Doctor Who: The Platonic Tour Guide Afraid of Commitment

By “Colonel Mak”

The new Doctor Who achieved something that the classic series never did: it turned the Doctor into a sci-fi sex symbol (and, by the transitive property of fan adulation, turned actors David Tennant and Matt Smith into geek sex symbols too). Granted, Tom Baker had his female fans in the 1970’s, but David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s fangirls greatly exceed Baker’s fans in numbers — and hormonal lust.

The Doctor has become such a geek girl crush that another fictitious doctor, Dr. Nerdlove (the real Harris O’Malley), has declared him a role model for male geeks seeking love. As Dr. Nerdlove says, the Doctor (the Time Lord) is passionate, adventurous, positive, and fun. These are all qualities women want in a man.

I agree that men should learn from the Doctor’s good qualities. However, I’m going to disagree with Dr. Nerdlove that the Doctor (the Time Lord) is a role model for male geeks. Our Time Lord is seriously lacking in one area: he can’t commit.

But first, some background. In the classic series (1963-1989), the typical companion was an attractive girl who stayed with the Doctor in the TARDIS. He was, essentially, living and traveling with a woman outside marriage. This could have been raunchy stuff in the 1960’s; back then, people called it “living in sin.” However, though the Doctor and his companions lived together, they didn’t sin. The Doctor never had sex, much less kissed, his companions. Instead, he treated them like granddaughters. Indeed, the first companion, Susan, was his actual granddaughter. This pattern continued to the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

In the new series, most companions are still attractive women, but the Doctor has re-engineered his relationship with them. The Eighth Doctor was the first one to kiss his companion, Grace, but it was the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) who stepped up the sexual tension without getting sexual in a physical sense. In the TARDIS, he flirted with Rose and Martha, and to a lesser degree, Donna. Outside the TARDIS, he flirted with Madame de Pompadour and Astrid.

Rose crushed badly on him, and he would have been an idiot not to notice. Yes, he showed her a good time on exotic planets and 1953 London, and they bantered and flirted, but he never fulfilled her wishes by taking their relationship to the next level. By the time he realized that Rose was good girlfriend material, she was stranded in an alternate universe and legally dead in our world.

The Doctor’s commitment phobia got worse with Martha. Again, he took a girl to exciting places and times; Elizabethan London is an awesome first date. But the more hints she gave him that she wanted something more, the more distant he got. In the “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood” two-part story, he conveniently got amnesia and fell in love with another woman, prompting Martha to bemoan, “You had to go and fall in love with a human…and it wasn’t me.” Of course, no real romance develops with the other girl either. After spending a year saving the Doctor and the world from the Master, Martha gave up waiting for the Doctor and stomped out of the TARDIS.

Having broken Martha’s heart but not his own two hearts, the Doctor next met Astrid aboard a space cruiser ominously called Titanic. Again, the relationship was short and ended when Astrid died. By now, the pattern was set: the Doctor bounces from one girl to another without declaring his love for any of them. The scriptwriters make it easy for the Doctor by sending the girl far away, either to another universe, death, or Torchwood.

The Doctor’s love life got more complicated when he regenerated into Number Eleven. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) had a complicated relationship with Amy Pond; she was both the pretty girl in the TARDIS and the mother-in-law who tried to seduce him. Still, the Eleventh Doctor was undoubtedly interested in girls and had an on-off relationship with River Song.

Amy had a fiancé, Rory, so the Doctor didn’t get too flirtatious with her. Amy, however, was hardly a stone angel and attempted to seduce the Doctor on the night before her wedding. The Doctor rejected her advances, thus showing himself as unattainable. Amy was torn between Rory and the Doctor, which was great for the Doctor; she had a built-in safeguard against commitment.

Rory, however, died the first of numerous deaths, and Amy was left alone with the Doctor. They went on the usual exotic vacations together, like visiting Vincent van Gogh in nineteenth century France. This form of casual dating lasted until Rory returned as a Roman soldier.

The Doctor’s relationships with women got very complicated when River Song appeared. Amy turned out to be River’s mother and therefore the Doctor’s mother-in-law. The relationship between the Doctor and River was hardly a Harlequin romance. The only other television romance that matched theirs in being on-again, off-again is Carrie and Big’s in Sex and the City. The Doctor acted as if he didn’t like River, but River hinted that they would become lovers sometime. Like Carrie and Big, the Doctor and River got married. Unlike Carrie and Big, the Doctor and River separated immediately after the wedding.

It’s obvious that the Doctor is afraid of commitment (or the scriptwriters enable him to avoid attachment to a serious girlfriend). So why do so many geek girls love this commitment-phobic man-child?

Maybe some girls have low expectations and low self-esteem, two classic reasons for chasing an exciting but wandering male.

Or dare I risk suggesting that it’s because those geek girls are also commitment-phobic or, to risk sounding condescending, “not ready” for a committed relationship?

Years ago, I (briefly) dated a stripper. One night, she got tipsy and took me to a gay bar. I asked her why she wanted to be surrounded by gay men.

“I went to gay bars a lot when I was a virgin,” she replied. Knowing her, she hadn’t been a virgin since she was 14.

After my surprise at the lax enforcement of drinking age laws at the bars she frequented, I realized why that particular age was telling. The oft-maligned 14-year-old girl is in a transitional stage in a woman’s social and romantic development. When she was evolving from a girl to a woman, she used gay bars to be with men but not deal with making out, sex, love, emotions, and all the other hassles that come with men.

(Any similarity between the stripper and Doctor Who fangirls ends there.)

Girls and boys go through a stage in early adolescence when they’re attracted to the opposite sex but afraid of them. They develop crushes for unattainable people, often media celebrities. Girls cover their walls with photos of boy bands like One Direction –- or actors like David Tennant and Matt Smith.

Many people outgrow this phase, but some people are still in it well into adulthood; check out some of the men and women at large media-oriented comic-cons. I won’t judge whether it’s good or bad for adults to have adolescent crushes on TV actors; I’ll leave that for the psychologists and therapists.

What I will say is that for women intimidated by real-world men, the Doctor is the best imaginary boyfriend. He’s a platonic tour guide who will take you on great adventures but never get physical or say that he loves you.

Why does the Doctor’s fictional love life matter to us in the real world? It matters because too many people drift through the science fiction community, the clubs and the conventions, wishing for that perfect partner who resembles a TV character. I’ve heard so many women lament that they can’t find a man who resembles (insert name of TV character or actor here). They want to replace their imaginary boyfriend with a real one, but nobody measures up, except David Tennant or Matt Smith.

But ladies, consider two things. First, you will never find someone as adventurous, glamorous, exotic, or handsome as TV characters. TV SHOWS ARE FICTION! There are plenty of men in the real world who are fun, exciting, and beautiful in their own way and various ways. Open your eyes to what’s around you in your world, not the Doctor’s.

More importantly, if your fantasy partner is a guy who abandons his girls throughout time and space, what type of man are you going to attract? Don’t presume you can reform him; that type of man can never change. Do you want to be a disposable companion? Or do you want to be an equal partner?

If you’re ready for a real love life, if you have the self-esteem to raise your expectations, if you want to be a partner instead of a companion, let the Doctor keep picking up and ditching his girls in his fictional universe. You can do better than that in the real world.

(Tardis image courtesy of