To the untrained eye, it may not seem like wildly popular British cultural phenomenon Doctor Who draws on advanced psychological and complex literary theories and is simply a show about time travel and scary aliens and bug-eyed monsters. But one reason it has the right to call itself the longest-running Science Fiction program in television history, is because it transcends cultural lines. The Doctor is not just the Last of the Time Lords, he is a hero. Truly, at the heart of it, he is the very definition of a hero. Carl Jung, a Swiss pioneer in Psychiatry, first devised a system through which he could categorize everyone in the world into nine different categories, which he called ‘archetypes,’ the best known of these being the hero archetype. Joseph Campbell, an American author, later built upon Jung’s theory in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces[1], and Dr. Bryan M. Davis made a nine-part amalgamation of their numerous criteria in his work at Stephen F. Austin University.[2]. The Doctor fills all of the nine criteria of being a hero and that is why so many are transfixed with his story.

First Criteria: The Hero is Born Under Unusual Circumstances

Fifty years after Doctor Who began, we are still a bit in the dark about how the Doctor came into existence. Most recently, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) indicated in ‘The Rebel Flesh,’ (2011), that Time Lords gestate like any other mammal, ‘little jelly eggs, sitting in goop.’ According to one legend, Time Lords became sterile after Pytha, a Gallifreyan, cursed her world with sterility[3]. To prolong the species, Time Lords then resorted to an asexual process called ‘looming’, a process of genetically engineering children. This theory, though, has been negated at least twice. First, in Doctor Who: The Movie (1996) when the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) says that he’s half-human, on his mother’s side, and then again when the Master (John Simm) and the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) reminisce about playing together on the Master’s father’s estate in ‘The End of Time Part 1,’ (2009). Also, the Tenth Doctor mentions his own family, having children (‘Fear Her,’ 2006 and ‘The Doctor’s Daughter,’ 2008) and a brother (‘Smith and Jones,’ 2007). So at the very least, Pytha’s Curse was a myth. The lack of a consensus surrounding the origins of the Doctor makes his birth rather mysterious.

The Second Criteria: A Hero Must Leave Home

Without this, the story of the Doctor as we know it just would not be possible. It is that a hero must leave his home and venture somewhere else. Right off the bat, when we see a man who lives in a garbage dump (‘An Unearthly Child,’1963), we realize that he has left his home. Later we get a bit more specific and it is declared that the Doctor stole a TARDIS—or, according to the TARDIS, the TARDIS stole the Doctor (‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ 2011). In any event, the Doctor has left his home on Gallifrey for the adventure of a lifetime—well, twelve lifetimes so far. What would be nice to know is why, exactly, the Doctor left Gallifrey. Obviously, one does not simply stay put when time travel is an option, but the Doctor goes out and completely moves away from Gallifrey (except in several expanded universe stories, such as Infinity Doctors by Lance Parkin). Not only that, but he chooses to break the First Law of Time and interfere with the fate and proceedings of other worlds, rather than just be an observer. It is one thing to enjoy the commodities of one’s civilization, but totally another thing to use it in ways that civilization finds immoral. The best answer is that the Doctor feels that because he has the ability to change the past and future (and therefore the present as well) for the better, it is not just his responsibility, but his obligation to the universe.

The Third Criteria: The Hero Goes on Quests/Adventures

All stories in Doctor Who start with an event that leads to an adventure, but there are quests as well, such as the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) task to gather the parts to the ‘Key of Time’ (Season 16) and the Eleventh Doctor’s mission to figure out the mystery of Clara (Jenna Coleman) (Series 7).

In the ‘Key of Time’ plot, the White Guardian (Cyril Luckham) is concerned that the shards of the Key will fall into the hands of the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall), so he asks the Doctor to find the six pieces of the Key, which are disguised as common-place objects scattered across the universe. When first charged with the task, the Doctor asks what would happen if he refused to help, thereby allowing the Black Guardian to obtain the Key and the White Guardian responds ‘nothing.’ The Black Guardian would literally end time, and nothing would happen—or ever have happened. So, of course, the Doctor agrees to retrieve the Key but is a tad more disgruntled that he must travel with another Time Lord—well, Time Lady to be precise: Romanadvoratrelundar, or Romana (Mary Tamm) for short. Eventually, the two learn how to play nice together and return the Key to the White Guardian who uses it to restore universal balance by scattering the Key again. Romana (who regenerates into Lala Ward after the end of the ‘Key of Time’ plot) decides to continue travelling with the Doctor and they have a lot of fun together.

Like Romana, Clara is also forced into the Doctor’s life, or rather, she has always been there but we are just seeing her now. In a way, the meme of Clara also restores a type of balance to the universe. Before the Doctor started his quest to solve Clara, he was in a massive depression after the loss of the Ponds (Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvil). The mystery of Clara and why she is repeated over and over again in his life creates an atmospheric disturbance so great, it brews the Oncoming Storm once more. Over Series 7b, those winds whisk Clara and the Doctor to the one place the Doctor can never go: Trenzalore. At the climax of ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ (2013), Clara steps into the Doctor’s time stream, effectively spreading her essence out over all of the Doctor’s lives.

The Fourth Criteria: The Hero has a Special Weapon Only he can Use

While they may not be ‘weapons,’ per se, the Doctor actually has three things that give him a huge advantage over his enemies: the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and his psychic paper. They all definitely fit the bill to be on the special list—have you ever seen a functional TARDIS in person? (If so, please let us know.)

