Friday, November 15, 2013

Whoniversary: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNREPENTANT WINO* (Whovian-In-Name-Only) by Chad J. Shonk

I grew up a nerd and am still a nerd.

(I’m not going to use the G-word because these days it carries with it too many positive connotations. Man, really didn’t see that coming.)

The proof is pretty extensive if you look at my high school resume:

Eyeglasses. Bad at sports. Bad skin. Bad hair. Bad clothes. Socially awkward, especially around girls. A victim of bullying. Gifted program. Big reader (mostly of fantasy and science-fiction). Comic books. Dungeons & Dragons. Star Wars. Star Trek. Magic: The Gathering. Chess. PC games. Axis & Allies. Monty Python. MST3K. Bowling. Heavy metal. Weird Al. A group of similarly-nerdy friends.

The only counterpoints to my nerd-cred are that I didn’t get good grades and that I was terrible at science and math.

Oh, and I never raped a sorority girl in a moon-simulator while wearing a Darth Vader mask.

So, yeah, besides those things, nerd.

As I got older, my skin cleared up, I got contacts, varied my taste in music, lost my virginity, stopped playing RPGs, drifted away from comic books. In college I made the transition from a nerd to a film ‘g-word’ or, to be a dick about it, a cinephile. At least, that’s how I thought of myself. I’m sure others still thought I was a nerd. Which is okay. I was.

Every nerd has their nerd-drug of choice, and mine was and is Star Wars. For some it’s Trek or Legos or wrestling or high fantasy fiction or Harry Potter or whatever else people get obsessed about. I like all of those things (except for wrestling, sorry Mr. Troublemaker), but Lucas’s galaxy far, far away is my number one. I think every nerd has a number one.

But as I got older and discovered new nerdy things to like (history, science (but still no math), ‘Buffy’ & ‘Firefly’, Gentle Giant statues, BSG, Elder Scrolls games (loves loves loves me some Skyrim), The Song of Ice and Fire), there was one corner of nerd-dom that I consciously avoided at all costs:

I had never seen ‘Doctor Who’, but I had met a few guys who loved it. And they were the obese and unhappy men who sold me my comics and campaign sourcebooks, men who would, deeply entrenched in some sort of Time Lord related dispute, ignore me as I bought the latest issue of New Warriors or asked to get into the dice case to look for a new twenty-sided.

Perhaps if I had stumbled upon an old Tom Baker rerun on PBS as a child one night, I would be writing a very different piece here. Maybe I’d be ranting on and on about my long term relationship with the Doctor and his companions and pulling out deep cuts of trivia like I can with Star Wars or ‘Buffy’. But I didn’t. So my only exposure to ‘Doctor Who’, because my friends weren’t into it either, was through these guys and it just looked…

…too damned nerdy.

They were always talking about trading VHS tapes, hunting down this episode or that, collecting toys that looked like studded astromech droids, arguing over continuity and “which number” they preferred. When I looked at the covers of the videos all I saw were pictures of old men who could not have possibly looked more British, fighting creatures that looked like something Joel would have built on the Satellite of Love.

It just seemed like such a deep dark rabbit hole to spelunk. I knew that if I got into it I would be consumed by it and, damn it, I was trying to get laid. (As if my knowledge of Exar Kun, Ulic Quel-Droma, and the Sith War was going to help me with that, but whatever). I didn’t have time for a new nerd-drug, especially one required you to put a lot of work in.

I didn’t think of it as good or bad, just…

…too damned nerdy.

And my life was already…

…too damned nerdy.

During the course of my life (well, mostly at comic stores and cons), I picked up a few things. I learned that the stupid blue box is called a “Tardis”. That the guy’s only weapon is a freakin’ screwdriver. And that, apparently, the show had something to do with time travel.

But that’s honestly all I knew. I remained willfully ignorant.

Until Eccleston.

I don’t know what made me watch the first episode of the “new” ‘Doctor Who’. It may have been the recommendation of Chris Hardwick on his podcast. It may have been some of the internet buzz going around. But most likely, it was the image of Christopher Eccleston, an actor I’d been a fan of since Shallow Grave, wearing a black trench coat and looking nothing like those old guys on those VHS covers.

Whatever it was, the first several series were on Netflix, so I started watching. And, five minutes in, the first thought I had was: “Yeah. This looks British.”

I’m sure to someone who grew up on the originals, the “first” season must have been a visual revelation, but to me, it had the same look as any BBC show, a cheapness born of the conversion from PAL to NTSC and, well, actual cheapness. But as a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fan, I know better than to judge a show by the production value of its pilot. So I continued to watch. I met Rose Tyler. I met Mickey.

And I met the Doctor.

And boy was he an angry and sad son of a bitch.

I loved him.

As the first series progressed, I became more able to look past the production failings (which I think is a required skill of any old school Whovian as well) and get wrapped up in the story. And, much to my pleasant surprise, Russell T. Davies and his writers made the show stand completely on its own. Even though I was aware that there was a huge story and canon standing behind the show, my ignorance of it didn’t get in the way at all. Turns out, you didn’t have to like ‘Doctor Who’ to like ‘Doctor Who’.

I never hid behind the couch as a child to shield myself from the Daleks, but I found them joyously disturbing all the same. I didn’t know I was to fear the Cybermen, but when they came, I did. I’m sure there were a thousand other references and callbacks to the classic days, but I never caught them, and never felt like I needed to.

