DOCTOR WHO - A Kick In The Nethers!

Tony Fyler gets metaphysical on your Whovian ass.

As the arc of Missy and the Nethersphere develops, it raises awkward and potentially uncomfortable questions in a science-fiction or science fantasy setting. There are two main ways it could go (always allowing for the devious inventiveness of the Grand Moff to provide if not exactly a third way, then a kind of storytelling Mobius Strip that means the third way is actually both of the first two ways, simultaneously and in a way that’s both contradictory and perfect). Either we say that the Nethersphere and its operators is something devious and alien and nefarious, and that they’re nicking particular ‘little people’ along the Doctor’s timeline for some grander, alien but ultimately scientifically-grounded purpose. Or we say that the Netherspere, Promised Land, Afterlife etc is actually what those who work there seem to claim it is – Heaven. The place people go when they die. A confirmation of the coherent continuation of a form of consciousness beyond the physical. After Chris Addison’s brief appearance at the end of The Caretaker, the inference would certainly seem to lean that second way.

If you stop and think about that for a moment, it must surely be a horrifying and a nightmarish prospect from the Doctor’s point of view. The Pandorica Alliance laid the blood of a thousand worlds at the Doctor’s feet. Arguably, the Kovarian Chapter’s demented plan to kill the Time Lord resulted in huge amounts of bloodshed, all based on the Doctor’s stubbornness. Davros screamed his accusation that the Doctor was “the destroyer of worlds.” Even Clive, the nice, geeky internet conspiracy theorist, claimed that whichever way you looked at it, Death was the Doctor’s constant companion.

Imagine the weight of all the people you have failed to save if you’re the Doctor. Then imagine, to use the Tenth Doctor’s phrase, you “got clever – got people to sacrifice themselves” for the cause you espouse, that, to quote Rory Williams, “you make people want to impress you.”

If there’s a scientific and ultimately atheistic universe out there where life is lived and death is died and all that holds you accountable is your past and the difference you’ve made, then the Doctor is still a hero.

But if there’s an afterlife...

An organised ‘Nethersphere’, where the ‘spirits’ or life essences of the people you’ve met along the path of your life are waiting for you…

…And if they’re not happy to have died…

Then what you have is not Heaven at all. It’s Hell. A reckoning, beyond the physical universe, where every person you ever wronged, or who ever felt you’d wronged them, is waiting to ask you why. Why you didn’t save them. Why they had to die. And most importantly of all, why you survived.

Now of course, Shakespeare deals with this conundrum in Henry V, living in a world where Heaven and Hell were certainties of their daily existence, just as much as life and death. He asks whether a subject who dies in battle, serving a king, will have a right to blame that king for his untimely death, and concludes ultimately that “every subject’s service is the king’s, but every subject’s soul’s his own” – essentially, that the king can’t be held responsible for those who die in his service.

But that rule is for kings who lead armies into battle. Not for doctors. Not for those whose cry is “trust me” and who ask you to put your life in their hands, who promise that what they will do, most of all, first of all, is keep you safe. What lies ahead, if there is an ‘ahead’ for those who claim to be able to save you and don’t?

We saw in The God Complex that the Doctor is full of good intentions, but that sometimes – indeed, if we’re judging harshly, then quite often – his intentions don’t equate to his success in saving ‘the little people’ in the universe.

Given that the BBC has released pictures of the series finale, involving both Missy and the Cybermen, could it be that those the Doctor has failed to save could have found a way back into the physical universe, and be spoiling for more of a fight than the Cybermen have given the Doctor for decades?

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
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