What Can We Learn About Humanity by Watching Doctor Who
Ever since my sister-in-law introduced my husband and I to the wonderful world of Doctor Who, I often find myself reading between the lines with each episode. It’s not to curb my cynicism of real life. I wanted to completely understand the concept of why the Doctor was regenerating and on what he has gained from this process.
Fast forward to the present – tears were streaming down my face as I was watching the last episode featuring the Eleventh Doctor. While it felt like a blur as I was witnessing his regeneration, I cannot forget his last words that were uttered from him:
But times change, and so must I… we all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good! You’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.
Of course, the irony of that last quote was when he regenerated to the 12th Doctor, he didn’t remember. Just the instant realization that he has a new pair of kidneys.
In any case, we can learn about what was mentioned before the regeneration. People don’t change. It’s the events that make the person change. Imagine if someone from your past has told you that they were a changed person. Would you believe it? Chances are (depending on the repercussions) you may be obliged to say “no.” But what if an individual has went through such a traumatic experiences that changes their viewpoint of the world? Would you be a bit more forgiving now?
As humans, we do have the ability to regenerate. Our thoughts, ideas and viewpoints are subjected to change when we witness crucial events of our lives. They are milestones. Just as the Doctor has many faces, we all have different “identities” – we go through an evolution as we progress in the timeline. The subject of regeneration has been an ongoing fascination for humans. We are too focused in the literal sense i.e. the issue of mortality. How often do we wished to be able to share the Doctor’s ability by preventing ourselves from dying? Yes, it is a nice thought. It is a hope that we can live forever.
The harsh truth is that we cannot do so.
With that said, Doctor Who has been around since 1963. Regardless of the different incarnations of the Doctor, the main theme that has been the focus is the subject of redemption and resolution. He has taught us to embrace our humanistic views because he lived for too long to see civilizations come and go. Being human does not make us weak – it makes us stronger when we all face adversities. We are taught to progress forward by learning from the past and find a solution for the present.
Sounds wibbly wobbly but it works.
So how can we achieve that ability to regenerate (minus the glowing skin and instant makeover)? It starts in your psyche. We can start by asking ourselves a couple of questions:
1. Am I happy with myself?
2. Have I found the meaning of contentment?
3. If I were to change one habit about myself, what can I do?
4. Have I improved or do I need to make changes?
5. Am I conforming to what society wants me to be? Or am I truly living my own life?
6. If I were to change, will my beliefs impact others?
7. Will I be able to reach a sense of solitude?
As humans, we are bound by responsibility for ourselves and for what we can teach to others. Imagine that we are the companions to the Doctor. It would be great to travel in time and space to witness the rise and fall of nations. But when everything is said and done, would you feel satisfied that you were able to accumulate a vast amount of knowledge? Or would you have a nagging feeling knowing that we bit off more than what we can chew?
Our inner phoenixes remain dormant until we find the right opportunity to let go of our own fears and vices. There are moments when we feel that we may have “died” inside, only to find ourselves rising above the ashes. At that moment, in that time, we feel ourselves renewed with such focus and stability that we can take on the world. And then the process repeats itself, like a never-ending cycle. Are we finding ourselves in a loophole? No. It’s the true definition of being human.
In the episode “Closing Time” when the Doctor was talking to Alfie (alias Stormaggedon), the subject of embracing your humanity is summed up from the following conversation:
You are so young. Aren’t you? And you know, right now everything’s ahead of you. You could be anything. Yes, I know. You could walk among the stars. They don’t actually look like that you know. They are rather more impressive. You know when I was little like you I dreamt of the stars. I think it’s fair to say, in the language of your age, that I lived my dream. I owned the stage. Gave it a hundred and ten percent. I hope you have as much fun as I did, Alfie.
