So I finally, after an uncharacteristically long period, have caught up on the eight series of Doctor Who. Which got me thinking thoughts about the Doctor, his companions, their various relationships, and why I’m drawn to some more than others. And what that says.

The early days

In the beginning (of the new series, I have not the time, inclination, or frankly knowledge to go through all of the first eight Doctors’ companions), there was Nine and Rose. The Doctor had just left the endless horrors of the Time War, had just regenerated after wiping out both his own people and the Daleks (he thinks) to end the war while some of time and space was still standing. After years of being alone, a soldier in the war, not even the Doctor as far as he was concerned, something in his new head (possibly a subconscious recollection of the events of Day of the Doctor) told him it was okay to be the Doctor again. Okay to try and connect with people once more. Okay to travel with a companion again. Rose turns to the Doctor for adventure, for a life that a a simple shopgirl could never have, and the Doctor… the Doctor heals. His rage passes. His compassion regrows. And when he’s put in a familiar position at the end of the first series… wipe out the Daleks at the expense of the population of Earth… he refuses. And not long after that, he becomes a literally new man: a warmer, kinder, faster to smile man.

It’s a good story, a solid beginning, but a hard relationship to connect with. After all, how many of us have freshly returned from a war in which we were forced to commit genocide? I haven’t. I feel most of you haven’t either. I suspect it would have made the news. Well, some of the news.

Rose and Ten? Now that’s a different story. Ten was always less cold than Nine, faster to embrace people, even in his lowest moments. And not too hard on the eyes, either. How could Rose not fall in love with the dashing superhero her companion had become? And the Doctor was starting to fall for her as well, but refusing to acknowledge it since a relationship between a 20-year-old human and a 900-year-old Time Lord is… problematic.

Again, not something I really relate to. Even if I do occasionally have feelings for someone younger (not 900 years younger, but when you’re not an ageless god a decade-and-change age gap can feel just as difficult), those feelings are rarely, if ever, returned, so the age thing doesn’t really come into play.

Rose left, breaking not just the Doctor’s heart(s), but hearts all throughout the fandom.

Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper
Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper

And in came Martha Jones to replace her. Now, the Doctor thought he was just doing what he always does when he meets someone interesting, clever, and capable (cute and female also seems to be a plus): offer to show her all of time and space, to save him from running alone.

But what he was actually doing, even if he didn’t realize it, was trying to fill the void left by Rose. Martha, despite being more clever, more useful, and never once tearing a hole in time with her daddy issues, was never more than a replacement Rose to the Doctor, and as she fell in love with him, she was forced to admit that was no way to live, and that she had to move on.

More relatable, sure. Not necessarily to me… well, okay, sure, even I’ve been oblivious to someone else having feelings for me, so I get the Doctor’s side there…

Donna Noble just wanted a greater life than she’d come to expect she was capable of living. She wanted to wander the stars with the Doctor forever, just as friends. Strictly friends. She may well be the best of the Tennant companions, and certainly has the most heartbreaking conclusion, and, yeah, I’ve had friendships with women where we spent an odd amount of time assuring people we weren’t a couple, but where I really began to feel drawn to the Doctor/Companion relationship was…

Amy Pond

The dawn of the Moffat/Matt Smith era had my attention by making the new companion a cute Scottish redhead in a miniskirt, I’ll admit that. But here’s what Amy and Eleven is to me.

Amy Pond was the first face the Eleventh Doctor saw. The first person he met after a prolonged period of self-isolation. Sure, Ten still had his way with people, but he refused to take on companions. All the losses he’d faced, including losing Donna and Rose (again) in one day, were too much. He couldn’t take it anymore. The Doctor who loved and embraced people more than most couldn’t stand to be around them long term. But Amy came to him right as he regenerated into a new man, a man who shared Ten’s love of common people but not always his charm.

Eleven’s more awkward, as we see in his stubborn belief that bow ties and fezzes are cool. And despite being played by the youngest actor ever to take the role, more than most he carried the full weight of his nine (later twelve) centuries of life. An old soul with a young face.

The Doctor and Amy aren’t in love. Amy might be a little hot for him in the beginning, something the Doctor (rightfully) suspects has more to do with an all-too-real reaction to intense and dangerous circumstances–see, the brain releases dopamine, which is also involved in infatuation, and–anyway. Amy loves the Doctor, sure, but she’s in love with Rory. Much as the Doctor is actually falling for River Song rather than Amy. But just because they’re not in love doesn’t make what they have less special. Amy’s not the woman the Doctor loves, or at least not the woman he marries, but she’s important. For centuries, she’s the most important person in his life, the person he can never stop running to.

