It’s a TV show. Only the emotional damage is real. – Steven Moffat
Saturday, November 23, is the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of Doctor Who, which just happens to be my favorite TV show. It is, so I’ve read, the longest-running science fiction show. I decided that, in light of all this, it deserved its own post. Be forewarned: it might be a long post.
I’ll be honest: when I watched my first episode (“The Christmas Invasion”), I wasn’t thrilled. Yeah, it had funny moments, but I was terribly confused for the first half of it. But I figured the show deserved more of a chance than that, and four episodes later, I sat at my desk and bawled over “The Girl in the Fireplace”. That was The Moment – the one that makes you attached to something or someone. In my experience, you don’t usually notice The Moment, but I can pick out this one.
This post could go so many different directions; with hundreds of episodes, there’s a lot of material to choose from. (I haven’t yet seen all those episodes. I’m working on it. I’m well over halfway there.) But I think I’m going to tell you about my favorite quote from the show.
Actually, I think it’s my favorite quote from anything. Here, my family is shocked; I’m notorious for an inability to pick favorites. Yes, I know, of all things, this one seems impossible. So it must be something pretty epic. Are you ready?
“I forgive you.”
Okay, that doesn’t sound very impressive. Let me attempt to give you the context that makes me love it so much.
It’s from the episode “Last of the Time Lords”. The Doctor is a Time Lord, but the rest of his race was destroyed in a big, nasty war. Or so he thought. In the episode before this, he found another survivor who had been in hiding.
There’s just one teensy problem. That survivor is the Master, the Doctor’s arch nemesis.
They have an interesting relationship. It’s almost a friendship. Despite all the times the Master has tried to kill him, the Doctor has never given up hope that the Master has the potential to be an ally instead of an enemy. (I haven’t given up that hope, either.) Unfortunately, the Master usually doesn’t want much to do with this idea.
As usual, the Master starts trying to take over Earth. He actually succeeds this time. He even holds the Doctor prisoner. But Martha, the Doctor’s companion, escapes.
While the Doctor is a prisoner, he keeps telling the Master, “I only have one thing to say to you.” The Master never allows him to say it.
I’m not going to get into the details of how, but Martha is able to free the Doctor a year later. Because of how it’s done, the Doctor is incredibly powerful in that moment. He probably could have torn every atom of the Master’s body apart with a wave of his hand.
“You know what happens now,” says the Doctor.
The Master backs away. “No. No!” he shouts.
“You wouldn’t listen because you know what I’m gonna say.”
“No…” The word is almost a whimper as the Master cowers against the wall.
The Doctor crouches down, wraps his arms around his old enemy, and whispers, “I forgive you.”
Of course, the Master bolts away, unwilling to accept the offered forgiveness, but that almost makes the Doctor’s action seem even more noble. Because he’s undeterred. He never stops trying to show mercy.
That characteristic of the Doctor reminds me of God. God, too, persistently tries to show mercy to his enemies. Some of them accept. Some squirm out of his arms. But he is undeterred.
Yeah, that took kind of a deep turn, but it’s such moments that make me love this show. On the surface, it’s a story about a man who travels through time and space in a blue box. But it’s so much more than that. Like the blue box, it’s bigger on the inside.
So, to paraphrase a random internet picture, “Adjust your bow tie, re-tie your shoelaces, dust off your jacket, loosen your cravat, shoulder your umbrella, polish your cat pin, straighten your celery, wrap your scarf a little tighter, throw on your opera cape, pocket your recorder, grab your jacket lapels,” and, as the Doctor tells Donna, “Be magnificent.”
And get excited about the 50th anniversary special.