Two Heartbeats Between Them – The Prophecy of the Hybrid (Doctor Who)

In advance of the Doctor Who Christmas special coming out in just a few days, I was just thinking about the Hybrid – a new element of the long-standing Doctor Who mythology that was introduced in just this previous season, the second to star Peter Capaldi. Followers of the series know now that the Hybrid was never definitely identified, but some engaging theories were tossed around.  And there are other possibilities out there that were not mentioned, but are worth pondering.


Doctor Who Series 9

(C) BBC – Photographer: David Venni

The Prophecy

The idea of the Hybrid was first introduced in the second part of the season’s opening adventure:  The Witch’s Familiar.  Davros tells us about the prophecy of “two great warrior races forced together to create a warrior greater than either,” and he wonders if this is why the Doctor left Gallifrey, because of his fear related to the coming of this Hybrid. Later in the series, we get a bit more detail about where this story came from.

The Doctor will say to Clara about the Matrix:  “When Time Lords die, their minds are uploaded to a thing called the Matrix.  This structure, it’s like a living computer.  It can predict the future, generate prophecies out of algorithms, ring the Cloister bells in the event of impending catastrophes.”  So that’s the explanation for the presence of “prophecy”in the largely secular Doctor Who universe.

Specifically about the Hybrid prophesy, we eventually learn from the Time Lord general:  “The Hybrid is a creature cross-bred between two warrior races,” and “All Matrix prophecies concur that this creature will one day stand in the ruins of Gallifrey.  It will unravel the Web of Time and destroy a billion billion hearts to heal its own.”


The Traditional Interpretation

Now, the assumption made by Davros and many of the Time Lords is that the two races are Daleks and Time Lords.  The Hybrid, they assume, is half-Dalek, half-Time Lord.  Indeed, Davros’ main plot in The Witch’s Familiar is, in some ways, to bring the prophecy to fulfillment by re-energizing his Daleks with the Doctor’s Time-Lord regeneration energy.



BBC/Simon Ridgway/Jon Hall


But much later, at the concluding moments of Heaven Sent, the Doctor discounts this idea as nonsense.    “The Hybrid is not half Dalek.  Nothing is half Dalek.  The Daleks would never allow that.”

But the Doctor, we realize at the end of the series, does not actually know.  He claims to know during his torture in Heaven Sent, but later he seems to indicate that he only feigned this knowledge to make him valuable to the Time Lords, to make them keep trying to get the secret from him while he was breaking out of his Confession Dial.  So it could be that the future foreseen by the sum total of Time-Lord knowledge could very well turn out to be the traditional interpretation of a creature that combines both Time Lords and Daleks in its make-up.  If so, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ve seen this creature on screen yet…unless it is in fact the Doctor.  Back in the first season of the revival series, the last (as far as we knew) survivor Dalek even told the 9th Doctor that he’d make a good Dalek.

But claiming that the Doctor is actually part Dalek is obviously taking things further than the show has given us permission to do, at least up until this point.


The Witch and Her Familiar

Before The Witch’s Familiar is over, another couple of interpretations of the Hybrid are given, by Missy of all people.  She says, of Clara, “In a way, this is why I gave her to you in the first place.  To make you see.  The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend…Everyone’s a bit of both.  Everyone’s a hybrid.”

Now, she’s talking about Clara, but really, she’s talking about herself.  The Missy-Master, more than any of the other versions of the character, is not just looking to defeat or outwit the Doctor; she’s wanting to change him, to bring him around to her way of thinking.  And in the season opener, she’s mostly positioned by the narrative as the Doctor’s ally.  Her little speech about the Hybrid, a prophecy she would certainly be familiar with, is about how she is, in a way, a friend inside of an enemy.



BBC/Simon Ridgway/Jack Barnes/Jon Hall


But Missy is talking in symbolic and metaphorical terms.  It seems doubtful that the prophecy was talking about her, at least on the basis of that evidence.

Similarly, it’s unlikely to refer to Clara herself, even though she’s now sort-of been a Dalek twice in the series.  The first time was in Jenna Coleman’s debut appearance, back in Asylum of the Daleks, where it turns out that Oswin, the Doctor’s ally over the radio, is really a woman who has already been caught and turned into a Dalek.  In this case, she was “sort of” Clara – revealed eventually to be one of her splinters scattered throughout the Doctor’s time stream to protect him from the machinations of the Great Intelligence.  The other time is in The Witch’s Familiar itself, when Missy gets her trapped inside a Dalek casing, the nature of which prevents Clara from expressing anything but Dalek-y thoughts.

So it’s Clara, far more than the Doctor, who one might call “part Dalek”.  And of course, as the season progressed, we also see that Clara is becoming more and more like a “Time Lord” (or at least, like the Doctor) in her attitude and approach toward danger.  But to say that she’s actually a mixture of Dalek and Time Lord, and the eventual destroyer of the universe?  Well, that seems to be taking things a bit far.


