Doctor Who on Sunday night revealed its first Black incarnation of the title character, known as The Doctor, portrayed by actor Jo Martin. The BBC One series, which has been running for over fifty years, revealed that a woman named Ruth was actually a version of the doctor, who was never seen before until its latest episode. Fans were shocked to learn that Ruth, who had been previously introduced as a kind, quiet resident of a picturesque town, was now apart of a long standing legacy of day saving time lords.
And fans quickly took to social media to comment:
Well, they did it! Both ITS actually. Bringing a major character back – which was awesome – and the dreaded ultimate retcon to end all retcons.
IF this “Ruth” thing is true, then this might simply be the most disrespectful retcon in the history of film and TV. #DoctorWho
— Craig (@FoxToTheFuture) January 26, 2020
Maybe being naive here but if (that’s IF) “Ruth Doctor” is revealed as a Pre 1st Dr incarnation that doesn’t mean that Hartnell wasn’t The first person to play The Dr in the same way that #Enterprise doesn’t invalidate #StarTrek as the first entry in that franchise #DoctorWho
— Gareth Maddieson (@AuntieDrJo) January 30, 2020
Is there *any* explanation for Ruth which *doesn’t* leave one section or another of fandom, absolutely outraged for some reason? I honestly can’t come up with a solution that’s broadly satisfying, so I just say this… Chibnall better have a hell of a story in play. #DoctorWho
— The Doctor Who Show (@theDWshow) January 30, 2020
I’m VERY okay with mucking up the numbering. When THE John Hurt became a Doctor, the #DoctorWho fandom got all butthurt cuz it messed up their numbering so they insisted on calling him The War Doctor and denied him his own number. Screw that & screw “Doctor Ruth” instead of 2.5!
— ZachsMind (@ZachsMind) January 30, 2020
Sunday night’s “Fugitive of the Judoon” episode involved the Judoon ― a band of rhino-like mercenary cops from space ― chasing down a fugitive on Earth. The current Doctor, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker (the first female incarnation of the character), steps in to protect their target, a tour guide named Ruth Clayton.
However, Ruth isn’t a tour guide at all. It appears as though she’s now been retconned as The Doctor. The original one. This piece of new information that showrunner Chris Chibnall has imposed completely offers fans a different interpretation on previously described events, this time adding his usual flavor of politically correct, hyper-feminist, social justice. It’s been theorized that this sort of retcon is typical of writers who are simply out of ideas with the current canon and they use this technique to add a dramatic plot shift or account for something they see as an inconsistency, usually to make a long running property fit better within current cultural norms.
Outrageous geek culture commentator, super villain and pop culture critic, Doomcock called this modern trope “Cultural Vandalism” and compared this to what’s been happening with both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, as he is a fan of all three.
What fans do know conclusively is that Jo Martin is portraying the Doctor. Which incarnation she is exactly remains to be seen, if she’s even a canonical Doctor at all. Since we know The Doctor can regenerate when mortally wounded, giving the character a new face and new life, via a new actor, the story could go anywhere. Whittaker officially became the 13th after taking over from Peter Capaldi at the end of 2017 and fandom didn’t break then. It won’t happen now.
In this case, Martin is not taking over the role, but instead seems to be part of the season’s arc surrounding the destruction of The Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey. It’s not yet clear when Martin’s incarnation sits in the timeline. It’s implied she is an earlier Doctor ― perhaps prior to William Hartnell’s original ― but Whittaker’s incarnation clearly has no recollection of Martin’s form.
One thing is clear: Martin’s Doctor will almost certainly turn up again this season, given the events of Sunday night. The question is, will fans who feel betrayed by this incredible retcon (retroactive continuity)? As bad as this season’s numbers have been, what do they have to lose?
What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Doctor Who? Have you noticed this kind of retcon in other popular franchises? Sound off in the comments below!