This New Year’s Day will bring the mother of all hangovers for the Doctor, as she battles a mysterious new villain in a much-anticipated special episode. But who is this monster, and what clues can we glean from this promo picture of Doc and the gang looking at some bones?
Here’s what we know. According to the official synopsis, New Year will see “a terrifying evil…stirring from across the centuries of Earth’s history.” But which centuries? Well, if you look closely enough, you will see a book of Anglo Saxon history.
If you’ve been watching Doctor Who for a while, you know how it loves to adapt old myths and legends. As such, your mind has probably immediately gone to Grendel, the monster in the ancient story Beowulf, who eventually had his arm ripped out of the socket by the titular hero.
And you know what? We’re no experts, but we’re not seeing an arm bone on that table. Luckily, we know an expert: freelance bioarchaeologist Anna Davies-Barrett.
Anna has both has the coolest job title in history, and is the better half of RadioTimes.com writer Thomas Ling. What does she think of the bones? Could they be the remains of the Horror of Heorot?
“Coming from someone who looks at a lot of bones every day, those aren’t real bones.”
“They look like plastic. They’re fake.”
Hmm. So it seems our mysterious bones are less likely to be from ancient times than Poundworld. What gives it away?
“They’re kind of shiny, you can see little bits of chipping where the paint’s flaking off to reveal the plastic underneath. Fake ones start to look worn, and to the trained eye, you can spot it immediately.”
OK, we can work with that.
The Doctor Who staff are smart cookies, so this must be deliberate. Perhaps the bones are supposed to be fake. The reference to ‘across the centuries’ might be a hint that this is a patchwork hoax, a low-rent Piltdown Man assembled for some mysterious and nefarious purpose, leading humanity to…
“Ethically they wouldn’t be allowed to use real human remains [on television],” Davies–Barrett continues. “There are very strict guidelines on owning and storing human remains.”
Right, so, basically, they’re fake because fake bones are standard on screen. They look like they’ve been knocking around a cupboard for a few years, because they have. Real science apparently doesn’t care about our fan theories.
Despite most television shows these days featuring a charnel house of skeletons and decaying bodies, you are unlikely ever to see a real human bone on screen. This is why, whenever you go to see Hamlet, the skull of Yorick is likely to be plastic. (With a few exceptions, of course.)
Once you start noticing the use of fake bones, it’s hard to stop. For most people, Blade Runner 2049 is not a laugh-a-minute film, but then you’ve never seen it with a group of forensic archaeologists.
“They just don’t lay out [the bones] correctly,” Davies-Barrett says with a chuckle. “So in a forensic TV programme, you expect them to do it in a forensic way, and it’s always completely wrong. It’s just funny, because we do it every day. I’m not doing forensics, but even still I would still lay out the skeleton exactly as it should be anatomically. It just completely takes you out of the moment.”
So either the next big Doctor Who monster is Grendel, scourge of Scandinavia; or it’s a transtemporal, archaeological hoax; or everything you see on television is a lie.
Or, possibly, you’ve just learned an interesting fact about the use of bones on screen, which isn’t so bad, is it?
Don’t get too upset. We’re only ribbing you.
This article was originally published on 30 November 2018