I am still learning how to watch Doctor Who. I know that’s an odd thing to say, given I’ve been watching it since 1983, but to be honest, that’s precisely why I find myself unsure of how to watch it now.
When I was a child, I consumed everything with the same wide-eyed guileless wonder. There was no cynicism, no irony—just deeply felt joy and excitement. Watching classic episodes first experienced in that way dredges up those same feelings, even now. I get echoes of childish thrills when I watch “Seeds of Doom” or “Full Circle” or even “Warriors of the Deep,” and that creates its own problem—trying to reconcile my ingrained wonderment with my adult recognition that the effects are really rather crap.* That’s not the issue I mean to talk about now, however. That’s something I’m familiar with, having re-watched plenty of beloved childhood films and tv shows. I think we’ve probably all had that experience by now.
What I’m talking about here is my inability, still, to comfortably watch new Doctor Who. Note that I still adore it. I am not made uncomfortable by it. I’m just not at a place where I can watch it…100% comfortably.
You see, new episodes bring on a frisson of cognitive dissonance. Doctor Who is the show I love above all others, yet new episodes don’t strike me in that pure, innocent way the classic series did. It can’t. I’m no longer a five-year-old, oblivious to the flaws and seeing the show in its Platonic ideal state. I’m now in my mid-30s, and I have a television degree under my belt so I’ve been trained to look for those flaws. I can’t miss them, and once I’ve seen them, I can’t unsee. Missing the flaws completely and ignoring them purposefully are two very different animals. My brain expects the former, experiences the latter, and then seizes up in an awkward “reverse-squee.”
Thus after my first viewing of a of new Who episode, I’m in the weird position of always saying “it was pretty good.” My gut reaction can never be better than that, nor worse. I find it impossible to hate on anything because…well because it’s Doctor Who! There is no hating Doctor Who in my world. On the other hand, I can’t quite ride the emotional high that other programs** can give me, because I have this long history of unconditional adoration the new show can never quite live up to. There will always be an emotional gap, and that gap itself irks me like an unfilled cavity.
So even after watching my favorites of the new show,*** there’s a teensy part of me that’s hollow. That is in no way the fault of the show. It’s poor wiring on my part, and it’s why I’m still “learning” how to watch Doctor Who. I have to find a way, as a grown up, to let that childish expectation go—to recognize that I’ll never feel quite the same way about Doctor Who, and to further recognize that that’s ok. I need to get better at ignoring not only the show’s flaws but my lack of a five-year-old’s glee. Then I need to replace that artless glee with the more sophisticated glee of a 35-year-old—a 35-year-old watching a show created by folks who clearly felt that same naïve glee when they were wee ones.
I’d like to think I’m not the only one with this problem (though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I were). Has anyone else felt this way? Do you longtime fans (of roughly my age) struggle with unreasonable and immature expectations like I do? Or have you lot all successfully put your inner moppets to bed so you can look upon new Doctor Who with fresh and jaded eyes?
*And the performances may be off and the lighting is ridiculous and what the heck are they wearing? …
**Twin Peaks, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, Firefly, Leverage…
***”Dalek,” “Doomsday,” “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood,” “Blink,” “Utopia,” “The Impossible Astronaut,” “Asylum of the Daleks”… (Ok, I should not have started listing those. I keep wanting to add more. Stopping now.)