Lessons Learned from Doctor Who, Part Two – Change

Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary (‘The Day of the Doctor’) episode aired recently, and was one of the most relentlessly optimistic episodes to ever be part of one of televisions most relentlessly optimistic shows. It was a great episode. At this point I’d recommend you see it, but if you have any interest in Doctor Who you likely have. It also encapsulates one of the great themes of the show: Change.

When I discussed loss in my last entry, I described how the show teaches you that while loss is inevitable, it is hardly the end of things. What I like is that it’s not done in a cold, ‘You’ll lose everyone eventually, so don’t get attached’ cynicism, but in showing The Doctor mourn his losses while looking forward. This gives rise to change, both in The Doctor’s company, but also himself. Doctor Who is a show that has no reason to ever stagnate because it can tell any story, in any time, in any genre, with any cast, for The Doctor is always changing.

It’s written into the show that when The Doctor (a Time Lord) suffers a mortal wound or reaches the end of his lifespan, he regenerates. The modern version of which is The Doctor bursting into flames and slowly taking on a new form. This new Doctor retains the essence of The Doctor (his strong moral code, thirst for adventure, and optimism for Humanity) while taking on (what can be) a radically different personality. The core character is the same, but the wrapping and methods are different.

This article won’t cover a topic as recondite as the last where I related l’Cie to the Trans experience, but I want to discuss this theme nonetheless. It’s important for me to express, and this is why this blog exists. However, I would like to comment on how I view the Trans experience through Doctor Who to a small extent. I don’t intend for this blog to be all about queer issues, but it is a part of my life and I think it’s rather interesting. When you look at the following pictures, note that there’s only one man present in all of them. Below you will see the man on the right as the Tenth incarnation of The Doctor (David Tennant), and the Eleventh (Matt Smith) on the left. You might be able to see where I’m going with this, because…


… how many of us would be recognizable to our past selves?

Eleven is four-hundred years older than Ten (when this episode happens), but it doesn’t take a person that long to change so much. If you were to meet yourself from ten years ago, what would you both think of yourselves? What I love, is that for a transsexual, to meet yourself ten years prior could be to literally look upon another face. Another biology. Another sex. I came out nine years ago. If I came face to face with myself from 2003, I’d be looking at a sixteen year-old boy (even if the soul was still female). When Eleven meets his past incarnation he takes great pleasure in looking at how far he’s come. When Ten meets his future incarnation, he’s stunned at who he becomes. There’s a lot of comedy in this episode where they make fun of each other’s clothing too, which I know I would.

Eleven meets Ten

Eleven meets Ten

People who only met me post-transition have a hard time believing this, but I used to wear very loud Hawaiian shirts. Every day. I had a wardrobe full of them. My dress today, nearly every day, is a solid colour tank top (black or violet) and jeans (blue or black). My formal wear consists of long violet dresses. My summer wear is solid colour skirts, with a solid colour tank top (or if it’s 45 degrees, just a sports bra). What I’m trying to say is, I took great pleasure in Eleven referring to Ten as “sand shoes”, while Ten (with a more formal look) looked absurd wearing Eleven’s fez. I can just imagine meeting my past self going a similar way… I suspect the sixteen year old would call me boring, but what does that kid know about timeless style anyways? Nothing. And he’s not here to refute that.

Nevermind that when the ‘War Doctor’ (John Hurt) sees both of them, realizes they’re his future selves,  he remarks “Am I having a mid-life crisis?!”. His style being that of an old and tired warrior, without any of the eccentricity of the other two. Eleven is by far the most eccentric, but Ten still has some of those qualities. Hurt lacks them all and gets somewhat offended at Eleven’s use of the phrase “wibbly wobbly timey wimey”. At which point Ten leans in and says, “I have no idea where he picks that stuff up.”

"You're me? Even that one?"

“You’re me? Even that one?”

