The first word that the Doctor ever utters in the 2005 revival of Doctor Who is “RUN!” From that moment on, viewers are set on a fast-paced journey through time and space with the Doctor and their companions. Every Doctor is different, but one thing they all share is the indelible impact their presence leaves on those left behind. There have been various attempts to erase their tracks with the Ninth Doctor gifting Mickey a computer virus, Oswin Oswald erasing the Doctor from the Dalek hive mind, etc. Still the myth of the Doctor, specifically their tangible impact, is evergreen.
So why does the Doctor run? If you ask a companion, most would say adventure, or to save the world. But, according to Davros in “Journey’s End,” the Doctor is “The man who keeps running. Never looking back. Because he dare not, out of shame.” Davros’ accusation comes from his belief that the Doctor should be ashamed of the Time War. But I think that the Doctor is even more ashamed of the worlds that they are unable to save, and the places they harm through their attempts to help.
“We’re just going to go. I hate tidying up. Too many questions. You’ll manage,” says the Ninth Doctor to Cathica at the end of “The Long Game.” He dismisses her concern that no one will believe her explanation of everything. One hundred years later, Daleks have control of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, and the Doctor must regenerate in order to save Rose’s life. Hundreds of people die, leaving only Jack, who is now incapable of dying. The Doctor’s refusal to stay behind and tidy up after his adventure also led to what Lynda describes as “100 years of hell,” where the planet Earth froze and the government and economy across the globe collapsed.
This is far from the only instance of the Doctor doing more harm than good. In the Tenth Doctor’s era, we can see a line of how he seeded his own destruction and caused untold damage from his very first episode. He destroyed Harriet Jones career with six words because he did not like her taking direct actions against aliens.
It’s contradictory because the Ninth Doctor said Jones would herald Britain’s Golden Age. And the reason she took her specific action is because the Doctor is not always around to defend Earth. This dramatic shift in the course of history is precisely what allows the Master to ascend to power and exemplifies both my (and Harriet’s) point. The Doctor can (and does) often cause chaos and leave more problems than solutions in their wake.
Everything seems to be “put right” at the end of season three. The majority of the world went back to normal with only the Valiant remembering all the chaos. The Doctor returned back to the TARDIS as if nothing worse than the usual had happened. He was legitimately surprised when Martha Jones told him that she had to stay with her family.
The Doctor didn’t understand the trauma that they had endured as Black people. The Joneses went through enslavement, watching the planet’s destruction, and seeing populations slaughtered by the millions. It didn’t even occur to him that Martha couldn’t leave Earth behind to travel with him. Again the Doctor has “won” but at what cost?
Bringing things back to a large scale effect, we can consider the Twelfth Doctor’s self-proclaimed tidal wave. He causes a seismic shift in the universe by making Ashildr/Me immortal. In the season nine finale, she remains at the end of the universe after all other immortals are gone. It’s hard to imagine the infinite ripple effects of her entire life. Her biggest known ripple, however, is undoubtedly the role she plays in Clara’s death. Clara dying causes an odd reversal in the show where the universe has to be saved from the Doctor.
The Doctor cannot remember his love for Clara. His love is one that burns everything in its path, and he would have destroyed reality to save her. Clara and Me then have free reign to have adventures in all of space in time for an indefinite period (as long as Clara eventually goes back to Gallifrey.) They are both functionally immortal with a TARDIS of their own. He does not even remember that either of them exist because Me’s existence is tied up in Clara’s life.
We all know how Doctor Who works. The titular character stumbles into a situation, disaster ensues, and they do their best to “sort out fair play throughout the universe.” The truth is that the Doctor is a wrecking ball and an imprecise instrument. Most of the time they get it right. But, if they didn’t get it wrong sometimes, the show probably wouldn’t be half as interesting.
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