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Doctor's Dilemma

By Jon Preddle

With all the recent talk about whether or not Shada is canonical (see the debate elsewhere this issue) Thomas Whitby of Gore writes in with a very interesting question: 'If all televised Doctor Who is canonical, and if one were to accept that BBC-endorsed video releases were canonical, then what is your solution as to how the Pilot episode fits into established Who mythology. It is important to keep in mind that the video and the televised versions were different!'

As I said, very interesting. Although I do dispute that all video releases are canonical (Shada isn't, but the extended Curse of Fenric is - but that's another story..!), I will attempt to answer Thomas's question without being too technical.

Firstly, some background concerning the Pilot. The Pilot was the original studio recording of the first episode of An Unearthly Child. Apart from a few dialogue variations and the Doctor's character being different (and somewhat unlikable), the episode is virtually identical to the transmitted version. Because of technical problems experienced during the recording of the TARDIS sequence, the whole scene was also re-shot from scratch. Sydney Newman, the man who created Doctor Who, did not like the completed Pilot so three weeks later the episode was rewritten in places and then re-recorded. It was that which was televised on 23 November 1963.

In 1991 BBC2 screened the Pilot as a part of its tribute to Lime Grove Studios, but with the first take of the TARDIS scene, whereas on The Hartnell Years video, the second (and better) take was used. According to 'acceptable' criterion the televised Pilot must now be considered as part of the Doctor Who canon. But how and where can it be placed without affecting the 'real' An Unearthly Child's place in the Who-niverse?

The only way I could logically apply the Pilot into Who mythology is to use the story The Space Museum and the concept of a parallel universe. In a universe similar to our Doctor's, a duplicate Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara - the one from the Pilot - have a series of adventures which mirror those experienced by 'ours'. At some point Susan2 leaves the TARDIS and Vicki2 joins. That TARDIS lands on the planet Xeros, and the duplicates are killed and placed on display.

Our Doctor's TARDIS accidentally jumps a time-track (as the Doctor calls it) which brings the ship into this parallel dimension, causing it to become invisible. Our travellers then see what they believe to be themselves in the museum. At the end of Episode One, they are transferred to their own universe ('We've arrived') and become visible again, the illusion of the display cases vanishing is simply the effect of the transference from one dimension to the other (similar to the instantaneous transporter effect in Star Trek).

This can be illustrated with a simple diagram:

  1. The TARDIS leaves 1963 with the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara
  2. Susan leaves, and Vicki joins
  3. The TARDIS2 lands on Xeros and the crew are killed and placed on exhibit
  4. The TARDIS jumps a time track into the parallel dimension where they see 'themselves' on display
  5. They transfer back into their own dimension and lead the Xerosians in a rebellion and prevent the 'fate' they have witnessed
  6. The TARDIS continues on its way...

[Diagram: Dimensional rift]

However, this does not solve the problem of there being two different versions of the Pilot's TARDIS scene. On close comparison, the only differences are the odd change in dialogue, which are really so minor it is hardly worth fussing over. Therefore I would be prepared to accept the second take (the one on the video) as being the correct version because it has the least fluffed lines!

'Does the Doctor have a belly-button?' asks David Ronayne.

Well, what can you say? The closest we have ever come to seeing if the Doctor has a navel is in episode two of Spearhead from Space, where he is seen showering (in what must be the only instance of full nudity in the programme!). Unfortunately (!) the angle of the camera does not allow us to see if there is a navel. In Castrovalva, episode 4, the Master's navel is exposed when he is being mauled by the Castrovalvans. However, since the Master had stolen Tremas's body, the navel could simply be part of the Trakenite's anatomy.

In The Creature from the Pit, the Doctor says he was born in the maternity service on Gallifrey, but that does not necessarily mean it was a birth as you and I know it. I therefore cannot answer this question. Anticipating this, David actually sent in a theory of his own! So, over to you, David...

The humble belly-button is the residual scar left by the removal of the umbilical cord. Now, the concept of regeneration implies total restoration of cells, whereas rejuvenation would simply be the youthening of cells rather than complete physical change. Regeneration would therefore remove all scar tissue, including the navel.

I cannot recall any examples of Gallifreyan scars clearing up (the Master's horrific injuries is uncertain here, due to the bodysnatching technique). This raises questions about regeneration. Can a Time Lord regenerate a lost arm, for example? But more importantly, Marc Platt's book Time's Crucible suggests that Time Lords are made, not born, and that they are somehow artificially produced from gene pools. Ergo, no birth, no umbilicus!

Any more theories, anyone?

Jon notes: This was written in 1992, years before the Paul McGann TV Movie, in which the Doctor exposes his navel!

David also sent in an explanation for the third Doctor's tattoo: Pertwee's tattoo is of a cobra, the hoop of which circles a 'C' (for Carlotta, his girl-friend at the time, or for cobra? Even Pertwee confesses he is unsure in his autobiography!). Now, coincidentally, the shape of the tattoo is very similar to a question-mark, the now-familiar symbol used by the Doctor (eg shirt collar, vest, umbrella and calling-card in Remembrance of the Daleks) so perhaps the question-mark is a family crest or symbol which is impervious to regeneration.

I would have to disagree that the tattoo was impervious to regeneration, David, for the simple fact that earlier incarnations of the Doctor didn't have a tattoo - the second Doctor, for instance, is seen bare-armed in several stories, and there is no tattoo. My own theory for the tattoo is similar to David's and is associated with the Doctor's trial. The tattoo is a Time Lord brand similar to the Misos Triangle on Turlough's upper-arm. The question-mark may be the Doctor's family seal or signature (or his name, even??) and the 'C' part means 'criminal'. The two emblems when together represent the worst insult to any Time Lord. The mark was placed when the Doctor was exiled to Earth and then removed when the exile was lifted.

Later, while exploring the TARDIS he found a room filled with old clothes adorned with the question-mark, and decided to once more wear his name with pride...

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).

Index nodes: Doctor's Dilemma, An Unearthly Child, The Space Museum