Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
The War Doctor is always going to be a bit of an enigma, isn’t he? After all, he only ever appeared in one TV episode, one novel, and one short story. With John Hurt being the age he is, it’s unlikely he’ll ever make another appearance. For better or worst, this is the facts we are stuck with. When it comes to Doctor Who, the Doctor Who Wasn’t will forever be the most mysterious. But can we learn anything about him? Well lets find out.
First off, lets look at the real world reason for him to exist. Moffat has gone on record saying he could never picture the Bohemian Eighth Doctor becoming a soldier. After all, the Eighth Doctor is too much like Tigger to really be able to go to war. And it can’t have been Nine that fought, since he comments on how he only recently regenerated. So was Eight this mysterious character who started off light and went dark? But before we answer that, we need to look at the seven incarnations that led up to him. For, if one looks closely, there is clearly a progression towards darkness:
The First Doctor starts off young, grumpy, with no real knowledge of good or evil. He was more likely to run than fight, and he wasn’t much of a meddler.
The Second Doctor, still a young man, was likewise not one prone to fight evil like a soldier. His catchphrase was â€œWhen I say run, run!â€ after all. He fought evil not because it was his role, but because someone had to. A reluctant hero.
The Third Doctor is a much older man, a man paying for the mistakes of his past. He does start to come more detached as we watch him go through his character arc. He’s stuck on Earth, a punishment he dearly regrets. He wants to be away from this miserable planet and takes every opportunity to leave. Nevertheless, he is a man willing to follow orders. While not the first time he has been placed in a military setting, he’s the first one to have to get on with the military to survive. This becomes somewhat important later.
The Fourth Doctor is perhaps the last truly ‘good’ Doctor we get, at least in relation to his reluctance to committing Dalek genocide. However even then, we see a character who becomes harden with age. Without a human company to tie him back, his morality gets a little bit skewed. It’s not hard to see the bitter contempt the Doctor has for those he meets when he’s travelling with Romana, compared to when he was travelling with Sarah Jane. He, more than any other, is perhaps the ‘oldest’ Doctor in terms of how long he’d been travelling. And that’s not just a reference to Tom Baker having the longest tenure, but more due to how much the role aged him.
The Fifth Doctor is often seen as the ‘nice’ one, but he was also the Doctor who willingly fired a gun perhaps more than most. Lest we forget, this was a man who shot a Cyberman in his very own TARDIS, despite the ‘state of grace’ that exists within it (which, although being called ‘a very clever lie’, may have enough truth to it that it can only be overridden if the pilot chooses for it to be overridden). He is not the most happiest of Doctor, especially after Adric dies. He does become more of a violent man. Of course, this is nothing compared to his next incarnation.
The Sixth Doctor’s run is often criticized for its over-the-top violence, and it’s not hard to see why. The Doctor is perhaps at his most callous, killing more in this incarnation than perhaps any other, and showing little regard for others. He is almost the anti-Doctor, with his run perfectly capped off by having the anti-Doctor take him on (and show how they’re not all that dissimilar). But he was a man prone to pragmatism, caring more about the bigger picture than the smaller pieces. And to continue this theme…
The Seventh Doctor, while starting off as a bit of a comedic buffoon, was quickly established to be a Chessmaster of sorts. He was the one running the operation behind the scenes, moving everyone into place as if they were pieces in a game. Here we have a man perhaps best suited for the task of war. Clearly this is a man who would get swept up in The Last Great Time War and use it to make the universe to be a better place. It makes perfect sense that his next incarnation concludes what his first seven had been building up to…
â€¦ And then you get the Eighth Doctor, the black sheep of the Doctor Who family. Ignoring the obvious stuff (namely how it was produced by the Americans), here is a Doctor who claims to be half-human, one who seems to have lost all the cunning and manipulation found within his previous lives. A child who looks at the world around him in wonder. The Eighth Doctor is a bump in the road when it comes to the develop of the Doctor. He essentially gets in the way of this character arc, making it veer off in a random direction. And therein lies the problem with him being the one who fought in the war. He was clearly never suited for it. His predecessor was, and his numerical successor was very much an action man. But he… he was the odd one out. It didn’t make sense for him to be the one who fights the war. Which is where the War Doctor steps in. To make the Eighth Doctor be the soldier betrays the character of that Doctor, the optimistic man. Now that’s not to say you can’t tell a story of a good man going to war, indeed the show explored that in Moffat’s run. But ultimately that’s not what Doctor Who is about. The Doctor is a healer, not a warrior. He’s there to make people better, not end their lives. So the War Doctor has to exist if only to justify why this man, this good man, would betray his ideals so much. He is the Doctor in the hiatus between the TV Movie and the revival series. But that’s just why we have this character. Who is he, exactly?
