This was written at the time of the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary jubilee.
A clever man once observed that any long running series becomes about itself. Doctor Who is a case in point.
What, though, is Doctor Who? There are more than 250 televised stories, three hundred odd spin-off novels, and about as many audioplays. It’s practically its own genre. It’s halfway between B-movie, avant garde theatre, rep Shakespeare and absurdist comedy. On one level, it’s an exciting adventure show that mixes horror with high comedy, sending impressionable youngsters hurtling behind the sofa while older viewers laugh at the Doctor’s wit. On another, it is (to the horror of moralists like Mary Whitehouse) liberal humanist propaganda (with a side order of strangulation by obscene vegetable matter), in which the hero wins the day by being curious, asking questions, and challenging bureaucracy and authority. On another, it is an intellectual comedy that deals in social satire, hard science and high end physics, evolutionary theory, Buddhist parables, and cultural relativism. While having taxmen made of seaweed, dangerous monsters that decompose into narcotics, executioners made of liquorice allsorts, and alien criminal masterminds with six copies of the Mona Lisa in their cellar (with “This is a fake” written in felt pen). And a madman in a box who lands in someone else’s story and warps the narrative around him. The TARDIS doesn’t just travel in time and space; it travels in story. One story might show the Doctor land in a Shakespearean drama, written in iambic pentameter; the next, Hammer Horror or a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu; after that, a hard SF story rewritten by Tom Stoppard, or The Prisoner of Zenda with androids. The show is, as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor observed, serious about what it does, not about the way it does it. It’s hardly surprising that Douglas Adams script-edited it. As the man said, the programme is ‘complex enough for the kids to enjoy, and simple enough for the adults to follow’.
Steven Moffat’s version is very different. Whereas old school Who told stories around ideas, Moffat is interested in the narrative structure itself: in HOW stories are told rather than their content. With this goes a recurring theme of memory and identity. ‘A man is the sum of his memory; a Time Lord even more so.’ People are made out of stories. A memory is a story we tell about our lives. Even though we may remember things incorrectly (from an objective, external standpoint), or revisit and, in the process, revise our memories, those memories are who we are. And so we have River Song living her life in reverse parallel to the Doctor’s; Amy at her wedding remembering the Doctor; and Rory remembering a timeline that never happened.
All of Moffat’s shows—Press Gang, Joking Apart, Coupling, Jekyll, etc.—show a delight in non-linear storytelling. Remember those episodes of Coupling which showed the same five minutes from different characters’ perspectives (à la Rashomon), or in split screen? Conceptually, these are fascinating; ingenious, often brilliant. As exercises in technical virtuosity, they’re as dazzling as a Bach fugue. And they can also have its cold intellectualism. At its best, in Who, this produces the cleverness of “Blink” or “A Christmas Carol”. At its worst, “The Wedding of River Song” or “The Name of the Doctor”, in which abstract characters do abstract things for abstract motivations.
Moffat uses the science fiction to explore non-linear storytelling and narrative theory. Moffat is Post-modern. The danger inherent in Post-modern literature is that ingenuity becomes an end in itself, and the story gets lost in an endless maze of self-referentiality, like something out of Borges. Rather than the Doctor being a medium for telling stories, the stories become about the Doctor. The Doctor can rewrite causality on a whim, changing timelines until the universe suits him. The most important secret in the universe is the Doctor’s name. Questions about the Doctor’s companions loom large: Who is River Song? Who is Amy’s baby? Who is Clara? These are more important than the places they visit or the adventures they have. It’s like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Post-modern fiction is about itself.
Traditionally, Doctor Who was about how much bigger and madder the world was than its mundane surface. It opened up history and science and books and ideas. The Doctor was a humanist hero, who was curious about the world, asked questions, investigated, and used his reason and empiricism to solve problems. The Hartnell era was originally intended to be educational, with two teachers having adventures in history and science. The Pertwee era introduced audiences to environmentalism and liberalism, to Buddhism and Jung. The McCoy era was strongly anti-Thatcher, with script editor Andrew Cartmel wanting to use the programme to overthrow the government. The Davies era, for all its in-your-face emoting, was about connections between people, and why ordinary people mattered. Doctor Who engaged with the world. Whereas Moffat’s Doctor Who, for all its genuine wit and brilliance, is about…Doctor Who. And there’s a genuine risk that the series as it stands now won’t inspire viewers to become liberal, literate, humanist, scientific, curious in the way that fans of the old series were.
