Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Goodbye, Elizabeth Sladen

I was sad to hear just minutes ago that Elizabeth Sladen, who played Doctor Who's Sarah Jane Smith for a time spanning 38 years. So, so sad.

Having just reflected on the impact Doctor Who had on my childhood an hour ago, I'd be remiss to not remark on the impact she had on the show and on my life. Farewell, and you'll be missed.

Me and Doctor Who - a history

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this year's premiere of Doctor Who. I think more excited than I ever have been since the show returned in 2005. And that's on the heels of last year, which I was pretty damn excited for.

But anything I can say about what I'm looking forward to has been said elsewhere. So other than noting that I am absolutely loving the bold new direction that Steven Moffat has pointed the show, and that from the little bits I've heard of what is to come (I've tried to shield myself from too many spoilers) we're in for an amazing journey this year, we'll leave it at that.

Can I just say that eight-year-old me couldn't be happier about the state of Doctor Who?

You see, I grew up with the show. I remember discovering the show early on in grade school (maybe 6 or 7 years old). And being a child Doctor Who fan in the United States in the eighties and nineties was a depressing experience. In Salt Lake, Doctor Who aired each evening at 5:00 on the local PBS channel (later, it was moved to Saturday night), and no one else I knew watched it. My friends, who were all Star Wars fans, had action figures and lunchboxes and books and pop cultural references to their favorite property. I had, well, a battered library-clearance-sale novelization of "The Five Doctors" and a tire pressure gauge that made a reasonable stand in for the sonic screwdriver. I was the 4th Doctor for Halloween one year, and absolutely no one knew who I was (I remember one kid being impressed with my "homeless guy" costume). Still I was getting to see the occasional brand-new episode just a few months after they aired in the UK for a while... and then when I was 9, the show was over.

In 1996, I was so excited when I heard that the BBC and Fox were collaborating on a revived series to air in the US right along side the X-Files. They were airing the pilot as a movie, and I couldn't wait! Then I saw it. I was crestfallen: It was crap. Even by mid-nineties Fox sci-fi shows standards. (I've rewatched it recently and it's not near as bad as I remembered, but it's still not, you know, good.) I still clung to the idea that the series would be picked up, but alas, it was not to be. Soon, the classic series stopped airing on the PBS affiliate, and it looked like all I had of my favorite show was my memories.

And then in 2005, the revived series returned to BBC screens and became a massive hit. Now, Who merchandise is readily available, from action figures of even third-tier forgettable characters (like Star Wars kid of yore had) to more adult-friendly (not in that way... without a little jiggery-pokery) goodies like a TARDIS USB-hub and a sonic screwdriver that works as a real screwdriver (to go along with my old tire gauge).

1988 me is awfully jealous of 2011 me.