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RTD2: Bigger on the Inside? Unravelling the Strands of Doctor Who Series 14

Has Russell T Davies tried to fit too much into too small a season? He had to create a 60th anniversary special before his new star was free to film, show off the range of genres Who can do for a new audience, make a long plot or arc worth sticking around for, provide Easter eggs to keep know-it-all fans busy, launch a platform for extended media and spin-offs, and yes, shape the show in sympathy with his inclusive worldview. In just 12 episodes (three specials, Christmas, and 8 episodes in Series 14), the only way he could do it was by multitasking, layers. As the Doctor tells Donna in Wild Blue Yonder, salt ‘is a superstition, and it’s true: two things at once.’

Here are a scattering of clues to possible layers; you’ll have spotted more, no doubt. I’ve attempted to gather them vaguely rationally, but feel free to rearrange!

Stories, Dreams, Reality

The very first words broadcast in RTD2 were Fourteenth Doctor’s intro, ‘Once upon a time.’ (repeated by Ncuti at the start of The Church on Ruby Road), followed by Donna: ‘Sometimes, I have dreams.’ And Sylvia’s ‘Oh for the love of god; none of this is real!’

‘These days, we can work magic.’ (Davina to Ruby in The Church on Ruby Road)

They alter reality with ‘Mavity’ before the Doctor sprinkles salt. Mavity crops up often, but the Doctor says the captain is caught in the gravity field, and calls the Dot and Bubble ‘dot’ an antigravity device.

Ruby makes plot happen – mentions butterfly, steps on one. Mentions Star Trek, trek uniforms appear; can make it snow; in Rogue, Ruby says ‘this is my dream’, gets whole story based on cosplaying Bridgeton… The Doctor to Ruby in Space Babies: ‘You are connecting like crazy.’

Ruby: ‘It’s a children’s story come to life!’ Like The Star Beast from a comic?

The Doctor sings to Rogue: ‘Come with me, you will be in a world of pure imagination.’ People have likened the TARDIS to Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator before now.

Playing with TV

When the Toymaker is told the dummy is for TV, he enthuses, ‘What a game we are playing, what a wonderful, wonderful game.’

The Toymaker: The One Who Waits. ‘I saw it hiding and ran.’ And he adds, ‘That’s someone else’s game.’

Music teacher in The Devil’s Chord: ‘Is someone playing a game?’ Yes. Probably more than one.

Susan to Ruby in 73 Yards: ‘Whatever little game this is.’

Doctor’s flashback to a person leaving a baby at a church is changed, just as Ruby’s entering the TARDIS is (end of The Church on Ruby Road and start of Space Babies are different). Two versions of ‘reality.’

There’s a cartoon hammer in TARDIS floor just when the Fifteenth Doctor needs it.

Reversal of dagger-drive cracks like Carla’s ceiling in The Church on Ruby Road.

The first person to be eaten in Dot and Bubble was Jimbo – like the elderly robot in Wild Blue Yonder.

The first time Lindy mentions her, she pronounces Penny PB, Mum-E, like Nan-E… who turned out to be something else as well.

Blurring the lines

There are real people, actors and roles, and a fourth wall like a swiss cheese…

First, there’s Susan Twist, who we’ll come back to.

Matt Greene comedian as reporter in Space Babies.

The King card the Toymaker turns over looks like Michael Gough

Ruby’s first appearance is on TV with a real TV host.

The QR code on a café table in 73 Yards linked to designer Stephen Fielding’s page, but now to the Doctor Who site. His name also appears above Henry Arbinger in music teacher’s book.

Strictly stars cameo in The Devil’s Chord.

Shameless breaking of the fourth wall, especially but not entirely in The Devil’s Chord.

Rogue to the Doctor: ‘I suggest, look for the other shoe’ – to drop.

Rogue: An elephant on the lawn rather than in the room.

Boom: ‘Do you get it? There’s nobody else here’ — anybody else think Taxi Driver?

