Healing The Doctor

Okay, I’m not sure what I’m going to post here, but I’ve been occasionally, foolishly reading certain reviews and comments about the 50th Anniversary Special, and of course, predictably, there are detractors. Some have issues with the supposed plot holes left by Steven Moffat. Some have trouble with the depiction of Queen Elizabeth I as being romantically entangled with the Doctor in the first place. I’m pretty sure there are other criticisms that have been leveled at the show, but I stopped reading there, when it became obvious I wasn’t going to be able to have a fun conversation with these people about what the show did right, because they were so displeased by what they perceived as it having done things wrong.

Now, the only problems I read with any interest were Good Queen Bess, the fez, the Zygons, and the role of the War Doctor. We might also address the Bad Wolf problem. Let’s see what my brain pours out, shall we?

I have a friend named Richard Morris, who is both a Whovian and a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA), a medieval reenactment society I was once a member of as well. He’s a very intelligent chap, and a very talented artist, who is also known for having written and drawn the internet-famous The Ten Doctors web comic. The single big problem he had with the show (all arguments about the acting skills of David Tennant aside), was that Queen Elizabeth I would not have married the Doctor at that point in her career. She was in love to a man she couldn’t marry, so she was definitely not going to marry an alien she couldn’t possibly have been in love with at the same time.

I love my buddy Rich, but his view and mine on the inflexibility of the human heart are not in agreement. Rich is a good man who believes wholeheartedly in monogamy and the sanctity of love and marriage. I’m perhaps more jaded than that, though no less romantic in my way. What to Rich is an immutable fact of history [i.e. Bess’s undying love for Robert Dudley] is the very sort of thing that Doctor Who was built to play merry havoc with. Of course the romantic Tenth Doctor could be a surrogate for her affections, and of course the whole of English society would be kept in the dark about it. If a jilted Queen Bess in her later guise as the so-called Virgin Queen saw fit to break with the Doctor (which they clearly show her doing in a previous episode) and declare all knowledge or evidence of her love for him to be hidden away or erased, naturally we’re not to know that, any more than we’re to know of the Doctor’s many other historical interferences.

I don’t say this to belittle my friend’s convictions. I only say it to explain why it doesn’t trouble me as much as it does him. To me, the human heart is much more flexible than our poets like us to think. We live, we love, we lose, we love again, and again and perhaps not as brightly or as sweetly or as innocently, but we do love again, and sometimes we love more than one at a time. There is a lot written about the Queen after her passing, and many bits of surviving letter and historical document written in her lifetime, but can these things truly tell the whole story of a human heart? If you don’t have a collection of well-kept diaries that plumb every depth and illuminate every corner, can you truly know the whole of a person’s life and everything there is to know about them?

And in the world of time travel fiction, is it truly fair to demand that the Doctor only interact with only those historical figures that are somehow less known, and therefore less prone to breaking what some historians and reenactment hobbyists will swear is an immutable and inarguable fact? If I know anything about history, it’s that it’s almost constantly being rewritten as new facts and interpretations come to light. And though facts deserve primacy, there is something romantically wonderful about the simple truth that the whole of history is an unknown, unknowable thing.

The fez was obviously not supposed to exist anymore, and yet one was on display amongst several other museum pieces that were clearly dedicated to the Doctor’s exploits. Such a centrally important plot device had to be significant to the people at UNIT for it to have been preserved in the hidden gallery, and yet who could have known it was the Doctor’s fez, if he only had it for what amounts to one episode and a handful of stray moments at the end of time? I’m sure Moffat has some pretty good timey wimey explanation, but really, who cares? It’s a fez! The Doctor sees a fez and puts it on. Maybe he had other adventures we don’t know about where he was clearly depicted wearing the fez. I’ve forgotten how many times he’s interacted with UNIT in his eleventh regeneration, but if he didn’t get any screen time wearing one, perhaps there was a time off-screen where he wore the damned thing with impunity, travelling alone and wearing hats from every nation. He DID apparently pass roughly four hundred years without a companion in the TARDIS, but it stands to reason, he kept busy.

The problem is simple: The Doctors negotiate the beginnings of a truce, but we don’t see the truce; we see the end result of the truce. And we see only one pair of Zygons twig to their identities, and then refuse to divulge, so the peace process could continue. And then, as soon as the truce was achieved, the Zygons just quietly walked off stage, like they hadn’t just tried to invade the Earth. Like it was no big deal. And in the face of the story about the Doctors ending the (Last Great) Time War, it wasn’t. There were parallels, to be sure, but London didn’t get blown up, and no one actually got killed, so really, no harm, no foul. What becoems of them can be a story for a leter episode. Let Twelve deal with it.

