“The answer to my next question. Which must be honest, cold and considered without kindness or restraint. Clara, be my pal and tell me: am I a good man?” – The Doctor
That’s a line from the episode “Into The Dalek” from Doctor Who. The episode is listed in Wikipedia as “the second episode of the eighth series” of the show, but if you know even a cursory amount about the show, you know that’s a simplified way of describing it. The show has been on television in some way shape or form since 1963, and was officially cancelled at least once, and has had a fair number of odd starts, including two movie series, one starring Peter Cushing which is largely separated from the series, and a made for TV movie starring Paul McGann, which was supposed to launch an American version of the series, but never really came through.
A fan might tell you that the timeline of the show is a bit “wibbly wobbly and timey wimey.” Or they might roll their eyes at such a suggestion. The fandom isn’t a monolith, and it stretches over almost sixty years.
Peter Capaldi’s depiction of the character might be my most favorite though. He wears the bedraggled worn out nature of the character so well, and as an actor he masters some of the most moving monologues of the series. His tirade against war from “The Zygon Inversion” is another one that I wish I could go back in time and perform for a theater class. In this episode, the line mentioned above sets up a small character arc for him that appeals to me on a pretty personal level. Wrestling with the question, “Am I a good person?”
Because of how my brain works, I am constantly overanalyzing things around me. I put a great deal of deep thought into various issues, some of them worth it and some of them not, heck that’s pretty much the premise for this blog. I frequently notice things other people don’t, and it’s not unusual for me to share my perspective and have someone go “oh, that’s pretty deep/perceptive, thanks for sharing it.” Along those same lines, I also have a great deal of information crammed into my head. I have read hundreds of books in my adult life, and watched thousands of hours of documentaries and video essays, I am addicted to information and need it constantly pouring into my brain. Because of this, I know a lot more about a variety of topics than most people do. But none of this actually makes me that much smarter than the average person, and it certainly doesnt make me better than them. But my psyche would certainly like to believe that.
So I spend a lot of time fighting my ego, trying to put off the voice in my head that wants to rant about how ignorant and tiresome everyone else is. I see the failings in others and have to struggle to not shut down on hearing their perspectives or insights because they haven’t invested the same kind of time thinking about a topic as I have, or they don’t recognize the gaps in their own knowledge.
But I am also keenly aware of my own failings. I know the darker impulses I am constantly trying to restrain, the heartless and mean comments that come bubbling up anytime I get annoyed or impatient with those around me. I know full well that I am not exactly a great human being.
So I repeatedly turn to the question, “Am I a good man?”
The character he’s asking in that story gives the only real response you can give to that question, “I don’t know.” Because no one can really know you deeply enough to give a real and accurate answer, and certainly not one you’re going to trust, after all, they don’t know about “X” or whatever is your own secret guilt.
The question is answered later on in the series, however. The Doctor meets up with his old frenemy “The Master” in the episode “Death In Heaven,” there played excellently by Michelle Gomez. He’s offered the temptation to take a whole army and take over the universe. Missy, (the nickname for this incarnation of The Master) states, “Armies are for people who think they’re right, and no one is righter than you.” We see the Doctor look at this statement with genuine confusion and temptation. After all, any person of reasonable intelligence who’s spent enough time thinking about the nature of our society knows just how unfair and broken it all is. Wouldn’t it be tempting to have the power to just force a fix to it all?
The Doctor gives the response I shout to myself in my head every day. “I am not a good man. I am not a bad man. […] You know who I am? I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out. And I don’t need an army, I never have.”
I am genuinely an idiot. I learn in new ways every day just how foolish and broken I am, but I also know enough to know that some things need done. So I do my best. I get through each day with the full knowledge that I am not good enough. I can list all the reasons why someone else would do my job or my hobby better than I am, but that’s okay, because I don’t have to be good, I’m an idiot. And I can be comfortable with that.
Oh, really random side note, the episode “Into the Dalek” is also an amazing allegory for reaching out to someone who’s been broken by the system. The Dalek shows a brief ability to grow and become better than it is, but the systems it is trapped in keep forcing it back to being hateful and destructive. You can’t save the Dalek without fixing the system it is trapped in, and that’s a pretty decent lesson to learn as well.
I’m going to leave you with two clips:
First, this is the “Good man, idiot” speech I mentioned above: https://youtu.be/uPjJ_VAubRs
This is the Zygon Inversion speech I absolutely adore https://youtu.be/BJP9o4BEziI