Chibnall was really holding back on us, last year, wasn’t he? I am starting to wonder if the reason series 11 was quite so restrained was the Chris knew there was an insane fanboy desperately trying to get out and he knew that if he did, there would be no putting it back. Because, yes, that was an episode written by someone who was watching Doctor Who obsessively in the 80s, reading the Virgin New Adventures and gleefully following the 8th Doctor stories on Big Finish in the early 00s and who had PLANS and IDEAS of his own.
But it was so well done. While the BBC were keen to build up a bit of hype for the mid season episode, the actual set up seemed pretty quiet. The Judoon are popular, but hardly a massive threat. I was expecting something fun, more or less a Sarah Jane story involving our rhino chums stomping around Gloucester and terrorising old ladies while the Doctor tried to sort out a terrible misunderstanding.
And, at first, that’s precisely what we get.
And even constrained to that story, there was still enough to enjoy. Those bureaucratic enforcement officers cause several genuine and fairly brutal deaths of innocent bystanders. They were all pretty sudden. The knitting lady died with less ceremony that her knitting, but I think it got the impact it was intended to: we didn’t get much chance to dwell on their deaths because they were there to represent quite how much ￼china tends to be broken when the rhino is let loose in a small shop. Could the show have given the Judoon a little more opportunity to represent a genuine threat? Possibly. But it did have a whole lot to cram in to 50 minutes.
To start, Captain Jack returned. And, I must admit, I really didn’t see that coming. People have been talking of his return for so long that I did just assume it would never happen. But then, because it had been speculated for quite so long, it absolutely seemed to fit the pitch the BBC was giving all its trailers – this was the big event that might eclipse the Master’s return. As an aside here, something that Chibnall seems to be exceling at this season is misdirection. When I was discussing Spyfall, I mentioned how much I loved the way the writing played you – you spend all your time looking in one direction that you don’t see the big reveal. And here, again, Jack seemed almost only to be there to divert out attention away from Lee, who, in turn, was hiding Ruth.
Not that the clues weren’t there. I’m quite proud of guessing that the fugitive was a Time Lord under the protection of the Chameleon Arch the moment the Doctor read their DNA as human (although, stupidly, I didn’t then immediately twig that the suspicious Lee was not who they were after). When it was obvious that Ruth was the disguised Time Lord, I then had to run through the possibilities – and I am still just a little disappointed that it wasn’t the Rani. I can completely understand why a reveal of a classic series Time Lord such as the Rani, or even Romana, while being incredibly exciting for classic series fans, doesn’t have the same impact on the series as a whole as what was revealed, and doesn’t offer as much excitement for newer fans, but I can surely be forgiven a little disappointment, can’t I? But still, what a reveal…. and the Internet when WILD.
This new Doctor wasted no time in establishing herself. Whatever the truth of her origins, this clearly is no The Next Doctor. She’s capable and intelligent and knows her shit. But she’s also very clearly not the Doctor we know – first thing she does is grab a gun, and she proves only too willing to destroy people who get in her way.
The question to ask here is, to what extent is this OUR Doctor and to what extent is she something else. The proficiency in combat and her ruthlessness, alongside the hints about her and Gant’s training, suggest a solider, someone with a military background: she must be CIA. Honestly, this is what I always assumed the War Doctor was like: brutal and efficient, she has a job, she works for (or worked for) the Time Lords, and is someone to be feared – you can imagine her making decisions later incarnations would be deeply ashamed of.
But we do get hints that perhaps this Doctor isn’t s as different as all that. “The Doctor never uses weapons” our Time Lord self-righteously proclaims. “I know, shut up,” she replies. And while Gat’s death is brutal, it is really exactly the same morally dubious action that Tennant’s Doctor always gave – Gat is condemned by her own actions, in theory she chooses her fate – a choice that really never was a genuine choice. Ultimately, though, the Doctors do not get on. And this was no playful bickering: their priorities are at odds. One would not necessarily be surprised to see this new Doctor claiming that the ends justify the means.
