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This is part eight 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 Four: Season Six B
So far, I’ve presented three theories of an origin for The Warlock that interpret him as some aspect of the Doctor dating to before he walks into the junkyard on Totter’s Lane in An Unearthly Child. I’ve deliberately gone with the most outlandish possibilities I can think of: it’d also be perfectly valid to present the theory “A long time ago, the original incarnation of the Doctor, who looked like John Hurt, was out adventuring and he got himself into a situation where he was forced in the name of peace and sanity to commit genocide or murder a puppy or something, and the guilt of this drove him to regenerate and repress all knowledge of his past life,” it’s just that I’ve basically fished out the concept in the space of a sentence and don’t have anything left to write about. Which is a bit of a shame really, because on balance, I think it’s a likelier story than the ones I’ve actually presented.
I still think that a pre-An Unearthly Child origin for The Warlock is the most likely scenario. The balance of the evidence points there, with all that business about the secret he’s kept all his lives and the decision he’s been running from since the beginning. But there are other possibilities.
One thing that stymies those that would like to place untold stories of the Doctor’s adventures into the gaps between the canonical serials is the somewhat obvious nonexistence of a lot of those gaps. For all that some fans grouse about the elements of “soap” in the new series, it was actually in its first seasons that the show most displayed the single dictionary definition element of soap operas: a continuous narrative that did not have regular beginnings and endings. In the early days, the grouping of episodes into serials was more of a production convention than a narrative one; the last scene of the first serial has the space travelers stepping out of the TARDIS onto the surface of Skaro, where we will find them in the second serial. The final episode of The Celestial Toymaker has the Doctor break a tooth, and the following week, he gets himself embroiled in the gunfight at the OK Corral while trying to have it fixed by Doc Holliday. The serials became more discreet during the Troughton era, but even so, The Dominators ends with the TARDIS in danger of being swept up in a volcanic eruption, and the emergency take-off the Doctor performs to escape it lands them in the Land of Fiction for The Mind Robber.
When faced with one of the rare completely unspecified large gaps in the early canon, then, it’s great fun for fans to speculate wildly on what they can stuff the gap full of. There are two especially prominent gaps, and I’ll address both of them in time, but for now, let’s deal with the historically earliest ones: the window of time between the end of The War Games and the beginning of Spearhead From Space.
The Doctor has been placed on trial. We know the stakes here, as we’ve just seen the selfsame Time Lord tribunal sentence the War Lord and his compatriots to dematerialization while their planet is time-locked, perpetually imprisoning their warlike race. To the Doctor, though, they show clemency of a kind: they accept that his intervention has done great good in the universe, and so they permit him to continue meddling in the affairs of mortals, but decide to limit the scope of his actions for a time to Earth in the 1970s. Or 80s. Whichever. So they tell him they’re going to change his appearance and they drag him off and there’s some weird visual effects, and the next we see of The Doctor, he’s Jon Pertwee staggering out of a defunct TARDIS in a forest on Earth.
We shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that the intent was unclear here. That strange kaliedoscope effect at the end of The War Games is the beginning of the Doctor’s regeneration into Jon Pertwee. The one scene leads directly into the other.
As Sturgeon said, “Nothing is always absolutely so.” Pertwee hadn’t been cast yet when The War Games was filmed, so we don’t actually see the change. The Time Lord tells the Doctor that it’s time for him to change, but the Doctor doesn’t seem to know what’s happening at this point. Could there be something we’re missing?
Unlike many other popularly crazy fan theories, the idea colloquiallly known as “Season 6B” actually dates all the way back to 1969, rather than its supporters merely going back later and claiming they’d thought that all along. It probably originated in the comic strips, where they had to make a go of producing content during the off-season despite not knowing who the Doctor was. Their solution was to propose that the Doctor had been exiled to Earth and stripped of his TARDIS, but somehow managed to evade the imposition of the second part of his sentence, retaining the Troughton visage for a number of adventures before Time Lord agents caught up to him and forced him to regenerate.
A common variation on the theme is that the Doctor was spirited away after his trial by a Time Lord covert agency, who suspended his sentence outright in return for his agreement to act as their agent — for the rest of the classic series, the Doctor would from time to time be sent on missions for the Time Lords, which he describes as the price for his freedom. There is a somewhat compelling case to be made here, as the Troughton Doctor who appears in The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors is somewhat different from his canonical self: in The Five Doctors, he’s able to “steer” the TARDIS and has knowledge of his own future, while in The Two Doctors, he’s visibly much older, and is explicitly working as an agent of the Time Lords.
The third form of the theory is far less widely held, but it has some weight to it as well. In this version, the Doctor does, as is implied on screen, regenerate at the end of The War Games. But he does not regenerate into his Jon Pertwee form. Rather, he regenerates into some other form. There is little enough canonical evidence to support such a version of events, but there is one very interesting footnote here.
