The Doctor Has Always Been a Terrible Person

[SPOILERS from 1963 all the way through 2014. Not a lot of them, but some.]

There are few things more polarizing in fandom than the regeneration of the Doctor in Doctor Who. Since the concept was first invented in 1966 to cover the not-entirely-voluntary departure of William Hartnell[1], audiences have immediately divided each time it happens between those who accept and sometimes even prefer the new version of the character, and those who can't stand him.

This is perfectly natural, really, but what's been fascinating to me, as a long-time fan, is watching the reasons people come up with for disliking the new Doctors. For example, for Capaldi, the most common complaint boils down to the fact that he's a grumpy, insulting asshole.

Problem is...so were all the others. All of them.

Let's review some of the defining characteristics of the Thirteen Doctors[2], shall we? These are traits that every single Doctor since 1963 has shown at some point during their tenure. If people really want, I can go back and add citations.

Foul Temper. The Doctor doesn't really cope well with not getting his way. When thwarted, the Doctor will consistently become loud, insulting, and bullying (which I deal with separately below). Even the Fifth Doctor, often seen as the "nicest", was not above being a sore loser in this regard.

Lying. It became a catchphrase in the Eleven era, "Rule no. 1: The Doctor lies." But Eleven was not the first Doctor to be untruthful; they all are. They lie to manipulate people; they lie to gain access to places they shouldn't (before psychic paper, this was even more common, but really, psychic paper is just a prop for lying); they do it because they don't think people can handle the truth. The Doctor lies so routinely that long-term viewers are forced to treat him as an unreliable narrator. Nothing the Doctor says can ever really be trusted.

Stealing. I think this has gotten toned down, but the Doctor is a notorious petty thief. Interesting and/or useful objects just find their way into his pockets. They're rarely very valuable, but it doesn't change the fact that the Doctor has a very loose idea of other people's property.

Then, of course, there's the one really big theft that undperins the entire series: the TARDIS itself. That's a capital crime on Gallifrey, by the way, but he keeps getting off on technicalities like saving the galaxy.

Bullying. The Doctor is always convinced he is the smartest man in the room, and practically wallows in the role of bully when that's what it takes to get his way. This is particularly evident when the Doctor is a more physically imposing incarnation (Tom Baker, being both very tall and very loud, comes to mind; but also Capaldi and his Attack Eyebrows), but it's never absent. He bullies his friends, he bullies strangers, he bullies his enemies, and almost nobody ever seriously stands up to him.[3]

Incivility. The Doctor is often quite kind to young adults (although, in the first version of the 1963 pilot, he even attacked his granddaughter as "stupid"). With full adults, however, including adult companions, especially other men, he can be vicious. He never does get his first adult male companion's name right (Ian Chesterton[4]) and after a while you're quite certain that it has nothing to do with the forgetfulness of an old man. He's happy to mortally insult one of his best friends -- the Brigadier -- when he thinks he's about to leave him behind forever. Then, of course, there's both Mickey ("The Idiot") and Danny ("P.E.").

Long story short, if you don't have his respect at any given particular moment, he's quite happy to cut you to pieces and not care if he's actually wrong about you.

Condescension and sexism. While he's less likely to be outright vicious to the women he encounters, he is quite likely to condescend to them, treating even grown women like children or, one one egregious case, treating a trained journalist like the tea lady (Sarah Jane Smith, on first meeting). There are exceptions to this -- Zoƫ, Liz Shaw, and Nyssa, he sees as almost intellectual equals and almost always treats them as such -- but generally speaking he's not exactly an enlightened ally of feminism.

Then, there's his more general condescension toward what the Ninth Doctor liked to call, "Stupid Apes" and the Twelfth likes to call, "Pudding Heads". Often, when the people around him do something he doesn't like (which admittedly often is a mistake), he reverts to ad hominem insults. Most common targets for this behavior are his own companions, and anyone associated with the military.

