Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He Who Must Not Be Mentioned: A Doctor Who Book Report on The Valeyard

I am the Valeyard!  Marvel at my completely impractical faux samaurai outfit!

Some people have been tossing around a theory that the John Hurt Doctor is not the "True 9th Doctor," as I've referred to him.  Some have suggested that he's either a pre-Hartnell Doctor or The Valeyard.  I realize now that dialogue in the episode doesn't specifically declare John Hurt to be an incarnation from between the McGann and Eccleston Doctors.  But him being either pre-Hartnell or The Valeyard seems unlikely.  The Doctor, before the Hartnell Doctor, was "The Other."  This has never been mentioned on TV, but was elaborated in the novel Lungbarrow.  Even though this is an idea that started in the TV writers' room, I don't think it was ever meant to be stated explicitly on screen.  Even if I was a writer for Doctor Who, I wouldn't touch "The Other" with a ten foot pole.  And I love the plotline about The Other.  It's just not something that needs bringing up.  The suggestion that Hurt could be The Other rests on the fact that The Other is someone who didn't bear the name of "The Doctor."  But the 11th Doctor said that the John Hurt Doctor isn't The Doctor because he broke the promise of the name.  When he was The Other, he didn't have that name or that promise yet.

The Valeyard is more plausible, but there are still major problems with that theory.  But, because of this rumor, and also because "The Name of the Doctor" was the first mention of The Valeyard on the show since his final appearance in "The Ultimate Foe," I got some requests to talk more about The Valeyard on here, including my friend Tim Veilleux, who specifically requested a book report.

The 22nd Season of the classic series of Doctor Who was an unmitigated disaster.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't think it was the acting of the new Doctor, Colin Baker (who I'll hopefully meet at the end of this month!).  I don't think it was that the writing was bad.  It was because it was fucking gruesome.  A few years ago, a website called Topless Robot did a great article on why Colin Baker wasn't entirely to blame for the unpopular 6th Doctor era, because he was getting screwed left and right.  The most amazing one to me was the fact that BBC Controller, Michael Grade, who claimed to hate the show because of its poor production values (he controlled their budget), was fucking Colin Baker's ex-wife!  So Colin Baker had a target on his back from day one.

Besides the violence, the other main complaint was that the 6th Doctor was brash, pompous, and insensitive.  As the Topless Robot article points out, this was actually an attempt at an arc.  The 6th Doctor was supposed to regenerate as a dick, lose his companion, and gradually remember why he was the Doctor.  However, the fact that the Doctor got meaner and that the stories got darker made fans so upset that they never got to finish this arc.  Some of the fans started to join in with the chorus of critics who had been calling the show too violent for decades.  The season is solidly disturbing.  In "Vengeance on Varos," the most notorious serial, criminals were tortured on live television for the viewing pleasure of the people of Varos.  Two people fall into an acid bath, and, depending on how you interpret the scene, the Doctor might have pushed one of the guys into the acid bath.  Two different serials during the season were about cannibalism*.  But if you truly watch these episodes and pay attention to them, you'll see some really creative episodes, just not ones that you'd expect on a children's television show.  The sudden shift from Peter Davidson's friendly 5th Doctor and his science-oriented era to Colin Baker's ultra-pompous 6th Doctor with grim and dark morality tales was just too much for the audience to handle.  Michael Grade (I imagine on a phone call while he was literally inside Colin Baker's ex-wife) put the show on an 18 month hiatus.

An attempt was made to soften the change in tone by casting Colin Baker alongside Nicola Bryant's cleavage, high pitched screaming, and horrible fake American accent
When the show came back, executive producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner, and head writer Eric Saward, put together a season long plot line called "The Trial of a Time Lord."  The Doctor was put on trial by the Time Lords for the second time for the same offense:  interfering with the affairs of other species.  If you know the history of what was happening behind the scenes with Doctor Who's near cancellation, you'll notice that the season is a perfect metaphor for the show being "on trial" after Season 22.  The Doctor defends himself against allegations of being violent, and he claims that he only resorts to violence in the direst of emergencies.  However, there was quite a bit of argument between Nathan-Turner and Saward about how dark the story should be.  So some forced rewrites supposedly added to the highly confusing plotline I'm going to attempt to relate to you.  The writers of the show didn't successfully explain the Valeyard in 14 episodes.  I'm going to try to explain him in one blog post.  Here goes nothing:

