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Why does the Doctor LOOK human?

Guest contributor Vincent-Philippe Lauzon believes it’s all about perception.

doctor-mirror-family-of-blood

Amy Pond: You look human.
The Doctor: No, you look Time Lord. We came first.
- Series 5, The Beast Below

When I first saw that exchange, it felt like the fourth wall was broken: the characters admitted the Doctor looked human unlike other aliens.

I always assumed he looked human because it would be boring to have the main actor get buttered up with some latex prosthetic every week: it would make the character harder to relate to. I assumed it was a legacy of the inception of the show, in the 1960’s, when it was quite common to have aliens looking Caucasian and speaking with a Californian accent. But with that line, the fourth wall was broken: a Doctor’s companion found it odd that the Doctor looked human while being alien.

In this article, I would like to discuss reasons why I believe the Doctor looks human and how it could affect the future of the show.

Perception

For me, the odds of Time Lords looking like humans are slim at best. Why would they? According to Rassilon in The End of Time Part 2, Gallifrey’s civilization is over a billion years old. Ours is about ten thousand and our species, the Homo sapiens, is a few times older. So why would a species, having lived so long as a civilization, look anything like one who spent most of their collective existence hunting animals?

For me, Time Lords don’t look anything like humans. They probably do not look like evolved mammals either. Not a human with some wrinkles on the nose or dots on the neck, but something completely different.

So why do Time Lords appear human?

My favorite personal theory is that they look human because we are the ones looking at them! Using something similar to the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit / perception filter, the Time Lords alter our perception to appear as humans. This is why the Doctor can walk in antiquity dressed with a pin stripped suit or on a space station wearing a 90’s leather jacket while nobody raises an eyebrow: to them he appears differently, blending with its surrounding.

So why do Time Lord’s look different when they regenerate?

Because they do look different… underneath and inside (psychologically that is) and the perception filter reflects that. I find this theory much more plausible than thinking of the Time Lord as an evolutionary convergent species compared to humans (given that plausibility is a flexible concept when talking about a science-fiction show featuring an alien traveling in a blue box).

How does it work?

Like every good thing in science-fiction, and especially in Doctor Who, less explanation is better. It could either be a TARDIS feature, like automatic translation, some technology the Doctor is wearing or even a natural ability of the Time Lords. The important thing is that, so far, it has always been on.

How could it impact the show?

Imagine a scene where one character, let’s say a temporary companion, catches a glimpse of the real Doctor’s look because the perception filter goes off for a second. Preferably we wouldn’t really see his true appearance and it would remain a mystery. The character would first get completely confused then once he/she understands, he/she would grow scared of the Doctor and wouldn’t believe his/her own senses anymore. This could be a test of trust during the episode.

Actually, this could be extended to explain why most aliens don’t look too alien and why most planets look like England’s countryside. The TARDIS helps the traveler to relate to their environment by altering their perception.

It could offer a twist in a story where the alteration forbids all characters but the Doctor to understand something crucial about their environment.

In the end, it wouldn’t change anything drastically. A look is just a look and it could be brought in a story just to explain how Time Lords were able to perform covert missions easily and how that ability has allowed the Doctor to explore the universe easily. It would mostly add a nice layer to the Doctor’s myth.

Conclusion

I think that the Doctor looking human is fine. Actually, it allows for his characterization to be quite alien at time since we can always relate to him in some way, while having him look like a green man would create a larger gap and force the characterization to compensate by having his behavior closer to humans’. I can’t imagine how Doctor Who’s conventions would look like if the Doctor was a green alien!

I do believe though, that bringing the theory I just exposed in an episode to explain the oddity of Time Lords looking like humans would add a nice touch to the Doctor’s myth. The same way that the broken Chameleon’s circuit, explaining why the TARDIS looks like a 1960’s police box, was a nice touch adding a layer to the show’s universe.

Do you think that explanation would fly? Or would you have a more plausible one? Leave a comment!

Step back in time...

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103 comments
Liana21
Liana21

I don't buy it, sorry, I prefer think that simply, Time Lords and Human evolved in a similar way, as a black panther is just big black cat.

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

Thank you Vincent-Phillipe for a lovely and thought-provoking article!

elhakim
elhakim

Numerous alien species have mistaken the Doctor for being a human, presumably because of his appearance, so this theory seems unlikely.

LoneRangerNinjutsu
LoneRangerNinjutsu

Or maybe they just LOOK human because they evolved similarly to us. If the universe is a big place full of all these strange species and creatures, why is it so hard to believe that one species would resemble us more than the others? This is a show about a dude in blue box that travels through space and time. I don't think it's a big deal that he looks human.


