In the season four finale of Doctor Who, “Journey’s End,” Davros, old enemy and creator of the Daleks, finally calls the Doctor out on something that the Time Lord actually deserves: he tells the Doctor that for a purported pacifist, he is very good at getting people to die for him. More specifically, Davros claims, “You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”
Then this past Saturday’s episode took everything one step further. “Day of Moon” presented what might be the most chilling example of the Doctor’s seemingly benign weapons, and what was worse, you were likely cheering him on while he created them.
The Doctor leads a life full of adventure and whimsy and horror. While traveling with him may be the chance of a lifetime, it is also guaranteed that something will go wrong...most of the time. Add to that, by nature of his character, the Doctor must always be the smartest man in the room, and smart people—whether they mean to or not—are very good at manipulating other people. Often enough, someone wants to help and just as often, it gets them killed. The show has a long history of that where our hero is concerned.
The very first companion to die on the show was Katarina, who mistakenly thought the First Doctor was the god Zeus. She sent herself out an airlock to prevent the Doctor from being blackmailed into saving her, convinced that her death had been foretold and her time had come.
Many more followed a similar example in the years to come, though the show didn’t linger as long on the aftereffects of those deaths as modern television is bound to today.
When the series was revived in 2005, viewers again saw countless companions and allies sacrifice themselves for the Doctor and his good fight each week. While the deaths may have been noble in spirit, it was still staggering to witness; it seemed that the only way to do something worthwhile on Doctor Who (unless you were a series regular) was to Keep Calm and Get Shot By Daleks.
The decision to actually bring this to the Doctor’s attention in season four, to see him react to it, was a wonderfully affecting move on the part of Russell T. Davies. The impact of that blow from Davros landed harder because the Doctor had managed to avoid contemplation of those lost lives until that moment—he had allowed himself to believe that just because he had never fired the weapon, because he had never asked any of those people to lie down across the train tracks, he somehow wasn’t culpable in their fatal trend.
As Rory told him last season:
“It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.”
The Doctor has enlisted the entire human race to help him on more than one occasion, as well. He had Martha travel the world and tell her story to help him defeat the Master at the end of season three. Right after he regenerated in “The Christmas Invasion,” he used six words (and good old fashioned word of mouth) to bring down Prime Minister Harriet Jones. He clearly has no compunction about getting everyone involved when he needs the extra pairs of hands, or voices, as the case may be. But he’s never asked them to be actively murderous.
Then “Day of the Moon” aired.
And the Doctor didn’t make people want to impress him and stand back while they did something selfless and stupidly brave. He didn’t tell a story and ask them to speak on his behalf. This time he took a moment in human history, a point in the past that spoke to our imagination, our courage, our fortitude and limitless ability…and he turned it into a murder weapon. Children and grandparents, presidents and checkout clerks, you and me. He turned every single person on the planet into a killer, and not just now—for generations to come. Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” is now a call to arms, the beat of a war drum, the moment of dread in the pit of your stomach when you feel like you’ve just forgotten something, but you have no idea what could be wrong.
Did you have one of those moments this morning? What about yesterday? Will that feeling ever be something you can try to ignore from now on?
But it was still brilliant, a beautifully executed solution to deal with a terrifying foe, and we all celebrated because the Doctor had done it again. He had saved the world using ordinary people and his genius frazzled timey-wimey brain.
Looks like Rory and Davros both have a point; dangerous doesn’t even begin to cover it.
That doesn’t mean that it was the wrong thing to do, and we certainly can’t know the repercussions of that decision until more of the season plays out, but it does give us an idea of how far the Doctor is now willing to go in order to protect us. His sense of guilt seems to have been replaced with a new sense of purpose: this wasn’t just a preliminary self-defense class, a can of pepper spray and a wish for good luck—he gave each of us a loaded gun and led us to the target. That’s one overprotective parent and one heck of a moral stance for a pacifist.
I suppose we could always blame River Song’s bad influence if we’re feeling cheeky. Then again, at the rate he’s going, who knows what the Doctor will have to do next time he encounters our here-again gone-again friends....
Emily Asher-Perrin probably killed some Silents while she was in the middle of writing this piece. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.