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Doctor Who & the Man Who Sent Us To The Moon

50 years ago.   This is such as strange phrase.  How can I be old enough to talk in terms of half-centuries?  But I am.  I remember President Kennedy’s assassination.  The memories I have from 50 years ago this week are only snippets;  I was only six years old.
I don’t remember the announcement from a television broadcast, or my parents telling me what happened.  I remember standing in the middle of the bathroom, and crying and thinking or saying, “No.”  I remember being angry and bewildered.
I know enough about how memory is created and altered to not really trust details without some sort of corroboration.  I never understood why I had this memory associated with JFK’s death since other people my age talk about being at school when the news was announced.  Recently, I found the November 22, 1963 entry in my mother’s diary.  The entries for that week say I was home sick.  So, that makes sense; I was home, and that is why I don’t have school memories related to the announcement of the assassination. All this fixation on “Where were you?” says more about us than about him.
caisson tv
I have many early memories.  My first memory about the Kennedy family is just a flash of memory associated with a black, wall-mounted telephone and knowing the President’s wife had lost her baby.
I do remember the coffin, horse drawn and flag-draped, proceeding down the street during the funeral, framed by the TV.   Unfortunately, there is no such image, that I can find in any public or news archive, like the one I remember.  I have probably cobbled the memory of the Presidential funeral into one single image from the riderless horse that was led down the street and the caisson that carried the President’s flag-draped coffin.  In some ways this image from my memory is good and validating, as I know I experienced the event and created my own summary of the events. I didn’t re-remember it by substituting a “canned”  image from some retrospective pictorial publication.
Memory changes a little bit every time it is accessed.  It is a recursive.  It becomes a memory of remembering, and that becomes a memory of a memory of remembering,  and so on ad infinitum.
While I remember these things, I know that understanding the influence of an individual is more important than remembering JFK’s funeral.  So this week I am delighted to be able to watch BBC’s week-long coverage of the 50th anniversary of the debut of the television show, Doctor Who.  The synchronicity of events, especially in hindsight, also falls under suspicion of being altered by remembrance.   I choose to pay attention to things, events, and people that are significant.  This week events of 50 years ago are being remembered.  So I am focused on the hope that came out of the darkness of the Cold War and the Arms Race.   The race to put a man on the moon energized the world and gave us new dreams.
A children’s TV series, Doctor Who, debuted on November 23, 1963, historically speaking at the same moment as the funeral of the very man who put the dreams of reaching the moon within a decade into the collective mind of humanity. Uncountable events sparked innumerable culture changes but one change that emerged a year and a half after President Kennedy announced his intention of having a U.S. astronauts land on the moon and return to the Earth within a decade. One of those changes was the debut of a long-lived success of a children’s science fiction show based on travel through time and space.
Kids who were the same age as me grew up believing that the human race, lead by the U.S.A.,  was reaching for the stars.  Yet now, fifty years later, the U.S. Space Program, NASA, seems to be on hiatus, at best.  The only part of the dream that is still real for me, and a few million other “Whovians,” is Doctor Who.  That is how we connect with our inner child-self that dreamed of peace and scientific exploration of the universe so long ago.
The presence of a continuing Doctor Who series all these decades later also shows how our hopes and dreams have evolved along with the show.  It is no longer a kids show.  It is a mirror that reflects the heart and soul of the 20th Century.  Yes, our President was assassinated.  Yes, we landed men on the moon and brought them back home. Yes these events stay with us.
But as the Doctor says in 2005’s episode 6, Dalek,  of the new series, “Let me tell you something, Van Statten, mankind goes into space to explore, to be part of something greater.”
Yes, this is what I will focus upon, rather than death and conspiracy theories, I will remember JFK, the space program, and times in which we could believe in what seemed impossible. In these next few days I will raise a glass to the Space Program, the Peace Corps, and a culture that loved science and Dr. Who… I will celebrate the great things a man started “…to explore and to be something greater.”

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  1. Thanks, Nancy! I have no memories of the events of 50 years ago b/c I was born yet :/. I feel as though in some ways I missed out. Sadly, I never even knew much of Dr. Who until recently when my son became enthralled with the show. I do appreciate your reflections on memories and the accuracies/inaccuracies inherrent in them.

    1. I have been a Doctor Who addict since the ’70s. It is one of those pop culture icons that I discovered hanging out with science nerds at Purdue!

  2. I hadn’t realized Dr. Who was that old, or that it came out the same year as the President’s death. It’s wonderful to see it’s revival among kids and shows me (again) that everything that’s old is new again! Thanks, Virginia

    1. Yes, the BBC is doing a retrospective this week. I think the success of the show was part related to the Space Age and Age of Wonder that provided the backdrop for the Late Boomers childhood and education.

  3. Ah, the news is filled with talk of both JFK and Dr. Who. A very nice post that connects them. My son is a big Dr. Who fan, and we sometimes watch together. I’m up to the “Bow ties are cool” / Sandman episode (which is a 2nd view for my son). I like my son’s interest in The Doctor because I think it’s good for him to take tours through the past and the future and to imagine pushing all kinds of boundaries with time, space, and technology. Thanks for your thoughts about both events.

    1. Time and technology.

        I love it. My daughter loves Dr. Who because she really did grow up with it. There are a couple generations of new fans whose parents watched. Bow ties, Fezzes and Cowboy Hats are all “cool.” Welcome to the “Whovian” community. It does impart a sense of history. I think my favorite episode with Matt Smith and Karen Gillian, who plays Amy Pond, is the Vincent Van Gogh episode, it is poignant.
    1. I think I discovered Doctor Who during the mid-late 1970s when our college town PBS station started carrying it. I didn’t have a television at the time, but I watched at a friend’s house. PBS was my view of the world until the mid-1980s. Television, space launches, and assassinations were part of the daily news as I grew up in the 60s and on until the mid-1970s when I left my parent’s house for college. It was nice to get away from all that for a few years as I pursued my anthropology degrees. But PBS, I loved the British programming it carried and caught it where I could in my late teens and throughout my 20s. In my 30s and 40s I was in Mom-mode and only followed kids programming and Doctor Who.

  4. Nancy, as a sci-fi geek I love how you worked Dr. Who into this post. I have the same memory of the horse-drawn cassion (I didn’t even know the right word and called it a carriage in my post).

    1. Oh I am so happy it meets with another science fiction geek’s approval. I will be posting another Doctor Who related post within an hour or so. 🙂

  5. I love how you brought in the Cold War and the arms race — my recent post was about that, too!
    And though I don’t have a direct memory of the news of the neonatal loss the Kennedy’s experienced, after becoming involved online in the infertility community, I have often wondered how difficult it would have been to go through that on the world stage.
    Thanks for your so-kind comment, Nancy!

    1. You are most welcome Lori, you wrote an excellent piece. The Kennedys were the First Family in so many ways… politically, and via “reality TV.”

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