There has come to be something of a debate over the last few days over the morality of the Doctor’s actions in the opening two-parter of Season Six. It’s something I really want to talk about, to the point that I’m posting a day early to weigh in on it (since I just posted a piece about The Incredibles in my own blog and I don’t want to push it down the page right away.) And since Season Six is so recent, I’m going to quarantine the whole thing behind the cut so that people who haven’t seen “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” can remain unspoiled. Then I’m going to point out some things to those who feel that this is out-of-character cruelty from the Doctor.
In the end of “Day of the Moon”, for those of you who a) haven’t seen it and b) don’t care about spoilers, the Doctor plants an image of a Silent into the iconic footage of the moon landing, right in the little gap between “One small step for a man” and “one giant leap for mankind”. The Silent is saying, “You should kill us all on sight,” which is a bit of a problem for the Silence as a species because anything said when a Silent is in view gets forgotten by the conscious mind once they leave your field of vision, but is remembered by the subconscious mind as an irresistible command. Hence, people are saying, the Doctor has crossed a moral line by programming the entire human race into unthinking, genocidal killers.
Now first off, let’s get one thing out of the way: The Doctor has always been uncompromising, ruthless and quite brutal towards threats to the human race. He steered a fleet of Ice Warriors into the sun in “The Seeds of Death”, he sentenced Sutekh to death by eternal time corridor in “Pyramids of Mars”, he poisoned people in “Vengeance on Varos”, he boiled the Krillitanes in their own oil in “School Reunion”, and while he hasn’t wiped the Cybermen or the Daleks off the face of the universe, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. (Pretty much every incarnation has wiped out a Dalek army or three.) The Doctor is about as merciful as he needs to be, and the Silence weren’t exactly begging for mercy before he unveiled his big plan.
In fact, they were kind of doing the exact opposite, which is why I don’t consider the Doctor’s actions to be particularly immoral at all. The Silent that said, “You should kill us all on sight” wasn’t tricked into uttering those words by some clever plan of the Doctor’s; it was offering the honest, candid opinion of its species on the wisest, safest and best course of action for the human race to take. The Doctor had a hologram of a Silent that he could bring up on command, and knew that anything anyone said to someone watching a Silent would be taken as a post-hypnotic suggestion. That was the point of the bow-tie straightening scene. (And not, as Jacob of Television Without Pity suggests, to demonstrate that Canton was gay. Honestly, given that the man has passionately hated everything that’s happened on the series for the last four seasons and has willfully misinterpreted everything he’s seen on-screen since Moffat took over, I have no idea why he’s still recapping the show. Maybe it pays better than I think it does.)
But the Doctor doesn’t tell humanity, “You should kill all of these guys on sight.” He shows us the Silent’s unvarnished, honest opinion of us. “You should kill us all on sight.” If we were smart, we wouldn’t try to get along with the Silence. We wouldn’t show them mercy or compassion or even attempt to negotiate with them. We would just kill every single one of the bastards before they could get away. That’s not the Doctor’s opinion, it’s theirs. The Doctor is simply telling humanity something they need to know: There is an enemy in your midst and you can’t let it get away because it’s too dangerous to let out of your sight for even a second. Yes, the nature of the Silence means that became a post-hypnotic command, but even if it didn’t, the Doctor still would have told us and it still would have been just as important. That’s why it worked so well, because it was the absolute truth, straight from the creepy-cross-between-a-Grey-and-Edvard-Munch’s-“The-Scream”‘s mouth. The Doctor didn’t program humanity to be killers, he just let everyone know that it was kill or be killed.