Doctor Who is a series built around an ever-evolving continuity. With each new portrayal of the Doctor, a whole wealth of concepts, plot points, and characters from previous incarnations get shuffled away to either be recycled for future episodes, or to spend eternity as unanswered footnotes in the show’s history.
Sometimes Doctor Who will establish a rule, and then instantly break it. At other times, characters are set up for a triumphant return that never actually occurs. This loose approach to canon is part of what gives the series its charm, but at the same time, it can be frustrating for fans when supposed key clues or mysteries are presented, only to be completely ignored and never mentioned again.
Plot points, supporting characters, evil monsters left undefeated; here are 12 Modern Doctor Who Questions That Remain Unanswered. SPOILERS AHEAD!
The creation of a cloning facility which is used to provide troops for an endless war, the Doctor’s "daughter," also known as Jenny, appears in just a single episode of David Tennant era Who. Played by Georgia Moffett, the real life daughter of fifth Doctor, Peter Davidson, The Doctor’s Daughter was actually a coincidental piece of casting which fit perfectly within the show. Her time in the episode was life-changing for both her and David Tennant, as the two ultimately got married after meeting on-set, in a fun story of pseudo-Doctor Who incest which Tennant has noted made the speeches at his wedding very confusing.
At the end of the episode in which Moffett appears, Jenny is mortally wounded and, convinced that she failed to inherit his ability to regenerate, the Doctor leaves her to carry on his adventures in time and space. In an epilogue, Jenny returns to life, fully healed, and heads off in a spaceship to see the universe, teasing her return to the show in a future episode.
Current showrunner Stephen Moffat has revealed that this postscript was introduced so that he would eventually be able to bring the Doctor’s Daughter back for future episodes, but he ultimately decided against doing so: for this reason, while Jenny was set up to return, Moffat’s official line is that she managed to fly straight into a moon and die off-screen, which zaps some of the triumph from her regeneration.
In Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor, his companion Clara finds herself torn between the adventurous life of a time traveler, and wanting an ordinary relationship with her boyfriend, Danny Pink. As part of one trip to the future, the Doctor and Clara meet one of Danny’s descendants, Orson Pink, who became a time traveler that got stuck alone at the end of the universe. Orson looks identical to Danny and reveals that he is also one of Clara’s descendants, hinting at a long and fruitful relationship between Clara and Danny.
While this episode stands as a way to set up Clara’s relationship with Danny, this plot thread is entirely abandoned at the end of the series, when Danny is killed when hit by a car. This leaves the story of Orson Pink’s origin as an unresolved plot point that will likely not be fixed any time soon, as Clara has since also been killed off (albeit unsuccessfully, as she is last seen taking the scenic route to the afterlife by stealing a Tardis, in spite of her lack of heartbeat).
In an effort to explain Orson Pink’s origin in an interview, Steven Moffat has claimed that Orson comes from a different branch of the Pink family line, although this doesn’t explain how Clara is connected to the family considering her own subsequent death.
In The Lodger, the first of two episodes which star James Corden alongside the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, the Doctor discovers what appears to be an attempt to build a Tardis by an unknown group. This unfinished Tardis has crashed into the roof of a house, and lodged itself there as it draws in victims which it attempts to use to pilot it home. This broken Tardis appears once more, in the possession of The Silence, a group who are determined to stop the Doctor and who at one point manage to blow up the Doctor’s own Tardis.
In spite of having access to this particularly impressive technology, the Silence never use it again. It’s not explained how they developed it, where it came from, or how they used it to explode the Tardis, nor is it explained where the crashed Tardis disappeared to at the end of The Lodger. The episode makes it seem as if the ship is in some way significant, and hints that its return – or the return of its original owners – may be imminent, but after a few scenes in The Day of the Moon, the Silence seemingly appear to lose their ability to travel through time completely.
In The End of Time Parts One and Two, David Tennant’s final two episodes before he regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, a lot of focus is put on a mysterious character who is able to contact the Doctor’s companion, Wilf, across time and space to warn him of actions that he’ll need to take in order to save the Doctor’s life.
The episodes are deliberately vague about the woman’s identity – it’s revealed that she is a Time Lady from Gallifrey, that she opposes the return of the Time Lord planet from within its time-locked prison, and that she has some kind of connection to the Doctor. It’s upon seeing her that the Doctor chooses to take the action that will save the lives of everyone involved, rather than choosing to kill a fellow Time Lord.
So who exactly is this woman? She’s never mentioned again throughout the rest of the show, even when the Doctor returns to Gallifrey and reunites with Rassilon, the villain who orchestrated the plan to bring the planet out of its time-locked bubble in The End of Time.
