The return of Doctor Who for its eighth season (or series) is only a few days away, and outside of the 50th anniversary, it’s been years since we’ve had something so exciting drift into the Whovians’ orbit. Indeed, even the most oblivious purveyors of pop culture know that there’s a new Doctor gearing up for his first ride in the TARDIS on Saturday, and Doctor Who hasn’t felt so simultaneously new and old-fashioned since the current Doctor Who series resurrected the Time Lord with a leather jacket in 2005.
Obviously this all comes down to what a departure (or a status quo return) the casting of Peter Capaldi is. While the (patient and honest) fans have not seen a single consecutive minute of footage of Capaldi with the Sonic Screwdriver, they know that they are in for a very different kind of regeneration than either the David Tennant or Matt Smith eras. At the heart of this is the first full teaser that we got for the new Doctor Who series which featured a thousand-yard stare from Capaldi that could burn a hole through a Weeping Angel, and the goosebumps-inducing sign-off, “Clara, tell me, am I a good man?”
Obviously positing to be the mystery for Saturday’s “Deep Breath,” it may very well be the bigger question mark of the whole season. Yet, even that appears unambitious to me with a writer and executive producer like Steven Moffat steering this police box. Whether we’ll know it or not by season nine, much like the crack in Amelia Pond’s bedroom for the Eleventh Doctor, this mystery is likely to define Peter Capaldi’s entire run as the Twelfth, because Peter Capaldi’s Doctor might be the Valeyard.
On the off chance some are unaware of this Gallifreyan Anti-Christ, the Valeyard has long been the dreaded destination for the Doctor since 1986. As introduced in season 23 of “Classic Who,” the Valeyard spent the entire serial length of that year, “The Trial of a Time Lord” bedeviling the Doctor as a vengeful prosecutor for the High Council of the Time Lords. As played by Michael Jayston, the Valeyard was all pomp and self-righteous malevolence when he conspired to manipulate the Matrix—Gallifrey’s digital repository for the cumulative knowledge of the Time Lords species—in an attempt to frame the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker).
The Doctor spends much of the trial deriding the Valeyard as a “bone yard” and a “scrap yard” until his laughing is cut short when the Master intervenes. In a conceptually terrifying revelation by the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, the Valeyard isn’t a new enemy—in fact, he’s someone the Doctor’s known his whole life. The Valeyard is the Doctor, or at least a regenerative culmination of his darkest tendencies.
“There’s some evil in all of us Doctor, even you,” smirks the Master with gleeful schadenfreude. “The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature. Somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation.” The Master then adds with a verbal twisting of the knife and a suppressed giggle, “And I must say that you do not improve with age.”
The serial ends with the Sixth Doctor chasing the Valeyard into the Matrix, vanquishing him in a truly Gallifreyan struggle…but not before it is revealed that the Valeyard possesses the ability to change his form, as he is teased to still be at large with a new face as played by Geoffrey Hughes at the end of “The Trial of the Time Lord.”
Ever since this point, Whovians have rubbed their hands together for the twelfth regeneration and beyond, waiting to see the Valeyard return and just how the Doctor became so diabolical.
To be fair, there is an equally large contingent of Whovians that reject that 1980s limitation. Consider that in Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures’ fourth season, as penned by Russell T. Davies, the showrunner that brought the Doctor back for the first four seasons of our “modern” Doctor Who, Matt Smith’s Doctor states that he could regenerate 507 times in “Death of the Doctor.” A vocal minority tends to use statements like this as rejection of the 13-regeneration time limit on the Doctor, as well as the Valeyard wrinkle inherent in it.
However, Davies hasn’t been running Doctor Who for a long time; Steven Moffat has been. And Moffat made all of the hints and insinuations about “A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Fall of the Eleventh” explicit at the end of season seven—we learned why the galaxy would unite to build a Pandorica’s Box to ensnare the most boastful of Doctors in season five or steal the child of the TARDIS named Melody Pond to kill him in season six. And the reason is the Valeyard.
