Ripples, Tidal Waves, Rules – Themes & Parallels of Doctor Who Series 9

You may recall this conversation between the Doctor and Clara from ‘The Girl Who Died’:

Clara- “You’re always talking about what you can and can’t do, but you never tell me the rules.”
Doctor- “We’re time travelers. We tread softly. It’s okay to make ripples, but not tidal waves.” 
Clara- “You’re a tidal wave.”
Doctor- “Don’t say that.”

Series 9 of Doctor Who beckons questions we didn’t realize needed answering. What happens if the Doctor’s compassion compels him to break his own rules? Is compassion the Doctor’s greatest strength or his Achilles heel? What if the Doctor attempts to defy the Universe at all costs? We’ve gotten glimpses of what could happen in earlier episodes (‘The Waters of Mars’ for instance), however series 9 poignantly and beautifully puts the Doctor firmly in his place. 

We have followed the Doctor through another journey of triumph and loss, friendships and enemies, but the most important theme of this season is cause and effect. It’s seems as if this season is comprised predominately of conjoined episodes. Whether chronological or not, one episode results in another, or vice versa; the most blatant pair being ‘Under the Lake’/ ‘Before the Flood’. A classic bootstrap paradox in which the Doctor hypothetically asks, “Who composed Beethoven’s Fifth?” In other words, the Doctor outright states that he doesn’t understand all of the inner machinations of time travel and the universe. He is still a passenger of time and without a complete explanation goes along with the flow because he understands the rules. He understands that what he may or may not inadvertently cause into motion will effect all futures from that point. This theme continues to build and to break apart the rest of the season.

Other times, despite his better judgement, he works in harmony with the universe sheerly out of mercy. This is the case when the Doctor is impelled to save Davros even with the knowledge that his actions will enable the creation of the Daleks. “I am going to save my friend. The only way I know how,” says the Doctor to the boy that would grow to be one of his most infamous foes. Missy contrasts the Doctor by matching him in intellect and nonchalance, but lacking his mercy. Davros believes that the Doctor’s mercy clouds his intellect as that is what he eventually utilizes to betray the Doctor. Davros states, “As always, your compassion is your downfall.” The Doctor’s compassion is a force within him that drives him to always win and to love and to rescue the underdog inspite all odds. However, throughout this series we see his compassion betrayed and even enflamed to rage. Is the Doctor’s compassion his friend or his enemy? It’s hard to picture a universe without the Doctor’s compassion, but how is the universe impacted when his compassion outweighs his rules? 

“These people all died hundreds of years before you were even born,” says the Doctor to Clara in ‘The Girl Who Died’ attempting to convince Clara to let time run its course. The thing about Clara and the Doctor is they push each other past logic, relentlessly fighting the tide, to the breaking point of the universe in order to protect those they care about. As usual, they win the war. The Mire are defeated, but the Doctor’s actions directly result in the death of an innocent Viking girl, Ashildr. Clara checks Ashildr’s neck: “No pulse. I think… Doctor is she dead?” While reflecting on current events, the Doctor comes to a revelation: “I can do anything. There’s nothing I can’t do. Nothing. But I’m not supposed to. Ripples. Tidal waves. Rules… I’m the Doctor and I save people. And if anyone happens to be listening and you have any kind of problem with that TO HELL WITH YOU.” The screen pans to Ashildr’s face and ‘hell’ is what that decision inevitably leads them to. The Doctor saves Ashildr, and she is transformed into an immortal who changes her name to Me and lives to see the end of the universe. Ashildr’s death foreshadows the Doctor’s loss/her ressurection causes Clara’s death. Ironically, Clara’s checking of Ashildr’s pulse mocks her own fate. 

Interestingly, the Doctor’s realization that his current face, which we previously see worn by a Roman man in ‘The Fires of Pompeii,’ was interpreted by him as a sign that he could bend the rules to his liking. Looking at that very same revelation in retrospect and knowing the tragic outcome of his course of action that day, it’s hard to interpret it as anything but a warning.

Ashildr’s survival leads to Clara’s death, an event the Doctor has made clear he doesn’t think he can cope with. “Look at you with your eyes, you’re never giving up to anger and your kindness and one day the memory of that will hurt so much that I won’t be able to breathe and I’ll do what I always do. I’ll get in my box and I’ll run and I’ll run in case all the pain ever catches up and every place I go it will be there.” The absence of Clara pushes the Doctor to give into his anger. His compassion and his love for his friend fuel a rage that drives the Doctor to places we never thought he could go. In ‘Hell Bent’ he abandons every rule that he ever had and destroys his own reputation, which he’s spent the better part 2000 years building up. It breaks our heart to see our Doctor shoot the very man that had just risked his life by laying down his weapon to save the renowned unarmed war veteran. It’s also prudent to note that when the Doctor revives Ashildr he arrogantly assumes that time will heal itself and work itself out. Frozen between one heartbeat and her last, Clara has to convince the doctor to let her go, lest he irrevocably damage the universe any further.

Clara- “What if one last heartbeat’s all I’ve got? What if time isn’t healing? What if the universe needs me to die?”
Doctor- “The universe is over – it doesn’t have a say anymore! We’re standing on the last ember. The last fragment of everything that ever was. As of this moment, I am answerable to no one!”

