A Soldier’s Cowardice on Doctor Who Web of Fear

2ndDoctor_TARDIS_4164_edited-1Doctor Who The Web of Fear is one of two recently long lost Doctor Who stories featuring the Second Doctor. All but one episode was recovered from the ashes of history.

The story is noteworthy because it was the introduction of Colonel (but future Brigadier) Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

The villain was the Great Intelligence, who used robotic Yeti that Professor Travers brought back to England from Tibet in the 1930s in the The Abominable Snowmen. This is the second appearance of the Great Intelligence, who would reappear to battle the Eleventh Doctor in the Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John and The Name of the Doctor.

Most of the story took place in the London Underground. The British Army (not UNIT) fought Yeti and a big white foaming lethal fungus spreading beneath the city controlled by the Great Intelligence.

One “soldier,” purely in the academic sense, was “Driver Evans.” Evans had the unique ability to stay alive, usually by avoiding anything dangerous. This included challenging Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart’s orders with personally less hazardous suggestions. He let others volunteer for dangerous assignments so he would not be in harm’s way. Evans even stood on a chair as a control sphere rolled by so he could have a higher “vantage point.” While Lethbridge-Stewart and the other soldiers were off fighting Yeti with small-arms, grenades and bazookas, Evans was safe and sound.

Evans conduct bordered on desertion and outright cowardice. How would a soldier be court-martialed for such conduct?

It is long stand policy in the US military’s Articles of War, with its British originals, that desertion and cowardice are serious offenses. Swaim v. United States, 28 Ct. Cl. 173, 233 (Ct. Cl. 1893). Moreover, Article of War 61 prescribes that “any officer who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be dismissed from the service,” and Article 100, that “when an officer is dismissed from the service for cowardice or fraud, the sentence shall further direct that the crime, punishment, name and place of birth of the delinquent shall be published in the newspapers in and about the camp, and in the State from which the offender came, or where he usually resides.” In re Carter, 97 F. 496, at *498 (C.C.D.N.Y. 1899) and Carter v. McClaughry, 183 U.S. 365, 395 (U.S. 1902)

Getting thrown out of the military for cowardice in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries included full on public-coward-shaming.

Circuit Judge Field summed up the 19th Century view as “desertion is the highest, and with cowardice, the basest of offenses which can be committed by men in the naval service…” Montgomery v. Bevans, 17 F. Cas. 628, 634 (C.C.D. Cal. 1871). For the sake of argument, Judge Field would likely extend that belief to the Army.

TARDIS_5392So, what do we do about Driver Evans? British Soldiers and members of UNIT seemed to have about as likely a chance to survive on Doctor Who as a Red Shirt on Star Trek.

The fact all the other soldiers get killed EXPECT Evans and the Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart highlighted this point.

Still, that does not excuse avoiding risk or being willing to sell-out others for his own safety.

Even the Doctor jumped on the back of a Yeti in a failed attempt to save a soldier.

Men in bow ties are willing to take such heroic actions.

The fact that Evans’ conduct came close to desertion while discussing escaping with Jamie and leaving the others behind, to avoiding hazardous missions, to an outright willingness to turn the Doctor over to the Great Intelligence, demonstrated cowardice numerous times. Throwing him out of the Army would be a good idea after a court-martial. Those on the front lines need to be willing to actually do their job in defending their country, not seeking self-preservation at the cost of others.

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