The Monsters and the Doctor: Reframing That Which Scares Us

One of my favorite marks of the Doctor’s character is the way they respond to meeting all manner of monsters.  When I first began watching Doctor Who this was one of the earliest signs of how different a hero they were than I was used to.  Time and again – no matter how scary or threatening or unapproachable whatever the Doctor finds in the universe may appear – their first reaction is never one of fear or judgment.  They certainly never attack.  Rather, they marvel at its beauty.  They are overcome with joy and excitement at seeing something they’ve never seen before.  And, if what they encounter appears frightened or injured, they are moved by compassion and offer help.  In all this they are a beautifully important model for us, too.  As Steven Moffatt, the Doctor Who showrunner for Series 5-10, rightly observed, “There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”[1]

Given how much I enjoy this, I’ve often googled things like “every creature the Doctor calls beautiful” or “every monster the Doctor’s been in awe of” but I’ve never found the list I’m looking for.  So I decided to write it myself!  While this love, compassion, and curiosity-driven response is true of every regeneration of the Doctor, I’ve chosen the Tenth Doctor as the focus for this piece because David Tennant’s beaming smile comes immediately to mind whenever I think of this character trait! 

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey meet Reinette for the first time. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“The Girl in the Fireplace” (S2E4) has always been one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes and it serves as a perfect frame for this piece.  The TARDIS takes the Tenth Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Mickey Smith to an abandoned space ship floating adrift in 5037.  Onboard they find different “windows” in the ship looking in on random moments – 1727, 1744, 1753, 1758, and 1764 – throughout the life of the Madame de Pompadour, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson (or Reinette), mistress of King Louis XV of France.  The Doctor first meets Reinette through her fireplace in her bedroom when she was only six-years-old and discovers a horrifying (yep, I’ll say it, these scare me more than the “Are you my mummy?” gas mask kiddos) clockwork droid hiding in her bedroom.  The Doctor learns the droids are stalking Reinette through her life, hoping to use her brain when she’s “complete” to run their damaged ship.

As the Doctor prepares for the final attack, Rose comes to Reinette when she is thirty-two to tell her the droids will be there to kill her in a few years’ time and assure her the Doctor will be there when she needs him.  Reinette tells Rose that has been the case her entire life.   

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Reinette, at thirty-two, talks with Rose. / Photo Credit BBC’s Doctor Who

Reinette – “It’s the way it’s always been, the monsters and the Doctor.  It seems you cannot have one without the other.”

Rose – [smiling] “Tell me about it. [pause] The thing is you weren’t supposed to have either.  Those creatures are messing with history.  None of this was ever supposed to happen to you.”

Reinette – “Supposed to happen?  What does that mean?  It happened, child, and I would not have it any other way.  One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.”[2]

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Rose talks with Reinette. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

I love this dialogue exchange.  It’s something I’ve drawn great strength from before (which I’ve written about here), appreciating the angels I have among my natural supports that make bearing the demonic in life possible and even worthwhile.  I’ve found beautiful moments of deep joy in hellacious experiences due to the angles I have beside me.  I also love this dialogue because it articulates something I’ve found to be true across the 528 episodes (and counting! only one series left for the Third Doctor then it’s on to the Fourth!) of Doctor Who I’ve seen. The monsters and the Doctor, it seems you cannot have one without the other.

To encounter the Doctor is to encounter the monstrous.  They will show you more wonders than you could ever imagine across time and space but, time and again, you will face the frightening and the horrific.  During their conversation, Rose asks Reinette, “You ok?”  Reinette replies, “No.  I am very afraid.  But you and I both know, don’t we Rose, the Doctor is worth the monsters.”[3]  I’ve found this to be true, too, in the 528 episodes (and counting!) of Doctor Who I’ve seen.  Knowing the Doctor is worth all the terror you may encounter because in journeying with the Doctor you don’t just see the wonders of creation alongside the monstrous.  Whether you travel with the Doctor for a time or know them for one life-changing day, you also see their character.  You see how they approach that which our habitual reactions would greet with fear.     

What our first glace would frame as frightening, overwhelming, and even dangerous, the Doctor’s eyes take in as beautiful and unique and they welcome it with curiosity and love.  So, with our frame set, let’s look at all the creatures and monsters the Tenth Doctor’s calls “beautiful” when he first sees them!

