Warning: this piece contains a MAJOR SPOILER for The Day Of The Doctor.
For those of you who haven’t seen The Day of the Doctor yet: begone from this place, and get ye to iPlayer. What kept you?
For yes – as was mentioned once or twice by people who I wish to be locked in a room with Dimensions in Time for perpetuity – Tom Baker was back on our screens in Doctor Who, ostensibly playing the curator of the National Gallery. The conversation that ensues is delightfully enigmatic, hinting at one explanation and then undercutting it. It’s not meant to be definitive, and purely there to please, to tantalise and to allow indulgent speculation. To say that its meaning is objectively explicit is to miss the point somewhat. Everyone else gets their go at interpreting it, and there are many delightful and insane theories tumbling out of the aether It’s like someone has teamed David Hume up with Lance Parkin.
At the time of writing there are, unsurprisingly, approximately forty comments on the subject under our review of The Day of the Doctor. A Gallifrey Base poll has one hundred and seventeen replies. There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of speculative insanity. You may be one hundred percent certain that you are right about the Curator’s identity and that your theory is supported by the dialogue, but it has not been empirically established. Thus, there will be speculation. Even if it is confirmed, there’ll still be speculation. It’s best that you accept this now.
Some possible suggestions for the Curator’s identity include:
An individual the Doctor met, and who influenced his appearance (as Maxil and Caecilius might have done); he could be a retired future incarnation (the most likely explanation, although it makes for some interesting further speculation); some iteration of the Watcher from Logopolis (‘…the Moment has been prepared for,’ – if this is deliberate, then Steven Moffat has won at television); Kamelion; Meglos; a playful Zygon; Romana after she retired from Time Lord politics, regenerated and settled down to learn more about art (having taken on board the Doctor’s words about art in City of Death and decided to rock the whole Amelia Rumford thing by herself); Irving Braxiatel; the Fourth Doctor from The Leisure Hive on a bit of an adventure; a recurring dream the Eleventh Doctor has; Osgood using a Shimmer; Andrew Scott in a Tom Baker bodysuit; Tom Baker just turning up unexpectedly and saying all this at Matt Smith; the Master in disguise; the Cushing Doctor’s brother; Morbius; Shirley Williams; Tom Baker in an ‘Andrew Scott in a Tom Baker bodysuit’ suit; or a now-sentient Fez that has gone rogue.
Ideally, we will never know the identity of the Curator, so I hope the debate doesn’t become inflamed to the point where people get internet pitchforks out and someone has to say something definitive to calm everything down. No-one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth and then D-Mat the mother into the void. However, if Tom Baker knows his character’s identity, perhaps he will mention it at some point. Hopefully he will then mention a completely different explanation at a later date, and then laugh at the confusion in our minds.
Russell T. Davies attempted something similar with the Doctor’s mother in The End of Time. Indeed, the reason we know that Claire Bloom’s character is intended to be the Doctor’s mother is because it was confirmed by Davies in The Writer’s Tale, but it was also left unconfirmed on screen to encourage speculation and to allow fans to interpret it any way they like. Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies are fans, and know that this is something we like to do. So, hopefully we will never find the Curator’s identity confirmed on screen or off (the Doctor’s mother surprise was, unfortunately, spoiled by newspapers and the Daily Mail prior to broadcast), as that would ruin the fun. Hell, we’re still making sport of the Morbius Doctors now, and that was thirty-seven years ago.
The Curator manages to be a nod to the past, and to the future, and – despite Twitter’s best efforts – something of a surprise. Surely this is the point. I’ve seen people criticise Steven Moffat for lying to the audience. His job is to lie to us. I loved The Day of the Doctor for combining surprises and nods to the past, rather than being an endearing ticklist of the expected. Speculation is part of the arrangement here, as is misdirection and sleight of hand.
In all the speculation pieces I’ve written, do you know I’ve never once been right? Probably, anyway. I’m not really checking. This is undoubtedly a good thing. Where’s the fun in being right? Speculation pieces are, ultimately, echoes of the initial tease, there to entertain and revel in the imagination of fandom. You don’t get many other shows that actively encourage viewers to make up their own, individual stories where the whole point of them is that there are no wrong answers. It ties in with Steven Moffat’s idea of the show as being about stories – and now art – and extending involvement to the viewer.
Thus, it’s lovely to see another concept where we will hopefully never know the right answer, and can endlessly speculate and imagine. On top of it simply being a fan-pleasing moment, maybe some-one watching will write a fan-fiction about it, enjoy it, and start writing; maybe that will become their job, until in fifty years time Matt Smith re-appears in their script, playing an enigmatic older man in a roundel-decorated museum.
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