Monday, January 01, 2007

The Doctor is Worth the Monsters

Subtitle: Where I Reveal Just How Geeky I Really Am

Today, thanks to my TiVo, I watched some fantastic Doctor Who episodes: "The Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday." I suspected that this might be the episode when Billie Piper left the series, but I wasn't prepared for how this would manifest. Plenty of the Doctor's companions left amicably, with a few notable exceptions, but I hadn't suspected anything like this. It was heartbreaking, and it really got to me. During the goodbye scene, as the Doctor and Rose wiped the tears from their faces, I found myself wiping tears from my own.

I've been watching Doctor Who since I was around eleven. My little ballerina friends and I were utterly addicted. We bought all the books we could find - which were written at about our reading level - and would trade them when we saw each other at ballet class. By the age of thirteen, maybe fourteen, we were all gossiping in the dressing room about what went on in the Tardis between episodes. During the Peter Davison era, we were all sure that Nysaa and Adric were "snoggin'." Of course, we all loved the young blonde Doctor and would have gladly snogged him ourselves. One year, we attended a Doctor Who convention in Champaign, Illinois. I can't remember whose Mom agreed to drive three giggly tweenagers for an hour and a half to gawk at nerdy British Sci-Fi stuff, but my hat's off to her. Alas, neither Davison nor any of his predecessors in the role were there, but his successor, Colin Baker, autographed a calendar for me. I don't have the calendar anymore, but I do still have the page with his picture and signature on it somewhere. I still have a pair of bright red knee socks too, part of Davison's Cricketing costume. Upon my visit home last week, I noticed that my 5x7 headshot of Peter Davison, celery on his lapel, is still tacked to my bedroom wall.

I suppose a lot of young girls want to be rescued from their frustrating lives by a handsome, mysterious stranger, and being the brainy nerd that I was, I wanted one that was also a genius. When I was thirteenish, PBS and BBC gave me Peter Davison. My adolescent fantasies about a brilliant, handsome, kind man who would take me away from everything and show me the universe were right in front of me, every weeknight at ten o'clock. Luke Skywalker was a dumb-ass kid and Captain Kirk was an oversexed cowboy, but the Doctor was absolutely perfect. (Granted, being in my very early teens, the Doctor's sexlessness probably made him appear "safe," although at that age I would have vehemently denied such.)

My bedroom at home is quite large. It's the only "upstairs room" in the house, and upon my thirteenth birthday, I abandoned my little bedroom on the ground floor for the privacy of the upstairs. I had a queen bed in there, several bookcases, a desk and chair, a computer, a stereo, a phone, and a walk-in closet. All I needed was a bathroom and it could have been an apartment. I spent a great deal of time there, and considering the screeching fights my Mom and I had during my teen years, it was probably best for everyone that I did.

When I was in, oh, maybe ninth or tenth grade, I had a nightmare about daleks. In the dream, I had just come up the stairs to my bedroom, and I noticed that all the furniture was covered with bedsheets, as though nobody had lived there for years. The large room seemed much larger, almost like a carpeted gymnasium, with very low lighting, and shadows everywhere. I gingerly stepped into the room. I couldn't see much. All around me I heard a low, mechanical hummm, like flourescent lighting that needed a bulb change.

Out of the shadows, I heard that unmistakable tinny voice: "EXTERMINATE!" I was terrified. This was my bedroom! MY space! If a dalek was going to get me here, was there any safe place on earth? I was too afraid to run out of the room, so I continued slowly, carefully making my way among the draped furniture. I knew my bed had to be in there somewhere, and I thought that if I could reach it, I'd be safe on my bed, under the covers. I heard the daleks whizz past me, felt an electric crackle in the air, knew that I was just barely out of sight behind the bedsheeted furniture, hoping desperately they wouldn't find me. "...exterminate..." I heard again, more quietly, as if in the distance. The light in the room dimmed until I could barely see anything at all. I froze. My bed was nowhere in sight. I squinted at the nearest piece of furniture. It sure didn't look like a chair or a bookshelf under that bedsheet. It was as tall as me, and rounded on top. The low hummmmm throughout the room continued. I looked around, panicked. All the pieces of furniture, under the draping, seemed to be the same squat, rounded shape. One of them had something long sticking out of it...