‘You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!’ admonished the First Doctor. The Third Doctor explained that the Blinovitch Limitation Effect prohibited a time traveller from going back into the past and having a second go at changing an event that they had already experienced.
Steven Moffat’s Doctor rewrites history as he pleases. Indeed, Moffat constructs towering edifices in the style of temporal baroque (Time Lord Rococo?). He paints the Doctor and his friends into impossible situations—and then shows that they’re not impossible at all. The Doctor dies. The Universe blows up. Rory’s past has been changed. Amy lived a future that never happened. River Song lives her encounters with the Doctor in reverse to his timeline. Clara meets the Doctor in various lives, and throws herself into every point in his timeline. But they remember what happened. Even though the universe changes, his protagonists still remember the timelines that never happened, and live with the consequences. It’s about memory. Our understanding of the world, our idea of ourselves, our identity isn’t based on exterior events, but on subjective experience.
“The fundamental bound on changing history has little to do with the stability of the universe and everything to do with the stability of the self. One cannot alter the components of one’s self—the stories and memories that create the unity of ‘I’.” (Philip Sandifer, “This Point of Singularity (The Three Doctors)”, 26 August 2011, <http://www.philipsandifer.com/2011/08/this-point-of-singularity-three-doctors.html>)
“The Day of the Doctor,” the fiftieth anniversary special, is a representative Moffat. It’s a fast-paced exercise in non-linear storytelling, told across different time zones (past, present, and future/sideways), with some excellent jokes (Tennant’s mission speech to the rabbit; “It was the horse. I’m gonna be king”; Smith ribbing Tennant on his snogging; the screwdriver), almost no plot—or, rather, a parody of a traditional Doctor Who plot and its resolution (the Doctors walk away from the Zygon business), and the Doctor rewriting the universe. Normal practice from Moffat, you might think. What makes this so very different is that the Doctor rewrites his personal history—and the history of the series itself. He annuls the Time War.
This is the shadow that has loomed over the series since its relaunch in 2005. In-universe, it is the conflict between the Daleks and the Time Lords, which ended with the Doctor destroying (or attempting to destroy) both species, and regenerating into the Eccleston Doctor, the last of the Time Lords, the lonely god.
It is, of course, a metaphor for the cancellation of Doctor Who in 1989. When “Rose”, the first episode of Russell T. Davies’s relaunched series, hit the screen in 2005, Doctor Who was not popular. In the eyes of the British public at large, it was a bad children’s program, which ended ignominiously in the 1980s with the likes of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, which flopped versus Coronation Street, and was now only watched by anoraks who wanted their childhoods back. In a word: “sad”. The fans kept Doctor Who alive in the form of spinoffs (many of which were brilliant) and commentaries on the unfolding text. But it was a minority interest, to the point where most of the fans in Britain knew each other, and met monthly at the Fitzroy Tavern.
The situation in 2013 is very different. Doctor Who is the BBC’s flagship programme, watched by millions of viewers around the world. “The Day of the Doctor”, broadcast in 94 countries, and screened in 3D, was awarded the Guinness World Record for the largest ever simulcast of a TV drama. (The Dendy cinema where I saw it was completely packed—full of people of all ages, races, and walks of life. And this was one of half a dozen sessions at that cinema, itself one of six in town showing the episode.) This is no longer a series that is “sad” or unpopular; this is a series that is confidently and triumphantly popular.
And at a time when Doctor Who is more popular than it has ever been, the dark years of its cancellation are no longer relevant. And so, rather than looking to the past (as Davies’s Doctor Who had done) and characterising the Doctor as a survivor of the Time War, Moffat suggests a new future for the Doctor: he will restore Gallifrey, and, at some long future date, turn back into Tom Baker and become curator of the National Gallery. 
