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This is part six 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, part two here, part three here, part four yonder. 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.
Theory Two: The Dread Pirate Doctor or The Superior Spider-Doctor
More than a few times, someone who encounters multiple incarnations of the Doctor, but hasn’t learned of his Time Lord nature speculates on the possibility that “The Doctor” is a title passed down within a family or to members of some secret society. Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) suggests this in The Christmas Invasion. Clive suggests the same in Rose. And there are about a million Google hits for it appearing in fanfic.
Ah, we say. How silly of them. Clearly, he’s a time traveller who can change his appearance!
What if it’s true?
What if The Doctor is actually A Doctor. What if there were Others. Or, at least, an Other…
Among of William Hartnell’s last few serials was The Savages. The serial is among those lost when the BBC embarked on its bold program of pyromania. It’s probably not in anyone’s top five of serials we most want to be recovered, but for my money, it’s one of the “purest” Hartnell-style stories. Every Doctor has his own unique mode of approaching the world and solving problems, and with Hartnell, his default way of approaching a problem is to assume that there’s someone he can sit down with and have a reasonable conversation with, and pontificate and moralize at until they see reason: he doesn’t win because he’s clever; he wins because he’s right (And as a corollary, the reason he dies when he faces down Mondas and the Cybermen is that, evil though the Cybermen are, they’ve got a perfectly valid moral point: “We have freedom from disease, protection against heat and cold, true mastery. Do you prefer to die in misery?” His replacement fares better against the cybermen because the second doctor’s approach is that of an anarchist, who works by injecting chaos into orderly systems. He, in turn, dies when he faces a situation where he isn’t willing to just bugger off and let someone else clean up the mess he’s made). I call The Savages a sort of “pure” Hartnell story because it’s the serial in which The Doctor prevails pretty much exactly because he convinces the bad guys to stop being bad guys. It’s a beautifully weird kind of resolution, where the leader of the bad guys sucks out a bit of the Doctor’s soul (Because that’s how they roll), but in doing so, he ends up absorbing a bit of the Doctor’s sense of morality, as you do, and this causes him to have the sudden realization that eating other people’s souls is wrong. Halfway through Nightmare in Silver, this is kinda what I expected the resolution would be: that The Doctor would lose to Mr. Clever, the Cyberiad would absorb the Doctor’s mind in its entirety, only to find that, with access to the boundless wisdom of the Time Lords, this whole “Let’s take over the universe and turn all the people into robots,” thing was, on balance, not actually a very good idea, and they’d promptly become pacifists and turn everyone they’d converted human again. (The actual resolution turned out to be simpler and less clever, though satisfying in a more visceral way.)
But why do I bring all this up? Well…
A long time ago on the planet Gallifrey, there was a hero. Or a trickster. Or a goblin. Or a warrior. Maybe he was the only one of his kind. Maybe he was the latest in a long line. Maybe he was both. These things are not always clear. Reports of his deeds stretched back all the way to the Dark Times, to the days of Rassilon and of Omega.
This hero, or trickster, or warrior, he had an apprentice. Someone he’d trusted and had trained. Some day soon, the hero hoped. Or feared. He’d retire, and hand over the mantle to his protege.
Something went wrong. One impossible day, the old hero and the young apprentice were faced with an impossible decision. And the old hero lacked the strength to accomplish what must be done, and the young apprentice lacked the experience do the right thing.
So, using the ancient and mysterious powers of the Time Lords, the two became one, born anew with a fresh cycle of regenerations, with the vast experience of the old hero and the youthful vigor of the young apprentice. But in doing this, they had committed an act of gravest betrayal to the men they had been, the actual dissolution of the etre pour soi of one of them at least. Neither could be the man he’d been before: all that remained was The Doctor.
Do I think this is even remotely likely? Of course not, don’t be silly. This is really more of a “What’s the most outlandish thing that The Warlock could be, if he’s not a missing incarnation of The Doctor?” My answer: “Someone totally different whose timeline got subsumed into The Doctor.” I mostly point it out here because of the obvious parallels to what happened with The Master and Tremas, or even The Master’s plan in the TV Movie — perhaps the reason that The Doctor happened to have a Clockwork Orange Crown of Thorns rig all ready and waiting and sized to fit when he crashed in San Francisco? But anyway, the parallel with The Master is of interest to me because there’s more to come…