I’m getting sick of River Song.
That seems to be the general consensus in the Doctor Who camp recently. Now don’t get me wrong here, people still appreciate Alex Kingston and everything she brings to the character and the arc of finding out who she is to the Doctor is as interesting as ever. It’s the fact that the series has become almost dependant upon that story arc that fans are complaining about. Personally I think that is an unfair assumption in itself. While the show does indeed seem to be focussing on the River Song saga, she is merely a part of the greater mystery that Stephen Moffat has been playing though his run on the show, albeit an important part.
This article aims to take a look at the other things happening in the Whoniverse (and no, that’s not my word thankfully) and how they may play into the greater story. While there will doubtless be things not covered (the significance of the duck pond in The Eleventh Hour for example) I’ll try to include all of the main threads that are playing out at the moment and their possible significance in the overall storyline. Expect spoilers.
Through the cracks we saw silence and the end of all things.
That was the first time we even heard of The Silence, and it was a throwaway line in Vampires of Venice. At the end of the episode we saw that the marketplace had fallen silent were lead to the assumption that the silence was an event caused by the cracks in time.
Silence will fall.
Things were turned on their head when a voice announced this just before the Tardis exploded in The Pandorica Opens. Suddenly the voice indicated that silence, while still thought of as a state of being, was something that a consciousness was aiming for.
The Silence, Doctor. We are the Silence. And Silence will fall!
One of those lovely Scream-inspired creatures from the two part opening to series 6 said this line, cementing in people’s minds that The Silence were a race of beings. The idea of Silence falling took on a new meaning, as we imagined the armies of the Silence falling upon the Doctor and his companions. While a lot of people focussed on that idea I was more struck with the following quote.
We do you honour. You will bring the Silence. But your part will soon be over.
This, said by one of the creatures to Amy while she was held captive, is another throwaway line with significance. While the creatures identify themselves as The Silence they are also using Amy to bring about The Silence. Could this have more than one meaning, the name of an order as well as a state? The latest answer was in Let’s Kill Hitler, the starter of the second half of the season where another group of time-travellers gives their own take on The Silence.
The Silence is not a species, it is a religious order, a movement. Their core belief is that silence will fall when the question is asked. The first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.
Again this is open to interpretation as these people were obviously new enough to time travel to start thinking of their ethical duty rather than using it to restock on curry (ten Furie Points if you get that reference) and therefore rather naive about the way things work. Time can be rewritten as they were proving themselves, and even fixed points in time are only fixed to the outside perception. While their files state one thing about The Silence, the truth may be something altogether different. What this new information does leave us with is a shift in focus though, from The Silence to…
The first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.
I’ve recently read an amazingly well thought out explanation of the oldest question being “Why are we here?” and that leading to the revelation that the Doctor is God, and the church is trying to hold on to power by killing God. As well thought out and reasoned as that was, I think it’s bollocks. Polite, aren’t I?
The oldest question in this fantasy universe, the most asked question, and the one that has never managed to be answered is actually the title of the show. If you read my very long Doctor Who primer from a few months back you’ll find the most used version of that question was something I chose for the title, so centric to the idea of the main character as the lack of a name is.
What’s In A Name?
The Doctor’s name. In over nine hundred years of adventure we’ve never found out what it is or even the reason the name is a secret. The Russell T Davies tenure on the show hinted at the Doctor and Master choosing their own names but never once gave a reason for it, while the non-canonical spin-off media have tried several reasons from the name being unpronounceable to any species but Time Lords to the name being wiped from Time and Space as punishment for a crime. I’m actually quite partial to the latter reason as it fits with the way the Time Lords did things, fits with their mythology and actually makes the show a little more involving when thought about. The very idea of going out and making a name for yourself takes on a whole new meaning when you have no name at all, and the consequences of someone without a name in the whole of Time and Space becoming the most famous person in the universe are interesting to say the least. But for now we’ll stick to the established media starting with a look at one of the older series since the reboot and a script from Stephen Moffat.
Doctor. Doctor who? It’s more than just a secret, isn’t it.
