Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Is Done With The Time War

Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker and John Hurt

Doctor Who seems to have finally moved on from the events of the Time War, with Jodie Whittaker's Doctor healed from the trauma of Gallifrey's destruction at last. When Russel T. Davies relaunched Doctor Who in 2005, he revealed that the Doctor had been caught up in a terrible conflict in the years the series had been off the screen. The Time Lords and the Daleks had engaged in a brutal war that shook the foundations of time itself, and left both Gallifrey and Skaro destroyed. Viewers swiftly learned that the Doctor himself had brought an end to the Time War by destroying his own homeworld.

The Time War has been a central part of Doctor Who's mythology ever since. The Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors all lived in the shadow of their past actions; each was, in their own way, defined by the haunting sense of loss they had suffered during the indescribable conflict. Matters came to a head in the 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor". The largest ever simulcast of a TV drama, this special episode saw three versions of the Doctor unite on the last day of the Time War and learn the truth: Gallifrey had not truly been destroyed after all, just hidden away.

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Until now, it's been impossible to discern the emotional impact of that discovery. Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor didn't really explore it much; for one thing, his bad-tempered and moody character made it difficult to tell just what he felt about Gallifrey's fate, even when in conflict with Time Lords. But Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor is something of an open book, especially to her friends, and she allows her emotions to show. That makes one scene in the latest episode, "Demons of the Punjab" particularly interesting; the Time War is referenced, yet the Doctor doesn't show a massive amount of emotion.

When the Doctor first encounters the Thijarians, she believes they're the most dangerous race of assassins in the universe. Gradually, though, she realizes that the Thijarians have been transformed by the destruction of their homeworld; they're now traveling through time and space, attempting to bear witness to those whose passing history has overlooked, a touching attempt to redefine themselves around their sense of grief and loss. There's a striking parallel between the Thijarians and the Doctor's own experience of the Time War. After the destruction of Gallifrey, the Doctor too attempted to redefine himself, even attempting to deny that the War Doctor had ever existed. He became a traveler through time and space, doing good, trying to atone for his sins and find a way to heal his grief-stricken heart.

These parallels are powerful - but Jodie Whittaker's Doctor doesn't even notice them. She empathizes with the Thijarians as a person of compassion but shows no sign that their experience aligns with a painful part of her own history. That suggests the wounds of the Time War have healed at last; presumably, the Doctor has been able to move on now she knows she didn't destroy Gallifrey at all but instead saved her homeworld. Her own past has been rewritten, and the pain has receded to become a memory.

The Time War has been a central part of Doctor Who mythology since 2005. But it seems that, for new showrunner Chris Chibnall, it is time for the series to move on and forget this theme. Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor no longer lives in the shadow of war; and that frees her to be like no Doctor we've seen since Russel T. Davies relaunched the BBC classic.

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