Over the years many people including first Doctor actor William Hartnell, acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (see above) and current show runner Steven Moffat have referred to Doctor Who as a fairy tale.
Hartnell said that he saw the character of the Doctor as a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas and also compared the TARDIS to a magic carpet whilst Steven Moffat has called the show “a dark fairy tale”.
“For me Doctor Who is literally a fairy tale. Its not really science fiction. It’s not set in space, it’s set under your bed.”
-Steven Moffat on Doctor Who’s fairy tale nature.
Its not hard to see why people would hold this opinion as not only does the somewhat surrealist yet kid friendly Doctor Who have many of the tropes associated with fairy tales anyway. The weird and wonderful almost magical, tirckster hero who swoops in and saves the day, kills the bad monster and then flies away again, but the show also has actually drawn direct inspiration from many famous fairy tales at the same time throughout its entire run, and in this article we will be exploring what it is the time lords adventures owe to many of our favourite fairy tales.
Doctor Who and Peter Pan
The boy who never grew up and the man who makes people better have a lot more in common than you would think.
In many ways the Doctor can actually be seen as simply an alien Peter Pan.
Like Peter Pan the Doctor is essentially an immortal character. He doesn’t age, he just renews himself. Also like Peter Pan the Doctor is a fool hardy adventurer who loves just having fun. That’s all there really is to those characters. They are not like say Batman a tortured hero who is on a mission to rid the world of injustice nor are they like say Buffy the Vampire Slayer the chosen one, destined to do great things.
Both just like having a good time and hate responsibility. In many ways the Doctor is just a child at heart like Pan who wants his own way all the time and who moans about having to do things he doesn’t want to for the time lords or the Brigadier. “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes” Both characters are also somewhat selfish too and extremely arrogant and condescending to those around them.
Peter Pan and the Doctor are also both somewhat mysterious characters as well. When you first meet them you are taken a back by how strange they both are, drawn in by how charismatic they both are and also at the same time a little frightened by how powerful they are too.
Yet despite all of this both The Doctor and Pan nevertheless still have a very strong moral code and extreme loyalty to their friends and thus they will never back down from a fight, never give up and will always help those in need.
However its really through the Doctors relationships with his companions that I feel you can see the Peter Pan influence most.
The Doctors companions basically occupy the Wendy role. They are the ordinary person like Wendy that this foolhardy, immortal hero whisks away for dangerous yet wonderful adventures in far away lands.
However just as Wendy ultimately wants to return home and grows up, and later has a family and a normal life and thus outgrows Pan, then so do the Doctors companions.
Ian and Barbara enjoy the Doctors carefree life having adventures and just doing what they want for a while but ultimately they want to go home. Just as Wendy outgrows Peter, then Ian and Barbara outgrow the Doctor, they do want to belong somewhere and have a normal life.
The Doctors reaction to losing Ian and Barbara is similar to Pan’s reaction to losing Wendy. In both cases we have the immortal hero react like a petulant child stamping his foot and feeling betrayed that their friends want to go home. Both also at the same time can’t understand why their friends don’t want to keep just having fun, why they want to have responsibilities and settle down somewhere. Ultimately however they both respect their decisions to move on in the end and allow them to return home whilst they journey on for more adventures.
We see a similar Peter and Wendy moment between the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. Once again we have the human character ultimately outgrow their immortal friend. Jo now just like Ian and Barbara and Wendy wants to finally grow up and belong somewhere and the Doctor once again is obviously upset, but ultimately respects her wishes as he ventures off on his own once again. To me Jon Pertwee driving off on his own in Bessie is like Peter flying back to Neverland after leaving Wendy.
The Peter and Wendy parallels can be found once again in the Tenth Doctor and Rose’s farewell. Though Rose is ripped from the Doctor rather than leaves of her own accord once again we see how the human goes on to have a normal life with a family whilst the immortal hero has to go on alone. The fact that there is now a romantic relationship between the Doctor and his companion only helps the Peter and Wendy parallels to seem stronger as like Peter and Wendy we have two characters, The Doctor and Rose who are very much in love, but who can never be together because the Doctor much like Peter can never have that type of life.
Finally the most obvious Peter and Wendy parallel between the Doctor and his companion can be found in the relationship between 11 and Amy Pond.
Here the Doctor actually arrives outside her house when she is child exactly like Peter and Wendy. Furthermore this particular version of the Doctor has a very youthful appearance and child like demeanour too. The 11th Doctor much like Peter Pan also hates mortality as River herself frequently remarks upon “He doesn’t like endings”.
