Do you remember the first time you ever watched Doctor Who?
For me, it was years and years ago. I’m forty-seven now and first stumbled on the show when I was ten or eleven on a family trip to my aunt and uncle’s place in Denver, Colorado. But I remember the experience pretty clearly. My Uncle Lee watched a lot of TV, and he was parked one morning in the family room, watching a strange and mesmerizing British sci-fi show about some sort of half-mad space traveler wrapped up in a scarf that went on for miles. This mysterious traveler had a deep voice and huge, friendly eyes, and his companion was a self-assured and super-intelligent woman in some kind of sailor suit. Her name was Romana, I soon learned. They even had a poor little robot dog that blew up after rolling down a rocky beach into the sea.
What was this strange program? I didn’t ask many questions. My uncle wouldn’t have given them; he didn’t want to be disturbed. I just hunkered down and kept watching. Before I knew it, I was completely absorbed by these benevolent travelers and their adventures on the planet Argolis, which had something to do with alien tourist spots and tachyon technology–whatever that was–and two races of aliens, one with cone-shaped swirls of hair and the other in bulky, rumpled bug costumes.
Then something happened I wasn’t expecting at all. The Argolin recreation booth malfunctioned and the Doctor was ripped apart, arms and legs flying across the screen. An electronic stinger sounded and the curtain fell on the action, end credits scrolling across the screen. What? How was this happening? Doctor Who was the hero, right? The world of TV cliffhangers and multi-part stories was completely new to me except maybe for the time Bobby and Cindy got lost in the Grand Canyon. My uncle shushed me and told me to stay put. I didn’t argue. Like him, I became one with the sofa and watched the whole four-part story, one after the other, while the hours ticked away.
The story was “The Leisure Hive,” which I now know to be the first entry of Season 18, Tom Baker’s last season on the show. (By the way, I can’t wait to get my hands on the Season 18 Blu-Ray release that comes out next week!) But back in the early eighties, I didn’t know anything about regeneration, or Doctors past, present, and future, or the nearly twenty years of episodes that came before this one. Tom Baker was Doctor Who, but only for a short time. My mom and I stayed in town long enough for me to binge one more story with Uncle Lee the following weekend: “Meglos,” with its cactus-skinned Doctor imposter. We flew home to San Francisco and Doctor Who fell off my radar completely for about four more years until I found it once again on KTEH in San Jose, CA. I remember that one, too. “The Gunfighters” with First Doctor William Hartnell.
Here’s the funny thing. This morning I fell into an Internet wormhole trying to figure out when this all happened. Denver, Colorado in the eighties, for starters. I figured I was about ten or eleven. Unfortunately, my parents aren’t around anymore to pin down this trip to Colorado. But bless you, Whovians! You have made this kind of research relatively easy. Do you know about this site? A few Google searches and I dropped into a vast wiki called BroaDWcast, which has pages and pages documenting Doctor Who airdates all over the world.
A few clicks and I learned that the station must have been KRMA, the PBS affiliate in Denver, Colorado. There’s even a grid for Airdates in Denver that shows when each Tom Baker story aired in 1981 and 1982. The summer I was ten years old, “The Leisure Hive” aired on a Sunday morning, July 5, 1981 at 10:00 AM. According to the site, KRMA broadcasted complete Who stories every Sunday morning, which lines up perfectly with my recollection of blasting through all of “The Leisure Hive” in one morning, and also with my sense that I saw a second story in this way a few days later. According to BroaDWcast, “Meglos” aired the following week on Sunday, July 12.
Now I have some certainty. I don’t know why this really matters. Maybe because it confirms my memories, places them in time and space, assigns them precise coordinates, if you will. In fact, if I had a TARDIS, I could go back and tell that kid on the sofa that the adventure was just beginning.
Do you remember your first episode of Doctor Who? Where were you and what were the circumstances? Leave a comment and let me know.