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Doctor Who And The Cover Of Death

July 29th, 2012

Last week, something rather extraordinary arrived in my mailbox: the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, sporting a cover solely devoted to Doctor Who. According to the press, it was notable for being the first time that EW had so recognized a British TV series. But for me, it was more remarkable than that. I believe that it may have been the first time that Doctor Who took the cover of any general audience American magazine.*

If Doctor Who is still a cult show in America, it is far more mainstream now than ever before. Not even the late ’70s wave of Tom Baker mania can compare.

I became a fan during the early ’70s, when some of Jon Pertwee’s episodes briefly aired on PBS stations such as Chicago’s WTTW. Back then, Doctor Who wasn’t a cult, it was more of a secret society. Information about it was scarce. My only points of reference were a couple of rambling Famous Monsters of Filmland articles and a handful of off-hand mentions in my collection of sci-fi books.

A few years later, the Target novelizations inexplicably cropped up at my local Waldenbooks, but even then it was hard to piece together a coherent history of the show. The stories were randomly chosen for adaptation, so one might jump from a 2nd Doctor story to one featuring the unknown-in-America 4th Doctor.

It was all tremendously mysterious. That was perhaps part of the fun.

Recently, my coworker’s teenage daughter expressed an interest in Doctor Who, and naturally I did everything I could to encourage her.** She binge-watched the entire modern show, and is now taking a second pass with her two sisters, both of whom are also hooked. I could not be happier about this.

She has a huge advantage in that there’s now an entire World Wide Web built to service geeky obsessions. Every aspect of Doctor Who has been exposed, diced and flayed.

Yet there’s still room for surprise. Her mom took the two of us to lunch to talk about the show, and I mentioned in passing something about the Doctor having stolen his beloved TARDIS. She perked up; she hadn’t known that! That moment of delight–and my own part in it–is something I will treasure.

*I may have overlooked a TV Guide or such. Drop me an e-mail if you know of a mainstream U.S. magazine–not a niche publication like Starlog–that gave over its full cover to Doctor Who.

**I initially warned her away from the classic show. As much as I still love the old stories, I believe that modern audiences might be put off by the pacing and production values. She since has expressed an interest in at least sampling the earlier Doctors. I bought her a copy of the book Doctor Who: 100 Scariest Monsters, and wrote her a list of recommendations. Well, more of an essay than a list. But it was only three pages.

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