Note: There are spoilers here if you haven’t seen Season 1 of Doctor Who (2005)
Let’s set the stage.
The Doctor (I find him amazing) is at a crossroads. The sinister Daleks (an ingenious race of genetically engineered aliens designed to take orders and exterminate all life) were not destroyed in the previous war that killed The Doctor’s race. They have been secretly harvesting humans and have returned in full force, ready to claim the Earth as it’s own paradise. They will exterminate all humans and then move on to conquer the rest of universe. All of The Doctor’s defensive forces have been eliminated and he sent his trusted friend Rose back to her own time, against her will, as a promise to keep her safe.
There is still hope! While his friends have defended (and sacrificed themselves for) The Doctor, he has been converting the space station in which they are trapped into a huge “delta wave” generator. This wave produces enough power to wipe out the entire race of Daleks in one single pulse. There’s only one problem. There hasn’t been enough time to focus the direction of the delta wave, so it has become more of a pulse or bubble. It will effectively wipe out the Daleks, the space station, and the entire planet Earth, which they are orbiting.
It is in this moment that The Doctor becomes surrounded by Daleks; even the Dalek Emperor has come to gloat in his triumph. The conversation begins:
The Doctor: You really want to think about this. Because if I activate the signal, every living creature dies.
Dalek Emperor: I am immortal.
The Doctor: D’you want to put that to the test?
Dalek Emperor: I want to see you become like me. Hail the Doctor! The great exterminator!
The Doctor: I’ll do it!
Dalek Emperor: Then prove yourself, Doctor. What are you? Coward or killer?
At this moment, I myself am stymied. What would I do in this situation? The Daleks have proven themselves to be a true threat. They will not alter their course and it is quite literally The Doctor alone who can stop this threat. He lost his entire race last time in the process; the war was that difficult. We know The Doctor is selfless, so it doesn’t matter to him if nobody else is there to witness how he saved things, it must be done. In light of all of life in space and time, this one planet of human beings here and now seems like a small cost. Surely it is drastic, but it must be done.
With his hands on the trigger, and a moment of hard thought and struggle, The Doctor makes his reply:
Coward. Any day.
I’ll admit I wasn’t quite expecting this decision. Earth, humanity, and even himself were all doomed to death and whatever horrible abominations the Daleks would perform, yet he chose “cowardice” and let the Earth live, even for just a few moments longer. Placing myself in The Doctor’s shoes, this seemed foolish to me, in light of the greater good of space and time that would be spared.
And yet, that’s really just letting the ends justify the means. Even if it spelled certain doom, I wasn’t the one ending the lives of billions. I was not playing God, and I was not corrupting my soul in the extermination of so many souls. There are some things beyond the scope of my responsibility, or at least beyond the range in which I am capable of handling.
In that point I think The Doctor knew that virtue (and maybe even God) wins.