Before the Flood: A Reflection on Breaking the Rules and Questions of Power

DOCTOR: I thought perhaps, because her ghost wasn’t there in the future, like Prentis’s was, I thought maybe, maybe it wouldn’t happen. Maybe she stood a chance. 
BENNETT: Yeah, but you didn’t try very hard to stop her, though, did you? It was almost like you wanted to test your theory. So who’s next? 
DOCTOR: Clara. 
BENNETT: Yeah. Yeah. Except now you’re going to do something about it, aren’t you? Yeah, because it’s getting closer to you. You change history to save yourself but not to save O’Donnell. You wouldn’t save her. 
DOCTOR: This isn’t about saving me. I’m a dead man walking. I’m changing history to save Clara. 

Rules.  Laws. Regulations. They help individuals, communities, and societies have a bit of order, especially during moments of chaos. And despite what many of us may think-especially those of us who are able to live a life of routine and comfort-life is always chaotic and fragile. We aren’t as in control as we like to think. But rules, laws, regulations as well as the punishments that arise when said regulations are broken provide us with the illusion of control. Not saying laws, rules, regulations are good or bad in and of themselves, what matters is asking who benefits from following certain laws? Who benefits from breaking them? Who gets punished for breaking them? In general those who create the laws, etc and enforce them often have more leeway in disregarding them and often suffer very little punishment. They do not have to think about those who are oppressed by certain laws/regulations, let alone about how they are able to carelessly disregard laws with no consequence.

Fans of Doctor Who know that despite the many good qualities of the Doctor-he is caring, he defends the world, he repeatedly tries to come up with solutions that do not entail violence-we also know that he can be manipulative, he has no qualms about breaking the very rules he states that others must follow, and he eschews his values when they are necessary (or convenient). For example, there are times when avoiding the death of others is not possible.  In those scenarios his reaction to their deaths can verge edge on the crassness and carelessness.

Despite the cliff hanger in Under the Lake, we knew that somehow the Doctor would survive. It was just a matter of figuring out how he would get out of this mess.  Despite the Doctor’s insistence on the importance of following the rules of time, we knew-or maybe I should just speak for myself-I knew that the rules don’t always apply to the Doctor and that chances are he would somehow break the very rules he claims to defend.

CLARA: What does it mean? 
DOCTOR: It means I die. 
CLARA: No, not necessarily. We can change the sequence of events so… 
DOCTOR: This isn’t a potential future. This is the future now.  It’s already happened. The proof is right there in front of you. I have to die. 
CLARA: No. You can change things. 

DOCTOR: I can’t. Even the tiniest change, the ramifications could be catastrophic. It could spread carnage and chaos across the universe like ripples on a pond. Oh, well, I’ve had a good innings. This regeneration, it’s a bit of a clerical error anyway. (to Clara) I’ve got to go sometime. 
CLARA: Not with me! Die with whoever comes after me. You do not leave me
DOCTOR: Clara, I need to talk to you just on your own. 

Clara, at least is very open with her feelings: she doesn’t give a damn about any rules or the consequences. If the rules would cause her to lose the Doctor, then the rules should be discarded. Sometimes rules are unfair and in those cases they should be broken-well at least when they benefit her.  But who wouldn’t feel a similar way? In fact, what I consider heart-wrenching about this episode is that I think most of us would break any rules that would prevent us from saving a loved one, everyone else be damned. And of course in the real world, I fully believe that are situations when rules and laws should be broken. But in determining when that should occur, it is important to return to some questions I asked earlier: who benefits from the rules? Who benefits from breaking them? And who gets punished from breaking them? In other words, questions of power and oppression are central in determining whether an individual or a society should follow a rule/law or disregard said rule/law.

American law enforcement needs to change. In other blog entries (click here or here) I’ve touched on structural racism as well as the stated purpose of the institution as reasons for change. Another reason law enforcement must reform is the fact that the very ones called to enforce the laws are often given extreme leeway when breaking them. The policies on the use of force (which varies on the federal level, as well as on a state and local level) are ostensibly meant to protect both civilians and law enforcement.  However, when a civilian is shot and killed by a police officer the benefit of the doubt is automatically given to the police officer. Especially when no video camera footage is involved. Investigations are handled “internally” or by “outside” law enforcement. The ones who are responsible for deciding whether or not to bring charges against the officer often have a close relationship with law enforcement.  Unlike in situations in which a civilian kills another person, officers are allowed a ‘cooling off’ period after a shooting. Grand juries are shrouded in secrecy, which makes understanding why many officers are not charged extremely difficult to understand and when the whole judicial system is under suspicion, it makes it difficult to trust that the grand jury is seeking to ensure the rights of both the accused and the victims.  Civilian review boards are often nothing more than a public relations move-they are given little power to actually implement recommendations and simply must rely on the police department, its union, or politicians to make much needed change.  Covering up and lying about the circumstances of shooting would justifiably bring charges against a civilian but the two officers who lied about the Sam Dubose shooting in order to back up their colleague, did not face criminal charges. In officer involved shootings, the officer is more often than not given the benefit of the doubt, which turns the notion of justice into a joke.

The United States rightfully condemns other countries whose human rights violations are well known. Yet, at the same time, it remains silent not only about the atrocities committed by allies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt but the United states defends its own atrocious actions in the name of national security. Despite the senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, no CIA official has been held responsible for torture.  Although CIA whistle blower John Kirakou spent time in prison for detailing the agency’s use of waterboarding.Torture occurred in Abu Ghraib though not many, if any, people in the upper levels of the government were held responsible, and justice on Guantanamo Bay continues to be nonexistent.

In Before the Flood the Doctor eloquently describes why this particular situation is a time where rules can be broken:


And the Doctor is right. There are occasions in which breaking the law and disregarding the rules is the right thing to do. But there are also occasions when the Doctor is working out of pure selfishness, and Bennett is right to call him out on that.  Likewise, it is vital that when institutions of power argue that there are “good” reasons for breaking certain laws, questions about motive and power need to be asked. Those who participated in the civil rights movement, broke the law. They were willing to be arrested. But they fought to overturn unjust laws that were oppressing and killing black people. Conversely, the United States uses the justification of “national” security to justify torture, the denial of due process, and giving police officers impunity to kill. In this case, the justification of national security is a farce to allow the state to get away with murder and torture.


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