I’m an incredibly cynical person. I typically expect the worst from people and I’m never let down. I realize that is a dark and negative thing to say but sadly it is also practical. So why the hell do I love Doctor Who so much?
Doctor Who has an extremely optimistic worldview on humanity and believes in an innate goodness which can be found in all creatures, human and otherwise, all across time and space. This goes against a basic tenant (no pun intended) of my life, which is that humans are basically selfish and egotistical creatures.
If I remember hard enough, I have a few vague memories of watching Tom Baker as a child with my dad on PBS reruns. I wasn’t clear on exactly what was going on but that crazy and lovely man in a fedora and quilted scarf has always stuck with me. I recognized characters back then as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. Spider-Man good. Lex Luthor bad. The basic dynamics of Marvel and DC Comics eluded me until much later when I realized that Spider-Man should never be fighting Lex Luthor. But I also knew that the strange man on tv was undoubtedly a good guy, just like Spider-Man. And that always resonated in me, even if I barely remember an episode I watched.
Years and years later when my wife and I were first married I was up late flipping through the channels when I ran across a beautiful girl running hand-in-hand with a balding man who had quite a nose on him. They were being chased by mannequins. I paused and watched until the end which is when I finally realized this was new Doctor Who episodes.
Being a geek and lover of all geekiness I had become aware although not well versed in all things Doctor Who. For the next few Saturdays I stayed up until 11pm and watched the next installments until PBS stopped running them after the six episodes. I was heartbroken thinking this wonderful show had been canceled.
I later discovered at my local library they had the seasons on DVD. So I was able to watch Rose Tyler‘s full story and go back to the beginning and watch highlights of the now 50 years of lore. I continued watching when they got in David Tennant‘s second season as The Doctor and then started downloading the Donna Noble episodes the day after they aired on the BBC. I was hooked.
But why? Why would a cynical bastard like myself, a postmodern asshole, enjoy something not dark gritty and realistic? I mean I hated Clooney‘s Batman movie because they tried to make it light. I hated the lightheartedness Sam Raimi tried to bring to his Spider-Man movies. I want gritty realism! I want The Dark Knight. I want The Wire. I want Breaking Bad. I want The Empire Strikes Back. I wanted bleak tales without redemption or hope.
Or at least I thought I did.
We enjoy cinema and television because often it is escapism. Watching NFL football (not my thing) is escapism for some just as watching The Avengers is escapism for me. I’ve set my worldview to a bleak and dire tone so watching Doctor Who becomes my escapism. This happy and charismatic enigma of a man who would see more good in me than I could possibly find in myself has become an escape for me at an hour or two a week. He takes me back to the realization that there are actual good guys. Not the grey, postmodern moralistic versions of heroes so often presented to us. And even in the moments where we think he may be darker than we thought, he turns it all around with hope and shows us that the darkness is not destiny.
He may not be the only true hero left, but he is one of the few left not sullied by vague morality and the moments of giving in to the darkness. In the past few years this has become even truer for me. Up until a year and a half ago I still enjoyed reading Spider-Man comics for the same reason as I enjoy Doctor Who. There was pure heroism in Peter Parker, and though sometimes he didn’t succeed perfectly, and even sometimes failed, there was an optimistic hope in him that was never fully defeated. So when the mind/soul of Doctor Octopus took over Peter Parker, Doctor Who became my only true pure-heroism escape. Spider-Man has since returned, but surprise… I now miss the Superior Spider-Man.
And whereas I live in the real world with real monsters that even a brilliant man from Gallifrey in his little blue box can’t stop, for those moments, I believe. I hope. I’m not a cynic anymore. And more often than I’d care to admit…I tear up knowing this season’s journey is at an end. And just like Clara I want to ask The Doctor to never send me away again. At least I can always count on The Doctor to come back for the Christmas special, a little of that famous hope of his to get us through the winter!