The Doctor and the Ultimate Question

Q. Doctor Who?
A. 42

And so Season 6 ended, not with a bang, but with a wedding…


The Silence is revealed to be a religious order, considering themselves the “Sentinels of History”, trying to destroy the Doctor because of a specific prophecy, which states:

“On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the 11th, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered”

The reason that the Silence is determined to keep the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore is because of the corollary prophecy that “Silence must fall when the Question is asked.”

The Question is revealed to be the “The First Question, the oldest question in the Universe, that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight.” Dorian Maldovar tells the Doctor what the question is – it’s simply, “Doctor Who?”

This all reminds me of the obvious bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide – specifically, the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything, to which the Answer is 42. But knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other, so the Answer is all we are ever able to know. If this sounds like gibberish to you, you clearly haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and instead are reading my blog. Which is a colossal failure of priorities for you, I must say.

The prophecy Dorian reveals also reminds me of Hitchhiker’s Guide, in which there’s God’s Final Message to His Creation:

It is written in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss in Galactic Sector QQ7 ActiveJ Gamma. it is guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob.

(Somehow this seems a bit further than the Fields of Trenzalore.)

I am entirely positive that the writing team at DW has drawn some inspiration from H2G2 here, enough that it warrants passing comment. The idea of a Question of cosmic significance is a very appealing one, related to the religious idea of the Word itself. These are essentially substitute creation myths.

But the fact that the First Question pertains directly to the Doctor himself puts the Doctor in a position of significance to the Universe in a way that the Ultimate Question did not with Arthur Dent. As the last surviving Earth native, Arthur had a special relationship to the Ultimate Question, but it wasn’t actually about him. In the Doctor’s case the First Question is all about his identity and therefore connects him to the Universe in a way that is much more fundamental.

I’m not exactly sanguine about the possibility that The Grand Moff will ever read or address the point I am making above. But it’s something to think about. There is also a misdirection here that I think few reviewers of River SOng’s Wedding have pointed out yet – the fact that the Silence must fall is something the Silence wants to avoid, obviously. However, in Season 5 a mysterious voice intoned in the TARDIS that Silence will fall, as a warning. It’s not at all clear that the Silence was behind the TARDIS explosion (and the wierd silence that fell in the Vampires of Venice episode). Something deliberately destroyed the TARDIS with intent to destroy the Universe, a fate averted by the Doctor’s “rebooting” the Universe with a second Big Bang.

Why would the Silents and the Silence want to destroy the Universe, especially if they consider themselves “Sentinels of History”? It’s almost as if the Silence of Season 5 and the Silence of Season 6 are two separate things. Reconciling these might be a task that Moffat decides to avoid. After all, we still don’t have an answer to the who spoke in the TARDIS – that voice was gravelly and very old, nothing like the voice of the Silents.

The thing is, that Doctor Who is a blast to watch. However, the plot by this point is so contorted that it’s probably impossible to get it all sorted out. This is the same problem that LOST had, in that there was an incentive to add mysteries and questions but there was not really any clean way to resolve them. This is a characteristic of story-first storytelling, which puts the needs of the immediate story above that of the canon. Of course, being slaved to a tight story arc would be a straightjacket and that would impede the telling of the story, so there needs to be a balance. I think Battlestar Galactica is a good example of having some story arcs in place and others invented on the fly (like the identities of the Final Five) and there’s probably some pressure on the writers to just invent on the fly for the story now, and then later try to tie it all together with something inventive and which hasn’t been hashed to death by the fans of their forums, to maintain some level of surprise.

I am looking forward to Season 7, but I have no expectations that the big questions asked and answered in S7 will actually have relevance to Season 6 any more than the big questions and revelations of Season 6 had any real bearing on teh myseries of Season 5. It’s a blast nonetheless.

24 thoughts on “The Doctor and the Ultimate Question”

  1. Thank you, I thought that I was crazy when the first thing that came to my mind about the Silence falling when the question is asked was — Hitchhikers. I also don’t think that this idea is totally crazy as Adams was a writer for Doctor Who.

