Friday, October 19, 2007

Archetypes and the Doctor

I had a fun little surprise show up in my egotistical Google Alerts. Jane Espenson mentioned me in her blog! (And now that's getting picked up and repeated on various science fiction and Firefly sites.) It's about her blog book tour to support Serenity Found. I interviewed her for a book site, and my interview will be posted in December (don't worry, I'll post a pointer to it). It's a new experience for me to be noticed in any of my fandom obsessions, to the point that someone actually involved in the show knows I exist and mentions me by name. (Now, it would be nice if people who see that go and buy my other books!)

A few weeks ago, there was a question in comments about what archetype I thought the Doctor (as in Doctor Who) represented. Back this summer when I was doing that series of archetype posts (missed them? They're archived here), I said that this was a rare character that fit a lot of the archetypes without it resulting in a diluted, unfocused character. I figured he had a little of all of them, which you'd expect of someone that ancient and complicated. But upon further thought, I don't think that's entirely true, and now that they've finished showing the third season in the US and we're all pretty much at the same point in the series, I thought I'd do a little analysis.

As a disclaimer, I'm primarily familiar with the new version of the series. I only saw it sporadically in the past and don't remember many details, but I have done some reading at various sites and message boards to get more long-term background. I'd be curious to see what people who are more knowledgeable as a whole think about this analysis. As with the previous archetypes posts, I'm basing this on the system laid out in the book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines.

It's probably easier if I start with the archetypes I don't think show up in the Doctor.

I don't think he's the Chief, the one who wants power and authority. After all, given his knowledge, his abilities and the technology he has available, if he had any desire to be in control, he'd be ruling something. Look how quickly the Master managed to take over England and then the world. The Doctor doesn't like taking orders from others, and he wants people to do what he tells them to, but I think that's more a factor of him knowing that, in most situations, he's the smartest and most experienced person around, so it just makes sense to him that he's the one giving the orders, rather than it is a factor of him needing to be in charge.

I also don't think he's a Bad Boy, the one motivated by rebellion. My impression based on my reading is that he was always a bit of a rebel among his people, but I really don't feel like rebellion is what drives him. He's not against authority or the status quo in general, only when there's a problem with the status quo or authority, when something needs to be fixed. What looks like rebellion in him seems to be more a kind of intellectual curiosity and a thirst for adventure and novelty. He also doesn't have the kind of chip on his shoulder that tends to come with the Bad Boy. Instead, no matter how bad the situation is, he manages to maintain a cheery optimism and hope.

And he's not a Charmer. He can be charming, but not deliberately as a way of making things go more easily for himself, as you find with a true Charmer. Instead, his charm seems more unconscious and stems from his zeal for life. He's generally a bit too honest, blunt and outspoken to be a true Charmer. He has moments of outright rudeness, and a real Charmer is never rude. And, let's face it, a Charmer wouldn't be traveling with young women who fancy him without taking advantage of that. Instead, he was mostly oblivious (or at least pretended to be) about Martha's big crush on him.

I'm not entirely sure about the Best Friend. That's a hard one to judge in a character with other archetypes at work because it's such a neutral archetype that if there's anything else going on, that overshadows it (right now, I can't think of a single example of a character who's a Best Friend layered with any other type). He does seem to interact on a Best Friend level with many of his companions. He seems much more comfortable in the friend zone than when anything else comes into the mix, and he's a loyal enough friend that he still would like to be friends with the Master, even after everything that's happened. There's that whole thing about liking to make people better, which is very Best Friend-like. But then he also has a nasty habit of leaving former companions behind without a thought, which is not Best-Friend like.

So, what is he? I think the initial character seems to have been established as the Professor, and that's still very prominent. He's driven by a hunger for knowledge and intellectual curiosity, as well as a need to be right. He takes great pleasure in being the smartest person in the room, but also enjoys finding things he doesn't know about because that means there's something new for him to learn. He also has some of the emotional detachment and poor social skills that go with the Professor.

Somewhere along the way (possibly when he got involved with UNIT?) he's added an element of the Warrior, the man on the mission. He's acting in Warrior mode when he defends the earth and mankind from alien threats, or when he's defending and protecting anyone in need. The man the Daleks call The Gathering Storm would definitely be a Warrior, and "It. Is. Defended!" is very much something a Warrior would say.

There's also a strong element of the Swashbuckler at work -- with the love of adventure and a playful, trickster-like nature. Combined with the intellectual curiosity of the Professor, this love for novelty and adventure makes for a potentially dangerous combination that's probably responsible for a lot of the trouble he gets into. This side of the character was quite dominant in the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and is pretty strong in the current one, but it was still there on a more subtle, impish level with the Ninth Doctor (like swapping Jack's gun for a banana).

In the recent revival of the series, the Lost Soul has really become a major part of the character, coming in the aftermath of the destruction of Gallifrey. He's now utterly alone in the universe, the last of his kind, and he feels that very strongly. He can find people to associate with, but he knows he'll have to leave them behind. He's caught in that no-win situation: either make friends, only to watch them die, or remain detached. For now, he's tried to find a third way out, trying to keep people at a slight distance and move on before he gets too close. The last two seasons, especially, have been all about loss, saying good-bye over and over again.

Now, this kind of character is a unique occasion, and I wouldn't recommend trying to create a character who embodies all these archetypes unless you've got a similarly odd situation -- someone very ancient and complex who's lived enough "lives" to have amassed more than the usual inner drives and who is supposed to be difficult to really figure out (another one that probably works like this, though I haven't tried analyzing it yet, would be Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). They're pretty smart at how they're handling this on Doctor Who, focusing on the archetype that's most applicable for the specific story or moment, and it takes some really brilliant acting to carry it off.

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