The first thing I noticed about my boyfriend was the TARDIS tattoo peeking out of shirtsleeve. I got him a six-foot-long Tom Baker scarf for Christmas soon after we started dating, and he gave me a miniature version of River Song’s journal when I moved abroad for a year. I know, I know – totally disgusting.
If none of these words mean anything to you, you’re probably not a Doctor Who fan. The long-running British sci-fi series centers on a benevolent time traveler called the Doctor. He is an alien – a 1000-year-old Time Lord, specifically – who adventures through the universe in his TARDIS, a spaceship that resembles a 1960s police call box. With a beautiful female companion at his side (and sometimes an equally beautiful male companion – what’s up, John Barrowman?), he’s saved humanity more times than even the most studious fanboy or fangirl could count. Actually, I’m sure someone can count, and that you’re reading this now, rolling your eyes at me.
The show’s 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” airs on BBC One this Saturday. It will be simulcast on TV in 75 countries and screened in movie theaters around the world. In the years since its 2005 revival, Doctor Who has reached unprecedented heights of cult popularity, with a particularly fervent following in the United States. Our collective geeky feelings for the Doctor have blossomed from a crush to a full-blown romantic fixation. As the saying goes, you never forget your first.
And I get it. Boy, do I get it. The Doctor’s unlikely sex symbol status is partly thanks to the unconventionally adorable Brits who’ve played him in his various incarnations. There was Christopher Eccleston.
Then David Tennant.
And most recently, Matt Smith.
Peter Capaldi, the next actor slated to take on the role, is decidedly older, but decidedly DILFy. (That’s not just me, right?) Beyond that, the character is reliably kind, smart, charming, brave, and funny. But he isn’t boyfriend material.
This isn’t to say that he hasn’t been depicted as such. Far from it, in fact. Since 2005, the Doctor has enjoyed brief flings with a WWI-era nurse, Queen Elizabeth I, Madame de Pompadour, and Kylie Minogue (seriously, how have you not watched this show?). But his first real love interest was companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Their multidimensional will-they-won’t-they affair ended in tragedy, and she got together with the Tenth Doctor’s half-human clone as a consolation prize.
Eleven ultimately marries River Song (Alex Kingston), a badass archaeologist slash action hero who – thanks to their relationship’s non-linear, timey-wimey narrative structure – dies when we first meet her. See a theme developing here?
It’s not a coincidence that Donna Noble is – to me, anyway – easily the best companion of the new series. Played by comedian Catherine Tate (also known as Nelly, the inexplicably English cast member in the latter seasons of the American Office), she made it clear from the beginning that she didn’t have the slightest interest in snogging the Doctor.
The unequivocal worst modern companion was Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), a medical student who fell in unrequited love with the Doctor. When this wasn’t depressing, it was mind-numbingly boring.
For those of us on this side of the TV screen, the idea that an impossibly dazzling Englishman would pilot his blue box straight into your backyard, out of all the backyards throughout all of space and time, because he’s chosen you – you, the girl who waited – is captivating to say the least. It’s easy to see why Doctor Who is so popular among cosplayers. A bowtie, a fez and a sonic screwdriver (how is this not a sex toy?) are all it takes to validate you, to transform you into a leading man. How empowering is that? And all this goes double, by the way, when you’re young, and lonely, and a little bit weird. I was all of these things when I first fell in love with this show (and this character).
But here’s the thing: the Doctor isn’t a real person. I mean that in at least three different ways. Outside of fiction (and BDSM), a relationship with a vastly imbalanced power dynamic won’t last. The process of figuring out how to divvy up the rent is difficult enough when one member of the couple isn’t the Oncoming Storm, the Predator of the Daleks, the Destroyer of Worlds.
Besides, you wouldn’t want to be with someone, human or otherwise, who is forever a mystery to you. Loving someone is knowing them. The Doctor is literally unknowable. Experiencing the full stores of his mind and millennial memory nearly caused Donna’s head to explode. His appeal is that of the unattainable, the whimsical, that which – if possessed – justifies the possessor’s specialness. He’s a Manic Pixie Time Lord.
Please watch Doctor Who. Watch it like you’re hugging it with your eyeballs, because it’s wonderful. About half the episodes (honestly, the real figure is closer to two-thirds) make me cry, and just thinking about “Vincent and the Doctor” now is making me dorkily tear up over my keyboard. The primary source of the show’s greatness is, indisputably, the Doctor himself. But don’t allow him to set your expectations, for yourself and for others, in romantic relationships.
That said, consider dating a Whovian. Like its central character, Doctor Who is sweet and clever and good-hearted. Seeing his tattoo, I suspected my boyfriend might be sweet and clever and good-hearted, too. Lucky for me, he is.