Doctor Who headcanon #4


Let’s talk about sex. In particular, sex involving the Doctor. Or, you know, just love and romance in general. The topic of my fourth headcanon exposition is the Doctor and love, romance and sexuality.

The question of the Doctor’s sexual preference, or how (and if) the Doctor feels sexual or romantic attraction, is a nebulous one because we’ve never really got anything that could be described as a straight answer. Before the 1996 TV Movie, in which Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor kissed Grace Holloway, there were no suggestions that the Doctor experienced love or sexual attraction at all, apart from the occasional very subtle hint which may not have actually been hints at all*. We did know, at least, that the Doctor, in his first incarnation, had a granddaughter, Susan, so, logically, at some point he had to have had children and a wife or lover.

In the revived series, though, we’ve been hit hard and fast with pretty unambiguous evidence that the Doctor does, indeed, experience love or romantic attraction of some kind. The Tenth Doctor fell in love with Rose, became smitten with Reinette (Madame de Pompadour), Astrid Peth and Lady Christina de Souza, and began a fledgling romance with Joan Redfern (albeit as a human). The Eleventh Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor both loved River Song. The Eleventh Doctor clearly had a crush on Clara (“a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little too tight…”), and there have been subtle suggestions of romantic tension between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara**.


So, my interpretation of the above is that it’s pretty clear that the Doctor experiences romantic attraction. It used to be the general presumption among the Doctor Who fandom, at least until the 1996 TV Movie, that the Doctor is asexual, in that he doesn’t experience sexual attraction—which would be consistent with the proposition that he still experiences romantic attraction, because asexuals can still feel romantically or personally attracted to someone, although not sexually or physically attracted. None of the evidence negatives the idea that the Doctor is asexual—in his various attractions he has always displayed an attraction or infatuation that is personal but not necessarily sexual or physical, i.e. we never saw the Doctor sneaking peeks at Rose’s bum or checking out River in her tight, revealing outfits.

I would propose that the Doctor is asexual, but for the complication of that one line of the Eleventh Doctor’s about Clara (“a skirt that’s just a little too tight…”). You could reason it away by suggesting it was just a throwaway line, that the Doctor was just babbling, as is his usual manner, but somehow I don’t think the Doctor would know to make a comment like that if he hadn’t noticed that Clara, er, not to put too fine a point on it, has a very alluring figure which is particularly pronounced in the tight dresses she wore in Series 7. At the same time, there’s the issue of how the Doctor had a grandchild***, and therefore children, if he didn’t at one point have a wife or lover with whom he conceived those children. In short, the Doctor must have had sex.


I’m concluding that the Doctor does experience sexual attraction, but I don’t think to the same extent as humans do. I’m inclined to think this would be a product of the Time Lords’ evolution: beings that have such advanced lifespans, that can live “practically forever, barring accidents” would very quickly overpopulate and ravage their own planet, and go extinct, if they had the same hyper-charged sex drive as we short-lived humans. But, at the same time, they would also go extinct if they were a completely asexual species with no natural impulse to reproduce. I’m thinking that a latent or negligible sex drive evolved in the Gallifreyan species alongside its ultra-extended lifespan to ensure its survival. The other possibility is that, like Tolkien’s Elves, Time Lords have a normal sex drive in youth but which quickly wanes after peak childbearing age, leading to a condition for the rest of their lives of virtual asexuality, although we could assume that, even then, some latent sexual attraction remained (evolution is rarely so neat and tidy).

Either of those theories could account for the Doctor’s history of onscreen romances and attractions, I think, and I don’t necessarily have a preference for either. The point is that, in my headcanon, Time Lords’ sexuality differs greatly from human sexuality for evolutionary reasons, with the implication being that, the Doctor, as a mature Time Lord, doesn’t experience sexual attraction to the extent humans do, although he’s still perfectly capable of experiencing romantic love and personal attraction.

What do you think of my headcanon? What do you think about the Doctor’s sexuality?

* I.e. Jo Grant and Sarah-Jane Smith. I personally ship Four and Romana.

