(This article has been modified so that its text will not appear on index pages)
This is part two in a series of articles speculating on the content of the upcoming Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”. Part one can be read here. Some elements of this post may be considered spoilers for the preceding 50 years of Doctor Who, and will reference noncanonical statements presented in trailers and interviews.
When we left off last time, we’d identified four key points of understanding in our attempt to speculate as to the nature of The Warlock[As previously explained, this is the name I’ve chosen to use for the John Hurt character for the sake of clarity]. To the first of these questions, “What relationship does The Warlock have to the canonical incarnations of the Doctor?”, we have so far mentioned two possibilities:
- The Warlock is one of the thirteen physical incarnations of the Doctor via the time lord capacity for regeneration
- The Warlock is some other kind of manifestation of The Doctor
Last time, I went on at some length about one way that has precedent in the series thus far for how the second possibility might be realized. There are a handful of other ways that come to mind, which I will now address briefly:
- Underworld (1978) shows an inferior form of regeneration accomplished by the use of time lord-derived technology
- The Keeper of Traken (1981) establishes that, under certain circumstances, a time lord might be able to extend their life by physically merging with another being. Obviously, such an act would be counter to the Doctor’s character, but we are, after all, shortly to ask ourselves what sin The Warlock committed to merit his banishment.
- Mawdryn Undead (1983) shows another inferior form of regeneration accomplished by time lord technology.
- The Five Doctors (1983) suggests that the Time Lords possess the technology to endow one of their kind with a new cycle of incarnations.
- Doctor Who (Sometimes called “Enemy Within”) (1996) establishes that, with the aid of the Eye of Harmony, a time lord might steal regenerations from another time lord.
- The Sound of Drums (2007) refers to a capacity held by the Time Lords to resurrect a dead time lord and renew their regeneration cycle
- The Doctor’s Daughter (2007) features Jenny, a Time Lord-like being created from The Doctor’s genetic material. She possesses what seems to be an inferior form of regeneration
- Journey’s End (2008) introduces the concept of “Metacrisis”, which could result in a pair of human-Time Lord hybrids, which would possess mostly human physiology, but Time Lord intellect and memories. Only one of the resulting hybrids was stable.
- The End of Time (2009-2010) shows a ritualistic practice that achieves bodily resurrection of a time lord who had died, and whose body had been destroyed
- Amy’s Choice (2010) featured a character who was revealed to be a psychological manifestation of The Doctor’s self-loathing during a drug-induced hallucination.
- The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People (2011) showed a physical recreation of The Doctor made from a mimetic life-like compound. It may be inferred from events in this story that, had the duplicate survived, he would have stabilized into a being physically and mentally indistinguishable from the original.
- Let’s Kill Hitler (2012) featured River Song, a human who had been engineered with Time Lord traits, transfer her own regeneration energies to The Doctor.
Most of these have little enough to them to really have any viability as potential alternate explanations of what The Warlock is; there are perhaps a handful that might figure in as some element of what’s going on, but none of them really have legs on their own. However, like Sam Spade, I find the number of them compelling entirely independent of their quality: I think the list above, along with the previous post’s discussion of “Watchers” to be sufficient to at least establish the possibility that The Warlock is something other than a previously undiscovered incarnation.
So, if you’re still here, you probably want to know my theory. I have several, of course, but what they all boil down to is that given the choice of two options, I conclude that the most likely thing is that they’re both right. I suspect that The Warlock is one of the Doctor’s incarnations, hitherto unrevealed, but that the nature of this incarnation is in some critical way different from the eleven documented incarnations.
Here are some examples of what I suggest may be the case:
- The Warlock is an incarnation of the Doctor created by the Time Lords using the resurrection technique demonstrated by the post-time war appearances The Master and Lord President Rassilon.
- The Warlock is an incarnation of the Doctor after his absorption of another living being in a manner similar to The Master’s absorption of Tremas.
- The Warlock is a form of Metacrisis, as the “Handy” Doctor and The Doctor-Donna.
- The Warlock is a physical manifestation of some element of the Doctor’s psyche made flesh, something akin to The Dream Lord.
