This article contains spoilers for the Colin Baker Doctor Who story, Trial Of A Time Lord
Surely in the wake of the apparently divisive Amy’s Choice, several Doctor Who fans are ruminating over whether the ending was as clear-cut as it appeared, and just who on earth the marvellous Toby Jones was really playing.
“There’s only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do,” the Doctor told the Dream Lord at one crucial juncture. And who’s that?! The Master? Davros? Lawrence Miles?
Many fans seem to have come up with another theory: that the fashion-shifting and ephemeral baddie was none other than the Doctor’s former prosecutor and potential future self, the Valeyard.
For those who’ve only been with the show since the word “Run!” or thereafter, here’s a quick catch-up. In the ill-judged twenty-third season of Doctor Who‘s original run, the producers ran The Trial Of A Time Lord across an entire fourteen weeks in 1986.
The show tentatively returned from a hiatus mandated by Michael Grade, and Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was recalled to Gallifrey to be put on trial, in a metaphor that few besides Eric Saward thought was actually really clever and interesting.
The Doctor made his own defence against the Valeyard, a Time Lord played by Michael Jayston, who seems to have the utmost disgust for the Doctor’s tawdry quirks throughout the trial.
In one of the few highlights of the story, the Valeyard was revealed to be a future version of the Doctor. Or rather a physical distortion of the Doctor’s darker side, manifested between the Doctor’s twelfth and thirteenth regenerations as a bloke in dark clothes. Think that bit in Superman III, only it’s relatively easy to get clothes that are darker than the explosion in a rainbow factory that the Sixth Doctor called a coat.
The Valeyard’s motivation in prosecuting the Doctor was to steal his remaining regenerations so that he could become someone in his own right, as opposed to a shadow of the Doctor. At the end of the story, he plunges the Doctor into a simulated reality with the aim of destroying him, and the High Council of the Time Lords with him. He hates the Doctor, probably more than any other enemy he’s ever encountered.
Flash forward 24 years and five Doctors to Amy’s Choice, where a massively vindictive villain takes Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor into a simulated reality with the aim of killing him off, and we’re told that he’s not independently real. Instead he’s “everything dark in the Doctor, given a voice when a speck of psychic pollen from the candle meadows of Karass Don Slava fell into the console and heated up”, or so the official site says.
This throws up the idea that we’re simply over-thinking it. Should we take at face value that the Dream Lord was just the Doctor’s self-doubt and darker self, given a voice?
Flashback again to 2007, when Russell T. Davies surprised everyone by bringing back the Macra in the Tenth Doctor adventure Gridlock. As David Tennant told Doctor Who Magazine, “If you’re gonna do giant crabs, there’s no point them being anything other than the Macra, seeing as they already exist… It’s one of the joys of being involved with a series which has got all this history for free.”
So, if you’re going to do a distillation of all that is dark in the Doctor, why not the Valeyard? It would have been a left-field choice before the brief return of the Time Lords in The End Of Time. And let’s be fair. Gridlock can safely be called the Macra Threshold, past which BBC Wales can bring back the Zarbi, the Tractators or any obscure monster they please, so long as they have a story.
The Valeyard lost the fight at the end of Season 23, but anyone who’s listened to the Big Finish audio adventure He Jests At Scars…, in which the alternate scenario is played out and the Valeyard wreaks havoc in time and space, will know that the potential is there for a cataclysmic return one day.
Although the Daleks and the Master are two immutable enemies in the series’ history, and one of them has appeared in every single new series finale to date, the Valeyard would be a very different Big Bad, indeed. If he ever defeats the Doctor, he would have access to all of his experiences and lives. He would essentially become the Doctor, albeit with all his rage and darkness brought to the fore.
A bigger, more barnstorming threat is difficult to imagine now that the show has already done the end of reality and the end of time. Crucially, the sneering reflection of the Dream Lord at the end of the episode suggests that he could return, given how he’s still bubbling away in the Doctor’s psyche. And that’s what makes us believe he’s the Valeyard.
And if he is, his return as a big old universal threat would be intrinsically personal to the Doctor, who’s getting nearer those twelfth and thirteenth incarnations these days.
Toby Jones is the Valeyard. That’s my theory, until Steven Moffat and co. say otherwise.