Where did The Day Of The Doctor leave Doctor Who mythology?

Now the dust has settled on The Day Of The Doctor, Philip tracks the ripples it leaves across Doctor Who canon...

Warning: contains spoilers for The Day Of The Doctor and The Night Of The Doctor.

After a wild night of pleasure, now Doctor Who fans are feeling warm and tingly, affectionately clutching at anniversary memorabilia and basking in an euphoric post Day of the Doctor glow. Looking at the object of our satisfaction we ask the question – did the Earth move for you? 

Obviously the anniversary weekend was the source of huge joy (and possibly some uncontrollable squee-ing) to the fans but it is becoming apparent that it has had a significant effect of the narrative world of Doctor Who itself – past and future.

The most immediately apparent effect is that the Doctor has been given a new direction in his life. The grief and trauma of committing two genocides which has been the cornerstone of the series for eight years has been changed to a story of searching and potential redemption (which in turn may well lead to a story of rehabilitation). This is probably the most important element to change in the mythology of Doctor Who but at the start of this journey it is only a potential and we await with giddy anticipation the unfolding of the Doctor’s future.

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The other main change has been, of course, to our understanding of the Doctor’s own regenerations. John Hurt now seems to definitively be the ninth incarnation of our favourite Time Lord. Whilst there have been theories that the War Doctor may be Doctor Eight point Five, it does appear that he is a full incarnation in his own right. Not only due to the regenerations from and into Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston respectively that were shown during the anniversary specials, but also his equal treatment in the final dream sequence alongside the other incarnations.

The reveal of a fully legitimate yet previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor does give cause to re-think the mythos of the Doctor’s character himself. Immediately we now understand which version of the Doctor fought the time war, which incidentally rules out the IDW comic canon. But of greater importance, as any good Whovian will know, we are now much closer to the regeneration limit. Indeed, if as Steven Moffat has been hinting when talking about the Christmas special, that the Tenth Doctor did use up a full regeneration in The Stolen Earth, then Matt Smith is potentially the last Doctor. (The initiated regeneration in The Impossible Astronaut may have simply been an impressive light show put on by the Tesselecter on the Doctor’s suggestion to help sell the hoax of his death).

Interestingly, although it has been insisted that we do not need to renumber our Doctors it does mean that the Tenth Doctor was the character’s eleventh incarnation. This in turn means that his regeneration into Matt Smith was the character’s twelfth. Those able to survive all the way through Trial of a Time Lord may recall that the Valeyard, who the Great Intelligence name-checked in The Name of the Doctor, as hailing from around the twelfth and final incarnation. Perhaps this could indicate a potential near future development for the character? Though given the loose timing for the Valeyard given in Trial and the statement that the Doctor may have become the Valeyard “before the end”, presumably meaning the forthcoming Christmas special, that he already has. Perhaps the obvious candidate for this might be Doctor Ten point Five – a.k.a the Donna-Doctor. It’s all mere speculation of course but fun to keep in mind as we see events develop.

There are also a couple of questions left tantalising hanging by The Day of the Doctor. The appearance of the The Curator certainly raises questions about the past and future of our hero as this article discusses. However, as the character himself said, it may not even matter. The other element that could have a strong bearing on the show’s future is that of The Moment. We certainly don’t see what happened to The Moment after the events of the special and the last we saw of it was not on Gallifrey, so it could still well be out there somewhere. Not only might it be out there but it may have the Doctor in mind. After all it proposed to punish the Doctor with a life of guilt if he did destroy the Timelords. However we now know that he didn’t, so perhaps the Moment may plan to use or even reward him in future. Perhaps we can even speculate that the Tenth Doctor’s ‘reward’ in The End of Time may have something to do with The Moment.

However, the biggest shift is to our understanding of the Doctor’s personal timeline. This comes about from the Eighth Doctor’s dying salute to his companions in The Day of the Doctor prequel The Night of the Doctor. By naming his companions, the Eighth Doctor has given us the evidence to show that Big Finish audio plays are canon – explicitly those featuring Charlie, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly. This has a sizeable impact on understanding much of Doctor Who mythology.

Obviously the most major point is that it gives us a ready-made set of ‘official’ Eighth Doctor adventures – to which a guide can be found here. Though as highly welcome as it is just to have a defined set of adventures we can here McGann playing the Eighth Doctor, their canonisation spills out further into the Doctor Who mythology. For starters, Charlie directly meets the Sixth Doctor in other adventures; some of those adventures have effects on the Eighth Doctor when he is later travelling with Lucie.

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The canon ripple continues apace, though as it quickly becomes clear with these overlapping appearances and a number of other continuity references between the audios that most of Big Finish has become canonised. There do appear to be a couple of exceptions within Big Finish that at least cannot be definitively considered to be canon. For instance the references to Mary Shelley during Charlie’s time as companion to the Eigth Doctor don’t always match up to what was depicted in the audio Mary’s Story, part of The Company of Friends release (such as Mary’s brother not appearing, contradicting a recollection of the Doctor in Neverland).

The flip side of this crystallising of canon around much of Big Finish is that the inconsistencies and conflicts between its canon and that of other media may force us to rule out these other adventures. For instance, whilst not impossible, it does seem literally and tonally difficult to reconcile the book and audio adventures of either the Seventh or Eighth Doctors. Even worse for the canon status of the books is that in The Gallifrey Chronicles the Eighth Doctor sees an image of his next body – that of Christopher Eccleston – when The Night of the Doctor shows us he instead regenerated into the form of John Hurt.

As the books and audios developed over time, their producers often changed their mind on whether they were set in the same fictional universe or not, which is reflected in an inconsistent depiction. However at it is very strongly implied in Zagreus that the two mediums were separate universes. Although it is technically possible to reconcile these timelines this really adds to the weight of evidence already highlighted that the books are not canon if the audios are.

This isn’t necessarily a terribly bad thing as it avoids not only some of the more tonally divergent adventures (read the very bleak Seventh Doctor novels) but also a certain amount of plot repetition given that the Time Lords already fought a war, were wiped out and reconstituted in the Eighth Doctor’s book run (including the plot device of Gallifrey possibly having retreated to a bottle/pocket universe). Furthermore this means we no longer have to try and reconcile how events of Human Nature can happen twice – once for the Seventh and once for the Tenth Doctors.

Interestingly though, the book universe actually does have an important impact on the one we can now consider to be canon. The events of the books Spiral Scratch and Sometime Never both save the multiverse – including the prime universe of the audios and TV adventures. As such the books do represent and causally important medium for the rest of the mythology. Perhaps it is best to imagine that the Time War caused a split that blurred the barriers of the multiverse and rippled the timelines of the Doctor and the Timelords across these.

The 50th anniversary has been a game-changing episode for Doctor Who, which has both given new direction to the show as well as redefined its past in multiple ways. The mythology of the show is too big, too deep to ever have a watertight internal consistency – but Moffat seems to have given fans perhaps the most complete understanding of the mythology of the Doctor yet, as well as setting the future direction for the series and retaining the mystery of our hero.

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