Although there used to be more than one TARDIS, in the reboot his is the last Type 40 in the universe and it’s assumed that the rest of her kind were destroyed in the Last Great Time War, making the Good Ship TARDIS pretty darn special. He has a time machine; time machines are cool.

Then, there’s his sonic screwdriver, which does much more than put up a lot of shelves (although the ‘wood’ setting is still a work-in-progress. Asking what the sonic can do is useless—what can’t it do? The Doctor takes pride in the fact that the sonic is not actually a weapon. That is perhaps one thing that the Daleks and the Doctor can agree on—it’s ‘harmless,’ and the Doctor takes pride in that it ‘doesn’t kill, doesn’t wound, doesn’t maim’ (‘Doomsday,’ 2006).

The next super-important item is the Psychic Paper. Since the first on-screen appearance in ‘The End of the World,’ (2005) the Doctor’s psychic paper has been rather useful, only being out-done by Shakespeare (‘The Shakespeare Code,’ 2007) and techs at Torchwood (‘Army of Ghosts,’ 2006). It can be used by other people, but is exclusively used by the Doctor, the only exception being ‘Army of Ghosts’ where he lends it to beloved companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). The psychic paper is so marvellous that it might even allow one to simply walk in to Mordor. The Doctor, especially in recent years, takes pride in not using weapons, as a “man that never could” (“The Doctor’s Daughter’). The closest things he has to a weapon are the TARDIS, the Sonic, and the Psychic—and you’d have a pretty hard time arguing that those three items are not special.

The Fifth Criteria: The Hero Must Have Supernatural Help

The TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver may not be supernatural, as things in the Whoniverse rarely are, but they are pretty much about as close to ‘supernatural’ as the pseudoscience of Doctor Who gets. The Doctor’s intelegence can also be sorted into the “supernatural help” category. He can do recreational mathematics faster than Google can tell you whether Elvis or the Beatles had more number-one hits pre-downloads (’42,’ 2007). In addition, he has a wide knowledge of all those alieny-walieny things like the Shadow Proclamation and how dimensional transcendentalism works. Part of the joy of science fiction is that there are generally no ‘supernatural’ things, but high-tech not-of-this-world items and rational explanations of how they work.

The Sixth Criteria: The Hero Must Prove Himself on his Journey

While every story in Doctor Who is a journey of sorts, the best examples of the Doctor proving himself on an adventure are the serial ‘Trial of a Time Lord’ (season 23) and the 1996 telemovie, Doctor Who: The Movie.

In ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ the Doctor must prove to a court on Gallifrey that he has not broken the First Law on Time for which the penalty is death. Over the next three stories, ‘The Mysterious Planet,’ (1986) ‘Mindwarp,’ (1986) and ‘Terror of the Vervoids,’ (1986), the Valeyard (Michael Jayston), who is the equivalent of a persecutor in the court, attempts to show how the Doctor has acted was unbecoming of a Time Lord by breaking the law of non-interference. The Valeyard has the court watch the Doctor’s actions in the Time Matrix itself and then decides if the Doctor is to live or die. While there is no question that he interfered, the Doctor attempts to justify his actions as helping civilizations out of conflicts that were inevitable. In the last story in the series, ‘The Ultimate Foe,’ (1986), the Doctor continues to claim that the stories the court has been shown were tampered with. An ‘anonymous benefactor’—who is actually the Master (Anthony Ainley)—appears in the Matrix and informs the court that the stories were mostly true, but with minor tweaks engineered to convict the Doctor. It is soon revealed that the Valeyard is a separate entity created by taking from the Doctor between his eleventh and twelfth regenerations and has been promised the Doctor’s remaining lives if he can prove him guilty. After the secret is unearthed, the Valeyard flees into the Matrix, and the Doctor follows him into Victorian London. Back in the courtroom, the Master tells of all the lies the Valeyard manufactured. All in all, everything was a plan to get rid of the Doctor, and the Master was in on it, too. It is determined that the Doctor will not be put to death. The Master is to be punished, but the Valeyard is nowhere to be found.

In the telemovie, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is shot and rushed to a hospital for surgery. The doctors there decide that the x-ray showing that he has two hearts is a double exposure, despite the fact that they take the x-ray multiple times. They operate, and because of the confusion regarding his binary circulatory system, the Doctor dies momentarily. He is stored in the morgue, but then regenerates into the beautiful Eighth Doctor. This time, the consequence of the regeneration is that he has lost all recollection of who he is. Over the night, he gets glimpses of his past and tells his surgeon, Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook), who he stalks post-regeneration as she is the only person he recognizes, that he is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. Of course, Grace is more than a little sceptical, but over the course of the movie, the Doctor is able to prove himself by once again defeating the Master’s master plan.


Noah Wynn 
The Doctor and the Hero Archetype

the mystery of Clara and why she is repeated over and over again creates an atmospheric disturbance so great, it brews the Oncoming Storm whose winds whisk the Doctor to the one place he can never go


[1] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1968. Print.

[2]Davis, Bryan M. "The Archetypal Hero in Literature, Religion, Movies, and Popular Culture." 11 Oct 1997. Stephen F. Austin University. (3 October 2013).

[3] Platt, Marc. Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible. London: Virgin, 1992. Print. Doctor Who.