There has been a lot of research of child development and stages children go through to become adults. But what about once you become an adult? What are those life stages like?
Not as much as been researched on the stages of development adults go through. Luckily, we have Doctor Who.
The many incarnations of the Doctor can be a symbol of the stages we’ve come and what, maybe, we can look forward to when we get older. Here are the Doctors and how they represent growing older:
Aloof, crabby, and distant: not my favourite Doctor. He is seldom called the Doctor, more “Grandfather” by Susan. This best describes the slightly humourless incarnation.
And yet, something happens during the course of his adventures. Halfway through, in some undetermined point in the show, the status crosses from an educational program to where the “Grandfather” becomes The Doctor. He intervenes. He shouts down. He stands up for the little guy.
This crossover I’ve seen happen with a lot of amazing senior citizens. They enter into their old aged periods resigned, giving into what the cosmos tells them about being old. But then something snaps. They grow tired of their immigrant neighbours being picked on; their church being neglected; or the bullies running their retirement home. They wake up and arrive. Once that happens, it’s no longer OK just to spectate but engage. Once they do, they become a mighty power in Creation.
Patrick Troughton was 46 when he took the part, although he looks much older than someone in their middle ages. Then again, how old does he come across? Really?
A tramp, a goofball, one who acts like a senior citizen trying to work his remote one moment and then a child running out to swim in the ocean the next. He is ignored and dismissed by his enemies, only to for him to later defeat them.
To understand him is to look into his eyes. Wild, playful, and uncertain: you can tell this someone who looks at reality completely differently than others.
This is the legacy of someone entering into their 50’s. They care about what matters and willing to give the superficial a run-around. To everyone else, he was inappropriate; to the fifty year old, they no longer are willing to waste time with the stupid.
A leader in this life stage is able to imbue great devotion from their inner circle while, with equal energy, create chaos and consternation to those who must have a one time, occasional association with them. Jaime, Zoe, Ben, Victoria, and Polly would all take a bullet for him; most of the guest characters are just waiting for him to leave their planet.
Jon Pertwee was a year older than Patrick Troughton, 51 when he became the Doctor. Legend has it that he worked for the MI:6 during WW2 as a trainer of new or espionage technology. Furthermore, these legends insist that he outfitted Christopher Lee and consulted with Ian Fleming. If those legends are true, then in real life he was “Q” to secret agents before becoming an actor.
Like other Doctors who were older men in their careers, he did not suffer fools gladly. He was the type of employee who wanted to retire, but had to work in the shop for a few more years; or, in the Doctor’s case, assigned to be the scientific consultant for UNIT and fight monsters. He held his job not because of his buoyant optimism or polite composure, but that he knew his stuff and-if only people would listen-fewer people might avoid getting killed.
He’s the type of 50-year old that preferred keeping a written journal of appointments (even though he understood how his phone worked and knew it was a better way and yet preferred the efficiency of pen to paper).
Behind all of his bark and techno-babble, he did care. It was assumed, at this point, that he was going to save the day and do what’s right. Dr. Shaw, Jo, and Sara all got that he would storm the gates of Hades for them in the first five minutes: they just had to suffer through him saying “reverse the polarity!”
Tom Baker turned 40 when he became this incarnation, running 7 years. In my mind, he embodies the 40-year old Doctor the best. He laughed when people were scared; got angry when those around him thought they were victorious; and ribbed his tormentors with an out-of-place detachment. Tom Baker was the self-differentiated Doctor.
The 4th Doctor seemed to be the only one who noticed the aliens were made of cardboard; the alien landscape was paper; and the sets shook if you walked to hard.
This is a common detachment someone in their 40’s. With enough experience of standing up to bullies and tyrants, you know they’re made up mostly of bluster and artificial swagger. A pastor in his forties can’t help but laugh when a church bully yells, “How dare you….”
