The three Doctors are posed ready to detonate the moment and destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, including 2.47 billion children. Hands pressed on the weapon’s button, the Doctor gives a stirring speech:
DOCTOR 10: What we do today is not out of fear or hatred. It is done because there is no other way.
DOCTOR: And it is done in the name of the many live we are failing to save.
Yet before they could press the button, the Eleventh Doctor looks back at Clara, who shakes her head while lightly crying.
DOCTOR: What? What is it? What?
DOCTOR: No, it’s something. Tell me.
CLARA: You told me you wiped out your own people. I just. I never pictured you doing it, that’s all
The Doctor’s companions are often described as the audience member’s physical representation in the Doctor’s world. The companion sometimes becomes our voice, inquiring about weird creatures or planets that have us baffled and on occasion the companion takes our place as the Doctor’s moral compass, reminding him of who he is and of how we view him.
Just like Clara, we as audience members knew about the Time War. Ever since the show came back the Doctor has made numerous references to his actions in the Time War, yet because the war was described has happening in the distant past, it did not seem to be a productive use of our time to obsessing about what occurred and the details of the Doctor’s actions. What mattered was journeying with the Doctor to new planets and repeatedly rescuing earth from different alien threats. It was hard to picture our Doctor fighting in the Time War and committing a double genocide. Even with the introduction of the War Doctor, we were still left wondering, “who is this guy? He is definitely not the Doctor we have grown to love throughout his various incarnations.” In fact, at least in the beginning the introduction of the War Doctor made the events in the Time War seem even more alien and distant. This Warrior Doctor is not our Doctor and in many ways it seems easier to imagine this stranger destroying Gallery rather than the incarnations we journeyed with throughout the past few years. We know intellectually that they are of course, the same person, yet many audience members become enamored with a certain incarnation and it becomes a bit hard to picture our Doctor killing 2.47 billion children and countless of adults.
Yet in this episode, the Time War isn’t a past event, at least not for the audience or the War Doctor. As audience member we know that this is an event to happen in the future and as a result it the war could end on a different note-at least we hope But at that moment when all three Doctors stand posed ready to press the button the audience is seeing two of their Doctors getting ready to kill billions of people. It is not a strange incarnation of the Doctor we see getting ready to end the time war, but also two of our Doctors and like Clara we are left confused. Not our Doctor. To be fair, in the Fires of Pompeii we see the Tenth Doctor and Donna forced to destroy Pompeii and kill thousands of people including children-yet even then we see Donna convince the Doctor to save the life of one family. That might not mean much when thousands died, yet it still was a flicker of hope in an otherwise dark event. Yet in that episode our characters mainly come into contact with one family and while we see the panic of the people and we get glimpses of children, much of the action’s focus is on the events surrounding the alien creatures and this one family. But as I mentioned in part one, in The Day of the Doctor-Moffat repeatedly reminds us of the high stakes involved in the Time War.
The Doctor points out that there is no other option. Either the Doctor destroys Gallifrey and saves the rest of the universe or he sits passively by and watch as the universe gets destroyed. Instinctively, we understand the Doctor’s dilemma. In fact, outside of this specific context, doesn’t that line of thinking sound familiar? Isn’t war (and violence in general) often posited as the last and only resort- if we don’t engage in this specific war then something even worse will happen. In some cases that has a basis in fact-while I personally lean towards nonviolence, I am not a pacifist and I believe that sometimes war is necessary. Yet In a world that has been saturated in violence and warfare for centuries it becomes difficult to imagine any alternative. Anything less than engaging in war and violence is viewed as ineffective and as an example of passivity and such a mindset means that war and violence has almost become the default reaction to complicated situations. How can war be the last resort when it is often considered the only valid option? Those who advocate for a more measured understanding of violence are often derided as naive optimists. If violence is encoded into our DNA, how can we expect anything other than violence to bring about change?
Yet, watching the Doctor-especially two of our beloved incarnations posed and ready to kill billions does not sit well with many audience members. We understand the circumstances yet we yearn for a different ending, we wait expectedly knowing that the Doctor will figure something out. Nevertheless, the Doctor seems to have forgotten who he is. There is no other options all three incarnations believe, yet Clara, instinctively rejects that assertion.
CLARA: Look at you. The three of you. The warrior, the hero, and you.
DOCTOR: And what am I?
CLARA: Have you really forgotten?
DOCTOR: Yes. Maybe, yes.
CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero.
DOCTOR: Then what do I do?
In order for the Doctor to even imagine an alternative he needs to be reminded of who he is-of how his companions and by extensions the audience sees him. We don’t merely see him as a warrior or a hero, we see him as something more. For most of Nuwho, the Doctor has often derided himself as a mass murder. He has told himself that narrative over and over again to the point that when he is given an opportunity to change history and to provide an alternative to destroying Gallifrey, he narrowly misses taking advantage of said opportunity.
In our world, it is easy to simply discard humanity as hopelessly violent. History certainly backs up that assertion, yet is that really all we are? Is humanity doomed to simply keep repeating the mantra of violence and warfare? Even if one does not believe that violence and warfare will ever be eradicated, is it possible for humanity to work towards minimizing their use? I’m not sure, but if there is any possibility of making changes-even small ones, people individually and collectively need to work towards embodying a different narrative.
When Clara reminds the Doctor of who he is, he is suddenly re-animated. No longer is the narrative one of inevitability but instead it is one of hope. The idea is completely crazy and might not work, yet it is so much better than the alternative. But in order for the Doctor to have the courage to even try out that idea he needs to be reminded of who he was and he needs to change the narrative he has been telling himself for centuries.
Likewise, we as individuals and as a species have difficult decisions to make. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Of course we can’t ignore reality: humanity can be extremely violent and occasionally violence is necessary for survival, but do we want that to be our defining characteristic? Clara gave the Doctor a new narrative to embrace and we need to do the same. As a Christian, my narrative will of course evoke God and Jesus, but I personally acknowledge the validity of other life-affirming narratives from atheists and those from differing religious traditions.
But for me, I find the notion of viewing ourselves individually and collectively as childhood of God to be helpful. Yes we are violent, yes we do horrible and vicious things, but yet at the same time we are so much more than that. Jesus demonstrated an alternative way of living that sees the value of each and every individual and he strove to live a life that was in stark contrast to the status quo. Jesus rejected the notion of certain people being somehow less than others-an idea that is prevalent in all societies in some form. He even issues a challenge to theological constructs that often divides people into two groups: worthy and unworthy. When he healed the sick, he did not reduce them to their illness but he treated them as human beings. He showed compassion for others and encouraged others to do the same. When the Pharisees asked him what they should do with an adulterous woman they had brought before him, he forced them to change their narrative: instead of focusing on her sin, he encouraged them to think about their own and if anyone could claim that he was sinless then they could stone her. To the adulteress woman he pointedly says he does not condemn her and he tells her not to sin anymore. But in order for her to do that, she would need to tell herself a new narrative, one that broke with the narrative of the culture which portrayed her as a horrible woman deserving of death.
What if we had the courage to remind ourselves and others how valuable and precious we are? What if, while acknowledging that violence is a part of life, we insist that it does not need to have the last word? What if we allow ourselves the opportunity to imagine a different world? What if we had the audacity to hope that perhaps our crazy visions of a better world are worth investing in, even if they don’t succeed?
At one point will we as a species say enough is enough? Unlike in The Day of the Doctor, we don’t get any do-overs. Let’s re-frame our understanding of ourselves (both as individuals and as a larger species) and imagine a better way of living.