I had avoided the Doctor Who phenomenon for 7 seasons but finally decided to give it a watch. Now, having gone through the first 3 seasons of the reboot that started in 2005, I can officially say that I have a new obsession. If you've never watched this newer run of Doctor Who and are planning on attempting to catch up on all 7 seasons as I am, I'll warn you that there will be a few SPOILERS contained below. If you have no idea what or who The Doctor is then here's the Wikipedia page for information that'll get to the point much more succinctly than I would.
My previous exposure to The Doctor was minimal, having watched Tom Baker (the fourth incarnation of the series' namesake) episodes with my dad on PBS when I was much younger. The only thing I really remember about those times was my dad being very disappointed when Baker was replaced with the much younger Peter Davidson. Leading up to the 50th Anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", my Facebook homepage was full of Doctor Who posts from friends and when I saw that the previous six seasons were all on Netflix I decided that my Thanksgiving break was a good time to finally see if it was really worth all the fanaticism it seemed to inspire in people.
I blew through the first season with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor that weekend and was already a fan. One of the best decisions made by those rebooting the series after a 16 year hiatus from television (with the exception of a TV movie in 1996) was to keep the continuity with the original 26 season run. First, not doing so probably would've been met with mutiny from long time fans but it also provides newcomers with a sense that they're watching something that has a real history to it that's to be respected. The writers also do a great job of making you realize why it's a big deal when enemies such as the Daleks appear even if you haven't watched the older episodes. The special effects and scenarios can be cheesy but it doesn't really matter because it's the characters who matter the most and in that respect the show succeeds wildly. Both Eccleston and David Tennant, the men who've played Doctor Who through the episodes I've watched so far, have both made him a fascinating and funny person to watch, albeit in slightly different ways. Only a few episodes in I was able to get why I had seen such devotion from Facebook friends to the character of Rose, The Doctor's companion. Billie Piper is beautiful yet still seems like a woman you could actually meet in the street and Rose is written in a way that makes her much more than just eye candy tagging along with the time traveling Doctor. The highest praise you could give any character from a television show or film is to say that you truly reacted emotionally to what happens to that character on screen and the finale of Season 2 involving Rose hit me in a major way. Even supporting characters like Mickey (Rose's on-and-off boyfriend), Jackie (her mother), and Captain Jack (a character from the spin-off series Torchwood) are given moments of their own and grow as the series goes on.
I have to say that although I really liked Season 1 and thought the climactic showdown with the Daleks was incredibly cool; nothing so far has topped the two-part ending to Season 2 ("Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday.") I think the moment when the Daleks face-off with Cybermen and trash talk each other is a defining moment in a viewer's experience in two ways: first, if there was any chance of you denying that you're a geek it's lost forever if you enjoy this scene at all and, second, it's impossible not to enjoy this scene because it's simultaneously one of the most dorky and bad-ass sci-fi moments I've ever seen. You get two of The Doctor's most famous enemies squaring off against each other and are given a reminder that no matter how deadly the Daleks may be; they (and clearly anyone who thinks they can gain Rose's affections) still have good reason to fear the last of the Time Lords. Of course during this episode, you also have to deal with the end of Rose's run as The Doctor's companion and it was dealt with perfectly. As I said, it hit me hard and television rarely effects me like that anymore in an age of "reality" television. The Brits seem to have this down though as both Ricky Gervais' The Office and Derek managed to get to me as well.
All 3 seasons so far have had some filler episodes that were just "mehh" but also a few great ones such as Season 1's "Dalek" and "Father's Day", Season 2's "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit", and several from Season 3 with "Blink" being the standout because of the introduction of a new and extremely creepy enemy for The Doctor in the Weeping Angels.
By far one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show for me though has nothing to do with creatures or relationships or traveling to distant times or worlds. That would be the way that The Doctor thinks and deals with problems is entirely based on using scientific method and logical thinking. He shuns superstition and close-mindedness. He's literally delighted when something out of the ordinary or previously thought to be impossible occurs even if it puts him in danger. Anything that offers an opportunity to learn something new or explore the unknown is embraced. Even though he often seems out of control or daft, The Doctor is actually one of the most glaring examples of rationality probably to ever grace the television screen. For this reason alone, he's already quickly becoming established as one of my favorite characters in any genre or medium and I look forward to digging back through the pre-reboot serials as well. With 50 years of history encompassing around 388 hours of shows there's certainly no shortage of material.
A few other things I've taken from this series. For one, it's made me realize how conservative American television still is in regards to relationships. Doctor Who features interracial dating, has a male bi-sexual supporting character who's masculine and is the action hero type, there's even inter-species scenarios. The best part of that is that it isn't treated as anything special. It just is. Which is how it should be. Another thing I've been reminded of again is how British actors seem to be so much better at playing fantasy seriously. They never seem to be phoning it in or rolling their eyes below the surface and that's what makes them nearly always more believable than American actors. My theory on that has always been that they usually have more theater work in their background but I'm not sure. Whatever it is, I'm thankful for it.
So, I'm about to get into Season 4. It's apparently time for another new companion since Martha is now gone as well, The Doctor seems to be growing increasingly alienating, and aside from Weeping Angels, Daleks, and Cybermen; The Master is now also on the prowl. In short, I can't wait to see where else this series goes. Speaking of Martha, she was great but it was hard to get as attached to her as I was to Rose. Not her fault or the actress who portrayed her, Freema Agyeman, but she was only around for one season and the memory of Rose hung over The Doctor for most of the season. I should be all caught up in a few months and I have to say that even though I haven't seen Doctor #11 played by Matt Smith yet; I'm very happy that Peter Capaldi is going to be #12 when the new season starts in August of this year. Casting a 55 year old actor in the role could drive off younger or new fans that mainly watched because of the youthful good looks of the last two Doctors (Tennant was 34 and Smith 26 when they inherited the part) but it again proves that the people running the show know its history and have more on their minds than simply sticking with the status quo to keep ratings steady.
There's a lot going on in Doctor Who. If you're a self-professed geek/nerd/dork or a fan of sci-fi then you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. If you have kids and want to introduce them to sci-fi or just a fun, exciting show in general that encourages rational thought and celebrates risk taking then you found it. Look past the lower budget and sometimes shoddy fx and just enjoy the show as much as the actors appear to enjoy playing out the situations written for them.