Why Bringing Back Gallifrey Is Right…
Connor Johnston defends the decision to restore the Doctor’s home planet.
On the 23rd of November last year, Doctor Who celebrated its 50th Birthday with a big bang! Steven Moffat delivered, what to me was, the perfect gift to the Whovians in the form of “The Day of the Doctor” – an anniversary special that successfully lived up to the expectations and hype every fan had thrust upon it since it was first announced. Personally, I found so many aspects of the 50th special sensational – the “Doctor2Doctor2Doctor” interactions, the Zygon subplot and the reliance on the past were 3 highlights – but nothing was more brilliant in my eyes then the decision to save Gallifrey. Earlier this month an article was published expressing the author’s opinion of why the decision to restore the Doctor’s home planet is wrong. Today however, I plan on refuting the points made in that piece as well as sharing my views as to why saving Gallifrey was the best possible decision to make.
Hatred, Guilt and Growth
I cannot express how much I love the direction Christopher Eccleston took the character of the Doctor in during his short yet monumental run in the TARDIS. The effect the Time War had on the character was never more evident than in his series, especially during highlights such as “Dalek” and “The End of the World”. The Ninth Doctor’s heartbreak over the loss of his home planet is shown through his hatred for the Daleks as well as the hatred for himself and the guilt over the choice he had made -- but how does Gallifrey never being destroyed in the first place affect these emotions held by the ninth Doctor?
For a substantial amount of time now the rule that when the timelines of the different Doctors are corrupted, their memories are altered to cater for the “wibbly-ness” of the plot has been crucial to determine the canon levels of multi-Doctor specials. With this being stressed to the audience once more in the closing scenes of ‘Day’ it means that the hate and pain felt by the Doctor is still real because as far as he is concerned: he still made the choice, and he still killed all his people. Just because what the Doctor believes to be true is in fact false doesn’t make his reaction and genuine feelings to it any less substantiated.
To me, Gallifrey’s return has not cheapened them in the slightest but in fact adds a new dimension to the impact that the Doctor’s sorrow and remorse has on the audience; if anything it’s even more tragic now that the Doctor, for hundreds of years, had to live that guilt and trauma and loneliness, despite the fact that the Time Lords had actually been saved. I have a little head canon personally that every now and then glimpses of saving Gallifrey came back to the Doctor, moments of hope and joy… before he brushes them off in self-hatred, disgusted by the fact that he could be so selfish to indulge in a world where he didn’t make the choice before plummeting into a deeper hole of despair than he’d been in before. Yes I know I’m evil. (I was tested.)
The Tenth Doctor was a man who seemed to be burdened with the guilt and regret of what he had done more than any other Doctor, with many moments in his three (and a half) series being most clearly dedicated to mourning his people. Yes at times he accepted the reasons why he had to make that choice, but never once did he not regret it. It’s for this reason I disagree with any suggestion that David Tennant’s Doctor would not support the decision to save Gallifrey or that it his actions were uncharacteristic. Taking into account all this grief and shame that haunted his era; I find it extremely hard to believe that if there was a way in which he could control the insanity of the corrupt Time Lords, rescue the lives of millions of innocents, defeat the Daleks and give hope to the people who needed it the most, that he wouldn’t take it immediately.
How fitting that the Eleventh Doctor was the incarnation that found another way. The Doctor who inspired and befriended a little Scottish girl with fish fingers and custard; The Doctor who would never interfere in the affair of other planets or persons… unless there was a crying child involved; The Doctor who made a house call to reassure a scared George, was a hero to a young Kazran, made it his mission to rescue Merry Galel; The Doctor who valued innocence.
It’s fairly obvious that in most of the RTD era, regardless of how much grief there was over the loss of Gallifrey, the Time Lords were greatly antagonized and even more so than in the Classic Era. Of course this was in order to soften the realization that the man we had fallen in love with due to his passion to save others had committed mass genocide – an idea that, like Steven Moffat, I still struggle to accept. This vilification made it easy at times to overlook the children and the innocents that the Doctor killed that day. The focus on the loss of blameless lives was a brilliant angle for Moffat to take the anniversary in with the use of the Eleventh Doctor and more importantly the brilliant War Doctor. It was their remorse, dread and longing for growth that ultimately lead effortlessly into the Doctors changing their minds. After all, one thing that unites all the 4 Doctors of New Who was their longing to be forgiven.
