Robert N. Lee

Doctor Who and Me.

baker on doctor who 50th

My first Doctor, like a lot of American nerds of a certain age, was the Fourth — Tom Baker’s. But I didn’t get to see Doctor Who until 1979, when we moved to New Jersey, where they showed it on PBS.

Finally. I’d been waiting since third grade, 1975-76. That was when I first read about Doctor Who and Thriller and a ton of other British genre TV in the big 791-section reference and coffee table books on SF/F/H movies and etc. I checked out of the library constantly. (That had started in second grade, when my dad showed me the George Pal War of the Worlds and…changed the whole course of my life, pretty much.)

Fourth grade was when I met my first kid who’d actually seen Doctor Who. I had three best friends in fourth grade, and two of them weren’t American. The public school I went to in third and fourth grade, the closest one to my house, was a district-wide magnet school for disabled kids and ESL kids and foreign kids.
Some of the disabled  kids — high functioning mentally challenged, epileptic, etc. — were integrated into classrooms, some not. This was the 70s. (There was a whole separate wing for mostly-Mexican Hispanic ESL kids, we never even interacted with them, really. Okay, I say “Wing,” but I mean “A bunch of those temp/trailer classrooms out back.” Yeah, really.) Blind and deaf kids had their own classrooms. And the deaf kids had a GIANT color TV in their classroom, and the other American member of our nerd quartet, Carl, his mom taught the deaf kids. Which meant that after school, days when she had to do one on ones or paperwork or whatever ’til  five, we could all hang out in the deaf kids class and watch monster movies or whatever was on until Bob Wilkins’ Captain Cosmic show came on near the end of the day.
Eddie was Japanese — not Japanese-American, his dad was a plant manager on temporary assignment in the US, his mom didn’t speak any English. He had a room full of Ultraman shit that was…seriously, nobody who grew up nerdy after the seventies, when it was easier to see a nerdy room like that…you can’t even imagine. I mean…I had trouble finding other kids, wherever I moved, who’d even seen Ultraman. And Eddie had this room full of books and comics and toys and crap for Ultraman shows I didn’t even know existed yet.  THIS WAS 1976, we didn’t even know Star Wars was coming at that point.
Bobby, whose real name was something we couldn’t pronounce and thus I’ve lost in the mists of never-remembering, was from Yugoslavia. He and I were equally obsessed with Elvis and Lee Majors (we used to take mock Six Million Dollar Man/Elvis photos of each other in track suits and shit, yes really) , and he was instantly in with the group (the rest of us all met in third grade, Bobby came along for fourth), when he told us he had seen all the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson shows and, most especially, Doctor Who. OMG, did we all want to see Doctor Who, even Eddie, who’d seen every freaking Ultraman that didn’t even exist, for god’s sake.
Anyway, it was another three-four years and three-four more moves before I finally got to see it. I hoped, when we moved to Hawaii the first time in late 1978, that they’d have Doctor Who on TV there. I’d heard the TV was weird (it was, a week behind the mainland for US stuff) and they showed some foreign stuff (YES, but…just Eurovision every year and boring news things), but no luck on the Doctor Who front.
I loved Doctor Who until mid-high school, mid-Fifth Doctor here in the US.  I developed other interests, and moved on and occasionally saw it because I still knew nerds who still watched it. I heard it was canceled. I didn’t really care, at that point. I watched the FOX TV-movie with Paul McGann. Eh. I had a British housemate for a while and we used to get drunk and LOL at American adults who loved Doctor Who and thought it was anything but a kids’ show just because it was British.
And the show came back, going on a decade ago now, and I’ve watched a few episodes and a few stories here and there, kept up with what’s going on. I watched the Gaiman episodes. I watched the Christmas episodes. I watched the scary episodes — they were always my favorites. But I’m not what you’d call a fan of Doctor Who, these days. Like Taylor Parkes, the author of this excellent Quietus article, Doctor Who is something that largely belongs to the past for me, a first kiss I like remembering, but…not like I want to be twelve and make out with that girl again, either.
“The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary show, didn’t make me feel twelve years old again. Whatever that might mean, apparently I’m supposed to start thirsting for it at some point here.  But it made me remember being twelve, and being ten, and being eight, and highlit that in a way I just couldn’t be cynical about at all. I cheered and clapped at the end, when they all showed up. I almost bawled when they trotted Tom Baker out as the curator, at the very end.
 Of course they did. Of course I did.
My first Doctor.

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