Humans, let’s play a little game. Imagine that I appear in your home; there’s no reason for me to be there, you don’t know who I am, and I’ve no visible means of entry. Without explaining a single thing to you, I and my friends that I happen to have brought with me start poking around your house while spouting non-sequitur lines at each other, almost completely ignoring your presence. That is, until I find something there that I disapprove of. From there, I give you an ultimatum: stop it forever, or I’ll punish you. As I stand over you, I appear to be holding a weapon. How would you respond?

You probably would run, right? If you’re brave, you might tell me off. Of course, now you’re probably wondering what the point of all this speculation is. Well, I’ll tell you:

We have just described every episode of Doctor Who.

I’m serious, look it over: Doctor Who stories fall into a steady rhythm. Arrive in a strange place, poke around without being invited, find something objectionable, threaten those responsible, lay down some smackdown on whatever their plan happens to be, leave. The circumstances may change, but the framework is generally the same episode to episode. Which, when you think about it, makes the Doctor kind of a universal scale nuisance, right?

See, to me, the Doctor is an utterly terrifying character. He’s an almighty, near godlike figure that has, without consultation or right of appeal, appointed himself the guardian of the entire universe. He’s the ultimate evil overlord; taking what he wants, changing societies, groups and individuals to fit his designs, often by force, and generally acts as a space travelling prankster. Worse still, he pulls it off so well that he generally considered heroic for it.

Do I think this makes the Doctor a poorly constructed character? No! I think it makes him a great character! It’s a level of moral complexity that I really enjoy, and it makes thinking about the series in depth rather a joy. Amy, Captured and Panic Moon wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t found something to think about there. But I do think that this complexity isn’t something that’s being consciously written into the show, I think it’s a byproduct. And I think it’s emblematic of a larger simplicity present in Doctor Who scripts that could easily be turned to the show’s advantage, if only the writers would realize it was there.

Granted, there has been a push in recent seasons to darken up the Doctor some, which would be fine except that each and every script still writes him as the hero. At no point does the Doctor come across as anything other than the morally superior party in any confrontation he’s a part of, despite some truly amoral behavior at times. In essence, he’s still being written as a classical hero protagonist, despite the effort that’s being expended to make the stories darker.

There are plenty of ways that the Doctor does fit into the archetypal hero structure; he’s got a steed (the TARDIS), a magic sword (sonic screwdriver), and god given authority (he’s a Time Lord). He’s also the last of his kind, which goes a long way to conferring “destined hero,” status, and he acquires travelling companions, most of whom come to idolize him, if not fall in love with him. In many ways, he’s quite similar to a knight, with his strict ethical code and sworn mission to root out evil and corruption wherever he discovers it.

This isn’t a bad thing by any means; many stories successfully deploy this kind of character to no detriment. The problem is that the Doctor is not in that kind of story. Placing a straight laced hero protagonist in a more morally complex story can also work to good effect, but it requires the story to deconstruct the hero protagonist trope, at least in part… Which Doctor Who doesn’t really do either (No, it doesn’t. It deconstructs the Doctor’s character, but not the trope he represents. This is different.) In fact, I get the feeling that the writers haven’t really noticed how questionable the Doctor really is.

The last child of Gallifrey varies from writer to writer, which means that he doesn’t have a coherent moral viewpoint or motivation. Things that one writer characterizes as evil, another will characterize as good. Generally when I think of this, my prime example is the Doctor’s stance on killing; occasionally he’s into it, occasionally he isn’t. Remember the Christmas Invasion? When Harriet Jones guns down the Sycorax ship, and the Doctor in turn sows the seeds of her political ruin? I do.

There are actually two scary things about that moment; one, which I’ll explore more in a moment, is that the Doctor directly interferes with Britain on a national level by deposing Harriet, all because he had a personal disagreement with her methods in a life or death situation. The second is that… Well, the very next Christmas the Doctor is killing every last one of the Racnoss. And remember, the latter example is genocide, whereas there were plenty of Sycorax out there. Which is in itself an argument for the steps Harriet took against them.

Let us remember, humans: This guy has a higher body count than, well...

This guy.

I’ve heard it argued that while the Sycorax were leaving, the Racnoss were about to launch a major invasion on the world, and the Doctor was out of options. This is hard to argue against, but consider this: of the hundreds or thousands of (angry, vengeful) Sycorax on board, it only takes one of them to organize a larger fleet to return to Earth. And for a guy with a strict “no violence,” code… the Doctor still went ahead and did it. His moralizing stance sure seems substantial after that…

Consider also that, from the ninth Doctor onward, one of his defining past events was an act of genocide against his own people and the Daleks. Again, it could easily be argued that the Doctor was backed into a corner and he did what he had to do to safeguard the rest of the universe. But that kind of “I did what I had to,” attitude is an amoral stance, as opposed to the morally good viewpoint the Doctor is attributed.

