Who Boy

So Saturday night was the final evening of the latest series of Doctor Who.

First off, I have a confession to make: I never really watched Doctor Who before. I saw a few episodes, I knew what a Dalek was, but television in Trinidad didn't really understand the concept of schedules and seasons when I was growing up, so seeing the same show at the same time two weeks in a row was considered pretty good going, and two-parters were basically the kiss of death because you knew you'd never see the second part. So although I knew it was a show with a lot of geek cred, I didn't know why. But now I do.

Doctor Who is often described as science fiction. But it's not really. Science plays a cursory and frequently ignored role (the show's main premise, time travel, is probably impossible, and it all goes downhill from there as far as plausability goes). What Doctor Who really is, I submit, is a comic book.

Comic books are all about cool powers that are introduced without explanation, then hastily back-filled with pseudoscience explanations. They are all about sudden danger, cliffhanger endings, star-crossed romances, mysterious villains and the big reveal at the end. They love beautiful set-piece exterior shots, then ignore the backgrounds while the plot unfolds until the big fight scene, when suddenly everything leaps from partial outlines and shadows into full-colour glory. And that's exactly what an episode -- every episode -- of this season's Doctor has been like.

The other characteristic that is the hallmark of the comic book is an obsession with history and continuity. Comic book fans love knowing the back-story: X-men is full of long-running sub-plots like Rogue and Gambit, Wolverine and Jean Grey, and Professor Xavier's mysterious past and surprisingly numerous offspring. These plots are told and retold hundreds of times in new incarnations, with the details different, the venues different, the costumes and ages different. But they keep coming back. Villains thought long-dead return, reborn or as their children. Old rivals team up in commmon cause, old friends defect and become mortal enemies, but the whole cast is always there. Every character has a back-story as long as your arm, a mysterious past that can be stretched out (in the case of Wolverine) into an entire series of books of its own. Sound like any series you know?

Doctor Who himself repeatedly dies and is reborn, with a different character, a different costume. His arch-nemeses, the Daleks, are endlessly defeated in vast and complicated plots, only to return by million-to-one chances, only hundreds of times more powerful than before (it's a rule in comic books that every bad guy is at least twice as dangerous as his previous incarnation until their ascendancy is a world-shattering event, at which point they are "finally defeated", to come back with much-reduced powers the next time around. Cf: Daleks, Magneto, Doom, Bane, etc.). New characters are rarely introduced for a single show (as is the rule in Star Trek) but instead are introduced, then explored and developed: Captain Jack Harkness and the Slitheen both came back, just from this series, and I have no doubt we will see them both again plus many more old favourites (Cybermen being among the most strongly rumoured).

And as for that final episode? Well, if that wasn't the Phoenix then I don't know anything about comic books. She absorbed a cosmic force, she spewed fire and she defeated all enemies in a massive and nearly all-consuming burst of power. She might as well have worn spandex it was so obvious. But for all that, it was wonderful: the reason the Phoenix subplot has been retold so many times in X-men is that it's a wonderful story, a beautiful and exciting one to tell, and with a lot of potential (a Doctor's Companion who is occasionally more powerful than the Doctor is certainly a very different take on the mythology).

I love comic books, and I love Doctor Who. And I can't wait for more.