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The Doctor and Mental Illness

February 3, 2017

I know that Doctor Who has many good analogies to mental health, there are plenty of articles and blogs on the subject. I am going to write one more.

My theory is that the entire show is in the mind of a Gallifreyan that has guarded Earth for many years, but is now in the throes of depression and anxiety and PTSD (even Time Lords cannot escape mental illness) after the Time War.
Each enemy is the Doctor’s greatest fears, and he is the hero he needs to be to fight against his illness. These enemies could be represented by enemies he has actually fought (Daleks in the Time War) or fabrications of his own mind that represent his daily battles. (NOTE: I use only the new Series enemies as I have not yet watched all of the original serials.)
Each companion is part of his real life, all there to remind him that he is not alone in his battles, because if he is, he has already lost.

Daleks and Cybermen: Daleks and Cybermen represent a fear of conformity that haunts many with a mental illness. Society in general wishes those with a mental illness to conform to “normal” standards, and its not a stretch to think that Gallifreyans would also do this, even if it wasn’t deliberate. Each enemy represents a different sort of conformity: Daleks represent those in society that want to purge any with a mental illness, to write them off and never see them again just because they are different. Cybermen on the other hand represent the conformity to the general group; to join but to not be different. (Note: As the Doctor is still Gallifreyan and has fought in the Time War, he could truly have a deep fear of Daleks.)

Autons/Nestene Consciousness:
This may not be a huge one, but there is a phobia called Pediophobia or the fear of dolls. I myself have this phobia and it can be debilitating as Mannequins and Dolls are virtually everywhere.

The Family Slitheen/Sontarans/Ice Warriors/The Great Intelligence/Silurians: These species, and others like them, represent the never ending armies of his own mind that relentlessly battle him each day. Sometimes his day is faced with a feral and unpredictable battles (Silurians/Ice Warriors), other days he faces a relentless mind (Sontarans), then days where his mind seems to want nothing more than to leave him no matter the destruction it causes (The Family Slitheen). Then there are the rare days, but the darkest days, the days of great peril where his own mind is convincing (The Great Intelligence).

Ood: Back to fears, the Ood represent the fear of friends and family turning on him at a moments notice. They are always there, but what secret do they have that can turn against him and have that betrayal become real?

Vashta Nerada: Unseen dangers, paranoia of what may or may not be there in the shadows waiting to devour you. For people with anxiety, those shadows represent their fears, whether there is truth to those fears or not, it feels as if those shadows can strip us of who we are.

Silence: A great fear of those with mental illness is that people will forget them or overlook them and the Silence represents that. The fear of being lost in a world of monsters, that your friends and family will no longer be there because they will move on and forget all about you.

The Weeping Angels: The fear of the ordinary. I love/hate the show because of its representation of this fear; that everyday objects can make us afraid. This is represented particularly in the Weeping Angels, as even the simple action of blinking can lead to fear. This is the embodiment of what a true anxiety disorder looks like, the fear of the ordinary, the fear that something, even if you don’t know what, is going to get you, going to hurt you.

The Master: Best Friends can become our greatest enemies.

The Shrouded Creature/The Veil: This is the most dangerous monster of them all, the one that stalks relentlessly. This creature is suicidal ideation. It is rooted in your own mind and you know its there and the only way to fight it is to face the truth of your illness and who you are.

Rose: Rose is that friend that is always there, even if it seems there are dimensions between you. This is a friend that is not necessarily a lover or romantic partner, but this is the friend that is there no matter what.

Martha: Martha represents the friend-zoned friend, the friend that had feelings for you that you did not reciprocate but is still there for you when you need it.

Donna: Donna is that tragic friend that passed away, but you hold on to the memories of when there were there and use those moments to help you keep going.

Amy & Rory: Amy & Rory are your family that is not family. Most people have that family friend that treated you as if you were their own. They are there for you even when you cannot be. Their commitment to each other will always come first, but they will always strive to be there when you need it the most.

River Song: River represents the Doctor’s wife (or our spouse), as she already is. She loves him dearly and is willing to do anything to help, but because of depression she does not always feel that love back. This does not lessen her love, but she holds on knowing that his love is there for he shows it as much as he can. Even when she cannot be physically with him, she will always be with him no matter how far away they are.

Clara: Clara is the teachers, nurses, and other professionals that strive to help along the way. She may not always be right, but she can help the fight with encouragement and a bit of push. The loss of this “friend” can be a great detriment.

Jack Harkness: There is no forgetting Jack Harkness. He is that friend that will go to great lengths to make you laugh or smile, to try and pull you from the darkness.

TARDIS/Idris: The TARDIS is our toolbox. We may not always like were we end up, but we can make the best of where we are.

““We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
— The Doctor

Mental illness is a constant battle. Some enemies are tougher than others and all require a different set of skills to face. These are not enemies we can completely defeat or get rid of, but we can stand up to them and fight each day.

Doctor Who as a whole shows a man that fights each day to protect his universe. He struggles to keep himself intact, but recognizes the need for skills and friends.

“Can’t I just lose? Just this once? Easy. It would be easy. It would be so easy.”
— The Doctor

This is our fight, not only is it against our illness but our own mind. We can only fight for so long before we are exhausted. “Heaven Sent” was an episode where the Doctor felt as if he had lost everything. Clara was gone and he was alone running from an unstoppable monster. This was a monster he could not run from nor give into, the only way to stop this monster was to look inside himself, to really honestly look at himself.

The Doctor faces misery and pain, not of his doing but because it is. This is life for those with mental illness; a fear of the ordinary, a fear to conform, a fear of being alone, and the fear that no matter how long we fight, it may not be enough.

From → My Journal

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