Fan speculation suggests that this woman may be the Doctor’s mother or some other relative, but it’s never made clear, and it’s unlikely that the show will ever return to this mystery to answer fans’ questions.
When Clara is first introduced to audiences in the final season of Matt Smith’s time on the show, she is given a complex backstory as a person who’s seen the loss of her mother and who, out of a sense of duty, is working as a full time nanny for two children who are friends of her family, having lost their own mother in similar circumstances. The two children even accompany the Doctor and Clara on an adventure to an abandoned amusement park, which turns disastrous when the Cybermen show up.
Following the adventures in that series of the show, the next time audiences see Clara she has a new job as a teacher at Coal Hill school, a reference to the original episode of the classic-era Doctor Who. Clara’s relationship with the two children she used to care for is never mentioned again. After feeling so connected to these two kids and wanting so much to help them with their needs, Clara has seemingly decided to abandon them.
Regular changes to Clara’s origin, personality, and family situation occur throughout her run in the show, and there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding her home life which the show makes no attempt to explain.
In A Good Man Goes to War, the Doctor sets out to recruit an army of friends who owe him favors in order to save Amy and her newborn daughter, who have been kidnapped by a military group based on the asteroid Demon’s Run. One such military recruit, Lorna Bucket, is presented as a sympathetic soldier with ulterior motives surrounding her enlistment – suggesting that she’d only joined the war in order to see the Doctor.
When given the opportunity, Lorna switches sides of the conflict to join the Doctor, before being fatally wounded. As she dies, she reminisces with the Doctor about an adventure they’d shared together in the Gamma Forests – after which, the Doctor admits that he has not yet been to the Gamma Forests.
All of this heavily implied that it was setup for a future adventure in which the Doctor would visit the Gamma Forests, saving a young Lorna Bucket’s life. While there may have been some intention of this occurring at one point, the episode has never materialized, and fans are left to wonder what stories might have been planned for Lorna and her people alongside the Doctor in the Forests. As Matt Smith’s Doctor is now long since gone, it’s very unlikely that this particular plot point will ever return.
Doctor Who is full of cameos and appearances from a variety of respected British actors. One such appearance which happened relatively early in the return of the series is provided by Anthony Stewart Head, who plays Mr Finch, the evil alien shapeshifter who takes over a school along with his Krillitane lackeys.
At the end of the episode, the Doctor’s faithful robotic companion of yesteryear, K-9, manages to explode barrels of Krillitane oil, covering the villains in the substance, which is toxic to them, shortly before the school is also exploded. Mr Finch, however, who has chosen to take on a different form and who appears to be impervious to the effects of Krillitane oil, is showed glowering but unharmed in the seconds before the school is destroyed.
Fans had long speculated that Mr Finch might return for another appearance in the show, but after ten years, it now seems unlikely that this will happen. Mr Finch has instead reappeared in various comic books, adding fuel to the theories that surround the character’s survival at the end of the episode. It seems that something was planned for the character, but whatever might have been intended for Mr Finch ultimately never came to fruition.
At the end of Matt Smith’s final season on Doctor Who, in the episode immediately before the 50th anniversary special episode, Clara enters the Doctor’s time stream in order to save him from the Great Intelligence, a force which was attempting to destroy the Doctor at all points in his history at once.
In the episode, it’s explained that entering the Doctor’s time stream is a fatal choice. Being split up across all of space and time, it’s impossible for a person to put themselves back together, and there’s no way out of the time stream once it has been entered. Thus when Clara steps inside the time stream to save the Doctor, her friends are helpless to come to her aid.
Eventually, the Doctor regains consciousness, thanks to Clara’s intervention, and he too enters his own time stream in order to save her. The two discover the War Doctor, played by John Hurt, within the Doctor’s consciousness, providing the cliffhanger which is resolved in the 50th anniversary special.
Except when the special episode begins, the Doctor and Clara are both completely free from the time stream. Nothing has been said about their escape, nor of Clara’s discovery of the War Doctor. Whatever happened to allow the Doctor and Clara to escape has never been explained by the show.
During Christopher Eccleston’s run as the Doctor, when the modern incarnation of Doctor Who was still in its infancy, the show went out of its way on multiple occasions to lay down the fundamental laws of this new revival of the show. The Doctor, his abilities, and his weaknesses are all established, as is his position as the last of the Time Lords and his unwillingness to meddle too much in the affairs of others (unless it’s really important or he feels like it).
