The new season of Doctor Who will be a reset button for the venerable science fiction adventure show in more ways than one. Sure, there’s a new actor as the Doctor, and that new actor is a woman for the first time in the show's history, but devoted fans know all that already. The Doctor’s changing face is built into the narrative of the show, and as for the gender switch, real Whovians couldn’t be happier about that fact. So, what’s the most jarring thing about the impending new season of Who?
Well, supposedly, according to new showrunner Chris Chibnall, there won’t be any aliens, monsters, or time-traveling companions previously seen in other incarnations of the show. Meaning, fan favorites like River Song, or Captain Jack, or even the Daleks won’t show up. Already, this has some fans a little worried.
Why is Doctor Who throwing out the nifty space babies with the bathwater?
The thing is, for those fans who have been around the block with the TARDIS once or twice, there’s every reason to believe this boast from Chibnall is actually a fib designed to protect spoilers and curb expectations. And that’s because the tools of misdirection, concealment, and outright lying are all time-honored traditions right before a new season of Doctor Who.
Way back in 2011, before Season 6 of the current run of Doctor Who, then-showrunner Steven Moffat made a similar claim, saying the Daleks would not appear in that season. “They aren't going to make an appearance for a while... We thought it was about time to give them a rest,” Moffat said. And, then, in the finale of that season, “The Wedding of River Song,” the Doctor fights a Dalek. True, the appearance of that Dalek was brief, but a big deal was made of the scene, complete with the Doctor calling his most dreaded enemy by name while looking right at the camera.
And then there’s the supposed final appearance of River Song in the 2013 Season 7 episode “The Name of the Doctor." Most fans considered her long gone, and Moffat deflected the idea she would ever appear by saying that the former showrunner Russell T Davies was going to write a raunchy episode called "Sex Storm" if she ever came back. Basically, the idea of a River Song return was laughed off by Moffat, publicly. But then, in the 2015 Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song," River Song returned, perhaps in her most poignant episode ever.
Steven Moffat also concealed the identity of Michelle Gomez’s character Missy back in 2014, insisting she was a new character to the show, when she was, in fact, not, and left it for the big Season 8 reveal that she was really the Master.
But lying about returning favorites doesn’t even stop with Doctor Who itself; it’s happened on the spin-offs, too.
Back in 2016, when the Doctor Who spin-off Class was about to debut, showrunner Patrick Ness said, “I think cameo appearances are like a penis: If you put it in a scene, it’s all anyone looks at,” and denied that any big Doctor Who characters (outside of Peter Capaldi appearing in the first episode) would show up on Class. But the series finale of that show revealed the super-popular Weeping Angels were behind a ton of evil plots.
Remember the debut of Season 9, when all the advanced press concealed that the Doctor's mortal enemy, Davros, the creator the Daleks, was going to be the focus of the entire story of the first two episodes? Yeah, that happened. It was a cliffhanger that happened before the opening credits even rolled and one of the best-kept secrets of the entire series. And the trailers and all the interviews kept it that way.
In fact, one could argue that even though we're only a few weeks away from the new season of Doctor Who, the footage we've seen has been similarly minimalist. Which, if you're a longtime fan, means they might be hiding something very big.
Check out this recently released description for Episode 2 of the new series. "Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough, in a hostile alien environment, to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom and Epzo?"
Why not just tell us the name of the hostile alien environment, hmmm? Could it be that this hostile alien environment is actually a planet we've been to before? It may sound far-fetched, but in a few weeks, we'll find out if Chibnall is being truthful. Based on what has happened in most new seasons of Who since 2005, at least one familiar thing or easter egg will probably appear, totally unexpectedly.
In the Doctor Who Season 5 finale, “The Big Bang,” when River Song is explaining what the hell is going on to Amy and Rory, she says that the first rule of dealing with the Doctor is: “The Doctor lies.” And perhaps the same can be said for the humans who run the Doctor’s TV show. Because misdirection is so common in regard to Doctor Who that it would be more jarring if Chibnall turned out to be telling the truth.