Since I’m so critical of this series, and I’m about to be more critical, I think it’s important that I talk about WHY I watch it. I don’t love hating on things.
RTD’s Doctor Who set the bar really damn high, admittedly. Maybe it just hit me at a certain time when I needed to see it, but that show changed my life. When Rose says “The Doctor showed me a better way to live” in the first series finale, I realized that was the message for all of us. That we love inspirational fiction, we watch uplifting movie after uplifting movie, yet somehow we’re never truly uplifted, the stories fail because they don’t stay with us, they don’t really change us, we turn the TV off and we go back to exactly who we were. We watch the underdog triumph again and again, we love that narrative, yet those of us who are really underdogs never think we can do it in real life, we never apply it. As Rose realized her potential, and went from an apathetic sales clerk drifting through life without purpose to someone courageous and driven who didn’t give up even when it was hopeless, I found strength too.
And I came to not only fiercely love the Doctor, but even identify with him. In The Impossible Planet, when Ten is stranded, seemingly having lost the TARDIS forever, his utter lack of ability to cope with the things that are expected of a person, like getting a mortgage or something, rang very true to me. And I felt that I, like the Doctor, was someone who wasn’t very good at “normal” things, and it was easy to believe that because of that, I was worthless, but that that was overlooking qualities I have that aren’t as valued by society but could make me valuable in my own, different kind of way. I’d spent so much time thinking “good at mortgages” was the only way to be a good adult, a good human, and from Doctor Who I realized I could be good with bravery, a spirit of adventure, and of course amazing friends.
As a writer, I’ve loved the arcs of RTD’s companions. I realized that each one was special, and not because of something that happened to them, or even something the Doctor gave them, but because each and every person is born full of amazing potential and possibility, each and every person is their own fantastic universe. And little by little, somehow, that’s obscured. Every time we’re talked over or told we’re not interesting, every time we’re told to “be realistic,” every time we’re rammed into gender roles, every little insult, each minor wound, tarnishes us until we don’t even know who we were. And the Doctor’s magic isn’t that he makes people extraordinary, but that he sees through the gunk of insignificance we’ve picked up in our travels, he knows who we really are, and he helps us see it, too. The moments Rose, Martha, and Donna were really allowed to shine, it was with the brilliance they’d had in there all along, and you could see the Doctor’s joy in witnessing them discovering it. Having watched a bunch of the classics too, I know that was most often the Doctor’s role—as a mentor, a stepping stone to greatness. I believe he really tried to leave each companion better than he found them, and was utterly crushed in situations when he failed to do so. Companions don’t stay with him forever because that isn’t their role, or his. He lifts them up, and he lets them go. That’s the Doctor.
And I fell so profoundly in love with this character, this universe, this sense of wonder and discovery. I started watching the classic episodes purely out of love for the world RTD showed me, and I think that’s what he most hoped to accomplish, because this was a world he fell in love with too.
And that, that is why I’m still watching. Not because I’m a hater, not because I love to be cynical and prove I’m so much more progressive and socially aware than you. Did RTD make mistakes? Hell yeah. But my metric for enjoyment isn’t whether the show was completely socially just, because then I’d never get to enjoy anything, and I like enjoyment. I can let a certain amount of bullshit go if you move me, if the story is GOOD and I love watching the characters interact. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth calling out bullshit in good stories, it’s more of at the end of the day, did I enjoy it enough that it was worth it anyway?
I don’t watch Doctor Who for the amazing, tightly-woven plots, or the special effects, or the scientific realism, or any of the many things you could probably get better somewhere else. I watch it for the Doctor, and the close, often intense relationships he has with his companions, the love and the growth and the way they somehow make each other more themselves, the way true friends do.