The Woman Who Lived

The idea of the Hybrid than continues to be brought up over the rest of the season of the show.  The next person it’s brought up in conjunction with is Ashildr.  She debuts in Episode 5 of the season, The Girl Who Died.  A brave young Viking woman with a capacity for storytelling, the Doctor uses technology from an invading warrior race called the Mire to save her life, but in a way that makes her biologically immortal:  capable of dying, but not naturally.  As he ponders what he’s done at the end of the story, he says, “But Ashildr isn’t just human anymore.  There’s a little piece of alien inside her, so in a way she’s…in a way, she’s a hybrid.”


BBC/Simon Ridgway


The Doctor continues to keep an eye on her, and sees that as her generous and kind nature begins to fall by the wayside, Ashildr becomes more and more cunning and heartless, without ever crossing the line and becoming the Doctor’s true enemy.  We never see her develop the power that one would assume it would to unravel the web of time, but she is still alive at the end of the universe in Hell Bent, so who knows?

Certainly, the Doctor seems to think it’s Ashildr, who later in her life had started calling herself Me (eg. Lady Me, Mayor Me, etc).  At least, that’s one way to interpret his comment at the end of Heaven Sent:  “The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins…is Me.”  (Now we’re talking about varying interpretations of the interpretations of Prophecy?  Talk about confusing!)

Faced with Ashildr at the end of the universe, the directly accuses her of the title.  But he never talks about what she’s supposed to have done to have earned it.  And he never justifies his comment, beyond the basic explanation that she’s part human, part Mire.  Ashildr, for her part, discounts the theory.  “I’m human,” she says, “with a little bit of Mire inside of me.”  Not a cross-breed of two warrior races.

But of course we don’t know.  We don’t know what Ashildr did to survive to the end of the universe.  We don’t know how she’s powering that little reality bubble the Doctor finds her in.  It could be that she’s destroyed a billion billion souls to heal her own (and she certainly seems a lot more at peace with herself there than she has the other times the Doctor has met her).  Or it could be something that she’s still to do as she runs off with Clara in their TARDIS disguised as an American diner.  But that’s all still to be written.

But for me, it’s not a very interesting possibility.  Sure, Ashildr is a combination of human and Mire, but it’s not like she’s been particularly imbued with the warrior qualities of either.  It just seems like a needlessly obscure way for the Time Lord prophecy to explain her, if they were talking about Ashildr.

The Hybrid is also mentioned in The Zygon Invasion, where the Doctor sees one of the Osgood’s as a hybrid:  both human and Zygon.  This is obviously a throwaway line, and not something that really lines up with the prophecy at all.  At best, we can call it a moment where we see that this whole issue of the Hybrid is something that is really on the Doctor’s mind in these troubled times.


The Hybrid is “Me”

At the end of the Universe, the Doctor accuses Ashildr of being the Hybrid, but she comes back with a counter-theory, which is that it is the Doctor himself.  She questions why the Doctor would be so committed to earth, implying that he might have some deeper connection to humanity.


HeavenSentBBC/Simon Ridgway


This is something that actually has been directly stated on the show before:  it was a key plot point during the 1996 TV movie that makes up almost the entirety of Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor televised appearances.  There, we discovered that the Doctor was actually half human. This has never been mentioned or addressed since.  All sorts of fan theories have been developed to explain it away, but in most cases it seems like the preferred strategy is “just ignore it.”  The conversation in Hell Bent is the closest the TV show has ever come to mentioning this again.

Of course, the Doctor being the Hybrid is the other, and at the time more obvious, interpretation of the Doctor’s cliffhanger line at the end of the Heaven Sent: “the Hybrid…is me.”  But whether or not this is true, the story that follows seems to indicate that the Doctor’s statement was not a confession of any sort.

So if the Doctor is the Hybrid (all by himself), we haven’t really seen that played out yet.  It could be have been an interesting way to go, of course, but it feels like that ship has sailed.  If they went that way in the future, they’d really have to work at in order to make it not seem a bit dull and obvious.


Two Heartbeats Between Them

For my money, the most interesting theory is the one that they series seems to put forward the most strongly.  As Ashildr says, “What if the Hybrid wasn’t one person, but two?…A dangerous combination of a passionate and powerful Time Lord and a young woman so very similar to him.  Companions who are willing to push each other to extremes.”  To back this up, Ashildr reminds the Doctor that it was Missy, the lover of chaos, who brought them together.  She then continues, “And you’re willing to risk all of Time and Space because you miss her.  One wonders what the pair of you will get up to next.”


Heaven Sent 1

BBC/Simon Ridgway


This by the most compelling theory for a variety of reasons.  One is just that it put fits in with the storytelling and themes of the season.  Otherwise, the Hybrid just becomes a giant and unsatisfying red herring (which, sadly, is the sort of thing that the show has done before).

