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On the Importance of the Loss of Gallifrey

oncoming storm nine
Just before the 50th anniversary special last week, I re-watched a few of Clara's episodes to remind myself of the recent plot arcs, and I also watched "School Reunion" from S2 because it's among my favorite Ten and Rose episodes and because of the theme of connecting this show's past and future.  In "School Reunion," there's an exchange that I found relevant to "The Day of the Doctor."  This is from when Mr. Finch, the Krillitane leader, is trying to tempt the Doctor to share the power they hope to gain with the magical equation thing.

THE DOCTOR:  I could save everyone...

MR FINCH:  Yes.

THE DOCTOR:  I could stop the war...

SARAH JANE:  No. The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss -- they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship... everything has its time. And everything ends.


[Meta on the importance of the loss of Gallifrey, with spoilers for The Day of the Doctor.]The pain of the Time War and the loss of his people have defined the post-2005 Doctor as much as his (still vast) happiness at traveling the universe and love for those who travel with him.  Now, "The Day of the Doctor" tells us that Gallifrey was never destroyed (or irretrievably time locked, or whatever) at all, just temporarily hidden.  I'd like to explain why I think this huge change to the Doctor's past and future is a mistake.

Obviously other people will have different perspectives on this.  I've read some great meta by people who loved this way of resolving the Time War.  I can see the appeal of that view (especially from those who are originally Classic Who fans who see this as a return to the proper order of the universe), but these are my feelings.

A brief note:  "The End of Time" already established that Gallifrey wasn't actually blown up but time-locked.  However, because the Doctor referred to himself as the last of his kind and considered Gallifrey beyond retrieval, it was effectively destroyed.  So sometimes I refer to the pre-DotD continuity as featuring the destruction of Gallifrey, even if TEoT tells us that destruction wasn't technically what happened.

-The Day of the Doctor's version of the Time War actually undermines Doctor Who' anti-violence message.  This point is a little counterintuitive (isn't less genocide better?), but hear me out.  With the previous understanding of the Time War, the message was that the biggest war imaginable could only end in mutual annihilation. War corrupts whole societies.  It is a force of pure destruction, and EVERYONE inevitably loses.  War has no real winners, only damaged survivors.  In "The Day of the Doctor," the Daleks were still destroyed but the Time Lords were saved: a victory.  Am I the only one thinking of a previous instance where the Doctor decided to save certain people whose deaths should have been fixed and declared himself victorious?

-Related to that, I have a problem with the fact that "The Day of the Doctor" didn't even pause to suggest that the annihilation of the Daleks might not be something to unequivocally celebrate.  Of course the Daleks are evil, and there wasn't exactly much room for reasoning or negotiation in this scenario, nor an obvious way to contain them short of killing.  But still, the Doctor has refused to destroy the Dalek race before.  I would expect at least a hint of regret that billions of thinking beings were wiped away.  I find it troubling that now genocide (even of Daleks) is portrayed as a handy and potentially glorious path to victory.

-Doctor Who is a fundamentally hopeful show, where time and time again the Doctor is faced with a choice between tragic alternatives but instead comes up with a third way to save everyone.  It's one of the things I love about the show.  However, I think the show's formula works better with the destruction of Gallifrey as part of the backstory as a time when hope died.  It raises the stakes for every other story if the audience knows that the Doctor can fail, that there came a day in the past when the only choice was between unfathomable violence and certain doom for the entire universe and even the Doctor could not find a third way.  Of course the Doctor has other failures, but I think the loss of Gallifrey is especially important. The Time War is the dark cloud that accentuates all the show's other silver linings.  "Everybody lives" is not quite so enormous if it's not qualified by "just this once."

-The Doctor has the potential to be really, really scary.  He is the thing that frightens the monsters, the Oncoming Storm.  Part of why armies back away from him is that the smart monsters know exactly what he is capable of when pushed.  The Doctor is deeply moral, but it is a choice that he must make and re-make every time.  By saying that he never could or would do something as drastic as destroying Gallifrey, you take away some of the weight from all the other times he chooses to reign in his power.  I think the Doctor's potential for darkness is fascinating.  It certainly shouldn't be emphasized too deeply, because again, this is a hopeful show about someone who is truly good, but it is an important that the Doctor and everyone around him know what he can do.

