The Day of The Doctor – a time-structure analysis
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” (Marcus Aurelius)
Clara: We’ve got enough warriors. And any old idiot can be a hero.
The Doctor: Then what do I do?
Clara: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor.
[Day of The Doctor quotes taken from the transcript at www.planetclaire.org]
The Day of The Doctor is structured into two plots – an A plot (the use of The Moment by the War Doctor) and a B plot (the Zygon Invasion of Earth). The A plot has a long-standing emotional conflict at its heart. The Doctor, a hero to many, once committed an act of genocide on his own people. The man who swore to be ‘never cruel’, to ‘never give in’, killed 2.7 billion innocent children.
As soon as the conflict is set in that form, it becomes apparent that it can’t possibly fit into the structure of a long running family show. As long as the show concentrates on adult Time Lords such as the High Council – who’ve clearly all gone insane – or the need to destroy the Daleks, the backstory presented is nicely angsty. The Doctor had to destroy the Time Lords because they’d gone insane enough to destroy the universe. It was the equivalent of shooting the man who’s about to burn down the house. It’s painful, but it’s understandable, and it’s forgiveable.
However, once you start going down the road of wondering whether everyone on Gallifrey had gone bonkers, or whether there might have been three-year-olds clutching their teddy bears amongst the population – then there’s a problem. The history of the television show includes a Time Lord child – fifteen year old Susan, the Doctor’s own granddaughter. That suggests there were, indeed, children on Gallifrey. That means the hero of the show is someone who’s done something only God could forgive; and he doesn’t even believe in God. 🙂
What is the difference between a Dalek and the Doctor if they’d both deliberately kill that three year old? There’s only one difference; the Doctor can change. The Dalek can’t. The Doctor can be ‘The Doctor’ again – become the person who’d never kill those children. Instead, he’s the person who’d die trying to save them.
And because this is a show about time travel, you don’t have to show that change by using a current situation. You can also go back and change the past.
That’s the central conflict of Plot A, and Plot B provides the ‘current situation’ parallel.
The resolution of the Plot A conflict is provided by a literal ‘Deus Ex Machina’ – The world destroying device known as The Moment has a conscience, sentience, and an ability to manipulate time that might be expected from the universe’s foremost temporal engineers. But before we go into that plot resolution, let’s see if we can understand Time Track One – the time track before the intervention of The Moment.
[I’m indebted to @PhaseShift for his suggestion that the Doctor may have been able to change his own timestream by leaping inside it to save Clara.]
Time Track One
The War Doctor decides to use The Moment. There is no Clara, so there’s no point in The Moment trying to manipulate time – as we later see, watching their dilemma replayed by Kate Stewart won’t make any of the Doctors change their minds, even though they’ll stop her making the same decision. Gallifrey burns (seen in The End of Time). The Doctor regenerates, meets Rose. Events proceed as seen since 2005.
1562 – the Tennant Doctor is investigating a possible Zygon invasion of Earth. Despite consistently misidentifying Zygons, the immediate danger is resolved by the Zygon commander badly underestimating Queen Elizabeth I. The Zygons are put into stasis (Elizabeth I had quite enough near-wars going on in 1562, there’s no way she’d want to cope with invading aliens as well). Her time-travelling husband is appointed to deal with the problem.
2013 – the Smith Doctor gets the second part of the Zygon invasion of Earth. Note that if there’s no intervention by the Moment, the Smith Doctor remains physically in 2013. He doesn’t have to land the TARDIS (he doesn’t even have to use the TARDIS) – he can dash from Trafalgar Square to the Tower in the classic ‘race against time’ style. His problem is physically getting inside the Black Archive (or alternatively, finding a way to fire off the memory filters from outside the doors).
Neither part of the Zygon adventure absolutely requires the three Doctors to meet (it doesn’t even need Gallifrey Falls/No More). They work out how to disintegrate the door in the Tower of 1562 – but it isn’t locked. They need the War Doctor to tell them how to get through to the Black Archive – but without being transported to 1562, the Smith Doctor wouldn’t be in the TARDIS. Relaying a calculation via the earliest version of the Sonic Screwdriver, using the Stasis Cube/Gallifrey Falls – these ‘solutions’ are only necessary because of The Moment’s time manipulation. They also, not coincidentally, happen to be the solution to the Doctor’s real problem (plot A).
Talking about time manipulation, let’s move to:
Time Track Two
Hang onto your hats, folks. This one’s incredibly convoluted. (Incredibly convoluted: so grown up)
Let’s take PhaseShift’s idea that the Doctor has changed his timestream by saving Clara’s life. That makes sense, because it’s when he rescues Clara that he can ‘see’ the War Doctor.
The War Doctor decides to use The Moment. But now there is Clara, a girl born to save the Doctor. The Moment’s problem has become quite different; instead of the scenario in Time Track One, where there’s nothing she can suggest that would change the Doctor’s mind, there’s someone available who is capable of doing just that. So she opens two time portals.
