The Biggest Mistake Doctor Who Ever Made

No, this is not a hit piece slamming the BBC and Chris Chibnall for casting Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.  If you’re looking for that kind of article, I’m sure there are plenty of them out there in the dark recesses of the interwebs but you won’t find that kind of negativity here. As for my own thoughts on that particular casting, you can find those here.  The Thirteenth Doctor casting is not the focus of today’s Doctor Who editorial, even though that decision helps emphasize my point. No, the mistake to which I am referring was made a few years back in Doctor Who history and was more like two mistakes that fed off each other and deprived us Whovians of what could have been one of the single greatest character arcs in all of television history.

Before we move on, there will be SPOILERS for all Doctor Who that has aired up to the time of this publication and of course, aside from the things I call out from the show itself, everything else here is my opinion and wishful thinking.

The Two Mistakes

Ok, so before I point out the two things that I absolutely hate that these two men did while serving as the show runner/head writers for Doctor Who, let me be clear that both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat were both wonderful at their jobs and, while each one had their ups and downs, I hope history will look back on both of them fondly for there respective contributions to Doctor Who. Now on with the show.

Mistake #1 (Russell T. Davies) – The Tenth Doctor “regenerating” in the two part episode “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” that served as the season finale for Season 4. Outside of the main reason for this article, this plot point always bugged me. How did the Tenth Doctor fully regenerate but… not?  How did he manage to just redirect that energy elsewhere and then that energy grows a new Doctor, Ten Two, from the hand that was severed during “The Christmas Invasion”?  Even by Doctor Who standards, that seems to be playing fast and loose with the rules of the show.  Also, that non-regeneration regeneration causes the single most heart breaking companion exit ever with Donna Noble.  Donna is one of, if not my only, favorite companions and the way her character’s arc wrapped up, in my humble Whovian opinion, is down right cruel to the character, the show, and the audience.  That particular story point almost made me quit watching Doctor Who.  I got misty eyed when Rose was left on the beach but I cried when Donna’s mind was wiped.  But the big picture mistake here is the non-regeneration regeneration.

Mistake #2 (Steven Moffat) – Counting that non-regeneration regeneration from Mistake #1 as a full regeneration, forcing the Eleventh Doctor to be the last one in the Doctor’s regeneration cycle and thus forcing the Time Lords (aka Dues Ex Machina) to grant him a new regeneration cycle, allowing the character and show to continue. To be clear, I’m ok with the Doctor and Doctor Who continuing on, I just don’t think the Eleventh Doctor should have been the last in the regeneration cylce. With the inclusion of both John Hurt’s War Doctor (rest in peace my good man) and Ten Two in the counting of official regenerations, Moffat had to use the 2013 Christmas Special, “The Time of the Doctor”, to write in a way for the Doctor to continue on and, again in my humble Whovian opinion, that momentous event falls flat and doesn’t have nearly the impact it could have if the Ten Two non-regeneration regeneration either hadn’t happened in the first place or wasn’t counted as a full regeneration, leaving Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor as the final one Doctor in the regeneration cycle.

The Time War and It’s Impact on the Doctor

Over the course of Doctor Who’s revival, we have heard mention of and seen the after effects of The Time War, the greatest war the galaxy had ever seen, in which the Time Lords of Gallifrey and the Daleks of Skaro fought their war across all of time and space, leaving nothing but death and destruction in their wake. That is until the War Doctor had finally had enough and used The Moment to destroy Gallifrey and the Dalek fleets, effectively committing double genocide and rendering himself the last Time Lord. The idea of the Time War and the Doctor being the last of his kind was a brilliant story decision as it drove both plot and character development for years to come.  For instance, the Ninth Doctor was characterized as a man still fresh from the battlefield, still grieving over what he had done.  We see the full range of post-war emotions in Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, like his absolute joy when just that once everyone lived in “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and then his all encompassing rage when he discovers a living Dalek in “Dalek”. After that we get David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, who began to find some happiness and love again but was still haunted by his past to the point where he was dubbed The Oncoming Storm and The Man Who Regrets. And while the Tenth Doctor is The Man Who Regrets, Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is The Man Who Forgets, characterized as a man who runs from his problems, pushing them away in his soul to make room for gallivanting about the universe and having as much fun as possible while desperately trying to distance himself from his past. “Never let him see the damage” indeed.

