BOOK OF LISTS:
10 MOST PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN THE DOCTOR'S LIFE(VES)
One of the many treats we received during the fiftieth anniversary season of Doctor Who was that intensely memorable opening sequence in The Name of the Doctor. You know what I'm talking about: a brief peak back to "Gallifrey - a long time ago" where we watched that fateful moment where the First Doctor escaped with Susan in a rackety old TARDIS and started his adventures in Time And Space. I think we can all agree that this was, without a doubt, the most important moment in the Time Lord's life. Had he not made this all-important decision to forsake the ways of his people and go out into the Universe, we would never have had a show. Or, at best, we would have had a far more boring one where the Doctor probably just caused some trouble in various Time Lord council meetings and was shouted down a bunch of times (a premise that I doubt would've lasted 50 years!).
But one of the most wonderful traits about this series is the fact that the Doctor's character does evolve and develop as the the show progresses. So, while that brief sequence gave us a glimpse of the most pivotal moment in the Doctor's life, there are many more moments throughout the Classic and New Series where we see other significant decisions getting made that propel the lead character's destiny in all kinds of interesting directions. Here, in chronological order, are the ten most pivotal moments in the Doctor's long and tangled history....
1. Making Amends with Barbara (The Brink of Disaster)
For the first handful of episodes of Doctor Who, the Doctor isn't the nicest of fellows. He seems very warm to his grandaughter but is most hostile towards her two school teachers that have been thrust upon him. He argues constantly with her history teacher, Barbara Wright and actually seems to be in a power struggle with her science professor, Ian Chesterton.
All this tension comes to a climax in the hastily-inserted third story The Edge of Destruction. Where a fault in the TARDIS' circuitry actually starts getting its passengers to behave very erratically. And within all these strange motives, paranoia begins to flare. The Doctor and the two teachers make all kinds of accusations back and forth and it really seems like they are about to become the most hated of enemies.
But then the problem in the TARDIS is sorted out and everyone cools back down. And towards the end of that second episode (titled: The Brink of Disaster) the Doctor chooses to finally make peace with his two unexpected companions by offering a legitimately sincere apology to Barbara for his unacceptable behaviour. In this moment, the Doctor loses much of the cold and selfish exterior we've been seeing so far and starts to really let some of his hidden charm shine through. More importantly, he starts to allow himself to become attached to someone else besides Susan. Basically, he starts letting humans affect him. This will, forever, change his attitude.
2. The Trial of a Time Lord (Episode 10 of The War Games)
Next to his actual escape from Gallifrey, this is probably the most important moment of them all for the Doctor: Gallifrey finally catches up with him. From hereon in, he is no longer slipping between the cracks amongst his own culture. The Time Lords are now aware of who he is and what he's up to. The nature of his journeys will never be the same. Firstly, they will actually end for a while as he serves out his exile. He will struggle constantly to escape his imprisonment on 20th Century Earth and fail again and again. Eventually, he'll be allowed brief moments of freedom to perform specific missions for the Time Lords. Even after the exile is revoked, we get the impression that the Time Lords are watching him more closely, now. Especially since he is still, occasionally, maneuvered into sticky situations on their behalf. Even three regenerations later, his people are still observing him intently as he stumbles upon one of their scandals and is placed on trial, yet again. It seems he will never escape their all-pervading stare.
The decision to ask his peers to help him against the evil War Lords has far-reaching consequences for the rest of his travels. From this point onwards, he will have to deal with the influence of his own people and the ongoing restrictions they will impose upon his freedom.
3. Freedom! At last! (Episode Four of The Three Doctors)
The tenth anniversary tale packs a huge wallop in the Doctor's personal life. He not only gets to know himself a whole lot better (and, oddly enough, doesn't seem to get on well with his other personaes) but he also meets one of his greatest boyhood heroes. On top of all that, he manages to save both Gallifrey and the Universe, itself.
But none of that is as important to him as those last moments of Episode Four. Past incarnations have been sent back to their proper timelines. Supporting characters have filed off to their own business. Jo Grant has had a nice heart-to-hearts with Doctor Three. And then, suddenly, we hear the sound of materialisation and witness a familiar-looking circuit appearing on the time rotor. As a thanks for all he's done, the Time Lords have revoked his exile. He's free to roam the universe again. It almost seems that the Doctor's love for travel grows stronger from this point, onwards. Not just in the Pertwee incarnation, but in all subsequent portrayals. Having been starved of what he enjoys most for several years, the Doctor appreciates his ability to go anywhere in Time and Space all the more once his punishment has been rescinded.
4. Meeting his old Mentor, once more, but having no scarf.... (Episode 6 of Planet Of Spiders)
A moment similiar to the apology to Barbara. As he re-encounters the old Hermit that used to mentor him back when he was a young Gallifreyan, the Doctor realizes he must make a major change in his attitude. In a brief exchange with his old teacher, he comes to terms with the fact that his love of travel also comes with a greed for knowledge. And that his desire to stick his nose into everything and know as much as possible can have serious consequences. What was meant to be the harmless acquisition of a beautiful sapphire has turned into a major disaster that could unleash the most dangerous of meglamaniacs upon the Universe.
