Is the Doctor the hero?

I’ve been doing some thinking about Doctor Who as well as Campbell’s monomyth. If you know what that is you’ll have your own opinions; if you don’t be warned it’s a bit of a rabbit hole and rather fascinating to writers. We can blame it for the prevalence of the J-word (journey). Even if you disagree with it in detail (many do) I think it gives a good language to describe story-telling. It’s this I’ve been considering,

So what is a hero?

The hero is one of several story archetypes.

We all know what a hero is — or do we? A definition (there are many) might be:

a character who predominantly exhibits goodness, and struggles against evil in order to restore harmony and justice to society

That sounds like the Doctor, but there are other definitions, such as:

The hero is the audience’s personal tour guide on the adventure that is the story. It’s critical that the audience can relate to them, because they experience the story through their eyes. During the journey, the hero will leave the world they are familiar with and enter a new one. This new world will be so different that whatever skills the hero used previously will no longer be sufficient. Together, the hero and the audience will master the rules of the new world, and save the day.

There is also the journey the hero has to undertake and I found this quote via the wonderful TV Tropes:

“He will face the fiercest foe
when another needs his aid,
He will dare to defy Death
even though he is afraid,
He works not just for glory
and he does it not for gain,
But because he knows that others
will be spared a greater pain.”

TV Tropes goes on to discuss the difference between heroes and protagonists — that’s another rabbit hole.

What other archetypes are there?

Without going into such detail, common archetypes include:

  • The Shadow — pretty much the villain of the piece, think Master, Daleks….
  • The Ally — someone who travels with and supports the hero. I think we recognise the term companion and there have been a few of those!
  • The Mentor — someone who coaches and guides the hero — best to think Star Wars here and Obi Wan Kenobi
  • The Herald, the Trickster, the Shapeshifter…

So how do we put it all together?

My central tenet is this:

In narrative terms it is the combination of Doctor + Companion that makes a hero

While the Doctor might often have the vision and goals of the archetype, it is the companion figure who goes on the journey. Think how many have entered the TARDIS to learn of a new magical world?

Think how often the Doctor has been the guide or mentor — Fourth Doctor and Leela, Seventh Doctor and Ace…

Is the Doctor really the herald to adventure and sometime mentor and ally to the companion?

In some sense it’s all true — our entry to this world is generally the companion who travels with then must leave the Doctor. There’s a bigger landscape in which the Doctor has left Gallifrey for our world and is on a journey with a variable destination depending on the showrunner’s imperative.

Does it all matter? It might, but that’s for another time!

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