The Cultural Gutter

taking the dumb out of fandom

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Who’s Your Doctor?

Chris Szego
Posted April 12, 2012

Every April, the Gutter switches things up.  This month, Romance editor Chris talks about television.

 

Confession time:  Until 2003, I had no idea what Dr. Who was.

I mean, I knew there’d been a television show with that name.  My Nana used to watch it occasionally.  I had vague childhood memories of the freaky/cool tunnel special effect thingie during the opening credits, and I could recognize the theme music.  But I thought – when I thought about it at all – that it had been a show about a doctor (played by Tom Baker) whose last name happened to be Who.

[This wouldn’t require a mea culpa confession, except that for the last dozen years, I’ve spent my days managing a SFF bookstore.  Yeah.  Way to miss an active and vocal cordon of Fandom.  Hey: I read.  I just don’t watch a lot of TV.]

Because of my job, I got the word about the plans for the Russell T. Davies reboot well before the news went mainstream.  Longtime fans kindly explained to me why it was important, what a coup this was, and I began to better understand the impact the new series could have.  Over the next eighteen months I watched customer interest in Dr. Who grow and grow.  The sales of the tie-in novels and Dr. Who Magazine began to climb, and kept climbing.

As a retailer, I approve of that kind of trend.  So I thought I check out the new show, see what all the fuss was about. Hilarity ensued, as I had neither cable nor internet access.  A more technologically adept friend took pity on me and invited a whole group of us to come over, have dinner and watch the first episode.

Talk about instantaneous addiction.

That dinner party became a regular feature of my life for the better years.  After dinner we’d watch the new episode.  Then we’d dissect it, analyze it, or just watch the best bits again.  It helped that we were all roughly in the same position:  having heard of the earlier series, but not overly familiar with it.  So it was all new to us:  the constant adventures, the aliens, the Time Lord. We had no baggage to bring with us, no previous companions to compare to, no hallowed memories to be buffed or tarnished.  We didn’t even know Billie Piper had been a famous pop star.

And it didn’t matter.  One of the New Series’ greatest achievements it that it managed to bridge the gap between the longtime fan and the new.   No doubt we missed all sorts of self-referential in-jokes, but we didn’t need to understand them to find the dialogue funny, or the situations challenging, or the characters immensely, intensely watchable.

My favourite episode of the first season was the two-part masterpiece “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances”.  The Doctor and Rose return to London during WWII, tracking an alien ship.  They discover a handsome time-travelling adventurer, a band of displaced street urchins, and a mysterious figure in a gas mask that converts everything it touches into a replica of itself.

“The Empty Child”  was in fact two adventures that come together.  Rose and the Doctor get separated and each encounters a potential ally.  Rose meets Captain Jack Harkness, a dashing Time Agent from the fifty-first century.  The Doctor meets Nancy, a young woman who guides a group of street kids to shelter during bomb runs.  And they all realize that the neighborhood is being menaced by what looks like a small blond boy in a gasmask.  Anyone the child touches immediately develops a gasmask-like face and becomes a zombie-like automaton.  The dialogue is cracklingly funny, the mood is atmospheric, and the story is smart.  It was also truly, deeply scary (at least to someone as easily frightened as me).

The second part of the episode, “The Doctor Dances” makes all that terror worthwhile.  The Doctor figures out what’s causing the creepy gasmask situation, but he doesn’t actually solve the problem. Instead, he helps the other find where – and  who – they need to be in order to fix things themselves.  And they do, magnificently.  The horrible creeping gasmasks are routed, and all the infected patients are cured  “Everybody lives!” the Doctor exults.  “Just this once, everybody lives!”  It is a complete and profound triumph for our heroes.

There are so many kinds of heroism in this episode.  There’s Captain Jack:  a rogue and conman, who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to correct the damage he unintentionally caused.  There’s Dr. Constantine, a stalwart physician trying his best to heal and care for patients suffering from a condition he can barely believe, let alone understand.  There’s Nancy, who cares for lost children in an attempt to make amends to the one she couldn’t save. Even England itself is a hero: a tiny damp island that stands up and says no to Hitler, and to tyranny.

And of course, there’s the Doctor.  The last of his kind, a lonely, grieving survivor trying to make sense of it all.  His is the quiet heroism of endurance, of the determination to do some good, even as he himself is hurting.  That’s what makes the ending so powerful:  the Doctor isn’t just cheerful, he’s joyful.  Ready to stand up and… dance.

