So after dust had settled on Trial of a Time Lord, Doctor Who had somehow dodged the headsman’s axe and the wrath of Michael Grade. So some seven months later, Season 24 hit our screens. And hopefully this series would, if you’ll pardon the pun, make the grade. However as we saw earlier, this season was assembled in haste, with John Nathan-Turner finding he couldn’t leave the producer’s chair after all and finding himself short both a Doctor and a script editor.
But Michael Grade, who I suspect was villainously twirling an imaginary moustache and snapping his red braces with glee, was not perhaps being as generous as the decision to allow the TARDIS’ travels to continue first appeared. For in addition to insisting on booting out Colin Baker, Doctor Who was to have another schedule change. And now the show was to be going out on Monday nights at 7.35 PM – a respectable enough slot you may think… but only if you live outside the UK. For as all natives of these isles know full well, over on ITV – the BBC’s arch rival - was the much loved Coronation Street. This long running soap, both now and then, regularly grabs the top spots in the week’s ratings – so much so that generally the BBC never schedules anything it hopes to do well against it – in fact there is a sort of gentlemen’s agreement, like that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had, in which neither network schedules anything they want to be ratings winner against their competitors flagship soaps.
Therefore Grade’s decision to pit Doctor Who against this television titan cannot be seen as a merciful move. Rather it looks like a deliberate attempt to kill the show in an underhand fashion. Doubtless rattled by the press and public reaction to the perceived cancellation in the Colin Baker years, one does not need to don a deerstalker in order to deuce that this scheduling choice was an attempt to lower the viewing figures to a point where the BBC management could cancel it and then shrug innocently and blame the viewers for not tuning in.
And if the odds weren’t stacked high enough already against Doctor Who, the announcement of the latest actor to inherit the TARDIS keys was met with cries of “who hell he?” and more worryingly, “oh no, not him!”
So who was this mystery man? Well, producer John Nathan-Turner had told the press that he was looking for a “true eccentric” to play the role and initially he approached the late great Ken Campbell. Now the much missed Campbell was truly one of the greatest eccentrics ever to emerge from English theatre - he staged groundbreaking and idiosyncratic productions such as a ten hour stage version of the Illuminatus Trilogy, and nurtured many new talents through his shows, from noted actors like Bob Hoskins to Bill Drummond of arch musical pranksters the KLF. However the bosses at Broadcasting House felt that Ken’s maniac performance would be a little too frightening for the general public and so the search continued…
In the end though, somewhat ironically, the role was given to one Sylvester McCoy, who had been discovered by Campbell and had extensively performed in the Ken Campbell Roadshow. Appearing as ‘Sylveste McCoy’, his act had included stuffing ferrets down this trousers, hammering six inch nails up is nose, and as a finale setting his head on fire… And naturally it was this area of his CV that the press widely reported.
However to those not familiar with fringe theatre, McCoy was best known for his appearances on children’s television. He had played the backward mime who lived in a mirror, Epepe on Vision On, teamed up with David Rappaport to form the O Men in Jigsaw, appeared alongside mad inventor Wilf Lunn in Eureka, and arsed about as Professor No Ken Do in the anarchy that was Tiswas.
After the casting of Bonnie Langford, another alumnus of kids TV landing a lead role in the show had fans fearing the worse; that the show was slipping into a morass of light entertainment. From his television work up to at that point and the press reports of his early theatrical performances, many were worried that the show would be plunged into childish pantomime. Indeed we did wonder whether JNT had meant that it was his casting decision that was going to be truly eccentric. And for some, McCoy’s casting was the last straw; proof that JNT was now a man who had well and truly misplaced the plot.
However there was more to McCoy than ferrets and slapstick. What was less well reported at that the time was that since starting out under Ken Campbell’s wing, he had ventured onward into serious drama, landing character roles in films and appearing in Royal Shakespeare Company productions of the Bard’s works. Hence while viewers were familiar with McCoy from playing the fool in Tiswas and Jigsaw, they were unaware he was regularly delivering a very different brand of buffoonery in roles such as Feste in Twelfth Night. And certainly if the press had played up the respected Shakespearian actor angle, the public would have no doubt been less troubled by the casting news.