Why? Sometimes to Lock Ness Monsters is just a dressed up sock puppet, Cybermen are just BBC extras dressed in silver diving costumes, and those threatening the space flight are really costumes designed to look like Muppets (See “Nightmare on Eden”).
Tom Baker’s Doctor was the one who first addressed the Daleks as he’s up a narrow and sheer incline: “If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”
While those who might give into fear of those who bully, the 4th Doctor simply chuckles at the use of string and bubble wrap.
An elderly British woman once described Peter Davison as the “fancy lad one”.
Peter Davison was only 30 when he took the role, making the role become youthful, resourceful, and very likeable. He reminded us of the young professor whom all of his TA’s kept secret crushes regarding him. Chaste, non-flirty: he was just nice and heroic, trusting his ability to make friendships and persuade his crew instead of using charm or intimidation.
In fact, he was the least intimidating out of all of the incarnations. He allowed himself to be yelled at by Tegan, he got sick an awful lot (it was almost every episode, he was on the floor with something bad), and had a crew. Yes, a crew: he surrounded himself with a team. His job, at some point, was to be nice to them, to reassure them of their feelings and role.
This, mostly, was successful. Sure, he couldn’t reassure Tegan everything was all right when the Cybermen invaded the Tardis or when Nyssa discovered her body was almost destroyed by frogmen: but at least he tried!
The 5th learned that being nice and good and trying hard didn’t always win. Adric still was blown to bits, Davros escaped, and his companions still left him despite trusting him. No matter being a good person, the 30’s is a time when you learn that not every problem or villain can be defeated…at least by you and your Tardis team.
A season of being nice and winsome, left unchecked with humility, can often develop into the next season of development…
The Sixth Doctor
After the Fifth, the Colin Baker Doctor was bold, loud, arrogant, and brash. His lack of self-awareness was symptomatic of his ego cashing in on all of his wins, victories, and the chorus of past Companions who really, really trusted him.
We, as an audience, never really trusted him.
On the episode “Vengeance on Varos”, the Doctor is about to be thrown into a pool of acid. Instead, the soldier falls into the tub. Was he pushed? Or did the Doctor try to rescue him? We don’t know. Any other Doctor (Peter Davison’s, for example), there would be little doubt that he wouldn’t kill someone who tried to kill him because, of course, killing is wrong. But not with Baker.
His pomposity had a cost. Peri lost her hair and possibly died (depending on what version you believe of “Trail of a Time Lord”); he had really only one companion (Mel came on as a crossover, in the last few episodes of the last serial) as opposed to Peter Davison having five; and the show almost was cancelled under his reign.
Colin Baker was also 30 when he took the role, which is odd because he always seemed older to me when he was the Doctor. Yet when I saw him out of costume, he did look like a man who just turned 30. Colin Baker, out of most of the actors, took on the role of the Doctor and acted out the bluster. Tom Baker and many of the other actors were just themselves being a Time Lord. For Colin, he put on the bluster and confidence of the Sixth; perhaps the Doctor was doing the same.
The Seventh Doctor
Like the cosmic hobo of the 2nd, it was easy to discount this little man who played the spoons. And yet…he was always on an agenda, often hidden from everyone until the very end of the adventure. He hid his darkness and his intentions often, confusing and losing the people closest to him. In “The Curse of Fenric” he actually turns on his companion Ace so he can use her in his plot against the villain. Sure, evil loses every time against this enigma…but his ends and means often do not match.
Sylvester McCoy was 43 when he became the Doctor and this is a telling life stage for someone who has said goodbye to many Companions, lost many friends, and have seen many bad things take place. Guarded? Certainly, but for good reason: in order to continue to save the universe time and time again, he needed some emotional distance.
He isn’t the 30-year old Peter Davison who you can get to know in a day. In fact, in the last few episodes, his companion Ace inquires about his real name (Hint: it isn’t Who). She would really like to know; he won’t tell her.
