Tag: Doctor Who









Originally posted at Bleeding Cool, last night.

And if you want to know just what the fuck that was all about, you should probably read some Bleeding Cool.

History of the Doctor

What we know for sure about the Doctor's origins -- and I'm going to go ahead and put this in chronological order for his timeline, though of course it's instructive to look at the order in which these facts were revealed on the show, too:

He's a Time Lord from Gallifrey. He has two hearts, and when he dies he regenerates into a new form. He's currently in his eleventh incarnation of thirteen.

He and the Master went to school together. When they were children they looked into the Total Perspective Vortex; the Master went mad and the Doctor ran away.

The Doctor and the Master chose their own names.

The Doctor stole the TARDIS and fled Gallifrey. Until he finally gives himself up in The War Games, he is a wanted man, both for the theft and for violating the Time Lord equivalent of Star Trek's Prime Directive and constantly interfering in affairs of the universe instead of just standing by and watching.

When we first meet the Doctor, he's parked his TARDIS in a scrapyard in 1963 London. He's an old man traveling with an apparently teenage girl who goes by the name of Susan Foreman and calls him Grandfather. (We reasonably assume that he is in fact her biological grandfather, though this is never stated unambiguously.)

The reason he's in London in 1963? He's got a powerful Time Lord artifact called the Hand of Omega -- a device which is capable of destroying planets across time and space -- and seeks to hide it.

I don't know if that's an exhaustive list, but those are the key points of what we know about the story before the beginning of the first episode, off the top of my head.

Other than that, there are hints, and things expressly stated as the intentions of the writers (and, in some cases, novelized), but nothing really concrete on the show itself.

First, there's the nature of the Hand of Omega. It's the device that Omega used to perfect time travel by collapsing a star for fuel. Omega was blasted into the antimatter universe, and his partner Rassilon became the first Time Lord.

The Doctor later says of the Hand of Omega, "And didn't we have trouble with the prototype?" Pressed by Ace, he corrects himself and says "They." Script editor Andrew Cartmel has stated explicitly that his intent was to imply that the Doctor himself was a third founding Time Lord, alongside Rassilon and Omega (and there are further seeds to this end in Silver Nemesis, which I've never actually seen), but this plot never reached fruition.

Not on the show, anyway. There's a novel called Lungbarrow which lays the whole thing out; I haven't read it but it sounds immensely complicated, implying that the Doctor is a reincarnation of the Other, retaining his memories through the Time Lords' technological method of asexual reproduction, the Looms. It all sounds frankly quite complicated and is absolutely not the sort of thing I would ever expect to see on the TV show.

But the idea of the Doctor as the Other? Still a possibility. Especially since I expect we'll be seeing Omega again soon.

The Omega symbol's been cropping up on the show for several years now. The clerics who kept River as their prisoner in Time of the Angels had it on their uniforms. It cropped up again in A Good Man Goes to War.

Now, obviously that shit's there for a reason. It's not just there because some costume and set designers think omegas look cool. And while certainly there's a religious connection, this is Doctor Who; there's no way they threw it in just as a Revelation reference.

So I'm comfortable in assuming Omega is going to figure into the coming story arc somewhere. If Omega himself doesn't put in an appearance, then his legacy's going to be relevant, and I bet we'll be hearing about the Hand of Omega again.

Last night I ran across the possibility that the Doctor's name was a mathematical formula. What if the secret of time travel itself is encoded in his name?

Again, that would make it tough for him to be one of the three founding Time Lords (short of a paradox where he travels back in time and becomes one of them) -- but I can easily imagine that Time Lords might name their children after founding principles of their society. Like naming a child after a religious figure or a king or a lord.

It would also explain why the Doctor had to change his name before going out into the wide universe -- if his name holds the secret to time travel, well, that wouldn't be a secret among the Time Lords, it would be common knowledge. But sharing it with somebody outside Time Lord society would be a big no-no.

We've seen, of course, over the series, that there are other races and cultures capable of time travel -- but theirs is always rudimentary, limited in some fashion. Dangerous and unpredictable (moreso than the Doctor's TARDIS). The Doctor, as last of the Time Lords, guards his TARDIS and its secrets closely -- and maybe that includes keeping his name a secret.

It's an elegant theory and I like it -- but it creates its own problem: barring a copout where his name is never actually spoken onscreen, he still needs to have a name. And, if this theory is correct, it needs to be a name that's not just satisfying to the ear but also sounds like plausible enough technobabble that the audience will buy that it's some fundamental secret of time travel. And you've only got a short space to work with. (My full name is nine syllables. And it's pretty long.)

Alternately, maybe it's something far more prosaic. Or maybe Moffat's got something much more interesting in mind. Guess we'll find out in three weeks.

