What The Doctor Taught Me

One of my favorite television shows is Doctor Who. It’s a British sci-fi about a time-traveling alien who goes around the galaxy saving humans, aliens, and one time even dinosaurs. Basically, we follow the nine hundred year-old main character, the Doctor, on his countless journeys throughout time and space.

The Doctor isn’t your conventional superhero. For starters, he’s the last of the Timelords,  an alien species that once scoured through time and space. He doesn’t have super strength, the power to fly, nor can he even hold-up in a fistfight. What he does have is his multipurpose sonic screwdriver (a scanner, universal door-opener, occasional taser) and his brilliant mind. Those are it. Yet even with these inhibitions, he can still take down legions of villains. And another unique thing about the Doctor is how he’s been portrayed by almost a dozen different people.

Every few seasons, the Doctor “regenerates.” His looks, personality, clothing style, friends, and enemies all drastically change, in accordance with the new actor’s mannerisms and the — sometimes — new head writer’s direction. Currently, there have been eleven people who have portrayed the Doctor, and a plethora of returning or new supporting characters throughout the show’s fifty year-long run. Since the actors and writers constantly change, the show never feels like a bore. Each season is a brand new take on the Who saga. 

Because each actor and writer envision the Doctor differently, each regeneration brings a new breath of fresh air to the show. I picked up the show during his eleventh incarnation, as portrayed by Matt Smith. I haven’t watched the previous seasons, but I’ve heard that only one thing remains constant throughout all the years: the Doctor’s moral compass.

The Doctor, as I’ve stated before, doesn’t really have a weapon. Whenever he encounters a foe his first reaction is usually to talk, and when he’s obviously outmatched he just runs away. But this isn’t because he’s powerless. He doesn’t fight because he actually loathes violence. His method to resolve conflicts is usually — when he has the chance to– through using non-lethal means. 

On the first episode I saw, he thwarted the big alien baddy by yelling at, and threatening it. Not the most obvious showcase of power, isn’t it? The funny thing is, the Doctor’s actually feared throughout the galaxies. In the show’s universe, his name is commonly associated with the word “warrior.” I.e. several civilizations call their mightiest fighters “Doctors.” Again, this isn’t because he’s Superman, rather his strength lies in his brilliance. He’s taken down military installations, planets, even gods and demons without putting a finger on any trigger. 

Yet with his prowess, he hates taking a life. He’s done it numerous times, to enemies that would be a danger to everyone else if left alive. But every single time he has to, he sees a life that he’s failed to save. 

On the episode The God Complex, the Doctor, a few other individuals, and his friends are hunted down by a minotaur-shaped alien. They were all stuck inside a hotel-like labyrinth, where all of them were shown their worst fears. Which is when the minotaur comes and kills them off one by one. Until only a few of the group remained. The creature’s reign was ended however, when the doctor finally incapacitated it.

During the last few minutes of The God Complex, the Doctor talked to the minotaur. Not only that, he comforted the dying, soul-devouring monster. Complete with gentle hushes and  “it’s going to be okay” speeches. Instead of simply leaving it to die and getting the hell out of dodge, he took the time to take care of a monster, whom a few minutes ago tried to murder him. 

At this moment of comforting, the doctor learned of the minotaur’s background. It was actually part of an alien species who travels from planet to planet, posing as gods to the worlds’ primitive natives. The revealed-to-be-sentient minotaur, imparted a few words to the Doctor. 

The minotaur said, “An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent. Drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift.”

Hearing the minotaur’s word, the Doctor placed his hand on its shoulder, and whispered, “Then accept it. And sleep well.”

But the minotaur replied, “I wasn’t talking about myself.” Much to the Doctor and the group’s surprise.

For me, this episode stands out among the rest of the sixth season’s offerings for two reasons. One, It captures the Doctor’s compassion to all that is living and breathing; even the ones that tried to eliminate him. And two, it left a relatively huge breadcrumb towards the Doctor’s dark and mysterious past. 

Throughout the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons, there have been many hints to the Doctor’s forgotten years. All of them stating one thing in common: the Doctor wasn’t always a good guy. In fact, the Doctor himself alluded to his past bitterly. Always implying that he was responsible for the death of countless, guiltless people. 

One of his adversaries also had a monologue that directly called the Doctor as a generally evil being. On the Doctor’s supposed future grave, he said, “Welcome to the final resting place of the Cruel Tyrant. The Slaughterer of the Ten Billion. The Vessel of the Final Darkness… he will have other names before the end. The Storm. The Beast.” Not exactly what anyone would say to a hero, isn’t it?

Because of the two monologues above, and dozens of other clues, the Doctor obviously has a secret. He’s clearly done something terrifying in his past. And if “The Slaughterer of the Ten Billion” is true, then he’d murdered an ungodly amount of people. He’s a monster in the eyes of many, and perhaps rightfully so (nobody except the writers know of his history yet, so there can only be speculations).

