Lessons Learned from Doctor Who, Part One – Loss and Loneliness

The BBC’s Doctor Who had been in my nerd blindspot until September, 2012. Until then, I had not only never seen an episode, but had no idea who The Doctor was, what he did, or how it happened. All I was somewhat confident in saying was that, “It’s a show about time travel… But don’t quote me on that.” Also there were big ugly things called Dalecks that were annoying to listen to. The point is that I was clueless until saw it listed on Netflix and went, “I should at least check out that Blink episode everyone keeps telling me to see.”. As with many things I will discuss, it’s amazing to look back on such small decisions and realize how you had no idea your life was about to change; possibly even be saved.

I’ve learned many things from Doctor Who. Particularly about loss, loneliness, change, and anger. Today I want to talk about loss and loneliness.


Loss and Loneliness

I didn’t jump into Blink, instead starting with 2005’s revival. It took a few days to take hold (I watched one or two at a time, enjoying them but not enamoured) until I started to love the show. The charming low budget effects, the constant genre switching, Eccelson as The Doctor I quite enjoyed. I reached the end of the first season and it was great to see my ongoing question of “What’s with ‘Bad Wolf’ appearing in every episode?” answered.

Then the Ninth Doctor suffered a mortal wound, and in something I was not expecting, regenerated into a different person. I went twenty-five years without knowing that happened in one of the most famous shows on the planet. It struck a chord… Or resonated… Damn, I’m going to have to say that every article, aren’t I? I don’t need to tell you that I binged on the series right until David Tennant’s exit. The show made me feel good, it was optimistic and had great messages, but there was an important message I didn’t quite grasp.

Something happened to me about two days after I watched David Tennant’s tear-jerking exit that hammered the message home. One of the most important relationships I had came to a crashing halt. I was involved with a professional who was treating me at the time, the relationship was found out, and she was told to terminate the relationship immediately. There was nothing I could do, I never saw it coming, and neither of us wanted it to happen. I lost someone who I had confided in, who had helped me, and who I felt I could be myself around; very suddenly and with no way to change the circumstances.

As (what had become) our last meeting came to a close, strung out for too long because neither of us wanted it to end, I reluctantly got to my feet and we hugged in her doorway. I couldn’t find words to say to someone who I had been through so much with. I needed some way to express what I was feeling. As I was leaving, about to close the door I found it. I told her, “I don’t want to go.”

Distraught, emotional, and tired I went home and sat on my couch in silence. At a loss of what to do, and in need of an escape. Doctor Who always made me feel better, so I switched to Netflix and watched ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (Matt Smith’s first episode). Where the newly regenerated Doctor crashes into an unknown person’s vegetable garden, and has to eventually save the world while rediscovering himself. The end of the episode features a montage of every Doctor Who came before him, followed by Matt Smith walking through the projection and standing in the Eleventh Doctor’s trademark outfit.


Serendipitous cannot begin to describe it.

The Doctor had lost companions before, always unwillingly, but to see such a clear break from what I had seen before really helped me through the coming weeks. When the Tenth Doctor lost Rose he was devastated. Hell, there were episodes where Rose returned and you could see how difficult it was for him to have to say goodbye once more. What was important was how The Doctor continued on, on a new adventure, with a new companion, even when life looked nothing like it did before (the changeover to Steven Moffat brought a total tone change). The Doctor, and life, carried on.

Now I had experienced loss before, even the loss of other relationships. While none were as devastating as the one I had just experienced, they all were woven into the fabric of my past. Now I sat mourning a bond very important to me, looking towards an uncertain future, taking solace in a show about a man doing the same. What was important to me, was that The Doctor always remembered his former companions. He didn’t throw their memory by the wayside. He forged ahead, certainly, even with great difficulty, but he never forgot. This was an important lesson.

When I say that media can help us articulate something about ourselves, this is what I mean. It wasn’t an immediate cure for the depression and fury I felt, but it helped guide me at a time when I was lost. That the Doctor kept going, and very soon found great joy again in exploring time and space with Amelia Pond. A new stage in his life had begun.

There is a motivational speaker named Steve Maraboli who said, “Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are part of your history, but not part of your destiny.”. Hang on to that, and press forward. Mourn what you have lost, the dreams which have faded, but never forget them. Even if it was not meant to be. Nothing lasts forever. As hard as it can be, you must continue on. Besides, you never know whose vegetable garden you’re going to crash into next.

