The Thirteenth Doctor’s journey is finally coming to a close. Blogtor Who takes the opportunity to remind ourselves of the path that’s led her here…
And so we approach the final countdown for the Thirteenth Doctor. Her story ends four years, nine months, and four weeks after it began with her smiled “Aw, brilliant” in Twice Upon a Time. Since then the Jodie Whittaker incarnation has had possibly the longest, strangest, and most emotional journeys in Doctor Who history. We’ll witness her regeneration in The Power of the Doctor this weekend. But before then Blogtor Who takes a look back to remind ourselves of the Thirteenth Doctor’s story so far.
New Doctors often begin as a reaction against their previous persona. Other times they’re a crystallisation of the personal growth of that predecessor. The Twelfth Doctor spent much of his time worrying if he was a good man. Appropriately, the new Whittaker version was initially one of the most down to Earth incarnations, seemingly at peace with herself. Her first full episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, did exactly what it says on the tin. It launched her from the sky straight into adventure. At first unable to even remember who she was, she recruited a small group of new friends. There’s nurse Grace O’Brien, and her retired bus driver husband Graham O’Brien. And there’s local trainee police officer Yaz Khan, and Grace’s grandson (and Yaz’s former classmate) Ryan Sinclair. Together they exiled the alien hunter T’zim-Sha from Earth but it cost Grace her life.
In Series Eleven, the Doctor lives in the moment, and is unusually open with her companions about the dangers they face
It gave us the first insight into how this Doctor might be different from those came before. She actually stuck around in the days before Grace’s funeral, attending it, and comforting the grieving afterward. Of course, she immediately accidentally scooped Graham, Yaz and Ryan halfway across the universe and into the depths of space. Which wasn’t ideal. It was a sign one element of the Doctor’s character that had come particularly close to the fore this time. Even compared to some of the others she was totally of the moment, only thinking through plans as she executed them, and sometimes rapidly hitting reverse gear after a mistake.
She finally got her new friends back home to Sheffield 2018 after many, many attempts. But like many before them her new ‘Fam’ decided to stick around. Though with unusual candour for the Doctor, and perhaps because of recent experiences, she almost attempted to put them off. She pointed out the danger, risk of death, and the way the companion’s life changes a person. And all without making it sound sexy or exciting like the Doctor often does. It an honesty that remains one of the hallmarks of their relationships through to the end of Series One.
The Doctor makes a doomed attempt to establish a ‘flat team structure’ in the TARDIS
Even her discussion with Graham in The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos on the man’s intent to kill T’zim-Sha in revenge for Grace’s death is remarkably up-front. Each states their position, with Graham accepting carrying out his plan means leaving the TARDIS. But it unfolds in a context of mutual respect, rather than the Doctor commanding from on high. This, as the Doctor says, is a very flat team structure.
As the Doctor discovers that may not even know her own past, she begins to almost compulsively keep secrets from her friends
Things take a darker turn all round in Series Twelve, however. The Fam realize how little they genuinely know about ‘the Doc,’ when they encounter her oldest enemy, The Master in Spyfall. Moreover, the Master’s attack on Gallifrey, and apparent wiping out of the Time Lords, shakes the Doctor to her core she becomes more secretive than ever. The Master’s claims that everything they knew about the Time Lords was a lie also eats away at the Doctor.
She takes another massive blow when she encounters another incarnation of the Doctor, played by Jo Martin. Neither remembers being the other, which should be impossible, while the other Doctor is from a Gallifrey that’s never need destroyed. This other Doctor has also seemingly spent time in the service of ‘Division,’ Gallifrey’s ruthless enforcement agency. Even more shocking to the Thirteenth Doctor, this Fugitive incarnation carries a staser rifle. For that matter, she isn’t above coldly tricking her enemies into killing themselves, either.
The Fam urge the Doctor to simply live in the present, but she can’t let go of the mystery
Suddenly uncertain of her own history, and haunted by the possibility of misdeeds in her past, the Doctor takes it out on the Fam – angrily declaring that they don’t know her at all. But it’s her friends that remind her of what will becoming a recurring theme of the rest of this run. It doesn’t matter who she used to be or what she’s done in the past. All that matter is the here and now and how she responds to the decisions in front of her. The data ghost of the Doctor’s earlier self makes the same point too when she meets her in the Matrix on Gallifrey.
