Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lessons from Doctor Who: The Doctor

With my last post, I scratched the surface of what I believe has made Doctor Who such a fabulous and endlessly popular show: the wonderful character(s) that inhabit it. "S" is in parenthesis because sometimes the character playing opposite are amazing (DONNA) and sometimes so-so. The Doctor, however, is usually wonderful. I'm going to list some things I think make him a great character--I'm mostly fixing on the Tenth incarnation because he's the one that got me hooked and stayed the longest that I've watched, though some of these descriptions fit Nine and Eleven as well. (More on Eleven later.)

1. Zany.
Go ahead, laugh. I do. There's something awesome about going on a trip with a character who might be--who is--just the slightest bit crazy. Saving the earth every two weeks is serious stuff--but if this show only admitted that, and nothing else, it would probably bore us to tears. The Doctor is wild, a bit unpredictable, and almost always outrageously funny. He confuses his enemies by talking at rapid speeds, scares his companions by yelling "OH!" (poor Donna), has at least one zingy one-liner per episode, and yes, licks things.

2. Hurting.
When I finished watching the somewhat infamous "Partners in Crime," I wrote a journal entry about it. Now, it takes a lot to have me write a journal entry about anything. I'm halfway through a 200-page journal I started in May 2007. Enough said. Anyway, I mentioned that the flying fat things were a bit strange, but there was something in his (misunderstood) plea to Donna Noble at the end that resonated with me: he's lonely. Heartbreakingly so. It's mostly him, his TARDIS, and the human companions that come and go. And they, he says, "break my heart." He's the sole survivor of a war the culminated in the extinction of his race, something he feels extremely guilty about. He needs people to travel with him, yet at the same time knows that he will eventually lose all of them.

3. Loving life.
You'd think that someone as hurt as the Doctor would just crawl into a hole and sulk. But he doesn't. He goes out there, saves universes, loves his friends, loves traveling, loves discovery, loves life. He doesn't let what hurts him stop him. In that he doesn't only avoid becoming a drag to follow around, but he becomes admirable.

4. Arrogant.
Ain't gonna lie: this is probably the Doctor's biggest character flaw. He manages to get away with it most of the time because we love him so dang much and because he does seem to have rights to arrogance. He's really good at saving the world and he knows it. He has a tendency to do something of this sort: "okay, I'm cleverest here, I'm now in charge!" It's also this arrogance that helps push him into the messes that are "Midnight" and "Waters of Mars."

5. Confident & Courageous.
The flipside of his arrogance is his confidence: it's sometimes hard to tell which he's demonstrating. He walks into alien confrontations so sure of himself that the other aliens are baffled into listening. He time and time again puts himself in between the attackers and the attackees with a devil-may-care "get past ME first." This quality and the next four have a tendency to run together, but I'm going to go ahead and list them separately.

6. Defender of the weak.
I've always found it ironic that in a secular show that attempts to tote evolution, tolerance, all that good politically correct stuff, has a main character who is defying evolution and the survival-of-the-fittest policy. According to "New Earth" it's good for humans to "evolve"--but according to every attack on our earth, it is NOT good for humans to become Daleks, Cybermen, you name it. The Doctor defends the weak. There's no way around that.

7. Merciful.
Any alien the Doctor goes against, if it's capable of being reasoned with (some are, some aren't--Daleks, anyone?), gets a chance to back down, get away, find a new planet. Often times he even offers to help by way of his TARDIS to get them to another planet. They always get at least one shot to reform; he doesn't kill unless it's absolutely necessary in defense of others.

8. Determined & Morally Grounded.
Coupled with that "one warning" is his fury over injustice. He's not a weakling. He gives people doing evil a chance at reform, and then when they continue in their evil, he stops them. He doesn't say "oh, it's okay because you have a different idea of right and wrong" but instead says (through action): "what you're doing is WRONG and I'M going to STOP you." The mercy and the determination to do what's right combine together to create a strong, moral main character that defies the worldview of his own writers. We love characters that know what's right and what's wrong...and stand up for right. Always.

9. Self-Sacrificing.
This really tags along the very end of the last quality--especially a character in defiance of the worldview of the writers. If the only way to stop evil from prevailing--or even to keep one innocent person from dying--is to die himself, he will go that far. Sometimes he even sacrifices his own happiness for the benefit in others, seen especially in "Journey's End." The Christ-like attitude demonstrated in so many episodes is truly baffling, showing, I think, the longing that every person has for someone that gives up everything for others, even if they don't deserve it.

10. Complex.
So, that's a few qualities about the Doctor that make him fascinating, lovable, identifiable, and many other -bles. But what is perhaps most awesome of all is that the more you watch of him, the more you grow to understand him--and the more he grows and changes, like a real person living a real life. As I was writing this post, it kept growing and growing as I thought of more and more things...which shows how many different aspects add to his complexity.

If you want to know what makes a great character, I suggest looking at the Doctor, what balances him, what appeals to us about him. Hey!--no pressure, he's only one of my top 3 favourite characters ever. (Okay, loads of pressure--it's hard to top the Doctor!)

In a nutshell, that is how Doctor Who survives its plot and alien silliness: one fantastic main character.


Once again, all images found via google and most likely pinched in some way, shape, or form from the awesomeness of BBC. I'm not sure who made the moving one because my internet safety blocks the site--but isn't it AWESOME?


Laura Jenkins said...

Awesome post Nai! You described the Doctor beautifully. :)

Katie Oostman said...

I feel the need to go watch Ten episodes forever. You captured him (or as well as one can), he's not exactly the type of character you can define. :)

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