Time Lord Names

Some Time Lords have names -- like Rassilon and Romana. And some have descriptions -- like the Doctor and the Master. And, presumably, the Rani; I don't know what the fuck a Rani is but she's a the.

And then there's Omega. Omega's important and I expect we'll be seeing more of him very soon. But his name is sort of an interesting exception in that it's not a the but it's still more description than name.

Of course, Doctor Who's mythology is patchwork. Time Lord society is built across decades of retcons -- hell, nobody uttered the words "Time Lord" for the first six years of the show, or "Gallifrey" for the next five. Time Lord social customs aren't mysterious and inconsistent by design, they're mysterious and inconsistent because they're making it up as they go along. Present tense; they're still making it up.

So I'm sure there's a reason some Time Lords have names and some have descriptions. Maybe it's out there in the books or audioplays somewhere. Or maybe nobody's come up with one yet and it'll be up to some writer to handwave a reason at some point. Hell, maybe both; books and audioplays aren't canon and the show is free to contradict them.

And of course the names operate on another level besides the in-universe one. I'm sure that, in-universe, the Master didn't choose his name because of a double-meaning implying he's second-best after the Doctor; I'm sure that, in-universe, he chose it solely on its primary definition and not its academic one. But even if Letts and Dicks didn't have that double-meaning in mind when they named him -- and Wikipedia says they did, though there's no citation -- then certainly later writers made the connection.


...oh my.

So while I was looking over that Wikipedia entry, I clicked on over to the page for Terror of the Autons, the Master's first appearance. And it's got this bit about the novelization of the episode:

The Master and Doctor are revealed herein to have names that are mathematical formulae


Again, the books aren't canon -- but if the Doctor's name is a mathematical formula, that could certainly be pertinent to the current storyline, now couldn't it?

Doctor Who?

Spoilers for Doctor Who episodes new and old follow.

So Steven Moffat's been teasing the revelation of the Doctor's real name since 2008's Silence in the Library, and built it up as his major arc last year. I figured this year was a break from that plotline and we'd probably get an answer next season -- but the BBC's just announced this season's finale will be titled The Name of the Doctor. So while there may be fallout next season, it looks like the big answer is coming in just three weeks.

So I've got some thoughts. What could the Doctor's name be? Some possibilities:

  1. It's a fakeout. We never hear his name. Even if it's spoken, it's spoken offscreen, or whispered so we can't hear it, like in Silence.

    This strikes me as unlikely. Moffat's been building to this for five years. He's big on misdirection and on things not meaning exactly what you think they do -- but when he teases something big, he eventually delivers on it. Even if it is exactly what it appears, like last season when we found out that yes in fact River Song is the Doctor's wife, which we'd pretty much all assumed since Silence in the Library anyway.

  2. It's an homage. To somebody real. Like in Human Nature when he says his parents are named Sydney and Verity.

    Of course, if his name is a reference to a real-life person, then the name itself won't have any in-universe significance -- see #4, below.

  3. It's a name we've already heard.
    1. It's a name we've heard before, either on the new series or the original, either a famous Time Lord, some other august personage, or hell, maybe he was faking it that very first time he said "Doctor Who?" and his name really is Foreman.
    2. It's a name that's been referenced that we don't even know is somebody's name -- like when we heard "Silence will fall" and only later learned that "Silence" was the name of an evil alien religious cult. The Doctor's name could be hidden in any of the catchphrases we've been hearing -- The Fields of Trenzalore, The Circle Must Be Broken, etc.
  4. It's just some random name. It's not the Doctor's name that's actually important, it's his identity.

    This is a possibility -- a little Moffat-y misdirection -- but I doubt his name will be selected completely at random. If he goes this route I expect it'll be a combination of this and #2.

#3 seems the likeliest option to me.

There have been hints that Moffat intends to revive what's been called the Cartmel Masterplan:

The overall plan for Cartmel was to reveal that the Doctor was some form of a reincarnation of The Other, a mysterious figure from Gallifrey's past who helped form the Time Lords' society and perfect the time travel technology of the Time Lords.

Of course, "the Other" is no more a name than "the Doctor". It might tell us his significance, but it's not his name.

There's another problem: Moffat's view of the Doctor as a wanderer who stole a TARDIS when he was young seems incompatible with the idea that he's one of the three founding Time Lords. That is, short of some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey paradox where the Doctor is born in an already-established Time Lord society, steals a TARDIS, and at some point travels back in time to become one of the three founding Time Lords.

