Last week our Mr. Handley gave us his theory about why he thinks the Doctor is half-human, and while I applaud his work to support his theory, I would like to offer… something of an alternative view.
To some degree I’ll be considering each of his individual points, but if you’ve ever read my reviews or listened to Mr. Hunt and me on our H2O podcasts, you can probably expect – probably should expect – a fair amount of digression. Fortunately, this topic lends itself well to such things.
First of all, let’s begin with the biggest point for the Doctor being half-human: Doctor Who, the 1996 TV-movie. Intended to be a pilot for a new series jointly made by the BBC and FOX TV, not only do we have the Doctor say he’s “half-human on my mother’s side”, but we also have the Master acknowledge the Doctor’s half-human nature. Even more damning is the evidence of the show bible developed for the potential series, which explicitly states that the Doctor’s father was the Time Lord called Ulysses, and his mother was an Earth woman, possibly named Penelope.
So there it is. The Doctor is clearly half-human, right?
Well, not so fast. Context, as is the case in so much, is key here, and the context isn’t quite as clear as it might initially appear.
CONTINUITY? WHAT CONTINUITY?
The first thing one has to take into account is that Doctor Who has a long and well-established history of contradicting the hell out of itself. We can start with little things like the difference in the Doctor’s age at the end of the 7th Doctor’s run (over 950 years old) and the 9th’s age at the beginning of the New Series (900), move on to the multiple versions of why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place, the three different versions of Atlantis in the series, the multiple-choice origins of the Daleks, the three different versions of the death of the Earth, and loop around to the eight Incarnations of the Doctor that are earlier than the 1st Doctor on display in “The Brain of Morbius”… and that’s before we reach the intended results of the Cartmel Masterplan, which would have revealed that the Doctor is the reincarnation of the Other, one of the founding members of Time Lord society and, technically at least, hundreds of thousands of years old at the minimum.
And there’s actually a lot more. So much more that there was a 1995 book called The Discontinuity Guide, where writers Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day have a lot of fun looking at the many ways the Original Series cared not a tinker’s cuss for consistency. (Fun digression: These three gentlemen were the first to propose that there is a secret season audiences never saw, the hypothetical 6B, where the 2nd Doctor became an agent of the Time Lords. This actually became BBC canon, despite the fact that it was 100% fan theory.)
One very important thing that has to be taken into account when considering a show that is over 50 years old: Storytelling styles change. No one in 1963 thought Doctor Who would have the popularity it has today, and a fairly huge chunk of the modern mythology of the show wasn’t anywhere in sight when the first episode aired. Notably missing at the beginning? That the Doctor was a two-hearted Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. The second heart wouldn’t appear until the 2nd Doctor’s run, which also saw the details of the Doctor’s people begin to appear.
This wasn’t laziness on the part of the writers or the production team. Continuity, outside of soap operas, simply wasn’t a part of television series until the 1990’s. Audiences didn’t actually expect it. Shows like Twin Peaks, 24, Lost, Murder One and Farscape changed television forever by requiring audiences to tune in every week to follow stories that could easily leave the audience behind if they missed just one episode.
WHO IS THE DOCTOR?
“But,” I hear you say, “the TV Movie is canon. We’ve had it established that Paul McGann played the 8th Doctor, and the 8th Doctor said he was half-human. It’s right there.” It is, and the intent was that the Doctor be half-human… if the show had gone to series.
Why that matters, is that it’s not a new thing with Doctor Who. In the 4th Doctor episode “Brain of Morbius”, when the Doctor engages in a mental battle with the evil Time Lord Morbius, the eight images that appeared on the screen were meant, by the production team, to be Incarnations of the Doctor that we hadn’t seen before, and ones that existed before the 1st Doctor. Such a revelation would have opened up both interesting new story possibilities, and yanked the rug out from what we thought we knew about the titular Time Lord. You may, however, have noticed that it was promptly ignored by every production team that followed. Why? Because they didn’t like it, and so they decided to ignore it, even though the logical explanation to that scene is that there were earlier Incarnations.
In 1987-88, Script Editor Andrew Cartmel – who was something like the show-runner of the day, although he did answer to Producer John Nathan-Turner – proposed a fairly radical idea: We knew too much about the Doctor and his people. There wasn’t any mystery anymore, and that… that was a shame. What he had in mind was to peel back what we thought we knew, to reveal that the Doctor was far more than what he appeared, and that there was much more to explore than we had up until now. The result of what would come to be called the “Cartmel Masterplan” would have seen the Doctor revealed as the reincarnation of the Other, one of the creators of the Time Lords, alongside Rassilon and Omega. Given that both those “founding fathers” have, in the course of the show’s mythology, been revealed as, or become, genocidal maniacs, it’s not the best of company to keep, but that was the plan. It would have shown the founding of the Time Lords in a new way, and opened up a whole new way to tell stories about the Doctor.
