Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Doctor is In

The new season of Doctor Who starts next week and I can't wait. Of course I wont get to see it for awhile because it will be on BBC America which I don't get, but, I have a friend who will tape if for me, so, I probably have to wait about six more weeks till I see the new episodes which are probably already old in England.

I love super-heroes and I love heroic fiction in general but I have to confess that The Doctor is my favorite. There are so many elements that go into why I like him so much.

His loneliness is no doubt a factor. Loneliness seems to be a universal that everyone can identify with.Everyone I know feels a twinge of it from time to time. The Doctor can seem to go long periods without noticing it but then, you can see it in his eyes, he's somehow remembered that he's pretty much an immortal surrounded by mortals who will be gone in the blink of an eye. These days there's the constant reminder that he is the last of his people. Before he was the last of his people there was the reminder that he was an exile or a fugitive from his people (under circumstances still mysterious and unexplained except that now we know that when he was a child and saw all of the Time Vortex in one look, he started running and has been running ever since. Interestingly, it seems to me that, for the most part, he didn't like his people very much. With some exceptions of course. He even seemed to be willing to make a go of it traveling with the Master if the Master would just try to get beyond his madness.) While some may take it as a superiority complex on his part, he seems to think that he is smarter than everyone else. This may be arrogance, but at the same time it could also be true, which would also add to his loneliness. And, loneliness is one of those things that seems fairly constant throughout his eleven incarnations. I still remember the look on the First Doctor's face when he decided to leave his granddaughter Susan behind and continue his travels without her. Or when the Fourth did the same with Sarah Jane. One of the saddest was when the Third's companion Jo Grant got engaged to be married (to a man who she thought of as "A younger you.") As the cast parties in celebration, The Doctor gets into Bessie the Whomobile and drives quietly away, alone into a dark night, obviously happy for Jo, obviously without a friend in the world.

The Very fact of his multiple regenerations also makes him my favorite Super-Hero. Part of the fun for me as I watch the episodes is, trying to see which personality traits are constant. Personalities change, but, somehow, the Doctor remains recognizable as the Doctor. Loneliness and arrogance both seem pretty constant. Usually I find it hard to like an arrogant person but, the Doctor's seems well deserved. He is often wrong, makes mistakes and frequently his best geniusy plans come to naught, but, he always wins, sometimes with great sacrifice but he always wins, and, when he wins, it is more often than not through brilliant improvisations, or, what the Fourth Doctor called "brazening it out".  A great standout moment of this, for me, was towards the end of the Ninth Doctor's life while fighting the Daleks when he announced to the Daleks that he was coming to rescue Rose and that he had no plan and didn't know how he was going to do it, but he was going to do it. And... he did. The last two Doctors have occasional told the bad guys who he is, expecting them to then cower in fear and, for the most part, they did. So, the question becomes, do we like arrogance in characters who have paid their dues, done the work and deserve to think highly of themselves? Seeing the current popularity of another Doctor, named House, I think this may be so.

Of course, it should go without saying that I love the Doctor because of his heroic qualities. He is always willing to sacrifice himself for others without thought or hesitation. In fact, it has become apparent that the last three Doctors have been selecting their companions, to some degree, based on their having that same quality. Though he tries to cultivate a quality of separateness, of not being willing to intervene in other peoples lives or situations that need to be left alone, and although sometimes he can seem fairly convincing in that, compassion is another constant. He can't help but help the underdog. I recall one of his enemies looking him up in a database and remarking that his entire history is of an egalitarian revolutionary. In over forty years of TV I've seen him as part of rebel undergrounds overthrowing dictators pretty darn often.

Other qualities that seem constant from Doctor to Doctor, well, curiosity, how often has he come close to the fate of the proverbial cat because his curiosity pulls him into situations he'd be better off just escaping from? But, it's curiosity that drives him to travel endlessly in the Tardis. His observational skills are also constant. He is forever more aware of what is going on around him than anyone else. Always aware when something is wrong. Sometimes he attributes this to the curiosity. He always has questions about why things around him are the way they are and when the answers don't make sense or are not forthcoming, he knows something is wrong. He also seems to select his companions based on their willingness to question, their curiosity, their compassion,  their observational skills and their inability to submit to authority.

And, there's another constant amongst the Eleven Doctors. No respect for authority. It doesn't matter if it's the High Council of the Time Lords or elected governments or military leaders, good guys or bad guys, the Doctor does what the Doctor wants and there isn't much that anyone can do about it. Of course one of his biggest problems is that he chooses his companions to reflect that. When was the last time a Doctor took off to do something and told his companion to "stay here"... and actually had that command obeyed? The good news is they rescue him almost as often as they need rescuing.

I think that one of his uniquer qualities is his willingness to negotiate. Although capable of great violence, up to and including genocide in at least a couple of instances (The Fifth Doctor's companion Tegan left him just to get away from the violence and death.) he always tries to talk first. He always encourages enemies to negotiate. Still... if the bad guys insist on violence, his response is in direct proportion to the violence that they pose towards the innocent. If the Time Lords and Daleks are going to destroy the universe, then, they themselves will be entirely destroyed. When all but two of his own people threaten the destruction of the human race, when a nod from one of those people shows her agreement that they must be stopped, he doesn't hesitate to destroy them all. Though, that circles us back to the loneliness.

This probably only scratches the surface of what I love about the Doctor. I'll post some links here to some Hub Pages that I've written about Thor, The Fantastic Four and Green Lantern.