The Paradoxes of Doctor Who
I know that people encounter problems, trying to rationalise temporal events, paradoxes, and time in general. The idea of fluidic time, where changing an event in the past, can affect your present, is something that many find hard to grasp. Yet, in Doctor Who, we see this kind of meddling on constant basis, without direct, apparent changes to the crew of The TARDIS. In this article, we will dive into some of how this works, or how it could work, with theories, and explanations of a variety of events that seem to be confusing the fans.
As Gustaff Behr accounts in his article ‘Control-Alt-Delete’, Doctor Who is filled with paradoxical moments, starting in the very early era. You simply can’t have time travel, without affecting the outcome of events, but sometimes, you can affect events out of order, encountering points in space and time, that never actually existed.
Taking ‘Pyramids of Mars’ as a prime example, The Doctor goes forward, from 1911, to 1980, to show Sarah Jane what the Earth would be like, if they do not interfere. Now, while Sarah is ‘from 1980’, and thus, she knows that Sutekh didn’t destroy the Earth,. It is here that The Doctor shows Sarah, that without intervention, the reality she knows will be rewritten, and she will cease to exist. Let’s call that a 1st-level paradox, as it precludes the person from ever have existing, compared to a 2nd-order paradox, that merely changes some of their timeline.
Do You Know, What You Think You Know?
What happens in ‘The Name of The Doctor’ is in some ways, quite similar to the events in The Pyramids of Mars, which is coincidentally one of my favourite Fourth Doctor stories, due to its Gothic Horror nature (alongside ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’, and ‘Image of The Fendahl’).
In a time-travel situation, you are moving from one point in space-time, to another point in space-time; thus skipping over the events in-between these temporal points. Some space-time points are minor—in fact, most are—and some are more pivotal, nexus points, on which a great number of events in past, and future history hinge.
Now, if you move from the present, to the future, and skip over the time between, you obviously cannot have affected the time between, without having been there on a previous occasion. That makes the future to which you are going, one in which the events that you will do in your own future, have not occurred. It is easily possible that on returning to your own time, you may cause something to happen that restructures events in the future you had visited. This may be a minor, or a major change; and as stated in Doctor Who, a Timelord can feel the difference.
A major temporal nexus, or a fixed point, as it is called in the modern series, is an event that you shouldn’t change, as the laws of Time also prohibit intentional, direct changes to your own tinestream; else called crossing your own timestream, for in doing this, you create a grandfather paradox, or a 1st-order paradox.
Yet, The Doctor regularly meddles in events that would count as crossing his own timestream, tending to do this in minor ways. The ripple-effect for him would be more subtle, but even so, under normal conditions, this should create paradoxes that have no resolution, and The Doctor shouldn’t be aware of what he has done, that has changed—yet he does.
Protection of The TARDIS
The TARDIS, a Type-40 Mk III TT Capsule, while faulty in some regards, is still a mostly operable, very advanced piece of sentient technology. The intellect of the TARDIS exists in a state, where it can know past, present, and future, all mixed up together, in a way that it comprehends.
Listing every component of the TARDIS is outside the scope of this column, but one very crucial piece of Gallifreyan tech involved, with everyone that ever journeys in The TARDIS, are its telepathic circuits. These do far more than translating alien languages: They provide protection to the travellers, and among the forms of protection, are shielding from 2nd-order violations of the Laws of Time.
That means, that while a traveller in The TARDIS, or any TT Capsule, can affect events that they have previously encountered, and change them, while their own recollections of past events remain intact. Some species, and some people, are more attuned to this, and the more you travel in the Time Vortex, the more Arton energy you absorb (as explained in ‘The Deadly Assassin’), and this energy is shared with your TT capsule via the telepathic link.
Artron particles collect in the brain, and it isn’t beyond the bounds of the imagination to suspect that they are a form of paradox protection, shielding cells from being changed by a paradox. If you create a 2nd-order pardox, your memories can remain intact; and the more that you time-travel, the more the Atron particles collect, thus the more shielding you acquire. The Doctor is able to mentally hold on to memories of past events, and possibly very conflicting events, due to his level of exposure.
