Prophecy, prophecy, prophecy. Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. There’s a lot of prophecy around at Christmastime. The stories of the first Christmas are fashioned to show how the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has its fair share of prophecy, too. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the inevitable outcome of his wicked ways and how, unless he changes, he will die, unmourned and unloved, remembered only as an old git. And so, in a desperate attempt to bludgeon a few random paragraphs into a coherent whole, and to tie them all together with a neat Christmas bow, I present unto you, dear reader, an article on prophecy in Doctor Who. Specifically, how the series predicted what things would be like in the future.
Which hadn’t happened then. But has happened now. And whether or not the series, looking forward into the then-distant worlds of the 1980s, ’90s, and to the first two decades of the 21st Century, got things right or wrong.
Prophecy, you see. Which means this article is very Christmassy. Yes it is.
In its 26 year run between 1963 and 1989, classic Who set a number of stories in the future and wondered how things might change. As an example: in 1966, The Tenth Planet prophesied that, by the impossibly distant time of 1986, the Snowcap Base would have been plonked down in Antarctica to the bemusement and bafflement of the local penguins. This didn’t happen. We now know what 1986 was like and there was no Snowcap Base, no baffled penguins, and certainly no Cybermen or arrival of the long-lost tenth planet of Mondas – no siree. Doctor Who got it wrong. Its prophecy went awry. We also now know that Mondas would also have been The Ninth Planet because Pluto has been shamefully downgraded to a lump of rock and is not a planet after all, despite everybody once thinking it was. (We really need to organise a petition to the boffins to have Pluto readmitted to planetary status. This is a worthy campaign for the DWC to spearhead and I trust you will support it with your signature when said campaign inevitably appears. I’ll get round to organising it soon. Very soon. Just you wait!)
So: Doctor Who predicted Snowcap Base. It didn’t happen. Reality: 1; Doctor Who: nil. How well did the show’s other future predictions fare?
(I am hampered by two factors here. One is the UNIT dating controversy, which means it’s uncertain whether the UNIT stories took place in the Seventies or the Eighties. Or a bit of both. It’s not easy to get the exact year right where UNIT’s concerned. The other is that, according to Doctor Who, there will by now have been a large number of alien invasions and incursions, and foiled plots by the Master. Rather than say “The Daleks didn’t invade, the Cybermen didn’t invade (twice), the Axons didn’t land” and so on, I’ve left them all out. I hope that will prove acceptable.)
Here, then, are some of the programme’s prophesies for the then-future, which have now become our past. They’re in alphabetical order, too. Isn’t that clever? Here we go…
Predicted in The Daemons, when the UNIT family watched the dig from Devil’s End on this channel in the late ’70s or early ’80s or whatever. The year’s a bit early but we finally got BBC3 on Freeview in 2003. It was an outstanding channel and carried a wide variety of programmes for Yoof. (It also aired Doctor Who Confidential immediately after the first broadcast of the early series of NuWho on BBC1. That Confidential eventually ran out of ideas was demonstrated by a late episode’s including an intriguing interview with the bloke who fried eggs for the cast and crew.)
Whether BBC3’s target audience would have cared to watch a programme about an archaeological dig is dubious. To cut costs, the Beeb made BBC3 an internet and iPlayer only service in 2016 and it was no longer broadcast per se. A nation mourned. It gained a bigger following again in 2020, and so might return, proper. A nation continued to mourn.
“Of course, the decimal system hasn’t started yet,” said Susan in 1963 – thus correctly predicting the introduction of decimalisation in 1971, when the country had to get to grips with dividing things by 100, instead of by 20 and then by 12, which was much easier. Or by 21 if you were posh and thought in guineas.
The £5 coin predicted by Battlefield hasn’t happened yet either, except for rare commemorative issues by the Royal Mint. (Note to overseas DMC readers: the Royal Mint is a thing that issues coins. It doesn’t mean Prince Charles’s favourite sweeties.)
Nasty insecticide posited in 1964 by Planet of Giants. Later thwarted by inch high time travellers.
The idea that overuse of chemicals or intensive farming endangers food production is, of course, preposterous.
Festival of Ghana, 1996
Predicted by The Chase, the Festival of Ghana would include robot replicas of Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. Didn’t happen.
Correctly predicted by The War Machines, in which mighty computers like WOTAN could talk to each other by telephone. (Honk HONK HONK Urrrgh. Attempt to render in prose the distinctive operating noise made by WOTAN.)
