A couple of years ago, in the 50th anniversary special "The Day of The Doctor" we learned that The Doctor chose his name "Doctor" because of a promise:

Clara: You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was that Promise?

Tenth Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly.

War Doctor: Never give up. Never give in.

In fact, before this story, the War Doctor wasn't considered worthy of the name "Doctor" because, as Eleven said, "He's the one who broke the promise" (In "The Name of the Doctor").

In the series 9 finale "Hell Bent" we see The Doctor...

Break every promise and rule he's ever lived by just to save Clara. He banishes Rassilon and the High Council from Gallifrey. He shoots the General in cold blood (sure, he/she regenerated, but still). That seems cruel to me.

However, I can think of another instance in which The Doctor broke that promise. I'm talking about the Tenth Doctor's story "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood":

Son of Mine: He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing— the fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why — why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind. He wrapped my father in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star. He tricked my mother into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy to be imprisoned there, forever. He still visits my sister once a year, every year. I wonder if one day he might forgive her, but there she is. Can you see? He trapped her inside a mirror. Every mirror. If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you just for a second, that's her. That's always her. As for me, I was suspended in time and the Doctor put me to work standing over the fields of England, as their protector. We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure we did.

I mean, The Doctor literally unleashed hell on them. Doesn't that count as being cruel, and hence breaking his promise?

Are there other examples of The Doctor breaking this promise? Particularly in Classic Who, which is hard to me to find episodes of. For reviews I've read, the Sixth Doctor was kind of a jerk sometimes.

  • 12
    It's all a bit promisy-womisy... Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 19:20
  • 5
    'Coward, any time.'
    – evilsoup
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 22:07

4 Answers 4


Cruel is in the eye of the beholder, ultimately. For the Doctor, it tends to mean not being the instigator of hostilities. But the second part, "never cowardly", also means never backing down from them when someone else starts them, either. He tries very hard never to kill when there is another solution, but he is very often left with no choice. True cruelty would imply callousness and apathy, a lack of remorse for those actions.

And it's true that Twelve acknowledges that he goes too far in his actions during "Hell Bent", breaks all his own rules, and that's why he accepts his fate. He feels it to be a proper penance for his misdeeds. "Never be cruel, and never be cowardly," he tells Clara, "and if you ever are, always make amends."

I think the key with the Family of Blood, though, is that he gave them a chance. He ran. They didn't have to follow. In his mind, what came after, they brought upon themselves.

It's the same as with the Sycorax in The Christmas Invasion. The Doctor won, and he gave the Sycorax an out. He defeated the commander in combat, chose to leave him alive. Again, he was being kind. When the commander continued to attack, the Doctor killed him.

"No second chances. I'm that sort of man."


I think that when he made the promise, he was still or had just graduated from the academy. Take into consideration the things he has done since then. The people he's lost.

  • I think that after the Time War, when Rose still met him, he was purposely breaking that promise and trying to kill himself, which sort of came on as cowardly, because he didn't want to be the last of his kind and is afraid of the change of being alone in the Universe. Rose made him better, but when he lost her, he became bitter and unforgiving, like in 'Human Nature/ The Family of Blood'.
  • I also think that when he states 'No second chances. I'm that sort of man' in 'The Christmas Invasion', he is still feeling guilty about Rose and The Bad Wolf, and he knows that he will eventually lose Rose.

Coming from the Twelfth Doctor, it's not surprising that he keeps breaking the promise. After all, he lost everything. Amy, Rory, River, basically his entire family, and then he finds Clara. Sweet Clara Oswald, who heals him for a time. When he loses her too, he will probably stop at nothing to bring her back. Which he does. After he loses Clara a second time, I'm surprised he doesn't take a vow of infinite loneliness just to avoid the pain of losing people.

Think about it, though. If you had made the promise 'Never cruel, Never Cowardly. Never Give Up. Never Give In' On your home planet, now lost, thousands of years ago, companions and friends all gone, most likely never to be seen again, burning your entire planet a second time, and losing another family, getting them back briefly, and then losing them again, wouldn't you most likely break that promise?

Of course, this is The Doctor we're talking about here! As Amy once stated,' What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race dead. What couldn't you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.' Technically, all humans are children to him, which means that Amy is technically referring to the human race, because The Doctor seems to have an inability to just stand there and let the human race perish or suffer. Perhaps he is reminded of his own race by them. After all, not only do they look alike, but their ability to change is remarkable. I think that this is why he keeps breaking his promise. Unlike some people when they watch the show, I do not only feel excitement watching him prance around (sometimes like an idiot [depends on the Doctor]), but I also know that (also depending on the Doctor) he is hurting and only making jokes to distract himself from looking back at the pain and friends he left behind. I pity him. I think he is right, and that Time Lords really do live too long. No one is meant to go through that kind of loneliness, and I feel bad for him for having to do so.

When he makes a promise (depending on the promise) he either never keeps it, or always keeps it. For example, Amy's letter says ' and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don't be alone, Doctor. And do one more thing for me. There's a little girl waiting in a garden. She's going to wait a long while, so she's going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she's patient, the days are coming that she'll never forget. Tell her she'll go to sea and fight pirates. She'll fall in love with a man who'll wait two-thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she'll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived and save a whale in outer space. Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends.' He keeps both of those promises, and he is never alone (for too long), and he does go back in time to give hope to little Amelia. He does tell her stories, and even though it hurts him, he would do anything to make his best friend and former companion happy, even though he can't see her when he does so. Poor Doctor. So very old, and very alone, and so very very kind. The older he gets, the kinder he gets.

  • 2
    Line breaks are your friend.
    – amflare
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 22:11

When Ten regenerated, he was still figuring out what kind of man he was. At the end of "The Christmas Invasion", we find out.

"No second chances. I'm that sort of a man."

He gives invaders 1 chance to change their mind, to be good, to do good, and he'll respond appropriately if their choices are a danger to earth. If they won't make the right choice, then he will.


He told Clara in "Hell Bent":

Never be cruel and never be cowardly. And if you ever are, always make amends.

The last part is the key to the promise he made. Ten was just paraphrasing it.

Twelve figuratively told Clara to BE a Doctor before he forgot her.

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