Is the Doctor a Good Man?
Connor Johnston doesn’t think he knows who the Doctor is anymore…
“You need to be careful, because you know the Doctor’s wonderful and he’s brilliant, but he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burned.” – Martha Jones
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have seen last week’s teaser trailer for Series 8 by now. Among the excitement and electricity of the 15 seconds of heaven; a question was posed: “Clara be my pal… Tell me: Am I a good man?” But what defines a good man? Is it the number of great achievements he has to his name or the way in which he conducts himself during the most mundane of tasks? Is it the masses he inspires through his actions or the modesty in acting without praise or thanks? Is becoming a good man the motivation or the outcome of a person’s actions?
For over 50 years now, we’ve had the opportunity to see snippets of the Doctor’s life and decide for ourselves what kind of moral code the Doctor follows. Today I plan on exploring some of the greatest moments and the darkest hours of the Doctors life and debate the question that’s subconsciously eating away at the back of our minds: Is the Doctor a Good Man?
When he was…
Adding to Van Goth’s Pile of Good things
Definitely one of the most heartwarming moments in the show’s history was when the Doctor made the choice to give the troubled Vincent Van Gogh a glimpse into the future, showing him the amazing part of society attributed to him. To show him how much he will come to mean to people. Why does he do it?. Alan Barnes summed up the Doctor’s motivation perfectly in DWM #474 using a quote from “The Elephant Man”: “My life is full because I know I am loved. I have gained myself.” He does it simply to help Vincent gain himself. The Doctor knew that Van Gogh’s unfortunate end couldn’t be rewritten, but nevertheless made it his purest mission to add to his pile of good things.
Creating Second Chances
The Doctor’s position when it comes to showing mercy is one of the most changeable parts of his personality. 2 instances however where he gave his enemies second chances to lead a better path in life are found with Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen in “Boom Town” and Kazaran Sardick in “A Christmas Carol”. In both these cases the Doctor returns to the times of the “villain’s” (note the quotation marks) childhood to either guide them or give the opportunity for them to practice a better life, instilling the principles that he exhibits so often through his actions and understanding: that sometimes showing mercy and granting second chances in life is a more efficient than punishment or force.
Regardless of your position on the controversial return of Gallifrey, one thing that we can all (hopefully) agree on is that the Doctor’s motivation to change his own history was the motivations of a good man. The focus on the loss of blameless lives was a brilliant angle for Moffat to take the anniversary in, with the whole of the special being devoted to showcasing and paying tribute to the greatest sides of the Doctor; through the War Doctor’s admiration for his latter incarnations and the decision to save Gallifrey reflecting and staying true to his ultimate promise:
“Never Cruel or Cowardly… Never give up, never give in.”
Fighting for His Companions
The Doctor is a man who holds the safety of others with much more importance than the safety of himself. His selflessness is exhibited so many times throughout the history of the show, but the examples that occur during the third, fifth, ninth and eleventh Doctor’s regeneration stories are possibly the most iconic. In both “The Planet of the Spiders” and “The Caves of Androzani” the Doctor essentially sacrifices his life’s to save his companion by both risking his life fighting to save Sarah Jane from the eight legs and dying to protect his friends at UNIT, as well as crash landing a spaceship in hope to find an antidote and rescue Peri. The Ninth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor also keep their companions as their number one priorities during “The Parting of Ways” and “The Time of the Doctor” thinking only to get Rose and Clara out of harm’s way knowing full well their intentions to stay and fight till the death with him.
“He has saved your lives so many times, and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him. I know him. I love him. And I know what he can do.” – Martha Jones.
One of the greatest thing about the Doctor is his modesty and the fact that no matter how much good he’s done for the universe and how many lives he had saved – he never asked to be thanked. There’s no alternative motivation or expected praise in the Doctor’s actions – he’s just a man who realizes that there is evil in the universe – forces of destruction that need to be stopped and vulnerable races that need to be protected – and takes it upon himself to do just that. His humility can at times fade away (For example during “Midnight”), but he always remains faithful to the noblest of incentives. “There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.”
