“Doctor Who” is a Libertarian Superhero

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Thu, Nov 12 - 3:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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I’ve often held up Han Solo as the quintessential pop culture Individualist hero: he’s a known scoundrel, he’s anti-State and no one tells him what to do. But as another Star Wars character once said: “There is another.”

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who
Photo by Matthew Horwood/GC Images

Doctor Who, the longest-running sci-fi show in history, has a main character that has really always been just as much of a libertarian. He hated the stifling bureaucracy of his own people that he ran away in a broken time machine just to be his own person. He has a complete distaste for authority, particularly corrupt government and warmongering military. He’s always ready to fight anyone who wants to force their will on anyone else.

And he’s pretty much always been that way.

Most importantly, he’s always been about the power of the Individual – not the ideals of some Federation, or even specifically about things like justice, fairness or even good. But more than anything, about the power that any one person has, as themselves, to change the world. So many of his stories over the more than 50 years since the show began can be described as: “the Doctor shows up somewhere, there are people in terrible trouble or suffering under monsters, and he helps them to liberate/save themselves.”

But in the episode that aired this past weekend, he just pushed it up a notch. It was the second part of a two-part episode (in a season that has thus far been astounding for not having a single bad episode) that had already drawn attention for having more overt political allegories than we’d seen from Doctor Who in several decades at least. The two-parter had used the story of there suddenly being 20 million shape-changing alien refugees on Earth and how their inability to adapt to their new surroundings had led some of them into violent alien-supremacist fanaticism, which in turn led the human authorities to become aggressive and paranoid of all the aliens – a most thinly veiled parallel to the European immigration crisis imaginable.

Had it been more poorly written, it would have been incredibly easy to turn the Doctor into the ham-fisted mouthpiece of the politically-correct narrative du jour, painting the intolerant humans as the bad guys and making it all their fault that the poor aliens had become fanatical killers and ending with the Doctor giving them all a good talking to about their privilege. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, we got what was may be the most impressive second-half of any Doctor Who story ever, and what was probably the best scripted dialogue of the entire half-century of the show’s history. And in it, the Doctor ends up confronting (in his own special, hope-filled way) the leader of the fanatics with a speech that was a testament to Individualism and libertarian thinking (delivered perfectly by Peter Capaldi, one of the best actors ever to play the role of the Doctor). His speech is not just a response to Islamist fanaticism, but serves as a basic rebuttal of all Collectivist fanaticism ever, be it the religious/cultural Collectivism of the Islamic State or the totalitarian ideological Collectivism of the modern left’s censorious “Pseudo-Activism” movement.

He starts out by responding to the alien leader’s standard justification of every totalitarian movement ever, when she complains that she was forced to act because the situation of her people is “not fair.”

His answer? “Oh, it’s not fair! I didn’t realize that it’s not fair! Well, you know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor!

She responds, “Those things don’t equate!”

These things have happened…” he said, “they are FACTS. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty! You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you.

When the alien leader insists that (because of their grievances) they want “War,” the Doctor goes on with this: “And when this war is over, when you have the homeland free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture! Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music?! Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who will make the violins? Well? Oh… you don’t actually know, do you? Because, just like every other tantruming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want! So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours: when you’ve killed all the ‘bad guys’, and it’s all ‘perfect’ and ‘just’ and ‘fair’, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Now, imagine that speech (sans sci-fi elements) being given not to an alien warlord, but to the typical pseudo-activist censorship-happy head-up-their-ass college leftist of today. It is a direct rebuttal of them, of the Marxists, of the religious fanatics, of anyone who believes that their cause is so justice-filled that it allows them the right to take away the freedoms of others for it.

That’s really what the Doctor has always been about fighting. Now he just came out and said it – and took a side in a very direct way against the mob. Given that the current showrunner Steven Moffat has had his share of run-ins with the “social justice warrior” crowd, I don’t think it’s really a coincidence that this kind of declaration came out now, but it really is in no way uncharacteristic for the Doctor’s persona.

Maybe in some ways, Doctor Who is a better model than Han Solo for libertarians to idolize. Not to diss Solo, but he makes it a bit too easy to fit the stereotype that people use to discredit libertarian ideals. Some people might take umbrage at the very notion that the Doctor is a Libertarian Superhero, because he clearly cares about others, helps others even at risk to himself, has no interest in monetary wealth (though I guess that’s easy if you’re a Time Lord, even an exiled one!) and even solves his problems by thinking and/or talking his way out of them instead of by shooting first.

But the core of Libertarianism isn’t Fanatical Selfishness (that would be Objectivism), it has nothing to do with being uncaring, it doesn’t even have anything to do with amassing personal wealth and it certainly has nothing to do with violence toward others. The core of Libertarianism is the idea that EVERYONE has an absolute right to be their own person, to fulfill their own will and to the individual freedom necessary to pursue that. And an opposition to anyone or (more often) any group that would try to take away that right from others.

A lot of Libertarians, and some of the fictional characters meant to represent them, tend to do poorly at expressing that in an optimistic kind of way. The Doctor is an exception, and so he’s an ideal example. He may be just the kind of hero Libertarianism needs, and he’s been under our noses all along.

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Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com.

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