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How 'Doctor Who' Has Given Me Clarity With My Asperger's

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“People with Asperger’s often have very specific interests. They may come across as being abnormally obsessed with these things in their lives.”

Many of us may have heard something like this before. When I was a little boy, I heard it a lot, and I dare say I was also the living embodiment of it. Occasionally, I was heavily criticized for “dragging every conversation back to the same thing” or “making every conversation about [insert specific interest here].” Small wonder, then, that over the years, I’ve often felt guilty bringing my interests up at all — because I haven’t wanted to face allegations of monopolizing my social interactions, or the possibility of being sneered at for liking TV series / singer / activity X.

Fortunately, this hasn’t been a huge problem for me for a long time now. I’ve found ways of working around my mental barriers, and I’ve received much more acceptance in the last seven years or so than previously. Perhaps it was all just a matter of time — time in which I have been able to make sense of the world in my own roundabout way. Which brings me onto one of those “abnormal obsessions” of mine: all things “Doctor Who.”

I first discovered this greatest TV series of all time in 2005, when it was “resurrected” after 15 almost uninterrupted years of hiatus. The first series of the revived show took a while to win me over completely, but by the time that Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor regenerated into David Tennant’s Tenth, I was in no doubt that I’d found something truly special. Like many over-imaginative fans, I went off and wrote my own Dalek stories (many of them inspired by the TV episode “Bad Wolf,” which features dystopian distortions of then-popular reality TV shows). I bought every “Doctor Who” book off the shelf, and familiarized myself with the series’ mythology going all the way back to 1963. Then I wrote some (ill-informed) Cyberman stories — beating Russell T Davies to the Dalek-Cyberman double act by about 10 months. I wrote a story in which two human characters inexplicably regenerated into two non-human characters that I’d written about previously. The list goes on.

In 2017, I may not have been writing any more fan fiction, but one thing is clear to me: I never have, and never will, let “Doctor Who” float out of my life.

That’s mainly because for me, the Doctor has been the biggest “identification figure”/“social anchor” (call him what you will) I’ve ever seen on screen. Whenever my condition has led to complications, or I’ve found it difficult to see which way to go, I’ve thought about the Doctor, and how he’s been there before me.

I see myself in his frequent lapses into social ineptitudes. (See almost any Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi episode.)

I see myself whenever he stumbles into a story and spends the next 30-plus minutes trying to win the trust of the guest cast. Especially when his pleas aren’t listened to. (See Peter Davison’s “The Caves of Androzani” and David
Tennant’s “Midnight.”)

I see myself whenever his friend or enemy points out the error of his ways, and he justifiably burns with shame. Especially when he thinks his actions have been motivated by good outcomes, or when he cannot initially see how culpable he is.  (See David Tennant’s “Journey’s End” and Matt Smith’s “A Good Man Goes to War.”)

I see myself whenever he expresses disdain for genuinely corrupt, arrogant authority figures — especially his own people, the Time Lords. A major part of the Doctor’s character has always been his opposition to the Time Lords’ archaic, authoritarian, interfering ways, and how he has always felt like an outcast as a result (and often been treated like one by his people). But they have generally been presented as being more intelligent, and certainly more powerful, than the Doctor.

I’ve worked in at least one society that has treated me like the Doctor and behaved like the Time Lords, and it’s been damaging, to put it one way. But this analogy is, I find, a nice way of looking at it. (See, for example, David Tennant’s “The End of Time,” Peter Capaldi’s “Hell Bent” and Tom Baker’s “The Deadly Assassin.”)

It’s hard for me to say goodbye to the people I care about. The Doctor is infamous for refusing to say goodbye to most of his friends and companions when they leave his company, as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge that they’re parting ways. I know that feeling. (See any story in which a companion leaves the series — especially the aforementioned “Journey’s End,” which features the Doctor’s heartbreakingly relatable line: “They’ve all got someone else.” If that line isn’t me in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. See also David Tennant’s “Doomsday.”)

When I traveled to Heathrow Airport to catch my transatlantic flight in 2014 — to begin a summer’s work at a U.S. camp — I was terrified. The job was something I’d never done before in my home country, let alone abroad. It was a complete leap into the dark, albeit one I was actually extremely excited about. As I walked through passport control and crossed the point of no return, I thought, once again, of the Doctor. I pictured the moment in which he crossed a point of no return by regenerating from a pacifist incarnation (his eighth self, played by Paul McGann) into a merciless warrior (the “War Doctor,” played by the late Sir John Hurt), in order to fight in the devastating “Time War.” Then I pictured the moment in which the War Doctor, having brought the Time War to an end, regenerated into a new body (Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor). Crossing through passport control that day, for me, was my equivalent of regenerating into the War Doctor; my eventual return home from the USA, with a lifetime’s worth of fantastic memories and life lessons, was my equivalent of regenerating into the Ninth Doctor. That analogy helped me so many times during that wonderful summer. (And my work, for the record, was nothing like fighting the Time War!) (See 2013’s “The Night of the Doctor” and “The Day of the Doctor.”)

However, from 2005 to 2013, the narrative of “Doctor Who” revolved around the Doctor’s remorse over his decision to end the Time War by destroying his home planet and people, including billions of innocents. As a result, the War Doctor (who wasn’t introduced to the show until 2013) was rejected by his future incarnations, who tried to block him out of their memories. (2013’s “The Day of the Doctor” revealed that the Doctor’s home world hadn’t really been destroyed, and that the War Doctor’s successors had merely thought otherwise due to faulty memories, but there you go.)

My 20-year-old self, as he traveled to New York City for a week that summer, became the War Doctor. My 21/22/23-year-old selves resent him for making the historic mistake he made at a red carpet event on August 11, 2014. The comparison is still painful to think about, but again, the “Doctor Who” parallel has made it easier for me to handle. (What happened? Well, to cut a long story short, I could have made my wildest dream come true that day, but I didn’t, thanks to a series of bad coin-toss decisions that made my dream come so close, but so painfully far.)

To sum up: I get it. I’ve got a slightly different worldview from everyone else because of my Asperger’s. But the Doctor has helped me to hold onto the fact that this isn’t a bad thing, and that I’m not the only one. He’s always sought to be an on-screen force for good, and he’s never stopped reminding me I am an off-screen force for good.

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Photo source: “Doctor Who” Facebook page

Originally published: June 21, 2017
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