The universe generally fails to be a fairy tale. But that’s where Doctor Who comes in! Here are some whimsical wonders from the Time Lord mythos…
The latest episode of Doctor Who Series 11, It Takes You Away, ended in what can only be described as fairy tale fashion. Jodie Whittaker, trapped alone in a parallel universe, with nothing but a talking frog on a chair for company? It doesn’t get more magical than that. And yet, this frog was blighted by the interstellar equivalent of “nuclear chickenpox”, so its friendship with the Doctor could never last. With the bittersweet blow of a kiss, the Doctor returned to her own world… and everyone lived happily ever after. Or something like that. It was all a bit trippy, to be honest.
Surprisingly, the Doctor has not encountered many frogs throughout her lives. (A giant one is due to chase her down in front of Buckingham Palace though, if we are to believe Russell T Davies’ novelisation of Rose.) However, she definitely has encountered a lot of fairy tales. Let’s take a look back at some of the most notable fables from the Whoniverse…
Some of the best loved fairy tales are actually a bit messed up – but this one from the Series 3 finale really took the biscuit. With the Master reigning supreme as Harold Saxon aboard the Valiant, and the Doctor reduced to a withering old man, the Toclafane descended. But, as the Doctor himself was wondering, who exactly were those creatures? The Toclafane were just part of a fairy tale told to children on Gallifrey. It’s a made up name, like the Bogeyman on Earth. And yet, something very real was now tearing the world apart.
The horrifying truth was revealed in Last of the Time Lords. These ‘Toclafane’ were actually humans from the future – specifically, the world of Utopia (from, well, Utopia). Thanks to a bit of evil tinkering, they were able to travel back in time and slaughter their own ancestors – for nothing more than fun! By cannibalising the TARDIS, the Master was able to uphold this paradox, “allowing the past and the future to collide in infinite majesty”. Their goal? To build a brand new empire lasting one hundred trillion years. Just like the Master himself, it was a twisted reflection of the Doctor’s own morals. “Time Lord and humans combined. Haven’t you always dreamt of that, Doctor?”
The Girl Who Waited and The Lone Centurion
“What’s your name?” “Amelia Pond.” “Oh, that’s a brilliant name. Amelia Pond. Like a name in a fairy tale!”
It’s fair to say that the fairy tale factor got cranked up to the max during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. Compared to Russell T Davies’ more grounded, Earth-driven stories, this was a more whimsical and wonder-filled era. The evidence was there right from the start in The Eleventh Hour. Amelia Pond – later Amy Pond, having changed her name purely because it was “a bit fairy tale” – would become known as The Girl Who Waited. Her adventures started with a TARDIS crashing in her back garden, and ended as an epilogue in a book. The life and times of Amy Pond really could be described as a ‘story’, something rather novel (ahem) for a companion at the time.
Although, that said, her husband got his fair share of fairy tale treatment too. After accidentally killing Amy (to be fair, he was a Nestene duplicate at the time), he devoted himself to keeping her safe in the hope she might one day be saved. Dressed in the garb of a Roman centurion, he watched over her body for 2000 years. The Lone Centurion became an iconic image in many cultures, until his final sighting in the London blitz, 1941. Many speculated that, if he ever existed, he perished in the fires of that night.
But what exactly was he guarding? Well, that’s (quite literally) another story…
“There was a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. And nothing could stop it, or hold it, or reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world…”
The fable of the Pandorica made for the focal point of the Series 5 finale. An almighty box-like prison, the Doctor discovered it under Stonehenge in Roman times – just as it was about to open! What could possibly be inside? Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Silurians, and every other creature
still left in the costume department that ever hated the Doctor flooded the skies above to witness the event. Turns out, it was all a trap! Much like the Toclafane, the Pandorica was nothing more than a fairy tale after all. This prison was purpose-built by the unholy Alliance to hold the Doctor, in a bid to save the universe from his exploding TARDIS (and thus, the cracks in time).
Simply put, it didn’t work. The universe still blew up, and the Doctor managed to get out anyway thanks to some timey-wimey plot conveniences. But the Alliance’s plan itself was pretty genius. A fairy tale mystery that not even the Doctor could resist…
“What’s that in the mirror, or the corner of your eye? What’s that footstep following, but never passing by? Perhaps they’re all just waiting. Perhaps when we’re all dead, out they’ll come a-slithering from underneath the bed…”
The Twelfth Doctor set himself a mission in Series 8 standout, Listen. His conjecture? Everybody, at some point in their lives, has the exact same nightmare. You sit up in bed, you think you’re alone. You go to get up – and then a hand grabs your foot. Apparently, there are accounts of that dream throughout human history. But why? Are there creatures capable of perfect hiding, always there but never seen? The mystery sees the Time Lord and Clara travel between the present, the past, and the future in a desperate attempt to quench his curiosity. As Clara eventually puts it: “Did we come to the end of the universe because of a nursery rhyme?!”