Before this moment, the Doctor always seemed to be running away from accountability. Yes, he saved lives and helped people - but he also delighted in being irresponsible. But his encounter with his mentor sets him straight and he takes responsibility for what he's done. In so doing, Doctor Three is thrown upon the funeral pyre.
As we watch Doctor Four take over, we do see more instances of him discussing the duties he has as a Time Lord - even one that has renounced the ways of his people. In the New Series, this trend continues. The occassional speech is declared about his obligations even though he believes there is no one left from his society to stand in judgement over him. That whole outlook seems to begin during that fateful discussion in the first few minutes of the final episode of Planet of Spiders.
5. Accidental Presidency (Episode Two of The Deadly Asssassin)
What was meant to be just a little legal trickery to postpone his imminent execution ends up affecting his life for several incarnations. Having being framed as the murderer of an outgoing Lord President of the Time Lords, the Doctor is looking for any way to buy himself more time so he can find out who the real culprit is. Once again, he is facing a Gallifreyan courtroom. Having researched Time Lord legalities, he finds a loophole that will keep him alive for just that bit longer. He nominates himself to become the next Lord President.
As the events of Deadly Assassin ensue, we discover that the only other candidate for the position is the actual assassin the Doctor has been looking for. As the killer is brought to justice, the Doctor is faced with the most ironic of fates. By default, he holds the highest position in his civilisation. He has become Lord President of the High Council of Time Lords.
While this status sometimes works to his detriment (ie: Chancellor Flavia trying to force him to stay on Gallifrey at the end of The Five Doctors), the Doctor does use his title to his advantage, now and again. The most obvious example was in The Invasion of Time where he returns to Gallifrey to receive his coronation and also thwart a combined Vardan/Sontaran invasion. But we see other instances, like in Timelash, where he declares his title to the attacking Bandrils in hopes that it will stop them.
Ultimately, the Doctor's neglect of his Presidential Duties caused him to lose the title during his Sixth Incarnation. But, for at least a century or two, he was the Grand Pooba of all Time Lords. And that had to make him feel pretty special after serving that nasty exile only a few years earlier.
6. Farewell to the Mouth On Legs (Episode Four of Ressurection of the Daleks)
Again, a moment of harsh attitude change. The Daleks are condemned to a strange toothpaste-spewing defeat at the hands of the Fifth Doctor. Tegan Jovanka, his long-serving companion, suddenly turns to him and declares: "It's stopped being fun." Tearfully, she bids him farewell and resumes her life in 1980s London (for the second time, actually).
Peter Davison is well-known for bringing a huge dose of vulnerability to his portrayal of the Doctor and we never see it more strongly than in the moment after Tegan leaves. In a brief discussion with his other companion, Turlough, he pronounces that he "must mend his ways."
It seems, at first, to just be a reflective moment after losing an old friend. But as subsequent incarnations start rolling on, we do see changes in the Doctor's attitude towards his enemies. He becomes more pro-active and less merciful. Even a bit more devious. His darker side is emerging more and more. Before this incident, the Doctor was more the sort of protagonist who just seems to stumble into trouble. Afterwards, he seems to seek trouble out and stare it straight in the face. He also seems to have more of an "eye for an eye" mentality. Repaying evil with evil. Some versions of him show this attitude more strongly than others (ie: Doctor Seven) - but it does seem to be his general approach after he loses Tegan. Given some of the less-than-compassionate things that he's done, we must almost wonder if "mending his ways" was such a good choice to make that day.
7. "Unlimitted Rice Pudding!" (Episode One of Remembrance of the Daleks)
Two incarnations later and the off-hand comment about mending his ways seems to reach its ultimate fruition. For the first little while of his Seventh Life, the Doctor is more of a clown with just the slightest hints of a darker, more manipulative nature. But then, as Doctor Who begins its Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration, we start to see the claws come out.
Achieving such ominous titles as the Cosmic Chess Player, Time's Champion or The Oncoming Storm, the Seventh Doctor seems to openly declare war on the Evils of the Universe. In the opening few minutes of Remembrance of the Daleks, we see that he is not accidentally visitting Earth in 1963 and just happens to run into the Daleks. He's there on purpose. He has a plan.
Yeah, we've seen the Doctor walk in with a pre-set gameplan before (Invasion of Time is a particularly good example of this strategy), but we've never seen him with one so thorough. Nor have we seen him execute a plan so visciously. The man is, basically, out to destroy an entire solar system so that he can thwart the machinations of his foes. One must admit: that's pretty harsh.
In Remembrance, the Doctor develops a very serious "edge" to his personality. An edge that emerges consistently throughout the rest of his Seventh Incarnation and continues to reveal itself to a lesser or greater extent in several subsequent regenerations. Yes, a decision was made way back in the Days of Five. But the execution of that decision happens here. The Doctor has become downright powerful. And a little dark and forboding on top of that.