The timing was good. It was Season 25, and Sylvester McCoy was starting his second series as the Doctor. His first had seen the Doctor played more as a comical figure, but everyone seemed to be excited about taking the Doctor in a new, darker direction. The humorous little man in the blue box would quickly be replaced by the calculating schemer, who defeated his enemies and manipulated his Companions with chilling ease.
Seeds were laid. The Doctor made a slip of the tongue in “Remembrance of the Daleks” that implied he worked alongside Rassilon and Omega to create the Hand of Omega. He told Davros, in a scene that was deleted from the original broadcast but somehow made it onto Canadian showings of the episode, that he was “far more than just another Time Lord”. In “Silver Nemesis”, Lady Peinforte has learned the secrets of the Dark Times of Gallifrey’s history through her conversations with the Nemesis, an ancient Time Lord weapon. She blatantly states that the Doctor is not what he claims to be and that she knows who and what he truly is. “Ghostlight” and “The Curse of Fenric” have references to this storyline, and only the cancellation of the series kept the Master from challenging the Doctor’s identity in the series finale “Survival”. In order to not have the series end in such an ambiguous and disturbing way, the scene was written but never filmed.
AND THEN THE WILDERNESS YEARS.
From 1989 to 1996, there was no Doctor Who on television.
The Cartmel Masterplan, canon on the TV show, though never completed, became the backbone of the Virgin Publishing series of Doctor Who books. Hard to find and quite expensive when you do, the Virgin Who books would make the Doctor more alien and dangerous than he had ever been before, building up to and culminating in Lungbarrow. There the readers would learn about the truth of how Rassilon manipulated the people of Gallifrey into choosing science over magic, betrayed Omega even as he was creating the captive black hole that served to power the Time Capsules that would make the Gallifreyans Lords of Time, and of the mysterious Other, whose name was scrubbed from history. There readers would learn of a young girl, one of the last naturally born Gallifreyans, whose grandfather was that mysterious Other, and who threw himself into the new genetic Looms that Rassilon had created to engineer the society he envisioned.
There the reader would meet a renegade Time Lord who stole a broken-down TARDIS, slipped through the time-locks on the Dark Times, and rescued that young girl from the riots and assassination squads of Rassilon’s new world. That young girl who looked upon her white-haired rescuer and called him “Grandfather”, even though they had never met, because she recognized the Other inside him. And he recognized something in her…
This was canon, too.
Well, more or less. It certainly was the only Doctor Who out there, and that’s pretty much the same thing.
UNTIL… IT WASN’T.
Lungbarrow was the end of the Virgin line, and the BBC began publishing its own series of novels featuring the 8th Doctor, and made something of a clean break from the continuity of the previous novels. Gradually a lot of the Virgin continuity crept back in, but much of the Cartmel Masterplan was ignored from that point onward. When Russell P. Davies brought the TV show back in 2005, he close to ignore both the continuity of the novel lines and the audio series that started in 2001, with the intention of making a clean break for new viewers. He would ease some of the Original Series continuity back in, making McGann’s 8th Doctor canon in “Human Nature”, and Steven Moffat would make the 8th Doctor’s audio Companions canon in the minisode “Night of the Doctor”.
But you know what neither one of them didn’t do?
Make the Doctor half-human.
While some of the book lines dealt with ways to make the half-human line either have a kind of truth to it, and others sought to find ways to discount it, Davies and Moffat did the thing that really answers the question: They ignored it. Like the production teams of the Original Series, they decided what would be continuity and what wasn’t, and as far as they were and are concerned, the Doctor who returned to our screens in 2005 is an alien, a child of Gallifrey, and he’s made that clear, over and over again. He loves humanity because we’re not like his people… we’re full of passion and hope and a desire for adventure and exploration. If we can be monsters, we’re at least not as much the monsters as his own people have been before and become again.
We look like his people, we could be his people, but we’re not.
And that’s just the way he likes it.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Dan raised some other points as evidence for his theory, and it’s time to take a look at those as well.
STEALING A TARDIS: OK, this one is actually easy. Over and over and over and over again, we’ve learned that the Doctor was a terrible Time Lord. He was a barely passable student, who hated the stagnation of his people, and with his friends, including the young Master and the Rani, was exactly the kind of person whom the authorities would never let have a TARDIS. Being a Time Lord doesn’t mean you get to drive the car, kids. It’s a title you get from going to the Academy, and have even if you barely pass your exams. I have a college degree…that doesn’t mean I get to drive an aircraft carrier. And you have to consider Time Lord society, something we saw much more of in the Original Series than we’ve seen in the New, because grand title aside, the ruling class of Gallifrey is homebodies. Exploration and adventure are discouraged and in the show, the point of being a Time Lord is a life of stagnation and inertia.
