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Why ‘Man of Steel’ Could Learn A Lesson From ‘Day of the Doctor’

I cried in the movie theater watching “Doctor Who” today.

And it wasn’t just because of the quality of “Day of the Doctor,” which, as television shows go, was quite the quality piece of work. And yes, it was at the emotional climax of the piece, but that’s not the reason I cried. Spoilers, by the way.

John Hurt’s Doctor has to make a choice: let the universe continue to burn in the Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords, or destroy the two and let the universe continue. We know, because we’ve been watching “Doctor Who” since the reboot that of course he makes the choice to destroy them. And there’s even an emotional resolution to this point: Matt Smith, and David Tennant join him. They know he’s hurting, and have made the choice easier by supporting him, rather than rejecting him. Except.

Except.

There’s Clara in the back, crying, and she calls them out. She says yes, the only two choices are destruction or mutual destruction. “There is no other choice,” they all say… Except, and here’s the part that made me cry: there’s always another choice.

The past few months, approximately since June 12 when I saw “Man of Steel,” I’ve been struggling with a feeling that I was losing a battle. In that movie, Superman is also faced with a choice: he can let Zod continue his destruction and killing in Metropolis, or he can kill him. So Superman snaps Zod’s neck. I even wrote a long piece about it on MTV Geek, and how I felt it was part of a larger, longer trend of superheroes killing in movies that I hoped would reverse.

I don’t think it did, and it was underlined this past week on “Arrow.” I couldn’t watch “Arrow” last season, because he straight up executed people, and it sickened me. This year I started watching again, and it’s become kind of great. Oliver Queen realized killing wasn’t the only way, and to inspire people he had to be something better. Then on this week’s episode his friend Felicity got in trouble, and to save her he killed a villain.

Queen looked troubled, and I thought the arc would be that he’s put in a tight spot, reverts to old habits, and learns they’re wrong, again. Except it wasn’t. The arc was actually about Felicity realizing it’s okay to kill people sometimes, like when she gets in trouble.

This is about when I started to lose hope.

See, I’m a Dad, and when I think of kids, particularly my kid growing up in a world with superheroes who see no other option but to murder, I start to think that maybe I’m missing something. Maybe society has moved on from superheroes saving people, and I haven’t. The old chestnut is, “Why doesn’t Batman kill The Joker?” But if Batman was invented today, would he have murdered The Joker after his first appearance? Almost assuredly.

And then today, watching “The Day of The Doctor,” it felt like a dam broke. Seeing The Doctors realize that they didn’t have to kill everyone, that between three of them if they just thought, just for a moment, they could come up with another solution made me weep, not with sadness, but with joy.

Here, right here, in one of the biggest cultural milestones of the year, was a reiteration of everything I love about watching and reading hero stories. Here were heroes being heroes. Knowing there’s no hope, no chance, and taking one anyway.

Do Daleks die? Yes. Did some Time Lords die. Surely. And is there a chance, after they lock Gallifrey away in a moment, everything can go wrong? Given Matt Smith is heading there next episode, and that’s his last, well, duh.

But they TRY, and this is the crucial point. The Doctor makes an attempt to think beyond the two choices, the impossible conundrum put before him, and he figures it out. And you know who that was up to? The writer. That was Moffat, looking at the situation, saying, “How do I solve this?” and then coming up with a way, in the script, he could make it work.

That’s the inspiration we need. That’s what heroes need to be, and once were. And if a fifty-year-old program can show us it’s possible, that’s the way they can be again.

We need that. We need to know there’s another choice other than killing, so that we can become the screenwriters of our own lives, and our children can do the same for their lives. We can take control, and realize that beyond killing, or mutual destruction, there’s always a third choice.

That’s what heroes are, and can be again. If we want them to be. And then maybe I can stop crying in movie theaters.

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