The joy of discovery never gets old.
I was reminded of that earlier this week when I received my first exposure to the longest-running science fiction television show of all time (it’s true; Guinness says so).
Until this past Wednesday, I had never seen a single frame of footage, let alone any of the 758 episodes, of Doctor Who. So walking into a special screening of the season premiere of the latest Doctor Who in New York City, completely blind, with not even a cursory Wikipedia cram session, I was scared to death I was going to be lost, befuddled and worse, indifferent to the good Doctor.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Actually, shocked would be more accurate. The episode was a time-trippy bounce about loaded with dry humor, up-tempo drama, potential global calamity and piles of spitfire dialogue crafted to get neophytes up to speed. Matt Smith is the new Doctor, the 11th in the line, so I’m told, and he’s a wiry and charismatic bundle of nervous energy. Karen Gillan plays his redheaded companion in the story, which covers a 14-year time period.
One of the biggest problems any long-running television show faces is how to lure new fans into the fold. And if it’s tough for a show like “Lost” in its sixth and final season, imagine what it’s like for a program that debuted 47 years ago. The new episode of Doctor Who does a nice job of letting newbies in on the mythology, clarifying how the Doctor can regenerate himself and how he’s able to time travel. There is also a clever nod to all the previous Doctor Who’s in the story’s climax.
What impressed me even more than what I saw on the screen were the fans.
Oh my Gods, I haven’t heard that kind of all-out Geekery during opening credits since “Revenge of the Sith.” The fans erupted for every allusion to the show’s long history (good grief, did it really debut in 1963?). During the post-show Q & A with Smith, Gillan and show runner Steven Moffat – moderated by Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy – several people in the audience offered up scarves (apparently, it’s a sartorial trademark of the Doctor) and homemade sonic screwdrivers. It was like attending a Springsteen show at the Meadowlands, where everyone in the crowd knows every single line of every song.
As I walked out of the theater, I wondered how in the world had I missed being exposed to this crazy passionate piece of the Pop Culture pie. This wasn’t Comic-Con, where you could pack Hall H for a retrospective on the 80s show “The Phoenix.” This was a Wednesday night screening of an episode set to air on TV in three days.
We all have our pop culture blind spots. The entire Whedonverse is a big one for me. I have never seen a single episode of “Buffy,” “Angel” or “Firefly” Rest assured, every time a conversation around me turns to how clever “Buffy’s” pop culture references were, or why “Firefly” is the greatest 14-episode series in TV history, I feel a little shame.
Doctor Who was another blind spot. And just like with Mr. Whedon’s productions, I had no specific reason for not tuning in. I just never did.
As with anything in life, first impressions are incredibly important. After getting my first exposure to the doctor, I’m all set to step into the police box for more time-traveling adventures.
That’s what is so great about being a Geek. No matter how many cults you devote yourself to, be it Star Trek or Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, BSG, Ghost in the Shell, or the DC and Marvel universes, there is always something else in the outer rim, waiting to be discovered. Some fantasy novel series or movie or TV show that one day will blow your mind and make you ask yourself:
‘Why the hell did it take me so long to give this a try?’
Do you have a pop culture blind spot? Share it with us.
(The new season of Doctor Who premieres Saturday on BBC America)