The Time Lord Victorious

by William Hohmeister

Confession time: I like Doctor Who, and I don’t want to claim something about the show that doesn’t help us understand the story. I think the writers intended to use the myth to drive their story, and that it made both the character and the story more understandable. I wasn’t just trying to seem clever when I (possibly mis-) quoted Mark Twain; if the Doctor needs saving, what does that say for the myth of the devil?


Satan and the Doctor rebel against authority, and each story uses rebellion as a motivation and a result. But I want to be clear: when I say rebellion, I do not mean the Fall. The characters rebel because of their personalities, and the rebellion leads to the possibility of a Fall. What separates them – why I think the use of this myth in Doctor Who is important – is that while both rebel, only one Falls*.

I need to start with the Daleks. Hannah asked on my last article if the Daleks could be read as angels. She has the right of it. Gene’O correctly said that the comparison has problems, as Satan is an angel, but the Doctor is not a Dalek. Though the Doctor fights against the Daleks as Satan fought the other angels, he does so alone and as a separate species. There is no betrayal in the conflict, as there was in Satan’s fight.

Angels and Daleks are similar because they represent the infallibility of another power. I wrote that both devil and Doctor are dependent on the myth of their own infallibility. God and Time knock this myth down. The angels (and Christ) represent god’s undefeatable power in Paradise Lost. As soon as Christ takes the field, the battle is over. Satan falls into hell.

The Doctor faces the Daleks five times in the first four seasons, and each time he cannot face them directly. The Daleks stand out as the enemy the Doctor fears and hates above all others. I listed three of their appearances in my last article, but here is each episode that features them:


“The Parting of the Ways”


“Daleks in Manhattan”

“Journey’s End”

Each time, the Doctor loses something, and these losses mean more to him than the victories. The Doctor cannot recover these losses; once they’re gone they are gone forever. The real enemy is Time. A madman with a box that’s a time machine has only one real enemy: the laws of Time he cannot break, as Satan could not break the law of God’s infallibility.

These laws are also the source of each character’s rebellion. Satan betrays his fellow angels, but rebels against the belief that defined his character before the rebellion: that God is infallible. Satan takes up infallibility for his own use.

The Doctor is open to almost anything. He rarely says anything is impossible, and the Daleks are one of the few enemies he shows fear of directly. He clearly thinks anything can be overcome. But in “The Satan Pit” we see another side of the Doctor:

“Is that your religion?” These four words set the stage for “Waters of Mars” and the Doctor’s rebellion.

The Doctor also believes in fixed points in time, which are events that can never be changed. What these are varies, and there is not a hard and fast rule for determining one. The safe rule is, if you’re not sure, best not to meddle. In “Waters of Mars” the Doctor encounters a known fixed point in which people must die. He tells the people destined to die this. He leaves. The last few crew of a scientific outpost on Mars are about to die. And the Doctor comes back to save them.

It’s a hugely important moment, because of the Doctor’s character and the story up to that point. The Doctor believes in the laws of Time. They are the closest to a religion he comes. But the story has been pushing him away, pushing him to rebel. Both the Doctor and Satan come to believe that the power which resides in each character belongs to them by right, rather than being granted by another, higher authority.

“Daleks in Manhattan” has a goofy title, but the Doctor says an important line in it: “They always survive while I lose everything.” He refers to the Daleks, who have reappeared after being killed off entirely twice before this. By rebelling against the laws of Time, the Doctor claims them, as Satan claimed god’s infallibility. He places himself above them, as the “Time Lord Victorious”. Like Satan, he thinks this will make him greater than any other creature. If the laws of Time obey him, the Doctor is greater than even the Daleks. They will never be able to hurt anyone again.

And like Satan, the Doctor loses his rebellion. He saves the crew, but one – the most important, and the person he really wanted to save – kills herself to prevent the Doctor from controlling everything. She claims the Doctor can’t have the power to choose who lives and who dies.

I think she’s right. Like Satan, the Doctor gained his power through a higher authority. Unlike Satan, with the exception of the Daleks, the Doctor has almost no one to stop him from succeeding. He refers to the rest of the crew as “little people.” It makes me wonder about Satan’s view of humans. At first he sees Adam and Eve as beautiful and laments his decision to drag them down as well. When does that change? Why do both characters come to see humans as a means to an end?

*This is part of my belief that a myth can become stronger than the story which spawned it. Satan as a myth existed before Paradise Lost, but Milton wrote the story that combined most of the myths about the character and story in one place, which helped to spread a new myth. Milton’s myth is both stronger and more comprehensive that what came before.