During the so-called “Wilderness Years”, small-time filmmakers made numerous audio and video productions attempting to continue the concepts and characters of the Doctor Who universe with the serial numbers filed off where necessary. Numerous Doctor Who actors, being jobbing actors many of whose best days were behind them, appeared in these productions in order to make ends meet. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred did a series of audio dramas playing “The Professor” and “Alice”; Colin Baker played a time-and-space traveling adventurer called “The Stranger (The Stranger is interesting because in the first video, Summoned by Shadows, it’s absolutely clear that the character is meant to be an alternate version of the Sixth Doctor — indeed, something of a Warlock version. But as the series progressed, the character diverged, eventually turning out to be some sort of political extremist who’d been brainwashed. Or something. I kinda lost interest)“; a collection of former companions played a space yacht crew menaced by Sontarans in Shakedown; Caroline John reprised the role of a much older Liz Shaw in PROBE (No relation to the short-lived Parker Stevenson series); Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen and Deborah Watling reprised the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith and Victoria Waterfield against the Great Intelligence in Downtime; and, weirdly, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy teamed up as a collecton of otherwise-unconnected men who are psychically linked together to fight an evil corporation run by a young Alan Cummings in The Airzone Solution. And that’s just the ones I pestered my mom into buying me from 1-800-TREKKER.
These productions are largely consigned to the wastebin of history, and rightly so. They’re not, for the most part, any good. They show a basic film-making competence, which is something at least, but they’re clearly amateur efforts, and there’s a distinct inverse relationship between how good the actors are and how many fucks they give, due to which of them plan on putting this on their resume, and which planned on promptly denying their involvement once the check cleared. Heck, Mark Gatiss, who was responsible for PROBE has outright said that he’s ashamed of it and really would prefer that no one watch it. The character of Kate Stewart does appear in both Downtime and the canonical The Power of Three, but they’re clearly not meant to be the same person (Downtime Kate is a blue-collar single mother who isn’t speaking with her father. Power of Three Kate is an apparently childless scientist and high-ranking UNIT member who never alludes to any trouble with her parents). But there’s one very interesting exception.
It’s not even a film that ever got completed. The people who made it claim to still be working on it, and are really hoping to have it finished some time in 2011, prompting suspicions that no one’s updated the Wikipedia article in a while. To put this in perspective, let me just cut to the chase: Jon Pertwee is in it. Jon Pertwee died in 1996. This movie has been in development over 18 years. If this movie were a person, it’d be legal. The film is called “Devious”. Devious is an interesting historical footnote not because it’s a Doctor Who fan-film stuck in development hell — those are a dime a dozen. No, what makes Devious interesting for our purposes is that Jon Pertwee appears in it, reprising the role of The Doctor.
The premise of Devious, so far as I understand it from what’s been made public, is that at the end of The War Games, the Doctor’s regeneration is forcibly initiated by the Time Lords, but then something halts the process. As a result, he becomes an otherwise-unseen “Interim Doctor (I gather the basic plot bunny this grew out of was the fact that the guy they had lined up to play the Doctor happened to look rather like the love-child of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee)” who has to foil a Dalek plot.
This is kind of beautifully fanwanky, and wouldn’t be of much interest, but for reasons I can’t begin to speculate on, a clip of Devious was included as one of the special features on the DVD release of The War Games. “Go back to your DVDs,” Moffatt said…
Could that be it? Let’s imagine. Where were we?
The Doctor has been placed on trial. We know the stakes here, as we’ve just seen the selfsame Time Lord tribunal sentence the War Lord and his compatriots to dematerialization while their planet is time-locked, perpetually imprisoning their warlike race. To the Doctor, though, they show clemency of a kind: they accept that his intervention has done great good in the universe, and so they permit him to continue meddling in the affairs of mortals, but decide to limit the scope of his actions for a time to Earth in the 1970s. Or 80s. Whichever. So they tell him they’re going to change his appearance and they drag him off and there’s some weird visual effects, and he regenerates into an old man who looks like John Hurt. Sentence passed: he shall be exiled, without the use of his TARDIS, but will be instead permitted to act as an agent of the Time Lords. They send him on a mission. Probably twentieth century Earth, though probably not some forest near where UNIT is investigating a meteor strike in the 1970s-or-is-it-the-80s. Maybe the Daleks are involved; I just throw that out because it seems like they ought to be in there somewhere if we’re going a big anniversary extravaganza. Maybe the Zygons are involved. Can’t think why, though I know they’re scheduled to show up. Heck, maybe he had lots of adventures. But in the end, there came one impossible day when The Doctor was forced to make an impossible choice. The Time Lords, ever scheming, had manipulated him into a position where he had no option that wasn’t abominable.
Ooh, you know what would be a cute one? Maybe things were all lined up to launch us into the fabulous promised land of the Year 2000, when we’d have flying cars and food cubes and moon bases and Zoe Herriot reading Karkas comics in The Hourly Telepress. And the only way to save humanity or whatever was to retcon history from the 1970s onward (ooh! That’s why no one knows whether it was the 70s or the 80s!) and abort the space race and make the internet happen instead. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
And, of course, this also retconned out his entire incarnation, so he regenerated into Jon Pertwee instead.
I don’t believe it for a second. Really? Here I was, all set to say this was just a little lark and not at all liable to happen, but then I came up with that bit about the Warlock being responsible for the 21st century being the one we actually got instead of the one that everyone — even 1960s Doctor Who assumed we’d get. That’s a lot of fun. And it fits surprisingly well with the Silence — the self-proclaimed “sentinels of history”, who, according to Day of the Moon were in fact secretly guiding humanity down the path to the space-race of the 1960s might well have some particular interest if The Doctor’s great secret is linked to (a) wholesale rewriting of decades of history and (b) reorienting Earth’s space race. And the fact that a clip from Devious made it onto a DVD? Icing. I rather like this one.
It’s not perfect, though. There’s still the whole “Oldest question” thing. That’s going to need explaining. We still have a way to go, but as we get to the end of this little endeavor, I might pull a rabbit out of my hat on that front yet.