January 05, 2018

“Doctor, I Let You Go”-- Catholic lessons from Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who

By Tim Hruszkewycz *

Late Christmas Day is always bittersweet for "Doctor Who" fans. Most people feel wiped from a day of Christmas parties, midnight Mass, and the game of having to discover scraps of wrapping paper hidden in the oddest places. But most Christmases also have a Doctor Who Christmas special: one final episode of "Doctor Who" before fans have to wait a criminal amount of time before the next episode sometime in September. Those who aren’t Whovians, the nomenclature for "Doctor Who" fans, probably think that Whovians should be excited. After all, a Christmas special should be a special treat. It is…kind of. But many people aren’t aware that many of the Christmas offerings given by the BBC are remarkably bleak. This isn’t true 100% of the time. “A Christmas Carol”, the Eleventh Doctor’s first Christmas special, is a hilarious interpretation on Charles Dickens’s famous tale. But something terrible seems to happen every third or fourth Christmas special.

On Christmas, the Doctor often dies.

For the uninitiated, "Doctor Who" has been on and off the air since 1963. To maintain such a show, the lead actor has to be recast fairly regularly. The First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, was replaced by Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton by a process of regeneration --then called “renewal.” Because the Doctor is an alien, he has the ability to repair his body by reshaping it and adopting a new aspect of his personality. This allows the BBC to recast the titular role when needed and keep the show going. Since the show returned to the air in 2005, often this regeneration has happened on or near Christmas. This sounds fun, but it is also a traumatic experience for fans of a particular actor. This Christmas, Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, regenerated into Jodie Whittaker, the show’s Thirteenth Doctor. With this regeneration came another changing of the guard. Showrunner Steven Moffat left the helm and gave the wheel over to former Broadchurch showrunner Chris Chibnall.

This regeneration was special, though. In a way, they’re all special to me. But I really was moved by Peter Capaldi’s regeneration. Capaldi’s regeneration spoke to me not only as a fan, but as a Catholic. The running theme throughout Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor was summarized in the question, “Am I a good man?”  Over the course of Capaldi’s three seasons, his Doctor transformed from a gruff, emotionally-stilted general into a gruff, but caring mentor for those who had lost their way. His battle for redemption and growth led him to a place of spiritual exhaustion. He just wanted to stop. Aware that he was going to regenerate, he wanted his regeneration to hear the advice that he never got. He didn’t want his impending regeneration to force him to relearn the same lessons he had already learned. So he spoke, quite plainly, to his next incarnation. And some of those lines meant more to me than to any fictional trope. His speech is transcribed as such:

You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first. Never be cruel; never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish.  And love is always wise.  Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No one would understand it anyway. Except….except children. Children can hear it. Sometimes,  if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name.  But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.  Doctor, I let you go.

What a great message to enter the new year with! I can’t even wrap my head around it. Okay, the pear thing is a joke, but he’s right because they do, in fact, make a chin all wet and dribbly. But the tale of the Twelfth Doctor is one of redemption and his speech summarizes what he learned over those three years.  

2017 was, unfortunately, a time where people yelled more than I cared to hear. Despite that, we should be kind. But in context of that, we Catholics should also be brave. Our faith has validity. There are things that people need to hear. We should be brave and speak for truth, but we should do so with kindness. The world is perhaps more complex than we choose to admit and people are always trying their best. Each one of us should be asking the Doctor’s question, “Am I a good man or woman?” When we talk about our faith, we must do so with courage, kindness, and -most of all -love. After all, “Hate is always foolish.”  

The other stuff is perhaps more emotional advice than theological imperatives, but it is good stuff. I love laughing hard and running fast. But the overall message of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who run can be summarized with the words, “Be kind.” If I take anything into 2018, I think it might be those words. I am saddened to see this Doctor and his showrunner go on to other things, but I’m excited to see where Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor will take me. I want to see all of space and time through her eyes, as long as they are eyes of courage, love, and kindness.

Tim Hruszkewycz is a high school English and film teacher at Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, KY. He also co-hosts the Literally Anything podcast at literallyanything.net and blogs about film

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.