Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When Did the Doctor Become a God?

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I’ve been having more and more trouble with Doctor Who lately and I think I’ve finally put my finger on what the trouble is, the writers have fallen into the classic trap of making their hero too powerful. Superheroes like Superman go through this all the time. I mean if they do a story where Superman survives a nuclear explosion one month, it’s hard to find something to up the stakes the next month.

On the original Doctor Who series, the Doctor was a renegade Time Lord. Most of the time he was on the run from his own people. But, the Doctor didn’t elude capture because he was invincible or smarter than other Time Lords, he eluded capture because the Time Lords occasionally had a use for the Doctor, and so they let him get away. You see the Time Lords didn’t like to get their hands dirty fixing incongruities in time. They preferred to sit on Gallifrey and twiddle their thumbs. They were the Lords of Time, they had mapped out history until the end of time and they didn’t feel the need to worry about small details that would most likely resolve themselves or not affect the larger picture much. But even they had to admit that every once in a while a wrench was thrown into their grand plans.

The Daleks, for instance, were a large problem. They should not exist and yet they did. When they became a large enough problem, the Doctor was sent to the time of their creation in Genesis of the Daleks. They hoped that the Doctor would destroy them before they could ever be a problem, but unfortunately that’s not what happened.

But, that was the original series; at the start of the new series, we meet the 9th Doctor. This incarnation of the Doctor has been through “The Last Great Time War,” a war between the Daleks and the Time Lords that results in the mutual destruction of both races. (With the exception of the Doctor, the Master who was hiding, and the Daleks that pop up from time to time) Eventually we find out that the Doctor was responsible for not only stopping the Daleks, but also for destroying his own race.

When the new series started the writers must have thought that it was more exciting for the Doctor to be “flying without a net.” After all he’s the last of his kind, if he doesn’t solve the problem he can’t go back to Gallifrey and get help. Also, they thought that the Doctor would seem like a tragic figure who sacrificed his entire species to save the universe from the Daleks. But unfortunately, the time war also changed the Doctor from a happy-go-lucky adventurer into the most powerful judge, jury, and executioner in the universe.

As I said before, the Time Lords are called the Time Lords because they mapped out time until the end of the universe. The Doctor visits the end of the universe in the episode Utopia and humans are there. The Doctor says, “End of the universe and here you are. Indomitable!” Humans are the ultimate survivors, maybe that’s one of the reasons why the Doctor has taken such a shine to humanity.

The Time Lords are able to map out time because, the way time works on this series, there is only one path, one history. The TARDIS can’t normally go to alternate realities. That’s not to say that a time traveler can’t alter history, the TARDIS goes to tipping points in time every episode, but these tipping points are small potatoes, whether or not the Earth gets destroyed is only a footnote in the history of the universe.

But, it’s not small potatoes to the Doctor, so he goes from tipping point to tipping point and makes sure no one messes with his view of history. But why does the universe need constant saving? The Time Lords mapped it out. Did they miss that much stuff? Well, the Doctor typically encounters two types of problems. Problem one is an alien where he/she is not supposed to be. Typically, this is an alien invader on Earth. My theory is that these tipping points aren’t in the Time Lord master plan because it is the Doctor’s destiny to clear all this mess up. You see one of the running gags in the last few seasons with the Doctor’s girlfriend/wife River Song is that she leaves the Doctor notes with time coordinates in museums or on ancient cliff faces and the Doctor always comes to her rescue. But each time he claims he’s not going to help her again. I'm not gonna be there to catch you every time you feel like jumping out of a space ship,” he says in The Time of Angels. But, River just laughs and says, “And you are so wrong.” You see there are a near infinite number of these tipping points, but it is the Doctor’s destiny to visit them all and fix them. How do we know this? He’s the last of the Time Lords, who else is going to do it? Therefore he can’t die before all the points are dealt with. Therefore the Doctor can never die while dealing with alien invaders hence why the Doctor often gets so cocky.

However there is a second kind of problem he deals with, other time travelers. And this type of problem can get him in trouble. A time traveler can kill the Doctor because time travel is an x-factor, the Time Lords were the Time Lords because they were the only ones with time travel, and therefore other people time traveling wouldn’t fall into their master plan.