The Doctor’s secret is what made me fall in love with the character, and by extension the show itself. He’d made a mistake that cannot ever be reversed — not even with time travel. One thing that gnaws at his soul every single day of his nine hundred year-long life. A reminder that he was once a mass murderer — deliberately or not, we the viewers still do not know. 

What should’ve been his downfall, instead became his propeller. He didn’t let himself be dragged down by his past. Rather, he turned it into something that forces him to do good: his moral compass. 

The moral of the Doctor’s story is quite wonderful when we look at it in this way. He was a genocidal monster once, and that cannot ever be forgotten. Many of his enemies hate him not because he now acts as a force of good, but due to his presumably pitch-black past. And he knows that sometimes he has to fight because his past has caught up to him. 

The wonderfulness of the Doctor’s story, to me, is this: even if we have been a bad person, even if we have once done things that cannot ever be forgiven, we can still do good. In my eyes, the entire show is about the Doctor’s journey to redemption. 

Forgiveness is what the Doctor constantly looks for. In the episode The Doctor’s Wife, he blatantly stated that he wishes the Timelords would forgive him, for whatever it is he did. And maybe, just maybe all the good deeds he’d accomplished so far had been him trying to atone for his sins. 

That is exactly what the Doctor is. He’s not a hero, and some of the universe’s worst villains would look at him with disgust; the same disgusted look we would give to terrorists, or other equally messed up people. The Doctor is a man full of guilt, a man whom historians will record with contempt.

Yet with all those loads on his backs, he will always try to bring happiness to the universe. A monster he might’ve been, and a monster he might still be. Though this monster no longer destroys. He saves lives, and have sacrificed his own numerous times — dying and losing his personality time and time again — for others. 

No matter how big of a mistake we’ve made. Although we have lost things that cannot ever be recaptured because of our own deeds. The Doctor has shown, and will always show, that a man is not built by his past alone. We may never truly move on, but we can still bring a smile to the faces of those we see.

It is never too late to act in the name of all that is righteous. That is what the Doctor taught me. 

Escaping Reality

The world doesn’t make that much sense. It really doesn’t. The rich stay rich, the poor falls deeper into the holes someone else dug for them. The people we love most leave, and the ones we loathe are the ones who decide to stay. The intelligent are chastised and the delusional are laid in thrones of power. Rarely does something happen the way we expect it to; the way we hope it would unfold. Usually it’s just disappointment followed by another chain of miserable events.

I’m not the unluckiest person in the world. Far from it in fact. Just look at the beggar children on Jakarta’s streets. They undoubtedly have been dealt a much worse set of cards than I have. But still, my life is also far from perfect. I have my problems, as you undoubtedly have yours.

Sometimes though, I honestly can’t take the pressure; the pain of having to be abandoned, to have responsibility over someone else’s life and failing, and the rest of the plentiful miseries this world has to offer. I’m not going to speak too much of the bad things that I’ve went through, the ones that I’ve done, or the ones I’m struggling with right now. Exceedingly speaking of them is a tad overdramatic, and would take way too much time. Instead, I’m just going to talk about my escape routes from reality.

When I was a kid, my parents gave me and my sisters a Sega Genesis. An old 16-bit gaming console that played 2D games the likes of Sonic, Street Fighter, and Streets of Rage — maybe other 90’s kids would be familiar with these titles. And ever since I got my hands on the controller, I’ve had trouble letting go.

The Sega Genesis was my introduction to video games. It was the start of a life-long hobby. This hobby was bolstered by my father, who when I turned six installed Rayman Brain Games on my old family computer. I don’t know why, looking back now, but I was infatuated with this game. It’s kind of strange to me, because the game was only about learning math and english; not the most exciting things to put in a video game. Nevertheless, Rayman firmly planted my addiction to interactive, virtual entertainment.

My childhood wasn’t just about video games though. A lot of things happened. A lot of very, very bad things. I think the phrase “the things closest to home hits you the hardest” is sufficient to explain the troubles that surrounded my early years. But for the sake of detail, let’s just say that I spent a lot of my time hiding in my room crying under a torrent of yells and screams. That was my world, one I had to run away from.

I didn’t have the strength or courage to flee from home. I was scared of bugs, the dark, and plenty of other unimportant elements. So I stayed. Yet my mind went astray as it fled to the realm of video games.

Back then, I didn’t care what kind of games I played. They could’ve been good, bad, or even awful. My reason to play them wasn’t for entertainment, it was to run. You see, video games are a form of fiction. And in fiction — whether good or bad — you get sucked into a world different from your own; you get to be someone else, tackle all sorts of fantastical problems, ultimately live the life you wish would replace yours. All those things were what I needed. Thus I became a recluse; an antisocial child whose main concerns were the pixelated characters of another world. For a time, it was enough.

