What I Learned from Watching Doctor Who

Peter Davison, Paul McGann, me, and Colin Baker
with the Eighth Doctor’s TARDIS console at LIWho in 2016

Back in 2016, I went to my first Doctor Who convention, in Long Island. I was only there for one day, but it was still like visiting a wonderland. A few weeks later, the show celebrated its 53rd anniversary, and I decided it would be fun to make a list of all the things I’d learned from growing up watching Doctor Who. (I say “growing up” even though I was almost 14 when I was introduced to the Doctor, because it was still a very formative experience).

I started making a list of whatever came to mind, whether it be serious or silly, direct or implied, assuming it would mostly be silly stuff. As it happens, I ran out of silly pretty quickly, and things started getting surprisingly deep. When I got to about 30 and realized that (DUH) it was November 23, I figured I could come up with 53 things for 53 years. 

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s my list:

  1. Sometimes things are bigger on the inside.
  2. Not everything is as it seems—and quite possibly most things aren’t.
  3. Maxwell’s Second Law of Thermodynamics (well, sort of)
  4. Too much math might get you killed.
  5. Anything or anyone can accidentally be turned into an object of worship.
  6. There really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy
  7. It’s harder to see the dynamics of a situation when you’re stuck in the middle of it.
  8. Dark cannot exist without light, and light cannot exist without dark.
  9. Always root for the underdog. The underdog is not always who you think it is.
  10. You can probably find a way around a problem even if all you have is a kettle and some string.
  11. Never underestimate the power of the little people.
  12. Power is largely an illusion, and is always something given to you by others, even if they don’t know it. It can be taken from you just as quickly by those same people—it’s just a question of whether they know that or not.
  13. You can usually unbalance a potential adversary by offering them obscure candy.
  14. Failing that, spouting the first bit of vaguely scientific-sounding babble that comes to mind will probably do the trick. Or at least confuse them long enough for you to come up with a better plan.
  15. The monster isn’t always external. Sometimes the monster is you.
  16. Madeleine L’Engle was right: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Because children inherently understand more than adults do.
  17. She was also right about this: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been”—as the Doctor proves time and time again.
  18. Probably the most important quality you can carry through your life is not only to have an unerring sense of what is right, but to stand by it no matter what.
  19. Even if I can’t actually grow up to BE one of my heroes/role models/etc, I can adopt their best qualities and carry them with me in their honor. Which makes me a lot more like them than I might realize.
  20. You could do far worse in life than to want more from it.
  21. Always accept the invitation to adventure. Especially, but certainly not only, when it comes from a madman with a blue box.
  22. Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. If you spend all your time making plans, you’ll only be disappointed (if not paralyzed) when life takes a look, laughs, and tosses something else your way.
  23. Improvisation is a skill that will never let you down.
  24. #21 + #22 + #23 = The Doctor is the ultimate Pantser. (This explains SO much about me!)
  25. Circular logic will only make you dizzy.
  26. Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority.
  27. You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.
  28. Never, ever lose your sense of wonder.
  29. Military intelligence often isn’t…but there’s an exception to every rule.
  30. We’re all the sum of our memories, which in the end, are just stories.
  31. The problem with humans is that we tend to see things as a binary. We’re safe/unsafe. Kill or be killed. Right or wrong. Black or white. Easy or difficult. The things that aren’t safe, that aren’t wrong, that aren’t easy, are things we automatically fear, or don’t like. But as soon as we fall into that trap, and into fear or hate, we become those unsafe, wrong, difficult things ourselves, proving that very often, it isn’t either/or. It’s both/and. It’s shades of grey. It’s more complicated than you thought, and requires some nuance to handle, and if you’re very very lucky, not only will you get through it, but no one dies today.
  32. Fear is largely an illusion.
  33. It’s okay to be cranky. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad, or afraid, or tired, or happy, or enthusiastic, or difficult, or easy. It’s okay to be filled with joy, and okay to be filled with sorrow. But it’s not okay to be mean, or cruel.
  34. Sometimes you can go back in time and fix things. But sometimes you can’t—and even more importantly, sometimes you shouldn’t.
  35. There’s usually a perfectly logical explanation even for the most illogical things.
  36. Sometimes your friend is your enemy, and sometimes your enemy is your friend.
  37. A brave heart beats a stiff upper lip.
  38. There’s absolutely no point being grown up if you can’t act childish sometimes.
  39. A smart woman can absolutely put a man with an ego firmly in his place, and do it with authority—and while not breaking a sweat and wearing a classy dress and heels.
  40. Be careful what you eat or drink in strange places.
  41. Technology is not always your friend, especially when there’s too much of it, or the wrong people are controlling it.
  42. Your emotions are what makes you human, and what keeps you that way.
  43. The word “megalomaniac” and how to use it properly.
  44. Hamlet’s most famous speech starts with a mixed metaphor.
  45. No matter how desperate you are to get out of some uncharted backwater of the galaxy, making a deal with the devil really is not your best choice.
  46. That Douglas Adams not only had a life outside Hitchhiker’s, but pretty much—by definition—won whatever universe he stepped into.
  47. The special effects your imagination creates when you can listen to a story but can’t see it are almost always more impressive than the ones someone puts on a screen.
  48. Christmas isn’t Christmas without “The Chimes of Midnight.”
  49. “…in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.”
  50. Never underestimate the power of reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Even if it doesn’t actually DO anything.
  51. Some of the most amazing friends you’ll ever meet are people you’ll find because they are also Friends of the Doctor.
  52. There’s hardly anything in the universe more powerful than your own imagination…
  53. …except for the power of friendship and love.