But this doesn’t undo Davies era Doctor Who. The Doctor only remembers that he didn’t destroy Gallifrey when he experiences the adventure as Matt Smith. Even though the universe changes, even though the Doctors change the past, the Ninth and Tenth Doctors remember the original timeline, in which the War Doctor caused the fall of Gallifrey. It isn’t until the Eleventh Doctor experiences this adventure that he remembers the truth.
In terms of the series narrative, the Time War was a fixed point: “a moment in the space-time continuum at which events were set in stone and could never, ever be changed, no matter what”. If, as Philip Sandifer suggests throughout his TARDIS Eruditorum blog, the Doctor represents narrative freedom, able to roam all of time and space, and tell stories wherever he goes, untrammelled by canon or continuity, then fixed points are anathema to him. Indeed, the threat in Remembrance of the Daleks (produced in the silver anniversary year and a comment on the series’ past) is, Sandifer argues, an attempt to limit the Doctor’s freedom by rewriting him: rendering him subject to absolute fixity. In fact, the Doctor recognises that absolutes are an illusion; “you can fix one point or signifier absolutely, but doing so unglues everything else”.
Throughout Moffat’s era, the Doctor has encountered fixed points and sidestepped them (notably his death at Lake Silencio). The Time War was a fixed point: an absolute that determined the Doctor’s future. And it has changed. The ultimate fixed point is Trenzalore: the place of the Doctor’s death and burial. Between them, these two fixed points, past and future, act as impediments to the Doctor’s freedom. They are the representations of teleology and determinism, the death instinct as philosophy, with the Doctor’s life conditioned by what came before, and leading to a final, fatal, fixed point. And Trenzalore, Moffat indicates, will be changed. Both the past and the future can be rewritten, because of free will. Because the Doctor rejects absolutes. Tom Baker’s cameo shows that Trenzalore cannot be the Doctor’s death. As Whatculture! argues, having Tom Baker (a Doctor from the past, but in this case, a future incarnation) means that the Doctor’s death is perpetually deferred. There can never be a final incarnation played by Tom Baker. The Doctor’s death is perpetually deferred. Teleology is impossible. And Doctor Who is immortal.
Moreover, by undoing the effects of the Time War, Moffat has restored the status quo and paves the way for an older Doctor. The cancellation is seen as having derailed the series’ natural development. Witness his half-jesting complaint that “we could have had the adventures of John Hurt. In the 90s.”—if only the program hadn’t been cancelled in 1989. The John Hurt Doctor (who is coded as an old series Doctor, his last line before regenerating Hartnell’s) calls out the ‘young’ Doctors as developmentally arrested. “‘Timey-wimey’? Do you have to talk like children? What makes you ashamed of being a grown up?” The answer is the Time War. These incarnations are a “mid life crisis”, their Tiggerishness (“Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?”) and SNOGGING! GIRLS! (or Zygons disguised as girls) the result of Time War trauma. Trapped by the past, they are unable to grow up or act their age, but seek refuge in childishness. For all their boyish charm, these incarnations are stagnant. The problem, of course, is that “being without becoming is an ontological impossibility”. Now that the whole Time War has been resolved, and the Doctor is free from the past, he can move onwards and mature. And so, come Christmas, the Doctor will be played by an actor the age of Hartnell when he created the role in 1963.
The other threat to the series’ development comes in the form of its past—its continuity and canonicity. These were the elements that brought the series to its knees and nearly destroyed it in the 1980s, during the Davison and C. Baker Doctorates. The programme attempted to recreate its past, bringing back old monsters and regulars for their own sake. Ian Levine was appointed as continuity consultant. The programme was ‘cult’, made for the fans, rather than for the general public. Expert fans arbitrated on the show: certain stories (mainly from the repetitious Troughton era) were “classics”; the Tom Baker era (particularly when script-edited by Douglas Adams) was bad because it was self-indulgent, clever, and, perhaps most damningly, funny; and the worst story of all time was a comic gem called The Gunfighters. The show lost its sense of humour, its fun, its drive to experiment and progress. It stagnated. And the series collapsed.
