The Doctor is, without a doubt, one of the most complex characters on television. He is both comic and tragic, a king and a fool. It’s worth us, then, having a quick think about the many faces of this most unique of men.
The Traveller“I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity” – The Fourth Doctor (Pyramids Of Mars)
The Doctor is like a gap year student who never quite stopped travelling. Even the third Doctor, who was exiled to Earth, jumped at the occasional chance to escape the confines of this one little planet in only one part of time. In The Five Doctors, the Fifth Doctor was given the opportunity to become the president of the Time Lords. Even this was not enough to stop the Doctor travelling.
Like many aspects of the Doctor, this wanderlust hints at a darker side. The Doctor’s need to move on is, at times, obsessive. His enemies have been known to suggest that the Doctor is always moving on because he dare not look back. Fearful of what he leaves behind, the Doctor always looks ahead.
For me, though, the Doctor’s need to travel and see the universe comes from a boyish excitability and an adventurous nature, because, as we,ve seen, the Doctor gets bored very quickly.
The Geek“Less of a young professional, more of an ancient amateur.” – The Eleventh Doctor (The Lodger)
The Doctor represents all that is great about geekdom. He finds excitement in scientific invention and historical events, and is less than impressed with what is traditionally considered cool. Guns and violence don’t do it for the Doctor, words and wisdom do.
Even the usually irritable Sixth Doctor turns positively giddy with excitement at meeting his hero, the inventor George Stephenson, and only a geek could make a screwdriver sonic because he was ‘bored’.
The Doctor, however, is not just any geek. He’s the one true geek, because he’s able do everything that he dreams of doing. The TARDIS will take the Doctor wherever he wants to go, and his screwdriver and psychic paper will allow him to do whatever he wants to do. Sadly, the rest of us have to be content with spending our evenings sat in a box we painted blue, pretending we’re travelling in time. That’s normal, right?
The Warrior“There are some corners of the universe that have bred the most terrible things. Things that act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.” – The Second Doctor (The Moonbase)
A lot of what the Doctor does is derived from an incredibly strong moral centre that has remained throughout all eleven of his incarnations. His determination to do the right this has, in many ways, made the Doctor into a general. Most recently we saw him recruit an army to rescue the kidnapped Amy Pond, and he has previously been credited with turning the generally peaceful Martha Jones, and other companions, into warriors.
The Doctor has also repeatedly demonstrated his skill in combat, engaging in no fewer than five onscreen duels. The best example of this (and one I highly recommend you watch if you haven’t seen it) occurs in The Sea Devils, when the Doctor, seemingly defeated by the Master, cries in retaliation, “You haven’t seen the quality of my footwork yet!”, and kicks the Master in the chest. An absolute classic.
Why, I hear you ask, are there two separate entries for the warrior and the hero? Surely, they’re the same thing? Let me explain the difference, as I see it.
The Doctor as a warrior is a man who roams time and space, fighting evil whenever he’s confronted by it. The Doctor as hero is the man protecting others, who may one day grab you by the hand and tell you to run for your life. He’s the man who will place himself at risk just to rescue one person in trouble and the man that will ask for no reward, no thanks and no credit.
Like all heroes, the Doctor is bold, brave and modest. He protects the innocent and defeats the villains. But, even for his enemies, there’s a second chance, because, like all good heroes, the Doctor offers a chance for redemption.
The Mad Professor
One look at Tom Baker’s excited, cheesy grin is enough to convince you that the Doctor is not all there. Genius he may be, but undoubtedly a mad one.
On occasion, the Doctor has been known to hide his genius. In particular, the second Doctor (described by his predecessor as “a clown”) appeared to bluster and panic in the face of danger. Yet, underneath remained the calm and calculating mind of a scientist using his intellect to defeat his enemies.
From his dress sense to his technobabble, everything about the Doctor just screams mad professor. It’s far too easy to imagine this man in a lab full of bubbling beakers, Bunsen burners and test tubes, having the absolute time of his life.
