Some SPOILERS follow:
This year marks Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, and the May 18 season finale set the stage for the anniversary special on Nov. 23.
This season saw the departure of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and the arrival of Jenna-Louise Coleman as the Doctor’s new companion. Coleman first appeared in the season premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks”, as Oswin Oswald, who saved the Doctor’s (Matt Smith) life at the cost of her own.
Coleman returned in the Christmas special, “The Snowmen”, as Clara, a governess living in 1892 London. Clara also died saving the Doctor.
The Doctor never saw Oswin’s face, but he realized the two women had a connection. Not only did Clara’s tombstone read “Clara Oswin Oswald”, but her voice was the same as Oswin’s. And both women told him the same thing: “run, you clever boy, and remember.”
The Doctor subsequently met a modern-day incarnation, also called Clara Oswald. He came to refer to her as “the impossible girl.”
In the season finale, “The Name of the Doctor”, we learn the answer to the mystery of Clara; but an even bigger mystery greeted us.
Clara and the Doctor are inside the Doctor’s time stream, where Clara notices an unfamiliar figure (John Hurt) with his back to them.
Clara: “Who’s that?”
Doctor: “Never mind. Let’s get back.”
Clara: “But who is he?”
Doctor: “He’s me. There’s only me here. That’s the point. Now let’s get back.
Clara: “I never saw that one. I saw all of you. Eleven faces. All of them you. You’re the Eleventh Doctor.”
Doctor: “I said he was me. I never said he was the Doctor.”
Clara: “I don’t understand.”
Doctor: “My name. My real name. That is not the point. The name I chose is ‘The Doctor.’ The name you choose, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise.” (emphasis mine)
Clara collapses and as the Doctor picks her up, the other man speaks:
Man: “What I did, I did without choice.”
Doctor: “I know.”
Man: “In the name of peace and sanity.”
Doctor: “But not in the name of the Doctor.”
Is Hurt playing a past incarnation of the Time Lord we call “the Doctor” or a future one? Hints point to both possibilities.
The implication behind the Doctor’s statement about the broken promise (as well as his “but not in the name of the Doctor” comment) is that Hurt is playing a future incarnation. The Eleventh Doctor knows about him because he entered his own time stream.
On the other hand, the other man’s comments, as well as the Doctor’s statement “I never said he was the Doctor”, suggest Hurt’s incarnation hadn’t yet taken that name.
Within the series’ narrative, between the events of the 1996 TV movie with Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor) and the return of Doctor Who to TV in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, the Doctor fought in “The Time War”, which threatened to annihilate everything. He ended it by destroying both the Time Lords and the Daleks. He wasn’t entirely successful with the latter, but he is now the last of the Time Lords.
One theory I read is that Hurt is the real Ninth Doctor— the one who acted during the Time War— and that his subsequent incarnations deny his existence. So Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith are really the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, respectively, but refer to themselves by one incarnation number lower.
I don’t buy it. If the Doctor were so ashamed of his actions during the Time War that he wouldn’t acknowledge a particular incarnation, why would he even mention the Time War— let alone what he did? “Lesser” civilizations (including Earth) are unaware that it ever happened.
And from a TV production point of view, executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat is capable of coming up with his own ideas.
One event from the Doctor’s past I think Moffat
might reference is the First Doctor’s (William Hartnell) comment about himself and his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) being exiles, as stated in the first episode.
If Hurt is portraying a past incarnation, my theory is that he’s either a younger Hartnell (even though the two actors look nothing alike, and Hurt is older now that Hartnell was then), or that he’s a pre-Hartnell incarnation. If that were the case, Hartnell would be the first Doctor, but not the first incarnation.
If Hurt is portraying a past incarnation, I’d rather he be a younger Hartnell (despite the lack of resemblance). For him to play a previous incarnation would be an insult to Hartnell’s memory. It’s been established time and again that Hartnell was the first incarnation. Not that he the first was of X incarnations to adopt the pseudonym “Doctor.”
As to the Doctor’s name, I doubt we’ll ever learn it. For it to have any impact, it would have to mean something to both the TV viewing audience and the characters in the fictional universe. The only “big name” Time Lords we’ve heard of (Omega and Rassilon) have both appeared on screen, and were established as people separate from the Doctor.
And if the Doctor were revealed as “(never before mentioned) Big Name Time Lord X”, the audience would rightly wonder why they’d never heard the name before.
And if the Doctor was just John Q. Time Lord, it’s a letdown.
Within the fictional universe, the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey no longer exists, and few people interacted with the Time Lords in any event; so it’s unlikely that most people would even recognize an “important” Time Lord name. Much less that of an ordinary Time Lord “Joe.”
(The Original TARDIS team of The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara. Courtesy the BBC).
My hope for the 50th anniversary special? That William Russell, who played science teacher Ian Chesterton from 1963-1965, appears. The “original team” of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and history teacher Barbara Wright (the late Jacqueline Hill) was one of my favorites.
Copyright 2013 Patrick Keating.