The War Doctor or the Most Doctor-Like of them all?
Guest contributor Mark M analyses John Hurt’s Doctor.
For the fiftieth year of the show, fans were treated by Moffat with an entirely new Doctor, played by the fantastic John Hurt. Tantalising teased at the end of Series 7 in The Name of the Doctor, this Doctor would be the subject of months of fan speculation. That was until it was revealed that he was the War Doctor, the incarnation after the fantastic Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor. The character’s story was developed and resolved in The Day of the Doctor, but was he the character his future incarnations made him out to be?
“I’ve had many faces, many lives. I don’t admit to all of them. There’s one life I’ve tried very hard to forget.”
The War Doctor is someone the previous incarnations try to forget, someone they present as the villain, someone who isn’t the Doctor. This was something I found quite hard to understand in The Day of the Doctor. What we were presented with, of the War Doctor, was the fact that he was a good man in an impossible situation. This fact is even recognised by Matt’s Doctor when he said “You were the Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right”.
It’s a widely recognised scenario, especially in the medical world, that there comes a point when there is no best decision; instead the least worst option is considered, this is what the War Doctor was forced to do. He chose that it was preferable to take the lives of his people and their enemies than leave the situation to potentially kill the rest of the universe. The only best option from a list of bad ones, so does this condemn him as not being worthy of the title of the Doctor?
“Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.”
The promise the Doctor made, so one would assume that in order to no longer be the Doctor, the War Doctor must have at some point broken this promise. This is what is left unclear, we don’t see the War Doctor actually do anything wrong other than being about to use the moment, which I believe actually still meets the criteria of being the Doctor. A coward could not make the decision the War Doctor was faced with, and he never gave up looking for an alternative, having fought in the war from a relatively young man, to the more aged state in which we met him in The Day of the Doctor, it is evident that he has not given up on trying to save everyone.
“I’ve lost the right to be called the Doctor”
Something else I have noticed about the War Doctor is his complete lack of self-confidence; he is seen throughout the episode putting himself down, believing himself to not be the Doctor. The question is though, is it because of the atrocities he has committed, or what I believe to be more likely that he is down on himself and fed up of fighting.
An easily observed fact about the Doctor is that he makes those around him better people, this is most notable as a change in the behaviour of his companions, but can also be seen in one off characters too. This is one of the many traits which make him the good man that he is. Looking at the War Doctor, he goes even further than this and actually encourages himself (and his other incarnations to be a better person), this is exemplified in his, “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame, whatever the cost.” He is proud of what he will become, but has actually contributed to making the Doctor the man he is, which is hard to contemplate as it is quite paradoxical.
We can see from his personality that throughout the episode he is every bit as much the Doctor as Matt’s or David’s incarnations of the character. The aspects which exemplify this are his initial reluctance to activate the moment, his consideration to the children of Gallifrey, and finally his sense of humour. But the biggest insight into who he truly is, is delivered when he his presented with a way out of his terrible decision, his pure delight and ecstasy shows what a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
From the evidence presented in The Day of the Doctor, even before the dramatic change in narrative, the War Doctor was still most certainly the Doctor. This is also stated by Tennant’s Doctor when he tells the War Doctor, “All those years, burying you in my memory. Pretending you weren’t the Doctor, when you were the Doctor more than anybody else.”
To me, it’s pretty clear he always was the Doctor, and it was nice to see him take up that place at the end of the episode. I’m still confused though as to why the following incarnations were so unaccepting, unforgiving and not very Doctor like towards him.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section.