At this late hour of interminable sleeplessness, I cannot help but consider that this facet of my being has been with me since my earliest remembrance; and in no small part has impacted various habits and interests…
…one that has surfaced to my recent recollection, in particular, is a certain television program which happened to come on rather late at nights: Doctor Who
As my youth was some years before the modern day reality of twenty-four hour news and infomercials (not to mention that my parents rarely subscribed to cable television), the only channel that I could get in the wee hours of the night was Public Broadcasting.
In retrospect, it seems that my local PBS scheduled most of their zany British programming for those bleak time-slots.
On a side note, I would have much rather read books or wandered around my neighborhood during those insomniatic nights – but my parents were dead set against the latter (though I sometimes I would still sneak out anyway) and my younger brother complained that he couldn`t sleep if I kept the lamp on to read, though somehow the 13-inch black & white television in our room being on never disturbed him.
So, more often than not, I was stuck watching strange British television shows on PBS at two in the morning. Monty Python`s Flying Circus… Fawlty Towers… The Young Ones… Last of the Summer Wine… and, of course, Doctor Who – specifically the “4th Doctor” portrayed by Irish actor Tom Baker.
Doctor Who captured my imagination in a way that was significantly different from that of just about any other sort of program to which I subjected my mind`s faculties.
It was not pure Science Fiction escapism like Star Trek and the like, as it often interacted with historical events or scientific innovation. Neither was it merely a bunch of slapstick buffoonery, though it had a subtle wit that went beyond the bleary “Take my wife, please!” fatuousness of American sitcoms.
Tom Baker`s incarnation of the “Time Lord” was definitive – he was like some sort of “bohemian” Sherlock Holmes with equal parts Captain Kirk and James Bond, mixed in with fanciful Oxford-bred eccentricity.
In fact, I would credit Doctor Who with having a rather large influence upon my own sense of wry humor and cynical witticism.
During one episode I remember the Doctor complaining of some technological mishap: “The trouble with computers, of course, is that they`re very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed, even if it only causes more problems. In a word, they`re exactly what humans deserve.”
At times, this influence got me into a bit of my own sort of trouble – especially when, in sixth grade, I quipped: “You`re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain,” to a rather bestial eighth-grader at my school.
Suffice to say I was wishing for my own TARDIS immediately thereafter…
Verily, the Doctor`s ability to toss out a droll riposte even in the midst of fierce affliction was more impressive to me than MacGyver’s knack for escaping impossible ensnarements with his Swiss Army knife. On one such occasion I remember the Doctor snapping: “If there`s one thing I can`t stand, it`s being tortured by someone with cold hands,” to his interrogator before finally relenting: “Alright, alright! I confess, I confess! [pause] I confess to your being a bigger idiot than I thought,” giving a snarky grin and escaping his bonds to save the day… usually right around the thirty-minute mark.
Another rhetorical proclivity was the Doctor`s keen ability to state the obvious, in that great tradition of oxymoronic redundancies made popular by Yogi Berra (or Hamlet, if you like) – such phrases as “don`t cross your bridges before they`re hatched,” or “first things first – but not necessarily in that order,” readily come to mind.
One cool rejoinder in particular seems all the more relevant in our present day and age: “I`m a scientist, my dear. I purchase the right to conjecture without being burdened with the expense of responsibility.”
Though the plot was oftentimes quite convoluted and overwrought, it seemed that the writers always found an opportunity to also allow the Doctor to wax philosophic:
“Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible class of creatures. Puny, defenseless bipeds. They`ve survived floods, famines, and plagues. They`ve survived wars and holocausts. Scarcely living longer than a century they are always ready to outsit eternity.
They`re indomitable and, though it may be irrational of me… human beings are quite my favorite species.”
All the same, (aside from the verbal sleight of hand or clever barbs) I think my favorite part of the show was the opening theme – not so much for the uber-cheesy 1980s computer graphics (though they are rather impressive, given the era) but the music. The music is exceedingly original, especially for a relatively low-budget BBC sci-fi television serial.
Moreover, with its overt descendence from the French “musique concrete” of the mid-20th century and the sinusoidal “middle-eight” bridge, it is one of many direct influences upon my own musical ideas and endeavors.
It is a sound much akin to that of both my dreams and my nightmares, as interwoven with the metaphysical landscape of my life as the Ocean.
So now, in remembering, let me close my eyes and sleep… forgetting, if only for a little while.