People assume time is a a strict progression from cause to effect
The question of what The Warlock is, as it turns out, is largely incidental to the question of where he fits into the story of the Doctor’s life. Of course, on its own, this question needs not actually tell us very much. Lance Parkin managed to spin an interesting enough story in his novel The Infinity Doctors while deliberately defying any attempt to firmly locate it in the larger continuity. But then, Lance Parkin was kinda trolling fanboys when he did that, and he did it in the BBC Books line, which was fairly ill-advised overall. What I’m getting at here is that where The Warlock fits, relative to the sequence of adventures audiences have been watching for the past fifty years, is an important one, and for reasons that go beyond the anorak-brigade’s desire to have an accurate spreadsheet with all the bubbles filled out in the right columns[I’ll cop to it. Yes. I did it. Little tables showing what order things happened in and which monsters matched up with which Doctors and which companions, and that infuriating little blank square for where Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney should have shared the screen. I’ve got a bunch of spiral notebooks from around 1990 full of it. But, and I will aver that this is the reason I still get to be all snarky and throw around terms like “anorak brigade”, in 1990, I was eleven.].
So where, then, might The Warlock fit? If The Warlock is indeed a secret incarnation, this question becomes “Which ordinal number between first and thirteenth should be combined with Doctor when talking about The Warlock? (and by extension, must we renumber other Doctors to accommodate?)” If not, the question is instead “Alongside or between which of the established Doctors does The Warlock’s backstory occur?”
We can roughly divide the Doctor’s life into six segments which may not per se diagetically correspond to specially enumerated eras, but are relevant to us in our purpose as they correspond to discreet shifts in the nature of the continuing narrative of the show. These are:
- The Early Years: The period between the Doctor’s birth and the point where he was accosted by two nosy schoolteachers in Totter’s Yard, 1963. Many have speculated about the adventures the Doctor might have had prior to An Unearthly Child, but I’m inclined to agree with Philip Sandifer again here: the Doctor as a character has a clear arc through his first incarnation which precludes him doing any real “adventuring” before his abduction of the afforementioned schoolteachers: he just isn’t the type yet. And yet, this era includes that most tantalizing of all secrets, the events surrounding The Doctor’s theft of an obsolete TARDIS and his flight from Gallifrey with his granddaughter.
- The Classic Era: During the series of adventures depicted from An Unearthly Child through the final part of Survival. If you’re exclusively a new series fan, this era can be somewhat uncanny; it bears much in common with the modern era, but the differences are substantial. Particularly relevant to our interests, during this period, the Doctor’s character is much more tightly focused on adventure. While the Ninth Doctor might claim he “Doesn’t do domestics,” and the Eleventh repeatedly demonstrates a profound inability to slow down and experience a normal earth life, one day at a time, he nonetheless exists in a world where people behave like people: they have families, and aspirations, and plans for the future, and do things like getting married and having jobs and houses. They learn from their experiences and are changed by joy and by suffering, and when they leave, they are missed. In the classic era, this is far and away the exception rather than the rule. The classic era Doctor lives in a world of action-men and peril-monkies, where a healthy, well-adjusted adult will willingly pop off with a stranger and never see or speak to their families for years, possibly even ending up spending the rest of their lives, say, being king of a random planet, and they are by and large okay with this, and when they part company with the Doctor, they are never seen nor spoken of again beyond perhaps a “Gee, we sure do miss Romana, don’t we?” in the next episode. This might be an interesting place for The Warlock to find his origin, if only because as an era, it is simultaneously well-documented, and yet extremely sparse. An event introducing The Warlock here has the potential to reframe specific events we’ve already seen, giving them new and very different meanings, in a way similar to how the events of The Pandorica Opens reframe [To wit, in the earlier episode, River Song refers to the Doctor turning back armies with a word; this is almost certainly a reference to the events of The Pandorica Opens, but in that story we soon learn that said armies turn back because they are tricking The Doctor into a trap. Crucially, River is elsewhere when this is revealed and it is not clear if she ever becomes aware of that aspect of the encounter] Forest of the Dead. On the other hand, it could do something terrible, like the way that John Peel’s execrable novel War of the Daleks reframes Destiny of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks
- The Wilderness Years: The dark period of events stretching from when Sylvester McCoy reminds Ace that “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s adventure, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold,” and when Christopher Eccleston takes Rose’s hand and says “Run!”, punctuated by the ill-fated television movie. There are several competing accounts of this era, particularly of the Doctor’s eighth incarnation, who is entirely subsumed in it. This era is chock full of could’ve-beens and never-weres that all threatened to radically change the rules, in a desperate attempt to declare themselves the One True Wilderness Years That Really Counts And Can Make Big Canon-Altering Decisions [Such as an entirely different Time War, ending in the destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords due to the machinations of a time travelling voodoo cult, the Doctor’s permanent and irrevocable banisment to an alternate universe, some bullshit about Time Lords being woven rather than born that was introduced to comfort misogynistic fanboys who couldn’t cope with the possibility that the Doctor might have had sex with an icky girl, and something inexplicable where the Doctor is either the genetic reincarnation of an ancient Time Lord, or a crystal skeleton being who stole a Victorian criminal’s time machine, then turned himself humanoid and got amnesia], thereby guaranteeing that they would eventually be decanonized because none of that crap was really a viable way for a revived series to move forward. The Wilderness Years have the advantage of being a wide-open and not canonically-explored section of the past, and with such a clear break between the old and the new, you could certainly stuff things in there that don’t clearly fit one way or the other. But they’re already chock full of failed attempts at game-changers, and stuffing in one more seems like setting yourself up to fail.