I was just enjoying a fun sci-fi television show.

Then, Eccleston died.

In the back of my mind I think I knew that he had only done one series, but he was The Doctor. I mean, I had just gotten into this damn thing and already my hero was dead. It actually took me a week before I could bring myself to watch Series Two.

But I’m glad I did.

Because Tennant.

I won’t go on and on about David Tennant because if you’re reading this, you know. Besides being, well, Tennant, he also didn’t erase the memories I had of Eccleston’s cold and hard Doctor, just helped me appreciate one of the truly unique things about ‘Doctor Who’ in general: the regenerations. On The Nerdist, Matt Mira and Chris Hardwick often joke that they think James Bond is a Time Lord. I don’t think it’s the world’s worst theory, but unlike the Bond films, which just ignore the whole age/time period/timeline/new guy questions, ‘Doctor Who’ found a way to make them part of the story, and it’s brilliant.

(Even though the order is reversed, I feel like Tennant is Connery and Eccleston is Lazenby. Tennant is the guy I think of when I think of the Doctor; Eccleston is a guy who did it once, brought a new take to it, in a very good story, then took off. I’m not sure if that makes Matt Smith Rodger Moore or Pierce Brosnan, but I sure hope Peter Capaldi is more Craig than Dalton.)

So I became hooked. I met Captain Jack, said good-bye to Rose Tyler, got a crush on Martha Jones, witnessed the brilliant terror that was ‘Blink’, hated and then grew to love Donna, watched Tennant die, met Matt Smith and the stunning Karen Gillan aka Amelia Pond aka Amy Pond aka The Girl Who Waited, pondered the mysteries of River Song and that weird ass astronaut, saw dinosaurs on a spaceship, and cried as the Ponds disappeared into the past forever.

After all of that I can say, honestly, that I love ‘Doctor Who’.

(Although that last batch of Clara episodes was the pits. While I understand why Smith is leaving, I don’t think he’s the problem. I think it’s the brilliant Moffat: he’s out of steam. ‘Sherlock’ is great. So was ‘Coupling’, in my opinion. But I think someone new needs to take over behind the camera as well as in front of it.)

But I know that’s not enough for some. I know it wouldn’t be for me, if I had been a long-time and long-suffering fan of The Doctor and his companions. For those folks (and you may be one of them), ‘Doctor Who’ is more than a good science-fiction show. It is a character and a universe that has entertained you for decades. It is special to you. It has much more meaning to you than it does to a Time Lord-come-lately like me. I understand that. I respect that.

I even tried to embrace that, but I couldn’t. I’ve seen a handful of Tom Baker episodes and a few old specials, but none of them made me want to watch more. I’m sure lots of it is top-notch stuff, but that train has left the station for me, I think.

So, yes. When it comes to Doctor Who, I’m the kid who didn’t start listening to Metallica until the Black Album, the girl in Atlanta who didn’t buy a Braves cap until 1991, the jerk who only knows a female Starbuck (actually that is me, too). I’m a WINO, I guess. A fan of ‘Doctor Who’, but only “new” ‘Who’. I only care about Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, and, hopefully, Capaldi. I am through-and-through a fan of the current show, but really don’t give a damn about what came before.

Are you a Star Wars fan if you’ve only seen the movies? Are you a Trekker if haven’t seen every episode of ‘Deep Space 9’? Are you a fan of George R.R. Martin if you watch ‘Game of Thrones’ but haven’t read it? Are you really a Brony if you—Never mind. I don’t want to know anything about Bronies. Maybe that’s my new Doctor Who.

And there are a bunch of people out there just like me. Who only know the new show and don’t have any knowledge of what has come before. Do hard-core fans hate us? Do they hate that their beloved icon has become more popular than ever, especially here in the States? Or are they just glad that more people are seeing the light.

Is the Whovian camp bigger on the inside?

Fandom is a funny thing. Am I a Whovian? I don’t know. To an outsider, someone who thinks like I used to, who would never watch anything called ‘Doctor Who’ (because it looks, say it with me, too damned nerdy), I am one, for sure. But, to a long-time fan of one of television’s most enduring icons, I’m probably just a WINO.

I’m okay with that. As Johnny Depp once said:



The next two weeks here on Needless Things will be dedicated to Doctor Who. I have Guest Posts, Toy Reviews, and more on the way. The site will be jam-packed – relatively – with content. Please share these links wherever you can and spread the word. And if you’re so inclined, throw a few dollars at the Needless Things family. I have to send you to the podcast homepage because Blogger doesn't want this sort of thing. Just check out the widget on the bottom right here.This is all out of pocket for me, so anything I receive during this time will got to site costs, hosting, and possibly new merchandise if I get really ambitious.

Also, you can buy the Limited Edition Luchador vs. Owlbear t-shirts here. I can’t say they’re selling fast, but once this style is gone, they’re gone forever. And I do intend on being famous one day, so wouldn’t it be cool to have the first shirt I ever designed?

Remember to check in every weekday between now and the 23rd for new, original content.

Finally, be sure and come out to the HUGE 50th Anniversary Party that TimeGate, Earth Station Who, the folks behind The Forgotten Doctor, and (others) are throwing at the Holiday Inn Select; the same location where TimeGate is held each and every year. There will be panels, games, Whovian carousing, and a LIVE recording of Earth Station Who immediately after “The Day of the Doctor” airs. You will literally never have another opportunity to attend a party like this!

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