Theta Stigma Part 1: The Doctors

This article was originally published in the Winter 2010 issue of The Terrible Zodin:

Theta Stigma: A New-Whovian’s Journey of Preconceptions, First Impressions, and Watching Classic Who Out of Order

Part 1: The Doctors

As far as being a Whovian goes, I’m a late bloomer. A very late bloomer. By the time I realized that I was officially a fan, David Tennant only had days left. Around that time, I started doing more lurking around the more Who-oriented places of my favorite websites (DeviantART and TV Tropes, mostly) and started to get a general feel for what the Classic series was like. I also got the gist for certain characters that had a very distinct level of popularity or unpopularity, as is to be expected from such a long-running series with such a devoted fanbase. As I swam through the wading pool of the Netflix Instant Watch offering of Classic Who, I had to wonder: how did the glitter and the grit hold up? Were these characters really as amazing or terrible as everyone said they were? Approaching the cream of the crop with high expectations and the runts with an open mind, I slowly began to learn that nobody’s perfect and that no principle Who character deserves my scorn, it’s just a matter of how they grow on me.

Fourth Doctor
I Heard That…: He is the best. The greatest. Ever. There will be no debating this.
Then I Watched Him And…: I’m going to try and make this as quick and painless as possible: out of all the Classic Doctors, Tom Baker took the longest to grow on me. I know you might be thinking “well, maybe you didn’t start with some of his better serials,” but my first Four stories were “The Ark in Space” and “Pyramids of Mars,” two serials I see frequently on Top 10 Best/Favorite Doctor Who Stories Ever lists. Maybe it was because I’d only seen about half a dozen Classic serials at the time and was still getting used to how they “worked” differently from New Who, but I found myself not particularly caring for either of them (my next serial, “The Robots of Death,” was the first Tom Baker story I really enjoyed).

Unlike the rest of this list, I think the reasons behind my delay are more a matter of my personal psychology: I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which basically means that my brain is already wired to have greater difficulty understanding how other people “work.” Tom is generally considered to be the most “alien” of all the Doctors, and I think for me this wound up being a detriment, at least at first. I didn’t understand what his Doctor’s “deal” was. You had Three as “the action hero” and Five as “the nice one” and so on, but what was Four? But don’t worry, kids, I do love him now. After a while, I started to realize that my appreciation for the Fourth Doctor was based more on “moments.” For me, Four’s biggest endearment is his ability to have little quirks that may only last a few seconds or a few contortions of Tom’s absurdly elastic face or a single line of dialogue but still really stand out. Notably, he made the final scene of “The Armageddon Factor” one of my favorite endings in all of Who-dom this way: when Romana says, “Now no one knows where we’re going. Not even the Black Guardian. Not even us,” Four doesn’t say anything. He just looks at her and grins. And in that silence and that grin, he seemed to sum up everything that Doctor Who was. And it blew my mind.

Sixth Doctor
I Heard That…: He’s a violent walking ego in a crazy coat. On the other hand, his audios are AWESOME.
Then I Watched Him And…: My first Six serial was originally going to be “Vengeance on Varos.” Had this come to pass, this portion of the article would probably look a lot different. However, “The Caves of Androzani” wound up being my first Classic regeneration story and I was interested to see what a Classic regeneration story and Doctor-introduction story were like back-to-back, so my first Six serial wound up being the first Six serial, “The Twin Dilemma.” I would regret this decision for a while. I knew beforehand that the Sixth Doctor had quite a solid fanbase despite his low relative popularity, and that Colin Baker was still highly regarded as an individual, but first impressions still count for quite a lot. I remember sitting in my room, watching this Amazing-Technicolor-Nightmare-Coat-clad knight-errant cavort across the screen with a thoroughly baffled Peri in tow, and trying so very desperately to like him. His over-the-top-ness sometimes made me laugh, but unfortunately the writing was baring its fangs at me. All of them. For the first time ever, I felt as though the show was actively trying to make me hate the Doctor. I kept desperately grasping for that kind, if eccentric, hero in his blue box, but instead I was given pompous blustering, a quickness to violence, scorning of “sweetness,” and even moments of shallow cowardice. I’d never felt so bad for a Classic companion as I did for Peri in that story (more on that in my next article). Every fleeting glimpse of the noble Time Lord in control who had to save his friend was suddenly worth more: it meant the Doctor I knew and loved was still in there. Still, I’ve yet to find more ominous closing words to a Doctor Who story than “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.” Then things got better.

One thing I do have to appreciate about Six in “The Twin Dilemma” is that he explicitly states on several occasions that his unsavory behavior is mostly the result of his Post-Regeneration Brain-Crazies, so at least I had a bit of reassurance from the source that what I was watching would not necessarily be the norm for the next dozen-ish serials. I watched “Vengeance on Varos” the next day, which I enjoyed but which left me in a strange sort of limbo with the Sixth Doctor. Now I had two of his stories under my belt: one I liked, and one I didn’t. I was also frustrated at the fact that, to me, Six’s mellowing in “Vengeance” made him feel almost out-of-character in comparison to his depiction in “Twin.” Just like every other major character in the show, I knew he’d grow on me eventually, but I still needed something more to help wash the stink off from that introduction. Things would be this way for about a month before I finally got my scale-tipper in the form of “The Mark of the Rani.” I’ll admit that I like this story mainly for the banter between the Rani and the Master, but it also contains one of the only times where I can pinpoint the exact moment that I started to love a character. Peri sits sulking alone by a mineshaft when suddenly Six shows up, rattles a chain to get her attention, and smiles at her. Peri is not amused.
“I could’ve been stuck in the 1800s forever!”
“Did you really think I’d abandon you?”
And at last, I could finally say, “Oh my God, Six I love you.”

Seventh Doctor
I Heard That…: He happened when Doctor Who was going down the drain so…yeah.
Then I Watched Him And…: I love Seven. Okay, maybe I’m a little biased on this one since my first Seven serial, “Battlefield,” is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories ever. Something I noticed about the McCoy stigma is that a lot of people say he was one of the worst Doctors, but I was never clear on exactly why. After watching about half his serials, I’m still trying to figure it out. I will admit that he’s not quite the greatest actor, but you know what? I don’t watch Doctor Who for the acting. I watch it for the adventure, the characters, and the fun. When McCoy is hammy, it’s the fun kind of hammy (and don’t get me started on how envious I am of his ability to roll his R’s like that). In terms of the actual character, I love how Seven’s man-of-mystery nature inadvertently makes him a kind of “transitional” Doctor between the predominantly happy, adventurous Doctors of Classic Who and the edgier, brooding Doctors of early New Who. When he means business, he means business, but then you have his relationship with Ace and you remember that he is still the Doctor. For me, the most defining Seven moment is the climactic scene of “The Curse of Fenric” where he must deliberately break Ace’s faith in him in order for the main villain to be destroyed. He does so with seemingly no reservations, but apologizes to her profusely in the immediate aftermath.

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