7 questions before the finale

Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers about returning villains/adversaries in the finale. If you haven’t read the official synopses for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, and don’t want to know who the villains of the finale are, then DO NOT READ ON.


Well, that was quick. It didn’t seem that long ago that we were all drooling over every scrap and teaser the BBC were throwing us in saliva-specked anticipation for September 19th. Who can believe that it’s time for the finale already?

Before we forge ahead, though, there are some questions we all want answered in what promises to be an absolutely epic extended two-part finale.


Where has the Doctor been sent?

At the climax of Face the Raven, it was revealed that Ashildr had been manipulating all the events of the episode in order to bring the Doctor to her trap street. She was in league with a host of shadowy benefactors who were employing her to acquire the Doctor. At the end of the episode, the Doctor, Clara-less and alone, was sent by Ashildr to wherever it was her co-conspirators were taking him.

Now, if you’ve read the synopses for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, you’ll know that it’s the Time Lords behind it all, and it’ll be the Time Lords the Doctor encounters in Hell Bent. But, in the meantime, the Doctor has to endure what has been described as his “bespoke torture chamber” in an undisclosed location. Heaven Sent is a single-handed episode essentially following the Doctor for 55 minutes as he confronts what terrors his tormentors have prepared for him. It promises to be sensational.

The question compels itself, though: where has the Doctor been sent? I have a feeling that it isn’t just a random, deserted planet that someone thought might be a convenient location for a giant torture chamber. I have a feeling that there’s something significant about the location of Heaven Sent. What it might be, I have no clue. But, given Time Lord involvement, we can make some informed speculations: the Death Zone on Gallifrey, perhaps; somewhere in the Time War; inside a Tardis; maybe even the Doctor’s (abandoned) family home on Gallifrey, Lungbarrow.

Whither Clara?

So Clara died in Face the Raven. She legit died. I saw it. She fell over and everything. But did she, really? Upon witnessing Clara’s fairly unequivocal death, the fandom has reliably sprung into action with theories abounding about how Clara didn’t really die. Knowing Moffat and his penchant for aggravating twists and deaths-that-aren’t-really-deaths (see: Rory Williams), they might actually have a point.

But nevertheless, I’m quite confident that Clara really did die in the last episode. She’s dead. For one thing, given the emotional lead-up to Clara’s death and all the tortured dialogue about Clara’s death being inescapable, I don’t think even Moffat would dare to turn around and go “Ta-da! Look. she’s still alive! It was all a trick! Gotcha!”

However, we know that Jenna Coleman is appearing in Hell Bent. Clara is going to come back in some capacity—whether sometime back in her timeline, as a dream or illusion, as one of her echo versions, or something else. I think the Clara we’ve seen in publicity pictures dressed up as a rollerskated waitress in a 1950s-style diner is probably an echo version, one perhaps being given a visit by the Doctor because he wants to see Clara’s face again.

In any case, I’m personally inclined towards a theory that the Doctor will actually go back in time and change history to avert Clara’s death; in effect, bring Clara back from the grave. The very suggestive title of the final episode, Hell Bent (as in, the Doctor will bend hell itself to bring Clara back), gives some support to the idea. The idea of meddling with time to avert death has been a subtly recurring motif in Series 9: I count its recurrence at least three times, most notably when the Doctor turned Ashildr into an immortal in a very public “screw you” to the Time Lords.

She’ll still be dead in the end, though. I’m sure the Time Lords will make sure of that. But it’ll still allow for one last goodbye for Clara. Moffat wouldn’t let some amateur newbie writer write his character out of the show, after all…

Whither the Doctor?

Before hopping it, Clara’s dying wish to the Doctor was that he not take revenge on Ashildr or anyone for her death. But, knowing the Doctor, he may well not be able to stop himself. He cared deeply, passionately, for Clara. I’ve no doubt that, without suggesting anything explicitly romantic or sexual, the Doctor loved Clara. Clara has almost certainly been the closest and most important companion to the Doctor since Rose—arguably even more so than Rose. Clara’s death will have broken the Doctor, even unhinged him. If you’ve read anything about the plot of Heaven Sent, you might know that it features a Doctor apparently gone off the rails in grief and anger over Clara’s death.

