Behind the sofa: the psychology of Doctor Who

As fans of Doctor Who await the continuation of the current series this weekend, Dr Sarita Robinson, Chartered Psychologist and member of the Society’s Division of Health Psychology, delves deeper into the mind of the enigmatic Doctor.

The Doctor is a complex and extremely determined character who carries the hefty responsibility of regularly saving planets from inter-galactic attacks. Interestingly, he rarely works alone and usually opts to save the world with the help of a human companion.

Dr Robinson from the University of Central Lancashire explains: “When we face difficult situations, such as having to save entire civilisations from an alien invasion, having a strong social support network around us can reduce the strain which we feel.”

Despite having saved the world multiple times, even the Doctor needs a little help, Dr Robinson notes: “The Doctor benefits greatly from the presence of a companion in the TARDIS. Amy and Rory both help with decision-making and offer the Doctor emotional support.

"Psychologists know that when we face a threat it is better to face it with another person than alone. So even in Doctor Who’s universe two heads can be better than one.”

For many of us the thought of travelling through space and time sounds like a dream come true, but perhaps the thought of living in a confined and isolated space like the TARDIS is not so appealing.

Dr Robinson says: “Luckily for the Doctor and his companions, the problems faced by today’s space explorers are not a difficulty in the TARDIS. As well as benefiting from artificial gravity, the TARDIS is not really a confined space. The TARDIS has many home comforts not available to our astronauts including a swimming pool, multiple bedrooms and plenty of corridors to run down.”

Dr Robinson, who recently contributed to the forthcoming BBC Day of the Daleks DVD, suggests that psychologically time travel would be great for humans: “We would never have to feel the guilt of doing something wrong because we could go back in time and fix it. We would also never have to worry about what happens in the future because we could go forward in time and check that things all work out OK. We can even avoid the pain of bereavement by visiting lost relatives in the past.”

However, Dr Robinson notes that problems could occur should time travellers start to change the timelines: “If we alter the past we may not be able to remember what has happened, what is happening or what is going to happen in each of the different timelines we create. It’s hard enough to remember what has happened in the past without it changing on a daily basis.”

Fans can hear more from Sarita Robinson on the extras for the BBC Day of the Daleks DVD due for release on Monday 12 September 2011.

The new series of Doctor Who continues on BBC One on Saturday 27 August 2011 at 7.10pm.

Picture courtesy of the BBC.

I like this article.

Dr Robinson raises some good points on the psychological problems of space travel not being a problem for the Tardis crew. I did a lit review on Space Psychology as part of my Masters and found, through my research, that astronauts and cosmonauts face a great deal of psychological stressors on long duration missions. The most surprising thing for me which I found was how they take this stress out on the flight control crew back on earth rather than on each other as you may expect. Perhaps this will change when humans go deeper into space and the time delay caused will make direct communication with earth impossible. I know the Mars 500 project is currently looking at this but Earth analogue studies tend to produce different result to those done during actual space missions.
Perhaps The Doctor suffers a similar issue. Being the last Time Lord left in the universe he has no other Time Lords to "check in with" or report back home to. He has no one he can take his stress out onto so to some extent his companions fill this role (and that is why he chooses to travel with them), He can vent to them but equally hey can keep him in check and make sure he is seeing things in the right light. You only need to look at how David Tennant’s Doctor started to show visible sign s of stress when he chose to travel alone during the 2010 specials (Waters of Mars is a good example of this)

I think it's great how Sci-Fi shows can be used to represent current psychological issues in an engaging way.