Fifty years ago an unnamed time traveler appeared in the gap left when modernism and fundamentalism agreed that faith and science must be at war.
Known simply as the Doctor, he is the raggedy man, the intellectual genius who weeps and laughs, the miracle-worker with a profound comprehension of the physical laws of the universe, whose imagination, fierce hope and deep love enter into those laws, bending and transforming them. He is a scientific mastermind who can be taught, who can change his mind, who continues to explore and discover, to wonder – and wander.
A living breathing creature who lives and loves and loses and fights, who dies and resurrects (himself and others), who changes and is changed by his companions, his friends, creatures he meets only once, his enemies – anyone with whom he is in relationship.
A god in a box. Which is bigger – immeasurably – on the inside.
The Doctor travels through all of space and time in his box, the TARDIS. He comes to help, to save, and often he comes especially to those who have lost hope, lost belief, lost imagination.
That’s why I’m hopelessly geeked-out on Doctor Who. If you’ve been with this blog – or me – for a while, you’ve seen me lose each of the above at times. I fought in the faith-science war, first on the faith side, then on the science side, and then I ventured into the unstable no-(wo)man’s land in between. Before I put my foot down on a land mine, though, the TARDIS whooshed in, and the Doctor, with his goofy smile and ancient eyes, invited me to fly with him.
I know. It’s only a TV show.
But there’s a story there. There’s a living idea that moves me.
My young son said to his father recently, “I can think of four wise old men – Gandalf, Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, and Sensei Wu.” I would add the Doctor to his list.
But the wise (someday old) man I love challenged our son to imagine more. He asked if he could think of any wise old women. The two of them thought hard, and together they came up with Galadriel and Professor McGonagall. I have yet to come up with any more from popular media. (Help me – can you think of more?)
With this dearth of wise old women, why would I latch onto yet another wise old (and so far very white) man?
Because if the Doctor has taught me anything, it is that everything that lives – even he – has a future. And that future, always true to the essence of the life from which it grows, often looks very different from the past.
The wisest of old men and the most profound ancient stories are forever leaning forward, letting go of ego and convention, imagining the impossible.
I like to believe that the Doctor himself is a transitional and transformative figure in the evolution of human imagination – that in fifty more years, the Doctor will have helped to move us into a literary universe shining bright with wise old women.
Not only beautiful intelligent young women (a transitional and transformative figure of our current popular media), but also wise, wrinkled, heavy, gray, faded, quirky – even bearded! – old women. Women who are respected, and heard, and believed in like I believe in the Doctor.
And Who knows what else?