  2. About your bit about why the Silence would want to destroy the universe in season 5 – consider this.

    The Silence manipulated the Alliance of the Doctor’s enemies into building the Pandorica, to trap the Doctor so that he would be nowhere near the TARDIS when it exploded at every point of space and time in the Universe. But, what if they knew that the Doctor would escape, that he would find a way to “reboot” the universe, cause the Big Bang 2. . . what if, in fact, they provided the very means to do this? The Pandorica, with its restorative properties; the TARDIS, exploding and every moment and physical point in history. All it needed was a man, a very special man with a penchant for saving people, for throwing himself into the fray without concern for his own well-being, to put the two together, and the Universe would be saved. Except for the man himself, of course; he would be on the wrong side of the explosion, his time stream would unravel, and he would cease to exist. Everything he was, everything he knew, would be gone, but the Universe would go on without him.

    Does this sound familiar? In The Wedding of River Song, we find that time is happening all at once, and will soon disintegrate entirely, unless the Doctor returns to the shores of Lake Silencio and dies. And it wouldn’t just be him that dies, but the knowledge of the Answer to the Question.

    In both situations, it’s a choice. Either the Doctor dies (or is erased from existence, same difference) or all of reality is gone forever. And both times, he chooses sacrifice. (Sort of, as was revealed in the finale).

    Now, i don’t know about you, both those two situations are WAY too similar to be coincidence. It’s my belief that the Pandorica and the Big Bang 2 were as much a plan to kill the Doctor as River Song, the Impossible Astronaut. They created a fixed point, so that he would be unable to avoid his death without destroying all of spacetime, and the Silence knew that the Doctor would figure out how to save the Universe back in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, that it would require the ultimate sacrifice. In both instances, the goal the destruction of the Doctor, so that the Question need never be answered. But both times, the Doctor escaped Oblivion. First, through the memories of Amelia Pond; then, a clever lie ( the Doctor loves those).

    i think you’re misinterpreting a few things from the show, first off, the quote “Silence will fall”. i feel like you believe this means THE Silence will fall, literally, that they will be destroyed. i disagree. Secondly, the extension of that quote, “Silence will fall when the Question is asked”. Or, as Dorium corrected, “Silence MUST fall when the Question is asked”.

    Remember what the Doctor said? “All the times I’ve heard those words, I never realised it was my silence… my death.” This is what clarifies the meaning of that sentence.

    The words “silence” and “fall” are commonly used together, and it really just means that there will be silence. You could say, “An eerie silence fell across the room.” Just means that everything will go silent. Now, while you may think this refers to the end of the universe, as i originally did, series 6 has since revealed to us that “silence” really refers to the Doctor. They wish to “silence” him so that he cannot reveal the Answer. “Silence MUST fall when the question is asked” means that once the Doctor learns what the Question is, the Silence themselves must do everything in their power to make sure the Doctor doesn’t get to the fields of Trenzalore, make sure that he never has the chance to answer it.

    Sure, you could say that the Silence deliberately causing the TARDIS, believing the Doctor would be able to save the Universe and destroy himself in the process, is a risky maneuver, in no way a safe bet. Well, yeah. But, remember what the Doctor told the Daleks, “I saved the whole of reality from you”. He has brought the cosmos from the brink of destruction a few times now, he’s definitely shown he’s capable. And they provided the means to save the Universe for him: the Pandorica with its restoration field and some atoms to act as DNA for the Universe, and the exploding TARDIS to spread that DNA out to the rest of the cosmos.

    A second point you might bring up: the Silence didn’t cause the end of the Universe in The Wedding of River Song, that was due to River not killing the Doctor. It wasn’t part of their plan, so it really doesn’t match up to my explanation of the previous finale.

    To that i say, the Silence knew that it was a fixed point, and the Doctor knew it too. He knew the dire consequences of changing a fixed point were, threatening the existence of the entire cosmos, and i’m sure the Silence knew that too. So in a way, it is the same. The Silence presents that threat, of a Universe in jeopardy, a Universe about to be wiped clean, and the Doctor is faced with choosing that, or choosing his death. In both cases, he chooses death. (again, sort of.) It’s simply a matter of which comes first: In The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, the threat is tangible and already in motion before the Doctor faces his choice, a gun that has been fired. In The Wedding of River Song, it is a gun waiting to be fired, a gun to the collective head of the Universe. The results are the same.

