One of the great mysteries of recent Doctor Who has been solved in this week’s episode, with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor finally answering that burning fan question “How come the Twelfth Doctor looks exactly like Caecilius, the friendly Roman rescued by David Tennant’s Doctor in 2008 episode The Fires of Pompeii?”
Ok, maybe not all fans were thinking that exact phrase (they might not have awkwardly mentioned the year or known the character’s name), but it’s definitely something that’s never been satisfied with the answer “the same actor plays both roles and it’s not real.”
After all, within Doctor Who itself it’s considered a crucial plot point. In Capaldi’s very first episode (Deep Breath) the Doctor references the fact that he’s “sure” he’s seen his new face before, adding: “Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?”
Well, a series and a half on he’s worked it out – according to The Girl Who Died, the use of Caecilius’ face is a subtle reminder that the Doctor should always try to save lives, no matter what the consequences, just as he did in The Fires of Pompeii. Back in 2008, it meant saving a family from an erupting volcano at a fixed point in time where he wasn’t supposed to interfere. This week, it meant saving Maisie Williams’ Ashildr even if it also meant consigning her to a life of lonely immortality.
In his own words (displayed in the episode over clips from The Fires of Pompeii, like the one below): “I think I know why I chose it. I think I know what I’m trying to say. I know where I got this face and I know what it’s for.”
“To remind me. To hold me to the mark. I’m the Doctor – and I save people!”
Unfortunately, it also highlights another question: “Why does the Doctor also look like John Frobisher, a civil servant in 2009’s Torchwood: Children of Earth?”
Peter Capaldi in the Whoniverse, left to right: Caecilius, John Frobisher, The Doctor
One ‘explanation’ is that Frobisher resembles Caecilius (and subsequently the Doctor) due to the same “spatial genetic multiplicity” used by the Tenth Doctor back in 2008’s Journey’s End to explain why Gwen from Torchwood (Eve Myles) looks exactly like a Victorian woman he and Rose once met called Gwyneth (also Eve Myles).
This phenomenon was described by former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies as “not familial as we understand it. There’s no blood tie. Spatial genetic multiplicity means an echo and repetition of physical traits across a time rift.” So it’s basically canonical, and (maybe) isn’t quite as mad an idea as it first seems.
Still, we’ll probably have to wait another series or two to see if we ever get an answer to the Frobisher question – for now, we should definitely focus all our funds and energy on getting Steven Moffat to explain why Karen Gillan also popped up in The Fires of Pompeii, two years before she became Amy Pond. I’m betting the Autons and the Time Agency have something to do with it.