I owe my first trip on the Tardis to a woman named Marlene Cuprinka.
As timelines tend to be important in such matters, I can tell you that it was sometime in the late-90s. Mrs. Cuprinka was my 7th grade science teacher, and while I'm sure I was an okay student in her class, I think she took a special liking to me because we both shared a passion for flights of fancy. She would always recommend to me books and authors that she felt would capture my young imagination, and as someone who was eager to explore new literary adventures, I always took her suggestions seriously. However, we had an occasional disconnect, as Mrs. Cuprinka, being a science-type, was really into Asmiovian level science fiction, and, I must confess, nothing makes me glaze over more than spacey techno-babble.
Recognizing my need for character and story above all else, she one day arrived to school not with a book, but with a channel listing from a local TV Guide.
"I think what you need," she said, handing me the paper, "...is Doctor Who."
A few nights later, I found myself tuning into PBS, which was airing a 1975 episode of Doctor Who titled "Terror of the Zygons." The program featured rubber monsters, rock quarries, and most importantly, this fascinating man called "The Doctor," who had a mop-top, long scarf, and a charming sense of whimsy.
Mrs. Cuprinka was right. Although the show did have its share of techno-speak, it was always secondary to its charm. You could overlook the rubber monsters and occasional silliness, because at the heart of it all was remarkable storytelling, and even more so, a character who, in his alien-ness, was remarkably human.
I was instantly attached. I didn't know much about this Doctor at the time, but I knew he was my kind of guy. I keenly kept my eyes out for that blue box ever since.
Now, I'm not even going to attempt to say that I was into Doctor Who before it was cool, because while I was aware of its existence long before the 2005 reintroduction, the British have had it all over Americans for decades when it comes to Whovian enthusiasm. In fact, though the show has been on the air since 1963, broadcasts on this side of the drink of classic-era Who have been mottled and sporadic at best. It was close to a decade before I even saw any of the Doctors who preceded my long-scarfed raggedy man (the 4th incarnation, as played by Tom Baker), and the show's long history ensures that there's always some new footage or material to discover.
This year, the crown jewel of the BBC turns a remarkable 50 years old. While the program's actual anniversary date isn't until November, the entirety of the Who-universe is rolling out the carpet in year-long celebration. From a range of short story serials appearing on amazon.com, audio adventures, fan art, and more, the genre community is ablaze in celebration of the Doctor.
...and considering that we Americans were rather late to the party to begin with, I didn't think it would hurt to offer up a birthday wish a little early.
Some could argue that now, more than ever, the show has hit its zenith in popularity. When news of the impending departure of Matt Smith, who plays the current Doctor, was publicized in international media, it became evident that the world was watching the long-enduring program like never before. When one considers the usual run of a television show, the idea of amassing a record amount of new fans this far into its run seems unlikely. But, the mystery of Doctor Who's continued popularity is really a no-brainer to the fans.
Knowing my general distaste for overly complicated science fiction, my mother once asked me what it was that set this show apart. I told her, "It's because, when you get down to it, it's about the persistence of possibility. It shows that there's always hope." Maybe that's a pretentious answer, but really, for me, it's true.
The character of The Doctor isn't bound by the limits of space and time, and over the years, the possibilities of where his adventures could take him and his companions have been endless. Yet, while this certainly could offer the potential to go into really wacky places, the show has always employed writers who recognize that it ultimately allows us infinite possibilities to reflect back on ourselves. Indeed, writing for Doctor Who is a dream of many a writer, including such luminaries as Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams, because they recognize the opportunity to show the audience, via this alien, how tragically beautiful humanity can be.
Furthermore, the character of The Doctor has become, in his way, an essential archetype. A pacifist who often uses logic and words in substitute for brute force, The Doctor is a different type of hero. Unlike Captain Kirk or Batman, who are both prone to brash violence as a solution, The Doctor inspires us to use our minds, and shows that cleverness is always sexier than fists. He is a role model character that is so sorely needed for a younger generation who often only sees brutality as a rewarded virtue. It is because of this celebration of ingenuity and intellect that The Doctor is able to be played by multiple actors (beyond, of course, the explanation that he can regenerate his face), because The Doctor transcends the mere concept of a man. The Doctor is something more powerful than that, The Doctor is an idea. And, as a similarly wise character once suggested, ideas, unlike men, are bulletproof.
Always progressing and growing (Doctor Who also introduced to the world the first LGBT action star in the form of Captain Jack Harkness, as played by John Barrowman), Doctor Who is the rare science fiction show that inspires us not to dream of being someone else, but to be a better version of the person we are.
All of space and all of time, and you have to start somewhere. Luckily, thanks to The Doctor, we know that it starts with us.
I know I echo the sentiments of every single fan who has ever been excited, thrilled, or inspired by the site of that blue box, and I am happy to say:
Happy Birthday, Doctor.
Of course, I'd be amiss if I didn't also say that we all know that 50 years is merely the beginning. So, what are you waiting for?