And there at the end of the universe, we find Me watching the stars die. She explains to the Doctor that sadness and beauty are the yin and yang to the life of a mayfly, something the Doctor once taught her. They have a conversation about Clara’s death that draws a stark parallel to what would have been Ashildr’s death. Just as when the Doctor told Clara that the Viking village perished hundreds of years before she was even born, Me tells the Doctor that Clara has been dead for billions of years. She brings to the Doctor’s attention that Clara died for “who she was and what she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad and it was beautiful and it is over. We have no right to change who she was.” This is reminiscent of the Viking girl who stood up to an alien race for who she was and what she loved, and it is clear that Me does not want the Doctor to repeat his folly. The Doctor is reminded, regrettably, that he must confine himself to the rules of the universe.

Our journey ends in what only seems appropriate; the Doctor’s memory is wiped of Clara. Left with only a song that encapsules a lifetime of memories and friendship, the Doctor forgets a companion for the first time. In his last moments with her, he accepts her death and admits that he has gone too far, breaking all his own rules, destroying his reputation, and risking the Universe.

“Run like hell. Run like hell because you always need to. Laugh at everything because it’s always funny. Never be cruel and never be cowardly and if you ever are always make amends. Never eat pears – they’re too squishy and they always get your chin wet. Write that one down, it’s quite important. It’s okay, it’s okay. I went too far. Broke all my own rules. I became the hybrid. This is right. I accept it. Smile for me. Go on, Clara Oswald. One last time. It’s okay, don’t you worry. I’ll remember you.”

Of course we know that he doesn’t remember her, making Clara’s first words to the Doctor all the more poetic: “Run you clever boy, and remember.”

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‘Blink’ Might Be Even More Timey-Wimey Than You Think

Ok, this is just a theory based on simple math and reason, but hear me out guys…

Sally Wainwright Shipton..? 

You may not have seen the season 3 episode of Doctor Who, ‘Blink’ in a while and have no idea what that means, so let me break it down.

At the offset of the episode, our leading lady, Sally Sparrow brings her friend Katherine Nightengale to Wester Drumlins (the Weeping Angel’s abandoned house party). Remember when that guy shows up, Kathy Nightengale is sent back from the year 2007 to 1920, and then that guy turns out to be Kathy’s grandson delivering a letter that an elderly Kathy wrote in 1987 for Sally Sparrow? That’s a mouthful, but bare with me. Well, in that letter, Kathy states that she got married to a man from the 20’s named Benjamin Wainwright and had three children. The youngest Wainwright child being a girl that Kathy named Sally, after Ms. Sparrow. 

 

Now, you may also remember a flirtatious babe from the same episode named Billy Shipton. Billy is a detective investigating the disappearance of people in relation to Wester Drumlins. This is what brings us to the lovely meet-cute in which Billy Shipton and Sally Sparrow flirt in front of a dusty blue police box. Billy gets Sally’s number and when he asks for her full name she retorts, “Sally Shipton” without thinking, followed by her instant mortification and departure. Cut scene and fast forward – Billy gets Weeping Angel’d back to 1969 where he receives instructions from the Doctor not to contact Sally Sparrow until after their original encounter. Billy lives his life back to 2007 and calls Sally. They re-meet minutes later for Sally and 38 years later for Billy in his hospital room. An elderly Billy tells Sally Sparrow information that is relevant to the plot, BUT he also tells her that he married a woman coincidentally named Sally from the 70’s. He even shows a picture of his dearly beloved, Sally Shipton. 

 

I know this is timey-wimey enough as is, but what if there is more? At this point of the episode I had to press pause because my mind was going through the time vortex. Hey, how cool would it be if Billy Shipton actually married Kathy Wainwright’s daughter? So, I couldn’t resist whipping out my handy dandy calculator and pretending like I don’t blow at math. 

Kathy’s tombstone says that she was born in 1902 (because that “cow” lied and said that she was 18 years old in 1920). This part may seem unlikely for that era, but if she were to wait until she was about 25-30 years old to have children, that would bring us to the years 1927-1932. In the picture that Kathy kindly provided in her letter to Sally, her eldest son looks to be about 11 years old. If I guessed his age correctly, that would hypothetically mean this picture was taken around the year 1941 (with a five year window of leeway). Sally Wainwright herself appears to be about 3 years of age in the picture. So with these rough calculations, Sally Wainwright could have been born around the years 1935-1940. This would make her about 29-34 years old in 1969 when Billy Shipton entered her time period. Billy seems to be in his late 20’s at the beginning of the episode, so this kind of works. Plus, in the the wedding picture that elderly Billy shows us, Sally Shipton appears to be in that age bracket. 

I know that there are a lot of variables, hence my excessive usage of the word, “about.” Now this isn’t factual information and we don’t know enough to affirmatively verify most (if any) of these claims. Also, there is the question of who Kathy’s grandson’s parents are. He does not say, but since Kathy had three children, there is a 66% chance that Billy Shipton is not the father. My point is this, wouldn’t it be crazy if this theory was true? That would mean that Sally Sparrow in a sense created and crafted Sally Shipton’s life. Think about it, Kathy would have never gone to Wester Drumlins if it wasn’t for Sally sparrow, meaning Kathy would have stayed in 2007, and Sally Wainwright would never have existed. Also, if Billy Shipton had not showed Sally Sparrow the Tardis, The Weeping Angels who were following Sparrow would not have sent Billy to 1969 where he could have potentially met Sally Wainwright. All of these potential happenstances make it extra crazy that Sally Sparrow accidentally says, “Sally Shipton.”

I would appreciate your feedback. Does this make sense? Did Moffat’s arguably best episode just get a little better? How many Sally’s could be in one episode? If there are three Sally’s in one Doctor Who episode, chances are two of them are the same person, am I right? How many Sallys do you know? Am I insane? Have you heard this theory before? Is your name Sally? If so, do you sell seashells by Wester Drumlins?