I woke up screaming.

That dream gave me the willies for weeks. I didn't go to bed normally for a long time afterward. I'd start walking into my room, but about halfway across the floor, I'd sprint and take a flying leap onto the bed. I couldn't get under the covers fast enough. I didn't pull them over my head, because dammit, if there were any fucking monsters in my room I was damn well gonna see them with my own eyes. Come on, show yourselves!

They never did, because of course, they weren't real. I didn't have the guts to tell my friends that I had conjured up a story about television robots that scared me so badly that I was afraid of my own bedroom. It was ridiculous, and I knew it. But then, I was rather a ridiculous person in many ways. Teenage self-esteem slamming smack into an over-active imagination and an obession with sci-fi. The adolescence of a Drama Queen.

I don't know when I stopped watching Doctor Who - likely when I was sixteen. I stopped watching because PBS stopped showing the episodes. We never got to see all the Colin Baker shows, and none of the Sylvester McCoy shows. Star Trek: the Next Generation came on TV not too long thereafter, and I began watching that, to my Mom's delight. I was among the legions of women who found Captain Picard the most compelling man on TV. But, I was, after all, a mature sixteen. I had real-world boys in my life, and real problems.

When I was at ScAMDA, a serious effort at reviving the dead Doctor Who series was produced in the form of a TV Movie. It was out there, on televisions somewhere, but I couldn't receive it, and missed it altogether. I was distraught. I was 25 - around ten years after I'd seen the Doctor - but I was thrilled at the thought of having that show back in my life. It was just so much damn fun. Deep Space Nine wasn't bad, but there was no Doctor - not like mine. I missed that show.

You can imagine my elation when, just this past year, I realized with our new cable setup that I could watch the new episodes. I've been TiVoing them, and having an absolute ball. Cybermen! Absorbatrixes! The sexy new Tardis interior, so goth-deco! And David Tennant is dreamy! Werewolves! Black Holes! Wheee!

I've had "The Girl in the Fireplace" saved on my TiVo ever since it first aired. I somewhat over-identified with Reinette. I had monsters in my bedrooms just like she did; I was plagued with nightmares throughout my adolescence. When the first evil robot appears underneath young Reinette's bed, I almost screamed. Isn't that every child's nightmare, the monsters under the bed? Much to my dismay, unlike Reinette, I had no Doctor to appear from time to time, no lonely angel to defeat my monsters. But then, it could be argued that the Doctor in my room was as real as the Daleks were. My little drama was as real as... well, a television show.

However, that kiss... damn. The Doctor actually snogged someone, on screen! And not for some lame-ass "It was the only way to transfer the energy" technical excuse either - that was full on human-timelord lust! I admit, at 35 years of age, I must have watched and re-watched that scene a hundred times. Tennant's no blonde Davison, but then I'm no blonde Madame de Pompadour either, so it evens out. I waited twenty years to see that! Clara and Adrienne, my ballerina friends, wherever you are, I hope you got to see that too. Maybe we didn't get to snog the Doctor, but someone finally did!

Today, watching Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, Rose Tyler's little speech to her mother struck somthing inside me as well. "I've had my whole life, nineteen years with you," she says to her Mum. She's trying to explain why, when faced with the choice of saying goodbye forever to either her Mother or the Doctor, she chooses a future with the Doctor. "When I met him, I was working in a shop!" Her mother retorts "I worked in a shop too, what's wrong with that?" Rose struggles, trying to explain her inability to walk away from a life of adventure with a man she loves, even to the extreme of never seeing her mother again.

America has been fascinated with extreme natural disaster movies for some time now. In many of them, people choose to either find those they love the most and spend their last days with them, or attempt to somehow flee the disaster, or try to help stop things. This prompts some heavy philosophical questions: Who, if I knew I would die tomorrow, would I want to be with, if I could only choose one person? And what about the Parents-as-Past, Spouse-and-Family-as-Future dilemma?. Would I run home to be with my parents, or hunker down with G for the final days of earth? How would my mother feel if she knew I chose G over her? Or is it like choosing to live when a loved one dies? Would Mom understand? Or would she fight me, like Rose's Mom did?