Some versions of the Doctor are angrier than others, while one was described as a ‘clown’, and another a ‘chess master’. The Ninth Doctor whore subdued clothing and carried an absolute fury with him. The First Doctor was a grandfatherly type who sought to teach people. Think about how much you’ve changed over the years. How might you describe yourself ten years ago? Twenty? Or even just five?

It’s fun to think about meeting our past selves, and a little frightening to think about meeting our future. At a glance, it might take us a long time to recognize ourselves. I have a feeling I might have a hard time identifying my future self until I tell her to, “Show me your tattoos.”. In Doctor Who there is a Time Lord who constantly switched genders and appearances through each regeneration, but who always had his/ her tattoos redone (and this becomes a way for The Doctor to recognize them). Aside from those obvious traits though, it could be very hard. Especially if the years have changed you so radically, like in the case of many transsexuals who might literally look and see another face.


But if given enough time…


Constants and Variables

… we just might uncover common ground. When a tear in space-time opens up, both Ten and Eleven are quick to whip out their glasses (which neither need, but wear because it makes them look smarter) and peer at it in such a similar way that they have a small bonding moment over it. Both have a formal element to how they dress, even if Eleven goes for a neo-Victorian look (several years in, in terms of the show. He starts out looking more ‘raggedy’). They also work together remarkably well in solving problems, having the same idea when it comes to brokering a peace treaty. While Ten is clearly a ladies man, and Eleven more childish than his predecessor, their core stays the same. Which is what makes the ‘War Doctor’s’ actions hurt them so much, despite understanding why the decision was made, although over time they’ve both developed different coping mechanisms for dealing with that guilt.

There’s something called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which is an extensive personality test and index. The test was developed over time after discovering that people’s personalities often fall into certain archetypes, based around four binary elements. A person can be Extroverted or Introverted, Sensing or Intuitive, Thinking or Feeling, and Judging or Perceiving. While obviously people are on a spectrum, and no personality test can be 100% accurate, I’ve found it very valuable in learning about myself. Not only because being classified as INFJ has helped me feel less alone, but also because I’ve taken this test at three points in my life, and always achieved the same result. Once in high school pre-transition, then four years ago, and then just recently. INFJ. Every time, no matter how much I’ve changed, my ‘self’ has remained constant. When I took the test recently, I actually expected something radically different from what I got back in high school, and was amazed to see the same four letters staring back at me.

For The Doctor, there are constant moral lines he will not cross. In one episode when faced with killing a giant creature in order to save it from pain and misery, the Doctor refuses. He knows there must be a way to free it, even if he couldn’t find it. When his companion asks what would happen if the Doctor went through with it, he remarks that if he did, he’d have to find a new name because, “I won’t be the Doctor anymore.”. At the heart of ‘Day of the Doctor’ is Ten and Eleven meeting the ‘War Doctor’, the one who ended the Time War (an epic conflict between Time Lords and Dalecks). Hurt’s ‘Doctor’ doesn’t even call himself that, and Ten and Eleven certainly do not. This is because that after millennia of fighting, Hurt’s ‘Doctor’ realized that the only way to end the war was to use a doomsday weapon (‘The Moment’) and obliterate each side. Ending the lives of billions of innocent people, because he could not find another way to put an end to the conflict.

The guilt of doing so is carried by Nine (who does not appear due to the actor burning some bridges with the BBC), Ten, and Eleven. They shut out Hurt’s ‘Doctor’ from their minds, and each had to find a different way to cope. Ten is described as ‘the man who regrets’, while Eleven is described as ‘the man who forgets’. Ten is sill angry over what he did, and Eleven lives in denial (even if he still talks about at times). When Hurt’s ‘Doctor’ enters the episode, they’re both forced to confront the part of themselves which broke their moral code. Hurt, whose ‘Doctor’ was about to use ‘The Moment’ but had yet to do so, asks them if they ever counted how many children died on Gallifrey (Time Lord home planet) that day. Eleven has no idea, but Ten does, and even becomes angry at Eleven for forgetting.

