Doctor Who: A hero in the darkness

As I mentioned recently, my daughters and I are currently watching (or re-watching, in my case) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They enjoy Star Trek, but since their exposure is limited mostly to Star Trek Voyager (which the loved) and Star Trek Picard (which they less then loved), when we hit season two’s Crossover, it was their first real introduction to the Mirror Universe.

(Daily Doctor Who #162)

Introduced in the original series’ Mirror, Mirror back in 1967, it is one of the most famous examples of that classic science fiction trope: the universe filled with evil versions of the characters, complete with a goateed Spock.

(And not just the main characters, but the whole concept of Star Fleet and its enlightened mission of diplomacy and exploration.)

Doctor Who actually did its own version of the same thing, in 1970’s Inferno, except in that case they gave a character an eyepatch instead of a goatee.

After watching it, I pointed out something to my daughters: the episode’s premise is that after Mirror, Mirror, alternate-Spock was so impacted by the regular-series Kirk and crew that he instituted changes in the empire he served. This was effective, but opened the door for evil alternate-universe Bajarons to swoop in and take over and establish an evil empire of their own.

Before I even finished, Johanna observed that it’s like the universe itself is fundamentally geared toward evil and destruction, which is the point I was intending to make.

I then mentioned Grant Morrison’s graphic novel JLA Earth 2 which dealt with the same idea, but far more explicitly. In that one, the Justice League travel to another dimension where earth is ruled by the Crime Syndicate–evil versions of themselves. Variations of the Crime Syndicate had been around for a long time, but this was the first one that I know about which made it clear that in the other universe, the forces of evil were inherently stronger–so fighting against them was sort of an always-losing prospect.

Anyway, all this led Johanna to say that it seems at time like Doctor Who actually took place in a universe that is fundamentally “negative”, and that it would be completely overrun with evil except…

…for the Doctor.

(Of course, if this is true, then that makes Inferno’s parallel world extra-dark.)

I guess that’s what makes him a hero I like so much. In the Doctors reality, he (or she) stands against a tidal wave onslaught of darkness.

There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things! Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought!

(The Second Doctor – The Moonbase)

The Doctor does this, even though sometimes it is a losing battle.

Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone…I do what I do, because it’s right!

(The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor Falls)

He understands the significance of the ordinary people who make up most of the universe.

You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.

(The Eleventh Doctor – A Christmas Carol)

And he knows how to find beauty in the little things.

For some people, small, beautiful events are what life is all about!

(The Fifth Doctor – Earthshock)

That’s not to say that the Doctor hasn’t ever been tempted to give up hope or throw away his optimism. One has to look no farther than the Eleventh Doctor’s depressed hermit-like withdrawal that we saw in The Snowmen for an example of this.

Or even more frightening, there have been instances of the Doctor being tempted to give into his baser instincts, like the Tenth Doctor with the whole “Time Lord victorious” shtick from The Waters of Mars.

The New Adventure novels in the 1990’s dealt with this a lot with the Seventh Doctor.

One could even see the Valeyard from Trial of a Time Lord as allegory for the temptation that we all can have to just let selfishness and greed cut loose and run free.

But in the end, the Doctor always comes back from those edges, and returns to being the hero who saves people from the fire.

This view of the Doctor as a bit of a savior-figure is not to be confused with my own messianic and theistic worldview, but it may be that I’m drawn to see my favorite TV show through that lens because of it. Obviously, the Doctor is fictional, and so there’s no genuine reverence involved. But, as far as one can admire someone who is a character on TV, I have a lot of appreciation for a character who can always find things to enjoy in life while at the same time recognizing the deep levels of responsibility that he has to do the right thing.

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.

The Seventh Doctor – Survival

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