The mark of any bewitching fictional universe is it’s capacity for infinity. Verisimilitude is created when a writer can steer the narrative in one particular direction while leaving behind the feeling that, had the proverbial camera turned the opposite way, an equally complex storyline would have been revealed. Doctor Who is one such universe. As any true Whovian will tell you, it takes serious dedication to even dip a toe into understanding the the massive amount of canonical folklore and inside jokes that have accumulated in Doctor Who’s 55 years on air. This lore is continually drawn upon by every subsequent series and iteration of the show. In this season’s Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time” we find so many examples, from the appearance of the grandfather of classic Who character Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, to a gag about the Doctor’s hatred of pears, which has been running since 1995.
Doctor Who is so unlike any other beloved fantasy world in that it gives its fans infinity in in several different directions. For starters Doctor Who must necessarily exist as the collective consciousness of several generations of fans, writers and actors. The sheer amount of of mind boggling plot scenarios, side characters and heartbreaking deaths in the show is too much for the mind of one individual. All the working parts of this gargantuan story have to reside in the beloved childhood memories of those who grew up watching it and the bazaro minds of the plethora of people who write it. But I suppose this is the point, isn’t it? That the only being who could fully comprehend (or live) a life like the Doctor’s in an immortal alien being like the Doctor himself.
Thus we get a fantastic snowball effect where one writer’s offhanded dialog snippet changes the limits of the lore forever. It is widely accepted knowledge that Neil Gaiman’s episode “The Doctor’s Wife” in Series six is what opened the possibility for Jodie Whittaker to become the Thirteenth Doctor (lucky, lucky 13). While Eleven did question post regeneration if he might be female, it was not until Gaiman’s episode a year later that the possibility was confirmed. We were introduced to a timelord that the Doctor knew previously called The Corsair who, according to the Doctor, “had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration. Didn’t feel like himself unless he had the tattoo. Or herself, a couple of times. Ooo, she was a bad girl”. This comment gives us a kooky backstory about a character we never meet, and also expands what we know about the limits of timelords as a species in one fell swoop. The format of the show allows writers the massive opportunity to change an important piece of television with one creative piece of dialogue.
As a show Doctor Who is infinite because the Doctor is an infinite character. Yes the Doctor is an is an alien with vast cultural memory, indefinite life, and the most powerful time machine in the multiverse, but he is also an important character because he can have anyone’s face, and now that the doctor is a woman that possibility is expanded a little more. The Doctor is infinite because it is easy for us to empathize with him/her, to laugh with him/her and to imagine ourselves as him/her. And while the Doctor isn’t human, he/she will always value the most tellingly human qualities: connection, love, and loyalty above all. Watching Doctor Who makes us see the infinity in ourselves.