In this excellent adventure, we traveled back in time to the Regency era during the last frost fair of 1814. The main plot culminated in an inspiring act of kindness in the face of the unknown. Bill has to decide whether or not to save a giant water creature that’s held captive under the Thames, eating the people of London. Without knowing the outcome of her decision, Bill tells the Doctor to release the imprisoned creature. Thankfully, it was the right decision.
The villain of the week is a high society gentleman (and unapologetic racist) named Sutcliffe, who profits from the creature’s imprisonment and subsequent civilian deaths. Upon meeting Sutcliffe, the Doctor gives a passionate speech on the value of human life to which Sutcliffe responds that he gives literally zero fucks. When Sutcliffe dies at the end of the episode, in another act of kindness the Doctor sticks around long enough to ensure that the Sutcliffe estate is passed on to the urchin children we meet.
Kindness: A (Very Abbreviated) History
Racism is addressed early on through Bill’s fears about the existence of slavery and the Doctor’s comment that “history is a whitewash” (aside: check out this brilliant analysis piece on why this episode is an allegory for slavery). Judging by others’ reactions on social media, I’m not alone in being glad this issue was addressed. When thinking later on about the Doctor’s comment and what to write about for this episode, I realized that I had trouble thinking of kind acts throughout history. Much of my own, very limited knowledge of historical events is focused on war and opposition. So I decided that I would spend time learning about acts of kindness throughout history.
Here are twelve true stories of generosity, selflessness, and empathy:
- 1810-1860: Although there isn’t a clear record, as many as 100,000 people may have escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. By the early 1800s a network of sympathetic abolitionists, allies, and former slaves emerged to help guide escaped slaves to the North. Harriet Tubman, one of the most well-known “conductors” of the railroad, reportedly made the trip 19 times and helped over 200 slaves escape.
- 1887: Beatrice Webb was a social researcher born into an upper middle class family in Gloucestershire, England. She empathized for people living in poverty, and in her 20s she stepped away from her life of privilege to immerse herself in the lives of the working class. Beatrice worked as a rent collector and in a textile factory. She and her husband Sidney contributed greatly to social reform, economics, and the co-operative movement.
- 1914-1919: Throughout the First World War, nurses tended to countless injuries not far from the front lines. The bravery of these nurses is awe-inspiring, and many volunteered above and beyond the call of duty. To name a few, Linnie Leckrone volunteered on a ‘gas and shock team’ and Dorothy Fielding was an ambulance driver.
- 1944: Captain Wilm Hosenfeld was a member of the Nazi party and a German Army officer. He grew disillusioned to the party’s policies and gave refuge to Polish and Jewish people in danger of persecution. Most notably, he helped hide Władysław Szpilman, the Polish-Jewish composer, an act which was featured in the film The Pianist.
- 1950s – 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. is rightfully famous for his use of peaceful protest in the face of racism and economic injustices. He traveled the world spreading a message of nonviolence and equality until his untimely death in 1968.
- 1954: The first successful kidney transplant was performed. A living donor, Ronald Herrick, gave a kidney and the incredible gift of life to his twin, Richard. Richard lived for 8 years following the transplant, and the lead surgeon was awarded the Nobel Prize. Living donation has grown since; in 2014, there were over 5,500 living donor kidney transplants. Of these, 184 (3%) were from “non-directed” or “altruistic” donors, i.e. people who donate an organ to save the life of a stranger.
- 1955: Jonas Salk, an American medical researcher, discovered one of the first vaccines for polio. Salk believed public health was a “moral commitment” and his goal was to develop a safe, effective, and rapidly dispersed vaccine without interest in personal profit. His response to the suggestion of a patent for the vaccine was, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
- 1960-1990: In South African history, Afrikaners are strongly associated with racism and apartheid. Yet there are notable Afrikaners who fought for integration. One is Bram Fischer, a lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela in court. Another is Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a businessman and politician who resigned from his office in 1985 and went on to lead a white delegation to meet with the ANC (the democratic party of which Nelson Mandela was president from 1991-1997). For their anti-apartheid actions, Fischer served a life sentence in prison and Slabbert was labelled a traitor.
- 1995: During the final year of the Bosnian War, July of 1995 marked the genocide of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims (mostly boys and men) in the town of Srebenica. In the midst of one of the most terrible civilian massacres, individual acts of humanity shone through. To illustrate, an anonymous Serbian soldier disobeyed direct orders to save the lives of two elderly men he recognized from childhood.
- 2012: Abel Mutai of Kenya was in position to win an international cross-country race in Navarre, Spain. Thinking the race was over, he slowed up several meters ahead of the finish line. Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Spanish runner who was close behind, guided Mutai to the actual finish line. After the race Anaya responded, “I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake.”
- March 2015: President Obama and First Lady Michelle launched the Let Girls Learn campaign, which brings together multiple government agencies to empower adolescent girls and address the many challenges to attaining their education. Education is a personal issue and passion for Michelle Obama. The campaign raises awareness and has invested over $1 billion in government program in over 50 countries.
- June 26, 2015: On this date, the landmark United States Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges determined in a 5-4 vote that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. This case legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell, who challenged Ohio’s ban on same sex marriage, said the ruling “affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in their hearts: our love is equal.”