He’s over two thousand years old, travels through space and time in a wooden box and is always the smartest person in the room. Who wouldn’t want to be more like the Doctor?
Coming back to the telly box this Saturday, Doctor Who is now in its 51st year – with a title character who could teach us a thing or two about how to live a life more interesting. While we don’t know exactly what Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor will be like yet, we can speculate.
His face changes every few years, but he’s always the Doctor; an eccentric mass of compassion, cleverness and contradiction. These constants make him a truly fantastic hero – and a realistic role model.
You don’t need a police call box that’s bigger on the inside or two hearts to be a better, less boring, more adventurous you. Let’s count down the ways you can be a bit more like the Doctor.
The Doctor is never cowardly or cruel
Former script editor and Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks was first to describe the titular time lord as “never cowardly or cruel”. Those words were used again as the Doctor’s motto in the 50th anniversary episode “The Day of the Doctor”.
There have been stumbles along the way. The first Doctor kidnapped two of his granddaughter’s teachers because they discovered the TARDIS. That was a bit naughty. But, on the whole, the Doctor treats people, good people, with kindness and compassion – and he puts them first.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the fifth Doctor’s final episode. Poisoned, on the brink of death and not knowing whether he’ll regenerate, Peter Davison’s Doctor gives the only shot of antidote to his companion Peri. And then, the ultimate sacrifice; he turns into Colin Baker.
He loves to get lost
You don’t have to be a sci-fi anorak to know that two thirds of Doctor Who stories begin with the TARDIS materialising in an unspecified time in history or on an unknown planet. Occasionally, the Doctor knows exactly where they are – but those times are rare. He explores anyway.
And what he finds is always amazing.
From far future space stations stuffed with the last of humanity (The Ark in Space) to the last days of an ancient civilization (The Fires of Pompeii). From a 1920s cargo ship in the middle of the Indian ocean (Carnival of Monsters) to a planet populated by humanoid cats (Survival).
In eleventh Doctor episode The Doctor’s Wife, our hero is able to talk to the TARDIS in human form – and the secret of its eccentric navigation is revealed:
The Doctor: You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go.
The TARDIS: No, but I always took you where you needed to go.
The moral? Getting lost is good. If you stay in the same place, you never push your boundaries – you learn nothing new. You never grow. So forgive us when we say, do you want to be more interesting? Then get lost.
He uses his wits rather than his fists
The Doctor’s definitely a man of action – how many other superheroes know Venusian aikido? But if he can talk his way out of a situation, he usually will.
Doctor Who’s monologues are legendary.
Sometimes he’s just thinking out loud, working out his next move. Other times he’s distracting the enemy or stalling for time. Mostly, he just seems to like the sound of his own voice.
And when the Doctor talks, his enemies listen. How many times has the Doctor stood before a Dalek platoon, giving a four page speech? Everyone else they simply exterminate on sight.
It’s not necessarily the gobbiness we’re suggesting you should emulate, but a commitment to working things out with words rather than violence. That’s something everyone can look up to.
He’s a bit cocky
We shy away from calling it arrogance, because arrogance is an exaggerated sense of one’s capabilities. The Doctor’s earned every fibre of bravado and every drop of conceit in his body.
And we could all do with a bit of that. Earned conceit. When you’re good at something, you should acknowledge it. Confidence pushes you on to do even better things.
Of course, the Doctor’s a bit of an all round big head. When asked by companion Liz Shaw what he’s a Doctor of, the third incarnation replies, “Practically everything, my dear.”
If you’d been alive for hundreds of years, habitually defeating evil doers with a couple of quips, a call box and a screwdriver, you’d probably have a touch of cockiness about you too.
He has his own style
We’re not suggesting you should dress like the Doctor. In fact, the sight of dumpy, middle-aged men wearing Matt Smith tweeds is enough to make Cybermen cry tears of pure mercury. But there’s nothing wrong with being a bit of a dandy.
The Doctor is a man of unique sartorial taste, whether he’s rocking a fur coat and braces, swishing a black cape or wearing the uniform of a German u-boat commander. He always stands out rather than sticks out.
Well, we say “always” – but there’s usually an exception and that exception is the sixth Doctor. Poor Six. Or, as some unkind fans call him, “the technicolour yawn”.
The Doctor does what’s right
Perhaps the Doctor’s key characteristic, the thing that really drives him, is a desire to do what is fair. In a world full of ‘roid rage superheroes fighting for justice or acting out of revenge, it makes a quintessentially British change.
Despite several opportunities to wipe out the entire Dalek race, for example, the Doctor can never quite bring himself to commit outright genocide. The fourth Doctor was the first to get the opportunity, but when the time came to destroy fiction’s favourite Nazi pepperpots, he couldn’t flick the switch.
So deep is this sense of right and wrong ingrained that an incarnation of the Doctor who did annihilate the Daleks (and the Time Lords) is written out of his history, deemed unfit to carry the name “Doctor”. Harsh.
He questions authority
100% rebel time lord; that’s how Peter Capaldi describes his 12th Doctor. None of his predecessors was particularly fond of authority, but two regenerations had more run-ins than most.
The third Doctor began his tenure exiled to Earth, seconded as a scientific advisor to military organisation UNIT. He spent most of his time butting heads with bureaucracy in the form of UNIT leader Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, of whom he famously says “You know Brigadier, your methods have all the refined subtlety of a bull in a china shop.”
The sixth Doctor spent an entire season in a timelord court accused of “interference”, but he barely acknowledges its power over him, preferring to banter cockily with the Inquisitor – a time lord judge – and an evil future incarnation of himself known as The Valeyard.
That’s right. The Doctor’s so rebellious that he even refuses to recognise his own authority. It makes our brains hurt too.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “everything changes”. It’s the only constant in the universe.
The Doctor changes more drastically than most, regenerating into an entirely new body when the old one is “wearing a bit thin”. Though his looks and personality transform, he’s still the same person underneath though. He’s still the Doctor.
Not every incarnation of the Doctor accepts the change well. The second has renewal forced on him by the time lords and doesn’t like his new face. “Oh no!” he says, finding a mirror, “That’s not me at all!”
The tenth Doctor’s final words were simply “I don’t want to go”.
But every time the Doctor changes, he gets over it eventually. He has a nap, brushes himself down, picks out some new clothes and carries on. And that’s the best any of us can do; never give up and never give in.
As for the new Doctor, the change has already started. Oh well – here we go again!
Animated images courtesy of Doctor Who GIFs