Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts for the Soon-to-be-Fan

This is a rebroadcast of a post I originally wrote for the Pursuit of Harpyness. If you've already read it there, apologies; come back on Friday for something more original! (Okay, it probably won't be technically "original," but it will be different.) And I'll try to get my act in gear re: The Doctor's Wife for next week, I swear.

When Anna originally asked me if I would be interested in doing some guestblogging on what I call "the orange blog," she suggested that I could think about writing about Doctor Who companions -- possibly from the original series -- and why they are awesome. This is largely because I spent a lot of time complaining about the bloggers who complained about the length of Amy Pond's skirt. (Short version: who cares about the length of her fracking skirt? If you're staring at her legs, you are totally missing the point. End short version.)

I considered this, but then another friend -- the wonderful Lola -- suggested in an email that a primer for those baffled but intrigued by the Doctor Who universe and fandom might be a good idea. And before I could plan, really, I was already suggesting "rules" and a collection of episodes to Anna via chat. What follows has been cleaned up and expanded, but still.

For those who don't know the series, welcome! The TARDIS has lots of space; find a seat and hang on. For those who do -- well, I hope what follows is at least a little bit funny.

1. It's bigger on the inside.

2. Never lose faith in the sonic screwdriver. And prepare to be charmed by its regenerative capacities. From originally looking like a tire pressure gauge, it now looks like some kind of whacky mini-LCD flashlight crossed with a tire pressure gauge. And it goes "chirp" a lot. Enjoy this.

3. Time Lords. Time Lords are...a real bitch, honestly. In the original series -- 1963-1989 inclusive bar a couple of BBC worker strikes in the '70s and '80s -- the Time Lords were, more or less, supposed to be the magical deus ex machina good guys. The Doctor (no spoilers here) is a Time Lord -- if he is awesome, then shouldn't his planet be just overflowing with awesomeness? Well, yes, and no. If you look closely at the original series Time Lords (I'm thinking here of things like the last part of of the Patrick Troughton episode War Games where the Time Lords force the Doctor to regenerate and exile him to Earth and the first several season of Jon Pertwee's Doctor where he's dealing with the exile and, by the way, having had bits of his memory tampered with also by the Time Lords) they're not so sweet and kindly. They're actually pretty devious, rather self-centered, and capable of being quite cruel. The Doctor makes more than one reference (The Deadly Assassin, The Five Doctors) to the Time Lords' history and how it "ain't all lavendar." In the new series, head writer Russell T. Davies and, in his turn, current show-runner Steven Moffat, have taken that idea and run further and faster with it than I think anyone expected them to. If you're an old series fan (like me) who always secretly thought the Time Lords were probably on crack, The End of Time (the last of the David Tennant specials) will warm the twisted cockles of your heart. If you're a totally new fan, enjoy the cracktasticness of having illusions destroyed.

4. Anything being in the TARDIS other than the Doctor, companion(s), and specifically invited guests is bad. Any sounds, any voices, faces -- if there's an actual physical person, then whoa. If you hear a deep bell tolling (see Cloister Bell) prepare for the deep and sticky 'cause it's gonna get bad in here.

Fifth Doctor.
(Peter Davison.) Note celery.
5. There have been 10 other regenerations of the Doctor. If you don't like this one, there are plenty of others to choose from! but, please: leave others to their enjoyment. Almost every fan has a particular regeneration of the Doctor they consider to be "theirs." It's often the first Doctor you encounter but doesn't have to be (hey, it's a fandom: there are no real rules here!) If you love Peter Davison (5), that's awesome; I'd love to listen to you enthuse for hours on why celery is the greatest thing ever; but, please, don't knock Matt Smith (11) for not being David Tennant (10). And so on and so forth.

6. That being said, the Doctor is, in essence, always the Doctor.

7. The Daleks are small irritable pepper-pots who want to rule the universe. Their history with the Doctor goes back to the second episode of the first season of the series; more about this in a later post. Give thanks to the estate of the late, great Terry Nation who created them that Davies and Moffat get to play with them. They will always come back. They will always be short-tempered. They will always want to rule the universe and/or kill the Doctor. It's just what they do.

8. Sontarans look like pissy potatoes. If you were the genetically modified member of a clone society entirely based on military conquest and domination, you'd be easily annoyed, too.

9. Yes, you can escape the entire Cyber empire on foot, at a gentle stroll. Don't let them concern you unduly.

10. The Master. Just -- remember that name. It will be important and when you need to know why -- you'll know why.

The Master. (John Simm).
11. Okay, here's why: the Master is, along with the Daleks, the Cybers, and the Sontarans, one of the longest-running and most popular villains on the show. He has been through at least two official regenerations (I'm counting Roger Delagado, Anthony Ainley, and John Simm here although there are eight actors who have played the part one way and another) but more bodies than that and is, as Time Lords go, so far at the end of his regeneration rope (having started in the show at 12 back in the day with Jon Pertwee and the Third Doctor), that his rope has given up and gone home (see point 14). He makes up what he no longer has in regenerations through body-stealing and black magic.

12. The Time War. Think of it as Event Zero (for the new series) and almost completely irrelevant (for the old series). To know more, watch David Tennant (10), season 2-4 of the new series. And then, when you understand it, come back and explain it to me.

13. Companions. Used to be called 'assistants' back in the '60s and '70s. Often, though not always, a young woman; often, though not always, a single person travelling with the Doctor, sometimes for multiple series. Serves the function of the audience: asks the question to advance the plot; gets lost/poisoned/captured/hypnotised/drugged; goes and opens the door with "Do Not Open" on it; wanders into places which should not be wandered into; and, in the new series more than the old to my mind, keeps the Doctor a little more in the light than he might otherwise be. Classic companions from the original series include Susan, Jamie, Zoe, the Brigadier, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Romanadvoratnalundar, Sergeant Benton, Adric, and Ace. (If you want to discuss the politics of skirt length, do it somewhere else.) 

14. Regeneration. Time Lords -- of which the Doctor is occasionally not the last; see point 3 -- get to regenerate when a body is old, worn-out, or too badly injured. They get 12 regenerations. This is old series canon. Steven Moffat may (or may not) be on a road to reinvent this from the ground up.

15. Hey, I came up with 14; I figure y'all get to do some work here, too: what's your 15? If you're a fan, what's the thing you tell your friends when you're trying to get them hooked?

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