Doctor Who and Dealing with Change Anxiety

Behold! The Doctor's new companion...

Being a Whovian is quite the novel experience. And it presents a whole different set of anxieties than your typical television cliffhanger might during a hiatus. I bring this up now because the impending exits of Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (and the sooner than we know it exit of Matt Smith) has left me with a new version of Who anxiety, much more excruciating than what I have experienced in my past viewership.

I started watching the rebooted series in December 2010 and the ability to go straight through to “A Christmas Carol” allowed me to process a lot of things, really quickly. (Granted, because I am a crazy person I also insisted on watching Torchwood in the time it would have aired between DW seasons, so sometimes I did have a break from the Doctor). Because of the quick succession of watching, I had to go through the stages of grief between Doctors and companions at warp speed (mainly denial, anger, and bargaining all at once). A brief history:

Toward the end of the first series I started to despair knowing that it was Christopher Eccleston’s only season. Going into the last episodes I continually asked no one in particular “Why…whyyyyy did he have to go? What’s with this next guy and why is he so popular?” At least I had Rose as my proxy on the show, feeling the same confused emotions as the Doctor regenerated. I steeled myself and started “The Christmas Invasion.” And I can point to the exact moment that David Tennant won me over: his humor attempted to convert me throughout the episode but I begrudgingly resisted, until he busted out a quote from The Lion King; I was sold.

Sure, I felt like my heart was ripped from my body at the conclusion of series two, but at least I still had Ten. Without any other companions having the tenure of Rose (aka Martha and Donna, miscellaneous friends from the Specials) the transition of companions became less painful. I instinctively knew that David leaving would most likely kill me, and before I got to “The End of Time,” I indulged in a New Year’s Day marathon on BBC America to “check out” this Matt Smith guy.

It was like culture shock. The title sequence and the logo were different. The theme music, changed. My first impressions of Eleven? Weird. I found myself leaning over to my friend and explaining, “this is weird, he wouldn’t normally do this.” (Although justifying what a time and space traveling alien does or doesn’t do to an uninitiated friend was probably fruitless). This commentary arose from “The Lodger” where the Doctor is portrayed as being completely clueless to a lot of common human behavior. I continually said, “This doesn’t make sense! The Doctor is never this obviously…alien.” But somewhere, deep down in the recesses of my brain, I found this glossy new, extremely alien Doctor intriguing, and not as scary as I pictured a post-Tennant world. Unfortunately I can’t pinpoint when I accepted Matt Smith. He was like a slow poison that infected my heart without my realizing it. As I rewatched the seasons with my roommate, I began to anticipate getting to Eleven because I missed him; I missed the quirkiness, the sudden emotional bursts, his awkwardness. And I easily embraced Rory and Amy, or so it seems now. I think that it helped fifth season started with a new Doctor and new companions.

And this is the climate I have been in for over a solid year. But now, with the casting of Jenna-Louise Coleman, the end of the Amy-Rory regime is palpable. And agonizing. The inevitability is made all the worse by the wait, and the knowledge of when it will occur. It isn’t that I want to stop watching until enough episodes build up to where I can speed through the transition; just that this is the first time in my Doctor Who career that I have experienced the full-on wait for change. Someone on Facebook commented that the cycle is “hating the change, getting used to the change, and being sad when the change changes” and I think that is an apt description of the life of a Doctor Who fan. And if a TV show can make you feel this much trepidation and anticipation during its very long hiatus, then it is doing something right.

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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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