Near the end of the season seven finale for Doctor Who, the last traditional installment of Smith’s career, we are given a surprisingly satisfying justification for Clara Oswin Oswald’s impossible goodness. So much so that when the Doctor jumps into his own timeline to save his companion/potential romantic interest (something, I suspect is about to end in season eight), it is so rewarding that many overlook why the Great Intelligence, as embodied by the underutilized Richard E. Grant, would go to all this trouble to destroy the Doctor.
Earlier during “The Name of the Doctor,” the Great Intelligence gives its justification for luring the Doctor and his gang of teammates (Eleven always wanted a gang!) to Trenzalore. He greets the unhappy heroes by saying, “Welcome to the final resting place of the Cruel Tyrant, of the Slaughterer of the 10 Billion, and the Vessel of the Final Darkness. Welcome to the Tomb of the Doctor.” As has long been Moffat’s perspective, the Doctor is as much a warlord hero as a savior when viewed from the long-suffering Daleks, Cybermen, and even the Time Lords themselves. But the Great Intelligence promises on the eve of Eleven’s final battle that there will be more death to come at the Doctor’s hands.
Before the end of the Doctor’s final regeneration, the Great Intelligence promises he will have other names. “The Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard,” he lists off in an episode from Moffat’s pen during a time when the writer was already thinking about the next actor who will shout, “Run!”
In the show’s main continuity, the rule of 13 regenerations, and thus 13 Doctors, is in full effect, and so is the coming storm of the Valeyard. Moffat even surprisingly paints the darker side of the Doctor in biblical terms, referring to the Valeyard as the Beast, which is also the Book of Revelations’ description of the foretold Anti-Christ.
For Moffat, somewhere between the twelfth and thirteenth regeneration, the Valeyard lies in waiting….except we are already at the thirteenth regeneration, aren’t we?
Mostly due to merchandising realities, the surprise hidden regeneration of John Hurt between Eight and Nine, also referred to as the “War Doctor,” does not count as an official numeral because he did untold horrors to save the universe by destroying Gallifrey. Of course, he didn’t actually destroy Gallifrey, and after the Christmas special “The Time of the Doctor,” even the Time Lord savior knows that Gallifrey is out there waiting to be rescued. Yet, whether John Hurt’s wonderfully classical take on the Doctor counts as a true incarnation of the character or not, he does signify that the coming tenure of Peter Capaldi is the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor—or perhaps just someone caught in the middle between the twelfth regeneration (Matt Smith) and an unseen “final” version of the man.
Obviously, Capaldi doesn’t look anything like Michael Jayston who played the Valeyard in 1986, but as established in that serial’s finale, the Valeyard has the ability to change his appearance for disguise. Suddenly, all of the hinting throughout the Doctor Who media blitz for season eight comes into a frightful new focus. Jenna Coleman has been swearing up and down every interview that Capaldi’s Doctor is darker than Smith’s. And how could he not be when you look into those eyes? Every dropped line from trailers, such as Twelve informing Clara that they’re headed “into darkness” like it’s an unwanted J.J. Abrams movie takes on a new meaning.
And what of Clara, the Impossible Girl? Thanks to her ability to travel through the Doctor’s timeline, she has met, if only fleetingly, every Doctor before Eleven and is well aware that he is more than Smith’s joyous, mournful eyes. But at the beginning of the season eight trailer, Clara remarks, “I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.” For a girl who has seen every previous face of the Doctor more clearly than many current Doctor Who fans, Capaldi is a complete mystery to her, even as he promises to “do something” about his previous 2,000 years of mistakes.
Thus we come back to that final line. “Clara, tell me, am I a good man?” The companion who knows all the Doctors can only say with much hesitation, “I don’t know.”
Perhaps, neither do we after all these years. The Valeyard is still coming, and Moffat confirmed it last year. If one does the math, he might already be here. The Doctor just needs to answer his own question.