As viewers currently know the character, Doctor Who is a 900-year old human-male-looking alien from the planet Gallifrey. He travels the past, present and future of the universe and its planets, particularly Earth, in a vehicle called a TARDIS. In his last three regenerations, he is now, so far as he knows, the last of his people, the Time Lords. His regenerations have changed his appearance from that of an elderly grandfather, to a sandy-haired cricketer, and most recently, a youngish, athletic collegiate-looking affable chap.
This article comments on and ponders the Doctor’s latest three incarnations: Doctors Nine, Ten, and Eleven. While Doctor Who affords great entertainment, and may certainly never intend to teach anything about life and people, there are lessons that might be learned. The opinions and viewpoints contained herein belong solely to this writer.
Three Different Doctors:
The Ninth Doctor is assuredly a dark and gloomy fellow. How he regenerated into this form is unknown. Clad in black leather, he has become the last survivor of Gallifrey, after a great and terrible Time War. His experiences from that war, in his own few words now and then, have scarred him. Where once he seemed generally always kindly and genteel, he now initially seems hardly able to welcome any contact with others. He no longer has admiration for humans, even referring to them angrily as stupid apes. He rather cold-bloodedly allows Cassandra to die, “executing” her for the deaths she caused. To the Ninth Doctor’s credit, he rejoices when nanogenes save a child and everyone else in the near vicinity, restoring lost mobility and even lost limbs. Nobody dies. Instead, everyone lives. Perhaps that wonder and delightful joy began to remind him that the universe is not filled only with fire, rage and death, and that he can be part of life and living. However, later on, he dispassionately and readily intends to bring Margaret “Slitheen” to justice (and death) on her home planet. Would his Fourth, Fifth, even Sixth regenerations have instead been content to give her a second chance?
With all that, it seems remarkable that the Ninth Doctor would have invited anyone along to travel in the TARDIS. But he does, and in part there, may lie his “salvation.”
Nine can remind us that no matter how dark and dire life becomes, it is always best shared with someone. But one might always feel uneasy and uncomfortable around him.
Eventually, as he must, the Doctor regenerates, and becomes a new man. Gone is that dark and somewhat sinister warrior. The Tenth Doctor is a “lad next door,” the pal with whom you might just spend hours listening to music. He now wears a blue or gray suit, trainers, and a long tan coat. Occasionally he puts on spectacles. He looks something like a teacher, and in fact, pretends twice to be just that. While several of his incarnations have been easy on the eyes, Ten is more outwardly flirtatious. As this new regeneration stabilizes, he even ponders if he is “sexy.” During his time, he had romances with several women. Ten indeed seems a very romantic, endearing, boy-next-door/best-friend person. While he has shed much of his survivor’s guilt-he has once again demonstrated his complete admiration for humanity, and is far more comfortable around people, than his previous incarnation. Yet, by his “death,” Ten has become arrogant. He breaks Time’s laws, saving a human whom history had already shown was to die-simply because he was Time Lord Victorious. Later he showed resentment, at least for a while, about saving the life of a different human. Where Nine had been clad in blackness, Ten’s behavior at the end became even darker, and in fact, in some ways he is more frightening and alarming than Nine ever was.
The Tenth Doctor is most assuredly a romantic figure. He is tragic as well. His regeneration never quite exorcised whatever demons that burned in him as Nine. He formed a bond with his companion that became romantic love—but it was more as if he wanted to escape from being the one who always saves everything and everyone. The Time War had shown him the absolute worst in destruction and desolation—the only answer to that has to be to connect forever with someone close and specific.
Ten’s need for that kind of love made him the center of fantasy dream, an understandable perspective. It was certainly enhanced by his tall, lithe appearance and boyish charming smile. But, regretfully, that is also a limiting, viewpoint. It betrays the greater strength of what, and, pun aside, who, the Doctor represents. He is the alien “other,” and yet, at the very same time, he is “best friend.” How often we dream and hope intently for that kind of loyal caring trust, from those more like us than less.
Ten also demonstrates that, at least sometimes, there is always a consequence for our actions. But at the same time, there may always also be a new chance. In his case, his once again making that seemingly impossible choice-he may have flailed against it, but when it came to it, he saved Wilf’s life after all-he regenerated into a new chance to finally perhaps purge, heal his scars, and purify his spirit.
If Ten’s incarnation purged some of Nine’s survivor guilt and gloom, Eleven exorcises Ten’s ending self-glorification. Remarkably, and somewhat perfectly for the purpose, the Eleventh Doctor meets the girl who will eventually be his companion first as a child. She is innocent and trusting. Eleven himself, eventually wearing the bow tie and tweed jacket, seems more childlike than either his Ninth or Tenth incarnations. Where Nine could not abide families or children, Ten accepted invitations to Christmas dinners. Finally we see Eleven, minutes after emphatically stating the rules are he never gets involved, rushing out to see why a child is crying. This is the Doctor who told another child, “Trust me.” With his youthful and more boyish appearance, it might be easy to underestimate the Doctor in his current form. But, to mistake Eleven as innocent or hapless would be a mistake. He chastises alien invaders and defeats the awful and formidable Weeping Angels. He might flirt oddly with a woman from his future, but he faces off against his darker side, (still bearing some baggage?) and reboots the universe. He still also has a dose of that overweening, alien, ancient, arrogance-don’t ever think to play games with him.