Which would be a workable plot, but might also tell us too much about the Doctor. Moffat, like most of the Who showrunners, thinks that a little bit of the origin story goes a long way. (For example, Neil Gaiman tells us that Moffat asked him to pare down his description of the Corsair in The Doctor's Wife because the original pitch implied that the Doctor patterend himself after the Corsair -- Moffat's response: "Answers too many question that should be left alone. He's the Doctor, he does what he does for reasons too vast and terrible to relate.") Obviously whatever the Doctor's name is must work toward some big reveal that leaves its mark on his origin story -- but it also needs to walk a fine line that doesn't tell us too much about where he came from and why he does what he does.

Indeed, in some ways it's better that the original series was canceled before Cartmel could spell everything out -- this way we got hints, in serials like Remembrance of the Daleks, that the Doctor was more than he seemed, but he still got to maintain his mystery.

If all goes according to plan, I'll have some future posts coming up dealing with Time Lord names and what we actually know about the Doctor's origins.


The other day I was telling my family about my new job.

My wife chimed in, "I haven't heard him complain once. I've never seen him like this."

And I must say I'm enjoying it. It's not perfect but it's pretty good. It's challenging without being high-stress; it's corporate without being pretentious. It's crowded but the people there are people like me -- to my left, a guy with Batman figures on his desk talking about Kevin Smith movies, to my right, a guy with Daleks on his desk talking about Saga.

Got my first paycheck today. More than half of it, straight away, went to my bills. But the other half still made for significantly more money than I made in a week on unemployment.

I dunno if it's the best job I've ever had. But it might very well be the best job I've had since the summer of 2004.

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-12-05.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang is commonly referenced as a fan-favorite episode, so I gave it a look. It probably didn't live up to the hype, but it was still pretty good. It's a Fourth Doctor/Leela story in Victorian England, where they face off against the eponymous villain, who's a gestalt of Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, Dracula, and the Phantom of the Opera. The Doctor plays a Sherlock Holmes-y role.

It's got a great setting, sets, and costumes, good characters, and fantastic Fourth Doctor dialogue. The main thing working against it is its stereotypical portrayal of the Chinese -- some of this, like comments made by the English characters, is simply an accurate portrayal of the time the story's set in, but the character of Li H'sen Chang, played by an Anglo in heavy makeup, is damned awkward.

Those blemishes aside, it's a great story, with nice visuals and writing, and one of the Fourth Doctor's best, which is to say one of the series' best.

The special edition is currently $25 at Amazon, while the non-special edition has inexplicably shot up from $15 to $28.14. $25 seems a bit much; I'd suggest waiting for a sale or for it to become available for streaming.

Aaaand I think that's the last of my old Who reviews. Guess I'll have to find something else for my phoned-in posts when I can't come up with anything new to write. Course, I've written plenty else over at the forums over the years that I'm sure I can plunder.

Doctor Who: Kinda

Still pretty out of it with a head cold, so here's another old Who review. Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-09-07.

Kinda (the first syllable is pronounced like "kin") is a Fifth Doctor serial. I checked it out because I read on Tardis Wikia that it's one of Moffat's two favorite serials. After watching it, I don't quite share his enthusiasm, but I understand why he likes it.

The high concept is Dr. Strangelove set in the Garden of Eden. The Doctor lands on an unspoiled planet with apparently-primitive natives, and finds a military expedition sent to survey it. The second-in-command of the crew goes crazy, takes over, and decides he's going to blow up the world, while an evil entity enters the world through Teagan's dreams and launches an attack to force his hand.

The highlight is that dreaming sequence. It's some Lewis Carroll fever-dream shit, and precisely the kind of thing you'd expect from a Moffat episode. The other Moffat-y bits are the sense of confinement, of an oncoming and implacable enemy, and of a crew going crazy, as well as characters who speak in riddles. And lots of iconic imagery.

In the end, my main problem with Kinda is that I just don't like the Fifth Doctor very much. He's got this air of helplessness and incompetence about him. During several of the sequences where he's at Hindle's mercy, I found myself thinking, "#3 would have just judo-chopped the motherfucker."

The last episode of the serial has the most straightforward story, and suffers from it. The final confrontations with the antagonists are somewhat anticlimactic. The ending does redeem itself a bit by being one of those nice oldschool short-and-sweet Who goodbye scenes that is utterly unheard of in the RTD era.

Ultimately, there are some great damn ideas in Kinda, and it's a perfectly solid serial, but I certainly wouldn't call it one of the best. Worth a rental if you're still getting discs from Netflix, but it's not available for streaming and I wouldn't pay the $20 Amazon is charging for it.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-08-18.

Remembrance of the Daleks delivers what it promises: not just Daleks, but also remembrance. The Doctor travels back to 1963, to the same scrapyard where the series started, and throws out a slew of references to the earlier shows (including a delightful, R-rolling impression of Pertwee with "Now you listen to me, Brrrrrigadier! -- I mean, Group Captain.").