And all of this leaves the Doctor at the end of the episode in quite a state. She is rude and snaps at her companions as she broods, seemingly considering her human family not quite worthy of her inner turmoil. In an episode where there was little for Ryan, Yaz and Graham to do, their put down of the Doctor at this point was beautifully delivered. I was actually a little afraid their refusal to back down might cause the Doctor to throw a proper fit and throw them out for interfering in her affairs: the tension was thick enough. If I have any complaint at all, though, and I know this is a small thing, but I really didn’t like the framing of the three of them in that scene. There have been a few instances over these two seasons where the companions adopt this ‘arrow formation’ when confronting the Doctor and in this instance in particular, it really annoyed me as contrived (particularly with paired with the way they took it in turns to voice their objections and opinions): it felt a little forced and stagy and I don’t think it quite had the effect the director was going for But really, it’s such a minor detail in an otherwise stellar episode.
The episode really did leave us with a number of questions and it is TOO tempting to speculate. This series seems to be begging for it.
Firstly, as far as I can see it, we have three distinct ‘mysteries’, and it is not at all certain that they are necessarily linked. Chibnall’s delight in misdirection could mean, for instance, that the new Doctor has nothing to do with the Timeless Child.
So, firstly, we have the Timeless Child, the truth of which lead the Master apparently to destroy Gallifrey and inform the Doctor that everything she thinks she knows is a lie.
Then we have this new Doctor, an incarnation not known at all by our 13th Doctor, but who equally has no knowledge of ours.
And then we have Jack’s warning: the Lone Cyberman and the threat of universal destruction.
Are they linked? I think the most likely truth is the Cyberman mystery is entirely separate from the Time Lord one and, quite possibly, only one of them will be resolved this season. But that is only speculation.
Here are the current theories I’m speculating on:
1. The most vocal theory going around the Internet is that the Ruth Doctor is pre-Hartnell. The TARDIS certainly looks like it has the original interior (or a close approximation of it). Before Unearthly Child, far from being the bookish but rebellious Time Lord we always assumed he was, maybe there was an earlier incarnation that was involved in Time Lord society in a far more military way. If that’s the case, though, why would there be no memory of that, especially if the Doctor’s actions lead to his hasty departure? Perhaps this, however, is directly linked to the Timeless Child mystery: the sort of thing that has been explored a little in some of the wider Doctor Who universe has been the idea of a far more militaristic Time Lord society, under Rassilon, with ambitions of universal domination (either explicitly or through their control of the timelines). Images of a society where Time Lords are warriors, grown in vats, without a history or society of their own, their bodies and DNA extracted from conquered races, and then sent out to take over the timelines would possibly be enough hypocrisy for the Master to condemn them. Hey, we might even get an explanation for the half-human thing! The clearest conflict with the pre-Hartnell Doctor is the fact that the TARDIS is a police box; something that historically does not happen until the events of the Unearthly Child.
2. The ‘knowledgeable fanboy’ theory is the Season 6B idea – when the Time Lords finally capture the Doctor in War Games, they enlist him to do their work for them as a time agent. When they Time Lords are finally done with the Doctor, he is forcibly regenerated and his memories of his life as a covert CIA agent are removed. Who knows what heinous deeds he or she got up to, or how many incarnations were used up. Theoretically, the Doctor could have used up their entire regenerative cycle and have been granted another by the time Pertwee comes along. Could this link in with the Timeless Child? Why ever not? In fact, if some dark coordinator of the CIA intent on breaking all the laws of time and altering the very history of the Time Lords themselves, who better to get to do their dirty work for them that a renegade Time Lord who, apparently, had been exiled on Earth? The idea of the Doctor as the Other, the mysterious being who, alongside Rassilon and Omega, lay at the heart of the creation of the Time Lords has always seemed incongruous with the Doctor’s apparent youth in connection with the Time Lords of Legend… but if he or she intervened retrospectively, and without any memory of their actions, who can say? This theory is still supported by the TARDIS interior, but does have one major problem. The Ruth Doctor seems not to know about the sonic screwdriver, which was first used by the 2nd Doctor. But then, perhaps this serious minded CIA agent is above such toys: it wasn’t that she didn’t recognise it, but that she didn’t acknowledge its worth.