** Disclosure: Whouffaldi shipper.

*** There are fan theories suggesting that the Doctor’s relationship with Susan wasn’t actually biological, that Susan is the Doctor’s “granddaughter” in some other sense that didn’t involve the Doctor conceiving children with someone. There is also the pseudo-canon of the Virgin novels (i.e. Lungbarrow) that suggests that Time Lords don’t actually come into being through sexual reproduction, that they are artificially conceived through genetic “looms”. I’m ignoring all this and assuming that Time Lords do reproduce the same way as us (given that they have the same parts as us, as confirmed amusingly in Deep Breath) and that Susan is the Doctor’s biological granddaughter.

Admin note: Maybe you’ve noticed my absence over the last two weeks (I’d be flattered if you did!). I’ve just got back from a holiday to Melbourne this week, which I kind of needed badly, and enjoyed very much. So now I’m back, and my regular (erratic, disorganised) posting schedule should resume normal service!

Doctor Who headcanon #3

My nose pricked up at this snippet of dialogue from The Witch’s Familiar:

DAVROS: Why did you leave Gallifrey?
DOCTOR: Well, because I did.
DAVROS: You stole the Tardis, and ran and ran. Why?
DOCTOR: It’s a boring place, Gallifrey. I was going out of my mind.
DAVROS: Yet you long to return.
DOCTOR: Ah, well, I’m inconsistent.
DAVROS: But it is always the same lie.
DOCTOR: What lie?
DAVROS: You weren’t bored. No one runs the way you have run for so small a reason.
DAVROS: No, you don’t.

Along with “Doctor Who?”, why the Doctor left Gallifrey all those years ago is the question “hidden in plain sight” that has animated this show for 52 years. The premise of Doctor Who is that the Doctor is an alien from a distant planet, who shuns his own world and people and has adventures in time and space. The question is never asked “why?” In the new series, of course, Gallifrey isn’t there, but why did the Doctor leave in the first place, and why is he so loath to return? It’s almost as if he’s running from something. Case in point, from The Beast Below

AMY: Have you ever run away from something because you were scared, or not ready, or just, just because you could?
DOCTOR: Once, a long time ago.
AMY: What happened?
DOCTOR: Hello.

From the dialogue in The Witch’s Familiar, it looks like the show is finally going to address that question, hinting heavily that there’s more to the Doctor’s flight from Gallifrey than he lets on, and that there’s some dark secret surrounding the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey that he’s committed to a confession dial. Of course, it could all be deceptive misdirection, and the Doctor’s confession could be something entirely different, but, for now, that’s what it’s looking to be.

I’m intrigued. It’s a question I’ve always wondered about, so I’m excited that the show is treading into this shadowy territory. Before any revelation is made, though (and assuming there actually will be a revelation at some point), I want to share my own speculation on the matter.

I’ve always liked the idea that the Doctor has some dark, terrible past that he left behind on Gallifrey, that before he was “the Doctor”, he was a positively villainous figure. Not villainous in the sense that he was evil, nor consciously villainous, but I could see the Doctor committing terrible deeds in the name of what he thought was a just or justified cause. I like to think something of that nature is the reason the Doctor left Gallifrey: to run away from his shameful past, having realised the horror of what he did or was doing, perhaps in the hope of making amends. And that’s the reason the Doctor hides his real name: he’s ashamed of the person he was when he went by that name, and wants to leave behind that person by adopting a completely different identity.

I won’t try to speculate about what exactly the Doctor did to compel him to run away as he did, but when I mentioned this theory on the forum Gallifrey Base some time ago, another user helpfully pointed out an interesting snippet of dialogue from The Aztecs that can be interpreted as hinting in this direction:

BARBARA: Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.
DOCTOR: But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!
SUSAN: Barbara, the high priests are coming.
DOCTOR: Barbara, one last appeal. What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know, believe me, I know.

It sounds like the Doctor is suggesting he has his own disreputable history of abusing time travel. It’s ambiguous, but it’s there, and, when you watch the video (above) there’s something very knowing and ominous behind the Doctor’s “I know”. Speculate away.

Moreover, it’s little commented upon that the Doctor once referred to himself as an “exile”. Per An Unearthly Child:

IAN: You’re treating us like children.
DOCTOR: Am I? The children of my civilisation would be insulted.
IAN: Your civilisation?
DOCTOR: Yes, my civilisation. I tolerate this century, but I don’t enjoy it. Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day.

That could be interpreted as meaning either that the Doctor and Susan were exiled for something the Doctor did, or they went into self-exile. Either way, it sounds ominous. What could the Doctor possibly have done to have been exiled from Gallifrey, or, maybe worse, to have forced himself to go into exile?