The Doctor's prosecutor in this trial was known as The Valeyard.  Context suggests that the term "Valeyard" is a Gallifreyan word for "Court Prosecutor."  The Valeyard shows two of the Doctor's adventures as evidence of the Doctor's guilt, allowing two serials ("The Mysterious Planet" and "Mindwarp") to be aired within a larger framework of them being "evidence."  It is explained that every TARDIS has a device in it that records all the events that happen to anyone in the area, including people who the Doctor was not in contact with.  It could literally record the actions of side characters in the story when they weren't near the TARDIS or talking to the Doctor or his companion.

Oh, don't worry, this plot gets fucking weirder.

The Doctor then shows another serial as his defense ("Terror of the Vervoids"), which he claims is from his future.  If it seems ridiculous that the Doctor would find an adventure from his own future, show it, and then not significantly change the course of events when he got to that point in his timeline in the future, that's because it is ridiculous.  What's sillier is that the charge of genocide is added to the Doctor's charges after watching "Terror of the Vervoids" in court, despite the fact that it hadn't happened yet.  Apparently, on Gallifrey, you can be executed for future crimes.  However, it was an awkward but necessary plot device to explain the change of the Doctor's companion mid-season.  (Just trust me on this.  We're getting into such complicated shit here, I'm really worried about my sentences not making any sense.)

"Terror of the Vervoids" is actually a pretty good episode if you can look past the fact that the villains are walking vaginas.
The Valeyard seems to be a particularly harsh prosecutor as he calls several times for the Doctor to be given a death sentence.  The Doctor insists that the evidence being shown at his trial is all altered from what his TARDIS really recorded.  This defense falls on deaf ears, as everyone on Gallifrey insists that, since this information is all recorded in the Time Lords' "Matrix," it can't be altered because the Matrix is tamperproof.  Tamperproof is one of those words like "unsinkable":  It always seems to be a challenge.  In a bizarre twist (in a serial already full of bizarre twists), the Master shows up to prove that the Doctor is right and that there is absolutely a way to tamper with the Matrix by tampering with the Matrix himself.  He then reveals the truth about the Valeyard:

He's a future version of the Doctor.

Well, he's sort of a future version of the Doctor.  The Master describes The Valeyard as such:  "There is some evil in all of us, Doctor, even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation. And I may say, you do not improve with age."  The phrase "somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation" is very confusing.  The Doctor is supposed to only have 12 regenerations, meaning there can only be 13 Doctors.  Therefore, I always took it to mean that somehow this creature spins off from the Doctor in the midst of his final regeneration, creating a physical manifestation of the Doctor's darker nature.  However, my friend Patrick pointed out the problem with this sentence of the Master's.  He said that it suggests that there have to be more than 13 Doctors for the Valeyard to have been created between the 12th and the final manifestations because "integers don't work that way."  But that assumes that the Valeyard is a full "Doctor."  I never took him to be as such.  Just a part of the Doctor, not one of his full regenerations.

The Time Lords had somehow screwed up and moved the Earth two light years through space, and renamed it Ravolox.  They made a deal with The Valeyard that he wouldn't rat out the Time Lords if they let him prosecute the Doctor and take his remaining regenerations.  The Valeyard, after being figured out, resorted to trying to blow up the courtroom.  The Doctor defeated the Valeyard in a bizarre, trippy battle inside the Matrix, but, in the final shot, we saw that the Valeyard was still alive, disguising himself as a member of the Time Lord high council--a cliff hanger that was never, ever picked up on.

Not a single moment of this story was written without the assistance of acid
"The Trial of a Time Lord" can be very interesting if you watch it closely and appreciate the subtext about Doctor Who and the BBC.  But the plot makes no sense whatsoever.  How can the Doctor look at future adventures of his own self without breaking laws of time?  How can the Valeyard be trying to kill the Doctor and get his future regenerations?  Shouldn't that kill the Valeyard himself?  How was the Valeyard created?  If the Valeyard survived and infiltrated the high council, what happened afterwards?  Why does the Valeyard wear a hat that makes him look like a penis?

