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To Know Thine Self: What can or can’t the Doctor know about his future selves?

Guest contributor Mike Falino investigates.

day-of-the-doctor-tv-trailer-(14)

One of the most exhilarating aspects of belonging to any fandom is re-watching (or re-reading) your source material over and over again, in hopes of new insight. Whether you uncover bits and pieces you’ve missed even after multiple visits, or simply some new way of looking something. This recently happened to me upon re-watching The Day of the Doctor for the, well, many-eth time. Basically, what can or can’t the Doctor know about his future selves.

“These are my replacements? A dandy and a clown…” – First Doctor

The heart of my revelation is that the Doctor, upon meeting future versions of himself, can’t actually know which number incarnation they are unless it is specifically addressed. This idea struck me when the Eleventh Doctor jumps through the timey-wimey hole in the sky and meets his old self, Doctor number ten. Immediately, Eleven recognizes Ten, which makes sense, but Ten doesn’t know he’s meeting a future version of himself until they compare their sonics. But even then, Ten has no reason to assume that the future Doctor he is interacting with is his direct replacement. Unless there’s some as of yet unexplained “Time Lord sense” that would specifically allow this, which I doubt, we must assume that the Doctor can’t know which number regeneration he’s talking to. More on this specific instance later.

When the War Doctor arrives he obviously knows neither of his future selves, yet they both turn white as ghosts at his arrival. Again, the Doctor (or Doctors) obviously knows his previous selves, but there’s no way of knowing his future selves. The War Doctor has no reason to believe Eleven isn’t his direct replacement, or Ten follows thereafter.

the-three-doctors-hartnell-pertwee-troughton

In all the instances where the Doctor meets his previous or future selves, there’s never an onscreen moment when the order of themselves is made clear amongst them. In The Three Doctors, the First Doctor comments on his “replacements” being a dandy and a clown, and while he’s certainly right that they are his replacements, he technically doesn’t know that they are his second and third incarnations. The only thing he could assume is that since there are no other Doctors present, that they are most likely his second and third selves, but even then, he can’t actually know which is which. The Time Lords know which is which, and how many there are, but the First doesn’t. In the long run, he can’t know that either of his replacements aren’t his seventh or ninth incarnations. Even the Second Doctor can’t know that the Third is who he is.

This idea of the Doctor not necessarily knowing which exact future incarnations he meets holds true in The Five Doctors, as well as Time Crash. Ten acknowledges the Fifth Doctor because he recognizes him, but the Fifth has no way of knowing Ten isn’t Six, Nine, or Twelve. This leads me to the only hiccup in my little theory, the Tenth Doctor.

Both Ten and Eleven knew who the War Doctor was, obviously. While the fans were in the dark about this “lost incarnation”, all subsequent Doctors, including Nine, knew full well which incarnation they were. Likewise, both Ten and Eleven knew that Ten’s little “vanity issues” may have masked a regeneration, but that it still counted as one. So that means the only Doctor to know exactly which future incarnation he was talking to was Ten. This now goes out the window with the Doctor’s new regeneration cycle. The Doctor, during any further instances of the Doctor meeting incarnations of himself, can’t actually know which number it is, well, except maybe the twenty-third…

Oh, one more thing. The timey-wimey stuff above wasn’t the only insight I had. Actually, it’s not insight so much as “I-don’t-care-I-love-Doctor-Who”. Right as the War Doctor is about to push the big red button, even after he has seen the men he will become, the Bad Wolf interface talks him down. I never noticed how Billie Piper’s voice changed subtlety. Maybe it’s just me being a fanatical Whovian, but I believe at that very moment, Bad Wolf became Rose Tyler. At least in some way. The way she spoke to him, what she said, was Rose. At least I like to think so. Of course, only one short hop further leads me to my favorite theory. Maybe, just maybe, a certain one-time all-powerful Bad Wolf is to thank for everything!

Step back in time...

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138 comments
stephenndbb
stephenndbb

This cant be right, because in The Five Doctors, One asks Five, Regeneration? and Five says Fifth.

Wimsey
Wimsey

Actually, there is no reason why the Doctor shouldn't remember his future selves.  The thing that people forget is that if you have time travel, then you have innumerable possible futures and pasts.  Just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, seeing a future would probably alter the future that any Doctor from any point in his time stream would have.


