What is it about Aspies and the bloke in the blue box?
It began early. It must have been during the second year of my life, judging by the opening credits and the house we lived in at the time which we moved from a year later (yes my memory’s that good). Once a week or so the television would fill the room with a haunting electronic piece of music while graphic images of a tunnel brought forth a funny thing that looked like a house, a man with curly hair and a strange diamond-shaped logo.
My mother always had Doctor Who on on Saturday nights back then. For the first six years or so of my life, I used to watch with her just for that trippy opening credits experience and the end sequence where the tunnel was black instead of white.
I didn’t even know what it was about. But after two years on the continent with no TV, we returned to find the tunnel replaced with a moving galaxy and a rock arrangement of the theme and the bloke with curly hair about to leave and be replaced by a baby-faced blonde actor more used to playing an inept vet in Mum’s other favourite All Creatures Great and Small.
But my vague interest burst into flame that autumn with the repeat season The Five Faces of Doctor Who. Five very different actors (though the latest hadn’t had his first episodes aired yet) portraying the intrepid traveller in their own very different ways. A different set of opening credits for every era of the show, give or take a season. All good Aspie attractor factors. I came to understand about the blue box that was bigger inside than out and instead of blasting off like a rocket, just vanished into thin air. And it travelled in both time AND space! Most shows of this ilk did either one or the other (with the notable exception of a cartoon called Sport Billy). But here you could be in a church in the Civil War one week, on an Earth colony planet in the distant future the next and a dilapidated warehouse in contemporary London the week after that.
At last here was something I could watch that had nostalgic value for me but wouldn’t be deemed “a bit young for you” any time soon. I lapped up the repeats and couldn’t wait for the Peter Davison era to begin in the New Year.
Suffice to say I became a devout fan, even through a few crap seasons in the mid-eighties, and even when it was taken off the air for some years, simply spent that time catching up with older episodes on VHS tape and satellite reruns. Since it returned in 2005 I have continued to follow it insanely, again despite last season being crap in my opinion.
But Doctor Who has long been a magnet for those society would view as nerds and geeks and not least the Aspie. But what is its secret? What magnetises the Aspie to the perennial BBC favourite? I believe there are two big answers- one seemingly very shallow and superficial, the other getting right to the heart of it, as follows:
THE SUPERFICIAL REASON
Aspies love lists. The history of Doctor Who is a long complex set of lists. Yes we like routine but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate diversity within structure and not least in retrospective listings. We can recite our favourite lists of facts like a liturgy, rather like the mathematicians the Doctor saw at work on the planet Logopolis Long before I got to see most of what came pre-1981, I was devouring The Doctor Who Programme Guide as to which companions passed through the series when, who the most frequent writers were and how often key villains like the Daleks turned up. This and my reading of Doctor Who Magazine got me well prepared for when we first had a video.
THE DEEPER REASON
It doesn’t take much to see how the Doctor is potentially an identification point for Aspies.
He’s a loner. Capable of working in a team but in his own place in the corner – cf the Jon Pertwee incarnation acting as an unpaid scientific adviser to a military organisation. He thinks and functions differently and yet it means he spots the flaw in the system that the natives of whichever planet he’s visiting are too caught up in it to see.
When the Doctor does work in a team, instead of being just a cog in the big machine like the crew of USS Enterprise*, he has one or two people travelling with him – usually a sympathetic female. As one of them said to him, “I think you need someone to stop you.” And yet they all move on and do something else with their lives and our hero is left with his nostalgia and his thoughts and the deeper secrets of his past known only to him on a planet which even before it was banished to another dimension, he only returned to when necessity demanded – never for the Gallifreyan equivalent of a family Christmas.
And it isn’t just Aspies who find a solace in the Doctor. He’s a rallying point for so many minority groups. In the days before the Pride festivals, Who attracted an enormous number of homosexuals some of whom weren’t yet out of the closet. It’s a programme that attracts minorities – not exclusively but notably so.
Never fitting in.
Champion of the underdog.
One who doesn’t so much fight the enemy as outwit them.
And so delightfully quirky and even cheeky at times.
This man is an outsider.
You either love him or you hate him.
And yet being outside gives him the unbiased perspective to spot the rot, deal with the oppressor and just nip back in his box and vanish after he’s given all he can.
All hail the Doctor. We could do with more people like him.
*Of course there are probably also those Aspies who prefer a spot of Star Trek because they thrive on that degree of stricture and structure. And I’ll bet my bottom dollar fully blown autistics would identify a lot more with the highly logical Mr Spock and his lack of ability to understand emotion.