closed. A Fox TV movie introduced us to the 8th Doctor but did nothing to revive the series.
Life went on.
I was happy to hear the show was returning in 2005 but was no fan of the overwrought, cynical acting of Christopher Eccleston, and let’s not get into how awful John Barrowman is as an actor. I barely paid attention to the series.
And then came Tenant . . .
He brought the show back to life for me. The charm, the wit, the excitement and the humor, it was all there again, in spades. He never quite trumped Pertwee for me but man, it’s close.
(Mat Smith ain’t too bad either)
Now the show is more popular than ever, a true global phenomenon. I wish more people realized that the pre-revival Who was darn good stuff worth watching, but I’m not going to argue with success. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the show, and what a milestone that is! 50 years is a heck of a stretch for a business, a marriage, or even a building to acknowledge; but a TV show???
Congratulations to everyone connected with Doctor Who over the last fifty years. I tip my hat to all of you, and wish you fifty more to come!