Disclaimer: I know little of Doctor Who prior to the 2005 reboot. As a kid I refused to watch Doctor Who. I had an overactive imagination, and the one episode I did watch gave me the willies. Something about the Daleks – those oversize futuristic garbage cans – gave me nightmares. The one episode I did see, their mechanical, inhuman nature managed to scare this little six year-old.
It’s kind of funny, because somewhere around twenty-five years later, I found myself listening to a Radio National program on the philosophy of hatred that defines the Daleks. Watching the premiere of the latest season of the Doctor’s adventures, I’m reminded of this podcast in the line ‘You think hatred is beautiful.’
The episode is also an introduction to the doctor’s new companion, Oswin, who (like the Doctor’s wife River Song) enters the show ‘in reverse’ – at the time of her death.
I guess the appeal of the Doctor, for me, lies somewhere at the intersection of these three places – the swashbuckling, boys’ own adventure; the philosophic debates underpinning the stories; and the nature of the doctor’s relationship to humans, especially his companions.
So clearly, I eventually started to watch the Doctor. But it was only after the series had a reboot, and I was reluctantly introduced to it by my housemate. I can’t pretend he forced me into it, but I can’t say the story of a time-travelling alien who keeps human companions and runs around in a police-box-shaped spaceship was particularly endearing to start with.
This madness of storylines launches the current season, too. The Doctor and his two companions – a couple on the cusp of divorce – are kidnapped by his enemies, the Daleks. Their parliament requests his help in saving their lives, as someone has infiltrated their ‘Asylum’, a planet that holds all the ‘defective’ Daleks. This is followed by an adventure on a spaceship hurtling towards Earth in the year 2367 AD, populated by dinosaurs. Then the Doctor and his companions travelling to a town in the American ‘Wild West’, terrorised by a cyborg. And there’s the latest episode – due to air on the ABC this week – where the Doctor comes and stays with his companions for a year, hanging out at their lovely home in London while sinister black boxes invade Earth.
The third episode focuses a lot on the doctor’s love/hate relationship with humans. His absence from Amy and Rory’s life has left him unmoored from his usual humanistic tendencies – something Amy recognises and calls him on: “See, this is what happens when you travel alone too long.” It’s a double-edged sword the Doctor runs along. Like the protagonist of Huysmans’ A Rebours – someone who locks himself up from the rest of the world in a tiny house to experiment with excess – the separation from the social aspects of humanity leads the Doctor to lose his interest in humanity’s foibles. Of course, these are the very things that keep his interest in humans when he spends a lot of time with them. (For the literarily minded, A Rebours is also the unnamed story that Dorian Grey reads that sends him off on his decadent voyage).
The companions he chooses are studies in these foibles – there’s a definitive, vulnerable strength to them. From Rose, the slacker who fell in love with him, to Martha and Donna, his almost completely polar-opposite friends, through to Rory and Amy who are more like parents. (This was literally played out last season, where it was revealed they are in fact his parents-in-law). This last relationship is more obvious this season, too, where Amy becomes the all-powerful, knowing and protective mother, reading the doctor’s thought process at the Dalek parliament, boasting in the second episode she’s “easily worth two men”, acting as his moral compass in a town called Mercy and most recently, pushing him around the house. Rory is the frustrated, ignored, but resourceful father – note that the Doctor refers to them by Amy’s maiden name and not Rory’s surname.
This is most amusingly played out with the Doctor acting the hyperactive, bored child around the Ponds’ house – he’s able to kick a football 5,000,000 times in the air, paint a fence, and vacuum the house, all in the space of an hour.
However, there’s something about their travels that is tearing the Ponds apart. On the verge of divorce – Amy signs the papers at the beginning of the season, but it is revealed that the reason is she did so to let Rory have more children (their time travelling has left her incapable of bearing kids). Beyond that, they’re concerned their double lives are going in different directions – they’re ageing faster than their ‘regular’ friends. Ultimately, though, their choice is to continue with the Doctor, that playing adults is nowhere near as fun as jumping around the universe. Here’s hoping that you’ll enjoy the ride, too.