One of my more embarrassing habits involves a compulsion to build personal top five lists, like a character out of High Fidelity. I even have a document full of lists on my iPhone, which I can bring out and tinker with whenever I can't sleep or am otherwise in need of distraction.
So what the hell. A few top fives.
Favorite Doctor Who episodes (all from the 2005 revival, because I haven't seen enough of the old show to pick favorites):
1. "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead"
2. "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"
3. "The Doctor's Wife"
4. "The Eleventh Hour"
5. "Vincent and the Doctor"
Favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
1. "Once More, With Feeling"
2. "The Body"
4. "Graduation Day"
Favorite Grant Morrison comic books:
1. The Invisibles, vol. 3, #1: "Glitterdammerung!"
2. All-Star Superman #6: "Funeral in Smallville"
3. Seven Soldiers of Victory: Mister Miracle #4: "Forever Flavored Man"
4. The Invisibles, vol. 1, #12: "Best Man Fall"
5. Animal Man #26: "Deus Ex Machina"
Favorite science fiction/fantasy short fiction:
1. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin
2. "The Lucky Strike" by Kim Stanley Robinson
3. "Fondly Fahrenheit" by Alfred Bester
4. "A Momentary Taste of Being" by James Tiptree Jr.
5. "The Situation" by Jeff VanderMeer
One of my more obnoxious habits in college involved forcing my friends to watch things that they had no interest in, which usually meant episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly. At some pont I realized that I was being an inconsiderate jerk, and I don’t think I’ve been done it in years … until Friday, when I forced a jetlagged and inebriated Karan to watch an episode of Doctor Who. He endured it for about 20 minutes before finally declaring that he had to get some sleep.
I guess I’ve matured less than I thought. In fact, I suspect I haven’t matured at all -- my inner fanboy was always inside, waiting for the right time to remerge. There have been shows in the last few years that I’ve liked and recommended, but none of them has taken over my brain and heart the way Buffy did in the early ‘00s, and the way Doctor Who has now.
My route through the show’s long history has been convoluted. The hype (plus the plentiful Hugo Awards) finally tempted me to watch "The End of Time". That was the final special to feature David Tennant as the Doctor, and it served as the capstone on Russell T Davies’ hugely successful tenure as head writer, so it’s no surprise that it was a pretty bad place to jump in.
I tried again when the show returned in April with a new Doctor (Matt Smith) and a new showrunner (Steven Moffat, who wrote many of the most popular episodes of the Davies years). This time, I was hooked. I watched the premiere episode, “The Eleventh Hour”, over and over again, until I knew it by heart. The next two episodes weren’t quite as good, but they were fun enough to keep me going until I reached “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”, a thrilling two-parter featuring Moffat’s famously scary aliens, The Weeping Angels. My devotion to the show, especially to the Moffat version, was cemented.
I haven’t ignored the older Who. I’ve dipped into the original incarnation (which ran from 1963 to 1989) by watching the initial “Unearthly Child” storyline, the introduction of the show’s most famous monsters in “The Daleks”, and one of its most famous episodes, “Genesis of the Daleks”. (Now that I’ve read Kim Newman’s enjoyably opinionated British Film Institute book on Doctor Who, I expect I’ll be watching a lot more classics.) And I’ve also been getting together with friends to catch up on the Davies revival -- so far we’ve made it through the first two seasons, and I expect we’ll start season three in the next week.
After all that, I have to say that Moffat’s version still comes closest to my ideal version of the show. It’s consistently inventive, exciting, funny, and optimistic -- not only does it realize the potential of Who, but it also captures the fun that Star Trek aimed for (and occasionally achieved). A couple weeks ago I showed “The Eleventh Hour” to my friend Jeffrey (it was consensual!). He had seen an earlier episode of the show (from the way he described it, I’m guessing it was “Bad Wolf”) and come away unimpressed. This time, when the credits rolled, he said, “Wow, I didn’t realize Doctor Who was this good.”And I still can't watch "Vincent and the Doctor" without getting a little teary-eyed. (Partly for personal reasons. But still.)
It’s not perfect. “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” have a few exciting moments, but are mostly tedious and preachy. And when you finish a Moffat-penned episode, you sometimes realize that his surface cleverness has hidden some thin plotting or characterization -- the sharp twists and breathless pace make the season finale “The Big Bang” a joy to watch, and the against-all-odds happy ending is movingly staged. But boy, a lot of the time travel mechanics make no sense at all when you think about them. (You can read more about the logical gaps on io9.)
There’s a cliche that the first Doctor you watch becomes your favorite, and that’s held true for me. The Doctors I’ve seen -- William Hartnell, Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant -- have all been fine, but Matt Smith does the best job of being convincingly (and entertainingly) alien without seeming like he’s putting on a big show. In “The Lodger,” when he’s forced to share an apartment in contemporary England, his fish-out-of-water-ness is obvious -- and hysterical -- in every single frame, even when he’s just standing around.
The show has had its ups and downs, and I’m sure they will continue. Whenever my faith wavers, I remember the end of “The Eleventh Hour": Amy Pond looks equal parts terrified and delighted to discover that all her dreams have come true. She throws the switch, the big blue time machine makes the familiar wheezing noise, and she heads off with the Doctor to “anywhere you want, any time you want, one condition: It has to be amazing.”