Who Mysteries: Magical Memory Wipe

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Guest contributor Gustaff looks into a multi-Doctor mystery.

“I take it we won’t remember any of this particular encounter when the time-phasing corrects itself.” – Fifth Doctor
“You won’t, but I will.” – Eighth Doctor

the-three-doctors-hartnell-pertwee-troughtonWe’re on the fast-track to the 50th Anniversary, so why not take the time to look at a themed mystery? At the very beginning, in a story titled The Three Doctors, fans were so thrilled to see William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton back that they disregarded a seemingly large inconsistency in the story, specifically: why didn’t the Second or Third Doctor already know what to do? From a linear perception, they had in fact both experienced the events of the story before, twice in the Third Doctor’s case.

Similarly, why didn’t the Second, Third or Fifth Doctor already know what was going on in The Five Doctors when they’d each lived through most of those events multiple times over? They should’ve known that Borusa was behind everything, yet this vital piece of information seemed to slip everyone’s minds. The Magical Memory Wipe has attracted much interest over the years, and writers of all shapes and sizes, wielding pens and pencils alike, have tried to explain away this tricky discrepancy.

Before we begin, just in case the timelines of all the Doctors takes you by surprise and some things don’t add up, here’s the order in which the stories I’ll be referencing take place:

Fifth Doctor

Time Crash – The Five Doctors – Sirens of Time – The Veiled Leopard – The Four Doctors

Sixth Doctor

The Two Doctors – Sirens of Time – The Four Doctors – 100 Days of the Doctor

Seventh Doctor

The Veiled Leopard – The Four Doctors – The Shadow of the Scourge – Sirens of Time

Eighth Doctor

The Four Doctors


Peter Davidson David Tennant Doctor Who Children in NeedOne notion is that all the non-current incarnations of the Doctor lose their recollection of the events after the adventure has concluded. In The Four Doctors audio, when three of his former selves ended up in his TARDIS, the Eighth Doctor confirmed that he’d be the only one who remembered the encounter. Yet, contradicting this, in The Veiled Leopard, the Fifth Doctor sent Peri and Erimem to prevent the theft of a jewel called the Veiled Leopard in Monte Carlo. Peri commented that the Fifth Doctor had been arguing with some “goofy little guy in a pullover” before the story started, indicating that the Seventh and Fifth Doctors spoke briefly to one another beforehand. The Seventh Doctor also sent Ace and Hex to steal the Veiled Leopard on that very same night, so he was well aware of what his Fifth incarnation had done and had orchestrated the whole thing in advance. Except, if the Magical Memory Wipe holds true, then the Fifth Doctor should not have remembered arguing with his future self, thus the Seventh Doctor wouldn’t have remembered what to do. Confusing isn’t it?

Similarly, the Doctor remembered how to fix the TARDIS in Time Crash by remembering what he watched the Tenth Doctor do while he was still the Fifth. Again, if the mind-wipe theory holds, then the Fifth Doctor should’ve forgotten meeting his future self and learning what he’d have to do when he eventually turned into the Tenth incarnation and arrived at that situation.

Another problem that arises; how do the Doctors forget the events? Do they wipe their own minds or does someone else do it for them? The problem with the former is: could you really do something like that without being forced? If you knew you were destined to be mowed down by a car and a time traveler managed to supply you with everything you needed to know in order to escape, would you really just ignore it and be killed? Does the fact that you know it’s going to happen make it destiny? Even if it does, could you accept that as gospel and let it happen anyway? Could you say with absolute certainty that you wouldn’t be tempted to prolong your life?

