In Defense of Whimsy

I was late to the Doctor Who train. It wasn't until the summer of 2013 when my friend Samantha, who also happens to be my television soul mate, loaned me the first season of the 2005 reboot that I finally gave it a try. I wasn't smitten instantly - it's hard to be taken with giant green alien blobs whose greatest threat is they fart too much. But by the end of the season, I had been charmed and intrigued just enough to keep watching. By the end of the summer, I had cried myself to sleep over the end of season 4, ordered Doctor Who-themed earrings off Etsy, and heard my roommate humming along to the theme song in the shower. I was a Whovian.

* * *

Last week I saw play at the Ottawa Fringe Festival all about the struggles of turning thirty. It was one of the worst productions I've ever seen for a lot of reasons - no overarching narrative, unnecessary audio and visual interruptions, a shocking and gratuitous nude scene which served no narrative purpose whatsoever. It was a disaster from start to finish.

But to me, the play's worst offence was it's mundanity. It addressed the well-worn topics of Facebook making us feel inadequate about our lives, the difficulties of wading through the bog that is online dating, and drowning our sorrows in vices, whether they be wine or cat pictures. I left the theatre just feeling bored.

Maybe it's a bit hypocritical of me to complain about someone reflecting on real life, since that's sort of my M.O. I write almost exclusively about my own life and how I understand the world I'm navigating. I read a lot of nonfiction books, and I especially love auto/biographies. 

But lately I've felt inundated with "reality." I can't read any more think pieces about how hard it is to be millennial in our current economic climate. I don't want to see another book cover with a YouTuber's face staring back at me, the details of their life's (all 21 years of it) struggle to internet stardom. I am bored of talking about how terrible Tinder is. It's all a bit serious and, well, bland.

* * *

I've never loved a show like I love Doctor Who

I love Doctor Who because it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous at every level. It gives the audience a few wisps of reality to cling to, and then demands the wholehearted suspension of disbelief: A alien who regenerates into a new body every few years and flies around in a time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space - a name that could only have been conceived of in the 1960s) that's bigger on the inside, and, for someone who has access to all of time and space, inexplicably seems to spend a great deal of time in London. He always lands somewhere just as the drama is starting, and he doesn't carry a weapon, preferring instead to use cleverness and conversation to solve problems. I mean, its absurd.

Except, it's not.

One of my favourite running themes throughout the show is that the Doctor's companions think of themselves as lucky women (and sometimes men) to run with the Doctor. After all, they are just 19 year old girls who live in council estates with their mother, or they are "just a temp" who thinks that just finding a husband will help her find value. There is the doctor who feels unloveable and the little redhead who just waits for someone to come back.

But through the Doctor, these women realize that they are incredible, important, invaluable. My favourite companion, Donna Noble, frequently exclaims that she's "just a temp" and what on earth can she do to help anyone, but by simply being with the Doctor, she realizes her resourcefulness and her compassion. We learn that the Doctor didn't choose her randomly; instead, she found the Doctor, because she's "the most important person in the universe," and she alone saves humanity from compete destruction.

There are other elements, of course. There is an episode where the Doctor comes face to face with the devil and that is scary. He faces real racism and discrimination on the Planet of the Ood. He loses control of his mind to an alien and that's terrifying. He faces his own loneliness, the knowledge that he is the last of his own species, time and again. For more than 900 years he's had to watch the people he love die, or lose their minds, or worse - forget him. These are heavy themes that act as a reminder: living forever and traversing all of time and space doesn't save you from very human pain.

But ultimately what makes the show so wonderful is that it is truth wrapped up in whimsy. While these immense themes provide the foundation of the show, the Doctor himself is the most whimsical character since Willy Wonka. He's lighthearted, forgetful, messy. He makes mistakes. He jokes. He has a strange eye for fashion and obsesses over Fez hats and Converse sneakers and leather jackets. He believes in the impossible because, more often than not, the impossible happens.  He faces fear with curiosity and an adventurous heart(s), and he always hopes for the best and expects the best, too. He believes goodness is inside everyone, and that we all ultimately want to choose good over evil.

* * *

On the way home from the disastrous play, all I could think was that I wanted more whimsy. I think our brutally self-aware society has forgotten about the everyday magic that makes the heaviness of life just a little bit lighter. 

I think there can be balance. We can stay focused on and aware of our reality while believing in the impossible. Because of course the winged statues on Rideau aren't Weeping Angels, but there's a brief spark of joy, just a microsecond, in pretending they are. Of course a TARDIS won't drop down on my street and whisk me away to Planet Klom tomorrow, but what's the harm in sort of hoping it might? 

There is value in the weight of reality, but there is so much joy in whimsy.

-Jillz

Post Script: This is my favourite quote about the essence of the Doctor from writer Steven Moffat:

It's hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes ARE important: Heroes tell us something about ourselves. 

History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we WANT to be.

And a lot of our heroes depress me. 

But when they made this particular hero, they didn't give him a gun--they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter--they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray--they gave him an extra HEART. They gave him two hearts! And that's an extraordinary thing.

There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor.

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