Season 10:1 The Pilot: Looking for Hope?

I’ve been a fan of NuWho for the past three or four years. As a result, I know that crying is part of being a fan of the show. As someone who hates crying or showing weakness of any kind-Doctor Who provides one of the few safe spaces where I feel as if it is ok to cry. (This is one reason why I rarely watch Doctor Who with other people). I’ve gotten to the point where I can somewhat prepare myself for the times when I am pretty sure I will cry: when the Doctor regenerates, when a companion leaves, and perhaps during the last episode or so of the season/series. Of course, whether an episode causes one to cry or not is not just about the intention or skill of the writer. Just as important are the life circumstances of the viewer.

Perhaps this is just me, and perhaps I should know better, but I typically don’t expect the first episode of a new season to be a tear jerker. Especially when the new season involves the introduction of a new company. Typically the episode focuses on the wonder and excitement of traveling on the TARDIS and being exposed to different time periods and planets. Of course this episode had plenty of that but right off the bat Bill is exposed to the heartbreak, loss, and loneliness that one experiences and/or is exposed to when traveling with the Doctor. And the viewer, well at least me, is confronted with reminders about those experiences in the real world. Only, there isn’t a Doctor to guide me through those difficult moments as a result, I found that in my daily life, I feel more like Heather, than I do Bill.

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I travel a lot-not to different planets (yet!) but to different countries, states, cities. I travel mainly for internships and for school. Now don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and I am glad I have the opportunity to go to different places. But if the visit lasts more than a week, I find myself getting restless.  This restlessness rarely has to do with the city itself, or with the people around me, but it has to do with me and after years of going through the same cycle every time I go somewhere new for an extended period of time I’ve had to be honest with myself: I’m profoundly unhappy and I hate life. Or more specifically, I hate my life. I hate who I am and all the characteristics, thoughts, weaknesses, strengths that make me me. I hate how self-absorbed I am(as I wrote a blog post that is basically all about me), I hate how I look, I hate how I can never seem to make myself happy. I travel a lot because I enjoy traveling but also because for a while at least-I am able to escape myself by immersing myself in a new location. But soon enough, I have to deal with myself. I mean, you can’t exactly escape who you are.

BILL: You okay? 
HEATHER: Yeah, I’m fine.
BILL: Sorry, can I ask? What’s that in your eye?
HEATHER: It’s just a defect in the iris.
BILL: Looks like a star. 
HEATHER: Well, it’s a defect.
BILL: At least it’s a defect that looks like a star. 
HEATHER: I’m getting it fixed.

Everything about me feels like a defect that needs to be dealt with before I can be happy or until I can love myself or be loved by other people. All I do is want to run away, in the hopes that if I run far enough or often enough that somehow I can magically learn to like myself. But I’m not an idiot. I know that’s not how life works.

In this episode, we don’t really get to learn much about Heather-her background, her past, or exactly why she wants to so desperately leave that she is in a sense willing to die-(at the very least she gives up her humanity). All we know is her desperate loneliness and her brief connection with Bill. And although the episode doesn’t touch on this except for briefly, the alien lifeform, whatever it was, was also desperately lonely.

DOCTOR: Maybe it saw something it needed. What was she like, your friend? What did she want? What did she need?
HEATHER [memory]: Everywhere I go, I just want to leave.
BILL: I think she wanted to leave.
DOCTOR: You see? 
NARDOLE: The puddle found a passenger.
DOCTOR: A left-behind droplet of a liquid spaceship. A single tear drop, alone in a strange world. Then, one day, it finds someone who wants to fly away. Not just a passenger. More than a passenger, it found a pilot, so it ate her.

I don’t know what the super intelligence alien space oil is supposed to signify. And the great thing about TV shows is that sometimes the character(s) can signify different things to different people, at different time points. And sometimes what we need the character(s) to signify might not necessarily make sense, especially to other people. But call me morbid, call me morose but for me the intelligent space oil, represents death. At the very least, it represents a form of death, since Heather gives up her humanity for what? For adventure? For thrills? To see the universe” Or for something more? At what point, does life become unbearable? At what point is the potential of what life holds-a new crush, a new love, not enough? At what point does the so called, “it gets better”-whatever that “it” is that everyone consistently talks about, that I’ve been constantly told about, come too late, if at all?

