All of Time and Space: The Escapism of Doctor Who

Escape.

That word has been on everyone’s mind lately, after a year of Pandemic Life and political unrest. One way or another, we long to escape. For some people, escapism looks like The Great British Baking Show, nostalgic 90s rom-coms, or even gritty police procedurals, bringing the bad guys to justice every week like clockwork. For me, escapism means a swan dive into the deep waters of Doctor Who.

The last time I watched this show, I was a grad student with a three-foot stack of homework. My dreams were haunted by deadlines I had inexplicably forgotten and classrooms that didn’t exist. Curling up with Doctor Who every night became my escape. Five years later, with the world gone to hell, I’m cranking up a giant Whovian re-watch and calling the TARDIS to bring me home.

To me, Doctor Who is the essence of escapism. Not because it creates a safe landscape where nothing truly bad can happen—which is a valid storytelling goal, of course, but it’s never been the Whovian way. Loss and tragedy defines the show. But escape also defined the show from the mundane. Doctor Who follows ordinary people as they find themselves whisked away on adventures in outer space.

The call to adventure is a foundational storytelling trope. Leaving home on an epic adventure is the premise of show after show, movie after movie, book after book. Most of the time, the call to adventure takes the characters far from their innocent origins. The heroes become more experienced and more powerful, but they can never return to their first fresh wonder. Doctor Who, on the other hand, revisits the call to adventure again and again. Every time the Doctor adopts a new companion, the Doctor—and by extension, the audience—experiences the beauty of the universe as if for the first time.

From the moment Nine grabs Rose’s hand and whispers, “Run,” Doctor Who pulls us headlong into a wild, grand escape. Over and over, the show invites us to drop everything and leap into the unknown. There’s a reason why the Doctor’s companion is always an ordinary person with no special knowledge of space travel. The brave new worlds unfolding before them are truly new. Like any good use of the everyman trope, this allows the audience to place themselves in the companion’s shoes. We’re not astronauts. We’re not explorers. But we still fantasize about a man with a blue box showing up in our backyard and stretching out his hand. Why would he choose us? Why did he choose Rose? Why did he choose Donna? Because they were ordinary enough to appreciate the extraordinary. Sometimes, that’s all you need to make your escape.

“All of time and space, anything that ever happened or ever will… where do you want to start?”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott writes books under the name Katie Hanna and blogs under the name Charles Baker Harris (confusing, she readily admits). You can find out more about Jessica, her pet projects, and her obsession with Doctor Who at I’m Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read)

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