“When they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray, they gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts.
And that’s an extraordinary thing; there will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”
– Steven Moffat
As I’m writing these words, we’re about a week into 2014 and almost two months into Doctor Who’s 50th year. 50 years is quite an accomplishment for any institution, let alone for a sci-fi television show about a time-and-space-travelling mad man in a blue police call-box! However, my aim isn’t necessarily to celebrate that achievement. I feel as if we’ve already accomplished that, and continue to do so with our coverage of Doctor Who news throughout this 50th anniversary year. No, I want to look a little closer at the reason Doctor Who has had the staying power (minus the brief wilderness years…) it has enjoyed over the past five decades; and I believe that reason is hope.
You see, this world needs the Doctor. This world, which is still pretty wonderful, always stands just on the precipice of calamity and tragedy. Not convinced? Look at the unrest in the Middle East… fairly close to a “never ending, bitter war,” minus Daleks and Cybermen, of course. Or perhaps the frequent school shootings in America; children killing children because they’ve entered a state where they believe no one cares about them or that they’re led to believe that being different is somehow wrong. A good portion of this world has lost its hope.
Am I suggesting that Doctor Who is the answer to world peace? No, not quite. However, I am suggesting that much like the Doctor does in individual lives on the television, Doctor Who can be an agent for change and for bringing hope back to our world. Perhaps the show has never intentionally set out to have a social agenda (leave that for Torchwood ala Children of Earth and Miracle Day), but it has never intentionally shied away from tough questions and concepts that can be applied to the real world either. Always facing impossible choices and always being brave enough to find the way to do the right thing, even at great costs to himself. That is a trait that would be well served if passed on to those who watch the program.
Yes, this world needs the Doctor because this world will always need hope. Who better to give it to us than “the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes, the dreamer of improbable dreams.” The Doctor, and by extension the writers of the show, always give us something to take away each episode: whether it is a character lesson or reassurance that it’s okay to be “good weird.” I firmly believe that watching Doctor Who enables the viewer the opportunity to engage in hope weekly. And the Doctor is a hell of a great example for our children to watch and learn from! I was completely stunned, as I sat in a packed theater here in the states on November 25th to see The Day of the Doctor, at the number of children who were there to take in the 50th anniversary special. I have a feeling that American culture could benefit from its children watching the Doctor instead of the other mindless slop that passes for children’s entertainment these days (or the unattended viewing of adult programming by children, for that matter).
So, why has Doctor Who endured for over 50 years? Hope. The Doctor was designed as a hero who always brings hope. And at the risk of being a pessimist, we’ve never needed hope in our world more than we need it now. Long live the Doctor and may he always bring hope wherever the TARDIS lands, be it on Gailifrey or our television screens!