One of my favorite television shows is Doctor Who. It’s a British sci-fi about a time-traveling alien who goes around the galaxy saving humans, aliens, and one time even dinosaurs. Basically, we follow the nine hundred year-old main character, the Doctor, on his countless journeys throughout time and space.
The Doctor isn’t your conventional superhero. For starters, he’s the last of the Timelords, an alien species that once scoured through time and space. He doesn’t have super strength, the power to fly, nor can he even hold-up in a fistfight. What he does have is his multipurpose sonic screwdriver (a scanner, universal door-opener, occasional taser) and his brilliant mind. Those are it. Yet even with these inhibitions, he can still take down legions of villains. And another unique thing about the Doctor is how he’s been portrayed by almost a dozen different people.
Every few seasons, the Doctor “regenerates.” His looks, personality, clothing style, friends, and enemies all drastically change, in accordance with the new actor’s mannerisms and the — sometimes — new head writer’s direction. Currently, there have been eleven people who have portrayed the Doctor, and a plethora of returning or new supporting characters throughout the show’s fifty year-long run. Since the actors and writers constantly change, the show never feels like a bore. Each season is a brand new take on the Who saga.
Because each actor and writer envision the Doctor differently, each regeneration brings a new breath of fresh air to the show. I picked up the show during his eleventh incarnation, as portrayed by Matt Smith. I haven’t watched the previous seasons, but I’ve heard that only one thing remains constant throughout all the years: the Doctor’s moral compass.
The Doctor, as I’ve stated before, doesn’t really have a weapon. Whenever he encounters a foe his first reaction is usually to talk, and when he’s obviously outmatched he just runs away. But this isn’t because he’s powerless. He doesn’t fight because he actually loathes violence. His method to resolve conflicts is usually — when he has the chance to– through using non-lethal means.
On the first episode I saw, he thwarted the big alien baddy by yelling at, and threatening it. Not the most obvious showcase of power, isn’t it? The funny thing is, the Doctor’s actually feared throughout the galaxies. In the show’s universe, his name is commonly associated with the word “warrior.” I.e. several civilizations call their mightiest fighters “Doctors.” Again, this isn’t because he’s Superman, rather his strength lies in his brilliance. He’s taken down military installations, planets, even gods and demons without putting a finger on any trigger.
Yet with his prowess, he hates taking a life. He’s done it numerous times, to enemies that would be a danger to everyone else if left alive. But every single time he has to, he sees a life that he’s failed to save.
On the episode The God Complex, the Doctor, a few other individuals, and his friends are hunted down by a minotaur-shaped alien. They were all stuck inside a hotel-like labyrinth, where all of them were shown their worst fears. Which is when the minotaur comes and kills them off one by one. Until only a few of the group remained. The creature’s reign was ended however, when the doctor finally incapacitated it.
During the last few minutes of The God Complex, the Doctor talked to the minotaur. Not only that, he comforted the dying, soul-devouring monster. Complete with gentle hushes and “it’s going to be okay” speeches. Instead of simply leaving it to die and getting the hell out of dodge, he took the time to take care of a monster, whom a few minutes ago tried to murder him.
At this moment of comforting, the doctor learned of the minotaur’s background. It was actually part of an alien species who travels from planet to planet, posing as gods to the worlds’ primitive natives. The revealed-to-be-sentient minotaur, imparted a few words to the Doctor.
The minotaur said, “An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent. Drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift.”
Hearing the minotaur’s word, the Doctor placed his hand on its shoulder, and whispered, “Then accept it. And sleep well.”
But the minotaur replied, “I wasn’t talking about myself.” Much to the Doctor and the group’s surprise.
For me, this episode stands out among the rest of the sixth season’s offerings for two reasons. One, It captures the Doctor’s compassion to all that is living and breathing; even the ones that tried to eliminate him. And two, it left a relatively huge breadcrumb towards the Doctor’s dark and mysterious past.
Throughout the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons, there have been many hints to the Doctor’s forgotten years. All of them stating one thing in common: the Doctor wasn’t always a good guy. In fact, the Doctor himself alluded to his past bitterly. Always implying that he was responsible for the death of countless, guiltless people.
One of his adversaries also had a monologue that directly called the Doctor as a generally evil being. On the Doctor’s supposed future grave, he said, “Welcome to the final resting place of the Cruel Tyrant. The Slaughterer of the Ten Billion. The Vessel of the Final Darkness… he will have other names before the end. The Storm. The Beast.” Not exactly what anyone would say to a hero, isn’t it?
Because of the two monologues above, and dozens of other clues, the Doctor obviously has a secret. He’s clearly done something terrifying in his past. And if “The Slaughterer of the Ten Billion” is true, then he’d murdered an ungodly amount of people. He’s a monster in the eyes of many, and perhaps rightfully so (nobody except the writers know of his history yet, so there can only be speculations).
The Doctor’s secret is what made me fall in love with the character, and by extension the show itself. He’d made a mistake that cannot ever be reversed — not even with time travel. One thing that gnaws at his soul every single day of his nine hundred year-long life. A reminder that he was once a mass murderer — deliberately or not, we the viewers still do not know.
What should’ve been his downfall, instead became his propeller. He didn’t let himself be dragged down by his past. Rather, he turned it into something that forces him to do good: his moral compass.
The moral of the Doctor’s story is quite wonderful when we look at it in this way. He was a genocidal monster once, and that cannot ever be forgotten. Many of his enemies hate him not because he now acts as a force of good, but due to his presumably pitch-black past. And he knows that sometimes he has to fight because his past has caught up to him.
The wonderfulness of the Doctor’s story, to me, is this: even if we have been a bad person, even if we have once done things that cannot ever be forgiven, we can still do good. In my eyes, the entire show is about the Doctor’s journey to redemption.
Forgiveness is what the Doctor constantly looks for. In the episode The Doctor’s Wife, he blatantly stated that he wishes the Timelords would forgive him, for whatever it is he did. And maybe, just maybe all the good deeds he’d accomplished so far had been him trying to atone for his sins.
That is exactly what the Doctor is. He’s not a hero, and some of the universe’s worst villains would look at him with disgust; the same disgusted look we would give to terrorists, or other equally messed up people. The Doctor is a man full of guilt, a man whom historians will record with contempt.
Yet with all those loads on his backs, he will always try to bring happiness to the universe. A monster he might’ve been, and a monster he might still be. Though this monster no longer destroys. He saves lives, and have sacrificed his own numerous times — dying and losing his personality time and time again — for others.
No matter how big of a mistake we’ve made. Although we have lost things that cannot ever be recaptured because of our own deeds. The Doctor has shown, and will always show, that a man is not built by his past alone. We may never truly move on, but we can still bring a smile to the faces of those we see.
It is never too late to act in the name of all that is righteous. That is what the Doctor taught me.