The Doctor’s Heart

In the Woman Who Lived, Catherine Tregenna invites us to enter the Doctor’s experience of immortality. 

Ashildre is gone, replaced with a beyond world-weary, complicated, and practically hopeless Lady Me. She has lived for almost as long so the Doctor had when the re-boot began in 2005. Her “mayfly” perspective on humanity sounds familiar to us after 10 years with the Doctor. So, we accept, at least I do, Lady Me as the Doctor’s peer, in the same vein as River, The Master, and Jack.

More than anyone, these two episodes take Doctor’s point of view. If Ashildr serves as a reflection of the person Clara has been to the Doctor, Lady Me presents a prediction of who Clara could become, who the Doctor fears she will become.  In Ashildr, we witness the doctor’s Clara, who she has been to him since he encountered her as the spunky, self-sacrificing savior in Asylum of the Daleks. In Lady Me, we see Clara evolved into the Doctor’s equal and he fears for her soul as he does for his own. 

And so, we see a new face of the Doctor, one he rarely exposes; a deeply ambivalent Doctor. Not momentarily ambivalent, as he was during Genesis of the Daleks, about destroying the newly formed Dalek species. No, this time we have a Doctor plagued with indecision and fear, episode after episode. We find him practically paternally shooing Clara off the TARDIS, while also bemoaning how horrible it will be for him when she is gone. 

In that selfish way of love, the Doctor does not want to let her go, no matter the cost (ergo he saves Ashildr). And yet, he sees in Lady Me exactly the companion (read Clara) who cannot continue to travel with him as she becomes more and more Doctorish. 

This is not the first time the Doctor has faced this dilemma of choosing between what is good for him and what is good for his companions (he left the Ponds for two years after he “died.”) Now, the Doctor is concerned, not just for his impact upon Clara (he frequently struggles with his guilt over how he impacts the lives of his companions -see Let’s Kill Hitler), but he fears the impact his companion will have upon the world (universe) around them. He is afraid of creating a Lady Me who will, as immortality leaches her of humanity (with the Doctor, in the TARDIS) wreck havoc upon the universe.

I loved this episode exactly for this reason. Ambivalence is one of the most common of human experiences. We may fantasize about achieving perfect clarity when faced with difficult or confusing life decisions, but those moments are far and few between. Wanting all things (or least more than one thing) at the same time is a fundamental part of the human experience. Watching the Doctor struggle to pick the right path when any choice could break his heart, a struggle imposed by his deep love for another, reflects an experience we have all had. And so, we find ourselves in the Doctor. Reflection by another lies at the heart of human connection. In the expereince of reflection, we connect with the Doctor and become open to learn from our differences. In this way, despite his otherworldliness, he reflects our lives while simultaneously teaching us to grab onto the adventure, hang-on tight, and enjoy the ride.




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