Doctor Who’s Unsolved Mysteries

It's finally here, an exclusive, definitive reveal of the Doctor's real name. Plus: The Curator, the Valeyard, the faces and more...

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Photo: Bad Wolf/BBC/Disney

Doctor Who fans are breathing rarefied air at the moment. We are between seasons, between Doctors, between showrunners. All of the last proprietor’s ongoing story arcs have been as resolved as they are going to get, all of the next proprietor’s story arcs have yet to get started.

For once, there are no ongoing plot developments to obsessively devise fan theories about (well, apart from maybe one). So with those ephemera out of the way, we can finally get down to arguing about the really big questions behind the show.

Questions like:

What Was the “Curator” So Cheerful About?

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“The Day of the Doctor” was an epic helping of fan service in all its forms, but of all the fan servicey moments in a parade of fan servicey moments, one that stands out is the surprise appearance of Tom Baker as “The Curator”, the mysterious overseer of the under gallery who seems to possess knowledge of the Doctor’s future.

We never learn who his mysterious figure is for certain, but it’s the Doctor. You know it’s the Doctor, I know it’s the Doctor, Steven Moffat has gone on record and said that it’s the Doctor. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it. The Curator is a future incarnation of the Doctor who for whatever reason has retired to run a sinister art gallery while wearing one of his old faces. There really isn’t any mystery here.

What is a mystery, is why he seems so damned cheerful. Oh at the time this wasn’t so confusing – Gallifrey has been saved, the Time War is over, and he’s revisiting the Eleventh Doctor and cluing him in on all the many exciting adventures he has to come.

But we’ve learned a bit more since then. We’ve learned the Doctor only found Gallifrey because they killed off his best friend (who was waiting in the TARDIS while the Curator was making jokes about noses). We know the Doctor immediately had to run away again. We know that barely any time at all after, the Master just upped and killed all the Time Lords, then turned their corpses into Cybermen, and then the Doctor herself blew up the entire planet, again, after discovering it wasn’t her planet anyway (we’ll get to that).

If I saw a past version of myself who had all that coming, I would probably just walk the other way.

So… does this mean things are looking up for the Doctor? Did the Master only murder a decoy Gallifrey? Just how many times can Gallifrey be unexploded anyway?

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What’s Going on With The Valeyard?

Talking of future versions of the Doctor: “The Trial of a Timelord” is the worst ever Doctor Who story to absolutely require a sequel. The story’s big twist was that the Time Lord prosecuting the Doctor was one of his future incarnations, from “somewhere between [the Doctor’s] twelfth and final incarnation”, an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker nature.

Of course, the weasel-wording of “between” the “twelfth and final incarnation” gives us some wiggle room. “Twelfth” incarnation could mean Peter Capaldi, or Matt Smith if we count the War Doctor, or even David Tennant if we count his “metastasis” incarnation as a separate Doctor (and there are fans who believe the Valeyard may have been the Doctor who went with Rose to a parallel universe, gone rogue). “Final” incarnation, of course, means we’ve got no actual set deadline to get around to this story.

Big Finish audios have played around with the character of the Valeyard a good deal, as have several Doctor Who books, but definitive answers are still thin on the ground. Indeed, we at Den of Geek have our fan theory about the Valeyard’s origins involving Red Dwarf.

But the door is still wide open for the TV show to finally address the question literally dozens of us want answered. Will it ever happen? Well, we already know Bonnie Langford is returning to the show as Mel, and she first appeared in Doctor Who during “The Trial of a Timelord”, so the answer is… maybe?

Where Do the Faces Come From?

When the Doctor, or any Time Lord, regenerates, they get a brand new face, body and even personality. But these faces rarely look the same, and often they will arrive deep with lines forged by a life already lived.

The Twelfth Doctor was the first to ask the question outright, and he was right to. It turns out his face was borrowed from one Lobus Caecilius of Pompeii, as a reminder to save people where he could. But even then, we’re never quite clear on who the message is from, or how it was chosen.

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What was the message behind the Sixth Doctor regenerating to look like Maxil? And why are the Doctor’s regenerations a pretty hit-and-miss affair when Romana was able to decide on a whim that she wanted to regenerate into Princess Astra?