Onboard a Sycorax ship hovering above London the Doctor seems genuinely delighted when he realizes how the Sycorax have taken control of a third of the Earth’s population.

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Now that is a Time Lord excited about blood control. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“Lemme guess, it’s some sort of control matrix.  Hm?  Hold on, what’s feeding it?  Now what have we got here?  Blood? [tasting it] Yeah, definitely blood.  Human blood, A+, with just a dash of iron.  Hahhhhh.  But that means…blood control!  Blood control!  Ooooh, I haven’t seen blood control in years!”[4]

In New New York in the year 5,000,000,023 the Doctor encounters a horde or people infected with every disease in the galaxy.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

While the Lady Cassandra sneers, “That’s disgusting,” the Doctor tells them, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  He doesn’t recoil.  He doesn’t judge.  He doesn’t run.  Later, after she’s been inside one of their minds, Lady Cassandra realizes, “They are so alone.  They keep reaching out just to hold us.  All their lives and they’ve never been touched.”[5]

In Scotland in 1879, the Doctor and Rose encounter a werewolf-but-really-a-Haemovariform.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Doctor looks at it in awe and says, “Oh that’s beautiful.”  He stays to gaze at it until the creature finishes transforming, breaks free from its cage, and begins tossing things at him.[6]

When the Doctor encounters the aforementioned clockwork droids hunting Reinette he marvels at them.

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SO. CREEPY. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“Oh you are beautiful.  No really, you are!  You are gorgeous.  Look at that!  Space age clockwork, I love it!  I’ve got chills!  Listen, seriously, I mean this from the heart and, by the way count those, it would be a crime, it would be an act of vandalism to dissemble you.”  And when he realizes the droids literally cannibalized the crew to repair the ship, he understands, telling Rose and Mickey it was, “Just doing what it was programmed to, repairing the ship anyway it can with whatever it can find.  No one told it the crew wasn’t on the menu.”[7]

When the TARDIS lands on a distant Sanctuary Base orbiting a black hole, the Doctor and Rose find “Welcome to Hell” scrawled on the canteen wall before the Ood enter.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Doctor greets them warmly, “Oh!  Right.  Hello.  Sorry.  I was just saying, er, nice base.”[8]

Tracking a creature called a Hoix back in London in 2007, the Doctor treats it as one would a puppy.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“Here, boy.  Eat the food.  Come on, look at the lovely food.  Isn’t that nice?  Isn’t it?  Yes, it is.  That’s a boy.  Wouldn’t you like a porky-choppy then?”[9]

When he and Rose meet Victor, an Absorbaloff, in London, the Doctor’s first response is curiosity and conversation.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Doctor – “Interesting.  A sort Absorbatrix?  Absorbaclon?  Absorbaloff? 

Victor – “Absorbaloff, yes.”
Rose – “Is it me or is he a bit Slitheen?”
Doctor – “Not from Raxacoricofallapatorius, are you?”
Victor – “No, I’m not.  They’re swine.  I spit on them.  I was born on their twin planet.”
Doctor – “Really? What’s the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius?”
Victor – “Clom.”
Doctor – “Clom?”[10]

On the eve of the 2012 Olympic torch passing through London, the Doctor and Rose encounter a seemingly-possessed child named Chloe, responsible for dozens of missing children in the area.  The empathy and understanding the Doctor gives the Isolus controlling her is beautiful.

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The Doctor speaks with Chloe as her mother, Trish, and Rose look on. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Doctor – “I’m speaking to you, the entity that is using this human child.  I request parley in compliance with the Shadow Proclamation.”
Chloe – “I don’t care about shadows or parleys.”
Doctor – “So what do you care about?”
Chloe – “I want my friends.”
Doctor – “You’re lonely, I know.  Identify yourself.”
Chloe – “I am one of many.  I travel with my brothers and sisters.  We take an endless journey.  A thousand of your lifetimes.  But now I am alone.  I hate it.  It’s not fair, and I hate it.”
Doctor – “Name yourself!”
Chloe – “Isolus.”
Doctor – “You’re Isolus.  Of course.”
Chloe – [drawing as she speaks] “Our journey began in the Deep Realms when we were a family.”
Trish – “What’s that?”
Doctor – “The Isolus Mother, drifting in deep space.  See, she jettisons millions of fledgling spores.  Her children.  The Isolus are empathic beings of intense emotions, but when they’re cast off from their mother, their empathic link, their need for each other, is what sustains them.  They need to be together.  They cannot be alone.”

