As mentioned recently, and as mentioned in every Doctor Who related blogpost or Facebook status in the last week, there are big and controversial revelations about the universe of Doctor Who that are afoot in the latest series.
Namely, the episode Fugitive of the Judoon introduced a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor, played by actress Jo Martin, and known here as the “Ruth-Doctor” after the name she took while disguised as an ordinary person on earth.
The Ruth-Doctor and the Regular-Doctor confirmed that they were the same person, but neither recognized the other, leaving her place in the timeline a mystery…a mystery that pretty much everyone has an idea about, it seems.
I don’t have a clear idea, not yet. I have some possibilities I’m a little worried about, but I’m willing to let it all play out to see if I like the story that head writer Chris Chibnall is coming up with. (Though I’m not confident, given his track record).
None of the theories I’ve heard makes perfect sense, and most of them involve making some big change to the “established continuity” of the series. However, the established continuity of Doctor Who has always been a fluid thing. Many things have changed over the years, a near-inevitability for any show that’s been on the air for so long.
Some internet posters are quick to make this point, saying that if the new revelation ultimately changes “canon”, then it doesn’t matter because that’s the approach the show takes.
I think this is true, but it’s good to remember that this doesn’t mean that the idea of “canon” with the show is irrelevant. Even if there are changes from time to time–even big changes to established continuity–there should still be some sense that things hold together somehow, that at least at that given moment, there is a “right answer” to the questions of who the Doctor is, how old they are, when & why did they leave Gallifrey, and so on. It’s not just like we’re watching Tom & Jerry cartoons where the stars are just transposed to whatever setting feels clever at the moment, with no regard to how it links to what came before.
So for sure I have thoughts and opinions on all those theories, and how they impact the established continuity of the series. I have decided to share those thoughts here, in no particular order.
But first, I just want to mention that the easiest theory is of course that this new Doctor is from an alternate universe or something like that, or that she is an imposter of some sort, but showrunner Chris Chibnall has already debunked that idea. So the following assumes Chibnall is telling the truth.
Also, a note–all of these theories require some sort of mind-wipe to work, or maybe the reveal that one of the Doctor’s is lying about not knowing the other. So, taking that as read, we have…
Theory #1 – The Ruth-Doctor is from a series of incarnations that the Doctor had before the on-screen First Doctor
The Evidence for: There’s a lot to suggest that Ruth-Doctor comes at an early point in the Doctor’s life-cycle. Her TARDIS console room is reminiscent in design to that used by early Doctors. She doesn’t recognize the sonic screwdriver, which is a concept introduced during the era of the Second Doctor. She doesn’t know about the destruction of Gallifrey, which the current Doctor takes as indisputable evidence that the Ruth-Doctor is from before her time.
And there’s this one scene in Brain of Morbius from 1976 where the Doctor and the evil Time Lord Morbius are locked in some sort of mental battle, and we see images of the Doctor’s previous faces…the three that had starred on TV and eight others that we’d never seen before and haven’t talked about since. According to the producer at the time (Philip Hinchcliffe), this was intended to imply the Doctor had earlier incarnations than the one played by William Hartnell in 1963.
Once, in The Magician’s Apprentice (2015), Missy makes an off-the-cuff remark about knowing the Doctor when he was a little girl.
The Evidence against: Time and time again in the series, it’s been implied or stated flat-out that there weren’t any Doctors prior to the one portrayed by William Hartnell. In The Three Doctors (1973), Hartnell is described as the earliest Doctor. In The Deadly Assassin (1976) which is also produced by Hinchcliffe, and many times afterwards, it’s stated the Time Lords could only regenerate twelve times. In The Five Doctors (1983), the First Doctor is the original, and the Fifth Doctor is clearly the one resulting from the fourth regeneration. In The Lodger (2010), the Doctor identifies himself (or his face, anyway) as the eleventh. In The Day of the Doctor (2013), all thirteen of the Doctors are on screen helping to save Gallifrey, referring to all the Doctors who had starred in the TV series to that point, plus the War Doctor (John Hurt) and the upcoming 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi). In The Time of the Doctor (2013) Matt Smith’s Doctor specifically restates the “twelve regenerations” rule and points out how he is the final one. So basically, the Doctor and the Time Lords are in clear agreement that there weren’t any Doctors prior to William Hartnell.
