7 Doctor Who Unanswered Questions

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Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor

Season 7 of Doctor Who has come and gone, and while we finally found out what the deal with Clara Oswald is, there are still several nagging mysteries the show has raised but hasn’t answered. Here are 7 Doctor Who unanswered questions that are keeping us awake at night.

Spoilers ahead!

You kind of have to understand going in to Doctor Who that its “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” nature means that some things are simply never going to make sense. And they aren’t meant to. You can pick apart every episode of the show without trying very hard, but if you pull at these threads too hard, the whole tapestry could unravel. And on the whole, mysteries have never really been the point of Doctor Who, anyway.

That said, the tenure of Steven Moffat as showrunner has been different. Moffat’s built his run on long-term story arcs that feature loads of built-in mysteries — mysteries which go unresolved across several episodes or even seasons. So their importance has been increased dramatically of late. And if the writer is going to raise the stakes in this way, then he best be prepared to pay them off.

So in terms of “Doctor Who unanswered questions,” I’m only focusing on the big ones. The questions that the show has gone out of its way to ask and drawn attention to.

1. Doctor who?

I was absolutely convinced that showrunner Steven Moffat was going to reveal the Doctor’s name to us at last in the season finale, “The Name of the Doctor.” If it was a big enough revelation, then it seemed like the perfect lead-in to the 50th anniversary special. I get now that that title was a reference to John Hurt’s character somehow betraying what the Doctor stands for. But that feels like a separate issue, not the payoff to a long-running mystery. Moffat has been teasing the “Doctor who?” question non-stop since the end of last season, and the rules of storytelling state that you don’t point out that there’s a gun in the room unless you plan on one of your characters using it.

Might we still learn it? River took the Doctor’s name to her grave, but if Clara fully remembers everything that she learned in “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” then she knows it now, too. And if ever in the history of the show there is a perfect time to finally reveal it, the 50th anniversary is it. Maybe Moffat will surprise us and whip it out in the big special this November that guest stars David Tennant and Billie Piper. Perhaps John Hurt’s character will go by the real name, since Matt Smith’s Doctor (and presumably Tennant’s as well) doesn’t consider him to be the same as all the others.

But there’s a school of thought that says we won’t and shouldn’t ever learn his name, because it would take away from the character’s mystique. I find that notion wildly unsatisfying. It’s not like this is some incidental, throwaway mystery. It’s central to the show, and most importantly, it’s been dangled in front of us again and again for an entire year. Longer, if you go all the way back to River Song’s introduction in “Silence In the Library.”

My theory: Let’s assume for a moment that Steven Moffat does have an answer to this question and will reveal it at some point. I’ve been thinking about this all season long, and it occurs to me that in order for the name to have any dramatic weight or any meaning, it has to be a name that we will recognize. If it’s just something silly like “Angus” (that’s right, MacGyver fans, I went there), that would be nothing short of a betrayal, from Moffat to us Whovians. When Clara learned it in “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” she didn’t act like it was some strange, foreign name. She was pretty matter-of-fact about it when she said, “So that’s who.” (Then again, she would probably react that way if his name was something common like “John.”)

My best guess is that it’s a name from history or mythology or religion.

2. Who is John Hurt’s mystery Doctor?

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John Hurt as a secret incarnation of the Doctor

“The Name of the Doctor” established that Hurt’s character is another incarnation of the Doctor, and Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor spoke of Hurt and his actions in the past tense. But Doctor 11 said that Hurt’s character was the Doctor’s “biggest secret,” aka a part of his past that he’s tried to bury.

My knee-jerk reaction was to think that Hurt’s Doctor was the one that fought in the Time War, destroying his own people and time-locking Gallifrey and the Daleks into the final day of the war. But that doesn’t quite add up. All three Doctors of the modern series have spoken openly about the Time War and what went down there; it’s not a secret. But maybe they’ve been lying, or leaving out some crucial (and particularly damning) part of the story. What we’ve seen so far certainly hints that the Time War plays into it.

So what did he do? What terrible choice did he make that had consequences so awful, the Doctor has concealed his entire existence for hundreds of years? This incarnation violated the Doctor’s most sacred principles, to the extent that he couldn’t use “Doctor” as his name. Given that the Doctor’s known actions in the Time War resulted in the deaths of his entire race and untold others… Then what Hurt’s character did must’ve resulted in some particularly horrible form of genocide, on an unprecedented scale.

