During yesterday’s Midnight Monday tumblr event, a fellow user commented on the similarity between the Midnight entity and the Gelth of S1. They commented that in treating the Midnight entity as a benevolent, or at least harmless, new life form, the Doctor hadn’t learned his lesson from the Gelth. (I can’t find the original post now, or I would link it.)
I disagree. It’s not about not learning his lesson. It’s about refusing to let a bad experience make him cynical. No matter what happens, no matter what he’s been through – and it’s a lot! – the Doctor always chooses to see the best in everything. The Fourth Doctor made some comment along those lines; again, I can’t find the quote, but he has some exchange about always expecting the best, and always being proved wrong. And still, he approaches each new situation with optimism.
This is one of the traits I admire in the Doctor. He may have met a thousand aliens that looked good but turned out to be bad. An ordinary being would begin to expect every alien to be bad. A human certainly would. The Doctor would not. He will always see each new thing as a new thing to be discovered for itself, with no preconceived notions. He comes to every new encounter full of wonder, not fear. He doesn’t hold one creature’s acts against another. He doesn’t hold the past against the future.
I suspect humanity could learn a thing or two from that.
Apparently it’s ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ Day on tumblr.
As such, one striking feature of this episode comes to mind as problematic. Not the meta – it does squick me out a bit, but it’s not important. No, once more, it’s the conversation about war.
The Doctor thinks he’s different from Jenny because he’s not a soldier. He doesn’t want to fight. He tells her he’s trying to stop the fighting. She answers, “Isn’t every soldier?” The Doctor gives her a significant look, and the episode moves on.
I suppose writer Stephen Greenhorn (also of ‘The Lazarus Experiment’) is trying to point out their similarities. However, what stands out instead is a significant difference, and an irony inherent in war.
Soldiers go to war to stop war. They fight to stop fighting. They kill to end killing.
The Doctor does not.
The Doctor refuses to go to war. He stops fighting by not fighting. He stops killing by not killing. He doesn’t always succeed – but neither does any soldier. The Doctor may have been a soldier once, when his attempt at isolationism failed (this too has happened before*); however, in the context of this episode he is not a soldier, not a fighter. He’s a diplomat, a conscientious objector, a war protestor. He stops the fighting with his words.
He doesn’t reach everyone, and that’s the tragedy of the episode. But that doesn’t make him a killer.
The reason the Doctor is able to accept Jenny in the end is that she becomes more like him. She was born a soldier; like the Doctor in the Time War, she has no choice. But like him, she makes different choices going forward. She doesn’t kill the guard. She lays down her weapons. And she sacrifices herself, just as he would have done. Then the similarities end, and she dies, at least as far as he knows. Being like him, but not enough like him, gets her killed.
Again we see the wonderfulness that is Donna. Her ordinariness – her vast experience as a temp – helps solve the mystery of Messaline. And her compassion brings the family together. She sees Jenny as a person, while the Doctor refuses. She helps him see who Jenny is, and who she can be. And when Jenny dies, Donna’s compassion helps the Doctor go on.
A few other notes about this episode, and the character of Jenny:
- Apparently it was Moffat’s suggestion that Jenny come back to life at the end, adding to the evidence of his inherent unwillingness to kill people. However, in this case it works: it adds another level of irony to the Doctor’s experience, another failure on his personal slate that isn’t a failure at all; and also opens the door for a delightful spinoff. I know Georgia Moffett/Tennant doesn’t prioritize acting anymore, but her character would make a great comic-book or audio hero.
- Fans love to go on about the Doctor’s daughter/wife/daughter meta, and I’m not sure why it creeps me out so much. There’s something inherently a bit creepy about Peter Davison, with his late-life second family and his opposition to a female Doctor. There’s something suspicious about dating a man who admired your father long before he ever met you. I was also disturbed by her apparent extreme youth, but in fact the age difference between them is less than that between myself and my husband, and she was already an experienced and apparently responsible parent before they ever met.
- No matter how squicky or non-squicky the relationship, there is nothing about Jenny that is not adorable.
“And an awful lot of running to do.”
* The United States attempted isolationism during the two World Wars, and failed; it wasn’t until the US entered the fray that the tables were turned and the German war machine shut down. American soldiers fought to stop the fighting, killed to stop the killing. It worked – but it doesn’t make them diplomats.
The Doctor attempted to isolate himself from the Time War, but it wasn’t until he joined the fight that the fighting could be stopped. He had to kill – Daleks for sure, his own people too as far as he knew – before the killing could end.