'Doctor Who' Theory Corner: Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Season 1

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in "Boom"

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in "Boom"


Doctor Who's much-ballyhooed move to Disney+ didn't quite work the way most assumed, with the House of Mouse deciding not to bother to do much to promote the trio of 60th anniversary specials. To be fair, the three-episode mini-season featuring former-turned-current Doctor David Tennant was an odd place to come in if you were just joining the show, already six decades in progress. The Christmas special with the singing goblins, or better yet, "Space Babies," with the "all the hallmarks of Doctor Who explained to the new companion" tradition, were better places for new viewers to start. But that accidental division also hid something rather large. The 60th anniversary episodes may have been treated as separate; however, they were crucial in setting up the new season.

By now, everyone who deep-dives into the theory world of their favorite TV show is aware of the Liverpool-born actor with the really great name: Susan Twist, who has been turning up like a bad penny in every episode this season, and even had a very random song dedicated to her existence. They've also probably discovered her first appearance was at the very top of the second 60th Anniversary special, "Wild Blue Yonder," checking out Sir Isaac Newton's backside as he headed off to an Apple Tree and accidentally discovered "mavity" instead of gravity due to a small TARDIS interruption.

Up until that point, the running "mavity" joke seemed to be just that, a silly gag from an accident. But there's nothing accidental here, with this Twist at the beginning. Because, as the song says, the Twist comes at the end. Let's sit down and talk about something totally accepted by every Who fan and yet not properly considered: The Docor having a time machine means the experienced linear time of the series does not necessarily happen in the order it appears onscreen.

Let's Start At Christmas

Ncuti Gatwa in "The Church on Ruby Road"

Ncuti Gatwa in "The Church on Ruby Road"

(Photo: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

"The Church on Ruby Road" opens with a baby being deposited at the titular house of worship on Christmas Eve 2004. The next scene jumps forward in time, introducing Ruby, now 18, taping a "Find My Family" special on December 1, before jumping ahead three weeks to December 22, where she's playing the keyboard with her buddy's band. 

The Doctor, in his orange sweater and brown checked suit, stands in the back, watching from under his cowboy hat. That image (above) was spread widely before the special, and, until the season started, treated as The Cosplay Outfit for the new Doctor.

However, that outfit does not appear again in the episode. In fact, the Doctor seems to have discovered he does not have to wear the same outfit day in and out, marking the first time the Doctor has worn a new outfit in every episode. Cosplayers may find this a boon, and it makes the Doctor's changes of outfit in the Christmas special unremarkable... until that same outfit turned back up, in "Dot & Bubble," the first episode where both Ruby and the Doctor suddenly realize they've seen Susan Twist before. Moreover, a quick rewind to the Christmas special December 22 scene will confirm that it is the same scene where Susan Twist's Christmas Special cameo happens as the drunk heckler demanding a rendition of "Gaudete."

The first time watching, one assumes the Doctor is watching Ruby because she's being harassed by goblins. But is he actually there for Ruby? Because his outfit suggests his visit to 2023 comes after the realization he's seen Susan Twist before in "Dot and Bubble." Just because Ruby lives through that scene as the night before she meets the Doctor doesn't mean it's happening to him in that order. Nor, for that matter, is the scene the next night, on December 23, when she spots him on the dance floor with the kilt, necessarily in order, either.


Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson "The Devil's Chord"

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson "The Devil's Chord" 

(Photo: Disney+)

"Space Babies" thus far stands alone as an episode with little call-back to the overarching mystery, other than it being the first time Susan Twist is seen only in "archival found footage" and not in person. But that's because "The Devil's Chord," released with it, is over the top in its puzzle-boxing. We have The Maestro (which everyone and their Reddit friends have pointed out is Italian for "Master"), claiming to be the "child" of the Toymaker. (Born from the gold tooth he lost, maybe?) The Maestro's final words, "The One Who Waits is almost here," have also been drilled down on, though to no avail. However, it seems odd that The One Who Waits would be "almost here" when Susan Twist is down in the cafeteria serving tea, and has been the entire episode.

