Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord

[Spoilers up to "The Caretaker" and "Kill The Moon", the sixth and seventh episodes of Season Eight.]

I keep thinking about "Deep Breath." Specifically, about that speech the Doctor gives to the Half-Face Man. The one about how precious every individual life is. "I prefer it down there," he tells the clockwork android as they float above London in a hot air balloon made of skin (ew). "Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment. Every life clung to."

It's a belief we've heard the Doctor repeat over and over again. But he doesn't always act as if he actually see things that way — certainly not since his most recent regeneration. The Twelfth Doctor follows up that speech by pushing the Half-Face Man out of the balloon to his death — or, at the very least, by convincing him to jump — despite having called him "more human... than machine." He's completed unfazed by the killing of the soldier near the beginning of "Into The Dalek". And he seems completely unconcerned with the details of ordinary human lives. This Doctor, even more than his previous incarnations, seems to be thoroughly exasperated by humans. Even Clara seems to baffle him. He's not interested in their petty concerns — like, oh, say, feelings. He's focused on the big picture. The Greater Good. He is, after all, a Time Lord: he saves entire species, entire planets, all of space and time.

We see this big picture thinking in "The Caretaker." It's the Doctor, it seems, who is responsible for putting the school in danger in the first place. The Skovox Blitzer was attracted by all the artron energy — a byproduct of time travel; it's there because of the Doctor's longstanding connection to the school. But instead of trying to lure the super-deadly robot away from all those children, the Doctor decides to lure it closer instead. He comes up with a plan to quite literally turn the school into a battlefield. He places time mines all over the place. Then, he gets the killer robot to come inside the school, where he opens a big, dangerous time vortex in the middle of the assembly hall. It is at night, so the children, hopefully, won't be around. But this is clearly a Time Lord willing to take risks with other people's lives. Of course, we've seen that before time and time again.

It's a plan so morally iffy that the Doctor tries to hide it from Clara. She, after all, has a duty of care when it comes to the children of the Coal Hill School. And she also has a duty to care for the Doctor — in the "she cares so I don't have to" sense. (He might be the janitor, but it's Clara who is the real caretaker here: both for the school and for the Doctor.) Clara, as she reminds him herself, is there to be his conscience. But a conscience might get in the way when you're trying to lure a killer robot into what is supposed to be a safe environment for children.

The Doctor is okay with his own risky plans because he's convinced that what he's doing is for the greater good. It might be dangerous and it might put people at risk. But even if a few people do accidentally die during his adventures, he's sure he will save lives in the long run. It's the same kind of brutal math that military commanders have to do all the time. And on this occasion, just like a General, the Doctor doesn't want his subordinates questioning his decisions.

The Skovox Blitzer
"The Caretaker" drives the military parallel home. It's there during the big showdown with Danny in the TARDIS and even in the way the Doctor finally defeats the Blitzer: by pretending to be its General. But this is far from the first time the theme has come up on the show. We know the word "doctor" means "warrior" on some planets. He's had a whole secret War Doctor incarnation. He spent hundreds of years fighting on Trenzalore. He turned Martha into a soldier. And as Rory angrily points out, the Doctor regularly convinces people to put themselves in danger and to sacrifice themselves to his causes.

The Twelfth Doctor might hate soldiers much more passionately than his past incarnations — a reaction, we're left to assume, to his recent war-soaked past — but he is, himself, no stranger to the battlefield. He might have avoided becoming a soldier as a young boy in that barn all those centuries ago, but only by joining the Academy and becoming a Time Lord instead. He still fights in plenty of battles. And Danny is right, it's there in the name: the Doctor does have all the baggage of the officer class. He has joined the aristocracy of the universe. Is there anyone in all of space and time with more privilege than a white, male Time Lord?

"It’s one of the show's most uncomfortable underpinnings," Emily Asher-Perrin wrote in her review of "Kill The Moon", "the fact that the Doctor always appears to be a white man, and spends his days flouncing about making galactic choices without anyone's say-so but his own. It's distinctly Imperialistic."

Doctor Who has never shied away from discussing questions of imperialism. The series has been deeply concerned with those questions ever since it was created — in the wake of the Suez Crisis and the waning days of the British Empire. The Doctor's attitude has a lot in common with invaders who like to think they're being benevolent: making huge decisions on behalf of the people they're claiming to help, killing plenty of them in the process. As Lynne M. Thomas pointed out on the Verity! podcast last week, "If you're looking at the character of the Doctor from the perspective of a conquered people, he's terrifying. He turns up and stuff is going to blow up good!" Which doesn't sound entirely unlike the coalitions of nations willing to bomb, oh, say, Iraq in the name of democracy. There will be collateral damage, sure, but it's all for the Greater Good...

"I think the collateral damage is another key thing for this season," Thomas continued, "that we're seeing over and over and over again. And I think this is the season where the Doctor is being forced to actually confront his collateral damage."

The First Doctor
This does seem like a particularly important moment for the old Time Lord. At the beginning of this whole new regeneration cycle, in the wake of his revisiting the Time War in "The Day of the Doctor" and the hundreds of years he spent fighting at Christmas, he's been trying to figure out exactly who he is. As Alisdair Wilkins puts it in his review of "The Caretaker", the Doctor is having "a newfound crisis of conscience, as he can't be entirely sure that his appearance as a good, peaceful man was just as much of an affectation as the pin-striped suit or the bowtie." The First Doctor, after all, was an abrasive and more violent man — he was about to commit murder in his very first story until his companion stopped him. It was his travel with human companions that softened him and led him to become the much more charming Second Doctor. So who is he, really, behind the storybook hero facade? Is he really a good man?

