Perhaps I am reading too much into what is supposed to be a bit of populist entertainment here but after just watching a couple of episodes of Doctor Who it struck me that it was almost a Jungian parable.
The episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood are from Series III with David Tenant as the Doctor. They are set in 1913 when the Doctor, who is being pursued across the universe by a family of blood-thirsty aliens, changes his metabolism to become human and wipes his memory.
This, he tells his assistant Martha, will enable him to hide from the Family long enough for their lifeforce to die. His true personality has been uploaded into a device that is disguised as a fob watch and when three months have passed Martha can open this again and the Doctor will be fully restored.
The persona he adopts is that of John Smith, a master in an English public school. The name John Smith is a nod to the ‘classic’ series, particularly the Jon Pertwee years, when the Doctor often used that alias.
The setting reminded me a bit of If… which I saw at the QFT in Belfast last month. This film, directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell, was also set in a public school although it was set in 1968, the year in which it is made.
However, I wonder if the Doctor Who script writer Paul Cornell and series producer Russell T Davies were paying more than a passing homage to it.
The rambling school building, the military discipline and firearms practice – including all out gun battles – and the younger boys ‘fagging’ for the older ones in the Dr Who episodes seem to pay homage to If…
However, being an amateur Jungian it is the ‘individuation’ aspect that most interested me about the John Smith/Doctor scenario.
Jung writes of dreaming that he was hiking through a hilly landscape when he came to a chapel. He went in and saw a yogi sitting in the lotus position and meditating. When he looked closer he saw that the ‘yogi had his face and came to the conclusion that “he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream and I am it.” Jung concluded that when the yogi woke from his dream “I would no longer be”. (Jung: Memories, Dreams and Reflections pp355).
This more or less matches the reality for John Smith whose existence as a human is merely a diluted projection of his ‘higher self’ – the Doctor.
Smith often dreams that he is an adventurer across time and space and writes down these stories and illustrates them with drawings that we as the viewer of course know relate to his true identity.
The concept of a higher self is more often found in Eastern mysticism but is also found in Western gnosticism and in terms of Jungian psychology represents the “unconscious prenatal wholeness”.
Jung goes on to say that the greatest limitation for man is to be confined by the ‘self’ – the persona that we construct to deal with every day life and that most people end up becoming.
He writes: “Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious. In such awareness we experience ourselves concurrently as limited and eternal, as both the one and the other. In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination – that is, ultimately limited – we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite.”
This can be a daunting prospect – John Smith is terrified of opening the fob watch because it will effectively kill the narrow human persona that he totally identifies with even though it will restore his true identity as the Doctor.
That is what Jung is challenging us to do – to open the fob watch of our unconsciousness and allow its contents to mingle with those aspects of ourselves that we are already aware of and to become complete beings.