Then I had to grow up.

In my adolescence I grew apart from video games. Rather, I was torn away from it. The pressure to start socializing was too much. Because of that, I had to force myself to make some friends. It’s not that I’m ungrateful to have had them, but associating with them wasn’t entirely my choice. It was something I had to do, to replace the gradually lessening time I had to sit and play in front of the TV.

Fortunately, some friends were more intriguing than the rest. In my teenage years, I encountered individuals whose lives were riddled with problems — perhaps issues that were far more cumbersome than mine. Their days were plagued with constantly resurfacing troubles. A few, either through stupidity or naivety, decided to ask for my advices. Those advices, however, grew to active assistances.

I messed with the lives of my friends. I didn’t busy myself with the usual teenage crap — break-ups, unrequited loves, such and such. I bothered with the people who were plagued with what society so elegantly calls “broken homes.” It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was often so difficult, that I more often than not ended up worsening their predicaments.

I had to pretend to be someone else at that time: someone who knew what was going on. Problem was, I actually didn’t. I was as dumbfounded, and as clueless as they were. All I did was try to make them do the best they could with their circumstances, — that is, what I thought were the best courses of action — and sometimes provide them with basic resources. But still, those days provided me with more than mere distractions. They gave me a full-time job.

I abandoned my school-life almost completely. I devoted almost all of my time doing this “work.” I transferred to a homeschooling institution during my second year of high-school. Due to this, I had a lot of free time on my hands. Those hours, I invested in trying to improve the lives of those around me. Unfortunately, this delusional fantasy of mine ended up crumbling.

There was one case where I botched things up far too horribly. I didn’t help the person I was trying to in the slightest. I tried to rewrite the course of her life by forcing my ideals on her. Never once thinking that hers might actually be better. It didn’t work; it couldn’t have worked. In the end, she ran away from everything — her school, her friends, her home, her life. So I stopped. I realized that I had never tried to help anyone, that all I did was another escape attempt from my own life. I couldn’t stand to let this escape affect the few people I cared about in a negative way.

Although I had become a failure, I still had a few people from the so-called “broken homes” that I saw as friends. Let’s call them Ray and Claire. They were the ones whose lives I presumably hadn’t wrinkled. Maybe I did manage to help them or, more likely, they helped themselves. The three of us wasted about two years doing nothing. We lived life the way it was supposed to be lived: pointlessly.

For some time, they were my escape. I didn’t have to face anything when I was with them. When the worst storms hit, all I had to was seek their shelter, and they’d successfully protect me. Those were the good old days, I suppose. Those were the times when I didn’t have to pretend to know anything, and just enjoy the little things.

However, distance grew between us — both real and metaphorical. We began to separate ourselves. One cause for this was my infatuation with Claire. Ray, while knowing this, dated her behind my back anyway. I obviously wasn’t pleased to learn of this little tidbit. So we quarreled for some time. Though I ended up accepting the existence of their relationship, I couldn’t entirely welcome Ray’s decision. I lied, and said I did. Yet truth be told, I couldn’t and still can’t revive my trust in him. A simple reason for that is that I would never, ever, have done what he did if I were in his shoes.

Subsequently, my escape route collapsed. I didn’t mind at the time. I had completely forgotten about all the other troubles I had. I thought that the worst thing in my world was what Ray did. Sadly, I was wrong.

Some old, and some new issues came up again. Ones that I perceived as having passed away quietly. I was forced back to see my life the way my childhood self did; a never ending whirlpool of  repetitive smacks to my mental health. If this sounds a little exaggerated, it is, but it is how I see some of the bad episodes that happen around me — they tend to be exhausting after some time.

The only escape I have now is this. What I am doing right as I punch down on my laptop’s keys. Writing is the last safe haven I have. It is the only place where I do not have to depend on other people’s mercies, nor have to feel responsible for the quality of their lives. Most important of all, the world of text makes sense. It has to make sense.

Nonetheless, I have recently stumbled upon a conclusion. An answer to why I can’t face my problems; why I have to keep on running. I’m weak. That’s all there is to it. I don’t have the power required to survive in a world without logic, without structure. A world where everything you know could suddenly be proven wrong, and the people you love swiftly taken from you.

That is why I will always construct escape routes. There’s a great possibility that all of them will shatter, and I can understand that. But the sad truth is that I need them. Maybe everyone’s feels the same way, as they trot on in their lives.

I do not care how pathetic running away sounds. If all struggling does is tear you down, finish you off as your sanity slowly vanishes into nothing, what good does it do?

