Monday, December 12, 2011

Doctor Suicide

I wrote this little essay a couple of years ago. Now I share it:

I must admit I haven’t seen a single episode of Doctor Who before I visited England in the summer of ’09. While there, I stayed with two friends whose living-room-turned-my-bedroom was no less than a temple to Doctor Who, with long lines of DVDs lining the walls and a couple of Daleks standing guard by my sofa-bed. One evening I reached a blind hand to probe the floor for something to read before bed, felt something glossy and, guess what, fished out a Doctor Who Magazine. With Tom Baker and a couple of Daleks staring at me, I realized that unless I wanted to be exterminated, I had to give the show a decent examination.

My hosts were only too eager to oblige – beginning lightly with the Doctor-lite episode Blink and from there introducing me to the Daleks and the Master. My first impression from the show was ambivalent; I enjoyed it, and yet I felt that something wasn’t quite right. In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, I decided that as soon as I returned home and was safely removed from the evil of the Daleks, I would give the show a proper viewing and establish an independent opinion, free from 40 years of cultural influence and the judgmental stare of Tom Baker.

There's a team every PC would love to play against!

As a fanatic gamer and freelance RPG writer, the first thing that appealed to me about the show were its originality and ingenuity when inventing monsters and villains– the quantum angels from “Blink”, Lady Cassandra from “The End of the World,” the Abzorbaloff from “Love and Monsters” and many others. Man... if not for a little thing called “copyright infringement,” I would use every single one of those in my adventures. They are just brilliant!

Another strong aspect of the show was the acting – by Eccleston (whom I already adored from “Revenger’s Tragedy”) and Tennant both who delivered very interesting characters, full of chutzpah and a patronizing sense of justice on the one hand, but also incredibly lovable and even enviable (even among us, the inventors of the chutzpah) on the other.

Now read the last two paragraphs again, because this is the last of the positive comments you are going to see in this article. Ladies and gentlemen and Daleks, prepare to meet the dark side of Doctor Who!

From the beginning of the second series, there was something that really annoyed me and that I couldn’t quite pinpoint – yes, there were many plot holes, deux ex machina solutions and a great amount of story recycling, but these are all unavoidable in a show this long. Then it hit me – the show repeatedly advocates suicide as a way to solve problems!

But please, before you I hear a strange repeating mechanical panting followed by an angry knock on my door, or perhaps a serrated raging voice yelling “Untrue! Untrue! Untrue!” allow me to elaborate;

First of all, the show preaches for “suicide solutions,” even more than the most vehement extremist imam. In the writers’ desire to have as many characters as possible sacrifice their lives for the good cause (aka “kill themselves”), they seem to haven thrown common sense out of the window. The optimum of this campaign of extermination was during the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” when a humanoid fish that spent its whole life fighting humans bent on the complete genocide of its race had drowned itself to save a human female it met by chance about twenty minutes ago. Wait! What? A FISH had DROWNED itself? Does it even make any sense?! As much this physically absurd, the ethics behind this action are even stranger; the nameless fish was not sacrificing itself to save its race or its friends or even a large group of people – it traded its life to save one perfect stranger. This is the equivalent of you spotting a shootout between two gangs and running to its midst in hopes of catching a bullet meant for... someone.

The crime: solicitation of suicide

But let us return to our main point, which is the writers’ blatant disregard for human life. While the doctor values human life above all, an admirable quality in someone who is basically an alien naturalist visiting a new environment, everyone else seems to value it somewhat less than a morning muffin. Carrying out a suicide operation of one sort or the other seems to almost always be the first solution attempted. Because killing yourself is never the result of prolonged and painstaking deliberations, but simply an element of normal human interaction, the amount of suicides in the show is simply staggering.

Some episodes go so far as to cram in more than one suicide, making the Doctor’s journey feel more like a game of Lemmings than a sci-fi adventure. An especially guilty party in that regard was the Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned” that featured no less than three suicides, possibly due to the fact that a suicide occurs on average every twenty minutes in the Doctor’s life and the episode lasted for about an hour.

Of these suicides the first one is a classic – the grotesque red dwarf is nobly sacrificing his life to save the belle-de-jour he loves and his companions. Fair enough.

Then we have the fat woman suicide-killing the robotic angel who threatens the people who just minutes ago failed to save her beloved husband. One could argue that since she already has him bound and standing on a wracked bridge strewn with massive planks, it would have been equally effective to tie him to one of those planks and then push it down. But then, one could also argue that she was traumatized by the loss of her husband whose death really was just a tragic accident or that bending down to tie a rope to a piece of metal might have been too much trouble compared to simply jumping into a flaming inferno. O.K. We’ll let it pass too.

