“Bill: Every choice I make in this moment, here and now, could change the future.
The Doctor: Exactly like every other day of your life.”
With a very uneven episode comes a very uneven review. I have been racking my brain for something to really drive home with this week’s latest Who and because the episode never really landed anywhere, neither have I. But of course, we still have plenty to talk about as Bill continues to thrill and her relationship with Twelve still delights. And finally now, it also brings gravity.
Re-experiencing all of the firsts of a companion has been so enjoyable. Like re-watching your favorite movie and eagerly waiting for all the good parts, I’ve been way-marking the defining moments. Here we have that “the Doctor is not always safe” moment, and while it was rushed, as everything was in “Thin Ice,” it felt genuine thanks to Pearl Mackie’s honest performance. When she asks how many people he has seen die and we know it’s hundreds, maybe thousands (and millions if you count the fall of Gallifrey) it hits hard. Capaldi’s irreverent responses were so Twelve, and I feel like the Bill/ Twelve relationship was really solidified in this moment.
“I’m over 2000 years old and I’ve never had the time for the luxury of outrage. – The Doctor”
What is rule number one of travelling with the Doctor? The Doctor always lies. The Doctor has actually spent hundreds of years on the luxury of outrage. He’s dealt with grief, anger, revenge, and apathy. But he knows that in a moment of crisis that may cost the lives of innocent, he needs to put aside his outrage, and help Bill put aside hers. So, he lies.
Can we then say the lie was good? Maybe. The bigger question is – can we say that a being who lies and has, in fact, killed before and has “moved on” from hundreds of deaths around him can still be considered a hero? This is the conundrum that I’m stuck on with this episode. As promotional materials for this season centered around the idea of “a Time for Heroes,” we have to wonder what that really means – for the Doctor and for us as human beings.
Where does the line get drawn for when a non-hero becomes a hero? And conversely, when does a hero lose such a status? The Doctor lies to Bill in order to gather strength to combat racism and classism. Which, side note, is an awfully big subject to cover in less than 45 minutes on a goofy science fiction show. It’s certainly a necessary subject to explore, but they tried too hard to wrap it up in a pretty bow at the end and it ended up feeling toss to the side. Not great. But the Doctor goes as far as punching a self-titled compassion-less villain and he and Bill save the day. So, they’re heroes, right?
Google search “a hero is…” and you’ll get whole slew of answers to that question. I think the answer lies in your belief about what matters. I can hear Maximus from Gladiator telling his soldiers before battle, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Some people believe that, some don’t. The Christocentric worldview holds that one single action, the cross of Christ, has saved all of mankind from eternity. In the wake of that belief it follows that all acts have some form of eternality to them. That matters because as we spend many of our days stuck in mundane tasks that at the very least don’t feel very heroic. Yet they matter. We matter because of our eternality.
Twelve is just as much the Doctor as he isn’t. He’s a version on the outside, but inside is where the Doctor really is. If we are indeed eternal, then we are the same way. I’m not sure if that definitively makes us heroes or not, but it does mean, as Bill posited, that all our actions have resonating effect. And as the Doctor then rightly responded, it’s also a part of every day of our lives. So, heroism may be temporary or permanent, but kindness, goodness, and grace are the things that really define us. The Doctor, for all his flaws and mistakes, is defined by his goodness. It’s in his name. That’s something we can apply to our lives, and something that we can watch Bill come to learn as we continue to follow her journey.
Next time on Who-ology:
A house that eats people? That sounds perfectly Doctor Who. You know what else would be perfectly Doctor Who? Some lasting impact. Here’s hoping for a little more teeth from these episodes as we move forward!