Indeed, the show already relies on this.  The Time Lords and Gallifrey were in a Time Lock in one set of time streams.  After all, the Doctor at the "leading edge" of his personal time stream had no future that could allow him to do anything different.  Our Doctor is not at the leading edge (he's met future versions of himself), but he clearly is close enough that the first time he went through the Time War, he had to Time Lock Gallifrey: and thus had to deal with the Time Lords trying to escape that Time Lock in the End of Time.  (The Doctor also had to deal with one Dalek entering and exiting the Time Lock at the cost of it's sanity.)


Again, the big problem is that fans (and sometimes the writers) limit themselves to thinking that there is one history and only one history: i.e., a single 4-D reality.  However, the show makes it quite clear that this isn't the case: the Time War erased whole segments of history, after all.  This reality is 5D at least: and maybe 6D (given alternate universes).  












JerichoMcMillan
JerichoMcMillan

Think about this: in the end of  the Shakespeare Story arc Elizabeth came for his(ten's) head, in her old age. She was angry for an "unknown reason", I think never coming back would be a reason. He married her when he was on his last trip before meeting the Ood. He retained the information of him marrying her. But you have to remember. originally he somehow handled that situation differently. Far as saving her, but it still ended with him marrying her then leaving.  He never came back because he regenerated into 11. Also The Doctor doesn't "know" himself automatically, He knows if he is near a time Lord not how many or how close just can feel if they are around.  Ten said "I would know, I would feel it in here." So War Doctor knew he was going to look for The Doctor he didn't know they were him. Ten didn't know that 11 was him at all until he pulled out this sonic. He assumed it was his 11th/12th generation due to the actions he committed. far as 13,they did not interact with him he cam eon his own because he knew it was happening. here is the rule the past cannot interact (or remember interaction) with his future incarnation but the Future cannot visit the past unless unforeseen events allow it. "Time as a way of healing itself"

Creative Whovian
Creative Whovian

Interesting Article. I found it incredibly sad when I realised the War Doctor wouldn't remember he saved Gallifrey because we now know all the grief we saw 9 go through especially, was for nothing. It was false. This made Eccleston's portrayal even more 'Fantastic' (see what I did there?) and truly adds to the drama when re-watching Season 27.


OnceTheDoctor
OnceTheDoctor

Hmm... it's a shame that the Doctor can never remember meeting his past selves because he kind of forgets such a big chunk of adventure he had. On the contrary, it's really dangerous though to be delving into your own future. 

Oliver J. "cool"
Oliver J. "cool"

I think in The Day of the Doctor, Ten knew that Eleven was Eleven because at that time he knew it was impossible to go beyond a twelfth regen.

warflair
warflair

No sir, all thirteen.


The Timelords where told that by the 12th Doctor. How does he know 13, 14,.. 63 aren't joining in?




The_Eternal_Dalek
The_Eternal_Dalek

If the 23rd Doctor meets a future incarnation then he'll definitely not know which incarnation he's meeting. The Eleventh Doctor was seemingly provided with a new regeneration cycle (that's twelve more regenerations), so in theory that's twelve more Doctors (unless they skip over some along the way again). The 23rd Doctor should be the last of the second cycle (and probably the first of the third cycle).

AlmightyAllan
AlmightyAllan

The Doctor can't know about his future self because that would be in direct violation to him knowing about his own future and events which lead up to his regeneration. That said, obviously when he meets his future self he has no clue who he is but the same isn't said for the future incarnation as for him the Doctor he met is a past self. (wow I hope that makes some sense). 



That said though, how did the first Doctor know about the "short one" in the Five Doctors episode? I'd almost say that while he is in the presence of his future self his whole history up to the most recent incarnation is open for the Doctor from the previous incarnation. But only while they exist in the same environment. Makes sense right?


It's not like at birth the Time-Lords identify all the incarnations the Doctor could have........ Right? If so then there would be a record of his entire history from birth to death. 

GaryKingston
GaryKingston

Wait a minute the incarnation number amongst the doctors is addressed. In the five doctors the first doctor ask the fifth doctor what regeneration he is and five says fourth

ChristopherValin
ChristopherValin

What about at the end of Day of the Doctor when they all show up to save Gallifrey? Wouldn't Ten and Eleven be wondering who the hell Twelve was, since they knew Eleven was his last regeneration?

YgorVale
YgorVale

I have a theory when the same incarnations met each other again, I think the get their memories of previous adventures with the incarnation, so if there is ever Ten/Eleven/Twelve Adventure Ten will get his memory back from when he saved Gallifrey.

