Friday, April 30, 2010

Batman Versus Doctor Who

No, not literally. (Although tell me that wouldn't be awesome. Perhaps the Pertwee Doctor? He could probably hold his own against Batman, he knows Venusian Aikido.) No, what I was referring to is that these are probably the two most prominent fictional characters who make a point of disliking guns. Other characters might not use them or carry them, but Batman and the Doctor are almost alone in very vocally disdaining them. (The only other that immediately comes to mind is MacGyver, who was of course created by a prominent Doctor Who writer, Terry Nation.)

Interestingly, neither one of them had their anti-firearm stance as part of their original character bible. Batman, of course, started out as a pistol-packing pulp hero, who notoriously gunned down his early opponents before Bob Kane and Bill Finger figured out that a) there's more money in being kid-friendly, and b) it's easier to write a continuing series if you don't keep killing off your best villains. The Doctor didn't start out with any particular opinion on guns one way or the other; he was an elderly inventor, an eccentric scientist with a brisk trade in improvised gizmos. It was only later, as he was put into a military setting, that his decision not to carry a gun became a character point instead of an afterthought. (Hmm, improvised gizmos, no guns...wonder where Terry Nation got the idea for MacGyver, exactly?)

So we have two characters who have a very similar aspect to their personality...except that they don't, do they? After all, the Doctor disdains beating people up pretty much in general. (Venusian Aikido notwithstanding.) He carries a screwdriver in his pockets--a tool, not a weapon. Batman, on the other hand, leaves the gun behind to carry weapons that he can apply with better precision and non-lethal force. He's more than happy to punch, kick, thump, and batter enemies into submission. He packs a Batarang, not a Bat-Screwdriver. (Except the Adam West Batman, who naturally packed both.)

So with that in mind, you'd think that it would be more shocking to see the Doctor pick up a gun, right? After all, he's the self-proclaimed "man of peace", the one who always gives his enemies the chance to surrender, the one who doesn't solve his problems with his fists. One would imagine that to see him pick up a gun and use it to solve his problems, well...that'd be a sign of a crisis so grave that it shakes his moral foundations to their very core, even more so than Batman (who, as mentioned, started off his career as a card-carrying NRA superhero.)

Except that both heroes have done exactly that, lately. First in 'The End of Time', then just this last week in Doctor Who (well, last week in week in, spoilers, okay?) the Doctor used a gun; and last year, Batman had a dramatic face-off against Darkseid that ended with him shooting the god in cold blood. Which was more out of character? Batman's shot, by far. The question is, why?

The answer can be found in their respective moral codes. It's actually a pretty interesting study in contrasts--Batman's moral code is very inflexible, the Doctor's...well, let's just say it's less so. Once Batman makes a decision (no killing, no guns) he holds himself to it with steely determination. The Doctor? He's against killing as a general rule, and he's always trying to find a non-violent solution...but when he comes up against an enemy that can only be stopped with lethal force, he's willing to use it. He's against guns, but not for the same reason as Batman--Bruce Wayne refuses to use guns because they're the cowardly instrument of death that wiped out two of the finest people he ever knew.

The Doctor doesn't carry a gun because he feels like they limit the mind. "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail," as they say. If all you have is a gun, then you'll see every problem in terms of "What needs to be shot?" And when you come up against as many bullet-proof enemies as the Doctor, it can be downright suicidal if your first instinct is to reach for your gun. He doesn't carry one because it makes him tactically flexible, not because he hates the things. (Although he's not fond of them, either. But there's a difference between disliking guns and having a visceral hatred of them.)

So when the Doctor reaches for a gun, it means that the situation genuinely requires a gun. When Batman reaches for a gun, he's overcoming a lifetime of loathing and a traumatic association between the weapon and the man who used it to shatter his life forever. And that's why it will always be more dramatic to have Batman use a gun than the Doctor. Even though their philosophies seem alike on the surface, they really couldn't be more different. And despite the fact that Batman seems like the more violent character, it's really the Doctor who's willing to be more ruthless with his enemies.

(But tell me a team-up between them wouldn't be awesome. Batman and the Doctor fighting Ra's Al-Ghul and the Master? Oh, yeah.)


Mory said...

"the Doctor used a gun; and last year, Batman had a dramatic face-off against Darkseid that ended with him shooting the god in cold blood. Which was more out of character? Batman's shot, by far. The question is, why?"

There's a really simple answer to this question that you're overlooking: in both Doctor Who cases, he was shooting a "thing" rather than an intelligent being. He wasn't aiming to kill anyone.

E. Wilson said...

I'm not a Dr. Who fan, so I can't comment on his philosophy, but from an in-story perspective, I've always been irritated when Batman preaches to other characters about not using guns. If you're Batman, and have a lifetime of training in martial arts, and practically unlimited resources to devote to creating non-lethal weaponry (which, really, is only non-lethal when combined with said expert-level training), then no, you don't need to use a gun. And your dozen or so proteges, who have access to said resources and training, don't need to, either. And your Justice League friends, with their super powers, don't need to, either.

But outside of those particular circumstances, to call people who use guns 'cowards' isn't just elitist; it's patently illogical. People who live in a city with as high a violent crime rate as Gotham (never mind the super villains) are idiots for not having any way to protect themselves. Batman not using a gun is, from an in-story perspective, solely a result of his own psychological hang-ups, and really shouldn't be presented as anything else.

Which makes his use of a "gun" to take down Darkseid more impressive, to my thinking. (I use "gun" in quotations because I'm not even sure if a delivery system for a radioactive substance would be considered a 'gun' in the traditional sense.) When all of reality was at stake, Batman got over his own angst and did everything he could to save it.

magidin said...

Given the time Batman started, saying he began as a card-carrying NRA hero means he was a member of the National Recovery Administration... (-:

John Seavey said...

The Doctor didn't kill anyone in 'The End of Time', but that's not the same as "he wasn't aiming to kill anyone." He picked up that gun and base-jumped into the lab with the full intention of putting a bullet through somebody's head. He found another solution, true, but I think he would have shot Rassilon if there was no other option.

Of course, at that point, Rassilon would have just regenerated into the Pierce Brosnan incarnation...

Unknown said...

I will say, I grew up watching the Doctor, and when the Interregnum ended, and I rejoiced... then when the ninth Doctor went searching for a BFG in 'Dalek', it worried the hell out of me. I was afraid the new series would drop the Doctor's disdain for guns in favor of the direct "actiony" approach.

In my universe, the Doctor doesn't go through the bin saying "Broken. Broken. Hair dryer… [find gun] Oh, yes! Lock and load!" He goes through the bin and says "Broken. Broken. Hair dryer - Oh, yes!"

Then we discover how the Doctor can stop a ravening menace with an extraterrestrial hair dryer, which is far more entertaining than shooting the alien.

Fortunately, I managed to catch 'Tooth and Claw' shortly thereafter (the lag was about a year between BBC and SciFi Channel then), which gave me reassurace.

"You want weapons? We're in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room's the greatest arsenal we could have - arm yourselves!"

That was what convinced me the series would be done some justice.

Chris said...

I would pay good money to see Batman and The Doctor team up to fight Ras Al Ghul and The Master.

Pitrone said...

I know it almost goes without saying, but it must be some sort of Promethean Nerd Height reached, or Nerd Summit Made Our Bitch that we can now think of things like a Doctor/Batman team-up. Is a pinnacle or nadir of American culture? Someone should write a graduate thesis....

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