This is the first of the two articles I wrote for Electric Feast, covering the long-awaited (at the time) Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. This was an impassioned diatribe on the direction I thought the special was going to take, and about how I was right and everyone else was wrong. Needless to say I was completely wrong, but I like it as an article anyways, here it is:
I am of the opinion that a lot of the people who speculate on the future of the TV show Doctor Who are not only wrong in in the most ridiculous ways, but also completely missing the point of the show. That said, I am about to spend several paragraphs speculating on the future of Doctor Who. More specifically, on the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special that will (spoilers) be fucking awesome. Of course when I say speculating, I mostly mean pointing out why I think other speculators are wrong, and then putting forward my own theories as what I consider to be a more reasonable alternative.
I think the first issue to be addressed in the debate over what the 50th will actually be about is John Hurt. This takes us back to the very end of last season’s finale, the surprisingly good (and I do mean surprising, going by the proportion of pants-shitting level I was at at the beginning of the episode and pants-shitting level I was at towards the rest of it) The Name of the Doctor. Flash back to the Doctor and Clara scowling at a pensive silhouette staring over a cliff out into space, only to turn around and be revealed to be Ollivander/Chancellor Sutler/that dragon from Merlin, accompanied by big letters reading “John Hurt as… THE DOCTOR.” That point in the episode personally reached a 8. DAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN on the pants-shitting scale.
Suddenly every Whovian in this and adjacent universes are trying to sort out where the Ollivander Doctor fits into continuity. A cursory glance at various articles on a frantic Google search trying to answer this question presents one fairly prevalent theory: That John Hurt’s Doctor fits somewhere between the mostly terrible 1996 made-for-TV movie of Doctor Who(featuring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor), and the fanTAStic but short-lived 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, placing him in the Time War.
Now I don’t know how that theory came about, but it seemed to exist even before the episode even aired from what I heard, which makes me think that it is (if not completely) mostly bullshit. For a few reasons: Firstly, one of the chief rules of writing is that you DO NOT FUCK WITH ESTABLISHED CONTINUITY UNLESS YOU FORESHADOW IT. By ‘foreshadow’, I mean somehow reference that something is not the way you are supposed to think it is, BEFORE revealing that *gasp!* it suddenly is not. In the case of the show and the 50th, I mean of course that there would have to be a pretty big revelation of the fact that the show’s following missed out completely on a whole regeneration of the Doctor, and not only that but the Doctor himself somehow also missed out on it. If Paul McGann regenerates into John Hurt to fight the Time War and making him the “real” ninth Doctor, then that means that Eccleston was really the tenth, Tennant was the Eleventh, and Matt Smith is the twelfth, and my life doesn’t make sense anymore I need a hug.
Something so big for the show’s continuity would have to have been foreshadowed quite a bit, which it hasn’t been at all. Actually quite the opposite of foreshadowing has been going on on that score. In fact since the dawn of the new series, every single Doctor has appeared in sequence in the episodes The Next Doctor, The Eleventh Hour, A Nightmare in Silver, and were even seen running around onscreen thanks to Forrest Gump levels of image manipulation, in The Name of the Doctor. In all those segments, only the Doctors we as viewers are familiar with appear, clearly setting Christopher Eccleston as THE ninth Doctor. Hell, in the episode The Lodger he even points to himself saying “Eleventh” when explaining himself to Craig (the first time in the show that the Doctor ever refers to himself by the number of his current incarnation, as fans often do), and then again in The Name of the Doctor Clara literally grabs him by the shoulders saying something along the lines of “I’ve seen all of your selves, you’re the Eleventh Doctor.”
Now the only explanation presented by proponents of this theory for the Doctor and the show’s continuity completely ignoring the John Hurt Doctor’s existence is that he doesn’t remember it. Really? Really?? Amnesia is something that daytime soap operas use for big plot reveals. It’s a fallback for when nobody can think of something truly shocking. And what’s more, it still doesn’t fit, as the Doctor clearly remembers (and is constantly haunted by) what he was driven to do in the Time War. Not only does he remember it (the worst of which for him was destroying his own people to also destroy the Daleks), he doesn’t regret it. He mourns his people, but he recognizes the necessity of what he had to do, not just because he had to ironically exterminate the Daleks, but because the Time War turned his own race into power-hungry, warmongering, Time-Hitlers who also needed some laying-waste to. It’s a decision we know he’d repeat in a second if he had to, as seen in The End of Time, when upon hearing that the Time Lords are trying to escape the Time War he immediately (and uncharacteristically) grabs a handgun and goes into war-mode.