That was when the Doctor and Reinette Poisson, the future Madame De Pompadour, were sharing a psychic moment. The Doctor, having enter Reinette’s mind, found that she was able to enter his as a by-product of the process. That single line shows how long Moffat has been thinking about his own arc for the story and how it would centre on the Doctor’s true name. It’s an arc that not many storytellers would be able to sell satisfyingly but Moffat isn’t most storytellers. He’ll weave in events seamlessly that have so much more significance months or years later, little clues that can be called back. If anything Moffat is the series lead to have if you want to sell DVDs as his storytelling mastery demands repeated and marathon viewing sessions. Unfortunately he’s ahead of his time a little and the show suffers a little from being shown weekly as many viewers forget pertinent facts or miss clues. These viewers then regard the show as having gone downhill because they didn’t follow it well.
Back to the series and we’ll have a look at Silence In The Library and Forest Of The Dead from season 4, again a Moffat-scripted Tennant adventure, this was the two parter that first introduced River Song. At this point we had no knowledge of this strange woman who seemed to know the Doctor and neither did he. In order to gain his trust she whispered a single word in his ear, a word that visibly shook him and sobered the character for quite a while. At the end of Forest Of The Dead we have this exchange.
River: Funny thing is, this means you’ve always known how I was going to die. All the time we’ve been together, you knew I was coming here. The last time I saw you, the real you — the future you, I mean — you turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the singing towers. Oh, what a night that was! The towers sang, and you cried. You wouldn’t tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time. My time. Time to come to the Library. You even gave me your screwdriver; that should’ve been a clue. There’s nothing you can do.
The Doctor: You can let me do this!
River: If you die here, it’ll mean I’ve never met you!
The Doctor: Time can be rewritten!
River: Not those times. Not one line! Don’t you dare! It’s OK. It’s OK, it’s not over for you. You’ll see me again. You’ve got all of that to come. You and me, time and space. You watch us run!
The Doctor: River, you know my name. You whispered my name in my ear! There’s only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There’s only one time I could.
River: Hush, now — spoilers!
Moffat has quite obviously been planning this cycle around the mystery of the Doctor’s name for years and has been seeding his episodes with clues and signposts to this. What this mystery is and how it will affect the wider Doctor Who universe as well as what stake the Order of the Silence has in his name is probably known only to Moffat himself for now (just as the secret of River Song’s identity was something he kept between himself and Alex Kingston for so long) but there are enough other mysteries to keep us going for now. How will the Doctor escape his death? Who are the Silence? Just what is the deal with the throwaway line about Kennedy and time being rewritten in his case? How can the Doctor keep up with a man twice his age, who his own Tardis refers to as “the cute one”?
The Rory Factor
Right in the thick of Moffat’s Doctor Who is Rory Williams, a man who is more interesting with each episode and, in my mind, the true companion to this Doctor. While Amy is the lynchpin of the series and brings these two men together, it is Rory who is acting in the role of the companion this time around. Through him we see the Doctor in a different light than he has ever been presented before.
You know what it’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.
This is a companion who isn’t overawed by the Doctor and his science, a companion who immediately gets why the Tardis is bigger on the inside (and the first ever who isn’t overwhelmed by the fact). This is a companion for those who have watched the show for years, both the old fans and new ones, who can say what those people are thinking. As such he is as much a meta character as anyone else has ever been and has become central to the concept of the show.
Amy: Can you ride a motorbike?
Rory: I expect so. Its that sort of day.
Rory seems to be aware of the rules of this fictional universe more than anyone else, having already shown that the more ridiculous things are, the better equipped he finds himself at handling it. His most recent moment of this (in Night Terrors) showed him thinking he’d died yet again, showing that he’s aware just how many times he has died in this universe and that he’s getting a little sick of it. More than freaking out, Rory just seems to be tired of dying over and over again, and a little world weary from it.
Would this ever cause him to turn against the Doctor? While Amy is by his side he wouldn’t, and it was he who urged Amy to tell River to help the Doctor when he died in Let’s Kill Hitler. However, should Rory be left somehow not human and have lost Amy he could well turn all those two thousand years of experience and knowledge to the purpose of taking down the Doctor and could well prove a worthy foe for him.
This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you.
A very telling quote from Rory in The Girl Who Waited there. When forced to choose between saving a future version of his wife or saving a past version and wiping the future one from existence, Rory gives us a brief insight into how he sees the Doctor, and it’s not a pleasant sight. Rory sees the Doctor making life and death choices every single day, judging who deserves to survive and who has gone too far to continue their existence. He sees the Doctor as someone who has set himself up as a God and, while he mostly agrees with the choices made, he would never want to be in that position himself. Looking with an analyst’s eye it’s possible that Rory sees the Doctor as a necessary evil to endure so that his family is safe, although that is fast becoming a discredited hypothesis for him as he and Amy are continuously put into danger.