So then McCoy was an actor with hidden depths and dramatic talents largely unknown to television viewers. But it would take some time before these would become apparent on screen. Due to the rushed nature of his first season, the Seventh Doctor we first meet is somewhat different from the fellow that fans now remember. But first things first, while his casting may have had eyes rolling, the reveal of his costume was something of a relief.
After the over stylisation of the Fifth’s cricket whites and the eyeball melting toxic event that was the Sixth’s outfit, McCoy’s Doctor looked, well, like a proper Doctor again. His pullover and umbrella may have had the tiresome question mark motif but for the first time since the ‘70s, the Doctor looked like he was wearing clothes rather than a costume/uniform. His dress sense was sober and professorial, with just the right touch of the Edwardian era. Better still, this Doctor was not firmly welded into his wardrobe – like the first four Doctors, although he retained the same overall look, his clothes varied throughout his travels.
Now my acid test for any Doctor’s wardrobe is to see how well it fits in with the styles sported by his predecessors. So if you take a look at a line up of incarnations one to seven, McCoy blends in perfectly with the first four, whereas the Fifth doesn’t quite fit, earning a ‘close but no cigar’ medal and the Sixth leaves you wondering if the colour information in the jpeg has been corrupted.
So if the Doctor himself was back on track sartorially, was the show itself back on course? Well, yes and no. McCoy’s first season is particularly weak, both in terms of story and characterisation. Judging it with the benefit of hindsight, the reasons for this are obvious – it was a season put together at great haste using rushed scripts that in many cases had been developed for a very different Doctor. But despite the many weakness and rough edges, there were many encouraging signs.
Indeed despite the doubts over the casting, by the end of the season it seemed that the viewers had warmed to McCoy and more importantly Michael Grade wasn’t spotted sharpening an axe. Although this season produced several howlers, offering us several stories that regularly populate ‘Worst Story’ polls, for those who were still watching the Doctor himself was heading in the right direction.
After the divisive blustering and arrogance of the Sixth, McCoy felt like a return to form – his Doctor was quietly eccentric rather than bombastically crazed; whimsical rather manic, and generally seemed very old school . The Doctor was back to being a strange old fellow with a blue box. The hurried nature of this particular series meant that the scripts tended to play to McCoy’s perceived strengths and so the Seventh Doctor v1.0 was fairly light and utilised many of McCoy’s comedic chops. But rather than turning the Doctor into a clown as many feared, this was a return to using tomfoolery to disorientate and distract foes in much the same way as the Second Doctor did.
However once found his feet in the role, McCoy expressed the desire to make his Doctor darker, and in this he found an influential ally in the new script editor, Andrew Cartmel. Cartmel was a young writer who was to prove to be exactly the kind of new broom Doctor Who required. He embraced McCoy’s dark Doctor leanings and suggested to JNT that it was time to make the Doctor a mysterious figure once more.
Furthermore Cartmel understood that increasingly the show was getting bogged down with scripts that were packed full of what people thought of as typical Doctor Who i.e. lots of running down corridors, screaming companions and monsters that give speeches beginning “So Doc-Torrr…” And all too often this resulted in a hackney slice of tired sci-fi wrapped up the house set of clichés, and we ended up with horrors like The Twin Dilemma.
Therefore Cartmel started looking for young fresh writers and recommended would be scripters to start reading 2000 AD and in particular the work of Alan Moore to get a feel for the kind of science fiction the show should be delivering – intelligent, hip, often outlandish and uniquely British. Cartmel even tried to get Moore to contribute a script or two for the show, and although a meeting with the Wizard of Northampton went well, at the time Watchmen was exploding and unfortunately Moore’s comics work just didn’t allow the time for him to pen an adventure for the Doctor.
