“Did you just cry at the title screen?” or, why Doctor Who matters to me

This’ll be a long one, kids. Consider yourselves warned.

My Dad was in town recently. I get a lot of geeky habits from both my parents, but Dad is single-handedly responsible for my love of Doctor Who. It’s one of my very first fandoms – in fifth grade, when we were tasked to make a little boat to race in science class, mine flew a flag of Rassilon and I would tell anyone who listened what TARDIS stood for. When the show rebooted and gained popularity stateside, there was a wave of old middle and high school friends coming to me and asking “…hey, wasn’t that that thing you wouldn’t shut up about when we were kids?” Yes. Yes it is.

Anyway, when I was little, Dad would let me stay up late with him on Friday nights to watch Doctor Who on PBS. We would tape them all on VHS, rewatch to our hearts content, and anxiously await the PBS fundraisers that focused on Doctor Who so we could get some swag and tape some marathoned episodes. They imprinted on me in a serious way. Tom Baker will forever be my Doctor, and Sarah Jane my favorite companion. I also have a serious soft spot for Harry Sullivan, and both the Romanas. (For the record, Dad’s Doctor is Jon Pertwee – he watched on PBS too when he was a kid, slightly closer to real-time. ) At the reboot in 2005, again it was Dad pushing me to start watching. I was a stubborn old fan, loudly proclaiming that Doctor Who without spray painted aliens made of bubble wrap was no Doctor Who of mine. He watched and loved Eccleston and Tennant pretty much right out of the gate and tried his best to get me to rejoin the troop. In the days of Netflix DVD’s and not a lot of streaming, he caught me on a break from grad school and sat me down in front of the TV to watch some New Who. Tragically, they were at the Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks two parter. I rarely say any Doctor Who is terrible…. but to this day, I don’t rewatch that ep. So take that as you will. It’s even worse because now I know the next DVD was hiding Human Nature/Family of Blood/ Blink, which I will always defend as the greatest three-ep run in New Who history. But I digress. Finally, just two and a half years ago, I caught Midnight (still one of my favorite episodes) with a friend. And that – that was Doctor Who like I’d never seen it before. I immediately went home, started up with Eccleston, and came into the modern fandom with a vengeance.

I tore through it all, sobbing my way through School Reunion and Vincent and the Doctor, giggling endlessly at The Unicorn and the Wasp and Closing Time. David Tennant is my New Who Doctor, but I took to Matt Smith quickly too. I dove into the fantastic podcast community, google news searched Doctor Who on a regular basis, and was soon talking to my Dad (and anyone else who would listen) non-stop about the goings on and lead up to the seventh season, to a new companion, to the 50th, and to a new Doctor.

This is where things get a little more serious. The timing of my re-introduction into Doctor Who life is really important here. I had come out of a three and a half year relationship, moved apartments, and was in the middle of deciding with said ex if we should give it another go. (We did, for another year and change, before it crashed and burned.) So it goes without saying I was feeling a bit … fragile. Vulnerable. Unsure of myself. Rather desperately in need of something that would give me back the identity and self-assuredness that I had, in so many ways, lost. I already had the childhood memories, deep inside my geeky little soul, that if something was wrong, the Doctor would make it right. That the adventures of one sonic-wielding, two-hearted Time Lord would always be a place for safety and security and an exploration of all things good throughout time and space. Even before getting into New Who, on those worst nights, I would pull up Classic eps with Tom Baker and would always, always feel better when I saw my Doctor’s face in the time vortex of the title screen.  Once I started with New Who, I found that its emotional intensity was exactly what I needed – I could laugh at Ten being spectacular and obnoxious and wonderful even when the stories were dark. Especially because the stories were dark. Because the Doctor kept going, and wasn’t above being heartbroken or lonely or overly dramatic nearly to the point of being insufferable, and that things always ended up OK even when they really didn’t. Ten’s catch phrase, allons-y, became my mantra. So I kept going too, and hearing that phrase in Tennant’s voice always, always made my heart feel better.