(Until the Sylvester McCoy era, when the series was made by people who understood the spirit, rather than the letter, of the program, and who wanted to make it relevant and funny and clever again. And succeeded brilliantly. Unfortunately, by that time, nobody was watching. And the show was cancelled for 16 years, bar a frankly horrible American TV movie aimed at a cult audience. Such was the damage wrought by continuity.)
The problem is simple. Canon and continuity are the antithesis of the programme’s ethos of playful freeness.  A canon is a grand narrative: “a global or totalising cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience” (Stephens & McCallum). With the exception of the 1980s nadir, Doctor Who has resisted grand narratives, which are invariably presented as imposed by the powerful / villainous / misguided, who lack both the big picture and a sense of humour.
A canon is a top-down reading, imposed on the series from above by showrunners (George Roddenberry, George Lucas et al), telling fans what counts in the universe. As Paul Cornell argues, it’s about power and authority. It’s about trying to make people think in a certain way, and reject ideas or stories because they don’t fit into a certain worldview. Which the Doctor isn’t interested in. The Doctor wants to explore the universe and have fun. The Doctor is open to a plurality of adventures and interpretations.
Continuity is the ultimate fixed and absolute authority, which is the antithesis of the programme’s playful freeness. This is famously a series in which Atlantis has been destroyed three separate times, mankind’s history influenced by a dozen or so different aliens, and the Doctor may create a new timeline every time he steps out of the TARDIS doors. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Doctor Who doesn’t worry about contradictions, so much as what makes a good story.
And so, as well as rewriting the immediate past of the Davies era, Moffat blows up the continuity of the original series. It’s done almost as an aside, in such a way that only a knowledgeable fan would spot it. There’s a photograph on the Black Archive wall of Sara Kingdom and Mike Yates, two companions who could never have met. This is a moment of metatextual brilliance. It is an encounter that, according to series continuity, is impossible. Sara travelled with the First Doctor, and was aged to death by the Time Destructor on the planet Kembel; Yates was attached to UNIT during the Third Doctor’s exile to Earth. And yet… Both opposed a character played by Nicholas Courtney: Sara shot her brother Bret Vyon, while Yates betrayed the Brigadier. (And were blinkered in doing so; hence the eyepatch, which is also a reference to an infamous convention circuit anecdote.) Both met with unfortunate ends: killed, left UNIT under a cloud (and later redeemed). And both were connected by Jon Pertwee: married, co-star. This is, of course, expressly designed to infuriate. 
Because, Moffat recognises, canon and continuity stand in the way of imagination. And that is what Doctor Who is ultimately about: the power of storytelling. The Doctor is as much a wanderer in narrative as he is in time and space; an escapee from the Land of Fiction, Sandifer suggests, “the writer and creator of all stories” who has “gone on the run to live the stories instead of simply writing them”, “every single story there ever was and ever could be, escaped out into the universe, and running loose bringing them into being”. In the early days, the Doctor lands in another story, another genre, and disrupts it, warping the narrative around him. In the cancellation years, the spinoff series embraced Post-Modernism with glee, playing with unreliable narrators and deconstruction.
However, although its storytelling may be Post-modern, its morality is, as Mike Morris suggests, Modernist, founded on the principles of the Enlightenment and liberalism. The Doctor is a scientist who solves problems by using his intellect. Certain things are objectively right or wrong, regardless of cultural relativism. And the moral core of the Doctor, however much his face may change, is steadfast. “Never cruel, never cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” Words that echo Terrance Dicks’s famous description:
He is impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him.
The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.
In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero.
An Adventure in Space and Time is a docudrama about where and when it all began: London, 1963. It’s a really rather lovely tribute to William Hartnell, the original (and possibly best) Doctor, the old magician with a warm heart under the crusty exterior (played extremely well by David Bradley). There are cameos by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford (the only two remaining members of the original cast), Anneke Wills and Jean Marsh (who played Sara Kingdom: see above).
