Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Joseph Scrimshaw. I’m a comedian and writer born in the age when human beings were taught everything they know by the television box. I would like to introduce you to my favorite show from the television box–exactly as it was introduced to me.
Imagine, one day, your older brother tells you some guy at school says there’s this British science fiction show on every Friday and Saturday night on the Sesame Street channel. You had no idea that station even broadcast after 10 AM but you stay up late and tune in. Literally. You have to turn a PHYSICAL dial and adjust AN ANTENNA like you’re a steampunk. Your wrist aches.
Suddenly, the opening theme warbles through your tinny speakers. You watch as monsters outfitted with guns, toilet plungers, and bumps that look like the robot version of an STD outbreak match wits with a charming man whose nose is so large he would not be allowed on American television unless he was playing a serial killer.
What the hell is this?
You watch again on Saturday night and see an entirely different charming man with an entirely different giant nose.
What the hell is this?
You want to look it up on Wikipedia. But Wikipedia doesn’t exist yet. So you ask your brother to ask that guy he knows at school. Which, when you think about it, isn’t that different from looking it up on Wikipedia.
On Monday, you finally get the download. The show is called Doctor Who. The plunger monsters are Daleks and the charming men with the giant noses are The Doctor. He’s played by different actors because instead of dying like a boring American hero, he regenerates. (You briefly think James Bond might also be a Time Lord. Sadly, he is not.) The Doctor flies through time and space in a blue box because that seemed like a good idea to someone in 1963 and it never changed because, dammit, they like it that way. And so do you.
Your life is now changed. Every kid you know likes Star Wars and Super Heroes. But this…this is a low-budget, sometimes blatantly educational show featuring women whose breasts are often fully covered and a protagonist who actively tries to prevent cool military guys from blowing crap up. You will not be playing Doctor Who on the playground. As a more pessimistic Obi-Wan Kenobi might say, “you have taken your first step into a much smaller world.”
And I took that step. I flew off the cliff like a lemming with mild astigmatism.
I convinced my pals at school to give the show a try. They returned with this actual quote: “That show is so stupid, watching it will probably give you AIDS.” It was a bit of a rough school (with an obviously poor sex ed program), but the kids were cool. I had always been a little weird, a little artsy but the kids at this school liked and/or tolerated me. Then we moved to a different neighborhood with fancier schools. Against my will, I was forced to regenerate.
At the new school I was treated as a full-blown geeky loser. We had a reading period every day. The other kids brought sports magazines. They looked at the pictures and occasionally sounded out the captions. I brought novelizations of obscure Doctor Who episodes carefully wrapped in plastic comic book bags so the corners of the book wouldn’t get bent. The bullies were so hyper sensitive to people being different the fact that I could even spell PBS would have enraged them. But a British science fiction book in a plastic bag? That was like an attack on Middle America.
Against all normal instincts of self-preservation, I persisted in my Doctor Who love. When Halloween rolled around I dressed up as The Doctor’s archenemy: The Master, an evil genius clad in ominous dark robes and gloves. The best I could do was faded black jeans, a black short sleeve shirt, and one sparkly white Michael Jackson glove. I spent the day repeating The Master’s catchphrase: “I am the Master and you will obey me.” In retrospect, telling prepubescent girls to obey me was a little creepy. But, I digress.
My conflict with the bullies culminated during a field trip to the State Capitol. While standing in line, one of the bullies entertained himself with the stupidest of all bullying techniques– the tapping game.
He would tap me on the shoulder.
I would turn around.
He would look the other way.
It was as if he were preparing himself for the monotonous factory job he no doubt holds today.
I had resisted getting into a physical fight all year because I wanted to be a pacifist like The Doctor.
The Doctor would try to talk it out.
I had tried, but it didn’t work.
I admired The Doctor for his kindness and his empathy.
But I also admired his willingness to fight.
The only thing bigger than The Doctor’s nose was his brass fucking Time Lord balls.
I whirled around and punched the bully in the face. He punched me in the gut, I tried to knee him in the groin, and the teacher pulled us apart. He, of course, mocked me for the rest of the year but never within punching range. And if I turned around and stared at him fast enough, sometimes he would flinch. I had triumphed the way The Doctor so often did: with just enough justifiable violence to hang on to the pacifist cred.
The next year I went to a different school and regenerated back into an artsy kid who was just kind of weird.
For better or worse, Doctor Who helped make me the man-child I am today. The show reminded me to value intelligence, creativity, poor fashion choices, and absolute pig-headed defiant individuality. Over the years, I internalized my own inner Doctor Who novelization, and lovingly wrapped it in plastic so the corners don’t get bent. And if there were an inscription on the inside cover it would read:
I am Joseph Scrimshaw. I am my master and I will obey me.
A version of this story is also available in my book COMEDY OF DOOM.
Thanks for reading.