Another reason is the poetry of it:  the Doctor and Clara–one with two heartbeats, one with none–are together what the Matrix has predicted.  Everything we’ve seen of the two of them together is simply the prologue for what they will do if they remain together, where their love will inadvertently and inevitably lead to the destruction of all of time and space in an attempt to heal their broken hearts.  It makes sense of their actions in Hell Bent, where they ultimately agree to forever sever their friendship by taking away the memory of it from one of them.

It’s an unexpected narrative move, which explains of course why we were all so startled as we watched Hell Bent.  But as time has gone on, I have appreciated it more and more.

But of course, it’s still not a settled issue.  Steven Moffat or another writer might revisit the concept and give us another explanation.  And it’s ripe material for the franchise’s spin-off media.  (Incidentally, thank goodness that Doctor Who isn’t run like a modern day comic book, otherwise we’d get a definitive but contradictory answer for things like this every five years.  As it is, Moffat has the wisdom to hint at things without fully explaining them.  This is just one of the reasons that the explicit revelation of the Doctor’s half-human heritage was a bit of a misstep.)

One of the most obvious theories that hasn’t been addressed this season, but could still if we include the Christmas special, is that the Hybrid is River Song.


Warrior Born

We remember River, right?  It was just a couple of years ago that she was popping up a couple of times a year, being central to the show’s major story arcs.  River is fully human, the daughter of Amy & Rory Williams, but because of some science fiction gobbledy-gook and being conceived on the TARDIS in flight, she was imbued with Time Lord energy and basically was born half-Time Lord.  She was kidnapped as a child by the Silence and forged into a weapon designed to kill the Doctor.  She later broke free of this conditioning, and after regenerating a couple of times she gave up this ability to save the Doctor’s life, but out of all the possibilities mentioned here, she has clearly has the “warrior” qualities of both of the races she draws heritage from.


The Husbands of River Song

BBC/Jon Hall/Simon Ridgway


Alex Kingston as River Song is due to return in a couple days in the Christmas special (The Husbands of River Song), and the preview for this story has every appearance of being a madcap romp of adventure and nonsense.  But wouldn’t it be interesting if Steven Moffat pulled another fast one and delivered instead an intense drama of cosmic proportions in which River was revealed as the Hybrid, and the Doctor had to confront her and stop her from destroying Time and Space to heal her broken heart.

Although, actually…that’s sort of the plot of The Wedding of River Song, the finale of Season Six.  Hmm…maybe we’ve already seen the fulfillment of the Prophecy of the Hybrid, and we just didn’t know it?

In Heaven Sent, the Doctor says, “At another point, the Doctor puts it this way:  “Long before the Time War, the Time Lords knew it was coming, like a storm on the wind.  There were many prophecies and stories, legends before the fact.  One of them was about a creature called the Hybrid.  Half Dalek, half Time Lord, the ultimate warrior.  But whose side would it be on?  Would it bring peace of destruction?  Was it real, or a fantasy?  I confess, I know the Hybrid is real.  I know where it is, and what it is.  I confess, I’m afraid.”

That actually sounds a lot like River Song.

Narratively, I still prefer the answer that it’s the Doctor and Clara together. But there’s nothing to say that the Doctor might not believe the Hybrid is River, even subconsciously.  Remember, we’ve seen a couple of times now that the Doctor doesn’t always know why he does things, and he’s not always clear about what he knows, even though that knowledge will inform his decisions and judgments.   So both his confession from a couple of paragraphs above and his determination to not give up the secret could both be born out of a subconscious belief that he is protecting River…

…all while missing the obvious truth before him, about himself together with his best friend, a friend who provoked him to go closer to the edge than River Song ever did.


Hell Bent 1

BBC/Simon Ridgway/Chris Lobina


Unless we are in for a Hybrid-style twist in the Christmas special before us, I hope the idea is retired from the series.  Where I’ve wanted to see other dangling plots resolved, this time I’m happy to leave things a bit open-ended, and to take the conclusion of the Hybrid prophecy on faith, in a manner of speaking.  I’m looking forward to seeing the series move forward in Season Ten – new companion, new adventures, new arenas for storytelling.  As it should be.









4 thoughts on “Two Heartbeats Between Them – The Prophecy of the Hybrid (Doctor Who)

  1. This is a great, thorough analysis. I also prefer the explanation, of those offered, that the Hybrid is the Doctor and Clara together. It would be very romantic, and unexpected but fitting. That said, there was a small part of me that wanted the Hybrid to be the Doctor, and, to my shame, I even got a bit excited when Ashildr began alluding to the “half-human” thing.

  2. Thanks, P.J. I also perked up when they began to hint at the half human thing, although I fully expected them (and would have been happy if they had) to offer some explanation that allowed us to disregard it.

  3. Excellent work, Ben. I like the idea of there being several different interpretations of the Hybrid and the way that you’ve discussed them are well explained. Wonderful job once again!

  4. Thanks so much for the kind comment! The post sort of surprised me–I knew I wanted to mention River Song but had no idea I’d end up defending her as a plausible interpretation of the prophecy until I got to that part of the article.

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