Friday, October 5, 2012

My Doctor Who Story

This is the story of how I joined a Doctor Who club, even though I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who in my life.


I’m sure this story will be of limited interest to most people, but I promised to type it up for one of my former students, and this is really the best place to do it.


So where to start?


Let’s go with college.


In college, I met a guy named Bob.  He met and fell in love with someone in my hometown, and ended up moving to Wisconsin.  (Eventually, I was as an usher in his wedding, but that isn’t really important to this story.)


After moving to the state, Bob and his wife-to-be invited us to a game night with a bunch of people we didn’t know.  One of those people was named Sue.  (She’s also great, but unmarried, which is not important to this story.)


Sue worked at a local hotel, with a woman named Brenda.  (My wife and I sang at her wedding, and I played piano in her wedding.  This is maybe semi-important.)




Across the street from the hotel was a used DVD/Video Game place, and that IS important.


This is probably close to 10 years ago.  I’ve been trying to figure out the exact date, but I don’t recall what it was.  I even tried to look for our old Yahoo group (I know, right?  A Yahoo group!  Why didn’t we just send stone tablets through snail mail?).  But the group is gone now, a victim of email spam.


As a DVD consumer who also happens to be on a budget, I was deeply in love with any and all used DVD places I encountered.  I still am today, but all the stores I used to frequent are gone now, victims of the economy and the end of the DVD boom.


The point is, I probably went to the DVD place on a weekly basis.  I’d drop by for a few minutes after work, see what was new, maybe grab something I’d been wanting to get, but didn’t want to pay full price for.  Among other things, my copies of The Exorcist and Children of the Corn III came from there.


As human beings go, I tend to think of myself as forgettable.  I base this on nothing, really, except for the fact that I have, on a small handful of occasions, bumped into people who I went to high school with, and sat in classrooms with, but who have no idea who I am.  Maybe it’s the beard.


Okay, now things get a little tricky to explain.


There was a fellow who worked at the DVD place.  He had long hair, glasses, and a jovial attitude.  I probably saw him there once every two weeks or so, alternating with other people who worked at the store.


One day, I was hanging out with Sue and a few other mutual friends, and Sue said, “You know that DVD place across the street from the hotel I work at?”




“I work with this woman, Brenda.  Her boyfriend works there.  Glasses, long hair?”


I nodded in recognition, and the subject just kind of faded.


What I didn’t know is that she’d had a similar conversation with Brenda and her boyfriend, which went, “My friend Josh goes to your video store all the time.  Beard?  Glasses?”


So the next time I went into the store, the guy behind the counter introduced himself.  Actually, what he said was, “You’re Sue’s friend, right?”


“Yeah.  You’re her co-worker’s boyfriend, right?”






And then I felt a little awkward, because honestly I don’t know what the social obligation is to your friend’s co-worker’s boyfriend.


Of course, I feel a little awkward pretty much all the time. 


I may have an event or two shuffled here, but I do recall that I went back a few times after that, and George (Who was, and still is, incredibly jovial.  Seriously, he’s pretty much the nicest guy ever.) and I would exchange commentary about the movies I was thinking about buying.


Then one day, not long after we introduced ourselves, he gave me a flyer and told me that he was starting a Doctor Who fan club.  I kind of shrugged, and admitted that I had never really seen the show.


This was about 99.99 percent true.  Once, in college, I was hanging out with a couple of friends, and a friend of theirs was trying to find an episode of The Simpsons on a videotape, and instead he found the last two minutes of a Doctor Who episode.  One of my friends said, “Doctor Who!  I used to watch this all the time as a kid!”


Also in college, there was a brief attempt to relaunch Doctor Who with a TV movie.  I saw about 30 seconds of that playing on a large TV in a dorm lounge.


That was my entire exposure to the show.


I told George I would think about attending his group.  The fact is, I was curious, mostly because I knew the show existed, I knew it was kind of a geeky thing, and from little I knew about George we had some similar interests, namely stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


What finally convinced me to try it was that Sue got in touch with me and asked if I was going, and I figured if we both went we could kind of see how the land was lying and go from there.


When I got to the first meeting, it was me, and George and Sue, and a handful of other people I would come to think of as “the regulars.”  There was some food.  And a quick, “Welcome to the first meeting,” talk, and then we watched the first two episodes of the show.


Now, you have to understand something.  I’m not talking about the more recent show that started in 2005.  This was before 2005.  There was no “new” show.


No, we were watching the original, started-in-1963 edition of Doctor Who.


Which, whoa.  Whoooooooa.


The thing about the show was, it was BBC back in the day when they’d give you twelve dollars (sorry, “pounds,”) and tell you to go make a TV show. It was, if memory serves me, designed as a show for kids, which would hopefully teach them some science, and history, and whatever else, all with whatever change people could find in the couch that day.


