A major anniversary passed yesterday, and I'm not referring to the fortieth anniversary of the death of president Kennedy. This anniversary is of something that has had far more of an impact on me, personally: the fortieth anniversary of the start of the longest running science-fiction television series in the world, Doctor Who.
I realize that I can't claim affection for this science-fiction series and be taken wholly seriously for my political views by my wider audience, but the television show has been a major part of my life, and a major influence on my writing. I met Erin because of Doctor Who. I'd written a Doctor Who story which I posted onto the newsgroups, and Erin, reading it from her console in Geneva, wrote to me to tell me that she liked it. I wrote back, and so began a pen-pal correspondence that bloomed into love 18 months later (the tenth anniversary of that first correspondence is coming up, May 6, 2004). We met face-to-face for the first time at a Doctor Who convention in Chicago, primarily so we could have something else to do should we not hit it off entirely. Turns out, we didn't see too much of the convention.
Before I started Rosemary and Time, I'd written Doctor Who fan fiction for fifteen years. I'd been editor of two fan fiction magazines. I've probably put out about a million words, all for a small but very devoted and kind audience. I've attended conventions, forged friendships and generally had a good time. You can't ask for any better from a television show.
And what a television show. Any way you look at it, it's a landmark. Producing new episodes for twenty-six consecutive years, having the flexibility of format to change lead actors but continue the main character throughout the entire series, featuring a mix of styles from comedy to drama, space opera to historical fiction, cyberpunk to swashbuckling romance, this television series produced some of the best half-hours of BBC television, and that's saying a lot. After going off the air, the series spawned sets of books and audio plays, such that the good Doctor beat out Sherlock Holmes in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fictional character with the most books under his belt (the Doctor now stands at well over 300, including the novelizations of the television episodes).
Doctor Who thrived because it has the simplest of premises: the Doctor is basically a wizard with a magical cabinet that can take himself and a few friends to adventures anywhere in the universe. The Doctor is a fundimentally good man who fights for truth and justice, and who doesn't believe that the ends justify the means (except in cases of emergency). It's a broad canvas, but one which demands a certain amount of integrity. Many writers have appreciated the scope to follow their imagination, coupled with the grounding of a familiar and kindly (if somewhat alien and offbeat) character.
This is what got me into writing in the first place (helped along by the encouragement of my mother, and then by various fellow fans). It's here that I've been able to practise my craft, getting my sentence structures right, establishing plots and characters, while having a selection of established characters within an established universe to work off of whenever I got stuck. Fan fiction can be the training wheels for original fiction if you play your cards right and, as fan fiction universes go, there are few places as wide-open as Doctor Who
Of late, I have not had the time, nor the money, to follow the program through its dozens of new novels and radio plays, but I'm still a member of the fan club DWIN. I'm still working on my last Doctor Who fan project. I'm still touch with my friends. For this reason, I have a TARDIS pin stuck to the lapel of my trenchcoat. It will be there for as long as I wear it.