Noah Wynn 
The Doctor and the Hero Archetype

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As of October 2013, there have been 238 television stories and each of them have a time when the odds of survival look slim but the Doctor (or sometimes his companion) proves himself against those highly unlikely odds and saves the day.

The Seventh Criteria: The Unhealable Wound

Next up on the list of criteria is that heroes have an ‘unhealable wound,’ caused by the Journey. Prior to the reboot, the Doctor having an unhealable wound could be debated, but now, there is no question of it. The only thing that can hurt everyone is loss, and the Doctor has more than his fair share of it in his recent years.

From the very first episode in the reboot, ‘Rose,’ (2005) we see the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) as a broken man, someone who has suffered much for little gain. The Doctor pushes away his future companion, Rose, only realizing that he needs her after she declines to travel with him at the end of the episode. In between leaving Rose there and returning, the events of The Beast of Babylon[4] and possibly other adventures occur before he returns to tell Rose that the TARDIS travels in time. In the next episode, ‘The End of the World,’ (2005), it is revealed that in the Last Great Time War (first mentioned with the Nestene Consciousness in ‘Rose’), Gallifrey was destroyed and that the Doctor believes himself to be the last Time Lord. In fact, when reminded of his home by Jabe (Yasmine Bannerman), the princess of the Forest of Cheem, the Doctor cries for the first time in all of Doctor Who.

The next major loss happens after his regeneration into the Tenth Doctor when Rose is narrowly saved by Pete (Shaun Dingwall), Rose’s father, from falling into the Void, at the cost that Rose must stay in Pete’s alternate universe to keep the cybermen and Daleks sealed in the Void. The Doctor uses up the energy of a dying star to project a hologram of himself to Rose at Dårlig Ulv Stranden in Norway, where the rift is still healing. He burns up a star just to say goodbye, and can’t even get the full sentence out.

The Doctor and Rose reunite in ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,’ (2008), but the joy is short-lived. At the end of the story, he is again forced to leave Rose at Dårlig Ulv Stranden, which cracks his heart, then, moments later, it is broken again. In the instantaneous biological metacrisis triggered by his current sassy companion, Donna (Catherine Tate), created a half-human/half-Time Lord version of the Doctor, but also acquired a Time Lord mind. Donna’s human body just can’t handle the intelligence. The Doctor must wipe her mind of all memories of her travels with him, reverse all the personal change she has made, and destroy his best friend, or allow her mind to burn. The Doctor leaves his love and must abandon his best friend in the same day. The only small comfort is that the other half of the instantaneous biological metacrisis is identical to the Tenth Doctor (affectionately named ‘TenToo’ by the fan base), with all his memories, knowledge, and (most of) his personality. But, he was born in battle and killed (for all intents and purposes) all the Daleks, and the (proper) Doctor decides that it is best for Rose to grow old with TenToo, to change him with her love from a genocidal warrior that he was when he first met his Rose.

Only a few stories later, the Doctor regenerates again and meets Amelia Pond, the Girl Who Waited (‘The Eleventh Hour,’ 2010). The Doctor travels with Amy and eventually her husband, Rory, for many years and even marries their daughter. For the first time since Gallifrey burned, he has a family again. Again, his joy is ripped away when Rory is transported back in time by a Weeping Angel and Amy makes her final choice between Rory and The Doctor: she touches the Angel and is gone, forever (‘The Angels Take Manhattan,’ 2012).

The Eighth Criteria: The Hero Must Have Atonement with his Father

The key to understanding the atonement the Doctor has with his ‘father’ is this: in several ancient languages such as Hebrew, the translation for “father” is not only a man who raises a child, but also “ancestor,” which makes atonement with a father much more feasible for the Doctor. His ancestors, in this case, are is previous regenerations.

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is fresh out of the Last Great Time War, and caused the mass destruction of not only Gallifrey and all its inhabitants but also the Daleks, and possibly even more races. Throughout the entire series, the Doctor stands up vehemently against genocide, but now he has committed it. He may be able to rationalize it with the Daleks, but he seems to have a hard time with compartmentalizing the annihilation of the Time Lords, which is actually relatively healthy. It is rather momentous to have any part of your past destroyed. Think of a child who learns her favourite climbing tree has to be cut down. Then magnify that for each tree, each animal, each river, each field, each mountain, and each home on Gallifrey. What the Doctor feels would kill any human—we can only withstand so much loss. Even in his Eleventh incarnation, the Doctor is still trying to reconcile the Last Great Time War, plus all the other deaths he has caused.

Right before regenerating into Matt Smith, the Tenth Doctor decides that he is the victor of the Last Great Time War and that the Laws of Time will obey him as the Time Lord Victorious. He abandons the concept of fixed points in time in favour of the theory that ‘time can be rewritten’, which would become a huge difference between the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor. With this, Ten decides to bring the crew of Bowie Base I back to Earth instead of leaving them to die in a nuclear explosion on Mars. Once Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsey Duncan) is back home, she realizes that it was her death on Mars that would inspire her granddaughter to become the captain of the first light-speed starship to Proxima Centauri, (the star at the heart of the nearest solar system to Earth). She decides to kill herself. That moment, when the gun shot is heard, is definitely one of the darkest moments, if not the darkest moment in all of Doctor Who. The Doctor did something he thought to be good, and it results in death. The idea of suicide is so unaccepted in society that when we see a beloved character cause it, we begin to question their morals. That was the purpose of ‘Waters of Mars,’ (2008): to give good reason why the Doctor needs to regenerate, even though he doesn’t want to go and to give us a reason to be okay with his departure.