Chloe – “I want my family.  It’s not fair.”
Doctor – “I understand.  You want to make a family.  But you can’t stay in this child.  It’s wrong.  You can’t steal any more friends for yourself.”[11]

In 1930s New York, the Doctor encounters a humanoid pig creature along with Solomon, a man running one of the Hoovervilles in Central Park.  Upon seeing the creature, the Doctor isn’t taken aback  Instead, he offers help.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Doctor – “Oh, but what are you?”
Solomon – “Is that, er, some kind of carnival mask?”
Doctor – “No, it’s real. [to the pig man] I’m sorry.  Now listen to me.  I promise I can help.  Who did this to you?”[12]

Even when facing a new type of Dalek – a race of aliens literally bred to hate and destroy anything that isn’t like them – the Doctor offers compassion and empathy.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“Dalek Caan, your entire species has been wiped out.  And now the Cult of Skaro has been eradicated, leaving only you.  Right now you’re facing the only man in the universe who might show you some compassion.  Because I’ve just seen one genocide.  I won’t cause another.  Caan, let me help you.  What do you say?”[13]

When the TARDIS takes the Doctor and Martha Jones to a spaceship stranded very close to a star in the 42nd century, the Doctor ends up face to face with a crew member inexplicably murdering the others.  He isn’t scared or angry.  Rather he’s curious.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Knowing all isn’t as it seems he asks, “Come on.  Let’s see you.  I want to know what you really are.”[14]

Even creatures as unquestionably malevolent as the Weeping Angels can be fascinating.

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Ok so, I guess this one’s on me. This is what I get for just putting a picture of each creature in, right? But as we know, “That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel.” So as long as this picture is on your screen…don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast – faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And DON’T BLINK. / Photo (and survival advice) Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“Fascinating race, the Weeping Angels.  The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely.  No mess, no fuss, they just zap you into the past and let you live to death.  The rest of your life used up and blown away in the blink of an eye.  You die in the past, and in the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had.”[15]

When the Doctor and Donna Noble meet a fiery rock monster in Pompeii, the Doctor tries to communicate.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

He asks, “Talk to me.  That’s all I want.  Talk to me.  Just tell me who you are.  Don’t hurt these people.  Talk to me.  I’m the Doctor.  Just tell me who you are.”[16]

The Doctor and Donna find a Vespiform murderer at a party with Agatha Christie at Edison Manor in 1926.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The first time the Doctor sees it he exclaims, “Oh, but you are wonderful.”[17]

On the leisure planet Midnight, a planet with no atmosphere and sun rays so toxic they vaporize anyone on the surface in an instant, the Doctor’s train breaks down and a mysterious entity takes control of a passenger, Sky, and begins eerily mimicking the words of the other passengers.

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The Doctor tries to talk to the life form within Sky as the rest of the passengers look on. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Val – “Would it kill her outside?”
Dee Dee and Sky – “I don’t know.  But she’s got a body now.  It would certainly kill the physical form.”
The Doctor and Sky – “No one is killing anyone.”
The Hostess and Sky – “I wouldn’t risk the cabin door twice, but we’ve got that one.  All we need to do is grab hold of her and throw her out.”
The Doctor and Sky – “Now, listen, all of you.  For all we know that’s a brand new life form over there.  And if it’s come inside to discover us, than what’s it found?  This little bunch of humans.  What do you amount to?  Murder? Because this is where you decide.  You decide who you are.  Could you actually murder her?  Any of you?  Really?  Or are you better than that?”