2013: The Smith Doctor has been called into The Zygon Invasion of Earth (Part 2). He sees a quite remarkable painting.
Gallifrey Falls/No More is a 3-D Time Lord work of art. It’s been brought to this time period and delivered to the Doctor by the simple expedient of leaving it with Elizabeth I and telling her to store it safely, using it as her ‘credentials’ when the Zygons break out.
‘Who’ left it with Elizabeth I only becomes apparent at the end of the show; a future Doctor ‘acquired it in remarkable circumstances.’ But there’s something else remarkable about that painting; something we’re encouraged not to think about by an immediate jump back in time to the Last Day of the Time War. Moffat knows perfectly well most keen fans were gagging to see more of the Time War – he’s just done the scripting equivalent of ‘Oh, look! Kittens!’
Because – if this is the Last Day of the Time War – who the bloody hell survived to paint ‘Gallifrey Falls/No More’? Hidden in plain sight; Clara even signposts it by saying ‘But that’s impossible.’ She’s referring to the 3-D, of course. But that painting is entirely impossible. The only person who could have painted it would never, under any circumstances, turn the worst moment of his life into a spectacular work of art.
The painting is from the future, the future where Gallifrey has been both saved and found. It’s delivered to the Smith Doctor both as a means of reminding him of the Time War (he’s the one who has to come up with the solution so that Gallifrey Falls/No More becomes Gallifrey Falls No More) and a means of getting him into the Black Archives.
[The title of the painting itself implies two time streams, by the way.]
I hope everyone’s clear about the Doctor phoning McGillop from the future so that he can take the painting to the Black Archives? Good. 😉
Once the time vortex is opened in 2013, the Smith Doctor starts to ‘remember’ events. In A Christmas Carol (which seems to have been a bit of a rehearsal for this), Kazran Sardick ‘remembers’ events as the Doctor changes his time-stream. So it’s entirely possible that this is what’s happening here; the Smith Doctor is ‘remembering’ as his time-stream is changed. While he’s in 2013, the time stream is being changed in his personal past. As soon as he moves to 1562, however…
Remembrance of things past
Note that the Tennant Doctor is pretty surprised that his future self doesn’t remember these events – again, there’s a parallel in A Christmas Carol. Kazran can’t ‘remember’ his young self being brought into the future to see the man he’d become; not when the changed timeline happens in his own personal present. If the changes happen in his personal past he does.
[This also suggests that ‘TimeCrash’ wasn’t a changed timeline – and that it’s the changing of timelines that will affect memories. ]
The Hurt Doctor then arrives to visit his future selves (with fez). There’s a very strong suggestion that the Hurt Doctor’s entire period is time-locked; the Tennant Doctor is shocked that the Hurt Doctor can get to 1562.
Events in our Zygon adventure proceed as per Time Line One. There is, however, a strong hint from The Moment that Time Can Be Changed (remember that slogan?).
It’s history for them. All decided. They think their future is real. They don’t know it’s still up to you.
Since Clara is still back in 2013, The Moment also has to do her own hinting to get the three Doctors to realise the potential of a 400 year time gap between Doctors.
Question: if the Smith Doctor can’t remember ‘past’ events when the timestream is being changed in his ‘present’, how come the screwdriver trick works? The screwdriver’s timestream is, after all, being changed with new programming in its ‘present’.
Remember all those complaints when Moffat had the TARDIS produce the new Sonic? There was a reason for that. The TARDIS, like The Moment, has no real understanding of ‘past’, ‘present’ or ‘future’. We see this when the ‘desktop’ glitches; three Doctors at once, she’s not quite sure which one to use. From the TARDIS point of view, it doesn’t matter ‘when’ she got the calculations because she has no concept of ‘when’. Programming information includes that they were started by the screwdriver belonging to the Hurt Doctor; that’s when they start. And they will start then, even if she has to send them back in her own personal time to do it; she’s a time machine.
Clara is battling with Zygons, mysteriously flickering lights, and a vortex manipulator. I admit I’m vaguely wondering if this part of the plot was to get Clara fitted out with a vortex manipulator for the Christmas Special, but there you go. She escapes from the Zygons by jumping to:
Where she opens a door. Note that she isn’t necessary in the 1562 adventure (or even in the 2013 adventure) – which fits with the idea that in Timestream One, she wasn’t in either era. Clara’s plot importance is orientated towards Plot A. She’s the cause of the Doctor explaining stasis cubes (Cup-a-Soup), which will both get them back to Plot B Part 2 (maintaining the solution from Time Stream One) and solve the major dilemma in Plot A.
2013 (via the TARDIS)
Quick bits of time travel. The Doctors (and Clara) travel by TARDIS, the Zygons by stasis cube. The Tower is TARDIS-proof, so the last bit of the journey is made via stasis cube through the Gallifrey Falls/No More portal.