With regards to The Brain of Morbius, the faces on the screen are actually completely ambiguous. The shots don’t show the faces going back from Hartnell to the other appearances. Rather, it cuts away after Hartnell, and then comes back to the screen. It’s not hard to come up with some explanation for the faces other than that they are earlier Doctors–certainly nobody in the show says anything about this.
A Doctor earlier than the First Doctor shouldn’t have a TARDIS that’s stuck in the form of a police box-shaped TARDIS. Back in An Unearthly Child (1963), both the Doctor and Susan are surprised that the TARDIS hasn’t changed shape when they leave London–this, clearly, is the first time they’ve seen it stuck in that familiar shape. Also, prior to the Third Doctor, the Doctor usually did not have much control over the specific destinations he traveled to, so Ruth-Doctor’s level of control over her TARDIS suggests a much later incarnation.
We have actually seen the Doctor as a little boy, and we have never had any evidence of Time Lord’s being able to regenerate into children. Indeed, the only time we ever saw a child involved in a regeneration of any sort is when young Melody Pond regenerated after initially escaping the Silence.
How to make it work: Well, it’s clear that it’s possible that Time Lords can give one of their members additional regenerations–indeed, this has been done with both the Doctor and the Master. So if there’s a mind-wipe involved, there’s no real problem with all the times the Doctor himself claimed or implied that William Hartnell was the first. For it to make sense, the Time Lords themselves would also have kept it a secret from most of their own, though, and Morbius’ brain machine would have to be showing the Doctor things he didn’t actually remember, or maybe later forgot. But still, all that’s possible.
The more convoluted issue is explaining the TARDIS. In the second or third episode of the series ever, back in 1963, the Doctor and Susan are surprised that the TARDIS has retained its Police Box shape, noting it has taken on several other shapes in their recent travels. It’s also clear that the TARDIS doesn’t look like a police box in the flashback which shows the Doctor and Susan stealing it back in The Name of the Doctor (2013). So, if Ruth-Doctor and her TARDIS really are from pre-Hartnell, we have to adopt some convoluted explanation in which the TARDIS had previously been stuck as a police box, and then later the Ruth-Doctor (or her successor) returned to Gallifrey with the TARDIS, and had her memory wiped. Later, the Hartnell-Doctor steals the same TARDIS (thanks to the intervention of Clara’s “impossible girl” incarnation) and the TARDIS eventually resumes the shape of the police box (presumably because it likes it), with the Doctor being none the wiser.
With regards to the little boy Doctor seen in Listen (2014), there’s no reason that had to be the child version of the Hartnell Doctor–it could have been one of the earlier incarnations. Or when the Ruth-Doctor is returned to Gallifrey and turned into the Hartnell Doctor, she could have been turned into a child for some reason.
What I think of it: I strongly dis-like the idea that there are earlier Doctors than we’ve seen before. I think it takes away more from my sense of the character than it adds.
Obviously, this means discounting or explaining away that Brain of Morbius scene, but as mentioned that scene has been retconned away by later episodes more times than I can count. Holding onto that is like holding onto the idea that 15 year old Susan invented the word “TARDIS”.
Still, if they could do this in a way that preserves some sense of Hartnell’s “unique” position as the First Doctor (by making the “break” to the more commonly known set of incarnations particularly strong), then maybe I could stand it.
