This was written in response to the online “furor” over Marvel’s decision to write Captain America as a secret member of Hydra. As with every other comic book controversy ever, these things seem increasingly petty after a few minutes/days/weeks/months of consideration.
“Doctor’s Log, Stardate… Oh what is a ‘star date’ anyway?” the Doctor asked no one in particular as he flipped levers on the TARDIS console.
“Doctor,” Clara began, her dark eyebrows furrowed.
“Clara!” he said in a startle, as if he had forgotten she had been standing there. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Clara. The place: Mutter’s Spiral, Earth, America. The year: 2016. The subject: Doom.”
“Oh boy, here we go,” she replied, still incredulous.
“Boy or no boy,” he said “my instruments detect a great cataclysm in 2016 caused by-” he dropped his hands and paused to glance at the console again, “-comic books!”
Clara cocked an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Are you certain, Doctor?”
“Well,” he began “we all know that the collapse of the first great human empire began in 2016-”
“We don’t know that,” Clara interjected, matter-of-factly.
“And,” the Doctor continued, unimpeded, “all the periodicals at the time mention this ‘Captain America’ betraying his allegiance to the American people!”
“You know, Doctor,” Clara said as she started to pace. “I probably don’t keep up with American politics as much as I should but I’m pretty certain there is an important election going on in 2016-”
“Nonsense,” the Doctor said. “Look, this blog here, and blogs never lie, claims that, somehow, this comic book event caused a rift in the space-time continuum which traveled back to the time of the Captain’s inception, during the Second World War, and retroactively offended not only the people he initially defended, but modern day comic book fans, who will, in turn, destroy civilization as you know it!”
“I am completely lost,” said Clara.
“As am I,” said the Doctor, “but the answers to our questions lie in Poland. The year: 1944.”
“Oh no, Doctor,” Clara said, her wide eyes even wider. “You can’t.”
“Oh I can, Clara,” he said. “We’re already there.”
The Doctor strode over to the TARDIS console and adjusted the scanner’s viewscreen to face them. Clara could already see that they were in a prison yard.
“We can’t go out there, Doctor,” she said. “We’ll be killed.”
“Oh, Clara,” the Doctor said. He smiled. “I’ve enclosed the TARDIS in a static warp bubble. Everything outside it will be time locked. Hopefully, we’ve caught someone and we’ll pop out and ask them a question.”
“I should be used to this,” Clara said, “but this might be just about the worst thing you’ve ever done.”
The Doctor paid her no heed. He pointed at the screen. “There,” he said. “Right there. That confused looking fellow. He’s the one.”
Clara frowned. She stared at the screen. Her hair flew as she whipped her head up to face him. “Let’s go then. Let’s do this horrible thing so I can get to work on never forgiving you.”
“After you,” the Doctor said, deadpan, as he extended his right arm towards the opening TARDIS doors.
They marched outside.
There stood, not ten yards from the TARDIS door, more of a skeleton than a man. His head was shaved. He spoke.
“Am I dead?”
Clara and the Doctor stopped in front of him. Their voices were muffled by the warp shell, as if they were speaking under a thick blanket. They stood facing him. A single tear escaped Clara’s left eye. The Doctor spoke first.
“It depends,” he said. “Is your name Vladek?”
“Yes,” the man replied. “Now answer me.”
“Oh, you’re dead, but not in this time,” the Doctor said. “Not for decades.”
“Hrm.” Vladek stared. “This is not comforting. What is that thing?” He pointed at the TARDIS. “You don’t sound German.”
The Doctor ignored the first question. “Gallifreyan,” he said.
“He’s Scottish,” Clara said. She sniffed and wiped her face.
“I am dreaming then,” Vladek said. “So, what is your purpose?”
The Doctor reached inside his coat and pulled out a battered comic book. On the front, Vladek could see what looked like a man in a blue uniform punching Adolf Hitler in the face.
“Do you know what this is?” the Doctor asked.
“A pulp.” Vladek said. “A funny book. What of it?”
“Well, since you’re dreaming, dream this: in the future, this character,” the Doctor tapped the cover with the long, thin fingers of his right hand “isn’t punching Hitler anymore. He’s a bad guy.”
“I see,” Vladek said. “Even asleep, I am too hungry to care about this. Let us dream about food.”
“He’s right, Doctor,” Clara said. “Even you can’t be cruel enough to deny him a meal.”
