So I hit a chord with many people in writing an open letter to one of my great regrets. Thought I might see if I could strike a similar chord talking about things that bring me real joy. Some of those things have to do with television. I know, it doesn’t seem like a proper subject for such discussions, but until such a time as I can fly to Australia on a whim to watch the sun set over Uluru (formerly known by its slave name, Ayers Rock) or take off to Chicago to see an old friend in a play and then take said friend out for the deep dish pizza I’ve been craving since 1996, well, television just has to do sometimes.
As long as it’s good television.
Which brings me to this: an open letter to a friend I’ve been introducing to Doctor Who, which may prove enlightening to others I’ve tried to convert.
Sad is happy for deep people
Hey there friend. So one day, months ago, I convinced you to try out Doctor Who. The new series, not the classics. Not yet, anyway. And you were hooked fast, amazed when I said these first few episodes that had captured your attention were “the rough patch.” But it hasn’t been an easy journey. This show does like to mix its wit, charm and adventure with frequent doses of heartbreak. Maybe the BBC feels that even what they consider “family programming” should be delivering some important lessons to young viewers: people leave, and sometimes there’s nothing to be done about it but be sad for a while; no matter the tragedy, there may be a triumph right around the corner, you just need to be willing to look for it; bad things happen to good people, and it’s not fair; sometimes humanity is the real monster, whether it’s malice, greed, or the simple laziness that makes people not care how their products were made or by who as long as they stay cheap.
But I digress. Heartbreak comes, and it comes kind of often, and we tease you about that. There were some extremely sad goodbyes already, and you can tell another’s on the horizon, and you’re dreading it. Which our constant reminders don’t help. Well, they’re not supposed to, we’re specifically tormenting you with them because we’re terrible people.
But what we don’t frequently remind you of is the moments of joy that this show delivers. For every “I’m burning up a sun just to say goodbye,” there’s a moment like “Just this once, everybody lives!” Or the simple emotional climax of one of my other favourites: “Not now, not again Craig, the planet’s about to burn, for God’s sake kiss the girl!” Moments like the end of The Big Bang, where you want to cry not because it’s sad, but because it’s so beautiful. So… perfect.
Which is not to say the sad moments won’t come. Just that they’re worth it. Vincent and the Doctor is one of my go-to episodes to rewatch, yet it brings a tear to my eye every time. It may end sadly, but before it does there are moments of such incredible beauty that they can make you, for a moment, see our world for the incredible miracle that it is, and that the occasional tragedy can’t change that. An hour that’s beautiful and tragic at the same time. No wonder it’s about Vincent Van Gogh.
Doctor Who is these things in (relatively) equal measure, and that’s why I love it. Stephen Moffat put it best in his episode The Girl in the Fireplace: one can tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel. Those moments when the Doctor works his magic and everything’s wonderful make the moments when he can’t worthwhile. The tear-soaked goodbyes are worth it for those moments when the Doctor realizes he’s thrown on his old bow tie without realizing it, and that the old madman with a box is still alive, even after he thought he’d lost everything. (That doesn’t make sense to you but it will eventually, it’s a nice moment in The Snowmen.)
Or maybe it was Blink that put it best: “Sad is happy for deep people.”
Feeling is good, feeling is human
And what it comes down to is, why would you want to watch anything that can’t make you feel things this strongly? Yes, it breaks your heart now and then, but the fact that it can is part of what makes it amazing. I’ve been looking at my TV viewing, and making some cuts from my line-up as I realize that I’ve been missing out on amazing shows like Homeland and Breaking Bad because I’ve been too busy keeping up on Nashville. Nashville. And I spent most of my time watching that playing Minesweeper while waiting for a plotline I cared about to happen. So I dropped it. Because I’d rather be watching something that grips me, even if it’s not always a laugh. Like Game of Thrones, even if I dreaded The Red Wedding so much it damn near gave me nightmares. Skins might enrage me from time to time, but at least it’s engaging me. In 18 episodes (per generation) they made me care more about some of those stupid self-destructive British teenagers than I ever cared or could possibly care about the Glee kids, even before Glee became an engine for churning out iTunes singles. Hawaii Five-O… still having second thoughts about dropping that one, but for all the witty banter and decent action, it is no Justified and never will be.
Doctor Who is going to crush me later this year. The biggest, most painful goodbye in nearly four years is on the horizon. And yet I still can’t wait to see what happens afterwards. I mean, I’ll have to, there’ll be about nine months in between, but still.
And that is its power. It is a source of wonder, of excitement, and of pure joy, a joy made all the more powerful by the pain that comes along the way. And that’s why I try so hard to share it with people. To spread wonder, excitement, and joy. Isn’t that worth a few tears?
Thanks for bearing with me, folks. Next time, I’ll be hilariously angry about pop culture. That’s always fun, right?