One of my friends is celebrating the approach of the Doctor Who Christmas special and the last episode of Matt Smith by changing his Facebook profile image to the Doctors, in order, while also posting a quote or bit of dialogue for that Doctor. Today’s Doctor is the Tenth Doctor, and the dialogue was from “The Christmas Invasion,” when the Doctor brings down Harriet Jones with six words. This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite characters in the show, Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North and later Prime Minister of Great Britain.
We meet Harriet Jones in “Aliens of London/World War Three,” when she’s the MP for Flydale North, describing herself as a “faithful back-bencher.” Being American, I had to look up this term: according to Wikipedia, it means that she serves her constituency without holding high office or having the power to influence policy. In other words, she’s no one important. She arrives at 10 Downing Street for an appointment with the Prime Minister, only to find that on that fateful day, aliens have crashed in the Thames and the government is running crazy trying to figure out what to do, as the PM is nowhere to be found. Her appointment with him has been cancelled, but she sticks around, hoping to get a word in with him anyway. As she’s waiting, she starts to notice weird things happening, and she discovers that the acting PM and his staff are disguised aliens. No one will listen to her, but she finally finds someone to talk to, the assistant of the “alien expert” brought in to deal with the situation – Rose and the Doctor.
Harriet is established in this episode as a woman of great inner strength who was content with making the best of her little corner of the world but stepped up when disaster struck. She began to panic when first confronted with green aliens who killed people and wore their skins as a disguise, but once she was able to deal with it by revealing what she saw to Rose, she took control of the situation: she sorted out the emergency protocols, helped the Doctor figure out what was going on and how Jackie and Mickey could kill the Slitheen that was attacking them, and fully understood the consequences of the Slitheen plot and the options they had for combating it. She was also completely willing to sacrifice herself for others: she offered herself for Rose when the Slitheen was about to kill her, and later, she made the call to fire the missile at 10 Downing Street in order to save the world from nuclear war. At the end of the episode, with the lack of effective leadership in the wake of the destruction of 10 Downing Street, Harriet steps
We meet Harriet again in “The Christmas Invasion,” in which the alien Sycorax intercepted a British space probe while on the way to invade the Earth; thus, they speak to the British government to ask for the humans’ surrender. Harriet was PM – she had ushered in Britain’s Golden Age and worked tirelessly for her country (“Never off-duty.”) – and took control of the UNIT operation speaking to the Sycorax. Teleported to the alien ship (without fear, I might add), she was placed in the unenviable position of choosing between killing 1/3 of the Earth’s population or selling 1/2 of them into slavery. The Doctor arrived to save the day, but after the alien spaceship left, she decided to have it blown up by Torchwood. Her reasoning was that she didn’t want the aliens to go out and tell the universe about the Earth, inviting more species to come and invade, because the Earth has to defend itself; it can’t rely on the Doctor who isn’t always available. The Doctor disagreed, of course, and had her removed as PM.
The thing is, she wasn’t wrong, and she stood by her decision. While she was sorry for murdering the ship full of Sycorax, she never wavered in her conviction that the Earth had to stop relying on the Doctor and learn to defend itself, and this brings us to her third appearance, in “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End.” It was three years since she was deposed as PM, and she hadn’t been idle. With funding from the Mr. Copper Foundation (nice tie-in there), she built a communications network designed to stay hidden but allow the Children of Time to communicate with each other in the case of global catastrophe. When that catastrophe arrived, she contacted all of the major players, meaning that she’s been watching the Doctor’s movements and figuring out who the Earth can rely upon. If she had not done all of this, there would have been no way to call the Doctor back to Earth, and the Daleks would have won. All because of her strength and conviction. And in the end, when the Daleks were trying to shut the network down, she made sure that they found her and not the others, sacrificing her life to make sure the others would survive to fight on.
My favorite of her scenes has to be the showdown between her and the Doctor directly following the destruction of the Sycorax, because of its complexity. She and the Doctor were both right. The Doctor knew that there are protocols that the denizens of the universe follow, that the Sycorax acknowledged their defeat and were leaving in peace. He also knew that the humans killing the Sycorax would send the wrong message to the stars, that the humans were not civilized. He then deposed her because she disagreed with him, aborting “Britain’s Golden Age” that he had mentioned before, during “World War Three”.* She knew that the Earth had to defend itself, that it couldn’t rely on a single man to always be there, no matter how powerful he might be. She knows killing the Sycorax while they were fleeing wasn’t right (the tears she choked back after she gave the order demonstrated that), but it conveyed the message she wanted to send, that the Earth does have the ability to defend itself. She and the Doctor throw into light that what’s right and wrong are not always cut and dried, that it’s possible to draw two conclusions from the same situation and have them both be right.
And that’s Harriet Jones: strong, courageous, caring, devoted, driven, not afraid to make the difficult decision, not afraid stand up for herself and her people. It’s very sad that she only got three episodes, but those were three fantastic episodes for a wonderful character.
* You might argue that he deposed her because she had committed murder, but his line was “Don’t challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I’m a completely new man. I could bring down your Government with a single word.” His anger and her defiant response goaded him into proving that he could bring her down, and in doing so, destroyed Britain’s prosperous times. In a way, this is really a low point for the Doctor, where he lost control. On the other hand, “The Christmas Invasion” was designed to show you who exactly the new Doctor was – a cheeky gob, a valiant champion, the man who gives his enemy a choice, no second chances, willing to spend Christmas with his family – and I would argue that this bit shows you another key characteristic of the Tenth Doctor: that he is going to have trouble controlling his dark side, and that he will eventually fail.