What is a hero?

I read a blog post today about the Tenth Doctor, and while it was interesting and I agreed with some of it and disagreed with some of it, one paragraph made me think a little bit. Here it is.

“The point is that we either had an idea of character progression, of a journey, or the inclusion of romance and humanity pitched at the right level. With the tenth Doctor inThe End of Time, we hear him equate his prophesied regeneration with death, whine like a bitch about sacrificing himself for Wilf – literally screaming ‘It’s not fair!’ – and sign off with those infamous words ‘I don’t want to go.’ These were all pretty cheap attempts at stirring emotions in an enraptured audience, but they brutally undermined the character. Compared with the eleventh Doctor’s coda in The Time of the Doctor, in which he is completely accepting of change as a fundamental part of life, or the fifth and eighth Doctor’s sacrifices on behalf of just one other person, the tenth Doctor at the end of his time seems remote from any conception of a hero.”

I found it interesting because what I took away from the scene was the exact opposite: to me, the scene is demonstrates clearly what it means to be a hero. It takes a little bit of history to really look at it.

During the episodes leading up to The End of Time, the Tenth Doctor is traveling alone and avoiding the prophecy of his death, and it is taking its toll on him. In “The Waters of Mars,” it finally comes to a head: he decides that he is above the laws of time and decides to change a fixed point, and Adelaide shows him how wrong he is by committing suicide. He realizes that he has gone too far, that he’s becoming corrupt, much like the Time Lords are wont to do since they consider themselves superior to the rest of the universe, and that if he can’t control it, he’s lived too long. Then, in The End of Time, he demonstrates that he’s learned his lesson: the Time Lords decide that they should enact the Final Sanction, elevating them to beings of pure consciousness at the cost of the rest of the universe, and the Doctor stops it. He knows this is what he had done in the previous episode – putting himself above the rest of the universe – and that it was wrong, and thus he had the strength to oppose Rassilon and effectively commit genocide against his own people for the second time. The conflict ends, and he finds himself alive, contrary to the prophecy; for the first time in a long time, he has hope. Then Wilf knocks four times.

The Doctor is doomed, and he rails against his fate. Who wouldn’t? What real person, human or Time Lord, wouldn’t protest imminent death? The main thing here is that he says so out loud, rather than internalizing it. Does this make him any less of a hero? He doesn’t want to die, and he’s also upset that he cannot continue to do good; he wants to continue fighting the fight. However, he’s still fighting against his corruption, thinking that he alone can right the universe. He realizes this second point, and knows it’s time to die. He makes his choice, sacrificing himself both to save Wilf and to rid the universe of a man who is slowly becoming the thing he has always fought against.

The Third Doctor said, “Courage isn’t a matter of not being frightened, it’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.” The Tenth Doctor’s rant against his fate may have been arrogant, but that’s very much in character for him. I tend to view it more as a spell of weakness, in which he expresses emotions that he usually keeps inside. However, neither of these interpretations makes him a coward; if anything, it underscores his heroism, because he shows us that even the Doctor can be afraid, but still does what he has to do.