The Doctor as Dabbler

Lately I’ve been gobbling up Doctor Who episodes like nobody’s business. A few weeks ago, BBC America aired a marathon of the revived series, leading up to The two-part “End of Time” special. I got a job offer that day, returned home, put on pajamas and ate Cheez-its on the couch, taking it all in.

Doctor Who was always my father’s show, and since I have an unfortunate amount of dad-baggage, it’s been a blind-spot in my nerd-dom. I’m over that now, because the Doctor belongs in my pantheon of fictional role models.

For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is a long-running science fiction series from the BBC. Its protagonist is a humanoid who travels in time and space, adventuring and righting wrongs. He’s called the Doctor.* There’s extensive mythology around the character, his home planet, and his many adversaries. He usually travels around the universe with one or more assistants/companions, often from Earth, the Doctor’s favorite planet.

*The long-running joke behind the series title goes as follows: The Doctor introduces himself to someone, they respond “Doctor who?”

In both of its incarnations (1963-1989; 2005-present) it’s been delightfully, humorously low-budget. The threadbare monsters remain effective, though, because the plots and dialogue really sell their evil as a form of ideology. Standing in the way of their plans is the mentally flexible Doctor.

Despite being an entirely fictional character, the Doctor is a good role model for how I’d like to traverse the world. He’s innately curious, and readily acknowledges that he doesn’t know everything. He’s confident in his own intellect and abilities, but he’s not afraid to be wrong and make mistakes. When he does make mistakes (usually while trying to divine yet another convoluted plot), he doesn’t waste much time ruing them.  No garment-rending here, scarves excepted.*

* The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, wore a ridiculously long scarf as part of his signature apparel. The scarf  often gets in the way. He had to constantly adjust it while sword-fighting, running, ducking under sliding doors, etc.

He’s also courageous and open. He reserves fear for a worthy few (the Daleks, the Master). He has a solid grounding in science, but is open to to the supernatural. He’s usually the smartest guy in the room, but he can learn from anyone.

All of these qualities, combined with his distrust of authority and his manic charisma, make him an effective, temporary leader in nearly every situation. It’s the most normal thing in the world to see the Doctor direct a group to action about thirty seconds after meeting them. Even when he doesn’t have all the facts, he doesn’t wait to act. He hews sharply to his own moral compass, but rarely gets preachy.*

* Now the contents of that moral compass are debatable, especially in the new series (2005-present), which has often hinted at a darker, more vengeful Doctor.

As I queue up more episodes on Netflix, I study and dissect the Doctor’s performance. I know the show’s fake, but his resolve and ingenuity always seem real. What can he teach me? How can I live more like him?

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1 Response to “The Doctor as Dabbler”


  1. 1 Urk January 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    You know, I never could get into the Tom Baker Dr. Who, which is what was running when I first encountered it. there was an aura of whimsy that I was deeply skeptical of. Might have been my age. thanks for mounting an argument for the series’ good qualities.


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