I recently presented the Doctor as, well, not a villain, nor a hero… not necessarily a good guy, but not an outright killer… But really, as a truly neutral force. But by no means a disinterested one – he is very actively engaged in the life of the universe, and maybe especially with the planet Earth.
So what do we know about the Doctor? Who is he? (See what I did there?…)
The Doctor is a time lord…
Obvious, but important. There are things that the companions keep having to learn from the Doctor as they meet him. After all, he doesn’t look human, humans look Time Lord.
But as an alien, what the right thing to do would be is not quite the same as what it would be for you or I. The Doctor has the power to take things and make them not happen, to escape from villains, to confront and defeat them… Whether that be in the course of an episode, or throughout a long and bitter war.
For instance, there is the Time War. The war in which the Doctor seems to have kind of single-handedly defeated basically everyone and everything. And locked it away behind a time-lock, effectively having kept the war – and the species fighting in it – from even existing. Of course, he didn’t catch everything, and plot ensues! But the Doctor, to save all of reality, stowed away his own people and their enemies. A hard choice, a ridiculous and impossible choice, and one that I think does not point at the Doctor being either good or evil. More just willing to do what he has to.
…The very last of the time lords
So instead of just as an alien, we see the Doctor through the eyes of his human companions. And I think they have an eye to him. Amy Pond perhaps sees him best, as he travels alone, the other Time Lords gone:
What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race dead. What couldn’t you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.
And at nine hundred years old, just about everyone is a child. The Doctor comes and saves people. From other things, people and aliens and creatures and occasionally Satan. But he does not just vanquish the enemies, doesn’t just kill them or delete them from history. He gives them a chance. A chance to stop doing what they are doing, to stop making trouble.
And he will let them go. Some of the angriest you might see the Doctor is at the end of The Christmas Invasion, when David Tennant is being introduced as the Doctor. He has convinced the Sycorax to leave, and they do so. They have their second chance. And then the humans blow up the fleeing Sycorax ship. Suddenly it’s the humans who have to hope for a second chance from the Doctor and his wrath. And the Doctor does eventually watch the end of Torchwood that season, the organization which had the technology to destroy the Sycorax.
The doctor has rules
Beyond giving a second chance, the Doctor has rules. Only a few have been revealed, or perhaps he only has a few and throws everyone off with an odd numbering scheme.
1. Don’t Wander Off
7. Never Run When You’re Scared
8. Never ignore a coincidence.
Unless you’re busy, then always ignore a coincidence.
27. Never knowingly be serious.
408. Time is not the boss of you.
Of course, the good alternative rule is rule number one, “The Doctor Lies.” For more on the Doctor’s rules, check that out here.
However, this shows both that the Doctor has rules he follows, and that these are not necessarily society’s rules, or ones that even hold society together (time not being the boss of you, after all, means that not a lot is the boss of you). So I submit the Doctor is also not by any means lawful or chaotic in any sense we can really see or understand.
The doctor needs a companion
So where the Doctor does become understandable, as I’ve mentioned, is with a companion. They add a lot of the human life to the show, and often have far more of the character development. They are who we can empathize with, are who we want to be. I don’t think I want to be the Doctor, after all – I don’t know where I would begin.
There are some recent examples of the Doctor being alone, such as the Specials at the end of David Tennant’s run as the tenth Doctor, and the episodes that comprise part one of series seven. I think of the latter as a second set of Specials, really. In both, there is a set of stand-alone episodes, separated by a period of time in which the Doctor is traveling alone, and which progressively have the Doctor becoming less human and understandable to us. The Doctor, having experienced the first period alone, seems to be trying to avoid getting that far gone, and keeps coming back to his old companions, Rory and Amy Williams (Pond?).
And that’s where we are now, and where we have left the Doctor heading into the new half of the series. He has been somewhat alone for a very long time now, and at the end of the time he had with his last companions, he is now finding a new companion. He was desolate for a while, and had stopped traveling alone, even, and just was alone. But now he’s back to shenanigans, and this would be a great time to get into the show if you don’t watch it now. Returning on BBC America March 30!