The question is, then: what will the Doctor do? Will an understandably maddened and aggrieved Doctor heed Clara’s dying wish? Or will he wreak his terrible revenge? Without Clara by his side, who will stop him?

What are the Time Lords up to?

It’s almost certain that it was the Time Lords who employed Ashildr to abduct the Doctor, and who, in the next episode, have brought him to his “bespoke torture chamber”. The question is, what in Kasterborous are they playing at? Abduction? Physical and mental torture? That isn’t how you treat the man who literally saved your entire race and civilisation from total obliteration.

I really have no answer for this one. I haven’t the scintilla of an idea about what could possibly have driven the Time Lords to behave this way. The only thing I can think of is that it has something to do with the Doctor’s mysterious confession. Which brings me to…

What is the Doctor’s confession?

I asked this question at the beginning of the series, and we’re still none the wiser in respect of an answer. I shared my speculations about what the Doctor’s confession might be here. Supposedly it has something to do with why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place. Some terrible reason that compelled the Doctor to fly from Gallifrey in his first incarnation. Which, as far as fleshing out the mythology of the show goes, is a lip-smacker.

In short, I’m partial to the idea that the Doctor has some dark, terrible past that he left behind on Gallifrey, along with his real name, that he’s been attempting to repent for ever since. Thus “Doctor”. But I’m not dogmatic and I’d love to know the real reason for the Doctor’s flight, whatever it is.

What is the Hybrid?

Somewhat related to the above. The Doctor’s confession may or may not have something to do with a purported legendary hybrid creature which the Doctor had some hand in creating. First mentioned by Davros in The Witch’s Familiar, the “hybrid” motif has reared its cryptic head at inopportune interludes throughout the series. It’s apparently a thing.

I’m inclined to think that the Doctor’s confession actually doesn’t have anything to do with the Hybrid, that the Hybrid is something separate from the Doctor’s confession. It’s just that the Doctor has clearly already committed his confession to his confession dial, but he always seems just as mystified as we are whenever the topic of hybrids comes up. At one point he seemed to be wondering whether Osgood was the terrible Hybrid warrior of ancient Time Lord legend. Clearly, he doesn’t have a clue.

There have been many hybrids created by the Doctor throughout his travels, some of which could easily fit the description of the Hybrid warrior that’s coming in the finale. I’m thinking particularly of the Meta-Crisis Doctor, a human-Time Lord hybrid, whose bloody rite of baptism into the universe was his mass slaughter of billions of Daleks. I explained here about the fan theory surrounding the Meta-Crisis Doctor which postulates that the Meta-Doctor could have become the Valeyard, the Doctor’s “evil” incarnation.

I’m not persuaded by the Meta-Doctor/Valeyard theory, but there is a very big question mark hanging over character of the Valeyard, who was supposed to be created around this point in the Doctor’s timeline. Maybe the Hybrid is the Valeyard? It has been noted by those who’ve seen the finale, after all, that Moffat does invoke some of the show’s mythology, and engages in a bit of sly rewriting of that mythology.

As long as it’s not the Time Lord/Dalek hybrid that Davros seemed so exercised about. That, frankly, sounds too stupid for words.

Will we see Ashildr again?

Given she’s in league with the Time Lords, it seems likely that we’ll see her once more this series. I’m interested to know what becomes of her, now she’s made an enemy of the Doctor and has become embroiled in the machinations of the Time Lords. Even if we don’t see her again this series, we’ll almost certainly see her again in future series. It’d be a scandal if we didn’t.

One thing’s for certain, though: Ashildr has pretty much ruined her chances of becoming the Doctor’s companion now. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.


What do you think?

Doctor Who headcanon #1

As a follow-up from my previous post, this will be the first of my personal Doctor Who headcanon shares, which I intend to make a regular feature of this blog. These snippets of my fanboy imagination are inspired by the fandom “headcanon” accounts on Tumblr, e.g. this, this and this, although I intend to make mine a little less, er… Tumblr-y. So without further ado…

The Doctor really did activate the Moment and destroyed Gallifrey and all the Daleks to end the Time War in his original timeline, it was only when he subsequently went back to change events in The Day of the Doctor did the timelines diverge, or the original timeline was overwritten (depending on how you want to look at it).