Old habits die hard.

Some things never change.

What this says to me is that no matter how much we change, there is a core within us which stays constant. If we view ourselves as the ‘self’, which is an abstract concept of who we are versus our biology (brain, bodies), we might be able to note how we grow over time yet stay so similar. Severe trauma might impact us, and certainly changes us, but the core remans in-tact. Buried perhaps. Hence the saying, “Those who are heartless once cared too much.”. A piece of us remains, even if it has been violated. That our actions in the past might leave us guilty, especially when they contradict our sense of self. This may differ on a person to person basis, the MBTI does say that some people are more adamant about their moral code than others. What fascinates me is how we still look back on our past selves and can recognize a seed or grain of who are now are within such a different shell.


An Incredibly Inappropriate Aside

There’s an exchange between Ten and Eleven when they whip out their sonic screwdrivers and compare them. That is not a euphemism; it’s symbolism. Eleven’s is shown to be much more elaborate and larger than Ten’s, which provokes Ten to remark:

Ten: “Compensating?”
Eleven: “For what?”
Ten: “Regeneration, it’s a lottery.” 

I laughed pretty hard at this. Not only because it’s such a well delivered joke, but because I might… Relate. Let’s just say that I wish there was a trade-in or exchange rate when I had my sex change. I essentially exchanged a rather large ‘sonic screwdriver’, for an 34A cup-size.

I should have screwed more... cabinets, when I was younger.

I should have screwed more… screws, when I was younger.


“All the wold’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their entrances and exits; and one man in his time plays many parts.” – William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ (Act II, Scene VII)

While the above quote is used to reference aging, I’ve always taken it to mean the literal roles which we play throughout our lives. It’s true that age does bring inevitable changes in how we live, but so does changing circumstances. Each of The Doctor’s regenerations is the same being, but one who takes on different roles. Each Doctor has some common enemies, but many face their own challenges and become defined by the conflicts they are uniquely engaged in. Hurt’s is of course defined as the one who has to become a warrior, rather than peacemaker. In my own life, not only have I grown from child to teen to twenty-something, but I have lived the life as a horny high school boy, to a woman working in the adult entertainment industry (briefly and legally). Now I’m one who wants to be a police officer. Right now I’m dealing with depression, and am mourning the loss of something which my past selves took for granted. I speak as someone who experiences anger, hurt, but is trying to construct a better foundation so that the next part I play is all the stronger for it.

Many of us take on the roles of parents, a large shift from maybe even five years ago when we were single and with little direction. Others change jobs so many times, and work in so many fields, that they might consider themselves a wholly different person at times. In times of hardship we may have to pretend to be someone else. Actors might find that their fans know them better as the characters they portray than the people they are. Some continue to act ‘in character’ while not on set because they, and others enjoy it. Through it all, the same soul is there, but the mask is ever changing.

To me, this has been one of the great lessons/ comforts Doctor Who has. It shows experiences I can relate to so well that I take pleasure in seeing them acted out. Change goes hand in hand with loss, and often it’s only through the latter in which the former is forged.


“Even if I change, it feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.” – Tenth Doctor

While no stranger to regeneration (being the tenth incarnation of himself), the Tenth Doctor fears his regeneration. For a Time Lord to regenerate is to take on a radically new personality. Their memories and self remain, but the particulars do shift (even with some surface similarities). The exact person they are is gone, and won’t be coming back. In a way, that’s true. We don’t radically change as if regenerating (unless under very extreme circumstances), but our personalities do shift over time. For me, I was once told by my mother that she mourned the loss of her son. In some of my most trying times, I’ve become either angry or ashamed (sometimes both) that I effectively killed my past self. While the core remains, the person who wore those bright colours, who fought for socialism, and would have been abhorred to learn that they might someday join the police force, is gone. Even if his memories live on through me. Even if his experiences helped shape me. He is no longer a force in this world, interacting and living within it.