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The reason, at least for me, that Heather and Bill’s story, as of right now (who knows what will happen in future episodes. It is Moffat after all) is so sad is because it was so short. Heather, was already gone or on her way to leaving at least, when they first meet. Whatever possibilities that could have been were shut down and destroyed right from the beginning. Moffat, of course does leave room for hope.

DOCTOR: It’s a big universe, but maybe one day we’ll find her.

And knowing how Doctor Who works, they could very well one day find her. But in the real world…is hope something that tangibly exists or is it something we tell ourselves to just get through life? And what of those who no longer have hope? Heather, lost her hope-at least her hope that in her human life form that things would get better and that things could be different. Unfortunately, we don’t-(I mean I certainly don’t, but perhaps there are some space aliens amongst my readership?)  have the option to basically be consumed by intelligent space oil (though that might be a good thing?) and travel the universe. But yet, by closing off hope, we also close ourselves off to very real possibilities. In “The Pilot,” Heather was basically doomed from the moment we saw her. Yet, there seems to exist the possibility that she is continuing to live albeit in a different form. Hope still finds a way to exist, though in a different form then what is expected.  In the real world, it is often said that hope is only truly gone at the moment of death (and of course, for those who believe in an afterlife, or in a resurrection that occurs after death, hope can continue. Though even then, the hope takes on a different form. In death the hope of continuing a normal life no longer exists. Obviously for the person who died, but also for the people left behind).

So I guess, at the end of this episode, I’m ultimately left wondering what is hope? What does it look like? Can I even recognize it? What does it entail? Do I still have it? Do I even want it?

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Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

Every Christmas is Last Christmas and this is Ours.

Underneath the jokes and silliness (the scene where Santa Claus triumphantly rides Rudolph, comes to mind) lies an undercurrent of sorrow and regret. After all, the end of season 8 saw Danny die and Clara and the Doctor lying to one another, believing that doing so was in the other person’s best interest. Clara, who is more shocked by the appearance of the Doctor, than with the appearance of Santa Claus and his elves on her roof, tells the Doctor that she never thought she would see him again. In fact when he first appears she does not utter a word and simply stares at him in shock. And as the TARDIS starts up she remarks,

Clara: Oh that noise. I never knew how much I loved it.

Clara and the Doctor together again, facing a new and confusing danger. Before the Doctor showed up, Clara was grieving her double loss. She lost Danny, the person she loves and the person she lied to on a consistent basis, taking for granted that he would always be at home waiting for her to return from her adventures. And she lost the Doctor and with him the possibilities of exploring new worlds and encountering strange creatures. She was alone in her grief. The life she knew with the Doctor was over and the life she had with Danny along with the future she planned to have with him was nothing more than a dream. But the Doctor coming back into her life represented not only the possibility of a new beginning but also serves as a connection to her past, the past she wants so badly to return to. It makes sense that when the Doctor asks her about her beliefs in Santa Claus that she would answer in the affirmative:

Doctor: There’s something you have to ask yourself and it’s important. Your life may depend on it, everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa clause?

Clara: Do you know what? Yeah. Right now…yeah I think I do.

Santa Claus represents a fantasy and the fulfillment of deeply cherished wishes. Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s sudden return is reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning getting the one gift that he/she was pinning and hoping for. And when Clara later learns that this is a dream and that what is happening is not real, her voice registers the disappointment.

But despite the cheerful and perplexing beginning to the episode, we are quickly reminded that Clara is still grieving. Clara, frightened, confused, and perhaps a bit excited at the dangerous situation she and the Doctor have just landed in, quickly becomes awash in anger, regret, and guilt when the Doctor, in an attempt to protect her from the dream crabs mentions Danny and states that he is probably flirting and texting other women. She slaps the Doctor, not simply because no woman would want to hear that said about a loved one, but because she knew that Danny was dead and he was never coming back.