Like I’ve said before, I don’t like what Moffatt and Co. did by nullifying the Doctor’s role in ending the Time War, regardless of DOTD’s quality as a self-contained feature. My adoption of this particular headcanon is my way of compromising with Moffatt: the Doctor did use the Moment to end the Time War, but he also didn’t. It’s a timey-wimey thing. Contradictory events of two timelines can co-exist at the same time, as Amy said in The Wedding of River Song:

AMY: “I killed someone, Madame Kovarian, in cold blood.”
RIVER: “In an aborted timeline, in a world that never was.”
AMY: “Yeah, but I can remember it, so it happened, so I did it.”

And in the minisode Good Night:

AMY: “When I first met you I didn’t have parents, I never had parents. And then you did whatever it was you did and rebooted the universe and suddenly I had parents, and I’ve always had parents, and I remember both lives in my head, both of them, in my head, at the same time.”
DOCTOR: “…Time is being rewritten all around us, every day. People think their memories are bad, but their memories are fine. The past is really like that.”

So, I know it probably seems like I’m breaking one of my headcanon rules with this one (Rule 6: “it wasn’t a timey-wimey thing”), but here’s an instance where show actually establishes, or at least leaves open the possibility (it’s left ambiguous as to whether the Doctor actually did use the Moment in the original timeline), that two different timelines have taken place surrounding the same events. In any case, I intended that rule to apply to “headcanoning” something out of history because one doesn’t like it without any onscreen suggestion that there was any timey-wimey business going on.

Day of the Doctor Review

[This blog was originally written in December 2013 on a former blog of mine.]

I woke up especially at a quarter-to-six on the day of the worldwide premiere of The Day of the Doctor, bleary-eyed, cursing the BBC for making me get up at such an ungodly hour of the morning, yet excited in anticipation, especially so in the knowledge that “Whovians” all around the world were, at that very moment, waiting alongside me in identical eager anticipation. I had the good fortune to be converted to Whovianism in good time for the Fiftieth Anniversary, such that I could fully appreciate the plotline, the implications for the Doctor Who saga, and what a “gift” for the fans the anniversary special really was.

And what a show. Building on the mysterious events of the Time War, and the Doctor’s infamous role in ending it, it is revealed that it was not the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann), as previously assumed, who participated in the Time War and (according to legend) killed all the Time Lords and Daleks to end the war, but a self-designed “warrior” incarnation of the Doctor, the War Doctor (John Hurt).

The twist at the end of the eighty-minute special reveals that, in fact, the Doctor had never actually killed all the Time Lords. With the help of the Tenth (David Tennant) and Eleventh (Matt Smith) Doctors, the War Doctor discovered he didn’t have to kill his entire race after all – utilising the resources of all thirteen Doctors (including the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi), the Doctor(s) engage in a bit of Time Lord trickery to freeze Gallifrey at the Fall of Arcadia in a moment in time, contained in a piece of Time Lord art, a stasis cube. The Daleks were left to destroy themselves in crossfire, and Gallifrey was presumably saved, to be released from its frozen state at some point in the future. The War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor, as well as all the previous incarnations of the Doctor recruited to help with the salvation of Gallifrey, would not remember saving Gallifrey as the events were outside each of their time streams, and as such the Doctor would not remember that he didn’t actually kill all the Time Lords.

It was a great feature: I loved the engaging plotline, the clever plot twist, the coalescence of three incarnations of the Doctor, the return of Billie Piper and Tom Baker, and all the little nods to the last fifty years of Doctor Who. But I can’t help regretting the little bout of revisionism that the writers engaged in, in creating this feature. The writers are entitled to revise and retcon to their heart’s content, of course, but I am of the persuasion that what the writers have done in this special, while making for an excellent feature in itself, was ill-advised and not good for the programme as a whole.

