The new Buffy the Vampire Slayer show is looming large on the horizon. We don’t know much so far, but as a massive fan, my nerdy heart has been doing cartwheels since confirmed showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen announced that the new show will likely showcase a new Slayer (and a new group of Scoobies).
Honestly, a Buffy reboot makes sense: The story of the Slayer has always been about passing the mantle on to a new generation. But Buffy isn’t the only series getting a fresh start. The first Doctor Who episode featuring Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor premiered on October 7, and it was everything a huge Who fan like me could want. While watching the new Doctor in all her glory, something recently dawned on me: Buffy and the Doctor deal with similar problems, but in very different ways.
Both heroes regularly deal with non-human enemies who threaten their friends and home. But while Buffy stab-stabs her foes, the Doctor tries to understand them. If this most recent season of Doctor Who proves anything, it’s that there’s room in the supernatural landscape to explore problem-solving in a more measured manner than Buffy did back in the ’90s.
Slayer vs. Doctor
Buffy and the Doctor are more alike than you might think. Both characters play a specific role that’s been filled by a long line of people before them – the Slayer’s powers are passed from young girl to young girl after death, and the Doctor is the same being who’s reborn with a new body and personality after regeneration (a kind of overall reset button). They both encounter fantastical monsters (demons or aliens) that work in either weekly stand-alone episodes or whole season arcs. But they differ greatly in how they approach those monsters.
For starters, Buffy has found a family in her friends, the Scoobies (a group that grows and shrinks over the seasons, but always consists of Willow, Xander, and Giles), who ground her combative nature with good old-fashioned research — more often than not, even after Buffy’s friends provide her with historical context and intellectual preparation to face her foe, Buffy still stabs. She’s the arm muscle; she’ll shoot a bazooka at her ex-boyfriend without hesitating. She has a concrete support system to welcome her back once the fight is over. Conversely, the Doctor has had multiple beloved companions over the most recent 11 seasons, none are permanent fixtures in her life. Like the Doctor’s physical form, her companions also change with time; part of her tragedy is that she has no permanent family.
Perhaps because of her solitary nature, the Doctor takes a different approach to conflict: She asks questions, explores her enemies’ motivations, and tries to understand them both physically and emotionally before resorting to bazookas. The Doctor considers most aliens and robots she comes across as capable of change until proven otherwise. The slaying is exciting, no doubt, but as I get older, I wonder if that’s the best approach to take regarding all creatures unknown.
We Need More Adults in the Room
Buffy was chosen, against her will, to be a warrior. The Doctor made the decision to defy expectation and fix what ails the universe one corridor at a time. It makes sense that the Doctor’s a more naturally diplomatic hero than Buffy. The Slayer is, by nature, a teenager; her young age is built into the show’s DNA. The Doctor is older than most sentient beings can comprehend, has taken multiple forms, and traveled across galaxies.
I was a teenager when Buffy premiered back in 1997, and I liked the exciting stabby-stabby of it all. I was younger and the world was different then. I’m not a teenager anymore — but many of the new Buffy fans will be. When approaching a new young audience, is “slay first, ask questions later” the core message we want to send? As I get older and my worldview begins to align more closely with the Doctor’s, I wonder if we should tread more lightly, more carefully, like the Doctor. Adults use their words, not their Mr. Pointy stakes. And what the world desperately needs right now is more adults in the room.
Buffy Can Learn From Thirteen
One of Buffy’s key character components is her rebellious streak. From the very beginning of the show, she absolutely refused to conform to the Watchers Council’s archaic traditions. The Doctor has always been similarly rebellious. But with Thirteen, the Doctor isn’t just rebelling against what it means to be a Time Lord; she’s rebelling against ingrained audience expectations. Thirteen differs greatly than past Doctors in her physical form (she’s the first woman Doctor), her creators (this is the first season to feature scripts by writers of color), and her new adventures.
A typical episode of Doctor Who, like most sci-fi stories, is an allegory for societal ills — the most obvious being the Doctor’s genocidal foes, the Daleks. But Thirteen’s series is more literal. In Episode 3, the Doctor and her new team meet Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fred Gray, then become an integral part of American Civil Rights history. It’s less a metaphor and more a clear political statement. And these days, we’re all hungry for heroes who aren’t afraid to make a statement.
The creative staff of Doctor Who trusted that the audience was mature enough for a new kind of Doctor, and it’s paying off (both narratively and in numbers). Buffy is being given a similar opportunity. The Slayer’s fan base has grown up, but can the show mature with us? Maybe the stabby-stabby is just who Buffy is, and that’s fine. But maybe she can change and evolve with us. After all, one of the Slayer powers is natural leadership — and good leaders know that violence is always a last resort.