Angie Whodini has Ravio's bracelet
Angie Whodini has Ravio's bracelet

I though you would address the fact that Eleven/Twelve now know that they have to search for Gallifrey even though it was a future incarnation who told him. But ah well, this was very interesting too. I never realized Ten could know Eleven was Eleven, very interesting...

GibbyBlogger
GibbyBlogger

I don't know... when they all meet, I like to think that, even though they forget the adventure itself, they still remember themselves (i.e. #2 and #3's dislike for each other). They still seem to remember meeting each other, but just not the story.


Although, one other thing, in 'The Day of the Doctor' the Tenth Doctor marries Elizabeth I, then he supposedly forgets the adventure. But in 'The End of Time', he remembers marrying her. How does that work? Maybe certain things are allowed to seep through - they're just not allowed to know the specific details.

Wimsey
Wimsey

@Creative Whovian  All of the development of the Doctor's character stems from him being a psychologically wounded veteran of a brutal war.  If that changed, then they would no longer have any character for the Doctor! 


HisNameIsTheDoctor
HisNameIsTheDoctor

@Oliver J. "cool"  Or is Ten earlier in his timeline than the false regeneration? In between Donna (The Runaway Bride) and Martha? He might not've been joking when he said he doesn't know about "Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey"... Then he would've thought he had two faces left...

The_Eternal_Dalek
The_Eternal_Dalek

@AlmightyAllan From what is said in The Day of the Doctor, the incarnations are aware of one another, but they suffer from some degree of amnesia after the encounter (probably as a postponed response to the Blinivotch Limitation Effect, time sensitivity has its advantages).

The Eleventh Doctor knew he was about to encounter his previous self as he had some memory of the incident, but it wasn't all there (and he had completely forgotten about meeting the War Doctor, even though he'd done it twice).

DamianChristie
DamianChristie

@GaryKingston  Yes, true, but the other Doctors in the Death Zone in The Five Doctors would have been none the wiser about how many other Doctors there were on Gallifrey! The Second Doctor only finds out later that the Fifth Doctor is, as he puts it, "the latest model". And in The Two Doctors it is probably not necessarily clear to the Second Doctor which incarnation the Sixth Doctor is! That said, the Doctor does seem to have an innate sense of recognising future versions of himself - in The Two Doctors, that is certainly the case. The War Doctor doesn't - but then he seems to have a harder time accepting how much younger his later incarnations have become! "What, even him?" he exclaims, pointing to the 11th Doctor!


The_Eternal_Dalek
The_Eternal_Dalek

@ChristopherValin They would probably have forgotten, or assumed they'll figure a way around the regeneration limit. All the others were well aware of what was happening.

Of course it is also possible the Tenth Doctor comes from between Voyage of the Damned and Partners in Crime, in which case he hasn't had the "vanity issues" yet (and the events that he referred to in The End of Time was just him going back for his honeymoon). That would only cause problems for the Eleventh Doctor then (but he would similarly forget what he was told, as interestingly enough he forgot his conversation with The Curator by the events of The Time of the Doctor).

Amy is uniting the Earth Kingdom!
Amy is uniting the Earth Kingdom!

@Whodini  Actually, assuming that the Curator really was the Doctor, then Eleven's reaction to the possibility of Gallifrey's return in "The Time of the Doctor" makes a lot more sense. He seemed almost in denial over it potentially being back. If the Curator was the Doctor, then Eleven would have forgotten about the Curator nudging him to find Gallifrey. Although Twelve would know to look for it because of the events on Trenzalore, since those gave him proof that there was a connection to Gallifrey and that it could come back.

Oodkind
Oodkind

@GibbyBlogger I think he went back to her after Day of the Doctor and carried on from there. Though we never saw how her zygon activities ended. That must have been awkward.

Timelordvictorius
Timelordvictorius

He got engaged before the other Doctors arrived, so maybe he remembers that much, and right at the end of DOTD he went back to check on her? After all, they still needed to get that portrait together for 11 to find in the gallery.

warflair
warflair

@ilyootha @warflair  Ahhh, it wasn't Peter Capaldi... Whoops....  and I've watched it 4 times.... :D  Ty for pointing that out. www.youtube.com/watch?v=57MS59A-KMY. I even checked. Lol... Perhaps I need my ears syringing and a visit to the opticians.