Ageism. This comes up more in the New Series than the Old, but River Song's not wrong when she says that the Doctor hates to see his companions age and therefore generally doesn't. Once he leaves someone, he treats them as gone forever from his life and makes no significant effort at keeping contact. This includes his own granddaughter, despite a somewhat iconic scene in which he promises to do so.[5] He often hates to say goodbye to them, but once they're gone, they're gone.

He also seeks out younger people to be his companions in the first place. Many of his companions have been in their late teens and early twenties and a couple have bordered on child endangerment. Only a handful have been more mature adults.

Accessory to Murder. This has gotten highlighted a number of times in the New Series, although the Classic Series generally just accepted it: the Doctor rarely kills with his own hands (in fact, I can only immediately remember two instances[6]), but he's pretty good at convincing others to kill on his behalf, going all the way to his second serial, The Daleks. Entire revolutions have come down to the Doctor's instigation, and while the on-screen casualties are not always numerous, the off-screen body count can be implied to be pretty high.

Genocide and accessory to Genocide. Let's leave aside the hundreds of years during which the Doctor believed he'd successfully destroyed both Gallifrey and the Dalek Empire simultaneously. The Doctor was a genocide and an accessory to genocide long before that.

First, there's every single other time he honestly believed he'd successfully destroyed the Daleks once and for all. There are several, going back to Evil of the Daleks (1967). Similiarly, most of his encounters with the Cybermen make it seem like the group he's dealing with are the last surviving Cybermen anywhere, and it usually seems like he's really finished them for good when it's all over.

Then there's the one he was actually convicted of: the destruction of the Vervoids. Now, there's a lot of screwy things going on during the Trial of a Time Lord season, but the truth is, the Doctor did, in fact, engineer the destruction of an entire new race of sentient beings. Generally speaking, he is so focused on his role as protector of Terran humanity that he is quite willing to commit atrocities upon humanity's enemies[7].

Conclusion The point I'm trying to make with this is: if you don't like Capaldi, fine, but don't say it's because he's a grumpy manipulative bullying liar. Because they all were. Some were prettier to look at, came across as kinder or more charming or what-have-you. But they're all the same person, and that person is, when you look at it closely, really kind-of terrible.

Except for the whole saving-the-world-all-the-time thing. I guess that's pretty cool...


[1] I'm including the War Doctor in this count, obviously.

[2] William Hartnell suffered from artierosclerosis, which began to affect his memory. He couldn't remember his lines consistently, and that doesn't really work when you're taping as-live for 40 weeks a year and you're the main character.

[3] Who, by the way, taught at Coal Hill School, the same school as Clara. In fact, the sign out front in "Day of the Doctor" suggests that Ian Chesterton is, in Clara's day, the president of the board of governors.

[4] One reason I love Clara? She does stand up to him. Of course, then she turns around and is just as much of a bully to others, including the Doctor, but still...

[5] He does see her in The Five Doctors, but they've both been abducted to Gallifrey. Susan presumably is amongst those Clara claims in "Death in Heaven" are missing, presumed dead. Various spin-off media have suggested the Doctor did eventually keep his promise, but those are of course not canonical.

[6] The Two Doctors (1985), the Doctor kills Shockeye of the Qualsing Grig with cyanide. Arguably self-defense rather than murder, but still remarkable as a rare instance of the Doctor killing up close and personal. "Rose" (2005), he uses the anti-plastic on the Nestene Consciousness, although he came there hoping to talk them into leaving peacefully. At the time, the latter also seemed to be genocide, but we've seen Autons since, suggesting another splinter of the Nestene survived.

[7] There are notable exceptions: he almost always sides with the Silurians, right up until the moment when they prove just as unreasonable as the humans, for example. He has a relationship of mutual respect with the Draconians -- a race the New Series has not yet used and should -- despite their ongoing territorial conflicit with the Earth Empire. Oh, and he never really forgives Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, for destroying the Sycorax ship after he successfully bullied them into a peace agreement.