Bridging the Gap: How the New Doctor Who Series Incorporates the Old

The twelfth incarnation of the Doctor is the most abrasive we’ve seen in a long time. That’s why he has Clara, his “carer,” meaning she cares so he won’t have to. But occasionally even he realizes he’s being overly callous, so he and Clara have put together some sensitivity flash cards to flip through when he’s at a loss for a kind word.

“It was my fault. I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen.” – from “Under the Lake”

Well, that one’s strangely specific. Did he have someone in mind?

Indeed he did. Back in 1976, the Doctor meant to rather abruptly dump Sarah Jane Smith at home so he could return to Gallifrey. She immediately realizes she’s not in South Croydon, as expected, and in the new series episode “School Reunion” she reveals he actually dropped her off in Aberdeen, Scotland, hundreds of miles off course.


Season One

The new series has one hell of a legacy: 26 seasons of Doctor Who existed before Christopher Eccleston had filmed a single scene in 2005. Writers, therefore, had to balance the needs of all the new viewers they hoped to attract while doing right by the millions of fans that already existed.

Rose Doctor

Season one was very smart about how to balance the two. First, they took pains not to just blatantly contradict the original series. Second, all references to the old series were either trivial or were fully explained. Thus, in “Dalek,” the Doctor finds a Cyberman’s head in a collection of artifacts. Completely unrelated to the plot, old fans appreciated the nod while the item was simply one of many random items to new viewers.

The pilot episode, “Rose,” featured an old enemy, the Autons. However, new viewers would never feel they were missing something, as the writers did not expect viewers to have prior knowledge. So the new fans get a quality show, and the old fans can get all giggly because, damn it, Autons.

Monsters and Heroes

A variety of classic series aliens have crept into the new series over the last nine seasons, including Daleks, Cybermen, the Macra (the monsters swiping at vehicles in “Gridlock”), Silurians, Draconians (having a cameo in “The Pandorica Opens”), Ice Warriors, Sontarans, Zygons and the Nestene Consciousness. The new series has also borrowed the Master, Davros, the Dalek Emperor, K-9 and Sarah Jane Smith.

In addition, there’s been the Great Intelligence. In the 1960s, he sent his robotic yeti into London’s subway system (I’m not making that up). More recently, we’ve seen him work through animated snowmen. A hundred years ago, the eleventh Doctor even accidentally left a map of the future subway in the Great Intelligence’s possession.


Second Doctor with Villains
The Second Doctor with (from left) a yeti, Ice Warrior, Dalek, Cyberman and Quark.

UNIT and the Brigadier

In the 1970s, the Time Lords sent the third Doctor to the time out corner, which just happened to be Earth. There, he was reunited with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, whom he had previously met fighting aforementioned robotic yeti, as well as the Cybermen.

As an Aside: Remember in “Dark Water” when the Cybermen came walking out of St. Paul’s Cathedral? It’s a recreation of a famous shot from the classic episode “The Invasion,” which first introduced us to UNIT.

The Brigadier and the third Doctor from Doctor Who
The Brigadier and the third Doctor

Whovians have strong opinions when it comes to companions, but in all my years, I’ve yet to meet a hater of the Brigadier. He met six of the seven classic incarnations of the Doctor. His last appearance was supposed to end in his death, but the writers just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. More recently, he appeared on the Sarah Jane Adventurers shortly before the actor died. And then he still managed to put in an appearance in “Death in Heaven,” albeit as a Cyberman.

It was a smart move making Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter, the Doctor’s new point of contact with UNIT. First, the Doctor has a soft spot for her. Second, as the chief scientific advisor for UNIT (the Doctor’s job title back in the 70s), she’s easier to embrace than a military person, whom the Doctor generally despises. Third, she can still totally be as kickass and hard-nosed as her dad.

Zygon: You would destroy London?

Kate: To save the world? Yes, I would.

Zygon: You’re bluffing.

Kate: You really think so? Somewhere in your memory is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. I’m his daughter.

-“Day of the Doctor”

The Day of the Doctor

“The Day of the Doctor,” is riddled with classic references, as one would expect from an anniversary episode, which are always more than a little tongue-in-cheek. There’s some big ones like UNIT being involved and Osgood wearing a scarf based off of that of the fourth Doctor.

Doctor Who Osgood
Kate Stewart and Osgood.

But there’s lots of one-liners as well. The tenth and eleventh Doctors attempt to “reversing the polarity,” until they realize that means one of them is reversing the other’s reversal. “Reversing the polarity of the neutron flow” became the quintessential bit of the third Doctor’s technobabble (even though he didn’t actually say it very often), and it’s constantly quoted.

And Kate has an underling find a file codenamed Cromer, which was filed in the “70s or 80s, depending on dating protocol.” When first traveling in the TARDIS, the Brigadier refused to believe he was on an alien world. Instead, he was pretty sure it was the costal town of Cromer.

The dating protocol issue addresses the fact that sometimes writers set the UNIT stories in the present day, while others presumed they occurred at least a few years in the future. The most infamous mix-up of dates occurred when the episode “Mardwyn Undead” established the Brigadier had retired from UNIT on or before 1978, contradicting “Pyramid of Mars” where Sarah Jane, who had been working with UNIT (and the Brigadier), stated she’s from 1980.

As an Aside: The first Doctor Who roleplaying game went with the dates of “Mawdryn,” concluding Sarah Jane must have somehow been confused.

There was also that whole Tom Baker thing at the end of “Day of the Doctor.” People have all sorts of theories about what his presence means, but I suspect the writers were just having fun throwing in a beloved actor. That fact that it does confuse people is probably icing on the cake as far as showrunner Steven Moffat is concerned.

Coal Hill School

It’s a small world. Clara Oswald currently teaches at Coal Hill School, which just happens to be where the first Doctor enrolled his granddaughter, Susan, in the very first episode of Doctor Who. Two teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, end up discovering the TARDIS and are kidnapped (yes, kidnapped) to keep them from revealing Susan’s otherworldly origin. Today, the sign outside the school lists Ian as the chairman of the governors.

Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton from Doctor Who
Barbara and Ian as they leave the TARDIS for the last time. They’re sure happy to go!

There’s plenty of small references scattered throughout the new series. Most recently, there’s the use of the Sisterhood of Karn. In “Human Nature,” the humanized Doctor mentions his parents, Sydney and Verity. They’re named after Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, the shows first producers. And when an insane Dalek in “Asylum of the Daleks” rattles off a series of planet names (Spiridon, Kembel, Aridius, Vulcan, Exxilon), it’s referencing multiple actual classic episode settings (“Planet of the Daleks” “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” “The Chase,” “Power of the Daleks,” “Death to the Daleks”).

As an Aside: Some part of me desperately wants an episode called “Dalek of the Daleks.” Now with even more Dalek.

The classic episodes cover more than two centuries of the Doctor’s life. It makes sense that things in his past will periodically affect the present. It shouldn’t be overbearing, of course. You shouldn’t feel a need to Google every line of dialogue to find if it’s making any pertinent references. But the nods to classic episodes, some of which are half a century old, are welcomed by many fans.


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