Of course, this question is relevant once again now that the Fourteenth Doctor has the same face as the Tenth Doctor, the second Tenth Doctor, and the Metacrisis Doctor. Could it be the universe is repeatedly trying to tell him something about Casanova? The Eleventh Doctor did say he still owes him a chicken.

What Is the Doctor’s Origin?

We thought we’d finished with this one. Oh, it was a very exciting question in 1963, but then “The War Games” came along, and we learned the Doctor was an exile of the Time Lords, going on the run to see the universe because he was bored, and breaking his people’s policy of non-interference to fight the forces of evil.

Later on, we’d learn he had two hearts, and that his home world was called Gallifrey, and they loved massive collars and lived in giant snowglobes.

But then Chris Chibnall came along and blew up the entire lore (along with Gallifrey, again). The Timeless Child twist has been controversial, to say the least, but whether you love it or hate it, it leaves the Doctor’s past wide open for the future Big Reveals. All we know so far is that they are from another universe and that the Time Lords learned the art of regeneration from the Doctor when she first arrived.

At some point, some showrunner (we’re willing to be not RTD) will open that door and finally show us the Doctor’s true origin. We don’t know what it will be. We just know fans are going to hate it.

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Why Is the TARDIS a Police Box?

This is a smaller mystery, hidden, as they say, in plain sight, and like the bigger one of the Doctor’s origins, the Timeless Child twist has messed it up no end.

The Doctor’s TARDIS, a rickety old Type 40, started out with the ability to perfectly conceal itself in its surroundings. Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, mentions that before Ian and Barbara find the TARDIS in a scrapyard in the series very first episode it had been a sedan chair and an Ionic column.

Then Ian and Barbara board the TARDIS, the Doctor kidnaps them and whisks them off to prehistoric Earth, and rather than transforming into a henge or something, the TARDIS stays as a police box. The size, shape and colour of the police telephone box change over the decades, but the basic form will never change again.

The fiftieth-anniversary comic story, “The Hunters of Burning Stone” came up with quite a nifty explanation. The Eleventh Doctor sabotaged the Chameleon Circuit to make the TARDIS recognisable throughout human history.

But once again, the Timeless Child comes at the continuity with a sledgehammer. When we meet “Ruth”, the Fugitive Doctor in “Fugitive of the Judoon”, she is riding around in a police box-shaped TARDIS, very probably the exact same one.

So why is her TARDIS stuck in that shape? And why does it revert to that shape only when the Doctor picked up Ian and Barbara in 1963?

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But of course, we all know the biggest mystery of Doctor Who. It’s in the title.

What Is the Doctor’s Name?

“The first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.” The Question. Also known as “the Joke”, because some idiot went to great pains to make their licenced jokebook technically canonical without thinking through the consequences (it’s me, I’m the idiot).

Doctor Who?

It is an effort to stop that question being answered that is the cause of a centuries-long war between the Doctor and basically everybody else in the universe in “The Time of the Doctor”. The prophecy says that on Trenzalore, when nobody can lie or refuse to answer, someone will ask the question, and if the Doctor answers it will have terrible consequences. (It turns out this was the Time Lords’ Secure Question to check whether it was safe to re-enter the universe).

The Doctor’s real name has been a source of mystery from the very beginning of the show. Of course, there have been hints and suggestions over the years. Missy said the Doctor’s name was “Doctor Who” (he thought it sounded mysterious, then dropped the “Who” later as it was too on the nose). Back at school, he was known as Theta Sigma. According to an 80s comic book, their name is d3Σx2.

We know River Song knows it, and a very small handful of others. But were the Doctor’s name ever definitely and objectively stated out loud, it would probably ruin the show forever.

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Imagine how bad it would be if that happened?

Except, let’s go back to “The Time of the Doctor”, and the planet of Trenzalore, where no one may lie or refuse to answer. And somebody does ask the Doctor “What did you say your name was?”

And the Doctor answers.

He says, “I’m Wearing A Wig!”

There you have it. The Doctor’s real name. Wearing A Wig.