“I’m not trying to be rude, but you died.” : Hercules, Buffy, The Doctor, and The Problem with Immortality

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episodes “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” and “The Pandorica Opens.” And a few Superman storylines. You have been warned.]

Lillian, you might say, you’re just trying to tie Doctor Who into Hercules, because you want to put in a plug for Alcestis. And you’re partly right. So myths yadda yadda come see my show in New York that is influenced by Neil Gaiman, Batman, and Gladiator, written by Euripides. That’s a plug for Alcestis. Buy tickets now!

But let’s talk for a second about why the villains imprisoned the Doctor rather than killing him in “The Pandorica Opens.” The Doctor is not exactly as invulnerable as Superman (though they share several other similarities), but his regenerations give him a kind of immortality. This flawed invincibility connects him to a much more ancient hero, Hercules/Heracles.

Now Hercules’ list of adventures is about as long as the Doctor’s. (One of those adventures includes the myth that Euripides’ Alcestis is based on.) Heracles is the son of Zeus so he’s supernaturally strong and he can solve most problems by hugging them to death. But he’s also immortal, so the whole dying thing was never an issue for him.

….until his wife Deianira accidentally poisoned his robe with the blood of a Hydra he’d killed, and he couldn’t wash the acidic blood off, and he was in such huge amounts of pain that he wished he could die. Continue reading

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