The Untold Sporting Adventures Of Doctor Who
Pondering topics for a column, I indulged in a thought exercise of wish fulfillment: if I had the chance to time-travel to the greatest moments in sports, when and where would I go? Inevitably, thoughts of time travel take my mind to Doctor Who, and with the imminent return of the Doctor in only ten days, I imagined sports-related destinations for the Doctor. He would not necessarily guide the TARDIS to my preferred events, but without a doubt he would visit those athletic events that had some measure of intergalactic peril in the mix. Thus, I give you the untold sporting adventures of Doctor Who.
June 22, 1986
His experience in "The Lodger" gave The Doctor (Matt Smith) a taste for football (just this once I'll spare the European sporting fans my insistence in using the "S" word), so he decides to treat Craig and Sophie to a honeymoon in Mexico at the 1986 World Cup, where one of the most famous soccer matches in history - the quarterfinal match between eventual champion Argentina and England - takes place. Amy and Rory are still in their own protracted honeymoon mode and opt to lounge on a nearby beach instead of braving the crowds.
Craig immediately informs the Doctor of the terrible injustice of Maradona's "Hand Of God" goal that will cost England the match, and he is intent on changing history. The Doctor does not approve of that and offers to take them back to the 1966 World Cup instead that saw England as the champion. That took place in gloomy England, though, and the Doctor never travels there, right? Plus, The Doctor is distracted by a covert threat from a squad of castaway Sontarans, so in 1986 Mexico they remain.
Craig must leave the game to help the Doctor thwart the Sontarans and asks Sophie to bring his "Stop Maradona!" plan to fruition. However, she is so enthralled by the spectacle that she instead opts to take the Doctor's advice and simply watches sports history. All is well, but Craig makes a slightly bitter quip about the fickle "Hand of The Doctor." The Doctor promises to take Craig into the future to see the next World Cup championship won by England. After checking the records on the TARDIS, the Doctor informs us that that year is...[cut to end credits].
December 31, 1967
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, site of the famed "Ice Bowl" NFL championship between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Packers. Why would the Doctor go to Wisconsin? A strange alien transmission indicates interference there from an old enemy.
History tells us that the infamously cold conditions of the game were worsened by an accidental failure in Lambeau Field's turf heating system, but The Doctor discovers that this malfunction was quite intentional. In his final season as coach of the Packers, Vince Lombardi has befriended a lone Ice Warrior that journeyed to Earth and wanted to live peacefully in solitude; both share a similar code of honor, and Lombardi has no qualms about keeping his new friend's extraterrestrial secret while allowing him to live hidden on the stadium grounds. (The BBC briefly considers shopping a sitcom spin-off to America called Vince & The Ice Warrior).
The frigid weather of that late December drives the Ice Warrior mad with homesickness for Mars, though, and he attempts a sadly pathetic plan to transform Earth into a much colder world. His plan does not go beyond sabotaging that turf heating system, but that is more than enough to make Lombardi feel betrayed. Their relationship can never be the same. The Doctor and Ace enjoy the game and afterward take the distraught Ice Warrior to an intergalactic therapy ward. After the next game (Super Bowl II), Lombardi never coaches for the Packers again. Learning this, Ace asks The Doctor if perhaps a broken heart over this tragic alien friendship at Lambeau Field was the cause.
March 28, 1992
Peri was a rare American companion for The Doctor, and previously unknown to the audience was her fanaticism for basketball. She convinces The Doctor (Colin Baker) to take her to the greatest basketball game in history, which consensus opinion places in her future. The Doctor is grumpy about this venture to Philadelphia, but he is amused to find that the competitors in this game (Duke and the University of Kentucky) both have "U.K." in their names, which seems a good omen for a jaunt across the Pond.
The Rani, though, has tracked The Doctor and Peri to this time and place, ascertains the subject of their interest there, imprisons both basketball teams in her TARDIS, and - in one of her more bizarre sociological experiments - replaces them with cybernetic duplicates that are programmed to attack the crowd during the game.
An outraged Peri and The Doctor manage to rescue the teams before tip-off, and The Doctor banishes The Rani into a temporal vortex. The Doctor and Peri see Duke vanquish Kentucky in overtime, but as the episode ends a case of seeing double and mistaken identity leaves us wondering: was that the human Christian Laettner that shot10 for 10 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free throw line and stepped on Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake for a technical foul, or was that a cybernetic duplicate that was overcome by a passion for the game?
February 22, 1980
Operating under the mistaken belief that Jelly Babies are thrown onto the rink during hockey games, The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) travel to Lake Placid, New York, to watch the United States defeat the Soviet Union in the "Miracle On Ice" at the 1980 Olympics. The TARDIS' data bank of hockey traditions is not its only fault on this adventure; an engine malfunction sends them back a couple weeks early for the game, and a lengthy self-repair process subjects the Time Lord and Time Lady to an extended bout of real-time.
On a whimsical impulse, the Doctor and Romana take K9 across New York to Madison Square Garden to attend the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. They disguise K9 in a synthetic but extremely fluffy and realistic dog's coat so that he will not stand out, and hilarity ensues when K9 is mistaken for a competitor. Circumstance and coincidence force them to persist in this ruse, going so far as to place K9 on a very confused judge's examining table just before Romana runs K9 around the arena with the suspicious gait of a wheeled non-quadruped.
The Siberian Husky wins Best In Show, The Doctor and Romana return to Lake Placid to watch the hockey game sans Jelly Babies, and K9 is left with dreams of what might have been. Al Michaels certainly was excited about the victory by the U.S., but perhaps his "Do you believe in miracles?" line was also inspired by a run-in before the game with The Doctor and the TARDIS.
A depressed Doctor (David Tennant) spends some time alone after Rose and before Martha, and one of his solo adventures is inspired by his Olympic torch run at the 2012 London Olympics. He brings the TARDIS back to ancient Greece to experience the original "loneliness of the long distance runner" firsthand. Per legend, Pheidippides is a Greek soldier who runs from the town of Marathon to the city of Athens (the source of the original distance of the "marathon" race) to deliver happy news of the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks.
With the strength of those two pumping hearts, The Doctor accompanies Pheidippides on this historic trek. They push each other to the limit, and Pheidippides shares his hopes and dreams for the future with The Doctor as they race onward. The Doctor responds with stories of his own, cryptically worded to disguise his origins but obvious to the viewers in their melancholic references. Their friendship strengthens over these hours, and The Doctor begins to question the safety of this quick pace he has set. Is he the cause of what stories decree happens to Pheidippides?
At the last moment, The Doctor considers asking Pheidippides to relent, but the gates of Athens are already in sight, and Pheidippides sprints to the finish, leaving The Doctor far behind and gasping for breath.
"Niki!" Pheidippides cries to the Athenians, before falling over dead in exhaustion. Was this cry of "victory" in reference only to the Persians, or was he also celebrating his contest against The Doctor? The Doctor turns around and weeps as he makes the long walk back to Marathon. There might not have been external intergalactic peril in this instance, but The Doctor - ever the sportsman - will always carry that emotional baggage on the adventures that do include that peril.
C. Robert Dimitri loves his Doctor Who, and he loves his sports. At the risk of alienating members of both of his audiences, the twain have met!