Change is frightening. Psychologists have found that if given the option of staying in a traumatizing environment, or moving to an unknown one, many people will choose to stay. The fear of the unknown is so great that we might be content to stay where we are no matter how difficult. There is a wonderful line from The Legend of Korra which is, “When we reach our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”. The Hero’s Journey outlines a point where the hero is forced from the life they knew and enters a different world; this is referred to as the ‘Belly of the Whale’, and is often the end of the first act in a three act narrative. Still we do it, because change is inevitable no matter the circumstances from which it comes. When my mother told me that she felt her son had died, I was deeply hurt by it. Then I had to grow to accept it, because there was some truth in it. It was not a negative change, but it was a radical one. I would probably end up arguing with my past self on some deeply important topics if we met for coffee. If you told me ten years before now that I’d be religious, I would have said I was disappointed religion still existed in 2013. Much like the Tenth Doctor berates the Eleventh for having forgotten how many children they killed the day they ended the Time War. There’s anger there in having changed, and more so for Ten an anger in knowing that he’ll one day become the other man. Who we have become, and might still, might shock us, but change is coming. The best we can do is to focus on steering ourselves through the change to come as best we can.

"I don't want to go."

“I don’t want to go.”

I’ve heard someone say that you have matured when you can look back at your past selves, and not be ashamed of them. That we are adults when we can accept where we’ve come from, as opposed to a child who might look back a few years and go “I can’t believe I was into that, I was such an idiot.”. I see a bit of wisdom in this, and it’s an interesting point to consider.


From the Ashes I Rise

I have a phoenix tattooed on my chest. A culmination in the lessons I have learned from Doctor Who. A mythical bird which is a symbol of renewal and rebirth. Upon reaching the end of its lifespan, a phoenix bursts into flames and turns to ash, only to be later reborn anew from them. I’ve felt like this many times throughout my life. What I like about Doctor Who, is that not only does he (currently) regenerate in flames, but that he’s changed each time. I had the tattoo done on my chest so that every time I look in the mirror I will be forced to remember that change is inevitable, but that even after being struck down that I will rise again.

Born from the ashes as our past, they will always be a part of us.

Ten Regenerates

Ten Regenerates

There are such things as second chances. While we cannot undo the past, we do learn from our mistakes. We have the benefit of hindsight, and the wisdom gained from our victories and failures. In the end of the ‘Day of the Doctor’, Hurt’s ‘War Doctor’ stands with his hand on The Moment, the big red button. Ready to destroy the Time Lords and Dalecks and end the Time War while Ten and Eleven look on. Then they step forward, each one placing their hand on Hurt’s. That even if it has to be, that doesn’t mean he has to do it alone. Ten and Eleven come to understand why they did what they did, and without judgment accept the person they were. Except, this is a story about time travel, and Eleven has had four hundred years to find a solution. It comes when he realizes, “This time, there’s three of us.”. Taking his hand off the button he tells the other two, “Gentlemen, I change my mind.”, and deactivates The Moment. I won’t spoil what happens next, but they do find another solution. It’s catharsis from eight years of watching The Doctor struggle with the guilt of what he did and is extremely uplifting. We can’t do something like that, but we can try to mend bridges and pay our debts. Apologizing when we might never have before, or realizing that we need to stand tall in the face of opposition which had trampled over us prior. When we do manage to right a wrong, that same catharsis is felt. The feeling that we’ve come so far, and have gained the ability to achieve what we could never have before.

To me The Doctor is a phoenix, and a reminder of the change we all face. Even if it is difficult or frightening, and even when we’ve been knocked to our knees, Doctor Who is a reminder that we can always stand back up. That we keep going, learning, and working with our past selves in our journey through life. Even if we still have no idea where we’re even going. I think there’s something very optimistic in that, and it’s been a great comfort to me over these past years. Accept who you were, cherish who are, and watch over the person you are becoming.



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