The episode was Steven Moffat’s first script for the series.  It bears all his hallmarks: a tense and fast-paced story; excellent dialogue, complete with innuendo that manages to be cheeky rather that offensive; profound emotional impact; and something really, really scary.  It’s a technique he used to great effect in other series I’ve loved, like Jekyll, and Sherlock.*

I was reminded of how much I loved that episode when my store hosted a Dr. Who related book launch.  The book in question was Who Is The Doctor by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?.  It’s the unoffcial guide to the new series, replete with episode recaps, opinion pieces, and a wealth of insider details.  I got so engrossed that I dug my DVDs out of storage in order to re-watch all the best bits.  I haven’t decided yet who “my” Doctor is yet, but damn, I’m enjoying the process of  finding out.

 ~~~

Chris Szego recently moved, so finding those DVDs was harder than it sounds.  And more rewarding

 

*I haven’t had a chance to watch the second season of Sherlock yet, so no spoilers please or I keeeel you  all.

 

Comments

7 Responses to “Who’s Your Doctor?”

  1. Anne Smith
    April 15th, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    I did not know that Moffatt was a writer for Jekyll. Talented man.

    BTW I promise to read The Serpent Sea (I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet) if you watch Sherlock Series 2.

  2. Rebecca Saxon
    April 16th, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Reading those couple of plot summaries you linked to had me laughing and gasping almost simultaneously.

    I loved reading about Crusie and Willis, who I share a love for… thanks to you and your wife! This has inspired me to read To Say Nothing of the Dog as my next book. And I don’t think I’ve read either Welcome to Temptation or Faking It – I must get on that!

    Great article! :)

  3. Rebecca Saxon
    April 16th, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

    Ack, sorry about that wrong comment, it was meant for Alex’s article! But now to comment actually on the content of this article:

    I had a similar discover of the new Doctor Who (also not a fan of the previous) and have been hooked by the series and much of Torchwood. It was great to read why you love “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” because now I want to rewatch it!

    I also love the joy of the doctor. I think that *my* doctor is the David Tennant one. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to 11 and am hoping that the long break I’ve had since last watching will help me get more into him.

    Oooh, and Sherlock such a great show! I think you’ll enjoy most of the 2nd season!

  4. Carol Borden
    April 16th, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

    My first Doctor was Tom Baker, and, as they say, your first is always something special. I have learned to appreciate other Doctors and love them each in their way. Except Colin Baker. I could never get into Colin Baker.

    I had a hard time initially making the adjustment from Eccleston to Tenant, but I could tell it wouldn’t be all that bad when he declared he had a new hand and it was “a fighting hand!”

    But I really got turned off with how the Donna story ended and have, unfortunately, had trouble watching since, leaving poor Matt Smith out in the cold.

    I enjoyed both Jekyll and Sherlock, too. I liked Jekyll a little more, but I enjoy the fantastic.

  5. Who’s Your Doctor? | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    May 3rd, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

    [...] FULL ARTICLE This entry was posted in Movies and tagged Doctor Who. Bookmark the permalink. ← The Warrior and the Sorceress [...]

  6. Bollywood Lobby Cards : The Cultural Gutter | Bollywood
    May 14th, 2012 @ 1:10 am

    [...] Continue reading… [...]

  7. WHO’S YOUR DOCTOR? | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    May 29th, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

    [...] FULL ARTICLE This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged Dr. Who. Bookmark the permalink. ← WHEN TO START LAUGHING: HOMICIDAL HILLBILLIES AND ABSURD HORROR-COMEDIES [...]

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Rosie Cima writes a little bit about the history of Halloween including a look at seasonal stores, sexy costumes and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. (Thanks, Paula!)

    ~

    Happy Dreams Daycare is a daycare for children from horror movies. It offers a welcoming environment regardless of any person or supernatural issues at home.

    ~

    At Die Danger Die Die Kill,  friend of the Gutter Todd Stadtman shares a list of fine films to enjoy this Spookoween season! “Halloween movie lists have become a staple of the season. But one has to admit that there’s a numbing amount of overlap between them. I mean, does one really need to cram that much Vincent Price into their cinematic diet all in one go? In response, I have called shenanigans, emerged from my sharecropper’s cabin, stumbled down the hill and perched myself in front of the community center’s battered old Mac to do something that I should have done long ago. Below is a list of movies that, if you can find them, will guarantee you a Halloween like no other.”

    ~

    At Teleport City, the Gutter’s own Keith is sharing Haunted History. Meanwhile, at her personal site, the Gutter’s own Carol is doing her version of 31 Days Of Horror: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

    ~

    The Internet Archive has archived Starlog, Heavy Metal and they have a collection of Warren Publishing magazines like Blazing Combat, Vampirella, Eerie and Teenage Love Stories.

    ~

    The 1980 BBC Radio dramatization of “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula; or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count” is now available on YouTube, which is nice since it is no longer available on the Internet Archive.

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: