Since Doctor Who came back in 2005 it has evolved from being a Saturday teatime treat for British children (and their nostalgic parents) to one of the chief geek shows on TV. Heightened episode quality coupled with the increased popularity in America have turned Whovians into a force that have Trekkies quaking.
Who has relished this new found popularity, becoming increasingly dual layered. While the core child audience can still enjoy the fantastical stories, episodes have hidden hints and seemingly throwaway references that provide clues for fans about where the show is heading.
Unfortunately, with this comes plot threads that don’t end up explored; for every reference that gets a payoff down the line, there’s one that fans put weight on that never becomes anything. While this is certainly more prominent with Steven Moffat’s writing, it’s been a problem across the whole series.
Coming up are nine such plot threads I doubt we’ll ever get any resolution to, along with one long standing arc we’ll likely get enlightened on very soon. I’ve decided to stick with nu-Who, primarily because this is where the continuity began to be fully chronicled, highlighting these dropped threads.
The One We Will – The Time War
The biggest change made to the series when it was revived, the Time War killed off all the Time Lords and Daleks, making the Doctor the last of his kind. Slowly hinted throughout Davies and Moffat’s era we gradually gleaned small bits of information regarding its events; it’s time locked, the Time Lord’s went mad, the Doctor ended it.
Still, there’s a big air of mystery around the war and fans have long been waiting for something more than a throwaway comment. The Time Lords’ presence in The End Of Time helped, but they were more confirming what we suspected rather than offering anything new.
But The Time War doesn’t make the main list because, if the popular fan theories end up true, the 50th Anniversary special may finally shed some light on it. Which Doctor John Hurt is playing has been the key debate since his shocking reveal at the end of The Name Of The Doctor and the enduring theory is that he is the one who killed the two races, placing him between Paul McGann. This is the longest plot thread in nu-Who, but likely one we’ll get an answer to very soon.
9. River Learning The Doctor’s Name
Forget the sonic screwdriver and Tardis book, what really put River Song on the map as an important character was her knowing the Doctor’s real name. The show’s biggest mystery since it’s inception, having a character know it was a bigger deal than the Dalek’s returning, again.
Fans jumped at the theory that River knew this because she was his future wife, having learnt it at their wedding. This was initially confirmed in The Wedding Of River Song when the Doctor said as such to the audience, until five minutes later it was revealed he’d said something completely different. The problem here is obvious; if the Doctor said “look into my eye” (revealing he was actually the teselecta) instead of his name, when did River have an opportunity to learn it? The implication for the Library two-parter was that there was only one time the Doctor would give his name, so he either wasn’t referring to a wedding or they weren’t married properly in this alternate reality rush job.
Unless the Doctor’s real name is Lukintomyeye this is not only a dropped story thread, but a major plot hole. Given that this hasn’t been mentioned once since I think its just assumed River learnt the name then somehow.
Potential Solution: The Doctor said more than one thing to her.
8. The Duck Pond With No Ducks
When Steven Moffat took over as head writer he brought a different approach to overarching stories, not only lying clues but actually having the plots of earlier episodes directly link into (and often not make sense until) the finale. Some argue he went too far with the River Song/Silence sixth series, but the only time he really dropped the ball was in the very first episode of his tenure.
There was always something off about Amy, as the Doctor kept repeating. It was eventually revealed the crack had claimed her parents, creating an odd, messed up world for her. But while that explained a lot of things that initially seemed off, there’s still some elements in The Eleventh Hour that still don’t make sense.
When running around the small village Amy and Rory live in (living in London was so Russell T. Davies), the Doctor makes a throwaway remark about there being a duck pond with no ducks. Given this is a disappearance, in the same way people have disappeared into the crack, many assumed it was directly tied into the series overarching mystery; the first clue in a deep mystery. But unlike other odd moments throughout Series 5 that didn’t make sense (what the Doctor said to Amy in Flesh And Stone), this was never explained (or even mentioned again).
Was it the crack in general or was it more directly related to Amy? We’ll never know.
Potential Solution: The crack somehow took them.
7. The Clerics
Back when the identity of River Song was just a glint in Moffat’s (and Rory’s ) eye, her appearances were an addition to an already exciting plot, rather than the plot itself (although I have no problem with either). Funnily enough, in her first team up with Matt Smith (in The Time Of Angels) she isn’t the biggest mystery. What really confuses are the militarised clerics.
Here the clerics regarded the Doctor with real respect, looking up to him and even warning him of River’s destructive role in his future. When we see them again in A Good Man Goes To War, about a century or so later in their timeline, they still regard him as a higher being, but this time they’re creating a weapon to destroy him.
Why they call themselves the Church is dismissed away by the Doctor in their first appearance (they’re an evolution of the modern religions here on Earth), but we never get a hint at what causes them to take a complete u-turn against the Doctor. It can’t have been the Silence controlling them as they’d been rendered weak by the moon landing footage and given they knew River would be trained to kill him, it paints them as a pretty dumb sect.
Potential Solution: They became more financially than religiously motivated and the Silence bought them out.
6. The Silence
A much bigger story arc than the rest on this list, The Silence have been a presence throughout Matt Smith’s time as the Time Lord – they blew up the Tardis creating the cracks in Series 5, all looking forward to stop the finale of Series 7 – but they were most prominent in Series 6.
The thing is, even though their ultimate goal (to stop The Great Intelligence from destroying the Doctor’s past and causing silence to fall) was seemingly reached on the second attempt (after blowing up the Tardis backfired), you’d expect an ancient religion who’d obsessed over this for millennia would actually double check they’d succeeded. If I’d gone to the lengths of kidnapping a child from the most powerful being in the universe I’d want to be 100% certain it had been time well spent.