But, the Doctor is still too powerful. He is just one man (Gallifrian) and the fate of the entire universe is a lot to put on his shoulders alone. With the rest of the Time Lords gone he is effectively the God of the universe. He decides what species can and can’t do based on his morality and no one can stop him!

I think the last straw for me was in the season finale of the last season, The Wedding of River Song, where the Doctor tricked time. Yes, the Doctor tricked time itself into believing that the Doctor was dead. What?? How do you trick time? It’s not a person or an alien or a consciousness; it’s time. So we are now to believe that the Doctor can outsmart the very fabric of the universe. If that’s not like unto a God, I don’t know what is.

I think it is time for the Doctor to be de-powered, either he needs to lose his TARDIS or be told by some hereto-unseen powers of time and space that he exists only at their pleasure or he needs to meet an enemy that poses a real threat. Anything, to bring back the happy-go-lucky adventurer we all know and love.


  1. Your points are well put John and I can't argue at all with the fact that you are right, other than I am not in the camp that is bothered by it. I've gotten more and more impressed with the episodes each year since they relaunched this series. There are always unexpected twists and turns to the story and the writers do a really nice job of dropping hints and bigger plot points in episodes that you don't notice until the last episode when all is revealed. I love being surprised that way. Of course the doctor won't die, but that has been the case of the Doctors ever since they show started. It is still very painful to see the Doctor regenerate, painful emotionally, because you get attached to the incarnation you've been spending time with.

    I think they do a good job of writing in ways in which the god syndrome, which you are right about, is not always a good thing. In particular I'm thinking of the Mars episode with Tennant where he chooses to be godlike and it costs him.

    I prefer things the way they are, which you'll be sorry to hear. I don't want the Doctor to be a puppet on a string. I like him much better as a rogue superhero who keeps me guessing at every turn about what is next.

  2. I'm glad you brought up "The Waters of Mars" because I wanted to talk about that episode and the idea of fixed points in time, but couldn't find a place for it my write up. But, the comments is a good spot. I really liked the ep. "Waters of Mars." I liked that when the Doctor found out he was on Bowie Base One, he wanted to turn his tail and run. Of course there are points in time that are pivotal and should not be messed with. Take them out and they topple the whole Jenga tower of the universe. I liked that there was something even the Doctor was afraid to mess with. But, I hated the ending where the Doctor just blew a raspberry at the idea of fixed points and saved the people anyway. To me it is clearly another example of the writers making the Doctor too powerful and too God-like.

  3. Like I said, I don't disagree with you that the writers are doing that. I just personally enjoy the shows and have yet to be disappointed with the direction it has taken. That episode in particular was an emotionally powerful one. To me it is a logical direction for the character to go. In many ways he has tremendous powers, plus he is genius+ level intellectually, so becoming (or at least thinking) he is godlike is a natural evolution of the character. What I liked so much about Waters of Mars is that it showed that irregardless of the godlike power to change things, he does not possess godlike wisdom to know when things should or should not be done. When he said 'the heck with it' and did what he wanted to do, there were consequences. They may or may not have been earth-shattering/time-shattering consequences, but there were consequences in the lives of individual people and the Doctor needed to see that. He needed things to be brought back down to that personal 1:1 level.

  4. Well said Carl! Thanks for your comments. :)

  5. Well I found this post of yours on the Doctor Who tvshowboard. I'd argue you should go to and their forums... but I digress.

    The Doctor was a lonely god when he was portrayed by David Tennant. It isn't a portrayal SM is particularly interested in and Matt Smith has returned more to the cosmic hobo, man with a plan, that he makes up as he goes along. Yes there was that Pandorica rubbish but the Doctor has been told he will fall, or rather his 11th incarnation will, and he is totally at the mercy of that.

    I think the lonely god thing was put to bed in the final episodes of DT's run. He realised he could try and save anyone and be the Timelord Victorious, but he pulled back from the edge. I don't think they painted Number 9 in the same godhood way as Number 10, it was more a sort of I will fight dirty rather than megalomaniac personality that Number 10 had. Of course I really liked that, and I still hope to see a visibly darker more unhinged metacrisis Doctor make a comeback and team up with or bedevil Number 11. However Number 11 is better acted, and doesn't have people praying to him like Number 10 did, and he hasn't pretended to be Jesus and forgiven Judas Iscariot, I mean the Master.

