Below I post a ridiculously long article of mine: stay with it, I promise there’s a worthy pay-off. Comments very welcomed!
So the final episode of the so-called “Series 7a” has now been broadcast on Australian TV. A quick five weeks, we say goodbye to the Ponds/Williams, and for once not a timey-wimey complication to be seen. Right? Maybe not. Because it seems Steven Moffat is incapable of writing a standard “a to b” progression of events. And that’s a good thing, I say.
The thing is, there’s a stack of subtle (and not so subtle) references throughout the five stories (and the five-part online prequel Pond Life, written by Chris Chibnall) that suggest the broadcast order is very likely not the order that various characters (most notably the Doctor) experienced them. As the Doctor and Amy argue in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: “Right! Phase two sorted, now for phase one.” “Oh no no, phase two comes after phase one.” “Humans! You’re so linear!”
You’re going to need some context before I throw way too much info at you (my mind has melted out my ears working this out). My initial thought was that the Doctor experiences this season in the following order:
- Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
- Pond Life, 1-5, in order
- The Angels Take Manhattan
- Asylum of the Daleks
- The Power of Three (first half)
- A Town Called Mercy
- The Power of Three (second half)
So that’s second broadcast story, prequel, last story, first story, and then the middle and second-last story all mixed up. Different! There are other theories out there; some put the stories in pure reverse order, all the way back to The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe! As the evidence mounts, you’ll see why that particular theory, clever as parts of it are, just doesn’t work.
Let’s look at some of the information thrown our way.
This series of stories are framed in an unusual way, with our companions spending interspersed amounts of time at home, or gallivanting around in the TARDIS. This means there are lots of opportunities for the Doctor to turn up in the wrong order, accidentally or deliberately. Part 2 of the Pond Life series sees the Doctor turn up in the middle of the night to declare “No one on this planet is safe right now. We have to solve this before it’s too late! Get your clothes on — if we move fast enough we at least stand a chance… and you have no idea what I’m taking about, do you?” They say no, he continues “Helmic regulator AGAIN… too early, wrong point, as you were… popped up in the wrong order” and assures them their future is “really safe”, at which point we get lots of clips from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (only).
I’ll lead you though my perception of the Doctor’s travels, giving the key bits of evidence as I do so. Then at the end I’ll list all the other tidbits I noticed, so you can more easily confirm, improve, or destroy this theory…
As noted above, Dinosaurs seems (from the Doctor’s point of view) to precede at least part of Pond Life. The Pond Life mini-stories all start with a month displayed on screen (April, May, June, July, August), suggesting they’re to be taken strictly in order. Speculation elsewhere, which I will spare you the further headache of understanding, places Pond Life in 2014. The final part of Pond Life appears to be shortly before Asylum of the Daleks, with Rory being thrown out of the house. The Pond Life stories are also largely framed around phone calls between the Doctor and the Pond household. As Rory says in Dinosaurs: “Why can’t you just phone ahead like a normal person?”
So, you ask, even if one accepts the above, why not then progress directly to the first-broadcast story, Asylum of the Daleks? Why complicate things by jumping all the way to the last broadcast story, The Angels Take Manhattan? Well, the big clue relates to the lamp on top of the TARDIS: at the end of Manhattan, River asks the Doctor if the bulb on top needs changing, to which the Doctor replies “I just changed it”. The thing is, we see him doing exactly that in the last part of Pond Life; and while the Doctor might be long-lived, that line doesn’t seem too credible given the clear statements throughout the series that, at the very least, many months pass during it.
What are the implications of this? They’re significant; the Doctor will go on to meet earlier versions of Amy and Rory, and that can be messy. You’d think he’d avoid this; his plea to Amy not to zap herself back in time at the end of Manhattan certainly suggests he would consider it the end of their meet-ups.