In the alternate universe the Silence was destroyed, but as that had Winston Churcill as the Roman Emperor we all assumed it wasn’t real, implying the Silence and Madam Kovarian are still out there. I guess Moffat heard some of the complaints about the series’ serialisation and cut them out.
Potential Solution: The intelligent society went dumb and didn’t check.
5. The Doctor’s Daughter
Coming at a time when Doctor Who spin-offs were all the rage (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures were both in full swing) many assumed Jenny, the Doctor’s ‘daughter’ was intended for a similar fate. A purely stand alone episode, there was a tacked on ending that had her regain life and escape off into the stars.
Since then, fans have been waiting four years for her to resurface to no avail. The ending of The Doctor’s Daughter was so explicit in her survival that once a spin-off was off the cards it was assumed she’d be key in stopping Davros or The Master or whoever the next major villain was after she failed to turn up.
Steven Moffat was allegedly behind her resurrection, leading to all manner of crazy fan theories relating to his Whoniverse, but now I think it’s time to forget this one. Doctor Who rarely has threads hanging over a period this long and when it does, they aren’t just dropped and picked back up suddenly, but slowly teased out, like with River Song.
Potential Solution: She went on to live a normal, unremarkable life. Maybe with a human version of the Tenth Doctor.
4. The Doctor’s Character Changes
The David Tennant specials were a mixed bag that exemplified the Davies era. There was traditionally Who-ish concepts realised disappointingly (Planet Of The Dead), an assured, different one (The Waters Of Mars) and an overly bombastic finale that threw everything in the mixing pot with only some of it working (The End Of Time).
The best of the lot, The Waters Of Mars introduced two really interesting avenues to be explored that were cut short by the end of the episode.
The first was something mostly absent from the Davies stories – messing with fixed events. We got to see a Doctor finally disregarding the rules of the destroyed Time Lords and changing time. Yes, time does correct his actions much to his disdain, but there was a major character change here that would lent itself to more stories.
The second is something that we did finally see with Matt Smith in Series 6; a Doctor who was ready to die. After the previous example had been corrected, Ten expressed a desire to die that was absent when we saw his next in his final adventure. It’s a shame this change was reverted, but even though Tennant is returning for the anniversary special this is an avenue that was never explored beyond one scene
I guess Davies wanted to look at these elements of the character, but given the short time left he rushed the job a bit. The themes are given focus, but not as much as you’d imagine they warrant.
Potential Solution: It’s all off-screen.
3. The Doctor’s Lie About The Gamma Forest
Here’s one that when the episode aired I immediately jumped on as key foreshadowing, but others seemed to miss (there were much bigger reveals to be dealing with I guess).
Throughout A Good Man Goes To War, the dwellers of the Gamma forest were a unexpectedly key presence. River uses them as an example of the Doctor’s increasingly war like ways and it’s through their simplistic language that Melody Pond’s true identity is revealed. But that’s not all.
The Battle of Demon’s Run not only leaves Strrax dead (a pretty major plot hole given his recurring appearance), but claims the life of the one Gamma resident we actually met, Lorna. As she dies she asks the Doctor if he remembers her and he painfully says yes.
The look on Matt Smith’s face, coupled with his heartbreaking “Who was she?” says it all; he didn’t remember Lorna because he was yet to meet her. There was also a suggestion that, as he’s known as a great warrior to them, he line about them running was the point when even Lorna knew he was lying. The way the script leaned so heavily on it hinted this was going to be a big event in his future, but there was nary a mention of this after the episode.
It may have been that the Doctor had been going so off the rails that he’d begun to forget adventures, but that strikes as a bit too much.
Potential Solution: It wasn’t important after all.
2. Is Series 7 Really Out Of Order?
In A Town Called Panic the Doctor references Rory leaving a charger in Henry VIII’s bedroom. In the next episode, The Power Of Three, we see that happen. But wait, the Doctor’s a time traveller, not a fortune teller. What’s going on here?
There’s two theories. The episodes could have just been aired out of the scripted order leading to this slight discrepancy. But one many fans jumped onto at the time was that the episodes were purposely out of order, suggesting the first half of Series 7 was in reverse.
This creates a depressing timeline where the Doctor looses Amy and Rory, but still gets some adventures with his lost friends. This theory can be furthered by suggesting the Daleks picking up the Doctor out of sync with Amy and Rory (he’s post New York, but they’re before it).
This was a popular theory back when the series aired, but the events of The Snowmen, with the Doctor being a hermit after the events of New York suggests he immediately puts his travelling ways behind him, going against his joviality in the earlier episodes. Whatever, the case is, we never got any world confirming it either way and are still left with two episodes that don’t make sense.
Potential Solution: Episode 3 and 4 of Series 7 are the wrong way round.
1. Jack Harkness’ Future
This is the biggie. The one you’ve been hoping for every time you click next. Well here it is. One throwaway line that changed the perceptions of a character forever.
Clearly Jack wasn’t originally intended to be the Face of Boe and I suspect it wasn’t even a fully formed idea when the Face died. But come the end of Series 3 he revealed his old nickname was the same as the big head in a jar, setting the internet alight with speculation.
Jack’s appeared a couple of times since on the main show and this wasn’t mentioned at all, suggested Davies had little interest in confirming or denying the rumour. It is admittedly more fun to keep it open, but there’s nothing quite like closure.
It’s believable that the immortal Jack would eventually change in appearance (and reproductive system) to the extent where he was alien to what he originally was, but given the variable rules of Who it can’t be taken as gospel until there’s some proof. John Barrowman has been consistently rumoured to be to the series, but given no one from the Davies’ era (Tennat excluded) has been in Moffat’s Who this’ll be something that’s never going to be explained beyond the hint we got.
Potential Solution: Just say it’s true. It’s a lot more awesome that way.