Culture, Disability, Social Issues, TV

How Doctor Who pulled me through 2019

Featured image: Colourful banner featuring illustrations of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 13th, 10th and 11th Doctors and the Doctor Who logo. Image by the BBC.

On Friday I was feeling reflective as we all tend to do around this time of year, and I realised that for the first time in my adult life I cannot say I’ve had a good year. I know I’m very lucky to be able to say that, but it felt like such a weight off my shoulders to be able to acknowledge that this year has been pretty rough. That’s not to say there was nothing good about it, lots of awesome stuff happened, but the tough parts were relentless, and they definitely didn’t come with as much reward as they usually do.

I sat down and totted up that I have been unwell for 32 weeks out of 52 (not even counting my ‘normal’ disability related fatigue.) I would say that I’m usually unwell for around 13 weeks of the year, so this was a lot to handle. I wasn’t even unwell for one big chunk of time, nor was I ever ‘seriously ill,’ I was just on a treadmill of normal, boring illnesses or infections, enough to stop me functioning normally, then getting better for a few weeks (in which I tried to do as much uni work as possible) and then feeling crappy all over again. Unsurprisingly, this was accompanied by some big spikes in my anxiety. It has been exhausting and hard.

It’s really affected my day-to-day life. I had to give up almost all of my volunteering commitments and force myself to say no to any new ones that have come up. I’ve only completed 2 ‘small’ modules of my Masters, equivalent to one sixth of the course, as opposed to the one half I set out to do. I’ve barely socialised at all and I’ve hardly felt able to keep in contact with those around me. I just haven’t been able to keep the commitments and the responsibilities I’ve taken on. I felt like I let down the people who elected me and who trusted me with those responsibilities. I felt like a terrible friend and I even started to question whether I was a good person (don’t worry, that one passed pretty quickly- I’m back on the ‘I’m awesome’ train now!)

Like I said, I’m so lucky that I can usually look back and say my year has been mostly great, so I was quite taken aback to realise that this year was on the less awesome side. Two things in particular though, have shone through as the positives of 2019. 

The first is that, despite everything, I’ve kept going. I’ve let myself recognise that being this consistently unwell is not my normal and that I don’t need to fight with my body to try and meet the commitments I have in the past. It’s OK to let things go, to not give everything 100% and to cut myself a big chunk of slack. I’ve still met every health challenge that has come and been strong in deciding what I want to happen next, especially in terms of the support I need to keep going with my Masters. I’m also extremely proud that I managed to get high marks in the two modules I did complete. I’m going into 2020 with more self-belief and resolving absolutely to take it easy!

My second beacon of 2019 has been Doctor Who. Anyone that knows me well knows that I have been a fan since it came back in 2005. It might seem odd however, that the year in which there has been almost no new episodes, is the year in which my Doctor Who universe expanded exponentially. 

My base was a big rewatch of all of New Who, which I started in January and finished just last week. Then in February I dived into the world of Doctor Who podcasts. I’ve searched for Doctor Who podcasts by women a few times in the past and I was thrilled to finally find Verity!, a podcast by 6 women across 3 continents talking about Doctor Who in a way that I connected to so deeply. Suddenly I was listening to amazing women nerding out, making all of the in-depth points I always wanted to make about Doctor Who but never had the space to, plus loads more points that I never even thought of! To be able to escape to their wealth of episodes when I didn’t have the energy to message a friend or read a book has been magical, and a huge comfort to me week after week this year.

After that I fell down the rabbit hole of Doctor Who podcasts! From Verity!, I went to Lazy Doctor Who, then to The Memory Cheats, then to Radio Free Skaro (after I decided that listening to 3 North American white dudes talking about Who wasn’t so bad after all!) Now I’ve discovered there’s loads to get stuck into, and currently I’m enjoying The Moment and Five Years Rapid. I feel like I really have found my people, and I can’t believe I haven’t tapped into this resource before. They have been a constant and reliable companion, accompanying me through tiring and challenging days. 

