The TV That Made Me: Doctor Who
When I was about fifteen, living in the arse-end of nowhere with two buses to somewhere that passed by at seemingly random intervals on specific yet secret days, I would catch what was known as the Cinema Bus into the city every Saturday and head to the movies with my friends and pretend to be a real teenager for a while. Which was great. Right up until the point where I had to come home.
I grew up in a street in the middle of the most rural part of the Scottish highlands – literally a row of houses surrounded for miles by fields and forest. A single, winding, half-mile stretch of road connected my street to the world beyond, and it was at the end of this road that the bus would drop me off in the middle of the night as I was returning home. No streetlights, no people, nothing for miles around but forest and the occasional horny deer and permeating blackness. With my aggressively vivid imagination, I could paint in all kind of horrors following me back to my house, right on my tail, ready to pounce as soon as I showed a spark of weakness.
On one of these endless walks back to my house, I heard a rustle in the woods. And my mind leapt to the episode of Doctor Who I’d watched earlier that evening – the forest full of Weeping Angels, stalking an unsuspecting young Scottish girl through the woods where she basically blind to everything around her, promising a fate worse than death if they came across her. To call it panic would be an understatement: the local parlance is “shitting bricks”. I sprinted the rest of the way home, kicked in the janky gate to my garden, and dived quietly into my room. And cursed myself for still being scared of all that shit.
Doctor Who was the first time I really fell in love with a fictional world, at least as far as TV was concerned. When I watched that first series of the reboot when I was nine, all big ears and bigger ideas, I couldn’t get over how enormous the whole thing felt. The universe, the expanse of time itself – I had never seen anything with such depth, such power, such complexity.
But I was too spooked to watch a lot of the show by myself when it first came out. I had to turn the first episode off before the opening credits, I was so unsettled by the Autons. The Empty Child haunted my nightmares for literal years after I first saw that two-parter.
My older brother had his first job, washing dishes at a local bar, at the time the first season was broadcast, and he would be out to work during the Saturday-night teatime slot that Doctor Who occupied. I would order my parents to record it so I could watch it with him when he got back, safe enough in his presence to get through the frightening bits. Or maybe I just thought I could throw him to the Daleks first and make a run for it should the occasion call on me to do so. Most of you haven’t met my brother, but if you have, you’ll know that he could probably calmly look the Daleks in their eye-plungers and reason them into letting him give them a lift home and forgetting about this whole to-do.
Anyway, big brothers aside, Doctor Who scared the bejeesus out of me. And yet, even as I lay in bed pretending not to be relieving the nightmarish horror of that Dickens episode, I found myself craving more. I wanted to be scared. I wanted to white-knuckle it in front of what became, to my mind, the toddler version of Hostel, wanted to jam my brain full of horrible things that I would never forget, the kind of things that would stalk me up the road at night in the back of my mind.
And, via Doctor Who, I began seeking out real horror – Stephen King, The Stone Tapes, the Grudge movies. That curious blend of fear and fascination, peering over into the pit but not throwing yourself over the edge, became an addiction. I threw myself into all things terrifying, and found horror was the great love I’d been missing in my life. I went from hiding-behind-the-sofa-terrified to a veteran in everything spooky, hopping the fence into abandoned mental hospitals with my equally-inclined father and finding myself savouring those long walks up the road in the dark, the fear, the questions of what could be out there, what stories could be behind them.
And since then, horror has always been a huge part of my life. Which might sound a bit mad, to anyone who doesn’t formulate their experiences through the lens of popular culture, but hey – that’s who I am. And Doctor Who made me this way. That accessible, family-friendly nightmare television turned me into someone who couldn’t get enough scary shit in my life, and it’s through that that I was able to connect with some of my favourite pieces of pop culture, the ones that mean the most to me.
And later, Doctor Who would become the very first show I ever wrote about week to week – a lot of the readers on this blog probably came across me through my recaps for the last four seasons, and for that I’m eternally grateful. As I wrote a couple of months ago, too, Jack Harkness ( S W O O N ) was the first bisexual character I ever saw on TV, the first inkling I had that maybe I wasn’t mad and actually there was a place for the way I felt out there, somewhere in the universe. Christ, I met my partner of nearly six years because he was dressed like the Doctor for Halloween and I just had to get me a piece of that. Of shows that have had an enduring impact on my life, Doctor Who is of the highest order. No matter how bad it gets, how far it drifts from what I initially fell in love with, I have a lot to thank it for. And that’s why it’s one of the shows that made me.
If you’d like to read my Doctor Who recaps, you can do so here!
That’s it for the fourth part of The TV That Made Me series and you can find the last part here.Please tune in if you enjoyed this and want to read the rest! And, of course, let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter what media made you. Books, TV, movies – what changed your life, and why?
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(header image courtesy of the Radio Times)