By Richard Forbes
The following article was originally written over a year ago – Capaldi had yet to debut as the Doctor but there was already some speculation that Doctor Who might return to Coal Hill School – at the time though, the article seemed to be groundless and cockeyed speculation. The article never saw the light of day, I’m afraid to say.
And then, just when I thought my speculation was sheer rubbish: Listen showed a certain child crying in a barn. Not long after that, Death in Heaven mentioned the Doctor’s daughter. A few months later: Series 9 was rumored to feature a “mystery woman” played by Maisie Williams. Then, Davros was back. Then came the Doctor’s confessional dial, plus the Time Lord “hybrid”, echoes of the “ripples through time” speech – and then… Moffat spoke the first line of this article verbatim and I thought: “well gee, maybe it’s time this article saw the light of day after all.”
The closing moments of The Girl Who Died, which suggested that Ashildr was the Hybrid, gave me cold feet and, on the eve of this article being published, I once again asked poor DWTV for it not to be published. Why submit this article now then? Well, it seems to me that the identity of the Hybrid is still a mystery [at least not 100% certain]. Moreover, I’m quite proud to have been asking the right questions all along. The Doctor’s confession in Heaven Sent went a long way to convincing me that, although this article’s speculation may be bunk, I might have been on to something.
The article, as it always did, begins with a simple but important question:
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? The Name of the Doctor opened with our hero, the Doctor and his granddaughter stealing the TARDIS – they look hurried, rushed – anxious. When we first meet the Doctor in The Unearthly Child he almost appears distrustful, even paranoid. This isn’t the man that we’ve come to know – in a way, this appears to be the Doctor on the run from something terrible: he’s traveling the universe hiding from his own people and overprotective of his granddaughter.
Honestly, I doubt we’ll ever get a truly satisfying answer to the question, “Why did the Doctor leave Gallifrey?” – as Moffat and Gaiman surmised in The Doctor’s Wife: perhaps it’s better not having a simple answer for that question for such a complex man. However, I have wondered whether it’s possible that the simple, romantic “Madman in a Box” legend, the tale of the Doctor leaving Gallifrey purely out of curiosity is more or less revisionism on the Doctor’s part – he does, after all, have a tendency to look back on things in a flattering light.
But what fate could be so terrible that the Doctor would steal a TARDIS to run from Gallifrey with his granddaughter? After a bit of thought, this question led me to consider a fairly sensational theory and that theory begins, like any good idea should, at Coal Hill School, 1963.
Admit it, I fooled you. We’ve seen 1963’s Coal Hill School at least twice; instead of The Unearthly Child, this theory of mine hinges on Remembrance of the Daleks. During Remembrance of the Daleks, we learned that the Doctor had stolen a device called the Hand of Omega from Gallifrey and hid it on Earth in 1963; the Hand of Omega appeared to be nothing more than a coffin but it was in fact an ‘intelligent remote stellar manipulator’ capable of acting as an infinite source of energy – the undertaker maintaining the coffin explained it had been left by an “old geezer with white hair” (Hartnell, but who knows it could Capaldi in a timey-wimey pinch.)
Now here’s a question for you: we saw the Doctor and his granddaughter fleeing Gallifrey in The Name of the Doctor – but where was the coffin? They weren’t slugging a coffin into the TARDIS which makes me wonder, if the Doctor and Susan stole the Hand of Omega, how could it look to us viewers as though the only thing they were stealing was the TARDIS? They aren’t bringing anything into the TARDIS. One easy explanation is the Hand of Omega happened to be stored in the TARDIS he stole, but “a coincidence” is a bit of a boring explanation. However, if the Hand of Omega wasn’t in the TARDIS already we’ll have to consider a more elaborate theory: that Susan was the Hand of Omega.
For one thing, the name “Hand of Omega” never made much sense (even the Doctor pointed out the name’s pretentiousness); however, “Hand” could mean a servant or assistant for Omega. Susan, as the Hand of Omega, would be caught in the middle of some odious plan – a young woman being used as an advanced piece of technology or a weapon for the interests of Gallifrey. That, in and of itself, sounds like a strong motivation for the Doctor to take Susan and flee Gallifrey: to secure her freedom and protect her from Gallifrey. It would alter the narrative of Doctor Who – suggesting a more noble, courageous beginning for the Doctor’s adventures – but it would also help explain the Doctor’s own values, his initial fear and paranoia, his over-protectiveness and his contempt for Time Lord society and the manner in which it freely twisted him and others to act as its soldiers of war.
We’ve seen constructs and technology like this before; The Moment depicted in The Day of the Doctor was another intelligent energy source, this time developing a conscience – and like Susan – it took the image of a young woman and someone close to the Doctor to communicate with him. I’d like to think though that Susan is still very much “flesh and blood” – simply exploited, mutated even by horrifically callous scientists from Gallifrey who sought to use her as a personal vessel for interstellar destruction.
This theory while dramatic and sensational does not provide the answers to every question a Whovian might have with regards to the Doctor’s initial departure, but I do believe it would help to weave some emotional context around the history of this event and tie the Doctor’s granddaughter closer to the narrative (as opposed to his granddaughter being forgotten altogether; lest we forget he took her from Gallifrey too). Perhaps more interesting is that if this theory is correct, it very much suggests that there is more of the story to tell; that is: we the viewers, the Doctor and even Susan are set to revisit Coal Hill School in 1963 one more time. But for Susan, I fear it would be the last time. If she really is the Hand of Omega, after all, Remembrance of the Daleks suggests that the Doctor brought her remains to Shoreditch to be buried where she went to school on the planet she grew to protect. Presumably forced by events unknown to bury his own granddaughter, the Doctor would try to avoid such a day all his life. Nobody wishes to bury their own grandchildren.
“Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake,” said the Doctor in Remembrance of the Daleks. He took a break from the action unfolding to muse about the nature of time and the consequences and responsibilities of our actions. “The heavier the decision,” he laments, “the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.” Could it be that this was the Doctor’s commentary on his own life? A decision to save one young woman from a fate worse than death which forced him to run from the conscription of a morally bankrupt state; a crusade which led to unpredictable events, many that he had never intended to have – adventure after adventure, the Doctor has changed and influenced the story of his universe so much that perhaps that small fateful decision he made to run away has become one of the most important choices ever made.
Make of this theory what you will. Is Susan the Hybrid? Nothing about the show really has directly said that she might be – it just seems as though this article was asking the right questions all along, like, “Why did the Doctor leave Gallifrey?” And like, Heaven Sent discovers, the article suggests the Doctor wasn’t simply curious, he was afraid and running from something terrible when he left Gallifrey.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this article is that the story of Susan seems to have been largely forgotten in recent years. Heaven Sent makes no mention of Susan; it tells us why the Doctor left Gallifrey but it never explains why Susan left Gallifrey. Did she fear the Hybrid too? There seems to be so much room for storytelling left unexplored with regards to poor Susan. After all of these years, I think it’s time for Doctor Who to finally revisit Susan.
Did Susan live a happy life? Does she forgive the Doctor for abandoning her on Earth all those years ago? Steven Moffat should consider himself lucky we haven’t locked him up in his Confessional Dial because 4.5 billion years worth of questions await.
And if you were wondering, when asked about my theory, Ben Aaronovitch (Remembrance’s writer) responded “I’m not going near that.” So wise, so wise…