-It was the wrong time to undo the loss of Gallifrey.  If the 75th (or even possibly the 60th) anniversary wanted to make a big change, I might feel like enough time had passed to make it a little more appropriate.  If the Bad Wolf had brought back Gallifrey in "Parting of the Ways," it might have felt like a natural culmination of S1's storyline.  But not now.  Not only eight years after the Time War became a thing, but after three series of Moffat largely ignoring it.

-While watching "The Day of the Doctor," I was briefly terrified that the show was about to banish all of New Who from the continuity.  It avoided that pitfall by having the Doctor still believe that he destroyed Gallifrey, so series 1-7 still work.  However, I feel like having the Doctor mourn and agonize over something that didn't actually happen makes all of those deep emotions feel a little cheapened.  I hate that whenever I go back to watch Nine and Ten (or the very few episodes of Eleven that mention it), the fact that the Doctor didn't actually push the button will always be in the back of my mind.  It means that the Doctors I care most about have built much of their life around a lie.

-My Doctor is Nine, and my second favorite is Ten.  I very much like Classic Who, but for me it always feels like a prequel to the real story.  The Time War is a vital part of the origin story of my Doctor.  Undoing the loss of Gallifrey is not quite as drastic as if Batman were to discover that his parents were actually alive and in witness protection, but it's certainly along those lines.  I also feel like much (not all) of Classic Who is a children's show that many adults also enjoyed, while most of New Who is a grownup show that also appeals to children.  The Time War is part of what made that important distinction.

-I haven't seen that many of the Classic Who stories set on Gallifrey, but the few I have were frankly dull.  Ditching Gallifrey freed New Who from all that tedium and potentially confusing continuity.  While I would be excited to see Romana, the Master, and the Rani again, honestly I think bringing back the other Time Lords is a bad idea from a storytelling perspective.

-If the Doctor can retroactively remove the single worst thing in his past, it makes him less of a real person.  We humans almost all have something in our past from which we struggle to move on:  someone we've lost, something we're guilty about, a miserable time or terrible experience we'd like to forget.  We get better slowly, and sometimes things happen that bring it all back and force us to confront the pain again.  We find joy in time, and we don't think about the bad thing so often, but it is always part of us.  The Doctor has been making that journey of recovery, but it wasn't done.  There isn't a done for anyone except Steven Moffat's Doctor.  Removing the loss of Gallifrey in an instant is a far less interesting and relatable story than watching the Doctor deal with it over many years and never quite completely.


Criticizing a piece of writing is easier than creating it.  I also wanted to share two ideas for what could have been done with a 50th anniversary special that I would have found more satisfying than what actually happened.

[Alternative storylines with more spoilers for The Day of the Doctor]1) As a potential fundamentally different premise for the special, I would have loved to have seen something like a less hopeless version of The Boy Who Killed Time, wherein the TARDIS or Time as a whole is damaged and different times start bleeding together, allowing Clara and Eleven to see and interact with anyone who has ever been on the TARDIS.  This would be an excuse for appearances by lots of previous Doctors and companions, especially if you inserted some technobabble about time fields leading to rapid aging or something to excuse the fact that the classic actors look older.  There is even recent precedent for people seeing past and future versions of themselves inside the TARDIS in "Journey to the Heart of the TARDIS."  It could have been resolved with working together by all the versions of the Doctor, potentially with the TARDIS taking the form of Bad Wolf Rose or even Idris to participate in her own rescue.  It would have been fantastic and a more honest tribute to the whole 50-year history of the show.

