Understanding Doctor Who Part VI: The Doctor Will Make You Better

Yesterday, I was all about how the Doctor was an agent of change, but it's not all political revolutions and slave revolts. He also has that effect on the people he meets, especially those he chooses to travel with. It's always been true, but the new series really ran with it. In "The Sound of Drums", the Master says with irony that the Doctor is "the man who makes people better", but it's entirely true. It's a fine explanation for his name, despite the fact he has no real medical training (but a Ph.D in everything).

This was an important theme for the 9th Doctor who spent his entire series allowing others to save the day. He was merely the catalyst for their becoming heroes. The Doctor has an important line in "Father's Day" about an ordinary man being the most important thing in the universe, a key to the inner workings of the Doctor Who format. Think about it: His companions are mostly unassuming and had they never gone on an adventure through space and time, might never have done anything important (certainly not saving the world). Rose the shop girl. Mickey the idiot. Captain Jack the con man. By "Journey's End", all have been turned into "weapons" against evil. And it really culminates in the last series with Donna Noble, super-temp. The most useless companion on paper becomes the most useful.Part and parcel of the Doctor's "power" is his ability to talk (which is why "Midnight" is so disturbing). He's convincing, charismatic and inspirational. One thread running through the Russell T Davies years has been people's ability to sacrifice themselves for him or his cause, even if they were not quite so valorous at the story's beginning. Going back, this has been true since the days of Classic Who. Sometimes being better burns you up.

What all these ordinary people (and the other teachers, teenagers, stewardesses and clutzes he's traveled with) have that perhaps he doesn't is POTENTIAL. The Doctor (and his life) consistently act as a catalyst for developping that potential. He's already great, which limits him in a sense. He's aware of the extent of his own powers. But who knows what a lowly human can do? It's the same kind of humanism practiced by Star Trek, but with an alien "god" putting his stamp of approval on it. And where Trek characters have to work to better themselves (and thus are highly trained heroic characters), Who unlocks the ordinary person's potential through opening their minds to new possibilities. The Whovian characters are US, at much less distance than Trek's, regular people made better.


Sea-of-Green said...

I've always loved Who better than Trek (though I was hopelessly addicted to Next Generation during its initial broadcast, due to my obsession with the Asimovian dilemmas posed by the character Data). I think it's because, for the most part, the perils faced by the Doctor were somehow much more serious than those faced by Kirk & Co. Honestly, Kirk's dilemmas were either personal to him, his crew, or to the Federation, or were mere petty annoyances (Tribbles). When Doctor Who faced a problem, the fate of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE was usually at stake.

Really, Trek dilemmas never seemed all that serious -- until the Borg showed up. When the Borg first appeared, I remember thinking, "COOL! These are more like DOCTOR WHO villains than Trek villains!" Finally, the heroes of the Trek universe faced a TRUE threat. Sadly, that threat has long since been squandered. The Who villains, by comparison -- especially the Daleks -- have become only more sinister and frightening with time.

Siskoid said...

It's the worst kept secret that the Borg were inspired by the Cybermen, so indeed, they ARE Doctor Who villains.

The Dakeks were basically waiting for special effects to catch up to their evil.

mwb said...

I've witness too many cringing worthy posts by Trek fans watching the current incarnation of the Doctor and complaining that the Cybermen are rip-offs of the Borg!

Arrrghh! I used to try to explain that the opposite is true, but now I just move on.


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