But then we have the lovely Astrid carrying out a suicide attack, more or less identical to the infamous Jerusalem bulldozer attack of July 2, 2008, against the episode’s villain. And that really pushed me over the edge!

While it may seem as a noble act of self-sacrifice done to save the Doctor and the population of the Earth, it is important to note that the Doctor, with his sonic screwdriver and superhuman intellect, seems to be more than capable of dealing with any mechanical threat... unless there is someone handy nearby to die for him. Examples are endless – the wood woman from “The End of the World,” the formerly villainous Lady Cassandra in “New Earth,” the again formerly villainous Luke Rattigan in “Poison Sky”, River Song in the “Forest of the Dead,” Sky in “Midnight,” Harriet Jones (you know who she is...) in “The Stolen Earth...” the writers of the show seem to employ more suicide-solvers than Osama Bin-Laden!

Even he...

The Doctor himself, no hypocrite he, repeatedly tries to sacrifice himself to solve various problems despite being a unique, 900 year old creature with no particular stake at any specific place or period. He never succeeds in it, however, because there is always someone nearby even more eager to die. Now honestly; how many of you are willing to sacrifice their lives after a proper volunteer has already been found, just so that he won’t have to? Seriously, it’s not a rhetoric question – how many? You can comment below - maybe I’m the only one around here who would rather drink a cup of hot chocolate than jump out of a fast moving train while hugging a monstrous alien?

Despite not conducting any serious scientific researchers on the issue, I will assume most viewers of the show don’t actually dream of being microwaved by the Daleks which begs the question: what is the lesson to be learned here? That we live only to kill ourselves in the right moment? That nothing works unless someone dies to make it work? That suicide is something everyone should aspire to? That the ideal man is a hybrid of Jesus Christ and a Kamikaze? I don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say the writers are preparing the ground for the first great English Jihad or maybe trying to raise the next cwack suicide squad...


  1. Side note? I had never heard of the "infamous" bulldozer attack until this post. Wikipedia effect in ...3...2...1...

  2. There were several actually. All in Jerusalem.

  3. Well, i'd say the lesson is one shouldn't analyze tv shows for logic applicable in the real world.
    And please don't be one of those who argue that everything has to espouse positive examples.
    It's like an article i came across recently about the phenomen in comics called "women in refrigerators". The writer was complaining about violence against women in comics. Not against that the violence was quickly thrown aside or anything but that it was done at all and worse that it was done against women.

    The reason for both the violence against the superheroes girlsfriends/wives and the suicide squad in Doctor Who is as far as i can tell to give the main character something to grieve over. (Note: i have not watched any Doctor Who ever.)

  4. I suppose you're right about some points. I was annoyed to no end by Astrid's suicide attack too, and joke constantly about the show's Redshirt problem.

    What I do have to say is that the screwdriver appears to be incoherent in its ability, but appears to only affect delicate machinery. So in more than several cases, there's the fact that the screwdriver may not be enough, not to mention the doctor may got shot at. We saw how well that works out during Season 4.

    So I agree on some level with your claim, but I also think you're exaggerating the Doctor's power.

    Also, suicides have gone dramatically down in Seasons 5 and 6, IIRC. (Been a while since I've watched either.)

  5. Erik, this is true, but I feel those don't have internal logic as well.

    Anaxim, Yeah, my comments referred more to season 1-3. I stopped watching in the beginning of season 5.

  6. Yes, well... I... ok, fair enough.

    As Erik says, the suicides did go down a fair amount after Steven Moffat took over as show-runner. But even more interestingly, the fact that so many people throw themselves into death on the Doctor's behalf becomes a major plot point, which is still being played out.

  7. So there we have the reason for all those suicides: They needed plot stuff for the later episodes. It's somehow like a journalist writing a badly written article about people refusing to buy newspapers...

  8. I tried to see your point, but it's hard with all the Muslim bashing comments. I think your piece would be a lot better without them. As it stands it just makes you seem rather bigoted.

    1. Zenten, would you be so kind as to point me toward the offending line? It seems all I did was mention the existence of Islamic suicide bombers, which is neither praising, nor bashing - merely a fact. Also, why just Muslim, isn't the article also bigoted against Christians (sacrifice!), Japanese (kamikaze), Jews (cwak suicide squad) and Doctor Who?

  9. I would kill myself for a Season 4 DVD set