It was a Wednesday night in 1983 when I first sat down to watch this series I had only read about. It was called Doctor Who. I had read some information about it in my Fantastic Television book (yes, I still own that book) and vaguely remember catching a glimpse of an episode as I was flipping the channels (it was the fourth Doctor adventure “Meglos”). Now, I had been a sci-fi fan since about 1970. I had vivid memories of watching the Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” on a black and white TV with my family at the age of 3 or 4. While I enjoyed all sci-fi shows, from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century to Battlestar Galactica to Lost in Space, Star Trek was my first love. By 1983, I had seen the original three seasons more times than I could count. I had seen the two movies, read the comics and novels, played with action figures and become a captain of my own crew in my very own backyard. But by 1983, I was hungry for something new. And just like we’ve seen him do countless times on the television series, the Doctor entered my life.
On that night, November 23rd to be exact, I stumbled across what I would later discover was the 20th anniversary special known as “The Five Doctors”. I was hooked. I had a taste and I wanted more. Two nights later, our PBS station aired it again and this time I watched it in its entirety. When I returned to school the following week, I spoke about this cool new show I discovered with my friends Eric and Keith. Eric was intrigued but Keith was already ahead of us. He had liked the show for a while now and was excited to hear that two new Whovians had been born.
At this time, Peter Davison episodes were airing five nights a week, so I have to say that the 5th Doctor is indeed my Doctor. Over the course of the next three years, Doctor Who was clearly my favorite sci-fi show. I discovered Tom Baker, which I enjoyed but still preferred my 5th Doctor. My friends and I traveled to the nearby big city of Wichita and spent time at a comic book shop called The Shadow’s Sanctum. I distinctly remember the very creepy owner that lived in an apartment behind the shop. But, he always had a new supply of Doctor Who Target novels and magazines, which were incredibly hard to find in the 1980s. We would attend two Doctor Who conventions in Wichita, called Encounter 8 (after our PBS station, channel 8). There were no guests but they played old episodes. Here is where I watched “An Unearthly Child” for the first time as well as “The Three Doctors”.
By 1985, I had a growing interest in the 3rd Doctor Jon Pertwee. Some of his episodes were available but not yet in Wichita. By chance, I had discovered that Doctor Who was airing in Denver on Sunday mornings, which worked out perfectly as our family was going there for vacation in the summer. Yes, that particular Sunday morning of our family vacation, I begged my parents to let me stay in the hotel and watch “The Green Death” while they went to church. They agreed, which was amazing considering they had never done that before (or would again). But I had my tape recorder and with microphone set next to the speaker, I was able to record most of the story. Yes, I recorded every episode of Doctor Who I watched on audio cassettes (along with every episode of Star Trek). At the time, I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was nuts. But I would listen to those episodes in my room in a time when VHS was still too expensive. Ironically, my actions would be vindicated years later when I discovered that fans just like me had done the same thing as far back as the 1960s.
In 1986, I went off to college. I was one of only a few people to have a black and white TV in my dorm room. My first weekend there, I watched the complete first story, “An Unearthly Child” as well as the first 6th Doctor story, “The Twin Dilemma”. Needless to say, real college life intervened and my interest in Doctor Who began to wane. Over the next 20 years, there would be peaks and valleys in my fandom. I would record the episodes on VHS, buying random stories as money allowed. I watched the 1996 movie and was saddened when nothing else followed. I would read the books. Then, I would go periods of time without watching a single episode. In 2005, I had heard of the new series. But it wasn’t until I got my first iPod and the discovery of podcasts that my love for Doctor Who would reach new heights. I didn’t know anyone who liked Doctor Who since my friends Eric and Keith in the 80s. But now, I was listening to a show called Podshock and I realized I wasn’t alone. I discovered that my love for this quirky little show was the same as many others. Now, I honestly knew about the global success of the show up to this point but Podshock put me in touch with other fans. And once I watched the episode “Rose”, I was hooked all over again.
My love for Doctor Who has never been stronger than it was reborn in 2006. I now own all of the episodes on DVD and Blu-ray. I have posters and books and sonic screwdrivers. I even own a TARDIS trashcan that makes noises (thanks to Santa Claus)! I’ve engaged my very good friends Joe and Phil in conversations as we’ve watched new episodes. I’ve begun the conversion process with my daughter (where is a good Cyberman when you need one). So while the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who today, it is my 30th anniversary with the good Doctor. I will be watching the special later today with my wife, who after 23 years of marriage has finally decided to sit down and see what all the hype about Doctor Who is about. Meanwhile, my DVR is full of anniversary specials to watch. So, Allons-y and Geronimo!
On a side note, please take the time to read another great article on Doctor Who at my friend Nick Sauer’s blog, Fantastic Television. He takes a look at the wilderness years between the 1989 cancelation and the 2005 revival. It’s a very fun and informative read!