    David Tennant had a far weightier screen presence than Matt Smith, but Smith is the better actor, and totally his own character after two series with him in the role. I think he'd finally found his way by his series two.

    The Doctor as godlike thing is dead for now. Instead we have the Troughtonesque Smith in the role. I loved it while it lasted by the Doctor is about constant reinvention. I'd say your post is probably about 3 or so years late. Still very interesting though.

  6. Thanks for reading Richard. If you liked this one I suggest you read my other Doctor Who essay.

    I disagree that the things I'm talking about disappeared with Tennant. In Matt's first episode he tells the giant eye something like "I'm the Doctor, run" and he's had similar bravado throughout, Such as when he told the weeping Angels they shouldn't have put him a in corner and the scene I have pictured above from the Pandorica. Also River just assumes that everytime she leaves the Doctor a note and jumps out an airlock that he'll save her. And the reason why I wrote the essay was that in the latest episode of the series the Doctor fooled time itself into believing he was dead.

    So I'm sorry, I don't really see the distinction you're trying to make.

    And for the record I think Matt Smith is great in a completely different way than Tennant. They're both like really good pieces of music from separate genres. I won't venture to say which one's a little bit country and which ones rock and roll. :)

  7. The distinction is pretty clear. Tennant had a God complex, but Smith's Doctor just has a lot of bravado. Quite often though after one of his speeches Smith's Doctor fall on his ass.

    I will ask your question on SFX and see what they think. I could be wrong.

  8. I'm enjoying following your back and forth. I certainly haven't approached the show analytically myself and so I'm way out of my element with the direction the conversation has taken. I'm just a fan, one who continues to be impressed by what the writers and actors bring to the show. I have to admit that Dr. Who is one of those shows that is very easy for my wife and I to become emotionally involved in. I'm one of those saps who has shed a few tears in numerous episodes.

    I didn't think I'd get over Tennant leaving the show and then Matt Smith really won me over. I've had the same experience with the companions. Each one has had something different that brought something interesting to the show for me. I'm not looking forward to the rumored fate of characters next season, and at the same time I cannot wait for new episodes.

    As I'm only able to watch them when they come out on DVD, however, I will have to wait. A LONG time! :)

  9. Richard- I guess we just disagree. I see a clear continuation. Yes, the 11th Doctor has a unique personality, but he's still the Doctor and it's not just bravado he can back up all his threats. I joined the SFX forum and posted, but they just scolded me for posting about blogs in the wrong section.

    Carl- I went through the same thing. I thought when Tennant left that I wouldn't get over it, but I liked Matt Smith from the first episode. So far I've managed to find the shows streaming online soon after their airdates, but there is always the worry that I'll have to wait for the DVDs too.

  10. I thought they did such a great job with the opening episode of Matt Smith's tenure. They knew that everyone would be having the same trepidation going in and I thought they hit some key emotional notes that made the viewer think, "hey, this is going to be alright".

  11. Absolutely. In that episode you are meeting the new Doctor and the new campanion and Amy doesn't come into the picture as an adult until 10-15 minutes into the episode. If done poorly, it would have been a disaster for the show, but luckily they hit it out of the park. I loved the part with the younger Amy, and how we're introduced to older Amy, but my favorite part is the ending where the first time you see the Doctor in his new "borrowed" clothes he is intimidating the huge floating eye thing.

  12. I think that when the last incarnation of the Doctor is shown and the story is over it will be revealed that the Doctor IS god. Or at least he is the reason humans believe in a god, the inspiration behind the myths. Plus theta is a symbol for Earth, and Sigma is used for sum, therefore his nickname was sum of the Earth, or the whole of the Earth.

  13. I did even know that was one of his aliases, but i looked it up and according to this site

    The symbols ΘΣ are the ones River Song wrote on the cliff face to represent the Doctor and ΘΣ was also a commonly-used abbreviation for "God" in Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

    So that would need to support your theory.

    But I don't want the Doctor to be God, that was after all the point of my article.

    Thanks for commenting though!