Suzanne says… why do we keep ranking the Doctor(s)?

On this day last year, I was sharing the difficulty to choose a favourite Doctor and how we, Whovians, usually like to rank our Doctors, despite the fact that the Doctor is – well – still the same person after each regeneration. I found myself recently toying with the idea of having a favourite Doctor and it turns out that I do have one!

Ranking favourites, least favourites, it seems that we can’t help ourselves making lists based on personal criterions. But why do we create those rankings in the first place? Why do we need a favourite? Why do we feel the need to share said rankings with others?

“People are attracted to lists because we live in an era of overstimulation, especially in terms of information.” (David Wallechinsky)

Claudia Hammond (“Nine psychological reasons why we love lists”) states that lists allow us to understand and take in information more easily, using what psychologists call schemata, mental maps we build up from experience. And there comes the interesting part. Being a work of fiction, each “Doctor Who” story is built based on a framework, organised around an intricate universe that requires a certain amount in precision in order to ensure the continuity linked to the character. One can only assume that a literary bible exists for Doctor Who crew, and what is a literary bible if not the ultimate list, allowing each and everyone working on “Doctor Who” to be as accurate as possible? By creating their own lists, Whovians basically make a list out of an existing one…

Let’s get back to rankings and favourites. Like in every society, people are bound to emulate each other. Once a ranking is shared on a community, it’s not uncommon to see a fair amount of rankings blossoming afterwards. We suddenly feel the need to share our opinion, to be a part of the discussion… Once again it’s a common psychological process in human societies that is even more amplified on the internet.

And then comes another question: why would others read your list (which is, after all, only your own opinion)? According to Claudia Hammond, “the moment you know that an article is framed as a list, it’s hard to resist trying to predict the contents. It becomes a game.” This leads directly to a feeling of satisfaction: “The confirmation bias means that we pay more attention to any information which confirms what we already thought.” In other words, we create a virtual bound with the author of the list, simply because we share the same favourite Doctor for instance.

Let’s take the Tenth Doctors fans as an example. It’s a well-known fact that the Tenth Doctor is the most famous incarnation of the Doctor amongst fans, and whenever one of them states his admiration for Ten in a community, there is this feeling of satisfaction emanating from the other members who will spontaneously take him/her under their wings.

In this case, not only does it prove that human beings seek to evolve inside a community, but it also shows how important the sense of belonging is, and how it can drive people. Things are not always that gratifying of course. Lists can also create a feeling of frustration and Whovians who consider Ten their least favourite Doctor would probably be very careful when posting their ranking for fear of some kind of retaliation! Lists can be both satisfying and frustrating, but they usually are quite satisfying for their author.

A list might feel definitive, it’s a way to sort things out, put them in order and get everything neat and tidy; or as Claudia Hammond defines it:

“Packaging information as a list gives us a sense that the list is all settled and this is the end of the matter.”

Yet, it’s not entirely true for the Whovian community; a fact that can be explained because the whoniverse is in constant progression (thanks to the numerous supports that help developing it: TV episodes, books, audiobooks…). Ranking our favourite Doctors isn’t a fixed point in time, because like the Doctor, we evolve and we might change our mind. Rediscovering a Doctor through mature eyes might very well trigger a change in our initial predicament.

So, now that the statement that ranking the Doctors is something typically human, what about the notion of favourite? As I mentioned earlier, I recently discovered myself a “new” favourite Doctor and for the purpose of this article I decided to decipher the steps leading to that realization.

I watched series 1 to 10 from the 2005 revival in order to have a full picture of the new series, this allowing me to watch the Tenth Doctor episodes for the first time (as reported in this article: Suzanne says… I finally met the Tenth Doctor). But it wasn’t until a chat with a friend that I realised that I owned every book and audiobook featuring the Twelfth Doctor and that it might actually be meaningful.

While Nine is “young” in the sense that he makes the transition between Classic and New who, and that he carries the burden of reviving Doctor Who, Ten sets the psychology of the Doctor, his strengths and weaknesses, and that’s probably why he is referred to as the most human of the Doctors. Eleven might be considered the champion of continuity (the River Song story arc illustrates it quite well), but Twelve is clearly the sum of Nine, Ten and Eleven’s experiences, and that’s why he is so interesting. He is “the Doctor”, but he also is “the Doctors”.

And I just solved one of my greatest dilemma in the process (for the new series at least!): I always found it a bit disturbing to rank the Doctors since they are one entity, but if my favourite Doctor is the sum of the Doctors before him, then I’m no longer ranking the Doctor(s): the Doctor becomes my favourite Doctor. Right?