Thinking about whether or not the Doctor is the hero of Doctor Who reminded me of something else — is the Doctor a hero or a superhero? DoctorWhoTV has had similar thoughts (I now find), which doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant.
Heroes and Superheroes
I have some possibly outdated views on the difference between heroes and superheroes. I summarise:
- A hero is someone the reader / viewer / listener can aspire to becoming, possibly with great effort but still within reach
- A superhero has a trait the reader / viewer / listener does not.
In my view, Batman is a hero. Underneath money, training, discipline, exercise… Bruce Wayne can die and get hurt and is human.
Superman is not a hero. He is a superhero; you can I can’t aspire to having really been born on Krypton (ignoring memories of Jimmy Olsen in the Bottle City of Kadnor I half-remember from ’60s comics).
It’s not that simple. The X-men are superheroic, unless you believe you are a mutant whose powers haven’t materialised. As an aside, part of the appeal of ’70s show The Tomorrow People was exactly that — you might be a home superior about to break out, but only (in most cases) if you are a pubescent teenager.
Moving on. Buffy is a superhero in this definition, as is Luke Skywalker. Hans Solo is a hero. I think Spiderman is a super, though if radioactive spiders do exist the line becomes blurred. It takes is near the comic book universe where Jessica Jones lives.
Is Iron Man hero or superhero? Man in a very expensive metal suit equals hero to me. Captain America was transformed. The line is not as clear as I might like.
Why does it matter?
Drama needs the hero to be tested. It needs a foe of equal measure. Or the superhero needs a weakness (eg kryptonite). It’s part of why Earth has to be invaded by ever more dangerous monsters in any TV show — as characters level up the monsters need to as well.
Which brings us to Doctor Who
My sense of An Unearthly Child is the Doctor was a hero. He had a time machine but that aside was vulnerable. It all changed as we got:
- Two hearts
- Psychic powers
- Respiratory bypass
- Tenth Doctor’s surviving without blood
- Tenth Doctor surviving Lightning.
There are more.
This is where context comes into play. Compared to we humans, the Doctor was a superhero. We (ignoring River Song’s heritage and the Chameleon Arch) can’t become Gallifreyan, never mind Time Lords (see Ace…).
From the perspective of Time Lords, the Doctor is heroic. Amongst them the Doctor has weak psychic powers, was not an exceptional student and achieves through heroism with a clear code and sense of justice.
The Chibnall Masterplan
If the Timeless Children is correct (maybe the Master lied or was deceived), the Doctor is more than the Time Lords, in fact the fountainhead of regeneration.
This might move the mystery back into play but breaks the (current) design of the character. It’s this I dislike about where the show is going. Maybe I’ll get over it!
2 Comments Add yours
Brilliant post. Absolutely sums up the definitions of hero and superhero in a way I’ve always believed and never been able to articulate.
And for me, the Doctor is written best when written as a hero. Superheroing him/her undoes the magic for me. In fact I tend to choose to ignore it.
Thanks for the post.
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Nic — long time no hear! I’ve had this post in my head for several weeks and the hero/superhero bit for years.
Hope you’re staying safe and busy!