Virtual Friends


Yesterday they announced which actor had been selected to play the next Doctor in the long running (50 year) show Doctor Who. Both before and since the announcement, the social networks of facebook, tumbler (and probably others) have been buzzing with fans registering their reactions, and also those suggesting that the volume of “noise” is unwarranted. As usual, a simple comment has sent my thoughts meandering around the “whys” of what means a lot to people.

Dr. Who has been a part of people’s lives for 50 years. Also, there’s a very real phenomenon with long running shows that you “know” the characters, you know what’s happened in their lives, you know their likes, dislikes, and quirks; in short- you feel you know them.

In the mind this is not very different from how well we know people we’ve actually met and with whom we’ve interacted. Talking about the shows and characters with friends reinforces this reaction, it gives us knowledge and experiences in common with our (living) friends/  acquaintances. The addition of “fan” culture allows people to “interact” with the characters in their minds.  Think about the difference between a memory of something that happened and a memory of a dream or daydream. There’s not really much difference except that no one else shares the memory. With movies and TV, you can share the memories, and with long running shows, a person’s responses to the incidents become a part of their lives. I still grieve for the fictional Henry Blake from M*A*S*H, and was amazed at my reaction to the end of the WWI Black Adder season even though I’d been warned how touching it was.


I also know more than one person who has gotten married to someone they met on-line, and history is full of people who developed strong relationships by mail. It is conversation or other kinds of interaction that make strong bonds between people. But, you may think, it’s not two-way with fiction. No, but why differentiate between powerful fiction in books and on screen? As long as there have been books we’ve known that they inspire us, and even change our lives. Having heroes, people we can emulate, is a good thing that most people accept.

Given that I am of a “paranormal” thinker, I also speculate that when something is believed in long enough and strongly enough it becomes real. There have been experiments showing that this kind of “energy construction” is possible. Belief can create “ghosts” where there was no actual precipitating event, such as with the Philip Experiment in Toronto. Thus, I speculate, that somewhere, since so many millions of people have read/re-read, and loved such books as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books, Middle Earth and Hogwarts and Narnia exist out there- somewhere, on some plane of reality. Similarly Charles Darnay and Don Quixote are real somewhere. One hopes that their consciousnesses are not trapped in the most uncomfortable moments of their interesting lives.

I feel that real or not, we can talk to mental constructs of characters, even as we talk to “real” people who are not there, by reason of distance, or having died, or simply because they aren’t open to the conversation we want to have with them. (The argument between Merida and Elinor in different parts of the castle is one of the best scenes in the movie Brave.) Imaginary Friends, are an integral and accepted part of childhood. (How many may actually exist and just be invisible to parents is a rumination for another day.) Talking things out, by yourself or with someone else is a solid technique for exploring a concept, and whether the surprise inspirations come from our subconscious or an extra dimensional being is less important that the intrinsic value of the information discovered by the process.

I’m going to return to the point where I started. If you enjoy memories of the times you spent with fictional characters, if they inspire you to be a better person, to think beyond the confines of your normal life, to see yourself in a more positive way, then I think they are better for you than memories of “real” people who have created those voices in your head that make you doubt yourself. If the tardis set down outside my door and the Doctor invited me to come explore Time and the Universe with him, sorry kids, cancel my appointments, I’m out of here.

As to the choice of actor to play the doctor? I will weigh in that for some of us, if Matt Smith (or any young Doctor) showed up, I’d be a bit tempted to say as Wendy told Pan: “I’m sorry Peter, I can’t go. I’m ever so much more than twenty.” or even as Molly Grue told the last unicorn “How dare you come to me NOW when I am this!” Even at 60 I treasure those moments of possibility that fiction- whether written or on screen- afford us, and I would prefer the Doctor to be like the earlier, older Doctors who have faces and bodies that let the viewer know their wisdom as well as wit, and don’t lean so much on sexual tension to inspire interest in the relationships with their companions. I suppose if it’s a virtual friend, we, as well as they, can be anything they need to be.


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