Note that the painting has now changed: in the original there is one Doctor, only. The War Doctor. In this version, the Three Doctors (and Clara) have now been inserted. With the addition of a little bit of time, they destroy the Dalek and exit into the Black Archives to wrap up Plot B.
The wrap-up of Plot B does two things. It shows that the later versions of the Doctor are perfectly aware that killing innocents to save many others is never ‘right’. It also demonstrates that – while the Doctor has turned into ‘great men’, he’s still convinced he had no other choice. What’s done is done. We’re still in a world where our hero murdered 2.7 billion kids.
The Hurt Doctor makes his decision and we return to:
The Time War
Where The Moment is no doubt muttering with River Song ‘My god, you’re hard work when you’re young’. She opens the Time Lock.
Clara is really, really important to Plot A’s solution. She recognised in 2013 that the Hurt Doctor was young – same way River did, she could see it in his eyes – and hadn’t yet destroyed Gallifrey. She clearly, from the dialogue, persuaded the Tennant and Smith Doctors to break through the Time Lock.
Tennant Doctor: These events should be time-locked. We shouldn’t even be here.
Smith Doctor: So something let us through.
Yup. Time is being changed. There’s a painting that shouldn’t exist (and which changes), there’s the Smith Doctor unable to remember what he did in his own past, there’s a Time Lock that suddenly seems to be like that door in the 1562 Tower – unlocked as soon as Clara pushes against it.
The three Doctors, by themselves, cannot change their own personal past. Like Day of the Daleks, the people in the loop can’t change it. This is the past that created them; this is the decision that made them. The only person who can change things is Clara – who wasn’t created by the past where Gallifrey burns.
[Though I do wonder whether Clara-from-Blackpool was always a Claricle, and the original ‘recipe’ is someone from the Doctor’s future. Possibly even someone from Gallifrey, when it’s found.]
The Tennant Doctor is extremely clear that his personal history is being changed:
Tennant Doctor: You’re not actually suggesting that we change our own personal history?
The General: What? Even if that were possible, which it isn’t, why would you do such a thing?
The Doctor: Because the alternative is burning.
Ten: And I’ve seen that.
The Doctor: And I never want to see it again.
The painting changed. Gallifrey no longer burns. And if that wasn’t enough to show that Time Can Be Changed, the Twelve Doctors who exist in the timestream of Trenzalore are now – Thirteen.
We saw Twelve. Now, finally, we see a flash of Thirteen.
Back to the present. The time-streams are out of synch and these memories can’t be retained – which makes sense; if the Eccleston and Tennant Doctors remember that they’ve changed their pasts, we’ll be back to the good old zig-zag diagram. The Smith Doctor will be a different person, will make different decisions and the change will never happen. This change in a personal time-line is only possible because it’s been changed in such a way that the effects can only be felt by the latest incarnation.
So their memories are effectively of Time Stream One. Well, except for the thing with the Zygons. 😉
Confusing Diagram Below:
The view from the point of view of the ‘main’ universal timestream is the black line. In that timestream, Gallifrey is never destroyed, though there is a time when it’s believed that it was.
The view from the Doctor’s point of view (which is also the POV of the TV viewer from 2005 onwards) is the blue line. This goes through an alternate path where Gallifrey was genuinely destroyed. However, that path then joins the main timestream when the Smith Doctor meets Clara, is saved by Clara, and alters his timestream by leaping into it to save Clara. Shortly after that event, The Moment opens the time vortex (the red line) which takes Clara and the Doctor back into the Doctor’s personal past. Clara then ‘nudges’ the Doctor, altering his personal time line so it comes back into line with the ‘main’ universal time line.
Of course, if the Doctor hadn’t saved Clara, the blue line would have been the ‘main’ universal time line.
In a sense, the Doctors from Hurt onwards will go through this twice. From the ‘Night and the Doctor’ minisodes, we can guess that the Smith Doctor will remember two alternative pasts. One where Gallifrey burned, one where it didn’t.
From the viewer’s point of view, Gallifrey has suddenly been restored to existence, rather like Amy’s parents popping up on her wedding day. Amy remembers not having parents. She also remembers that she has parents, has always had parents. Similarly, the Smith Doctor is probably (to be confirmed?) going to remember both a past where he burned Gallifrey, and a past where he just thought he did. What’s really important, however, is that from this point onwards Gallifrey has been brought into existence.
From the point of view of the show, what’s really important is that the Doctor has resolved his initial angst and can now genuinely ‘move on’. He’s back to ‘doing what he’s always done’. He can be the Doctor, the man who would have a mental debate about his right to destroy even the Daleks.
It would never be sufficient for the Doctor to simply regret such a terrible crime. It wouldn’t even be sufficient for him to become the sort of person who’d never do that ever again. He’s a time traveller. The very premise of the show means that a genuine reparation is possible. He was always going to have to find a way of saving Gallifrey. He was always going to have to find a way of undoing what he’d done.
Waste no more time arguing what The Doctor should be. Be one.