Over time ,the myth-Satan created in part by this story has changed into a more sympathetic character than Milton ever intended. Because of this, the myth-Satan I’m comparing the Doctor to does not completely match Satan in Paradise Lost. He actually has more in common with the Satan characters from the Lucifer comics and the Midnight Nation graphic novel, both of whom are based on Paradise Lost.

image: We can’t make out the artist’s last name on the signature, nor find it anywhere else online, but it’s too beautiful not to share. We’ll credit or replace it if we happen to hear from the artist. via fc05/Deviant Art

7 thoughts on “The Time Lord Victorious

  1. This is just an incredibly interesting topic, I’m so happy right now! I’ll probably be back after I’ve had some time for contemplation, but a few things:

    Regarding the Daleks being angels and the Doctor being a different species. I’d have to reread Paradise Lost, (am actually planning to do that in May or June), but I don’t think it’s as problematic as I originally thought when Gene’O brought it up. I think Satan always felt he was superior to the other angels, in intelligence and insight into the “real” nature of things if nothing else. Since we’re talking about a myth and not an allegory, I think it’s that feeling that’s relevant, not any species connections. I’m especially thinking this because the1 show so often draws parallels between the Doctor and the Daleks, little niggling questions that they might really be the same deep down. (I think the Doctor is morally superior because he usually pulls back from that kind of destruction, but there are canonical questions.) There’s also the common trope that Satan looks beautiful and believes himself to be misunderstood and virtuous, while the other demons are misshapen and “ugly as sin.” This is especially true of we’re just sticking to New Who… Nine is more like a Dalek, (8.5 even more so) but the doctors seem to get more and more powerful and terrifying even as they look more and more harmless. The whole infallibility thing really holds up too.

    Second thing is just a comment on that awesome quote, “They always survive while I lose everything.” This really reminds me of something like the Batman/Joker relationship, or that incredible “Coyote Gospel issue of Animal Man. We know as the audience that the Joker keeps coming back because the audience wants to see him. He makes the creators money. (That’s not to say those aren’t great stories.) The Daleks come back over and over for the same reason — the audience eats it up. There’s something really interesting and tragic to me about watching how a person’s life develops under the constraints of an audience’s interest. It divorces the character from reality in a fundamental way, forces him to deal with situations he would never have to deal with in the real world. The laws of reality are being warped so we can see the same thing again and again, but the character has to actually live through it and doesn’t understand why. The Doctor experiences repercussions, he always loses everything and remembers it, but the Daleks have no repercussions worth worrying about.

    Sorry for the off topic!


    • I hadn’t thought of the Doctor (or Batman!) as suffering for the audience before. It seems like something I call Protagonist Syndrome. I saw it a lot in “Stargate: Atlantis” and a few other shows. The symptoms include always succeeding, while horrible things happen to you and the people around you. Captain Jack seems especially susceptible to it. I wonder if, given the chance, the Doctor would step away from the show. He certainly seems to enjoy people watching him being clever (I think Bats would definitely give it up).

      Also, Nine is my favorite Doctor, but I’ve gotten to talk about him so little because Ten steals the show! I hope to fix that a bit next time.


      • I think you’re right about Protagonist Syndrome. I hadn’t really thought about it in general terms, just the “ongoing villain” thing, but it’s quite applicable.

        Bats would definitely step away so he could be more effective! Plus, there was that time the Joker killed Jason Todd, and his henchmen were the audience. Don’t know if you’re familiar, but DC had a big poll to see if Jason should die in the next issue, and the audience voted yes. Even though that was long before I was reading comics, it still gave me chills to read because I felt so responsible.

        Honestly I think the Doctor might give it up to punish the audience for doing something mean to him, one of those dramatic turning-away-from-the-screen moments he already falls to occasionally when he’s pushed to his limit and decides to do something really nasty to the villain, but he’d always come back, just like he always comes back from those moments. He’s gotta have someone to stand around looking impressed, as he says himself.


    • Lol, Wile E. Coyote. That is a great comment. I appreciate the point you’re making about the demands of the audience warping a character’s reality.

      That is a Seminar in Critical Theory-worthy observation right there.

      Also, I like the way you maneuver around the problem of the Doctor being of a different species. I’m prepared to buy that argument, and I agree that there are many, many suggestions that The Doctor and the Daleks are really the same.


      • I just realized I’m probably the only one who’s read The Coyote Gospel, whence comes the Wile E. Coyote reference, but you guys should totally check it out. It was a one-off issue from Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man.

        I should totally switch disciplines, I come up with way more literary/media-related ideas than historical ones. Goshdarn facts.


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