A LONELY CHILDHOOD: The problem with Dan’s argument here is that there is no there… there. And? We know the Doctor felt different than his culture wanted him to. And? Welcome to childhood. We also know he gravitated to people like himself later in life, and that the list of Renegades in Time Lord society is kinda long. Clearly there have been A LOT of people who found their childhoods to be lonely: The Doctor, the Master, the Rani, The Monk, The Minister of Chance, Morbius, and probably Omega, the Other and Rassilon, too. The Doctor stands out in the crowd in that he chose to fight for the good in the Universe.
SUSAN FOREMAN: “Susan” called herself Susan, because… well. Maybe not so easy. Actually, in show, it is. Susan chose the name because she wanted to go to school, and she knew that humans have names that sound like human names. Foreman from the junkyard the TARDIS was in, yes, but Susan from the fact that human people have first names that sound like human first names. The Doctor played along, the first Companions were human, the name stuck. The book and comic and audio media have all tackled this one too, btw. If you take those into account, her name is Arkytior, or Lady Larn, or Susan English, or Susan Campbell, and while we can certainly spend the time if you like, I’m going to have to point out that, again, Susan as a character was created before anything resembling the Time Lords were. If she were created today, she’d have a cool name. In 1963? Not so much. (Fun digression: The short story that appeared in Doctor Who Magazine that gave Arkytior as Susan’s real name translates it to English as “Rose”, neatly linking the first Companions of the two TV series.)
CLARA READ HIS NAME: As much as I can’t stand “Journey into the Centre of the TARDIS”, the Library is pretty awesome. And yes, Clara reads the Doctor’s name in one of the books there. And yes, we’ve established that the TARDIS doesn’t translate Gallifreyan. However. Clara is the Impossible Girl, whose fragments are scattered throughout the Doctor’s timeline. In context, the face that she can read Gallifreyan is more likely that she has a residual connection to the Gallifreyan version of Clara that was shown in “The Name of the Doctor”, than a Gallifreyan book would call the Doctor by a human name. Think about it. Names in human cultures have different versions. Timothy isn’t the earliest version of my name, that would be Timotheos, and it’s Greek, so if my name appeared in something written by Greeks, that would be how my name appeared. My family is Scottish, and the Gaelic version of Timothy is Tadgh. Why would a Gallifreyan book call the Doctor anything other than name he was known as on Gallifrey? If someone put my name in a history book in Scotland, back in the day, odds are good it would be a listing for Tadgh Hervey. That wouldn’t make me any less a Timothy Harvey.
PREFERENCE TOWARDS HUMANS ON EARTH/KNOWLEDGE OF EARTH HISTORY: This is a two-for. Leaving aside for the moment the production costs realities of a TV show, which is the actual answer to the question, in-show answers are as I’ve said a few paragraphs before: He likes us. We’re enough like his people to be recognizable, and different enough to be interesting.
THE MASTER’S STATEMENT: Gonna have to go with reaching here. I had to go watch the episode to see what Dan was talking about here, and I really don’t see it connecting to anything else. As a piece of a larger puzzle, it kinda fits, but only if you are looking for it.
RUNNING ALL HIS LIFE: While the Untempered Schism is a pretty scary name, the show makes it clear that it’s a portal into the Time Vortex. The ritual of having the nascent Time Lord children look into it is a fairly recent addition to the show’s mythology, and quite the interesting one. For the longest time, the only reference we had to children on Gallifrey was a one-off line from Romana about “Time Tots”, but until the New Series, the TV writers steered pretty clear of the childhood of the Doctor. Lungbarrow and some of the other books dived in, of course, but again, Davies pretty much ignored most of that “continuity”. What’s really interesting to me is how awful a thing it is to do to a child when you think about it: “Hey kid, look into this other-dimensional realm that runs throughout all of Time and Space. Chance it could kill you, or drive you insane, but hey, thems the breaks. Step up.” In context of the mythology of Who though, it makes a kind of sense. There’s this thing called the Rassilon Imprimatur, which is the genetic key that basically makes a Gallifreyan a Time Lord, and looking into the Vortex could easily be a way to see if it has taken. Not every Gallifreyan is a Time Lord, after all, so those who “fail” the test likely make up the majority of the world’s population.
As for the Doctor “running all his life” well, there is this thing called metaphor, and considering that the Doctor “ran away” from the life that his people had planned for him, and “ran away” to explore the Universe, and spends a significant amount of his life running away from the bad guys and down corridors, there’s a lot more evidence that it’s a figure of speech. We must also take into account that the Doctor has returned to Gallifrey quite a bit in the course of the show, often willingly, though not always. He is a Renegade, after all, someone who never fit into the stifling inertia of the modern Time Lord society he grew up in. Being bored and unhappy is sometimes reason enough to leave a place.
