To put it simply, in The Girl Who Died (Season 9 Episode 5), Clara and the Doctor are brought to a Viking village just as Mire aliens arrive to harvest testosterone from humans. What does the Doctor immediately tell Clara? Run! Typically, this is a charming Doctor Who scenario, but lately, the theme of the Doctor running from his problems has led us to question the Doctor’s bravery.
The twelfth Doctor seems a little bitter at times, and many different characters have criticized the Doctor’s bravery throughout the ninth season so far. Considering the Doctor was once a solder in the great Time War against the Daleks, his instinct to take flight instead of stop and fight seems strange.
Perhaps it is the Doctor’s first instinct to run, or maybe he is wise enough to try to avoid trouble while he can. No matter the reason, he always ends up dragged into the chaos along with his companions (because otherwise there would be no story line to watch). In this particular episode, Clara is quick to lend a helping hand, but the Doctor is hesitant. He insists that the villagers leave for a week and then return. Of course, the Vikings believe running is a coward’s choice, and when the girl, Ashildr, asks the Doctor to stay and help, he refuses.
“I told you to run. That’s all the help you need. That’s all the help you get.”
By the twenty minute mark, Clara convinces the Doctor to stay and help, but how much does the Doctor help? What type of influence does this time traveler have on people? We like to believe the Doctor is a positive influence because he often chooses the moral high ground, and we enjoy watching him fight for the greater good—but pause for a second. Fighting for the greater good? Wasn’t the Doctor just saying run away? When does the Doctor decided to stop running and fight? More importantly, how does this affect the people around him?
Overtime, does the Doctor’s influence on his companions cause them to become soldiers?
Food for thought
Before I continue, I would just like to point out these story lines playing in the back of my mind as I write this essay.
When we first meet Rose Tyler, she is a sales clerk who’s looking for more to life. By the end of Season 1, Rose fights and wins the war between Earth and Daleks. In a way, she temporarily becomes a weapon. Her time as a companion comes to an end when her family is relocated to an alternative universe, but we see her alongside the military helping Donna Noble escape a future-eating parasite (Turn Left, Season 4 Episode 11). Also, Roses’ dramatic entrance into The Stolen Earth (Season 4 Episode 13) shows her in a black military outfit holding a huge gun for destroying Daleks.
In Martha Jones’s first episode, she is a savvy Doctor whose hospital was kidnapped and taken to the moon (Smith and Jones, Season 3 Episode 2). In her season finally, we watch as she travels the world on a secret mission—spreading the name of the Doctor. Essentially, she becomes a fugitive and a soldier against the Master. In the following season, she is portrayed as a top level military personal who knows classified information, experienced with guns, and speaks multiple languages.
Mikey also appears as a specialized military personnel at the end of Season 2 and up until the end of Season 4. The man who marries Martha Jones is a far cry from the trembling young adult who tells Rose to leave the Doctor behind in Season 1 Episode 1.
Then there’s Amy Pond and Rory Williams. When we see the two at the Demons’ Run (A Good Man Goes to War, Season 6 Episode 7), it’s difficult to remember Amy Pond was once a kiss-a-gram and Rory Williams was once a nurse. If you’ve watched their seasons, you also know that these two humans have lived uniquely long lives (although, Amy was sealed inside the Pandorica for all those years and Rory stood guard as a robot).
With these companions as examples, it seems clear that the Doctor has a dramatic effect on lives of many people. One could argue that the Doctor teaches people how to stand up for what they believe in… but does this also mean that he unconsciously turns his friends into soldiers? Let’s scale back and focus on the episodes at hand—The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived.
Fight or Flight?
If the Doctor’s first instinct is to run, when does he decided to stop running and fight? He frequently makes the choice to save a friend, a species, or a planet. In The Girl Who Died, however, the crying baby appeals to the Doctor’s morality. The baby speaks of its innocent world, her mother. The baby also cries that she is afraid because she fears the world outside of her mother. She fears that other beings will not be as kind. From there, the Doctor remembers that kindness is a trait he tries to live up to. In this case, aiding the Vikings in this battle would be a kindness.
Weapon of Choice
Once the Doctor chooses fight over flight, how does this decision affect the people around him? It’s unusual for the Doctor to teach people how to fight with weapons. He normally stands by his rule of no guns (or other harmful weapons), because the brain is powerful enough to outsmart any enemy.
Clara: “I keep waiting to hear what your real plan is.”
The Doctor: “Teaching them to fight, that’s the only plan I’ve got.”
Clara: “Turning them into fighters? That’s not like you.”
The Doctor: “Yeah, I used to believe that, too.”
Clara: “What happened?”
The Doctor: “You.”
The Doctor: “Oh, Clara Oswald. What have I made of you?”
We find the Doctor teaching the Vikings how to fight with swords in The Girl Who Died. This is quite unusual. Although, if you were to look at previous seasons, you can also find occasions where the Doctor and his companions DO use guns (or other harmful weapons).
He is not immune to life as a soldier.
When the Doctor says, “What have I made of you?” this is the moment he admits that he has somehow made his companion, Clara, into a fighter—a soldier. It is in these lines that the Doctor recognizes his influence on the people around him.
Eventually, the Doctor finds his way back to his moral high ground where the use of knowledge and imagination to problem solve is key to saving the day. The village is able to fend off the Mire by using the Doctor’s knowledge of how the Mire’s helmets work and Ashildr’s vivid imagination to fool the Mire into seeing a monster that does not exist.
Yet, that brief conversation between Clara and the Doctor makes me ponder the Time Lord’s lasting effects on those around him.
I believe it’s safe to say the Doctor’s influence on people often encourages people to fight for what they believe in, and in many cases that means becoming a soldier. Although, with fighting comes casualties.
The Doctor: “Oh, Ashildr Dotterweinar, what happened to you?”
Ashildr: “You did, Doctor. You happened.”
The Woman Who Lived (Season 9 Episode 6) sheds light on the aftermath of battle. War often results in physical and psychological changes. Ashildr’s immortality allows us to compare the Doctor’s losses over the millenniums to Ashildr’s losses over the centuries. They have both lost loved ones—friends, spouses, children—and time has changed them. The main purpose of the Doctor’s companions is to remind him of the true meaning of life (or of his core beliefs). Ashildr, in The Woman Who Lived, never finds a person worthy to be her companion. The result of years living various lives? She cannot remember her original name.
“I call myself ‘Me’. All the other names I chose died with whoever knew me. ‘Me’ is who I am now. No one’s mother, daughter, wife. My own companion – singular, unattached, alone.”
Ashildr selects the name of Lady Me, because that is all that she can consistently remember about herself. On the other hand, at night she lives a double life as a thief known as ‘The Knightmare.’ Perhaps this set up is a subtle statement: a life of self-centeredness and forgetting is a nightmare in the making. Which is why, it’s important that the Doctor chose his current face. Like Ashildr, the Doctor is sick of losing people, but his face is a reminder of something important… something he needs to remember. That is a topic for another day.