EDIT: The BBC announced today that Peter Capaldi will play the twelfth Doctor. We, of course, knew this beforehand and after-hand and simultaneous-hand. It’s really hard to surprise time travelers. Now, on with the post …
This week’s Fish and TARDIS Sauce newsletter will look at the use of humor in Doctor Who, and ways that you might be able to apply this technique in your everyday life.
In “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (s06e24), Doctor Who travels back to 1940s London, where he meets Madge Ardwell, her son Cyril, and daughter Lily. Madge comes home to tell the kids that she is going to help The Doctor return to his time machine, as if this happened every day (who knows, maybe it does). While there at home, Madge asks Cyril what he’s is doing up so late looking through his telescope. When Lily makes a snide comment it begins this brief but quite funny exchange among the characters.
- Cyril — It’s astronomy.
- Lily — Don’t make up words. He’s always making up things … and breathing.
- Madge — Where’s your father?
- Cyril — In the garden.
- Madge — What’s he doing in the garden?
- Cyril — Agriculture.
- Lily [off-camera] — You’re not fooling anyone.
And you see? Like that. Or three scenes later, which is also three years later, the family is standing in front of an ancient house somewhere in the English countryside, and the kids say —
- Cyril — Is it haunted?
- Lily — Is it drafty?
Another sharp, understated exchange.
But if you’ve seen this episode you know this episode is not all fun and games. The kids’ father is killed when his bomber goes down over the English Channel (although that’s not quite the whole story), leading to nightmarish grief and stress for Madge. This leads to a poignant scene where Madge admits this to The Doctor and reflects on her short temper around her children.
- Madge — I don’t know why I keep shouting at them.
- The Doctor — Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart.
What we see here is a dramatic turn, where the dry wit of British comedy gives way to the realities of life during World War II (or anytime for that matter). And once again, Doctor Who, the show, and Doctor Who, the character, offer us a glimpse into the human condition. After all, why do we love a rose? Because it’s blooming but will not do so forever. Why does it smell so divine? Because its thorns are so sharp.
It’s always been my opinion that humor for the sake of humor gets stale after a while. Even the best comedians — the Steve Martins and Richard Pryors and George Carlins — cannot sustain me for long unless I have a break. It doesn’t have to be something morbid or maudlin, but it does have to be balanced. And I love humor. In fact, I was once asked why I don’t watch Comedy Central all the time. The answer is simple, really. I don’t watch Comedy Central, or any other 24/7 source of laughter, because I don’t usually turn to comedians for jokes. The best humor grows out of drama, to relieve the tension, or out of horror, to dispel the terror. That’s why, in that famous line from Steel Magnolias, the characters reflect on the wonder of laughter through tears.
Which brings us back to “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.” Doctor Who, the character, looks at Madge thoughtfully in this episode, and finally offers his advice. And this is one of the many reasons I love this show. The characters get to the heart of the matter so damn well. In the scene I’ve described above, Madge is momentarily distracted by the distant sounds of the children’s glee, leading Doctor Who to say this:
- The Doctor — What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.
Pretty good stuff for science fiction, eh?
Until next time, remember: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can procrastinate about today.
Keith Parker, CEO, COO, CTO, CCO, CAC, COCOA of The PITTS*
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* The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker
Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 BBC