I bet you’re worried about the bees too, aren’t you? What’s going on with the bees? What’s making them vanish? No bees means a lot more than just no honey – and as far as I can tell the bee-ologists are totally stumped. Viruses? Mobile phones? Mites? It’s worrying, it really is. So last week I was relieved to discover that they were, of course! simply following the Tandoka trail back to their home planet, Melissa Majoria.
Oh. I’m sorry. I guess that’s not the answer to the bee crisis. It was just on Doctor Who… and the thing is, we Whovians are a hopeful bunch.
It’s hard to recall, now, but there was a time when it seemed as if the Doctor had gone for good. Sexual intercourse began in 1963, Philip Larkin informed us – but so did Doctor Who, in his first incarnation as William Hartnell. He survived Autons and Zygons and the indignity of wearing a stick of celery on his lapel. He survived, just barely, a disastrous regeneration as Paul McGann in 1996 and it seemed at the time, hard to believe that he’d find his place again in a world where cyberspace, not Cybermen, get top billing. And yet even a Dalek would quiver before the deft inventiveness of Russell T. Davies and his team, who have, triumphantly, restored the Doctor to his rightful place in the national pantheon. He’s travelled from the Second World War to the very end of Time, from Pompeii to a diamond planet, and he’s never looked better. With his splendidly wonky TARDIS and only intermittently useful sonic screwdriver (does anyone know why it’s called a “screwdriver” at all? Has it ever done any, er, screwing? Do let me know) he is British pluck personified. But I’ve come to think he’s rather more than that, too.
Science fiction gets a bad rap. Look at it in the cold light of an ordinary day and, too often, it falls flat. Last week, as Season Four approached its climax the Doctor explained Rose’s reappearance to Donna: “If she can cross from her parallel world to your parallel world then that means the walls of the Universe are breaking down and that puts everything in danger!” In the immortal words of the Tenth Doctor: What??? Nope, you can’t think about it too hard. Think about it too hard and the words tosh or even, stuff and nonsense come to mind.
And yet science fiction has become the repository of the oldest stories human beings tell. There’s nothing new about the Doctor. Nothing original. Nothing fresh. Heresy? Quite the opposite: the highest praise. For, since the time – long before the Time War, or television, or even the written word – when we first began to speak to each other, we spoke of travellers just like Doctor Who. Travellers between this world and another world, which might be the world of the gods or the world of fairy – bearing in mind that “fairy” has nothing to do with twinkly pink wings and everything to do with a root in the Latin ferus: think feral, ferocious, fierce. The other world, the fairy world, is one where humans don’t hold sway, and where they face dangers they will not understand, and in which only their own intelligence and guile will save them. Come to think of it, doesn’t that sound strangely like the human world, after all?
The makers of Doctor Who are a clever bunch. They know, first of all, that real fear isn’t generated by CGI monsters but comes from within. The most terrifying episodes of the new Who haven’t depended on Daleks or Cybermen, but on the simple dynamic of human dread. The Doctor’s creators know, too, that if they tap in, as they have, to the archetypes that lie behind the Doctor his regenerations need never end, even if the series does. For aren’t we all survivors of a Time War? Survivors of our pasts, which haunt us and sometimes seem to make it impossible to connect with others, however much we long for companionship? Our companions leave us, or we leave them, and we are alone again, travelling through time. We feel alien, as if we don’t belong… sometimes it even seems as if we have two hearts. This is a familiar journey, a well-known tale.
Draw on the word-hoard of collective story, collective understanding, and what you’ve made will endure. The BBC may have been the agent of the Doctor’s return to popular culture, but he’s never truly been gone. He doesn’t tell us his name because he has had many names, and many faces, over many millennia. Sometimes, lately, he’s taken the name John Smith. How many times have you heard a story which begins, “Once upon a time, there was a boy called Jack…”?
Trust me, the Doctor’s been heard to remark. We do, and know it really means trusting ourselves. You’re the Doctor and so am I. Look at anything carefully and you’ll see it’s bigger on the inside. So it’s up to us, you know, to help the bees. Thanks for that, Doctor. Allons-y!