‘Til we find out what’s in that confession dial, then…

Doctor Who headcanon #2

Time Lord regeneration is both the secret to the continuing success of Doctor Who, and one of the great mysteries of Doctor Who mythos. It’s easy to forget that the Doctor isn’t human, but each time the Doctor regenerates, losing his old face and persona and gaining new, we are reminded of the alienness of the Doctor and his kind, the Time Lords, as represented by the wonder of regeneration. Time Lords are creatures of time — they “walk in eternity”, as the Fourth Doctor so enigmatically put it. The essence of time is change, and regeneration reflects this aspect of time. You think you know the Doctor, but there goes and regenerates, and suddenly he’s no longer the man you know. When you appreciate that the Doctor has done this twelve times in a lifespan of over 2000 years, you realise how really alien and inhuman the Doctor, and his species, is.

Much ambiguity surrounds the concept of regeneration in Doctor Who lore. It has never really been made clear what actually happens when a Time Lord regenerates. True to form, we fans have tried our best to nail down the precise mechanics of regeneration, but, ultimately, until more explicit evidence is provided, it is a question open to interpretation.

Which is where headcanon comes in. Some time ago I read a contributor’s piece on Doctor Who TV which speculated that regeneration involves the total “death” of the Time Lord in body and mind, wherein the consciousness of the Time Lord’s former incarnation is disintegrated alongside the physical body and is replicated in the new body. In this way, each incarnation of a Time Lord has a separate consciousness. I’m not satisfied with this explanation, as I don’t really like the idea that the only relation that any given incarnation of the Doctor has with his previous incarnations is that they are made up of the same atoms and share memories. This theory almost denies that the Doctor is the same person as his previous selves. Are a man’s memories all that makes him who he is?

I prefer to think that regeneration is an organic process that is supposed to rapidly “renew” the Time Lord’s body, rather than dissolving the old body and constructing an entirely new body. The change happens at a cellular level: the cells remake themselves to rejuvenate the whole body. This process is imperfect, though, and the regeneration process will result in a physical change of appearance — a side-effect of regeneration. The regenerative process also has the effect of frazzling the brain, resulting in an altered personality, but, ultimately, continuity of consciousness. In this way, aspects of personality due to “nature” (i.e. preferences, persona) change, but not those due to “nurture” (i.e. values and principles, memories, things that are learned or due to experience).

This interpretation can also be distinguished from theories that see regeneration as involving a “body-swap” wherein an existing body is simply changed into another body (while consciousness and memories are retained). I don’t see regeneration as exchanging one body for a completely different one, but as a complete and drastic renewal of the same body. I think it is the disposition towards seeing regeneration as a simple “body-swap” that leads many to embrace the possibility of a female Doctor: the argument is that there is no reason the Doctor could not regenerate and find that he has ended up with a female body. In contrast, the way I prefer to see regeneration — as a renewal of the existing body rather than changing one body for another — means the idea of a female Doctor is more problematic, as it is hard to see how a male body could renew itself into something other than a male body. The objection could be raised, “But how is it any different from a young man (Eleven) regenerating into an old man (Twelve)?” Ignoring the fact that Eleven had physically aged to an extent that made him physically older than Twelve when his regeneration process began, I’d suggest that such changes as physical age, height, complexion, hair colour, facial structure, weight, etc, are essentially superficial changes of outward appearance. In contrast, a change from man to woman, involves a fundamental chromosomal shift, which begs the question: if one chromosome can slip, why not two? Why do not Time Lords routinely regenerate into non-humanoid forms?

I suppose the way one looks at the mechanics of regeneration also depends on what explanation for the origins of regeneration one accepts. To my knowledge, two different explanations for Time Lords’ ability to regenerate have been offered in the show. The traditional explanation, developed in the expanded media, was that regeneration is an artificial aspect of Time Lords’ physiology inserted by Rassilon during his shaping of Time Lord civilisation. The more recent explanation propounded in the revived series is that Time Lords evolved the ability to regenerate naturally, per A Good Man Goes to War:

DOCTOR: “But she’s human. She’s Amy and Rory’s daughter.”
VASTRA: “You’ve told me about your people. They became what they did through prolonged exposure to the time vortex. The Untempered Schism.”
DOCTOR: “Over billions of years. It didn’t just happen.”

