As I’ve been consumed by Doctor Who for the last few weeks I couldn’t help but start dissecting what it is about that show that I truly love. Aside from it being funny and quick, the Doctor stands as one of the most tragic characters I’ve encountered. He is alone, the last of his kind, floating around all of time and space in a blue box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and armed with nothing more than a sonic screwdriver and an indomitable hope for humanity.
In the midst of all the fun and quirky bits of the show, Doctor Who maintains his tragic streak. Perhaps the most profound episode I’ve found so far is the one titled Midnight by Russell T. Davies. This one is in the middle of the fourth season and I have to admit that Davies is a genius.
WARNING : There are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen that episode, don’t read further.
Davies put the Doctor in a little box that is not bigger on the inside than it is on the outside with a group of strangers on their way to see some diamond falls. And then he broke the box — Davies, not the Doctor — and watched as the human elements of the story spiraled out of control. We get the lady Sky suddenly possessed by some other kind of life-form that learns very quickly by mimicking the people around it. Granted, it is creepy to have someone copy everything you say as you’re saying it, but the real genius of the story isn’t the alien trying to learn so much as the reactions of the rest of the people on board.
Basically, we had a whole show that didn’t really move out of the box and managed to remain intense and profound. By the end we’ve seen a breakdown in humanity as the focus turns from stressful “Well, now we have to wait for rescue” to “Survival of the fittest” until nearly everyone is trying to throw the Doctor out of the ship (where he will die). The tragedy of this story isn’t necessarily the death of one of the characters, but the ugly desperation that infected everyone.
These humans that the Doctor finds so much hope and affection for are also capable of horrible things. He’s not naive enough to not be aware of their capacity for evil, but there is so much disappointment in him when he sees them turn the wrong direction. So the tragedy comes around when his hope for the best in humanity is tarnished by the actions he sees.