A few months ago, I had a bit of a brainwave about Doctor Who’s impending 50th anniversary. People were beginning to wonder how the series might best celebrate itself within its own narrative and none of the ideas that were coming up thrilled me very much as a long-time fan.
The much talked about meeting of five Doctors at a recent convention has only fuelled the notion of another multi-Doctor story in the vein of The Three Doctors and its offspring, something that in practical terms seems like a bit of a non-starter, something potentially disappointing and, more significantly, something a bit retrograde. So what are the best and most forward-looking options within the programme’s narrative, I wondered. And that’s when I had what I think would be a great idea, which, just for fun, I’d like to share with you.
Actually, I shared my idea in a letter to Doctor Who Magazine. DWM very kindly printed it, but, well, only half of it. I have no argument at all with their editorial policy – I love that magazine and won’t hear a word against it. However, they didn’t print the meat of the matter, so here it is in full (with a few extras thrown in)…
Been thinking/worrying about the notion of a multi-Doctor story for the 50th anniversary. In 1966 when Patrick Troughton became a second Doctor rather than a poor impersonation of the first, an unwritten rule of the show came into play (that if the lead actor could no longer play the role, then his Doctor would be discontinued and a new one would replace him) and, ever since, each actor to play the role has done it his own way, his name becoming synonymous with his Doctor’s number.
To this end, I would suggest that the first three Doctors are irreplaceable, and should remain so. Having them played by other actors (physically or vocally) in some anniversary special would defeat the object of what was achieved at the end of The Tenth Planet (and in 1983’s The Five Doctors it wasn’t immediately obvious to those of us who had no access to older stories how utterly unlike Hartnell Richard Hurndall’s performance actually was). Additionally, the remaining Doctors from the series’ original run look like very different men now.
With pretend Doctors and unrecognisable Doctors what would any of it really mean? The point of the celebration would become lost under the weight of its own wibbly-wobbly convolutions. So might I suggests that the kind of multi-Doctor story we’re used to might not be the best way to celebrate the series – especially a series that continues to stride ever forward.
This is where DWM cut me off, but we can continue here (again with extras)…
So I have three suggestions. Kisses to the past: a Back to the Future style romp in which the eleventh Doctor and co are caught up in some wibbly-wobbly madness that has them interacting ‘behind the scenes’ with classic episode footage from each era of the programme (lost in Skaro’s Dalek city at the same time as the first Doctor, etc).
We already had something of a practice run when we watched Matt Smith dancing with Laurel and Hardy, so the technology is available; and new versions of old sets and costumes could allow us to have parallel stories running alongside adventures we believed we knew intimately – what a joy to see them subverted. It’d be great fun, and wouldn’t corrupt our memories of the series (but what a thrill if it could challenge them).
The second option, kisses to the present, would involve casting previous Doctor actors in new roles, knowing cameos (I fancy Tom Baker as the Doctor’s father in this scenario) – but that doesn’t help if you’re a fan of the first three Time Lords.
Better by far, is the really big idea: kisses to the future. Let the Doctor discover the 12 regenerations thing really is nonsense and isn’t going to apply to him, this will allow the series a scope that’s been hitherto unprecedented. This will give us an opportunity to have a multi-Doctor story with, for example, the 600th Doctor, the 950th Doctor, the Millionth Doctor, and loads of other far-into-the-future Doctors we’re in no danger of ever seeing in this (or any other) lifetime.
Perhaps they come back to prevent their potential erasure from the timeline; quantum Doctors if you will. What a spectacular opportunity to use today’s top actors, preferably those who’d never get a crack at the part under normal circumstances – women, older actors, teen actors, huge stars, all those people who’ve been dying to give it a go – and maybe even old TV Doctors in new versions of their previous bodies (imagine white haired Tom Baker as the Millionth Doctor), giving us a new take on the character (thus providing that ‘something wittier’ that Tom seems to want).
It would be a confirmation of the show’s on-going, forward-thinking agenda, and it would also open up merchandise and spin-off opportunities. An active multiverse of spin-off Doctors available alongside the incumbent TV Doctor would be a hugely commercial new take on the series. To steal a title it could be called The Infinity Doctors. And wouldn’t it be brilliant?
Am I mad, or does the third option sound like the real way forward Doctor Who needs? I think this would see the series’ time-travel basis, so crazily broadened under Steven Moffat, expand to finally reach its true potential.