What I liked is that you can see that The Doctor, when alone, felt lonely. Adrift, even. Even if he wouldn’t admit it. I remember several companions remarking about his loneliness, but The Doctor tried not to show it. How many of us have dealt with loss, and the resulting loneliness, and have been afraid to show it? Hell, if we’re bringing loneliness into the equation, there was a recent article in The Globe and Mail which dealt specifically with loneliness. How ‘lonely’ is a way people simply do not want to associate themselves with, yet so many of us experience. I know I did, and do now (as I’m in another difficult period of my life). The Doctor sequesters himself away at times because he cannot handle losing someone else, but knows that loneliness will always drive him to seek out a connection again. Just look at the transition Eleven went through after losing the Ponds, how he spent hundreds of years alone and purposefully shutting others out. It wasn’t until Clara Oswald came along and presented him with a mystery so compelling, about someone he reluctantly came to care about, that he jumps back into action. At his core, he really loves people, even if he needs some personal space.

The Doctor’s experience with loneliness hasn’t helped me as much as loss, or change have. But like anger, through his experience, I could see a little bit of myself. My personality is such that, I’m an introvert and need time to ‘recharge’ after being with people. I have also lost many connections (of varying importance) in my life, and have sequestered myself away for a time afterwards. Either unable to face people again, or not wanting to. Fear of losing someone is now something I struggle with, and I have extreme trust issues around, because of my history with that professional (among others).

In a more abstract way, I recently had to deal with the loss of a lot of feeling in my body. The crushing experience of having a doctor tell me that (after five years of searching) hit me harder than I ever thought it would. I spent five years with hope, going from doctor to doctor, and being told last November that “You might have to accept some people never get it back.”, was devastating. It took my hope away. You can prepare yourself to hear something, it’s another to actually hear it. And all I wanted to do afterwards was tell the world to go fuck itself, and drink until I forgot. I still want to at time of writing, it was relatively recent. That’s essentially what happened the night of November 4th, 2013*. I have felt what The Doctor has felt, and us both have experienced it many times over.

An important aside: In media, the ability to relate to a character is a hugely important idea. You hear all the time about ‘relateability’ and how often that means ‘pandering to the lowest common denominator’. Now, Doctor Who has been described as populist drama, and to be honest I agree. It aims to please young and old alike, it’s something that millions watch, and is now arguably becoming mainstream here in North America. However, it is also a show that knows what it is and has a helluva lot of fun doing the hell out of it. And you know what, it takes some risks in doing so (it’s a remarkably accepting show even by 2013 standards). Populist is not a dirty word. Something can be stellar, and still break from niche status, and have millions relate to it (often in different ways). A distinction between good media and bad, is that good media knows what it is and revels in it, while bad media compromises itself in a bid for attention.

The reason for that aside is that, I relate to The Doctor’s loneliness. Even if it’s not putting something like loss into context for me, the fact that I can feel what he feels is significant. It makes me feel more a part of his world, and when he manages to find a way to deal with his loneliness, it gives me hope that I can deal with mine. Naturally, not in the same way. I’m not a Time Lord (yet…). Still, I think that part of why Doctor Who is so widely enjoyed is because we see a lot of ourselves in The Doctor. Our increasing ennui in a society so overwhelmingly connected, it has ironically disconnected us. Many friends I have made, have only lasted for short bursts, before they dropped off the face of the Earth never to be seen again. I have no idea what happened to them, I have no idea if they’re alright, but I cared for them. Again and again I have fallen back down into loneliness. I know I am not alone in this. I know that for some people, maybe they are not consciously aware what they’re feeling is loneliness. Just read the article, many people go to therapists for depression and only later admit that they’re lonely.

For a series so fantastical, Doctor Who is one of the most grounded shows I have the pleasure of watching. When people ask me if I believe in fate, I have difficulty answering that. But one reason why it might be so, is that certain media and messages tend to find me when I need them most. Just as Doctor Who, a show all about loss (among other important themes) came into my life, mere moments before I suffered one of the largest losses of my life. Watching that show, many episodes repeatedly, became an important coping mechanism for me. Something I could grab onto when I had nothing else.


“I don’t want to go.” A single line in a populist drama, that nevertheless resonated with me so much that it became my parting words to someone so important. A television show helped me articulate my emotions and survive in a difficult time. It resonated deeper than anything else in that moment, it had struck my resonance frequency.**

Stay tuned for Book Three Part 2: Change

– Jaydra Dawn


*The date November 4th is going to never lose its significance to me. For it was on a November 4th that I had a life altering surgery, on another when I met a man would wound me deeper than any other, and the day I was told I may have to accept never being able to enjoy one of life’s richest experiences again. I now look towards each November 4th with a sense of ambivalence.

**I promise I will not end everything with that line.

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