I finally started watching Doctor Who.
Hey—wait! Don’t take away my Nerd Card! I’ve been busy. And I didn’t have cable or Netflix or anything for a while. And then I had a baby. And…yeah, I know. There really isn’t any good excuse.
You can give me that Nerd Card back, though, because I freely admit that it is amazing. Granted, I’m only on Season 2, but I’m already well and truly hooked (and saying things like “well and truly.”)
I’m also mystified.
Is this a safe space? Can I be honest? The plots are pretty… well…it’s like they aren’t even trying! The Doctor cured freaky space-age clone zombies by dumping IV drugs on them! And the cure was, like, magically contagious! And then there were those bat things that needed human children’s souls to crack some nonsensical mathematical proof! It doesn’t make sense! This show put the deus in deus ex machina. And I don’t care.
The Enabler has been watching me watch the show, and he keeps asking me why, exactly, I’m enjoying this bag of crazy as much as I am. I can only reply: It’s The Doctor. After I’m-not-counting-how-many hours with the Lonely Traveler, I think I’ve put my finger on the appeal of Doctor Who, and it isn’t David Tennant’s *ahem* accent. Though that is a lovely side benefit.
When fiction succeeds, it’s because it grapples with something primal. In the science fiction and fantasy genres, that primal core is often the fear of death, manifested as some Great Evil. Vampires, Lord Voldemort, the Borg, the Sith. All immortal, unkillable monsters that the hero spends the whole book/movie/seven-season-franchise battling. When The Doctor fights evil, it’s often the kind of evil you can knock over with a sonic screwdriver.
The show doesn’t even try to make the bad guys make sense. Sometimes, there’s so little internal consistency in the villains’ machinations and eventual downfalls, it’s almost comforting. I don’t have to understand how The Doctor will triumph, because it doesn’t bear understanding. It doesn’t matter. The plot’s just there to keep things interesting while we get to the real heart of the matter, the real primal core of the show: loneliness.
This is a pretty obvious point. The Doctor certainly has enough lines that say it outright, and I’m hardly the first person to mention it. But if the core of the show ended there, I wouldn’t be writing this post (or watching Season Three). The genius of Doctor Who is that it juxtaposes the idea of our essential human loneliness with the equally essentially human experience of awe.
Remember The Girl in the Fireplace, when the Doctor has a happy little rant about snogging the uniquely talented Madame de Pompadour? His thrilled amazement occurs smack in the middle of a story about a woman who waits her whole life to spend four ten-minute scenes with him, scenes that are never even close to enough, for him or for her. But that episode — and, so far, the show as a whole — makes the argument that our ability to experience wonder is the only weapon we have against loneliness. More than that — the two experiences are opposite sides of the same coin.
We all know this is true. Look up at the stars tonight and tell me if you don’t feel a sense of thrilling powerlessness at the great vastness of it all, and a sense of amazement that you’re part of it.
We are lonely beings searching tirelessly for connections that cannot last. It’s never enough, but we never stop striving, because, as a former Doctor Who companion says in School Reunion, “Some things are worth getting your heart broken over.” That message could easily be delivered (and often is) in a Cormac McCarthy novel. But it’s somehow more pleasant to hear it from a story with goofy robot overlords and slimy bat things. Doctor Who hides its uncommonly brave message in an silly, heartbreaking, funny, brilliant candy shell, and I know I’ll be going back to experience it many times over.
Then again, maybe I just constructed this elaborate, existential, essentially false argument to conceal the fact that I really want to snog David Tennant.
Do you watch The Doctor?