So, a day later and like seemingly everybody else, I have a few follow-up thoughts concerning last night’s DOCTOR WHO. Time was, I used t be pretty good at predicting were plotlines were going, though of late I’ve been flummoxed more and more often. So these assorted conjectures will either look brilliant or asinine in a few weeks’ time–possibly both–and won’t that be fun to watch?
Let me begin with the bridesmaid of Fugitive of the Judoon, Captain Jack Harkness. John Barrowman was in fine form for all that he really had nothing to do apart from deliver a few cryptic words about a menace to come in the weeks ahead. But I feel as though his words imply a structure to that story. Captain Jack tells the Fam that the Doctor needs to beware the Lone Cyberman, that their empire has been wiped out and that she mustn’t give him what he wants. Which is a strange thing to say, because ow often has any human being, let alone the Doctor, gone along with the wishes and desires of a Cyberman? So this implies to me that whatever the Lone Cyberman may want, it needs on the surface of it to be a good thing–my first thought is that perhaps it wants the Doctor to finish it off, to put it out of its misery and end the Cybermen once and for all. Which is maybe something you could see the Doctor doing, especially if she were to be coerced into it by threats to her friends or the world. But what’s the other key point about the Cybermen? Like Soylent Green, they’re made out of people. So whose face is lurking underneath the faceplate of that final Cyberman? Is it Jack’s? One of the companions? Heck, after last night, is it the Doctor herself? We’ll know soon enough. I will say, like the Daleks, the Cybermen tend to be at their most scary when they are few in number, so I like the notion of a single Cyberman carrying out whatever dark final mission it is on.
Okay, so let’s talk about the big elephant in the room: Doctor Jo. I’ve been seeing a wealth of fan theories all day about who and how and why, many of them absurd in their complexity, many of them deep dives into the lore of the show. Here’s the thing: we talk about DOCTOR WHO as though it’s a single show that has run for over 50 years, but that’s not really true, not in practice. In reality, it is two shows, linked by content. And if you’re building a season-long mystery in the modern show, it’s really not good storytelling to have the solution turn on episodes of a separate show that not only most of your audience but also their parents haven’t seen. Look at this episode: everything tat it uses in the mystery of Doctor Jo comes from Modern Who–the Chameleon Arch in particular. It’s reasonable for the production team to assume that the regular hardcore viewers of the program will be familiar with it, and that its reintroduction won’t come from out of left field. Not so something from the minutiae of the old show–if you want to use some of that material, it is necessary for you to once again bring it on stage as though you were introducing it for the first time. Which is to say, you can use cloth-faced Cybermen, but you need to introduce them to the modern audience as a new menace, rather than as a throwback, something they ought to already know about.
All of that said, and with the particular clues laid down already this season, there’s really only one thing that Doctor Jo can be–and that’s the pre-William Hartnell, pre-flight from Gallifrey Doctor. Because when you’re doing a season-long arc rooted in the history of the lead character’s race, that’s where you’re going to plant your flag, not between incarnation 2 and 3 or from a parallel universe or any other such fan-based inside baseball. Because the origin is always fair game–it’s just as relevant to the new show as it was to the old, and this season is all about it. Given that the Master has already told the Doctor, and us, that all we think we know is a lie, how difficult is it to postulate not even just one prior life that we had no knowledge of, but multiple prior lives? (If Doctor Jo is Doctor Zero, then it seems she would be the second incarnation of the Doctor, given that we saw the young Doctor as a child sleeping in a shed in Listen–so Doctor Jo would seem to have to be the result of his first pre-Hartnell regeneration if anything. I am just as absurd as any other fan tossing out their own theories.)
The big stumbling block to this theory remains the buried Tardis being in the shape of a Police telephone box, a shape it apparently didn’t take on until it landed in Totter’s Lane. I don’t really have a thought-through explanation for this one–though if I were doing No-Prize duty in a letters page devoted to it, I could cobble something half-believable together, I’m sure–apart from the fact that it simply makes the moment where the Box is unearthed stronger. Sure, the Tardis could have looked like a travel tube there, but not only would that have given the game away, it also wouldn’t have felt so horrific, and shifted the ground underneath the audience’s feet along with the Doctor’s herself. It’s a weak fix, but we’ve seen the show pull weaker, so that’s all I’ve got.
Speaking of it, that moment of digging up the grave and finding the Tardis wile Ruth simultaneously gets her memory back and gears up was masterfully staged. it was filmed in the manner of a horror movie, and it was super-effective as a result. And then the whole moment is beautifully subverted when gun-toting Doctor Jo makes her introduction–and everything is somehow both fine again and profoundly wrong at the same time. (The one bit that the episode glosses over, because it has no way to reconcile it other than to paper it over and hope you don’t look at it too closely, is that drive out to the Lighthouse. I don’t know how long of a drive tat was, but you have to assume that at some point in their travel together, Ruth would have turned to her surprise companion and asked her, “So, what do I call you? What’s your name?” But the whole back third turns on Doctor Jo not recognizing Jodie as the Doctor, as her supposed future self, so this moment cannot have happened.)
Another key point: Doctor Jo was great! Not just her personality, not just her wardrobe–she immediately felt more Doctorly attired than the actual Doctor–not only her beautifully lit retro-Tardis, but also in the manner in which she was shot. This is something that Mark Waid has remarked upon to me on a couple of occasions: throughout her first season, the production team would seldom shoot Jodie Whittaker like she was the hero of the scene. Take a look–it’s really apparent when you notice it. And it’s really obvious when you look at how Doctor Jo is shot once she’s got her memories back–almost always from slightly below, framed in a heroic manner. It’s no wonder that she almost immediately relegates Jodie to being a bystander, a companion, in her story. It’s one of the reasons why Doctor Jo is so readily accepted as being the genuine Doctor. The scenes of the two Doctors in Jo’s Tardis play with the veracity of any other multiple Doctor story.
But of course, that’s all bullshit.
Because I don’t buy it for a second. Doctor Jo is the lie. She’s something connected to the Timeless Child and the dark secret at the heart of Time Lord history, adopting the guise of the Doctor for her own purposes. In that momentary memory-flash that the Doctor gets when the Master’s recording talks about the Timeless Child, we see a split-second image of a dark-skinned girl standing in front of a stone structure. When the episode first aired, I recall making the mental leap that this meant that the Timeless Child wasn’t the Doctor herself, as she had never been a woman or dark-skinned before. But now those bets are off–although I don’t think they are. I think this is all a wind-up, a way to get viewers like myself speculating and conjecturing and panicking, and most of all watching. I think Doctor Jo and whatever mysterious boss wants her brought back to Gallifrey are going to be the thing we’re fighting in the closing pair of episodes. But I don’t think we’re going to get a repeat of John Hurt–I think this is all a sham.
That’s where my head’s at, at any rate.