The truth is more complicated and personal than you might expect. The TARDIS materialises in a barn, and Clara ducks under a little boy’s bed to try and stay hidden. Suddenly, she realises: she’s on Gallifrey, and the little boy is the Doctor! Hearing his future self crying out from within the TARDIS, he goes to get up… but Clara reaches out and grabs his foot to stop him. This fairy tale nightmare just became a self-fulfilling prophecy! Luckily, Clara manages to convince him it’s alright to be scared, and lulls him back to sleep. Remember: fear makes companions of us all…
It’s nearly Christmas, so we’ve got to include Sweet Papa Crimbo on this list! That’s right, the real Santa Claus guest stars in the 2014 special, Last Christmas (because how can anyone called Nick Frost not be the real Santa Claus?!). He first shows up on Clara’s roof, along with his reindeer and comedy elves. It’s revealed that Clara believed in him until the age of nine, when she stopped because she “grew out of a fairy tales”. But did she really…?
Santa later comes to the rescue on the polar base infested by Dream Crabs. In reality (or, rather, not reality), he’s a construct of everyone’s expiring minds. As the crew’s lives wither away in a dream state, their subconscious fights back by giving them Father Christmas himself. Shona puts it the most poetically: “You’re a dream who’s trying to save us?”. He certainly is, Shona, He certainly is.
And if that’s not enough, he even makes one last appearance to reunite the Doctor and Clara at the end, getting them back together in the TARDIS for more adventures. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. Wakey wakey!
Admittedly, this one’s more of a prophecy than a fairy tale, but it’s rooted in Time Lord lore so we’ll give it a free pass. Long before the Time War, the Time Lords knew it was coming, like a storm on the wind. But from our perspective, the Hybrid is first mentioned by Davros in The Witch’s Familiar. He speaks of a legend about an ultimate warrior – half Dalek, half Time Lord – that will stand in the ruins of Gallifrey. The Doctor later expands on the myth during Heaven Sent. He confesses, he knows it is real. He knows where it is, and what it is. He confesses, he is afraid. And that’s (seemingly) motivation enough for him to punch through an azbantium wall for four-and-a-half-billion years.
The Hybrid’s real identity is slightly more abstract in nature. Despite being teased with a Dalek-Time Lord hybrid in The Witch’s Familiar, nothing more ever comes of that. The idea of it being Ashildr/Me from The Girl Who Died is also shot down. Maybe it’s the Doctor himself, half Time Lord and half human… (shudder)? Or maybe it’s less literal than that. Maybe it’s the Doctor and Clara, a dangerous combination of a passionate and powerful Time Lord and a young woman so very similar to him. Ultimately, that seems to be the truth. And that’s why the two of them have to part ways once and for all.
Ironically, this is another self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Time Lords hadn’t set up a trap in Face the Raven that inadvertently killed Clara, none of this would ever have happened in the first place…
Bringing us bang up to date, the Solitract is the latest addition to Time Lord mythology. The Doctor first heard about it in a fairy tale told by one of her seven grandmothers. She describes it as a consciousness that, through no fault of its own, simply wasn’t compatible with our universe. In order to exist at all, our universe had to exile it to its own plane, where it now lives alone. That is, until it lured people in through a magic Norwegian mirror and turned into a talking frog. Ribbit.
Despite the Solitract’s best efforts, and the Doctor’s best intentions, the universal union simply wouldn’t work. The Solitrat plane began to destabilise and the Doctor was forced to return home. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, it was just as bonkers as it sounds. To put it in the Doctor’s own words: it was “the maddest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced, and I haven’t even scratched the surface”.
The Madman With a Box
The biggest fairy tale of all though is, of course, the Doctor themselves! As River Song points out, most fairy tales contain a “good wizard” – which almost always turn out to be our titular Time Lord. Every adventure we see on screen, or hear in audio, or read in a book or comic, is a fairy tale in itself, with the Doctor as its hero. Sometimes, that idea even transcends into the show itself: for Amy Pond, the “raggedy Doctor” is her impossible, imaginary friend.
But that’s not all. The Doctor has lived so long and done so much, it’s only natural they’ll have influenced the stories and mythologies of the universe. In A Good Man Goes to War, it’s even suggested that the Doctor is the etymology of the word “doctor”. For some, it means “wise man” or “healer”. For others, it means “great warrior”. Perhaps it could also refer to the “sainted physician” who fell from the sky to smite a demon. The Doctor is all of these things and more, a true figure of legend whose identity is shrouded in mystery.
But only children will ever know the truth. If their hearts are in the right place and the stars are too, maybe one day they will be able to hear the Doctor’s name…