Who or what really created the Daleks? Is the Doctor really half-human? And why didn’t he always have two hearts?
Doctor Who: the most successful British sci-fi show ever, a beloved adventure across time and space that’s brought incalculable joy to millions. And it makes no sense.
Since Who materialised onto screens in 1963, writers have pulled at the show’s plot threads from all sides, tearing a series of Slitheen-sized continuity holes across its canon. During our time in the Tardis, two different alien groups have destroyed Pompeii, our poor Earth has met its final destruction twice and the Whoniverse’s Atlantis has been destroyed on no less than three separate occasions.
And although stories have seen the Time Lord retroactively fix plot holes by changing history (itself a concept Will Hartnell’s Doctor advised against – more on that below), many contradictions still stand tall.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the legion of Whovians offering theories to explain discrepancies prove just how wonderfully dedicated the fandom is. However, for the moment, here are the questions the show itself hasn’t (yet) provided an answer for…
1. Is The Doctor half-human?
Most Whovians agree that although Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor definitely happened, almost all the events of the infamous 1996 Doctor Who TV movie didn’t. And that’s mainly because it claims that The Doctor is half-human. Twice.
Not only does The Doctor himself declare he is half-human “on my mother’s side”, but The Master also confirms the claim later with a retina eye scanner. And whether that seeming proof was down to the Tardis’s chameleon circuits working overtime, or simply a writing room decision to make The Doctor more relatable, it didn’t go down well with fans this side of the pond.
In fact, over 20 years on, they’re still mourning the canon change on Youtube.
However, some have argued that there’s every chance The Doctor is indeed a mix of the two species after Peter Capaldi’s arc in series nine. The plot centres around a prophecy promising that a “hybrid”, thought to be a crossbreed of two warrior races, is destined to untangle the web of time. And in the same episode, The Doctor announces that the hybrid is “me”.
Could it be that The Doctor was actually referring to Maise William’s character Ashildr, also known as Me? Or is The Doctor really half-Time Lord, half-human after all? Well, not in a way that would make sense of Doctor Donna Noble…
During her last episode, Catherine Tate’s character is made half-human/half-Time Lord by a genetic meta-crisis, courtesy of the Z-Neutrino Biological Inversion Catalyser (obviously). And this transformation is made possible by mixing the Doctor’s DNA with Donna’s, meaning The Doctor must be full Time Lord – if not, Donna would be only a quarter Time Lord.
But hey, if we’re willing to forget Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor’s death by random-gang-shootout from the TV Movie, we can sure ignore the whole half-human business.
2. Why hasn’t The Doctor always had two hearts?
Apart from his powers of regeneration and trusty sonic screwdriver, The Doctor’s dual heartbeats have been the main method employed to distinguish himself from humans. But he hasn’t always been sporting two pumps. Although the Third Doctor’s 1970 auton adventure Spearhead from Space established The Doctor has two hearts, previous stories have a different take on this core of Gallifreyan biology.
The prime exhibit: William Hartnell story The Edge Of Destruction (1964). In this early story – the show’s third ever – The Doctor falls unconscious thanks to a faulty Tardis and companion Ian comes to his aid. But while examining the Time Lord’s chest, Ian notes “his heart seems alright”, making no note of a second heartbeat.
The Doctor’s assistant may simply have not have noticed two tickers, but many fans have taken the incident to mean that the First Doctor only had one heart – yet they offer a simple explanation as to why: Time Lords only grow a second heart after their first regeneration.
It doesn’t quite explain how Hartnell’s character was able to function without serious discomfort (David Tennant’s Time Lord found himself in extreme pain with only one working heart), but until the new Doctor provides a second opinion, it’s the best diagnosis we have.
3. How many regenerations has The Doctor actually had?
For younger fans only accustomed to the revived series, there’s already some confusion about how many doctors exist. That’s thanks to A) the War Doctor – effectively now the eighth reincarnation of The Doctor – introduced to the show for its 50th anniversary special, and B) the episode where David Tennant’s Doctor regenerates into himself. So when Jodie Whittaker was unveiled as the “13th Doctor”, she was actually the show’s 15th incarnation – albeit the 13th actor to take on the role.
But the regeneration issue gets thornier if you consider Tom Baker-era tale The Brain of Morbius. In that serial, the Fourth Doctor engages Morbius (a Time Lord-turned-weird-robotic-bug-man) in a potentially deadly mind-bending contest, with some strange results.
As well as making The Doctor grapple with what looks like a giant zimmer frame, the fight causes several faces to appear on a screen behind the two: that of Tom Baker, followed by Jon Pertwee, then Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell and, very oddly, eight others, seemingly in period dress.
Was this battle supposed to reveal the previous incarnations of The Doctor before Hartnell? That was certainly the intention of Philip Hinchcliffe, producer at the time.
“I just reasoned that it was entirely possible that William Hartnell may not have been the First Doctor Who,” said Hinchcliffe. “So yes, as far as [writer] Bob [Holmes] and I were concerned, the other faces were meant to be past Doctors… it is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the First Doctor.”
Whovians, however, have discounted this episode. After all, the first Doctor has labelled himself as “The Original” several times – including at the cliffhanger of Peter Capaldi’s The Doctor Falls. Plus, none of these previous incarnations turned up to help their future regenerations in the mega-multi-Doctor sequence in The Day of the Doctor.
So, although it’s certainly made The Doctor trip up on the show’s canon from time to time, for now Morbius has been swept under the Tardis rug.
