The Husband and I watched another Doctor Who episode tonight; this one is called “School Reunion.” It’s the episode where the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey run into Sarah-Jane and K-9 in a school that is near a suspicious number of UFO sightings.
This particular episode underscores how great a job the current team is doing with the new Doctor Who series. They took something that has actually been done before (past companions meet up again with the Doctor) and made it to be precisely what it should be–moving.
It always kind of nagged at me as a child watching Doctor Who. The things on the series never quite were as realistic as I felt they could be. When the Doctor leaves Sarah Jane on that street in not-Croydon, when Tegan stormed out of that basement in a fit of disgust, then ran back in only to see the TARDIS was gone, there began a whole complicated, horrible part of their lives.
Coming back to Earth–how do you explain where you’ve gone missing to? We saw what happened when Rose apparently disappeared for over a year. As a child, I knew that’s what would have happened. You’d turn up, having been away for who knows how long. There’s the family angry at you for never calling to let them know you’re okay. There’s the job you undoubtedly lost because you just stopped showing up for work. You have to throw away your fridge since things have long rotted into black syrup inside it. You’re plants are dead, your clothes are completely out of style. You might have no I.D., no credit cards. You’re useless at current events and even huge stories startle you until you can get to the library to read back issues of magazines or newspapers to catch up. You haven’t any idea what year it is until you see a newspaper, TV, or a computer. Bill collectors are pounding on your door. You might even have funeral expenses to pay back to someone! And then the sadness, the overwhelming knowledge that you alone are the only person who’s been out there, done what you’ve done, seen what you’ve seen, and the only person who could understand just fled away forever into the stars. The original show never touched on any of that much at all, and yet somehow I always felt that it was an important part of the story to tell.
There was a time in the mid 1980’s when I thought I would grow up and be one of the people telling those stories. Obviously it hasn’t happened that way, but other people who clearly were wondering the same things I was seem to be telling those stories for me. It’s been twenty, maybe 21 years since I began to watch Doctor Who. Sarah-Jane was the assitant on television when I was born. And there she was tonight, telling the Doctor she’d gotten old; there he was trying to explain to Rose something I understood twenty years ago: He’s the lonliest man in the Universe because everyone around him will die. To him, we’re like a blink of an eye. He enjoys being around us, he even has loved some of us, but in the end, we leave him alone because we die so quickly and yet he lives on and on and on…
I can’t think of many stories that have decades of mythology and backstory that have been mined as elegantly as the current production team are mining the history of Doctor Who. Star Wars, Star Trek, soap operas. Comic book universes. Buffy seems to be headed that way. That’s about it. These are modern pantheons where modern myths play out for those who care to learn the back stories. Here is the part of the story in which the Doctor and Sarah-Jane tells Rose and us about getting lost in the stars and finding yourself odd and old at the end of it.
“Why did you never come back? I waited for you!”
“I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to somebody you… You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone.”
“Find me if you need to, one day. Find me.”
(She will, Sarah-Jane. She will.)