But it's less interesting for looking at what came before as what came after: in many ways, this serial is the template for the current series; all the coolest shit from Davies's run has seeds here. The Daleks have gained some rudimentary time-travel capabilities and set their sights on the Time Lords in the hopes of perfecting the technology; meanwhile, their use of humans continues, and their factioning and infighting continues.

But more than that, it's the Doctor's depiction here that leads directly into the 2005 series. When he executes his coup de grace, it's brutal, and he's utterly cold and remorseless. #7 was really the first You Do Not Fuck With the Doctor Doctor, and even though I still haven't read the original Human Nature novel, I have hit a moment of thinking, "Oh, well of course it was originally written for the Seventh Doctor." While the last few Dalek serials were marked with an increasingly annoying reluctance to violence on the Doctor's part, #7 has no such compunctions, and his actions here make it believable that he could bring himself to push that button, to annihilate his own planet and his entire race if that's what it took to destroy the Daleks.

And because of all that, it's quite a neat little serial -- not as good as Genesis or Revelation, but worth the $15 at Amazon (or $20 for the Special Edition, if that's your thing). Not a good one to start off with; it's worth checking out An Unearthly Child, some Third Doctor stuff (Green Death and Inferno, as mentioned earlier, are my favorites), and some other Davros serials (at least Genesis and Revelation) first, and you'll appreciate it more if you've seen the current series too.

Doctor Who: Mark of the Rani

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2009-01-11, following up on my preceding review of Revelation of the Daleks:

You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Aaaaand Mark of the Rani has cured me of it.

The setting is interesting, and it's got the Master, and the Rani is a character with potential, but...it's pretty much terrible. At this point I want to punch Peri in the mouth every time she opens it (though this actually makes me kind of want to check out Trial of a Time Lord just to see her die).

The fact that this is regarded as one of the better Sixth Doctor serials goes a long way toward explaining why everyone hates the Sixth Doctor. Not worth buying, not worth renting, not even worth watching while drunk.

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-01-06.

You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Probably the most interesting thing about it is that at this point the show had abandoned all pretense of being a kids' show -- while it doesn't have as high a bodycount as the previous Dalek arc, it's probably more violent, dark, and disturbing all around, with the most memorable scene being a woman searching for her father in a Ubik-like cryo-preservation center and finding his mutated head inside a Dalek armor. (Yeah, we've got Davros mutating humans into Daleks here -- a precursor to The Parting of the Ways.) That and every shot of Nicola Bryant's stockings or cleavage tend to prove the show was trying desperately to keep a now-teenage audience rather than acquire new viewers -- there's some parallel to be drawn between this and my frequent "How the comic industry is fucking itself" musings.

It veers off-course in places, with the first ep's cliffhanger resembling a game of Xanatos Roulette (even with cameras all over the place tracking the Doctor's every move, it's hard to figure how Davros knew Peri would see the Dalek and follow it to the Doctor's fake memorial), and the Doctor's broken pocketwatch feels a lot like an unfired Chekhov's Gun -- maybe it's covered in Trial of a Time Lord (I have very little interest in finding out; if Douglas Adams and Tom Baker couldn't get me to watch a season-long arc, I really don't see doing it for one that everybody seems to hate), or maybe it's just a way of destroying a deus ex machina like they did with the Sonic Screwdriver during the Davison era.

The biggest problem with the serial was the same as in the only other Sixth Doctor serial I've seen to date, Vengeance on Varos: the Doctor and Peri don't really do anything, and the story would transpire pretty much the same without them. Peri's got a good emotional moment in the first ep that is largely ruined by her "Where the fuck is she supposed to be from?" accent; she sounds more like a real person in the second half but overacts to the point of obnoxiousness. #6 has a few good lines and makes me want to see more of him, but again, he doesn't really do anything.

Far and away my favorite part is the utterly nonsensical and downright surreal appearance of comedian Alexei Sayle as the DJ (everyone, including the supposedly-American Peri, pronounces his name that way, with the accent on the "J"). He has fuck-all to do with the story, and shows up a few times in the first ep to speckle the fourth wall and impersonate Elvis; in the second ep, he kills several Daleks with a beam of pure rock'n'roll. It's a very clear example of a celebrity guest star awkwardly shoehorned into a script, yet as far as I'm concerned, the result is completely awesome.

Other thoughts: the Daleks do not actually seem like a race that would have courts and trials. (This plays into the opening of the 1996 TV movie, which piles on the additional questions of what the Master was doing there, why the Time Lords apparently sanctioned the Daleks' brand of justice, and why the Daleks let the Doctor show up on Skaro to collect the remains.)

Anyway! Best Dalek story I've seen in a long time, better than Resurrection, Destiny, or either of their very bad appearances in the past two years. I'd say it's worth a rental, but it's not that damn much more to buy it -- nobody loves the Sixth Doctor.