Besides which, there are instances in which this “kill a few to save countless others,” motto is subverted by the Doctor himself. In Beast Below, for example, the Doctor moralizes at Amy and is about to kick her off of the TARDIS because she hides the truth about the Starship UK from him in order to save the many thousands of people on board (from him, but that’s beside the point for now). She’s only doing what he himself would do (attempts to do, but that’s beside the point for now.) That the Doctor isn’t above contradicting himself, and then still counts himself as morally superior is unsettling enough, but there’s more:

The Doctor has no fucking right to appoint himself the protector of the universe.

Yes, it might seem like an altruistic thing to do, but there’s one problem; the Doctor doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word ‘protector.’ He’s confused it with the word ‘arbitrator.’ And that’s a problem, because excepting a small number of cases, the Doctor is never invited to perform this duty.

Like the scenario I posed at the beginning of this post, the Doctor really does just show up and starts imposing his moral code on each and every thing around him. Even ignoring the fact that his method is more likely to induce anxiety and anger in those he judges, there’s no authority behind the Doctor’s judgment. He mentions on numerous occasions that he’s a Time Lord, and that this imparts upon him a duty to ensure things happen in the correct way… Excuse me while I laugh.

I’m not an expert on Time Lord history, but from what I can remember, there’s no grand authority that gave them this duty, or even the power to enforce it. The only reason they’re called the Time Lords is that they came up with the theories and methodology of time travel before anyone else. And it’s a title they gave themselves. Which basically makes them a race of Doctors, the presumptuous prick that he is (I’m sorry, I don’t really mean that.)

I think this is really an issue that deserves some more thought, especially considering the interstellar nature of the Doctor’s travels. What I mean is that the Doctor sticks quite closely to human morality, even though he has no reason to do this. Yes, I know Earth is the Doctor’s favorite planet, and humanity his favorite species, but that… hey, that actually makes it worse! The Doctor adopts the morality of a species he takes a liking to, adapts it into its most stringent form, and then applies it to every other species ever. Regardless of how very different that species might be. Morally, culturally, physically… each species might very well be completely different than humanity for so many different reasons, and yet the Doctor slams down on them if they differ from a moral code that might be completely nonsensical to them. That’s not very fair.

Now, this might be mitigated somewhat, assuming the Doctor applied his moral code uniformly, across every species and situation that he finds himself in. But he doesn’t. He routinely favors humans over whatever else they happen to run into. Again, the Racnoss: what makes their species inherently less worthy than humanity? Why shouldn’t they get to fight for survival on Earth? I don’t see the Doctor slapping down farmers for slaughtering cows for food, yet he’ll commit genocide on the space-spiders for the same thing?

It might sound odd for me to be speaking like that, but we have to remember something: I am human (mostly human… I live on Earth, at any rate) while the Doctor is not. In fact, given the Doctor’s enthusiasm for the other species he encounters, it’s very odd that he does this. The Doctor is the last of his kind, but he’s also a citizen of the universe, and he’s been travelling for god knows how long; there’s no logical reason for him to favor humanity over any and every other species. Well, except for that all the writers are human. And if the Doctor has a favorite, it means he’s lost objectivity, and he can’t be trusted as a universal protector, despite his continual insistence about that.

When the Doctor makes the proclamation that Earth is defended to the Sycorax, that’s frightening to me. Who asked him to be? What right does he have to do it, and most importantly, what happens when he gets bored? And he does get bored, it’s basically the reason he travels. Through no fault of his own, the Doctor is occasionally not around when he’s needed. Hell, that’s kind of the point of Torchwood. But here’s the thing that is the Doctor’s fault: his stewardship over the Earth robs humanity of its autonomy. Leaving aside the fact that his constant interference impedes human governments from developing the strategies and mechanisms necessary to stand up for themselves the next time it happens, the bloody Time Lord actually punishes the people who do fight back. Not only does he stop humanity from solving its own problems, he actively discourages us from fighting back at all. It’s him or nothing, and once again… He’s sometimes not there to help.

The Doctor has no stable moral role within the Whoniverse. Usually he’s a hero protagonist with writers who don’t think that through all the way, but lately the show’s been taking steps to make him an dark hero… It’s just kind of awkwardly implemented. “Rule One: the Doctor lies.” What? When has that ever been the case? Really, I intend to go over the way Eleven is written in greater detail in a later post, but I just thought I’d bring it up as fuel for thought: so what, now the Doctor isn’t even our protector, and he gets to run around like he does? That’s awesome for him, I guess…

Like I’ve already said, I don’t think this kind of contradictory behavior is necessarily bad. I really enjoy having to think about it with this level of depth, and a lot of my writing within this canon wouldn’t exist without the show having the breadth to allow me to think up alternate interpretations the way it does. I just think it would be cool if this was explored within the show itself, or at least a reference to it. It was kind of nice when Davros called out Ten on this during the season four finale, why couldn’t they do more like that? Lately, all the introspection seems to have drained out of Doctor Who… But that’s for another post.

Kurokami, signing off!