No television show has generated more speculation and debate than Doctor Who. Over the course of fifty-three years, the popular science fiction show has been subjected to an incredible level of scrutiny as fans try to ferret out new ideas and make sense of an often contradictory timeline which is caused by the show’s constant travel across all of time and space.
Maybe it’s the work of recent showrunners sowing seeds for future plot points throughout their episodes, and maybe it’s simply a desire on the part of fans to get involved with the lore of the show they love, but Doctor Who has generated more than a few weird and wild fan theories. Some of them might be just about plausible, while others are directly contradicted by canon within the show.
These theories should be celebrated in all their bizarre glory. Here are 17 Doctor Who Fan Theories that are especially off the wall.
18 The Daleks Are Incapable of Killing the Doctor
In any given episode of Doctor Who, it’s taken for granted that the Doctor will spout a lot of expositional dialogue, and that the villain of the week will allow him to do so unchallenged. Such is frequently the case with the Daleks, the Doctor’s greatest enemies, who, while regularly in a position to end the Doctor’s life, instead choose to let him ramble for a while before he makes his escape.
While many might see this as simply a convention of the show’s formula, others have begun speculating that there might be a reason for the Daleks’ inaction and repeated failure to kill the Doctor. Way back during the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, the Fourth Doctor found himself in a position to destroy the Daleks – one which he rejected, ultimately leading to their initial creation in the first place. Some fans believe that because of this paradox, the Daleks are actually unable to kill the Doctor – they can’t do so for risk of eliminating themselves from the timeline as a result.
This theory gained more traction as a result of the most recent Season Nine of the modern Doctor Who, in which the Doctor saved the life of the child who would grow up to be Davros, creator of the Daleks. Thus the Daleks are forever desperate to kill the Doctor, but ultimately unable to do so without risking the life of their creator.
17 Season Seven Part One Happens in Reverse
No fan of modern Doctor Who will forget the heartbreaking end to Amy and Rory’s time as companions to the Doctor – sentenced to death by a Weeping Angel, the pair are given the opportunity to grow old together in New York, but are unable to ever see the Doctor again. Some question why the Doctor couldn’t simply pick them up in another part of their timeline – and others wonder if that’s exactly what he does.
In A Town Called Mercy, two episodes before Rory and Amy’s departure, an offhand reference is made to Rory leaving his phone charger in King Henry the VIII’s bedroom. In the next episode, audiences see this very scene play out, suggesting that the episodes A Town Called Mercy and The Power of Three are out of order.
Some fans have taken this to suggest that the Doctor’s appearances throughout the Ponds’ final adventures are in reverse order – having lost Amy and Rory to the Weeping Angels, the Doctor is travelling backwards through their timestream to visit them at different times. This culminates with the Doctor saving their marriage from divorce before finally saying goodbye to them and moving on to live in Victorian London.
16 James Bond is a Time Lord
There are more than a few theories surrounding the most famous MI6 agent in cinematic history. Some suggest that ‘James Bond’ is a codename, inherited by each new 007 – this theory goes some way to explaining why Bond’s face changes periodically. There is some evidence to suggest that this isn’t the case, though: small moments in the series reference adventures that have happened to previous Bonds, even when a new actor has taken up the role.
For some fans, the perfect explanation is that two beloved British heroes are in fact connected: James Bond is a Time Lord, who regenerates when killed in action. This would explain why the character has a complete recollection of his past lives even when he takes on a different face.
This theory can never be confirmed or denied, but it does open up some interesting questions for both franchises – for example, how did a Time Lord end up working for British Intelligence, and why wouldn’t the Doctor know about another Time Lord operating on his favorite planet?
15 The Doctor’s Name is ‘42’
When fans aren’t speculating about links between James Bond and Doctor Who, they’re looking to connect the Doctor with other fictional universes. With Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, however, this is more than just idle speculation: Adams worked as a script editor for Doctor Who, several characters have been referenced in both Hitchhiker’s Guide and Doctor Who, and in David Tennant’s first episode he mentions Hitchhiker protagonist Arthur Dent, claiming that he is ‘a very nice man’.
Hitchhiker’s Guide centers around an answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The answer is revealed to be ‘42’, but the question remains elusive. With the sixth season of modern Doctor Who, however, the show introduces The Oldest Question in the Universe, which must never be spoken and must always be kept secret. That question is the classic, ‘Doctor Who?’