Firstly, I’m unhappy with the rewriting of Doctor Who canon. The Doctor’s alleged role in ending the Time War, as morally questionable as it was, was supposed to be a pivotal, defining moment in his story. The Doctor’s supposed decision to kill all the Time Lords and Daleks alike, taken in the depths of the most terrible, devastating war in the history of the universe, was supposed to be inescapable: the one instance when the Doctor couldn’t just fly in and save the day crying “allons-y!” or “Geronimo!” or whatever. It was a decision taken “on a day when it was not possible to be the Doctor”, as the Eleventh Doctor said. It made the Doctor what he is today. In any case, it was an important event in the Doctor’s past. It made him interesting, and added to the mystery of the character. But the writers saw fit to say that the event never happened. They were within their right to do so, of course, but I don’t think it was a good decision. The Doctor’s act was a pivotal moment in the Doctor’s ancient storyline, perhaps the most important moment of all. By rewriting it and making it into yet another instance among many in which the Doctor simply conjures up some clever alien jiggery-pokery to save the day, I feel the writers have taken away some of the depth and mystique from the Doctor’s story, his character, and from the show itself. What is the message that Steven Moffat intended to convey with this revisionism: that the Doctor will always save the day? The superhero will always be there for you? There is a right solution – a right answer – to every problem? How shallow.

Secondly, I quite resent how the writers have manipulated the actual canonical storyline of the events of the end of the Time War to allow for their revision in The Day of the Doctor of the Doctor’s actions. The writers seem to have been making out (e.g. by the recurring “No More” meme, and the parallel events involving UNIT and the Zygons) that the Doctor’s decision was a classic Hiroshima dilemma: do I use this bomb and kill many innocent people if it means shortening the war and saving many more? In actual fact, this is a distortion of the story. The Doctor’s decision was not analogous to Hiroshima: the Doctor used the Galaxy-Eater (or the Moment) to kill all the Time Lords and the Daleks and thus end the Time War because the Time Lords had decided to end the war themselves in a much more sinister way, by undertaking the “Ultimate Sanction” – the destruction of the entire universe, all of time and space, and everything inside it (except the Time Lords themselves, who would continue to exist as a kind of disembodied consciousness). It was not a simple choice of taking many innocent lives to end the war, or letting the war carry on indefinitely to potentially claim many more: it was a choice between one’s own race, or the very existence of the entire universe. I imagine if the Doctor had the choice (in the actual scenario, not the rewritten one), he would make the same decision again without hesitation. So, yes, what the Doctor(s) did to save Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor was perfectly applicable to both situations, but why did the Doctor need to revisit this event in his saga anyway? It was only made possible through a sleight-of-hand rewriting of the Doctor’s history, and the convenient invention of another heretofore-unseen spacey gimmick that allowed the Doctor to save the day without getting his hands dirty. The events of the Time War – at least this particular event – really should have been left alone.

Finally, I regret what this changed history means for the character of the Doctor himself. The Day of the Doctor was the first time we were informed that the Doctor actually regretted his decision to use the Galaxy-Eater and that he would have changed his decision if he had the choice. Of course, the Doctor’s regret is only possible in the context of the changed storyline: in the context of the original storyline, I don’t think there is any doubt that the Doctor would have chosen to sacrifice his own people again rather than let them destroy the entire universe (e.g. his actions in The Fires of Pompeii, and the way he condemned the Time Lords “back to hell” again in The End of Time). Rather, what we’ve seen from the Doctor regarding his decision at the Fall of Arcadia before The Day of the Doctor was not regret, but sorrow. Terrible, debilitating, unbearable, all-consuming sorrow (like here). This sorrow has been a constant fixture in the post-war incarnations of the Doctor; behind the grit of the Ninth Doctor, the joviality of the Tenth Doctor, and the frivolity of the Eleventh Doctor lies intolerable pain, weariness and suffering. The Doctor tries hard to repress his great remorse and guilt about the fate of his people, but it is always simmering just below the surface; it’s almost as if the Doctor’s outward display of supreme self-confidence and jocularity is, in part, over-compensation for the pain he feels underneath – a burden which he carries with him everywhere he goes. This seems especially true of the Eleventh Doctor, who is prone to sudden, frightening outbursts of intense emotion and lapses into dark solemnity, in stark contrast with his usually quirky, frivolous nature; it’s in these compelling moments that we feel like the mask has slipped, and we’re seeing the Doctor as he really is. This darkness and pain, and how it manifests itself, is part of what made the new Doctor such an interesting character, rooted in the Doctor’s dark past. But now that it turns out that the Doctor actually never did that terrible deed, that he actually saved his people and single-handedly ended the Time War, what has he to be sorrowful, guilty or anguished about? Rather, he has an enormous deal of which to be proud. Good for him, right? The Doctor is free to bestride time and space, carrying an unbearable burden no more, once again just a happy-go-lucky spaceman with a time machine and a stylish haircut. Like the Eleventh Doctor without the intensity and darkness simmering beneath the surface. How shallow.