2) As a minor change to the existing special that would still leave Gallifrey destroyed but inject a bit of hope into the wreckage of the Time War, instead of having all the Doctors work together to freeze and remove Gallifrey, I would have preferred if they had each landed a TARDIS somewhere on Gallifrey and rescued some of the people before the button got pushed to destroy it.  As Donna insisted to the Doctor in "The Fires of Pompeii," even if you can't say everyone, at least save someone.  There would probably be a time limit, so they couldn't save anywhere close to everyone.  They could land inside the Academy and other schools, major population centers, refugee camps, or wherever a lot of Gallifreyans who weren't the High Council were gathered, and just take in as many people as could be persuaded into the TARDIS doors in ten minutes or something.  If the War Doctor stayed out of it so he could push the button but every other incarnation who appeared in TDotD rescued 100 people, that would be 1,200, enough genetic diversity to make the long-term continuation of the species plausible.  Even if they averaged just 10 rescues, that would be 120, which is 118 more than there have been at any other time in New Who.

The planet of Gallifrey with all its infrastructure and tradition would still be gone, and the Doctor would still carry the guilt for the deaths of billions, so most of what made the Time War such an important thing for the story would remain.  That pain and loss would still define the Doctor.  However, he would no longer be the last of the Time Lords, so it would still be a joyous and enormous thing to do for the anniversary.  You could have an excuse for the return of Romana or any other specific Time Lords you wanted.  I would be much more interested in the Time Lords if they were having to reinvent themselves as a diaspora without a homeworld.  Previous regenerations would have to drop off their cargo of Gallifreyans wherever they landed and immediately forget, so S8 could still have an element of searching for the lost people of Gallifrey scattered across time and space. It could have been great.


But it is not to be.  Everything has its time, and everything ends.  That apparently includes the version of Doctor Who that I have thus far found the most fascinating.  I'm disappointed about that.  Still, the show goes on, and I am sure there will still be worthwhile stories going forward.

Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
gncurrier
Dec. 1st, 2013 11:31 pm (UTC)
I AM SO GLAD SOMEONE ELSE WAS DISPLEASED WITH THE PLOT.
Did I enjoy the 50th? Yes. Do I want to completely disregard anything Moffat era as canon? Yes, I do. Maybe his show is slick, but RTD's had heart. I feel like Nine means nothing now, and his agony is, as you put it, cheapened.
I am cautiously hopeful for Capaldi's run.
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 2nd, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
Did I enjoy the 50th? Yes. Do I want to completely disregard anything Moffat era as canon? Yes, I do. Maybe his show is slick, but RTD's had heart.

Yeah, I agree with this so much! Well, I would let a handful of things from Moffat's era stay canon: The Doctor's Wife, the existence of Madame Vastra and Jenny, perhaps Vincent and the Doctor. For the rest of it, even the parts I generally liked (much of S5, for example) are problematic. The show looks great, and I usually enjoy watching it, but it rarely moves me to anything besides irritation.

I wish I could lean in toward the executives at the BBC, point to a picture of Moffat, and whisper "don't you think he looks tired?" I'm disappointed that he's not leaving with Matt Smith. Still, new Doctor, new start.
kaydeefalls
Dec. 2nd, 2013 03:51 am (UTC)
I would have loved to see either of your alternate 50th anniversaries as real. I didn't hate what we got the way some fans do, but I do agree, the Doctor's arc from 9 onward does feel cheapened to me now. I really did want all three Doctors to push the button together. Emotionally, that would have been enough closure for me.
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 2nd, 2013 06:03 am (UTC)
I would have loved to see either of your alternate 50th anniversaries as real.

Thanks! Too bad the BBC persists in not hiring me as a consultant. ;)

I really did want all three Doctors to push the button together. Emotionally, that would have been enough closure for me.

I agree, that would have been good emotional closure. Or hell, even having the Moment decide to push her own button would have been more satisfying to me than what actually occurred.
iwouldbegood
Dec. 2nd, 2013 11:08 am (UTC)
I feel like having the Doctor mourn and agonize over something that didn't actually happen makes all of those deep emotions feel a little cheapened
Exactly. I was talking about the same thing with a friend of mine, and really hate how Moffat probably changed the way I'm gonna feel about that during my future DW marathons.

