My podcast partner, Dave, would probably murder me if I spent too much of our next Series 12 hot take podcast continuing to prattle on about Ruth (aka The Doctor), and who she might be, or how fandom’s reacting. But I have so many thoughts! And Twitter, frankly, is a terrible place to express them coherently, or have good discussions with other fans.
So here I am. And while I’m sure there are some Doctor Who fans who are currently going to extremes, such as scouring the Book of Ruth in the Bible for clues, I want to keep this as straightforward as possible.
At first, I thought Ruth wouldn’t be that much of a mystery, to be honest. With Jodie Whittaker signed up to a third series, it’s clear that Jo Martin isn’t about to become a full-time new Doctor on our screens. So my gut feeling was that Ruth was a Doctor from another universe… a parallel dimension, perhaps. Certainly the 13th Doctor talked of time swirling around her and, if you think about it, an alternate universe style Doctor is quite a clever thing to introduce because it means that NOTHING about the current run of Doctors would have to change while, at the same time, allowing the Ruth Doctor to be an absolute, bona-fide, solid-gold Doctor… from her own time and place.
That’s the best of both worlds. That’s having your cake and eating it, too. That’s not pissing off old, continuity-friendly fans to whom that sort of stuff really matters while simultaneously pleasing younger, more progressive types (who apparently couldn’t care less if the show’s backstory changed every other week), with a black, female Doctor. It would also mean that, suddenly, the universe is full of infinite Doctors. Whatever your tastes, there’d be a Doctor for it. Big Finish would be salivating. How on earth could you cock that idea up?
Enter Chris Chibnall.
The important thing to say is – she is definitively the Doctor. There’s not a sort of parallel universe going on, there’s no tricks. Jo Martin is the Doctor, that’s why we gave her the credit at the end which all new Doctors have the first time you see them.
Who is Ruth?
So, putting aside the key possibility that Chibnall may simply be lying (remember the time Jenna Coleman was the lead in the credits and she certainly wasn’t the Doctor?), let’s examine what we know about Ruth.
- Ruth is presented as having a Police Box-shaped TARDIS. With it established that the TARDIS became a Police Box after landing in 1963 London, with the Hartnell Doctor at the controls, this suggests Ruth is post-Hartnell. Otherwise, it would be a hell of a coincidence for her TARDIS to have the Chameleon Circuit fail and stick in the same shape. What are the odds of that happening?
- Ruth is presented as having no idea what the sonic screwdriver is. This places her anytime up until the Troughton story, Fury from the Deep, which is where the Doctor first uses the device.
- Ruth is presented has having a Hartnell-esque, early 60s style of TARDIS interior, placing her seemingly somewhere in the early Doctor’s timelines; certainly around Hartnell based on the decor.
- Ruth is presented as having no knowledge of once being the Whittaker Doctor so, taken on face value, we have to assume she comes somewhere before Whittaker in the Doctor Who timeline.
Verdict: Based on what we have been shown in Fugitive of the Judoon (and taking it all on face value, of course), Ruth can only be a Doctor falling between Hartnell and Troughton… which makes absolutely no sense, as it’s completely canonical that Hartnell became Troughton. So…
What do the fans say?
An alternate universe: Similar to my own thoughts, many fans immediately went for the alternate universe storyline. And that’s no bad thing; as I mentioned earlier, there’s a LOT to recommend it as a plot device in Doctor Who. But if Chibnall has ruled it out… fine… let’s rule it out. But what does that leave us to play with? Let’s continue.
Season 6b: The idea that the Troughton Doctor actually went away, post-The War Games, and had adventures on behalf of the Time Lords before eventually becoming the Pertwee Doctor is known as Season 6b. It is at the same time as fanwank (or fanon, if you must), and as plausible, as you could like. In this scenario, Troughton presumably had some adventures (maybe even quite a few if his age in The Two Doctors was any indicator), then became Ruth. Then we must assume Ruth had adventures before regenerating into Pertwee and stumbling out of the TARDIS at the start of Spearhead from Space. Or, at least, we assume she became Pertwee. In a hypthetical scenario like this is, in the middle of a fanwank concept, fans will say that she could have became another Doctor, who became another Doctor, who became another Doctor… before becoming Pertwee. Only problem with this is, by the time we get to Smith’s regeneration (counting the War Doctor and the metacrisis Doctor), he’s hit his limit. If there was even one extra Doctor in the mix, the limit would have been reached with Tennant’s regeneration.
Pre-Hartnell lifecycle: Some fans – pushed on by a particular YouTuber – are convinced that Ruth is part of a pre-Hartnell lifecycle. Said YouTuber is also stirring dissent that this lifecycle was all-female. I find this problematic. Not because of the female component, but the idea that The Doctor would be out there, adventuring in the galaxy, having their TARDIS get stuck in the form of a Police Box, and so on. THEN somehow going back to Gallifrey before turning into Hartnell, who then promptly runs away from Gallifrey (which, in more recent series, we’ve even seen happen on-screen), has his TARDIS get stuck in the form of a Police Box and generally gets around with a spirit of adventure, being on the run from his people, and having never seen the universe before. It just doesn’t fit as a coherent storyline. Why make it so damn messy?
The ‘Timeless Child’: When we have seen what is supposedly the ‘Timeless Child’ in wild and zany flashbacks in Whittaker’s memory, we see a young, black girl. Is this a younger version of the Ruth Doctor? And how would that fit in? How would that create a memory in every Time Lord? Why would it drive the Master to destroy Gallifrey? No bloody idea.
It’s the 14th Doctor: One of the simplest, and often overlooked concepts by fandom, is that the Ruth Doctor is Jodie’s successor and, for some reason, simply can’t remember aspects of her former life. This would be a neat reveal, given we’re probably one more full series off Whittaker leaving the role, so we’re virtually close enough to be casting the next Doctor. And what a quirky situation to see that Doctor, fully-fledged, in-costume, 1.5 series before she’s meant to debut? Hard to spoil!
What do YOU say?
Do you have a theory that’s not covered here? Why not write a message in the comments below and take a shot at what you think Chibnall is up to. Plus, are you happy with the revelation of a new Doctor? Personally, I thought the Ruth Doctor was a really interesting twist and, vitally, I bought into Jo Martin’s portrayal from the start. These are all good things. Where it can go pear-shaped from here is if there’s a rug-pull because I think it would be VERY problematic to say, “Here is a new Doctor… it’s a woman and she’s black… isn’t that marvellous… hey, just kidding, it wasn’t really the Doctor.” That would be appalling and, of course, based on what Chibnall’s said, that won’t be the case. But you never know. Also, even if the new Doctor IS absolutely real, we’re still faced with the very totally unavoidable scenario that Whittaker is contracted for the second half of this series, and another series after that. I sorely doubt they’d be giving the Ruth Doctor much airtime in Whittaker’s era, so it’s not like we’re going to see much more of her in the short term. And unless the twist is that she’s the 14th Doctor and we’re somehow seeing her early (which would be a fun twist), then we won’t be seeing much of her for the medium term, either. If at all, because once another three or four years have gone by, I’m sure we’ll be onto a new showrunner with new ideas. Will he (or she) want to return to another showrunner’s idea from years past? It’s a rare thing for showrunner’s to do. You don’t see anyone clamouring to re-do the Hybrid storyline now, do you? So… the Ruth Doctor. This could be great, or it could be a disaster. All we can do at this stage is… stay tuned.
Remember to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts…!