Why Doctor Who Matters…

I only recently started watching Doctor Who. I was introduced to the 2005 series by a close friend, in Feb, although I had been exposed to the episodes, Rose and The Eleventh Hour in 2011, while I was studying abroad in England. However, at that time, I just didn’t “get it.” I wasn’t really that interested in the show, I don’t think I hated the show, I was just indifferent to it.  However, in Feb I was in a different place. I was still reeling from a horrible experience at a “progressive” church in California, I was hurt, angry, ashamed and depressed. I was grateful to be spending some time with a friend as I was not looking forward to having to return home to a mother that had been emotional abusive and neglectful to me while growing up, (and even though I am sure she would have let me stay a bit longer, I didn’t want to be an imposition on her and her family).  I was at a vulnerable period in my life. I felt like a failure for crashing and burning at the internship in California, I felt betrayed by the church leadership, and the future just seemed pretty bleak.  Friends throughout the country (and in England) were very good about offering me support-both tangible support and emotional support yet I was still struggling. Grad school was months away, and I was trying to make it through each day, yet it felt like such a struggle.

But one day, while staying at my friend’s house she suggests we watch Doctor Who. I tend to not have strong opinions either way when it comes to watching tv or films, so I said sure. And for some reason, I became hooked. I don’t even know what initially attracted me to the show, especially since, the episode, Rose was pretty cheesy, (although now I do appreciate the cheese factor in the show, and even find it endearing). Yet for some reason, I was hooked.  I eagerly watched episode after episode, and season after season. I decided to come up with a page and blog that would occasionally examine Doctor Who and theology, I eagerly bought magazines and books and spent hours researching the show. I wanted to know as much as possible, and although I haven’t seen much of classic who (yet…) I tried to become a bit informed about what occurred during show’s original run, and during the “dark years” where the show was off air, yet continued to exist through books, audio books, comic strips etc.  And as I immersed myself in the fandom, I realized that there were hundreds, if not more people as dedicated or even more dedicated to the show then I am.

There are people who have watched the show since it began, or since the 1970s, people who have spent an enormous amount of time and money cosplaying, people who spend hours writing fanfiction, who actively dissect each and every episode and get into debates about continuity and the technical aspects of the show. And when the debate about the new Doctor raged, people got angry when others suggested a female doctor or nonwhite doctor. And those who suggested such a change were not afraid to vehemently argue back. For casual viewers of the show or those who just don’t “get it,” we come off as insane. In fact, even my friends who do like the show, probably think I am a bit too obsessed. So why is the show so important to a vast number of people? Why do people not just like the show, but invest a large amount of time and effort examining, dissecting, and talking with others about the show? Why, for many people, is Doctor Who, not “just another stupid” TV show.

Doctor Paddy O’ Donnel, Professor of psychology at the University of Glasgow offers her own opinion about why the show resonates with both children and adults.  Her article, caused me to think more deeply about why the show means so much to me and while I proudly display my whovian colors, even at the risk of being thought of as crazy for enjoying a show so much. (Some of my friends jokingly, say that I have joined a ‘cult.’ Well considering that my ‘cult’ does not endorse killing myself or others, I say that there are worse cults to be a part of…)  I am sure I have touched upon this subject in various ways before on this blog, but as any whovian can tell you, it never gets boring talking about why you love the show so much.

1)      Escapism -The show provides a safe place where one can escape from one’s problems. After my internship program fell apart in California, and I had to move back in with my emotional abusive and neglectful mother, things went from bad to worse. My grandmother, who had lived in Puerto Rico and enjoyed her independence, had a stroke and had to move in with us. My mother, who was not the nurturing type, and can barely take care of her pet birds was tasked with trying to take care of grandma, while I struggled along with my sisters (who live in a different state from me) to try and navigate the government bureaucracy to get grandma the benefits she needed. Those weeks were utter hell. I was living with an emotional abusive mother,  a grandmother whose health was failing fast, and I was trying to deal with a government system that cares very little for those who are poor, elderly, and suffering.  When I was not hanging out with friends, my main mode of escape and de-stressing was watching Doctor Who, updating my blog, or updating my Doctor Who and Theology page. By watching various episodes and interacting with others, I was able to put aside, at least for a little awhile the troubles and issues that plagued me.  The show literally helped me get through each day. Permanent escapism, can be unhealthy, but we all occasionally need moments where we can forget about the issues plaguing our everyday lives and be able to focus on energy on something enjoyable.

