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.