Jethro and Sky – “The thing is though, Doctor, you’ve been loving this.”
The Doctor and Sky – “Oh, Jethro, not you.”
Jethro and Sky – “No, but ever since all the trouble started, you’ve been loving it.”
Hobbes and Sky – “It has to be said.  You do seem to have a certain glee.”
The Doctor and Sky – “All right, I’m interested.  Yes, I can’t help it.  Because whatever’s inside her, it’s brand new, and that’s fascinating.”[18]

On the once thriving planet of San Helios, the Doctor finds only a barren wasteland.  Every person, animal, planet, and structure has been ground to dust by a swarm of giant flying stingrays.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

After the Doctor prevents these creatures with the power to destroy worlds from following him back to Earth he tells U.N.I.T.’s Captain Erisa Magambo, “They’ll start again.  Generate a new doorway.  It’s not their fault, it’s their natural life cycle.  But I’ll see if I can nudge the wormholes on to uninhabited planets.”[19]

In 2059, on the first human colony on Mars, the Doctor and base commander Captain Adelaide Brook find two of her crew – Andy Stone and Tarak Ital –horrifyingly transformed.  The Doctor approaches them with kindness and an assurance of help.

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Andy Stone as the Doctor and Adelaide find him. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Doctor – “Andy, just leave him alone.”
Adelaide – “Step away from him.”
The Doctor – “I can help, I promise.  I can help.  Just leave that man alone.”
Adelaide – “I order you to stop.  Stop, or I’ll shoot.”
The Doctor – “Andy, I’m asking you to take your hand away from him and listen to me. [Andy releases Tarak.] There now, that’s better, hmm?  So, you must be Andy.  Hello.”[20]

Lastly, even after all the horrors the Master’s unleashed, the Doctor offers him love, compassion, and acceptance.

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The Master makes sure the Doctor can’t interfere with his plans. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

“You’re a genius.  You’re stone cold brilliant, you are.  I swear, you really are.  But you could be so much more.  You could be beautiful.  With a mind like that, we could travel the stars.  It would be my honor.  Because you don’t need to own the universe, just see it.  To have the privilege of seeing the whole of time and space.  That’s ownership enough.”[21]

While I imagine I’d soil myself, weep, and/or freeze in terror if I saw most of the above creatures in my day-to-day life, I have been able to greet with joy, acceptance, love, and curiosity something I once feared.  In those moments, I feel David Tennant’s beaming smile in my heart :).  That’s part of why I love the Doctor so much!  We can do what they do!  We don’t need radioactive spider bites, Psyche-Magnitron or gamma bomb explosions, Terrigenesis transformations, super soldier serum or infinity formula injections, cosmic rays bombardments, or mutant genes to be like the Doctor.  We just need to mindfully cultivate love, compassion, and curiosity within ourselves.

For me, when I see the Doctor offer love and curiosity toward such scary creatures, I think of my relationship with my anxiety.  I was formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (with depressive episodes from time to time) a few years ago but, now that I know I have one, spotting it when I look back through my life is like rewatching The Sixth Sense after I knew the twist ending.  It’s so easy to see once I know to look for it!  Unlike the Doctor, for a long time I saw my anxiety as something to conquer or control.  I saw no beauty there nor could I ever imagine greeting it with compassion or offering it help.  It felt like a monster in my mind and I wanted it gone.

My anxiety disorder overwhelmed me for the first time during my adult life in 2017.  As the second half of the school year unfolded, I was hit with a crushing depression I’d never felt before.  Always an extroverted and decisive person, I found myself paralyzed with indecision and faking my way through social situations.  I would cry for no reason, as an oppressive sadness held me in its grip, often bringing me to my knees in desperation.  Everything seemed overwhelming.  I felt hopeless, a feeling I’m not used to.  I’ve always worked hard to be an optimistic, positive person but that felt beyond me.  I had no idea what it was until Kalie (my partner at the time, who remains one of my best friends and a beautiful natural support even though we’ve broken up) pointed out it sounded like depression.  I was hesitant to use the term, knowing people suffer from it in very real ways their whole lives.  But Kalie taught me depression can exist on a scale and just because I hadn’t experienced it before didn’t mean I wasn’t experiencing it then.  She asked if I’d be open to seeing someone.  I had nothing against therapy…but I didn’t call anyone.  I didn’t even look for a therapist.  I figured I wasn’t that bad.  I could sort this on my own.

