“Change, My Dear…”

In 1978, the local PBS station in Providence, Rhode Island started airing Doctor Who. I don’t remember exactly when I started watching, nor what the first episode I saw was, but to say it was a life-altering experience would not be too much of an exaggeration. Tom Baker was playing the Time Lord at this point and I am very sure that the show instantly became my favorite. This was in the days before VCRs became affordable, but that didn’t deter me from recording the episodes. I would prop up my cassette tape recorder against the TV speaker and record the audio. It took a little experimentation to get the audio levels on the recorder and TV just right, but pretty quickly I was able to listen to the episodes at night in bed. I designated a MEGO S.W.A.T. action figure as the Doctor and had my Mom knit a scarf for him and cannibalized the other figures for appropriate looking clothes and accouterments. I even made a cardboard TARDIS for him. I read about the Doctor’s previous incarnations in various magazines, but never really understood what regeneration really meant until Tom Baker did the unthinkable and left the role. It was difficult to wrap my little kid brain around and I don’t think I coped with it very well, until I finally got to see Peter Davison’s first series. Around that time I was living in North Carolina and the PBS station there started airing the surviving episodes of the first three Doctors. The whole concept of different incarnations and regeneration finally clicked in and made me more of a fan of the show. The Doctor regenerating, while still somewhat sad, was no longer a thing to be scared of, but exciting. Change was good and natural and a doorway to more possibilities. Fans of the show are always talking about their favorite Doctor or their Doctor, which is generally the one who was around when they first started watching. For me, I’ve always been a fan of the character, the incarnations not really being different or distinct, just other facets of the Doctor. I felt that the Doctor, to quote the Brigadier, was “Splendid chaps, all of him.”

The Doctor has always been a positive role model to me, as much as a fictional character can be. He is naturally curious about the universe, never judges anyone based on their looks, always does the right things, champions the little people and, above all, abhors violence. This is a character and show that represents imagination unleashed and that good can always defeat evil.It is constantly changing and evolving, finding new planets and times to visit and new stories to tell. For someone going through the awkward and painful metamorphosis of child to teenager to young adult, it was a good lesson in not being afraid of change, but embracing it. All these things and more are what this show and the the character of the Doctor mean to me. And now, in 2017, we face the prospect of the Doctor changing once again. Will all the different personalities the Doctor has morphed into over the years, this one will be the most radically different as it denotes a more pronounced physical change as well. For the first time ever, the Doctor will regenerate into a female.

Given everything I’ve said about the show so far, and how strongly I identify with it, you may be wondering how much the Doctor changing genders affects my opinion of the series and my outlook on the character. The short answer is…not one bit. Yes, this is the most radical change in the character ever, but it is also the most exciting. But here’s the thing, the Doctor has never been defined by being a man or, more specifically, by not being a woman. I don’t see the character herself changing. The Doctor will still be the compassionate champion of the repressed that she’s always been. Saying that one will view the character differently because she’s physically changed seems rather silly, as we’ve seen the Doctor physically change at least twelve times over the last fifty or so years. She’s still the Doctor, Time’s Champion and the Last of the Time Lords (although, with Gallifrey back, that last one isn’t really true anymore). Anything else is just down to an affectation of acting. I don’t consider the Doctor any less heroic now than when she was portrayed by Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton or Matt Smith. The Doctor is the Doctor as far as I’m concerned and I can’t wait to see what new adventures Jodie Whittaker gets into in the years ahead. The Internet tells me that there are many who vehemently disagree with me. That’s fine and maybe those folks should be OK with skipping the show for a few seasons. After all, Jodie will eventually leave the role and who knows who the Doctor will become then. Or the time after that. The point is, if you have a very defined idea of how the Doctor should be and what kind of stories Doctor Who should tell, and neither of those are how it is right now, just wait and it will all change again at some point. In the meantime, I will paraphrase the quote above and say “Splendid chaps, all of her.”