I think it’s more than likely that this theory evolved from a thought process that goes a little something like this: The Doctor never knows what a future Doctor will look like, so this can’t be a future Doctor. Also John Hurt is freakishly old and freakishly famous, so what if they can’t book him/isn’t alive to do the show when the last Doctor rolls around? So clearly this must be from the past, and what he did “In the name of peace and sanity” is a reference to the Time War. There, that’s all better. Waitohshit! Now there’s only one Doctor left! Yes not only is this theory bad writing and a simplification of a show that defies simplification, it would also literally be the end of the show. Part of the show’s mythos of course has always been that Time-Lords have 13 lives, or one original life and 12 regenerations. It has already been stated in the show on separate occasions that the first Doctor was “The original doctor”, and since then eleven actors have played the part full time, making for eleven Doctors. If you shunt Chancellor Sutler into the 9th Doctor’s position, then you get 12—a number which may not seem too alarming until you realize that Matt Smith is leaving the show on the Christmas special of THIS YEAR. BAM—If you leave John Hurt in the 9th position, and Matt Smith is the 12th, then this coming Christmas special will feature the 13 AND LAST Doctor. Nobody involved in the show so far has shown any indication that they were trying to end it, and if it’s worldwide following is anything to go by, they wouldn’t want to, so why would the people in charge of its success write in some bullshit plot-twist that shortens the life of the show from anywhere to four years to a decade?? It just would make no sense from a written or financial standpoint.
Ok so that one took kind of a while, but I think that I’ve said all I was planning on for that one. Moving onto the next thing: Most people seem to want the 50th Anniversary special to take place in the Time War itself. Fans have wanted to see the Time War since the concept of an all-out was between most things in the universe, in which the Doctor was forced to abandon his pacifism and fight in, was introduced. It’s such an enticing idea on the surface, but with an understanding of how the show is written and what it’s about, you realize that the Time War is the one place Doctor Who should never go.
The idea of a war that wiped out the Time War was originally introduced with the new series as a way to reinvent the status quo of the universe, and to put a spin on characters, for the show to be new. It served as a clean slate, giving new viewers a chance to understand the show without having to wade through 40+ years of poor pacing and incidental music, and it gave the die-hard viewers something that would surprise them and give them something new. The Time War was a literary device, nothing more. I mean sure it’s featured in the drama of the show on several points in Parting of the Ways and The End of Time, those were always about the War being in the past, and staying there. In parts where we as viewers are closest to seeing through that veil into the Time War, we’re still never allowed to actually see it. The writers even introduced the concept of a ‘time-lock’ to make sure the Time War stayed in the Time War, lest the new mysteries that it stacked on top of the old ones of the Doctor ever become un-mysterious. Mystery is of course one of the driving forces of the show, and for the Doctor as a character. The concept that everything might feel safe and normal if we only knew his name (one of the first companions, Ian Chesterton, says as much in the very first serial). The idea of the Time War and what it meant for the Doctor is a new mystery for the new show, and it is one that I vehemently think should NOT be solved.
There is another reason the Time War should never be shown fully onscreen. It isn’t a question of bad or good writing either, but one of buildup. Think about it like this: Think of an underwhelming movie that got decent reviews. Did you think of Man of Steel? Good. Now imagine if a ton of people whose opinions you trust told you that Man of Steel was the best movie out of all of moviedom, and that we should actually STOP making movies as a culture, because they will only sully the memory of perfection that was Man of Steel. Now imagine you went to actually see Man of Steel, heart a-flutter and head in the clouds, and it turned out to be well… Man of Steel. We’ve reached a point where what is essentially a lot of smashing things and explosions and a character doing something they morally regret at the end, was built up in your mind as something that it is physically impossible for the writers of the movie to meet your expectations for.
That’s how it is with the Time War. Everyone has their own idea of what it would look like because it’s portrayed and referred to as the ultimate clusterfuck, where people went mad simply by opening their eyes in the morning, and creation very nearly rolled over and gave up on us as an existence. When was the last time you saw something onscreen that literally made you require mental help? Never? Because anything less than that as a portrayal of the Time War will be less than your expectations. The reason it is so infamous is be because of how obscure and unquantifiable it is. Every single viewer can imagine what terrifies them most, and fills the Time War with all those things. At this point, it is physically impossible for these expectations to be met, and it would take a desperate idiot with a bottomless budget to even try.