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Yep, I was fine. Totally fine. It was allllllllll fine, thanks for asking. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

After several months, it disappeared as unexpectedly as it came.  Nothing more than luck lifted it but I always lived with the fear it would return.  Early in 2019 I could feel the monster lurking in the corners of my mind again – caged but awakened.  In March it was loosed.  When it raged I was wrapped in crushing sadness, anxiety, indecision, and every single task before me felt overwhelmingly impossible.  I was incapable of willing myself to do what I used to do with ease.  I couldn’t make my brain work.  I felt trapped in my body with an unfamiliar mind.  I was stripped of so many of the facets of my personality I’d always taken for granted and I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other.  Everything was hard.  Everything felt impossible.  I didn’t recognize the person in my head and I had to go through my day pretending to be who I normally am.

I felt so much sadness and desperation.  My brain – which struggled to make the most basic decisions at the time – didn’t know what to do when plans changed in even a minor way.  A cloud of indecision, anxiety, and deep sadness would descend and consume my mind for much of the day.  I was good at hiding how anxious I was in social situations but on the rare occasion someone would notice and ask if I was feeling sick, I’d lie because I didn’t know how to share the truth.  Then I’d try to come up with another lie to leave as soon as possible, crying all the way to the safe isolation of my home.  Being around people in any way was too much.  Unlike the Doctor, I certainly couldn’t find any sense of calm, clarity, compassion, or connectedness in regard to what was happening in my mind.  Instead I was frustrated, exhausted, and sad.  I was frightened, too.  How can I teach, how can I live, if I can’t interact with people?  I was a teacher who was scared of talking to others. 

It wasn’t all darkness.  There was hope to be found in my natural supports and the strategies I implemented trying to figure out how to manage what was going on inside me.  But, without taking Kalie’s advice and finding a therapist, it was only ever a stalling technique.  I was trying to manage symptoms as opposed to beginning a journey of real healing.  I can’t articulate why I didn’t call a therapist to setup an appointment.  I just kept thinking, “Well let me take care of [insert task] first and then I’ll call.”  When all those feelings I didn’t know how to handle began to rage and roil, I did my best to hold them inside.  I was scared to share them with anyone.  Maybe, in part, I was scared owning them openly would mean I had to go to therapy.

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Again, totally fine. There was no reason to talk to anyone about anything. Why would I? I was so fine. I was all the fine you can be. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

One day Lauren (another beautiful natural support and one of my closest friends) sent me a text asking how my day was going.  Unconsciously crying for help, I shared so much in my reply.  Lauren called me after work and we talked for a long time.  As I explained everything I was struggling with, everything I felt weighing on me, everything I had to do, and all the people connected in that web of responsibilities, she told me, “It’s not worth your mental health.  Nothing’s more important than that.  If you’re not healthy, not safe, you can’t do anything for anyone.”  She encouraged me not to keep this bottled up.  Lauren promised to check in as often as she could but she told me I needed to share this with others, as she couldn’t be with me every moment.  She suggested I begin where it was safest, with the people I loved, saw daily, and trusted the most – I could tell Kalie and Mom as well as Ashley and Theresa (two more beautiful natural supports among my closest friends).  Then I’d have people who knew I was struggling in my home and work life.

I was so lost but I trusted Lauren so that night I told Kalie and the following day I told Ashley, Theresa, and Mom.  As she was two years before, Kalie was so helpful and supportive.  She gently explained being overwhelmed by challenges you used to find enjoyable could be another symptom of depression.  Once more she encouraged me to find a therapist to talk to, echoing Lauren’s advice from earlier that day.  This time I knew I needed to find someone to talk to…but I waited.  I kept telling myself, “Let me put out the major fires first.  Let me get through a day without crying, then I can devote time to finding a therapist.”  It was sixteen days later when I finally ended up on Psychology Today perusing licensed councilors in my area.  The only reason I did was Lauren and Kalie kept asking if I had…and I ran out of excuses not to.

