23 Nov 2013

Top 10 Reasons I Love Doctor Who

It's the 23rd of November, a date that many Doctor Who fans have had marked on their calendars for months on end. It's the date of the highly anticipated 50th Anniversary Episode for the series, airing precisely 50 years after the original series premiere aired on television screens all over Britain. I may only have been a whovian for little over a year, but in that year I've been quite the busy beaver, not only covering all of the modern series (and repeatedly re-watching most of it), but also made it halfway through the classics as well, I've been to my first ever full-weekend Doctor Who convention, and even managed to fit in a couple of classic who encounters as well. Now that this day is upon us, I thought it would be fitting to do my top ten reasons why I love this show as much as I do, and essentially why I'm so eagerly looking forward to this bound-to-be-epic episodes.

10) Minisodes & Christmas Specials

"So is this what you do at night while we're sleeping? Extra adventures!"
"I don't sleep as much as you, I keep busy."
~ Amy Pond & The Doctor, "Good Night"

Perhaps a silly thing to put as one of my ten favourite things about this show, but I really, really love this diversity in storytelling. Because, far more happens to the characters than what we get to see in the main episodes. This is true for any show out there, but especially true for Doctor Who where the main character alone is hundreds upon hundreds years old - and he hardly ever sleeps. We are only really privy to the tip of the iceberg. Everything else is merely referenced, or not even mentioned at all.

But with the minisodes, we get those additional glimpses into the lives of him and his companions, those bits of information that otherwise would be lost to us. Because not everything fits into a full-episode story, and instead of becoming just throw-away ideas, they are filmed and presented to us as funny and/or heartfelt little tidbits, some of them tying in with an upcoming episode (like the Night of the Doctor prequel for the 50th anniversary episode), some of them filling large gaps of time (like the Pond Life prequels summing up the long span of time between the Christmas special and the seventh season), and some of them just functioning as stand alone mini-episodes taking place at unspecified points of time (like Death is the Only Answer that was the winning entry in a primary school writing competition).

And what I love about the Christmas Specials is that they are more about the adventure for the sake of adventure, dipping into the magic that we associate with the holiday, and not necessarily having a direct part in the overall seasonal arc. In a way they function as a break, as a Christmas present to fans, and I just love that they do this, that no matter how the airing schedule is otherwise, we can always count on a Christmas special. And really; where else could you possibly find a scene containing shark-drawn sleigh flying across the sky?

9) The Creatures and Races

“Oh! You are beautiful! No really you are,
you’re gorgeous! Look at that!
Space age clockwork, I love it, I’ve got chills!”
~ The Doctor, "The Girl in the Fireplace"

This show is filled to the brink with different creatures and races. Naturally, with a fifty year long history, not all are well-designed, and some have gone through a couple of re-designs since their initial form. But some of the races and creatures are just downright fantastic. The most obvious one being the Doctor's own race; the Timelords. A race that have learned to master and govern time itself is pretty damn impressive, not to mention their ability to regenerate that essentially grants them a form of immortality.

Then we have the Ood, a rather frightening-looking, but immensely gentle and wise race, bound together by a shared master brain. I rather love how this show uses this race to underline that looks are deceiving.

I'm also partial to the Silurians, the reptilian race that ruled the Earth before us humans evolved, and they retreated inside the planet to hibernate. Not only are they visually stunning (at least their current form is) and a more ambiguous race (some of them carrying immense hatred towards humans for essentially taking their planet from them, others carrying a more curious attitude towards humans), but also one of my favourite characters, Madame Vastra, is a Silurian.

And some of my favourite monsters include the Weeping Angels (so delightfully creepy), stone angels that move if you blink or otherwise look away. Then there's the Silence, who you forget the moment you look away. I'm also rather partial to the Vashda Nerada (I know, another Moffat creation), the supposed reason humans have an irrational fear of the dark.

8) Time Travel

"People assume that time is a strict progression
of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear,
non-subjective point of view it is more
like a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey... stuff"
~ The Doctor, "Blink"

It's a show about travelling in time and space. What's not to love about that? It means you can be in the past one day, and the future the next. You can be on earth in one episode and a far away planet in another. Not only that, but the show plays around with history, twisting known historical events and mysteries and putting a completely different spin on it. Like what lead up to Agatha Christie's disappearance and supposed memory loss? What happened to the lost play of Shakespeare?

I love the complexity, how the Doctor can sometimes meet people completely out of order, like Sally Sparrow in Blink, who in the course of a single episode comes across a long string of mysterious messages from the Doctor, everything from written messages underneath the wallpaper in a dilapidated old house, a letter from a friend who mysteriously vanished, a strange recorded Easter egg that shows up on every single DVD she owns... All of it guiding her safely through her encounters with the Weeping Angels, and then when she finally meets the Doctor in person, she realises from his complete lack of recognition of her, that the only reason he was able to do that, was because she provided him with all the information he needed in the first place.

And while this will be a subject to be brought up later in the list (spoilers!), let's not forget the completely out-of-order relationship with River.