On that note, yes, I believe every theory in circulation about the 50th Anniversary is incorrect. I think it defeats the point of the show to even try to know what happens beforehand. And I trust Stephen Moffat and his crew to produce something none of us were expecting. Seriously. He may not be the most popular of showrunners, but you have to admit the man knows his craft. Not only was he directly responsible for many of the most memorable of the Russell T. Davies era episodes (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, fucking Blink, and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead), we’re also talking about the man who ran seasons five and six like a secret agency, according to actors, only giving parts of the whole picture to each member based on what he felt they needed to know, to preserve the actual mystery of it. People have shown surprisingly little faith in his writing abilities, and to them I simply ask “Well what’s the Doctor’s name then?” That question remains a mystery because people thought that just because there was an episode called The Name of the Doctor, and that Moffat said some secrets would be revealed, he would betray 50 years worth of mystery and flat-out say that the Doctor’s name was Steve or some shit.I think he’s proven that if anything, the man knows his trade well enough to avoid writing mistakes of that caliber.
Now after ragging on other people’s theories for a great span of time, I’m going to finish up by presenting some of my own theories for people to debunk.
Firstly, yes I think that John Hurt’s Doctor is a future Doctor. In The Name of the Doctor, the Great Intelligence gives a monologue at the future Doctor’s grave about how the Doctor of that age was an evil tyrant, and that Trenzalore was the sight of his last bloody battle. Later, when the eleventh Doctor comes face to face with the John Hurt Doctor, he says he did what he did “In the name of peace and sanity” to which eleven replies “But not in the name of the doctor”, hence the name of the episode. Now the John Hurt Doctor is obviously referring to an event in his past, while eleven seems not to know exactly what he means by it, only assuming that whatever could leave Trenzalore a scared ruin of a planet and the TARDIS an enlarged husk of a machine, must have been something bad. Like baaaaaaaad. Eleven talks to the John Hurt Doctor much like the kid versions of many of us would to our present selves upon finding out that on top of not being astronauts when we grew up, we also steal organs from children for money. The look on eleven’s face is mixed disappointment and anger, hence those final words of rejection basically saying “you are not the Doctor anymore”. Meanwhile John Hurt looks like a hurt old man after a life of mistakes, explaining to his younger self that he needed the money and those orphans weren’t really using their other kidneys anyways. He seemed to be trying to justify his actions half because he wishes his past self will understand and make the same decision when it comes his time to, and half that he wishes he won’t, because he knew whatever he did was wrong.
That said then; where will the 50th take place if not the Time War? Well as to where I’m not entirely sure BUT I think I have some ideas as to WHAT will happen. We know for a fact that David Tennant is returning for the special, and that John Hurt will also be in it. Writers of the show have referred to Tennant, Smith, and Hurt as “a sort of trinity”, so it would only make sense for it to be a past Doctor, a present Doctor, and a future Doctor to be involved. I think the premise will be that the past, present, and future Doctors will be thrown together to try and avoid the future that lead to the Ollivander Doctor betraying the name of the Doctor and dying on Trenzalore. This will be no small task, as we’ve seen the consequences of re-writing a fixed point in time in the end of season 6, and since the Doctor crossed his own timeline to his grave, those events ARE a fixed point. Not only would that premise give a great opportunity for the writers to show us all they’ve got (three versions of the same time traveler trying to attempt something literally impossible to save the universe, etc.) and make us say “WHAT?” a lot, it solves the problem of John Hurts potential unavailability as a future Doctor. If the three of them succeed in clearing the slate of the future, then who’s to say that the 12th or 13th Doctors have to even be the John Hurt Doctor? This could make him an alternate Doctor, which makes it so he isn’t obligated to take up the part full time later, and the show wouldn’t be cut short if (God forbid) he were to die within the next forever (which is how long I want the show to go on for). Not only that, but it preserves the surprise of who the next Doctors will be and what they’ll be like, while still being able to have shown a future Doctor in an episode, which I something they have never done in the history of the show.
Either way, the 50th will be awesome as long as David Tennant doesn’t appear as the half-human half-Donna Doctor from the alternate universe. Seriously that place should stay closed for once, but that’s a whole different can o’ worms.