The Rebel“Oh, the ones that ran away. I never stopped!” – The Tenth Doctor (The Sound Of Drums)
From day one of Doctor Who (An Unearthly Child), we get a sense that the Doctor is not the model alien that he sometimes pretends to be. In The War Games, the Doctor faces trial for the theft of the TARDIS, and explains to his companions that he stole it because he was bored. Though later pardoned for providing aid to the Time Lords and saving the universe (again), the notion of the rogue who stole a funny blue box and ran away to see the universe has become a fundamental part of the Doctor’s mythology.
Whilst he would, grudgingly, accept the odd mission from the Time Lords, he mostly avoided them, or otherwise disagreed with them, preferring to forge his own path.
Later, in the last great Time War, the Doctor rebels so strongly against the Time Lords that he effectively commits an act of genocide, believing it to be the last path left open to him.
The Friend“You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.” – The Tenth Doctor (Fear Her)
Without a companion to show the universe to, the Doctor is lost. It seems funny to consider now that the first Doctor was reluctant to take human passengers at all. He soon warmed to his human companions, however, and they became an essential part of the Doctor’s travels.
Interestingly, of the early series, only the Tom Baker serial, The Deadly Assassin, saw the Doctor without a companion, and though recently we’ve seen him travelling on his own, it’s rarely long before he finds some likely candidate to join him on the TARDIS. After all, what’s the point in being a Time Lord if you can’t show off once in a while?
The Pacifist“How many times have I told you? Violence will get you nowhere.” – The Third Doctor (The Sea Devils)
For all his heroic acts and warrior-like tendencies, the Doctor only ever uses violence as a last resort. Famously hating guns and detesting violence, the Doctor even tries to spare his deadliest enemies great torment and suffering (The Time Monster).
It’s the Doctor’s alien and eternal nature that affords him this distaste of violence. Age gives him the wisdom to know that there are better ways to handle volatile situations.
Being an alien, and an exile to boot, means that the Doctor is continually able to see the perspectives of both participants in any given conflict, most clearly demonstrated by the appearances of the Silurians in Doctor Who And The Silurians, Warriors Of The Deep and The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood.
With such knowledge of the universe and its history, how could the Doctor do anything else but long for peace?
The Oncoming Storm“He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe.” – Tim Latimer (The Family Of Blood)
The Doctor’s dark side has always been present, and since 2005 it’s been emerging more and more. When he’s pushed to the limit, the Doctor is man who can, and probably will, bring the full might of his years and wisdom crashing down on his enemies.
In Remembrance Of The Daleks, the Doctor manipulates the Daleks into self-destruction, and watches calmly as Davros annihilates himself. He betrays a dark side of himself that’s rarely seen, but is undeniably present.
In early stories such as The Edge Of Destruction, the Doctor drugs his companions, simply because he’s suspicious of them.
The oncoming storm has become one of the most interesting aspects of the Doctor’s personality, derived from the dark places of the Doctor’s soul, but tempered by the decent part of his personality. Which, nicely combined, leaves the universe with a force to be reckoned with.
The Inspiration“Wish I’d never met you, Doctor. I was much better off as a coward.” – Captain Jack (The Parting Of The Ways)
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. This is one of the central themes of Doctor Who, and a theme that reoccurs through almost all of the Doctor’s companions.
People fight for the Doctor. On many occasions they’ve given their lives so that he may live and save the world. This, in many ways, is the Doctor’s gift, suggested in The Sound Of Drums. The Doctor is the man who makes people better.
The Doctor gives his companions a new lease of life and they can end up doing incredible things. The tragic tale of Donna Noble is the most notable example here. Other companions, Vislor Turlough for one, joined the TARDIS crew with the aim of killing the Doctor, but after time, exposure to the Doctor changed his loyalties, and he became a firm friend.
In the end, and beyond everything else, the Doctor is the universe’s ultimate self-help guru.