Why wouldn’t I fall for that relationship? This was 2010/2011. In 2010 and 2011, I was as close as I’d ever been to… well, her. Younger, like Amy. Someone I cared for dearly, like Amy. But not someone I was likely to ever be able to date. But we were close all the same. Very close, those years.

So why wouldn’t I connect to this era? To the Doctor whose charms were muted by an awkward nerdinesss, who was great with a speech but terrible with emotions, and whose best friend was girl he’d always love but never kiss? Why wouldn’t I want that relationship to make sense?

But like Amy, a day came when she disappeared forever.

And like the Doctor… I shut myself off for a while. Because the loss hurt too much to want to feel like that again.

Clara Oswald

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put out a series of prints: the silhouetted profiles of the first 11 Doctors, and in their profile, key friends and foes from each Doctor’s run. For Patrick Troughton, Jamie and the Brigadier. For Tom Baker, Romana and K-9. And for Matt Smith, Amy, Rory, and River.

Not Clara.

In fairness, Clara was new. By the time the Matt Smith print came out, she’d been in one episode, went by Oswin, and died at the end.

But eventually a time came when Clara not being on the poster made sense. Because she wouldn’t belong in Matt Smith’s profile. She’d belong in Capaldi’s.

Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a harder, colder Doctor. And yet Clara has become the most important person in his life, in a way she never was before his last regeneration. Because after 900 years of defending Trenzalore from his worst foes… the Doctor is afraid of himself. Of what he might be. A Dalek sees into his soul, and finds only hatred. Ex-soldier Danny Pink immediately recognizes him not just as a fellow soldier (something the 12th Doctor despises), but even worse, as an officer (possible, we only know what the Doctor did at the very end of the Time War). Clara… Clara is his lifeline. He can believe that he’s a good man if Clara can believe it, even a little, and when she begins to doubt, it crushes him. But no matter what, he still has her back.

Even towards the end. Clara turns on him, betrays him, tries to threaten him into breaking time itself for selfish purposes… and is then shocked to find he’s still willing to do the impossible to help her. He sums it up with one question:

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

And man, I dig that. That says so much about several key friendships I have or have had. The people I would do anything for. And yeah, a few of them would do anything right back, but… there are definitely a few Claras out there. The people who make me believe I matter because I matter to them. And so even if they hurt me from time to time, I still find myself willing to walk through fire for them.

Because sometimes you love someone you can’t be in love with. But that’s okay. That’s good. Even when they don’t feel the same. Because while that might hurt… as Amy Pond said, it’s kind of a good hurt.

Thanks for bearing with me. If you did. Something more fun and less introspective next time, yeah?

An open letter to long ago

So the other day I officially entered my late 30s. It’s… it’s a complex thing to process. And tends to spark a certain amount of reflection. We’ll get to how I moved from writing about plays to writing about comic books soon. But for now, I hope you’ll forgive me if I switch gears and allow shit to get real for a moment.

Feel free to skip this and come back next time. For now… if you’ll bear with me, there’s an old pain I’d like to try to let go of. An old friend to say good-bye to, even though she will almost certainly never, ever read this. Anyway. Let’s begin.

A long, long time ago

Has it really been nine years since I first saw you? In the parking lot outside the theatre. I don’t know that we spoke. Not for long. But there was something about you, even then. I liked you right away. Not that I told you that. Not that I could tell you that. I can jump out of a plane, I can give a group of people something I wrote and watch them tear it to pieces so I can improve, and time and money permitting I would happily hit the airport and jump on a plane to anywhere with an hour’s notice. But I cannot run a marathon, climb Everest, start a conversation with strange women or tell someone that I like them. Never learned how, and while the process seems easy enough to pick up (just run now and again, and each time try to run a little further, how hard is that), I can’t get past the notion that the training process is going to be savagely unpleasant. Seems so valid when I say it. Never seems as valid when I hear it.

I didn’t talk to you that time. Or the time after, at your coffee shop. But then you were in the show, and I got to see you three times a week. At least. And we’d talk. We’d bond. I liked you the moment I saw you, and I liked you more as I got to know you.

I should have told you.

I should have hugged you when you were sad about being stood up at a performance. I should have driven you home from the wrap party like you thought I was going to. But more than that I should have told you how I felt. We talked until six in the morning one night, I should have said one thing that mattered. The only thing that mattered.

Because you deserved to know. Because hiding it was dishonest. Because keeping it to myself was killing me. The vending machine and the bear. But back then, sometimes it seemed like I was only happy when I was talking to you. Seemed a shame to ruin that by inducing the gut-churning terror of even thinking about telling you I was falling in love with you.

