As most of you probably know, I spend a lot of my time watching, thinking about, and writing about Doctor Who. It’s been a bit of an obsession of mine since I first started watching it in earnest in the summer of 2009. But after all the hours of binge-watching, the thousands of words I’ve written, the hours of podcasts I’ve both listened to and been part of, the promise of new Who still gets me amped, and an ever-growing number of other people feel the same way. And the big question that I present myself is – Why? Why is it that Doctor Who has taken the world over, and why is it so many people take the weird, 50-year-old adventures of a nutcase who travels around in a box into their hearts the way they have? Well, I think I’ve partially answered that question.
In the current media climate, where everything is violent and bleak and angry, we all need a bit of goofiness mixed in with our scares and thrills. This is why so many people took to Guardians of the Galaxy the way they did; it’s a space adventure movie that’s, believe it or not, actually fun! Science fiction used to be fun, and exploring space and time should always be so. Even in the darkest and most dire situations presented on Doctor Who, the overall feeling is one of joyful fun-having. We all want to travel in the TARDIS, and why wouldn’t we? In between running for your life, you get to go to planets with purple giraffes or mountains made of pillows or whatever. That’s something everybody can dream of doing.
The stories and the way they’re written also promote creativity and critical thinking. They’re so imaginative and the plots are (usually) so enthralling that anyone who watches them is probably left feeling excited simply by not being pandered to or lulled into malaise by something loud or dumb. Kids who watch these shows start to think about things in a different way and probably will start writing or at least imagining more. Every single writer of the new series to date was a fan of Doctor Who growing up and cite it as a huge inspiration to them. That can’t be said for every series, or even every science fiction series. The stories are complex but not impenetrable; kids say “That gives me an idea” and not “I could never do that.” That’s a powerful thing.
But, ultimately, I think the main reason we all love Doctor Who is simple: the Doctor. He’s awesome. I’m not the first one to say this by any means, but he’s the perfect hero for the geeky outsider. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s dashing, he always fights for the picked-on and persecuted, and he shuns violence whenever he can. Name me any other hero in science fiction who is so inclined. He’s a symbol for the power of intelligence and kindness and not physical domination and intimidation. It’s as simple as that. As cool as a Jack Bauer or a John McClane are, they’re completely unrelatable to the vast majority of people. Even noble people like Aragorn or Batman are way above what any normal person can do, aside from showing off resilience. The Doctor, however, out-thinks his enemies, pays attention to his surroundings, has read EVERY BOOK, and doesn’t need to walk around guns blazing to prove any kind of point.
In short, we need Doctor Who in our lives. There’s always so much turmoil and strife and for our fiction, or escape from reality, to be as dark and unfeeling as our reality is, then why even escape to begin with? It hearkens back to a time when heroes weren’t so anti-heroic, when adventures were more about ideas than action, and when hope still sprang forth from even the bleakest of times. Where else can a main character die heroically over and over again and still come back the same, and sometimes better, than before? It’s a strange educational program from Britain made for Saturday tea-time in the early 1960’s. A half-hour needed filling, and it led to me writing another 700+ words in the year 2014. 51 years; as of tomorrow, 801 episodes will have aired. It’s not going away, and neither are we.