However the most important person to Cartmel needed to convince was John Nathan-Turner himself. Now JNT had always approached Doctor Who with style in mind – he was more concerned whether a script served up what he thought Doctor Who should look like rather than if the story itself worked properly. Hence during his run as producer we have stories like Time Flight which was set on Concorde – it looked impressive onscreen and being allowed to film on Concorde itself generated plenty of press publicity, but the actual script left a lot to be desired.
But furthermore, JNT’s idea of the type of style Doctor Who should have was simply out of step with everyone else’s. He seemed to think that the public wanted stylised and somewhat campy shiny silver foil space suits, gleaming white control panels and traditional run-arounds. In short, something that looked like the Who people remembered from the past. However, as we have seen in this series of articles, Doctor Who has always moved with the times, reflecting not just the trends in sci-fi but the broader changes in television itself. No wonder then with this approach from the producer the series was looking tired and out of date.
Throughout McCoy’s first season you can feel the show pulling in two directions. For example, while Paradise Towers may not be the most fondly remembered of stories, the basic premise of a community living in a futuristic tower block that has become a state within a state is an interesting conception, owing more than a little to the likes of JG Ballard and Judge Dredd. However what scuppers the story is an overly stylised service robot, similarly overly theatrical costumes and JNT’s stunt casting, all of which fail to match the gritty ‘living in’ future sensibility the story needs to work properly. The role of the fascistic Chief Caretaker, the main villain of the piece, was given to beloved sitcom actor Richard Briers, who played him as an over-the-top monster. It’s a decent enough performance but it just doesn’t match the style the story is aiming for. Admittedly matters aren’t helped by the garish costume the wardrobe department have given him, but ironically if Briers had played the Chief Caretaker like the dotty suburbanites he normally essayed the character would have actually been far more menacing. Such stunt casting may have generated column inches but when an actor like Briers is cast against type and ends up floundering, it just reflects badly on the show.
However by the end of McCoy’s first year, Cartmel had finally got JNT’s ear, and the last show in that season Dragonfire signalled the beginning of a new direction. In many ways, any given Doctor is as only good as his companions, and Mel just wasn’t working out. And in all fairness, and contrary to what some may claim, this wasn’t Bonnie Langford’s fault.
Of those brave souls who have ever journeyed with the Doctor, Mel is perhaps the unluckiest – her stay in the TARIS marks the most troubled era of Doctor Who, when the show was beset with script troubles. She first appears in the final tempestuous days of the JNT/Saward acrimony and ironically it is just when the stormy skies behind the scenes are beginning to clear that she leaves the series. But, much like Colin Baker, her subsequent return to the role for various Big Finish audio adventures has shown that the problems with Mel lay not in the casting but the scripts Bonnie Langford was given. And indeed, her audio appearances have done much to improve her standing among fans.
However her replacement was to be the perfect foil for the Seventh Doctor. Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, was something significantly different from the usual female companions. For a start, Ace felt a lot more real than previous companions; she dressed very ‘street’, used contemporary slang and had a back story rooted a boring housing estate and hanging round the shops with her mates. The previous recent companions who hadn’t come from alien worlds, Mel, Tegan and Peri, all had somewhat glamourous backgrounds – a high flying computer expert, an hair hostess and an American student respectively, whereas Ace was a character the teenager in the audience could relate to.
But also there was no helpless screaming and clumsily falling over into peril from Ace. Instead of the usual female in peril, we have a gutsy girl with a fondness for explosives. Rather shriek in terror when faced with a Dalek, Ace would give it some lip and then twat it with a baseball bat.
You would have thought that given the widening influence of feminism throughout the 70s and ‘80s that we would have had plenty of strong women in the TARDIS. Teagan, Nyssa, Peri and Mel may have demonstrated more resourcefulness than some of the ladies from the ‘60s, but all too often ended up doing the old screaming and getting captured routine. Even the Romanas, who were as intelligent as the Doctor, kept slipping into damsel in distress mode on a regular basis. In fact, the last companion capable of being an action heroine rather just a screamer was Leela back in the first half of Tom Baker’s run.