As I said, in and of itself, The Day of the Doctor was a brilliant feature. The fiftieth anniversary special probably merited a feature length film of two hours’ duration, at least, but I’m making no complaints in that department. Maybe the BBC were unwilling to fork out for such an endeavour. But, as part of a continuing plotline, I don’t like what the writers have done. I feel the writers have devalued the significance of the Time War, and especially the Doctor’s role in ending it, in the 1,200-year-long-and-counting story of the Doctor. I often resent the snobbishness of Classic Who devotees who insist that the new series is so shallow, but, in The Day of the Doctor, I’m starting to see their point. It’s rare of me to criticise the great Steven Moffat, but I think, in this case, he has made a poor, opportunistic and ill-considered authorial decision. But that’s just my opinion.

Susan should be the next companion

susanSusan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter, was left by the First Doctor on Earth in the 22nd Century at the close of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan having fallen in love with David Campbell, a London freedom fighter, during that serial. It was the Doctor’s first goodbye, and his goodbye to the only member of his family to travel with him. I think she should be brought back as the Doctor’s companion for series 9.

Just bear with me, here…

A brilliant idea came to me while I was laying awake at midnight pondering Doctor Who (as, I’m slightly ashamed to say, I do), a “master plan” for series 9. I suspect that the “searching-for-Gallifrey” plot will be explored to some extent in series 9 — to what extent, it’s hard to predict. However, what I would propose is for the searching-for-Gallifrey plot to constitute a strong story arc encompassing the whole of series 9, and ending in its resolution in the finale, in which the Doctor finally arrives at Gallifrey (but has some conflict to overcome there — a tyrant to overthrow? The threat of a renewed Time War? A terrible decision to make?). Such an arc would be similar to the Key to Time arc — the Doctor’s search for Gallifrey would take him all over the universe, all over time and space (I haven’t fleshed out the details). For one series, the Doctor would finally have a destination, a purpose to his travels.

Which is where the Doctor’s granddaughter comes in. Assuming, and it looks probable, that Clara Oswald doesn’t return in series 9, there would be a vacancy open on the TARDIS for the position of the Doctor’s best friend. Susan should take that role. If the Doctor is looking to find and restore the home planet of the Time Lords, surely a Time Lord is most appropriate to accompany and aid him in such an endeavour? He can’t conscript a human girl for what could potentially be a long, arduous and dangerous quest. He couldn’t burden a human with that. He either needs to go it alone, or team up with the only other Time Lord left in the universe. Besides, a “going-home” quest is inherently a family affair. It is only appropriate that the Doctor seeks the company and help of another Gallifreyan for an objective in which both have a deeply personal interest. More appropriate, still, that that other Gallifreyan is the Doctor’s own kith and kin. Susan would have as much an interest in finding her lost home again as the Doctor.

How could this turn of affairs be brought about? The Doctor could, upon resolving to find Gallifrey, decide to seek out his long-lost granddaughter to ask her to join him. The Doctor links up with the TARDIS telepathic interface, asking the TARDIS to take him to Susan.* The TARDIS materialises in 23rd Century London. The Doctor is eventually confronted with a familiar female figure. She peers at him unsurely, and poses a tentative question, “Grandfather?” She looks different: she has regenerated, and is older than when the Doctor saw her last, but he recognises her instantly as his Susan. “You came back,” she coos tearily, and they embrace. She explains that, although she and David lived a long and happy life together, David had died long ago, and that she has been living out a lonely existence on Earth ever since without contact with her family or the Time Lords. The Doctor explains the resolution he’s made to find Gallifrey. He asks Susan if she wants him to take her with him, take her back home. She agrees, admitting that there is nothing left for her on Earth.