- The Time War: For the first month after The Name of the Doctor aired, it was pretty much accepted as already-decided absolute fact that The Warlock was, in fact, the “true” ninth Doctor, who fought in the Last Great Time War, and who ended the war by using The Moment to destroy the Daleks and Time Lords alike, time locking the events of the war in the process. That it was for this sin that he was stripped of his name, his subsequent incarnation as a big-eared short-haired guy from the north even claiming his number, and that is the Doctor’s one great secret he would take to his grave. There’s just one problem with this: we already know all that. The Doctor hasn’t made a secret of it. The Ninth Doctor was reluctant to talk about his people or the war, sure, but he wasn’t actively trying to hide it. The tenth came right out, sat down his companion and told her all about it. The eleventh had even gotten past denying that his own people had gone mad with bloodlust. “He killed off his own race and attempted genocide against the Daleks,” isn’t a secret. I can’t entirely dismiss the possibility that there might be some further secret to the time war that The Warlock holds, but on balance, it strikes me as unlikely that any good could come [There is one possibility that occurs. I’ll get to it later] of placing his origin story here.
- The Modern Era: Some time between the events of Rose and The Name of the Doctor. Much of that time is of course accounted for, though there are explicit gaps in the adventures of the tenth and eleventh Doctors. All the same, it’s not much of a “The Big Secret He Will Take To His Grave,” if it’s an event from, say, the century the Doctor takes off between A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. And it’s hard to imagine the Tenth Doctor facing something so abominable that he’d keep it a big secret rather than being painfully emo about it.
- The Future: By the numbers, The Doctor has more days behind him than ahead. As established in The Deadly Assassin, the Doctor can take on no more than thirteen faces. We have had eleven canonical ones, and we’ve been told that Peter Capaldi is to take over the role at Christmas. This still leaves one Doctor unaccounted for. Could The Warlock be the last Doctor? In some senses, offering us a glimpse into the Doctor’s future might be even more tantalizing than an attempt to shed light on the mysteries of the past. On the other hand, “Future Dark Doctor” is a hand that’s been played before, and it ended badly.
Now, if you’ve studied the subtle clues in my tone and comments in the above list, you might have an idea how I’m leaning, but below the fold, I’ll speak a bit to some of the evidence and arguments for the various possibilities.
As I mentioned, “He’s the Doctor who fought the Time War,” was popular-to-the-point-of-taken-for-granted as soon as Name aired. Tempting. Not a good idea, but tempting. The Time War is in essence a kind of narrative singularity, a hard-cut between the past and the present. In more magical terms, the Time War is a ritual sacrifice, in which the baggage of the past — the Doctor’s home planet and people — were put to death in order that Doctor Who could be brought back from the dead. Many of my oft-sniped-at old-school fans assert that this was a terrible move, and that at the earliest opportunity, Gallifrey must be restored… so… that… The Doctor could go back to not liking his home planet and doing all and sundry to avoid seeing them. Yeah. It’s like wishing your dead mom were alive again specifically so that you could go back to not speaking to her. But the thing about Gallifrey and the Time Lords is that they were always better in their absence. And as fantastic as 1976’s The Deadly Assassin was, what it did to the Doctor’s backstory essentially grew into an inescapable cancer. The Time Lord society, which we’d until then only seen as little glimpses of a haughty and distant technocracy, suddenly began to emit a sort of narrative gravity that became increasingly difficult for the show to escape. It shouldn’t be tremendously surprising that Russel T Davies wasn’t the first person to blow up Gallifrey: the BBC books line had beaten him to the punch by years.
