The canon of Doctor Who: It’s a tricky topic. No two fans have the same perspective on it. When it comes to many things that transpired onscreen there’s no clear consensus, when it comes to stuff from outside the official TV Series we’ve got no chance. So I have no idea what it was that came over me when I suggested I could write an article about whether or not the Shalka Doctor could be canon, but here it is anyway. I encourage you to keep an open mind as we go on as I’ll be addressing some potentially controversial topics spanning the entire run of Doctor Who.
Scream of the Shalka was a BBCi webcast which began on November 13th 2003. Written by Paul Cornell (Father’s Day, Human Nature/The Family of Blood) it attempted to relaunch Doctor Who into the 21st Century. In it we meet the first official Ninth Doctor, voiced by Richard E Grant, who was intended to be the successor to Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. He has his own costume, TARDIS interior, sonic screwdriver, companions and title arrangment. In short, this guy was the real deal until Russell T Davies treated the world to the fantastic ‘’true’’ Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston.
With that RTD managed to kill the adventures of the so-called Shalka Doctor before they really got going, and the result is an animated serial that’s nothing more than just a mild curiosity for Who fans to investigate and go “That’s interesting.”
But wait! Wasn’t the Shalka Doctor intended to be canon??? Well, yes. But BBC Wales made no secret that he was being ignored by their revived series. RTD even said to DWM,
"I thought [Richard E Grant] was terrible. I thought he took the money and ran, to be honest. It was a lazy performance. He was never on our list to play the Doctor"...and with that the Shalka Doctor is relegated to alternate status, nothing more. Suddenly we’re putting him on par with the Infinity Doctor, the Lenny Henry Doctor, the Fatal Death Doctors (more on them later), the Web of Caves Doctor, Cushing’s Dr. Who and the Unbound Doctors. Yet despite, unlike them, he was specifically created with the intention of being canon.
That doesn’t seem fair to me! Maybe there’s a way to save the 'Forgotten Ninth' without losing the excellent revived series? Actually there are many ways to do this...
Theory 1: The Shalka Doctor is the Valeyard
Yeah I know. This one is absolute nonsense so let’s just get it straight out of the way.
It's a surprisingly popular theory, and persistent to boot, so we can’t ignore it. The Valeyard, seen as the main villain in fourteen part epic The Trial of a Time Lord, is from somewhere between the Doctor’s “twelfth and final incarnations” whilst the Shalka Doctor is explicitly said to be the ninth incarnation. So this theory is absolute tosh and can be rejected with 100% accuracy. That’s more than can be said for some of the other ideas that exist!
On a related note, there is a darker Doctor taken from between the Doctor’s 12th and 13th incarnations seen in the revived series when the 11th incarnation, 10th Doctor, regenerates into himself and a clone is created. Make of that what you will.
Theory 2: The Shalka Doctor is Hartnell
Again the explicit references to the Shalka Doctor being the Ninth should rule this out but there’s actually some evidence to support this idea. For starters both incarnations share a lot of similar character traits to each other. Both are in some kind of exile from Gallifrey when we first meet them. But the show has gone to great lengths to emphasise that Hartnell’s Doctor is the very first Doctor.
Hang on – Read that again: The very first Doctor. Returning to Mr Eccleston, the official Ninth Doctor was not the ninth incarnation of that Time Lord, he was merely the ninth to be called “Doctor”. That’s because the true ninth incarnation, the so-called War Doctor, rejected having that as his name. So who says the First Doctor was the first incarnation? Still with me so far? Good. Now let’s go to Karn for some mind-bending.
In 1976, before the 12-regeneration limit was introduced, the Tom Baker Doctor met a renegade Time Lord called Morbius and challenged him to some mind-bending. This is a great moment from what is rightly considered Doctor Who at its best, but it gets weird pretty fast when we see the past incarnations of the Doctor. There’s Pertwee, Troughton, Hartnell… and then 8 more!!!
The producer of The Brain of Morbius, Philip Hinchcliffe, has stated that
"We tried to get famous actors for the faces of the Doctor. But because no one would volunteer, we had to use backroom boys. And it is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor"So if the Shalka Doctor is Hartnell’s Doctor then these previous eight faces let him stay number nine, as he claims, without preventing him from being Hartnell! So Grant/Hartnell is the 9th, Troughton is 10th, Pertwee is 11th and Tom Baker is 12th.
This seems to be making some sense so far, but it comes unstuck when we examine things closely. For example, if Davison is now the 13th incarnation then who on Earth are Colin Baker, McCoy, McGann, Hurt, Eccleston, both Tennants, Smith and Capaldi? The only way this makes sense is if we assume that the Doctor could break the 13 lives limit. Davison’s Doctor would have to think he was really genuinely dying, as he wouldn’t know whether or not he’d regenerate because it would "feel different this time". The resulting incarnation would be a broken and unstable individual but he wouldn’t believe it if you told him he was – Remind you of anyone?
