I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was in my early teens, and was overjoyed when the series returned to television back in 2005, starring the divine Christopher Eccleston. These days, it’s the only television show I actually keep up with, as opposed to bingeing on DVDs at season’s end (though I do that as well, every Christmas). And though I’m rarely perfectly happy with any single episode—what fan is?—that never stops me from continuing to eagerly anticipate the next story, the next companion, the next Doctor. I also go backwards; as older episodes become available on DVD, I’m beginning to catch up on the series’ earliest history as well, and discovering how much I love the immense variety of the black and white stories, and all those awesome 1960s costumes.
To distract myself from vibrating with excitement for the advent of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, I put together this list of the top five things I’ve learned from watching this classic, long-running series.
5. Leaving Home Changes You—For the Better.
The Doctor is a wanderer, who left his own planet and people with only his granddaughter Susan for company. In the new series, his planet has been obliterated, so he’s even more alone. But at the same time, there are millions of things he would never have seen and thousands of diverse people (of all species) he would never have met if he’d remained on Gallifrey. (Not to mention how many times various planets and the universe itself would have been destroyed without him.) The Doctor experiences each new thing with wonder and joy, and tries to take advantage of what it can teach him. As someone who lives a long distance from my family of birth, this message resonates strongly with me, and reminds me to take joy in new experiences.
4. Everyone Needs Someone.
The Doctor begins his journey with only Susan, but he soon acquires other companions, who serve not only as point-of-view characters for the audience but as foils for the Doctor’s alien viewpoint (even when the companions are also nonhuman). As has been frequently demonstrated in the new series, extremely long-lived and excessively clever beings often need a reality check, particularly when they’ve had to make a few too many enormous and terrible decisions. Even in the classic series, this was an issue; Tegan calls the Doctor to task more than once for his priorities. The Doctor has, for the most part, realized he needs friends. When he’s without a companion it’s almost always because he’s fallen into a slough of despond, and while it lasts he tends to talk to himself and hook up with random strangers. Some of whom, luckily, stay with him for a while.
3. Always Listen to Both Sides of the Story.
One of the key elements of the series is that looks have very little to do with motives. Over and over again, the Doctor’s human companions see what they think is a horrifying alien creature, only to learn, because the Doctor and the creature had a conversation, that the tentacle horror is actually a pretty nice being and will help them. Insides matter more than outsides, blah blah blah—but there’s more to it than that. Despite being originally designed a show for children, episodes often go a lot deeper than one might expect into expectations versus reality, and how individual points of view can totally change how you view a situation. I love that this show rarely goes the easy route.
2. You Just Can’t Argue With Some People.
The Doctor is always on the side of Life, but some monsters just need killing. Take the Daleks. In the classic series, at least, the Wheeled Trashcans of Doom had the simple goal of eliminating all that was not Dalek. That’s just not fair, and the Doctor takes action to stop their evil plans, over and over again.
1. You Don’t Have To Be Nice To Be Good.
The Doctor is not always a nice person. He’s arrogant about how clever he is, and sometimes he shamelessly manipulates his companions into doing what he wants, and he puts a lot of people at risk during his adventures. He’s a dreadful showoff in all incarnations. But in the end, all of that matters less than the fact that he always tries to do the right thing when it counts, even if doing the right thing is personally painful to him. And sometimes he has trouble deciding what the right thing actually is.
For instance, there’s a classic moment in “Genesis of the Daleks” in which he must choose whether or not to eliminate his greatest enemies at the moment of their creation. His ultimate decision matters less to me than the fact that it’s a terrible decision to make, and the way he faces it shows how deeply he cares for life of all kinds. “The Fires of Pompeii” from the new series is another example, in which he’s faced with choosing the safety of individuals versus the safety of history itself. Every time an issue like this arises in the series, it leads me to ponder what I would do in those circumstances, and makes me think about what I really believe.
I have high hopes for Peter Capaldi in the new series. He’s a wonderful actor with a tremendous range, and besides that he was once in a punk band. Who could possibly be better for the role?