My theory: In the history of Doctor Who, going all the way back to William Hartnell, we have been shown every single regeneration of the Doctor (or transformation into a new body) but one. Show of hands: who knows which one? The answer is in this video.

Did you catch it? Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor (from the Fox/BBC 1996 telefilm) is never seen regenerating into Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor. It’s not hard to imagine Steven Moffat daydreaming one day about how that was the only regeneration we never witnessed on film… And hey, maybe there’s a story reason for that!

I believe we’re going to learn that McGann’s Doctor #8 regenerated into John Hurt’s character, and then Hurt regenerated into Eccleston’s #9. It lines up perfectly with the Time War stuff — which is almost certainly what this is all about — since Russell Davies is on record saying the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War took place sometime around Doctors 8 and 9.

3. Is the Prophecy of the Question still in play?

In “The Wedding of River Song,” the sixth season finale, blue-headed Doriam revealed a prophecy that foretold how the “Silence will fall,” among other momentous events. In its full form (it was split up in the episode), it went like this:

On the Fields of Trenzalore at the fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered. The first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight: Doctor who?

It seems strange that “The Name of the Doctor” took us to Trenzalore, but was not about the events spoken of in the prophecy. Yet that certainly appears to be the case.

My theory: Yes, the Prophecy is absolutely still in play. That doesn’t mean Moffat couldn’t forget about it or choose to go in another creative direction. (Which, arguably, could have been what he did in “The Name of the Doctor.”) But not one of the events described in the Prophecy occurred in the season finale.

  1. The prophecy referred to what sounds like a big battle on “the fields of Trenzalor”; we saw no battle but we did get a “battlefield graveyard,” which sounds like a battle will take place there involving the Doctor, but from the current Doctor’s perspective, it hasn’t happened yet.
  2. The Silence were not in this episode, but the prophecy was about them just as much as it was about the Doctor. The Silence, as were told repeatedly throughout Season 6, are a religious group built around preventing the Doctor from ever revealing his name. Because they believed that “Silence will fall when the question is answered.” In other words, the prophecy foretold of their destruction due to this battle on Trenzalor when the Doctor has no choice but to reveal his name.
  3. The prophecy was not fulfilled. He never said his name. So the Silence did not fall, and it was not “the fall of the 11th.” Matt Smith is signed on to play the Doctor for at least another season.
  4. Doriam said that the Doctor’s name would be revealed on Trenzalore at a time when, for some reason, “no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer.” But the Great Intelligence (in the guise of Dr. Simeon) asked the Doctor what his name was on Trenzalore in the season finale, and he did fail to answer. This clearly was not the time when “no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer.” (Ironically, it was a non-living creature who answered the question in this case — the digital copy of River Song.)

So, all that being true… When will the Battle of Trenzalore take place? More to the point, will the show ever payoff the prophecy by showing us the Battle of Trenzalore and the answer to the question? “The fall of the 11th” in the prophecy seems like a clear reference to the death (and regeneration) of Matt Smith’s Doctor. So it seems clear that if Moffat ever intends to show us this, it would have to happen when Smith decides to leave the show.

Of course, all this is predicated on “the fall of the 11th” meaning the 11th Doctor’s regeneration into the 12th Doctor. I want to believe that’s the case, because otherwise the prophecy would have said “the fall of the Doctor.” (Don’t start with me about John Hurt; we need more data before retconning the numbering of the Doctors.) But what if that was all just a smokescreen? In the season finale, we saw not the place where the 11th Doctor regenerated, but the place where he died. His actual grave.

Was his grave on Trenzalore because of what happens in the Prophecy? Or because of the Great Intelligence’s actions in this episode? I suppose more fundamentally we should be asking if the Doctor’s grave is still on Trenzalore after the events of this episode, or if that grave has been erased and the future rewritten.

Mmm, one could go mad trying to sort out every single one of the many Doctor Who unanswered questions…

4. Why is revealing the Doctor’s name such a terrible thing?

The Silence believed that they would “fall when the question is asked.” (The question being, of course: What is the Doctor’s true name?) And we know they had dedicated themselves to preventing that question from ever being asked. Doriam said that it is “the question that must never be answered.”

So… Why? Why is revealing the Doctor’s true name such a terrible thing? What would happen if the Doctor’s name is ever spoken, aside from the Silence falling? And more to the point, how is that possible?

