Popped Culture: Doctor Who – Why We Can All Learn From A 900-Year-Old Alien
While the Department of Education spends the next eight years changing a test that means nothing, they could at least do the souls of our future kids a favour and add Doctor Who to the curriculum. Why? The show has the power to not just teach kids a little bit of history, but more importantly, get them interested. Take the stunning episode ‘Family of Blood’; it finished with The Doctor explaining, in a simple way, the origins of World War 1.
Now, of course, no one should gamble their thesis on the accuracy of Doctor Who, but the show also has a lovely habit of showing historical characters in a very cool light. From the likes of Dickens, Churchill and Agatha Christie fighting the baddies of the universe to a genuinely heartbreaking take on the brilliance and the depression of Vincent Van Gogh, it is impossible not to remember and want to know more about these characters. Granted, saying that a show that involves its hero bombing around in a time machine might occasionally teach a child about a pre-Sky+ world is fairly obvious, but Doctor Who has the power to teach an awful lot more.
Here are four lessons we could all take heed of.
1. ‘I wear it and I don’t care… that’s why it’s cool.’
Who could have guessed that by simply answering a bowtie-based question in order to distract a scared child from imminent death-by-land-shark that The Doctor would make it okay for you to do whatever the hell you want to do? And how many teachers could you say that about? Who cares if you want to grow your hair to your shoulder, show up to P.E. in a Glee t-shirt or play Planet Top Trumps in the yard instead of kicking a shaved tennis ball at an orphan’s face with the cool kids? As long it makes you happy, isn’t it brilliant?
Recommended Viewing: A Christmas Carol
2. ‘Oh, you never want to listen to reason’
Frankly, there is nothing worse than revealing an ambition to someone and having them look at you like you just said you wanted to shove a Mars bar up a unicorn’s hole. As people turn into robots who stay in jobs they hate because its ‘unrealistic’ to think they could do otherwise, maybe we need some sci-fi to help us along. While the very nature of fantasy is that anything can happen, from vampire-slaying cheerleaders to Christian Bale slaying dragons in Wicklow, there is something magical about how Doctor Who makes you feel like anything is possible and that’s because at its core, it is all about escape. Since the show’s return in 2005, every main companion’s motivation for leaving with The Doctor has been a chance to escape the dullness of everyday life and a yearning for something better. Even The Doctor himself started out by stealing the T.A.R.D.I.S. and running away from his people in the hope of adventure – which is what we looked for once upon a time before any sort of hope was beaten out of us. In a world capable of extreme cynicism, surely we need something that allows us all of the escape we want, even though in reality we can never hope to see a spaceship full of dinosaurs.
Recommended Viewing: The Lodger
3. ‘A fifty-first century guy, he’s a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing.’
Throughout the era of showrunner Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who was often accused of having a gay agenda, mainly because a big family entertainment show had never before dealt with sexuality as well as Doctor Who. Well, that and the fact that he did kind of shoehorn in a few references when it was unnecessary.
The important thing about the show when it comes to gay characters is that they are not camp stereotypes. Take Captain Jack, a handsome bisexual time agent who throughout his time on Doctor Who and spin-off show Torchwood has had genuinely heart-wrenching same-sex relationships while also being the closest thing to Han Solo Doctor Who has had. Just last year, the show introduced the instantly classic Madame Vastra, who is a Victorian time travelling lesbian alien serial killer hunter. This not only meant that Downton Abbey was going to need a different series arc, but also that we got to see a female character who had the same level of charisma as womanising, whiskey-swilling Don Draper from Mad Men. This can be only be a good thing in the playground as not only are gay characters being introduced to kids at a young age, but when someone wants to throw ‘gay’ out as an insult it will call up images of a hero blowing up evil space robots and not whatever idiotic backwards notions went before.
Recommended Viewing: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
4. ‘This song is ending, but the story will never end’
Relationships are great, aren’t they? It’s brilliant having someone there to a have a pint with on a cold winter’s night, someone to tell you that you don’t resemble Ronan Keating’s just-pulled-from-the-water cadaver. However, for every happy relationship, there is one that is slowly and painfully coming to an end. Romantic comedies, as brilliant as they are, predominantly teach us that the way to deal with heartbreak is to sit around in our own filth and eat ice-cream in a zombified state while feeling worthless about ourselves.
The reality is, of course, that things do get better and no matter how rubbish things are there is always something new just around the corner. Just recently, Doctor Who said a sad goodbye to the brilliant Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvil who have been a part of the show since Matt Smith’s arrival in 2010. Yes, we thought they were brilliant and may have cried like a lonely forty-year-old at a wedding when they left, but the point here isn’t about whether you loved the characters or not, it’s that endings are a huge part of Doctor Who. Just as the idea of escaping the everyday is constantly present in the stories of the companions, so is the idea that it can’t last forever. Likewise, in what started out as a nice way of removing a lead actor while keeping the character, the idea that The Doctor doesn’t die but regenerates into a different person is probably up there with the Daleks as the most famous aspect of the show. Even when we are forced to say goodbye to companion after companion, and occasionally The Doctor himself, there is always a sense that life goes on, that nothing ends for good, and that is a notion we could all take on board.
We genuinely believe that if someone were to study Doctor Who, instead of wasting time on, say, an actual medical degree, they could find advice about everything. Take throwaway lines about everything from being nervous and shaky for your first kiss: ‘It’s going to be like that anyway, so you might as well make it part of the plan’, to essentially how to act on social media: ‘Never knowingly be serious’.
There is also one overarching lesson that can be taken from the show and that is, to quote Pugwash, it’s good to be good. In its fifty odd years on screen Doctor Who has been a show about someone always doing good. Sure, a lot of it with rubbish special effects, but never being anything close to cynical. In a self-obsessed dark world, surely we could all learn from The Doctor and his adventures?