When he wasn’t….
Throughout most of Series 7 (Particularly 7A) the darker sides of the Doctor seemed to be touched on more and more, brilliantly foreshadowing the motives of the Great Intelligence in the series finale “The Name of the Doctor”. One of the worse moments for the Doctor during this period was his choice to sabotage Solomon’s ship ensuring that he was killed by the missiles in the ending scenes of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”. The actions are almost justifiable due to the fact that Solomon was the perfect example of a terrible man rotten to the core – but they are far from being the actions of a “good man”. Still, the choice to murder Solomon instead of making room for mercy in his heart is one that shocked many of us as well as adding the trader’s name to the long list of those who have contributed to the constantly blood-soaked hands of the Doctor.
Destroying Ace’s Faith
The Seventh Doctor’s era was one riddled in dark themes but one moment that revealed his deceitful qualities and explored the repercussions his manipulative schemes had on people more so than any other was when he used Ace at the risk of her emotional stability in “The Curse of the Fenric”. At the crucial climax of the serial, the Doctor is faced with a choice to make: Give in to Sorin’s power, or watch Ace die. His response is one no one could have predicted as he blatantly tells Sorin to kill her and “confesses” that he had been using her the whole time they were together. “Do you think I’d have chosen a social misfit if I hadn’t known? She couldn’t even pass her chemistry exams at school, and yet she manages to create a time storm in her bedroom. I saw your hand in it from the very beginning. She’s an emotional cripple. I wouldn’t waste my time on her, unless I had to use her somehow.” In destroying Ace’s faith in him by making out to have manipulated her he does save their lives and defeat Sorin… but at what cost? Ace is a character that had struggled with self confidence and trust her entire life after having several traumatic experiences during her early years in Perivale. She covered her fears and insecurities with a tough, streetwise exterior; but all that was stripped down and destroyed, exposing and taking advantage of her vulnerabilities while being confronted with the Doctor’s apparent betrayal.
The Fury of the Time Lord
There are moments throughout the Doctor’s life where his darkest sides come out to play – when the fury of the Time Lord bubbles up to the surface and we are confronted by the overflowing anger of the Doctor. When the Doctor is truly angry his wrath cannot be contained and in turn acts in a way where he seems to everyone else indestructible – mainly due to the fact that his mortality is the last thing on his mind. Some of the scariest moments of the Doctor’s rage taking form are during “A Good Man Goes To War”, “Family of Blood” and “The Waters of Mars” in the ‘Captain Runaway’, ‘Punishing the Family’ and ‘Timelord Victorious’ scenes respectively. In these moments the Doctor is not a good man, but rather a man drunk on power, rage and influence; intimidating and killing his enemies brutally, as well as thinking that the laws of time don’t apply to him. His better judgment is corrupted by his wrath and his mind holds no room for forgiveness and mercy in his actions.
“You know what’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.” – Rory Williams
One of the darkest ideas in the show’s history was tackled quite powerfully in Series 6’s “The God Complex” and more subtly in Series 5’s “The Vampires of Venice”. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and no one knows it as much as the Doctor. He has watched over and over again his friends, companions and people he has cared the most for suffer and/or die due to travelling with him. While any companion will most probably say that the pros of travelling with the Doctor far outweigh the cons, the Doctor knows more than anyone the eventual price each of his friends will have to pay. Knowing the danger that a life in the TARDIS creates, why would a good man ever voluntarily allow people to put themselves in those dangerous positions? Besides from introducing his companions to the danger, he impresses them and almost makes them want to embrace this danger to impress him in return. The undeniable truth is that the Doctor allows this to happen because of his never-ending loneliness and his constant yearning for companionship. Yes it’s a heartbreaking motivation and yes it’s a sweet one from our point of view, but it’s also incredibly selfish and incredibly questionable from his.
