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A Year Without Doctor Who

This wasn’t intentional at all, but I realised recently that I had gone a year without actively watching Doctor Who. And I don’t just mean not watching brand new Who; I mean, any of it. No repeats, no Blu-rays, no… anything.

If that sounds unthinkable, well, fair enough. I’d agree with you. Especially 2010 Me, who loved Doctor Who through and through, even the rubbish bits, even the stuff other fans were embarrassed about. I can generally find something positive to say about anything — The Horns of Nimon, The Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani. Actually, I enjoy Time and the Rani.

Yet here I was, having not seen anything in about a year. Probably more. Okay, I might’ve caught the end of The Vampires of Venice on Watch or something, but I’d had no desire to stick on a DVD or try out the latest edition of The Collection. I’d not properly seen any full episodes. This is unremarkable for most people: the viewers who might see a snatch of the Doctor at Christmas, but don’t really tune in regularly. But I’m a fan. I’m the co-founder of a Doctor Who site! I’ve written non-fiction Doctor Who books! I went to a Doctor Who Escape Room for my birthday! This — is — weird.

It’s genuinely not something I thought would ever happen. I have what’s probably called an obsessive personality, at least to some degree, and I think most fans of something do. So I’ll pay great attention to anything Marvel, for instance. It follows that, after watching Doctor Who since 2005, it’s not likely to fall out of favour with me. I used to watch, say, an episode a day, generally speaking. Maybe I’d stick on a classic episode while I ate lunch or I’d have an Eleventh Doctor marathon spread across a few weeks. Either way, Doctor Who has always brought me great joy.

So what happened?

I’m certainly not unique in admitting that this last year hasn’t been the best of my life. It’s not really been related to Covid, although the frustrations and implications have naturally played a part. But stuff has happened, as it tends to do, and there have been numerous slumps. You end up just being alive, carrying on, with the dull weight of sadness sitting on your shoulders, ready at any moment to pull you further down. What I often do when I have slumps is cheer myself up with some form of entertainment, and that frequently meant Doctor Who.

The Rings of Akhaten makes me smile. Vincent and the Doctor gives me chills. Rose still takes me back to those heady days.

Somehow, these past 12 months, Doctor Who stopped being there for me, and I say that rather reluctantly. Because I’m very cautious about these sorts of statements; the social media-bred statements about what lessons a TV show has taught us, how a movie changed out life, blah blah blah. That’s the thing with any sort of entertainment: it cannot be underestimated and it cannot be overestimated.

I’m very aware that Doctor Who is (or should be) about a quirky waif who dots about time, saving places, having fun, and offering people confectionery. Similarly, Doctor Who means a lot more than that to a lot of people, myself included. It has changed my life, but equally, it isn’t my life.

Admittedly, some of my detachment for Doctor Who stems from not just the Thirteenth Doctor era but specifically the Timeless Child thing. I don’t really care how others justify it — “the Morbius Doctors were always canon!”; “the story isn’t done yet!”; “it puts the Who back into Doctor Who!” — because for me, it’s messed things up. Doctor Who, again to me, has always been one long story, and the inconsistencies have always been explainable. I went to great lengths to highlight that in 100 Objects of Doctor Who: you can make everything work if you want it to. Adding “the First Doctor wasn’t the first; he was never from Gallifrey; and Time Lord existence has always been founded on child abuse” to that ongoing narrative just taints it all. I don’t care for it anymore. It feels like such a letdown. So when you try to cheer yourself up by experiencing Doctor Who again, it’s accompanied by little voices in your head saying, “remember how happy this used to make you?”

Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed the first 12 Doctors’ eras and they still mean a lot to me. There are some parts of the Thirteenth Doctor era I’ve thought were okay too, like The Witchfinders, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, and even, whisper it, Orphan 55. I still write about Doctor Who most days, and heck, we even made a Doctor Who Companion Annual over Christmas. My relationship with the show is… curious, at best.

Marvel, too, has had a similar effect on my life (more so, in truth), but curiously, my love of that has never decreased, even after nearly 30 years; I’ve not enjoyed everything, obviously, but there’s always been something there for me. Marvel has always been there for me, and that might be why the juxtaposition with Doctor Who has felt so extreme.

Some of this might come from the abundance of other media. We got Disney+, so instead of sticking on Frontios again, I’ve opted for rewatches of Marvel shows (including, most thrillingly, the 1990s Spider-Man and X-Men animations that first got me into comics, but also some more recent series like The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes), or The Simpsons (a perennial favourite). Or the wealth of amazing documentaries available from National Geographic. There’s always so much to see.

I suppose this is how it is with things we love. I recall being aghast at hearing Peter Capaldi admit that he once moved on from his favourite show and decided to burn much of his Doctor Who collection. While I’d never go that far, I understand that need to put things to one side and admit, ‘I’m done with that for now.’ I’m not done-done, obviously. The DWC has been going mercifully strong these past 12 months, I’ve lots of Doctor Who projects coming up, and I’m still excited by plans for the site. It’s just that something within me has altered for now.

It feels odd, not having that desire to watch Doctor Who. You could argue that, in a way, acknowledgment of that lack of desire equals desire itself too. Is that desire to watch? Or desire to feel like you used to when you did watch? I’m not sure. Nonetheless, all this might be a tad disingenuous: I have sometimes thought, ‘oh, I fancy rewatching The Aztecs‘ or ‘man, I’ve not seen Smile in ages’. Then life carries you onwards and you don’t get around to it.

And, of course, as soon as I was aware of that one-year millstone, I realised I had to see Doctor Who soon. That’s what I did. On the 23rd November, it seemed right to break the cycle and pop An Unearthly Child on TV.

The perfect way to end this article would, naturally, be to say that it reignited my love for the show, that I immediately stuck on The Cave of Skulls, and haven’t looked back since. Sadly, that wouldn’t be true. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.

Because An Unearthly Child did make me smile. It made me remember that my love for Doctor Who hasn’t gone. I got a giddy little thrill thinking about all the adventures that are still to come when Barbara says, “It’s silly, isn’t it? I feel frightened. As if we’re about to interfere in something that is best left alone.”

Twice Upon A Time seemed to echo my thoughts: “Doctor Who, I let you go”. But perhaps it brought in change, that’s all. A new era of my love of Doctor Who. You could call it a regeneration, but more realistically, I think it’s a realisation, that things once lost can be discovered again.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

A Year Without Doctor Who

by Philip Bates time to read: 5 min
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