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For the past couple of years, I had been rather embarassed to call myself a Whovian. I felt (and still feel) that Stephen Moffat’s writing is just ruining the show, and that they tried to make Number 11/Matt Smith too much like the 10th Doctor, David Tennant. The raw reactions of Doctor Who fans to antiracist critiques led to even more facepalms by me.
Fast forward to this season. As a fan of “The Oncoming Storm” 9th Doctor, I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi. I love the surly, ironic change in the humor. The show’s cast looks like it is looking to get more diverse with the character Daniel Pink. Through the first three episodes, I am indeed here for Number 12, Clara, and Pink.
We start at the beginning of the episode, the Doctor tells Clara they can go anywhere she wants. She talks about her dream of meeting Robin Hood, Earl of Locksley. At first the Doctor refuses the request because he tells her that Robin Hood isn’t real. Finally, 12 gives in, and when they land in Sherwood Forest with no person in sight for a few seconds, the Doctor brags, “No damsels in distress. No pretty castles. No such thing as Robin Hood.” Immediately after he says this, an arrow hits the T.A.R.D.I.S., and lo, and behold, it’s Robin Hood himself!
Robin Hood stakes his claim to the Doctor’s ship: “Don’t you know that all property is theft to Robin Hood.” The Doctor questions if Robin is serious, and Hood responds, “Robin laughs in the face of all.”
After their comical duel, the Doctor acts on his skepticism even after having won over RH’s trust. The Doctor cuts a piece of Robin’s hair and tries to take one of his sandals. “This sandal isn’t real.” The Doctor is suspicious of Robin for about 95% of the episode. When they both find out that the knights working for the evil Sheriff are actually alien robots, the Doctor argues, “Isn’t it time you came clean with me? You’re not real and you know it. Perfect eyes. Perfect teeth. No one has a jaw like that.” Still sadly, no go. It is not until the Doctor sees Robin Hood bleed from being attacked by the robots does 12 begin to be less skeptical.
Stories about the possiblities of justice are really difficult to believe in. In a fallen world filled with injustices and disasters, it can be pretty easy to give in to all of wrong that need to be righted. Even after 12, Robin, and Clara, team up to become victorious over the Sheriff and his “knights,” the Doctor denies himself the right to laugh and enjoy their feat. The Doctor has placed far too much responsibility as the “white savior” of time and space. Robin, meanwhile, puts everything in to perspective. He asks whether in the future, people will just remember him as a legendary myth, 12 answers in the affirmative. Robin replies, “Good. History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.” [….] “Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”
Indeed, narrative can open up our imagination for us to be open to that which we have not experienced, and motivate us to work for a more just society. A different world is possible.