Theory #2 – The Ruth-Doctor is an incarnation of the “Other”
What? Back in the 1980’s, script editor Andrew Cartmel and others had an idea to re-introduce a sense of mystery into Doctor Who by introducing the idea that the Doctor was not just another Time Lord. The show was cancelled before they got very far with this, but the concepts were repurposed into the various tie-in novels that were published in that era (the “New Adventures”, specifically).
The Other was supposed to be this mysterious being who became one of the architects of Time Lord society along better known figures like Omega and Rassilon. He was the actual grandfather of Susan (the last Time Lord born by natural means) and helped to introduce things like transdimensional technology and regeneration to the Time Lords. Eventually, he threw himself into the looms from which the Time Lords were spun (really!) and his genetic material was eventually reincarnated into the Time Lord who became known as the Doctor. Susan recognized him as her grandfather, even though I believe that as far as memory was concerned, the Other was a different person than the Doctor.
The Evidence For: Well, really, there isn’t any, aside from just the general evidence that Ruth-Doctor is from early in the Doctor’s life, as mentioned above.
The Evidence Against: Well, the Other has never been mentioned in any televised Doctor Who story, so basically there’s no reason to give this theory credence beyond any other wacky theory that anyone has ever had, whether or not they were professionally involved in the program. The Other was also, as far as we can see, never known as “the Doctor”, which makes it very unlikely. And certainly, the vibe we’ve gotten from the show in recent years is that Gallifrey was full of children, and that the Doctor grew up as part of Time Lord society, rather than helping to create it.
How to make it work: Spend a whole lot of time explaining a whole lot of stuff. There’s only four episodes left for the season, so the team better get onto it!
What I think of it: It’s interesting as a “what might have been”, but at this point I have no particular interest in seeing this “made canon” in the show. And of course it seems unlikely that it would ever become so, simply because it would be so incredibly complicated to explain it all. Really, the only reason I mention it is that a lot of people in the Facebook groups I’m part of have been bringing this up in the wake of the Ruth-Doctor’s debut.
Theory #3 – The Ruth-Doctor is the “Zeroth” Doctor, the first one, immediately before William Hartnell’s Doctor
The Evidence For or Against: There’s no evidence for this, really, except again for the general stuff which indicates that she is from early in the timeline (eg. she doesn’t recognize the sonic screwdriver, the TARDIS design resembles that on the early show, and she doesn’t know about Gallifrey’s destruction).
The post I saw that mentioned this was a possibility because if the Doctor has thirteen iterations (twelve regenerations) then we’re missing one (having seen only twelve actors play the part from William Hartnell to Matt Smith, during whose final episode it was confirmed he was at the end of his regeneration cycle. Of course, in that same episode, The Time of the Doctor (2013), Matt Smith’s Doctor said that the extra incarnation was used up when the 10th Doctor held off a regeneration by pouring his energy into his disembodied hand (see Journey’s End in 2008).
Maybe it could be explained that this conclusion of Matt Smith’s Doctor (that he’d used up a regeneration in Journey’s End) was incorrect. There is some minor evidence for this, which I’ll mention later.
But beyond that, there’s still other objections, such as the fact that we’ve seen the Doctor as a child and he was definitely a boy, so we’d have to accept that the Ruth-Doctor was eventually taken back home, mind-wiped, and turned into a child. And then we’d still have to get into all that gobbledy-gook about the TARDIS previously being in police box mode.
What I think of it: I’m not a fan. It’s bad enough messing up the numbering of the Doctors again, but this is worse than even Theory #1 as it would mean toppling Hartnell’s Doctor from his unique “First” position and giving it this new and untested character–somehow that seems an even more egregious affront to the established continuity of the program then Theory #1 above.
Theory #4 – The Ruth-Doctor is the true Third Doctor, secretly sent on missions by the Time Lords before his / her exile to earth
The Evidence For: Well, as mentioned before, the Ruth-Doctor has an early-style TARDIS interior. However, she is in contact with the Time Lords, has obviously “worked” with them, and has precision control over the TARDIS. She has a police box-shaped TARDIS, which of course fits with the Ruth-Doctor being from after An Unearthly Child (1963).