Doctor: I was only…

Clara: Danny Pink is dead.

Doctor: No he’s not.

Clara: He’s dead.

Her grief over Danny’s death remains palpable. In one scene as Clara desperately attempts to stop thinking about the dream crab that is slowly making its way towards her, she sits on the floor, expressing her remorse and guilt over how she treated Danny:

Clara: Danny…Danny… Danny pink, I love you. I know I’ll never see you again and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry.

In the next moment, she is transported into a world where Danny Pink is still alive and where she gets to spend Christmas with him. The happiness in her face is evident and when the Doctor comes to inform her that she is not only dreaming but dying, she doesn’t want to leave. She would rather continue dreaming than go back to a reality without Danny. In fact, it’s not the Doctor who convinces her to wake up-but Danny. Clara, in her subconscious knows, that Danny would want her to get on with her life. He would want her to live.

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For many Christians, Christmas, at least theologically speaking, is a celebratory holiday. Christmas celebrates the story of the incarnation (whether one believes it to be a “literal, historical event” or a metaphor)-of God becoming flesh, of God coming into our messy, broken, world through the form of a helpless baby. The incarnation tells the story of God breaking into our world, to protest violence and injustice, and to bring healing to a broken world. Christmas is viewed as a day of hope, yet it is also a day of suffering, pain and death. Being human means confronting finitude and death. The celebration of new life is always paired with the knowledge that all life eventually ends

Some people this year are reeling from the fact that Christmas 2013, was the last holiday they would spend with a loved one and that this year their loved one’s presence is reduced to a memory, an empty table or bed. Others are struggling with the fact that this Christmas might very well be the last one they have with their loved one, as they witness family members or friends struggle with illnesses and failing health etc. And yet for others, we don’t know what the future holds-our loved ones are healthy, (or appear so) and there is no reason to suspect that next year’s Christmas will be any different from this year’s. Yet all it takes is a couple of minutes for life to be uprooted. Neither Danny nor Clara ever imagined that he would be killed in a car accident. They never imagined that in the minutes between the last words he uttered and Clara’s brief pause as she waited for him to respond, that he would be killed.

Likewise, every day, somewhere in the world, family members and friends are coming to terms with a loved one’s unexpected death. A car accident, a fast moving illness, a fall, a suicide, events which seem to come out of nowhere and irrevocably change the lives of those left behind. I imagine that the family and friends of those on flight Air Asia QZ8501, never expected that a routine, short flight would bring their world crashing down. Yes there have been two incidents earlier in the year with Malaysian airlines, yet the chances of such an incident occurring in the first place is astronomical, and for it to happen again within the same year strikes one as impossible. It’s the stuff of movies, but not something that happens in this day and age. Millions of planes take off and land safely throughout the world multiple times a day. This particular air craft had completed over 13,000 successful flights before embarking on this one. Yet the family and friends of Air Asia QZ8501 are facing hours and days (hopefully no more than that) of uncertainty. The life that they were enjoying just a few days ago has irrevocably been changed and as the hours drag into days the chances of finding their loved ones alive decreases. I imagine their mind goes back to the last conversation, the last time they spoke with a loved one.

It is easy to see why Clara didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant going back to a reality where Danny no longer exists but staying in the dream world would ultimately cause her death. In a similar way so many Christians seem to be caught in their own version of a dream world-they embrace a theological worldview that states that if they only pray hard enough, or go to church enough, or act “good” enough that everything will turn out ok. The pains and bruises of life won’t hurt them. Or they embrace a sentimentalized version of the incarnation-one with cute baby animals, an adorable baby Jesus, and a remarkably clean and relaxed Mary. All traces of pain and suffering are neatly left out of the commercialized representation of Jesus’ birth. Others hold on to the idea of an afterlife. I am not saying that an afterlife does or does not exist, I don’t know. However, there are some who focus so much on the possibility of an afterlife that they forget to live in the here and now. They hold on desperately to a notion of heaven that will provide them with a second chance to see their loved ones or to make amends. Living in the real world requires an acknowledgment of the messiness of life.

