[Note: This post contains spoilers for the DC Comics' The Death of Superman storyline, and The Dark Knight Returns (among others), and Doctor Who Series 4 and Series 5 including the episode "The Pandorica Opens." It has not yet aired in the United States. You have been warned.]
I am going to tell you right now that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time, precisely because his only superpowers are a bank account and psychological trauma. He is the superhero that is closest to the reader, even more so than Stan Lee’s everyboy Spiderman, who fulfills all of our empowerment fantasies, but always shows us the best in ourselves. Batman is a triumph of the human will to fight back in the face of unbearable pain in order to inflict that pain on others. He is our darkest fantasies brought to life.
The Ninth Doctor bears a strong resemblance to the pre-Frank Miller era Batman, a man who has found new purpose as a result of losing almost everyone he loves, and he slowly creeps toward the darkness and thirst for vengeance that belongs to both the Tenth Doctor and The Dark Knight we see in The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns.
Dark Knight Returns is an interesting topic to bring up, because it shares so many connections with the Doctor’s current [Eleventh] incarnation. The Dark Knight Returns is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a formerly retired, middle-aged Batman dons the cowl once again to bring down Two-Face after the treatment Bruce Wayne funded fails to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. But the Gotham police force is a little less grateful than usual. They’re not sure Batman’s vigilantism has a place in this world anymore. He’s become outdated. (Remember Eleven’s “I’m stupid.” statement? How often has he been missing things lately, making the wrong calls?)
Batman’s reappearance also pulls the Joker out of a catatonic state in Arkham, suggesting that the hero attracts, even rebuilds his villains unintentionally. (iDaleks anyone?)
(Dark Knight Returns also sports a female Robin who rivals Amy Pond in terms of quips and needing to be rescued.)
The interesting thing about the Doctor is that he is both Batman and Superman. As of the 2005 revival, he has a dark trauma in his past that gives him the purpose and drive to save the universe again and again (because he failed to save his own people.) Like Superman, he is an orphan of a dead culture, and grew into the individual we know and love as a result of his “adoption” by humans. (I know it’s hard to think of William Hartnell as a baby Clark Kent, but just go with me on this one.) The Doctor’s companions softened him from a persnickety old man to a formidable clown whose cartoonishly long scarf or piece of celery in his lapel hid a dangerous brand of competence. (We are going to ignore Colin Baker’s silly costume.)
This paradox of the Doctor as both Batman and Superman was brought to a head with the most recent episode of Moffat’s new series. In “The Pandorica Opens,” Amy and the Doctor are called to a Roman empire era Britain, where a kind of celestial/metaphysical prison, the Pandorica, believed to be only a fairy tale, is beginning to open, ready to release whatever was so terrifying that it had to be caged in a super-powered prison since the beginning of time. And pretty much all of the Doctor’s enemies are on their way to get their hands on it, leading to this wonderful ramble from Eleven:
“Okay…Okay…Dalek fleet, minimum 12,000 battleships, armed to the teeth. AhhAHHHH…But we’ve got surprise on our side. They’ll never expect three people to attack 12,000 battleships.
….’Cause we’d be killed instantly. So it would be a very short surprise
…. Forget surprise.”
Also, a very sick Vincent van Gogh believes that this will be the result of the Pandorica opening:
Now here’s the MINDBLOWING TWIST: All of the Doctor’s enemies, the Sontarans, the Daleks, the Cybermen, all of them, are working together in order to imprison the Doctor in the Pandorica because all omens, all scenarios suggest that the Doctor will destroy the universe, that the cracks in time and space are caused by the TARDIS exploding. So if they imprison the Doctor, no one can drive the TARDIS, therefore it doesn’t explode.
This is one of the few twists on a sci-fi show that I never saw coming (Moffat tends to be good at that stuff.), and it brings up a lot of really interesting issues in terms of who the Doctor is and what he has become.
The Doctor is such a powerful force that his usually bickering enemies are willing to put their egos and homicidal tendencies aside and destroy him using an almost supernatural and definitely alien entity (the Pandorica). To the viewers, he may be Batman, but to his Rogues Gallery, he’s definitely Superman.
In 1992, the writers at DC Comics decided the world had taken Superman for granted. The Superfamily connected franchises were losing money, and the Lois and Clark TV show was being given preference over Superman continuity. So they killed him off using a monster called Doomsday. (DC tends to be painfully direct when naming their villains. Darkseid, a DC villain, rules a planet whose name is a bastardized spelling of “Apocalypse.”)
Doomsday was a seemingly unstoppable monster, and the only way Superman managed to beat him was to bash him with in an inch of both of their lives. Clark Kent/Superman then expired as a result of his severe injuries, in Lois’ arms with Jimmy looking on.
Now nature (and comic fans) abhor a vacuum so four different Supermen popped up all claiming to be the resurrected hero. As these men (and a teenage boy) vied for the title and were exposed as imposters, Clark Kent, severely weakened, emerged from a cloning/rebirthing machine that one of the impostors used to make himself resemble Superman. (He had stolen the Man of Steel’s body from a mausoleum in Metropolis.) After much violence and tears, Superman comes back and all is right in the world.
Later, after he almost dies, Jonathan Kent, Clark’s adoptive father, tells him that as a Kryptonian, Superman can never really die. It was Clark’s belief in his own humanity that caused him to die of his injuries. If Superman embraced his Kryptonian identity, he would basically live forever. Clark Kent is the primary identity, and Superman is the alter ego. Clark wants so very desperately to be human, to be a part of the world he values so much, his adoptive planet, that he is willing to die for it. (Sound like a Time Lord we know?)
Point is, in order to kill Superman (or the Doctor) you have to get him through his humanity, or at least his connection to humanity. The Tenth Doctor’s death comes to mind, when he survives “the end of time itself,” only to sacrifice himself to save one person’s life. Or even that the scenario built from Amy’s memories was impossible for the Doctor to resist because he loves and cares about her so much.
And yet, unlike Superman, the Doctor has begun showing his age.
Does the Doctor Have Alzheimer’s?
“The Pandorica Opens” also marks the return of Rory as a Roman centurion in the Britain Amy and the Doctor visit. The Doctor ignores Rory’s miraculous return for almost a whole minute while muttering that he’s missing something obvious:
Doctor: I’m missing something obvious, Rory. Something big. Something right slap in front of me. I can feel it.
Rory: Yeah, I think you probably are.
Doctor: I’ll get it in a minute.
[He walks off, stops, comes back.]
Doctor: Hello again.
Doctor: How’ve you been?
Rory: Good. Yeah, good. ..I mean, Roman.
Doctor: Rory, I’m not trying to be rude, but you died.
It’s a brilliant performance by both Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, but it also serves as a warning sign for the Doctor’s weakness, even a shade of senility.
Yes, he’s distracted and he’s got lots to do, but as someone who lost a grandmother to Alzheimer’s, that moment is just plain chilling. There’s a line where his scatterbrainedness stops being funny and becomes worrying. The haunting look in Matt Smith’s eyes as the Pandorica is sealed resonates on about a bajillion levels, but the helplessness makes him seem so very, very old.
Funny how one of the longest running shows on television can still reinvent the form. Well done, Mr. Moffat and company. Can’t wait until next Saturday.