There’s nothing unusual about that. Thousands of other young boys in Britain were doing the same thing. It was like a collective behind-the-sofa club. Or to make it a bit more cultish; we were ready acolytes, fresh and bright, solemn in the face of the early seventies, on bended knees behind old and sometimes new upholstery, anxious for the iconic silver wormhole to undulate on the BBC.
Yes, I’m talking about Dr. Who, the Time Lord of Gallifrey.
The eerie, siren-call of the theme music still haunts me today as I remember it and the mesmerizing vortex of silver sucking me out of my parochial life and spinning me into another dimension that wasn’t puberty, that wasn’t Wales — that was everything and nothing.
My favourite doctor is the fourth: Tom Baker. Maybe I’m predisposed to like him the same way I am inclined to favor tea over coffee: it’s cultural, environmental, and fate. I was an inquisitive young boy passing into my troubled teens between the years of 1974 and 1981, Tom Baker’s reign, and so it was inevitable that the fourth doctor be the one I identified with. Plus he was all there was. Sure, three other doctors had come before, but who were they compared to the new leader of my intergalactic travels? Also there was no Web back then, no Netflix or YouTube to download past series. (And I didn’t have my own Tardis to travel forward in time!) You were either an Argonaut of Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, or you were not. There was no existential question about it. This was true and pure Darwinism at work: survival of the fittest, and Tom Baker had won.
In fact, he is the longest serving Dr. Who. Nobody since or after can put a sonic screwdriver to his longevity. The reason he was so popular? I have my theories.
Wit, to start with. He could toss about bon mots like Oscar Wilde. In fact, his long scarf, his waistcoat, his tweed and cord jackets, his floppy hat, just about all his sartorial decisions (besides being influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster of Aristide Bruant, or so the story goes) speak directly to the Irish rake of poetry and plays.
And then there’s his mischievous smile, bordering somewhere between bedlam and trickster. I always wondered if the Dr. was mad — he was certainly unbalanced — but who wouldn’t be a bit psychotic travelling back and forth in time through distant galaxies facing monsters and other mortal perils? I imagined it was the Dr.’s defense mechanism, his wit, his dry humour. At least I could relate to that. Wit and humour have always helped me out of dicey situations that may not have been life-threatening, but were very real to a person who has had a hard time trying to fit in.
And who can forget his famous jelly beans? What a prop! They were almost like those magical beans that Jack receives — there was definitely a fairy tale element to them. They way he’d pop them out of his jacket in their crumpled bag and offer them with an impish grin. It was dangerous, even, like an old man offering kids sweets, so this Time Lord was offering humanity some sweet morsel. But of what? Were they just jelly beans, or were they something more? I’ll never know. And I like that. The truth is hidden behind the Dr.’s rakish smile.
He could be irascible and peevish, too. A contrary thinker. The German philosopher Kant comes to mind. The Dr.’s idealism, his synthesis of empiricism and rationalism. Why, the Dr. even has a “categorical imperative” in every series! He’s always consciously aware of his actions and those of his companions. He’s striving for the good, but he sees the inherent flaws, the human motives, the moral ambiguities that cloud our reason and confuse our obligations to the self and the world. Maybe that’s why the Dr. is always taking off again in the Tardis; he knows that morality is always on the move, travelling through time and space, and the best we can do as mortals, and as Time Lords, is to chase after it, ambiguities, truths, and all.
I’m not a religious man. I don’t believe in a saviour who died for me or the idea of life everlasting cooped up in heaven with a bunch of philistine angels preaching on about the harmony of light. Light is duality, quantum physics has proved that light can be both a particle and wave. Life is duality. So why can’t death be, too?
So there’ll be no heaven for me. On the other hand, I’d be more than happy for my departed spirit to spend some nebulous time in the Tardis, travelling nowhere, everywhere, trusting to the Dr. to fix and unfix a point in time.
Of course, he’d have to be Tom Baker!