I've already watched three episodes of Doctor Who today. Three! At just under an hour each. I ate lunch in front of the screen, Netflix streaming away. To clarify, I'm talking about the new Doctor Who, relaunched by the BBC in 2005. But it's essentially the same programme that ran from 1963 to 1989 with minor cosmetic differences. I only decided to give the reboot a shot a couple months ago, and I sort of hated it. Now, I'm well into season two.
At first I told myself I was watching just for a laugh. Doctor Who has always been known for low-budget special effects, but in this age of Avatar and Xbox, the show's cheesy 2D lasers and spongy, morphing aliens are undeniably absurd. Eleven or so episodes later I started to wonder if maybe I was just watching because toothy series co-star Billie Piper is hotter than dragon burps.
The whole truth is that I'm hooked on the show for those reasons and more. As a young adult, I watched Doctor Who on Channel 21, or 31, or whichever PBS or UHF station was weird enough to carry it -- sometimes in black and white, sometimes in three hour installments. And, although some episodes dragged and many boasted terribly hammy acting along with stories that demanded a nearly inhuman ability to suspend disbelief, I hung in there because the Doctor and his ilk were dealing with all those things I felt only my closest friends and I were properly concerned with: Tractor beams, faster-than-light starships, wormholes, warp engines, time travel paradoxes, sardonic robots, victimized clones, alien species both hostile, friendly, and inexplicably British.
As a kid watching TV in my parents' basement, I lived for that stuff. (It seemed to me like the English did, too, what with Doctor Who, Blakes' 7, Red Dwarf, and, of course, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy all being UK exports.) Then I started growing up and getting into adult things, like hip-hop, vodka, and dating. Pretty soon, I had an apartment, a real job, a real sex life, and nobody seemed to want to talk about spaceships anymore -- at least not seriously.
I'm 36 now and I find myself eagerly re-embracing that part of me which once dreamed of fighting a war on a different planet or going back in time and killing my grandmother. (Oh, come on. You know the theories.) Increasingly-immersive video games have a lot to do with these renewed feelings. So do dazzling spectacles like Avatar and Star Trek and geek-bait TV like Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and FlashForward.
But, avidly devouring Doctor Who this morning, I realized that it doesn't actually take 3D visual brilliance, frustratingly intricate mysteries, or curvy geniuses in bionic catsuits to get me fantasizing like a kid. Show me a time machine that looks like a phone booth or a pen with a light on top that you call a sonic screwdriver, and, damn it, I'm good to go.