One element that is introduced during this period are the Reapers; large, bat-like creatures which, according to the Doctor, appear when a time paradox occurs in order to consume all waste time energy and cleanse the wound in time. The Doctor himself is eaten by one of these creatures before Rose’s father is able to fix the time paradox and save the day.
In the years since, Doctor Who has been filled with more than its fair share of paradoxes. Periodically, changing the original version of history has had varying effects in space and time. When River Song refuses to kill the Doctor while at a fixed point in history, time itself begins to unravel. When the Doctor attempts to save Captain Adelaide Brook of Earth’s first mission to Mars, he is unable to change any of the key details around her death, and she perishes all the same. In other cases, time paradoxes are shrugged off as no big deal.
What’s never mentioned again are the Reapers – their first appearance in the show is also their last appearance, leaving fans to wonder what exactly has to occur in order for them to be called into existence.
A lot of issues surround the departure of Amy and Rory from the show. Due to a massive time paradox (which again does not result in the creation of Reapers), the Doctor is unable to use the Tardis to travel back to New York in 1938 – which is unfortunate, when Amy and Rory are both teleported back to that time and place by a Weeping Angel.
The logistics of this plot convenience bothers more than a few Doctor Who fans, who question why the Doctor couldn’t go back to a later year to reunite with his friends; or, for that matter, go back in time to somewhere else in 1938 and then travel to New York to meet them. It’s never fully explained why this moment is so binding for the Doctor’s relationship with Amy and Rory, save for the fact that their deaths are confirmed thanks to a tombstone – the Doctor could easily have picked them up at any other point in their timeline and then drop them off again afterwards.
One other final piece of the puzzle involves a deleted scene which was intended to bring Amy and Rory’s story to a close. In a brief scene in which Rory’s father is contacted by Amy and Rory’s adopted son and is presented with a letter from Rory, audiences would have learned more about the details of the pair’s lives after their capture by the Weeping Angels. This scene was ultimately not filmed, but a short storyboard animation was created to explain what would have happened.
The question at the center of the entire show, which is likely never to be answered, is that of the Doctor’s name – after all, the show isn’t called Doctor Who by accident. Early in the modern incarnation of the series, it’s established that the Doctor’s name is a big secret which can never be told to anyone, except in very specific circumstances (such as a marriage ceremony). The name becomes a bigger challenge when it’s discovered that the question of the Doctor’s name is both the key to opening his tomb on Trenzalore, and the key to opening a crack in time and space that will allow the Time Lords to return from their exile.
In all cases where the situation has come up, the Doctor has carefully sidestepped the issue of what his name is – including several that are set up to deliberately reveal this big secret. Considering that this mystery drives the show, it’s unlikely that fans will ever get a definitive answer to the question which sits at the heart of the series. In the meantime, though, plenty of other questions remain unanswered – for example, when the Doctor claims to tell his wife his name in The Wedding of River Song, it’s revealed that he is lying, which raises the question as to how she knows his name when she appears at other times in the show.
One aborted story point from the beginning of Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor revolves around something relatively simple: a duck pond. Or, at least, that’s what Amy calls it, until the Doctor asks where the ducks are, and questions how Amy can know that it’s a duck pond if there aren’t any ducks.
Such a small moment in the show drew a fair amount of speculation from fans, who wondered whether this brief bit of dialogue would become relevant again in the future. When facing off against a crack in the skin of the universe at a later date, the Doctor again murmurs a question about the duck pond, leading fans to assume that the ducks have been eaten by the crack, and that this issue will again come up in the future.
Except it never does – the ducks remain missing, and no closure to this strange mini-saga is ever provided. Yet the issue has become such a talking point for fans that showrunner Stephen Moffat has been asked about it as part of an interview for Doctor Who Magazine.
In the interview, Moffat explained that it had been their intention that the ducks were eaten by the crack, and that they, along with Amy’s parents, were intended to return after the crack was healed. The final shot of the series would have been the Tardis fading away, leaving behind a group of ducks happily playing in the duck pond, signifying that the story is over and that all is finished. When the shooting location for the final shot had to be moved, this reference to earlier in the series was dropped, leaving fans to speculate endlessly about what became of the poor ducks.
Doctor Who is more than just a television show: it’s a big, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey mess that is difficult for even the most stalwart of fans to wrap their heads around.
Over the course of nine seasons, two showrunners, three Doctors (plus appearances from a variety of past incarnations of the Doctor) and many, many writers, there are bound to be a few clues, plot points, and ideas that never went anywhere.
What are your favorite missing links in Doctor Who? Which points on this list do you wish had been resolved properly? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.