Thursday, July 13, 2006

Heroes and Dreams

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.


Ricky Carvel said...

Hey Marcus, how was the film? I'm pretty much bursting with expectation about it as this is the film I've been waiting for since 1983 (I liked Superman III, hey I was 12 at the time... Superman IV is best forgotten and let's not mention Supergirl here...).

OK so it was nice when George Lucas tried to make three more Star Wars films, and Batman Begins was a fantastic film that almost erased the memory of Batman & Robin, but the thought of Bryan Singer (already responsible for one of the best 3 superhero movies) doing Superman (my all-time favourite fictional character) fills me with huge expectations.

But your tone in this post seems to be dismissive of Smallville. I quite like it (even though I, like you, am about double the average target audience age). Can hardly wait to discover how they resolve that last season cliffhanger...

I guess I'll have to content myself with the movie in the meantime (probably on Tuesday or Wednesday).

And as for Doctor Who, the second series started really well and ended really well, but had a lot of dross in the middle. Season 1 was better on the whole, although I do prefer David Tennant's Doctor to Chris Eccleston's one. And the new companion (see this week's Radio Times and several internet sites) looks promising.

Not so convinced about the Torshwood spinoff, but we'll see...

Marcus G said...

The movie didn't quite do it for me I'm afraid. Visually stunning, superb set pieces, amazing flying - BUT Clark was the Christopher Reeve clutz rather than the Dean Cain nerd and the Tom Welling country boy. No angst, just a bit of super-stalking - and anyway Lois Lane was truly terrible. All wimpy and peevish. No feistyness - which Terri Hatcher and whatshername in Smallville do to perfection.
So a bit of a disappointment.
And I know what you mean about season 2 Doctor Who - but "Girl in the Fireplace" has to be one of the best ever Doctor Who episodes. Absolutely perfect!

Ricky Carvel said...

Girl in the fireplacce was fab, but as with most of the new version was far too short. In the old days they'd have padded that out to 5 or 6 episodes and it would have been great. Although the FX would have been bad. School reunion was great too.

I must admit, my largest worry in approaching the new Superman movie is Lois. She doesn't seem right in the trailers, and going by your opinion she just isn't the real Lois. Shame. I was hoping for someone more in the style of Teri Hatcher... sigh.

Ricky Carvel said...


Superman Returns isn't as bad as you had prepared me for. In fact, I quite liked it. See my thoughts on it here.


Marcus G said...

Ricky - as ever I enjoyed your blog comments. But please see my new entry "Story and Meta-Story"for a fuller reply!