Well, lets look at what the texts give us. They give us a man worn down by the centuries of war, a man who is still brilliantly smart but a shell of his former shelf. A man who has been fighting for so long he’d rather die than go on. But that’s what he was likely at the end of his life, and a man the Doctor doesn’t have a valid reason to hate. I mean we never see the War Doctor do anything particularly bad in either the book or the episode, aside from his plan to destroy Gallifrey. Everything he’s done has been similar to what the Doctor has done in earlier and later incarnations. So why is this version of the Doctor so hated by his successors?
Well, what would an unrestrained Doctor look like? We have hints of it in the Valeyard, the Dream Lord, and in some cases the Master. But the Master is insane, crippled by his obsession with the Doctor. The Dream Lord likes to smugly gloat over his enemies, but would this Doctor really do that over the Daleks? The Valeyard is a cold, logical, unfeeling monster, but would a warrior really be like that? So we have hints of it in other characters, but certainly we don’t have the full story. Is there anywhere where we can get a good idea?
Well, finally enough, the answer is provided to us by the Twelfth Doctor. This is the Doctor who finally accepted what he’d done during the Time War and stopped trying to run away from it, hiding it behind a youthful face. He is 100% Time Lord… and he is terrifying at times. We never quite know if he’s a good guy or not. I’ve seen his character described by stating that, if there was no way of stopping the collateral damage, he’d manipulate it to his advantage rather than feel bad about it. When it’s clear the soldier was going to die in Into the Dalek he doesn’t mourn, he instead uses the death as a way of saving other lives. He is perhaps one of the most ruthless Doctors we’ve seen on screen yet… and yet not the most ruthless. For while he jokes that he didn’t save everyone in The Mummy on the Orient Express, for that briefest of moments we can’t tell whether he’s being serious or not. Likewise, when confronted with an army of Cybermen at his disposal in Death in Heaven, he turns it down since he doesn’t want to be a military leader. So while we have a pragmatic and somewhat heartless Doctor, there is clearly some good in him. What if we took all that away? What if we left him with only the bad stuff?
Well, that’s who the War Doctor is. The man who would sacrifice a squad of soldiers in order to get a decisive victory. Someone who wouldn’t hesitate to use everything at his disposal to win, even when doing so would cost a little piece of his soul. It’s not hard to believe that this man blew up one of his own ships in order to deal a crippling blow to the enemy, even at the cost of the lives on board. He wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a Dalek on sight, nor would he pause to kill a Roboman. He would let an entire planet of slaves die if it was the easiest way of stopping production. A Doctor without any rules beyond winning, a Doctor using his intelligence to cause the most damage as quickly as he can, is a dangerous foe indeed. Like a doctor who knows how to inflict the most pain on his patients before killing them, the Doctor would know exactly how to take down the Daleks where it hurt the most. Is this why the others are so scared of him? Because they remember a time when they had no rules, no limits, nothing holding them back. When they ends justified the means every time, when the good of the many outweighed the good of the few? A darkened, twisted Doctor doing everything in his power to win? It’s entirely possible.
Which leads us to the main question: Will we ever see this Doctor come back into play? After all, it’s not like Doctor Who shy away from adult material before. The New Adventures series featuring the Seventh Doctor had drugs, sex, violence and all sorts of other adult situations. With the TV show off the air, Doctor Who fell into the hands of the obsessive fans (and, to briefly diverge, their insistence of putting adult themes into Doctor Who essentially betrays the core concept of Doctor Who), who did all sorts of things with it. Had they had their way, they could have easily created a War Doctor of their own. So given a canonical War Doctor exists, they’re no doubt jumping on the chance to write about it… except their not. Excluding copyright reasons, most fan fiction writers seem to focus on the inherent goodness within this Doctor. A man weighed down by the burdens of the war. And while this is where he ends up, it’s unlikely it’s where he starts. This is a man who declares that he is Doctor no more, throwing off the shackles he chained to himself. And yet, we’re unlikely to ever really see this Doctor. On the official side, a darker Doctor would not gel well with the current TV show. It’d be a bit too off-putting to suddenly go back to the New Adventure days. On the fandom side, there are too many new goodies to pick up and play with beyond this one concept. Much like the Valeyard, the War Doctor is destined to end up being a bit player in the background. An important part of the mythos, to some extent, but never a fore-player. Never as big of a deal as he should have been. It’s a shame, naturally, but maybe at some point he’ll get the love he deserves.
So there you have it. My look at the War Doctor and everything surrounding the character. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.