We can be whoever we want to be. Because the Doctor does (and always will) believe in us.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Doctor Who has some great presentations of philosophy, particularly on time travel. One should not forget the actual physical laws that govern the Universe. Although the Doctor says that “TIME” is a wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, there is no physical evidence yet to suggest that time is a non-linear quantity (although there are a few theories), which basically means you are screwing up the second law of thermodynamics, which gives the physical reasoning for the “Arrow of time”.
There has been three main time travel theories that have been in circulation in the media since… well time travel in the media. So we have the “fixed timeline” theory in which traveling into the past was always present in the timeline, so the changes you’ve made have already happened.
And I won’t get into the dynamic timeline theory expressed in back to the future 1, because that usually just ends up in a paradox (going back in time to kill your grandfather)
Instead, I’m going to present the split timeline theory, where when you go back in time to kill your grandfather, you kill your grandfather, and create a branching timeline in which you don’t exist because your grandfather was killed. However, you the time traveler still exist because you’re from the old timeline that existed before you went back in time to kill your grandfather.
The ramifications of this theory end up getting very “quantum physics-ey” because it implies that with each decision you make, you’re creating a separate timeline (or universe) in which you make the opposite decision, leading to an infinite amount of separate timelines.
So this implies that the doctor may not be altering the events of the past, but simply switching to different timelines that work out better than the one he’s currently in.
Time travel. Trippy stuff man.
The fun in Doctor Who is that it incorporates more than one view.
On the one hand, the Docter can change things affecting the future, but on the other hand, some points of time are fixed, saying it is determined. The series also states that there are parallel universes (like the one a certain companion disappears in).
At last, with the last season ending and the 50th anniversary special in mind, a lot of the things SEEM to have happened, but haven’t happened at all, creating a paradox that kind of resolves itself, because the outcome would be unchanged for the time-travelling participants, again saying the universe they’re in IS singular, but only sort of: like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… timey whimey… stuff….
Well put. I had a similar reaction to the eleventh doctor’s farewell speech and the idea of regeneration symbolizing mankind’s natural tendency to change identities. Shortly thereafter, I was reading David Levithan’s “Lover’s Dictionary” and I came across a quote that I think is relative to this concept:
The natural state. Our moods change. Our lives change. Our feelings for each other change. Our bearings change. The song changes. The air changes. The temperature of the shower changes.
Accept this. We must accept this.
Just some extra food for thought!
Thank you everyone for your comments. Yes, the debate on time travel and the viewpoints regarding if its linear or not is still a hot topic regardless. But I do strongly believe that what the Doctor was trying to show us is that whatever you do (past, present or future), it will still have an impact on our lives. The main concept is if we’re willing to accept our own consequences and embrace them.
Intriguing study. For anyone interested in interesting topics like these about Doctor Who, you could read some of the great books. I have a dozen or so. Alas I gave Who little thought during the 90s and that, along with my low opinion of spin-off books, meant I missed them during their original publication. Now I make up for it from time to time via Ebay.
Favourites: Alien Bodies and especially Dead Romance, which is one of my favourite novels, Who or otherwise, ever.
And an honorable mention for the Target books of old. They’re long gone but my first experience of the 3rd Doctor was the Targets of The Curse of Peladon and Terror of the Autons.
I have all the Target books. Took about 10 years to amass all of them (thanks, used book stores and eBay) and have been slowly working my way through them for about three years. I’ve been stuck on Black Orchid for almost two months. It amazes me that Uncle Terrance could distill a six episode story into 120 or so pages that you can read in about three hours but Terrance Dudley managed to take his own two episode script and stretch it out to over 140 pages, including 40 pages alone on a cricket match which left me, an American, totally baffled. There is something to be said for having an economy of words. Or at the very least a page limit.
I picked up a handful of the novels from the dark years between the classic and new series. I have since sold them but I mostly remember being very confused by The Infinity Doctors and Interference.
Interesting philosophical ideas. I’ve always seen the Doctor’s regenerations as a reflection of humans’ inner changes too. I noticed a couple of grammatical errors, as in ‘what if an individual has went through’ that could be tightened up for next time, but interesting musings on Doctor-y stuff all the same!