Some fans have found it fun connecting the two, suggesting that the answer found in Hitchhiker and the question found in Doctor Who link together. If this is the case, though, these fans should beware – an in-universe theory within The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that if anyone ever discovers what the universe is for, and why it is here, it will be instantly replaced with something even more bizarrely inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
14 Weeping Angels are Dead Time Lords
No monster in New Who has gained quite as much popularity as the Weeping Angels – after initially being introduced in the Tennant-era episode Blink, the villains have been referenced multiple times by both the Doctor and other characters throughout the show.
One such reference, in The End of Time Part Two, has Time Lords covering their faces ‘like the Weeping Angels of Old’. This has led to fan speculation that Weeping Angels might be the ghosts of fallen Time Lords, whose constant exposure to the Time Vortex has left them capable of displacing people through time and feeding on the resultant lost potential.
Considering that Weeping Angels are incorporeal until the moment they’re seen, and that they’re considered one of the oldest races in the universe, this theory does hold up to a certain extent. It certainly would explain why Weeping Angels patrol graveyards and crypts so commonly in the show.
13 Several Evil Corporations in Doctor Who Are Connected
The fun thing about a show that travels all through time and space is the way the same concept or organization often appears in a different guise or form across the centuries – such is the case with Torchwood, which appears in a variety of incarnations over the course of the show.
One fan theory suggests that three otherwise unrelated groups in the Who-verse (The Lux Corporation from Silence in the Library, Sardicktown in A Christmas Carol, and Sweetville in The Crimson Horror) are all somehow linked – after all, each of these organizations focuses on freezing, storing or otherwise preserving people to avoid illness, death, or an apocalypse.
Further connecting the three organizations, each story features a character called Abigail – Who fans have pointed to this as a timey-wimey example of the same core story essentially being told three times, but with different principle characters and circumstances in each context.
12 Clara is the Mother of the First Doctor Who Companion
The fiftieth anniversary special episode, The Day of the Doctor, is fairly self-referential in a lot of ways. Plenty of Easter Eggs make passing references to previous adventures that the Doctor has had, which fans have studied in great detail to try and uncover clues about the direction that the show might take in the future.
One such moment of fan speculation actually comes from the teaser trailer for the episode, a collection of photos from Doctor Who history that have been animated together. At one point in the trailer, then-current Doctor Who companion Clara appears for a second, with the reflection of Susan, the first Doctor Who companion, in a crystal ball instead of her own.
Fans have speculated endlessly if this suggests that Clara might be Susan’s mother, or have some other connection to her family. A prevalent version of this theory suggests that, as Susan is the Doctor’s granddaughter, the Doctor and River Song have a son which marries Clara.
More recent episodes seem to contradict this, but with Clara’s role in a time travel show never truly ruled out, there’s still some glowing embers to this particular fan theory.
11 The Doctor Is Older Now Because He’s Forgiven Himself for the Time War
Current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, is one of the oldest men to play the role in the history of the television series. This has proven quite a stark contrast to Matt Smith’s time in the role, as Smith was the youngest actor to take on the mantle of the famous Time Lord.
In the fiftieth anniversary special, John Hurt’s War Doctor is shown a vision of his future, younger self, and who he becomes as a result of his choice to destroy Gallifrey – the implication being that, out of a sense of shame and remorse, he hides in younger roles as portrayed by David Tennant and Matt Smith, pretending to be carefree and happy-go-lucky instead of facing the reality of his actions.
Thus as the Doctor has regenerated into the Peter Capaldi, fans have taken this as an indication that the Doctor has finally forgiven himself for his role in the Time War and is willing to stop pretending to be a child. While the show has clarified that Capaldi’s face is an indication to the Doctor that he should work to save every person he can, this theory still holds some water as it points to his developing personality and character as well as his physical face.
10 The Doctor Always Regenerates into a Face He’s Seen Before
Peter Capaldi’s face has raised a lot of other questions for fans who like to spice up their enjoyment of the series with extra headcanon. Prior to taking on his role as the Doctor, Capaldi had previously appeared in an episode of the David Tennant era of the show as a Roman aristocrat. This isn’t the first time that an actor has moved from a minor role to take on the Doctor’s mantle – Colin Baker appeared in the show in one episode shortly before gaining the coveted top billing for the show, not to mention Freema Agyeman playing Martha Jones after a minor role in a previous season.