    A third point: You mentioned the voice in the TARDIS not matching up to the voice patterns of a Silent. Sure, that’s true. But i’m sure they weren’t done with the character design for the Silence at that point, and then didn’t want to use that original voice, so the scrapped it in lieu of the more guttural, grunting, hoarse voice we hear in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. Also, it’s clear that the Silence isn’t just composed the aliens themselves: they also employ humans, namely members of the Church in the 52nd century, the Headless Monks (i know, i know, they don’t have voices), as well as aliens like Gantok. In fact, for most of the series we saw a human, Madame Kovarian, in a role of seeming ultimate authority (now it definitely seems she answered to the Silence themselves, but she still had a lot of power). So there’s no reason the voice couldn’t have been someone other than a Silent. Remember, it’s primarily a religious organization, not a race, as revealed by the Teselecta. We don’t have to assume it was someone unaffiliated with the Silence.

    From my point of view, the Pandorica was simply the first attempt by the Silence to kill the Doctor (or maybe the second, it’s really hard to tell sometimes, with time travel and all) and they did it in a remarkably similar way. As i was watching The Wedding of River Song, i kept thinking about the previous finale, and everything started making sense. They didn’t want to destroy the universe at all, they simply wanted to get rid of the Doctor by playing on his weaknesses, sacrificing himself to save everyone else. And i bet they were really pleased once they believed him dead in Utah. Their plan finally worked, or so they thought. Really, the Doctor knows both the Question and the Answer, and i bet next series, he finds his way over to Trenzalore. i don’t know whether we personally will hear the Answer to the Question (his name?), but hear you me, shit will go down. The Doctor has been running his whole life, but now it’s time for him to stop.

    And now that i’ve written all that, i feel like the biggest nerd in history. Have a good night.

    p.s. more in regards to the ACTUAL topic of your article, yes, i also think this whole idea of an Ultimate Question is pretty great. i’m also a big fan of Hitchhiker’s, and that’s what i immediately thought of. i can’t wait for the next series.

  3. Great recap of the “Question” and the Silence. Geoff your reply was on point and i can’t argue the logic involved in your point of view.

  4. All of this implies the Doctor is the one who must answer the First Question.

    What if he’s the one who ASKS it?

  5. at a comic-con podcast interview it was brought up that the story was so intertwined it felt as if Moffst was making it up as he went, to which Matt said” Oh no, He already knows how (all) goes and all the answers which why it’s so mad to work in the dark when the man with the answers sits laughing in his box, but it does add to the feel of finding it all out together, but there is a out-line that unless he lets me Direct a epidoes I’ll never know nothing about it.”

  6. *edit Roomy said I got it wrong wasn’t Matt was someone who worked with the group……feel stupid…ignore prior post…

  7. I just want to point out to everyone that THE DOCTOR LIES. You can’t believe everything he says. Take it into account, but know that it might be a lie – especially if it’s significant. On a side note, it’s also been said that River Song lies too.

    Taking into account that the Doctor lies, we can’t really believe him when, talking about The Silence, he states “All the times I’ve heard those words, I never realized it was my silence… my death.” He may be trying to misdirect others in planting this idea (or the writers are trying to misdirect us?).

    I’m also wondering if there’s any difference in “Silence” and ‘The Silence”, as both usages have been used to seemingly refer to the same thing – but are they?

  8. I think the important thing to remember here is the verse from the Tick Tock Rhyme:

    Doctor, brave and good
    He turned away from Violence,
    When he understood,
    the Falling of the Silence.

    Remember when he said that he hadn’t realized that the Silence meant his silence? With his death, the question can never be answered. His death is the Falling of the Silence.
    So there is a difference. ‘The Falling of the Silence’ is the Doctor’s death, but the ‘Silence’ that MUST fall, when the question is asked, is the religious order.
    They named themselves after the death of the doctor, and so made things confusing.
    Personally, I believe that in his name, there is a dark secret. I’m highly inclined to believe that he is the great ‘the Other’ from Gallifreyan lore. At the same time, i think it’s more than that, but the Moff seems to prefer bringing all things up in a round about way – what if they are finally trying to get to the point where they can elaborate on his backstory like they had intended to before the Original run of the show was cut?
    I know that there are alot of people who wouldn’t like knowing, akin to the Origins of Wolverine, it’s the not knowing that makes it wonderful for them.
    Personally, though, if anyone can do it, the Moff can.
    Also, the Fall of the 11th means that when Matt Smith leaves, we know the question will be asked.
    It’s inevitable.

  9. I think that we will finally hear his Gallifreyan name, but that speaking it will be an earsplitting, devastating event that will cause the universe to implode, as his name is some sort of apocalyptic cosmic command for the universe to eliminate itself.