3. Time War: Lee’s discussions about his medal immediately made me think of some kind of award for services to the Time Lords during the Time War. Of course, we know what the Doctor was up to during the war: he initially refused to fight as 8, and later became a rogue agent who found his own, final solution to the war. We don’t seem to need another incarnation for the war (and we’ve seen all the regenerations between 8 and 9 now), but, as I said above, the Ruth Doctor does seem to have a much more military background, exactly the sort of player Gallifrey would have wanted the Doctor to be in the war. So my mind goes here to idea that Gallifrey wouldn’t have been above cloning the Doctor – I imagine something similar to Jenny taking place, the Doctor being forcibly regenerated into a more useful, pragmatically minded warrior, ready to do her bit for Gallifrey. Here, the TARDIS interior is not a problem – as this is a clone, the TARDIS is not the original Doctor’s. We saw in Hell Bent how TARDISes do tend to have a similar basically “desktop”, so the original-looking interior is just a sign that she’s not been playing with the settings. The exterior, however, is more of an issue…. but then, if she is a clone, she doesn’t seem to know it, so it only seems natural that Gallifrey would give her an exact replica of the original TARDIS to keep her on side.
4. Another theory would be a parallel universe. My thoughts on this one are that this is how it could work if all three of the mysteries are linked. It’s the Cybermen, you see: those pesky creatures have been messing around with alternate realities (well, it’s hardly the first time), and in this one, the big war with Gallifrey is fought with them and not the Daleks. Whatever the Cybermen did went to the heart of the origins of the Time Lords. Perhaps the two races are linked. After all, what do we know about the Cybermen? They had to replace all their bodies with cybernetic components to keep themselves going, to adapt to their changing environment and prolong their lives. What do we know about Time Lords? They appear to have genetically engineered themselves to regenerate every cell in their bodies so their bodies don’t wear out, and they are a very class-based, superiority-obsessed society. Could the Cybermen be lower class citizens? (Okay, I’ve got no real basis for this theory, but let’s run with it). It seems to me entirely possible that Gallifrey, the Ruth Doctor and, indeed, the new incarnation of the Master come from this alternate timeline. It would also provide an explanation for the Master’s regeneration after their apparently irreversible suicide at the end of Moffat’s era. What’s more, this is hardly the first hint of things being wrong with the timeline we have witnessed. The universe seems a very different place since Whittaker took ever: the galaxy, a harsh place where everyone is fighting to survive and willing to debase themselves just to get by. What’s more, the galaxy of the future we witness seems to be one without humans and without the Earth. I had assumed this was just the fact that we were exploring a very different part of the universe/different time from that usually explored in Doctor Who. I had always been a little tired of every future-based story insisting still being human/Earth-centric (Earth’s Empire and their influence being so far reaching), whilst the alien societies we witnessed in the last series were fresh and very, well, alien. But Orphan 55 described a future without humans at all, seemingly, or at least, where Earth has no lasting legacy: this is a future with no New Earth, and certainly no New New New New New New New New New New New York. Could this be deliberate? And have the timelines changed? Whether this is from a parallel or some leakage from something that feels like the Time War, who knows, but it could lead somewhere interesting, if deliberate.
The chances are, I am nowhere near the mark. But the the four options listed above seem at least to be a vaguely comprehensive list of options. I’m slightly more inclined to believe it will be one of the later two: we have, after all, had a ret-coned earlier incarnation of the Doctor fairly recently, especially one linked with the destruction of Gallifrey. I can’t quite believe Chibnall would want to do something quite so similar to Moffat’s big reveal. Then again, maybe Chibnall saw the potential in Moffat’s plot, recognised the War Doctor for the wasted opportunity it was (a completely unnecessary addition to the story that could easily have been filled by the Doctor who was already in the war – the 8th) and decided to try and do it properly, having been given the precedent, with Ruth’s Doctor. But, at this stage, I’m still tempted to believe this is less a forgotten episode from the Doctor’s past and more of something else, hence theories 3 and 4.
But enough mindless speculation. I suspect (and hope) the truth will be far more interesting and well conceived than I have considered. Bring on the rest of this series!