Also, I've never watched Classic Who and don't really feel like exploring the show's history, and the little glimpses of Gallifrey we got during New Who I actually never found that interesting. I just liked having a concept of this big, deep tragedy in Doctor's life, but as something that happened off screen. All the changes to the canon aside, I am just not interested in getting more stories about Gallifrey and seeing more Time Lords in the future of the show...
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 3rd, 2013 06:09 am (UTC)
One of the problems of watching a show featuring time travel is that later episodes can legitimately change what happened in the show's past and not have it be a continuity error. When the old timeline was preferable, that can be annoying. I may have to envision Doctor Who from this point onwards as existing in an alternate universe from the rest of New Who, so that when re-watching previous episodes I'm looking back in the old universe what we previously knew about the Time War still applies.

If you ever do decide to explore Classic Who, there is some good stuff. I think "The Genesis of the Daleks" is especially interesting for fans of the New Who Doctors who lived in the shadow of the Time War. There, the Fourth Doctor is sent back in time to destroy the Daleks at their inception. It's interesting to see the similarities and differences of the choices he makes there. I love the dynamic between Seven and Ace.

Gallifrey was more interesting as an absence in the Doctor's life than its presence ever was.
joking
Dec. 2nd, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
For the purposes of my own fic writing, I'm going to have to either ignore or willfully misinterpret "The Name of the Doctor" and "The Day of the Doctor." The former because I think Clara pointing out which TARDIS the Doctor should steal COMPLETELY RUINS the breathtaking romance of "The Doctor's Wife," so I simply refuse to believe that happened. The latter because I can't write about a Nine, Ten, or Eleven who's based his moral system on a lie.

I'm still going to watch the show, but I'm no longer fannishly engaged with this brave new canon Moffat has created.
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 3rd, 2013 07:02 am (UTC)
I think Clara pointing out which TARDIS the Doctor should steal COMPLETELY RUINS the breathtaking romance of "The Doctor's Wife," so I simply refuse to believe that happened.

Well put indeed! I took issue with this too. The only way I can explain that scene in a way I even sort of like is that perhaps Gallifreyan!Clara was a TARDIS technician who had been working on our beloved Type 40 and sort of ended up being the TARDIS's wingman. When Sexy decided to steal the Doctor and run away, perhaps she ordered Clara "bring me THAT one!"

I am 100% in favor of the practice of ignoring or willfully misinterpreting unwanted canon for fic purposes (or purposes of enjoyment of earlier episodes without dealing with problematic retcon, or many other purposes)
trobadora
Dec. 2nd, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much for this post! I agree with basically every word, and I've been feeling very alone with that! *clings to you*

(About to go to bed - it's late here - but I needed to say that now, even if I'm too tired to be more eloquent.)
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 3rd, 2013 07:26 am (UTC)
*clings back*

Thanks for the support! I've seen other people expressing similar opinions (including an excellent essay I found just after making my post, What Steven Moffat Doesn't Understand About Grief, And Why It's Killing Doctor Who), but it does seem to be the minority attitude.
trobadora
Dec. 3rd, 2013 01:59 pm (UTC)
That is a very good post. I like Moffat better than most, and I had equally as many (though different) problems with RTD, but this is definitely his weak spot, and what he does in the Anniversary Special undermines basically all of New Who for me.
eve11
Dec. 2nd, 2013 11:35 pm (UTC)
Hm, as a dissenting voice, I think it opens more possibilities to have that kernel of hope. Otherwise you keep getting "oh, you survived!" Syndrome whenever they want to bring a time lord in. I will also point out that the time lock encompasses all of gallifrey's history in the war, not just its ending. the time lock is like the inevitable slide down a restrictive pipe to a fate... so changing the fate from destruction to displacement still gels with the events of the End of Time. it is the final act of the time war after all.