The Blacklist Star James Spader Sees Red

The Blacklist is already certified as a major hit for the 2013 Fall TV Season. A criminal mastermind, Raymond ďRedĒ Reddington (James Spader) turns himself in to the FBI promising his full cooperation to help them take down the really bad guys, but heíll only work with new profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). The NBC show has been described as a combination of Alias, Silence of the Lambs and maybe a touch of Homeland, but it still manages to bring something new, and fun, to an episodic spy show. Itís an interesting premise with lots of mystery and plot points enough to keep things going for several years.

But what really makes The Blacklist special and almost a guarantee for awards next year is… James Spader. Or as Spader says…

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QUESTION: How did you decide what the look of this particular character would be? Weíre used to seeing you often with a lot of hair so did you decide you wanted the guy to look a certain way like this?

JAMES SPADER: Yes. It sort of worked backwards from one moment, and thatís what I love in that opening sequence when he goes in and surrenders himself, the juxtaposition. I knew the very first thing when I got to New York to shoot the pilot ó I had very long hair, and I knew that they were going to shoot a surveillance photo of Reddington to have on the wall there when he surrenders himself. I thought it would be just a great moment when he surrenders himself, he takes his hat off, and the juxtaposition of the shot of him with long hair and then like this. And I also thought that it would be nice just because actors are burdened with everything else that theyíve done before in any role that theyíre playing, and I thought it would be nice to take off my hat and itís an entirely different person and a very different look to go with that.

But working backwards from there, you know, the way his life has been for the last 20 years, he moves very swiftly through his life. Heís moving from place to place very quickly. I thought he should have a haircut, that he can do himself if he cares to or he can go to some barber shop in a little town in Cambodia and they can cut his hair in ten minutes. I just thought it was streamlined, and his clothes are like that, too, in that he looks well dressed, but traveling clothes. You know, he wears clothes that he can go from a bank to a cave and heís dressed accordingly. And heís also in a lot of different climates over the last 20 years, so I thought it would be appropriate that he that he dress and look as if heís able to move through the world easily and comfortably.

QUESTION: What made you so interested in playing a character like Reddington?

SPADER: I was really drawn to the enigmatic quality of the character. I know certain things about his past, but I donít know the facts and figures of the last 20 years where heís been invisible, living in plain sight around the world. And I didnít want to. Thatís part of the fun of doing a television show as opposed a film. I like that a television show is fluid and it evolves and develops and changes. And especially with this show I want to be surprised every week. I want it to sustain me over the life course of the show and those surprises are part of that sustenance. So I have only asked from the writers for enough for me to be able to do the work that I need to be able to do. And when I need a question answered they answer it. But I donít ask more than that because I want them to also have the freedom to be able to write in that fashion where the show can grow and change direction and surprise me the same as it surprises the viewer. If I knew the entire bible of this show, all the past, the present and also the future, for me the experience of making the show would be done. And Iím not interested in that. If anything, when looking for something in a television show, looking for a piece of material, Iím specifically looking for something that Iím going to have a lot of unanswered questions for as long as possible.

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QUESTION: This is sort of superficial, but some viewers are going to make a Silence of the Lambs comparison. Is that sort of connection that you want to embrace or steer away from?

SPADER: The basis of their relationship [Reddington and Elizabeth] is very real. I mean, itís clear, even from the pilot; there is a past between the two of them that she is not aware of, but he has an intimate knowledge of her past, her childhood, relatives of hers and so on. The relationship between [the characters] in the film you refer to is obsession, and itís not based on any sort of reality at all. And I think that as the story starts to unfold ó and that becomes a driving force ó is what the basis of their relationship really is. I think that issue is so invoked in a viewerís mind based on imagery more than anything else. In the pilot, obviously heís in this [glass security] box. Heís shackled to the thing. A girl comes in. Sheís a rookie and so on and so forth, but the imagery is so powerful and so strong in terms of that, and I think thatís probably where the correlation comes from more than anything. But as soon as Reddington hits the streets, at a certain point, he has to work as an asset, and therefore, heís got to move freely in public and so on. So I think that the relationship that youíre talking about, that imagery will end fairly soon.

The Blacklist airs on NBC Mondays at 10:00PM