The Doctor learns that she is the Timeless Child, and that she has no idea where she’s really from
But letting go of the past is easier said than done. Especially when the Doctor discovers she wasn’t born on Gallifrey at all and that someone has deleted vast chunks of her past life from her memory. She discovers that the ‘Timeless Child’ is… her. The Timeless Child was first mentioned back in the era’s second episode, The Ghost Monument. Then the Remnants of Desolation claimed it’s a secret hidden deep in the Doctor’s memories. Then the Master teases it again as something to do with the mysterious lie created by the Time Lords to conceal their misdeeds.
But when the Doctor learns the truth it’s more shocking than she could have imagined. The Gallifreyan space explorer Tecteun had found here wandering alone on a distant planet and brought her home. But when an accidental fall reveals to Tecteun that her adopted alien daughter has the power to regenerate – completely changing her body to recover from mortal injury – she becomes obsessed with learning its secret. Endless torture and experimentation allows Tecteun to recreate the Child’s gift in herself and her people.
She uses it to become one of the three rulers of Gallifrey. Together with, presumably, Rassilon and Omega, Tecteun founds the society of powerful time travellers that will become known as the Time Lords. Meanwhile, she gives the now adult Child to Division to act as one of their agents. Ultimately, having become too rebellious they have their memory wiped completely. Division and Tecteun regenerate them into a child once more, and allow them to grow up as the First Doctor we know.
The Master, Ashad, and the CyberMasters are a twisted trio of enemies, but they’re dead… aren’t they?
The storyline also introduces the character of Ashad, the lone Cyberman. That rarest of things, a Cyberman zealot, he was a willing convert to the Cyberman cause, only to be denied when his conversion failed. He’s left a mish-mash of Cyberman designs, his face half visible through his smashed helmet. And he’s determined to bring the Cybermen to new heights and to wipe out the human race once and for all. He enters into an alliance with the Master which results in an entirely new species: the CyberMasters. Built from the corpses of dead Time Lords, and designed by the Master as a mockery of their former selves, they’re the most powerful Cyber-race yet. But they, and the Master, are seemingly destroyed when Ko Sharmus sacrifices himself to stop them once and for all.
Imprisoned by the Judoon for crimes she doesn’t remember, the Doctor’s escape is bittersweet as she learns some of her Fam have moved on with their lives
Her adopted planet and people are gone, and her original homeworld and identity a mystery even to herself. The Doctor had never been more disconnected from a sense of her place in the universe. The advice of her friends and past self to embrace the present proves impossible. Ironically, she’s swiftly arrested by the Judoon and imprisoned for crimes from a life she doesn’t even remember. Fortunately another figure from her past, the intergalactic rogue Captain Jack Harkness, is on hand to bust her out of space jail. At least defeating the Daleks once more returns one of most consistent touchstones of the Doctor’s life.
But though she’s reunited with her friends, she has to say goodbye to Ryan and Graham after the time away from the TARDIS has allowed them to reevaluate their priorities. She also has to deal with Yaz’ sense of abandonment, lingering from when she thought the Doctor wasn’t coming back.
The Doctor finally comes to face with her so-called ‘mother’ as Tecteun executes an apocalyptic plan to stop her wayward Child learning the truth
It’s not long though before the Doctor has to deal with yet more fall-out from her old forgotten life. In the epic six-part Flux the fearsome Ravagers, siblings Swarm and Azure, escape the ancient prisons where the ‘Fugitive’ Doctor had imprisoned them. The Doctor’s left battling against a pair of eternal nemeses she doesn’t even remember. As a result she spends much of Flux on the back-foot as the universe collapses around her. Along the way she discovers that the Weeping Angels once worked with Division too, and falls into a trap laid by a fugitive Angel. A trap that puts the Doctor once more in the clutches of the Time Lord she once called mother – Tecteun.
