The Time War in New Who Was Always a Terrible Idea

When Dr. Who came back on the air in 2005, I was as excited as anyone who had grown up watching the show. Tom Baker on WGBH in Boston–that was where it started for me as a kid in the 70s. I liked Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor a lot and was a ticked off when he quit after one season (seriously, don’t take the role if you can’t commit to a few years; you know what you are in for). What I instantly hated though was the idea of the Time War. As that was the subject of the 50th Anniversary show, I’m going to unpack that a bit.

Spoilers for new Who and Day of the Doctor follow.

When new Who started, we learn that the Doctor is the only remaining Time Lord. Not only are all the others dead, he killed them (along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks). This was always a terrible idea and here’s why.

  • First and foremost, it is totally out of character for the Doctor to resort to violence like that. In episode after episode, he always tries to find another way. It’s one of the core things that make the Doctor the Doctor. Yet we are told that not only did he use violence on a massive scale, he also committed genocide. Worse, he murdered his own people. This would be like a reboot of Willy Wonka in which we learn the eccentric chocolatier had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 
  • Even leaving aside the moral side of this, it was a poor choice from a story point of view. It removed an entire type of Dr. Who story–the Doctor gets involved in the politics of Gallifrey. I liked those episodes in the Davison era and it was a shame they were lost in new Who. I guess we had to make room for more episodes in which the Doctor investigates the mysteries of 20 something year old women.
  • It was also a bad idea to get rid of the Daleks, as they were the classic Dr. Who villain. But of course they didn’t, did they? It wasn’t even one season before Daleks were back in the series. This was even worse, because it meant the Doctor committed genocide for no reason at all! The Daleks survived, but billions of his own people were dead by his own hand.

As you might guess, I was happy with the giant retcon that happened in Day of the Doctor. I’m glad–8 years later–they had the Doctor act like the Doctor in the defining moment of the character in new Who. It’s just too bad Day of the Doctor wasn’t better overall. The performances were good and there were some nice character bits, but the plot fell short for me. The saves-the-day idea was something out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. At least they ended up in the right place though, with the idiotic conclusion of the Time War erased from history.

One thought on “The Time War in New Who Was Always a Terrible Idea

  1. I always got the impression that the Timelords were almost as big a threat as the Daleks at that point (something hinted at in earlier episodes of canonical pre-reboot Who and the Paul McGann web prequel).

    What made better sense was that the Doctor had spent the entire war conscientiously objecting, only to realise that the Time Lords were going to lose and the Daleks were about to become undisputed masters of time and space. The Daleks are all gathered in one place, because you know how much they love to gloat. the population of Gallifrey *is* going to be exterminated.

    But hey – none of that really makes it on screen.

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