Watching Doomsday, Rose made the same choice I would have made. She knows her Mom and Dad will be, not only together again after a long seperation (which, paradoxically, involves both their deaths in seperate parallel earths), but "in a better place" - the parallel earth of her Dad, where there are no invading monsters. Rose knows they will be fine. She chooses adventure, and love. She chooses the unknown. The Doctor, as Reinette said to her in "The Girl in the Fireplace," is worth the monsters.

Of course, sadly, her choice almost leads to her death, and she is literally yanked into her parents' world at the last minute, forced to say goodbye to the Doctor forever. Watching Rose sobbing so dreadfully was horrible. It was like a death. She thought she'd be saying goodbye to her parents. We all expect to lose our parents before our spouses. I imagine we're somehow more prepared for it. But Rose, at the last minute, in a cruel twist of fate, was robbed of her choice, and she lost the Doctor. I sobbed right along with her. And when the Doctor manages to say a final good-bye to her, a hologram not unlike a ghost, I couldn't help but think of the dreams I had of my grandmother shortly after her death, dressed in beautiful sparkling clothes, shining, unable to say she loved me, but projecting it unmistakeably.

After we'd all finished our cry, Rose and the doctor and me, I turned off the TiVo and sat in the apartment I share with G, just looking quietly around. G and the cat were sleeping in the bedroom.

I thought about my last apartment in New York City, the horrible circumstances under which I'd lost it, how painful it was to give it up, and how G and I had thrown caution to the wind and moved me into his bachelor pad. We had both known at the time that my only other option was to move back to Illinois, back in with Mom and Dad. I had no money, no savings, no job and a mountain of debt. My New York Life as I knew it was over. I could either go back where I came from, or move on to new adventures with G. I knew a second attempt at marriage was likely, and heartbreak wasn't a complete impossibility. Both monsters to be conquered, in very different ways. There was really no decision making for me. I made the same choice Rose made.

I thought about my blonde fetish, most famously realized in that boyfriend I dated for five years. I met that guy when I was eighteen -about four or five years after I tacked that photo of Peter Davison on my bedroom wall. I looked around the apartment at my shoes and G's shoes from last night's New Year's Eve party, looking like they'd passed out on the floor, much as we had into the bed at around 1am. I took in the apartment, the rugs we'd picked out together because the neighbor had complained of noise, the posters he'd had for years but which I made him frame, the holiday cards from family and friends sitting on the piano, a picture of us from New Year's Eve 2004, framed. I looked at the picture. G's iconic superman curl is clear in the photo, his dark hair a stark contrast to his white skin and his goofy, toothy grin.

I had to laugh to myself. David Tennant has dark hair. And the mother of all goofy, toothy grins. I slipped my engagement ring off and looked at my bare left hand, picturing the wedding ring that, by this time next year, will likely be there. My stomach tightened nervously for just a second. Somehow, incredulously, the idea of trying marriage again still frightens me. I am also terrified of someday leaving New York for real, heading off to Boston or who knows where. But, life is like that. Constant motion. Leaving things behind. Goodbyes. New lives, new friends, new problems, banishing old demons and discovering new ones. As Reinette said, one can tolerate demons for the sake of an angel. And I know myself. Without that excitement, I'd be bored. And for me, there is no worse nightmare than a boring, adventureless life.

Today, watching the Daleks swarm over the earth on a television show, hearing those screeching voices, I remembered my old nightmare... and I laughed.

Bring it on.


Lee said...

Wow! Whatta post! Intersting how a tv show can 1) Bring on so many memories and 2) ave personal meaning in our lives.

I've only watched Dr. Who the past two (current) seasons. Although I had heard of the show for many years now, I've never seen any till the current revival of the series. I've been loviing it! I caught the last two episodes last week or so on the SciFi channel and I know you weren't the only one wiping away tears at the end. I was and so did a few other people I know. Alas, it'll be a few months before the SciFi channel starts to air Season 3 but I found a way of d/l'ing the episodes from BBC, now to figure out how to set that up and do it... said...

Hi, I just found your blog after doing a google search for lines from Girl in the Fireplace. I loved your piece and it's strange to hear about "fangirls" as "fanboys" seem all the rage, particularly in Who circles. Thanks again, Steve.