The highlight of the anniversary celebrations, however, is The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03lv3mj), written and directed by Peter Davison, and co-starring Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, with an appearance by Paul McGann. The chemistry between the actors is superb. There are so many good bits: the difference between Peter Howell’s music in the ’80s (low key, more mellow and meditative) and the bombast of Murray Gold (fortunately without massed choirs); Baker’s ‘I’ve locked all the doors!’, McCoy’s oh-so-casual mentions of The Hobbit, John Culshaw’s Tom Baker impersonation (and the nod to The Five Doctors’ use of footage from Shada), the companions floating around Moffat’s head in a parody of the regeneration sequence from The Caves of Androzani and Adric exploding…
The best joke is the three ex-Doctors hiding under the shrouds, which is not only funny and touching, but a brilliant parody of one of Moffat’s favourite devices. Just as Clara inserted herself into the Doctor’s past in “The Name of the Doctor”, and Matt Smith appeared to Bradley’s Hartnell, so classic Doctor Who has inserted itself into the new series.
And why not? After all, this is a series that can go anywhere and anywhen, and that has all of time, space and the human imagination to play with.
There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.
Is a young man with a pleasant open face, a shock of brown hair, and an air of casual bohemian elegance. He used to make a strange, wheezing, groaning sound, but has changed his diet.
 The new series, that is. How many members of the audience of the modern series watch the pre-1989 series is debatable.
 The idea of a vanishing planet hidden in a work of art may be influenced by Lawrence Miles’s “The Book of the World”. The scene in the desert, and the conversation between the War Doctor and a living Time Lord weapon in the form of a woman, recall Miles’s Interference.
 “Fixed point in time”, TARDIS Wikia, <http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Fixed_point_in_time>
 The opening sequence of “Day of the Doctor” refers to both An Unearthly Child, the series’s first story, and Remembrance. The policeman’s shadow on the junkyard wall, Coal Hill School (where the First Doctor’s companion Ian Chesterton is Head of the Board of Governors, and the headmaster is Coburn, as in writer of the first story Anthony Coburn).
 See: “How to run Doctor Who the Steven Moffat way”, The Door in Time, 5 May 2012, < http://thedoorintime.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/how-to-run-doctor-who-steven-moffat-way.html>.
 Casting John Hurt opens up a canonical can of Drashigs.
John Hurt is the Doctor. John Hurt played Caligula.
John Simm has played Caligula.
John Simm (=the Master) & John Hurt (=the Doctor) => Caligula
Or: Caligula = both the Master and the Doctor
Or: the Master = the Doctor
Derek Jacobi has played both Claudius* and the Master.
* He also played Claudius in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. However, the Claudius in the Hamlet starring David Tennant (=the Doctor), and in the BBC version in which Jacobi played Hamlet and Lalla Ward (Mrs. Tom Baker and his companion Romana) played Ophelia, was Patrick Stewart (=Picard).
Therefore: Picard = Patrick Stewart = Claudius = Derek Jacobi = the Master = the Doctor.
Or: Picard = the Master = the Doctor.
Or: Picard = the Doctor.
Therefore: Star Trek = Doctor Who.
And that was the sound of ten thousand fanboys exploding. Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority.
 One of the best discussions of canon in Doctor Who is on Teatime Brutality: “Canon and Sheep Shit: Why We Fight”, <http://teatimebrutality.blogspot.com.au/2009/07/canon-and-sheep-shit-why-we-fight.html>.
 Flagged by the reference to UNIT dating, when Kate Lethbridge-Stewart requests a file on Cromer: “Seventies or eighties depending on the data protocol!” UNIT dating has been the subject of heated debate since the fanzines of the ’80s. Moffat opens up two new arenas: the numbering of the Doctors, and could Hartnell have known about UNIT? Really, Moffat is a troll.
 Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood, About Time 4: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1975–1979: Seasons 12 to 17, Mad Norwegian Press (Illinois, 2007), p. 145.
 Arguably, the show had been doing this since the Hartnell era. See Donald Cotton’s novelisations of The Romans, The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters. In many ways, these are the ancestors of the works of Lawrence Miles, Paul Magrs, Jonathan Morris, Robert Shearman and Jacqueline Rayner.