The evidence for this theory holds up to an extent, but could it be correct? No, there’s tonnes of evidence that indisputably contradicts it. Go to The Five Doctors and watch the scene where Hurndall’s 1st Doctor meets Davison’s 5th Doctor and see him confirm once and for all that by Davison’s time there are “5 of me now” and that the regeneration to create Davison was the “fourth”. Then skip ahead to The Time of the Doctor and it really couldn’t be clearer: Hartnell was the 1st Doctor and there was nothing before him. So the Shalka Doctor, being the ninth, has to follow McGann and cannot come any earlier or later than that. This theory doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny and so it must be rejected.
Theory 3: The Shalka Doctor is a splinter of the Great Intelligence
The Shalka Doctor wasn’t Richard E Grant’s last Whoniverse appearance. He more recently became the Great Intelligence throughout Series 7 in The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John and The Name of the Doctor. It’s the latter of these that’s of interest to us here (despite arguably being the weakest episode of the three) when towards the story’s end the Great Intelligence steps inside of the Doctor’s timestream where he is splintered across the Doctor’s entire life from Gallifrey to the Siege of Trenzalore. The theory then, is that one of these splinters effectively became the Doctor and that this is what we’re seeing in Scream of the Shalka.
This theory is a very strong one, but, like the previous two, it can also be displaced without too much difficulty. Ask yourself how the Great Intelligence was defeated and you’ll remember when Clara Oswald splintered herself throughout the Doctor’s life to stop everything the Great Intelligence tried to do. His displacing and replacing of the Doctor wouldn’t have been possible with an Oswald on hand to stop him. On top of that, why is the Shalka Doctor not a villain? Why does he also look like the Fatal Death 10th Doctor? Suddenly what looked like a credible theory falls apart.
But stay with me in the Doctor’s time-stream and the most sensible solution will swiftly become apparent. Say hello to the War Doctor.
Theory 4: There’s more than one Ninth Doctor
Of course any Who fan worth their salt knows that there are two canon contenders for the title of “Ninth Doctor” and that these are John Hurt and Christopher Eccleston. To make it easier let’s forget the title of “Ninth Doctor” and focus instead on “ninth incarnation” which leaves us with only John Hurt and his War Doctor. But it doesn’t stop there, obviously there’s Grant’s Shalka Doctor as well. If you’ve been paying attention you may have heard me mention The Curse Of Fatal Death a few times and if you’ve seen that (if not then why not? The whole thing is below) you’ll know that it features yet another 9th Doctor in the form of Rowan Atkinson (as well as a 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th played respectively by the very same Richard E Grant, as well as Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and, err, Joanna Lumley) and that Atkinson technically was the very first actor to stake a legitimate claim to being the Ninth Doctor simply by default.
So there’s no disputing it that there are no fewer than three ninth incarnations. Fans of the novel range The Eighth Doctor Adventures will hear alarm bells going off at this point because they remember what writer Lance Parkin wrote in the final entry of that series The Gallifrey Chronicles. At one point in the story Marnal, another Time Lord, tries to make sense of the Doctor’s timeline and then says the infamous line,
"As for his future – he has three ninth incarnations. I’ve never seen anything like it."
It should be noted that this statement is less than one line of text among the thousands that are written in Parkin’s novel. Also of note is the lack of any physical description of these ninth incarnations, leaving it open as to whether it refers to War, Shalka, Fatal Death or any other versions we don’t know about. But it looks promising for those of us trying to establish whether or not Shalka and/or Fatal Death could in fact become canon as the numbers add up perfectly, and not just for the three incarnations. The 8th Doctor has had his life recorded in three mediums over time: The EDA novels, a comic strip in the DWM and Big Finish audios, all three have their own distinct continuity. Since The Night of the Doctor establishes that the audios are the continuity that leads us to the War Doctor we can then assign the comics and novels to Fatal Death and Shalka in some way – though which is which is anyone’s guess!
All that remains then is to establish how there can possibly be this three way split. Actually that’s the easiest part of this discussion: what we need is a huge temporal event sometime in the life of the 8th Doctor. Enter stage right - the Time War. With people dying and being resurrected endlessly in a war that threatens to destroy the whole of reality it’s safe to assume that some anomalies will occur. Who’s to say that the Doctor wasn’t one himself?
Suddenly we have a theory that actually sort-of works – Huzzah!
The Truth: It’s all a bit Timey-Wimey
The truth of the matter is that for all these theories there’s none that really can be true with any certainty, just some that work better than others. None of these have ever been confirmed and I doubt they ever will be. Instead let’s turn to the 11th Doctor in the minisode Good Night:
“Everyone’s got memories of a holiday they never went on, or a party they never went to, or met someone for the first time and felt like they’ve known them all their lives. Time is being rewritten all around us, every day. People think their memories are bad, but their memories are fine! The past is really like that.”Since Amy Pond can cope with two different versions of her childhood, Rory Williams can remember one life as a Human and one as an Auton, and Pete Tyler can die in two different places on the same day then why can’t we deal with this “what could have been but now never will be” existing alongside our beloved series? It’s a whole other Doctor to enjoy and that’s no bad thing! Today, 12 years on from Scream of the Shalka’s initial release, maybe it is time to take a look back and celebrate the Forgotten Ninth Doctor.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.