7) The Companions

"But if he was so special, what's he doing with me?"
"He thought you were brilliant."
"Don't be stupid."
"But you are. It just took the Doctor to show you that, simply by being with him."
~ Donna & Rose, "Turn Left"

There are many things I love about the companions. Aside from the characters themselves, I really love the role they have to play on the show. Because they are the people we, as viewers, end up identifying ourselves with. The Doctor is a fantastic and brilliant character, but he's a centuries old, two-hearted alien with an impossibly high intelligence and the ability to regenerate. He's a superhero in our minds, but his companions are not - at least not to begin with. They are ordinary people, leading ordinary lives. Some of them are confident in their abilities and some are not, but they all have their insecurities, and by travelling with the Doctor they are given the opportunity to step up, and be brilliant in and of themselves.

But it's more than just about each of the companions realizing their potential, it's just as much about how they affect the Doctor as well. He brings them along because he's lonely, because without their sense of awe and wonder, he may forget how magnificent the universe really is. But they do more for him than just keep him company or act as a reminder. They become his friends, partners in crime, and sometimes they even oppose him, ground him or insert a sense of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. They become equally important to him, as he is to them.

For instance, my favourite companion, Donna Noble is a good example of both. She's a very no-nonsense kind of character, carrying with her a kind of bravado that functions as a mask to hide just how vulnerable she really is. She doesn't just accept a situation as-is. She refuses to give up on the people of Pompeii, and even though she does accept that between Pompeii and the world, there really is no choice, she still manages to remind the Doctor that even facing a fixed point in time, he can still save some. She's the one who instantly questions the Ood's role of servitude, something not even the Doctor did when he first encountered the race. She keeps him grounded (personally I love companions who doesn't have a smidgen of romantic interest in the Doctor, and isn't afraid to take him down a notch or two), acts as his moral compass, and ultimately becomes his best friend. And despite her lacking sense of self-worth, she still rises to the occasion, ultimately becoming the saviour of 26 worlds.

6) The Doctor

"I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation
of Kasterborous. I am 903 years old and I'm the man who's gonna save your lives,
and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?"
~ The Doctor, "Voyage of the Damned"

Naturally this was going to be one of my reasons. He's the main character, after all, the one the entire show is centred around, our very own superhero. I personally tend not to be overly fond of the traditional superhero, perhaps because it can get a bit one-dimensional, people in trouble, enter the saviour filled to the brink with superpowers... just not something that really catches my attention.

However, that is so far from the case when it comes to the Doctor. Sure, he's a two-hearted alien with an impossibly long life span due to his ability to regenerate, but that's the extent of it. He's essentially just a guy, an incredibly intelligent and observant guy, who's very good at thinking on his feet, but still just a guy. And he doesn't specifically seek out people to help, it's more a side-effect of his love for trouble. To use an analogy made by one of the showrunners; he doesn't run into a burning building in order to get everyone out, it's more a case of him suddenly finding himself in a burning building, and therefore having to get everyone out.

And he doesn't always succeed. That's probably another important reason why I'm more drawn to the Doctor as a kind of superhero, than I am with the more traditional ones. He has the best of intentions, but doesn't always manage to save the day, sometimes he even makes it worse. He's fallible. And that makes him a more approachable character.

But more important than that, he's exciting, he's playful, has a child-like fascination for pretty much everything comes across. He's a thrill-seeker, his attitude best summed up in his own words; "There's something that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick." And let's not forget his trusty multi-functional tool; the Sonic Screwdriver. I did ponder upon putting that as a separate item on the list, but decided to instead lump it together with the Doctor. He may be the one with all the intelligence, but the Screwdriver is how he gathers a lot of his information, how he gets himself out of a tight spot - unless his surroundings are made of just wood - then he needs to come up with a Plan B...

5) River Song

"Oh, turn it off! I'm breaking in not out.
This is River Song, back in her cell.
Oh, and I'll take breakfast at
the usual time. Thank you!"
~ River, "A Good Man Goes to War"

If anyone thought she wasn't going to make my list, then they not only missed my spoiler further up, but they also clearly don't know me very well. She's my favourite character, of course she was going to get her own spot. For those who wonder why I didn't put her higher, it's because while I utterly adore her, she still only appears in just fourteen episodes of the show, and while hers are some of my favourite ones, I love the show for more than just her.

And for those who wonder why I didn't lump her with the other companions, I actually don't view River as a companion. More often than not, she's doing her own thing, and in several of her storylines, she's the one inviting the Doctor to come and join her, rather than the other way around, like in the library where she was leading her own expedition or the Byzantium, where she was working for the church as part of earning her pardon from prison. She's independent, more like his equal than anything else, popping in and out of his life as she pleases, and that's why I just don't consider her a mere companion.

I've written quite extensively on why I love her character so much, so I will try not to repeat myself too much. I love her complex storyline, I love that she's a mature, confident woman, with her own life completely separate from the Doctor. She isn't dependant on him.

