The art of looking sideways

“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”

(The Eighth Doctor)

When one is deprived of meaning, one seeks to insert it. This is usually by mentally connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected. Doctor Who is the Rorschach test of imagination: you show the audience a murky ink blot and they’ll see a bat, or a butterfly, or the face of the Madonna or an undiscovered Shakespearian sonnet. But ultimately it is what it is – a vague and ambiguous shape, deliberately modelled as such in order to establish character through what is seen.

For example: there were any number of preposterous theories about Clara. That she was the Dalek Emperor. That she was Rose. That she was the Doctor himself. That her grandmother was Amy Pond, the wrong age, height and with an entirely different backstory. The truth is far more pedestrian – Clara is an ordinary young woman who deliberately fractured herself when she entered the Doctor’s time stream, thus establishing the very situation that caused him to seek her out in the first place and creating the sort of predestination paradox that the chief writer lives and breathes.

I still maintain that Moffat actually gets this stuff from the internet, and Googles for ‘Clara theories’, picking the one he likes the best in order to resolve a situation he didn’t know how to resolve. Certainly he did it on Sherlock, albeit as a joke. But maybe I shouldn’t spend the day picking on him again, because today I wanted to talk about Classic Who.


Or not. The name of the Doctor has been such a colossal McGuffin these past two series that it seems almost crass to ignore it. Moffat spun out the joke for months, beginning as he did with Dorium’s revelation that the First Question was, in fact, ‘Doctor Who?’ – a query so mind-numbingly dull that its analysis seems like the worst kind of fan-fiction. Subsequent episodes flitted between an overuse of the question and a teasing dalliance around its possible answer: it was, in ‘The Name of the Doctor’, of mild importance to the plot, but hardly the world-shattering revelation some of the more naive elements of the fanbase had come to fear. It wasn’t until ‘The Time of the Doctor’ that Moffat – through Clara – told us that the Doctor’s name didn’t matter at all, thereby ending the perennial wild goose chase with the tiniest of whimpers.

We’ve dealt with the concept of the Doctor’s name in New Who before (and yes, it’s hardly serious, but I’m still quite pleased with how it panned out). Still, it was an often-overlooked Tom Baker story that, while hardly revealing anything earth-shattering about the Doctor or his backstory, did at least add a little more meat to the bone. The revelation comes in episode five of ‘The Armageddon Factor’, in which the Doctor, trying to prevent a planet’s obliteration, meets an old friend from the academy, who addresses him as ‘Theta Sigma’.

DRAX: Hello, Theet. How you been, boy?


DRAX: It is Theet, innit? Theta Sigma? Yeah, ‘course it is. Remember me, ay?

Drax is a rogue Time Lord not unlike the Doctor, although years spent in Brixton have turned him into the sort of wheeler-dealer you’d see hanging around with David Jason in Only Fools and Horses. He divides fans and critics: Doctor Who Reviews cites him as “a particular source of hilarity”, while Shadowlocked dismisses him as “an irritating midget who looks a bit like Francis Rossi from Status Quo auditioning for Blake’s 7” (which is cruel, but in many respects quite true). It’s impossible to separate Drax from his role as The Deliverer of the Doctor’s Nickname, however, which may be as good a reason as any for his adulation / denigration as anything connected with the dialogue, the concept of a Gallifreyan wide boy or Barry Jackson’s performance. Drax comes with his own baggage, and it’s either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it.

Theta Sigma pops up again in ‘The Happiness Patrol’, and later still (this time courtesy of River Song) in ‘The Pandorica Opens’, as well as on numerous occasions in print and in audio stories. Its reappearance thus gives it weight, at least according to many fans, and there has been a considerable amount of debate as to its relative importance or meaning. The internet has made all this possible: for the most part, fans had no real way to connect back in the show’s original run, which meant that discussions about what things might or might not signify were restricted to conventions, discussions in the student union or the painfully slow correspondence in fanzines. These days, everyone’s got an opinion, however insane, and the comparative democracy of online discussion means that we get to hear all of them.

It’s fair to say that saying something simply because you can seems to be of far more importance these days than saying something because it contains something of use or value. Doctor Who Answers, for example, doesn’t have any real answer at all beyond the most perfunctory, stating that “Theta Sigma are the Greek letters T S”, and that “what these letters stood for is unknown”. Elsewhere, Backward Glance suggests (among general ramblings, rather than anything concrete) that “Theta and Sigma are stars in the constellation of Orion. No doubt the Doctor and his schoolchums would know this.” Meanwhile, states that “theta sigma means DR in the ancient greek alphabet so that could be a set up name for him”.

More amusingly still is the thread on Comic Vine which states, among other ideas, that

– “The Doctor’s real name is actually a string of Mathematical and Greek symbols. Theta-Sigma would be a shortening of his full name, just as Romana is merely a shortening”

– “No Theta-Sigma Lungbarrow IS his full real name read Divided Loyalties there is a flash back where he tells Koschei (the master) of for calling him Theta”

– “John Natan Turner confirmered Theta-Sigma Lungbarrow was his name as it was planned to be reaveled in the Classic Series but it was cancled, it was never mentioned in the TV series, ever!!!!!!!!!!!
The Doctors real nickname is John Smith”


We could go on all day, but my whole reason for posting was to suggest an alternative explanation – one of an in-joke by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who in all likelihood knew full well that when you flip the letters sideways, you get this:


You see? it’s a joke. Nothing more. The shortest path between two points is always a straight line, and sometimes that’s the route you take.

A bit of Googling suggests that Gareth’s not the only person to have figured this out, but I did promise him I’d mention it in here. It’s no more than a theory, but I don’t think it’s far off the mark – neither of us claim to be right, but it feels far more grounded than some of the other stuff I’ve read this week – and as such we do need to spread the word to the fanboys. There are far more important things to discuss. The next series of I’m A Celebrity, for example.

On the other hand, the internet can be a lonely place, and perhaps wild and groundless speculation has become the new small talk: a precursor to something of actual substance. Perhaps the only way to cut your teeth in these sorts of conversations is to say the silliest of things until you learn how to contribute something of value. That’s an arrogant viewpoint, of course, because it establishes me as an arbiter of what constitutes ‘value’, but I make such a claim transparently and in the knowledge that every one of us does the same in all our interactions, both online and off. Besides, if it keeps them from speculating about Clara, perhaps it would be better if we left things as they are.

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