 

Psychopathy

Recently, I came across a film titled Seven Psychopaths. It stars Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walker, and Sam Rockwell — almost all of them are my favorite actors. The director, Martin McDonagh, had also directed one of my favorite films: In Bruges. As with In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is a dark comedy about bizarre, violent things happening to bizarre, violent people. I won’t go into detail as to why and how, but I really loved this movie. 

It goes without saying that Seven Psychopaths is about, well, psychos. Each of the seven psychotic characters in the film have unique backstories of their own, and different manifestations of their personality disorders — some of them murder, one of them sliced his own throat open once, and so on. What’s interesting about these characters is that not all of them are depicted as serial killers. In fact, a few of them are shown as just perfectly normal people. 

An article from The Telegraph says that a number of psychologists believe 1 in 100 children are psychopaths; and by extension, probably the adult populace as well. If so many among us have this personality disorder, then it is intriguing to think that the people around us might have serial killers hidden deep within their psyches. And maybe, just maybe, we ourselves are secretly psychopaths.

Psychopaths are basically people with a diminished sense of empathy and sympathy. They are individuals who do not really care — or care as much as a normal person would — about what happens to others, whether it be good or bad things. That means, psychopaths wouldn’t feel bad about hurting others, or seeing others get hurt. But a new research headed by Dr. Valleria Gazzola from Groningen University Medical Centre, has indicated that psychopaths do have the ability to empathize. They just have an on and off switch for it. 

Because of this perk to empathize at will, psychopaths can hide perfectly well among the general population. They’re not immediately recognizable if they act like normal people, after all. It’s not like their facial expressions give out their psychopathy. But I have to wonder, since they can manipulate their own empathy, do they themselves know if they are psychopaths?

Let’s put it this way, if you were born among horses, would you know if you’re a horse or not? Maybe your fellow equine friends would assure you that you are, and you would believe them. Therefore, you would act like the rest of the other horses. You’d neigh like they do, eat the same wheat they do, and drink the same water that’s in your companions’ throughs. And then a rancher comes along and drags you away because, what do you know, you’re a donkey. But you couldn’t have known it before the rancher came, could you?

It’s the same thing with psychopaths, I’m guessing. If it’s only recently realized that 1 in 100 people are psychopaths, then there’s a huge chance that they do not realize that they have the disorder until someone came and told them they do. If someone is repeatedly told that they are normal, and thus should act normally, then they would likely behave in a normal way. Just think about the times you’ve been indoctrinated to believe that you’re a Christian, a Muslim, or whatever. But deep down, some people know that they don’t belong in their pre-appointed religion, and presumably some psychopaths notice that they don’t belong among the normal folk. 

For years I have entertained the possibility of me being a psychopath. Why? Simply because I did some bad things, I have some thoughts in my mind that I’m certain others don’t have, and I’m a class A introvert. It’s not like I’m violent, I only have peculiar things running inside my head; I’ve fantasized the death of certain individuals, and some very brutal acts I would like to do to those I actively loathe. Yet I realized that these aren’t good indications of psychopathy. So I decided to take a test. 

The test was called the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale. It’s a self-taken exam  given by a website, that’s graded by a computer somewhere in the world. Not the most reputable diagnostic tool, I know, but it is the only one I had access to — before I took it, I researched it a bit and found that it’s not the most inaccurate test out there. Lo and behold, after around twenty minutes, I found that I’m about 60% psycho. 

I scored a 3.1 out of 5 for primary psychopathy. That means I lack empathy and tolerate antisocial behavior quite a lot. For secondary psychopathy, a measurement of the tendency to disobey rules and unwillingness to behave in a socially acceptable manner, I got a 3.5 out of 5. Judging by that, I’m halfway to becoming a fully-fledged psychopath. 

If the Levenson test is accurate, then I do have a portion of the disorder; not a lot, but possibly enough to categorize me as something other than normal. What does that mean, I wonder? Will I one day become a murderer, or some other equally demented agent of evil? Probably not. 

I mean, if 1 in 100 people are psychopaths, then they’re not really that dangerous are they? If all of them acted like Hannibal Lecter, then yeah, we’ve got some serious problem on our hands. But since most of them act like normal people, including myself, then there’s likely no issue with their existence. 

Psychopaths, myself included, are NOT a danger. We’re just odd, slightly messed-up individuals, just like Seven Psychopaths illustrated. We don’t care about the horrible things that happen around us as much as others do. And I’m pretty sure at least I don’t value human life as highly as society demands I should. Though in the end, it really doesn’t matter if our morals are slightly skewed. In actuality, very few of us actively seek out to hurt people. 

So to those who might have some messed-up thoughts in your heads, relax. Maybe you are a psycho, and maybe you’re not. Maybe you don’t give a crap if someone dies right in front of your face, or maybe you’ve actually hurt someone badly once. That’s perfectly fine; you’re just a psychopath. You’re one in a hundred in a population of seven billion people. You and I are a common abnormality.