Kate in 73 Yards: ‘This timeline might be suspended along your event.’

There is no spoon. Doctor Who invented the Matrix long before the movie, and the Seventh Doctor played spoons. Maestro appearing in one to laugh at the Fifteenth Doctor is just messing with us.

Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Russell T Davies packs Series 14 with hints of past stories, but changed. Toymaker: ‘I made a jigsaw out of your life.’

The Doctor: ‘It’s like a tapestry.’ ‘Things connect.’

Ruby grabs a ladder in sky as Rose did in The Empty Child.

Carla cries without knowing why like Amy in Vincent and the Doctor.

Space Babies echoes Sleep No More and The End of the World.

Rogue echoes The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances, The Family of Blood, Bird people like Cat people in Gridlock, and Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness.

Boom could be called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang from Torchwood, though the first bang kills Vater, the second is averted! Resolution by surrender to military tech echoes Murder on the Orient Express. Moffat says it was based on Harry saving the Fourth Doctor from the landmine in Genesis of the Daleks, and Ian Marter played a different role in Who before becoming a companion, as Varada Sethu does here.

‘He’s not as stupid as he looks.’ Callie Cooke did a good job, but she’s no Catherine Schell! And Orphan 55 is no City of Death, but Plaza 55 isn’t mere coincidence is it?

The Devil’s Chord going back to ’63; there’s a poster to the Chris Waites band Ian Chesterton tells us all about in An Unearthly Child; memories of Shoreditch and Susan; and the Pyramids of Mars-style flashforward trip to a destroyed future are tugging more classic heartstrings.

Arcs in Space

1. The TARDIS being ‘ill.’

Vortex sparks are there right from The Star Beast titles.

When Donna asks where the TARDIS goes when the HADS cuts in, the Doctor says, ‘maybe it lands on some outcrop by the sea.’ He even repeats the phrase so we don’t miss it! Then we hear ‘land’s end’ in the twist song, and old Ruby describes it as ‘here, at the end of the land’ in 73 Yards.

It took the tune Wide Blue Yonder from Donna’s mind. What’s it taking from Ruby or the Doctor?

It bends the air around it when dematerialising in The Giggle, ‘lands’ more than it materialises; crashes into places, damages walls, roof, spaceship, and materialises on Kastarion 3 with no sound.

And I don’t believe the Doctor’s excuse that she finds Rogue indigestible. He’s not a moral void, as his heroic ending proves.

2. Orphans

The Toymaker describes Mel as one.

In The Church on Ruby Road, Carla talks fosterlings while Doctor thinks companions, then tells them he is an orphan.

The Doctor in Space Babies: ‘what is it with babies?’ They are all orphans, as is Splice in Boom, and all the racists of Dot and Bubble.

73 Yards really mines orphan abandonment fears, and transforms them.

3. Music

Juke box (or is it?) in TARDIS console room

Singing in every story, dancing in many.

Non-diegetic music bleeding into diegetic world – not just in The Devil’s Chord. Murray Gold also appears.

4. Susan Twist at the end

The first face we see in Wild Blue Yonder. Neither the Doctor nor his companion see her.

They don’t see her in Space Babies, distracted by exploding pipes.

Ruby sees her portrait in Rogue – dialogue leaves it unclear if she recognises her.

Both see her face on the ambulance.

Ruby meets her in 73 Yards, then half forgets her

Both see her in Dot and Bubble – there’s a penny drop moment as the bad Penny (Pepper-Bean) that keeps turning up. Oh come on, you don’t expect subtlety from Rusty, do you?

She gets a full cameo in The Devil’s Chord, but neither the Doctor or Ruby see her.

The more you look, the more layers at once you see. ‘I love humans; always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.’ (The Eighth Doctor in The TV Movie.)

But are they there? Does Russell T Davies’ multilayering work? We will know very soon.

Bar Nash-Williams

RTD2: Bigger on the Inside? Unravelling the Strands of Doctor Who Series 14

by Bar Nash-Williams time to read: 6 min
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