The writing was good.  The sets were laughable.  The acting varied wildly, from quite good to, “I think the director owed that guy a favor.”


But what kept me going was the camaraderie.  Well, that and the fact that I have no self control.


One of my very favorite TV shows is Mystery Science Theater 3000, which features a guy and two robots making fun of bad movies.


After watching perhaps ten minutes of 1963 era BBC cheapness, IT WAS ON.   Well, not really.  I think something extra-silly happened, and I made a joke, and everyone laughed.


I won’t sayI evolved the club, but after that, it became clear that you could like the show, and also be aware that it was more than a little ridiculous.  I can’t think of a single episode that didn’t get at least some commentary.


So I stayed.


Sue eventually gave up.  In one of my favorite moments of the club, George had us all fill out forms stating what they liked and disliked about the club, in order to improve it.  She wrote, pretty much word for word, “I like everything about the meetings but Doctor Who.”


Over time, the club shifted a bit.  The new Doctor Who arrived on the BBC, and even though it wasn’t in the states, we got copies and saw it before most of the US.  Eventually, however, it started broadcasting here at the same time it was broadcasting overseas, and since the show only met once every two weeks, the club got behind.


There are other interesting memories of the club as well.  As it turned out, one of the members didn’t like the fact that some of us didn’t take the show very seriously, and left the group.  That was a little sad.


One dude kept showing up to see the new episodes, and he kept begging for tips on how to download illegal copies of the episodes himself.  I guess he eventually figured it out, because he dropped out as well.


On one kind of fun occasion, we didn’t play Doctor Who at all, as the group voted to show the movies I had written that evening.


George wrote a Doctor Who radio drama for a fan group, and I have the privilege of helping him edit it.  Which was fun, until his editor put him through a two sets of revisions and I had to read the same slightly modified script three times.  That was tiring for both of us, I think.


(An aside: I never did develop a favorite Doctor.  They all had their good points and their bad points, and sometimes my dislike of a Doctor had more to do with the variant writing quality.)


(Of the companions, my favorite was easily Sarah Jane Smith, probably because she was adorable and spunky and a journalist, not unlike my wife.)


And then there was the day I left.  I was going to be a dad, and I couldn’t stay in the group because I had to pick my daughter up from day care every night.  The group got me a cake.


A year or two later, the club came to an end.  They decided to go out big, and George rented a movie theater and showed a rare animated Doctor Who on the big screen.  He even had the group meet on a weekend, so guys like myself could attend.


We watched the episodes.  We ate movie theater food.  And at the end of it all, I felt like I’d completed a little Whovian journey.


Over the years, I’ve tried to introduce to show to my wife.  She came with me to one meeting, where we watched the first episode of the new series.  She said she liked it, but after that she had no interest in watching the show with me.  Even when it became available on regular TV, so we didn’t have to attend meetings.


My time is limited, and it’s even more limited as my kid gets older, so finding the time to watch the show without her is probably never going to happen.


All things considered, George could probably run a professional Doctor Who club, if such a thing existed and paid money.  In a handful of years, meeting only every two weeks, we still got the chance to see every one of the original Doctors.  We saw the TV movie.  We watched the long-forgotten (for a good reason) K-9 and Company, the first Doctor Who spinoff.  We watched episodes of Torchwood before the show made it to the states. 


Am I a fan of the show?  I was, after all, in a fan club for several years.


Let’s go with no.  If I really loved the show with all my heart, I’d probably still be scrambling to watch it.  Borrowing DVDs from friends, setting aside time in the summer to catch up.


I will say that when I was watching it consistently, the show had a surprising amount of fun to offer.  The newer version of the show was clearly pattered after shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with humor and drama and inside jokes and rewards for sticking with it.  I suspect if I went back to it, I might love it.


But at the time, what I really loved was the gang of people watching it.  That’s the part I really miss, and kind of wish I could get back.


But time marches on.  Unless you’re the Doctor, I suppose.



1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. You had a saw/say typo in the middle...
    "I won’t saw I evolved the club".

    I am lucky to have a wife who loves sci-fi, so we have happily watched all of the Doctor Who episodes since 2005. An excellent addition to the watching experience is getting a hold of "Doctor Who: Confidential", which goes through the process of making Doctor Who, as well as providing historical perspective on the enemies that the Doctor faces. Torchwood has a similar series called "Torchwood: Declassified", but I had more trouble staying interested in that one.

    I've been meaning to go back and see some of the old Doctor Who episodes, but I'm not sure that I could put up with all of the low budget campy-ness without Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crooooooow.