And Ace was similar to Leela in other ways too; her friendship with the Doctor similarly involved strong elements of a student and teacher relationship. As the next two seasons unfolded, it became very clear that the Doctor was mentoring Ace in his own eccentric fashion, taking her to places and times where she could learn. However it also became equally clear that the Doctor wasn’t always strictly honest with Ace about his motives and intentions, and often he was taking to places to confront her own inner demons.
From his second season on, with Cartmel firmly holding the reins, McCoy did indeed get his wish to play a darker Doctor. The whimsical clowning is toned down and the Seventh Doctor deepens as a character. The first story for the Seventh Doctor Mark 2, Remembrance of the Daleks is a truly pivotal tale; establishing a brand new template for our hero. He doesn’t explain his actions or schemes: instead he deftly manipulates everybody around him, allies and enemies alike, only revealing his hand at the very end.
There are definitely shades of the Second Doctor in his use of subterfuge and covert tactics, but McCoy’s Doctor takes it to new heights; with even Ace often being excluded from his confidence. This Doctor is often described as a chess player, and quite rightly so as rather than stepping centre stage and taking charge, the Seventh Doctor is more prone to stand quietly at the sidelines and subtly manoeuvre everyone into the positions he needs them in to save the day.
But in addition to altering the Doctor’s methods, Remembrance of the Daleks also saw another key strategy of Cartmel’s come into play. From the late ‘70s onward, the Doctor had become a very familiar figure – we knew he was a Time Lord, that his home planet was Gallifrey, and we’d even had semi-regular trips back there. We had learnt that it was the pioneering stellar engineer Omega whose experiments with black holes gave the Time Lords the massive amounts of energy required for time travel. We learnt that the early Time Lords were an unscrupulous bunch, abusing their temporal powers until the founder of modern Time Lord society, Rassilion put at stop to it all. And that several instances of interfering with other sentient races’ development led to their current policy of generally observing and not intervening. And this worthy but dull scholarly approach to ruling time would eventually drive the Doctor to stealing a TARDIS and embarking on his travels.
In short, the figure of the Doctor was a far cry from the enigmatic fellow who wore William Hartnell’s face. For his first two incarnations, the Doctor was a curious old man whose origins and motivations were shrouded in mystery. But by the late ‘80s, it seemed like only one mystery remained - what was his real name.
Now the Seventh’s Doctor’s newfound strategies of game playing and secrecy has once more brought a mysterious edge to his actions, but Cartmel wanted to go further. Hence in Remembrance of the Daleks we get a line , an almost throw-away line, that shakes up everything we thought we knew about the Doctor’s past, and left us with very large questions about his identity.
This story sees the Doctor returning to Coal Hill in 1963 – the same time and location were the series began – in order to recover an ancient Gallifreyan artefact, the Hand of Omega which he had left behind when setting off with on his travels with Suzanne, Ian and Barbara. Now the Doctor tells Ace that the Hand of Omega is a powerful device capable of stellar manipulation and as was used to create black holes by Rassilion and Omega. And then remarks “…and didn’t we have trouble with the prototype”. Ace picks up on this and the Doctor hastily corrects himself, the ‘we’ becoming ‘they’, and unconvincingly tries to pass it off as a slip of the tongue.
It’s a little line, and one that means little to the causal viewer. However across the land, Who fans were scrabbling to retrieve dropped jaws from floors. What?!? The Doctor was a contemporary of the founders of Time Lord civilisation !?! In The Three Doctors, Omega didn’t recognise the Doctor but then again he was completely insane at this point. However Rassilion in The Five Doctors did appear to know who the Doctor was, didn’t he? What the hell is going on?!?
Suddenly we didn’t know the Doctor as well as we thought we did. And throughout these last two seasons, further hints were dropped into the mix. In Silver Nemesis, Lady Peinforte claims to know the Doctor’s secrets, referring to the Dark Times – the pre-Rassilion era of Gallifrey. And in Ghostlight, Control remarks that the Doctor does not match any known species in Light’s catalogue - had this ancient being simply not encountered Time Lords or was this hint that the Doctor wasn’t your usual Gallifreyan any more?