My theory: What if saying the Doctor’s name out loud unleashes some kind of power?

The Doctor told Clara in “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” in reference to his name, that “it’s better” that she would forget it when they reset the day. Why? She very nearly said his name out loud just then, but he stopped her. Would something have happened if she’d spoken it? River whispering it to David Tennant’s Doctor back in “Silence In the Library” seems to confirm that there’s something about saying the name aloud that holds power.

If answering the question directly results in the fall of the Silence, doesn’t that mean that saying the Doctor’s real name releases some form of destructive power?

Taking this line of thought a step further… The Doctor’s TARDISy grave on Trenzalore raises the possibility that his “fall” in the big battle that’s yet to come could refer to his death. Which presumably happens after the Doctor answers the question and reveals his name. Could speaking his name cause his own death? Is that why he’s so bent on never revealing it?

Eh, maybe I’m just pulling too hard at this thread. Maybe the Doctor never wanted to reveal his name because that information would lead back to the secret of John Hurt’s character. That seems awfully misleading (not to mention confusing), but it’s a real possibility.

5. Who gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number?

In “The Bells of St. John,” Clara Oswald (the original version of her) called a phone number looking for tech support. But the number she called was the Doctor’s. She told him she’d been given the number by “the woman in the shop,” who told her this was “the best help line in the universe.” Who was this woman? And why would she give out the Doctor’s phone number so freely? Did she know who Clara was?

My theory: My first thought was River, but that’s not necessarily the case based on seeing the two of them interact in this episode. Who does that leave?

Rose Tyler is (as far as we know) still trapped in the alternate universe with the 10th Doctor’s half-human clone. Donna Noble doesn’t remember the Doctor, so she wouldn’t have his number. Amy Pond died of old age years before this episode took place. Sally Sparrow (“Blink”) ran a shop, but she never had his phone number that we know of. Sarah Jane Smith didn’t ever seem to have his number; she would probably have used it countless times over the years if she had.

That leaves Martha Jones. She’s still alive and out there somewhere, fighting the good fight,, and she still has his number. There could be one or two others who had his number over the years, but Martha may be the only remaining logical choice. Unless…

Unless River’s digital copy went back in time after the events of the season finale — still psychically connected to Clara — and met her in that shop and gave her the number, knowing that Clara must meet the Doctor in order to later save his life. It’s unlikely Martha would know any of this stuff, so lacking any other evidence, I’m going back to my first theory: via some timey-wimey explanation, it had to be River.

6. Who blew up the TARDIS?

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The TARDIS exploding, as painted by Van Gogh on Doctor Who

Way back in the Season 5 finale, “The Big Bang,” the TARDIS exploded, ripping tears in the fabric of time and destroying the universe. Fortunately, the Doctor was able to fix the problem, but we never found out who caused it in the first place. The only clue we got was an ominous voice heard by River Song inside the TARDIS, saying that “Silence will fall.”

We’ve been waiting two long years for an answer on this, and many a Whovian came to believe that Moffat was holding onto this reveal for a really big, it-all-comes-together kind of revelation that would tie into other unsolved mysteries on the show. But another season finale has come and gone, and we’ve still got nothing.

My theory: Whoever blew up the TARDIS was either crazy or stupid, because they were effectively destroying the entire universe. Who would do such a thing? I don’t know of anyone who has tried to destroy the universe other than Davros. Oh, and Rassilon (Lord President of the Time Lords) during that whole “Ultimate Sanction” thing. But they’re both effectively out of the picture.

Common thinking has been that the Silence themselves were behind it, not realizing that destroying the TARDIS would have such disastrous effects on the whole universe. That’s the most logical explanation, so I’m going with that.

7. What’s up with the extra TARDISes?

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Scene from “The Lodger”

In Season 5’s “The Lodger,” the Doctor found what appeared to be a long, lost TARDIS hiding in the flat above Craig Owens’. Later, in Season 6’s “Day of the Moon,” he discovered the Silence using a base of operations hidden underground that also looked a lot like a TARDIS.

Were they TARDISes? Who did they belong to, and how did they wind up where they did? Come to think of it, both of those chambers looked pretty darn identical. Could they have been one and the same?

On the other hand, if they weren’t TARDISes, then what were they?

