Doctor Who is the most successful British sci-fi show ever, a beloved adventure across time and space that’s brought incalculable joy to millions. And it makes no sense.
Exhibit A: the introduction of a new Doctor in recent episode Fugitive Of The Judoon. Played by Jo Martin, the new Gallifreyan is apparently a past incarnation of Jodie Whittaker’s Doc – one that, for now, doesn’t fit into the show’s history.
Why? Well, previous episodes established not only that The Doctor has 13 lives and 12 regenerations, but also that Matt Smith’s Doctor was the final version of the Time Lord (before he was granted a new batch of regenerations). And as viewers have seen all 13 incarnations of The Doctor on-screen (including The War Doctor and the Meta-Crisis Doc à la David Tennant) – not to mention two versions in the character’s new regeneration cycle – there is no space for Jo Martin’s character.
Although future episodes could provide new facts that could solve this puzzle, at the moment there seems to be a huge flaw in Who lore.
But this is nothing new. Since Who materialised onto screens in 1963, writers have pulled at the show’s plot threads from all sides, tearing a series of Slitheen-sized continuity holes across its canon. During our time in the TARDIS, two different alien groups have destroyed Pompeii, our poor Earth has met its final destruction twice and the Whoniverse’s Atlantis has been destroyed on no less than three separate occasions.
And although stories have seen the Time Lord retroactively fix plot holes by changing history (itself a concept William Hartnell’s Doctor advised against – more on that below), many contradictions still stand tall.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the legion of Whovians offering theories to explain discrepancies prove just how wonderfully dedicated the fandom is. However, for the moment, here are the questions the show itself hasn’t (yet) provided an answer for…
1. Is The Doctor half-human?
Most Whovians agree that although Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor definitely happened, almost all the events of the infamous 1996 Doctor Who TV movie didn’t. And that’s mainly because it claims that The Doctor is half-human. Twice.
Not only does the Doctor himself declare he is half-human “on my mother’s side”, but the Master also confirms the claim later with a retina eye scanner. And whether that seeming proof was down to the TARDIS’s chameleon circuits working overtime, or simply a writing room decision to make the Doctor more relatable, it didn’t go down well with fans this side of the pond.
Is the Doctor really half-Time Lord, half-human? Well, not in a way that would make sense of Doctor Donna Noble…
During her last episode, Catherine Tate’s character is made half-human/half-Time Lord by a genetic meta-crisis, courtesy of the Z-Neutrino Biological Inversion Catalyser (obviously). And this transformation is made possible by mixing the Doctor’s DNA with Donna’s, meaning The Doctor must be full Time Lord – if not, Donna would be only a quarter Time Lord.
But hey, if we’re willing to forget Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor’s death by random-gang-shootout from the TV Movie, we can sure ignore the whole half-human business.
2. Why hasn’t The Doctor always had two hearts?
Apart from his powers of regeneration and trusty sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s dual heartbeats have been the main method employed to distinguish himself from humans. But he hasn’t always been sporting two pumps. Although the Third Doctor’s 1970 Auton adventure Spearhead from Space established The Doctor has two hearts, previous stories have a different take on this core of Gallifreyan biology.
The prime exhibit: William Hartnell story The Edge Of Destruction (1964). In this early story – the show’s third ever – The Doctor falls unconscious thanks to a faulty TARDIS and companion Ian comes to his aid. But while examining the Time Lord’s chest, Ian notes “his heart seems alright”, making no note of a second heartbeat.
The Doctor’s assistant may simply have not have noticed two tickers, but many fans have taken the incident to mean that the First Doctor only had one heart – yet they offer a simple explanation as to why: Time Lords only grow a second heart after their first regeneration.
It doesn’t quite explain how Hartnell’s character was able to function without serious discomfort (David Tennant’s Time Lord found himself in extreme pain with only one working heart), but until the new Doctor provides a second opinion, it’s the best diagnosis we have.