As the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who came and went, and anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor was simulcast around the world, Whovians loyal have turned our attention to the next step in the Doctor's long journey, over 2,000 years on screen and 50 years in reality. It occurs to me how truly rare it is for any series to reach that milestone. Fifty years - half a century! - is a long time for the TARDIS to have been traveling through time and space. It is the only show for kids and adults I can think of that multiple generations can remember growing up to, with the classic Doctor Who episodes bridging the gap between decades to the modern episodes and younger audience.
Like the Doctor and his beloved TARDIS, it has endured.
But why has it defined so many of us, young and old alike? How has it shaped the way we view the world and ourselves, and helped mold who we are? Why does it turn so many into fervent followers, Whovians all, from the very first time they sit down to watch? It's just a silly little tale about a madman in a box, right?
Wrong. Some of the most resonating, basic life lessons we have ever known have been reinforced time and time again by Doctor Who. Here are the most important.
1.) Hope, wonder, and boundless curiosity beat cynicism every time
You must travel with understanding as well as hope. -The First Doctor
There are only two arguments ever made by detractors of Doctor Who: "It's too cheesy," or "The science isn't believable." But what these cynics fail to understand is that they've missed the point of the show entirely. It's not about hard science fiction, not about technical accuracy or the special effects. It's about the story of the Doctor and the heavy burden of living (almost) forever contrasted with the fiery, burning desire to explore the universe, to discover every secret in existence, and, simply, to know.
Every time the Doctor sings his siren's song of seeing all of time and space to a potential companion, every time they step into the TARDIS for the first time and look around themselves with amazed eyes, we get chills. Even when we know that it's dangerous, that things could - and probably will - end badly for that companion, we want to cheer for their chance to go with the Doctor. Even when our hearts break, we keep watching. Because the Doctor is the very persona of wonder and exploration. He embodies those best of human qualities, which is why, each and every time he invites a new companion along, they never say no. Just watch Amy's face and listen to her laugh of pure joy in the video below. That's how we all feel when the Doctor fires up the TARDIS, every single time. How could anyone remain cynical in the face of that?
2.) It's okay to get excited about the little things
For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about! -The Fifth Doctor
Our generation is one of cynicism. It's not cool to truly care about things now, to be passionate about esoteric subjects outside a small, select, like-minded circle, to geek out and get excited. We're so afraid of making ourselves vulnerable that we are in a constant state of building walls around ourselves. But the Doctor shows us that caring about things, even the little things, is not only okay, it's what makes life worth living.
The Doctor is prone to rambling, spastic eccentricity, face-splitting enthusiasm, and a complete child-like excitement about things others would consider uncool or awkward, from highly questionable accessory choices to a penchant for making jokes at inappropriate times. He is constantly revealing his heart (both of them), and that's okay. In fact, that's wonderful. Yes, the stakes are far bigger and heartbreak greater when you allow yourself to care, but the alternative is a half-lived life where nothing truly matters, and what's the point of that?
3.) No one is unimportant
In 900 years of time and space, I've never met anyone who wasn't important. -The Eleventh Doctor
The Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor said that, and he meant every word. One of the enduring themes of Doctor Who is how truly insignificant we are in the huge scope of the entire cosmos. Our planet, our race, we're just tiny specks in an endless universe, and, in the end, our lives don't really matter much...except that they do. Throughout the series, the world is saved time and time again with the help of ordinary human beings doing extraordinary things, even when they don't view themselves capable of it. The Doctor doesn't choose his companions because they are rich or famous or well-connected. He chooses shop girls, mechanics, temp workers, medical students, former con-men, nannies, and young, married couples not yet ready to settle down. He chooses them because he sees in them the potential to be something greater than they ever believed they could be, and because he believes in them.
Doctor Who teaches us that even the smallest person can accomplish the most incredible things, that every single life matters, and that every single person should know that his or her life is important. People are, as the TARDIS once said, "so much bigger on the inside," and she was right.
4.) Sometimes, humanity, you're alright
Homo sapiens... What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenseless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine, and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to out-sit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable! -The Fourth Doctor
Even though the Doctor has had a number of non-human allies throughout the years, his companions are always human. Why? Because in his 1,000+ years of traveling through time and space, he's come to love no other species the way he does the human race. Though the Doctor has made numerous references to our capacity for destruction and often primitive predisposition for violence, he finds more value in our capacity for kindness, love, and endless curiosity. He loves us because we are unpredictable, the only race in the entire universe he has yet to figure out.
The Doctor and his companions survive thanks to that "never say die" attitude and their belief that, in the end, everything will be alright, that hope will be rewarded. The Doctor and his companions survive because they believe. In curiosity, in the enduring goodness of the human heart, in ingenuity, but most of all, because of their faith in each other and humanity. And usually, right when it's darkest, humanity justifies that faith by being nothing short of beautiful.
5.) Everyone needs help from time to time
I don't need anybody. -The Tenth Doctor
Yes you do. Because I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you. -Donna Noble
For all his unlimited brilliance, his god-like abilities and reputation that echoes throughout the universe, the Doctor is flawed. Sometimes deeply. A millennium of the near-limitless power to bend time and space would start to affect anyone negatively after a while, even the best of men. Even the greatest of men, like the Doctor. The was especially true toward the end of the Tenth Doctor's regeneration, when he went more than a little mad while traveling alone and made decisions that had dire, unchangeable consequences. This is why the Doctor both wants and needs a companion to travel with him. God-like abilities don't keep a person from getting lonely, or from needing help from time to time.
Throughout the Doctor's various regenerations, he has often been in crises, unable to save the world all by himself. Sometimes, it has been himself that has needed saving, whether physically or morally. And so it has been up to his allies, his plucky, clever companions and faithful, motley crew of friends to figure out a way to save him again. The brilliant Doctor needs help from time to time, even when he doesn't want to admit it. But to the credit of the show, the times he's needed help have been turned into moments of self-discovery and strength for the Doctor, rather than moments of weakness. No man is an island, not even the Doctor. It's our relationships that define who we are, and our friends who make us better.
6.) Brains and compassion will always triumph over violence
Superior intelligence and senseless cruelty just do not go together. -The Third Doctor
Make no mistake, the Doctor is not a passive man, but an active one. Part of the burden of his immense power is the fact that he has to make the choices that no one else will - or can - make. Certain points of time can not be rewritten. Sacrifices are made. Nor is the Doctor always benevolent. He may be the savior of the human race and ally to others, yet there are alien races that view him as "The Oncoming Storm", a scourge and harbinger of death.
Still, the Doctor abhors violence. He had enough of fighting and slaughter during the Last Great Time War, and he will always, always fight for intellect over violence. He abhors guns and violent aggression, choosing always to think his way out of a problem rather than shoot his way out of one. Doctor Who has made the point countless times that violence usually makes a situation worse, with a human or alien whipping out a gun or an act of brutality and inevitably escalating the situation. While others are preparing for war around him, the Doctor is at the center of things with his sonic screwdriver, brain humming away at a solution to the problem, usually in aghast, vocal opposition to the suggestion of brute force by those around him.
And the Doctor always wins. Because a man with a brain will always beat a man with a gun, and a library of books is more dangerous than any arsenal on Earth. Our intellect is the only thing in the universe that ever truly saves us, and Doctor Who never lets us forget that.
This is why we keep watching, not simply for entertainment's sake, but because Doctor Who resonates within us in a way that no other series can. It takes our humanity, all the good and the bad, and reflects it back to us with every episode. And the most amazing thing about it is, the best parts of us, like the Doctor, always win.