Doctor Who season 12 ended on a pretty big cliffhanger, with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor arrested by the Judoon police and spirited away to a maximum-security, outer-space prison while her friends Yaz, Graham and Ryan (Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole) were returned to Earth.
Initially fans weren’t too worried about the Doctor’s predicament, assuming she’d be able to break out with ease – but new preview pictures for the series’ upcoming festive episode Revolution of the Daleks tell a different story, suggesting that Whittaker’s Time Lord will be out of commission for a long while.
But just how long will the Doctor have been stuck in prison before the Doctor Who Christmas special? According to Whittaker herself, it could be a bit of a stretch…
“We’re in a position where the Doctor is in this prison,” Whittaker said during a New York Comic-Con online panel. “Clue’s in the photograph that I may have been there a while.”
Specifically, Whittaker’s drawing attention to the first preview picture from the episode, which shows the Doctor – somewhat bedraggled and unwashed, and changed into a prison jumpsuit – scratching marks onto her cell wall to denote the passage of time.
Just by the change in outfit we know the Doctor’s been in this institution for at least some time, while the scratches (grouped into tens, rather than the usual five) give a sense that the Doctor’s imprisonment has been significantly longer than most expected.
To go into frankly embarrassing detail, there are around 40 scratches visible, not counting any that may be hidden behind Whittaker herself or in unseen parts of the room. Does each scratch denote a day, in which case it’s been a tricky month or two for a Time Lord? Are they months (in which case groups of 10 seems like an odd metric)? Or could we be talking years?
After all, we’ve seen incarnations of the Doctor accrue a long life without any visible signs of ageing – Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor aged around 200 years between series at one point – so there’s nothing ruling out a decades-long imprisonment for Whittaker’s incarnation. And when sentencing the Doctor, didn’t the Judoon say it was a “whole of life imprisonment” as opposed to the traditional “life sentence”?
“We may discover [what that means],” Whittaker teased when asked about exactly what a life sentence means for a long-lived, regenerating Time Lord. “Or maybe we won’t.”
We’re betting that at the least, the Judoon could intend to imprison the Doctor for the entire length of her current incarnation, which could mean centuries in the slammer (by the end of his life, Matt Smith’s Doctor had lived around 1,100 years in that particular body). Alternatively, it could be that they intend to keep her forever even beyond any regenerations.
Now, of course that won’t actually happen in the episode – it’d be a pretty bleak and boring festive special if the Doctor just moped in her cell for millennia – but if that’s the ceiling, it doesn’t seem out of the question to suggest that the amount the time the Doctor does serve before escaping could be more in the realm of years (or decades) than days.
But what of her companions back on Earth, I hear you ask? They don’t have longer lives, and are unlikely to age by years or decades in the gap before the Doctor returns. And to that I say…time travel. If the Doctor escapes and gets back to her TARDIS, she could be back to them in no time, even if from her perspective she was alone for a century.
On the flip side, if the Doctor was just working with space instead of time travel (what DID happen to her TARDIS after the Judoon teleported in, anyway?) there’s nothing to say that her companions couldn’t have been stuck on Earth without her for a couple of years, marking a bit of a time jump before the special’s story began.
Whatever the truth, one thing’s for sure – like all of us, the Doctor will have been stuck in a pretty serious period of isolation when Doctor Who returns to BBC One this winter. Fingers crossed she can get out and about to take on the Daleks (though obviously no more than five Daleks at a time) before it’s too late.