Well-solved mysteries

A mystery preserved beats a poorly-solved mystery every time. Steven Moffat surely knows this, and that’s why I’m still betting we won’t hear the Doctor’s name tomorrow night; Moffat will find a way for us to have our cake but feel as though we’ve eaten it.

However, it’s my philosophy that a well-solved mystery beats a mystery preserved every time. In art, in science, in life, it’s not enough merely to raise questions and then claim it’s more satisfying if we never try to answer them.

Good answers aren’t easy to come by. In art, they have to feel right, to seem insightful, to be unexpected and at the same time arise naturally from what we’ve seen. We don’t like mysteries with no clues, but we don’t like to know the answer from page one, either. The road we take to get to the answer is important, but getting to an answer is also important. Raymond Chandler famously wrote at least one murder he never solved (the corpse in the car in The Big Sleep) but you’ll note it’s incidental, not the focus of the story. Most mystery books have endings. The crimes are solved. That’s the point.

I’ve heard it said that the premise of Doctor Who, the titular question, is a myth and hence should remain mysterious. But lots of myths aren’t mysterious, and they retain their power. Which details of Greek legends or Bible stories remain unexplored? Are Perseus or Jesus Christ any less interesting because we know who their parents were, where they grew up, why they were special? Myths are not powerful because of their mystery; they’re powerful because of what they tell us, because of the journeys their central figures take, because of the ways those stories resonate with our own lives. Myths change, are retold, are adapted to new characters and settings and situations, not because they lack specifics, but because those specifics do not harm the part of the story that’s eternal.

If Moffat has solved this mystery well — if he’s come up with some answer to the question that tells us something, that furthers the Doctor’s journey, that resonates with our own lives (or at least with the Doctor’s life) — that’s to be desired, not to be shunned.

And even if the Doctor’s name turns out to be “Ken Miller,” it won’t matter any more than if it turned out to be “Perseus” or “Krishna” or “Snookie.” His name isn’t the part of the story that’s eternal.

If you’re not convinced, consider the following mysteries solved and secrets revealed, all things we didn’t know about the Doctor or his background in the first episode, “An Unearthly Child.” Some of them are things we didn’t even know at the time of “Rose.” You may consider some of them poorly-solved, and probably some people complained about learning them at the time, but most are things we take for granted about the character now, and don’t consider to have ruined him, and I’d say most are more significant than his name.

  1. The Doctor is not human.
  2. The Doctor is a Time Lord.
  3. The Doctor’s home planet is called Gallifrey.
  4. There is more than one TARDIS.
  5. The Doctor has a much longer lifespan than humans do.
  6. The Doctor’s people have a policy of non-interference, with which he disagrees.
  7. The Doctor has two hearts.
  8. The Doctor has a respiratory bypass system that helps him survive asphyxiation and poison gas.
  9. The Doctor was an underachieving student.
  10. The Doctor was responsible for ending the Time War.
  11. The Doctor can take a considerable amount of physical abuse, including extreme cold and electrocution.
  12. The Doctor’s TARDIS is powered by a stellar energy source called the Eye of Harmony, first harnessed by an engineer named Omega, at the cost of his ability to exist in the universe of ordinary matter.
  13. The Doctor was part of the Prydonian Chapter at the Time Lord Academy.
  14. When his body is about to die, the Doctor can regenerate.
  15. He has regenerated at least ten times…so far…that we know of.

One comment

  1. Jeffrey Lampert · May 17, 2013

    Saw a blog today that noted an anagram for Trenzalore: “Learnt Zero”. Curse you, Moffat! 🙂

    (I have a response to the overall post, but I’ll save that for later)