Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the Doctor Who and Philosophy colloquium, which I’m finally getting around to writing about nearly a week later. (As the Doctor says, you should always waste time when you don’t have any. Time is not the boss of you.)
As this served mostly as an introduction to the world of Doctor Who, this week’s question was not particularly philosophical, but made for a good discussion anyway: if a man with a blue box showed up and offered to take you away on adventures through space and time, would you go with him?
My answer was “Yes!*”
*but give me a second to think about it first.
I’ve been watching Doctor Who since the new series started in 2005, so I’ve technically had quite a while to contemplate the question every Whovian asks themselves. Doctor Who was originally created as a children’s show that evolved into a science fiction adventure story, but in spite of its silliness and bad CGI, there is a lot of darkness to its universe. Traveling with the Doctor is dangerous business. It’s exceedingly rare that an episode goes by without somebody dying, and not even the major characters are safe. In the show, we’ve seen acts of murder, torture, suicide, even genocide — the latter once committed, albeit unwillingly, by the Doctor himself.
The Doctor isn’t all sweetness and light, either. In spite of his appearance, he isn’t human. He’s an alien: very old, the last of his kind, the only survivor of a war that destroyed his people and a large chunk of time itself. The incarnation we’re starting with in class, the Ninth Doctor, is still suffering from crippling survivor’s guilt and a degree of PTSD. Left to his own devices, he gets lonely and terribly sad. This is why he needs companions — they give him a fresh set of eyes to see through, and somebody to talk to and keep him company for a while.
In spite of the darkness and pain under the surface of the show, there’s a lot of real beauty there too. Imagine: the chance to road-trip across the universe and go anywhere you’d like in time or space. You’d see worlds you couldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams, meet aliens and work with new technology, and witness your own world’s past and future — or even alternate versions of your own reality. The universe is full of more wonders than we can possibly imagine, and this show is a good reminder that even outside the realm of fiction, the world is full of amazing things and people.
The reason that I’d hesitate to join the Doctor is the danger of never making it home. It’s not out of concern for my own well-being, per se. If it were, I wouldn’t be studying Wildlife Biology with plans to work in the Australian Outback somewhere down the line. There is a very real risk of injury in my career field. My sense of self-preservation takes a backseat, on occasion, to my fascination and love of the natural world. My friends joke about my exaggerated tendency to try absurd things in the name of science, but there’s a bit of truth to it. I am always one to leap at the chance for a new experience, and if I passed on the chance to travel the universe because I was afraid of the unknown, I’d never be able to forgive myself.
I think the real issue is that I wouldn’t want to leave my family and friends behind forever. Injury (or possibly even death) for me? No big shakes. (I could talk about faith here and why dying doesn’t freak me out as badly as it does to some, but it’s already past two in the morning and I’m just rambling now, so I’ll save that for some other time.) There’s a lot I’d still like to see and do here on earth, and if given the choice I’d certainly want to live long enough to do something with my life that would help other people and make the world a better place, even if it’s just in a small way. But I’ve got a younger sister and my parents and a roommate and a best friend, and I wouldn’t want to cause them stress and pain on my behalf. I want to be able to look out for them.
So if I were to hear the grating whirr of Tardis engines outside the HRC some afternoon, I might hesitate a moment. Send out a quick text my family and friends, tell them I’ ll be traveling for a while so I might be hard to reach, but not to worry. I’ll be fine, and maybe even bring them back some souvenirs. And then I’d sprint downstairs and out the door, with no regrets, to the adventure of a lifetime.