As shown in the opening to A Good Man Goes To War, Rory has become as legendary as the Doctor himself. Taken on its own merit, the scene attempts to mislead the viewer into thinking Amy is talking about the Doctor, but given context from other scenes throughout the show it all makes sense.
Rory: Rome fell.
The Doctor: I know. I was there.
Rory: So was I.
The Doctor: Personal question?
Rory: Seriously? You?
The Doctor: Do you ever remember it? Two thousand years, waiting for Amy, the Last Centurion?
The Doctor: Are you lying?
Rory: Of course I’m lying.
The Doctor: Of course you are. Not the sort of thing anyone forgets.
Rory: But I don’t remember it all the time. It’s like this door in my head, I can keep it shut.
The quote above, from Day Of The Moon, shows that all the knowledge of those times is still there for him to access should he learn how. We don’t know what will happen if he manages that or even if he can stay sane by doing so. At the end of the day, the Rory factor is one of the better additions to the new show and Arthur Darvill brings a lot of emotion and comedy to the role, never once underplaying it so the Doctor can be the sole star.
The Death Of The Doctor
Before the series started we knew that a major character was going to die in the very first episode. Rumours flew around about who it would be, but no-one expected the Doctor himself to die. Sure, this was a Doctor from two hundred years in the future and the current one would carry on from that moment, but it still set a sell by date on the series. We know that the Doctor has to get out of this but the question is how?
So many creatures have been met this series that can help the Doctor out in this particular situation. We started out with a flesh avatar of Amy and learned that a flesh version of the Doctor was not only possible but highly likely, the primordial flesh state reacting to the powerful psychic ability of the Time Lord to not even require a computerised imprint. When Amy was taken and replaced by the flesh many people bemoaned the lack of any clues beyond the fact that her established clothing had changed for that part of the series. Perhaps that in itself was meant to be the clue as, after the mid-season break the Doctor returned with a change of wardrobe himself. Nothing major here, just a subtle change from his stolen jacket to a longer overcoat, but could this be a clue that the Doctor we’re seeing is not the version that we last saw?
A similar event was used in The Time Of Angels from season 5 when Amy was blind and a future version of the Doctor appeared to her in her own time stream. The only clue that this wasn’t the Doctor she’d been talking to through the episode was the fact that he had his jacket on, while the one from the episode had taken it off. I huffed and puffed at the time about the production crew making a massive mistake like that and then it was explained several episodes later as time travel. Could we be seeing another version of this clue with the Doctor’s change of jacket?
Of course, the flesh may itself be a mislead. As of Let’s Kill Hitler, the Doctor has access to a shape-shifting, time travelling robot called the Tessalecta. As the Doctor that died in The Impossible Astronaut didn’t seem to have any Tardis with him it’s possible that this robot was programmed and sent to die in his place. The advanced technology of the Tardis combined with the Tessalecta itself could have caused scanners to read the robot as the Doctor and allowed the appearance of his death without an innocent suffering. Considering the many rules the Doctor has surrounded himself with concerning the treatment of innocents, he could never allow anything living to go in his place to their death so this is a more likely situation, I believe. The Doctor would likely consider the flesh version of himself (a version that knows it can be reconstituted after its collapse at the end of The Rebel Flesh) to be a full person and as deserving of life as he is and wouldn’t send it to his own death in his place.
Finally, we have the young boy from Night Terrors, who it turned out is an incredibly powerful psychic alien called a Tenza. Powerful enough to bend time and space at the very least. Calling on something like that for a favour could allow the Doctor to destabilise the time vortex long enough to make a few cosmetic changes to an established event without destroying the entire universe. Cosmetic changes such as placing a time travelling robot in his place.
But why would the Doctor be so desperate to save himself? The answer is simple – a man with such self-loathing is never desperate to save himself, but to find redemption of sorts. He wouldn’t be changing time to save his own life, he’d be doing it to save someone else. In this case I believe that whoever is in the spacesuit is the person he is trying to save, and it may still all come back to River Song, which I’m sure is going to pull out one single reaction from a majority of watchers.
I’m getting sick of River Song.
There’s no pleasing some people, is there…