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Turns out confiding in my loving natural supports did make everything a bit easier. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

I found Katherine, my therapist, on Psychology Today and our first session would be a watershed moment in my life.  With her help, I’d learn I have an anxiety disorder.  I’d learn how chronically neglecting my self-care led my anxiety to rage and cause the struggles I’d been facing.  I began to learn so much about myself, something which continues in our work to this day.  But that first session?  I left feeling security, optimism, and hope for the first time in a long time.  I’d missed those feelings!  I felt like I finally had a real chance at understanding and managing whatever was inside me instead of living my life at its mercy, waiting for it to crush me or magically disappear.  Believing I could get back to who I was before and that I could learn to play a role in that was a beautiful gift.  It wasn’t easy to admit I needed help nor to make that call, but calling Katherine proved to be one of the most important things I’ve ever done.

As I filled out the paperwork before our first session I had to list my goals for therapy.  My response was honest…but not very Doctor-like.  The Doctor sees even someone who’s done as much evil as the Master as “beautiful,” and a “stone cold brilliant…genius” but again and again and again in my journals I’d refer to (what I’d come to know as) my anxiety disorder as “a monster.”  It was always “caged” or “loosed” and when I filled out that form I said my goal was to figure out why this comes and goes and especially to learn strategies to control it or counter it.  I saw it as an adversary – something that was hindering my life, something I needed to defeat to get my life back to how it was before.  My journal entry of my first session with Katherine rings with hope and optimism.  In one line I wrote, “It’s just…it’s all so good.  I feel like I have a fighting chance!  I feel like I’m in the game again, like I can control/counter/cage this thing with her help [….] I feel like I finally have a real chance at beating/managing this thing as opposed to living my life at its mercy, waiting for it to crush me or magically disappear.”

Reading those entries now I feel so much joy for myself at that point, finding hope and the promise of liberation again after a long and trying dark night of the soul.  But I also feel sad for my beautiful anxiety.  Looking at my language – “monster,” “fighting chance,” “control/counter/cage this thing,” “beating,” “living my life at its mercy,” “crush me” – I’m writing about an enemy.  I’m not writing about a piece of myself.  Although, with Katherine’s help, I’ve learned that’s exactly what my anxiety is.  It’s not a Dalek or a Cyberman.  It’s not something to be conquered, controlled, or caged.  It’s something to be loved and listened to – a constant companion, if you will ;D.

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Allllllllllllllllll the Doctor’s companions, Part I

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Allllllllllllllllll the Doctor’s companions (save Dan Lewis :/ ), Part II / Photo Credit – @Z_P_Moo on the ol’ Twitter

One of the very first things Katherine taught me was, “Try not to judge yourself.  Instead, focus on being gentle with yourself.  Remind yourself that anything you are thinking and feeling is perfectly ok.  Observing ourselves without judgment can be extremely therapeutic.  The goal of this is to continue increasing your self-awareness.”  From the very beginning (though I didn’t realize it at the time) I was shifting how I related to my anxiety.  Be gentle.  Don’t judge.  Whatever is moving in my heart and head is perfectly ok.  Now, after three years in therapy, I’ve learned to love my anxiety.  I’ve come to see it as my spider-sense (yes, I know I’m mixing Spider-Man and Doctor Who but it’s just for a second).  It warns me when “danger” is around, spotting things I need to be mindful of or watch out for or attend to.  The more I ignore it, the louder it buzzes – just like Spidey.  But when I pay attention it calms.  In learning to listen and talk to my anxiety, it doesn’t rage the way it once did (as it feels seen and heard by me) and it is more willing to unblend (step back and not overwhelm my system) than it used to.  I’ve learned, “the harder we try to get rid of emotions and thoughts, the stronger they become.  This is because parts, like people, fight back against being shamed or exiled.”[22]  My anxiety isn’t something to shame or hide or fight.  My anxiety is a part of who I am.  It’s part of what makes me me and, like those infected people the Doctor met in New New York, it just wants to be held.  For that and for all it does, I can say I honestly and sincerely love it.  What I once saw as frightening, overwhelming, and even dangerous, I’ve come to recognize as beautiful and unique, and welcome it with curiosity and love.

