The last survivor of an extinct intelligent alien race arrives on Earth and almost immediately finds himself enamored of the endlessly complex, less-evolved-but-still-so-admirably-hopeful denizens of the planet, and vows to dedicate his life to protecting them, allowing them to thrive and finally live up to their true potential as a species. Wait, who was I talking about again? Oh yeah, Superman…right? Or—wait, no, The Doctor? No, definitely Superman. I think. Man, I could have sworn that it was The Doctor…
But really, what’s the difference?
Sure, one wears a bowtie (or a scarf, or…) and the other wears a cape, but other than that, Kal-El and The Doctor are remarkably similar characters (and no, I’m not just saying that because all humanoid aliens look the same). Superman is the last son of Krypton, The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords; Superman has a human pal in Jimmy Olsen, The Doctor has legions of human companions (though usually one at a time); Superman gains his powers from Earth’s yellow sun, and the Doctor gains his from a sonic screwdriver; Superman regenerated after being killed by Doomsday, and the Doctor regenerates all the time following some kind of “death,” symbolic or otherwise.
Which other popular character does these things? Jesus, of course. Now bear with me here. I’m not trying to get all preachy or anything; I’m simply using this comparison in terms of literary value. The Bible is the “greatest story,” after all, and its influence on the Western literary canon is undeniable. In fact, this archetype of a lone savior sent from another place stretches back even further. One could even argue that the Greek Heracles fills this same role, being a character that is more than human but was raised by/lives among the people, his adopted family, with whom he never quite fits. But he still cares enough to become their champion. And let’s not forget that Heracles also journeyed through Hades and emerged triumphant.
Back to our focal folk heroes, one who flies around in a blue suit and the other in a blue box. (Which, have you noticed the similarities between the inside of the TARDIS and the inside of the Fortress of Solitude?) Both of these characters are even iconic enough to be recognized by those outside of the traditional fandom (read: people who read/write articles like this). And while both have a proven staying power and longevity, they’ve each gone through significant changes throughout their respective careers across mediums. They’ve both transcended beyond their origins as TV shows and comic books, respectively, and evolved into movies, radio plays, and general symbols of the cultural zeitgeist. Their stories have transcended their own continuities, sometimes even within the context of their own stories (with the help of a Pandorica, or a hole punched in reality, for example). The Doctor, of course, has regenerated ten different times now, with each new iteration presenting a different appearance, new quirks, and a slightly altered personality. He has transformed from a wise old man to a battle-hardened veteran to a raggedy man and more. Superman, on the other hand, began his heroic career as a “Champion of the Oppressed,” and has gone on to be an Anti-Communist Crusader, a Government Stooge, and at one point even a punk rock teenager, black construction worker, homicidal cyborg, and weird alien genetic protector thing all at the same time (we don’t really talk about that).
But regardless of these many changes, both Superman and The Doctor have remained the same at their cores. Both of them are champions from another world, and we look to them to make things better. We’re not supposed to empathize or relate to their struggles; we have Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker and other characters for that. Instead we look up to them, and aspire to their greatness and irrepressible altruism. Of course, we’ll never quite live up to their level. They might look human, after all, but we all know they’re both something else, something innately greater than us, whose level we will never quite reach—which some people might consider problematic (*cough*Lex Luthor*cough*) or simply arrogant (*cough*Every Steven Moffat Maxi Plot So Far*cough*). But we continue to try, because despite their abilities, these two extraterrestrial demigods look up to us as well. We admire their powers, while they in turn admire our hearts (or double-hearts, as the case may be). Neither Superman nor The Doctor views himself as being superior to us in any way; in fact, it’s likely that either one would trade his powers for a chance at being human.
In the meantime, we look to Superman and The Doctor to guide and protect us, just as we looked to their archetypal forefathers for the same. And who knows, maybe the Doctor’s 13th and final regeneration will have a penchant for blue spandex and some little red underwear on the outside of his pants. He’s had stranger quirks before.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve robots). He firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.