screenshot from Doctor Who

5 Life Lessons Learned From ‘Doctor Who’

Each episode of the timeless science-fiction classic contains meaningful lessons, subtle and unsubtle, that can help form better people for those willing to listen.
September 23, 2022
7 mins read

With so much content available nowadays, it’s not easy to find something good to watch. Substanceless shows saturate the market, as do shows that have long since jumped the shark (here’s looking at you, “Grey’s Anatomy”). There are few classics that have withstood the test of time and even fewer successful reboots — of which the 2005 return of “Doctor Who” to the small screen is one.

Fantastically acted and almost perfectly written under Steven Moffat’s guidance, the classic science fiction program established the Doctor as a genre-defining character in the new age of television. Bringing the two-hearted alien back to audiences in the 21st century, “Doctor Who” isn’t just a show with wild adventures. It’s also a show that can teach audiences of all ages important life lessons about themselves, the world around them and how to be a better person.

1. Learn From Your Mistakes

Able to travel through time and space, the Doctor could easily be a gallivanting alien oddity causing trouble. Instead, he’s a character with a savior complex trying to understand humanity. Despite his elevated intelligence and a wisdom that only comes from living for hundreds of years, there are occasional episodes when his human companions best him with a humbling observation or decision. Often it is his overconfidence (something everyone suffers from) stemming from years of experience that leads to the mistakes he makes. Sometimes it’s a calcified cynicism that leads him to believe the worst of someone. Each time, he course-corrects to see both his mistake and the better choice available to him. If only people in real life could take the time to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, the world would be a better place.

2. Always Stand Up for What Is Right

One of the greatest traits of the Doctor is how far he will go to do what’s right. Whether saving a creature’s life, returning someone home or scaring away an intergalactic threat, he is unflinching in his resoluteness. His determination to do the right thing drives him more than anything else. Viewers never worry for too long, safe with the knowledge that the wrongs will soon be righted and the bad guys vanquished — unlike in real life, where sometimes the bad guys win despite everyone’s best efforts. History is full of heroes that sacrificed their lives for the greater good, and throughout the series, the Doctor constantly endangers himself (and his companions) in order to do the right thing. Even saving one life is worth it for him, and each episode proves that doing the right thing is always worth the risk.

3. Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Across time and space, the Doctor encounters aliens, people and creatures of all appearances. More importantly, he encounters villains of all kinds. Aliens that look menacing and people that look inconsequential end up the opposite. Not only do the storylines prove time and time again never to judge a book by its cover, but the show tends to take advantage of deceiving appearances by inserting a nondescript background character only to later bring them back as the evil mastermind. This is a lesson that easily extends through the screen; people constantly misjudge others by their appearances. Though being wary can prove beneficial, it’s better to treat people based on how they treat you, not what they appear to be. Through clever and heart-wrenching storylines, “Doctor Who” teaches audiences to never base opinions on appearance alone, and instead to welcome strangers with open arms and hope for the best.

4. Never Grow Up

The best lesson the show has taught audiences is to never grow up. With swashbuckling adventures to historic France and 20th-century New York, the Doctor inspires the child in everyone. Upon first discovering time and space travel is real, his on-screen companions often exhibit the gleeful characteristics of a child in a candy shop, and viewers can’t help but feel the same. The Doctor’s own curiosity about everything unfamiliar to him is also reminiscent of the childlike excitement that fades as people grow up. Youthful exuberance is something everyone tries to retain; even though life makes it hard, “Doctor Who” manages to inject the feeling of something new and invigorating into every episode. A great perspective to go through life with, staying young at heart can also lead to more adventures (evident from the show) and a happier, more optimistic life.

5. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

A well-known and oft-repeated lesson, the responsibility of bearing power is explored in “Doctor Who” with a twist. Typical heroes are usually told the line “with great power comes great responsibility” when confronted with the temptation to use their powers for personal gain. Because of this, heroes rarely turn bad.

In one episode, the Doctor exemplifies how corrosive power can be. Determined to help his friends and fully capable of destroying entire planets to do so, he doesn’t realize how far he has gone until it is too late; scores see him as an enemy and a force to be reckoned with. This can also apply on a smaller scale, with people realizing the consequences of their actions. Even though the average person can’t travel through time, they can influence and affect those around them, and they should be cognizant of that fact. Great doesn’t necessarily mean in volume, but in impact, and if you have the power to hurt or help someone, it should be wielded responsibly.


While it could take years to learn some of these lessons through life experience, in a television show with convenient timing, the same situation can be repeated, scored and spliced for maximum effect. Viewers can go on an emotional journey in less than an hour, with hard truths and lessons learned delivered through easily digested plots and heartfelt scenes. Programs like “Doctor Who” not only teach children the differences between right and wrong, but can remind adults watching not to take themselves too seriously. Even without consciously internalizing the messages of the show, acceptance, responsibility and a little more optimism easily slip from the screen to the audience and form them into better people. Hopefully, a show as timeless and entertaining as “Doctor Who” continues to teach audiences for years to come.

Emily Elizabeth Louie, American University

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Emily Elizabeth Louie

American University
Business Administration

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