Don't panic, I'm just paying tribute.

One of the joys of the iPad is having a device with ten hours' battery life along on my frequent overseas flights. Earlier this year, I started using that time to catch up on the BBC TV show Doctor Who.

In my youth, I was about as fanatic a Doctor Who fanboy as there ever was: videotaping every episode, owning all the books, going to conventions, memorizing lines. Sadly, I think I could still recite nearly the entirety of the show "The Five Doctors" from 1983. I went off to college and most of that was left behind, about the same time the BBC stopped making new episodes. Doctor Who eventually became a part of my younger days, thus even when the show revived in 2005, I paid little attention.

A few months ago, I asked Facebook friends for recommendations on TV series I could watch during those international travels. While I received some interesting suggestions, the TV show section of iTunes ended up showing me that the modern Doctor Who serials were available for rent. I was suddenly, as the meme would say, sucked back into a time vortex, ready to relive those Sunday nights when I'd stay up late to watch the Doctor on WTTW in Chicago. I muddled through the first revival season with Christopher Eccleston, impressed that the BBC seemed to actually be putting money into the new production. It was great to see that the modern era was being produced by obvious fanboys/girls like myself, true to the original in so many ways, yet inventive as the modern television era would demand.

Watching six years of revived production in the span of several weeks has been a real treat. When Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant, I found myself totally hooked. The production has been excellent, the stories well-thought out and sophisticated, and even the acting and special effects are really good. Has every episode been perfect? Of course not. There have been an awful lot of convenient new plot lines invented, re-opening doors that were supposedly quite clearly closed, and the modern series seems to have a bit too much of a penchant for recurring characters. But these are small quarrels with the first fictional television show I have wanted to watch in years (since "Chuck" went downhill and I got tired of "30 Rock").

I've just started watching the Matt Smith era, and I'm not quite as impressed. The 2010 Christmas special was exceedingly dark, to the point where I simply couldn't finish watching it. The stories seem a bit more disjointed. And watching on BBC America (not available in HD where I live), with its frequent commercial interruptions, is nowhere near as engaging as the iPad rentals have been.

What is so nice about this decade's Doctor Who, though, is that you don't have to figure it out for yourself. There are tons of online resources to help understand each story, not just a loosely-adapted book or a difficult-to-find magazine shipped over from the UK. Wikpedia has entries for every episode, character, plot line, and even rumor related to the show. I even finally learned what the BBC Proms are.

The question I haven't yet been willing to confront myself with is whether I go literally back in time. I don't think I ever saw much of the Sylvester McCoy era. My adult mind would certainly enjoy any of the other 25+ seasons from the previous generations of Doctor Who as well, from contributors like Douglas Adams and Robert Holmes. I haven't looked that hard, but it seems like those older episodes are harder to find on iTunes (or you have to buy them in lots, an expensive habit). While I suspect I could find them in the underworld, I am not sure I want to. See, I know if I go back there, I will really get sucked in.

So on this, my 42nd birthday, I confess I don't know where my scarf is (or my towel). However, I do know that I will have an hour or two set aside today to confront daleks, cybermen, autons, or the Master. The TV show that shaped my youth is still going strong, and I've stopped fighting with my former self about that past enjoyment and brought it forward to today. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and it isn't just how many references I can make in one blog post to sci-fi elements of that past. It's something about life as a continuum, where I personally believe it is important to learn from the past in order to enjoy the future.

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