Friday, 22 November 2013

Stuck Outside the TARDIS

It's interesting to me how, in the last few years, nerd culture has become a unified movement, out in the public eye and steering the immense cruise ship that is popular culture. As Chris Hardwick, one of the figureheads of the movement, puts it in his book, the Nerdist Way, "Nerds: once a tormented subrace of humans... Now, captains of industry!"

Just as interesting is the concurrent rise in popularity of Doctor Who. Hardwick himself has been important in popularizing the show, although I think that the show's moment would have come even without the Nerdist's relentless championing. The two main home-grown SF franchises, Star Wars and Star Trek, have been pretty much dormant for the last few years - there's a reason JJ Abrams decided to reboot Trek, rather than going for a new Next Generation. And despite good showings from Firefly and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, there haven't been many proper sci-fi shows that take place in space.

But I don't want to imply that Doctor Who's gotten popular just because there isn't anything else on. Some of my friends growing up loved the show long before Russell T Davies rebooted it - and in fact, I think that a lot of long-time fans have been kind of turned off by Steven Moffat's tenure (at least, this is what I can tell from reading comment threads).

I've never been a fan myself, though. Not sure why - I was a hell of an Anglophile growing up, so you'd think that a British SF show would have pushed my buttons. And I actually enjoyed reading about the history of the characters; there's something intriguing about the litany of planets and times and aliens that the Doctor and his companions have traveled to.

And I love the hell out of that theme, especially the original version from 1963. It's such a perfect example of electronic music, strange and otherworldly and beautiful, that I can't stop listening to it on YouTube. In fact, at work today I listened to the collection of all of the versions of the theme tune. Twice.

True story.

What this all boils down to is that I kind of feel left out with all the festivities going on, celebrating the Doctor's fiftieth anniversary. I was even tempted to go to the movies to catch the new adventure starring David Tennant (as the 10th Doctor), Matt Smith (as the 11th) and John Hurt (as... I dunno, but he looks promisingly awesome).

It doesn't help that I've hobnobbed in recent months with former Doctor Who writers and long-time fans, like my old flatmate Jay. Hearing their stories about the show's fandom in the 70s and 80s makes it sound like a club, much more than with my friends in the US who liked Star Wars or Star Trek. The experiences are very different, of course - in the US you had to go deep into the Nerd World to be into Doctor Who, whereas here in the UK it was on the BBC.

Even if it seems that Doctor Who hasn't permeated the cultural lexicon the same way as Han Solo or Captain Kirk have, you can make the case that it's a bigger part of British culture than the American franchises are back home. After all, there was never a special Christmas episode of Star Trek every year, to be watched after the Queen's Speech. Star Wars tried the Christmas thing, of course, but that went so badly that it's almost impossible to find even now.

Maybe that's the difference. Even if you aren't British, as a Whovian you're part of this bigger thing that's been going on for 50 years now, that's so charmingly ramshackle that you're forced to focus on the stories and the relationships between the Doctor and his companions. The American experience is so varied that there are few points of contact, whereas the British experience is much more uniform (even if the Brits do like creating barriers between themselves and their neighbors).

In any case, perhaps I'm doomed never to quite get into Doctor Who. But at least, as my Whovian friends celebrate the 50th anniversary, I can congratulate them on their hero's longevity. And I look forward to continuing to be mystified by the arguments and theories on all the nerdy message boards and comment threads I frequent.