This transformation – moving from fearing to managing to loving my anxiety with the sort of awe the Tenth Doctor gives a clockwork droid or the compassion he offers a pig man or the understanding he gives world-devouring stingrays or the curiosity a mysterious lifeform on the planet Midnight arouses in him – has much to do with IFS.  The Internal Family Systems model (or IFS) was developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the early 1980s and it “provided a systemic approach to working with what many psychologists have called subpersonalities or ego states.”[23]  Starting in the summer of 2020, Katherine began using IFS with me in our sessions and through it I’ve learned to see all my thoughts, feelings, emotions – literally everything within me, anxiety included – as different parts of myself.  I once saw my anxiety as a monster needing to be controlled and caged.  I feared and fought what could bring me to my knees leaving me frozen and crying.  It felt like it was stealing my life from me.  But now I understand it’s a part of me, as much as anything else, and no matter how scary my anxiety may seem I now know, “[P]arts can become quite extreme and do a lot of damage in a person’s life, but there aren’t any that are inherently bad.”[24]  

Doctor Parts 27

See?  How do you not love that smile?!  I’m happy to offer my anxiety chocolate like this, too…well, metaphorical chocolate in the form of my attention and love OR literal chocolate in the sense that I eat it for both of us. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

All the work I was doing to try and control or cage my anxiety was actually working against myself.  In his new book No Bad Parts Dr. Schwartz explains, “In our attempts to control what we consider to be disturbing thoughts and emotions, we just end up fighting, ignoring, disciplining, hiding, or feeling ashamed of those impulses that keep us from doing what we want with our lives.  And then we shame ourselves for not being able to control them.  In other words, we hate what gets in our way.”[25]   In so doing, we’re hating parts of ourselves!  Through IFS then I’ve been learning how to meet, recognize, listen to, and converse with those parts instead.  In so doing, I learn the jobs they do for my system, I learn what they hold, and the more I know about them the more I can love and appreciate them.  All of our parts have a place and purpose within us and they all want to be heard, valued, and appreciated.

The more I do this work the more my relationship with my anxiety changes, too.  Like the Doctor’s approach to all that’s “monstrous” across time and space, I no longer recoil/run from or judge my anxiety.  Rather I meet it with curiosity (asking what’s bothering it), compassion (asking how I can help), and meditation to turn inwards to converse with it (so it can answer those questions itself).  As I meditate, it tells me what’s bothering it, what it needs, and I ask it to trust me to care for it.  In a very Doctor-esque way I am able to tell my anxiety – Oh but you are wonderful.  You are beautiful.  You are gorgeous.  Now listen to me.  I promise I can help.  Let me help you.  What do you say?  And it lets me!  When this happens it steps back, it unblends to use IFS terminology.  The term blended describes, “the phenomenon in which a part merges its perspective, emotion, beliefs, and impulses with your Self.”[26]  So when I feel the anxiety overwhelming me that’s because it’s blended.  However, “When you unblend enough from the parts that hate your fear, for example [or, as I’m discussing here, my anxiety], you suddenly see it’s not a bundle of irrational neuroses but a frightened little child-like part who needs to be comforted.  You have compassion for the little guy and want to hold rather than scold him.  You find that holding parts actually works – you’re no longer plagued by fear [or anxiety].”[27]

Doctor Parts 32

Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

In their approach to the “monstrous,” the Doctor is a shining example of who we are when we’re in Self.  The Self is, “an essence of calm, clarity, compassion, and connectedness.”[28]  It’s the part of us that’s not a part.  It is our core, our center, our soul, or the spark of the divine within us.  The Self marvels at the beauty of all it encounters.  It offers love and acceptance to all it finds.  And when it encounters suffering, within or without, it is moved by compassion and offers help.  This is the Doctor!  This is what makes them such an important character!  As David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor himself, put it on The Late, Late Show with James Cordon, the Doctor is “celebrated because he’s clever, because he’s clever and kind.  And that’s such wonderful things for a character to represent.”[29]

I can honestly say my time in therapy and my time doing IFS has made me cleverer.  Without question its made me kinder.  I’ve learned, “[H]ow we relate to and think about the inhabitants of our inner world translates directly to how we think about and relate to people.  If we live in fear of and strive to control certain parts of us, we will do the same to people who resemble those parts.”[30]  Through Katherine’s compassionate, affirming, amazing guidance I’ve experienced firsthand that, “love is the answer in the inner world, just as it is in the outer world.  Listening to, embracing, and loving parts allows them to heal and transform as much as it does for people.”[31]  Through therapy I’m learning to love myself more fully, in a healthier way, which translates into my loving others in a fuller, more healthy way. 

