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 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|
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|
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":