Even though my husband Chris and I are watching as many episodes a day as his schedule will allow, almost to the exclusion of all other shows and movies, I would say I’m hooked, entertained, impressed, but still short of obsessed. There are moments that unexpectedly touch an emotional chord, like when the characters in “Gridlock” sing two of my favorite hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Abide With Me.” The characters’ hope and resilience moved me to tears. What’s remarkable is that the same episode also gave me a panic attack with its depiction of the worst traffic jam ever. Doctor Who excels at tapping into the anxieties that underpin the most mundane experiences. “Gridlock” takes the frustrations of an ordinary traffic jam – are we there yet? Why does it take 2 hours to go 10 miles in New York? – and ramps them up exponentially, laying bare visceral fears of claustrophobia and being trapped forever.
What keeps me from being totally in love with the show, I think, is the Doctor’s emotional remove from the creatures, places, and times he visits. As the Doctor himself says, “Big picture, Donna!” Sometimes the picture is too big for me to feel invested in the Doctor’s own emotional connection to anything. I know the companions are meant to humanize him somewhat, to remind him of the individual scale and personal cost of the events they witness, and David Tennant does a lovely job of playing the moments of attachment, grief, and loss. But the Doctor’s history and experiences are on such a cosmic scale that he can sometimes be a difficult character to identify with. I suppose it’s a fair trade-off for a show that’s so staggeringly audacious in addressing cosmic questions, like the existence of evil, as it does in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.”
Speaking of shows that I enjoy but that I’m not in love with, Doctor Who reminds me of Fringe. I guess I should say Fringe reminds me of Doctor Who, since it seems to have borrowed so much from the earlier show’s depiction of parallel universes – zeppelins, a bridge between two universes, structural weakness caused by traveling between them. Unlike Doctor Who, though, Fringe is just great-adjacent. Something keeps it from fully taking flight, even though it traffics in some bold ideas.
Anyway, back to Doctor Who and season 3: we finally got a woman of color up in the TARDIS! “Hello! Not exactly white,” Martha points out, wondering how she’ll be received when she and the Doctor disembark in London, 1599. While the show is explicit about Martha’s racial identity, I’m also curious about her class identity – seemingly wealthy family, professional career. She’s such a departure from Rose’s distinctly working-class background, that it makes me wonder about the companions in the original show. Were they usually working-class foils to the Doctor’s upper-crusty, white male persona? Any chance of the Doctor regenerating as a man or woman of color in the future? I’m still a newcomer to the Whoverse, so Whovians, please share your thoughts and inside info in the comments section!