Doctor Who: The many loves of The Doctor

In some five decades – albeit, with a gap – of episodes, The Doctor has loved a lot of loves.

Adrian Rogers/BBC/AP
How many loves has The Doctor loved?

There’s a lot of hate in Doctor Who. The Daleks, un-anthropomorphic antagonists, feel nothing but it. There is also a frequent, terrible absence of any emotion at all. Cybermen – humans that have been shredded up, molded into metal, and forget who they used to be – feel nothing for anyone. Doctor Who’s writers have always liked plot lines that rob characters of their memories, of what they used to feel for other people.

But if there is a lot of hate in Doctor Who, or, even worse, the horrific loss of any emotion at all, it often seems to be there to emphasize what has, for five decades, been among the show’s most consistent, resonant themes: love.

Doctor Who is big on love. In almost every episode, characters make choices because of love, for love. And perhaps the biggest lover of them all is The Doctor himself, lover of a lot of loves. He loves his wife, and he loves his other wife. He loves a French mistress and a British nurse. He loves his companions – all of them, though with different kinds of love. Most of the time, he would prefer not to be in love, because, for The Doctor, love always means loss. But he loves all the same, and all the time.

So, in honor of 50 years of Doctor Who, here’s a brief list of some of The Doctor’s biggest loves from the modern series (yes, just the modern series – there’s a lot of love in five decades of Doctor Who):

The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour

The Tenth Doctor meets Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV, when he steps through an 18th-century French fireplace in a 51st-century spaceship. He falls in love. He saves her from aliens. She’s beautiful. Smart, too. There’s a connection – a literal, telepathic one. Then, as is The Doctor’s perennial misfortune, he loses her to time. In the minutes that Doctor Who spends back on the spaceship, fending off the aliens, years and years pass back where “the girl in the fireplace” is. By the time he gets back through the fireplace and into her world, she is dead. She has also left him a letter, one that, though we never know its contents, seem to suggest that his love has been the long-running theme of her entire life. For The Doctor, it was just moments.

The Doctor and River Song

River Song is The Doctor’s wedded wife, and never before in television has there been a more long-distance marriage. The Doctor and Dr. Song, a cosmic outlaw who rivals The Doctor in intellect and courage, do not get to spend much time together. That’s because River is a time traveller, too. So, this is a love story that unfolds out of order, as a collection of meetings that don’t mean quite the same thing to them at the same time, since one of the two always knows what comes next, and the other doesn’t. The first time The Doctor meets River is also the last time they meet. River knows it’s the end, but the Doctor doesn’t. In fact, he doesn’t even know who she is, and the significance of their final moments together are almost – but not quite – lost on him.

The Doctor and the Tardis

The Tardis is The Doctor’s other wife, or so it was imagined in Neil Gaiman’s episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” The two have, well, a troubled relationship. The Tardis is not particularly pleased about Doctor’s often young, female companions. Actually, she really doesn’t like a lot of them. So, sometimes she locks them out. She also keeps The Doctor’s biggest, darkest secrets in her always scrambling, very scary halls. Sometimes she takes him where he “needs” to go, not where he “wants” to go. It’s a marriage. It’s complicated.

The Doctor and his companions

Rose is one of the Doctor’s biggest romantic loves, but, of course, the two are torn apart in a split in time. Martha loves The Doctor to no avail, and she eventually leaves him because it’s too hard to love someone that won’t love her back. Donna and the Doctor love each other as the best of friends who make each other infinitely better as people/aliens; in one of the most heartbreaking moments in the show, Donna leaves the series losing all her memories and without ever knowing she knew the Doctor. Amy has a bit of a thing for The Doctor, but she eventually chooses human love – aka, Rory, the man who would do, literally, anything for her. Clara and The Doctor are just friends, with a lot of “something more” innuendo – oh, and Clara splicing herself into infinite bits to forever wander in time with her only purpose being keeping The Doctor safe. There’s that.

The Doctor and Nurse Joan Redfern

In “Human Nature,” The Doctor Two is stripped of all his memories in order to hide in the quiet English countryside as a – very human – young teacher, John Smith. This John Smith is affable and cute. So, Joan Redfern, a lovely nurse, falls in love with him, and he with her. They court, and it’s adorable, and for a while everything is very normal. But then it all falls apart, because John Smith isn’t really human, and, to his incredible dismay, he’s actually The Doctor. So, he has to go back to time travelling and saving the entire universe – and to a tough love life.

The Doctor and everyone

There’s no getting around it: The Doctor loves everyone. He loves the universe so much that he’ll do just about everything to save it. There’s at times a sense, when watching Doctor Who, that the Doctor would be much better off, or at least have a much easier time, if he were a Dalek, or a Cyberman, or just submitted to a plot line in which he forgets how to feel. Doing so would spare the Doctor a lot of loss and hurt (and effort). But perhaps it’s that persistent love, when not loving would be much simpler, that has kept audiences fascinated with The Doctor for over 50 years: this is a show that’s profoundly optimistic about human nature, about the choices that people will make for other people, and about the depth of feeling that people can experience. As the Tardis says of her time in a human body: it’s “so much bigger on the inside.”

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