A long holiday is more than a few days off, it’s a trip back through time. Reconnecting with family and friends drops us back into conversations and simple glints in the eye that send us back to who we were long ago. To our parents, we will always be the child they lovingly shielded from the darkness or spent hours crafting a perfect holiday for. To our childhood friends we are still the kids who had small adventures together. The traditions that set the scene for all this are as varied as our lives, but they often involve rituals around a television watching a holiday special or sports.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, it’s just what most of us do.
This last weekend I was able to re-connect with an old tradition of my own family through the family of the love of my life, Liz. We spent at least some of the time watching Dr. Who on BBC America. If you are not familiar with this particular show it will take some time to explain. Having been on most of the last 47 years, it’s about a Time Lord, known as the Doctor, who is a master of all the dimensions of time and space. He has stolen a spacecraft that looks like a simple police box – an early public telephone – but is much bigger on the inside than the outside. In it he can travel through all time and space, setting things right in a very British way.
The show went off the air in 1991, but was revived in 2005. I hadn’t seen very much of the new show until this weekend. For the first time ever, the Christmas Special was aired in North America on the same night it was in the UK. It was simply brilliant.
So far 11 different people have played the Doctor, each one with a different personality. I very much like the antics of the new one, Matt Smith, whose sense of fun is joyous.
Why did this become a tradition? The show has nearly unlimited possibilities because the Doctor can travel anywhere. But what anchors the show is the humanity of it, the love of life and the sense that there is a fabric of the universe which cradles us all as we live our lives. All the possibilities of the universe are within us. It is a message of hope and peace that settles into this time of year like a good Christmas snow.
The new show is quite different from the old one. The Doctor is quick to action and much more in tune with the ordinary workers and servants when he arrives in a new time and place. The basis message is that we should never stop fighting for what is true and good, and that we should savor every moment of our lives. It is Sci-Fi with a soul.
What struck me about this new show after watching far too much of it on DVD is both the deep tradition that it pulls from and the subtle changes that make it fresh. I could not help but feel that the UK itself has a different spirit, a post-Imperial inward look that finds goodness amid difficulty and strength in diversity. It may be ridiculous to read that much into one teevee show, I realize. But the show itself is less about putting the universe right and much more about the value of each ordinary person doing their bit.
In short, it’s possible that after 2000 years of battling Romans and Saxons and the English amalgam that came from them, the Celts have finally taken back Britain. Who says we don’t have long memories and a deep commitment to the fight?
Backing up a bit from that nonsense, it is a great show that makes for a tremendous tradition, something critical for a it to work at all. Once the audience knows the Doctor and how things go down there is no need to explain a whirlwind of details cast from the turbulence of travel through space and time. There is only action and the tremendous possibilities of life, wherever they may be.
It may not seem like a holiday tradition to many of my readers, but it is for my family. In the middle of winter darkness there is the spark of imagination that keeps hope alive and the excitement of a new year fresh. What could possibly be more in the spirit of the holiday? This year, the BBC gave it to us live for the first time, too.
Thanks, Beeb, it was a very nice Christmas present.