My childhood memories of Doctor Who were from the few Tom Baker episodes I saw on public television. I remembered the Doctor's fro, long scarf, and some truly terrible special effects, but that's about it. Not something I thought appropriate for adult viewing.
Not a Marx Brother.
Still, I tuned in for a new episode, and a funny thing happened: I cried. Then I watched another episode and guess what? I cried again. In fact, I watched four episodes over two days and for each one, I cried. I can't think of any other show that has made me cry four times, let alone four episodes in a row, so I began to investigate.
I checked the mirror. Perhaps, like the Doctor, I had regenerated too, but into the form of a 14-year-old girl. Nope, it was still me. Also my penis and testicles had not suddenly gone missing.
They were safe on top of my dresser in their special box as always.
But even though my appearance was the same, I'd definitely changed. I'd become a fanatic. More than a fanatic: I'm a zealot. I want to sit around all day writing Doctor Who scripts. Lots of them. Hell, I want to be the Doctor. Who says he can't be American? He can be anything. BBC, call me!
Or actually call my son. He's much better at making David Tennant faces.
Initially, I thought Doctor Who was packing such an emotional punch because of the way it dealt with deeply-rooted issues and mythologies. Still, Star Trek and even Star Wars did that too, and I never cried from them.
OK, I cried a little during Phantom Menace but that's only because George Lucas was urinating on my childhood.
Craig Ferguson has suggested that nerds like me like Doctor Who because it's about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism, and that's a very accurate point, but it still doesn't explain why I'd become such a huge wuss and fanboy.
Still, after much analysis, I came up with a three step answer. More specifically, one realization composed of three parts. I'll take you through the analysis, but because this is the Internet which exists only to oversimplify things to the point of being incorrect, the basic realization was:
Watching Doctor Who Is Like Having A Relationship With God.
And I don't mean the Doctor is a metaphor for gods we know, the way the lion is Jesus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I mean the Doctor is a god. But one we can see and understand. And he loves us more than all the other creatures in the universe. He would die for us, but what he really wants to do is live with us. So it's no wonder the show has fanatics. It's not a show. It's a philosophy. A religion.
Before I go further, let me be the first to say I am in no way a Doctor Who scholar. I've seen a fraction of the episodes. There are whole seasons I know nothing about. I'm not pretending to be an authority. I'm just relaying why this show has emotionally clobbered me in a way that might be relevant to both the uninitiated and longtime Whovians.
We Are Not Alone Against Evil
Every week, Doctor Who introduces some new unspeakable horror in the universe. The galaxy it seems is filled with no shortage of pricks who want to devour our souls, our faith, and even our faces. There are evils that want to make us cyborgs, or collect our organs for spare parts, or just flat out murder us. Yes, us. With Doctor Who, it is humanity that's in jeopardy. Not Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker. Not even Scully and Mulder. Almost every week, either all of humanity or at least a specific human companion of the Doctor's is confronted with more evil than anyone could be expected to bear.
But unlike real life where loved ones fall to cancers that consume their bodies or terrible fates that shatter their minds, we are not alone. Doctor Who provides a savior. The Doctor risks his 900 year old-plus life to save our miniscule existences.
And he often does it in some truly terrible clothing.
A God That Needs Us
But that still wasn't enough to explain my reaction. If that's all Doctor Who was than the show would amount to little more than wish-fulfillment. The Doctor's relationship with humanity is more complex. He doesn't save us because he is all-powerful like a parent rescuing a wayward child. He does it because he thinks we're wonderful. He has seen countless races at infinite times, and, without doubt, he thinks humans are just awesome. The show simultaneously illustrates how inconsequential we are in the vastness of time and space, while still praising our ingenuity, curiosity and capacity for kindness.
And although the Doctor plays at smugness (to varying degrees depending on the actor) he does not offer a helping hand in a condescending way, asking to be worshipped. Instead, you can't help but feel he needs us just as much as we need him. Humanity fills a void for the Doctor that has persisted through countless lifetimes.
You see that a lot in David Tennant's run. Madame du Pompadour refers to him as a "sad angel", and when confronting Satan in the depths of "hell" the Doctor clings to his faith in his human companion Rose. In "Journey's End" the Doctor tells Rose that she made him a better person, and when Rose leaves, another human (Donna) tells the Doctor he needs someone to keep him balanced and in check. Perhaps, more telling, when the Doctor (Tennant) begins traveling alone in his final few episodes, his behavior becomes erratic, even conceited, as he tries to alter the time-space continuum to satisfy his vanity as much as to save human life.
People sing songs about having a friend in Jesus, but this is a friendship that's much easier to understand. And not just because the Doctor is flesh and blood. He's a savior who loves us and needs us like the best of friends do. That he can bend time and space to save all of Earth from a Sycorax invasion is just gravy.
Yep, the winner's on the left. Swoon.