Indeed it was the writing team’s intention to reintroduce questions about the identity and true nature of the Doctor, and this scheme has dubbed by fans as ‘the Cartmel Masterplan’. Now as it turns out, there’s wasn’t some secret tome created, rather as Cartmel co-conspirator Marc Platt later said the masterplan was more an approach to bring back some darkness and mystery than some secret new series bible. However there were the bones of several scripts and plot arcs developed and we’ll discover the true contents of this masterplan a little later on. But unfortunately these intriguing plans were never make it onto the screen…
Now it has to be said that the Seventh Doctor had got off to a shaky start, and the Sixth Doctor’s era was beset by troubles. However from McCoy’s second season onwards, the quality of the show was definitely on the rise. Yes, the budgets were still tight, leading to short rehearsals, rushed shoots and shoe string effects. But with Cartmel as script editor, not only were the scripts revitalised but JNT himself seemed to be reinvigorated again.
One of JNT’s great strengths as a producer was shrewd budgeting but for most of his time in the chair he didn’t always seem to know where to best deploy the production resources. However in the last two seasons, we see the show spending its time and money in the areas that matter most – not blowing the budget on expensive location filming for an under developed script or splurging it all on a single effect shots leaving nothing in the kitty for decent sets or costume – and as a result the show was looking far better and delivering far more satisfying stories. And it was doing so on far less money too. The bright and gaudy colour schemes and heavily stylisation were out, and muted tones and realism were back in. Substance reigned over style and to most viewers’ surprise; McCoy was turning out to be a quite brilliant Doctor.
Yes, there were still obvious rough edges to the productions, but it was the quality of the stories that was really shining through. For example the quartet of tales that make up the final season - Battlefield, Ghostlight, The Curse of Fenric and Survival all consistently captured the look and feel of golden age Doctor Who but also they did what good Who always should – telling intelligent and modern stories. The very last story made Ghostlight is particularly impressive, seeing Doctor who move in exciting and innovative new directions – indeed I shall speak further on this remarkable serial in a forth coming edition of my mini podcasts Hypnobobs.
However the show was still going out against Coronation Street, and obviously the ratings were still not doing well. And in all fairness no matter how good the show was, it was always doing to do badly against this soap colossus – indeed Coronation Street had such a grip on the nation’s heart that even a blockbuster premiere would come off badly against it. So although the Cartmel Masterplan was going great guns and the viewers who were tuning in were impressed, the Grade Masterplan won the day.
Although Michael Grade had left the BBC by this point, new BBC controller Jonathan Powell had chosen not to change the show’s time slot. Hence low ratings gave the management the excuse they needed cancel the show. No doubt still wary of public outcry, it was announced that Doctor Who was put to be put on hiatus and then never recomissioned. Although Head of Serials, Peter Creegen and other execs strongly denied the show had been axed and claimed it would be returning, effectively Doctor Who had been quietly cancelled in an underhand fashion. Some nine months after the last episode was transmitted, the Doctor Who production office finally was closed down in August 1990.
It looked like the end of the line for the Doctor. Although he was to continue his adventures in other mediums - radio, comics and books - it appeared that the TARDIS was gone from our TV screens forever. And indeed, bar a brief flicker in 1996, the series would not continue until 2005. But all of that is a story for another day…
Right then, time to return to the questions that inspired this series of articles – how many actors have played the Doctor and how many incarnations of him are there knocking about time and space?
The first question, for once, is a simple matter – the Seventh Doctor has only ever been played by Sylvester McCoy. So an easy plus one to our tally of thespians. But what about the number of incarnations of the Doctor?
Well, in Battlefield we learn something of our Time Lord hero’s future. In this story, malign forces invade the long suffering Home Counties. But instead of the usual intergalactic chancers, this time the evil forces are from a parallel dimension where the Arthurian legends are real. Furthermore we learn that in the future, the Doctor will visit this ‘sides in time’ universe and end up playing the role of Merlin. But this will not occur while in this seventh incarnation, as Morgaine, Ancelyn and Mordred all remark on the Doctor’s changed physical appearance.