All of this is similar to the later appearances of Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor, after his official era was over. In The Five Doctors (1983), the Second Doctor knows about how the Time Lords erased Jamie & Zoe’s memories of their time with him, an event which took place only moments before he himself was forcibly regenerated and exiled to earth. In The Two Doctors (1985), the Second Doctor is in detailed control of the TARDIS (and even can operate it by remote control) and is actually working for the Time Lords, which is clearly in violation of his life in his era on TV. All of this has given rise to the idea that there exists a “Season 6b”–another run of adventures that the Doctor had after he was sentenced by the Time Lords. According to this idea, certain Time Lords started secretly using the Doctor to go on covert missions, before eventually following through on the regeneration and sending him on to earth. It is a popular theory and easy to accept, as it solves certain problems and doesn’t really introduce any.
It’s possible that in the course of these adventures, the Second Doctor ended up regenerating (maybe in the usual manner, after some sort of accident) and turned into the Ruth-Doctor. Then, some time after the events of Fugitive of the Judoon, the Doctor was forcibly regenerated according to the original Time Lord trial, and sent on to earth with his memory of the whole “Season 6b” period erased. (The Season 6b theory already involves the Doctor’s memory being erased anyway, as in The Two Doctors the Sixth Doctor was surprised that his earlier incarnation had the remote control).
The Evidence Against: When the Third Doctor arrives on earth in Spearhead from Space (1970), he is wearing the Second Doctor’s clothes. The Ruth-Doctor doesn’t recognize the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, even though he used it as the Second Doctor. Sticking a Ruth-Doctor into the Doctor’s timeline seems to mess up the number of the Doctor’s incarnations, according to The Time of the Doctor.
How to make it work: The Second Doctor’s sonic screwdriver looked very different than later ones, so maybe the Ruth-Doctor simply doesn’t recognize what it is.
Maybe the general Time Lords who were not involved in the Doctor’s covert operations were monitoring his regeneration and exile to earth, so the conspirator Time Lords changed the Doctor’s clothes when they sent him on to Spearhead in Space.
And maybe, just maybe an additional Doctor in the mix doesn’t mess up the number of incarnations that the Doctor has at all. See, in The Time of the Doctor, the 11th Doctor claims that he has used up all 12 of his regenerations, since the War Doctor was in there, and the 10th Doctor used up an extra regeneration. But there are numerous times during the 11th Doctor’s era when it is implied he could still regenerate, theoretically. There is an aborted regeneration in The Impossible Astronaut (2011), even though that turns out to be a fake-out since it wasn’t really the Doctor’s body that was there. There is an inhibited regeneration in Let’s Kill Hitler later the same year. And in The Angels Take Manhattan (2012), the Doctor uses some of his regeneration energy to heal River Song. So maybe, the 11th Doctor didn’t know that he was out of regenerations, and was slowly experimenting with this and discovering it as he went along. He eventually came to the conclusion that the reason he was out of regenerations was because of what his 10th incarnation did.
Or, if this Ruth-Doctor theory is correct, the real reason that the 11th Doctor was the final one was because there was an incarnation in there that he had completely forgotten about, so his conclusion that the other regeneration got used up by the 10th Doctor was just false.
What I think of it: Out of all of the theories that place the Ruth-Doctor earlier in his timeline than the 13th Doctor, this is my favorite. It fits the most with what we see on screen, and involves the least amount of gobbledy-gook to explain the inconsistencies. I still don’t like introducing confusion about the numbering of the Doctors. At least when Steven Moffat did it with the War Doctor, he went out of his way to make sure that we didn’t have to change the numbers (even though some people try).