“I don’t suppose we’ll know if we actually succeeded. But at worst, we failed doing the right thing, as opposed to succeeding in doing the wrong.”
The Great Escape?
One thing that constantly bothered me throughout the first few series of New Who was the immortality of the Daleks. By this I mean the certainty that the Daleks would always, no matter what, find a way to return. The overuse of the iconic villains during the RTD era is a controversial topic – though because of the justice RTD gave to them in each appearance the abundance of them was never the aspect that irritated me. Rather it was the description that the Doctor had made a choice so final and so absolute in killing them all, “Daleks and Time Lords alike”, and how this account was eventually demeaned by the fact that so many Daleks over the years survived “The Moment”. So many Daleks and not one single other Time Lord. At least the new conclusion to the Time War makes their immortality more feasible. Somehow survival after being “Caught in their own cross fire” is more forgiveable than such an unconditional defeat as the Moment being activated.
Principles and Potential
Regardless of if you agree or disagree with the debate, Gallifrey at some point in the not too distant future will return. For the first time since the show’s revival it’s no longer a likely possibility – but a confirmed certainty. For a quick moment instead of dwelling in the past, let’s look at how the return of Gallifrey can benefit the future of the show.
Already the return has worked wonders in the tying up of arcs and the answering of questions during the 2013 Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor”. I completely disagree with the implication that the sole reason Gallifrey was saved was to be used as a flimsy way of escaping the ’13 regenerations’ problem. Steven Moffat didn’t invent the issue or deal with it prematurely, as whether it of been at the end of Matt Smith’s run or Peter Capaldi’s (If the War Doctor didn’t exist), the regeneration limit would be reached very soon. You cannot simply save the Doctor’s life after being exterminated by a Dalek without any consequences. The regeneration in “The Stolen Earth” was always going to count. Now that I’ve stressed that point I’d like to say that in my humble opinion there was no better way to deal with the rule set up in “The Deadly Assassin” than by having it solved by the Time Lords – the only race that we know has the knowledge and the ability to manage regenerations. It wasn’t a “flimsy” solution, it was a solution that made sense. What else could have solved it? A special magic mushroom? Perhaps we could draw a solution from the mind of Chloe Webber? The resolution at the hands of the Time Lords just works.
Now that we have Gallifrey’s return in our future, we have an endless amounts of Time Lord characters to look forward to as well. Echoes of the past in the form of the Master; the Rani, Omega – or possibly some new iconic faces in The General and CO. Friend or foe, there is no doubt that Gallifreyan roles will be characters hotly anticipated by fans. As a massive fan of Classic Who as well as New Who, I cannot stress how powerful the presence of Gallifrey is in an episode. The atmosphere created by the home of the Doctor in episodes like “The War Games” and “The Five Doctors” is so powerful and something I hope is maintained in future appearances. If the planet is not excessively used, I truly believe this level of intensity is possible to achieve.
It’s About Time
Let’s be completely honest with each other now – if Gallifrey was not brought back during the 50th, there is no doubt that one day it would eventually return in some other time and place, under another head writer’s direction. It would always had returned at some point. Therefore the question shouldn’t be “Is it right to bring back Gallifrey” at all, rather if the timing for the restoration is right.
The reason Gallifrey was first “destroyed” by Russell T Davies was to give the revival of the show something heavy weighted and full of potential to start the series with a punch. Both the “Last of the Time Lords” and the “Time War” story arcs have truly run successful courses, and done more than enough for the show. Because of them we’ve been privileged with scenes rife in character development, emotion and incredible impact on the audience, but in the last few season this idea of grief and regret over the Time War (while still present in the Doctor’s life) has been touched on less and less. Even though the “Last of the Time Lords” arc has been sensationally iconic and beneficial to the growing popularity of the program, I agree with the idea we need a fresh new direction before the essence of the show got too repetitive.
This new innovative breath of fresh air provided by Gallifrey’s return is for me the best reason to favour and have faith in the decision – because it’s totally revitalised the show. We’ve followed and loved the story of the man who regrets and the man who forgets… but those chapters in the Doctor’s life are finished. Now we have a new story to look forward to. The story of the man who amends. The story of the Doctor and his new destination. The story of Gallifrey.