Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doctor Who Experience #2: Ryk E. Spoor

In correspondence with the newest episode of the new season of Doctor Who, and the weekly author experience, I give you author Ryk E. Spoor. His newest book, Grand Central Arena hits shelves on Tuesday, and is published by Baen. If you get the chance, pick up a copy!

With that, here's Ryk's experience:

I first encountered Doctor Who not on television, but as a book intro -- with, if I recall correctly, Harlan Ellison talking about how he taunted a crowd at an SF convention with the greatest filmed SF being Doctor Who! ("Who?" they said, and I said "Who!" and we went back and forth ...).

I don't recall which of the Doctor's adventures that particular book was, but the words stuck in my head until I heard that this show was going to be shown on WHMT, our local public television station, and I tuned in.

My first reaction, rather predictably, was "What the HELL is this thing? It looks like it was filmed by two college students with a budget of $2.50! Why is ANYONE watching it?"

And yet...

And yet...

I did watch it. There was something about this tall, curly-haired man with the ludicrously long scarf that held your attention. And as I came to understand the mythology, the history behind this peculiar figure and his blue box with "POLICE" at the top and the shaky cardboard sets, the more I was able to see past the cheap sets and the rockets with smoke that mysteriously rose "up" in space where there was, or should be, no "up", the aliens who were barely more convincing costumes than the Mickey Mouse bobbleheaded costumes you saw at supermarket openings. I started to see SPACE OPERA. Grand scale, requiring your imagination to work with it, yes, requiring you to suspend your disbelief from a cable composed of Dalekenium, yes, but a great sprawling exciting universe that was building itself up from some of the most bizarre concepts ever.

A time-spaceship that looked like a police call box on the outside, but was the size of a skyscraper inside. A main character who was always the same, yet drastically different, when he changed his face (one of the most brilliant ideas in television history). Crazy like a fox, noble, quixotic, grim, childlike, lonely, impulsive -- there were a thousand ways to describe the Doctor, and all of them fit, somehow.

Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker defined the Doctor for me in the early years -- and in many ways it was Pertwee, rather than Baker, that was the essence of a Timelord: wise and old, human yet... not at all, with a nobility -- and a presence -- that set him apart from all others.

Then came the New Doctor Who. With real effects. And I was afraid that they would completely mess it up. For a while it seemed they had; Eccleston's Doctor was dark, gritty, abrupt in a way the others had not been. But then came _Dalek_ and suddenly it was clear what had caused him to be that way -- and after the climactic event of that episode, he began to come back to himself in a brilliant rebirth, exemplified by the line that still, to this day, brings tears of joy to my eyes even by typing it: "Just this once -- EVERYBODY LIVES!"

And Tennant took that and RAN with it, building the legend anew for a reborn audience and old fans alike, the craziness, the majesty, the *humanity* of the immortal alien Timelord -- a humanity allowed to show more clearly than before, and the scale of his adventures far more sharply delineated, culminating in a threat to destroy the entirety of creation: "This, Doctor, is my ultimate triumph! The destruction of Reality itself!"

As a writer and a fan, the Doctor is one of the great figures of science fiction. He is the defender of the universe in a rumpled suit, a warrior who needs no weapons, the lone hero between the universe and destruction. He seems harmless sometimes, eccentric, a clown, a nosy meddling busybody with no idea of what he's doing, or how... until he gives you *that* look, and you realize he's known all along what he was doing, and what you were doing... and if you're a villain, you feel that terrible sinking certainty that he has already precalculated your doom, had already done so before first you met. Matt Smith has already had one such moment, in his first episode, calling back the aliens who had threatened earth: "Is this world protected? Has it been invaded? What happened to THEM?" A cold look as the aliens search the data and keep finding one being, wearing different faces but always the same, coming to the realization of what they face. "So, basically... RUN."

The Doctor inspires me to create heroes that think outside the box, that manipulate events to allow the bad guys to set themselves up, as well as heroes willing to take on things of cosmic significance. In _Boundary_ and its sequel _Threshold_, I have the character A.J. Baker, whose full name is Adric Jamie Baker -- named by his parents after two of the Doctor's companions, and getting in Threshold one very Doctor-like Crowning Moment of Awesome.

The Doctor's companions are also vastly important -- some of them iconic in and of themselves. The savage companion Leela who became one of the residents of Gallifrey, the Timelords' homeworld; Rose Tyler, ordinary shopgirl who became a cross-dimensional heroine; Sarah Jane Smith, reporter that aliens visit and invaders fear; Captain Jack Harkness, con man turned hero; Donna Noble, once a self-centered, completely oblivious woman without a thought outside of the moment, transformed in moments of shock and terror into a woman willing to cross the galaxies for the sake of adventure -- and to keep this "Doctor" from losing himself; Jamie McCrimmon, Highlander warrior whose innocence was a weapon greater than his considerable skill in combat; and many more. How many heroes has he made? The list is long and filled with honor.

And he has enemies of heroic and terrifying scale; The Master, his dark twin, another Timelord with an appetite for conquest and destruction that, eventually, consumed him; the Sontarans, super-warrior clone race, nearly indestructible; the Cybermen, assimilating humans into their cybernetic ranks with "Resistance is Futile" long, long before the Borg ever stole the line; and ever and always the Daleks and their grandly insane creator, Davros. Few creations of science fiction can match these -- and I salute them in my own way in Grand Central Arena, not the least of these nods being that the vessel used by Sethrik in his race against Ariane Austin is named "Dellak" -- a transposition of "Dalek, and a name which is supposed to be one of the six original Minds, AIs which have conquered their own creators and seek to do so to the rest of the universe.

I'm not even sure I COULD figure out all the influence the Doctor has had on me; all I know is, it's immense, and I am grateful to all of those who created, and continue to create, the ongoing story of the Last of the Timelords.


  1. Thanks for doing this series of posts. It was interesting to think back on how I got into Who fandom and how it influenced me.

  2. You are most welcome! Thanks for doing it man, I appreciate it! I always find that kind of thing interesting. Everyone is influenced by everything, or a large majority of what they consume (books, movies, television) and I've always found it fascinating just how much influence it really has on people. Doctor Who is easily one of my favorite shows in existence, so I figured it was appropriate to do.