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Doctor Who Continuity - Who Is The The Doctor?

Updated on January 9, 2015

"So what, he’s a Time Lord I know that," Ace protests in the 25th anniversary story Silver Nemesis. But what else do we know about this wanderer through time and space? There are other connections, of course, the TARDIS, the jelly babies, the sonic screwdriver, but perhaps the single most important link tying together all eras of Doctor Who is the mystery surrounding the lead character’s true identity. When we first meet the Doctor tinkering at the back of a junk yard with his time and space machine in An Unearthly Child we’re told next to nothing about him, except for that he and his granddaughter Susan are "wanderers in the fourth dimension," cut off from their own people. But who exactly is this exiled explorer on the run from his own people? Lets take a look back at each of the eleven Doctors and see if we can find an answer to the question at the heart of our favourite sci-fi series: Doctor who?

It is the First Doctor (or, at least, the first Doctor we encounter on our television screens if a scene featuring pre-Hartnell Doctors in The Brain of Morbius is to be believed) that sets the tone for all future incarnations of our Time Lord adventurer. Despite being chronologically the youngest of the Doctor’s eleven incarnations, the First Doctor is paradoxically also the oldest and most frail. In addition to occasionally getting tongue tied ("anti-radiation gloves… drugs") and not being able to pilot his own ship, the Hartnell Doctor even going as far as telling companion Polly in the first Cyber-story The Tenth Planet that, "this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin," shortly before being ‘renewed’ in the form of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. In spite of these obvious weaknesses, though, the gray haired Edwardian possesses other strengths, most notably, a formidable intellect and tremendous knowledge of scientific matters. And if The Five Doctors is anything to go by it is strongly implied that the First Doctor’s mental powers are superior to that of his successors. It is the First Doctor after all who figures out the meaning of Rassilon’s riddle and saves his other selves from the curse of eternal life. It is even hinted at in An Unearthly Child that far from just stealing the TARDIS this Doctor actually invented the time and space machine himself, Susan telling Ian and Barbra that, "I made up the name TARDIS from the initials, Time and Relative Dimension in Space."

Can we really believe anything this Doctor says or hints at, though? While the First Doctor later evolves into the ultimate defender of humanity and champion of good, something best shown by his resistance to the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, "Conquered the Earth? You poor pathetic creatures. Don't you realise, before you attempt to conquer the Earth, you will have to destroy all living matter!," this Doctor starts out much darker. Remember, he does actually kidnap Ian and Barbra in the first episode. And later in the same story (An Unearthly Child) even attempts to murder one of their cavemen pursuers. In time as he spends more time with humans this darkness would gradually transform into something lighter, however, it would never totally vanish and along with the First’s great intelligence is a trait all Doctors would share. And no more so than Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor.

While it was the First Doctor that laid down the foundations for what we now think of as the defining attributes of the Doctor’s character, the intelligence, the mystery, the darkness, etc, it was the Second Doctor that would cement these traits and the Doctor’s role as mankind’s ultimate defender against the forces of evil in the Universe. In The Moonbase the Second Doctor telling us, "There are some corners of the Universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things that act against everything we believe in. They must be fought."

Casual viewers will remember the Second Doctor as the "cosmic hobo" or as Patrick Troughton would describe the character, "Charley Chaplin in outer space." But as the Master tells us in Destiny of the Doctors, he’s "not quite the clown he looks this one." This is best demonstrated in Evil of the Daleks. Intent on wiping out the whole Dalek race once and for all, the Doctor not only manipulates and lies to the Daleks but also to his own companion and best friend Jamie too. Risking the lives of not only the Scottish highlander but soon to be new companion Victoria Waterfield too. After he finds out how he’s been lied to Jamie tells the Doctor, "Anyone would think that it's a little game, and it's not. People have died. The Daleks are all over, fit to murder the lot of us, and all you can say is that you've had a good night's work. Well, I'm telling you this, we're finished. You're just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board, anything at all. You don't give that much for a living soul except yourself. Just whose side are you on?" After the Daleks are seemingly wiped out, though, at Evil of the Dalek’s conclusion Jamie is quick to forgive his friend. Perhaps he shouldn’t be so forgiving, however, as the Doctor plays a similar game in the very next adventure, The Tomb of the Cybermen. This time allowing and even helping the power mad Brotherhood of Logicians to reawaken the Cybermen after five centuries of being frozen in their "tombs." It’s worth remembering, though, that the Second Doctor only takes these risks for the highest of stakes (like wiping out the Daleks or insuring the Cybermen are defeated) and when the time travelling trickster is finally confronted with a problem not even he can solve alone in The War Games, he does risk losing his freedom to travel through time and space by contacting his own people the Time Lords for help.