But other than the musical number that drove fans to realize Twist has been in every episode, there's that line about "non-diegetic music." It's not a proper fourth wall break the Doctor does not make eye contact with us. But it is a strange statement about the soundtrack orchestration currently going complete Disney's Fantasia, tying Ruby to the ceiling. 

It brings fans back to the question: Why would the Doctor say that, unless he was already aware that something weird was up? Is that scene actually happening in order? After all, the Doctor is alone in a soundproof room with zero eyes on him. There is nothing that confirms or denies that this isn't the Doctor revisiting the episode to see what he missed.

Linear Time in 1666

David Tennant as Fourteen and Catherine Tate as Donna stuck in a tree in 'Wild Blue Yonder'

David Tennant as Fourteen and Catherine Tate as Donna in 'Wild Blue Yonder'


The going assumption is that Susan Twist will finally give herself away by saying "gravity" instead of "mavity," since she was present in 1666 prior to Fourteen and Donna crashing the apple tree party. But this again assumes linear time is happening in order. Yes, Isaac Newton's short scene with "Mrs. Merridew" occurs before the Doctor crashes the TARDIS into the tree. But like Ruby in the Christmas Special, just because he experiences these scenes in that order doesn't mean that's how they actually happened. 

The song says, "There's always a Twist at the end." Who is to say that her appearance greeting Newton and his cute backside actually happened at the beginning before the TARDIS crash? if she is a "post-Salt" character (if you will), then her arrival at the top of Newton's mavity inventing day would have happened at the end of the episode, and Newton (who, to be fair, only just figured out why things fall down) would be none the wiser that she wasn't there the first time he had an apple fall on his head. 

Of course, that leads to who placed her there... is she moving on her own, or is she a pawn for a higher power from the Pantheon? 

(Fun fact: "Gaudete," the song she asks for the next time we see her, was published in 1582, and super popular by 1666. Just something to think on.) 

Are Susan Twist's Appearances Happening Linearly?

Jinkx Monsoon in "The Devil's Chord"

Jinkx Monsoon in "The Devil's Chord"

(Photo: Disney+)

Another note about "The Devil's Chord": Taken with the sudden musical number that neither the Doctor nor Ruby finds odd to be performing, and it's no wonder this has led to theories that the Doctor and Ruby will discover themselves to be in a TV series about themselves, which, if nothing else, works as a great excuse to explain why Disney+ insists on calling Season 14 "Season 1." But it also distracts again from the lyrics: "There's always a Twist at the end."

I'm not buying the meta-arc of "TV series within a TV series," at least not yet, and probably not until a member of The Pantheon by the name of "The Director" or "The Writer" turns up. (However, the idea that the Doctor and Ruby discover Susan Twist is a series extra who keeps getting hired in random one-line roles by some higher authority is admittedly hilarious.) I'm much more of the opinion that her recurrence is a glitch in the perception filter, either one she's forcing to happen in hopes of the Doctor and Ruby catching on or because she's keeping an eye on them.

But while we're distracted by the song, do we know that the scene with Susan in the cafeteria happened when we saw it? It should cause fans to question Christmas and all the other scenes where Twist appears in person: do we know these scenes happen when they do? The Maestro says, "The One Who Waits is Almost Here." Like 1666, was Twist always in the cafeteria? Or was she added at the end, and the Doctor and Ruby haven't figured that out yet?

There are only three episodes to go before the end of the season: a well-timed Bridgerton homage and the two-part finale. The first will see Susan Twist appear in portrait form, and the last two...well, those we'll just have to wait and see.

Doctor Who Season 1(/14/40) continues with new episodes every Friday on Disney+ and BBC iPlayer at 7 p.m. ET/12 mid BT.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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