Why is all of this important and how does it all add up to the biggest mistake in Doctor Who history? That, dear Whovians, is where the 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor” comes into play. As you should know (spoilers, remember?) in “The Day of the Doctor”, we see the Tenth, Eleventh, and War Doctors all team up in an effort to save Gallifrey from it’s earlier fate of destruction and, instead of burning it from the sky, all 13 Doctors gather to use their TARDIS’s (TARDI?) to seal Gallifrey in a pocket universe thus ending the Time War and keeping Gallifrey safe. After that episode, the Doctor’s greatest regret, the one single event in his life that has defined him more than anything else, has been completely undone.

How the 50th Anniversary Should Have Affected the Twelfth Doctor

The very next episode after “The Day of the Doctor” features the Eleventh Doctor regenerating into the Twelfth Doctor, but again, as I explained above, that regeneration wasn’t supposed to happen as the Two Mistakes added up to make it so that the Doctor was technically at the end of his regeneration cycle and needed Clara to beg the Time Lords, through a crack in the universe, to give him a new cycle.  Blech.  It could have been done so much better.

All the things we have discussed come together right here, with the Twelfth Doctor. In my mind, the Twelfth Doctor is served so much better as a character if he is the last regeneration in a cycle versus the first regeneration in a new cycle.  Think about this – the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors all had their character at least partially defined by The Time War but the Twelfth Doctor loses that.  Where the Eleventh Doctor is the one who runs away from the responsibility and memory of the destruction of Gallifrey, the Twelfth Doctor should have been the one who matured past it and has to grow up and finish fixing his past mistake.  At the point in the show, “Gallifrey falls no more” but it is still stuck in a pocket universe. I think that the greatest missed opportunity for story and character development for Seasons 8, 9, and 10 and the Twelfth Doctor is that, since he is that last of his kind outside of Gallifrey AND he is on his last regeneration, the Twelfth Doctor must carry the burden of finding Gallifrey, returning it to the universe, and saving his people before he dies as he is the only one that can do it. And when he finally does so as his last act before dying, as a thank you, that’s when the Time Lords decide to grant the Doctor a new regeneration cycle. THAT would have been an amazing culmination of an absolutely astounding character arc that spans a dozen specials, 10 seasons, and 12 years.

Now I know that this particular story line would have made a few episodes here and there unworkable as they stand, but I honestly believe that that is mostly true for episodes that come after the 50th Anniversary and that the Twelfth Doctor’s run would mostly remain unchanged.  Looking back at the three seasons that encompass the Twelfth Doctor’s time on the show, you can see a mini character arc play out – Season 8: the Doctor questions whether or not he is a good man (understandable since he would be doubting his judgement after seeing that there was another way to save Gallifrey), Season 9: the Doctor remembers that he is indeed the Doctor and he saves people (workable again as he saved Gallifrey rather than destroying it and, in a lot of ways, saved Gallifrey from itself), and Season 10: the Doctor becomes a man who does what is right with out reward and who will stand and fight for what is right even if where he stands is where he falls).  All of that still beautifully fits the character of a man questioning his past and learning to live with himself again after living with the pain of regret for so long.  Even the stuff with Missy still works.  Imagine the Twelfth Doctor and Missy being the ones to save Gallifrey, the two lost sons of Gallifrey being the ones to restore it?  Then imagine Missy being the one to beg the Time Lords to revive the Doctor and grant him a new regeneration cycle?  My Whovian hearts weep at the thought of seeing that play out on screen.

The Thirteenth Doctor

Remember in my intro I said that the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor actually helped me emphasize my point?  Well here it is.  Let’s imagine again – The Twelfth Doctor lies dead in the red grass of the Gallifriean country side and then, after the Time Lords grant him a new regeneration cycle, a blonde haired woman rises up, the first Doctor of a new regeneration cycle and the first Doctor of a new era of Doctor Who. There are many instances during the Moffat era of Doctor Who, where the show began dropping hints that Time Lords could switch genders when they regenerated, the most notable example, of course, being Missy. By doing this, the show built itself an out within it’s own continuity for when they made the inevitable (and correct) decision to cast a woman as the Doctor.  Now, even though they planted all those seeds for the show’s rules to allow for the casting of a woman, I believe that casting a woman as the first regeneration of a new cycle, rather than the second one, gives them much more ammunition to explain the casting within the confines of the show’s established rules and with in the confines of the Doctor’s character arc. It gives the change so much more weight, so much more meaning within the meta-plot of Doctor Who. I don’t know about you, but after the ordeal that the Doctor went through, I would imagine a drastic change would be welcome for him (her?)

So that’s what I think is the biggest mistake Doctor Who ever made, do you agree? Disagree?  Did I miss something? Overlook a plot point?  Let me know in the comments below!

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