Confession #104: I Love Seeing Double

No matter what else brings fans to Who, the Doctor (in his many incarnations) and his Companions are the backbone—the major components that keep us coming back. While not every character or actor is every fan's cup of tea, some seem to be ones we (or at least the production team) can't get enough of. They appear multiple times, either within the same story (doppelgängers) or at some later date (suspiciously familiar), more often than not without explanation.

Doppelgängers are a familiar concept in the modern era, even discounting Clara's split-across-time personae. The Zygons alone are responsible for an unseemly number of them. Perhaps most famously, the Osgoods—one human, one Zygon (and eventually another Zygon)—appeared side by side, working to maintain a tenuous peace. Of course, any time the Zygons crop up, they keep the audience guessing about which individual is the original and which the doppelgänger. It's good mental exercise.

Similarly, we've seen the Flesh. Not specifically sentient by itself, the Flesh was a more technological take on Zygon bio-duplication. (And now I'm wondering if it didn't start as a script work-around before usage rights for the Zygons could be secured...) Before we saw the larger-arc implications of the Flesh, though, we got full-on doppelgänger action with the Eleventh Doctor and his Ganger (the term for a Flesh duplicate directly referencing the German root word).

In both of these cases—Zygons and Gangers—the doppelgänger is patterned off an original, and needs that reference material in order to maintain its shape and the knowledge base (sometimes including personality) of said original. However, sometimes we've had full-on doppelgängers that exist completely separately from each other.

For example, the Human/Time Lord metacrisis Doctor (aka 10.2, aka Handy) who appeared at the end of Series Four was created using the Tenth Doctor's genetic material (that severed hand). However, he was his own distinct person from his genesis onward, with his own personality, independent thoughts, and decision-making processes.

Even more distinct are individuals from different realities. The Ninth Doctor loved to get Mickey's goat by deliberately calling him "Ricky" instead of using the correct name. However, when Mickey traveled with the Tenth Doctor and Rose to Pete's World (an alternate universe), the version of him who was native to that universe was actually named Ricky. (Was the Ninth Doctor really just trolling him, then, or simply remembering in the wrong direction?)

Ricky lived his life quite differently than Mickey had to that point. Ricky was a risk-taker, a warrior of sorts, and exhibited leadership skills and bravery that Mickey had never managed to uncover when they met. They were two distinct people who had identical bodies, and their stories got intertwined. That kind of doppelgänger is perhaps my favorite.

The revived series is certainly not the first to introduce the concept of Doctor or Companion doppelgängers, though. The Fourth Doctor was impersonated by the eponymous sentient cactus in Meglos, and Romana I looked inexplicably like both Princess Strella and the android designed to impersonate her royal highness (The Androids of Tara), for example. Going further back, the Second Doctor was able to use his uncanny likeness to Salamander to trick others into believing he was the Mexican-born dictator (The Enemy of the World), and the Daleks created a robot look-alike to kill the First Doctor and his Companions way back in the second season of the show (The Chase).

When we expand our scope to include faces that reappear rather than standing side by side with each other (the aforementioned "suspiciously familiar" phenomenon), there is no higher-profile example than the Twelfth Doctor. From the beginning, we had an in-universe acknowledgement that the face was a familiar one—that of Caecilius, whom the Tenth Doctor had met (and saved) in Pompeii. (It also happened to be the face of John Frobisher, the unfortunate government official from Torchwood: Children of Earth, but that doesn't get mentioned in-universe.) We've since been given a reason for the phenomenon.

There are other occasions when we've gotten a nod to a previous appearance. When the Doctor met Gwen Cooper in Journey's End, he and Rose commented on the similarity of her appearance to that of Gwyneth (The Unquiet Dead) and decided it must be because of "spatial genetic multiplicity." Martha Jones mentions that she had a cousin (Adeola) who died at Canary Wharf (Army of Ghosts). Even back when Romana regenerated, they were explicit about the fact that the body she'd chosen was one they'd seen before on Princess Astra.

Other times, the similarity is glossed over completely, and no mention is ever made that the face is suspiciously familiar. We get no whisper of how Amy Pond looks a lot like a Pompeiian soothsayer the Doctor once met, or that the Sixth Doctor is wearing Commander Maxil's face. When the Fourth Doctor runs across a religious leader named Lexa, he doesn't even do a double take at the fact that she's a dead ringer for Barbara, one of his first Companions. Nor do we see any glimmer of recognition that Harry Sullivan looks an awful lot like a certain young navy Lieutenant from inside the miniscope (Carnival of Monsters) or that efficient military man Col. Lethbridge-Steward (The Web of Fear) bore a striking resemblance to Space Agent Bret Vyon (The Daleks' Master Plan).

The real reason behind this lack of comment, of course, is the fact that the production teams never felt it was important, British television being what it is. Why would you bring attention to the fact that the studio system results in the frequent reuse of the same talent? It's more fun to think of story-related reasons, though. Perhaps the Doctor simply has a poor memory for faces in all his incarnations (not just his current "human blind" one). Or maybe he's so used to the infinite possibilities of all of time and space (and the vagaries of genetics) that the occasional familiar face simply doesn't strike him as worth comment.

Whatever the case, I love seeing double. Whether a doppelgänger or a suspiciously familiar face, the similarities can result in stories both on screen and in fan fiction that tend to get wonderfully convoluted. I think those twists are incredibly fun, and I can hardly wait for the next time.




So far Doctor Who hasn't really tackled the subject of genetic engineering. I'd love to see a story about identical clones or other gengineered humans and whether or not such "people" deserved equal rights.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Well, they sort of touched on it with the Flesh avatars, but you're right that they didn't pursue it very far.

I have some thoughts on clones, but perhaps those are best saved until the show tackles the topic. ;)

By mrfranklin

I gave a derisive snort when you mentioned the Dalek double of the First Doctor.

Edmund Warwick as the Doctor's double required one of the greatest suspensions of disbelief that had been seen in the show up to that time, if not ever since!

By Wholahoop
mrfranklin's picture

I agree that it was not a convincing double on screen. However, in-universe it was clearly indistinguishable from the real Doctor, and so I included it. :)

By mrfranklin
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