Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dr. Who, Hero For All Times

As I write this entry about Dr. Who, I should mention first that I just went to my first Who Convention.  This took place in Chicago, or at least the vicinity of Chicago called Lombard.  The whole event was known as ChicagoTardis.  I went into the convention without many preconceptions.  I was doing it mainly for my daughters, newly minted Whovians themselves, thanks to my influence.  I enjoyed congregating with fellow whovians immensely, and was reminded of exactly how influential this odd man and his blue box truly are.

Like many people of a certain age I started my time travels with the good Doctor thanks to PBS and syndicated broadcasts aired in the 1970s and 80s.  At that time the series episodes being shown were heavily drawn from the Tom Baker era since he was then the man piloting the tardis.  Later on came quite competent and entertaining incarnations of the character, but, as some clever t-shirt designer noted, you never forget your first Doctor.

For this writing I will not journey across the series remarking on the qualities of various actors, companions, monsters, etc.  The character of The Doctor, regardless of actors portraying him, this is what I wanted to explore with this blog as I sat in the 2.5 hour line at that convention.  I was dressed as the fourth doctor, quite well, I should say, with beautiful detail accents courtesy of my artist friend, Gretchen.  She was able to make a lapel pin for me to match one Tom Baker's fourth Doctor wore a few times in the series.  It is a unique piece I can safely say none of the other 4ths at the convention had bothered with.  An outfit becomes a costume when one pays attention to the details.

Why did hundreds of adults and many children come together to celebrate this clever character?  We dressed up, acted silly, listened raptly, hurried about, and, of course queued up, over and over to immerse ourselves in a make-believe world hatched fifty years ago.

The Doctor is an alien.  He has two hearts.  He is from the planet Gallifrey, but looks quite human.  He would point out, though, that we look Gallifreyan.  He pilots a ship that can travel throughout space and time, which is partly why he is also known as a Time Lord.  So with his ship, which looks like a 1960s British police box, but it's bigger on the inside, and seemingly not much of a plan, he ventures on, always managing to save the world and the greater universe from a host of malevolent races and beings.  So far he doesn't sound like someone with the makings of star appeal.

The Doctor also travels with those whom he calls his companions.  These are regular humans from various eras and locales, though never terribly far from London.  The companions keep the Doctor more in touch with his humanity, alien though he is.  And even though the Doctor has a lifespan greater than anyone, thanks to the clever writer's trick called regeneration, he never sinks too far into the depression brought on by centuries of life.  He gets close, but this is one of the reasons for the companions.  They stand in for the viewer and allow us to enter the sphere of the Doctor's influence for a while.  They help answer the endless questions the show generates.

The Doctor is a pacifist.  He is a pacifist with a past filled with violence and destruction.  He has seen and caused the deaths of countless beings, and yet he goes on.  He knows the end of the story, possibly the end of all stories, but he continues to influence the details.  Doctor Who never directly kills.  He doesn't carry a weapon of death.  He carries a scientific instrument called a sonic screwdriver.  He battles with his mind, his wits, his wisdom.  And he is terribly clever.  I think this is the essence of why the Doctor has the massive appeal he has.  Like Odysseus, he is admired as a hero because he uses his mind.  He leaves others to the tasks involving violence and destruction, although he does take responsibility for those times when the actions of others leave no other choice but to end their lives to protect his chosen few.  Whenever possible, and there's always a choice, the Doctor avoids the violent path.

The Doctor, the man whose name has never been revealed, is a vanquisher, conqueror, and hero without ever firing a weapon.  He doesn't have to enter the boxing ring to beat the bully.  He doesn't have to raise an army to defeat the enemy forces.  No matter how impossibly the enemy threatens and overwhelms him, he never fails to think.  And it is in thinking that he outwits and outplays the enemy, every time.  The Doctor uses knowledge, the knowledge of a man centuries old and universally aware, to save the weak and powerless.

The viewer has the impression that the Doctor is capable of far more than he ever shows.  This is manifested in the reactions of his enemies to him.   They fear him.  Some even respect him.  The Doctor allows most of us to believe in our own powers and our own possibilities.  Very few of us could actually be Batman, Bruce Lee, Wonder Woman, or the Hulk.  Nor are we likely to live for 900 years, but if we did....  We who love the Doctor love the power of the mind.  We love the idea that anyone might be clever, and so could outwit the enemy.  We can imagine saving someone if we are only clever enough.

And if we are clever enough we may be able to rescue ourselves in the process.