Yet, in the midst of the undercurrents of sorrow and grief in the episode, hope is also embraced. In some cases, second chances are possible. Danny was gone, Clara was going to spend the rest of her life without his physical presence. But yet she and the Doctor do get a second chance. They get to start again.

Doctor: We should do this every Christmas;

Clara: Because every Christmas is last Christmas.

Doctor: I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.

Santa: Doctor, how much do you wish that?

The Doctor thought he waited too long to go help Clara. He believed that 62 years had passed and he arrived to find Clara older, frailer, and dying. He very well may have been saying goodbye to her. And of course he regrets it. He grieves the adventures they never had, the years he missed. But in this case, the Doctor and Clara are still under the influence of the dream crabs, meaning that he still has time to save her before it is too late. He still has time to go on adventures with her while she is young and able.

Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.

Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.

There is a fine line between having hope and getting lost in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. In fact, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. I wish  a checklist existed that one can consult that will let one know, “ok you are acting out of hope,” or “you need a reality check.” But like most things in life, hope isn’t that easy to define. But there is one major difference between hope and living in a dream world: hope takes pain, suffering and death seriously. It does not seek to present a sanitized and pristine version of life, but it takes into account the sorrow and grief that encompasses life. Yet hope states that one will not be destroyed by death and anguish.

Hope confronts the reality of death yet it also holds on to the idea that life is meaningful. It grieves the loss of a loved one while also cherishing the time and moments that were shared. Hope looks at the incarnation story and refuses to sanitize it, it recognizes that Jesus came into the world as we all do-through a process that is painful (for the mother) and messy, yet it recognizes the beauty in that moment. Hope recognizes that Jesus’ life would be one of anguish and trouble, but that good would come out of all the betrayal, persecution, and violence Jesus would suffer.

The Stories That We Tell: Robot of Sherwood

As children, the stories we enjoy or create often involve heroes who always end up saving the day. These heroes are unabashedly good. Rarely, if ever do these heroes give us any reason to doubt their motivation or their ultimate success. And while these stories tend to be a bit simplistic in notions of good and evil, they also embody a hope in the world and a hope that eventually everything will work out. It speaks of a hope that there are genuinely good people out there fighting against injustice. As we get older we don’t stop telling stories, but they tend to take on a more realistic bent. We recognize that good does not always triumph, that those who are supposed to be heroes are often flawed and can be just as wicked as the “bad” guys. As we mature we see that evil isn’t confined to one or two bad apples, but that all of us are capable of doing wrong and wounding other people. In fact, evil does not always rely on active instances of exploitation and injustice but remaining passive and silent in the face of corruption is often enough to allow evil to succeed. Having a more nuanced view of how the world works isn’t bad and is in fact needed if we are to navigate an increasingly complex world. The problem arises when in addition to discarding the simplistic notions endorsed in our childhood stories, we also lose hope.

In the Robot of Sherwood, the Doctor gives Clara the opportunity to visit any person, time period, or planet. And excitedly, like a little girl, she states that she wants to see Robin Hood.

DOCTOR: Robin Hood.
CLARA: Yeah. I love that story. I’ve always loved it, ever since I was little.
DOCTOR: Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw, who robs from the rich and gives to the poor.
CLARA: Yeah.
DOCTOR: He’s made up. There’s no such thing.
CLARA: Ah, you see?