So it’s entirely natural that folks would want an excuse to hop back there and have a gander. But what are we told? The Warlock is, “The secret The Doctor will take to his grave.” The latest “Save the Day” trailer very clearly suggests that the events of the upcoming special will revolve around something he’s been running from “all his lives,” with nary a mention of the Time War. Earlier, in The Wedding of River Song, Dorium taunted the Doctor with the warning that he had been running all his lives from the question that would be asked on Trenzalore: “Doctor who?” This does not sound like some event that occurred between his eighth and ninth lives without any prefiguring. On the contrary, it sounds very much like something originating in the prehistory of the classic television series — the event that necessitated the First Doctor’s departure from Gallifrey. And, if we may step out of diagesis for a moment, Steven Moffat has confessed in interviews that the high concept of The Day of the Doctor started out — though it clearly has evolved quite a bit since then — from his consideration that, “There was also the idea that if you could bring one classic Doctor back, you’d actually, impossibly, want it to be William Hartnell.” The “He’s the Time War Doctor” view assumes that John Hurt was cast only in light of their inability to cast Christopher Eccleston, but Moffat’s own words hint that he may have in fact been cast due to the inability to cast William Hartnell. This is the largest reason that I suspect that The Warlock is an element of the Doctor’s past linked to the period before the events of the television series.
Before I go on, though, I would like to speak a bit more about the last possibility we noted above — that The Warlock is part of the Doctor’s future. Some fans have dismissed this possibility out of hand, for the seemingly-logical reason that The Doctor could hardly have preemptively banished a version of himself which did not exist. For the Eleventh Doctor to speak knowingly of The Warlock’s sin and his banishment, must not those events necessarily be in the Doctor’s past?
Probably. But not certainly. We are, let us not forget, discussing a show about time travel. In The Valeyard, we already have a concrete example of the Doctor learning about a future version of himself, and even more, several of the licensed Wilderness Years books proceeded from the assumption that The Doctor did indeed disavow that version of himself and set out with deliberation to explicitly prevent that future self from ever existing. The Wilderness-era New Adventures series traded heavily on the idea that The Doctor had abused time travel in order to learn details of his own future, even proposing a Time Lord ritual by which a young Time Lord could be granted visions of his future selves, at the risk of losing his own name in the process.
What was it that the trailer said again? “I’ve been running all my lives, through time and space. Every second of every minute of every day for over nine hundred years.” The imagery of running is ubiquitous throughout the new series. It’s the Doctor’s first line of dialogue in Rose. The original title for Forest of the Dead was “River’s Run.” When Donna describes their lifestyle to the Doctor’s daughter Jenny in The Doctor’s Daughter, she focuses on how, “Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running.” When the Doctor attempts to comfort the dying Lorna Bucket at Demon’s Run in A Good Man Goes To War, though he doesn’t remember their previous meeting (it may not even have happened yet from his point of view), he’s able to fake it by claiming that they ran. The Doctor’s first explanation to Clara of how they handle their adventures in The Rings of Ankhaten is to say that they always run, and let us not forget the phrase that prompts the Doctor to investigate the link between a starship crewmember, a Victorian governess and a twenty-first century babysitter: Run, you clever boy, and remember.
There’s other recurring symbols too, of course. The Time War, for example, is invariably described using allusions to fire. The Doctor tells both Rose and the Lone Dalek that Gallifrey burned. The Dalek Emperor refers to the Doctor’s final act as a conflagration. The Bad Wolf, who declares the Time War ended, is said to burn like the sun, and the Doctor cautions Rose that the power of the Bad Wolf will make her burn. The Master claims to have fled the war in response to something called “The Crucible”. Indeed, I’d take the absence of references to burning in The Name of the Doctor as strong counterevidence against The Warlock being part of the Time War.
