Why Dr. Who is Horrible & Great

On today, “The Day of The Doctor“, I find myself content with having the Dr. Who theme stuck in my head all day.  It’s a bit curious: I’m not a huge fan, and yet I seem like one.  I get more Dr. Who-themed gifts on my birthday than any of pop culture meme, and people just generally think of me as “that type”.  I like retro sci fi, I like British shows, therefore I must be fanatical about The Doctor.  I’m not.

I’ve only seen a smattering of the show.  Growing up it was provided by my grade school-best friend’s father Mr. Swimeley whose endless VHS collection was testament to how much this show means to its fans.  Later I watched episodes here and there from the rebooted era.  Some, like “Blink”, were amazing, but most involved a lot of lazy writing and a lot of running from monsters and a lot of deus ex machina plots that make you look back at the end of an episode and say why didn’t they just do that at the start?  Dr. Who is largely a really lousy show.  It’s held together by nostalgia and people liking it because it’s deliberately bad, and liking it because of its oh-so-Britishness.

Stop screaming so loud in your head trying to argue with me to explain its greatness.  This is not a great show:


Someone from the outside looking in would watch that clip of this legendary show and rightly conclude that anyone that loves it so much is nuts.  But paraphrasing someone wiser than me: the difference between an expert and a beginner is that the expert has failed far more times.    There’s no light bulb without Edison’s myriad of failures, there is no airplane without Orville Wright thinking this thing was safe (his one passenger died in the crash), there is no “Blink” without whatever-the-hell-the-rubbish-in-that-video-above-is.  When Dr. Who is at its best it’s extraordinary, it’s creative, it experiments with storytelling, it’s imaginative and whisks you away, it does more with less, and it focuses on telling captivating stories without blowing up Manhattan (although there were a couple episodes).  Excellence occurs when creators are not only fearless in the face of risk, but know that repeated failures inevitably pave any path to greatness.

As I enter the final stretch on the production of a retro sci fi web series, Gwendolyn Dangerous, I am paralyzed by the fear that it’s gone off the deep end, no one will like it, relate to it, or care.  What I try to take away from this is not “oh people like that sort of thing, I’m sure it will be great.”  That’s not true.  Maybe my show sucks.  Good!  If it doesn’t suck, you’ve probably done it before.  You’ve done it enough times to get good at it.  This is really obvious when it comes to handwriting or riding a bike; for some reason it’s harder to come to terms with when thinking of higher-level pursuits like writing.

Today I’m happy for all the die-hard fans that are losing their minds over the 50th anniversary, and I’m honored to be frequently mistaken as one of you.  I will continue to tune in when you say “you have to watch this episode!” and I will probably love it.  Mr. Swimeley, wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying the hell out of today.