How much do we really know about Doctor Who’s parents, his relatives and even his children? Over the years, the series has given some us tantalising clues…
Before we start, yes we know – his name isn’t really Doctor Who, but it’s better for the SEO (we want people to find this article!) Second, it’s worth remembering that the Doctor’s enigma is part of the appeal of the show; we’re only given the tiniest of glimpses into the Time Lord’s past, but enough to build a fascinating picture.
But this nearly changed when it came to the writing of the 1996 TV movie. In the earliest drafts, Doctor Who’s parents were a big part of the story, with the Time Lord on the hunt for his father who was a high Gallifreyan and traveller called Ulysses. The Doctor was given an elaborate backstory in this early iteration, and even a brother in the shape of his arch enemy the Master.
In the end, this idea was completely abandoned, although the TV movie did retain a reference to Doctor Who’s parents. Whilst chatting to his new friend Grace, the Eighth Doctor recalled a time when he was lying back on the grass during a warm Gallifreyan night and watching a colourful meteor show with his father.
And this is all the TV movie reveals. But interestingly, this adventure was the first (and so far, the only) instance in which the Doctor was explicitly referred to as half human. The Doctor admitted as much when creating a distraction at the Institute for Technological Advancement and Research, stating that he was “half human on his mother’s side.” And whilst this might have been a simple lie to help him steal an access card, the Master confirmed the Doctor’s assertion when he glimpsed into the Eye of Harmony and saw a close-up of the Time Lord’s eye, confirming that his enemy was half human.
So does this mean that one of Doctor Who’s parents came from Earth? Yes, if the TV movie is to be believed. (And it is canon, so why wouldn’t it?)
At the same time, there is other evidence regarding Doctor Who’s parents which seems to suggest the opposite. For example, it’s heavily implied that the woman the Doctor glimpses in ‘The End of Time‘ is his mother. She appears to be a Time Lady, and appears to be part of President Rassilon’s inner circle. Moreover, she clearly has unearthly powers. In the story, she has the ability to project herself through time and space in order to deliver messages to the Doctor’s friend Wilf. And as if this weren’t enough, Russell T Davies himself (the story’s writer) confirmed that the intention was to imply this was the Doctor’s mother.
And this theory about Doctor Who’s parents would make sense, given that the woman looks similar to his granddaughter Susan.
At the same time, there are the plot details that were revealed in the 2020 episode ‘The Timeless Children‘ by Chris Chibnall. In this story, it’s confirmed that no one knows who Doctor Who’s parents are. The Doctor was discovered as a little girl standing outside the gateway to another dimension – maybe even another universe. She was rescued by a traveller called Tecteun, who took her to Gallifrey and experimented on her in order to extract the secret behind the girl’s regenerative abilities. In this sense, Tecteun was like a mother to the Doctor – albeit a not very good one.
Of course, this theory about Doctor Who’s parents all hinges on whether the Master was being honest (he was the one who conveyed all this information to the Doctor, after all.) And even if he was, the information he extracted may have been false. And even though the Doctor met Tecteun again during the Flux adventure, it’s possible that Tecteun herself was also lying.
And if you really want your brain to hurt, this isn’t the only theory about Doctor Who’s parents that we have to contend with. You see, there is a ‘mother and father’ in the 2014 episode ‘Listen’ who tend to the Doctor as he lies, crying, in a barn on Gallifrey. They certainly have a paternal relationship with the Doctor, but the true nature of this relationship is not revealed. In addition, these two characters are never seen. The woman, certainly, could have been Tecteun, or the woman from ‘The End of Time,’ or someone else entirely.
And then there is the novel ‘Lungbarrow‘ by Marc Platt. This was part of the Virgin New Adventures series which came before the TV movie, so its canonicity is debatable. But it has some very clear things to say about Doctor Who’s parents – or lack thereof. This is because, in ‘Lungbarrow,’ the Doctor doesn’t actually have any parents. The book posits that Time Lords are born out of pods (or Looms) and are effectively grown in a test tube rather than a womb. Time Lords are unable to reproduce sexually, the book says.
This certainly raises questions about the Doctor’s own claims to parenthood. Is Susan Foreman really his biological granddaughter? When he claimed to have once been a dad in ‘Fear Her,’ was he lying? Why did he refer to having “dad skills” in ‘Listen’? What does it mean to be a parent in the Doctor’s world? What might Doctor Who’s parents have really been like?
We may never know the answers to these questions, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. The show is called Doctor Who, after all. If it ever became too specific, its heart would stop beating. But it is fun to speculate, based on the available evidence.
What do you think is the truth behind Doctor Who’s parents? Would you ever want to know more details? Let me know in the comments below.