Theory #5 – The Ruth-Doctor is the Doctor after the War Doctor, and before the on-screen 9th Doctor
The Evidence For: Actually, I haven’t heard anyone suggest this, but it seems like another obvious idea so I decided to include it. We never saw the complete regeneration between the War Doctor and the 9th Doctor, so maybe the War Doctor regenerated into the Ruth-Doctor first? The Ruth-Doctor is a bit more violent, which seems to have been true of the War Doctor as well.
The Evidence Against: The Ruth-Doctor doesn’t think Gallifrey is destroyed, which the War Doctor certainly did once his memories of The Day of the Doctor (2013) were erased. The War Doctor and most earlier Doctors certainly recognized the sonic screwdriver. The Doctor after the War Doctor should be traumatized over what happened in the Last Great Time War (as the 9th Doctor was shown to be), but the Ruth-Doctor does not appear to be so.
How to make it work: Well, you’d have to say that for whatever reason, the Ruth-Doctor’s memory is not intact, either from her initial regeneration, or from when she was recruited by some other time-period’s Gallifreyans to go on missions, or from her experience recovering herself in the chameleon arch.
What I think of it? Eh, it’s not very exciting. This whole thing already feels a bit too much like a rip-off of the War Doctor story, so putting Ruth-Doctor immediately after the War Doctor seems to draw more attention to the similarities of the two plotlines more than anyone think we want.
Theory #6 – The Ruth-Doctor is from anywhere else in the past of the Doctor’s timeline, somewhere in the midst of the incarnations we know from TV
The Evidence For: Well, none of the other “past-Doctor” theories really fit all that well, so maybe this one is better.
The Evidence Against: None of it fits with on-screen evidence–other than the regenerations mentioned above, we’ve seen the entirety of the Doctor’s regenerative timeline.
How to make it work: To make this work, we’d have to introduce not only the idea of a “mindwipe”, but the idea of false memories being implanted in the Doctor, both as the Ruth-Doctor and also in the “regular” Doctor. The Ruth-Doctor would have to have her memory taken back to something like the First Doctor, so she wouldn’t know the sonic screwdriver, and wouldn’t know how the Time Lords have been manipulating her. The “regular” Doctor would have to had false memories implanted, literally creating some sort of change in what we’ve seen on TV.
Or maybe between episodes, the Doctor was kidnapped, regenerated into Ruth-Doctor, mind-wiped, sent on missions, and eventually regenerated back into their prior incarnation, mind-wiped again, and returned to their original location.
What I think of it? Sort of stupid and convoluted sounding, but not any stupider or more convoluted than a lot of things mentioned here.
Theory #7 – The Ruth-Doctor is from the future of the Doctor that we know
The Evidence For: As said before, none of the “past Doctor” stories fit easily. And the current Doctor doesn’t recognize her.
The Evidence Against: The Ruth-Doctor doesn’t recognize our Doctor or the sonic screwdriver, and she doesn’t know that Gallifrey has been destroyed.
Really, the biggest evidence against this is the fact that the Doctor herself has dismissed it so easily. It’s such an obvious possibility that it would be all of our default theories if it weren’t for the fact that the Doctor is so convinced it can’t be true. I don’t think that’s good writing, but I think it’s a pretty clear intention that that’s not where the writers are going with the story.
How to make it work: Obviously, Gallifrey could come back some time in the future.
The Ruth-Doctor acts pretty strange, so I could totally imagine some sort of mind-wipe has been involved, which has made her forget things from the past (like previous incarnations and her sonic screwdriver) and made her more willing to work with the Time Lords in the first place.
What I think of it? By far it’d be the easiest-to-accept answer the show could give us, but after all this build-up and questioning about how the Ruth-Doctor could fit into the past, it’d be a bit anti-climactic.
So what do I want?
I want the Doctor to ask the Ruth-Doctor some simple but direct questions, like, “How long since you left Gallifrey?” or “How many regenerations have you had?” or “Do you remember being exiled to earth or driving Bessie or wearing a really long scarf?
But beyond that, what I’d suggest is this (remember, this is not a theory, it’s a suggestion).