It is in The War Games that some of the mystery surrounding the Doctor’s past is finally peeled away. Up to the end of the black and white era of the programme there was nothing to suggest that the Doctor might just be a human being (though probably not an Earthling) from the far distant future. But in The War Games we’re told that the Doctor is in fact a member of the almost god-like Time Lord race and that the Doctor decided to steal a TARDIS and "run away" because he got bored with the Time Lord way of life. The Time Lords’ greatest law being the non-interference in the affairs of "lesser civilizations," which pretty much includes the whole universe. Before we’re told too much more, though, the Time Lords accept the Doctor’s defence that there is evil in the Universe that must be fought and exile the renegade to Earth in the form of Jon Pertwee to continue his fight.

Perhaps owing more to Andrew Keir’s portrayal of Professor Quatermass in the Hammer film adaptation of Quatermass and the Pit (or even Sean Connery’s Agent 007 in the James Bond films) than the Hartnell or Troughton incarnations. The Third Doctor was as Doctor number six Colin Baker would describe him in the 40th anniversary documentary The Story of Doctor Who, "arguably the most serious of the Doctors." And while refusing to carry an ID card and constantly at odds with his "military idiot" superiors - it is ironic that after being exiled to Earth for running away from his home planet the Third Doctor spends much of his tenure attempting to escape from Earth and the Brigadier - the Third Doctor was essentially as UNIT’s Scientific Advisor a member of the British establishment. In The Claws of Axos this Doctor even bragging about some of his civil servant friends at his local gentlemen’s club.

Despite being in effect a civil servant, though, the Third Doctor on occasion could still be rebellious, his support for environmentalism and principled anti-war stance probably being the best examples of this. The Fourth Doctor, however, would take the character back to his rebellious roots - severing his ties with Earth and his establishment image almost immediately after dealing with the giant robot K1 in his debut story Robot. This change probably being best highlighted in Episode One of the very next story, The Ark in Space, when the Doctor gives his famous "Homo sapiens" speech:

"Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable."

In addition to reasserting the Doctor’s independence from Earth and making the character more "alien" Tom Baker would also reintroduce some of the humour Patrick Troughton had first experimented with. Baker even adopting the famous jelly babies which Troughton had originally pioneered in the 10th anniversary story The Three Doctors and making the sweets one of the Fourth Doctor’s trademarks.

It is in the Fourth Doctor adventure The Deadly Assassin that we finally get some more answers about the Doctor’s origins, for the first time since Episode Ten of The War Games the Time Lord returning to his home planet of Gallifrey. Surprisingly, there’s no mention of the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan or any of his family, but we are told that the Doctor is or was a member of the Prydonian Chapter, the prestigious Gallifreyan Chapter House that has produced more Time Lord Presidents than any other and whose members we’re told are "notoriously… devious." Whoever the Doctor is then, it’s clearly that not only is he a Time Lord but that at one time at least he was a very important one. Something previously hinted at by the First Doctor who bragged about being something of a "pioneer" among his own people in The Daleks, and again by the Third Doctor in Carnival of Monsters when he tells Joe that he was one responsible for banning the use of Time Scoop technology for entertainment. Later, in the Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks the Doctor himself would tell Davros that "I’m far more than just another Time Lord." Not long after in Silver Nemesis Lady Peinforte confirms this by suggesting that the Doctor was present during "the Dark Time," perhaps linking back to the Third Doctor’s earlier comments, an era in Time Lord ancient history when the Gallifreyans abused their mastery of time travel by using Time Scoop technology to capture and force other conscious beings to fight to the death in gladiatorial style games.

If Tom Baker’s Doctor was largely defined by the actor’s characteristic humour and alieness, Peter Davison’s youth was his Doctor’s trademark. Davison being the youngest actor to be cast as the Doctor at the age of 31 until the casting of Matt Smith in 2008. Whereas the Fourth Doctor had been "alien" the Fifth Doctor was innocent and naïve. The fact that one of his companions, Turlough, spends three stories trying to murder him and the Fifth Doctor is none the wiser probably being the best example of this. Though there are shades of the Fourth Doctor’s otherness at times. Outraged at discussion of murdering the Silurians in Warriors of the Deep, saying "They have skills and talents you pathetic humans can only dream about!"

Of all the Doctor’s incarnations Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor would be the most violent and troubled, owing to the difficult fifth regeneration. The Sixth Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen even trying to strangle his companion Perry.