My theory: Honestly, I have no idea. After the second TARDIS appeared in “Day of the Moon,” I started to suspect that Moffat was building up to something, sprinkling these “other TARDIS” sightings into multiple episodes. But the matter has been dropped since that second one and nothing more seen or said about it. In all likelihood, I don’t think we’ll ever be getting an answer to this one.

About Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

Comments

  1. My thought on John Hurt is that he is either the pre-Doctor to Hartnell (perpetrator of some great disaster and became Hartnell, who chose the name of Doctor to fix the one very wrong thing he did for the right reason, as he became a Time Lord) … Or the VERY brief version that came into being at the demise of McGann during the Time War (McGann, is wounded, to the point of death knowing what needs to be done, but refuses and thus dies, regenerates into Hurt, who acts out on this final thought in desperation and in the process is mortally wounded himself and regenerates into Eccelston’s version as he escapes the time bubble). Either way, the count now appears off and so therefore, what happens when the Doctor reaches his 13th regeneration? Old school has it that Time Lords lives stop at 13. Was this rule changed during the Time War, to allow countless regenerations in order to continue fighting on?

    • I think john hurts doctor is the other from the Cartmel Masterplan (look it up) that places the doctor as the other ( a shadowly figure who was one founders of the time lord culture) alongside rassilion and omega. He was mentained at have power greater then rassilion. He killed himself to remove himself from one game as a king to become a pawn again, i.e. the doctor. And in the mind of moboius episodes it showed other lifes of the doctor beyond what was shown.

      The thing with regenations was a limit put in place by rassilion to prevent anyone from being immortal. Also in the five doctors special a whole new set of lives was offered to the master to help the doctors out. Without Gallifrey limited the pool of lives now the doctor can keep regenerating.

  2. We don’t actually know if the regeneration limit is still valid, but it could go either way since Gallifrey isn’t actually destroyed, only time locked and still crossing the Doctor’s time line. Thing is, if the limit still is in operation, this present incarnation could be the last Doctor : if John Hurt’s Doctor is either pre-Hartnell or in between the 8th and 9th, since the tenth underwent two regenerations, that would put the total number to 13, which would be consistant whith the prophecy that that tells us that some event will occur “on the fields of Trenzalore at the fall of the eleventh”.
    What we saw on Trenzalore in “The name of the Doctor” was his tomb, and said tomb wasn’t just TARDIS shaped, it was the actual TARDIS. That would point to the fact that this is the last life of the Doctor and that the eleventh falls, it’s game over.
    But, after all at the time when we meet John Hurt as the Doctor, the characters are inside the Doctor’s time line and maybe that lead us to know things from the future of the Doctor…

  3. Stephane says:

    Why is revealing the Doctor’s name such a terrible thing?
    I believe that the name of the Doctor is in fact the password to unlock Gallifrey from the Time lock he created to stop the time war. It would make sense that John Hurt (doctor) was the one doing it and it would certainly explain the constant anger and pain the Christopher Eccleston doctor was feeling after his recent regeneration. Saying his name out loud would have repercussion throughout his personal timeline which is still connected to Gallifrey. Releasing Gallifrey upon the universe in the final days of the tine war would be a real genocide with univeral proportions considering the final decision they made about ending all life in the universe to become energy beings.

    Who gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number?
    Clara said that she received the phone number from a woman from the shop. My take on this is that she is referring to Sally Sparrow and her boyfriend from the episode where we first meet the weeping Angels. The name of the episode is Blink. She does have a shop of her own at the end of the episode when she meet the doctor face to face.

  4. I think the Tradis being blown up in “The Big Bang” had something to do with the Doctor’s name being revealed. My idea as to what happened is that the Doctor was sent back to the scene of the pandorica and the Doctor was forced to reveal his name therefor blowing up the Tardis just so that the past Doctor could save the day once again. I also would tie this to the cracks in the universe because if the cracks got bigger everything would be erased from time and space causing silence to fall. I think the extra TARDISes are from the place right outside the universe in “The Doctor’s Wife”. My idea is that somebody (maybe River Song, Captain Jack Harkness, Alternate universe Doctor and Rose, The Doctor’s daughter, another version of the Doctor, or even Sarah Jane) could have gone back to that place where all the dead TARDISes were and sort of repaired them.
    To sum it up…
    Yes, I think the prophecy is still in play,
    I think the Doctor blew up the Tardis,
    When the Doctor reveals his name the Tardis will blow up,
    A former companion could’ve fixed the old dead TARDISes and scattered them around the universe.

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