And so it probably was. He gave up. He travelled more on his own, occasionally with River. But then the Daleks intervene…
In Asylum, the Daleks kidnap the Doctor, Amy and Rory. But there’s no compelling reason for them to do that “in sync”. In fact, they would probably struggle to find versions of Amy and Rory post-Manhattan. So when they pluck our characters out of time, they bring a post-Manhattan Doctor back into contact with pre-Manhattan companions. And what does he discover? He finds they are divorcing. This is completely contrary to the devotion he saw demonstrated during Manhattan. He has already “read the book”; he knows this can not be how they arrive to their final meeting with him. So one of his immediate stated priorities is “to fix Amy and Rory’s marriage”. He is now not complicating time by coming back out of order; he is restoring it. He knows it has to happen.
Accounting for The Power of Three is awkward, due to its year-long (by Earth terms) run, and the direct and indirect evidence of travel during it. Again, speculation elsewhere concludes it starts one year after Pond Life, running from July 2015 to July 2016. We have:
- Either during or before tPoT people are explicitly noting Amy and Rory going missing: the “there are months when we don’t see you” comment at the hospital. So the Doctor is not always returning them neatly after their departures.
- The cubes arrive late in July — otherwise, Brian’s day 67 log would not be in October.
- When Amy is calling the Doctor from her anniversary party in June, she appears to state it’s been nine months since the Doctor was last there (i.e. September, just before the two committed to full-time work and bridal duties). So there is scope for more Pond travel during August or September.
- The “anniversary party trip” lasts seven weeks, but returns them to the same time. The Savoy fiasco appears to have been rapid, given the next scene sees Rory complain “You just married Henry VIII. On our anniversary.”
- The Doctor refers to Rory leaving his phone charger in Henry VIII’s ensuite during the opening scenes of A Town Called Mercy, thereby placing the latter either during or after tPoT.
- But the holey Stetson hat from Mercy can be seen hanging on the wall behind the Doctor during tPoT, just before the cubes wake up on day 361. So it’s fair to place Mercy during the anniversary trip.
At the end of The Power of Three, the Doctor can be satisfied Amy and Rory are committed to each other, and to a normal life. Indeed, without Brian’s interference, that may have been it. He’s certainly ready to nick off before the meal is even finished. What happens next, and for how long, we dunno. It’s fair to say River is not meeting her parents as an adult friend for the first time in Manhattan, and presumably all further contact with them (such as dropping off the Melody Malone book to the Williams) happens in her own personal future (which happens to be the Doctor’s personal past, so he will get no further updates on the Williams from her). Further travel by the Ponds with the Doctor allow opportunities for younger River to meet and become the clear friends she is in Manhattan. Eventually the Doctor returns the Ponds back to their normal time, ready for his younger self to take them on that one last trip to Manhattan.
But there is one more complication…
At the end of the anniversary party, the Doctor is distinctly morbid. He explicitly tells Brian of the fates of his companions. “Some left me… some got left behind… and some… not many, but… some died. Not them, not them, Brian. Never them.” And then he asks Amy if he can stay. “Can I stay here with you… and Rory? For a bit.” Somewhat shiftily, he adds “Keep an eye on the cubes”. “I thought it would drive you mad?” replies Amy. “No. I’ll be better at it this time. I… miss… you.”
The thing is, the direct reading of these scenes is that they immediately follow a seven-week trip together. “I miss you” makes absolutely no sense in that context. I don’t believe it.
So how do we reconcile this? Did the Doctor return them to the party, choof off as is his style, but then return once more? What might make him return so quickly? And so morbidly? Manhattan?
So how might that revise the order I started with above? So maybe this is what happened to the Doctor:
- Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
- Pond Life, 1-5 in order
- The Power of Three (up until partially through the anniversary trip — this is a time where the Doctor thinks the two are “mostly kissing” while he is away)
- A Town Called Mercy
- The Power of Three (finishing the anniversary trip, and returning the Ponds to their party)
- The Angels Take Manhattan (disaster, but closure)
- Asylum of the Daleks (when he is plucked out of time and out of sync, and discovers things may not be progressing as expected)
- The Power of Three (“Can I stay?” through to “I’m running to you, and Rory, before you… fade from me” and to resolution, and then un-planned further travel)
This leaves at least eight weeks between TARDIS lamp changing and River’s query, but I consider that plausibly consistent with the Doctor’s reply.
