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Sunday, October 12, 2014

That time my grandfather liked 'Doctor Who.'

I've been into Doctor Who since 1999, starting with the TV movie and working backwards through what scant episodes my then-boyfriend had recorded from his local PBS affiliate. I listened to Big Finish in the intervening times, and when the show came back in 2005 I used any means necessary to watch every week. In my time I've recruited fans (directly or inadvertently), and for the last year and a half or so I've watched every week with my uncle and aunt.

But there is one person I've never been able to get to touch it, old or new, no matter who the Doctor was -- my grandfather. Now my grandfather is an 87-year-old engineer who worked with NASA during the Viking missions and quite a bit before and after. He'll watch just about anything with me simply so we have something in common. But the rare times I'd tried to get him to do a bit of Who -- nope. Not at all. He'd watch, and sometimes he'll admit to catching the tail-ends of episodes, but he just can't be doing with it. 'Too scary,' he says, generally with something tacked on about how the entire British artistic and literary aesthetic is built on scaring children. 'The Doctor has a weird face,' he says of pretty much anyone who isn't Eccleston. He'll tolerate Eccleston. 'Paced too fast,' he says ... well ... not wrongly as of Series 7.

Honestly, I gave up. There's no point in forcing what's meant to be escapism on anyone who doesn't want it, much less an engineer in his 80s who knows by now what he likes. But during the lead-up to Series 8, I'd pop over to watch the different specials on BBC America. My grandfather would watch with me, asking who the actors were, if they're big movie stars now, whether they get their income primarily from conventions anymore ... and then when Peter Capaldi showed up onscreen in an interview ... he went dead silent. And just watched.

That had never happened before.

When 'Deep Breath' rolled around, my uncle and aunt and I were all excited to meet this new Doctor. What we weren't expecting was exactly how damn much like my grandfather he is. Partly by way of how he thinks, partly by way of how he deals with people, but I mean even down to things he says (ask my grandfather any technical question, and he'll invariably come back with 'That's not the question you should be asking'). I thought, Hey, he actually might like this guy. But I didn't force it.

Then the following week, at the end of 'Into the Dalek,' the trailer for 'Robot of Sherwood' popped up. And my uncle and I turned to each other with the same thought: Charlie would love this. We'd watch Errol Flynn movies together when I was little, and even now he lives for anything even remotely swashbuckle-y. And while there were serious elements, it was definitely a Gatiss romp.

We tried giving him a call to switch on BBC America, but he fell asleep before the episode started. A few days later I still couldn't get it out of my head. I called him up.

'Hey, I know you missed that Doctor Who last weekend, but are you interested? It's got Robin Hood and I think you'll like the new Doctor.' I was ready for a diplomatic rejection, but was told to go ahead and bring it over.

I gave him a speedy run-down of what had happened since the bow-tie kid with the weird face had left and started up the video. As before, questions and requests for clarifications were not forthcoming. He just watched. Then the spoon fight happened.


He said one thing: 'Oh, Kara, this is just ridiculous.' But he said it with a huge smile. He laughed at the funny things, focused on dramatic things, and at the end he said, 'Well, I really enjoyed that. Is that what Doctor Who is like now?'

I wasn't sure whether to explain that it changes genre every episode, or that deep down it's never truly changed and there are still scary monsters, but I thought about it for a minute and ...

'Yes. That's what it's like now.'

As much as I've always loved Doctor Who, I have to admit that it's changed this year, and for the better. I think the new Doctor was the sort of refresher it needed, yes, but a lot of things -- the pacing, the change in tone, the more cinematic approach -- must have been separate conscious decisions. And ... yeah. It's different. I've tried to explain to my grandfather that it's really more of an adventure serial like the ones he used to watch back in the day, but this series I really feel like it's a lot closer to actually being that.

Moreover, this is the first time in ages that he and I have sat down side-by-side and enjoyed a show together equally. And that means so, so much to me.

He's said he wouldn't mind seeing more of the Twelfth Doctor but I've not pressed the issue. Tempting to let him peek at 'Time Heist,' though. He does love a good caper.