Some even believe that this particular decision was so monumental that it actually became the first shot fired in the Great Time Wars. How's that for impact?
8. Physician Healing Thyself (Night of the Doctor)
Just when we think the Doctor can't get any darker, a seven minute web-isode takes the character to an even greater extreme!
Trying to bounce back from all the cruelty of his Seventh Personae, Doctor Eight does seem to be a much more merciful manifestation of our title character. Just look at how he tries to reach out and save the Master as he's being sucked into the Eye of Harmony. And he does this gesture after that rotten renegade Time Lord has spent the whole story trying steal away his remaining bodies. If that doesn't say "new-found sense of compassion" - then nothing does!
And that sense of mercy seems to persist throughout the unseen adventures of this incarnation. Even as the Time Wars begin, he refuses to participate in them. As important as it may be for the Daleks to lose, he just sees the whole event as something he cannot involve himself with. That fighting in the Time Wars will reduce him to the same level as his enemies. Instead, he chooses to remain at the fringes of the battlefield - trying to help the fallen in any way he can.
But that strategy, ultimately, becomes his undoing as he finds himself back on the Planet Karn. With a mere four minutes of life left, he must make the most crucial of decisions: fight in the Time Wars or let the Universe die with him. In despair, he decides to be "the Doctor no more" and the secret War Doctor is born.
A decision that rocked continuity to its very foundations and revealed a side so dark to the Doctor that even the Valeyard would feel a bit inadequate. This is probably the Doctor's blackest moment. It is here that he stops believing in himself and becomes all that he hates. A decision that will haunt him for multiple incarnations...
9. Time Lord Victorious (Waters of Mars)
Having dealt with all kinds of levels of survivor guilt, the Doctor finds himself approaching the end of his Tenth Incarnation. The various companions he's had since the fateful day he ended the Time Wars have helped to heal him from his self-inflicted wounds. But the weight of those companions ending their travels with him has become too heavy. It's not like the old days where he could move on from their departures and find someone new. It all seems to hurt too much, now. And so, the Doctor takes his Lonely God mantle to its fullest extent: he chooses to travel alone.
But as Donna points out - it's not good for him to be alone. He no longer has someone to tell him when to stop. And so, as his loneliness consumes him more and more, he starts questioning those duties he must maintain as a Time Lord. Who is left to punish him should he start breaking the rules? Why must he continue to suffer because of his respect for the Laws of Time?
And from the Lonely God, the Time Lord Victorious briefly emerges. As he lands on the famous Bowie Base established on Mars in 2059, the Doctor knows that he has encountered a Fixed Point in Time. That he can do nothing to interfere with the tragic events that are about to ensue. But, just this once, he decides not to adhere to his all-important principals and attempts what is probably one of the greatest offenses a Time Lord can commit: he chooses to change a Fixed Point. To make things happen the way he'd like to see them turn out rather than the way they are meant to.
While it was scary to see him turn into a warrior in Point #8 - it is far more frightening to see him, here. In this case, he has turned into a meglamaniac. And if it wasn't for the suicidal decision of Adelaide Brooke, he may have stayed that way. For just the briefest of instances, the Doctor becomes the villain he has defeated so many times before.
A short while later, the Doctor regenerates. We see a change in his grieving process over the Time Wars after that. A change so heavy that his Tenth Self is aghast to see how he has “moved on” during Day of the Doctor. But the poor choice he made at the Bowie Base has shown him just how dangerous he can be when he doesn’t do something to lay all that angst to rest. The experience was a crucial tipping point in his attitude. He never wants to go that far again and adjusts his attitude accordingly to avoid it.
10. Not Quite the Time War We Thought it Was... (Day of the Doctor)
No doubt, some of you have looked at these last few points and remarked to yourself: "Why hasn't he included Pressing the Big Red Button that ends the Time Wars?!" And, if it hadn't been for the Fiftieth Anniversary Special, it would have been Point #9. But Day of the Doctor sheds new light on that particular moment and shows that the decision made on that day wasn't quite as it seems.
After having made multiple decisions since his Fifth Incarnation that have taken him down a darker and darker path, the Doctor achieves the ultimate triumph in this tale. He returns to the Doctor he once was: the Man Who Finds a Better Way.
The tremendous emotional toll of the last seven seasons of the New Series is reversed in an instant as three different incarnations of the Doctor stand in some lonely alien barn - ready to initiate the most painful choice he has ever made. And then, in a stroke of genius, the Doctor realizes things don't have to happen the way they do. In the same way that he avoided his future without actually changing the established order of events at the end Series Six, he now does the same thing with his past. To all intents and purposes, the galaxy believes that the Doctor unleashed The Moment and wiped out the Time Lords and the Daleks during the Fall of Arcadia. But now, he knows differently. Somewhere, in a pocket universe, Gallifrey Stands.
A whole new direction is presented in the Doctor's life. Thanks to the decision of this day, he has truly begun his long journey home.