Has there ever been a character with a backstory as tangled and impervious to navigation as the Doctor? Thirteen official faces with numbers that don’t match, events that happen in the wrong order or may indeed never come to pass, alternate timelines, alternate timelines within those alternate timelines…it’s confusing, convoluted, and at times can get somewhat overbearing for some folks. Recently, I found myself looking at a short list that put the televised incarnations of the Doctor into numerical order. That got me thinking somewhat: what if we go deeper? There are numerous further incarnations of the Doctor across the massive Doctor Who expanded universe that some may not be aware of, all with their own levels of canonicity and adventures.
So, here we go! Off on an article that’ll go forwards, backwards, and quite frequently sideways, to examine the many, many faces of the universe’s ultimate Time Lord, and perhaps throw up some intriguing connections while we’re at it? Get those brainy specs on, and without further ado…
The Main Faces:
These ones need no introduction, of course. From William Hartnell to Peter Capaldi, these are the Doctors that have graced our television screens with their presence for nearly 51 years, the “Prime” Doctors if you will. Similarly, the connection between each of these Doctors is rather self-explanatory, given that we’ve seen each incarnation directly regenerate into the next, so we won’t spend too much time here, everyone knows who these are.
Fans of Tom Baker’s run as the Fourth Doctor no doubt hold a special place in their heart for the 1976 serial “The Brain of Morbius”. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a cracking horror romp in which the Doctor battles the lingering mind of the disgraced and deceased villainous Time Lord known as Morbius. What’s relevant here, however, is that at the climax of the episode, the Doctor and Morbius engage in a mental contest of wills, during which we see the Doctor’s previous incarnations. We see Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, Patrick Troughton’s Second, William Hartnell’s First…and then several more faces, previously unknown to us. Now, this was chiefly a rather amusing way for members of Doctor Who‘s production team to cameo in the episode, but the impact was made nonetheless. Of course, the show has repeatedly asserted to us that the First Doctor is absolutely the earliest incarnation of the Doctor, and the seemingly-unknown Doctor faces are easily explained away through a number of theories, whether calling them prior incarnations of Morbius himself, simple illusions, whatever one wants. That said, there are numerous ideas perhaps integrating them into the Doctor’s own line, generally revolving around the Time Lords having used the Doctor for something and then given him amnesia, much like the Second Doctor. Whatever your own take on it, it’s an interesting matter to consider at the least!
Another figure heavily associated with pre-First Doctor times is the mysterious ‘Other’. One of the three greatest figures in Gallifreyan history along Rassilon and Omega, the Other is heavily shadowed in intrigue, having made his only small appearances in the novels “Lungbarrow” and “Cold Fusion”. It was said that, as Gallifrey separated itself ever more from the universe and Rassilon became more of a tyrant, the Other attempted to escape the planet, and subsequently faded into legend among the Time Lords. Countless millennia later, it was implied that the Other was reborn, in a sense, as a certain overly-inquisitive renegade Time Lord that we’re all familiar with…aye, there’s a lot to the tale, both in-universe and out. It’s a rather fascinating thing to think about, though, eh?
When the Doctor Goes Bad:
Alternate versions of the Doctor turning out to be villainous or evil in nature is a fairly popular concept, generally speaking! Rightly so, of course, there’s a lot of potential there. We all know what happens when the Doctor goes too far, after all, we’ve seen it several times. The most immediately notable “bad” incarnation of the Doctor is, of course, the Valeyard, first introduced in Colin Baker’s swansong “The Trial of a Time Lord” as played by Michael Jayston. The Valeyard was said to be a far-future incarnation of the Doctor, somewhere between his “twelfth and final” bodies, and aimed to steal his own past self’s regenerations to sustain himself. Of course, now that the Doctor has a new cycle of regenerations, who knows where the Valeyard fits in now? Matters are made even more complicated by other sources in the expanded universe attempting to give further explanations to his nature. The officially-licensed RPG book implies him to be a sort of half-regeneration between the Twelfth and Thirteenth Doctors, while other tomes imply that the Time Lords plucked him from the Doctor’s timestream on Trenzalore, which now no longer exists, and oh dear my brain’s exploded. (As an interesting aside: for the longest time, the Valeyard was considered largely non-canonical any more…that is, until a certain recent mention of him in Series 7 finale “The Name of the Doctor”…)
Naturally, there have been other villainous Doctors across the many worlds of the Whoniverse. Matt Smith’s televised run saw the debut of Toby Jones as the Dream Lord in “Amy’s Choice”, a manifestation of the Doctor’s darker nature (quite similar to the Valeyard, in fact!) created by psychic pollen. The 1970 Third Doctor story “Inferno” saw the Doctor arrive in a parallel Earth where his usual friends and companions were noticeably different, and Britain was ruled by an iron-fisted President who later novels would reveal to be that reality’s own Doctor. An alternate version of the Sixth Doctor became the personal assassin of the Lord President of Gallifrey in the Big Finish audio play “Disassembled”, while an alternate version of the Fifth Doctor splintered from his timeline and became a sort of immortal mind-eating vampire in “The Eternal Summer”. Even more so, the alternate version of the Eighth Doctor from the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels once became a living paradox and attempted to subvert Gallifrey’s entire timeline under the guise of Grandfather Paradox. For such a hero, the Doctor’s got an awful lot of bad sides, eh?
