Friday, September 5, 2014

Is the Doctor a good man? Taking a look at morality in the Doctor Who Universe

In the latest episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor asked Clara a simple question.  He asked “Am I a good man?” He asked the question in a way that was almost challenging the audience to answer the question as well as Clara.  He asked us to reach back over the last 50 years and judge the character of the Doctor.  Well. . .maybe I am reading a little too much into that, but I did begin to think about it.  The morality of the Doctor is something that has always intrigued me.

On the Surface the Doctor is a hero, and of course we relate heroes to good people.  People who fight for truth, justice . . .and the way of the people they are fighting for.  A hero is judged in the context of their own society.  Thus I may think of a hero or a good man differently than say someone from England.  We all have a different cultural definition of morality, and thus so should the Doctor and the universe he lives in.

The question of morality and the Doctor is not a new one.  Back in the 70s when the Doctor as traveling with Sarah Jane Smith, he reminded her that he was different.  He didn’t percive things the same way she did. . .He walks in eternity  and is NOT human.   So should we judge if he is a good man on the scale of human morality.  In the same episode (Pyramids of Mars, 1975) the doctor is faced with Sutekh the Destroyer, who for all intents and purposes is an evil entity that is above humanity and even above Timelords (or so he believes).  Sutekh tells the Doctor that “Your [the doctor] evil is my [sutekh’s] good.” This sets a landscape of the lack of a single moral code within the universe, and also tells us a little more about the doctor, because as he feels he is above humanity he is still willing to fight for it.

And Check out this out at about 4:48

The Doctor wants to be good.  He wants to do the right thing, but he is torn.  He finds himself with knowledge that does not always allow his let him follow the moral code that many of his companions have, but he does try to give the appearance of holding to that code.  Many times that is by surrounding himself with companions who have no problem being morally gray.  The best
Ace isn't afraid to use a weapon! 
example of this is Ace.  At first the Doctor and Ace seem to have a typical companion/ doctor relationship, but while the doctor objects to her more violent ways he rarely does anything about it.  Even to the point where he begins to anticipate that she is carrying explosives.  She become useful to him, a means to an end to do the things he can’t.  this continues on into the virgin new adventure novels.  At this point he is becoming something more than a hero.  He no longer believes a human moral code is any code to live a life.  This is where it becomes apparent that the doctor is really only interested in the greater good.  He has to be the champion of time he finds himself on a different level battling beings that have different scales by which they weigh morality.  These are Beings like Cthulu, or the Celestial toy maker, and the eternals. He begins to place himself on their scale of morality.

The cause of the greater good is something that  has resonated throughout the series.  Often

times the doctor is fighting against monsters who for all intents and purposes know no better or who are doing what they feel is right.  The cybermen are a great example.  They felt (well not feel so much) they thought that they were doing a service to humanity by coming to convert them.  They would make them better, stronger.  Of course the Doctor saw it as a violation of humanities rights.  The doctor chose a side that most resembled his moral code.  He had spent time with humans at this point and decided that they were worth fighting for.

These concepts lead me to think about the other side. in season 5 of the new series we see the fight against the doctor at the pandorica, where all of the monsters ganged up on the doctor because he was their monster.  He was charged with crimes against the daleks the cybermen and any number of other races.  This, of course, is because he broke their moral code.  So if you asked a dalek if the Doctor was a good man it may first say “WHAT IS GOOD” but in the end it would communicate the doctor is the opposite of what it stands for, because they have a code that they relate to . . . and that code is Evil.  Or at least it is to us.

There may be a chance to ask an interesting question here though.  Why does the doctor try so hard to meet the human moral code.  Why does he want clara to answer this question?  For this, we can take a several lines of thinking.  First, he is with humans quite a bit, so perhaps it has just been easy to adapt to that for him.  Next we could look at time lord society and I think it would be safe to imagine that the their society isn’t COMPLETELY dissimilar to ours.  Perhaps there is a prevailing moral code that goes around the universe that mirrors ours.  Or maybe it can be answered by the TV movie. . . perhaps the Doctor really is half human - and so he battles between this high flying universal code of morality and the deep humanity that he has running through his blood.

Regardless of what we think I have a feeling that question is going to strive to be answered over the coming season, and I think it will be fun to see how it plays out.  In the end the thing to remember is that the Doctor is an alien!  While he looks like us, and sometimes acts like us, he is not human (unless of course you think he is) and therefore it is hard to judge him against our idea of what a “good man” is or what a hero is.  Does he usually make the choice that we would make, yeah usually, but not always.  Sometimes he comes from the side and chooses the greater good, because he is on a higher level.  He believes at his core that sacrifice a few for the many is probably OK.  He has made himself an equal of osirens, and old gods, and guardians, and eternals.  He can’t be expected to share our morality!

What do you think?  Is the doctor a good man, am I over thinking morality in a fictional universe.  Let me know in the comments!

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