Other occupants, such as Amy Pond, haven’t built up this level of protection, to the point where they can handle a conflict of 2nd-order paradoxes; or at least, not the most fundamental of them, yet less direct paradoxes pass over them without a problem. Rory remembers being a Roman, despite this part of his history being re-written, and Amy is able to remember The Doctor, despite never meeting him. That shows that the lengthy exposure, and connection to The TARDIS, paired with more frequent time-travel, afford some protection against 2nd-order, or that other, more deadly type:
The very evidence of these two people remembering events that could never have happened, establishes that Atron energy can protect against some 1st-order paradoxes—those that would radically change your own timeline, past, or future history, or some great cosmic event; however, the more serious the change, the more protection you would need. Thus, some events cross the line, beyond the scope of the abilities of The TARDIS, to protect its occupants, to whom it is linked.
Changing Your Future
If events continue unaltered, and you push forward to a point in your future, anything you do, between now and then, has yet to occur. If you travel a year into the future, and meet with people that you know, they will think you were dead, or have vanished, for the last year. If you remember, when The Doctor takes Rose with him, when they later return, there are many Missing Person posters out for her, and everyone she knows thinks that she was dead, and is shocked to see her.
The ‘classic series’ didn’t give characters this level of background, or family interaction. It didn’t give the same level of dramatic treatment to characters, who once in The TARDIS, weren’t missed by anybody. The modern series tries to establish family, mates, and even places of work, for the companions of The Doctor, and thus pays a bit more attention to this kind of problem.
If we continue along this line, the problem of Trenzalore becomes vastly different. It’s not a matter of the events of ‘The Time of The Doctor’ changing established events in ‘The Name of The Doctor’, but rather, events in ‘The Name of The Doctor’ changed a gigantic landscape of established facts in the universe. If you take care to remember that Trenzalore is a trap, set by The Great Intelligence, then some of this murky confusion begins to clear.
In doing this, try to remember that going to Trenzalore is actually interrupting events that have already happened on0screen, in The Doctor’s timestream. Some of these, are quite interesting.
Because The Doctor has yet to receive his new regenerations, going to Trenzalore, may have a grave that doesn’t belong there, including his. Perhaps even the grave of River Song is there, because The Doctor does not survive to have that last meeting with her, that sends her to The Library, and she instead did die on Trenzalore. Many of those graves could very well be there, if The Doctor skips over the events between this point in his history, and the events to come. The cracks in time, are the focus of this paradox, as they cannot exist if The Doctor goes to Trenzalore at this point, and part of the goal of The Great Intelligence, is to overturn every success of The Doctor’s life, including those he has yet to do.
This, is a paradox, of the 1st-order, and The TARDIS refusing to move to that point, could very well be due to the fact that the TARDIS is at least partially aware of future-events; and that The Doctor is attempting to visit is a point in time and space that should not exist. Clearly, the cracks in the Universe are either caused by the Timelords, to some extent, and the message that they are sending pre-dates the event that creates it.
The Doctor first encounters ramifications of a future-event, before helping his previous incarnation save Gallifrey. Yet, because this future potential exists, due to events in The ‘Time of The Doctor’, they hold so many powerful ramifications, to the degree that this causal nexus is fixed. The minor fluctuations through to the point where this nexus is created are irrelevant, to The Web of Time; which insists that the nexus exists as a fixed point, and cannot be changed.
That is how masterful the plot to destroy The Doctor becomes, as it isn’t just The Doctor that The Great Intelligence will destroy. The Universe goes dark, without The Doctor; but without The Doctor, the Timelords will become non-extant, and goodness knows what that could mean. As Vastra says, ‘A universe without The Doctor: There will be consequences.’ We begin to see 2nd-order paradoxes the very instant that The Great intelligence enters the temporal fracture on Trenzalore; but this even was never supposed to happen, and the universe quakes in pain.
If you pay careful attention, the idea isn’t that Big bad GI will kill The Doctor, but that he will overturn every one of his victories. This means that The Church probably never shielded Trenzalore, and that a war could easily have reached the scope that we see in the size of that graveyard. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Humans, Draconians. They were all there, and without someone keeping the peace, that world would easily have turned into hell.
Many other events also change, and the stars begin to go out. The Time War spiralled out of control, never aborted by The Doctor, and the universe itself begins to die as a ramification. Those are indeed, some awesome consequences.
In reality though, The Doctor does save Gallifrey, the cracks in time appear, the Timelords send out their message, The Church tries to kill The Doctor, the TARDIS explodes, and The Doctor must restore all of reality.
These all become established events, to the perspective of The TARDIS! It is aware of what futures should exist, and knows that the future on Trenzalore is wrong. It doesn’t belong, or fit the model of events, to such a degree, that it must be an alternative future, just like that alternative 1980 in ‘The Pyramids of Mars’.