Doctor Parts 31

Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

When I began therapy three years ago it was because my entire world was crumbling and I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other anymore.  When I go to therapy now it’s because it makes everything about my world brighter and more beautiful.  Just like the Thirteenth Doctor says, “We’re all capable of the most incredible change.  We can evolve while still staying true to who we are.  We can honor who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”[32]  I choose to be a more loving person, more deeply connected to myself and the world around me in ever-healthier ways.  I want to be able to offer love, acceptance, compassion, and curiosity more freely and fully to whatever crosses my path.  In short, I’d like to be more like the Doctor ;D.  And while it may be awhile yet before I can encounter a clockwork droid and call it gorgeous, it is the most beautiful of blessings to see such incredible change happening in my heart each and every day.  Allons-y!   

Today, 7 April 2022, marks three years since my very first session with Katherine!  So this post felt very fitting.  Katherine was there to help save me when I desperately needed it and I’ve only grown stronger, healthier, and happier since.  I’ve learned therapy is not just for “triage” and some of the most amazing growth comes when we’re “feeling alright.”  If you’ve ever thought about therapy – if it feels like something you’d like to try or if it feels like something you need in your life – I offer this link to Psychology Today so you can browse detailed listings of mental health professionals all over the world :).

Doctor Parts 26

Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

[1] Mark Brake, The Science of Doctor Who: The Scientific Facts Behind the Time Warps and Space Travels of the Doctor, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021).

[2] Euros Lyn, dir. “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 4, BBC, 2006.

[3] Ibid.

[4] James Hawes, dir. “The Christmas Invasion.” Doctor Who, Christmas Special 2005, BBC, 2005.

[5] James Hawes, dir. “New Earth.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 1, BBC, 2006.

[6] Euros Lyn, dir. “Tooth and Claw.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 2, BBC, 2006.

[7] Lyn, “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

[8] James Strong, dir. “The Impossible Planet.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 8, BBC, 2006.

[9] Dan Zef, dir. “Love and Monsters.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 10, BBC, 2006.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Euros Lyn, dir. “Fear Her.” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 11, BBC, 2006.

[12] James Strong, dir. “Daleks in Manhattan.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 4, BBC, 2007.

[13] James Strong, dir. “Evolution of the Daleks.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 5, BBC, 2007.

[14] Graeme Harper, dir. “42.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 7, BBC, 2007.

[15] Hettie MacDonald, dir. “Blink.” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 10, BBC, 2007.

[16] Colin Teague, dir. “The Fires of Pompeii.” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 2, BBC, 2008.

[17] Graeme Harper, dir. “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 7, 2008.

[18] Alice Troughton, dir. “Midnight.” Doctor Who, season 4, episode 10, BBC, 2008.

[19] James Strong, dir. “Planet of the Dead.” Doctor Who, Easter Special 2009, BBC, 2009.

[20] Graeme Harper, dir. “The Waters of Mars.” Doctor Who, Autumn Special 2009, BBC, 2009.

[21] Euros Lyn, dir. “The End of Time Part 2.” Doctor Who, New Year Special 2010, BBC, 2010.

[22] Robert C. Schwartz, No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2021), 11.

[23] Tom and Lauri Holmes, Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life, 1.

[24]Schwartz, 16.

[25]Schwartz, 8.

[26] Schwartz, 29.

[27] Schwartz, 32.

[28] Schwartz, 1.

[29] “Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant: Doctors Stick Together.” The Late, Late Show with James Corden, season 2020, episode 783, June 18, 2020.

[30] Schwartz, 62.

[31] Schwartz, 17.

[32] Jamie Childs, dir. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 1, BBC, 2018.

5 thoughts on “The Monsters and the Doctor: Reframing That Which Scares Us

  1. Beautiful post. I never really thought about how the Doctor accepted and meet the “monsters” but it’s definitely another layer to the show you’ve peeled back and a lot to think about.

    Thank you to for adding the link. I will be checking that out for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Gemma. This piece was as personal as it was rewarding to write and I’m so glad you enjoyed it! You’re welcome for the link, too :). I’ll be sending all the positive vibes I have in my heart your way that it works as well for you as it did for me.


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