Call the Doctor

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It was probably only a matter of time (pun intended) before at least one of the kids discovered the world of Doctor Who. It was a slow build for us; some of the other kids in the fifth-grade class H and E part-time in had started watching, some picking up in the David Tennant seasons, others climbing into the newer Matt Smith episodes. I myself hadn’t watched any iteration of Doctor Who since Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, and I decided to give it a try with them. By turns witty, poignant, touching and exciting, Doctor Who is everything I remember it being, with all the benefits of 21st-century CGI added into the mix.

The more we watched, though, the more I found E (in particular) identifying closely with the Doctor. That was probably inevitable; he’s quite obviously some flavor of gifted, or perhaps all Gallifreyans are as bright as he, or perhaps he simply benefits from the compended wisdom of close to a thousand years’ existence. Regardless, E instantly fell in love with him. (It’s a little disconcerting when your nine-year-old daughter describes anyone as ‘hot,’ but I suppose I’ll take a Matt Smith/Doctor crush over Bieber Fever.) Still, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about the Doctor’s character that E was finding so appealing and comforting, until we sat down as a family and watched “Vincent and the Doctor.” Then it hit me: where else is she going to find a truly asynchronous protagonist in pop culture?

The Doctor lives in a Gordian knot of asynchrony during the Matt Smith seasons; his wife, the engaging River Song, is actually living her life backwards from the Doctor’s perspective, so each time they meet she knows more about him and he knows less about her. The Doctor himself is killed at the beginning of season six, only to arrive on the scene moments later, a full two hundred years younger, having had the good sense to work out a means by which his companions can investigate his own death once it’s occurred, with a younger version of himself along for assistance. (And let’s not even get started with the paradox of the sonic screwdriver and the Pandorica.) It’s all delightfully madcap, and through it all, the Doctor maintains a gallantry and cool charm that E has found truly enthralling. It’s OK, in the Doctor Who universe – cool, even – to be asynchronous.

I’m glad that voice exists for her. Asynchrony is, from my perspective, the most difficult thing about being a gifted child.  Nine-year-old E – “9E,” for the sake of brevity – comes and goes. Most of the time, she’s solidly ‘teen E,’ more content circumnavigating a playground’s outside path than playing within it. But while she often rolls her eyes at the activities of typical ‘nines,’ she’s usually good for a Saturday morning bowl of Cocoa Puffs and some Phineas & Ferb. We’ve seen a lot more of 12E lately; she’s a little authoritarian with her siblings sometimes, and more prone to exploring some of the more – ahem – mature content residing in our Kindle Cloud account. 14E is handling Algebra I quite nicely, but this new, mathematically-patient E is a very recent iteration, and it’s taken her most of the fall to round into form. We aren’t quite sure what age E is writing at; based on her ACT and EXPLORE scores, that iteration is somewhere between 16E and 19E, and I daresay even 20E has shown up in our critical reading sessions from time to time.

All of these entities have to coexist within 9E’s physical form. I don’t envy her. As a 43-year old guy, I’ve finally reached the age when I’m not seeking to be accepted by anyone for being any age older than my own. (Although many mornings, I’d prefer to be twenty years younger, especially after horsing around with the kids all day.) But E’s just starting down that road, her mind variously projecting iterations of herself five and even ten years older than her biological age, with those iterations often coming and going within the space of an hour. It’s as alienating for her as I remember it being; chronological peers aren’t always where you are intellectually, while your intellectual peers are uncomfortable with you socially. Expectation-setting is a catch-22 for all of us. Do I assume she’ll default to her most mature and intellectually-proficient iteration, and her ‘true age’ moments are aberrations? Do I assume she’s 9E with occasional visitations from the Ghosts of Future E? Do I mentally average all of these iterations and assume she’s 14 years, seven months, or some other such amalgam? In truth, I can’t do any of these things. It’s left to us to merely accept her in whatever iteration the moment and the subject find her, and address her in a manner appropriate to that age. She’s unstuck in time, a gifted Billy Pilgrim, and chasing her across these various iterations during the course of a given day makes me wish for a sonic screwdriver of my own. (Or just a screwdriver.)

I suppose I’m not surprised, then, to find her glued to the wildly asynchronous Doctor’s adventures, hand drifting unconsciously to the popcorn bowl as Matt Smith visits Renaissance Italy and a deep-drilling mining operation in the future and sad Vincent van Gogh himself, his work unappreciated in his time until he’s shown a glimpse of his fame in our own present. Companions come and go in the Doctor’s world, and perhaps that’s by design; asynchrony, whether you’re in a TARDIS or a suburban frame house, is a lonely path. No two humans are alike, but it’s rare that two asynchronous, PG kids can operate in the same relative time long enough to even build a stable friendship. In many ways, I think E wishes it could be as simple as the Doctor’s life is, with the rubber monster of the week or the metallic cybernetic menace of the moment dispatched with thoughtful elegance in every hour’s episode. Perhaps it would be easier for her. But until age gifts her unity, as it has for me, I wish her the very best of every age she’s in.

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