The world may demand that someone in the early forties reveal everything about themselves, but in this life stage finds it’s harder simply because it’s been done before and there’s a cost. This season of adulthood is one of planning, introspection. It’s also difficult because the world may be at one’s doorstep, demanding immediate emotional vulnerability and the McCoy Doctor can’t at the moment. The test of a true companion, then, is to allow this individual the right to mystery, knowing they may regenerate out of it at some point.
This Doctor knew if he tipped his hand despite how many times he’s tipped his hat, it might cost him. And he was right: the show was cancelled during his reign.
The Eight Doctor
Paul McGann’s Doctor was a bright light, a new hope, and a burst of potential that never came to what it could truly be. Full of wonder and optimism, he was the first Doctor to snog an earth woman.
But that bright light ends.
In his one and only TV movie, he’s 37. He’s on the upward spiral of hope. Soon, though, things will be tough. His movie was never picked up. He made it into comic books, novels by Virgin Publishing, and thrived in Big Finish audio plays: but these stories become darker and darker (For Big Finish fans, I have three words to prove my point: Lucy Bleedin’ Miller).
See the McGann regeneration here:
When we see him as he reaches his regeneration, he is a man who has lost much. His universe falls apart, things break, and the Doctor can’t make all of the house calls needed to make everything better again.
This is an important stage in one’s development, a time when embracing brokenness and limitations becomes one’s self-definition. Sometimes, you can’t save everyone.
The War Doctor
He begins his life young, but we only know him as an old man defined by regret and remorse.
This Doctor let war define his value, his life, and his world view. This is an almost alternative history of Doctor Who (like Big Finish’s “Doctor Who Unbound” series). This is what the Doctor would look like if he didn’t have a Companion (other than a minor one in the novel “Engines of War”) and didn’t win…ever.
In this period, he fought against the Daleks with the Time Lords. In the end, he killed both sides to save the cosmos. Every portion of the war is one of regret born out of conflict.
There are seasons when all of us can let conflict define us. We live our life counter-dependent to the “them” or “those people”. The result: regret saturates our being.
The Ninth Doctor
Angry, brooding, and all alone: this is how he meets Rose Tyler.
Christopher Eccleston was 41 when he took the role for only one series. Short lived, yet profound. He grew out of his “War Doctor” regret just long enough to be happy and re-learn that life is worth a fight.
When the new series came along, it was during the Ninth’s plea in “The Doctor Dances” that won me over to the show. Tired of things not working and darkness winning, he’s at the end of the episode begging, “Please! Just this once! Just this once!” Soon, the zombie children are restored and everything is put back to normal (You’ll have to see the episode to understand the context). He shouts, “Tonight, everyone lives!!!”
To me, that was the greatest moment in Doctor Who.
An Anglican Minister once said to me: “When you are in pain, you want to hide and withdraw. You do so because of a question you ask when you are in pain: Am I any use? Yes, your pain makes you a use. For Christ’s cross, the source of His greatest pain, was of great use for the salvation of man.”
The Ninth Doctor is of anger, of pain but he uses it to save people, especially Rose Tyler; and in turn, Rose Tyler saves him.
Being 41 means, at times, embracing a second innocence. This Doctor travels through the darkness only to discover the dawn. With this, he leaves to make way for the 10th that is full of wonder…
The Tenth Doctor
One morning, you wake up with the insane idea that you’re no longer going to live in pain. Crazier yet, this resolution actually works. What does that look like?
The Tenth Doctor, play by David Tennant at age 35, came in as the fresh face. Being 35 is a great time to have a second optimism, a chance to relearn in the territory of previous pain. Playful, child-like, and full of wonder: he possessed Tom Baker’s knack to ignore completely the austerity of the room or everyone else’s love for pretense. Always likeable, never cool.
A 35 year old can abandon being cool. There’s a freedom to wear 3D glasses while solving a scientific problem, cry in public, laugh uncontrollably while riding a Pedway, or wear a suit with Chuck Taylors.
