(In accordance with the nerd rule #12 this is to warn you that this blog may contain light spoilers--but not really--about the Doctor Who episodes: Human Nature, The Family of Blood, Journey's End, The Water of Mars, The End of Time, Hungry Earth, and The Pandorica Opens)
Tonight, in preparation for an internet/cable upgrade in the morning, my sister and I were trying to transform our room from "death trap" to "quick, hide that under the pillow." As per normal, this event contains very little cleaning and more idol gossip than is useful for any of our goals. But despite how many shoes we own, and the clothes spilling out of the wedged-open closet, this was not your typical girl-time gossip. No, when you get me and my sister together we inevitably fall into only one conversational topic: Doctor Who.
The most current discussion centered around the Doctor's actions at the end of The Water of Mars and whether his actions constituted a progression into "evil" or were simply the result from having way too much shit happen to him recently (ie the recent loss of Donna and the knowledge that his time might be coming to an end soon). And while this conversation was entertaining, I was struck with the re-occurrence of a much bigger question that has puzzled me for years:
Who is Doctor Who? And what is it about the Doctor that fascinates us so much?
For one sub-group of Whovians it could be that this was a program they grew up with. Much like I find myself remembering the x-men with the tint of childhood wonder and imagination, I believe there are a group of people who have come out of a childhood that was influenced by the Doctor, and have come to embrace the new Doctor Who as a way to recapture that wonder they felt as children. They were the ones that lived it all.
They were the lucky ones, I feel. They got to have a life of building up fantasies and watching the Doctor change faces and personalities. I could go back and watch every one of the old episodes and I would never be able to feel what those children must have felt the first time they saw the Tardis fly (it doesn't actually really fly that well, but I hope you know what I mean). By the time I found my Doctor I was already on my way out of my teens, and had long ago lost the ability to have the same wonder I had as a child. I saw the Doctor (Eccleston and then Tennant) but I also saw the incredible sets and goofy graphics. I fell in love with the Doctor's crazy grin, but also Tennant's acting. I heard such profound speeches, and was floored by such wonderful writing. The Doctor could never be "just the Doctor", he was also always Eccleston, Tennant, or Smith.
Another aspect in how we define the Doctor, is the cultural influence that circles around the Doctor Who experience. We define who the Doctor is by who he is to the culture around us. To the British the Doctor could be a show that has at once shaped a country and been shaped by that country. Coming up on fifty years with Doctor Who, the UK has lived with the Doctor longer than many of us have been alive. They have taken a show and brought it into their lives. They all have their Doctor, much like we have ours. But even in the here and now, in America, Canada, Australia, France, India, Egypt, Brazil, Japan, etc...(just guessing on some of those, but there have to be Whovians out there somewhere) there are people who not only watch Doctor Who, but love their Doctors. We have built a community where we argue over favorite episodes, pick apart story lines and try to hammer them into a coherent cannon, where we make songs and scribble posters that we line our walls with. We are all part of who Doctor Who is. We named ourselves, we became Whovians, a thing, a group, a community.
But I didn't have that culture when I first fell in love with the Doctor. I was a loner, and a geek, and lacking all social skills. I lived with my grandparents, a hour and half away from my sister and brother (both die-hard Whovians), and had no connect with anyone like me. But still I fell. Hard and fast, I fell for the Doctor with his quick smile and his simple admonition to "run!" So lacking the childhood experience (me being too young) and lacking the cultural upbringing (me being too American and about as tech-savvy as a block of wood) I was left to come up with my own answers to "Who is Doctor Who?"
So, who is the Doctor to me?
The Doctor is everything I want to be, and everything I can never have. He is humility, and compassion, and adventure, but his also judgment, and alien, and a star that burns far hotter for all of its charm. My Doctor is "a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior... A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. And nothing could stop [him], or hold [him], or reason with [him]. One day [he] would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world" (The Pandorica Opens). But my Doctor would also sacrifice anything, sacrifice himself, to save one tiny human. An alien so insanely human, so incredibly implausible.
We want the Doctor to always be the good one, always win, always do the right thing...but I don't know if that is a realistic expectation to stick on one character. That he has regrets is what makes him so real to us. He is hundreds of years old, and yet he still has not figured everything out. Sometimes he is so human, and we love him for it. But he can never really stay in that form, the watch has to open. He is as alien to us as we are to him. He is the "us" and the "other" all rolled up into one crazy, genius, empathetic being. He is what we aspire to, even when we fail to be the "best of humanity" (Hungry Earth) on a daily basis.
He is not just a number, a name, or even a childhood memory. He is not just the center of a culture that loves arguing about him. He is all of those things and more. The Doctor is what connects me to my little brother and sister, it is what connects me to the nerdfighters, and the nerdfighters to each other. The Doctor is what inspires us to see the stars as more than balls of super-heated gas. He makes us think that our Doctor is not impossible..."just a bit unlikely" (The Doctor's Daughter).
That is my Doctor Who. Who is the Doctor to you?