“Awww, go on then! That isn‘t going to work on me!”
“And why not?” the Professor asked as he stood and hung an umbrella casually over one arm.
“Because you are, me! Or was me. Or I was you.”
“An excellent point. In which case you understand the dilemma.” The Professor took out a handsome fob watch and looked at it before popping up the umbrella. “It’s beginning to rain, dear boy. You’re running out of time.”
“Then I’d better walk slower.”
When you travel in time, weird things happen. You see all kinds of physically impossible things, create all kinds of paradoxes, and meet all kinds of people you never would’ve interacted with had you experienced time in the linear, boring way.
Sometimes, you meet yourself.
And when you’re a Time Lord, the you you come in contact with isn’t always… you. The protagonist of the TV series Doctor Who is one of these beings, and so one of the very few people who can be thirteen separate people. The Doctor has had the incredible, universe-altering adventures most would take several lifetimes to have. He’s one of the most. In the process of these adventures, he has understandably come into danger, and he’s not always able to get himself out of it. Thankfully, a Time Lord can regenerate, exchanging death for a new life. A different life, as a different person: the process will preserve their memories, but change everything else about them.
It’s almost a question of souls. There are two interpretations of regenerations: you could say it’s the same person with a different body and personality, or that it’s a different person with the same memories. And it’s a critical gap between the two, a literal life or death difference. I have always been inclined towards the latter, although that choice might not be the most emotionally-supportive of the two. It’s much more comforting to believe in the first option, after all, to reassure yourself that the main character who just died on the screen is in fact, not dead, but simply trying out a new style. But I’ve never thought that wishful thinking. Especially because the ‘old style’ is never coming back. No, the transformation from one Doctor to the next has always seemed to me like death, like permanent replacement, like one incarnation handing the Doctor’s office over to the next, regardless of how much the old Doctor might hate the person he’s turning into. And maybe this is because I consider personality to be such a fundamental piece of a character, but my view on regenerations is practically supported by the Doctor himself; very few beings want to be unwillingly, randomly transformed, even if their memories will be the same.
And the Doctor has a remarkable tendency to argue with himself. Not so much with a close future or past version, where the looks and personality and memories are the same, but with other regenerations, where the gap between the two, irregardless of memories and expertise, is enough that they are essentially different people. If statistics of who the Doctor has argued with existed, it wouldn’t take more than a glance to see the Doctor spends more time arguing with himself than with his worst enemies. But here’s where it gets really interesting: this tendency to rant against oneself is probably not only attributable to how unalike of people the selves are, but also to the fact that they are the same person.
This is becoming a rather confusing review to write, and to read, I’m sure, but please fight on, dear reader: it is a longstanding fanon theory that as diverse as the Doctors seem to be, they are all connected by the manner of their deaths. For example, if one Doctor died alone, the next one will be friendlier. It’s almost an evolutionary mechanism, an adaptation to allow the next Doctor more happiness; because even an immortal always feels like they are missing something. This progression from one Doctor to the next means that the previous has some responsibility for what follows. Thus there is an interesting dynamic between the nth Doctor and the n-1th Doctor, where the newer knows he was very recently the earlier, and the earlier knows his own actions will lead to the newer’s existence. Much bickering, self-blaming, smarminess, and hidden anxiety follows. This could explain why the Doctor so annoys himself: a simple case of self secondhand embarrassment.
But this fanon theory could also be an example of over-extrapolation, the crime often committed by crazy fans and insulated English teachers. This is the point in the theorizing at which the casual fan says “aren’t you thinking about this too much? The creators probably never intended a random sequence of actors and characters to be taken in a deep, meaningful way. Why do you think this is true?” The answer of course is that we have no way of knowing. But through our theories, we can cast the writers as smarter than they likely are. And as long as we can keep up that pretense, we can slide by farting aliens, tinfoil masks, and pepper shakers with egg whisks.
Because the probable truth is, regenerations are an incarnation of accidental meaning – each regeneration happens out of necessity, when something goes wrong in the real world, and an actor must leave. The first regeneration came completely out of nowhere, when the First Doctor’s actor became very sick and the creators began worrying about how they could continue a popular show with no protagonist. Enter Patrick Troughton and the Second Doctor and a new age of character development. It was a risky move. And yet, the writers were able to pull it off, and yet, Patrick Troughton was able to maintain interest in the show, and yet, within the canon, the transition and the new Doctor always made so much sense. Each Doctor went through the same initiation ritual: unexpected creation to dislike from the fans to aliens and shenanigans to grudging fan approval. Inevitably, the newest Doctor would claim a decent portion of the fandom before he too departed from the screen. But that did not stop fans from liking that Doctor, or writing about him, or wondering how that Doctor would interact with other characters from the show – including himself.
To sum up the preceding thousand words, it would be really cool to have one Doctor meet another. Fortunately, this happens in canon. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often: when the actor for the main character in a show leaves, it’s usually to a very busy schedule, and those time slots rarely align. The greatest number of Doctors to ever grace a TV special was during the accurately-named The Five Doctors, wherein several old men argue and several of their companions stand around in general mystification. This clip is an excellent example of Doctor-Doctor interaction:
But outside of these few, amazing specials, most inter-Doctor action happens in extracanon comics/novels, which means that it basically only happened in the minds of the writer of that comic/novel (not only because it’s extracanon, but also because pretty much no one, not even the true devotees, has ever heard of those stories). So it falls to the fandom to fill the gap. And it does so quite magnificently, to the point where I will undoubtedly recommend another multi-Doctor fic in the future.
But now, in this moment, and after a far too lengthy introduction, I laud Farm Song.
A small country town with one main road, a couple of main bars, no internet access, whose population is 50% cow and another 20% assorted farm animals, and that is approximately fifty miles from the nearest 7/11 is already a bizarre location, without it all being inside an immortal being’s head. But is the perfect kind of sleepy-surreal, end of the universe place where a man looking to avoid death could take refuge. The Tenth Doctor’s time has come to an end, but as he has protested repeatedly, he doesn’t want to go. In the moment before his death, he has withdrawn into his own mind. But even there, he isn’t alone. What could be his subconscious, could be himselves, must convince him to face reality, which crawls unstoppably by despite his best efforts to delude an escape.
Overall Rating: +++++
Read it here: http://archiveofourown.org/works/446298
An incredible story that slides neatly between two frames of the TV show, and instantly overshadows the rest of the episode. I particularly love the lack of numbers in reference to the separate regenerations: even the existence of previous, dead selves, is something the Tenth Doctor wants to forget, and so he refers them only by titles.
But ever so regrettably, this is another story which cannot be easily understood without a solid background in Whovian history. Again, the surface may be skimmed, but the depths are only known to the devoted. Those that wish to know are advised to watch the new series, which encompasses Doctors 9-12. Those that wish to understand are advised to watch the classic series, as well: a herculean task even I am not up for yet, but for which one day I hope I will be strong enough.