Thanks for pointing out my grammatical errors! It has been a while since I wrote a decent article. But I’m still improving 🙂
Really interesting! I’ve been meaning to watch a couple of episodes of the new series and haven’t gotten around it. Now I feel like I’ll be all analytical and questioning while I watch! Thanks for the thought-provoking read 🙂
What I love about the Doctor is that he has such immense trust in humanity. That if you believe in humanity we will rise to the occasion, and for the most part it happens. There needs to be more of that in the real world. The real world seems, all too often, very jaded.
I like the whole idea of having a personal regeneration checklist. As a religious person, this speaks to me and I think is a big part of what appeals to me about Hinduism: because we do have so many cycles throughout our lives. Great article.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
This was a nice article, and it reminded me not of Doctor Who exclusively, but of my transition from being an Agnostic to an Atheist. Because I found myself asking these five question that you list above, but with some tweaking done to them. For example, when asking, “Am I happy with myself?” I opted for, “Am I happy with myself as X?” X being a variable that is necessary when being future-oriented–though this needn’t be future-oriented. So, for example, I could ask, “Am I happy with myself as an undergraduate student of philosophy (or an agnostic, what have you), and, if so, why?”
Also, I think that you should ask if this is actually important. For example, to break from my expansion of the questions, is being happy really that important? For myself, I do think that it is, but only in segments. That is, happiness is only important, because it allows me to transcend a previous feelings of angst, or what have you. Though, to me, happiness on its own is not important. It’s only important as a transcendent feeling. I.e. one that lifts me from a previous feeling; and, as such, I believe that the previous feeling is just as important, since my value put on happiness is contingent upon the other feelings that it transcends.
Just some off-the-cuff thoughts.
I originally started watching Doctor Who to humor a friend. The first episode I saw was Smith and Jones. I thought it was weird. I’m so happy I gave it a second chance. The 10th Doctor is my favorite Doctor. My love of Doctor Who has become one of my defining characteristics among my friends and family. Those that are not Whovians themselves always ask me what the big deal is. I think your article goes a long way in explaining that. Thanks for writing it.
I agree that Doctor Who has such a wonderful life to it. It presents so many wonderful dynamic characters who have amazing qualities and real life faults. I think it is a great of example of how we can be totally captivated by fantasy. The show presents fantastical situations and places, but the heart of the show is the Doctor’s companion, the audience’s tie to reality.
Oh, this is just such a sweet post. Not only because I miss Doctor Who so, so badly. I never really thought about this angle on the Doctor’s regeneration, it’s pretty ingenious!
Thanks Mette! I’m glad that you like the article 🙂
Your look at Doctor Who really describes the Doctor himself perfectly. His absolute love of humanity, when put in the context you’ve laid out, strikes me as something that he can powerfully relate to. He has all of the opportunity in the world to start over with each death he has, but humans must be willing to take that step towards change. In New Who this is especially evident in how the people that join him on his adventures are constantly looking for something “more”, and no matter how those adventures end they find themselves changed for the better at the end. Even if a little jaded.
Splendid post =].
Doctor Who is probably my favorite TV show because of how each episode (or story arch) made me think about humanity and my own beliefs. I am typically a pessimistic person but Doctor Who always gave me some kind of hope because of wonderful quotes like the ones you mentioned here.
I absolutely love Doctor Who! I was bawling when the 11th Doctor regenerated. I really enjoyed your article!
I really enjoyed reading about the humanity aspect of Doctor Who in your article! I think there is a lot of truth to it. I think it’s one of the reasons why many people enjoy watching Doctor Who.
I also believe that the fact that The Doctor and Time-Lords like him can choose not to regenerate emphasizes a different, but also important aspect of human existence: In that sense, it’s important to not stop trying to enact change, especially positive change. There’s always a choice to be made as to how you want to bounce back from potential setbacks or capitalize on your vast potential, and The Doctor shines as a great example of someone determined to find a solution even in the darkest hours of the universe