Another door I’ve opened this year is the one into the land of Classic Doctor Who. I saw a few Classic stories in 2013 (for the 50th Anniversary) but they’ve never really clicked with me before. Two things changed that. The first is that I had major FOMO for Verity! Classic Who reviews! I really wanted to listen to all of their episodes, and I wanted even more to be in on the conversation! The second is that a few episodes into watching Classic Who this year, I realised that it has taken me 3 New Who showrunners to fully come to terms with the fact that with each new showrunner, and in some ways with each new Doctor, Doctor Who becomes a completely different show. Yes, you still have the Doctor, and the TARDIS and the companions and the aliens, but other than that, it totally changes. Being accepting of this meant that I was able to be much more open to the format of Classic Who and the different styles that came with each Doctor, and I could just enjoy Classic Who for what it is.

Of course, I’ve found my favourite and least favourite Classic Doctors, I by no means like all of the stories that I watch, and there’s always at least one episode in the middle of a six-part story that my attention drifts away from, but it’s so wonderful to have finally been handed the keys to the Classic Who universe and to know that I have hundreds of episodes to explore. It adds such a richness and depth to my Doctor Who experience, knowing where the Doctor, the show and its fans have come from and why they act and think the way they do. I finally get to understand and enjoy at least some of the Classic Who references in New Who! And to be honest, the slower pace of Classic Who stories can make them a lot more easy-watching than the new episodes. Now that all of the surviving episodes of Classic Who have arrived on Britbox I can’t wait to get to know more of the stories in 2020.

The final element of Who which has brought immeasurable joy into my life in 2019 is the one that all of my friends and followers already know about, and that is conventions! Before last year I always felt a little embarrassed at the thought of spending so much time and money to go to the big conventions and meet actors, but I finally took the plunge and attended London Film and Comic Con in 2018. It was there I realised that the whole experience made me feel so happy and fulfilled that there is nothing I would rather do!

I’m not the type of person to make a whole new group of friends at conventions, but even just feeling the atmosphere is incredible! Sharing in everyone’s excitement and admiring the amazing array of cosplay and artwork on display is always amazing. Being able to switch between differently paced activities is one of the factors that make cons so accessible to me. You can swap between the exhibition hall, which can either be packed or empty; panels, which make me nervous (you never quite know what you’re going to get) but are usually very informative and fun, photograph and autograph opportunities, and dipping out for food and rest whenever you need to. I think being able to craft your own schedule is one of the most underrated things about conventions.

As far as the photo and autograph opportunities go, these are also unpredictable beasts.  They can be disappointing, but if you get a good one the thrill can stay with you for the whole day, and the memory can make you smile for years afterwards. This year at LFCC and Wales Comic Con Telford Takeover I got to fill my Doctor gap and meet the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors, as well as John Barrowman, Catherine Tate and Sophie Aldred. These are just my Doctor Who meets; I haven’t even mentioned the incredible authors and poets I met at the Young Adult Literature Convention, the Youtubers I met at Vidcon London, and the added bonus of meeting Aidan Turner in Telford! It might seem soppy or ridiculous to most people but getting to spend a minute with the people you’ve formed a connection with and whose work means so much to you is everything. There’s no feeling quite like it.

I usually attend conventions with my sister, so having that family time doing something we both enjoy makes it extra special. Having the conventions and these moments to look forward to is the light that has kept me going and pushed me forward through 2019. They’ve been my reminder that it’s not all bad and that I do deserve nice things whenever I’ve felt worn out. I’m so grateful and privileged to have the resources to be able to enjoy these experiences. I try to never take them for granted. The decision to prioritise attending conventions for as long as I can, or for as long as they bring me so much happiness, is one that I’m very glad I’ve made.

So no, overall 2019 has not been a good year, but it has had lots of good things in it, and that is largely thanks to Doctor Who and the fans who make it what it is. I’m especially grateful to be part of this cultural phenomenon and wonderful community at a time that is not just difficult for me but for many people around the world. And I feel as though I have much more to look forward to. I could not be more excited for the new series just around the corner, and I want to delve more into the Big Finish audio adventures, as well as add more conventions to my list. Going into 2020 seems scary for a lot of us, but I have so much hope and defiance for the year ahead, knowing that the Doctor and our friends (on and off screen) will be right there with us. 

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