Warning: contains spoilers for Fugitive Of The Judoon.
The words “Big Twist” are in the headline, so obviously if you’ve not seen Sunday night’s Doctor Who, well, probably turn off your computer and try not to speak to anyone until you’ve managed to get your hands on BBC iPlayer, because we have got spoilers aplenty right here!
Are they gone?
Right, WOW! Did you see? And then the bit where Captain Jack was all… and Ruth was like, and you knew it had to be a Chameleon Arch didn’t you? And then her name began with an R so I was all “Wait, are they going to bring back the Rani?” and then BOOM.
I had to rewatch it with breakfast to just to reassure myself I wasn’t making it up.
Yes, the Doctor is in, but not the one anybody was expecting, including, well, the Doctor.
So just what the hell is going on?
Eliminating the impossible
It’s been a source of ongoing speculation that the Doctors we’ve seen haven’t been the full collection, even before John Hurt turned up as the War Doctor. In 1976’s The Brain Of Morbius the Fourth Doctor’s brain is scanned, and we see the face of Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell pass across the screen, followed by eight other faces we hadn’t seen before, implying that maybe the First Doctor… wasn’t.
Before the Seventh Doctor’s run was cut short, script editor Andrew Cartmel was supposedly planning to build on this with a story to reveal the Doctor wasn’t simply another Time Lord, and when the series continued in books there were allusions to a mysterious figure called “The Other”, although this was mostly forgotten when the New Series began.
But the Ruth Doctor can’t be a pre-William Hartnell incarnation. Why?
Because she rides around in a police box. The TARDIS doesn’t get stuck as a police box until it leaves the scrap yard on Totter’s Lane.
So that places her somewhere between Doctors 1-to-13.
Maybe she’s another War Doctor we didn’t hear about before?
Except this Doctor very clearly goes by the name “Doctor”, and the Time Lord chasing after her seemed shocked at the idea of Gallifrey being wiped out, when during the Time War that was a very real possibility.
More importantly, there aren’t any gaps. We see Hartnell go into Troughton go into Pertwee go into Baker go into Davison go into another Baker go into McCoy go into McGann go into Hurt go into Eccleston go into Tennant go into Tennant again go into Smith go into Capaldi go into Whittaker.
Or do we?
The canon does give us a clue as to where a gap might exist. But to understand where and why that gap exists, we need to go back 35 years, to another multi-Doctor story.
A tale of Two Doctors
While Colin Baker’s shown himself to be fantastic in the role in his audio adventures, it has to be said that the Sixth Doctor didn’t get many moments of glory on television. Attempts to make him ‘darker’ just made him seem cruel, and attempts to give him a fan-pleasing moment opposite the Cybermen didn’t quite land. So producer John Nathan-Turner decided to go back to one of the Doctor’s recent huge success story – the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors. He secured the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, to come back, and put him and Colin Baker in an adventure opposite returning foes, the Sontarans.
It’s not one of the great episodes. We don’t go into its flaws here, but one aspect of the story that irritated fans is that there were a number of egregious continuity errors:
The Doctor mentions taking the TARDIS to retrieve another companion, Victoria, when during this error the TARDIS’s controls are very much set to ‘Random’.
Jamie talks about the Time Lords, which is impossible because the first time Jamie meets the Time Lords, in The War Games, he has his memory wiped and the Doctor is forced to regenerate.
What’s more, the Second Doctor appears to be working for the Time Lords, when until his third incarnation the Doctor was very much on the run from them.
Most embarrassingly of all, when Jamie and the Second Doctor appear in The Two Doctors they both look about 16 years older than they did before, a real blunder.
From here, fans began to dig deeper, wondering, now you mention it, why the Second Doctor was working for the Time Lords in The Five Doctors and The Three Doctors?
And while we’re at it, at the end of The War Games, do we actually see Patrick Troughton transform into Jon Pertwee?
Thus the theory of Season 6b was formed. The idea is that after his trial, rather than immediately forcing the Doctor to regenerate, the Time Lords hand him over to the Celestial Intervention Agency, the sinister black ops division of the Time Lords. The Doctor and Jamie were the Time Lords’ personal hit squad, being sent on missions the Time Lords would rather have plausible deniability for.
When they were done with him, they forced a regeneration on him and stranded him on Earth as at the beginning of Jon Pertwee’s first episode.
This theory has ascended to a state of semi-canonicity. The novels Players and The World Game both feature a Second Doctor working for the Time Lords, as does the audio story Helicon Prime, and numerous short stories in the “Short Trips” range. Fans have also decided that the TV Comic strips being published during the Second Doctor era are set during this period, especially as they end with a regeneration scene that appears far more visceral than Patrick Troughton’s face disappearing into the darkness.
The Season 6b Doctor?
So where does that leave us? We have a Doctor from before Doctor 13, she travels in a Police Box that has a console room that looks very much like the one the Second Doctor rode around in, and when we meet her she’s on the run from the Time Lords because she “quit her job”.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d argue Patrick Troughton regenerated into Jo Martin, and when the Time Lords do eventually catch up with her, she’ll be subject to one of those memory wipes the Time Lords love so much (the Doctor’s hardly in a position to throw stones here), and then force her to regenerate into Jon Pertwee.
It all fits rather well.
There are some inconsistencies. For a start, unless the Time Lords were feeling very generous when they recaptured her, this means the Doctor would have run out of regenerations at the end of the Tenth Doctor’s life.
Also, the Ruth Doctor doesn’t seem to recognise the sonic screwdriver- an item the Second Doctor had in Fury Of The Deep (although then it wasn’t the scientific scanner and magic wand we saw in later incarnations. It was just a screwdriver).
But these minor inconsistencies that are nothing that can’t be solved by coming up with another hugely elaborate fan theory. Go to town!