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“Doctor Who: Ruth Origin, Timeline & Future Explained”

Doctor Who has just introduced a forgotten incarnation of the Doctor – and rewritten the entire show’s history. Doctor Who has always enjoyed hinting that viewers have only seen a fraction of the Doctor’s adventures, with the enigmatic Time Lord name-dropping various historical figures and constantly referencing stories that have never been shown.

And yet, all that pales into insignificance compared to the season 12 episode “Fugitive of the Judoon.” In this episode, the Doctor stumbles into a crisis in the English cathedral city of Gloucester; the alien police force/mercenaries known as the Judoon have come to Earth, hunting for a dangerous fugitive. The Doctor intervenes, of course, attempting to act as an arbitrator and resolve the situation. In doing so, she finds herself investigating the mystery behind a woman named Ruth Clayton (played by Jo Martin).

As far as Ruth is concerned, she’s an ordinary human being. But – prompted by flashes of memory and a last text message from her husband – she takes the Doctor to the lighthouse she believes she grew up in. There, she learns the truth, and regains her memories. It turns out Ruth Clayton is really a Time Lord. In fact, she’s not just a Time Lord; she’s the Doctor.

“Fugitive of the Judoon” spends quite some time detailing the domestic lives of Ruth Clayton and her husband, Lee. It seems they’ve lived in Gloucester for quite a few years, with Ruth operating as a self-employed tour guide because of her love of Gloucester’s history. The episode hints that there might be something strange about Ruth’s husband; a local businessman who’s infatuated with Ruth has been researching Lee, and has discovered holes in his backstory. But Ruth’s potential suitor has only done half the job, and hasn’t identified the exact same kind of gaps in Ruth’s personal history too.

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In reality, Ruth and Lee Clayton are two Time Lords who have used a device called a Chameleon Arch to integrate themselves into human civilization. The Chameleon Arch was introduced in the David Tennant era, and it’s essentially a tool to allow a Time Lord to seamlessly blend into another race; it modifies both the biology and memories of a person, so they have no idea who or even what they used to be. Previous episodes have featured Chameleon Arches in the shape of fob-watches, but Ruth’s is actually a fire alarm in the lighthouse she believes she grew up in. When she breaks the glass, Ruth’s memories are restored. She then raids boxes in the basement, and finds time for a quick change of clothes, before introducing herself to Whittaker’s Doctor… as the Doctor.

You’re probably a bit confused right now,” Jo Martin’s Doctor tells Whittaker’s, understating the case because she hasn’t yet realized that Whittaker is the Doctor as well. The episode goes to great lengths to confirm that both Martin and Whittaker really are different incarnations of the same Time Lord, with all the usual tropes from any multi-Doctor story; there are personality clashes galore, and the two Doctors occasionally speak each other’s thoughts because they share the same brain. Later, the Judoon – who are working for the Time Lords – scan the two Doctors, and realize they are the same person. Hilariously, the Judoon initially hope to capitalize on this by charging double.

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This is a multi-Doctor story with a difference, because Martin’s Doctor and Whittaker’s have absolutely no knowledge of one another. The episode strongly hints that Martin’s is a pre-Whittaker, however, and in fact may well be pre-Hartnell. Her TARDIS interior bears a close resemblance to Hartnell’s, she has Hartnell’s habit of referring to the TARDIS as her “ship,” and she doesn’t know what the sonic screwdriver is. That last piece of evidence is particularly significant, because the sonic screwdriver was created by Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. There is, however, one distinct problem with this theory; Martin’s Doctor possesses a TARDIS already stuck in the shape of a police box. The Chameleon Circuit only broke down when William Hartnell’s Doctor settled in 1963 for a while, so there’s something odd going on here.

Whittaker’s Doctor may have no memory of Martin’s, but curiously in season 12 the Doctor suggested she’d been female before. What’s more, in the Peter Capaldi episode “Worlds Enough and Time,” the Doctor remembered his days at the Academy – and his early friendship with the Master. “I think she was a man back then,” he observed. “I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.” Previous Doctors have sometimes struggled to remember what happened to their past selves, particularly in the case of regenerative trauma, so it’s possible that Whittaker does have some deeply-buried and long-forgotten memories. It’s also possible, of course, that her memories of Martin’s Doctor have been purposefully erased.

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Assuming that Martin’s Doctor really is pre-Whittaker, then it means there have been more incarnations of the Doctor than anybody ever suspected. But that actually has major implications for Doctor Who canon, because Time Lords can only b 12 times. Matt Smith’s Doctor apparently reached the end of his natural regeneration cycle in “The Time of the Doctor,” and was saved when the Time Lords granted him another cycle. Counting Martin, however, the last Doctor should have been Tennant’s; the one way round this is to suggest that the Time Lords had extended the Doctor’s life once before. If that’s the case, Doctor Who hasn’t just introduced one forgotten Doctor; it’s implied the existence of thirteen.

This dovetails neatly with the classic Doctor Who series. Back in the Tom Baker era, one story – “The Brain of Morbius” – saw the Doctor engage in a psychic battle with another Renegade Time Lord. Morbius forced the Doctor to relive his past incarnations, and the screen showed flashes of Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and then William Hartnell. Surprisingly, it moved on to display another eight mysterious faces, all wearing period garb. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe told the Radio Times that he definitely intended to suggest there had been other versions of the Doctor before Hartnell. “I just reasoned that it was entirely possible that William Hartnell may not have been the first Doctor Who,” he explained. “So yes, as far as [writer] Bob [Holmes] and I were concerned, the other faces were meant to be past Doctors… it is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor.” It’s entirely possible that this won’t be considered an implication by the end of season 12.

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All this raises the curious question of whether Martin’s Doctor could be the mysterious Timeless Child, the driving mystery of Doctor Who season 12. The Master claimed that the Timeless Child was the dark secret at the heart of the Time Lord race; “Everything we were told was a lie,” he told the Doctor, sounding personally affronted by some unknown deceit. “We are not who we think. You or I. The whole existence of our species – built on the lie of the Timeless Child.” The Master’s words triggered some sort of vision in the Doctor, and she glimpsed what was presumably the Timeless Child, a young girl with dark skin, clad in what appeared to be Gallifreyan robes, standing outside a citadel that seemed to be of early Gallifreyan design. It’s quite possible this girl grew up to become Martin’s Doctor.

Supporting this theory, there’s some evidence Martin’s Doctor may well originate from the time of ancient Gallifrey. Certainly her period’s Time Lords were willing to hire the Judoon to do their dirty work and capture the Doctor, and they’re likely the ones who gave the cosmic mercenaries a dirty temporal weapon. That’s significant, because those kind of weapons were used by the Time Lords in a period of history known as the Dark Times, when they abused their mastery over time. In Doctor Who season 11, episode 2, the monstrous Remnants – dangerous ribbon-creatures – described the Timeless Child as “the outcast, abandoned and unknown.” Martin’s relationship with the Time Lords was clearly fraught, and it’s not hard to imagine her ultimately becoming an outcast, with all memory of her existence erased.

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This is a big break for actress Jo Martin, who can now officially be called the first black Doctor. Born in London, Martin started out in shows like Birds of a FeatherThe Brittas Empire, and The Bill. On the big screen, she’s best known for a string of minor movie roles – most notably a prison guard in Batman Begins. Over the last decade, Martin has appeared in everything from Fleabag to Jonathan Creek, and became a regular in hospital drama Holby City. Hopefully she’ll become a regular in Doctor Who as well, given her skillful performance.

More: Doctor Who: Why The Master Destroyed Gallifrey

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