Doctor Who series 12 has been full of massive twists, from the unmasking of Sacha Dhawan’s new Master to the return of the Cybermen – but perhaps the biggest shock of all came during the series’ fifth episode, when a surprise new version of the Doctor was revealed, played by Jo Martin alongside Jodie Whittaker’s current incarnation.
And it wasn’t just fans blown away by the reveal, with former showrunner Steven Moffat and regular Who writer Mark Gatiss sharing their admiration of the rug-pull in a recent RadioTimes.com interview, while also dismissing fan complaints that Martin’s new Doctor somehow “broke” the canon of the BBC sci-fi series.
“I saw [showrunner Chris Chibnall] last night,” Gatiss told us at the Radio Times Covers Party, “and the digging up of the TARDIS in the grave genuinely made my hair stand on end.
“It was like ‘Oh, what?’ – I had no idea that was coming, that was thrilling.”
“I knew nothing about that, nothing about that at all,” agreed ex-series boss Moffat, noting that while he was aware of one twist in the episode, the other was kept from him.
“I did know about Captain Jack, but I didn’t know about that. And I thought that was very clever, because it made it feel as though the reveal of Captain Jack, and the warning, was the big thing in the episode.
“I thought that was very clever – to conceal a surprise behind another one.”
And, Moffat noted, the episode’s title – Fugitive of the Judoon – and publicity focusing on the rhino-faced aliens was another misdirect that he admired.
“We slightly associate the Judoon with a lightweight episode,” he explained.
“They’re great, but we don’t think of them as the scary monsters of Doctor Who. They’re kind of the quite funny monsters of Doctor Who. So you don’t expect it to be a brave, pivotal moment in the show. I thought that was very clever.”
“What does it mean? Where is she? Who is she?” Gatiss added.
“I haven’t got a clue,” Moffat told us. “And I’m not lying, I genuinely do not have a clue what that all means.”
While the true nature of Martin’s Doctor is yet to be revealed, many have theorised (based on clues in the series) that she may be an older incarnation than we’ve ever seen, even before William Hartnell’s First Doctor began the series in 1963 (later regenerating into Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, beginning the cycle of recasting that has characterised Doctor Who ever since).
Personally, Moffat and Gatiss seem to support this theory, and dismissed any notion that this would break the “rules” of Doctor Who or contradict the canon, which many fans had expressed concerns about.
“I don’t know what [Chris’s] plan with the Jo Doctor is – but the first time you see William Hartnell, he’s very confused… you know?” Moffat told us. “Who knows?
“I think there’s two things about canon. You don’t want to break really important rules. Really important rules include the Doctor picking up a gun and shooting innocent people. Or forgetting that he or she is a Time Lord and deciding he or she is human. That would be wrong. That’s just blowing apart the show.
“But if you can make it fit – and you can make anything fit in Doctor Who – that’s exciting.”
And to any fans pointing out Who’s previously-established 12-regeneration limit, the pair had little patience, pointing out that plenty of other “facts” about the Doctor – including the detail that he’s half-human from the 1996 movie or that there were incarnations before Hartnell revealed in Tom Baker episode The Brain of Morbius – were happily ignored by viewers when they didn’t fit.
“Oh, I don’t give a flying monkey’s about [canon],” Gatiss said. “For me it’s all part of the joy of it, and it’s sort of deadly to restrict it like that. I remember watching the Brain of Morbius and just going, ‘Uhhh… what?!’.”
“I hated the fact that the next year they said the Doctor could only regenerate 12 times,” Moffat continued.
“I thought, I had subtracted from me all the joy of imagining those other Doctors. By this bloody rule that came in, that for some reason we all decided was true! Despite the fact that there are many contradictions.”
“Some rules have to be obeyed, others can be flatly ignored,” Gatiss said. [“The Doctor’s] half human, it’s definitely there, it’s not a joke.”
“And there’s not a single thing in Doctor Who to contradict the fact that he’s half-human, not one single thing contradicts it,” Moffat agreed. “Nothing he’s ever said says he’s not half human. So what?”
Perhaps when the truth about Martin’s Doctor is finally revealed, we’ll know just how she fits into Doctor Who’s history, but for now Moffat and Gatiss say they’re just as much in the dark as any of us. And apparently, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I remember how thrilling it was so long ago and towards the end of Tom Baker’s time, that you had the Master coming back, the Master getting a new body, the Doctor regenerating, all in three consecutive stories,” Moffat said. “I remember that being…that was fireworks.”
“It is hard these days, because so much is spoilt,” Gatiss told us. “But even if it’s not meant to be spoilt it’s much more accessible. And then you get those wonderfully rare moments where you do feel like a child again.”
“It’s great when they can do that,” Moffat agreed.
Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 7:10pm on Sundays