They left it open enough in the end of the special, which iI appreciated. At least the doctor tried to do the right thing (and possibly failed despite cryptic!Tom Baker ) as opposed to succeeding doing the wrong thing. And there is plenty of time the war doctor spent in the time war actually fighting for him to have amassed angst and blood on his hands. He may have avoided pushing the button on gallifrey but he spent a long time as a warrior before that. Destroying your planet... the toll of that is almost cosmic shrug inconceivable. and there is still a chance the time lords didn't survive and still a chance if they are found they will be corrupt and unsalvageable. I do concede though, that it makes it more difficult to write about how the doctor feels about destroying his people. I'll have to go back to Dalek and see if it still has the same effect.
eve11
Dec. 2nd, 2013 11:36 pm (UTC)
Here from who_daily BTW, and sorry for the typos, I'm posting on my phone :(

also the Boy Who Killed Time idea would have been cool to see as well, though maybe more difficult to hang a plot around with lots of returning characters.

ETA: gah, and thinking about it again because you do bring up some very salient andnimportant points too... and again there is a voice in my head that repeats, "nothing is ever lost, as long as it can be rremembered"... and this would apply to horrors as well as to hopes, do you think? Um... would you mind if I wrote something fic-related based on your points above and the events from the ep?

Edited at 2013-12-03 12:24 am (UTC)
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 3rd, 2013 08:18 am (UTC)
also the Boy Who Killed Time idea would have been cool to see as well, though maybe more difficult to hang a plot around with lots of returning characters.

Yeah, the more characters one throws in the harder it becomes to have an effective plot that does justice to all of them. There are tradeoffs. Moffat brought back only a few actors and wrote a tightly plotted episode (and I did really enjoy the most of special, it's only the larger implications I object to). Possibly trying to include lots more characters would just have made the show a succession of familiar faces and not a good story, but it would have been an interesting attempt.

and again there is a voice in my head that repeats, "nothing is ever lost, as long as it can be rremembered"... and this would apply to horrors as well as to hopes, do you think?

Oooh, I really like the way you phrase this.

And of course, please fic if you're inspired!
eve11
Jul. 1st, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
oh hey, six months later I found my notes from this convo and posted something...

http://eve11.livejournal.com/922480.html
tardis_stowaway
Dec. 3rd, 2013 08:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Otherwise you keep getting "oh, you survived!" Syndrome whenever they want to bring a time lord in.

You're right that having Gallifrey survive keeps any plots with other Time Lords from feeling contrived. But do they really need to bring more Time Lords in? I love Romana, and I think the Master's arc in New Who was fascinating, so part of me wants to see them back. But there are so many other stories the show could tell instead.

I'll be honest that I haven't really re-watched The End of Time more than once or twice since it aired (it has a combination of stupid plot and heavy emotions that make it one I rarely am in the mood to watch), so I may not understand the time lock thing very well. I didn't think The Day of the Doctor fit at all with The End of Time, but probably it would make more sense if I watched both of them again!

They left it open enough in the end of the special, which I appreciated.

True, it's technically open, but is there really any chance that they aren't going to show the Doctor locating Gallifrey sometime within the next few years? I highly doubt the show would establish this possibility without following through. But I could be wrong.

And there is plenty of time the war doctor spent in the time war actually fighting for him to have amassed angst and blood on his hands. He may have avoided pushing the button on gallifrey but he spent a long time as a warrior before that.

This is a good point, although I wish the show had done a better job of showing John Hurt's Doctor as a warrior. Instead, we mostly just see the War Doctor carving graffiti and acting like a grumpy grandpa towards Ten and Eleven. We know he must have fought, we know there must have been lots of bad but not THIS bad things he's done along the way, but they are all largely hypothetical.

still a chance if they are found they will be corrupt and unsalvageable.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Doctor finds the Time Lords again and whether the show deals with the dangerous corruption seen in End of Time and mentioned in The Night of the Doctor. Certainly I think there will be plenty of disconnect between expectations and reality.
eve11
Dec. 3rd, 2013 02:25 pm (UTC)
I think Omega is still on the list of Time Lords who would make good returning characters, and the Rani. But yeah, it depends on the stories they want to tell. I haven't re-watched End of Time either, not for a while, but I remember thinking even then: wait, the Time Lords are all destroyed but now they're 'Time Locked'?, and coming to the conclusion then that Gallifrey was attempting to sidestep its destruction moments before it happened, break out of the edge of the pipe to avoid splatting into the cap at the end, to continue the metaphor. So DoTD changes the cap. (I wonder if we'll ever know who that woman was in End of Time.)