How Many Ninth Doctors?
Given Doctor Who‘s cancellation and lengthy time off the air, particularly after the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor rekindled interest in the show, it was only natural that a number of ideas for continuing the Doctor’s legacy would come about before 2005 finally saw the sci-fi juggernaut return to the air. Naturally, this leads us to have a surprising number of Ninth Doctors running about! First, of course, is our genuine Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston himself, who saw Doctor Who return to our screens. Recently, we’ve been introduced to the man who isn’t the Ninth Doctor, but is certainly the Ninth Incarnation. Naturally, I refer to John Hurt’s War Doctor, introduced to us during the 50th Anniversary year and quickly making himself an immovable presence in the historic role.
In the somewhat-murkier depths of canon, there have been a couple of others, of course. 1999’s Comic Relief special “The Curse of Fatal Death” (written by a certain man named Steven Moffat) gave us Rowan Atkinson as a Ninth Doctor who travelled about with a companion named Emma, falling in love with her, aiming to retire, and subsequently regenerating four times in about as many minutes. 2003, meanwhile, saw the BBC produce an animated webcast for the show’s 40th anniversary, “Scream of the Shalka”, featuring Richard E. Grant as a much more serious-seeming Doctor (incidentally, Atkinson’s above-mentioned Ninth Doctor’s first regeneration saw him become, coincidentally, one Richard E. Grant!) who travelled about with an android version of the Master played by Derek Jacobi. Neither of these Doctors are canonical, of course, beyond a few very tenuous references, but it’s interesting to examine all the same. It’s rather crowded, being the Ninth Doctor!
Occasionally, there will be versions of the Doctor that aren’t exactly the full package, but they’re still very relevant to this discussion! The most notable example of a not-Doctor is, I believe, the Meta-Crisis Doctor created in Series 4 finale “Journey’s End” by a bad reaction between Donna Noble and the regeneration-infused hand of the Tenth Doctor. There are others, of course. Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor met his opposite number in “The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People” by way of a sentient Flesh duplicate, and subsequently a slightly-deranged Cyber-Controller using his mind in “Nightmare in Silver”. The Fourth Doctor’s difficult regeneration was assisted by the bizarre future-self-projection known as the Watcher in “Logopolis”, and that’s before you get into the numerous clones and Dalek duplicates that have been created over the years.
Ah, the Doctor’s future. Something that he can never know about nor visit (not that it stops him, to be honest)! We, thankfully, are not bound by that restriction and have therefore gotten quite a few views into the way the Doctor’s life may go. Sometimes, in alternate timelines, it ends a touch prematurely (the Seventh Doctor died in “Death Comes to Time”, the Eighth Doctor died at some point during the Time Lord war with The Enemy, the Tenth Doctor died in the reality of “Turn Left”, and the Eleventh Doctor’s own ultimate fate at the War of Trenzalore was only recently averted). Sometimes, the future we see is not the one we (or indeed he) would want, as in the potential case of the Valeyard. At the very least, we can take a good deal of comfort in what is heavily implied to be the furthest-along incarnation of the Doctor we’ve yet seen, that of the Curator as played by Tom Baker himself in “The Day of the Doctor”. It’s a nice thought to think that one day he just might get to retire, eh?
In any case, this has gone on for about twice as long as it needed to, so I’ll wrap things up here. It’s a long, twisted, and nigh-indecipherable timestream, that of the Doctor. Some parts of it contradict other parts, naturally, and there are so many different versions, regenerations, incarnations and faces that keeping track of them all is a task that even the Time Lord himself doesn’t particularly bother with it. Nonetheless, it’s a reassuring thought that, no matter how many villains and enemies may rise to threaten existence, there’s bound to be at least one Doctor standing against them (and bear in mind, this article hasn’t even mentioned the likes of the Unbound Doctors or their ilk).
Hopefully at least one of you enjoyed this self-admitted rambling, perhaps were even inspired to look at a Doctor Who tale you’ve never looked at before! Discussion in the comments is, of course, welcome, and who knows, perhaps I’ll do more of these addressing parts of the Whoniverse. ‘Till next time, in any case!