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.
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?
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?