In my day job, I’m a dating coach. One thing I’ve learned that might surprise you is how many fictional characters make great role models when you’re trying to improve your dating life.
In my work, I teach people, especially nerds and geeks, how to date better without feeling like they have to give up their geeky side. There’s an impressive amount of overlap between cultural analysis and dating advice, in that genre entertainment often serves as an excellent way of illustrating concepts that might otherwise seem opaque or completely outside of somebody’s experience. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things to keep in mind when it comes to dating, especially when you’re socially inexperienced or somewhat awkward. Some things may be glaringly obvious while others seem to make sense in concept but are less clear when you try to put them into practice.
It can help to reframe the ideas, translating the concepts into an idiom with which the individual may be more comfortable. This is why so much of pickup artist culture is focused around jargon that doesn’t sound entirely out of place in a 25 man raid in World of Warcraft; it transforms the complexities of social interaction into simpler, more idiomatic concepts and metaphors that are less intimidating. Thus over at my blog, I have a series known as the Nerd Role Models — looking at popular characters and breaking down just what it is that’s so compelling about them.
One of the most important aspects when it comes to improving one’s social life is to understand the nature of what makes us attractive to others. We have a tendency to equate attraction with facial symmetry, athletic builds, smoldering eyes and lustrous hair and completely neglect the emotional and personality-based aspects that are also key to attraction. Attraction is more than just about how people look, it’s about how they make us feel and react and how they inspire us. Often that attraction can come even despite the character not meeting conventional definitions of “good looking.”
When I’m coaching nerds on how to improve their dating lives, I have a favorite example who I always return to as an example of a romantic — if unusual — role-model. Someone who is romantic without being sappy, sexy without being the Dirk Chestmeat types that the CW casting directors have on speed-dial. Someone who sets fangirl hearts a-flutter around the world and could single-handedly keep Tumblr drowning in GIFs…
The Coming Storm. The Last of the Time Lords. The Madman in a Box. A savior and the greatest threat the universe has ever known. And over the last decade or so (depending on whether you want to count Paul McGann), he’s been one of the most popular romantic figures in geek culture. And with the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who coming up this month, I wanted to talk a little about just why the Doctor has become such a romantic hero.
While the Doctor has always been a popular character, his revival reached a cultural critical mass when he was given more of a sexual edge and an increasingly amorous relationship with his companions. Previous incarnations of the Doctor have varied between the curmudgeonly grandfather to the eccentric bohemian to the dandy, but all of them had a more paternalistic relationship with their Companions. Many incarnations of the Doctor were conventionally handsome, but It wasn’t until Paul McGann’s incredibly brief tenure that The Doctor became more than just a time-travelling, Dalek-fighting Mary Poppins; he went from being a male lead to a leading man. Old-school fans may have objected when the Eighth Doctor kissed Dr. Holloway, but those first hints of tender feelings for a companion would be part of what made him so compelling.
Part of what makes the Doctor an excellent example for discussing the nature of attraction is that thanks to his having been played by so many different actors, his looks are practically secondary. David Tennant is undeniably conventionally good looking, but Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith — neither of whom is conventionally attractive — have their passionate fans.
The face may change, but it’s the core of his personality — especially in the Davis/Moffat era — that remains the same. The modern Doctor’s appeal is rooted in his character rather than his cheekbones or floppy hair, his scarf or flair for New Romantic dandyism that Adam Ant would’ve killed for. Each regeneration brings a different personality to the forefront — Eccleston’s Scouse “Have a go if yer ‘ard enough” edge contrasts sharply Tennant’s wounded soul while Smith plays a Trickster figure like Coyote or Loki — there is an emotional core to the Doctor that remains the same. It’s the source of his appeal.
Passion is one of the most attractive aspects in an individual. Most people just exist rather than live, trudging through apathetic lives of quiet desperation. People who are passionate are magnetic because they have things that bring them to life and gives them certainty and a clarity of purpose. We’re used to lives full of doubt and restraint; somebody who has confidence and conviction captures our attention and spurs our emotions.
The Doctor may be many things, but “apathetic” isn’t one of them. He doesn’t do anything by half-measures; he throws himself into everything with great abandon. He loves what he loves whole-heartedly, without regard for whether something is “cool” or popular.
He finds the beauty and wonder in even the strangest or most desolate of places. He cares for people deeply, even when he knows that eventually he’s going to have to say goodbye. He doesn’t care whether he looks ridiculous or whether people think he’s weird for loving the things he loves. He doesn’t hold back for fear of being judged. He may run from Daleks and quake in fear at the Cybermen, but he is absolutely fearless in his willingness to express himself. He may be 900+ years old, yet he still has that child-like wonder and intensity that drives him and it’s infectious.
What’s intriguing about the Doctor though, is that the way he expresses that passion varies with each incarnation. Matt Smith’s Doctor is full of feverish energy, unable to sit still for longer than a few minutes while Tennant is full of awestruck wonder, marveling at everything around him. Even Eccleston, the more dour of the modern Doctors, had a quiet intensity that could burst into laughter or joy at a moment’s notice. Not every moment has to be jumping-on-the-couch-laughing-with-glee levels of exuberance. The point of passion is about letting yourself feel what you feel and being willing to express that feeling without fear of looking foolish.
The Doctor is the realization of the fantasy that someone incredible would show up and whisk us away to fabulous adventures, where excitement and peril lurk around every corner and each new day brings wonders you never dreamed of before. Yes, there’s always danger, but that danger pales in comparison with all of the amazing things waiting to be discovered. Even when facing almost certain death — wicked werewolves, demented dopplegangers, giant killer wasps, weeping angels, blood-summoned spectres — his reaction is almost always “OH MY GOD THAT’S SO COOL!”
