Oh the deep cleverness of the original minds behind Doctor Who. We talk all the time about the ways in which the companion embodies the experience of the viewing audience. However, have you ever noticed how the viewer shares the experience of the Doctor?
Personally, I am still grieving the eleventh incarnation. He is my Doctor. The other night I watched just a few minutes of Time of the Doctor because I couldn’t remember what the Doctor called the deely-bob he used to project the holograph clothes, (called it “holograph clothes,” BTW) and I wanted to reference it in a comment on Verity! Podcast ( http://veritypodcast.com ) . The 5 mins I watched made my heart ache for missing Matt Smith’s Doctor, and it got me thinking about loss and this show.
Freud said, “We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that a part of us shall remain inconsolable and never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it is completely filled, it will nevertheless remain something changed forever…” I am in good company in feeling no one can ever replace my Doctor, as I have heard many Whovians share similar sentiments. How curious that a character in a screwball, cheesy science-fiction television show can arose such powerful feelings.
Much is spoken about change as a constant and central theme in Doctor Who. The companions change every one or two seasons; the setting, the cast, the story lines are constantly changing (which is why I believe the longer story arcs, the meta arcs, are so important in the reboot-but that’s another post). The Doctor himself has changed 12 (wait 13, no 14?) times.
This constantly shifting, rebooting storyline, especially with each regeneration, places us squarely in the shoes of the Doctor; we feel what he feels. As he is repeatedly losing the people he has come to love and depend upon, so do we repeatedly lose the hero we have come to love.
In The Name of the Doctor, River asks the Doctor, “..why didn’t you speak to me?” The Doctor replies, “Because I thought it would hurt too much.” We, the fans, don’t experience an equally intensive connection with every doctor. But, regardless of the quality of that connection, each time he morphs into a new version of himself, we lose him, it hurts, and we have to adjust. Just as the Doctor also loses, hurts, and adjusts every time he changes companions.
This sense of loss has pervaded Doctor Who since the very beginning. When Susan left her grandfather, the first incarnation said, “…there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan, goodbye, my dear. ” Those moments of film are painful, the Doctor’s loss is palpable. I felt the same way watching Ten say goodbye to Rose (twice!) and Eleven say goodbye to Amy and to Clara.
No storyline explores loss more completely than the central arc of the reboot. From 2005 to today, Gallifrey is lost and the Doctor is the last of his kind. In almost every episode, this most profound loss is referenced and re-experienced. Not only is he the last of his kind, but he is responsible for that loss. For example, In The Hungry Earth, an episodes that has nothing to do with lost Gallifrey, Alaya the captured Silurian says to the Doctor, “I’ll gladly die for my cause. What will you sacrifice for yours?” To which the Doctor turns away with a look of deep loss on his face.
Doctor Who is filled with these small moments, and each time they arrive, we (the Doctor and the viewers) feel grief and loss. The most foundational storyline of Doctor Who ensures that we experience the Doctor in the same way he experiences his life. This sharing of experience may be another thread of explanation for the power of Doctor Who to capture the audience and why we fans are so devoted. Grief and loss are cental components of life and some of the most challenging to manage. Doctor Who may give us a safe, non-threatening place to feel emotions that, when they happen in real life, are too threatening.
Carl Jung said, “Embrace your grief. For there your soul will grow.” So, I encourage you to feel the sadness of losing your Doctor. It is a true loss. And while the next incarnation will take you on cool, new adventures, the connection you felt for your Doctor is a source of inspiration for you. Embrace it. Be grateful we live with such technology that you can watch him whenever you like. Just make sure you take that inspiration into real life and safe the universe in your own way.
Totally Superfluous Question Intended to Increase the Appearance of this Blog Having Value: How have you felt when transitioning between incarnations of the Doctor? How long does it take you to settle into the version? Was there an incarnation that was much harder to lose? How does Doctor Who help you deal with change in the rest of your life? Discuss.