Amy and Rory’s timeline remains pretty much identical to the broadcast order, save for inserting Mercy into The Power of Three.
Personally, I feel this makes for one hell of a better story, especially on re-watching. The Doctor’s devotion to his mother duck, the one “seared onto his hearts”, is a nice hook.
Sure, there are other bits of info you might think contradict the order above. For example, in Dinosaurs Amy claims to be a queen; in The Power of Three she gets married to King Henry VIII. Should we therefore conclude that at least part of tPoT is before Dinosaurs? I say no. Amy clearly looks to be scrambling for a show-off line, and later on, without thinking, labels herself ‘Rory’s queen’ — but more particularly I can’t imagine Rory’s reaction to the Doctor’s kiss during Dinosaurs comes after the kiss Rory laid on the Doctor when they arrive at The Savoy hotel in tPoT. Besides, Brian is putting on one hell of an act otherwise, pretending to meet the Doctor first in Dinosaurs. Sometimes foreshadowing and jokes are just foreshadowing and jokes.
Am I doing exactly that, misreading foreshadowing and jokes? I don’t think I’m deviating too far from Occam’s Razor, but I leave that for your decision — comment away!
As promised, below I list the other tidbits I noticed upon re-watching. Maybe you’ll use them to craft a more plausible storyline. Will it be as satisfying a storyline? I’m doubting it.
The Hall of Extra Tidbits
- Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
- Is ten months since unspecified travel by the Ponds.
- “How’s the job?” “I gave it up.” — you probably assumed this referred to the modelling in Asylum. It’s not actually specified. In fact, they then note she’s given up at least two jobs.
- “You’ll be there till the end of me—” “Or vice versa!” … “Don’t.” — simple foreshadowing, or does the Doctor know of their fate in Manhattan? Obviously I say the former.
- “Home … for a couple months” — Pond Life fits this.
- Nothing wrong with the TARDIS light, or the Pond relationship.
- Pond Life
- The Pond relationship seems fine through till at least part 4 — though I’ll leave others to interpret what Amy eating Rory’s sausage at the end of part 4 means!
- The Ood ties parts 3 and 4 together, and in that order.
- A valid query is how phone calls to and from the TARDIS are synchronised. For example, the Doctor calls in July (part 4) about the Ood discovered in June (part 3), and suggests it arrived in May (part 2): “must have wandered off when I popped in the other night… if it was the other night?”. Either he’s really slow in responding to calls (late May drop-off, early-June discovery and call to him, and then at least a month before responding in July), it was some other visit that saw the Ood wander off (in late June?), or the calls are not being synchronised very well.
- “Once we know what’s coming, it’s written in stone.”
- River says the TARDIS “could do with a repaint”; I’ve seen claims the TARDIS is darker in tPoT, but I don’t perceive that to be the case.
- Not directly relevant to this piece, but it’s interesting both Amy and River comment on the Doctor travelling alone — because Amy talks from witnessing his past, but River talks from witnessing his future.
- The Power of Three
- At the start of this episode, they appear to have been away for about two months (based on the milk expiry date, and the 59 messages on the answering machine).
- While Amy’s “Life with the doctor was like this…” series of clips at the start of tPoT includes shots from both Mercy & DoaS, it’s a retrospective voiceover from an unknown time, so we can’t safely conclude those two stories were before tPoT. There are no shots from Asylum, though. Maybe nanoclouded Amy doesn’t recall much from then?
- Amy’s reading glasses, first seen in Manhattan, are ready for pickup at the start of tPoT.
- Curiously, the Ponds changed sides of the bed since Pond Life #2.
- It’s been ten years of on-and-off travel for the Ponds — but not ten years at home.
- “Patience is for wimps”, says the Doctor to the “girl who waited” and the “centurion who waited longer”, and leaves after just four days. Later he’s changed enough to stay for at least a month (sometime in June through to late July).