Finally Amy’s decision to leave the Doctor can once again be seen as a metaphor for the character growing up just like Wendy leaving Peter as Amy in her final appearance is forced to actually choose between Rory her husband and the Doctor her friend and though she loves them both, ultimately its Rory who despite being trapped in the past offers her a normal life more than the Doctor ever could. Thus once again we have the human friend leave the immortal hero to go off and have a normal life and get married and grow old and die. Amy and Wendy grow up whilst the Doctor and Pan don’t.
In this respect the Doctor and Peter Pan can be seen as very tragic characters for much the same reasons.
They are incapable of growing up and thus they have to not only see everyone they have ever cared about grow old and ultimately die, but worse grow out of the need for them.
Wendy, Ian, Barbara, Jo, Martha, Amy and Rory all have full lives back home, lives that they want to return to, people who care about them, they move on and they have families. They simply can’t keep living the Doctor or Peter’s life after a certain point.
Thus every relationship The Doctor and Peter have with someone they know is destined to end this way where not only will they outlive their friend, but they will know that there will reach a point where their friend doesn’t need them any more.
In this respect I think that the Doctor and Peter Pan are quite good characters for teaching young children to accept their own mortality. They show us how its important to move forward in life, accept change and accept the responsibilities of life as we get older as both the characters of the Doctor and Peter Pan despite the fantastic nature of their adventures are ultimately quite lonely, sad characters who can never enjoy a normal life like the rest of us.
This is highlighted many times in the 10th Doctors era such as in Doomsday when 10 remarks that Rose’s life is the one type of adventure that he can never have or in The Family of Blood when Joan remarks that the life John Smith the Doctors human counterpart could have had with her is one that the time lord for all his adventures could never experience.
Doctor Who and Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia have had quite a big influence on Doctor Who over the years. The TARDIS itself draws inspiration from the cupboard to Narnia. Both are ordinary everyday objects that are actually quite small, yet house something much bigger on the inside, something completely fantastical, something that takes you to a whole other world.
In An Adventure in Space and Time Verity Lambert even describes Doctor Who to William Hartnell as “CS Lewis meets HG Wells” .
Not surprisingly more Narnia references crept their way into Doctor Who during the Moffat era. In the very first episode of the Matt Smith era The Eleventh Hour we see the villainous Prisoner Zero enter our reality through a time field or crack.
The time crack is much like the TARDIS comparable to the wardrobe to Narnia. Its an ordinary every day thing that houses something vast a whole other world.
The 2011 Christmas special drew from the most famous book in the Narnia chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Even its name is a reference to the story The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Sadly however this episode is frankly a rather dull episode overall, with even Steven Moffat himself citing as one his least favourite episodes that he wrote.
Finally the character of Missy in some ways I feel could be seen as being comparable to the White Witch from the Narnia chronicles.
I think that we will see these similarities more in her appearance in season 9. Season 9’s first two parter is called The Magician’s Apprentice which could be a reference to The Magicians Nephew the first story chronologically in the Narnia chronicles. Of course I could be wrong here, but I wonder if the trailer of Missy eating the apple is a reference to the famous scene from The Magicians Nephew of the White Witch eating the apple that grants her her powers of immortality.
We will just have to wait and see if this story is inspired by The Magicians Nephew.
Other Fairy Tale Allusions, Characters and Themes in Doctor Who
- The 1960’s story The Mind Robber features many characters from fairy tales and mythology who are brought to life via the Master brain such as Medusa, Minotaur, Rapunzel and Gulliver.
- The words Bad Wolf appear frequently throughout the first series of the revival, with Bad Wolf later being revealed to be a message that Rose sends to herself throughout time to help her defeat the Daleks. Russell T Davies admitted that he threw the name Bad Wolf in there as he felt it had a good fairy tale theme to it.
- Missy’s costume and overall look is very obviously inspired by Mary Poppins.
- Robin Hood appeared in the season 8 story “Robots of Sherwood” alongside the Sheriff of Nottingham. The author of this story Mark Gatiss drew parallels between the characters of the Doctor and Robin Hood within the story by pointing out how they are both outlaws with the Doctor having stolen a TARDIS and gone on the run from his people. Both the Doctor and Robin Hood in some ways can be seen as anti establishment characters too, often thought not always defying authority wherever they go.