Things I Know 347 of 365: Tom Baker was my first Doctor

Because it’s the best idea ever invented in the history of the world!

– Russell T. Davies

“Really?” was my mom’s response when she found out.

I held my ground.

“But people who like it are weird.”

Months later, catching up with my uncle at Christmas, he said something similar. “It used to be you were a freak if you liked Doctor Who.”

Something had changed in the intervening years between the series’ original run and its re-boot by the BBC in 2005. Doctor Who became something one could confess appreciation for in public.

My first episodes were late-night reruns on PBS when I was in middle school. Tom Baker was the featured Doctor, and I was drawn in by stories that struck my untrained eye as lower budget drafts of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As was often the case with such reruns, the viewing schedule was irregular, and I never became fully immersed in the world of Doctor Who.

Still, my mom’s words got me thinking. No matter how high geek culture has risen, no one wants to be called weird by his mom.

I started considering why I’d been so taken with Doctor Who since its return. Aside from being science fiction, there’s something else in there that has influenced my affinity for the Doctor.

Namely, he wins by being smart. Not smart, really – clever. In each episode, the Doctor overcomes his enemies, brings peace to whatever planet he’s on, and generally saves the day by being the cleverest person in the room.

While other heroes win by brute strength or sometimes a combination of that strength and intelligence, the Doctor wins by being clever.

As the kid who was never going to be picked first for any athletic event and who wrote off straight A’s early on, clever was the card I could play. Most of the time, this manifested itself in my offering up a one-liner in class or finding the way to leverage everyone’s skills most effectively in group work.

Throw an alien who travels time and space being curious who also says things like, “bow ties are cool” in to the mix, and it’s no wonder the show struck a chord.

I’ve gone back recently and watched some of the earlier episodes of Doctor Who on Netflix. Though each actor’s successive portrayal of the character has varied, the soul has remained the same. In the one episode I can recall where we witness the Doctor involved in a prolonged physical battle, it is revealed that the fight was taking place in his mind.

I could totally have won those kind of battles growing up.

Watching those episodes has also made clear the weirdness of which my mom spoke. The show was decidedly low-budget by today’s standards. It relied on story and viewers’ willing suspension of disbelieve. Each episode asked its audience to play along, ignore the seams and frayed edges and get lost in the impossibility of it all.

I’ve come to accept the weirdness, to almost embrace it.

It turns out I like Doctor Who because it’s a show that presents us with a character who finds his way through life by being curious and makes his way through life by being clever. It’s a show that values its audience, counts it as intelligent, and promises to ask “What if?” in each episode.

It’s still weird, but I won’t bristle next time my mom says it.

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