When I was a boy in Scotland, I used to be riveted to the television every Sunday evening to see the adventures of my favorite hero—a man called “The Doctor.” I first encountered the Doctor in the early 1970s, when he was played by a gray-haired gent by the name of Jon Pertwee. Mr. Pertwee, may he rest in peace, will always be my first and favorite Doctor, but he’s far from the last. Because the role I saw him play was none other than Doctor Who, the central character of a low-budget though imaginative BBC series about the travels and travails of a wayward Time Lord, who spent his days rescuing humanity and any number of other civilizations from doom with his wits, his empathy, and his trusty (and sometimes, not so trusty) T.A.R.D.I.S. The Doctor was a superhero of the mind. He didn’t have strength or flight or any of that sort of stuff. He couldn’t turn invisible or turn someone else to ash. But he could think his way out of any situation. And that kept me coming back every Sunday. I couldn’t stay away. I needed my appointment with the Doctor.
But, as I got older, the Doctor seemed passé. He was something from my earlier days. Sure, it was fun to go back and watch some of those old episodes, but the feeling wasn’t the same. I knew everything. I didn’t need the Doctor anymore. The Doctor hadn’t changed. (Well, actually he had. Multiple times, actually.) I had.
Really, the question was whether the change was for the better. Was life better post-Doctor? The fact I’m writing this post, within a week of Peter Capaldi, the twelfth—or to my mind, thirteenth—incarnation of the Doctor taking his place in the canon, probably suggests the answer is “no.” The Doctor is an enigmatic character at the best of times, and Capaldi plays enigmatic to the hilt. His Doctor doesn’t care what you think of him—even though he does—and he’s thoroughly alien—even though he’s not. (Incidentally, I love Capaldi in the role.)
I came back to the Doctor. But why does the Doctor make things better? Because it turns out I don’t know everything. Because mystery is good. And the Doctor presents a smart mystery; an enigma that’s all wrapped up in a figure whose force of heroism isn’t strength or some kind of superpower, but empathy and intelligence and a belief in life. He’s a hero because he falls into it, not because he strives for it. And because he can be the one who’s needed when he’s needed. He’s the right man at the right time. And that’s all that any of us can hope to be.
The frenzy leading up to Capaldi taking over the helm of the T.A.R.D.I.S. has been a revelation. He’s been on a world tour with his co-star Jenna Coleman. Last year’s Comicpalooza in Houston had two major themes—Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who. The speculation as to what kind of Doctor Capaldi would be has been rampant, and I’ve loved every minute of it. After 30 years, my superhero—my hero of the mind–has conquered America. The Doctor is in.