‘I’m not a god,’ the First Doctor says in The Myth Makers, shortly after giving the Greeks the idea of the Trojan horse and thereby facilitating the slaughter of hundreds of Trojans in order to save his own life. If that’s what he’s like as a ‘mortal’, thank goodness he doesn’t have the powers of a god…
Fast forward 44 years to the last days of the incarnation of the Doctor that the Face of Boe once called ‘the lonely god’. It would be easy to read Biblical symbolism into the Tenth Doctor’s life –carried aloft by angels in The Voyage of the Damned, being restored by the prayers of millions of humans in Last of the Time Lords, not to mention the fact that at one point he actually battles Satan – but let’s sweep those aside. Well, all apart from one, because these final specials are about something that religion has dwelt on through the ages. Temptation. This is the temptation of the Doctor.
On Utopia, the Doctor tells Captain Jack about Rose absorbing the Time Vortex: ‘No one’s ever meant to have that power. If a Time Lord did that, he’d become a god. A vengeful god.’ But we know the Doctor is compassionate – if he had such power, surely he’d use it for good? A benevolent, not vengeful, god.
And therein lies his temptation.
Christmas 2008 would see the Doctor at the start of his longest-ever (broadcast) run without a companion. We know being companionless isn’t good for him – as Donna once told him, ‘sometimes, I think you need someone to stop you’ – and on top of that, in meeting what he believes to be his own future, The Next Doctor gives the Tenth Doctor his first intimation of mortality.
It’s at the end of Planet of the Dead that the Doctor learns he is soon to die. Unlike the prophecies of Cassandra of Troy, cursed never to be believed, the Doctor knows immediately that Carmen is speaking the truth. So this is where he is. He knows he’s going to die, so he has nothing to lose. There’s no companion to hold him back. That’s a scary place to be. And when he lands on Mars, his temptation really begins.
‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,’ the saying goes. We can’t doubt that the Doctor’s intention is good – to save lives. He knows that there could be enormous consequences, but chooses to believe they can be circumvented. ‘The Laws of Time are mine. And they will obey me!’ Have we ever seen a more arrogant Doctor? Adelaide’s words to him echo the Doctor’s own back on Utopia: ‘No one should have that much power.’
A benevolent god. A god who even saves ‘the little people’. A god who decides who is important and who is unimportant. The Doctor of The Myth Makers decides his life is more important than those of the Trojans. The Tenth Doctor may think he’s using his powers for good, but perhaps he has more in common with his long-ago self than he would like to think.
In exploring what the Doctor could be, what he could become, he – and we – can appreciate more the choices he has made throughout his life to take him away from godhood, not towards. But now he has given in to temptation, can he be redeemed?
The End of Time gives perhaps the greatest example of power corrupting. The Time Lords ensure their survival by destroying a single life – the Master – and in this callousness they condemn untold others to death. Aunt Vanessa. Bruce the paramedic. Hard-boiled-egg-hater Goodge. Every inhabitant of the system Metulla Orionsis. Lucy Saxon. The Time Lords are accountable for all their fates and so many more.
As if that wasn’t enough, they now plan to destroy the whole of creation, and the Doctor holds the fate of the universe – maybe every universe – in his hands. The power of life and death over all of them. Surely this would, as Davros once said, set him up above the gods. How could he help but look on every other being as ‘the little people’ now that he’s saved all of them?
At the end of The End of Time, when the Doctor has a choice between his life and Wilf’s, he says to the old man: ‘[You’re] not remotely important. But me! I could do so much more!’ The greater good. The benevolent god who could go on saving the universe again and again. What’s one little life compared to that?
Then he goes ahead and sacrifices himself to save Wilf anyway. The Doctor turns his back on godhood and is utterly, completely redeemed, because he gives his life to save just one man. One tiny speck in the universe. This is no longer the Doctor of The Myth Makers. This isn’t the wannabe god. This is just, once again and for the rest of his life… the Doctor. Our hero.
1. “I love you. I love you. Oh, I love you. I. Love. You.” Dr Malcolm Taylor finally meets the legendary Doctor (he’s read all the files) and indulges in a little bit of hero worship. Planet of the Dead.
2. “Everything brand new. Eden, that’s what we should’ve called this place.” Andy’s last words before evil enters their Eden and turns him into one of Doctor Who’s most terrifying monsters. The Waters of Mars.
3. “Breaking news… I’m everyone! And everyone in the world is me!” The creation of the ‘Master race’ sees the Doctor’s oldest foe everywhere, and everyone, at once. The End of Time Part One.
4. “So I just popped back in time, borrowed a quid off a really lovely man. Geoffrey Noble, his name was.” It’s not on the scale of saving the universe, but this small act is just as wonderful – Donna receives a wedding present from her father. The End of Time Part Two.