30 December 2013

Save the Day essays #8: The world turns

The whole world turns upside down in ten years, but you turn upside down with it(.)
- Spider Robinson, 1977, “The Time Traveller,” The Callahan Chronicles

As it happened, I got a Doctor Who anniversary story for Christmas. Not “The Day of the Doctor,” the fiftieth anniversary story that was released on DVD this month... but the fortieth anniversary story.

Unavailable for years, “Scream of the Shalka” was an animated story that played on the BBC’s Doctor Who website. Richard E. Grant was the Doctor, though he’s now become a villain (Dr. Simeon / the Great Intelligence).

Watching “Scream of the Shalka” again impressed upon me how much can change in a decade.

In 2003, Doctor Who hadn’t been on television for years. It had died in the 1980s, had a failed comeback attempt in the 1990s. It appeared on the BBC’s website under a section labelled as “Cult TV.” There were new stories as books and audio, but for me, they weren’t anywhere near as satisfying as the show had been. And judging from the “Making of” featurette on the “Shalka” DVD, only a few dedicated fans were actually that keen to commemorate that anniversary with a story. “Scream of the Shalka” is a good story, but it wasn’t very outward looking. It wasn’t aimed at bringing the Doctor to new audiences.

It’s almost hard to believe that Doctor Who has been back on the air for almost eight years now. When Doctor Who did come back on the air in 2005,the way I experienced the show was perhaps less than convenient. There was initially no plans for airing it in the United States. But... it was a co-production with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), who showed it very soon after it appeared in England.

Being Canadian, I reached out to a few of my contacts in fandom... oh, who am I kidding. I pleaded with my parents to record it for me. They were nice enough to do it, and sent me VHS tapes – tapes! – through snail mail. Every few weeks, I got new tapes that I devoured. It was so, so good. I loved it.

Then it showed up in the US on the SciFi channel (before it became SfFy). And something amazing started to happen: Americans started to fall in love with Doctor Who: the eccentric little English show that even other science fiction fans viewed as fringe. People started recognizing the TARDIS in my office. I couldn’t believe it.

I was mildly annoyed when the show moved to BBC America, because I didn’t have it as part of my cable package, and because I get cable through my apartment, I didn’t have an option to add it. I started begging a colleague with an extended cable package to record it for me, this time on blank DVDs. I was again indulged. But I was pleased that the delay between the British broadcast and the American broadcast got shorter. I remembered in the 1980s when it could be years between a season in England and it being purchased by a local public broadcasting station. Being a North American fan was always to feel a little disconnected from the show.

Then, I started getting the show on iTunes, so I no longer had to beg for my fix. And the show went to high definition.

And the culmination of all this? This year, I can watch Doctor Who within a day of anyone in the world. And the show is so successful that it ran in North American theatres, in high-definition 3-D. It’s wonderful.

The world does turn upside down in ten years. But even though you turn with it, sometimes, you can notice.

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Approaching 40...

Save the Day essays

Save the Day essays #1: Restoration
Save the Day essays #2: Recovery
Save the Day essays #3: Family
Save the Day essays #4: Rewatching the rebirth
Save the Day essays #5: Playing favourites
Save the Day essays #6: Anarchy in the U.K.
Save the Day essays #7: How the Doctor made me better

Hat tip to Tom Scott’s brilliant “Flash mob gone wrong” Ignite! presentation for drawing my attention to the Spider Robinson quote.

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