After a half-century or so of Doctor Who, many mysteries about the sci-fi series still elude us. What is the Doctor’s name? What happened to his family? What makes him different from other Time Lords? And what’s his connection to the human race?
All tricky questions – but now one fan reckons they might have solved an even greater mystery that we weren’t trying to solve at all, despite it being hidden there throughout the series. And it involves both the Master and some classic music – but we’ll get to that in due course.
To understand the theory, you have to cast your mind back to 2010 episode The End of Time, which saw some nasty trapped Time Lords embed a code into the mind of a younger version of the Master in order the facilitate their return from the Time War.
The way they did this was by sending a simple four-beat rhythm (the heartbeat of a Time Lord) through the “untempered schism” (above) – a tear in the fabric of space and time that was used to show neophyte Time Lords the Time Vortex from which their society drew its power (and through which the Doctor travels) – letting the rhythm escape the time-locked Time War and lodging it in the Master's brain forever.
This four-beat rhythm thumping around the Master's brain emerged as a central plot point for John Simm’s incarnation of the Master, taking credit for having driven him insane and getting mentions in episodes like Utopia, The End of Time and The Sound of Drums (which is named after that very rhythm). But it was also noted at the time that it bore a resemblance to the basic structure of Doctor Who’s own theme tune. Take a listen to see if you spot the similarity, and then prepare yourself for the theory to get even more complicated...
OK, you might be thinking, it does sound a bit like that – but what does this all mean? Well, redditor killgrim67 reckons that considering the Doctor Who title sequence also depicts the Time Vortex (where the rhythm was first sent), the opening sequence and its four-beat rhythm may have been a warning about the Time Lord’s plan for the Master right from the start, echoing back through time and becoming louder and more insistent as the critical event got closer. In other words, the opening sequence is actually “real” within the universe of the series, with that music actually coming from the vortex as the Doctor flies through it.
As killgrim67 puts it:
“What if the iconic theme song is just an echo of the drums implanted in that child’s head? What if that beat has been present since the very beginning of the Doctor's adventures lying semi-dormant but slowly awakening?
“As we hear in the Hartnell era [below] the theme is quite whispery and quiet but as we near the end of the Pertwee years and the dawn of the Tom Baker it grows more distinctly and begins to awaken… now as we begin NewWho we hear it clashing, crashing and booming throughout as the echoed object nears.”
As killgrim67 goes on to argue, in subsequent seasons after the Time Lords’ plan was foiled in The End of Time, the beat gets louder for Matt Smith’s first series (showing the damage that had been done by Gallifrey’s return) and then the Vortex begins to heal, getting quieter as the years go on right up until the less prominent drums of Peter Capaldi’s current opening credits.
Even though it's clearly not an intentional reference from the creators, it actually sort of makes sense within the rules of the show and might just something showrunner Russell T Davies picked up on after he brought back Doctor Who and decided to use. With that said, we’re not quite sure why the message would have been echoing as far back as the Doctor’s very first adventure, or to what extent the opening credits actually DO show the Time Vortex (they certainly have done in the past, but some versions like the current clockwork opening go in a different direction), but still – cool theory.
If it’s right, it’s surprisingly gratifying – even if it was staring us in the face all along...
Doctor Who will return this Christmas