And of course, part of the reason this episode is funny is because of the Doctor’s insistence that Robin Hood does not exist. (The other reason has to do with the fact that Robin Hood and the Doctor keep trying to outdo and outwit each other…) A few minutes into the episode, the Doctor attempts to prove that Robin Hood and his band of merry men don’t exist by taking blood and hair samples from them. He keeps trying to explain away their existence. They aren’t holograms but maybe they have arrived in a theme park or they are in a mini-scope.  Throughout most of the episode, he remains convinced that Robin Hood could not exist. He explains his reasoning to Clara shortly after she makes her request to meet him:

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Later on in the episode, the Doctor even insists that Robin Hood is a robot created by the sheriff and his mechanical thugs:

SHERIFF: Robin Hood is not one of mine.
DOCTOR: Of course he is. He’s a robot, created by your mechanical mates.
SHERIFF: Why would they do that?
DOCTOR: To pacify the locals, give them false hope. He’s the opiate of the masses.
SHERIFF: Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.
DOCTOR: Yes! Yes, it would. Wouldn’t it? Yes, that would be a rubbish idea. Why would you do that? But he can’t be. He’s not real. He’s a legend!

The Doctor understands more than anyone that old fashioned heroes don’t exist. When Clara refers to him as a hero, the Doctor quickly dismisses that assertion. He knows himself. He is very aware of all the times he has failed to save people and the times he has led others, perhaps inadvertently, to their deaths. He has every right to be skeptical of Robin Hood. And those of us in the real world, understand how the world works. We know that things don’t always get better, that abuse in its various forms run rampant, that people spend their lives fighting for social justice only to be murdered or to have their life’s work destroyed. In fact, many of us are so aware of the pain and suffering in this world that most of us will do whatever it takes to keep that hope alive in the children that we care for. We want them to hold onto their childhood hope and innocence for as long as possible. But the thing is, as we age, we too have stories that we hold onto into adulthood-stories that tell of our personal failures, stories of abuse, exploitation, etc stories that reduce hope to the confines of a children’s tale.

In this episode the Doctor’s stubborn insistence that Robin Hood does not exist and his dedication to his own personal narrative, which postulated that true heroes do not in fact exist, simply adds to the humor of this episode. In the real world, the stories that we stubbornly hold onto as individuals and as a society can have life and death consequences. The stories we tell ourselves dictate how we act. If we believe that the world is beyond hope or redemption-we will act like it. We will be indifferent to tales of suffering, we will passively accept violence, murder, poverty, injustice etc as simply the way the world works. It seems as if the older we get the more that we view hope and the stories that endorse it as nothing more than fairy-tales.

In society, we value verifiable facts to the point where stories and myths are treated as unimportant and they are denigrated as unscientific and false. In regards to myths, we act like the Doctor and dismiss them as silly. However, theologian Marcus Borg, provides a different viewpoint exhorting the value of myths, specifically religious myths:

…Myths are metaphorical narratives about the relation between this world and the sacred. Myths typically speak about the beginning and the ending of the world, its origin and destiny, in its relation to God. Myths use non literal language; in this sense, they do not narrate facts. But myths are necessary if we are to speak at all about the world’s origin and destiny in God. We have no other language for such matters… myths are true even if they are not literally true.
-Reading the Bible Again for the First Time

The myths/stories we hold onto matter. I for one, do not think that the incarnation and the resurrection are literal facts that can be scientifically and historically proven. I know some people will want to argue with me and will ignore everything I have said thus far and will continue to say. But for me the historical validity of sacred stories does not matter as much as what the story says about God and God’s relationship to the world. I cherish the story of the incarnation, even though it can’t be scientifically and historically “proven” (though some have tried) because  it expresses the reality of a compassionate God who not only stands alongside those who are suffering, but who also suffers with the marginalized and the oppressed. Likewise, in terms of the resurrection, I do not interpret it as a literal and historical event. I do think it points to the larger truth that the systems and powers of this world do not overpower the purposes and justice of God.

The myths and stories do have value. The Doctor does not believe that he is a hero and as a result he cannot believe that Robin Hood exists. And the Doctor is right, old fashioned, perfect heroes do not exist. Robin Hood coincides that much and admits he isn’t a hero. But the stories that we base our lives around, whether or not they are “literally” true can point to a larger reality. The Doctor may not think he is a hero, but he has inspired Clara to open her mind and believe in the impossible. Perhaps in the end what ultimately matters are the stories that inspire us and that we re-tell again and again:

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