4. Who or what created the Daleks?
Most fans will lay the blame at Davros’s door, the villainous scientist who meddled with the genetics of an anagram-friendly race known as the ‘Kaleds’. This memorable origin story was told in the classic series’ Genesis of the Daleks, in which Tom Baker’s Doctor is tasked with preventing the Daleks from ever being created. But in perhaps the most poignant moment of Doctor Who ever, The Doctor can’t bring himself to commit genocide – even with a species as deadly as the Daleks.
However, this story ignores a lot of previous canon. When they first appeared in the second ever Doctor Who story, the Daleks were described as evolving from Dals, not Kaleds. And instead of having a creator, The Doctor describes the Dals as a peaceful race who were poisoned by a harrowing neutronic war, thus forced to live life inside a robot shell. Granted, this serial established that the Dals came from Skaro – the same planet Davros is based on in Genesis – but the two stories simply don’t match.
Were the Daleks an accident or created? Probably because of how good the story is, most fans agree on the Genesis of the Daleks version of events. Theories have tried to exterminate contradictions by suggesting that the first Daleks we encountered were merely a rogue faction of the alien’s main race, but it’s not a question that’s been addressed by the show itself so far. So come on, Chris Chibnall: EXPLAIN! EXPLAAAIN!
5. What actually happens when The Doctor changes time?
If he can change it at all, that is. The First Doctor completely rejected the idea of meddling with the past, firmly stating in 1964’s The Aztecs that “you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”.
It’s unclear whether The Doctor meant it was disastrous to do so, or if he was confirming the ‘ink is always dry’ paradigm of time travel (no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to change history). However, one thing’s for sure: that rule went out the window pretty quickly.
Entire stories have revolved around The Doctor changing time, particular in the aforementioned Genesis of The Daleks, where The Time Lords task The Doctor to wipe their tin-pot foes entirely from history.
But this problem seemed to be resolved with the rebooted series and introduction of the ‘fixed points in time’ concept. It sounded simple: although certain events had to follow through unchanged, everything else could be altered without too many consequences. And if you change one of these fixed points? Reapers, creatures that feed off temporal paradoxes, would appear to restore order.
Well, sometimes… Although Rose Tyler incurred their wrath in series one episode Father’s Day, where were the reapers when River Song refused to shoot The Doctor on the beach in Utah? Were they on annual leave when Amy and Rory created a paradox by jumping off a roof in The Angels Take Manhattan? And why did The Doctor simply suggest in 2013’s Hide that paradoxes simply “resolve themselves”?
Of course, there’s one well-worn semi-explanation that could rationalise it all. Come on, all together now: wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.
6. Were the UNIT stories set in the 1970s or 1980s?
Just a warning: this canon inconsistency won’t exactly get your cloister bell ringing. In fact, on the face of it, it seems somewhat pedantic to wonder exactly when The Doctor teamed up with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). But it’s an issue that’s been addressed by countless web pages, and even its own documentary, The UNIT Dating Conundrum.
And it all boils down, essentially, to one question: when did the Brigadier retire? In Fifth Doctor serial Mawdryn Undead, we learn that the moustachioed UNIT commander retired from the organisation in 1976. But in The Invasion – the first story in which UNIT properly appear – it’s established that the organisation was founded in 1979. So how could The Brigadier have retired from an organisation that didn’t exist?
And there are further inconsistencies: in Pyramids of Mars, Sarah Jane states she’s from “1980” and that before time-travelling she came into contact with a non-retired Brigadier. This suggests he was working at UNIT in 1980, which creates another contradiction. Fans have tried to materialise a solution with theories of alternative universes and multiple Brigadiers, but nothing has been able to dissolve the UNIT controversy.
Yup, instead of concentrating on if The Doctor can change the entire history of the universe, or even why Captain Jack doesn’t react to hearing the name ‘The Face of Boe’ in Utopia (see the 3.20 mark below), the Whoniverse’s main concern is when the Brigadier’s retirement party was. God bless the Whovians.
7. How does The Doctor age?
This issue doesn’t necessarily concern how many birthday candles should go on The Doctor’s cake (that’s a whole other pernickety fire-hazardous mystery), but how Time Lords actual age.
It simply doesn’t make sense: why did Matt Smith’s Doctor look so young on his ‘farewell tour’ (the 200 years he lives through in series six), but then become an old man while defending the town of Christmas on Trenzalore for 300 years in The Time of the Doctor?
One fan theory suggests that Gallifreyans only age when they remain in one time – conversely, they don’t age while travelling through history, thanks to exposure to the time vortex.
At first this theory seems convincing and answers why the First Doctor, who lived the majority of his life stuck on Gallifrey, looks so old. But it doesn’t explain the differing life spans of The Doctors.
We can be fairly sure the First Doctor died from old age (he says “this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin” before regenerating), despite being a lot younger than Matt Smith’s Doc on Trenzalore. We can’t be certain of the First Doctor’s exact age at his death, but as the Second Doctor claims his age as “something like” 450 years, it’s probably less than that.
So, the solution? Well, there isn’t really a credible one yet. But hey, you never know, upcoming Christmas special Twice Upon A Time could finally put an end to the problem if it turns out the First Doctor didn’t die from old age, but something more sinister.
Because what would a Doctor Who special be without a healthy serving of retroactive continuity? Sure, it’ll probably give its own canon a kick right in the Romanas in the process, but that’s simply the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly Doctor Who we’ve all learned to love.