This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.
The fifth doctor is a Volvo. Search your feelings people, you know it be true.
Look at him, he’s the result of the same set of circumstances that led many a car buyer to that mainstay of safety and reliability and consequently to what followed after. Allow me to lay it all out.
It starts, of course, with that dream car of youth, first seen in an ad in Buy and Sell (or Craigslist for you younger folk), that captures the imagination and compels an immediate scavenging of savings, credit and loans from long suffering family for the most unique, once-in-a-lifetime, gotta-have-it-more-than-the-super-awesome-tree-fort-with-emergency-slide-and-girl-catapult-designed-in-grade-three vehicle: The Karmann Ghia.
Never mind the rust and the beaten-in bumpers, the fraying ragtop and the questionable squeaks coming from what might be the transmission, that Karmann Ghia represented everything awesome about becoming an adult: Freedom, individuality, a dash of poetry and mystery, and of course room for one hot lady companion at your side and no one else. Well, maybe a bit of room in the back for a dog, and not just any dog, a really, really clever dog.
But after those lady companions turned out to be a nerdy Lois Lame, a sexy but functionally illiterate foreign exchange student, a super annoying, possibly schizophrenic undergrad who then runs off with your only so-so clever dog, what are you left with? An Aussie flight attendant picked up off the M4 whining about something up front while the math nerd from your D&D nights and a mousy poli-sci major (picked up from who knows where) argue in the back seat. And it still smells of dog back there. That eccentric little roadster is turning into a creaky creepfest and before you can figure out how to fix it the darn thing runs itself into the ground. More of a blessing, really.
The quirky phase over, time to get serious. Or at the very least practical. With a growing circle of friends, and a desire for cleaner lines, reliability, and a smoother ride, where does one turn but to Scandinavia? Enter the Volvo. Zippy, cute, safe, sporty yet elegant, the Volvo is the perfect choice. At first glance it may seem mediocre but over time you see why such a vehicle would inspire so much loyalty and devotion. It’s perfect, right? ABBA in the cassette player, the radio set to the Ashes highlights, in the back there’s plenty of room for the math geek to argue with the Aussie chick while the more useful poli-sci girl reads the map up front.
Sure, gone are the romantic adventures and the Byron-esque meanderings into the wild, but the road trips now are far from uneventful. Some are downright dangerous, and after crossing into those dark Eastern Bloc territories, there’s a run in with some baaaaad dudes.
Then Math guy bites it hard, Aussie chick flips out and runs off to find herself. It’s a devastating time. The group dynamic has been broken but still the brave face, still the forging on. More road trips, Aussie chick shows up again in Amsterdam (ahh, the canals!) as if nothing ever happened, and then a psychotic ginger with daddy issues joins the crew. Poli-sci girl can’t take it anymore and finally bails just as ginger reaches a breakthrough. A dim-witted street performer, the kind that dresses like a robot and makes beep beep noises, joins up for a brief spell (something about his clumsiness brings back memories of the dog), but the center just cannot hold.
Aussie chick leaves for good, ginger realizes it’s time to go back home and robot guy gets booted after one too many trips to the clinic for tetanus shots. Everything’s a mess, and then enters the spoiled American deb with a terrifyingly unpronounceable name. She’s got trouble written all over but still there’s the denial, that hope that everything can go back to the way it was if the wheels keep on turning. And then the idea: how about a spelunking adventure? That oughta do it! Disaster. Terrible accident. The girl barely makes it, but the car is a total write off and there’s no certainty as to whether the insurance will cover the loss after going off road like that. Anxiety. Despair. Guilt. Uncertainty. And a crap ton of paper work.
But there’s recovery! A settlement! It’s not great but it’s something! Not only that, it’s a chance to turn it all around, throw out the old, go solo, focus on what’s really important, numero uno. It might take a while to dump the skirt but who cares? It’s a new era.
Which leads to the insane impulse replacement buy: the Saab. All the pretense of a luxury vehicle, the promise of a solid investment, a bit of the old Karmann Ghia’s quirkiness, European styling, speed…but in the end, a lemon spending more time in the shop for tests and trials than on the road until it finally breaks down a couple of years later.
It’s a classic story really.
Pia Guerra won an Eisner Award in 2008 for her illustration work on the multiple award-winning Vertigo comic series Y: The Last Man, which she co-created with writer Brian K. Vaughan. Her next project was illustrations for the original mini-series Doctor Who: The Forgotten, which chronicled the Doctor’s life through the perspective of the Tenth Doctor, written by Tony Lee.