The Weeping Angels

It’s no secret for the people around me that I am a big fan of the BBC show Doctor Who. How I got into it and how it slowly took over my life is something left for a different time. Today though, I want to talk about a stray thought that I had that I could only really see by drawing a contrast with a monster1 from the show. The monster in question here are the Weeping Angels.

The Weeping Angels

The Weeping Angels are a race of winged humanoids that were introduced in the iconic episode Blink in the third season of the New Who era. Created by Steven Moffat, the weeping angels are everything you have come to expect from him: superficially non-threatening yet tugging at the existential horror that lurks within us all. The angels are winged humanoid statues, no different from any other statue when you look at them. A defining feature of these statues though is that, when spotted in the wild, they tend to cover their eyes with their hands, giving the impression of someone crying. This is how they get their name: The Weeping Angels. On the surface, this is not exactly terrifying. Sure, creepy looking statues are a bit unsettling, but not terrifying. However, the true horror of the Weeping Angels comes from what they do: if they touch you, you end up sent back in time and lose what would have been your future. That is what these angels feed on: the unrealized potential futures of the people they attack.

The final defining feature of the weeping angels is them being in a quantum locked state. What that means, in Doctor Who Parlance, is that they can only move if they are not being observed. If they are observed, they appear as the familiar statue forms. The implication here is that they have a much more terrifying true form, that we are lucky enough not to see.

The Opposite Of The Weeping Angels?

Doctor Who has always played fast and loose with scientific terminology to the point that it has built up its own lexicon distinct from what we use in the real world2. That’s why, even though the quantum locked state of the weeping angels isn’t exactly correctly using the word quantum, it’s close enough for our understanding, and explained in enough detail in the show that we can just take it as a given. It is, thus, a given that there could exist a state in which being observed will lock you in a state of stasis, trapping you in a situation akin to and I must scream!3.

Thus, it follows that there could be a state that is the opposite: A state where one is only able to move or act if they are being observed. This thought, this possibility, is the raison d’etre of this post. What would such a state look like? What would it mean for the people in that state? What would it mean for the people observing them? Does such a state even make sense? Does it already exist? And what would we call such a state? Smiling Angels? Weeping Devils? I don’t know, but it’s a thought that I can’t shake off.

A Detour Into A Conversation With My Therapist

This particular line of thinking was inspired by a conversation I had with my therapist today. As pointed out elsewhere on this website, I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, in the track of Bioinformatics, Proteomics and Genomics. However, what may not be obvious is that I also have a history of medical education. In fact, I trained as a physician in my home country, and practiced medicine before I was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to come to the United States for my Ph.D. This is a fact that I often forget4, but it forms the background of what I am about to say.

Recently, I made the decision to go back to practicing medicine, envisioning a future for myself as a Physician-Scientist, helping people in the clinic as well as in the lab. This decision has been an interesting one and has brought a lot of trauma up that I thought I had left behind. To be able to fulfil this dream, I have to go through the process all Foreign Medical Graduates have to go through to be able to practice medicine in the United States. This process involves going through the United States Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) and then applying for residency. For the past several months, I have been preparing for my USMLE Step 1 Exam.

One thing that I noticed was how I was more motivated, and performed better, after my therapy sessions. This is not something that I’ve noticed for the first time. I have previously used announcing my plans as a way to motivate myself to get to the finish line of many projects.

Today, in particular, I was talking to my therapist about the exam and while I was a little disappointed by my performance in the practice exams over the past week, I did feel a lot better about my preparation and my mental state after talking it out. On my way back, I was thinking about this and I made the connection that this is pretty similar to the quantum locked state of the weeping angels. I perform better when I am being observed. I am more motivated when I am being observed. I am more productive when I am being observed. I am more me when I am being observed.

The Inverse Quantum Locked State

This, then is what prompted the train of thought I have discussed above. I have observed people that constantly act as if they are being observed. I have also seen people that act in a completely different manner in private than they are when they are in public. I am talking about people that are not celebrities here. If we were to include the celebrities in this category, they probably cannot even survive without creating a public persona that is different from their private one. This is not a new observation, but it is one that is on my mind now.

Of course, I am also looking for the answer to the bigger question: What would we call these inverse weeping angels?

I don’t have an answer to that question yet, but I do have a lot of thoughts about this. I am not sure if I will ever be able to answer this question, but I am sure that I will be thinking about this for a long time.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

  1. The word monster is in italics here because with all the superficial veneer of good versus evil in Doctor Who, the how is surprisingly complex and even the worst monsters in there are not always cartoonishly evil and beyond redemption. ↩︎

  2. The real world being in quotes here because what is really real anyway? ↩︎

  3. The namesake of the trope, I have no mouth and I must scream is a short story by Harlan Ellison that is a must read for anyone who is interested in the sci-fi, horror or speculative fiction. I shall not spoil it here, but it is a story that is worth reading. ↩︎

  4. That’s definitely a topic for another post. ↩︎