The Doctor is such a complex character, coming from a race that created the time vortex and oversaw the entire universe to make sure that it proceeded as it should, but ultimately disagreeing with his people about what their responsibility really entails. He thus has to make decisions based on weighing the good of the universe and the importance of its overall structure against the disasters and sufferings of individuals and civilizations in the here and now. He fights the ultimate struggle of law versus chaos every day, and has to decide which is more important in each situation. This is one of the main things that draws me to the character: it’s not the individual Doctors’ personalities (though that influences my choice of favorite incarnation) or his exploration of time and space, but instead his approach to moral struggles and the different ways in which he resolves them.
In most cases, the Doctor adheres to the Laws of Time and works within them to help people where he can. Even when it breaks his hearts to let horrible events proceed, he does not attempt to change fixed points in time (and tries to fix them if they’re broken, as in “The Fires of Pompeii”) and avoids going back on personal timelines and established events. He resists giving himself and others glimpses of the future. And then, of course, he has his own personal code, the one that makes him stand against the Time Lords and strive to help people across the universe. But though he’s a Time Lord and the hero of our story, he’s just a man and he makes mistakes. When he does break the rules, either the Laws of Time or his own, it’s either an accident (“Father’s Day”) or an enormous personal failing that has grave consequences (“The Waters of Mars”).
There are, though, a couple of instances in which the Doctor does very un-Doctorish things that are hidden by the greater story, but when you look at them closely, can really ruin the character or the story. I’m listing two of them here, one of which most people will agree with and the other of which no one will agree with.
The first instance is in “Love and Monsters.” Now, this is my single most hated episode of the modern series: I have only seen it once, and I don’t plan on ever viewing it again. The first part of it, dealing with the development of LINDA, was great, and then, well, the Abzorbaloff appeared. I realize that it was the product of a Blue Peter competition and was designed by a child, but it was pretty stupid. (Sorry! It’s horrible to say that about a child’s creation, but…) But that isn’t what turned me off of the episode. The thing that ruined it for me was the ending, where the Doctor locked Ursula into the stone slab. Ignoring the horrible fate of spending your life (and eternity?) as a stone face, the action was completely out of character for the Doctor. While he tries to save every life that he can, he also knows the difference between a life and an existence, and should never have even considered what he did to Ursula as an option. In plain terms, it was cruel. It is so contrary to the nature of the Doctor that I refuse to acknowledge that it ever happened.
The second instance is in “Vincent and the Doctor.” Yes, we’re going from one of the most hated episodes to one of the most beloved. This was a beautiful episode, with the Doctor and Amy helping Vincent appreciate his work and his vision, Vincent helping them hunt down the monster, and their realization that the monster was simply lost, blind, and terrified. Then, in order to help Vincent, and probably to appease Amy, who wanted Vincent to not commit suicide and die young, the Doctor took Vincent to the future to see the legacy he would leave. This is another out-of-character action: the Doctor does not reveal a person’s future. I’m not sure if this is a personal rule or if it’s part of the Laws of Time, but it comes up every so often and the Doctor always refuses to do so. (Except in the TV movie, but so much in that goes against the entire rest of the show that I think it should be ignored.)
I’m of the opinion it’s part of the Laws of Time, because knowing your own future can change it, and the Doctor is incapable of knowing how it’s going to be changed. The Doctor didn’t know what had changed when they returned to the Musee d’Orsay. Amy had hoped that showing Vincent his legacy would overcome his depression and prevent his suicide, but it could easily have gone the other way, putting so much pressure on him to deserve that legacy that he destroyed himself even earlier than he should have. The Doctor had previously refused to show people their personal futures, so this was an out-of-character action for him, added to the story simply for emotional effect. I still love the rest of the episode, but the ending appalls me every time.
I do wonder if I’m just being too obsessive, requiring that the Doctor remain consistent (or at least pay the price when he breaks the rules). I think that’s one of the hazards of being a fan, honestly. The writers are not always going to see things the way I do, and so I just have to take the story for what it is. Oh, but I do love to kibitz.