  10. so someone is going to ask doctor who, then the eleventh doctor dies, the 12th doctor shows up, and says… “I don’t know yet, I’m still cooking” or something similar

  11. If you read Dorian’s prophecy, Silence must fall when the Question is asked. Silence does not fall with the Answer, but with the Question. The Question does not need to be answered for Silence (whatever it is) to fall.

  12. 2 points to consider.

    1. why is doctor who? the oldest question.
    a. river song…. thats why… she sent out a message to all space and time “save the doctor” what would the response be?

    2. what is the answer
    a. at this point i have a theory. think of the prophesy, ” where no man can speak falsely of fail to answer” what happens if there is no answer… the entire universe falls silent until an answer can be spoken…

  13. Dr who is related to RASSILON thats why he stole the TARDIS to escape his family, this a plot line from the 50th year anniverary season…….

  14. Also a point to note the Tardis is responsiable for the DR’s regenerations they have all happend in or near the TARDIS, ex for Patric Troughton(who’s was forced on him as punishment) and second Tom Bakers..( a mysterious white figure appeared sent from the TARDIS I think?)……..

  15. My own question would be : how the hell do you create a fix point in time ? I still haven’t figured that one out.

  16. Has anyone ever considered that the Silence were protecting the Universe from someone “other” than the doctor? Look at the symbols used in “A Good Man Goes to War,” they are clearly symbols of Omega. Perhaps the Silence fear him more than the Doctor and that the Doctor’s name has a clear connection to his return since he resides in the antimatter dimension. In the Whovian universe words can act as keys or gates and his name may hold a direct correlation to Omega. I say this because the “triumvirate” that created the Timelords were Rassilon, The Other, and Omega.
    Omega was forced into the Antimatter Dimension as a result of the Timelords creation and “The Other” later threw himself into the cloning device so that future Timelords would recieve his traits. The Doctor seemingly inherited most of his traits and perhaps his name as well. This name may be the key particle to Omegas return and the Silence, being the “Sentinels of History,” know this and would rather see the doctor dead than Omega’s return as he now holds only vengeance against those that he believes abandoned him.
    Thus the Sentinels would fall when the key is given as the beast in the cage would be released and the keepers destroyed. “Silence will Fall when the question is asked, Doctor Who?”

  17. Silence will fall, when the question is asked because River sent the message for help to the beginning of time. Therefore the oldest question in response to “the Doctor is dying, please help” is “Doctor Who?” And at the fall of the 11th where the question is asked, and must be answered, the universe will fall silent waiting to hear the answer to this oldest question, “doctor who? All of which will be a moot point, because the Doctor will answer it, by whispering it in River’s ear. So River will know his name. and the rest of the universe will still be in the dark. It never says he has to answer it loudly to everybody. He answers. River knows, and no one else.

  18. Season 6 got a bit lousy towards the end. ALl that “silence” nonsence and suddenly the Doctor is the most important being in the entire Universe. Way too pretentious.

  19. Everyone seems to forget about “Silence in the Library”, the first episode with River Song…She whispers in the Doctor’s ear and asks, “Are we good?”…..Even the title “Silence in the Library” makes you wonder what is really going on….Remember Donna Noble, when she remembers the Doctor, and the guy inside CAL says, “You remembered and then your forgot”…..much like the Silence….

  20. I wonder whether it relates to the Daleks.

    After all, they’ve now forgotten the Doctor. So they now have no predator, no reason to be afraid – until they ask the question ‘Doctor Who?’

    On a related note, the Tick Tock rhyme:

    Doctor, brave and good
    He turned away from Violence,
    When he understood,
    the Falling of the Silence.

    In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the Doctor killed someone, deliberately. Even the 10th Doctor, in his increasing loneliness and madness (when he changed a fixed point just because he wanted to) didn’t do that (though he has destroyed a large number of Daleks and others in extremis, but never ‘just because’, IIRC). And the 11th Doctor changed a fixed point, albeit by trickery. So he’s getting more and more extreme. And he’s worrying about being responsible for Amy’s death. Don’t know exactly what it means, though.

  21. Even if the Doctor decided to answer the question, I believe there are other options he could answer with other than his name.

    “Doctor who?”
    “He who destroyed the Time Lords”, or some other such nonsense.

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