Fans have therefore speculated that perhaps the Doctor always takes a face that he’s seen before, and there’s plenty of canonical evidence to suggest this – at different times in the show, almost all Doctors have met and interacted with their future incarnations, giving the Doctor an idea of which face he might take next.
If this theory is true, it does go a long way to explaining how the Doctor’s regeneration works, and why so many Doctor Who actors keep coming back for additional appearances.
9 Peter Capaldi in the Fires of Pompeii is the Doctor in Disguise
The Fires of Pompeii episode, in which Peter Capaldi appears as a Roman that the Doctor rescues, has received a great deal of speculation and analysis since Capaldi took on the role as the Doctor in recent seasons of the show. Attempting to explain why the same face might appear in multiple roles in the show, fans have suggested that Capaldi’s character in the Pompeii episode might actually be the Doctor in disguise.
Even though more recent episodes of the show have dealt with the question of why Capaldi’s face has been used for the Doctor’s latest incarnation, there is still a slim chance that this theory might be true – after all, stranger things have happened in Doctor Who lore. The Doctor spent much of the most recent Christmas special pretending not to be himself when accompanying River Song on an adventure. In practice, though, this fan theory is a bit of a stretch – especially considering that Capaldi’s character is seen continuing with life with his family, and praying to a stone carving of David Tennant’s Doctor.
8 The Doctor Inspired The Word ‘Doctor’
One of the more interesting fan theories, a fairly unremarkable message that appeared on a fan forum all the way back in 1995 suggests that the word ‘doctor’ actually entered the English language (and other languages across the universe) because of the Doctor’s time travelling – hence, after leaving an impression on various worlds, the people of the planets the Doctor has helped begin calling their healers and wise men after his name. The poster of this fan theory is less than complimentary of his own idea, calling it ‘a particularly stupid theory’, and after a bit of discussion, the topic of conversation moved on.
What makes this theory so interesting, though, is the fact that, almost word for word, it ultimately appeared in a Doctor Who episode, entering the canon of the series – Riven Song explains to the Doctor in A Good Man Goes to War that the word ‘doctor’ as a term for healers and wise men across the universe come from the Time Lord’s meddling.
In reality, the person who originally posted the fan theory in 1995 was none other than Steven Moffatt, current showrunner and head writer for Doctor Who. This little theory is nice because it shows that any Doctor Who fan fiction, no matter how obscure, might one day have the chance to become solid series canon.
7 Mary Poppins is a Time Lord
Here's another theory for fans of using Doctor Who logic in other fictional stories. The idea that Mary Poppins is secretly from Gallifrey is used by many fans of the series to explain her amazing magical powers. Mary Poppins dresses similarly to The Doctor, has a prim and proper English accent, and even owns a handbag that is bigger on the inside.
Modern Who makes the connection even stronger. At one point the Doctor is seen living atop the clouds in Victorian London, an ability which Mary Poppins shares and uses as a means of travel when visiting the rooftops of London. What’s more, the Doctor has displayed the ability to travel within Time Lord paintings, which ties in perfectly with Mary Poppins’ ability to enter chalk drawings on the pavement.
Missy, the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s arch rival The Master, is likened to Mary Poppins in through her wardrobe and appearance. It could prove that the connection between the two characters is greater than most fans assume.
6 The Doctor’s Name is ‘Song’
For those who aren’t convinced by the idea that the Doctor’s name is ‘42’, there are other fan theories to consider. One theory argues that the Doctor’s name is in fact ‘Song’ – the primary evidence for this being the name of his love interest, River Song.
Another piece of evidence supporting the theory is the Tenth Doctor’s encounter with a colony of Ood that he manages to free from slavery. The Ood ask the Doctor to join them in song, to which the Doctor coyly replies that he has a song of his own that he’s working on. The Ood then suggests that the Doctor’s song is ending soon, and for the rest of David Tennant’s time as the Doctor, the word ‘song’ is used as a metaphor for his life.
