Confession time. I am a massive fan of the TV show Doctor Who. I have socks, a scarf, a hand towel and T-Shirts that profess my love of this ridiculous show. (Yes, I am that big of a nerd.) The latest season has just recently begun and I have been pleasantly surprised to discover just how many other brothers watch it with me. It’s kind of a big deal. Now, I know that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think shows like Doctor Who are incredibly important for our society for one main reason: we need something realistic on TV.
Now, if you have ever watched Doctor Who, you know what a positively ridiculous statement I just made. The main villains of the show sport kitchen whisks and plungers as their instruments of death, how realistic is that? If realism is what you want, it seems like the National Geographic channel would be a much better choice. It certainly shows the physical world well, but it is also a bit like reading a dictionary rather than a fairy tale. It misses the beauty of the transcendental. We need something absurd to get to the “really real” parts of our world.
Fairy tales dig under the surface. They use the absurd to discuss the real. They describe a world that, as G.K. Chesterton puts it, is “a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful.” Existence is a bizarre adventure. In it, the musing of faith and philosophy run far deeper than physical wonders. The absurd unveils the delightfully true. Again, Chesterton writes,
“There is the lesson of “Cinderella,” which is the same as that of the Magnificat—EXALTAVIT HUMILES. There is the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast”; that a thing must be loved BEFORE it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the “Sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep.”1
At its core, Doctor Who is precisely this: a fairy tale. It’s a fantastical world where the absurdities are there
to probe into the truth. For me, the Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler spoke this best, saying that traveling with the doctor is a better life and not because of the "aliens and spaceships." No, "the Doctor showed me a better way of living your life…That you don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away…” 2
We are surrounded by mysteries worth exploring. Is it really better to do the right thing than taking the easy way out? Why should it cost to love? Is cynicism or romance stronger? Are there limitations on nonviolent response to evils in the world? People are so fascinated by this rather silly show that they connect it to anything and everything, such as: Doctor Who and the Eucharist, Doctor Who and the Second Vatican Council, Doctor Who as Religion, and Doctor Who and Sexism. It opens the mind in a way most of entertainment does not.
Now, you don’t have to watch Doctor Who. It isn’t for everyone. But we all need to find some ways to probe past
the façade of reality into its heart. We need a little wonder and imagination. The fantastical surprises us again with this wild and beautiful existence we have been given. It exterminates our complacency and opens us up to the transcendent. To quote Dr. Who one last time, “When you're a kid, they tell you it's all... grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that's it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It's so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”3 Praise God that's true!