On Doctor Who and Narrative Perspective

Before this website becomes a Doctor Who-free zone for the week, because I don’t want to think about what I watched on BBC America last night, I wanted to share an observation and insight I’ve had.

For a very long time, going back to the spring, I’ve thought that Russell T. Davies might not show the regeneration from David Tennant to Matt Smith. The reason was the movie rumors, which were growing in intensity at the time. It seemed to me that Davies might not want to write a definitive ending to the tenth Doctor, because leaving the tenth Doctor’s era open-ended would make it easier to tell a big-budget story. I thought Davies would find closure to the tenth Doctor, but he wouldn’t write in a hard ending.

I suggested this very thing, offered these very reasons at a panel at Shore Leave in July, only to have Kathleen David tell me that I was daft. And her reasoning wasn’t wrong — Davies wouldn’t go all this way, and then pull up short and not show a regeneration. I can’t argue with that.

I do, however, stand by something I said at that panel, that “The End of Time” will not measure up to Children of Earth. ;)

I’d largely dismissed the idea of the non-regeneration ending for Davies’ era. The set photos of Smith wearing a tattered Tennant costume are indicative.

But then Davies says, in the midst of a recent interview, something like this: “Though whether there’s a regeneration on its way, or whether we’ve got some final tricks up our sleeves, you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Well, that’s cagey.

And then, watching “The End of Time I” last night, I noticed something.

Timothy Dalton is narrating the story from some point in the future. He already knows how this story — the Doctor, the billions of Masters, Wilf, all of it — will end.

Dalton’s present is the tenth Doctor’s future. No, I don’t mean this in the sense that Dalton is a future Doctor or even the Valeyard. But the narrative framework for “The End of Time” is such that everything we see has already happened. Notice how Dalton describes the Doctor as the Master’s “Saviour.” The Doctor will save the Master. We don’t know what yet, because we don’t have Dalton’s perspective. These events are already fixed. We aren’t seeing them as they unfold. They’re past. Which means that in the present of the story’s narration, the Doctor might well be Matt Smith, not David Tennant.

Thus, we could have a situation where Dalton, in narrating the story in the second part, takes us to an end of the tenth Doctor’s story, not necessarily regeneration but certainly some kind of closure, and then we’re presented at the end the eleventh Doctor as a kind of fait accompli. We would have a narrative ending for Tennant, one that leaves him available for future films but removes him from the television series, and we would have Smith, with an open beginning, much like William Hartnell in “An Unearthly Child” or Christopher Eccleston in “Rose.”

Ideal? No. Possible? Yes. The episode’s narrative conceit makes it possible. Perhaps, even likely.

5 thoughts on “On Doctor Who and Narrative Perspective

    1. You mean the 2-minute preview clip, with Dalton and the High Council? That could also be in the narrator’s own past.

      I don’t know. It’s all too complicated. :)

  1. Yeah, it’s before the Doctor did something, with the _moment_(?) Time War is happening in all times, _now_, but for it to bleed into reality, it must have been unlocked.
    Question is, whether Ten will get involved in his own past’s events (laws of time are his, etc.). And how will it affect f.ex. Nine’s line? I’m not sure about the reset, but there’s evidently a retcon of sorts on the way.

  2. To be clear, I completely agree that the Narrator knows what happened and how it ended. And with the authority that is implied, it could completely allow to show in the same fashion some moments from a great big disaster, and then Dalton goes, ‘So to make it right again, this and this had to be done’, either Time War locked, or finished or undone or something entirely else, and then, depending on the actual events, we meet Eleven in medias res, like Nine, or even instead of Nine, _if_ there’s a reset.

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