When I was somewhere around eight years old, I was introduced to The Doctor. My parents were having their carpets cleaned, so my sister and I were ushered over to a neighbor’s house for a few hours. They were good friends of my parents, and over summer vacation we would visit with them daily, but very rarely were we ever allowed inside their house. Most of the time we met under the shade of an old pine tree that marked the border between yards.
I was a bit nervous. Usually when the neighbors were around, so were my parents. The place was small, and somewhat strange. They had children, but their oldest was five years younger than me, so we weren’t exactly playmates. The place was kind of dark, but perhaps that was due to the rain and drizzle outside rather than intended. But, as it turned out, that was the perfect bit of ambiance from which to finally meet The Doctor.
The neighbors had a magical device, something that I think one of my uncles may have had. It was a big box thing that took up the top of a TV set. And it didn’t have a real name; it was referred to only with letters: V-C-R. It was this VCR that brought The Doctor, and his companions, into my life.
When he first arrived that afternoon, he popped out of nowhere in what looked to me like a very fancy phone booth. I had heard my mom and this neighbor of ours talk about this Doctor, but I didn’t know he could that. Luke Skywalker certainly couldn’t do that. His ship had to travel the old-fashioned way—like an airplane through space. It made perfect sense to me; if you need to travel through space, why worry about air resistance? Suddenly Star Wars, though still amazing in its own right, seemed a little sillier than it had before. This Doctor, maybe, just maybe, was real?
I asked our neighbor questions, and she was happy to answer them. I was almost offended to find out that the Doctor was an alien. Aliens don’t look like people; they usually have heads with funny shapes and tentacles or other protuberances sticking out of them. The Doctor, however, looked human. And at first I didn’t know what to make of him. He wore a scarf so long it wrapped around his neck twice, a floppy hat, and smile so wide you couldn’t help but feel at ease, but unfortunately he didn’t always smile, which, to be honest was a bit scary.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, I watched as a mad scientist on a far away planet attempted to capture the Doctor in order to steal his brain. It was a kind of Frankenstein’s monster in outer space episode. In retrospect this particular episode is not considered one of Doctor Who’s best stories, but that didn’t matter to me. I had never seen anything like it before. And I. Was. Hooked.
I begged my parents to get a magical VCR so they could borrow the tapes from the neighbors. That’s when I discovered that my parents had been watching the show for some time, late nights on a local PBS station, but sadly it came on way past my bed time.
Some time later, we had a VCR. And the reason for the purchase: Doctor Who. But not just any Doctor Who story, it was one that had never been shown in the United States before, an episode called “The Deadly Assassin.” Apparently, my mom had heard good things about this particular episode, and found it so important that it justified purchasing a VCR. (Though the neighbor swore by Betamax, she persuaded my parents to buy a VHS, claiming that it worked better for Doctor Who since you couldn’t record more than an hour on beta.)
But Doctor Who did more than inspire my parents to buy a VCR, it made me want to know more—know everything. Suddenly having a vast quantity of knowledge like the Doctor seemed glamorous, and as a result school meant more to me than ever before. Knowing it would be impossible to become a Jedi Knight, I thought at the very least I could be as smart as the Doctor. (Still working on that one to be honest).
Before Doctor Who I would scoff, complain, and wine whenever my father turned on reruns of Star Trek. But now science fiction became interesting, and no matter what show I watched or book I read, I would imagine how much more interesting it would be if a man in a phone box with a robot dog and long scarf would step in and get involved in the story. My imagination was awakened, and to this day, Doctor Who has remained a powerful source of inspiration.