Also, I don't see how Amy referring to the Doctor's appearance is breaking the fourth wall. To us, he looks human, and if the Earth in Doctor Who resembles and is based on our own Earth, wouldn't all humans assume that the Doctor is human at first glance? For a long time, Sarah Jane thought the Doctor was human like her and assumed that the term "Time Lord" was simply a title. "You don't understand the implications," the Doctor said to her. Was that breaking the fourth wall too? I don't think so.

troughton who?
troughton who?

In the first Meanwhile in the TARDIS minisode, the Doctor states that his form is what he really looks like, in response to Amy's speculation it was a disguise. There are many alien races in the universe that happen to be humanoid - if it's down to perception, how come only certain ones are perceived in such a way? Pretty sure it's stated in spin off media that humans (and other species) look Gallifreyan due to Time Lord meddling-stuff.


pjdxxxwa
pjdxxxwa

Don't forget the Doctor has stated that he is responsible for what happens in the Universe, and let us not forget Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..."

THAT is why.  ;-) 

(tic)

Trajan_Cicero
Trajan_Cicero

He looks human because a human is playing him

Sharaz_Jek
Sharaz_Jek

Nice idea, but it doesn't work. First off, the show already confirmed his appearance to be genuine - Aliens do recognize him by description, and don't forget his "space squid"-talk with Amy in Meanwhile in the TARDIS. Also, canon (well, Big Finish at least) already explained why so many species, including humans, resemble Time Lords to varying degrees - Rassilon 'seeded' the evolving life on many different places at early points in history, trying to cast the universe in his Time Lord image and prevent the rise of a force out-weighing his empire's




TheNightmareChild is havin' a good time!
TheNightmareChild is havin' a good time!

I once heard it said about the possible existence of life bearing planets outside of our solar system, I think by Stephen Hawking although it's probably best not to take my word for it, that it's like the lottery: the odds of anyone winning are astronomical, but inevitably somebody does.  And that's how I always took the "You look human/You look Time Lord" issue.  Yes, the odds of such a thing happening are probably impressively slim, but it's a big, big universe, so anything, absolutely anything is possible.  In this case, humanity won the lottery and ended up looking Time Lord.  There could be countless more species who look more or less superficially identical.  ("But, you look Potatoid."/"No, stupid boy, you look Sontaran!").

MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week
MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week

This is a fantastic idea, and one I would definitely not object to seeing unfold. Oddly, it's an issue I've never really given much thought.

I guess a (rather unsatisfying) explanation is simply that in an infinite universe with infinite planets and infinite species, coincidences are inevitable, and that simply these similarities between humans and Time Lords are  just that, a coincidence. Also, our physical shape is a pretty efficient one, so if Time Lords evolved under similar-ish circumstances or perhaps even chose their form (as humans are implied to have done so by the end of the universe in Utopia) then the essential build is one that may be chosen.

Ultimately, it's a point I'd quite like to be addressed, hopefully with a little more imagination than my attempt, though!

cuilean
cuilean

I like the idea of it being some kind of perception filter - and that would also explain why Time Lords can recognise each other across regenerations.

However, my own theory is that humans and Time Lords are the same species, which is borne out by Moffat's recent comments... and the fact that River Song was born of 2 humans, implying to me that she is the first Time Lord. Timey wimey stuff involving dancing with the last of the Time Lords and their society is founded...

Richy Woo
Richy Woo

One day a comet got bored and decided to go wandering around the universe, bits often fell off it when it was showing off by performing loop the loops and other flashy manoeuvres to other less interesting astral bodies. These bits that fell off occasionally landed on "Goldylocks" planets and grew up to be humanoid creatures. These Humanoid creatures always enjoyed starting wars with each other over mostly pointless issues, until they eventually grew up and got bored of fighting each other, at this point they inevitably invented some means of travelling between planets so they could fight new people. THE END.

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

I like the idea of a perception filter that would make Time Lords appear deceptively human. As a non-technological alternative I imagine that it might be because of the Time Lords being so much more advanced and somehow not a part of the physical universe anymore, which means that a human form is the closest to their true eldritch form that we can perceive without going mad.

