This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.
People say “you never forget your first Doctor,” and I’m sure they’re right—I wasn’t even five years old when I met my first Doctor. I do mean “met.” When you’re that young, the people in your television are your friends and teachers, and the Third Doctor taught me a lot. But he wasn’t my Doctor. Neither was the Fourth, or the Fifth (although I did spend a few years with a massive crush on Peter Davidson).
Number Seven, on the other hand…that was my Doctor. If I wasn’t sure from the moment he stepped onto the screen, I knew it when I saw “Battlefield.” He was Merlin. He traveled with a teenage girl who was like the teenage girls I knew—Ace, whom I desperately wanted to grow up to be—and he kept secrets and he knew stories, and he was my Doctor.
I’ve always had a thing for Trickster figures, and while the argument can be made for Doctor Who as a modern and abiding Trickster archetype, we didn’t get the darker side of the Trickster until Seven. Not only that, it was presented as a good, if ruthless, thing. He was willing to sacrifice allies and enemies alike to achieve his goals, and while he might be sorry, he wouldn’t let that change his actions.
It helped that Ace was the first companion I really identified with. She was frustrated, angry, smarter than anyone wanted to let her be, and just wanted to have some adventures and figure herself out. The Companions are ostensibly there to give us an entryway to the Doctor’s vast, confusing world, a hand to hold while this eternal madman shows us the stars. Well, if Seven was my Doctor, Ace was my Companion, and I have never stopped being grateful to either of them.
The Seventh Doctor’s tenure was marked by a deepening darkness, an increasing feeling of “this shit is getting real.” Listening to the descriptions of the stories that were never filmed, I can’t help feeling that the dark would have gotten a lot deeper before the dawn. Without Seven and his demonstration that Doctor Who can survive a little shadow, our “modern Doctors” might never have existed.
Watching Doctor Who in the United States meant I was always behind the times—PBS didn’t get new episodes until two years after they ran, and I was aware of the show’s cancellation before the characters themselves knew, at least in my corner of the world. I cried while I watched the end of “Survival,” because I was only thirteen, but I understood that some things, like cancellation, are forever.
The Seventh Doctor was my Doctor, and I will never forget him. I love Eleven—he’s the Doctor I’ve been waiting for since Sylvester McCoy walked down the Perivale road, telling his brave Companion about all the adventures yet to come—but he’s not my Doctor.
That position has already been filled.
“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace. We’ve got work to do.”—Andrew Cartmel, “Survival.”
Seanan McGuire’s novels include the urban fantasies Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, and An Artificial Night, all from DAW, and (under the byline Mira Grant) the postapocalyptic thriller Feed, published by Orbit. She is also a well-known filksinger whose albums include Stars Fall Home, Red Roses and Dead Things, and Wicked Girls. In 2010 she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her essay “Mathematical Excellence: A Documentary,” appears in the essay collection Chicks Dig Time Lords.