First things first: this post was inspired by this fan video, which is both a thing of beauty and an ocean full of tears, and it’s absolutely imperative you watch it before reading anything I have to say here.
Did you watch it?
Did you cry?
just kidding I don’t need to know that
I’ve finished the new season of Doctor Who, Season 11 with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. You already know I loved the first episode, and turned out I loved the rest of the season just as much. Thirteen was an adorable space-cupcake-slash-part-time-mom-friend. Graham O’Brien TURNED EVERYTHING HE TOUCHED INTO GOLD. Ryan was full of relatable angst and Yaz was full of sass and spirit. All was well.
I did have one nagging question, however, which grew throughout the season:
This Doctor was so . . . calm. So cheery. So well–balanced. She actually seemed to be All Right on the Inside; and I think anybody who has even a cursory acquaintance with this dazzlingly gorgeous & perpetually blighted fandom will understand when I say I ain’t used to the Doctor being All Right on the Inside.
“How can this be?” I asked myself.
“How can this be the same person who once trapped someone in a mirror until the end of time–not out of necessity, just out of sheer, vindictive anger?”
Then, as I puzzled, I stumbled across this little nugget:
It’s true, I realized–Thirteen has no connection to the Time War except memory. Unlike the others, Nine, Ten, and Eleven, she didn’t “do it” (destroy Gallifrey). Unlike the others, she’s never even experienced feeling responsible, believing she “did it” although she really didn’t. As the original Tumblr user suggested, that’s gotta be one heck of a weight off her shoulders.
So, okay, I thought to myself. Thirteen is different, because Thirteen has . . . healed, somehow, someway. But I still didn’t grasp the WHY of it; until I watched the aforementioned fanvid for the five millionth time [it’s a good video you guys], and zeroed in on this beautiful exchange:
“Have you got family?”
“No. Lost them a long time ago.”
[cue shot of Rose Tyler skipping off through the snow in “End of Time”]
“How’d you cope with that?”
“I carry them with me. What they would’ve thought, and said, and done . . . make them part of who I am. So even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.”
*Charles Baker Harris’ head explodes*
Can you imagine what Ten would’ve said, what Eleven would’ve said, if some random boy they’d only just met asked how do you cope with your grief?
Short answer, kid: I don’t.
Oh, sure . . . I shove folks into the event horizons of collapsing galaxies, I turn them into literal, actual scarecrows for all eternity, I threaten to abandon friends I’ve only juuuuuuuuuuuuust succeeded in making for simple, honest mistakes, I insist there’s no point saving anybody if you can’t save all of ’em, I offload my PTSD memories onto parasitic monsters while screaming at the top of my lungs that nobody will ever understand me, I obsessively count the children I believe I’ve sentenced to death on Gallifrey, or, alternatively, refuse to count them at all . . . but tHAT’S NOT WHAT YOU MEANT BY A COPING MECHANISM, IS IT?
But Thirteen. Thirteen is different.
Thirteen has healed enough to put weight on those wounds. Not just the scar marked “Gallifrey,” but the others, too, every last cut and rend and tear: Rose. Donna. Amy. Rory. River. Clara. “All that pain and misery and loneliness,” Amy Pond said, “and it only made [you] kind”–yes, kind. Always trying to be kind. But never becoming stable. Until now.
Because now, Thirteen has the confidence to look Ryan in the eyes and say, yes. I am coping. I am okay. I will be okay–and, kid, you will be, too.
Ryan Sinclair, remember, has just lost his beloved grandmother, and Graham O’Brien his adored wife. That first episode of Season 11 dealt a heavy emotional blow, but this time, it wasn’t a blow to the Doctor–it was a blow to her new companions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the show has ever taken this step before . . . begun a season with a tragedy that harms solely the companions, not the Doctor, then cast the Doctor as mentor, and guide, on their journey of sorrow.
Previous incarnations of the Doctor just weren’t ready for that responsibility. But this one IS. And I think that’s beautiful. ❤
Full disclosure: if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Twelve much in this post, it’s because I haven’t delved into his episodes yet. From what I have seen, though, I believe Twelve is the real key to all this growth. The bits & pieces I’ve watched [again, correct me if I’m wrong] point to an arc encompassing a lot of angst, a lot of darkness, but in a “darkest hour is just before dawn” kinda way. Twelve seems to be consciously healing himself, even as he writhes in mental agony; healing in a way that Ten just wasn’t capable of yet. And Twelve’s regeneration speech, which I HAVE watched, has gotta be one of the most peaceful on record: “Doctor, I let you go.” It’s only fitting that out of that peaceful moment should spring a Doctor who seems–finally–at peace with herself.
Now, some might argue the writers conveniently ‘erased’ the Doctor’s strong negative emotions because she’s a woman now and women aren’t ‘supposed’ to have them . . . but I don’t agree. If you look into her face when she admits, “I lost them a long time ago,” you’ll see that pain hasn’t been erased. She still feels those losses. The difference is, she’s no longer constantly tormented by them.
Others might argue–and indeed, I HAVE spotted folks arguing/implying–that this change constitutes a betrayal of the Doctor’s fundamental identity. That she can’t BE the Doctor if she’s not traumatized to the seventh circle of Hell and ready to snap at any moment. But I emphatically disagree. The idea that trauma permanently defines a character (any character) is a dangerous lie; no less dangerous on television than in real life.
I can say that, ’cause I’ve been there.
Yes, I’ve been in a place where traumatic memories felt like a box I couldn’t climb out of–largely because it seemed ‘safer’ (ie, more familiar) inside the box than out. But you know what? I’m not in that place anymore. Which is a really good thing. Neither is the Doctor. Which is also a good thing.
Just because pain was once the center of your life, doesn’t mean it has to be the center forever.
Just because you were once consumed by hurt or anger doesn’t mean you’re ‘betraying yourself’ if you stop feeling like that.
Just because you were once the victim of something awful doesn’t mean that’s ALL YOU CAN EVER BE.
It’s called recovery, folks, and it’s really freakin’ important we treat it as a victory, not as some unnatural change to resist or be frightened of.
Look at us, Whovians. Look how far we’ve come. We’ve moved from,
“I guess, in the end, they break my heart.”
“Even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.”
Aren’t you proud of us? Because I sure am. I’m proud of us.
Now, if anybody feels I’ve been harsh or judgmental towards Ten and Eleven in this post–please know, that’s never my intention. I love them both tremendously, and I honor their struggle to keep fighting, keep loving, keep saving people . . . which, not coincidentally, is what brought us to this point in the first place. You can never heal if you just curl up and die. They refused to do that, ever, no matter how bad things got. There’ll always be a special place in the core of my heart for the Dysfunctional Emo Trash Alien Bois™, the dynamic duo who taught me life and love aren’t incompatible with suffering.
Thirteen, meanwhile, teaches us it’s okay to move on from suffering, once you’re ready.
We need that message just as much.
We need to understand how brave that is.
Thoughts, everyone? ❤