While this theory was more prevalent before the episode A Good Man Goes to War explains that River’s name comes from a mistranslation of Melody, her given name, with the wibbly-wobbly nature of time travel it’s still possible that the Doctor might gain his name from River, rather than the other way around. This theory, however, is tenuous at best.
5 Rory’s Medical ID States His Death
In The Eleventh Hour, the first adventure starring Matt Smith as the Doctor, audiences are introduced to Rory Williams, a nurse who is also the love interest of the new companion, Amy Pond. In introducing the character, the show lingers on his medical ID badge for a little longer than necessary, which has led many fans to speculate about a date that’s listed on it.
According to the badge, it was issued to Rory in the year 1990, eighteen years before the episode in question. Judging from the age of the character, this would be a better choice for Rory’s date of birth, and many dismiss this as simply an error on the part of the show.
Others, though, have suggested that Rory’s ID doesn’t list his date of birth or the day he became a nurse – instead, it lists his date of death. Thanks to a run-in with the Weeping Angels in Manhattan, Rory is sent to live his life in the past, and while it’s known that he lives well into his eighties, there is no death date on his tombstone.
Fans have therefore speculated that, through a strange timey-wimey influence of Rory’s time travel, his medical ID displays the day that he dies.
4 The First Doctor is Not the First Doctor
Fans of the show are familiar with William Hartnell, the first man to portray the Doctor and, by all accounts, the first face that the Doctor has in the show’s canon. According to most evidence within the show, Hartnell is portraying the Doctor in his very first incarnation, and subsequent actors play his later regenerations.
But what if Hartnell is not, in fact, the first face that the Doctor has? Many fans have speculated that there could have been other lives for the Doctor before the adventures start in the television series. This is actually hinted at in several episodes of classic Who, wherein it’s suggested that the Doctor’s first known face has already seen several regenerations.
Thanks to the fiftieth anniversary special’s introduction of the War Doctor, there is a precedent for the Doctor hiding previous version of himself and lying about their existence. After all, according to River Song, the first rule of the Doctor is that "the Doctor lies."
3 The Third Doctor is the First Doctor
Another similar theory connects together the first three Doctors, arguing that the transformations between William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee don’t count as regenerations.
In the early days of the show, the canonical reasoning behind regeneration had not yet been established – changes between actors were explained by in-universe plot devices such as a ‘renewal’ undergone by William Hartnell to become Patrick Troughton, and a judicial sentence from the Time Lord which sees Troughton in turn become Jon Pertwee. Not until later in the series does the concept of regeneration enter the show’s lore, at which point an established chain of actor changes simply became commonplace and accepted without further explanation.
For this reason, some fans speculate that the Doctor doesn’t regenerate properly until Jon Pertwee hands over the show to Tom Baker. If this is the case, it lends credence to the theory that the Doctor has had previous secret regenerations, as by the end of Matt Smith the Doctor has used up all of his lives.
2 The Doctor Was a Little Girl
At the beginning of season nine, Missy taunts Clara with rushed references to a string of previous adventures that she has had with the Doctor in the time ‘since he was a little girl’. Missy suggests that one of the references on her list was a lie, leaving fans to speculate which one was false.
Despite the obvious implication being that Missy lies about the Doctor having once been a little girl, fans have been quick to point out that with Doctor Who, nothing is that simple. Many have argued that it would be typical of Steven Moffatt’s writing to hide a key plot point for future use in such a throwaway line – if nothing else, it goes some way further to preparing audience should a female actor take on the role of the Doctor.
Considering the existing theories that the Doctor has had previous, unrecorded regenerations, and the idea that Doctors One through Three are the same regeneration with three faces, the theory that Missy was in fact telling the truth about the Doctor’s childhood ties into several other pieces of speculation. While the Doctor has been seen as a young boy in some episodes, there’s nothing to suggest that he didn’t regenerate at some point prior to this in the show.
The complex and often contradictory storytelling at the heart of Doctor Who will always encourage fans to speculate. As has been proven, in some cases these strange and bizarre fan theories can end up coming true, especially when an avid fan goes on to become a Doctor Who writer.
For this reason, fans should never dismiss a theory outright – even the strangest of ideas are not too convoluted or unbelievable to fit within Doctor Who canon.
What’s your favorite Doctor Who fan theory? Which theories don’t you agree with? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.