Only one story has aired in Season 12 of Doctor Who and it is already one of my favorite seasons. After last year’s love-it-or-hate-it hand-over season that transitioned us from Moffat’s needlessly convoluted “gotcha!” plots to Chibnall’s straightforward, companion-driven storylines, some fans announced that the show’s “bad writing” had utterly doomed the series (it should be noted that every new showrunner has single-handedly obliterated the proud of legacy of Doctor Who). They needn’t have feared.
The two-part season opener jumped fearlessly into the lore of the show and embraced its enduring message of hope and faith that humanity will do the right thing. While surveying a burning, Nazi-invaded France with Noor Inayat Khan, the first female wire operator sent across enemy lines for the British and murder victim of Dachau, the Doctor reassures her that "These are the dark times, but they don't sustain. Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes it feels like it might."
Ada Lovelace, the mother of the computer, is also there. If you’ve never seen Doctor Who and don’t know what it’s about, you’ll just have to trust me that it makes sense within the context of the show.
Though the line (and the data-theft plot) was clearly meant to draw a parallel to the current state of the world, the words struck me in a different way, a way that seemed to be speaking only to me, specifically about my own current mental health struggles.
Now, let me clarify that last paragraph, because I brought up mental health and thinking a TV show was communicating with me in pretty close contact there. I don’t mean this the way my great-grandmother believed that the gas station across the road from her house was a government operation spying on her. This is actually one of the rare cases where I think something and don’t immediately go, “Wait ... should I mention that to one of my therapists?” What I mean is, in that line of dialogue, I heard the voice of a hero I’ve loved since I was a teen telling me that there’s no reason to give up.
It’s something I needed to hear. After struggling with untreated and undiagnosed PTSD for three years, I had a minor breakdown in January 2019, which I followed up with a major breakdown this past October because I don’t half-ass things. Though I’m no longer suicidal or self-harming as frequently, I do still have dark times. It’s going to take a lot of work to heal my brain, and I can’t pretend I won’t have setbacks. Despite the support of my friends and family, there’s one person I consistently look to when I’m at my lowest. And, yes, that person is fictional. But sometimes the Doctor is the only person whose voice of reason can convince me that my brain is tricking me.
I have been known to occasionally put words in their mouth if I can’t find a quote that directly suits my situation.
But somehow, this week, the Doctor knew exactly what I needed to hear, that even though things feel bleak and heavy right now, it won’t always be that way. And, no matter what, that darkness is never going to win.
It’s difficult to believe when your spouse or your friend or your therapist tells you something. After all, your spouse can’t be objective and your therapist is getting paid to say stuff, right? Mental illnesses can and will find any possible reason to invalidate anything that will make you feel better.
But mental illnesses aren’t a compassionate alien genius who has lived anywhere from between over 2,000 years or north of 4.5 billion, depending on which fandom metric you’re going by. If the Doctor can live that long and see everything they’ve seen, then certainly they can be believed if they tell you that it’s worth it to keep going. Are you really going to argue with someone whose intellect is feared to the edges of multiple universes? Do you think you’re smarter than the Doctor?
If you are a mentally ill fan, I want you to read that quote again.
"These are the dark times, but they don't sustain. Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes it feels like it might."
Imagine your favorite Doctor saying it to you about your next bout of depression or self-harm. Because it’s true. The Doctor believes in you.
Trust them. They’re the Doctor.