I was thinking of all of the ways one could complicate the "Finding of Gallifrey" (also, this); the first thing I thought of was that however they figure out the regeneration trick in the Christmas special, it's canonized that the life that finds Gallifrey is the Doctor's last--his regeneration energy comes from the fact that Gallifrey is secreted away. ("I'm glad you're not writing for the show," replied my co-worker).

The War Doctor was an interesting choice: I was all ready to have him be the villain, and instead as soon as I heard the "why is there never a big red button?" line, I realized, it was still essentially him. Despite all he'd seen and done. And this kind of goes with Clara's thought too: "you told me you destroyed your own people. I just never imagined you doing it." On the one hand, it's disingenuous to think that all of Nine's PTSD came from the act of destroying Gallifrey, so the War Doctor's persona seems off-putting, strange. He should be more desolate, somehow. On the other hand, he's also in a very surreal setting...and at the end, the scene where he's actually in front of the big red button, it's like night and day.

Certainly I think there will be plenty of disconnect between expectations and reality.

Ah, there always is. Farscape ruined me for putting too much stock into the perceived brilliance of writers.
de23
Dec. 3rd, 2013 02:27 am (UTC)
I enjoyed Day of the Doctor a lot, and although I can see your points and I'll readily agree with them (especially the effect on Nine's angst), those issues don't really tear me up. What I wanted to say regards the genocide of the Daleks - remember that both Ten and Eleven know that not all the Daleks were actually destroyed, so the objections to genocide are really moot. Although I don't remember it ever been directly addressed (perhaps in "Dalek"?), I always felt that the fact that the Doctor destroyed his own people in order to wipe out the Daleks, and then they weren't even actually destroyed, was the most heartbreaking of all. He made the ultimate sacrifice and then it didn't even mean anything. So I'm kinda glad that part is retconned.
dame_bellatrix
Dec. 6th, 2013 03:06 am (UTC)
I found this piece because I really like your Mercy of the Fallen.

THIS. So much this.

I do feel DotD really cheapened Nine and Ten character arcs. And the ending of DotD really pressed the buttons of things I hate the most in writing. I've never felt really that upset about a story before.

Now I'll regard season 5+ doesn't exist.
julesndairyland
Dec. 6th, 2013 04:25 am (UTC)
I am so grateful for your thoughtful comments that echo mine so much. Did I enjoy seeing Ten again (I sure was troubled by that Elizabeth I storyline. OOC I believe)? Yes. John Hurt is an awesome actor so I am glad to welcome him to DW and Ten & Eleven were clever bouncing off each other. But... taking away the main emotional basis for the Doctor's development since 2005? Ugh! As others have said it cheapens the gutsy acting of CE & DT in their roles and frankly the need to deepen the Doctor's emotional range based on the need for him to move past an incredible trauma.

And speaking of him moving on, what about the companions, especially Rose? Removing the Time War belittles the emotional attachment between Rose and the Doctor (as well a Donna, Martha, Astrid, etc. - even Jack). All those companions worked to help the Doctor heal. There were blood, sweat & tears from them all (Doomsday/Last of the Time Lords anyone?). So now companions revert back to 'assistants,' simply hitching an intergalactic ride in time and space for kicks? Again Ugh!

Sorry, both of these losses makes Doctor Who less compelling in its storytelling and character development. As a viewer & fan I feel cheated by the fact that now the emotionally driven episodes (which, granted were my favorites) are based on a fallacy. I'll not be rushing to watch any more (at least until I hear this undoing was undone).
timemachineyeah
Dec. 9th, 2013 06:11 am (UTC)
All of this.

I know I'm late to the party but I was late to finally watching the episode and, yeah, all of this.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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