Pain still made an appearance (see his vengeance in “The Runaway Bride” or the ending to “The Waters of Mars”), because our wounding never really goes away: it’s just stored in a different spot.
But he was able to engage in relationship again, snog, and be close to the people around him. This freedom can be addictive, which is the only dark side. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, give in, and-on some cosmic level- die to yourself. This makes the 4 knocks from Wilf so much more harder to hear and left the 35 year old stating, “I don’t know want to go.”
The Eleventh Doctor
Ah, to be 26 again. Matt Smith did such a fine job capturing youth in the character of a Time Lord who’s hundreds of years old. A teenage girl once confided in me it was her desire to comb his wild hair that made her a fan of the series.
A 26 year old doesn’t usually get how attractive, how influential, or how imposing they are to other people. No, instead they think bow ties are cool, they run around in tweed, and they’re trying to download more programs on their sonic screwdriver. Only later, do they understand the attraction gained by Osgood or Clara or Amy or River. In the meantime, they’re given to great speeches and bold heroics. All the while, talking to their ride as if it was the true object of their affection.
As a 26 year old, the Doctor sure gave up a lot. Whenever things got morally gray or confusing, he would tend to walk out. Peter Davison (30) would get sick, Matt Smith would (26) just walk out. The episode “A Town Called Mercy” is a great example of this (He is confronted with either freeing a mass murderer or giving the mass murderer over to another murderer: he wants to do neither, but give up).
But he didn’t stay gone for long. Usually, Amy or Clara or Rory would bring him back to the mission. “That’s not how we roll,” Amy would tell him.
This, by the way, is why 20-somethings desperately need some kind of faith community (although statistically, this is the biggest age gap in North America concerning going to any kind of church or synagogue or any other faith community). This stage of life does need companions not just to be saved or protected, but also question and call back to the goal of saving the cosmos again.
The Twelfth Doctor
- This number was a shock to many of the younger fans I knew, who really liked the young Matt Smith. I mean, let’s face it: Matt Smith is really, really likeable! One fan told me, “Everyone’s getting old on the show! Soon, Betty White will be his assistant!”
I told her I really liked that idea and, on top of that, I thought Betty White should play the next Doctor.
But Peter Capaldi is pretty cool, isn’t he? He reminds us of the cool uncle who used tour with a punk band in the eighties, wrote two books, and now is a consultant for a skateboard company. He’s also an old relative you know not to press him for too many stories, that you need to give him space, and know that he hangs a sing over his door during Christmas reading: “Carolers will be criticized.”
With seniority comes freedom and his maturity has granted him the freedom to say whatever he wants. This works, mostly: he’s here to save the day and is usually right. Gone is Davison’s commitment to being nice; instead, his manners are stripped down to simple truth and salvation.
He’s like the 2nd with his bottom line morality. However, the difference is that the 2nd is clownish; he’s salty.
This life stage is the perspective of King Solomon or Metallica that would both agree: nothing else matters. For this life stage, being a physician and saving the world is it and everything else is just cake topping.
This is the reward of spending most of a life serving others and fixing the world. Few experience a Capaldi incarnation.
Who knows? If the Doctor is a woman, it would be interesting because most of these life stages are based from a male perspective. I don’t know how this would work from a feminine point of view. I simply don’t; but I’m curious.
What is interesting about the adult life stages of Doctor Who is that they’re not in order. This is true, at times, in life. Our maturity may not always be a linear connection of cause/effect. Rather, it might become a big ball of wibbley/wobbley timey-whimey development. We might start as Davison and then become Hartnell only to enter into a season of McGann.
The Doctor jumped from stage to stage, out of order. And so, perhaps, his viewers, coming in at different times and identifying with different Doctors. And that is okay.
It isn’t so important what to anticipate who’s next, but to know the kind of person you once were.
Or as the Eleventh told us:
“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”