2)      Imagination and critique-As we get older, adults are often encouraged to set aside their imagination and focus on the “real world.” We are encouraged to simply focus on “reality” and leave behind the childish world of fantasy. Yet what many people fail to realize is that without imagination, you can’t really work to improve the world.  If we simply accept all the injustice and oppression we see, we won’t be able to actively work against it. If we can’t imagine a better world, then we won’t be able to think of ways to bring about change and we will often get discouraged. Imagination, plays a vital function in enabling humans to survive and also create a more just society. Sci-fi often provides an avenue where we can make fun of and critique certain issues of society, without it getting “preachy.” While of course, Doctor Who does not deal with issues as head on as a documentary would, the show still provides subtle critiques of society and politics if one is willing to pay attention. For example, with the Odd, in The Satan Pit, we find the Doctor is unable to save the Ood, and he does not seem particularly broken up about it. Some people have criticized how nonchalant he appeared, yet how many of us, in real life are just as nonchalant about how the acts of oppression that often take place so we can have the latest technology or cheapest clothes? I know I don’t always acknowledge or even care about that. In a later episode, The Planet of the Ood, the episode examines for fully the exploitation of the Ood. An exploitation that one can easily see is paralleled in the “real world.”

Yet while the Doctor doesn’t always save everyone, or always do the right thing, he tends to conquer evil through the use of his imagination. He imagines that hatred and violence does not always need to win out, so he works to ensure that. He doesn’t always succeed, but he tries.  I believe, one of the reasons he seems to fight so hard on behalf of humanity, despite all the evil humanity inflicts on one another and on other species, is because he knows and imagines that humanity can be so much better.  Critique of injustice and oppression as well as the imagination to envision something different, go hand in hand. Sci-fi can be used as a vehicle to enable us to be more aware of where we fail as a society and to imagine ways in which we can be better.

3)      Hope. Hope is not the same as blind optimism. Blind optimism, tends to ignore the reality of pain and suffering. Blind optimism tends to believe that everything is in our control. If we only thought more positively, then horrible things would not happen to us. If we work hard, then all of our dreams will come true. People who are abused and oppressed just need to stop focusing on the negative aspects of their situation. Blind optimism can be dismissive. Hope, on the other hand, takes into account all the pain and suffering in the world and actively tries to alleviate it. Hope says, “I know that there are thousands of people suffering and I can’t help them all, but I can help one person, and that one person matters.” Hope says, “Things are really horrible right now, and I can’t even imagine tomorrow will be any better, but I am going to believe that my life matters to such an extent that I am going to keep fighting.”  But hope isn’t always easy to find. When one looks at the wars, the abuse, and all the pain and suffering going on in the world, it really becomes harder and harder to justify why one would want to continue to live in such a world. And for those of us who struggle with depression, or abusive past, etc hope can seem like a fantasy that is just beyond our reach.

But hope can come from a variety of sources, one’s religious beliefs, one’s family and friends, from books, and even from fun stories about a time and space traveling Time Lord. The thing about fiction, is that when used correctly can remind us not to give up. They can serve as a source of hope. And for some reason, when sources of encouragement and hope come from a beloved story, it does not come across as cliché. Sometimes when other people tell me, “things will get better.” Or “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” or “you just need to imagine a brighter day.” I want to punch them. I don’t, but I can’t help getting the feeling they don’t get it and are just saying those things to get me to shut up about my struggles. But when similar sentiments are expressed through my favorite books or favorite TV shows, I actually pause. Especially when the episodes or books are particularly well written.

One of my favorite Doctor Who episodes has to be Vincent and the Doctor. Yes the monster was cheesy, but the interaction between the Doctor, Amy and Vincent was beautiful. And the despair Vincent felt, and the self-loathing is something I am all too familiar with. Because of how beautifully written the episode was, I could find myself actually pondering scenes like this one without rolling my eyes at the Doctor’s response:

The Doctor: Vincent, can I help?

Van Gogh: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave—and everyone always leaves—I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope.

The Doctor: My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly always hope.

Van Gogh: Then your experience is incomplete! I know how it will end. And it will not end well.

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4)      Community- I love walking around campus, visiting churches, or simply just walking outside with a Doctor Who shirt on and have people come up to me and randomly start having a conversation. In a society where isolation tends to be the norm, it feels good to have something-anything that can spark recognition in another person’s eyes and that gives you an excuse to talk with strangers.  One can find hundreds of websites, and WebPages dedicated to discussing, analyzing and sharing bits of information about Doctor Who. In fact, not only are there plenty of opportunities online to reach out with others, but if you are lucky enough, you can attend conventions where people proudly share their geekiness. And being able to physically interact with other people, when possible, I think is important. This coming from someone who as an introvert likes to spend time alone and as someone with depression, who often struggles with balancing my need for “me-time” without completely shutting myself off in isolation. The Doctor Who community is vast and wide.

I could write more-but this blog post is already ridiculously long. How about you? Why does Doctor Who matter to you?

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