The Boob Tube Review: Doctor Who & The Other Doctors by Adam Bunch

[Spoiler Alert!] There was plenty to get excited about in this week's episode: Neil Gaiman's scary new Cybermen (They're superfast! But only on occasion!); the sudden new Companions (to be fair, if I were confronted by teenagers that annoying, I too might consider leaving them to sleep alone on a planet filled with signs of danger); and, of course, the ongoing mystery of Clara Oswald.

But this week, I found myself most interested by the reflections of the Doctor.

There have been lots of echoes and reflections in this half-season of Who. It started back in the Christmas special: with the telepathic snow of the Great Intelligence reflecting back the thoughts and feelings of the humans it found; and with the Victorian version of Clara alerting us to the fact that she's echoing or reflecting or being copied across space and time... or something. But while we've all been obsessing over the various versions of the newest Companion, we've seen plenty of other versions of the Doctor too.

Some of them have been obvious. There was the spoonhead wi-fi version of the Doctor, uploading Clara into the evil internet. There the was the lava beast version of the Doctor, chasing Clara through the labyrinth of the TARDIS. And there were a few other past and future versions of the Doctor (and Clara) bouncing around the insides of our favourite time machine too.

Some of the reflections of the Doctor have been a little less concrete: characters who echo his traits and experiences. In "Hide", for instance, there was the disillusioned war-hero turned ghost-hunting Professor. And that vaguely crustacean-y monster in the pocket universe (who got compared to the Doctor with his "every lonely monster needs a companion" line.) And in "The Rings of Akhaten" there was that giant story-eating star beast (called "Grandfather" just like the Doctor used to be).

Heck, if you really wanted to stretch it, you might even find Doctor-ish parallels in the that old disillusioned war veteran of an Ice Warrior. And in "The Crimson Horror": it had a symbiotic prehistoric newt (while we have a symbiotic prehistoric Time Lord) and the red "Monster" version of the Doctor lumbering about like Frankenstein's creation.

In this week's episode, we got two more reflections.

For one, there was Emperor Willow. Defender of Humanity. Imperator of Known Space. A man with the power to destroy entire planets. Entire galaxies. And who suffers in the knowledge that someday he may have to do exactly that: unleash terrible destruction in order to save the world from an enemy as dangerous as the Cybermen. The Emperor calls it "the loneliest job in the universe" and tries to run away from his responsibility. He even thinks the companionship of a human, Clara Oswald, might help him shoulder the load.

Sound like anyone we know?

(The Emperor might even be about a thousand years old — the same age as the Doctor. Online, there seems to be some disagreement about whether it was Emperor Porridge who pressed the button to destroy the Cybermen at the end of the Cyber War. I suspect he didn't, but if he did, that was a thousand years ago.)

For the most part, Porridge reflected the Doctor's best traits. But there was an even more obvious — and much darker — reflection of the Doctor in the Cyberplanner. This week's most threatening villain strutted around with Matt Smith's face, trying to take over his mind, digging up previous version of the Doctor (Allonsss-y!) while giving us a dark twist on some of the mannerisms of the Eleventh. The Cyberplanner's evil delight in the suffering and pain of others didn't come from the cold logic of a cyberbrain — that joy must have been dredged up out of the depths of the Doctor's mind. And the only way that Clara can tell them apart is that the Cyberplanner is too loving! If there's anything scarier than an army of sleek, new, super-fast, downloading-more-updates-than-your-copy-of-iTunes Cybermen, it's the idea of the Doctor's vast intelligence being turned to evil purposes.

There were a few other nods to the Doctor's dark side, too. They've been all over the place this season ("There's a sliver of ice in his heart," the empath told us; the word "Monster" keeps popping up). And this week, there was Clara's hesitation when he asks for the trigger ("Just in case you're not you right now," she says when she refuses, "Or even if you are. Just in case") and the Doctor's disregard for the safety of the children (especially disturbing given that the Fifth Doctor lost a child companion to the Cybermen).

Meanwhile, there were a few other familiar references kicking around Natty Longshore's Comical Castle:

- In a season filled with mentions of cold and snow and ice, we got the Emperor and the military commander reminiscing about the old days. "During the ICE PICNIC... When the SNOW BEARS came and danced for us."

