Alexander Seyed Mortazavi
“In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” With this one sentence, the man in the screen speaking those words stopped being just a character to me, he became my refuge. He was a voice of reason and compassion, and to me, he was real. He understood me when I felt nobody else did. This, of course, was the voice of the Doctor, the protagonist of the TV show Doctor Who. The Doctor had been speaking to me this way since I was about four years old, and he would go on to be the voice of my adolescence, guiding me through the loneliness of my childhood and teenage years.
Doctor Who is about an eccentric wanderer, who makes the span of space and time his backyard using his spaceship, the TARDIS. These outlandish planets, monsters, and scenarios he found himself confronting taught me about life, and comforted me on the days I didn’t understand it. Through the show I met legendary figures like William Shakespeare and Rosa Parks, and learned the importance of their contributions to history. It was like the Doctor himself spoke to me during long hours spent drowning in action figures and DVDs and shutting out the rest of the world. I would turn up the volume on the TV just loud enough, so as not to hear the harsh barrage of words tumbling down from my parents upstairs. The TARDIS was my portal away from the muted tones of reality.
A few days after my grandmother died, I watched my first episode of Doctor Who. It was about a character coming to terms with the death of her father by traveling in time to visit him on the day of his passing. I was just shy of five years old, and I may not have understood at the time why I wouldn't be seeing my grandmother anymore, but the episode instilled in me broad concepts of grief and loss, and a readiness to face them in later life. The Doctor taught me other values as well. He didn’t carry guns or weapons, but instead chose to battle his foes with his words, humor, and intelligence; one of my favorite of the Doctor’s motto’s: “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in.” He didn’t have superpowers to fight, but instead an extra beating heart in his chest, full of empathy.
When I was eleven, the Doctor met Vincent Van Gogh in one of my favorite episodes, a sensitive exploration of mental illness. By this point, my family had moved countries three times. In that time, I'd lost another grandparent, an aunt, an uncle...and two cats. This whirlwind of difficult change tore my family apart, and made it hard to adjust to new friendships amidst bullying and constant uprooting. I felt invisible, and solitude was settling into the fabric of my being. But I wasn't alone. The Doctor was imperfect, and was someone I could identify with. I saw myself in him; a character surrounded by friends who come and go, but a lonely figure at heart. A man always moving on, whether he liked it or not. The power of these stories resonated with me; Van Gogh's views on the world especially helped me to form my own. Swirling skies and darkness populated my mind. At this point, I was aware that the universe can sometimes be a cruel place, but the Doctor taught me that it's always beautiful nevertheless.
The Doctor has also taught me about change —as a character who literally changes their biological makeup and becomes somebody new at the moment of death. His personality would often change with this, but what makes him the same person at the core are the morals that stand intact in the heart of his, or now her, being. The idea that someone could literally become a new person fascinated me, because seeing how the Doctor changed and developed as a character helped me to understand my own change.
Doctor Who is a series all about change. It’s about embracing the nature of our constantly shifting identity as people, and realizing that in order to move with the change, we must first accept it. It took me a long time to accept that change in my own life. I spent years in the same spot, sitting in my living room and following this character on his adventures, but never quite stepping outside into my own. I was hesitant to let myself open up, to be who I was, so I instead pretended to be somebody I wasn’t. My personality manifested itself to others in different ways over the course of years and homes.
In some times and places, I was a shy, reserved kid. In others, I was a coarse, deceptively immature one, being someone “young” at school because I couldn’t always be young at home. I changed based on how I felt and who I wanted to be, because I didn’t like who I was. Since then, I have begun to grow up and settle into who I am. Become okay with my personality and interests and loneliness, less insecure in my own skin. I grew to appreciate my looks and sexuality, and the Doctor’s changing nature, along with my own, helped me to settle with it. Upon facing this monumental alteration to his persona, the Doctor once said: “We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
What I have come to understand is that this is not my final form. I will continue to change and grow and become new people from one day to the next. I have no idea who I’ll be tomorrow, and I’m okay with that—happy even. Since those insecure days of my childhood, I've grown a lot, and I'm ready to face the world. The Doctor may not be as real to me as he once was, but his voice will always resonate with who I am. As he once said, “I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”