Take a Deep Breath…
I can’t begin to understand how or why Peter Capaldi’s previous ‘Who’ appearances are to be included within his era (or if they will be at all!), but I can’t help to conjure up images from life of John Frobisher when listening to the dialogue of the teaser. Particularly relevant is this quote:
“I’m not saying it was perfect, you know that better than me, but he worked hard. He always worked hard. I don’t think that’s valued enough these days, hard work. And he was a good man. I want you to know that. John Frobisher was a good man…” – Bridget Spears
So the question must be asked: Was John Frobisher a “good man”? The evidence we have against him is astounding: between ordering to have the Torchwood team executed and committing a triple murder suicide on his own family, an image of a horrible man is presented to those who don’t explore his actions in depth. To truly understand John Frobisher we need to understand the situation he was in.
John Frobisher in my mind is very much a victim. A puppet used by the corrupt government as a replaceable pawn in the conflict between Earth and the 456. With the added stress of having the lives and wellbeings of the earth’s children in his hands, John also had to worry for the wellbeing of his own family, and when the time finally came where he realized the lengths and sacrifices the government expected him to make it was at the cost of the people he cared for most. John believed that there was no way to stop the 456 and knew that there was no way to save his children from being offered up as sacrifices. With this in mind we need to truly ask ourselves what was the worse option? Sacrificing his children to and endless amount of conscious death or killing them with as much mercy as quickly as possible? He did wrong things for the extraordinary unfortunate, but right reasons… “And he was a good man.”
Looking at as much knowledge that we have at our hands at the moment, it is pretty clear now thanks to suggestions by cast and crew, as well as indications in the most recent teaser trailer, that the Twelfth Doctor will be an incarnation that will showcase his darker side more often than his past incarnations – though we cannot be sure due to the obvious fact that we haven’t actually entered into his era yet. One thing that I am personally certain of if we do in fact go down the path of a darker Doctor is that he won’t become a bad person. He will still indubitably be a man who saves worlds, rescues civilizations and inspires generations or else the entire premise of the show will change! There is a chance however that he may be a bit more ferocious in his actions, but only time will tell.
The Final Verdict
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. Marcus Aurelius.” – Clara Oswald
And so we reach the conclusion of our article today still wondering if the Doctor is truly a good man or not? We know from “A Good Man Goes to War” that the Doctor doesn’t believe he’s a good man due to his abundance of rules. The Doctor’s choices are what truly define him and in a debate regarding the conscience of the Doctor we can’t forget to mention the decisions he has made that have equal weight for both sides of the argument. In “The Night of the Doctor” we see how a seemingly bad choice is made with the purest of motivations, with the Doctor choosing to become a warrior with no restraint in order to salvage what parts of the universe haven’t been destroyed by the Time War. “The Waters of Mars” shows us how a seemingly good decision can have horrific consequences for Adelaide and her team, and the death toll during “The Time of the Doctor” poses the question asking if the Doctor’s decision to stay and protect the people of Trenzalore was the right one to make, or one that brought them more death and suffering. Many people struggle with the idea that something can be so good and so terrible at the same time – For me, this is the Doctor. He is a flawed man of course, but we must remember a good man is not a perfect man – and that such a perfect man will never exist.
The Doctor does bad things to achieve good results. He uses this fury and presence that is created through his questionable yet victorious actions as a platform to create a reputation for himself and having more influence in the universe to do good – but has been in the past aware of when to tighten the reigns. He is a man that is, as ever, a mystery – not always what he seems at first, and if anything unpredictable in his actions. Where he struggles in controlling the fury of the Time Lord within in his darkest moments, he excels in continuing to exhibit a way of living that we could all learn from in his greatest. A way of forgiveness, courage, modesty and determination. A way of anger, manipulation, fury and secrecy. The way of the good and terrible Doctor.