Doctor Who series 9: what next for Gallifrey?

We look ahead to Doctor Who series 9 and ask what the future holds for Peter Capaldi's Doctor and the home planet of the Time Lords?

Doctor Who, the story so far:

There’s a policeman, and a junkyard, and – skip to the end…

Gallifrey, the planet of the Time Lords, was destroyed in a war with the Daleks. Then seven series’ worth of stuff happened – people got described as ‘so human’ about ninety billion times, there’s been some sort of eugenics programme to rid the universe of its non-feisty women, and now whenever someone dies you have to mention their age – until it was time for the Fiftieth Anniversary story The Day Of The Doctor.

…and then it turned out that Gallifrey wasn’t destroyed after all, but sealed in a pocket universe, trapped in a single moment of time. The Time Lords of Gallifrey are able, in this instant, to send out a distress signal through a crack in time to Trenzalore, and give the Doctor a whole new regeneration cycle. Because narrative necessity is more important than consistency and clever lies are cool.

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Many of the Doctor’s enemies now know that Gallifrey is still out there, and gathered at Trenzalore to try to stop it returning, and the Time War along with it. Even with the potential problems that Gallifrey’s return might bring, when the Master said ‘Naw, it’s still totally there’ the Doctor went and looked, and it wasnae there, and the Doctor went pure radge.

Give or take a Christmas special or two, that’s basically it. And the wonderful thing was that the entire story made complete sense even though no one actually saw the same story.

Steven Moffat’s approach to series arcs is akin to multiple slinkies falling downstairs simultaneously, occasionally crashing and getting tangled up but mostly weaving in and out from under each other so you never know which one is coming to the fore. And thus, we’ll be looking at nearly two years from The Day Of The Doctor by the time the Series 9 finale is broadcast, and we still don’t know if the Doctor’s quest to find Gallifrey will be at its forefront.

It’s not a huge surprise. This is not an easy plot strand to resolve, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if Moffat left the show with Gallifrey still stowed safely away, ready for another storyteller to unpick.

Retrieving Gallifrey from a pocket dimension will not be difficult in and of itself. In fact, it’s as simple as flicking a few switches in the TARDIS. In story terms, it can be as easy or difficult as it needs to be. Finding it is a challenge that could sustain a series arc, as could what happens next. What happens when Gallifrey returns?

It’s hard to imagine Doctor Who turning into Time War: The Series, so some sort of major upheaval would have to take place. It’s unlikely to have the Time Lords return, and then immediately be destroyed again. The idea of remnants of Gallifrey fleeing their oppressor, Battlestar Galactica style, has some appeal, but Doctor Who isn’t a monthly book series anymore (the sort of place such a story arc would feel more at home in). It isn’t dictated by the concerns of a small number of fans, it’s a flagship BBC 1 show aimed at a mass audience, and so is unlikely to go both darker and intensely serialised simultaneously.

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The other options include the destruction of the Daleks. While they have become synonymous with the show, this also has its drawbacks. Regular villains are defeated as often as they appear, making it hard to sustain their menace. An Evil Of The Daleks style obliteration and a long rest (I doubt they’d ever truly be gone) may do them good, giving the show a breather while it works out what to do with them.

The third option is to keep both Time Lords and Daleks present in the universe, but not have them wanting to kill each other and take the rest of reality with them. The ‘How?’ of this storyline is not our problem, but if this could be pulled off it would be one hell of a feat. Even if the stories that see this happening aren’t popular, whatever happens in them will shape the future of the show. No pressure there then.

If the Time Lords survive, of course, it raises the question of what stories can be done with them. In The Name Of The Doctor we saw a workshop somewhere dark and full of lumps of metal, with two bored tech guys. Gallifreyan IT Crowd anyone? Or an episode set on Gallifrey that doesn’t feature a single member of the High Council. A Christmas Special at Andred and Leela’s house. There’s a whole planet to explore away from the Capitol, a lot of new stories that could be told, but it needs to be done sparingly. Gallifrey is, after all, where the Doctor ran away from.

Even if the Doctor is on a quest to find it, the show won’t dwell on Gallifrey for too long. It isn’t set there. It didn’t even mention its name for the first eleven years. The whole point is that it doesn’t settle, it doesn’t stand still. The hunt for Gallifrey itself is more likely to be a series arc building towards a finale, maybe a Key To Time-style linked serial, with parameters set out at the beginning of the series before the search begins.

Potentially, that could be a lot of fun, but it has limitations. Doctor Who isn’t the same sort of show for more than two episodes at a time. It can be whatever it wants to be, more or less, but the next story will be different. Any serial aspect has to allow for this flexibility, and take into account the breadth of the show’s audience.

In appealing to basically everybody, Doctor Who can’t involve itself in the stuff of fan theories (many of which are magnificent and ludicrous but still come from the era where new Doctor Who was only being consumed by between 3,000 – 50,000 people), but has to sell the story to about seven million people, many of whom will be unfamiliar with the Mind Probe. There’s only so much they can indulge in, even if the plot skirts around fifty years of mythology.

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The ‘Gallifrey Falls No More’ storyline is a tricky one to get right. Finding it can’t be too easy or too difficult, retrieving it can and will probably be done with the sonic screwdriver, and what happens next is a whole jumble of possibilities, some of which will most likely need to be eradicated for simplicity’s sake. There are a lot of factors to consider, which isn’t usually a good thing when trying to maintain a coherent story.

Imagine multiple slinkies pratfalling down the stairs, looking like they’re going to crash. Possibly, just possibly, there’ll be a moment where they all look intertwined, connected and perfect, and then they’ll either carry on their way, or collapse to the ground like an octopus cosplaying as the eleventh Doctor.

It’s going to take a lot of skill, and a lot of luck to avoid the latter.

Besides, no two people will see it the same anyway.