Eleven is perhaps not such a romantic figure as is Ten. He is definitely more playful and whimsical than Nine. All of them are still the best “best friend” one can hope to have. They also inspire one to “be” the best friend one can ever hope to be.
Three incarnations—dissimilar in appearance, in personality quirks, and in attitudes about the life, the universe and all things in between. Yet—the connections between the Doctors are constant and present. He may change—but he is always, at hearts, the same.
Three Faces-One Doctor
The Doctor stands as Earth’s defender. Nine tells the Slitheen to leave the planet, or he would stop them. Ten tells the Sycorax, and Eleven tells the Atraxi, in quite similar circumstances, that Earth is defended (inferentially, or directly, by him).
The Doctor hates Daleks. Their appearance brings out a visceral reaction in him. But he also always fights against any injustice, any person, people, or “race,” that attempts to enslave or destroy another race.
The Doctor is fascinated by technology, by life-forms he has not yet encountered, and mostly, by humanity’s adventurous and unstoppable spirit. If he offers nothing else, he provides a mirror by which we can always see ourselves at our best. Sometimes his curiosity gets him into trouble! But he never hesitates to explore and learn.
The Doctor thinks various things are good, or cool. Nine liked bananas, said they were good. Ten claimed he invented banana daiquiris. Eleven thinks bow ties, hats, and fish fingers/custard are cool.
The Doctor is prone to saying odd things. Ten said “Correctamundo” and immediately said he would never say that word again. Eleven said “Who da man” and immediately said he would never say that again. Perhaps some time the Doctor may again even say “wicked,” with some delight.
The Doctor is protective of his companions. He delights in showing off his TARDIS, and sharing all possible adventures with new people. While he does love adventure, when it comes to their safety, he is not averse to yelling, “Run!” He also would rather say good-bye to them than endanger them. Nine and Eleven sent their companions home to keep them safe. Ten was angry when his companions put themselves in danger to help him. It is noble that he is so protective, yet at the same time, his companions have always walked into danger at his side. Four never told Sarah Jane to stay behind-in fact at times he asked her outright to do something only she could manage. Seven did not discourage Ace from using explosives. The most damnable thing ever said to the Doctor was when Davros told him he shaped his companions into weapons. Piled on top of his other baggage, those words may have helped unhinge Ten toward the end of that incarnation. It did not stop Eleven, however, from taking on new companions. Hopefully it won’t stop him after Amy and Rory have left!
The Doctor’s Themes
Doctor Who presents viewers with thematic treasures.
Rose was a shop girl. Martha was studying medicine. Donna was a temp. Amy was a kiss-o-gram. Rory was a nurse. None of them were soldiers, or scientists—nobody of any note. They each are just average people, like most of us. We often see our being “average” as obstacle. We tell ourselves that, or we take it from others around us. But the Doctor tells us average does not have to exist. When challenged by alien races and planets, weapons, and dangers, each of those “average folks” found they could think outside the box, ask the right questions, be better, more clever, ready to meet it all head-on, with just their own wits, strength, and trust to guide them. “Average” is not in the Doctor’s vocabulary.
Act even when Afraid:
The Doctor never says don’t be afraid-instead, he says that only morons are never afraid. The places he goes, the battles he fights, are not ones that will ever face any of us. Then again, we fight all manner of things every day that he probably would never understand. The Doctor never stops. He never gives up. He always has a plan. He always thinks there is a solution. The Doctor is not what saves humanity and the Earth, well, outside of that fictional universe. We in fact save ourselves every single day, so long as we act, and don’t let the fear stop us.
Be Ready to see with New Eyes:
The Doctor is more than 900 years old. He has seen time past and future, and knows what happens when. He has yet to seem bored, however. He is nowhere close to “seeing it all.” Nine and Ten each acknowledged that they will see everything as if for the first time, because, in truth, they will themselves be new, with new eyes, new outlook, new-everything. The Doctor certainly encourages the same notions for anyone who journeys with him.
Friend and Friendship:
This is perhaps the most powerful theme within the Doctor Who tale. Two people meet, each from literally completely different worlds. They differ greatly in knowledge, age, experiences, genetics, self-image and more. In some circumstance and time, one might think how could they ever become or stay friends? Yet, they do. These two disparate individuals become friends, to the point of meeting danger, together, as partners, and even as equals. It is a mutual friendship. The companions trust the Doctor beyond question, and the Doctor trusts his companions beyond question. He may tease and mock them, and they may be frustrated at not understanding him. Each, however, always has the other’s back. All the amusing flirty bits, those fantasy elements of a mysterious stranger sweeping one away to travel in a time machine, might get in the way of this magnificent wonder, this tale of friendship. But it is there, powerful and poignant, nonetheless. The Doctor and his companions represent the magnificence of friendship, the kind that surpasses question, strangeness, fear, self-image, self-confidence, gender, age, and looks. He eagerly anticipates sharing all his amazing and fantastic sights and adventures. There can be just one reason for that eagerness. The Doctor genuinely, deeply believes that both the adventures, and the companions, are assuredly worth it. He never ever considers he may ever be disappointed by his friends. His friends never consider they may ever disappoint him. Because friends just are.
May the Doctor continue to travel, and take all of us with him.