- We got this season's second nod to Ghostbusters with Angie's line: "When someone asks you if you want to be Queen of the Universe, you say yes."

- The Doctor's history with the Cybermen: there were apparently nods to old episodes in the moon base, the awakening of the Cyberman army, and their allergy to gold.

- Chess! The Doctor has played a few games over the years. Most recently that game of "live chess" when he was trying to track down the blue head of Dorium Maldovar in "The Wedding of River Song", the Season Six finale.

It has been a half-season full of those kinds of references. Are they echoes or reflections or copies, too? Given that it all started with the Great Intelligence appearing in back-to-back episodes, one in the form of snow, I wonder if he might be involved in this season's Big Mystery?

In fact, here were go. My final guesses before we finally head to the field of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, where a question will be asked:

The Great Intelligence has been mirroring the Doctor in an attempt to harness his power, constructing a false reality based on his thoughts, which is why he can't answer the question "Doctor who?" without risking the universe (if the Great Intelligence found out, it would become too powerful); the TARDIS has maybe been exploding all along; Clara has been sent into the Doctor's current false reality by River as a custom-made way of intriguing him into remembering that none of it is real.

I would also be pretty happy if it turns out the Doctor has been trapped inside the Pandorica all this time. Or if he never did escape the exploding TARDIS.

Other thoughts:

- Inside the Doctor's mind, when the Doctor shows the Cyberplanner the previous versions of himself, there's a giant burning something between the Tenth and Eleventh. WHAT WAS THAT? AND WHY? Exploding TARDIS? Exploding planet? Gallifrey? Akhaten?

- "Not a human brain. Not even slightly human," says the Planner to the Doctor.

- Clara seems to have come a suspiciously long way since "Cold War" and "Hide." She was pretty hesitant back then. Now she suddenly has no problem leading a military force? And is willing to order them to fight the Cybermen and open fire without any update from the Doctor? Has he been visiting her out-of-order? Have they all been the same version of Clara?

- The last few episodes have really made me miss the two-parters. I could use more time to get to know these supporting characters. Especially if they're going to be proposing marriage.

- The redesign of the Cybermen seemed a heck of a lot like the redesign of the Ice Warriors. Want to make them scary again? Make them fast!

- Will Angie end up being the Queen of the Universe? I mean, while the hell else were those children there? 
- Maybe the most interesting thing that happened all episode is that the Doctor was perfectly fine with having the kids come along. How in the world did Clara convince him? And yet, we have no clue: it all happens off-screen before the episode even starts. 

- I didn't notice it, but the Internet says there was one of the ventriloquist dummies from "The God Complex" in the wax museum-y collection of scary-ass dummies.

- "Victory of the Cybermen"? The whole point was that our heroes didn't want to blow up the planet and then they just blew up the planet anyway.

- "See you next Wednesday," is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

- If you re-arrange the letters in Clara Oswin Oswald you get (among other things): "cold war snow alias".

New thoughts about previous episodes:

- Clara's mum's birthday is the Sept. 11, 1960: the same day the show Pathfinders debuted. It was produced by Sydney Newman, the same guy who came up with the original kernel of the idea for Doctor Who. That wouldn't seem important by itself, but Clara and her mum's birth- and death-dates are also linked to the premiere of the original Who and the events in the premiere of reboot. The Doctor also meet Oswin on the Asylum planet on her mum's birthday.

- Clara was born in 1989, the year Doctor Who was cancelled.

- The years that Clara skipped in her copy of 101 Places To See were 16 and 23. Those are the years her mum died and Ms. Maitland (the mother of the children she's taking over of) died.

- I'd gotten all worked up about the beginning of the Christmas special, thinking the Doctor might have been from the future since when she says they're just getting acquainted, he says, "Those were the days." Watching it again, I think I was wrong. He just means he doesn't get to know humans anymore, since he's living in the clouds.

- There's a prequel to the season finale:


Previous Doctor Who recap: Doctor Who & The Crimson Herrings.

Learn about the Doctor's very first secret from 1963 here.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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