THE BLOG
12/17/2012 12:35 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2013

Doctor Who -- Why the Critics Are Wrong

Doctor Who returns to television soon - as he does at Christmas every year - leading to the fiftieth anniversary in 2013, for which big things are planned. Most details of the anniversary celebrations are under wraps (just as most details of the Christmas episode are a secret).

The "classic" Doctor Who series, produced from 1963 to 1989, is often dismissed (unfairly) as a laughable kids' show. Now that the show has returned as a cultural icon and an award-winning drama series, people are generally more respectful. Yet they still scoff
about it. Here, before anyone else repeats them to me, I will address the most tiresome comments from those Philistines who don't appreciate Doctor Who for the modern masterpiece that it truly is.

1. "The Daleks can't even climb stairs."

For those who somehow don't know, the Daleks are a race of evil mutants (not robots, despite appearances), encased in cylindrical war machines, whose favourite word (revealing their general life-philosophy) is "Exterminate!" But it's long been a joke that, as they move around on wheels, they can't even follow you menacingly up a flight of stairs. Any alien menace that can't climb stairs tends to seem a little less threatening. In fact, in early episodes, Daleks were defeated by being pushed down a flight of stairs.

But if people scoff at the Daleks, chances are they're not Doctor Who fans. If they're not fans, they probably don't watch the series, and missed the episode back in 1988 in which the Daleks first used some sort of nifty anti-gravity technology to basically levitate up the stairs. For fans, few moments were so exciting. In more recent years, armies of Daleks have been seen flying through space. Cool, huh? Stairs are the least of the things that the Daleks have conquered. These guys make the Borg of Star Trek look like cavemen.

2. "The original series had lame special effects."

This was part of the general awesomeness. The show forced kids to use their imagination. Besides, the word is "inexpensive", not "lame". The British Broadcasting Corporation was famously cheap (sorry, inexpensive). Not blessed with James Cameron's budget, "Doctor Who" focused on such old-fashioned devices as story and character.

3. "The sets were wobbly."

I have often read that one, and it was always unfair. They were cheap (sorry, inexpensive) and often tacky, but they didn't "wobble". (Star Trek sets, on the other hand...)

4. "Doctor Who fans are mad."

Strangely, when I went to science fiction conventions, I would meet many happy, intelligent people who were no crazier than anyone else I knew. Only a few people, in the name of role-playing games, would occasionally walk the streets dressed as aliens.

You wouldn't know that from the television news crews, who would try to block out all scenes of normal-looking people in order to make the fans seem like a bunch of Darth Vader wannabes. Otherwise, they would focus on and only interview the most eccentric people they could find, as if to say "This is a typical Doctor Who weirdo."

As Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons wrote in The Completely Useless Encyclopedia (around the one billionth Doctor Who book published, as far as I can tell) back in 1996: "Doctor Who was created to entertain, coins to formalise a system of barter, trains as a method of transport, and stamps as a means of funding the postal service. People find entertainment in all four. Which is most understandable?"

4. "Doctor Who was OK (gee, thanks), but it wasn't exactly The Sopranos."

It was still terrific. The Doctor was the Socrates of science fiction. His philosophy, even more than his scientific genius, was his greatest asset. One quote from a 1977 story was especially striking:

"You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views - which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."

Such aphorisms were written for children's television? That's way cool.

5. "Doctor Who is for gay people."

Not exclusively. I recall a few episodes where the Doctor saved everyone in the universe, but I can't recall any episode where he only saved people in same-sex relationships and ignored everyone else. "I don't think Doctor Who has a specific appeal to gay men," wrote Matt Jones, an openly gay columnist for Doctor Who Magazine. "I just think it strikes a particularly strong chord with anyone who's ever felt like an outsider, who's had a whiff of discrimination, bullying or being ostracised by from the mainstream. And that unfortunately just happens to include more than its fair share of gay boys."

6. "Doctor Who isn't as good as Star Trek."

If you know anyone who says that, you are not allowed to be their friend. Sorry, but that's my rule.

So that's what I'll say if anyone, rather than read this blog, queries the greatness of Doctor Who to my face. Perhaps it's not the greatest TV series ever, but it's close enough.