So who is this future incarnation? Well it’s not any of the following Doctors we have seen so far – no, not even the Eleventh who has just began his travels. And how can I be sure Matt Smith won’t end up being Merlin in this alternative realm? Simple – he’s not ginger.
No, I’ve not been at the Pan-galactic Gargle Blasters! In the Seventh Doctor’s literary afterlife, the Target novelisation of Battlefield tells us that this Merlin Doctor has ginger hair and sports an afghan coat and floppy hat. All of which would explains why both the Tenth and Eleventh’s are disappointed they are not ginger – after all there’s now only a limited number of incarnations left so the day the Doctor joins the red headed league must be close at hand.
Venturing deeper into his printed travels, in the Virgin New Adventures we encounter a fellow called Muldwych whom we are led to believe is a future Doctor and in Paul Cornell’s Happy Endings appears to be cagey about talking about Arthurian matters when the seventh Doctor is in earshot. All of which has led to speculation that Muldwych is the Merlin Doctor or possibly an even later incarnation.
However there is a fly in this continuity ointment, the short story A Fateful Knight in the Big Finish collection Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership. This tale, a prequel/sequel to Battlefield, asserts that is the Eight Doctor who becomes Merlin. Actually he’s one of two Merlins, the other being a renegade Time Lord who is posing as the legendary magician and giving away advanced technology Time Meddler style.
But while it ties up the future Merlin Doctor business, One Fateful Knight also buggers up the continuity by contradicting the Target novelisation and the references in the New Adventures. So bearing in mind the words of the Wiki-sages who always say – all together now – their “canonicity is unclear”, what we have here is a continuity punch-up between different spin off media. Now personally, as both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have deliberately dropped in ginger references in speeches from the newly regenerated Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, I’m coming down on the side of the Battlefield novelisation that says there IS going to be a Doctor with an afghan coat and a copper coloured top!
Now if you thought that was complicated, hand on to your floppy hats as it’s time to return to the mystery of the Morbius Doctors! As you will recall we spoke earlier of the matter of the Cartmel Masterplan… Well what the writing team had cooked up was as follows. To begin with the Doctor’s intention was to eventually take Ace to Gallifrey and enter her into the Time Lord academy. However we would also learn that the Doctor himself did indeed have a longer and more mysterious history then we previously had thought, and there were reasons other than just rebellious boredom for him starting his travels. Now after the series had been cancelled, Virgin Books cannily cut a deal with the BBC to publish new Doctor Who fiction – essentially carrying on the show in the form of an ongoing series of novels. Indeed the first batches of these New Adventures were even released as “Season 27” and they headhunted many former script writers to pen them.
More to the point though, Cartmel and his team generously wrote up all their ideas and concepts for series editor Peter Davrill Evans who incorporated them into the writers’ guidelines. So throughout the next six years, the hints continued, and for better or worse, we learnt a lot more about the history of Gallifrey and the Doctor’s past. Hence in the New Adventures, we learnt that Time Lords are ‘loomed’ rather than born – due to an ancient curse Gallifreyans are unable to reproduce biologically and so instead new Time Lords are artificially created in genetic engineering mechanisms, the Looms. We also discover that the Doctor deliberately triggered his premature regeneration from the Sixth to the Seventh in order to prevent the eventual creation of the Valeyard.
However it was only when Virgin lost their licence to publish Doctor Who in 1996 did all the hints starting in Remembrance of the Daleks and building all the way through the New Adventures finally come to a head in the final Seventh Doctor novel Lungbarrow. At last all was revealed. Well, nearly… as there are still many questions over the interpretation of the revelations from Lungbarrow as we shall later see.
Written by Cartmel conspirator Marc Platt, this story began as a script for McCoy’s final season and featured the Doctor returning to his family seat in Gallifrey. However John Nathan-Turner vetoed the proposal, feeling it revealed too much about the Doctor and Platt’s script ended up being radically rewritten and mutated into Ghostlight. Considering that Ghostlight was the last story filmed, although it was not the last transmitted, it is somewhat ironic that its narrative seed should become the closing novel in the Virgin range.