It's fun to speculate about a possible in-universe explanation, beyond the costs of make-up and other effects. The common resemblance of other species to humans could also be the result of ancient scientific meddling with the entire universe, which would encourage the different ecosystems to develop species into a humanoid form, as was done with Star Trek. Either way, it does make the Doctor's special interest in humanity a bit strange within the context, as we share morphological characteristics and cultural similarities with such a huge amount of species across time and space, that we seem hardly very special at all. It doesn't really matter, but it does fuel for some interesting speculation to why he isn't as fascinated with the people from Sto or any other identical-looking near-human species.

JamesVaughan
JamesVaughan

Man is at least 200,000 years old, possibly over 2 million.

GabeSuarez
GabeSuarez

I read somewhere that the Time Lords were the first sentient beings in the Universe and created a morphic field around humanoids, so it became the most common form.

supermoff is now in 2D!
supermoff is now in 2D!

Two planets with similar geophysical characteristics and the necessary conditions for life are quite likely to experience somewhat similar evolutionary behaviour. The humanoid form is just a common evolutionary result in the DW universe.

Huknar
Huknar

There are a lot of races in Doctor Who that have blatant humanoid features, if not entirely human. I think they really are just an example of the human pattern of evolution across the universe. Nothing more. Nothing less.

JordanReed
JordanReed

I read some thing online it was fanfiction but did provide a good reason remember in series three the master mentioned something called the cruciform and it was suggested that rassilon used it alter the evolutionary paths of other races so that they would be lesser then time lords

thedemi_god
thedemi_god

Well the New Adventure novel (is that cannon) "Lucifer Rising" stated, or at least implied, that the evolution of the Gallifreyan's billions of years ago caused a morphic field that influenced the evolution of life throughout the universe. Specifically, influencing it in a 'humanoid' or 'human-ish' direction.

Sharaz_Jek
Sharaz_Jek

Also, it might just be simple convergent evolution

YaelMoise is glad they mentioned the goddess
YaelMoise is glad they mentioned the goddess

Correction: It was Amy. 


Amy: So, you're like a... space... squid... or something. Are you like a tiny little slug in a human suit? Is that why you walk like that?? 

Doctor: Amy, this is me. This *puts her hands on his face* is what I really look like. 

So... uh... nice article, I really do appreciate the effort, but unless you're saying "Meanwhile in the Tardis" isn't canon, I don't see how this works.



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

What I read is that natural morphic fields picked up on the Time Lords, which increased the likelihood of another humanoid race evolving within the morphic field, and when that humanoid race evolved, it increased the likelihood further and further and so on. Non-humanoid races evolved on worlds where a humanoid form would have been detrimental to their survival.


Richy Woo
Richy Woo

That would be hilariously silly if it were true. I hope to the gods that one of the ace investigators and fact checkers on this site can verify this as fact.

Rani Nose
Rani Nose

@supermoff  You got it.  Analogous structures between species, parts that have a similar look or serve a similar function but are not seen in common ancestors of those species develop through a process known as convergent evolution.


 

Think of the eye of a squid and the eyes of mammals.  The common ancestor to both only had simple photoreceptive cells but vision in both squids and mammals evolved independently from that common ancestor.   Or think of the many unrelated tropical plants that have evolved heart-shaped leaves because that shape is efficient in carrying out photosynthesis and directing rainwater toward the plant roots.

The traits that humans and Time Lords, or Gallifreyans, share, mainly bipedalism, big brains and two forward-facing eyes, offer many advantages over the traits of other species and could be expected to be the dominant traits of successful species on many planets.


Moxx
Moxx

I think Vincent meant that although it is conceivable they looked like humans and one point, they've had billions of years more than us to evolve into something much more efficient.

Sharaz_Jek
Sharaz_Jek

@Moxx Well, according to Doctor Who, the human race will remain the same basic form for the rest of history, even trillions of years in the future (but appearanty spending some time in gasious form)

Moxx
Moxx

*at!

*Perfuctory Livefyre complaint*


Sharaz_Jek
Sharaz_Jek

@JuanDiegoYoungEguren @YaelMoise He doesn't lie about every single thing in his life - actually, he rarely ever lies unless he really sees no other way to get his companion to follow his instructions (like when he sent away Rose or Clara)

MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week
MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week

@Sharaz_Jek @Moxx Indeed, and it's implied that humans had the ability to choose their shape, and chose the 'basic human' appearance. As this bipedal (etc.) form is a pretty efficient one, there's no reason why the Time Lords may not have done the same thing, but much earlier

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

Yeah and the line itself has been used like, what, seven times? And yet he has been a liar since day one... I think the fans may be the ones to blame for its perceived overuse on this one, for taking the line and running with it. But you're entirely right. The Doctor lies, but he generally has a good reason for doing so.