The reason it should be Susan who accompanies the Doctor on his quest to find Gallifrey, rather than some other Time Lady (such as Romana), is the potential for character development for both the Doctor and Susan. The Twelfth Doctor has been presented in series 8 as being less dependable, less “user-friendly”, less attuned to his “human” side (so to speak); darker, meaner, morally ambiguous. That’s what 900 years’ spent on Trenzalore watching people he knew and loved continually die around him, while he, only, remained, did to him — it made him, in the most painful way possible, come to the realisation that he, the Last of the Time Lords, was “nobody’s boyfriend”. Here, now, is a chance for the Twelfth Doctor’s character to mellow. In being reunited with his granddaughter, the Doctor finally has someone to care for and someone whom he is finally allowed to love with all his being. Not just anyone, though, someone like him, a Time Lord who supposedly knows what it’s like to have buried loved ones and to be alone. Susan’s experience on Earth parallels the Doctor’s experience on Trenzalore. To have each other would be the best possible thing for them.

Moreover, returning Susan could present a further opportunity to develop Susan’s character. Susan was the archetypal Classic Who “cardboard cut-out” companion whose job was to look pretty, scream, ask questions and get rescued a lot. Carole Ann Ford herself apparently resented her character’s being portrayed in this way. “New Susan”, Susan 2.0, Susan 2000 (or whatever) will have aged and matured, have become self-reliant (perhaps a cause for tension with a paternalistic grandfather?), and will have generally have changed during her time on Earth, as well as having undergone personality change due to her regeneration, in any case. Here’s the opportunity to reimagine Susan as a modern companion, a strong and capable female lead character, dear but at the same time invaluable to her grandfather.

Other opportunities presented by the return of Susan could include delving deeper into the Doctor’s past and his other family. Could we meet, or at least be told about, the Doctor’s children, siblings, or, pray, his (first) wife? Could the writers pick up where Andrew Cartmel et al. left off in 1989?** The opportunity is there, if the writers are man enough to take it. A further opportunity for Doctor Who, in this idea in general, is to move the programme away from its very Earth-centric preoccupation, to get the Doctor out into the universe and move towards more hard science fiction. In this way, Susan would be the first non-human companion of the revived series.

I know there are reams of potential continuity problems with this idea. For example, I’ve completely ignored all of Susan’s history in the extended media (having consumed none of it). I’m relying on the production team’s ability to retcon at whim to avoid these tricky questions. The extended media is, after all, secondary to the television series, and not necessarily canon. If the extended media is to be taken as canon, I’m sure there is still nevertheless a way to somehow reunite Susan (wherever she is) with the Doctor. That said, the biggest problem with my master plan is the question of what happened to Susan in the Time War. The “Last of the Time Lords” mythology would seem to suggest Susan is not in the universe — she either perished in the Time War or was trapped along with all the other Time Lords in Gallifrey’s pocket universe. It is true enough that the Doctor seems to have made no effort to locate Susan after the Time War, which would imply she really is lost or dead. If that is so, I truly am stumped. Having said that, Susan’s fate is never explicitly stated. There may be a way yet for the Doctor to be with Susan. If nothing else, the Doctor could always discover that Susan had a son or daughter with David he never knew about, whom she left on Earth to protect from the Time War…

#bringbacksusan

* Alternatively, the Doctor could simply set the co-ordinates to 22nd or 23rd Century Earth. Dark Water seems to suggest that the TARDIS’ telepathic link, when employed to take a person to another with whom one’s timeline is “intertwined”, takes one to that person’s destination with respect to one’s own point in one’s relative timeline. So, if 2000-year old Doctor linked up to the telepathic interface and asked the TARDIS to take him to Susan, he may well meet up with 1800-year old Susan, or worse, Susan’s grave.

** Whether the writers adopt the Lungbarrow interpretation of the Doctor’s and Susan’s respective origins or retcon it is up to them.