Okay but sit down because I cannot even begin to express the enormity of what this scene meant to the Doctor or why he did it or how it was so significantly a part of his character and even here I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface and that, coming from me about the Doctor, is saying something –
“No, really. Just leave me. I’m an old man, Doctor, I’ve had my time.”
This is the turning point. Until then, until that sentence, the Doctor’d been holding it together – he knew that he was going to have to die and he knew that he couldn’t fix it and he knew that he’d die for Wilf and he was going to take it with his head down and a lump in his throat and barely even meet Wilf’s eye and that was gonna be it. Because the Doctor was used to this, because he couldn’t break the rules, because good men had no rules and surprise surprise, he did. There’s this point and I mean, yeah it upsets him, and whenever you give the Doctor hope and take it away he’s gonna be angry (see: “I can still save her!” per The Voyage of the Damned), but he doesn’t break until then. Until Wilf says that, until Wilf insists that his life isn’t that important, that it’s fine, and –
well, exactly! Look at him! Not remotely important – but the Doctor, him, he could do so much more, he could do so much bloody more, like standing there and watching more of his friends get themselves killed because that’s how it always ends, because all he’s managed to do is get them killed or hurt or injured and they all stood there, just like Wilf, they all stood there and his reward for the bloody things he does do right is FORGIVENESS, like it’s okay you’re killing me, it’s okay, I’m not important – his reward is his friends believing they’re not important enough to save. His reward is the human race, the stupid forgiving human race that’s the only reason he managed to get this far in the first place, his REWARD is that they’re willing to die for him, without question, the moment he asks. Good little soldiers, responding to their General.
Man, I’m feeling sick just talking about this.
He has lost everything. He watched Rose turn to face her (would-be) death in Dalek and the last thing she said to him was I wouldn’t’ve missed this for the world, the last thing she said was to comfort him – and Donna, she wanted to die, because she wanted to know him for just five more minutes, to just know who she was to the Universe for that much longer. And Martha quit her career as a doctor to work for Torchwood, to become one of the best and most dangerous weapons London’s ever had. And out of all of that, out of all of the things he did, out of all of the most IMPORTANT things in his life that he managed to ruin, not one of them ever told him it was his fault. Hell, half of them don’t even believe they’re important. Compared to the Doctor, to the marvellous, wonderful Doctor, how could they? He loses everything and it’s not fair.
I think what’s notable about this scene is that the Doctor is afraid. The sort of fear that leaves his eyes glistening, his throat thick, his breaths ragged – he doesn’t want this responsibility, he doesn’t want to keep going, to make up for it, to somehow make amends for letting someone else die – he doesn’t want to be trusted, or loved, or cared about, because right now it hurts. Because he’s just entered this new world where there aren’t any Time Lords, where he has nobody, and he’s watching these people die, and he can’t fix it, and worse they don’t seem to realise, and is this the Time War? Was this what he’d done, is this who he is now – is getting people killed, getting people to die for him, all he’s good at, anymore? Is that it, is that who he’s become? And if he tells them then they’ll leave but they’ll leave anyway so he keeps going and humans wither, humans die, and don’t they see and god he wishes – he wishes – and he keeps going and… and… and god, look at them.
Oh, he’s lived too long.
Look at him sigh, look at that drop of the shoulders, look at that deep, shuddering breath. He is so tired. He knows it’s been a good run, he knows Rose Tyler would not have missed it for the world and that Martha Jones got out and that Wilfred Mott was nobody important, really, he doesn’t mind. Sometimes he thinks he knows too much. But he’s just tired, and he’s alone, and he has to. Because this is how the story ends, this is the grand climax: a lonely man, in a lonely room, and this time this can be his reward. This time, he can be the one to say goodbye, first. This time he won’t have to watch them die, ‘cause it will be the other way around.
This time, he gets to forgive.
“Wilfred, it’s my honour.” And he has never, ever meant any words more than he means them now. You are forgiven. You are so totally, completely forgiven. And this time – this time, maybe he can be, too.
The Doctor was afraid, he was tired, he was lonely.
But for this one golden, shining moment, just this one last hurrah, just these last few minutes before he has to let go of them (and he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t want to go, but that is how life works and he’s sorry), in these last few moments…
he will not have to be alone.