Why So Many of Us Love Doctor Who

So many children’s bedrooms up and down the UK and around the world must look similar to this one, in our home.

Doctor Who display in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Doctor Who display in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

In the recent celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the BBC drama series Doctor Who, the question has been posed:  why do you think Doctor Who is so popular?

Since everyone in our house loves the Doctor,  I’ve asked myself this question.  And I concluded that we love the Doctor because:

* As a fictional character, he is a perfect combination of science and religion. He has the Christlike qualities of power, knowledge and goodness; combined with the vast possibilities of science. He plays into our archetypal longings for balance and justice in the universe, plus our thirst for knowledge and our fascination with the potential of science and our quest for empowerment.

* he has power over time. Time, death and the ageing process are among those things we cannot control, though we dream of doing so.

* he engages us on a spiritual level. He represents the perpetual battle between good and evil.

* the character of the Doctor, with all this  power, knowledge and goodness, contains both playfulness and gravity. We respond at a deep level to paradox. Every one of the eleven actors who has played the Doctor has at some level combined the weight of ultimate responsibility and moral integrity with a quirky, mercurial quality. And the twelfth Doctor seems set fair to carry this same quality.

* we are always learning new things about the Doctor. He always retains his mystery.

* the Doctor is essentially lonely and poignant. He loves, and he evokes love. Yet he can never become emotionally attached to any one human – not without tragic repercussions or complex tampering with the space time continuum.

* he regenerates, just like nature, just like the Green Man, a symbol of rebirth, found in many cultures from many ages around the world.

The Doctor is all these things and  more.

Doctor Who rules in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Doctor Who rules in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

And we love him not only because of all this, but  because of the genius of all those involved: the executives, actors, writers, directors, producers, monster-creators, technical people, visual and special effects people and composers and musicians. They will have overcome  everything that human weakness can throw at them, during the fifty years of the programme’s life, as we saw only too well from the Adventure in Space and Time episode about BBC executive Sydney Newman, actor William Hartnell, producer Verity Lambert, and director Waris Hussein.

It all seems summed up in David Tennant’s cry: “I don’t want to go.”

Yet the archetypal power of this fictional character, his relationships, his story represents for many our dream of transcending those limitations and that frailty.

Special Time, Ordinary Time, and the Time the Weeping Angels Snatch

Who’d have thought there’s a connection between emigrating to a far country, and being snatched by one of Doctor Who’s greatest foes: the Weeping Angels?

But I believe there is.

"I'm the doctor" by MagicMoonCat on Deviant Art
“I’m the doctor” by MagicMoonCat on Deviant Art

The Weeping Angels played a vital role in the plot of the latest Doctor Who Episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan”, during which we, and the Doctor (played by Matt Smith),said goodbye to two beloved characters, Amy and Rory, played by Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan.

And I believe the reason why the Weeping Angels grip us is because they concentrate two of our greatest fears: Being Snatched Away, and Being Left Behind.

weeping angel
weeping angel

Even when a family member who emigrated to a far country comes back home to visit England, it’s never the same.

The reason why is this: the time she spends here is Special Time.

And the time which the Weeping Angels snatch is OrdinaryTime.
Ordinary Time, Now, which can never be regained.

I lived and worked in Australia for four and a half years before returning to live in the UK. And during the time I was there I had a strange feeling, that I was existing in some kind of afterlife, in “the spirit world” – and that life back in England was “life on earth”.

I mention this because I think it feeds in to what I’m saying about the Weeping Angels, and the haunting power of what they do, and why the idea of them has such a grip on the imaginations of millions who watch Doctor Who.

The Weeping Angels snatch you away from your ordinary time, now, and steal all the energy you would have used to live in that time – and they transport you back to some period in the past.

I can imagine the creator of the Weeping Angels, Steven Moffat, standing in a churchyard or cemetary perhaps, and thinking about people who are snatched away.

Then he would have looked at a statue of a weeping angel, and thought: What if it dropped its hands and looked at me, and our gaze met? And that was all that was needed for me to be snatched away?

In fact, the story he tells is that he stood before a shackled gate, through which he could see a weeping angel statue in a graveyard.

And he still can’t understand why his idea touched so many people so deeply.

In moments like that, in the unconscious, far-reaching ideas are born.