The Regeneration Game

Change is strange. Instinctively we don’t like it and psychologically we resist it. However, changes occur for all of us all the time. Throughout our lives, we’re constantly needing to adapt in order to survive. We frequently find ourselves needing to accept – and sometimes even instigate – change. Whether you’re starting or ending a relationship, moving house, beginning a new job, or have just heard the announcement that the new Doctor Who is going to be a woman (more on this later), change – be it good or bad – can be extremely unsettling.

I’m intrigued by our human response to change.

As humans, we see the world through our own personal filters. So I guess it’s inevitable that what we see and experience form our understanding of how the world works. We begin to make sense of the world through our patterns and routines – and as creatures of habit, we fall into these patterns and routines very easily. When something happens in our personal world which is inconsistent with the way we have come to understand how the world should be, we come face to face with change. Change challenges us. It may challenge what we know, what we think, what we feel, what we do… And the earlier something becomes fixed in our personal world, the harder it is to change.

Change is hard for us to accept for two reasons:

  1. It requires us to give up something old and known
  2. It requires us to embrace something new and unknown

Old and known

On an unconscious level, if we do something a particular way for some time, we start to believe it must be a good way of doing things. And surely the longer we’ve been doing it that way, the better it is, right? There are some cases where this is true, however, longevity doesn’t always equal goodness. For example, for years now, I’ve had some very self-destructive habits (mainly controlling food) and negative thought processes. These habits need to change. However controlling food came to be a reliable coping mechanism for me when life got out of control. Therefore changing this habit is very hard and scary.

New and unknown

Change requires us to embrace the unknown. But the unknown is full of uncertainty and therefore full of all sorts of potential threats. Our survival instincts kick in – we are programmed to keep ourselves safe, not threatened. In my personal world controlling my food seemed to be a good thing because it gave me a strange sense of security in an uncontrollable world. Anyone wanting to take my eating disorder away from me made me feel extremely threatened. Of course, breaking this habit is a change which needs to happen to keep myself alive and thriving. But it’s hard to embrace and rationalise this change when you’re trapped in a cycle of anxious anticipation and fearful apprehension. It’s no wonder we like to avoid change!

Sometimes change happens to us. Sometimes we make change happen. Sometimes we are the ones changing ourselves.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami

I feel like I’m going through a transition period at the moment. There are some unseen shifts and changes going on within myself. I sense my storm is ending and I believe I’m changing (hopefully for the better – but I’ll let others be the judge of that!). But regardless of what storms we go through, we all change throughout our lives. And there’s no better metaphor for this than regeneration in Doctor Who.

“We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” The Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who (like life itself) relies on change; regeneration and renewal are key themes which have run throughout the series since it began 54 years ago. The character of the Doctor has the ability to regenerate in to a renewed body. Every incarnation of the Doctor looks different and has different quirks and charms and it’s these changes which keep the show reinvigorated. Without change, Doctor Who probably wouldn’t be the global success it is today – a perfect demonstration of the fact that change should be embraced and not resisted…

… Which brings me to the recent announcement that Jodie Whittaker has been cast as the first female Doctor. This is undeniably a huge and potentially very exciting change for the show, but it has genuinely upset a lot of fans. Seeing as Doctor Who is my livelihood, I want to say a few words on the subject.

Earlier I explained that what we experience in our personal world forms our understanding of the way the world works. And when something external challenges (or even contradicts) that understanding, we get freaked out by the prospect of a change. In the world of Doctor Who, a male Doctor is all we’ve ever known and for some long-term fans, the fact that the Doctor is male is solidly fixed in their understanding of the way the Doctor Who universe works. Changing this is unsettling. Some fans feel threatened by the idea of a female Doctor not because they hate women, but because they love Doctor Who. At the moment, a female Doctor is unknown and is therefore a risk. In their mind, it might not work and the show might flop – and at the end of the day, Doctor Who fans want their show to be a success.

Personally, I don’t think it’s wrong for the Doctor to change gender. The way I see it, through my personal filter, the Doctor is an alien and Doctor Who is a science-fiction show so anything is possible. The character of the Doctor has become synonymous with a man because a man has always been cast in the role. Whatever different forms the Doctor may come in, though, it is what the Doctor stands for which is ultimately at the heart of Doctor Who (this is why I love the show). And the Doctor is always full of kindness and compassion. The Doctor is always steadfast in the promise of never being cruel or cowardly, never giving up and never giving in.

Whether we like it or not, life is a regeneration game. Let’s embrace the changes. Let’s embrace our changes. And through all the anxiety and uncertainty which change brings, let’s decide, like the Doctor, to never give up trying new things and never give in to the fear of the unknown.

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