The Smith Era – Filling in the Cracks

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Guest contributor Paul Brown attempts to answer some of the lingering questions following Smith’s finale.

Matt Smith’s reign as the Doctor has come to an explosive – if divisive – end. In his final episode, showrunner Steven Moffat tried to tie up all the loose ends, clearing the decks for Peter Capaldi to make a fresh start with both a new face and a new cycle of regenerations.

But did we really get all the answers? While a great deal of the lingering mysteries of Matt’s time in the TARDIS were indeed cleared up (albeit sometimes with a quick, throwaway comment), a few still remain for us to puzzle over.

Here are my answers to some of those questions – and in keeping with the Moffat era, they are presented in no particular chronological (or indeed logical) order:

1. Who was the woman in the shop?

bells-woman-in-the-shopIn the Bells of Saint John, the Doctor asks Clara where she got his number. She replies that she was given it by ‘the woman in the shop’ and told it was the best helpline in the universe. So who is the woman in the shop? It must be someone who knows the number, which implies someone who has at some point travelled with the Doctor.

My theory is that it was Donna Noble. It’s been shown before that she can unwittingly ‘help’ the Doctor and his friends without remembering her time in the TARDIS (when she gave Wilf the book in The End of Time part one), so the number could still be in her subconscious. Either Donna used her lottery win to set herself (or her husband) up with a computer shop or, more likely, she was simply browsing for a new PC herself and overheard Clara asking for a helpline number. Still not convinced? Well the address Clara was living at when she was caring for the Maitland children – as seen on the letter sent by Madame Vastra, which appears in much more detail in Marcus Hearn’s book The Vault (thanks for the Christmas present, dear) – is: 30 Oak Street, Chiswick, London.

And who’s the best temp in Chiswick?

2. How did the Silence blow up the TARDIS?

tardis-explosion-river-pandorica-opensTasha Lem admitted in The Time of the Doctor that the rogue Kovarian Strain of the Silence blew up the TARDIS in The Pandorica Opens. But how exactly did they manage it? We know they have TARDIS-like technology from The Impossible Astronaut (earlier seen empty in The Lodger), so presumably they have some idea what would make such a machine self-destruct. But they clearly can’t just waltz through its doors at any time, otherwise they could have captured or killed the Doctor without any fuss. So how did they do it?

When the Doctor first crash lands in young Amy’s back garden, he leaves the doors of the damaged TARDIS wide open. While he’s busy messing about with fish fingers and custard, anyone could just climb right in. I think this was the point at which one of the priests of the Silence did exactly that. The Doctor is on the point of noticing the door hidden by the perception filter when the cloister bell rings, signalling that the TARDIS engines are phasing.

But in The Pandorica Opens, he tells River that the engines automatically shut down when there’s no one inside. So someone – or something – must be in the TARDIS at that point, or the engines wouldn’t be running.

I believe this is the point at which the Silence infiltrated the TARDIS, and that at least one Priest remained hiding inside right up until it died in the explosion – probably in a secondary control room, from where it could both install a navigational override and trigger the eventual blast. Its presence might also explain some of Eleven’s problems with forgetfulness, as repeated memory wipes can have that effect – as seen in Day of the Moon.

Another piece of evidence for their presence at Amelia’s house is on the CD of that season’s soundtrack. In the track Little Amy (which in the Eleventh Hour plays over the first shots of Amy’s garden), there is a sudden shift to a minor key – with the distinctive rattling sound of a Silent Priest. It’s at about 0:36 in this YouTube clip:

3. Why did they blow up the TARDIS on exactly that day?

DateIn theory, they could have blown it up at any time. Why 26 June, 2010? The date, so far as we know, is significant for only two other things – Amy and Rory’s wedding and the implied conception of River Song on their wedding night (I’ve always thought that, with hindsight, the title The Big Bang was more than a little cheeky in this respect).

There’s no real reason to want to stop the wedding, other than to prevent River’s conception – and the only reason to do that would be because they knew how vital she would become to the Doctor’s continued existence. Trying to retrospectively mould her into his assassin may in this case have been a desperate ‘Plan B’ when the scheme to blow up the TARDIS backfired (what with all the time travel, it is of course possible that River was Plan A and blowing up the TARDIS was Plan B – but I think killing the Doctor was a last resort, as the ‘mainstream’ Church at least seemed to acknowledge and be grateful for his heroism).