Fortunately, our own PCs, laptops, and smartphones do not have the ability to hypnotise people. WOTAN’s aim in doing this, as evidenced from the story, appeared to be to enslave them by removing their acting ability.* An army of bad actors would then take over the United Kingdom (and indeed the world), aided by giant cardboard boxes equipped with sledgehammers.
*I exempt Anneke Wills from this disgraceful generalisation because she’s fab.
Mars, Travel To
This happened by the late Seventies. Or early Seventies. Whenever The Ambassadors of Death is set. There will also be a successful British space programme (yeah, right).
Britain would have a new female Prime Minister in the early 21st Century in the person of Harriet Jones, who would lead the UK into a new golden age.
Well, we did have a new woman Prime Minister, though it wasn’t Harriet Jones. It was Theresa May. Weren’t we lucky?
The new British Golden Age is coming and will, of course, begin very soon. Yes it will. Just you wait!
Oh yeah: Terror of the Zygons predicted another woman prime minister. The Brig took a phone call from the PM and said, “Yes, Madam?” into the receiver. This was broadcast in 1975, four years before Mrs Thatcher took over, when Harold Wilson was still in post. (Commenting much later on this scene, Tom Baker said: “And now we’ve had her. And she’s had us.”)
The production team claimed they meant the new PM would be Shirley Williams but nobody was buying that. They meant Thatcher.
In The Green Death, a short scene in the Cabinet Office names the Prime Minister as “Jeremy”, i.e. Jeremy Thorpe. Thorpe led the Liberal Party, the precursor of today’s Liberal Democrats. He revived its fortunes in the 1970s so much that, after the February election in 1974 (there was another one in October), PM Edward Heath considered going into coalition with him – only to pause when he looked at the file. (Full story of Mr Thorpe may be found in various places, including Russell T Davies’ superb A Very English Scandal.)
Thorpe did not become PM, though we did have a highly able and widely applauded deputy PM from the Liberals (now the Liberal Democrats) in the person of the excellent Mr Nick Clegg, whose commendable public service in the role lasted from 2010 to 2015. Mr Clegg continues said commendable public service in his role as Vice-President, Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook.
In the Whoniverse, the succession list of prime ministers seems to be: Heath, Thorpe, Thatcher (possibly preceded by Shirley Williams), Major, Blair, Joseph Green the fat Slitheen, Harriet Jones, the Master.
(Not sure who followed. After all, no one could possibly claim Cameron or Johnson to be a worthy successor to the Master. If Johnson exists in the Whoniverse, he was probably succeeded by Harriet Walter.)
The arrival of Quorn was correctly predicted by The Green Death. If you lob it in the direction of giant maggots, it kills them.
Rocket travel to Australia
Fully in place by 2018, according to The Enemy of the World. Flights take two hours.
(Isn’t that quite slow for a rocket? No matter.)
2018 was the year of the rise of Salamander, as well as the recruiting by the Thirteenth Doctor of her wonderful and charismatic Fam.
Salamander did not rise to power in 2018 and the idea of populism taking hold of the planet by this date is utterly absurd.
Salamander is credited with the invention of the Mark Seven Sun Catcher, which enables us to focus the sun’s rays onto particular areas to increase food production. (Note: we haven’t got one.) Robot harvesters will be commonplace (this hasn’t really happened, either. You still need someone to drive tractors and combines.)
1980: Sutekh destroys the world.
(Incidentally, Sutekh was a keen devotee of the music press and could get very irate if the leading example of this genre was not delivered to his tomb every week. His high esteem for these publications is evidenced by his revealing comment, “All life is my NME.” I know I said I wouldn’t include alien invasions or incursions but I have included this one so I can get a cheap joke in.)
We were going to have these by 1986, which is when The Tenth Planet was set. (“Come to Mondas and you will have no need of eee-motions.”) The Z bomb was a big nuclear bomb which could split the Earth in half and might also prove useful if used against any twin planet of Earth, just in case one should return unexpectedly. (“Come to Mondas and you will have no need of Z bombs.”)
We never really got a Z bomb by 1986. We still have lots of nukes, of course. Fortunately, we can rest comfortably in the assurance that none of the world’s leaders are nutty enough to develop something like a Z bomb. Of course not.
(“Come to Mondas and you will have no need of world leaders nutty enough to develop something like a Z bomb.”)