A God That Needs Us
But that still wasn't enough to explain my reaction. If that's all Doctor Who was than the show would amount to little more than wish-fulfillment. The Doctor's relationship with humanity is more complex. He doesn't save us because he is all-powerful like a parent rescuing a wayward child. He does it because he thinks we're wonderful. He has seen countless races at infinite times, and, without doubt, he thinks humans are just awesome. The show simultaneously illustrates how inconsequential we are in the vastness of time and space, while still praising our ingenuity, curiosity and capacity for kindness.
And although the Doctor plays at smugness (to varying degrees depending on the actor) he does not offer a helping hand in a condescending way, asking to be worshipped. Instead, you can't help but feel he needs us just as much as we need him. Humanity fills a void for the Doctor that has persisted through countless lifetimes.
You see that a lot in David Tennant's run. Madame du Pompadour refers to him as a "sad angel", and when confronting Satan in the depths of "hell" the Doctor clings to his faith in his human companion Rose. In "Journey's End" the Doctor tells Rose that she made him a better person, and when Rose leaves, another human (Donna) tells the Doctor he needs someone to keep him balanced and in check. Perhaps, more telling, when the Doctor (Tennant) begins traveling alone in his final few episodes, his behavior becomes erratic, even conceited, as he tries to alter the time-space continuum to satisfy his vanity as much as to save human life.
People sing songs about having a friend in Jesus, but this is a friendship that's much easier to understand. And not just because the Doctor is flesh and blood. He's a savior who loves us and needs us like the best of friends do. That he can bend time and space to save all of Earth from a Sycorax invasion is just gravy.
Yep, the winner's on the left. Swoon.
A God Who is Fallible
So to recap, the Doctor's a great godlike alien who loves and needs us. That's great, but it still doesn't fully explain why I'd embarrassed myself so continuously with my tears. If that's all Doctor Who were about, then I'd watch episodes with fist pumps and cheers more than tears. What makes the Doctor so special is that for all his success, he often fails. People do die on Doctor Who. Civilizations are lost. Characters are made to suffer despite the Doctor's best intentions.
The show makes us realize that even with a semi-immortal Time Lord on your side you can lose. That we are struck by tragedy does not mean that there is no sense or purpose to life. It doesn't mean we are alone. Sometimes we see the very real reasons the Doctor can't save someone. Sometimes, it's as simple as having to make a choice like in "Satan's Pit" when circumstances only allowed time for him to rescue one crew member and not the alien collective known as the Ood.
Contrary to rumor, the Doctor did not let them die because they were "so damn freaky looking."
But what I find most engaging are the times I don't fully understand why the Doctor could not do more. So many times it seems the Doctor's hands are tied by scientific constructs I don't pretend to understand. And although it might be unsettling to believe in a god that has limits to his abilities, it's also reassuring that bad things can happen despite the best wishes and efforts of a higher power.
Lastly, and maybe this is especially true for me as a new viewer, but often the Doctor behaves in ways I don't fully appreciate because he's lived for over 900 years (50 on TV) and there is so much I haven't seen. So many episodes I've missed. And that's just with a TV show. Imagine, for a moment that there is a real God. How many of His storylines have we not been exposed to? That god must have been broadcasting on channels we don't get for millennia. It would take a lifetime longer than the Doctor's to fully understand such a god.
Doctor Who teaches me I just don't know everything. Horrible events can occur for reasons explained in lost episodes or laws of physics too dense for my blogger's mind and that doesn't mean we are lost or unloved. There is the possibility of a god who roots for us, loves us, and grieves for us just like the Doctor. And a god who has saved us so many times and in so many ways we've never known.
And as far as I can tell, on a very basic and unspoken level, that is what hits me so hard about the show. Also, I really like the theme song.