Blow It Up and Tear It Down, Doctor Who: Death in Heaven II: 12/11/2014

From the first time Danny Pink met the Doctor, the old Time Lord made him mad. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has quite an imperious streak, a personality that takes a while to warm up to. He insults people upon first getting to know them, and only over the course of an entire season turns those insults into pleasant nicknames. Just look at how nasty the nickname “P.E.” is to Danny in The Caretaker, and compare it to its tone as a term of endearment in Death in Heaven.

But as I said in my post on The Caretaker, the deep philosophical division between the Doctor and Danny is one of class. The Doctor carries himself in a way that betrays his origin in the mannered classes, and Danny is a middle class man. His experience in the army was as an infantryman, and if his flashback was any indication, he was often at the mercy of barely competent officers who forced him to bloody his hands. I’m not sure that it constitutes


to say so, but a moment comes in Death in Heaven when Danny speaks of the Doctor with contempt as he sees him hand his sonic screwdriver to Clara when some serious Cyber-surgery is in order. The Doctor acts imperious in dangerous situations because he’s such a relative expert at it, and Danny presumes that he’s just another officer, one more General Melchett giving orders from a distance as the others do his dirty work.

A revolutionary is no lawgiver.
Even UNIT and, by proxy, the upper echelons of Earth’s state governments, treated the Doctor as an officer, someone to place in charge. The secret protocol of UNIT, when Earth is under catastrophic threat and the Doctor is around, is to put him literally in charge of all the world’s armies. Kate Stewart even tells him that his word is law, a declaration at which he visibly chafes. 

Because the Doctor isn’t an authority figure in the sense of giving orders. The Doctor overthrows authorities and authoritarians. If a person lives to give orders and treat others as subordinates in Doctor Who, that person tends to be the villain of the piece. This is another aspect of the Doctor’s hostility to most forms of the military and militarization, which was on display in Into the Dalek: you give up your ability to critique or rebel against orders.

This is the signal by which the Doctor realizes that Danny can help him stop the Master’s plot. When she’s ordering the Cybermen around in her joking little airline safety demonstration (especially ironic after blowing up UNIT’s airplane), it’s Danny’s refusal to obey her orders to move that reveal that he has kept his independence. This is where the Doctor and Danny finally come together, when Danny expresses his freedom as the rebel soldier, the man defined not by whether and how well he follows orders, but by his fidelity to a promise, a law he writes himself for himself.

Just who does she think the Doctor is?
This is the only law the Doctor can really follow, the law of a promise, of fidelity to his friends, as when he salutes the Cyber-Brigadier. That fidelity is love. 

The Doctor has always existed at a point of tension between law and anarchy, order and chaos, creativity and destruction. The most true crisis point for the character in this regard came in The Mark of the Rani. There, as Phil Sandifer so beautifully put it, the Doctor was trapped between the vile order of the Rani and the senselessly chaotic destruction of the Master, and so forced to become the defender of a loathsome status quo. The Doctor is at heart a figure of revolution, but revolution destroys just as much, if not more than, it creates.

Speaking of the brilliance of senseless destruction, now is the time to praise Michelle Gomez, who I feel safe saying is now the greatest version of the Master ever to appear in Doctor Who. She’s simultaneously madcap and chilling, deadpan and hilarious, equally ironic and desperate. She progresses the character beyond the too-simple concept of being an evil version of the Doctor, which animated too much thought about the character's potential since his inception in 1971, and instead completes the embrace of destructive chaos that began with John Simm. She defines her relationship with the Doctor as yearning to break him, to transform him into her nihilistic vision of permanent revolution. 

And she is utterly cruel. She kills Osgood, a clear fan favourite character, because it’s just the natural course of action the Master would take. She kills for fun. Watching people squirm in fear amuses her. 

The Doctor should know not to offer Companion status
to promising characters in earshot of villains. Oh,
Osgood, we hardly knew you. Uploaded to a Gallifreyan
Matrix hard drive, I hope?
And her plan for the Doctor cuts brilliantly to the philosophical heart of his character. If the Master is, as she says, the Queen of Evil, then her opposite number the Doctor is a good man. A good man, seeking to do good, should have an army to right the wrongs of the universe. He should be a leader, commanding, giving orders, laying down justice by force. The Master’s plan is to make the Doctor an authoritarian God in the material world, commanding an army of Cybernetic angels harvested from the afterlife. It’s a horrific reiteration of what his friends in UNIT do to him, putting him in command of Earth’s armies.

The Doctor chafes at this too. Ultimately, his conclusion is not that he is good or bad or crazy. He’s simply a person who travels the world, passing through places in trouble and helping where he can. The Master and UNIT both demand, in their own ways, that the Doctor be a force to impose order on the world. They both mistake the Doctor for a good man who knows best, the benevolent dictator ordering armies to improve the world.

Really, the Doctor is a rebel, but a rebel in the name of love, his promises to his friends and the people he cares about. He tries his hardest to keep the people he loves safe, and although he doesn’t always succeed, that fidelity defines him. Through all the revolutionary rebellion against authoritarian rules and orders, he keeps his promise.

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