I remember the very first Dr. Who episode I ever saw. It was in black and white and it was so extremely BBC amateur “these guys need to be employed so give them a nonexistent budget and let them do whatever” kids show stuff that I was instantly hooked.
It wasn’t meant for adults, particularly, although, judging from the scripts, no one at BBC was really paying attention to what the writers were doing, so there was a lot of hilariously adult stuff going on.
It became a cult hit in Britain almost from the start, although it didn’t make it to North America until much, much later.
Anyway, we used to watch it on tiny tvs run on sci-fi-like tubes of chemicals with the requisite bunny-ear antennae and some judiciously draped tinfoil, and it was considered really stupid by 90% of the potential audience and utterly amazing by the remaining 10%.
Then, around 1978, they did the same thing with “The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and that got about the same level of North American response.
Most people didn’t get the humour, and they didn’t understand why anyone would watch something that was so obviously cobbled together from plastic rubbish bags, papier-mache, and oversized rubber bands. They were distracted by the grainy cinematography and the echoe-y hollowness of a substandard soundstage. They spotted breaks in continuity and outright script contradictions and were made uncomfortable by the sneaking suspicion that the writers weren’t just laughing at themselves, but at the audience, a little bit, too.
Why would anyone want to watch something so rough? Where was the polish? The easy suspension of disbelief? What was the moral lesson?
It was too much work for most people, but that was the point of the back-lot, no-frills, patchwork silliness. It required the viewer to put some effort into the thing – to really listen to it, to really watch it – and to not take themselves or the shows very seriously.
Like Rocky Horror Picture Show, these were cult things. They were group things, too – I rarely watched HHGtG or Dr. Who alone. You headed to a friend’s place, and watched them with a half-dozen other people. And Rocky Horror Picture Show was literally a public event – it was experienced in costume, in a real theatre, and we threw real rice and every single person in that theatre stood up and danced the damned Time-Warp because otherwise, what was the point?
Now people watch RHPS at home alone and think they “get it”.
Dr. Who? It has been repackaged as a slick Hollywood morality play, and everything is either expensively constructed or meticulously CG’d so as to provide a seamlessly streamed narrative that has no edges or gaps.
I don’t watch the new stuff. There’s no point to doing so because the new stuff has no relationship to what made the originals so engaging and so addictive. The only reasons most of people now are strung out on Dr. Who is because it is fashionable and trendy to be so, and also because the desertification of tv through reality shows has made even the thin thread of amusing narrative left in these things seem like oases.
I couldn’t find a full original Dr. Who from 1963, but HHGtG can be found on Youtube, and you should watch it. It’s a lot funnier, a lot more interesting, and ultimately satisfying than any updated, smoothly-paced, multi-million dollar version with recognizable and bankable “names” can ever be.
But find five or six friends to be with when you do this. Trust me. It’s a community thing.