It’s really all about learning to be human. On being human.
As alien as the Doctor is, what character can really be more human? He’s complicated and loving and angry and bitter and spontaneous. There is no character more human that the Doctor: because he feels alien.
Feeling alien is part and parcel of being human. It’s tied in with our nature to feel somewhat disconnected from life and lives and the earth. Journey. Pilgrimage.
I watched Doctor Who throughout my time in Bulgaria. Seasons 5-7 twice.
So I was in Seasons 5-7. I watched to the episode that Amy and Rory leave. And I was crushed. Broken.
I think the diversity of opinions about Doctor Who confirms its strength. Different people have related with different seasons, doctors, companions. And the debates are fierce. The show, however, weathers these changes and allegiances. It’s a rare show that is supposed to change on a regular basis and then succeeds at it quite impressively. People stay even when they’d prefer Donna Noble to Amelia Pond to Clara Ozwald. Or so-and-so to David Tennant to Matt Smith. It’s a franchise built to change and to be flexible. That makes it enduring as well.
I’m an Amy Pond girl, myself. And Matt Smith fan. I don’t think it’s Clara’s fault she’s so terrible but the blimy writers who suddenly lose the ability to conceive of interesting villains.
But within all of this, it’s the humanity that interests me. The key idea seems to be: what is humanity? What are humans? What is virtue and what is vice? How do we live with both living and raging inside of us?
Even the Doctor, our ultimate hero, is vulnerable to the vices that define his enemies. “We have grown strong in fear of you” one Dalek (a classic enemy) notes. “We find your anger beautiful. Perhaps that is why we have never been able to destroy you.” Anger and loss and grief are as part of the Doctor’s character as his spirit for peace and quirkiness and need for friendship. The Doctor needs what we all need: companions on journies. Someone to tie us down. To remind us of what is really important.
“Don’t travel alone” River Song tells him. (And what happened to her, seriously? But that’s a writing problem in the larger arching plot). Don’t be alone. Something goes wrong in each of us when we choose to let isolation and individuality define our stories.
There is also a sense that his directionless is part of our human experience too. He’s constantly moving, much like our current times, but he moves to help others. He carries his home, The Tardis, with him, but is still in search of some kind of stillness that he can also participate in. He needs peace, not simply unmoving, which is a sign of his withdrawal.
All of these things I have seen myself struggle with in Bulgaria this year. I have felt isolated and alone and found that everything was better with a companion. The darkness inside of me was resistable when I had someone at my side. I have felt the grief and bitterness of past harm overwhelm me. And I have still gotten up in the mornings to teach those I was asked to teach, like the Doctor still showing up to save the world--though he was a good deal happier about the process than I generally was AND I don’t know that my classes will save the world.
And the direction he ultimately found was home/ A home he thought was destroyed. While I don't ‘have the destruction of my home on my conscience, I do know what it is to feel like home is destroyed and cannot be returned to. But this year has changed that. My home is not my whole family but the members of my family. They are the individuals I love and who love me. And I cannot live without them, not the way I tried to live this year. I had no idea until I went on the other side of the world what community and blood relatives gave me in life. I cannot wait to go back to being angry at them over their stupid life choices and their judgement of me: because I can be angry in person and not suffer the loneliness of my own absence. They, and their messed up lives, are my home. Me and my messed up life need to be with Them.
My students asked me in the last month, “What is the first thing you will do when you get home?”
Cry. Cry and cry and cry because I am so happy to be there and happy to get to be unhappy there and miserable and disappointed and hurt. Happy because it is there and by them and not by other strangers in this world.
“At least now I know where I’m travelling: I’m travelling home.” –Matt Smitth Doctor, 50th anniversary episode
Me too, Doctor. Me too.