Now as it is the climax of the whole New Adventures run, and is packed with revelations about the Doctor’s history, copies of Lungbarrow now go for a small fortune. I’m not even going to tell you how much I paid for my copy, suffice to say the peg-leg and hook are working out nicely. However like many other rare titles from the range, you can read Lungbarrow online at the official BBC site here.
Now fair warning, this next bit contains heavy spoilers for Lungbarrow so skip ahead to the all clear if you wish to read it for yourself. For every one else, all of you who really just want to know what all this “..didn’t we have trouble with the prototype” business is about and learn the secret of the Morbius Doctors, read on…
At the beginnings of Time Lord society, there was Rassilion and Omega who cracked the secret of time travel and later laid down the rules of Time Lord civilisation. However this pair was aided by a third known only as the Other.
This mysterious figure actually first appeared in the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks in a flashback with the other two founders. Later on, in the Virgin Missing Adventure Cold Fusion, we learn more of this mysterious Other. Furthermore one of the Morbius Doctors appears in a flashback and according to author Lance Parkin who was working from a version of the Cartmel Masterplan, this was meant to be a hint that the Morbius Doctors were incarnations of the Other.
Now after Omega was lost in one of the black hole experiments, Rassilion having taken control of Time Lord society was becoming increasingly despotic. And in Lungbarrow it is revealed that in order to escape the clutches of Rassilion, the Other threw himself into a Loom, planning to be reconstituted one day in the future. And indeed he was, many millions of years later in the form of … guess who? That’s right the Doctor. However it would be much later in his life that the Doctor began to remember this previous existence as the Other and discover the reason ancient artefacts like the Hand of Omega appeared to recognise him.
So then, the mysterious faces in the mind bending contest with Morbius are in fact incarnations of the Other not the Doctor. Indeed some fans have speculated that it is this forced regression in the psychic battle with Morbius that begin the process which will lead to the Doctor accessing the memories of the Other and the Dark Times of Gallifrey buried within him.
So there we go – the Morbius Doctors all nice and neatly tied up. Except for one annoying fact – Lungbarrow seems to imply the Other didn’t have the ability to regenerate …. Bugger!
However mercifully there’s another fan theory to explain this – simply that the Other was reconstituted by the Looms once before, and it is this unnamed Time Lord whose faces appear as the Morbius Doctors. And presumably this “Morbius Doctor” returned himself to the Looms at the end of his lives in order to be reconstituted once again as the Doctor we know.
So then do the Morbius Doctors count as incarnations of the Doctor? Well you could argue it both ways but I tend to see it as a case of the Doctor inheriting the memories of the Other rather than being one individual with two (or three) lifetimes. However which ever way you cut it, the First Doctor is still the original version of the Doctor as we know him – our Doctor was born, or rather loomed if you take the New Adventures as canonical, as a new individual millions of years after the Other lived. And even if he is the Other reborn, it’s still a whole new life time rather than an unbroken chain of regenerations. So then, I’m not counting the Morbius Doctors as incarnations proper.
So finally then, with the twenty six seasons of classic Doctor Who all wrapped up…
Let’s take a look at the scores on the doors
Actors who have played the Doctor – we have the expected seven, plus three more, Hurndall, Culshaw, and McCoy standing in for the First, Fourth and Sixth incarnations respectively. And then we have the Apocryphal Doctors in alternate universes played by Trevor Martin and Peter Cushing. All of which brings us to a grand total of TWELVE actors in the role.
As for incarnations of the Doctor, again we have the expected seven, plus the future Merlin Doctor, and if you skipped the spoiler section in order to preserve the surprises in Lungbarrow we’ve ruled out those pesky Morbius Doctors! So our tally of incarnations we know about stands at a solid EIGHT.
NEXT TIME on The Regeneration Game - “Does Paul McGann count? Sod that! The real question is does Richard E Grant?”
Didn’t he do well!
Find the preceding parts of this series, and archived other ramblings here.