But I should have told you. Before it was too late. And I believe, I do believe that there was a time before it was too late. A time of hugs and hangouts and extremely late-night chats. A time when I could have taken you out and gone for the kiss and I think I might have succeeded. But there was most definitely a time when it was too late. And a time when it was way too late. And that’s the time I picked.

And now you’re gone. Far away. Not too far, a person could drive there in a day if they started before dawn, but it feels farther than it is. Because it’s not the physical distance. It’s the fact that I can never talk to you again. Over four and half years later and it still stings sometimes. I wish I could call you. Text you. Visit you. Know how you’re doing. But I can’t. And I have no one to blame but myself, my own cowardice, my own failures.

I don’t think of you often. Not every day. But sometimes. And I miss you when I do. I never wanted things to end this way, with sudden silence and a farewell you’ll never see, and yet somehow I managed to do everything necessary to make sure it couldn’t end any other way. And if our friendship had meant something to you, and I think it did once, then I took that away from you.

So I’m sorry. I’m sorry for lying, if only through omission. I’m sorry for hiding behind excuses. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the respect you deserved. I’m sorry that I hurt one of my best friends enough that I’ll never see you again. And I’m sorry that I couldn’t even be bothered to learn something from this and did it all again two years after I lost you forever.

Some regrets haunt you, kids. Some regrets haunt you and you’ll never really be free of them. And it’s the things you didn’t do that really get to you. Guess that’s the moral.

Next time something fun, I promise.

Dan and Ian Wander Europe: Rapid Fire

The problem with trying to blog about a trip is that cool things happen to you way more often than quiet moments when you have the necessary time and wi-fi access to write about them. And I’m not about to skip out on good times and adventures just for internet time. That can’t happen. So with that in mind, let’s play catch-up!

Reflections on Montmarte

So I believe I touched on Montmarte and Sacre Coeur last time. Fun detail I forgot: as we ascended the last of many, many staircases to reach the hill’s summit (there was a tram, Ian. There was a god damned tram), we noticed a stream of… let’s call it fluid coming down from the plaza on top of the hill.

“I hope that’s water,” said Ian. I caught a whiff of the unmistakable scent of “filthy urinal.”

“Well… parts of it are,” I replied.

Montmarte was also, as I mentioned, where I truly began to buy into the magic of Paris. I thought “If only I’d seen this Paris in 1994, maybe I’d have had a better impression of the city.” Pause. “Wait. Wait. I was here. I was exactly here. We came here after dinner one night. I gave some of the girls a hard time for being drunk at a church.” The realization sets in, as does the memory of how cute some of the girls were. “God DAMN it, Young Me, the SECOND someone invents time travel you and me are going round and round!”

Ian: Stripper Bait

As we made our way to the Moulin Rouge, we had to run a gauntlet of strip clubs and their Engineers, the men (sometimes women) who run up to you asking if you want to see a live show and sexy dance (the implication being that yes you do) and encouraging you to head into their club. Now, we had little interest in this, because Ian was short on money Mom taught me to respect women and avoid dens of ill-repute, but there were legions of them between us and our destination. But I noticed a trend. A trend I kept to myself until we were clear of the district.

Every single Engineer targeted Ian. Not one came at me.

I pointed this out to Ian in a tone that the unobservant might have mistaken for a gloat. (“Heh heh, they all go for YOU” could have many interpretations) He considered, saw the trend, and exclaimed “They DO! Damn it, now I’M the sex tourist!” After years of dealing with the jokes people make about white dudes traveling south-east Asia, this was music to my ears.

Co-ed dorms turn out to be just that

When I was booking hostels, the two room options (aside from private, which is expensive and thus undesirable) were “co-ed” and “women only.” No “men only” option. Which, in fairness, we wouldn’t have asked for even if it existed. Even if it existed and were cheaper, possibly. But since “women only” was an option, I expected that most of our roommates would be dudes.

Not so.

Of the five roommates we’ve had, four out of five have been women. Two friends out of Brazil (who thought they’d booked an all-female room, but didn’t mind), one girl from Kansas that we only met our last morning in Paris (she’d been asleep by the time we found our way home), and one from Seattle we just spent the morning wandering Rome with. Our only male roommate was also from Canada, and also named Ian. Just weird, that is.

Next time, either a sum-up of our time in Paris, or more rapid-fire notes on our time in Italy. In the meantime, we hear that there are street vendors selling wine that you can then drink from the bottle in front of the Trevi Fountain.

I like this plan.