Doctor Who season 11 is rewriting the history of the Doctor, revealing a secret side to the Time Lord's life that has never been shown before. New showrunner Chris Chibnall seems to be taking a bold new approach; not only is the Doctor finally a female, but this incarnation is opening up about a past that's only ever been hinted at.
That, though, is the magic of Doctor Who. This is a show that completely reinvents itself every few years; every time the Doctor regenerates, it's an opportunity to take the series in a whole new direction. When a regeneration comes at the same time as a new showrunner, the transformation is even more distinct. Jodie Whittaker herself stands as a symbol of that, the first female Doctor who's already proved herself in just a handful of episodes.
But what new elements is the latest season adding to Doctor Who? How will they change the shape of the BBC's longest-running science-fiction TV series for years to come? Here, we're going to explore some of the key changes Chris Chibnall seems to be making to the Doctor's past.
- This Page: The Doctor Was Female Before
- Page 2: The Doctor Had Sisters... And A Family
The Doctor Was Female Before Jodie Whittaker
Doctor Who season 11 episode 4 "Arachnids in the UK" saw the Doctor and her friends return to Earth, and gave the socially awkward Time Lord a chance to make small talk. Suffice to say, it didn't go well; her meandering comments included a reference to space assassins, leaving Yaz's family bewildered and confused. But one single line of dialogue stood out; the Doctor's aimless chatter drifted to reminiscing about a time when she was "a sister in an aqua hospital." A "sister," of course, is a female nurse; taken at face value, this seems to suggest that there have been previous female incarnations of the Doctor. It fits well with a single line of dialogue from season 10, when Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor recalled back to his Academy days. "I think [the Master] was a man back then," he said. "I'm fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though."
Given the Doctor came to the end of his/her regeneration cycle in the Matt Smith era, needing a fresh injection of regeneration energy from the Time Lords, this seems to cause something of a problem to continuity. Either the Doctor was just rambling, talking utter nonsense, or else the Time Lords had given the Doctor a fresh regeneration cycle once before. If that's the case, there are 13 past Doctors who've never been seen on the TV, and who predate William Hartnell's classic incarnation. What's more, at least one of them was female.
There are a couple of subtle hints in the old series that support this idea. "The Brain of Morbius" included a scene in which the Doctor engaged another Time Lord in a psychic battle; faces of his previous incarnations flashed on the screen, running back through Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell - and then on, to eight other faces. It clearly implied that Hartnell's wasn't the First Doctor, after all. Meanwhile, in the Sylvester McCoy era, the Time Lord reminisced about the ancient days of Gallifrey - times surely too far in his homeworld's past for even the Doctor to remember.