The Valeyard is probably the most written about character in Doctor Who fan fiction, because everyone is still dying to figure out what the fuck he is.  I admit to writing a fan fiction myself that explained his creation in that the Dream Lord found a way to manifest himself in a physical form and then regenerated into the Valeyard.  It's as good of an explanation as any.

In 1991, Virgin launched the Virgin New Adventure Novels, a series of novels that continued the Doctor's adventures, and were often much more adult than the TV show ever was.  According to the Doctor Who Wiki (and we all know how trustworthy wikis are), the following memo was issued to writers of the novels:"Anything featuring the Valeyard is out — he's a continuity nightmare, and a rather dull villain."

The TV writers must have gotten a similar memo, because as soon as "The Trial of a Time Lord" was over, the Valeyard never came back, and neither did the 6th Doctor.  Colin Baker became the only actor to be fired from the role of the Doctor, forcing Sylvester McCoy to shoot the 6th Doctor's regeneration sequence the following season by wearing a blonde wig and never letting us get a good look at his face.  Officially, the 6th Doctor regenerated from hitting his head on the TARDIS console.  This might have been even more offensive to Colin Baker than being ousted by the guy who was fucking his ex-wife.

I can't stress enough how ridiculous and hilarious this is.
Baker was fired by the guy who was  fucking his ex-wife!
Thus, the writers seemed always gun shy about attempting to address the Valeyard again after he was such a train wreck.

A few attempts have been made to address the Valeyard in expanded universe media.  My favorite is He Jests at Scars..., a Doctor Who Unbound audio story that imagines an alternate Universe where the Doctor loses his battle against the Valeyard and the Valeyard takes over his regenerations.  It's horrendously depressing, as are all Doctor Who Unbound stories.  My friend Patrick informed me that there's one story where the Valeyard turns out to be Jack the Ripper.  By the transitive property, this means that Vastra ate the Valeyard.  Then again, every evil person in expanded universe media has been accused of being Jack the Ripper.

The timing is all wrong for John Hurt's Doctor to be the Valeyard.  If Hurt is not "True 9," as I believe he is, then when was he created?  The Valeyard is supposed to be created after, or during, the 12th Doctor's regeneration into the 13th Doctor.  Granted, I explained away the discrepancy when I wrote about the Valeyard in my fan fiction, and that could be done in the show just as easily.

The trouble is that nobody's wanted to touch the Valeyard with a Hazmat suit since 1986.  Sifting out the muddled story of the Valeyard would be hard enough if you were doing it with an audience who remembers who the hell the Valeyard is, let alone an audience that probably doesn't remember him.

But what is significant, however, is that the Great Intelligence, in "The Name of the Doctor," explicitly stated that the Doctor will someday take the name of The Valeyard.  I think a lot of people are seeing this as a hint.  But for the Valeyard to be addressed, it would have to be in a very subtle, roundabout way.  It would have to be a plot that fans of the classic series would recognize as being about the Valeyard, but which the new series fans would simply not understand.  It would have to be a plot that is so far in the background that the new series fans wouldn't even notice what was happening.  Even if he could find a way to pull it off, it would probably be career suicide if Moffat tried to address it, and Moffat doesn't like to dip into the past too much anyway.

Thus, I think the reference to The Valeyard was fleeting and not meant to hint at anything.  I think John Hurt is playing True 9, not The Valeyard, or any sort of pre-Hartnell Doctor.  That was the implication that Moffat wanted us to be left with.  Yes, Rule 1, Moffat often lies, and he misled us with the title "The Name of the Doctor."  But, if you remember the secret from "The Impossible Astronaut" as to who it was that shot the Doctor, and it turned out to be River, you'll realize that, sometimes, when we think Moffat is trying to be sneaky, he's actually being blatantly obvious.

*Assuming that you consider any intelligent humanoid eating another intelligent humanoid cannibalism.  If you consider such cross-species consumption to not be cannibalism, then only one serial is about cannibalism.

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