The answers so far haven not been reassuring. The Twelfth Doctor is, frankly, a jerk. And without all that flirting and gallantry and spinning around the TARDIS console like the eccentric owner of a chocolate factory, it's easier to see all his other flaws, too. He's insulting. Arrogant. Manipulative. And he is too often oblivious to the consequences of his actions — whether it's accidentally turning young Danny Pink into a solider or telling Courtney Woods she's not special or getting a young woman from the Gamma Forests to join the army just for the chance to meet him...

But it is, in the wake of all that bloodshed, the military criticism that seems to hit closest to home. The Doctor is fucking pissed when Danny confronts him about it in the TARDIS. And in "Kill The Moon," as Asher-Perrin points out, "the Doctor is clearly trying to prove Danny Pink wrong."

So he makes a big show of changing his ways. After centuries of making decisions on behalf of the people of the Earth, he leaves this one important choice about the giant moon dragon creature to the Earthlings for a change. He withdraws and lets the humans decide. He even seems to mayyybe subvert his own long history of misogyny by leaving it up to two women and a girl. "Womankind," as he chooses to put it.

But he's missed the point. For one thing, it's not entirely clear how much he really is leaving it up to the humans. He — just like any empire installing a puppet government — has handpicked the people who get to make the choice. Two of the "deciders" wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for him: the same two who agree with him. Clara's own views have been deeply influenced by her time on the TARDIS. The Time Lord has changed her. And as her fellow bank robber, Psi, pointed out in "Time Heist", she may be a little too willing to see things from the Doctor's perspective.

Angry Clara Oswald
Clara does, at first, try her best to make the decision about the moon a democratic one — even if the only people who get a vote are those who control the power grid in the Western hemisphere. But then she overrules even that modest attempt at democracy. This time, it's the not the Doctor who makes a big decision about the Earth despite the wishes of its citizens. But it is his disciple.

In the end, we're left wondering just how much of a puppet Clara has been. And more importantly, so is she. The Doctor has withheld information, manipulated his supposed friend, tricked her into a dangerous situation filled with heavy responsibility. And he did the same thing to one of her students, too. Of course, that's not new. It's the same way the Doctor has been behaving ever since Ian and Barbara first stepped on board the TARDIS in 1963. The big picture is what matters. The details — like peoples' feelings and trust and friendship — elude him. But this time, during one of the most memorable and unsettling scenes in the entire history of the show, Clara calls him on it.

Madame Vastra was right in "Deep Breath": the Doctor has lifted the veil. But what it revealed is an elitist jerk of a Time Lord. You're damn right Clara is judging him. And the rest of us are too. But with Clara's confrontation if feels like we might have finally reached a turning point. For the first time this season, it feels as if there might actually be a light at the end of the Twelfth Doctor's asshole.

Other thoughts about "The Caretaker" and "Kill The Moon":

- I didn't delve into the strange abortion stuff going on in "Kill The Moon" — in part because I'm still not really sure what to make of it — but Whovian Feminism has a very interesting post about it. And they discussed it on the Verity! podcast this week as well.

- Dear god the science and related logic in "Kill The Moon" is absolutely pitiful. The moon isn't 100 million years old, it's 4.5 billion. Courtney floats but the others nearby don't? Why does she drop back to the ground the moment she touches the yo-yo? Those "bacteria" are supposed single-celled? They spin webs? The moon isn't made of rock? It just harmlessly disintegrates? The giant moon dragon creature laid an egg bigger than itself? I mean, I know Doctor Who isn't Cosmos but that's a whole lot ridiculous for one episode.

- The quotation on the board in Clara's classroom at the end of "Kill The Moon" is from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

- The Brigadier retired from UNIT and became a maths teacher. Just like Danny Pink.

- My favourite moment in "The Caretaker": when the Doctor whistles Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall". My favourite moment in "Kill The Moon": the Doctor's joy when he reveals the moon is an egg.

- Another good point about "Kill The Moon" from Alisdair Wilkins: "consider the implication of that line: If abandoning Clara was a sign of respect, what does that mean for every instance in which he stays to help?"

- And Wilkins' thoughts on the recipe for the Twelfth Doctor: "a fascinating mix of the irascible, uncertain morality of the 1st Doctor, the imperious authoritarianism of the 3rd Doctor, the unknowable, anarchic alien of the 4th Doctor, the ego and the remoteness of the 6th Doctor, and the general prickliness of the 9th Doctor."

- Clara twists herself in knots worrying about overruling the choice of the planet. The Doctor wouldn't at all.

- I'm not really trusting Danny Pink right now. He strikes me as pretty condescending to Clara. And while he has that line in "The Caretaker" — "It's funny, you only really know what someone thinks of you when you know what lies they’ve told you." — he certainly doesn't seem to be telling her the whole truth about himself.

- "Kill The Moon" had lots of little references to classic episodes. The BBC's Fact File lists them. The most relevant to my own thoughts: the Doctor's line about the Earth not being his home, which is the same thing he told Sarah-Jane in "The Pyramids of Mars": "The Earth isn't my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord… I walk in eternity."

- I'm intrigued by this business of Courtney Woods preferring to call Clara "Miss." Which makes sense, of course. But it also highlights a way in which their student-teacher relationship parallels the Doctor-companion relationship. He has his companions call him "The Doctor"; they're never equal enough to have them call him by his real name either.

- We're still getting lots of mirrors this season, fitting the theme of the Doctor doing some self-examination


This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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