With the next new episode of Doctor Who coming out at the end of this month on BBC America, I figured this was a good time to do a post on why I like Doctor Who because, based on the plot line, I really shouldn’t.
If you are not familiar with Doctor Who, and many Americans are not, I encourage you to check it out. It’s been around since 1963 and is the longest running science fiction T.V. show ever. Prior to the new series, which began in 2005 (and which I personally find absolutely brilliant), the episodes had an almost ‘homemade’ feel and the special effects were pretty basic. These are not the reasons it should not have appealed to me though.
The premise of the series is that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey and he travels in his TARDIS, a space-time vehicle with the outward appearance of a 1960s era British police call box (although it is much bigger on the inside). He almost always has human companions who he seems to truly care for (platonically).
I am not normally drawn to time travel based plots because I don’t think time travel is plausible in any practical sense. I also find the paradoxes involved difficult to fit into any coherent philosophical outlook and irreconcilable with my personal understanding of physics. Since I am unable to suspend disbelief in this particular area, I cannot normally get into time travel stories.
But I really like Doctor Who. Why?
It is the character of the Doctor I find compelling. There is his quixotic outlook toward injustice, his almost childlike sense of wonder, his enthusiasm for discovery, and, of course, his unique sense of fashion. The combination makes for a mildly eccentric and totally likeable character. But what I find most appealing about the Doctor is his perception of humanity.
In many, if not most science fiction stories, aliens come in two types insofar as their regard toward humanity goes; hostile and benign indifference. The Doctor is different. He does not see humans as worthy adversaries (e.g. Klingons), best ignored (e.g. Vulcans), or lunch (e.g. Alien). He finds us fascinating and, surprisingly, admirable and inspiring. Yes, we can certainly be barbaric, judgmental, superstitious, and paranoid but he also sees that we recognize these shortcomings and work to overcome them.
The way he looks at humanity as a whole across time and simultaneously as unique individuals provides the basis for his unique perspective. A few episodes, very few, suggest that the Doctor himself is “half human,” but it remains unclear if this is meant to describe his genetics or his attitude. Which of these it actually is hardly matters though with regard to his unique outlook. He sees us from the inside, as individuals inhabiting specific points in space-time, as well as from the outside, as an evolving species across the vast expanse of space-time, and he admires our desire and ability to progress and grow, both as individuals and as a species. Our need to understand the universe and ourselves, our capacity to reflect and question our assumptions, our instinct for compassion–these are the things that have allowed us to go from competing bands of odiferous vermin collectors heaving shards of flint at one another, to large, technologically advanced societies with (relatively) just laws, which strive to coexist. He seems certain that these traits will allow us to continue to learn, understand and evolve. I would like to believe he is right.