As for the events of “Listen” and the young Gallifreyan who would become the Doctor, there are some interesting things seen and heard here. The two adults we hear don’t actually sound like they are his parents, do they? That’s more evidence that could be laid into the idea that he’s half-human if one wanted, even though it’s terribly vague. What isn’t vague is that it’s clear that whoever those adults are, they don’t think the child will become a Time Lord at all, and can only aspire to being in the military. The paradox of Clara using the words of the Doctor to inspire the child who would become the Doctor seems to indicate that he used that inspiration to prove those adults wrong. That’s evidence of a child no one thought could be special taking on the world and proving it wrong. Considering how often the Doctor has saved his people, he has succeeded pretty well.
THE META-CRISIS DOCTOR: Ye gods. I have to admit, I think the Meta-Crisis Doctor is a writing disaster. Never a fan of Rose, as far as it seems to me, the MC Doctor is a terrible consolation-prize and out for ending the Rose/Doctor love-thing. The MCD is an arguably inferior copy of the Doctor, after all, and Rose willingly takes this copy of the man she supposedly loves. Blarg.
That aside, the physiology here is interesting. If Donna Noble can’t contain the power of a Time Lord mind inside hers without being destroyed, how can the MCD, if he’s human? Well, he’s not actually human, but a mixture of the Doctor’s Time Lord DNA and Donna’s human DNA, and based on appearances alone, the Doctor’s is dominant. The more violent personality is stated as being due to the human influence on the mixture and the shortened lifespan and more human biology is as well. Considering that the show’s mythology seems to indicate that the 1st Incarnations of Time Lords only have one heart, it seems more likely that the MCD got something from the human DNA that blocks/overwrites/interferes with the Rassilon Imprimatur. That in itself is kinda interesting, but not evidence that the Doctor is half-human.
Great Rassilon, this article is long. OK. Dan has laid out his reasoning, and I’ve laid out my counter-reasoning. At the core of this all is the 8th Doctor telling a human that he’s “half-human on his mother’s side”. Everything else, pro and con, builds on that statement. If the movie had led to a series, we’d know for sure, because that would be the new canon, but it didn’t, and when the New Series returned, the showrunners completely ignored that idea. Completely.
(Not to mention I haven’t even brought up The Woman from “The End of Time”, who is clearly meant to be the Doctor’s mother, and who is also clearly meant to be a Time Lord, or the Atraxi from “The Eleventh Hour” stating that the Doctor is “not of this world”, or all the times that aliens have scanned the Doctor and realized that he’s not human.)
It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with the idea that the Doctor could be half-human, although to me it lessens the character, because it’s too easy. Of course the Doctor likes Earth and humanity, because… family! It is, in fact, classic myth writ large: The Quest to Find One’s Origins. And we’ve seen it a million times before. It’s much more interesting to me that the Doctor sees something worthy in Humanity to fight for and protect, despite the fact he’s not one of us. It’s not blood-ties that brings him back to Earth again and again, but the nature and promise of Humanity that he loves so much.
Would the Doctor still be the Doctor if he was half-human? Of course, because we are all more than our genetic makeup, and the Doctor has always been about being an individual. In the end though we have to go with the evidence we have, and despite the one line of dialogue, the larger evidence is on the side of the Doctor being an all-Gallifreyan alien.
Just to mess around here, we do need to consider a couple of things Steven Moffat has said that muddle the waters COMPLETELY.
In DWM (#475) Moffat says: “Here’s a question I tried on some Doctor Who fans recently, and we were all a bit startled by the answer, when it finally emerged – if we got it right. Okay; keeping in mind that everything you know for sure is probably wrong, answer me this: in which story is it confirmed, definitively, that the Doctor is not human?
“Now before you jump up and yell “An Unearthly Child” – sorry, but wrong. He makes it clear he’s not from this time, and seems to indicate that he was born on another world, but he never says he’s an alien. He could, just as easily, be a human being from the far future, born on some colonised world. Indeed, most of his conversation in the early days would seem to confirm that he thinks of himself as human, and he even explicitly states that he is, at least once.
“So come on then. To your DVD collection. In what story do the wise men and women of the BBC stop fudging the issue, and make our hero Not One Of Us. I’m not talking about him having remarkable abilities or attributes – we’ve always known he’s not ordinary, that’s fair enough. Spider-Man’s not ordinary, but he’s not an alien. And I’m not talking about series bibles, or internal memos or retconned continuity – when did the Doctor Who production team stop hedging their bets and make him alien?”
I’ll leave you to hunt down the various answers to his challenge, and also provide you with this, also from the man who is, for all intents and purposes the ultimate arbiter, currently, for all things Doctor Who:
“The Doctor lies.”