I will always remember the day I met my Doctor. I was having a really bad day, and wasn’t in the mood for doing much of anything. I came home from class, plopped on the couch, turned on the TV and just started flipping channels, staring blankly at the screen. Finally, I reached channel 101, BBC America. I stopped for a moment, recognizing the show as Doctor Who, a fan-favorite on the interwebs. I saw this strange man wearing a bowtie, lanky and wide-eyed, explaining to a frightened father and son that the child’s fear of his cupboard was legitimate. You see, during his time exploring wonders of the universe beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, the Doctor had found that monsters are, indeed, real.
This strange man looked to be in his 20s, but gave off this sense of being so very…old. He spoke to them with warmth in his voice and a twinkle in his eye. Instantly, I was fascinated. And right away, my day brightened up. Then, my week brightened up. More than two years later, my days are still a little brighter because of that fateful afternoon that I met the Doctor. My Doctor.
After going through such a striking experience, you can imagine my surprise when I found that many viewers did not care for my Doctor’s era. “The companions aren’t like the old ones,” some say. “He’s just doesn’t feel the Doctor,” others note. “Doctor Who just isn’t the same.”
Now, the above-mentioned comments are meant to be criticisms. Yet, I can’t help but see some irony in complaints about change in a show that is 50 years old. I’m not going to pretend that this show is the same as it was 10 years ago when the reboot was introduced to the world. The writing is different, the actors are different, the characters are different — nothing about this show is the same. But on the other hand… it is still unmistakably Doctor Who. I’d know that wheezing TARDIS sound anywhere.
No, I’m not trying to go all sunshine and rainbows on you to erase the fact that indeed, Doctor Who has become a much darker, complicated world since it was rebooted in 2005. It has changed. Of course it has. Head writer Steven Moffat isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor is Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, nor is Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. I’m not going to try to change your mind or tell you that your opinion is wrong. But allow me to suggest that in the grand scheme of things, all this change is quite small and personal in comparison to something that is so much bigger on the inside. To make this suggestion, we’re going to need to take a little nerdy detour, though, so buckle up.
I was 6 years old when the Star Wars prequel trilogy began. A Star Wars fan since age 3, I was so incredibly excited to see even more of my favorite movie. Young and bright eyed, I stared at the screen in awe over the span of nine years as I watched the tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker unfold. To me, it was just as beloved as the original trilogy. And better yet, even, it was mine. It was part of my childhood, and to me, it was perfect.
But again, the Internet is a bit of a buzzkill. As I got older, I started reading about all of the criticisms of the prequels I thought were so incredible. My poor inner 6-year-old was crushed. I’ll admit I understand a lot of the points made about the newer series. But then I get to the comments about how the films just don’t feel like the real Star Wars, or that it was too cheesy, or too romantic, or too blah, blah, blah. And I can’t help but wonder; are the prequels really all that different, or is it the audience who has changed? While watching the newer trilogy may not have been what older fans remembered, it also spawned a whole new generation of fans. Fans like me who could not believe what they were seeing on the big screen for the first time. This year, it will happen again with an even younger batch of padawans. And who knows? It may not feel the same to me as my Star Wars. But dang, you must admit there is something pretty special about stories that intrigue the minds of generation after generation. And it is able to do that because even if you dislike the actors or the subplots, at its core, it is always about the same things: friendship, love, courage, loss, excitement and some pretty rad action sequences. That is what Star Wars is. Always. And there is a different piece of it that belongs to every single fan it touches, based on how they were first introduced to it.
Back to Doctor Who. This show, too, is something that has changed in almost every way imaginable, from actors to writers to composers to sets and more. It does it all the time. It is so very different from where the reboot started. At its center, it is exactly the same. It is about an alien who travels through space and time in a funny blue police box with a companion, sometimes fixing things, sometimes making matters worse. It has always kept that premise. But because of us, the fans, it feels different to every viewer.
My bet is that the show just hasn’t been the same to you since “your” era. Fair enough. I know it’s not the same for me. There is that special moment in a Whovian’s life when everything just clicks, and its perfect. The thing is, that moment cannot kept forever. And perhaps everything that comes before or after that frozen little moment in time feels just a little bit off. But here’s the thing you need to remember: This show belongs to all of us. That is what makes it so special. That’s what makes it Doctor Who. It can be dark, scary, hilarious, heartbreaking or strange. It is so many things wrapped not-so-neatly under one title. But we share it. It found me on one specific afternoon, but every Whovian has a different story. Every Whovian has a favorite Doctor, companion, series, writer, plot. That’s what makes the opinions of the show so different. But that’s also what sets the show apart from everything else on TV.
When you’re bummed because you don’t really know what to make of a new character or storyline, just try to keep this in mind: Somewhere, there is a sad little girl looking for something to brighten her day. And she’s going to meet the Doctor (doesn’t matter if it’s the Third Doctor or the Twelfth Doctor), and her heart is going to grow to the size of two in that moment. She’s going to find a companion she relates to (doesn’t matter if it’s Susan or Clara), and to her, that moment will be perfect – not in the way it was for us, but in the way it is for her.
Doctor Who is not the same show it was 10 years ago. At the same time, it has not changed a bit. As the Doctor would say: “That’s ok. That’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” As long as the show continues making people’s days a little more magical by showing them what it is like to travel the stars with the Doctor for better or worse, I think we can all agree this show remembers all the people that it used to be.