I think it’s more likely that they simply couldn’t interfere any earlier in his timestream. They knew the Doctor at Trenzalore was the 11th, and presumably knew at least some of his history up to that point. Ten’s final act was to stop the Time Lords returning – the same goal as the Silence. Kill or capture him before that point and that would be undone, with disastrous consequences. It’s possible that the first explosion in the TARDIS while Ten was regenerating was actually a first strike by Kovarian, as that’s the earliest point in his timestream when killing him or disabling his TARDIS would prevent Trenzalore without restoring Gallifrey.

However, thanks to the events of Flesh and Stone – the first time Eleven interacted with the Church – the Silence also knew they couldn’t kill him until after that point without changing their own history and unleashing an army of Weeping Angels. The Doctor is not an easy man to track down, so it’s probable the Silence only had a handful of significant dates when they knew where and when he would be – the night he crashed in Amelia’s garden, the night he ran away with Amy (June 25) and her wedding the following day. And only one of these was at a point later in his timestream than Flesh and Stone.

So the stowaway Priest, or possibly the program he installed, was set to begin the destruct sequence when the TARDIS landed on 26 June, 2010 – but not to actually blow it up until it tried to leave, in order to protect the Earth and probably Amy and Rory. Bit like the film Speed, only the other way around. Hold the TARDIS on that date, get it away from the planet (River says she’s landed – but she doesn’t say where; I reckon it was in deep space, given that the exploding TARDIS effectively replaced the Sun) and then boom.

4. Did the Silence know what the explosion would do?

Doctor-Who--Wedding-of-River-Song-trailer--(3)Difficult. The obvious answer is no. Who blows up the universe to prevent the end of the universe? Well yes, religious fanatics, obviously. But I think the proven arch-plotter Kovarian might have been cleverer than that – after all, she had the foreknowledge that comes from thousands of years of hindsight in the form of meticulous historical records.

I think she did know, but didn’t think it mattered so long as a) the universe was somehow restored and b) the Doctor never reached Trenzalore to answer the question. With a brain like hers, at least one time machine and an army of creatures adept at manipulation and suggestion, it wouldn’t have been too hard to organise the entire Pandorica sub-plot to make sure the Doctor was in a position to save the universe, but would have to sacrifice himself in the process. How improbable was it that he was locked in the one thing that could have rebooted everything purely by chance?

What Kovarian didn’t anticipate, of course, was that Amy would bring him – and his TARDIS – back again.

5. Now that Eleven didn’t die at Trenzalore, did Clara still jump into his timeline?

the name of the doctor promo batch b (3)Yes. And No. This is where it all gets a bit wibbly. Time travellers seem to be immune, or at least resistant, to paradox. We’ve seen it with Amy, Rory etc, that even when their personal timestream is changed or partially erased, they retain some memory of what they did in the aborted timeline. For the time traveller at least, what happened in their own personal past stays happened – even if it now never did for everyone else. So as far as Clara and the Doctor are concerned, everything in The Name of the Doctor still happened. But so far as pretty much anyone else is concerned, it almost certainly didn’t. Welcome to time travel!

6. If Eleven was on his last life, why did he think he could regenerate to survive being poisoned by River – or later share regeneration energy with her?

river-transfers-regenerationsWhen he said ‘better regenerate then?’ in Let’s Kill Hitler, he was told ‘regeneration has been disabled’. We were probably meant to think this was an effect of the poison – but in reality, the TARDIS was telling him he had no lives left. In trying to bury all memory of his life during the Time War, he had simply miscounted. The Tesselecta ‘regeneration’ was faked and the threat to regenerate in order to burn out the Cyber Controller was a bluff.

However, not being able to regenerate any more does not mean you have no regeneration energy left. I think there is always some regeneration energy active in a Time Lord’s body, used to maintain their general health and youthfulness. It’s like boiling water – you need a big surge of energy to get it bubbling, but far less to keep things simmering away afterwards. Each regeneration is a big surge, followed by a slow simmer until the remaining energy is used up – at which point the body you’re in will start to age. If, however, you elect to spend some of your energy on healing another Time Lord (or, say, repowering your TARDIS after you accidentally end up in a parallel dimension), you effectively shorten the lifespan of the body you inhabit.

Ten’s regeneration was so explosive because he was still so full of that life’s energy (having had a sneaky top-up in Journey’s End) and all the radiation he’d absorbed from the reactor.

Eleven’s was so dramatic because it required a massive amount of energy to undo the centuries of ageing and restock his all but exhausted cells.

Hope this clears a few things up – please add any other questions in the comments below!