Getting over The Last Great Time War?
Guest contributor Martin Backman takes another look at the effect of the Time War on the Doctor.
In 2012 I wrote an article regarding my views on the Ninth Doctor as a character, specifically about his status as a veteran of the Last Great Time War. I drew parallels between the Doctor and fictional Vietnam-veterans John Rambo and Travis Bickle, both when discussing the nature of his trauma and concerning his adaption to post-war life. I concluded the article by essentially accepting the idea that the Doctor had mellowed out, and to some degree maybe even gotten over the Time War, by the time of his regeneration to the Tenth Doctor. However, after that I have started to question whether the Doctor actually did get over the Time War or not, or perhaps he was only fooling himself.
Going by David Tennant’s entire tenure from start to finish, he is still in many ways affected by the Time War. He is perhaps not the more obviously angry and dysfunctional Vietnam-vet that Christopher Eccleston came across as, but there are times when Tennant seems to forget what is going on, reacting to somewhat trivial threats as if he’s having flashbacks to the Time War. Overall I’d say that he comes across as bipolar, with severe mood-swings when he jumps the spectrum between manic childlike glee and the fury of an enraged god. I interpret the Tenth Doctor to be more conscious about keeping up appearances and trying to appear as if he’s over his trauma, because he seems to know that there is a limit to how long others might be willing to sympathize with him and give him support. So the Tenth Doctor is essentially pulling the “I’m fine”-routine, hoping desperately for it to be true.
Many people have criticized the Doctor’s relationship with Rose for various reasons, myself included. As I wrote in my earlier article, I found it to be a very unhealthy relationship where an emotionally damaged older man is seen taking advantage of an impressionable young girl, which causes all sorts of problems along the way. But as I also stated before, even if I might not approve of the relationship I am okay with it because it fits in with old story tropes: A broken old soldier finds someone innocent to heal him with her love, et cetera. This made more sense with Eccleston, who was more obviously like a troubled war veteran, but I believe it still applied to Tennant’s Doctor.
When he regenerated the Doctor’s relationship became more directly amorous, with the pair of them coming across as sugary sweethearts high on puppy-love. I take this turn in their relationship as a sign of the Doctor becoming more vulnerable, instead of him actually getting over the Time War as he himself believed. The Doctor claims that Rose’s influence helped him become less angry and more at peace with himself, but I’m positive that this is a delusional claim that he says to convince himself more than anyone else. While his fling with Rose made him briefly forget the pain, it never truly went away and he kept it with him through this entire incarnation. Examples of his pain resurfacing and impairing his judgement would be his dealing with the Racnoss and his rather extreme overreaction to the crimes of the Family of Blood.
Many times when the Doctor has done something horrible, or just been very close to it, he himself and his companions have expressed that he shouldn’t travel alone for too long, for fear of his darker impulses taking over. I believe that this has become even more apparent after the Time War, when he has been so affected by whatever happened that without a calming influence – a companion – he could go so far as to become an actual villain. This was seen when the Doctor briefly took cues from his former friend the Master, when he became the “Time Lord Victorious”. He snapped out of this brief instance of megalomania when Adelaide Brook decided to keep history on its intended track by killing herself, rather than giving him the satisfaction of successfully abusing the laws of time. But even if the Doctor deeply regretted his actions, there have been many subsequent implications that he could still become a monster without any chance for redemption.
So after the Tenth Doctor regenerated and the reigns of the show were given to Steven Moffat, the Doctor must finally have gotten over his war-trauma, right? No, I don’t think so. Even if the Time War has been mentioned and directly alluded to only a few times during the Moffat-era, I believe that it still affects the Doctor’s decisions and overall behaviour. Even if Matt Smith’s Doctor has been characterized as an old man trapped in a youthful body, with several scenes showing him believably portraying grandfatherly affection or the grumpiness of an old codger, I’d say that this is also fairly often shown to be the most childish incarnation of the Doctor in ages. This has made me consider the possibility that the Doctor might have reacted to all the further heartbreak he experienced in his tenth incarnation by regressing into a more childlike state. If this is the case then I consider it to be a way for him to partially avoid having to face responsibility and guilt for past actions, even if it hasn’t really worked. In this light it is also interesting to consider that this more youthful-looking Doctor would have a romantic interest in River Song, a woman who looks as if she could be his mother, while his previous incarnation was interested in the youthful spunk of a girl in her late teens.
But something that has taken a very strong focus in the Moffat-era is the Doctor’s potential to become a villain in his future. It is not only a continuation of the ideas discussed during his darkest moments in the RTD-era, but actually of something introduced way back in the Sixth Doctor serial “Trial of a Time Lord”. That is when we first heard about the Valeyard, who appears to be the Doctor’s inner darkness personified into a separate entity. The storyline of the Moffat-era appears to be about how dangerously close the Doctor constantly is to being consumed by his dark impulses, which I see as deeply connected to the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ expressed trauma from the Last Great Time War. At least, that would make sense to me, because that would follow an age-old narrative that can be seen often enough in real life.
The Doctor has experienced a truly horrific war and even before that he has seen the worst things the universe has to offer, so it would make sense that he would want to fight injustice and create a more peaceful existence for everyone. But looking at other fictional examples, such as “Citizen Kane”, it is not surprising if the zeal for enforcing justice takes a darker turn, making way for a horrible tyrant. Judging by all of Moffat’s episodes until “The Name of the Doctor”, this seems to be what the Doctor is in danger of becoming: A ruthless overlord who dominates over everybody, having forgotten about why he wanted to stop all warfare. That is at least my interpretation of the ongoing storyline. How right or wrong I am remains to be seen…