AlmightyAllan
AlmightyAllan

@DamianChristie @GaryKingston  He'll recognise himself for sure but he won't retain any knowledge of meeting his future selves. That is until (possibly) his meets them again and then the knowledge is regained. Simple right? 

Shadestryke
Shadestryke

@Amy the Consulting Commentator @Angie Whodini  I think that the Doctor forgetting his future selves is more of an in-built subconscious defence mechanism against knowing his own future. By refusing to confirm that he was the Doctor, the Curator sidestepped that mental block and became a curiosity to be solved rather than a future that must be forgotten.

AlmightyAllan
AlmightyAllan

@Amy the Consulting Commentator @Angie Whodini  The Curator is the Doctor. It's pretty obvious in the scene. And yes, it does explain why he cannot remember that he did actually save his home planet because he doesn't have the memory of the Curator confirming his suspicions.  

Angie Whodini has Ravio's bracelet
Angie Whodini has Ravio's bracelet

@Amy the Consulting Commentator Yeah it's true for Twelve that he has Trenzalore's experience but the ending of The Day of the Doctor was kind of odd for me because of that. I'll have to rewatch but it's true, he was on denial. Hmmm... Even if he did remember I had my theories though, especially considering Time Crash.

GibbyBlogger
GibbyBlogger

@Oodkind @GibbyBlogger I don't know 'cos when he bumps into her with Martha in 'The Shakespeare Code', she was angry with him, almost like he'd deserted her or something and she wanted revenge:


KEMPE: Will, you'll never believe it. She's here! She's turned up!


BURBAGE: We're the talk of the town. She heard about last night. She wants us to perform it again.


MARTHA: Who?


BURBAGE: Her Majesty. She's here.


Fanfare and the elderly Elizabeth enters with two pikemen.

DOCTOR: Queen Elizabeth the First!


ELIZABETH: Doctor?

DOCTOR: What?


ELIZABETH: My sworn enemy.

DOCTOR: What?


ELIZABETH: Off with his head!


DOCTOR: What?


MARTHA: Never mind "what", just run! See you, Will, and thanks.

ELIZABETH: Stop that pernicious Doctor.

Shakespeare laughs as the pikemen chase the Doctor and Martha out and into the streets of Southwark.

PIKEMAN: Stop in the name of the Queen!


MARTHA: What have you done to upset her?


DOCTOR: How should I know? Haven't even met her yet. That's time travel for you. Still, can't wait to find out.


They get to the Tardis and he lets Martha in.

DOCTOR: That's something to look forward to. Ooo!


The Doctor gets inside and shuts the door as an arrow thuds into it.


RecycledCompanion
RecycledCompanion

@Oodkind @GibbyBloggerI think he went back to her after DotD, as well. And when he got there, he couldn't remember marrying her -- or his recollection was hazy -- and that's one reason that she was so angry with him.

Xaraxia
Xaraxia

@JonathanAgo Not really. He claims to be 903 on the Titanic, and in an audio adventure with Donna. He's 904 in DotD. He's 906 in End of Time.So the Doctor's timestream goes Donna, the specials up until Waters of Mars, DotD, then a gap (just over 1 year if you assume that DotD was just before he hit 905), then End of Time. So DotD is after he started avoiding the Ood because of his impending death (this would be the point where he worked out that his death wouldn't be permanent, because he has vague memories of a future self) but there's quite a bit more that happens before End of Time.



Xaraxia
Xaraxia

@The Oncoming Jellybaby Oh, that one's easy. GALLIFREY doesn't know about the metacrisis Doctor, so they would have simply assumed that this was another incarnation between Hurt and Smith. 13 Doctors - that's the limit. If more turned up, then it would be revealing *Gallifrey's* future (that they would send time energy through to the Doctor) and THAT is forbidden - the Time Lords have to stay in sync with Gallifrey to avoid all the shiny paradoxes.






Xaraxia
Xaraxia

ALSO Capaldi turned up, so they won't have solid memories of the actual moment where they saved Gallifrey either.


Oodkind
Oodkind

@Amy the Consulting Commentator @Oodkind @GibbyBloggerBut then what? The Queen just saw aliens and their technology and knew they were going to come out in the future, and then her lover was three different people and fighting aliens. You think she just went on with her business? Probably not. He must have come back and cleared that up.

YgorVale
YgorVale

@Wibbly-Wobbly Strawberry Jelly He might remember marry Liz, but might not remember War and 11 and Clara watching, A time lord's memory is weird. "A man is the sum of his memories, a time lord even more so"