Humanity is Beautiful: Doctor Who and Optimism

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Originally, Doctor Who was pitched to the BBC as a weekly educational program for children. And back then, it was. But somewhere in the past fifty years, it evolved from a poorly budgeted, earnest effort to teach children about history to a poorly budgeted, unique science fiction program about the triumph of intellectualism over brute force, optimism over pessimism, humanism over misanthropy and apathy. It doesn’t just provide an example of these philosophies, either--it openly preaches them, in a way that can seem bloated and, well, preachy to some. But to others, it can be inspiring.
The show has always been and will always be campy. It’s very hard to present a show about a nine-hundred-year-old alien travelling the universe in a blue police box in a way that’s going to appeal to everyone. And yet, the show has at least some popularity in every demographic--from grandfathers who watched it as children to teenagers seeking a respite from the angst. The key to watching Doctor Who is to approach every episode with a humorous attitude, whether it’s an outing with evil salt-n-pepper shakers or a harrowing metaphor for human ingenuity (or both--if anything, the show is never stale). Trust me when I say that little by little, the aspects of it which once seemed unbearably cheesy will seem endearing.
It doesn’t have the tight plots of early Battlestar Galactica, or the characters of Lost. Joss Whedon doesn’t write the dialogue. It isn’t an adaptation of the latest young adult novel. The idea is half a century old, and if that idea wasn’t “anyone, anywhere, any time,” it would have been done to death decades ago. But the show manages to inspire a huge following today because of its unique tone. Think of any science fiction/fantasy show from the past ten years. It probably has a “dark and gritty” theme, with copious amounts of death, guns, violence, and destruction balancing the fantastical aspects to give it a supposed “real world” feel. But there’s no such thing a red shirt in Doctor Who. A main character hasn’t died in thirty years, and even “bad” one-offs have a lower death toll than your average scifi offering.The Doctor is adamantly against gun ownership--his weapon is his mind and the sonic screwdriver, a catch-all key to the universe’s locks. Violence and death are final measures, used only when all other options have been exercised. And when they are used, it can take seasons for the Doctor to forgive himself.

There are a thousand reasons to watch Doctor Who, from the complex figure it’s named after to the fascinating, strong people who travel with him. But if nothing can convince you, I offer this. In a world of programs that expose our dark sides, Doctor Who shows us the best parts of ourselves. The Doctor has the entire universe at his doorstep--yet he always returns to Earth for the clever, courageous, fantastic humans who inhabit it. There are a lot of shows about young, attractive boys and girls saying witty dialogue and defeating the bad men. But Doctor Who is unusual in its ability to inspire both the characters and the fans to fight harder, be better, learn more. Perhaps the Doctor said it best: “There's something that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick.”

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