“Of all the people to survive, he’s not the one you would have chosen, is he? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you could decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster.”
– Mr. Copper, Doctor Who
Christmas Special, “Voyage of the Damned”
When something bad happens, we want it to happen only to bad people, but that is simply not for us to decide.
We only see Mr. Copper for one episode in the entire series, much like everyone else in this episode except the Doctor himself, but he, and they, certainly make a memorable impression.
When disaster, or sabotage disguised as a disaster, strikes a cruise ship in space, the people on board are almost completely annihilated all in an instant. There are a few survivors scattered throughout the ship, but their struggle to survive is one where the odds have been stacked ridiculously against them. At every turn, someone else dies, someone good, kind, and brave. In the end, among the last survivors, one of them is the most petty, pathetic, selfish, self-absorbed, and useless people ever. The least worthy to survive, and he survives, which is all the more painful for the Doctor, having lost almost everyone else.
That’s when Mr. Copper says the above quote, and he has a point.
Even if one is right, it would still be judging another person. Even if one is absolutely correct in one’s judgment, it is still be standing above them as if one was superior. The very act itself, of choosing who, in any random catastrophe, would live or die, based only on one’s own preference, that would remove oneself from humanity. The power of a god would intoxicate any man.
Interestingly, though the Doctor understands this principle at this point, it is scarcely a season later when he does exactly that. He makes a choice he is forbidden to make: who lives and who dies. Within seconds, he is already drunk on that power, ready to tear straight through the universe, reshaping it however he sees fit, for whatever reasons he likes. Fortunately, there is someone there to stop him, but I will comment on that some other time. For present purpose, he forgot this lesson for a moment, and came dangerously close to becoming the worst monster in the entire universe.
It’s very easy, isn’t it? To stand in judgment. We think, “This person is awful, they’re terrible, they don’t deserve what they have, they don’t use it well, they don’t help people, they’re despicable, they’re inhuman.” We judge, and in that judgment we put ourselves above them. That is how we become monsters.
Many of the worst monsters in human history were just people who stood above others.