In many ways a reaction to the violence in Season 21 and the complaints made about it to the BBC was Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, which in many ways was the continuation of Troughton’s "cosmic hobo." While the Seventh Doctor starts out playing the spoons and mixing up his words almost as bad as the First Doctor, with lines like "Absence makes the nose grow longer." By McCoy’s second season we begin to see the Doctor’s dark side rise to surface again. After failing to exterminate the Daleks in Evil of the Daleks trying again in Remembrance of the Daleks. In true Troughton style luring his enemies into a false sense of security before checkmating them. The Seventh Doctor tricking Davros, this time housed inside the casing of the Emperor Dalek, into using the Hand of Omega (an ancient Time Lord device used for modifying stars into black holes) and accidentally triggering a supernova apparently destroying the Dalek’s home planet Skaro. In Silver Nemesis the Seventh Doctor would use a similar ploy, this time tricking the Cyber Leader into using the Nemesis, a statue made of a living metal, validium, (another ancient Time Lord artefact originating from the "Dark Time") to wipe out the Cyber Fleet. Before we discover how exactly the Doctor was involved with the events of ancient Gallifrey, though, the original series ends. Ironically with perhaps more questions than answers about the alien traveller than when we first met him in the back of a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane back in An Unearthly Child.

We do get some answers in the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann, however, the Eighth Doctor claiming to be half human on his mother’s side. Many fans and even the writers of the new series have rejected this idea, however, it might just be possible that only the Eighth Doctor is half human, a side effect of the Seventh Doctor dieing whilst undergoing surgery by human medics perhaps. Something the Doctor himself alludes to when he tells Grace Holloway that he can change species when he regenerates. This Time Lord ability to change species is even demonstrated by the Master after he is exterminated by the Daleks and morphs into some kind of shape shifting mutant at the beginning of the story.

Although rare the TV movie isn’t the first occasion when the Doctor hints at his family. In The Curse of Fenric the Seventh Doctor briefly mentioned them when he was asked whether he had any family or not, saying "I don’t know," and the Doctor first mentions them way back in The Tomb of the Cybermen, in a heart to heart with new companion Victoria shortly after being made an orphan herself in the previous story The Evil of the Daleks:

Victoria: "You probably can't remember your family."

The Doctor: "Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that's the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You'll find there's so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else's. That's the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we're doing."

Whatever the Doctor’s ancestry, half human or not, the Eighth Doctor certainly acted more human than any of his predecessors. The Eighth Doctor being the first of the Doctor’s eight incarnations to show any romantic interest in one of his companions, the TV movie featuring the first Doctor/companion kiss. Something which has now become a tradition in the new series.

When the Doctor returns in the new series in the form of the Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston he has become a man scarred by war and in morning for the Time Lords, who we learn he was responsible for destroying along with Gallifrey and the Daleks (again). This sense of loneliness and regret would largely define the Ninth Doctor and would follow Doctors Ten and Eleven. One thing that would mark the Ninth Doctor out from his previous and future selves, however, was the last of the Time Lords readiness to carry a gun and even kill in Dalek, a Time Lord ruthlessness we haven’t really seen since the very first story An Unearthly Child when the First Doctor tried to finish off one of their cavemen pursuers by knocking him over the head with a rock, and in marked contrast to the Fourth Doctor’s moralising in Genesis of the Daleks over whether or not it’s right to "wipe out a whole intelligent life form" even if it is the Daleks. By the time the Gallifreyan regenerates into David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, though, Rose has helped the Doctor recover from the traumas of the last Great Time War.

If the Ninth Doctor echoed Tom Baker’s alieness then the Ninth Doctor echoed Peter Davison’s more human and innocent portrayal. In the 2007 Children in Need spacial, Time Crash, the Davison and Tennant Doctors would even meet, the Tenth Doctor telling the Fifth "you were my Doctor." Which takes us to Matt Smith’s eleventh incarnation of the Time Lord, which thus far has been a kind of amalgamation of previous Doctors, even wearing a bow tie, a nod to Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor. Whether or not the Eleventh Doctor will be the same master chess player the Second and Seventh Doctors were, though, is still too early to tell.

So, who is Doctor who? Have we found any answers? Well, he’s a Time Lord, and at one time a very important one. We know he has some kind of connection with ancient Gallifrey, and we know that he was responsible for his planet’s destruction in the last Great Time War. But ultimately we have more questions than answers. Is the Doctor the Universes greatest defender or its greatest threat? The Doctor certainly has his dark side, and the alliance in The Pandorica Opens certainly believed he was a threat. And, there is one "face" of the Doctor which we haven’t looked at which is definitely a nod at this. The Valeyard in The Trial of Time Lord we’re told was the manifestation of the Doctor’s dark side, somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations. Will the Doctor’s inner darkness come to the surface as we approach his final regeneration as was hinted at in Amy's Choice? Only time will tell.

Doctor Who "Unearthly Child" Opening

Doctor Who: 'The First Question' - The Extended Cut - 50th Anniversary Trailer (HD)


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