Why doesn’t the Doctor believe in ghosts?

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

copyright Owen Quinn

Doctor Who is widely regarded as the best and longest running sci fi show in the world, encapsulating everything from alien monsters, time travel, parallel worlds and virtually every sci fi idea in the universe including landing in a Land of Fiction in the Patrick Troughton classic The Mind Robber where fairy tales and comic book heroes were as real as you and me. It has referenced stories such as the Thing, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes to bring us memorable and classic tales that literally stand the test of time.
However, there is one area of the world of imagination that has been categorically refuted and never, ever been seen as a legitimate field for storytelling. And bad enough for the Doctor to fluff away its existence but the denial has filtered into both the Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood which quite frankly has left me more than a little peeved off. How can a show that uses every sci fi convention in existence be completely closed to the idea of ghosts?
Now let me say up front, I don’t believe unless I have had a personal experience. There are too many hoaxers out there and fake physics that use their “gift” to bleed grieving relatives dry. That is undeniable but there have been too many experiences in my life and those close to me that simply cannot be dismissed away by, “there is no such thing.” And in most of those experiences I cannot explain it other than I was interacting with dead relatives.
Are all the tribes from all across the world telling lies? If in the 21st century we are so open minded to aliens and other possibilities, then why does Doctor Who as a concept deny the possibility of their existence? It is a subject that has me riled up big time and leaves me shaking my head in disbelief. True, life after death has not been proved scientifically but the fact energy doesn’t die, it changes form has. Humans are essentially bio electrical machines, something that as the Doctor’s favourite species, he should know.
But in every Doctor Who story that ventures to this subject, it is explained by time fissures and weaknesses in the time space continuum. Handy enough explanations but ones that diminish the strength of the human mind and soul. In the classic fourth Doctor adventure the Image of the Fendahl, we meet Mrs Tyler, an old lady that has visions and can see things other people can’t. This could be evidence that the human brain is capable of things we can’t imagine and open a study into why only certain people have these abilities but no, the Doctor puts it all down to her living near a time fissure for years. Yet in the Pirate Planet the Mentiads are accepted by him as evolving humanoids that have the added extra of being telekinetic but can also see things that others can’t. Does this by definition mean that it’s ok for alien cultures to display these abilities but humans are too backward. Not really the right attitude from the same man that calls humankind indomitable.
In the Awakening, we see that figures from the English Civil War are the result of the Malus’ creating them as weapons of defence against the fifth Doctor and friends.
Was it a ghost that miraculously released the Doctor from the locked room in Image of the Fendahl, releasing him conveniently in time to save the day?
In Army of Ghosts I thought my prayers would be answered but no, it was the Cybermen crossing over from the other universe. Yet the Doctor dismissed the possibility as the human mind wanting to believe in an afterlife and creating it in their own heads. This again diminishes the idea and the human mind as laughable and yet in the first Doctor adventure the Dalek tale the Chase they encounter both Dracula and Frankenstein in person not realizing they are in fact robots in a fun fair on Earth. Yet the Doctor is afraid as he believes the Tardis landed in a dimension where human imagination can create physical objects and scenarios. Is this where he stopped believing because it actually scares him to believe such a thing is possible from a simple human mind? If they can do that what else could they do if their brains were let loose? Maybe he tells people there is no such thing as ghosts as to prevent humans making the connection to the other side and creating havoc by breaking open one of the universe’s greatest mysteries. Queen Victoria puts it well in the tenth Doctor story Tooth and Claw involving a werewolf. She says a good ghost story gives hope of just a sliver of contact from the other side and people are desperate for that which is true and for once the Doctor looks like he is entertaining the idea for a change in his speech about her husband helping her from the other side with his foresight regarding building the werewolf trap.
In fact when confronted by Azal in the third Doctor story the Daemons, soon to be released on DVD, the Doctor says he is the inspiration for the Devil but in the Satan Pit, he comes face to face with the real thing, a fact confirmed when he tells Donna of his fight with the Devil himself. So if one exists then by logic so does God and ghosts. Could this be a turning point in the man’s thinking, a point where he realized he really didn’t know everything as empirical fact?
As a writer who brings as many ideas and conventions to make an entertaining story, I find this makes Doctor Who a narrow minded vision despite its 50 year run. Even the recent Peter Capaldi story Under The Lake and Before The Flood for a time the Doctor discovers ghosts really do exist only to have that opinion change by the end of the episode. Dammit I thought it was finally going to happen. Even when Sarah Jane denies the existence of ghosts in her show, it minimises the character for me. Here is a woman who has seen things through time and space most never will yet outright blanks a very human concept. Although I agree kids shouldn’t be frightened by ghost stories until they’re older, most of the world’s paranormal experiences come straight from the mouth of babes as it is a common belief their innocence allows them to see what we lose over time.
And if I ever get the chance to write for the show in any capacity, I intend to break the tradition. There’s a whole other dimension the Time Lord has yet to explore.

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