Thanks to a couple of star-gliding teenagers, our family has been lured into watching the most current Doctor Who television series from BBC.
Doctor Who is a science fiction series, continuing on and off since the 1960’s, about a Time Lord who is able to cross time and space to rescue people from a wide range of villains. The story lines range from creative to bizarre but the creators of the series included a helpful wrinkle with the Doctor. He occasionally dies in action and then renews himself in a new body.
This new body is really a new person, with a new personality and mannerisms and interests. The favorite food of one Doctor may be disgusting to the next, for example. Favored clothing and even goals change with the new Doctor.
The idea is brilliant because, from a practical point of view, it allows the series producers to glide from one actor to another without a glitch. New actor, new Doctor, new personality. All’s well as long as the Daleks show up at least once a season.
Fiction writers don’t have this privilege. I’m tired of reading novels in which the main character can’t decide who he or she really is. We might start out with a strong-willed female who is willing to take risks and challenge the status quo. A 100 pages later, she’s cowering behind her new boyfriend, afraid to enter the dark room and screaming at cobwebs.
I know strong-willed women. They don’t change like that.
Or the story opens with the wise-cracking hero who confidently follows his hunches. By the midway point in the story, he hasn’t had a hunch in several chapters and is suddenly afraid of his father. Or boss. Or neighbor.
What’s with introducing traits that evaporate?
A memorable character carries a story. Authors need to trust that fact and craft characters so vivid that we allow them to carry the story rather than allowing the story to craft them.
Only Doctor Who can turn from a handsome heart-throb to a stumbling nerd and we’re OK with it.