The TARDIS tries to prevent The Doctor from going to Trenzalore, and creating a 1st-order paradox, but The Doctor manages it, in spite of his best mate trying to save him from making an horrific fixed point in his timestream that will spell ruin for all. The entire set-up, by The Great Intelligence, is possibly the largest destiny trap ever conceived, and most people fail to see the scope of it: It’s designed to create this very point in time, and The TARDIS know it.
Despite everything trying to stop him, The Doctor is too stubborn to turn back. He does go to Trenzalore, in a dark, alternative future. Had he not, it’s hard to say what the result would be; however we can safely also consider that because this has all been undone, that The Great intelligence also survived, and is still lurking somewhere,e in the dark places out there, for another chance to destroy The Doctor. Either way, the events that unfold there, shouldn’t happen, and yet they do, inspiring Clara to jump into the temporal fissure inside the gigantic, future TARDIS. This is where things start to repair themselves, as this selfless act creates a 1st-order paradox both for Clara, and for The Doctor, that changes the very nature of how they meet, and their experiences. The Doctor obviously remembers the conflicting pasts, but Clara may not.
If you look at it further, there are many points in the Clara arc that don’t make sense, and of these, I find it unfathomable that The Doctor removed both her, and himself, from his timestream, after diving into the fissure. Beyond that, there is no on-screen explanation for how either escaped that fate. One moment, he is holding her, in an extra-dimensional no-space, filled only with him, and the next, he is flying off with her in the TARDIS.
What happened between the two? How did he escape that fissure? How did Vastra, Jenny and Strax escape Trenzalore? The most reasonable answer: They didn’t. The events that unfolded, leading up to going to Trenzalore, including the actions of The Great Intelligence, never actually happened.
It is in fact reasonable to believe that Clara never did enter that fracture, because the fracture itself, and the entire Trenzalore scene is restructured around her; leaving only fragments in memory, protected by the TARDIS from erasure.
The way I see things, Clara did not enter the wound in time at Trenzalore, but may have some conflicting recollection of it, due to visiting that point in an alternative timeline. Her requirement to enter that wound in time, due to the actions of The Great Intelligence, is negated, simply by taking the action. A version of her, like a temporal echo—similar to The Valeyard, or The Watcher--fixes everything that The Great Intelligence has done, thus negating taking those actions, and thus also negates either Clara, or The Doctor entering the temporal fracture. Again, it’s a classical paradox.
Closing the Wound
If you follow this angle, then the fact that both Clara and The Doctor are on Earth to handle the Zygons, starts to make more sense. His connection to her is re-written, and she may not even remember many parts of it. I don’t recall her ever directly mentioning anything on-screen that amounts to her fully recalling the details of Trenzalore, but even if she does remember some of it, she also remembered events from other aborted timestreams in the past, at various occasions; and her connection to the TARDIS is a handy explanation for remembering events that hadn’t happened.
If you further consider the events in ‘The Day of The Doctor’, then how could The Doctor meet a future incarnation of himself, if this is his last regeneration? The Curator is clearly not the Fourth Doctor, as that would contradict all that is well-established. It must be a future incarnation, as is hinted, in the scene. This makes the events of ‘The Time of The Doctor’ far more likely, and the aborted journey to Trenzalore begins to make a good deal of sense.
If you pay careful attention, in the special, it’s not entirely clear how much Clara remembers, and in ‘The Day of The Doctor’, there are many events that can’t be explained, with the way that ‘The Name of The Doctor’ played out, unless you calculate the changes that occur later, in ‘The Time of The Doctor’.
This is why, once you take into account the events of ‘The Time of The Doctor’, many things are actually more logical: The Doctor and Clara escaping the temporal fracture, makes sense, the future regenerations of The Doctor, make sense. Even The Valeyard, makes (some) sense, as now, this event—the paradox of visiting Trenzalore—creates an opening for another temporal echo of The Doctor, to exist, which must have been created between where Tenant is irradiated, and where Tennant regenerates into Smith. As the two encounter each-other in exactly that tine period, ‘between The Doctor’s twelfth and final incarnations’, alongside the (new) 9th Doctor (Hurt), in this major temporal event, it is quite feasible for The Valeyard to have spawned from it.
The more you examine this, the more you realise that the events in the ‘Name of The Doctor’ are those that are the most impossible, and that the impossible girl, is exactly that. ‘The Day of The Doctor’, and ‘The Time of The Doctor’ don’t muddle the timeline. Rather, they set right the events in ‘The Night of The Doctor’, allowing all of the previous experiences of Smith’s Doctor to fall into place.