two-doctors-troughton-bakerFans and writers have come up with the idea that the Time Lords somehow forcibly intervene and wipe all future knowledge from the Doctor’s memory. This philosophy looks like it fits perfectly, but it does create its own set of problems. If the Time Lords are responsible, then why did they leave the information in the Fifth Doctor’s mind after The Veiled Leopard and Time Crash? For the former: is it because it forms part of a predestination paradox? Looking at the latter; could it be because the Time Lords are now dead? The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn were able to spy on his Seventh and Eighth incarnations in 100 Days of the Doctor, yet the Seventh Doctor, who should already know what his next incarnation looks like from observing him during the above mentioned events, didn’t recognize him in The Four Doctors. Was this  an accidental mistake or an excuse to allow the Seventh Doctor to use the traditional phrase: “So you’re the latest model?” Going back, the Sixth Doctor met the Seventh in The Sirens of Time and recognized him from when he viewed him in the company of Evelyn, indicating that he had retained the knowledge of that adventure. Another contradiction occurs in The Shadow of the Scourge. Here, the Doctor and Benny observe all of his incarnations and he points out what his next incarnation will look like. So if he forgot what the Eighth Doctor looked like in The Four Doctors, then how does he know what he’ll look like in this story if his memory was adjusted after the encounter?

A third model is that the Doctor never actually forgets the events; he simply stays silent and lets history play itself out when the aforementioned stories occur. This one seems the most problematic as it moots every cheeky comment the Doctor makes about being surprised at his successor’s appearance or personality. It also fixes the events into a predestination paradox with no one actually having any control over their lives, which is something the Doctor has confirmed he doesn’t believe in…or at least, his philosophy of this changes depending on the body he’s wearing. There is also the danger that the Doctor might accidently alter history with his foreknowledge. However, this theory is easily disproven by the events of The Two Doctors. The Sixth Doctor has no recollection of being tortured on the Chimera space-station while in his Second incarnation and wanders into the plot by accident. However, the Third Doctor revealed to Linx that he’d met Sontarans before in The Time Warrior. Many agree that the Doctor is referring to the fact that he met them during the events of The Two Doctors. It is also true that as a result of Season 6b, the Time Lords might’ve removed those memories from the Second Doctor and he met the Sontarans in some other off-screen adventure, but what about The Three and Five Doctors. In The Five Doctors, the Second Doctor seems aware of just how much he dislikes his successor and continues their banter as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. From his behavior, it does seem like he remembers meeting and arguing with the Third in The Three Doctors. The above also seems to point to the fact that the Doctor might remember the encounters in a modest capacity.

From the aforementioned, the notion that the Time Lords regulate which memories are allowed and which aren’t seems to fit the solution best, but that creates yet another dilemma: how will the Time Lords be able to erase the memories of the Tenth Doctor in the 50th Anniversary if they’re all dead via the Time War? This creates something of a paradox as the Tenth Doctor will be able to see what his next incarnation looks and acts like. This will also contradict and take away some of the suspense and dramatic mystery of the He Will Knock Four Times arc.

Possible solutions

Time-of-Angels-(5)The first one is the most recognizable…River Song. She possesses hallucinogenic lipstick and has Mnemosyne recall-wipe vapor, which she has used to wipe the memories of the first nine incarnations of the Doctor when she met them so as not to pollute his timeline. Given River’s tendencies to pop up during finales and special occasions, she might be involved in the 50th and be responsible for wiping everyone else’s memory in the absence of the Time Lords. This is supported by a throwaway line in A Good Man Goes to War where River mentions having celebrated a birthday with two Doctors. In hindsight, given the phenomenal and emotional performance in The Name of the Doctor, it does appear that that we’ve seen the last of River Song.

The theory that the Tenth Doctor might not forget the events is also eerily probably because of The Next Doctor. In it, the Doctor uses the phrase:

“But you’re the Doctor! The next Doctor! Or the next-but-one, a future Doctor anyway.”

From the Tenth Doctor’s perceptive, he is aware that he has three regenerations left with one of them being the mysterious Valeyard he met in his Sixth incarnation. If the 50th Anniversary’s timeline is correct and it takes place somewhere before the Series 2 finale for the Doctor and Rose, then the Tenth Doctor is aware of at least two future incarnations and believed Jackson Lake to be the last unknown of his future regenerations. Could the 50th Anniversary have been planned since Christmas 2008? Is the Doctor’s line a throwaway one or an evil foreshadowing that nobody saw coming except RTD and Steven Moffat?