What Doctor Who Taught Me About Parenting
"The Zygon Inversion"
So, regular readers who follow me might notice it’s been awhile since I wrote an article about Doctor Who. The reason is mostly that I’m spending this long year with no new episodes until Christmas collecting and reading the 70-odd Eighth Doctor books from the ’90s, which is heaven to me but probably isn’t the sort of thing y’all want 1,000 words on weekly.
However, I did do a rewatch of Series 9 after hearing that for the first time in its history, Doctor Who is up for an Emmy! With BBC America as a co-producer, it now qualifies for the Emmys, and Peter Capaldi stands to be the first Doctor to take home our country’s highest television award (in an interesting twist, he is also the only Doctor to have an Academy Award, though John Hurt has been nominated twice). The episode that got the Emmy nomination was “Heaven Sent,” but I think we can all agree the real stand-out from last season was “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion.” The main reason is this speech…
It’s arguably the greatest speech ever given in the show’s long history. It has lines that will live forever, like “One day I shall come back” and “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.” But what I love about that impossibly wonderful scene is something that is never included in clips, and it’s the greatest lesson I could ever learn as a parent.
After The Doctor convinces the humans and the Zygons not to kill each other, they all come to the realization that his ruse of fake duel doomsday weapons will not ever work again. In response, he sadly explains that this is not the first time he has used this trick before activating the base’s memory-wiping system.
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The Doctor's being caught in an endless cycle of saving people is an overarching theme of Series 9. In “Heaven Sent,” he spends literally billions of years in a loop in order to thwart the Time Lords and save Clara Oswald. As he explains it, he has a “duty of care,” and nothing has ever described parenthood better.
Being a parent is not about moments, though that is definitely how it is marketed and what social media demands of our public child-rearing lives. You can have great moments of love, or insight, or failure, or despair, but these snapshots are not even a fraction of what raising a child is.
Raising children is explaining the same thing over and over and over until they understand it just enough to function in the world. It’s telling them that hitting people is not funny, watching them gleefully forget, saying it again, and the cycle repeating until you have a new person here on Planet Dumpster Fire who hits people for fun, or doesn’t.
My daughter has asked me to explain vaccines to her literally more than 40 times. Each time I want to tell her, “We have had this conversation before. You know the answer. Stop asking me.” It’s identical, I’m sure, to how The Doctor tells the 50th plucky young companion what a Dalek is.
It’s very easy to get frustrated, and to toss people out on their own in the name of your own personal sanity. If you want to be a good parent, to succeed in your duty of care, you have to be willing to explain very important things to tiny people who seem hell-bent on forgetting them and getting into trouble.
So when it’s the tenth, 20th or 100th time attempting to drill into my daughter’s head that when a person says, “Stop that, you’re hurting me,” it means you stop, I think of Capaldi’s Doctor trying to save the Earth with two empty boxes and his own earnest desire to see less war and pain. I think of the impossible patience it must take to deal with people who must seem like bloody infants to him, and how he never stops trying to make them better people.
One thing that all the clips do tend to include: Kate Stewart of UNIT telling The Doctor she is sorry. It’s a moment I’ve seen reflected in my daughter’s eyes so many times when she realizes that her errors have caused others pain. It’s a simple, human expression of empathy that seems rare in this age, when the Internet is in a race to see who can care the least. To care is to hurt, and that may be the greatest lesson Doctor Who can teach us as parents, children and people.
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