How the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Who taught Anthony Doubek about regret.
SPOILER ALERT: For any Dr. Who fan who has not yet seen the 50th Anniversary, I advise that you wait to read this article until you have seen the episode as there are spoilers found within. If you do continue, please don’t throw fruit at me if I ruin the episode.
To some, Dr. Who is a zany story of a mad man in a blue box. Nothing worth more than a casual glance at the screen. However, to many people across the world, Dr. Who is an adventure that has swept them off their feet onto a journey not only of escape, but also of self-discovery. I am one of those fans who delves into the series always looking for a deeper meaning to every episode, analyzing the character of each regeneration and measuring the character of every companion. So when I sat down for the 50th Anniversary I was preparing myself for a huge development in the Doctor’s character with new meanings behind his actions revealed.
I was not disappointed.
As the episode started, I assumed that we were about the watch the Doctor’s darkest hour, that the new man we saw was one of destruction and heartlessness. Everything we had ever heard about this Doctor was full of self-hatred and regret, for this was the man that ended the Time War, destroying all involved. Even the children.
What we saw was a war-torn man with no other option. He has renounced the name Doctor as he feels he no longer deserves the title and is about to destroy the most dangerous creatures in the Universe along with his home planet. He is sent forward to visit his future self to help him make a decision. Seeing his future selves and how they deal with the decision made in the final day of the Time War.
When the Doctor visits his future selves he is met with two very different men, “The one who regrets and the one who forgets.” Both men are barely able to deal with their past and are fighting like hell to make up for the massive loss he feels he caused.
However, as the episode unfolds, he comes to realize that the reason the Doctor is able to save all the lives he has (and will) is because of the guilt he suffers from. He is able to guide people to the right decisions because he feels he made the ultimate wrong decision. The Doctor fighting the Time War watches his future selves negotiate a peace between two species that would have destroyed each other without him. The Doctor looks at his future and asks the question that tells him exactly what he needs to know, “How many worlds has his regrets saved?” He knows the only way all those lives will be saved, the only way all those right decisions will be made, he knows the only way the Doctor will help others avoid making decisions they will regret for the rest of their lives is by making the decisions he will regret for the rest of his.
To me this is one of the strongest messages Dr. Who has ever put out there. Throughout the series we are told about fixed points in time, those moments that cannot be altered because they would change history too much. Many times the seems like a simple Time Lord rule, and one that makes sense, if you interfere, you can mess things up for the entire Universe just by changing one event on one planet. But in Day of the Doctor, there is something more to the decision of changing his personal past. When the final decision is made, the Doctor acts “in the name of the many lives we are failing to save.”
Now, I will not give away the rest of the episode, but instead reflect on what this meant to me as a Whovian. I have always been a strong believer in the Butterfly Effect and every time someone has asked me “If you had a time machine, what would you change about your past?” I always responded that there is nothing I would change. They often think this means I have no regrets, but to me I refuse to change anything because I know that if I change one thing, I might not be the man I am today.
For instance, I had a decision to accept a $2,000 music scholarship to UW-Whitewater, instead I went to UW-Stevens Point. If I went back and changed that decision I may have never written my proudest composition as it was commissioned by a friend I made in Stevens Point. I may never have gotten involved in the GSA, may have never come out as transgender and may not have become an LGBT activist and might not be sitting here writing this article today.
More importantly, I may never have met my best friend.
Those are the reasons I will not go back to change anything. Sure, there are plenty of moments I would rather people forget, like that embarrassing stage in middle school where I walked around singing show tunes with my headphones on. Or that time I made a fool out of myself in Harry Potter Club. Or maybe that time I tortured myself for 4 months pretending I was straight with a guy whose heart I later broke. Those are all things I regret. But I wouldn’t go back and change them for a second.
That phase in middle school taught me just how much music meant to me and how much it could heal emotional wounds. My embarrassing moment in Harry Potter Club taught me to be less judgmental of people who don’t immediately look like geeks to me. And those 4 months made me realize just how queer I really was.
I had forgotten some of these things before the 50th was released. I was starting to think that some of the mistakes I had made had no silver lining. I was allowing my regret of stepping away from music eat away at me. What I have to remember, and what the Doctor helped me to remember, was that regret does nothing for you. However, when you take action and do something about what’s bothering you, that regret turns into a fuel for positive outcomes. The Doctor’s regret leads him to help form peace treaties and save lives. My regret of leaving music has helped me pull together all my old books and start studying on my own again.
I know it’s hard to just make a snap decision and suddenly decide to look at every regret as being something to be thankful for, but a good place to start is to just look for a silver lining in that regret. Sometimes it’s hard, something we can’t find what that silver lining is. But sometimes, when you really think about it, you can find it. The Doctor found his silver lining. Because of all the death and destruction he feels he caused, he spends his life desperately trying to make up for it. His regret turned into the fuel that helped to keep him going and helped turn to sound of the TARDIS from an obnoxious wheezing sound to a sound of pure hope.
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