The devolved Doctor

"Light on the Doctor" | Art by Momiji95. Used with permission.
Sometimes change is good, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Doctor has lost something fundamental to my definition of a hero. He changed. And I don’t like it.

Mercy is the ninth and tenth Doctor’s frequent weapon of choice. Here is a hero who doesn’t fight for justice by brandishing a blaster, but who is full of forgiveness and looks for nonviolent solutions to the battles surrounding him (unless we’re talking about Daleks, but I consider them the exception to prove the rule).

At the end of the rebooted Series One, the Daleks are back in numbers and threatening the Earth. The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) creates a signal that will wipe them out completely, but unfortunately, it will also destroys everything living, including the humans on Earth.

The Doctor has his hand on the lever and is faced with the decision to end the lives of everyone he knows on Earth, though the Daleks are presumably going to destroy them anyway. At this moment when every viewer is holding their breaths to see what he will choose to do, the Dalek emperor taunts him.

“I want to see you become like me,” he says. “Hail the Doctor, the great exterminator!”

The Doctor weeps over his dying enemy. Now that’s a true hero.

And as the Doctor’s fist tightens on the lever, the emperor asks him: “What are you, coward or killer?”

The Doctor makes a move to push the lever down, but then steps back. “Coward, any day,” he replies.

Cowardice. He chooses cowardice. He is the opposite of a Dalek. He is compassionate and merciful. He values life and abhors violence. He is the hero who warms the cockles of my heart.

Fast forward to the newest Doctor (Peter Capaldi). There is a distinct contrast between these two doctors. With this latest Doctor we have a bitter and angry Time Lord, ready to destroy (as demonstrated by his willingness to kill Missy in the episode “Death in Heaven”). A Dalek tells him, “I see into your soul, Doctor. I see hatred. You are a good Dalek.”

You are a good Dalek.

Becoming what you hate is many a person’s fear, and for the Doctor, whose worst enemy is the Dalek, that fear must be tenfold.

(Spoiler warning) The first episode of Series Nine, recently aired, ends with the Doctor holding a Dalek weapon that appears to be aimed at the child Davros. The Doctor is so afraid of what Davros will become, about what he will do, that he has returned to Davros’s childhood to destroy him (or that is the assumption). How ironic that the Doctor should wield the weapon of his enemy.

Regardless of what the most merciful act truly is—destroying Davros or letting him survive to kill millions—the Doctor appears to be choosing violence as the solution to the problem. Where was compassion? Where was mercy? These values that the Doctor has come to epitomize are lost in the hatred of an evil being.

I can’t help but bring back memories of Ten (David “Dreamy” Tennant), whose repeated phrase is “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” words said with genuine empathy.

The major plot in Series Three comes to a climax when the Doctor defeats the Master with words. No weapons, just words.

“You are a good Dalek.”

“As if I would ask her to kill,” the Doctor says to the Master in reference to his companion, Martha, who has saved the day. Then the Doctor forgives the Master for all the evil he has done, and offers to take the Master with him on his travels. Unfortunately, the Master’s wife intervenes and shoots her husband; the Doctor is left with his enemy dying in his arms.

And he cries. The Doctor weeps over his dying enemy. Now that’s a true hero.

What makes mercy and nonviolence so much more powerful than cold justice? I think because it’s harder to accomplish and because the result can be life-giving. Forgiving someone who has wronged you is difficult. Forgiving someone who seems pure evil is almost impossible. But if you can choose to be merciful, not only do you forego having someone’s death weighing on your soul, but you are giving someone a chance that you might have needed in the past or will need in the future.

Doctor. The name for “healer” and “wise man” throughout the universe. River Song points out to the Doctor just how much he has changed; he has become a man who can turn around an army at the mention of his name. She questions what his name might come to mean. “To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word ‘doctor’ means ‘mighty warrior. How far you’ve come,” she says.

To have an assassin for a wife and be okay with it. To not only have friends who kill for him, but enjoy watching their violent behaviour. This is what the Doctor has become. And I don’t like it.

From coward to killer—will he change back? I hope so. I hope that he reaps the seeds of the mercy and forgiveness that he’s sown so many times in the past, and that he will once more become the hero I admire.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

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