Held captive aboard Division’s space station in the void between universes, the discovers that her old memories have been kept and stored aboard in the form of a fob watch. She also learns that Tecteun is terrified of the Doctor recovering them. So much so that she’s unleashed the Flux to destroy the universe to prevent it. She’s even released the Ravagers purely to distract the Doctor while Division escapes to an alternate reality. All to stop the Doctor finding out the truth. But Tecteun has bitten off more than she can chew this time, and Swarm and Azure outwit and kill her before the Doctor can learn more.
The Doctor defeats the Ravagers and recovers the watch containing her memories. Finally facing that choice between regaining her past and embracing the woman she is now, she hides the watch deep within the TARDIS, unopened, and put that past life behind her.
Over the course of their adventures, Yaz and the Doctor grow ever closer
In parallel to the Doctor’s inner turmoil about her history, the Doctor’s relationship with her companion Yaz has been evolving too. It’s Yaz’s mum, Najia, who first speculates they might be more than friends in Arachnids in the UK. She’s trying to get a handle on why Yaz is suddenly so devoted to this woman who’s appeared in their lives out of nowhere. But more interesting is the Doctor’s reaction. She appears open to the possibility that they may have started dating without her noticing. From that point on there are many moments when there’s an edge to Yaz and the Doctor’s concern for each other when they’re in danger. An edge that feels more like the Tenth Doctor and Rose than the typical Doctor/companion friendship.
In The Haunting of Villa Diodati the following series, Claire and Yaz commiserate with each other about the people they love but who keep their own feelings opaque. Claire fears historical scoundrel Lord Byron has just been using her. And Yaz confesses “my person’s a bit different.”
Thasmin may be real, but the Doctor’s secretive nature still comes between them, as she conceals the prophecy of her impending death
In Flux, Yaz and the Doctor are once more separated by time. Yaz winds up stranded for three years in the 1900s. Beforehand, the Doctor is so concerned that things might go wrong she records a special holographic message for Yaz. One in which the Doctor is clearly stricken by the thought of being without her. While Yaz, for her part, spends much of the three years gazing at the holograph as she plays it over and over again.
The time-crossed duo’s new friend Dan Lewis spends those years by Yaz’s side too. He’s left in no doubt of her feelings for the Doctor. Having recently lost his own chance at love, his determined the Doctor and Yaz won’t make the same mistake. Trapped in a time loop with a Dalek Death Squad during the events of Eve of the Daleks, he gently pushes both women to examine their own feelings and see what he sees, that they’re mad about each other.
But the Doctor’s compulsive secret keeping is still a barrier between them. The god of Time whom the Ravagers worshipped has foretold the Doctor’s coming death. In the most recent episode, Legend of the Sea Devils, she and Yaz all but confess their feelings for each other. But the Doctor is wary of starting a relationship while the threat of death hangs over her. More than that, she hasn’t told Yaz about the prophecy and clearly feels it would be wrong to build their relationship on a lie.
The final chapter of this Doctor’s story has been written. Soon it will be time to close the book… but will we get a happy ending?
So where do we go from here? The Power of the Doctor is Jodie Whittaker’s final episode. So presumably the prophecy about the Doctor’s death will both be fulfilled and averted as the miracle of regeneration once again gives the Time Lord new life. But will she and Yaz finally share the tender Thasmin moment so many fans have been hoping for? And will they get a chance for a few happy times before the inevitable happens? And will Yaz’s story end in tragedy for the former policewoman? Perhaps a happy ending of sorts isn’t completely impossible. After all, River got to spend decades living with the Doctor in the heartbeat between episodes…
That the trailer shows the return of the Master, despite his apparent death, isn’t much of a surprise. After all, coming back after certain death is business as usual for the evil Time Lord. But it’s more surprising that he’s brought Ashad and the CyberMasters with him. How have they survived? And how do they fit into the Master’s plans? There’s not long until we finally find out.
Doctor Who returns with The Power of the Doctor on Sunday the 23rd of October at 7.30pm on BBC One and 8pm ET on BBC America