As the Second Doctor was being forcibly regenerated into the Third Doctor, a secret enemy (see below) interfered, and quietly split the Doctor’s timeline, creating a second Third Doctor. From a temporal, historical and biological perspective, this Doctor is just as much the Doctor as Jon Pertwee was. It’s a bit similar to when Riker became two Rikers on Star Trek: The Next Generation, except its more time-travelly than that. It’s pretty much exactly the same as the eventual explanation for the Batch SW6 Legionnaires in the Legion of Super-Heroes back in the 90’s, if you are familiar with that. This new Side-Doctor could be the Ruth-Doctor or someone who eventually regenerated into the Ruth-Doctor, it doesn’t really matter.
The Ruth-Doctor was then sent on missions by this secret enemy and by a small cabal of Time Lords loyal to him. These missions are more directly interventionary and even violent or militaristic than the Doctor’s normal adventures. This leads to the Doctor herself taking on a more extreme and occasionally brutal approach, as implied by what we see in Fugitive of the Judoon. Eventually, with the help of her companion Lee, the Ruth-Doctor rebelled and went into hiding as we saw.
Now, who is the enemy and why are they doing this?
It’s none other than Valeyard, the amalgamation of the darker side of the Doctor, from somewhere between his 12th and final incarnations.
Introduced in the season-long story from 1986 called The Trial of a Time-Lord, the Valeyard was played by Michael Jayston, and was the twist villain for the whole story. His goal seemed to be to take control of all of the Doctor’s remaining regenerations. He is also one of the most confusing figures in Doctor Who history, with people thinking he’s supposed to be an actual future incarnation of the Doctor, when he’s not.
In my suggestion, the Valeyard has been lurking around since he was revealed to still exist in the final moments of Trial, still pursuing the same goal he was back them, which is basically to ensure and enhance his own existence. He’s gathered other Time Lords who are loyal to him and his view of a more aggressively involved attitude toward time and the universe, and has intervened in the Doctor’s past (as described) in order to manipulate a version of himself that he can corrupt, inhibit the moral fibre of, and ultimately completely take over. We can presume he’s given this Alternative Doctor a copy or a duplicate of the TARDIS, and has carefully controlled her movements in order to avoid her bumping into the “original” Doctor—so it’s only when Ruth goes “off the radar” that they end up running into each other.
All of this has the benefit of maintaining the Doctor’s known “number order”, explaining the early-style Police Box TARDIS, and making plausible the fact that she doesn’t recognize the sonic screwdriver (as described in Theory #4 above). It also doesn’t have to contradict the whole Season 6b thing, as there’s no reason the Valeyard’s intervention couldn’t have happened finally finished all their doings with the Second Doctor and finally forced him to regenerate. Maybe by then, the Valeyard had actually taken over the CIA himself. Maybe he’s responsible for the whole Season 6b thing all together, and when he realized that he didn’t have long enough to effect a full corruption of the Doctor before he had to send the Doctor to earth as the Third Doctor, he enacted his more daring scheme.
What I really like about this idea is that it opens up the door for a potential interesting story with Ruth—she could spend some time as the Doctor’s antagonist, before eventually rebelling against her training and programming, etc, and finding herself again.
Of course, I don’t really think it will go down this way, simply because it’s a bit complicated to explain (though not as complicated as some of the ideas above). Obviously, in reality, I will just have to wait, like everyone else, to see how things play out. Wait and hope that Chris Chibnall can make it a good story. If it can be a good story, almost any theory is acceptable. Sadly, if I’m going by Chibnall’s track record, I’m not at all confident, and am more expecting the Doctor’s core identity to be fundamentally altered for no great benefit, the adventure to be overwhelmed by a poorly-delivered social message, and the story itself to kind of fall flat at the end and result in an episode that is resoundingly okay, at best.
But maybe I’m wrong. Here’s hoping!