“You may be a doctor. But I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.”
Andi was, and always will be, my oldest friend, even though cancer caused a parting of our ways on August 16th, 1997. She would say we knew each other from birth. This may sound like an exaggeration, but our parents knew each other before we were born, so even though I was a little more than a year older neither one of us could say exactly when it was that we first met. And I accept it because Andi was funnier, smarter, and always had the last word no matter how much we argued. And we argued a lot. Because our parents got together several times a week and because we were so close in age we were often stuck together with no one to entertain us but each other, but she was a girl and I was a boy and we’d absorbed the inane notion that our age the opposite gender was the enemy even though neither of us could say why. Over the years we became as close as two friends could be, in spite of, or maybe because of constantly annoying, provoking, and cajoling each other at every opportunity. Years later when we were co-counselors at a day camp the kids we herded around thought this was funny. When one of them asked, “Are you two brother and sister?” we glanced at each other and, in a rare moment of agreement, said, yes, brother and sister is exactly what we were. Andi quickly added that I was adopted. She always had to have the last word.
Andi is also the reason I’m still and always will be a Doctor Who fan. Let’s travel back in time three decades. Our parents were in some other part of the house doing whatever it was they did when they got together on Saturday nights and she and I were in the den. It was a little after nine at night. Saturday Night Live didn’t start for almost an hour and a half. What were we going to do?
“We could watch Doctor Who,” she suggested.
I’d caught glimpses of Doctor Who on PBS as I was flipping through the channels. It always looked stupid and confusing to me with its cheap special effects and a tall goofy guy with curly hair and huge teeth. I always seemed to tune in about three-fourths of the way through a story, though, so picking up what was going on was nearly impossible. Still I agreed because I couldn’t think of anything else. I turned on the TV. The Doctor Who episode was Four To Doomsday, a pretty terrible story, and yet I was fascinated. So was Andi. As the events unspooled, becoming increasingly ridiculous-don’t get me started on the Doctor throwing a cricket ball in space-we were transformed into hardcore Doctor Who fans. Peter Davison’s Doctor was friendly and approachable; for a quarter of a century he’d hold the record for the youngest actor to play the Doctor, although I think it was the Doctor’s strong desire to save the world and willingness to stick it out even when escape would be easy that appealed to us.
We became really big fans. I subscribed to two Doctor Who publications: the official Doctor Who Magazine and the fan-created Whovian Times and shared the issues with Andi. We went to local conventions where, while I was getting his autograph, Colin Baker made fun of me for wearing a Star Trek t-shirt. We’d also meet Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee. When our parents punished us by keeping us away from the TV on Saturday night we taped the episodes for each other. We also traded Doctor Who books, novelizations of stories from the series-or at least we did until I built up the complete collection of more than a hundred titles, in addition to some big hardbacks about the show like Doctor Who, A Celebration, a book published to commemorate the series’ 20th anniversary. I also had a complete set of Marvel’s Doctor Who comics.
I sold all of those things–the books, the magazine issues, the comics–in the late summer of 2016. They’d been stuck in a box in the attic for years and while I was still a Doctor Who fan it seemed like a good time to let them go. I took them to The Great Escape, the same comic and memorabilia store where I’d bought most of my Doctor Who stuff all those years ago. I got rid of them because I wanted someone else to have and enjoy them.
I’m glad I let them go then and not now because, even though my reasons wouldn’t be any different, context matters. I’m still a Doctor Who fan, and I’m excited that the BBC has just announced the first ever female Doctor. Well, second, if you count Joanna Lumley, but only if you want to argue about whether Doctor Who: Curse Of The Fatal Death is canon. Some are turned off by the fact that a woman is finally taking the lead. For me as long as the Doctor is still the Doctor at hearts that’s all that matters, but I also think it’s about time.
The Doctor becoming a woman has seemed like a very real possibility ever since The Master became Missy, but this is not the first time the idea of the Doctor becoming a woman has come up. In fact it’s an idea that goes back at least as far as when Sylvester McCoy was still stuffing ferrets down his trousers. It’s worth noting that Doctor Who’s first producer was a woman. If Verity Lambert hadn’t been guiding the TARDIS from behind the scenes the show might not have made it past more than a few episodes, an early ‘60’s curiosity erased from memory and the BBC archives. In 1986 the show’s creator, Sidney Newman, called for a woman to play the Doctor. Around that same time Doctor Who Magazine reported a rumor that Patricia Quinn might be taking over the TARDIS controls. Even then the idea of the Doctor being played by a woman, and the idea of the worlds of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Doctor Who colliding gave me some terrible thrills, but that’s another story. It’s even possible that Doctor Who is influenced by Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, about a young man who wanders through four centuries of history, becoming a young woman along the way. The idea of the Doctor being played by a woman has always spurred furious debate among fans, but whenever Andi and I thought about the possibility it was another one of those rare times we didn’t argue. We both thought, why not?
The Doctor Who roleplaying game—which I also had and sold with the books, magazines, and comics–was another way Andi and I immersed ourselves in the Whoniverse. I usually acted as Gamemaster while Andi was Androveritagenerorlandolipolis, distant relative of Romana, and generally known to friends and enemies alike as Andris, a brilliant, fierce, argumentative, strongly independent Time Lord–in other words, Andi, if she’d been born on Gallifrey–who traveled the universe in jeans, sandals, and a t-shirt that read, “I Still Love My Late Uncle Borusa”. We quibbled a little over whether she was a Time Lord or a Time Lady, but neither one of us cared that much about semantics when there were Daleks to be defeated, Cybermen to be stopped, Ice Warriors on Mars, and an infinite universe to explore.
The game, or just general talks about Doctor Who, sometimes led to longer discussions about life, about what we wanted, what we feared. What started as an escape from scary reality became a way to sneak up on it and surprise each other with what we shared. Andi and I both thought about being writers. She also considered a career in acting, and in the ministry. I could say Andi had some of the Doctor’s best qualities: a strong sense of right and wrong, a strong desire to help others, and an occasionally prickly personality. And if I could go back in time and ask Andi if she thought I shared any of the Doctor’s best qualities she’d roll her eyes and say, “You wish.”
I still have a poetry chapbook Andi wrote, called Blood Lines, and sometimes when I think about her I pull it out and read “A Hairy Lullabye”, a poem that begins:
“Close your eyes my pretty darling,
Or three of them at least.”
My humming is in tune with
And goes on,
You know? I should hate you, but you’re such a big part of my life
Andi really would hate me if I didn’t admit that one of the things we would still argue about year later was who first suggested Doctor Who. She remembered that long ago Saturday night very differently. According to her I was the one who said, “We could watch Doctor Who.”
I’ll argue that my version of events is the correct one, but even without time travel she still gets the last word.