So the second series of the new BBC Doctor Who is over. And tomorrow I get to see the new Superman movie. I confess: these are two of my favourite heroes!
I love both. One is enigmatic, a loner, filled with a sense of right and justice, prepared to put himself in harm's way to protect those he loves, always in the right place at the right time, both magical and mystical, bringing hope into the lives of those he touches. And the other is... pretty much the same with a cape. Of course in the 70s, both had capes, though Jon Pertwee's Doctor's cape was a rather small natty retro-Edwardian thing. And Superman never had a Tardis. Though of course the popular picture does involve him using a phone box to change in.
Well there's a question: is the Doctor really Superman?
And I'm not going to answer it. Well, not really. Well, a bit. Well, OK if you insist...
Both are pictures of a need in humanity met by an outsider. Story after story presents ordinary people in great peril (though occasionally the danger is limited - think of Superman rescuing a little girl's ice cream from hitting the floor - or the Master taking over Perivale) not knowing how to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. So along comes a hero to help.
I rather like that the hero in the current Doctor Who series is a tainted hero - he may heal, but he may also hurt. The Doctor is a force that is beyond human niceties, and those who get too close find themselves likely burned by the experience. This is Saturday evening hero-dom way beyond the simple charm of Lois and Clark. Yet still he comes out of the ether and saves the day. It is a myth as old as history: because it is a need as old as humanity. Clothing it in a blue box or blue lycra makes it fresh and new, but actually a huge part of its power is its comfort which in turn is its familiarity. We don't need these heroes re-invented for today - just spruced up a bit and told well again. We need heroes because we need hope, and part of that hope is surely that part of us might inhabit that cape or that police box.
Ask yourself when you watch these shows: who are you relating to? When you watch, is it the family in the car about to be hit by a meteorite? ("Oh that could have been us!") Or the mechanic on the space station who is about to be possessed by the evil aliens? ("That's just like when I was at work last week!") No! It's not even very often Lois or Rose/Sara Jane/Leela/Romana/Jo/Susan etc etc. It's the Clark who is ordinary but special, the Doctor who is vulnerable yet triumphant. These aren't Messiah shows with ersatz Jesuses working modern day miracles to feed the TV masses; these are escapist wonders which raise the hearts of the humdrum to a glimpse of being something greater. And I love them for it.
I don't need another Saviour - I have one. And I don't dream of being him. (Surely even in the extreme worlds of geekish fandom surely no-one worships Colin Baker or Tom Welling?)
But what I do need, what we all need, what we desire and enjoy and revel in is the pleasure of the fantasy that if we were the hero in the story we would be that good too. "That could be me." Of course it couldn't. I can't fly/travel in time/deflect bullets/regenerate. But that's not the point - it's escapist! It's fantasy!
If I can't have big dreams how small a life would I be left with?
We are right to want life to be better. We are right to want the monsters defeated. We are right to dream! This is what it means to be human. Thank God for the people who tell us these stories and remind our imaginations of these great truths.