Donna Noble is angry. She agreed to come with the Doctor through space and time with the belief that he could do heroic works. But when she accompanies him to Pompeii in 79 AD, Donna learns that the Doctor can’t change history at will, which prevents him from rescuing a family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
“Some things are fixed, some things are in flux,” the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) tells Donna (Catherine Tate). “Pompeii is fixed.”
While that difficult conversation from the Doctor Who season four episode “The Fires of Pompeii” haunted Donna’s initial partnership with the Doctor, the duo’s reunion allowed them to tinker with a historical moment that apparently wasn’t fixed. At the start of “Wild Blue Yonder,” the Doctor and Donna briefly land in 1666 England and meet Sir Isaac Newton. Apparently not remembering that he, in his fourth incarnation, dropped the apple on Newton’s head (at least, that’s what Tom Baker‘s Fourth Doctor claimed in the 1978 serial The Pirate Planet), the Doctor enthuses about meeting the man who invented the theory of gravity.
As the TARDIS fades away, director Tom Kingsley lets the camera hold on Newton (Nathaniel Curtis). “What was that delightful word?” he asks. “Shavity, havity? Mavity!”
Viewers would be forgiven for dismissing the moment as a one-off dad joke. But then, later in the episode, the Doctor mentions a “mavitational field.” And then, in the novelization of the third anniversary special “The Giggle,” the Toymaker references “Isaac Newton’s law of mavity.” And then, in “The Church on Ruby Road,” the Fifteenth Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) explains his new invention by telling new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) that “All the mass and density and mavity exist in the glove, not in you.”
It’s clear that showrunner Russell T Davies wants “mavity” to stick around for a bit. But is that all there is to it?
Twitter user @AndrewOnSeeAIR found that “mavity” goes even deeper. In the Big Finish audio story Torchwood: Oodunnit, which follows spin-off team Torchwood and stars Shaun Parkes as Zack, characters mention a “mavitational anomaly.”
Again, this could be seen as Davies using his clout to push a silly joke. However, the fact that Oodunnit released on 7 November, a whole month before “Wild Blue Yonder” aired, and was recorded much earlier than that, suggests that there’s something more to the whole “mavity” thing than a throwaway joke. (Or at the very least RTD is just very dedicated to the bit.)
One cannot help but think of a similar bit of word nonsense that turned out to play a major role in RTD’s first season on the series. As the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccelston) and his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) walk around the audience assembled in “The End of the World,” one can hear a character talk with the Face of Boe about “the Bad Wolf scenario.” In later episodes, the words “Bad Wolf” can be seen spray painted on walls and bombs (albeit in different languages).
In the first season finale “The Parting of the Ways,” we learn that Bad Wolf is the name that Rose takes after becoming a new being while staring into the heart of the TARDIS. She uses her powers to thread references to Bad Wolf throughout the Doctor’s history, drawing his attention to her.
For his first season as showrunner since leaving the show with the final Tenth Doctor episode “The End of Time” in 2010, RTD will certainly have big plans. As “mavity” continues to sneak its way into the lexicon of the Fifteenth Doctor, we could be seeing the start of a larger plan for he and Ruby’s adventures. Then again, like some parts of history, the plans for “mavity” could still be in flux.
Doctor Who returns for series 14 (or season 1, if you prefer the new numbering) in May.