Ironically, one of the only times my ex watched Doctor Who with me is what got me thinking more seriously about what Who means to me, and what it has meant since I was 10. Back in 2012, we watched that year’s Christmas Special, The Snowmen, together a few days after it aired. I was already giddy about it because Ian McKellen, and was thrilled to see a new title screen and theme song variation start up. And then it happened. Matt Smith’s face was outlined in the stars around the time vortex. It undeniably referenced Classic Who, and my dear Doctor Tom Baker (and the other Classic Docs, of course), and everything welled up inside me. I couldn’t hold back the tears and went straight for the remote to rewind and watch it again. Next to me on the couch, I heard “…Did you just cry at the title screen?” I fussed and fumbled and tried to explain how a face in the stars of the time vortex was a gorgeous reference to Classic, one that we hadn’t seen since the reboot, and to the intro that I watched over and over as a kid, and how that face in the stars represented so much more. That’s when I started to think about how Who had shaped my life. Since then, it’s gotten to be a more and more influential part of my day to day. Some of you who follow me on Twitter or even know me IRL know that I spent two weeks in the UK over Christmas and New Years this past winter. It’s not an exaggeration to say those two weeks changed my life. It also changed my body – on my last day in London, 3 January,  just outside Piccadilly Circus, I got allons-y tattooed on my foot.

So back to where we started. Dad was in town for work not long ago, and we were walking down Central Park West discussing Capaldi and Verity Lambert and my excitement about going to my first cons (LI Who and Gally, here I come!). I realized that while he knew all about my trip, and my tattoo, and my fandom adventures and he had heard me talk about the history of the show and my favorite episodes and companions until I was blue in the face, he might not really know what it meant to me. How this thing that he showed me when I was 10 changed me entirely for the better. So I told him. I told him that the Doctor was there for me during some of my darkest adult days, showing me a way to be thoughtful and compassionate and make bad jokes in the face of even worse circumstances. I told him how the idea of a hero with two hearts, whose first instinct is rarely violence and who wants to find the good in everything he comes across, kept my spirit up when not many things could. And how it always did, even when I was 10, and how grateful I am that he showed me Tom Baker and always pointed out how the women of Who were so often empowered and strong and fantastic and witty, and chosen for their intellect and independence. And we both got just a little emotional because we’re emotional people who do things like cry at title screens and tell the internet about it.

There are so many other things I could say about Doctor Who, and so many other favorite memories that I could get into and probably will – but those are for another day. Suffice it to say that the title screen of The Snowmen isn’t the only Who title that’s made me cry; like many other Classic Who fans, I cried openly at the 50th with its black and white title screen. And I’m not the slightest bit ashamed of it. I’m deeply proud of everything Who has given me and so many of us around the world. It’s made me who I am today and will help me be a better person tomorrow.

Allons-y.

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3 thoughts on ““Did you just cry at the title screen?” or, why Doctor Who matters to me

  1. This is so great! Thanks for sharing! It’s so cool that you and your dad shared this show when you were growing up. I wish I’d found Doctor Who earlier in my life (and that my family really got it, although I think I’m converting my mom). I love everything this show stands for, and in the year and a half since I started watching, it’s brought some of the best people and experiences into my life. Also I cried at Gally when someone read the last lines of Classic Who (which I’m still not as well versed in as I should be), and people definitely called me on it, so you’re not alone.
    So excited for LI Who! McGann is a life-changer.

    1. Thank you!! My mom isn’t big into it either, for the record 😉 but every family needs a good Whovian and I’m thrilled that you’re converting your mom! Classic Who is tough to catch up with, even for those of us who watched as kids. I have a lot of vague recollections of episodes, rather than really in-depth memories. There’s just so much to see. Anyhow, I’m very excited for LI Who and hope to meet you there!

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