The Doctor frowned. “A meal will kill him.” He stuck the comic under his arm, reached into his coat again, and pulled out a Hershey bar. He extended this offering towards Vladek. “You’d do well to save half of that for later.”
Vladek shuffled forward and took the chocolate. “I think I know what is well to do,” he said. Still, he snapped the bar in half before he began to unwrap it.
The Doctor stood, silently, and watched him consume it. Clara turned away and stared at the white sign on the TARDIS door. She repeatedly ran her eyes over the message.
Advice & Assistance
“Damn it all,” she whispered.
Vladek put the last piece in his mouth and chewed. He sucked a bit of chocolate from his thumb.
“Now,” he said, “I am not so sure I am dreaming. Perhaps I’ve gone mad.”
Clara turned to face him. “No,” she said. She jerked her fist toward the Doctor, thumb extended. “He’s the mad one.”
“Nevertheless,” the Doctor said, “we still don’t have an answer to our question. So, what is it, Vladdy? If this cartoon decides, someday, that he doesn’t want to punch old Mr. Mustache, what then?”
“How is this a concern?” Vladek said, already more animated from the rush of sugar. “These are things for children. Where is my family? Where is my wife?”
“She will be safe, eventually. In most respects,” he replied.
“You are a devil,” Vladek said, “to bring me treats and taunt me with this,” he flapped both hands towards the Doctor, “this!”
“You’re not wrong,” Clara said.
The Doctor cut his eyes at Clara and back to Vladek. “If this character is a hero to some people like you, someday, aren’t you offended-”
“Everything is offensive!” Vladek shouted. He started to pace. “The Germans are offensive. This place is offensive. Life is offensive. You are offensive.”
“Doctor,” Clara began. She put her hand on his shoulder and stepped towards Vladek. “Vladek. Do you think that people should be able to write what they want?”
He sighed, long and hard. “This life,” he said out loud, but to himself. He ran his hands over the stubble on his scalp. “Yes,” he said. “The people who censor, we know what they do.”
“Yes, but,” she said, “if someone wishes to be offended, even over something as silly as a comic book, they may write that too?”
Vladek laughed, short and hoarse. “Yes, if that’s how they want to waste their time.” He smiled with his mouth only. His eyes glared and remained hard. “Maybe I will write a comic book about how stupid they are.”
“No, that’s your son,” the Doctor said.
“What?” Vladek said. “I have no son.”
“Not yet,” the Doctor said. “Not yet.”
Clara inhaled slowly and deeply. “Doctor, we read that at Coal Hill. Art-”
“I think we’re done here, Clara,” the Doctor said. He wheeled around, his coat flaring, and started towards the TARDIS doors.
“But, what about-” she started, her hands extended towards Vladek.
He stopped inside the threshold and turned around. “He’ll remember, but he won’t say anything. He’s a smart guy.”
Vladek stared at the Doctor. “You play with us, devil. You play with our misfortune. I will tell people that.”
“And you may,” the Doctor said, “for that is the sad truth.”
He disappeared inside the TARDIS, which began wheezing and moaning seemingly faster than the Doctor could have reached the console from the door.
Clara stepped quickly towards the door and paused just inside. She gripped the door facing and turned her head towards Vladek. “It gets better,” she said, her voice raised over the din.
“The devil’s escort,” he said, smiling for real now. He raised his hand, still gripping half of the Hershey bar. “No, you are an angel. Goodbye, angel. Tell God he has some explaining to do.”
She looked at him, silently, for as long as she dare during the liftoff sequence, and slowly shut the door.
“Oh, I would,” she said quietly, to herself and the back of the door. “I would.”
“Talking to yourself again, Clara?” the Doctor said without looking up from the console.
She approached him quickly, her feet hitting the deck fast and hard. She stopped, her face inches from his. “I’m a teacher, you know. Next time you need a historical opinion so you can win a Facebook argument, you could ask me instead of traumatizing everyone involved.”
“Oh Clara,” the Doctor said. “What do I need a time and space machine for if I’m just going to stand around and talk to you all day?”
“What, indeed,” she said. “Take me back to Coal Hill. I have a good idea for a lesson on free speech.”
“Do you have any conclusions, Miss Oswald?” the Doctor asked. He smiled in that mischievous way she simultaneously loved and hated.
“Other than the fact that you probably are a devil, no,” she said. “I’ll present all facts and allow the students to decide.”
“Well!” the Doctor said. He had already pulled out his smartphone and situated it close enough to his face for his breath to fog the screen. “That isn’t going to help me compose this blasted tweet!”