Wednesday, December 18, 2013
There is, You Know, Surprisingly, Always Hope: An Open Letter to Matt Smith
I have a Doctor Who blog. I'm known now for my love of Doctor Who. I wish I could say that I grew up on this show, because you'd think I did based on my fervent love of this television show. Sadly, it's a relatively new obsession.
Let me explain: I've always been a nerd. First it was Star Trek in grade school. Then I got into Star Wars in junior high around the time that the movies were re-released in theaters in the 1990s. Then The X-Files in early high school. I became obsessed with Kevin Smith movies in late high school, which is kind of a meta-nerdism, as it's being a nerd about things that are about nerds. But his works still create an interconnected Universe that you can follow. In college, my girlfriend got me into Lord of the Rings, and subsequently Harry Potter. In all of these, the appeal was that there was a large, interconnected Universe that I could explore and imagine. The more there was that was available to be learned within that Universe, the more fascinating it was. I loved finding connections and bizarre, obscure facts.
Frankly, anything that offered me a large amount to explore and learn from appealed to me. Rock music was the same way, too. I became a particularly big fan of punk rock, as you seem to be yourself judging by the t-shirts I see you wearing in interviews. Punk is a much wider and more complicated genre than people think. There are different types of punk, from crust punk to pop-punk, and various off-shoots from post-punk to alternative rock. Punk is the basic DNA of all rock music since the 1980s, and I spent countless hours of my life deconstructing that double-helix to look at what it's made of.
In 2007, my mother died very suddenly of lung cancer. It's the most tragic event in my life, and by far the one that most defines my adult life. People who know me know how hard this hit me. I was a momma's boy, plain and simple, and I lost my mom. The world was suddenly less predictable than I previously thought it to be. It was chaotic and painful, not orderly and kind.
Suddenly, many of my passions died away. I didn't want to dig through large Universes of fantasy and science-fiction. I didn't want to listen to music because it left me in my own head too much. I started listening to sports radio and podcasts because I prefered it to any form of music. The basic, primal love of music that had driven me since I was very young had disappeared. All music started to sound boring to me. Even punk. The world was dark and grey and dull and it was something I just walked through with little joy.
After my mother died, the first times I started to get excited about sci-fi or fantasy again were when I stumbled Johnny-come-lately into two major nerd fandoms. The first was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A great show, I poured through its 7 seasons quickly, finding much to relate to in the tales of loss and sorrow, as well as the redemption of characters coming from places of darkness and regret. But with only 7 seasons to sift through, all of which had already aired, I found myself making very quick work of Buffy. I couldn't find the intense joy I used to find from reading the Star Trek Encyclopedia or the expanded universe novels of Star Wars.
I turned to an ex-girlfriend for suggestions. My college girlfriend, who I now spoke to very rarely, made me some suggestions for good sci-fi. I wanted something that I might be able to find that joy and passion in again. Something that could light the fire I once had for science fiction and fantasy. She made me two recommendations: Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. The former I tried and found dull. Years later, I'd give it another try and enjoyed it, but wasn't thrilled by it, and I found the finale utterly stupid. Doctor Who, on the other hand, was just what I was looking for.
This was just before you started as the Doctor, but after you had already been cast. Most of David Tennant's episodes had been released. I started with Eccleston's episodes, which I found silly at first, but which I grew to appreciate more as I worked my way through that first season. Tennant, on the other hand, was a Doctor I could really grow to love.
Confidence has never been my strong suit. But, like many men, I've always looked for inspiration in male characters who possess the confidence I often lack. I think this is the real reason that men gravitate towards action heroes and superheroes. It's not that they are big and strong, but that they are confident. It's why less action-oriented characters, like Sherlock Holmes, sometimes draw the same sort of obsession and fandom. More than strength, I think men value decisiveness, self-assuredness, and the ability to make quick decisions. The Doctor--and, in particular, David Tennant's Doctor--demonstrates that sort of strength without ever needing to throw a punch. The Doctor is the pacifist action hero.
But where Tennant sold me on the show, you're the one that made me fall in love. You were the first Doctor that I got to watch starting from the first episode, in real time. I watched "The Eleventh Hour" the day it came out, where I had watched most of the other episodes much later than they were released. Where Tennant's Doctor was as cool as a cucumber, yours was awkward, uncomfortable, and often missed social cues. My girlfriend, recently, has suggested that I might actually have a mild form of Aspergers that has never been diagnosed, especially in that I sometimes find myself saying things that I think are perfectly kind and polite that other people are offended by. Perhaps this is why I so relate to the 11th Doctor. If the 11th Doctor doesn't have Aspergers, then nobody does.
But where the 11th Doctor struggles in social situations, he has as much confidence as any other Doctor when it matters. No, he doesn't know the first thing about talking to women, but when facing down a legion of Daleks, he won't even flinch. This is nerd empowerment at its finest. It makes some of the geekier amongst us feel like, maybe, in a clinch, we might be as brave and as confident as the Doctor. And, just like Tennant's Doctor, the 11th Doctor never needs to throw a punch. "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."
Your Doctor lit the flame in me that made Doctor Who my new obsession. I went back and watched every episode of the classic series that still survives, as well as the reconstructions of all the lost episodes. Every Doctor, every actor, every companion, every villain, every episode. I've seen them all, Matt, and it was because of the love of the show that you triggered in me when I first saw you climb out of the TARDIS.
It was the first time, since my mom's death, that I found something like this that brought me so much joy. It was a level of joy I didn't think I would ever find again. The grey world I used to trudge through now had as many colors as Colin Baker's hideous coat. I can't say that I don't still struggle with depression, but there's a brightness in my mind and imagination that was lit by the Doctor. The Doctor has seen darker days than I ever have, but he still assures those around him that "there is, you know, surprisingly always hope."
There is hope, Matt. There is always hope. And it's in the joy that you've brought to the hearts of millions of people of all ages around the world. When you leave the show, I'll continue to watch, because I've fallen in love with the character of the Doctor at his very core. Even my least favorite incarnations, William Hartnell and Christopher Eccleston, are still part of my great hero, the Doctor. And it's all thanks to you. But, while I'm sure I'll love Peter Capaldi, and all the incarnations that come after him, you will always be my Doctor, Matt. And I thank you so much for that.