All of a sudden late November is not that far away and the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, and the introduction of the new actor who is taking over as the Doctor, is imminent. In preparation the Space channel is running all day Sunday marathons of the episodes since the relaunch in 2005. I've been watching from the beginning, drawn to the series originally because it was the work of Russel T Davies, the creator of the British, and best, version of Queer as Folk. I was intrigued and became a casual viewer until the introduction of John Barrowman as the sexy bisexual Captain Jack Harkness at which point I was hooked and have been watching, a geeky addict, ever since. (And, subsequently, I must confess, a Torchwood addict). I think I may have seen some of the episodes of the original series - it is a British institution to rival Coronation Street - way back, but only remember that them as slow-moving and with hokey special effects.
My other half is new to Doctor Who but one viewing of an episode last season was enough to get him hooked as well. Hooked but very confused. The mythology of Doctor Who is extensive, obtuse and intricate - it has been running for decades - and is full of obscure references and in-jokes. As compelling as it is, it can be off-putting to the uninitiated which is, of course, is just how true geeks like it. While we enjoyed last season I struggled not to get annoyed while having to attempt to explain where characters fit into the grand scheme of the fictitious universe, why the Daleks are so terrifying and just how the Tardis works (he very quickly latched onto the joke of "It's bigger on the inside" but had no sense of the tragic-romantic back story).
Fortunately DK Publishing offered to send some books for review and amongst our choices - the useful Top Dog: Choose the Perfect Breed for You wherein we discovered we are theoretically incompatible with our mutt; Grow Herbs that offered great advice for our balcony garden; the updated Herbs & Spices encyclopaedia that sits on the shelf right next to our vintage copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for cross-referencing; DK has reference books on all sorts of topics and definitely on most sci-fi franchises that I am aware of - was the large format Doctor Who -The Visual Dictionary. Lots of photos and concise blurbs made the job of explicating Weeping Angels, Cybermen, and just who the hell River Sung is, much easier.
Browsing the dictionary - and it is designed to encourage browsing, one image leads to another to another - it becomes clear just how deftly and intricately the series has mined history, religion and popular culture (particularly horror films) to create the universe in which the characters travel. Queen Victoria is linked to lycanthropy (with a particularly delicious dig at the current royal family), vampiric Krillitanes are a scathing satire on private school teachers, and politicians are portrayed in their true form as the flatulent and predatory Slitheen. Agatha Christie and Vincent Van Gogh even make poignant appearances.
Doctor Who's laissez-faire attitude to sexuality - and yes that includes sex with aliens - is not quite reflected in the dictionary. The Captain Jack Harkness entry notes that, "Used to the free and easy ways of the 51st century, and blessed with natural good looks and winning ways, he put his enormous charm to work as a conman," and explains his origins and motivations but glosses over - actually ignores - his taste for men. To be fair, Doctor Who is frequently coy about sexual matters - children and sci-fi geeks might flee in fear if it progressed much beyond mild titillation - and Captain Jack Harkness' sexuality was not really allowed to flower until Torchwood hit it's stride. Hopefully there is a Torchwood dictionary in the works and it will contain some raunchy bits.
And now we sit watching as much of the marathons as our eyeballs can handle - eight hours of television is hard on anyone - with the reference book on our lap, the entire history of Doctor Who unfolds for the novice, and becomes clearer for the longer-term Whobie. The new Doctor Who may not be as overtly sexy as John Barrowman or as quirkily hot as Matt Smith (though Peter Capaldi does have an intriguing appeal in World War Z and will surely put his own spin on the innately intriguing character) but now we will be up to date on his past. Now if I can only convince DK to send a copy of their Doctor Who Character Encyclopaedia, just for fun, and we can be totally prepared for the 50th anniversary celebrations.
The Doctor Who marathons continue Sundays until Sun, Oct 27 on Space. space.ca.
Doctor Who - The Visual Dictionary is available online or at most book purveyors.