4) Everyone is Important

"900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important"
~ The Doctor, "A Christmas Carol"

This gets its own spot on my list, because it's the single most important message in the entirety of the show. Everyone is important. The Doctor has seen everything, experienced everything, and he knows that even the simplest of thing makes a mark on the world. But we humans don't necessarily realise what effect we have on our surrounding and in extension; the bigger picture. And it doesn't even have to have anything to do with self-esteem, either.

This message doesn't just come across as a way to comfort random characters who are lacking in confidence. Sure, that is one way it's being told, but it can be someone implying that they or something that matters to them personally might not be important, or implying that someone else isn't important, and the Doctor simply dismissing that notion. Of course they are important, and of course it matters. Everyone matters. And that is just a beautiful message to send out.

3) Regeneration

"When he's dying... his body... it repairs itself.
It changes... but you can't?"
"I'm sorry, it's too late. I'm regenerating."
~ Rose & The Doctor, "The Stolen Earth"

As much as it hurts when a beloved Doctor bows out, this is a very important core element of the show. Without it, Doctor Who wouldn't be much different to other shows on television. It would have its run of a set amount of years and then leave our screens. But with regeneration, the show is essentially granted immortality. Even if a specific run of the show ends, it can always be revived, continued (without becoming a mere remake). There's after all a reason we are celebrating its fifty year anniversary today with a brand-spanking new episode.

In pretty much any other television show, I hate it when they recast a character. It's a pet peeve of mine, actually. I just think it ruins the concept of continuity, and makes it hard for viewers to keep our head in the story as it's very difficult to just ignore a character's blatant change in appearance, voice and mannerism. And whenever I come across it I just find myself wishing they had just written that specific character out and given the new actor a different character to work with.

This is of course, easy to do with the companions, as they are free to come and go as they please, and each Doctor tend to go through a couple of companions before they end their reign. The Doctor himself, however, isn't a character that can be replaced. The show is centred around him, so naturally without him there wouldn't be a show. Thankfully the concept of regeneration not only takes care of explaining the Doctor's change in appearance and mannerism, giving viewers everything we need in order to accept the changes without taking us out of the story, it also makes the change of actor into a good thing. The new actor is given a freedom to define their own version of the character, and the show gets to reinvent itself in the process. It keeps things fresh and interesting.

So, as much as I hate that I have to say goodbye to my Doctor this coming Christmas, I'm grateful for the fact that regeneration allows for the show to go on. I may have to say goodbye to Matt, but the Doctor will still live on and have mad adventures in all of time and space.


"Did you ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?"
"I chose you. You were unlocked."
"Of course I was. I wanted to see the universe,
so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away.
And you were the only one mad enough."
~ Idris, The Doctor, "The Doctor's Wife"

Naturally this was going to be on the list. Where to even start? In one of my other favourite shows, the ship is almost considered a separate character, but in Doctor Who the TARDIS actually is a separate character, much thanks to the episode The Doctor's Wife where the TARDIS' matrix is trapped in the body of a woman, and finally allowed to actually speak. But even outside of that episode, the TARDIS has always been treated as something more than just a machine. It's a sentient machine with a personality, taking off by itself and acting up (just look at how it's been behaving towards Clara, locking her out, hiding her bedroom).

But even if it wasn't sentient, I'd still consider the TARDIS to be a pretty spectacular vessel. Short for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, it can travel anywhere in time and space, it's indestructible, impossibly large on the inside, but on the outside takes the appearance of an old police call box. I recently watched a top ten video on time machines, and the Back to the Future fans were completely outraged by the fact that the TARDIS had beat the Delorean for the top spot. I find the outrage more than a little bit hilarious, as the only thing the Delorean actually has going for it is that it's a pretty cool car. However, if the TARDIS chameleon circuit ever was fixed, the TARDIS would actually be able to take on the shape of a Delorean if we wanted it to, so even that point would be moot.

I completely and utterly love and adore the TARDIS, both as a machine and as a character. It's the ultimate home and companion, ever so often ignoring the Doctor's instructions and taking him where she wants him to go.

"You didn't always take me where I wanted to go."
"No, but I always took you where you needed to go."
~ The Doctor, Idris, "The Doctor's Wife"

1) The Universe's the Limit

"So... all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will
- where do you want to start?"
~ The Doctor, "The Eleventh Hour"

Whenever I try to explain the show to anyone, or convince them why they should give it a chance, this is what I point out. There are probably many fandoms out there that would like to claim that anything could happen, but this is actually the only show I can think of that truly is capable of keeping that promise. Because you can take any theme, any genre and make it into an episode. It can take place at any time, from the dawn of time to the end of the universe. It can involve any historical character, even take them out of their time period. It can be anywhere in the universe; earth, alien planet, middle of space. It can involve any kind of alien races or creatures. It can be told from any kind of point of view, and in any manner of way. And all of this can be mixed into one giant cocktail of madness.

You want dinosaurs on a spaceship? Done.
You want to relocate a hospital on the moon? Done.
You want all of history to happen at once? Done.

There are no limits to what you can do with this show, and that is my number one reason why I love it as much as I do. Every new episode is another adventure, and I just can't wait for the 50th Anniversary episode tonight!

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