Y’know. Once the running and screaming stops.
This is part of what makes the Doctor almost unique in science-fiction and fantasy. People fantasize about being the Batman or a Jedi or joining the Green Lantern Corps. They don’t fantasize about being the Doctor, but being his companion; they want to have those adventures in their own lives, with someone who can take them places they’ve never even dreamed of and show them sights beyond imagination.
The Doctor travels because he sees the universe as an amazing place and there’s just so much out there to see. There’s always some new experience to be had, some new wonder to be witnessed, new people to meet…and the only thing that makes it better is to share it with somebody else. Even if he’s seen it a thousand times, having somebody to share his travels with let him see it again as though it was for the first time.
And people respond to that.
One of the unpleasant aspects of life is that most of us lead lives where one day is often very much like another. It can feel like each day is a trudging march through existence where nothing ever changes and we feel our lives slipping away and the fabulous potential futures we imagined fade into vague regrets. The Doctor represents the side of us that we wish had the courage to just go chase an adventure, whether it was as exotic as climbing temples in Cambodia or hiking through Croatia or something as simple as just taking the plunge in starting the business you’ve always dreamed of.
In short, it’s about living, not just existing. It’s about having a life that’s more than just watching time tick away at work until you can go home and then waiting until you have to go to work again.
We all know relentlessly negative people, from the hard-bitten cynic who believes the worst in anyone to the black raincloud of an emotional vampire who sucks the energy out of the room with their pessimism and gloom. They hold us back because they don’t believe that success is possible and failure is inevitable. They drain us with their belief that life is nothing but pain, that people will only hurt you and that we all die alone in the end. They’re a misery to be around.
The Doctor is the opposite of that. He may be angry. He may be arrogant. He may be hurt. He may be bone-weary and soul-crushingly lonely, but he’s not negative.
Hell, he’s optimistic to the point that it would seem delusional in just about anybody else. Drop him on a blasted hellworld, surrounded by his deadliest enemies and he’s still excited and upbeat. There’s no dark cloud that doesn’t have a silver lining and if it doesn’t have one, then by God he will make one. Even in the darkest hour, when everything seems lost, he still believes that there is a way to win. He carries the deepest pain imaginable, not only being the last of his kind but being responsible for the loss of trillions of lives… but he still can find joy and wonder instead of wallowing in misery. It’s that refusal to give into despair that marks the difference between a Byronic hero and the Doctor. He believes in the best of people, even when they disappoint him or hurt him.
Positive people invigorate others. They’re fun to be around. They’re inspiring. Positivity isn’t just about being happy or silly all the time, it’s the belief that everything will be alright, even if you have to force it to be. It means never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. The Doctor’s relentless certainty that everything can be better carries people along and makes us wish we could be equally as strong, equally as open to possibility and to hope.
Considering that every adventure with the Doctor inevitably involves hideous eldritch beings from beyond space and time that are planning on consuming the universe and ripping people’s nipples off (sometimes even in that order), you would think that the Doctor’s companions would go on precisely one jaunt with him before saying “You know what? I like boring. Boring is good. Drop me off back at the Circle K and I’ll make my way home, thanks.”
Except they never do. In fact, most of them stay with the Doctor until the (frequently all too) bitter end.
Because even when he’s leading them headlong into danger, the Doctor is helping them have the time of their lives.
The single most attractive aspect in people is to be fun. This is why “a sense of humor” constantly ranks at the top of every poll on what makes men attractive. We instinctively like people who make us feel good; their presence increases the production of dopamine and norepinephirine in our blood, which regulate the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. We associate the person with pleasure and want to spend more time with them.
Despite the terror, time with the Doctor is an experience that can’t be matched. In between the nipple-ripping multi-angled beings from the outer dark, the Doctor is taking them to exotic locals through time and space, visiting famous moments in history from across the universe. Traveling with the Doctor is akin to being in a Disney movie, singing “A Whole New World” as the universe spins by with a crazy blue box substituting for a magic carpet. They’re collecting stories that nobody else will ever be able to beat; how great would it be to show up Tom at the office whenever he talks about his vacation to the Seychelles? “Really? That’s cool. Just last week, I was at the diamond waterfalls of Proxima Centauri; did you know the throat singers there sound just like Maria Callas singing in four octaves at once?”
He Needs Us
The single most amazing thing about the Doctor isn’t the TARDIS or his adventures, it’s that at the end of the day, he needs us.
He’s almost literally a god with all of time and space at his fingertips, but he needs us mortals even more than we might need him. Humans, with all of their flaws, pretenses, fears and judgement and mayfly lifespans, are what help keep him centered and in touch with his own humanity. In fact, it’s stated over and over again that when the Doctor travels alone for too long, things start to go bad for him. There wasn’t much time between the Doctor’s forced separation from Donna and becoming Time Lord Victorious, free to alter the timestream at a whim, no matter what damage it might cause. The Master, by contrast, is a dedicated loner; he doesn’t have friends but minions and that makes all the difference.
The idea that somebody so powerful, so far beyond our comprehension still needs a mortal to keep him grounded is incredibly alluring. It’s what’s known as the Reward Theory of Attraction: we’re instinctively drawn to people whose presence and behavior makes us feel wanted and appreciated. When it’s combined with the other aspects — the positivity, the adventure, the passion — it’s no wonder that The Doctor is such a compelling, attractive figure.