This explanation posits that Time Lords evolved the ability to regenerate due to billions’ of years exposure to the time vortex. A similar process, River Song’s conception in the TARDIS, brought about the ability to regenerate in her.

These two explanations are plainly in clear contradiction with each other: either Rassilon did artificially insert regeneration into the Time Lord genome, or he didn’t; either regeneration is a result of natural evolution, or it isn’t. Such a contradiction can be resolved by resorting to Rule 3 of my headcanon rules: “Any blatant contradictions between onscreen explanations can be resolved by preferring the most recent explanation.” Rule 9 also comes into play: “Only the television show is explicitly canon; the audio stories, novels and comics are canon if you want them to be, but are not necessarily so.” Since the traditional explanation was only propounded in the expanded media, its canonicity must be subordinated to the later onscreen explanation. Another related piece of Time Lord backstory developed in the expanded media but retconned in the revived series was the idea that Time Lords are “born” fully grown through an artificial process of being “loomed” into existence from DNA strands — The Sound of Drums and Listen have showed Time Lords as children (the Master and the Doctor respectively), as did The Day of the Doctor, which made mention of “2.47 billion” children who died on Gallifrey (and indeed showed some Gallifreyan children).

So I prefer the “evolutionary” explanation for regeneration rather than the “artificial” explanation. It occurs to me that, if one accepts the evolutionary explanation, one would be more disposed to seeing regeneration as a restorative process (as I do) rather than as a process involving a total reconstitution of the body, or a body-swap. Conflicting views of the implications of regeneration, can be, if not resolved, but at least better understood, when the different interpretations of the mechanics and origins of regeneration are understood.

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.

My headcanon rules

Headcanon: the art of formulating explanations for certain aspects, especially inconsistencies, in a body of fiction which are not affirmed in the official canon itself, but which one personally holds as canonical. All fandoms indulge in it, and we Doctor Who fans are among the most prolific headcanonisers. The accumulated Whoniverse is so vast and so full of contradictions that it’s quite difficult not to adopt personal headcanon explanations for all the varied discrepancies, nor to resist the temptation to “add” to established canon with novel bits of headcanon.

Furthermore, no one in the Doctor Who fandom agrees on what the “rules” are for formulating headcanon. Not that any rules are needed: one’s headcanon is one’s own and no one else’s; others are not forced to adopt one’s headcanon explanations any more than you are theirs. But that still doesn’t stop my becoming annoyed when my fellow Whovians proclaim that they’re going to simply ignore something shown onscreen because they don’t like it. I generally think something that is explicitly shown or explained onscreen should not be ignored, for then Doctor Who becomes effectively a “choose-your-own-adventure” where you decide what is and isn’t canon. That’s even with the canonicity of the vast corpus of the expanded media in question.

So, without further ado, I come to my personal rules for formulating headcanon.

  1. Headcanon cannot contradict canon.
  2. If it’s shown onscreen, it’s canon.
  3. Any blatant contradictions between onscreen explanations can be resolved by preferring the most recent explanation.
  4. Other, less explicit contradictions (e.g. half-human) must be worked around, and explained, not ignored.
  5. Everything else one finds disagreeable must also be worked around rather than ignored.
  6. No, it wasn’t a dream, and nor was it a timey-wimey thing that happened in another timestream/dimension or something. If it was shown onscreen, it really happened, and the Doctor remembers it.
  7. Additions to canon (as opposed to explanations) must be consistent with, and cannot contradict, established canon.
  8. The future is fair game until it is shown onscreen.
  9. Only the television show is explicitly canon; the audio stories, novels and comics are canon if you want them to be, but are not necessarily so.
  10. If something from the expanded media is confirmed in the television show, it is canon.
  11. The random extra-curial pontifications of Steven Moffat are not canon unless you want them to be.

Again, these are only my personal rules for formulating headcanon. Others may be more lax or even more restrictive in the way they formulate headcanon. In any case, I think headcanon is important for resolving all the inconsistencies Doctor Who is filled with; it’s what fans do, and it’s what we need to do to remain sane. By the way, my headcanon explanation for “half-human” (which I really don’t like) is that the Doctor lied. After all, if “the Doctor lies” isn’t canon, what is?