For the Eleventh Doctor in particular, there is the additional symbolism of falling. The Doctor’s first catchphrase, “Geronimo!” is best known as an exclamation sometimes shouted by parachutists to gauge time as they clear the plane. Of the battle of Demon’s Run, River Song claims that The Doctor will “rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further,” and a poem about the battle repeats the words, “Night will fall.” The Silence are prefigured by the phrase “Silence will fall,” and the events on Trenzalore are referred to as “The fall of the eleventh.” Sure enough, with the TARDIS unwilling to cross its own timestream by landing on Trenzalore, the Doctor is forced to fall to the planet, allowing the ship to crash to the surface from low orbit, and then again he falls, throwing himself into the time scar to rescue Clara.
But I’ve wandered off subject a bit. Back to the repeated symbol of running. What’s that other quote about running that I’ve deliberately avoided so far? Ah yes. The Sound of Drums:
DOCTOR: Well, perfect to look at, maybe. And it was. It was beautiful. They used to call it the Shining World of the Seven Systems. And on the Continent of Wild Endeavour, in the Mountains of Solace and Solitude, there stood the Citadel of the Time Lords, the oldest and most mighty race in the universe, looking down on the galaxies below. Sworn never to interfere, only to watch. Children of Gallifrey, taken from their families age of eight to enter the Academy. And some say that’s when it all began. When he was a child. That’s when the Master saw eternity. As a novice, he was taken for initiation. He stood in front of the Untempered Schism. It’s a gap in the fabric of reality through which could be seen the whole of the vortex. You stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of time and space, just a child. Some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad. Brr. I don’t know.
MARTHA: What about you?
DOCTOR: Oh, the ones that ran away, I never stopped.
This is, in retrospect, shockingly explicit. As a child, the Doctor looked into the Untempered Schism, beheld the “raw power of time and space,” and was driven to run. So, if The Question and The Warlock are what The Doctor has been running from all his lives, it would be hard to argue with an interpretation that tied them back to the Untempered Schism. Unlike The Doctor, when The Master looked into the Schism, he was not driven to run, but rather was driven to psychopathy. In The End of Time, we would learn that this was not simply a psychological break in the face of the vast power of the vortex, but rather that he was slowly driven mad by a signal in the form of a drumbeat, transmitted back in time to him from Gallifrey at the height of the Time War. It is possible that in similar fashion, something in the Doctor’s future reached back through the schism and imparted into the young Doctor some warning of The Warlock’s later deeds.
Of course, if this is the case, then The Warlock could belong to any point in the Doctor’s timeline, past, present, or future. But there is one other piece of evidence which I think suggests that if The Warlock is not from the Doctor’s pre-televised past, he is from the future relative to the Eleventh Doctor.
In The God Complex, the Doctor and his companions are forced to confront their greatest fears in a reproduction of an Earth hotel. Behind the door numbered 11, the Doctor finds something which disconcerts him greatly. Though we are not shown what he sees, he observes, “Of course. Who else?” It seems very likely that he had seen some manifestation of himself — there is ample other evidence that the Doctor’s greatest fear would be the darker aspects of his own nature(See Amy’s Choice, A Good Man Goes to War, and The Trial of a Time Lord), and besides, “Who else?” is rather an irresistible pun. The similarity in the Doctor’s tone, expression, and body language to his reaction upon encountering The Warlock is to me suggestive that what he had seen was specifically The Warlock.
And this is interesting. If The Warlock is the Doctor’s great secret shame, some element of the Doctor’s past which is over and done with, he may well be determined to take the secret to his grave. But his greatest fear? Fear, of course, isn’t rational, but in general one does not fear that which is over and done. One might fear the return of something past, or the recurrence of something from the past, but not, generally, the thing itself. One may run from a great secret shame, but one may also run from a pursuer. If The Warlock must be kept secret because the Doctor is afraid of him, this suggests to me that The Warlock is not past, but potential: that the Doctor is running not to escape the legacy of The Warlock, but to avoid The Warlock. Would it not make sense, then, that The Warlock is some future version of the Doctor, which in his youth, the Doctor somehow foresaw, and that foreknowledge prompted the Doctor to run, hoping to prevent the future he foresaw from coming to pass.
But now I seem to be at four thousand words, and I’m only halfway through my bullet points. So the rest will have to wait for now.