Okay, this one had me flummoxed. The War Doctor was previously portrayed as a major bad ass, and yet, all we get to see is a tired old man wrestle with the dilemma of whether to destroy a planet with children on it, oh, and bust up some Daleks with the TARDIS in full spin. So, what was the big deal? Well, it certainly wasn’t going to be a three hour TV movie about the whole of his activities in the Time War, any more than we were going to get Eight’s exploits in the events leading up to his getting involved. We could have a whole new show exploring that particular chasm of plot hole, and really, it was put there deliberately to explain away what happened between the TV movie and the show’s rebirth. The idea of a time war with the Daleks was planted in the TV movie itself, with the Doctor depositing the Master on Skaro to face trial for war crimes, wasn’t it? But Russell took it to another level, having the Doctor be the only survivor, less a few million renegade Daleks and a Time Lord War Council that all found little cracks in the universe to escape through. But none of that explains why we got a milquetoast villain. I mean, he WAS supposed to be the villain of the piece, wasn’t he?

Well, as it turns out, he wasn’t another Valeyard after all, and really, who cares about the bloody Valeyard? That particular plot revelation, during The Trial of The Doctor (or was that ‘Trial of a Time Lord’? I always forget, for some strange reason… oh wait, because it was almost completely forgettable! Of course!), was really just an attempt to give the Doctor a villain more chillingly efficient and knowing than the Master or the Rani, who were mere bunglers by comparison. And what could you do with a villain that scary, and where had he been hiding all of this time? Well, the answers are: Nothing; and In Plain Sight, of course. The show as it existed back then could never have supported an evil opposite Doctor for long, as the whole point of the show would soon be about those two polar opposites trying to kill one another, and really, that’s a pretty tired premise to run a show like this on.

And besides, the Master eventually comes back and does bigger, badder things than ever before, so really, the notion of the Valeyard being his worst enemy is no more than a tired old cliché.

But back to the War Doctor. We obviously were not going to get to see the whole of his exploits to explain what kind of a guy he really was. We were ever only going to see a few scattered incidents to make it clear that he was a bad ass. In those few moments on Gallifrey, he did more mayhem and destruction to Daleks than any Doctor before or since. Nowhere in the premise did it say he was actually the villain, though; only that the latter Doctors had tried to forget him, because he ‘broke the promise’. OF COURSE this episode was going to be about the redemption of the War Doctor. What else could it be, and why would you want it to be something else? It’s the Doctor’s darkest moment, and you want him to have betrayed all of his principles and over a thousand years of hard work just so you can have more lone Time Lord angst? Isn’t the point of the show that he changes? Everything changes, and yet, that moment in time was holding him back, keeping him from fulfilling his promise. With the stain of the Moment out of his life, he could plausibly move on to bigger, better things, knowing that the guilt of having destroyed millions of innocent Gallifreyans was no longer on his conscience, because he finally realized what had taken him hundreds of years and all of his incarnations working together to realize: He didn’t actually do it.

It doesn’t diminish or erase any of the angst he went through for those four hundred or so years of believing he HAD done it, and it did a fair bit of good for him to have believed so. But it’s time to move on. He’s been dragging that crap around long enough. It’s like asking Germans to continue to feel guilty for something that happened almost a century ago to people who are mostly dead. Remember the past, and try not to repeat it, of course, but don’t ask innocent people to hate themselves for something they themselves didn’t do. That’s medieval torture in disguise. And the same goes for the Doctor. He believed he had committed genocide, and it tainted him in a huge way, but he eventually figured out how to undo his mistake and make it a (secret) win after all. Now, the secret won’t last for much longer, but at least the Doctor has something new to drive him besides overwhelming guilt. How is that a bad thing?

The Moment read the Doctor’s mind, read the future versions of him, and came up with Rose Tyler, the Big Bad Wolf, and found a reason to revive her by impersonating her, a little too well, as it turned out, though only the thoroughly haunted War Doctor could see her. You could ask why they thought it was necessary to bring back the main companion of both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, instead of, say, Captain Jack or Donna Noble, who were arguably more popular. The answer is pretty simple, really: They used Billie Piper to tie in to the Ninth Doctor, because Christopher Eccleston wouldn’t do the show. She IS the principle link between those two incarnations, in the same way that Sarah Jane was the principle link between the Third and Fourth regenerations. And yes, she was the Bad Wolf, at least for a moment, and that makes her significant in ways even Sarah Jane wasn’t. Whether you like her or not, Rose was important. The only way Jack or Donna, for instance, could come back and be that significant would to appear as their most powerful selves, Doctor Donna, or the Face of Boe, and really, those boats had sailed seasons ago. It would have been complicated bringing that up, and this show has gotten by over the last almost-decade by avoiding entanglements with past canon as much as possible. Spoilers and long game train spotting, yes, but not a lot of “Do you remember when…?”s. The modern era lives in the now, as much as possible, despite its fifty years of continuity.

And that’s what makes it great. It has a continuity, but it’s a living continuity, and fixed points in time aren’t necessarily impassible, and barriers that were unbreachable get broken through all of the time. And the past, though firmly fixed in our imaginations, can stand up to a little revisitation and revision, from time to time.

Time I was going. Thanks for reading.


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