Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Whovember: The Absence of the Doctor in Doctor Who

I was talking with my husband about Doctor Who and we were naming episodes when this really interesting concept came to me. Basically, I starting thinking of all the episodes when something happened to the Doctor and he was erased from the picture. How the show had created such a larger than life character that his absence can be felt almost as much as his presence. As if the negative space the Doctor creates when he is gone is a character in itself. Thus I decided it might be something interesting to explore.

One of the most appealing things about the Doctor is that he is always there to save the day. Even when it seems like he's lost, he's thought everything out so far ahead that he still wins. It's not something that is humanly possible in real life. As an audience, we are thrust into this world where an entity like that exists and it becomes the norm. Having the Doctor in that world and having him be erased from time or not available to save the day is a lot like finding out there is magic in the world and being banished from using it. We know something is real but it is ripped away from us.

So when the Doctor is gone, it becomes this noticeably gap in the story. I think the writers are brilliant for incorporating stories like this into the narrative for two major reasons. The first is it lets us know the true importance of the Doctor and it lets the companions grow. The second is that it allows us as viewers to connect to the companion's sorrow at eventually having to leave the Doctor.

The first episode where the Doctor disappears comes late in Season 1 in "Father's Day". In it, Rose makes a choice to save her father, causing time to erode and these creatures to come and clean up the timeline she created. The Doctor stands in front of people in the church and gets attacked by that creature and erased. Rose is left this with overwhelming gloom because the Doctor has always saved the day and now he is gone. As an audience, we feel the weight of his absence because like Rose, we have learned to rely on the Doctor to save the day. When time is righted and the Doctor returns, the elated feeling I got seeing him walk into the shot on the screen was almost indescribable. For the first time, I was faced with a Doctor Who without the Doctor and even though I knew he would come back, it was frightening. It felt like all the magic was ripped away from the show.

We get this yet again in the season 2 opening with "The Christmas Invasion". While the Doctor's body is recovering from the recent regeneration, aliens decide to invade earth on Christmas. People keep calling for the Doctor, begging anyone who may know how to get in touch with him to do so. Rose is standing over him as he sleeps and wants desperately for him to wake up but he just won't, leaving her to try and handle the situation on her own. We can feel the impending doom as the earth's situation worsen with each passing minute, made all the more desperate by the Doctor's absence. It's almost as if his non-appearance is representative of the doom.

Rose is again faced with these sort of situations in "New Earth" and in "Fear Her" reminding us as an audience that we can't always rely on the Doctor to be there. Rose is desperate to escape in "New Earth" and keeps telling Cassandra to inhabit her body so the Doctor can get them out of their predicament but the Doctor insists on housing Cassandra so Rose is safe. In "Fear Her" the Doctor is drawn into a picture and can't help Rose figure out what is going on to free him. Not only do these episodes allow Rose to grow as a character but it also forces her to live in a world without the Doctor. It is perhaps because of these absences that allows her to make the choice to stay with the Doctor in "Doomsday". She's been forced to be without the Doctor so many times that she knows how empty life would be without him. It also makes her parting with him all the more tragic because she knows what her life will feel like.

But it isn't just Rose that has to live without the Doctor. Martha is often put on adventures by herself. In "Human Nature" and "Family of Blood", we see what the Doctor would be like if he were purely human. What he becomes is some bumbling, mousy professor who is too clumsy and nervous to speak to women. Knowing what the Doctor is truly like and how wonderful he is and seeing him reduced to this empty shell of a man really puts into perspective how grand the Doctor is. We can almost see the shadow of the Doctor following around his human form and how they could never measure up. Again, the Doctor's absence because a physical thing.

In "Turn Left" even Donna is faced with what her life would be if the Doctor was never in it. We see a body being rolled away and a hand with a sonic screwdriver in it. The Doctor dies because he didn't have Donna to help him and as a result, all the things he prevented from happening happen. The spider queen wins, the airborn Titantic takes out most of London, the hospital stays on the moon killing everyone in it including Sarah Jane Smith and more. The world goes to hell all because Donna never meets the Doctor and helps him. Again, his absence is composed of all the bad things that happen and it becomes a character again. His absence truly is the representation of doom.

Even the 11th Doctor must go through this in "The Big Bang". One of my saddest moments is when the 11th Doctor gives himself up to the crack in Amy Pond's wall to right time, essentially erasing himself in time. Watching Amy's life as she grows up feels all wrong because it doesn't have the Doctor in it. It also makes his reappearance (arguably) the most joyous moment in the show.

We know what the Doctor's negative space leaves---doom and despair--because we've been shown repeatedly what a Doctor Who world would be like without the Doctor in it. His absence speaks just as loud as his presence and it shakes us to our very core. It also tells us why the companions so dread the day they have to leave the Doctor. They are essentially giving the magic up one way or another. I find it so fascinating that a show is able to make a character out of a character disappearing and that they go to such great lengths to remind us what that character's presence means. But if any show is going to do it so eloquently I am not surprised at all that it is Doctor Who.

So what do you guys think of this concept?

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