'Doctor Who' and the big finale question: Who is John Hurt playing?

Published May 20 2013, 13:42 BST  |  By

"What I did, I did without choice - in the name of peace and sanity."

"But not in the name of the Doctor!"

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman in 'The Name of the Doctor'

© BBC

Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman in 'Doctor Who'



Umm... what? So Doctor Who's finale on Saturday night climaxed with a stunning final sequence so top-secret that even The Great British Press (we're a bit like The Great Intelligence, only marginally less evil) weren't allowed to see it pre-broadcast.

Deep inside the Doctor's own timestream, viewers apparently met a version of the Time Lord we'd never before encountered in the show's 50-year run. But, despite what the on-screen billing would have you believe, is acting legend John Hurt *really* playing the Doctor? Or is the truth behind his character's identity more complex than that?

Join the Week in Geek for a journey of discovery - and rampant speculation - as we attempt to answer the question... Doctor Who The Hell Was That?!

> Week in Geek - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Dracula: Our take on US TV's new cult shows
> Week in Geek - Hannibal: Bryan Fuller talks the horror drama's cult castings

John Hurt is.... THE REAL NINTH DOCTOR
Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant

© BBC


The Case For - This seems to be the most popular fan theory floating about - that Hurt's Doctor is a previously unseen incarnation originating from the mysterious gap between Paul McGann's brief tenure and Christopher Eccleston's arrival in 2005's 'Rose'.

It'd mean a pretty big rewriting of Who history - knocking each Doctor up a spot so that the Matt Smith model is actually the *12th* take on the Time Lord - but this is the 50th anniversary year, so perhaps all bets are off?

Such a big reveal would certainly tie in with Steven Moffat's claims that the 50th special is "chapter one of a new story" for the show - and it's hard to ignore the fact that, in pictures that have circulated from the set of said special, Hurt appears to be wearing a leather jacket very similar to the one sported by Eccleston and a waistcoat very similar to the one worn by McGann, which would appear to lend credence to the 'in-between' idea.

The Case Against - But why would the Doctor bury his 'real' 9th incarnation deep in his subconscious? Many have speculated that it's because of the terrible crimes he committed during the Time War - but haven't we already seen our hero come to terms with those?

It's possible that there's still some terrible, unseen act which we're yet to be made aware of, but really... what could be worse than blowing up your home planet and (apparently) committing double genocide, wiping out your own race in the process?

John Hurt is... DOCTOR NUMBER ZERO
William Hartnell - Doctor Who

© BBC / Getty Images

The first Doctor William Hartnell.


The Case For - Or maybe John Hurt is the 0th Doctor - a pre-Hartnell version? Such a twist would still have the effect of 'bumping' each Doc up a position, but there'd also be the opportunity to reveal some juicy secrets about the Doctor's past...

Maybe the Doctor didn't flee Gallifrey simply to explore the universe? Perhaps it was the terrible crime that John Hurt's character committed that encouraged him to take on the mantle of the Doctor and head out to right the galaxy's wrongs?

The Case Against - "The name I chose is the Doctor - the name you choose... it's like a promise you make," said Matt Smith's 11th in the finale's closing moments. "He's the one who broke the promise."

This is a fairly mind-boggling argument, but stick with us - 11th's words seem to imply that Hurt "broke the promise" and abandoned the once-held name of the Doctor - which makes it unlikely that he's pre-Hartnell, or "pre-Doctor" Doctor, if you will. I know, we've got a headache too.

John Hurt is... THE VALEYARD
Colin Baker and Michael Jayston in 'Doctor Who'

© BBC

Colin Baker and Michael Jayston in 'Doctor Who'


The Case For - A dark Doctor? One buried deep in our hero's subconscious? One who doesn't go by the name of the Doctor? There's precedent for that - 1986's Colin Baker epic 'The Trial of a Time Lord' introduced the Valeyard, then played by Michael Jayston - an evil amalgamation of the Doctor who'd somehow emerged from between his 12th and 13th incarnations.

Only featured the once in Doctor Who's 'classic' run, fans have campaigned for years for the Valeyard to return, and, funnily enough, the character was namechecked in 'The Name of the Doctor' by The Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) - foreshadowing by Moffat?

The Case Against - Or maybe we're getting ourselves in a silly fan tizzy and the Valeyard making a comeback is about as likely as the return of the Rani. Steven Moffat's claimed that the 50th anniversary special won't be a "fanfest" and the Valeyard leading an army of Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons against two incarnations of the Doctor sounds like fan fiction, not a slice of primetime Saturday night entertainment on BBC One.

John Hurt is... A FUTURE DOCTOR
The TARDIS in Doctor Who S07E04: 'Hide'

© BBC

The TARDIS in Doctor Who: 'Hide'


The Case For - Or perhaps John Hurt's incarnation is simply a future Doctor - the legit 12th or 13th, or for that matter, the 14th or 37th? It would be good for story purposes - and for Matt Smith's awards cabinet - to see the Doctor faced with a future horror, a crime he knows he must commit for the greater good and is unable to avoid...

Plus, the 'future Doctor' idea seems a little more bold and considerably less fannish (read: confusing for casual viewers) than the return of the Valeyard, or a pre-Hartnell version, or Doctor 8-and-a-half...

The Case Against - You could ask how Matt Smith's Doctor already knows what John Hurt's Doctor has done if he's a future incarnation, but wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey and all that.

The bigger issue in making Hurt a real, no foolin' future Doctor is... when the time comes to replace Matt Smith, or the actor after him, or the guy who comes six actors after him, you'd be faced with explaining away why the new full-time Doctor ain't Hurt - which might not be a problem for a show that thrives on rewriting the established truth, but still, it's something to consider...

Who is John Hurt playing? Is he really the Doctor? Share your own theories below!