Many would classify his next regeneration as a happy-go-lucky Doctor, but in reality, Eleven may just be the most troubled incarnation yet. His sense of humour and eccentricities are definitely a coping mechanism for all the tears he has caused and all the tears he has cried. With the Matt Smith Doctor, nearly every quintessential element associated with the past regenerations are massively changed—the TARDIS renovates her exterior and interior, the sonic screwdriver is replaced, new companions, new logo, a different showrunner. This Doctor distracts himself from his past and also distracts us from his past. For him, that is a reconciliation of sorts. However, we know from the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ and the trailers released by the BBC that his avoidance of the dark elements of his past was in vain, and his most hidden secrets surface in “The Day of the Doctor,” (2013) and he is forced to answer for what was done in the name of the Doctor.

The Tenth Criteria: The Hero is Rewarded Spiritually After Death

The last criterion is that the hero is rewarded spiritually after death. In the case of the Doctor, it’s not exactly certain whether the Doctor can die or not. We know that if his regeneration is prevented, he will die. Then there’s the problem that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times. The notion of regeneration was introduced when First Doctor William Hartnell's health started to interfere with his ability to play the Doctor, and the credit for the concept is generally credited to the show’s creator, Sydney Newman. At this point, it hadn't yet been established concretely that the Doctor wasn't human, and it was proposed that the Doctor's species had the ability to die and then return in a new body, and the idea was supplemented with adding that the Doctor could undergo this ‘renewal’ process when needed. (It is fact that the physiological process of regeneration is based on the psychotropic effects of LSD[5].) Since then, it has been stated, and, surprisingly, adhered to that regeneration is possible because of the TARDIS, though the reasoning behind this has varied over the years. In some cases, it is because the TARDIS itself has restorative properties, while in others it is a combination of this and Time Lord biology. More recently, in ‘A Good Man Goes to War,’(2011),  it was determined that conception on board the TARDIS can give the resulting child Time Lord DNA, which is why River Song (Alex Kingston) also has the ability to regenerate. Like everything in the Whoniverse, this isn’t set in stone. Perhaps the largest debate in the Whovian community is on the limitations on regeneration.

The first time that a limit on regeneration is mentioned is a full ten years after the first regeneration happenes on the show in 1966. In ‘The Deadly Assassin,’ (1976) it is stated that a Time Lord has twelve regenerations, meaning thirteen incarnations in all. Ironically, ‘The Deadly Assassin’ dismantles a claim made by ‘The Brain of Morbius,’ (1976) earlier that same year, also by Robert Holmes, that Tom Baker was the Twelfth Doctor, an idea which has since been completely rejected.

There are two things that would allow for the Doctor to have extra lives. Firstly, in ‘Let's Kill Hitler,’ (2011), the Doctor is dying and River Song heals him by using her extra regeneration energy, thus using up the rest of her lives on him. We suspect that she was in her third body at the time, so that may have given the Doctor a whopping ten more regenerations. It is also true that the Doctor used some regeneration energy to heal River's broken wrist in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan,’ (2012), but it probably did not take even one of his remaining lives to heal something as nonthreatening as a broken wrist.

A further consideration is the idea that the twelve-life limit is a rule of Time Lord society, and not a law of their biology. This concept has been hinted at several times over the years, with most people pointing out the Time Lord High Council offering the Master a completely new regenerative cycle in ‘The Five Doctors,’ (1983).  If this is true, then there are no longer any limits on the Doctor’s regenerations as Gallifrey is gone. While regeneration may not be a true death, as life continues, it is definitely a type of death. “Some new man goes sauntering away, and [he’s] dead,” as Ten so eloquently puts it in his last story (‘The End of Time,’ 2009-10)

With any audio-visual masterpiece such as Doctor Who, it is imperative that we, as fans, question the character’s actions. None of Jung’s or Campbell’s criteria mention anything to do with morals, which is key to understanding the persona of the Doctor. A true hero has morals, and an anti-hero would not. Generally, the Doctor is a force for good, but, at times, his scars show, making him both a hero and an anti-hero. As he says, “good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many” (‘A Good Man Goes to War,’ 2011). That angst right there, that duality of self is, perhaps, why so many people, around the world, love Doctor Who. Cognitive dissonance is part of, and perhaps at the very crux of, the human condition. The Doctor may not technically be Homo sapiens, but he is human. He has the dark and the light inside him, and that alone is the trait that marks us apart from animals. One might even go as far as to say that the Doctor has more light and dark than anyone else, making him superhuman—and what is a superhuman if not a hero?

The Deadly Assassin dismantles a claim made by The Brain of Morbius that Tom Baker was the Twelfth Doctor


[4] Higson, Charlie. The Beast of Babylon. New York City: Puffin, 2013. Kindle.

[5] "Doctor Who Regeneration Was 'modelled on LSD Trips'" BBC News. BBC, 12 Apr. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. .


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