Doctor Who is a show that's always looking to be progressive and forward thinking, but that doesn't mean it doesn't look to the past. The show has a long history and fans across generations, and has done a solid job of rewarding all levels of fandoms with some deep cuts and inside jokes that are completely brilliant at times.
Inside jokes have been a part of the series since its beginning, though with this I'm sticking primarily to the modern reboot. Don't worry though Classic Whovians, there's a couple nods to the past in this list, and some jokes that are so good the show used them multiple times over the years. Let's dive in, or as The Doctor might say "Allons y!"
"Smaller On The Outside"
Doctor Who's 2012 Christmas Special "The Snowmen" introduced the fans to Clara Oswald, as well as some murderous snowmen controlled by the Great Intelligence. As a new companion there's a certain song and dance the show must go through, the most important of which being the first time The Doctor brings them inside the TARDIS. Upon seeing the ship's interior for the first time Clara was shocked, and remarked "it's smaller on the outside."
The line was an obvious subversion to the classic Doctor Who line most who visit the TARDIS typically say, "It's bigger on the inside." To take things a bit deeper, Clara was actually the second companion to make this remark, the first being the Seventh Doctor's companion Jevvan. With that said Clara was the first to say it on television, as Jevvan's statement came during the audio drama "Valhalla."
Wrong Size Windows
"Blink" is widely regarded as one of the best Doctor Who episodes, and that reputation has led to a lot of behind the scenes info about the episode being unveiled over the years. It turns out the episode itself has a solid amount of trivia worth reading up on, including an observation from detective inspector Billy Shipton which remarked on the "wrong size windows" of the TARDIS.
The line may have seemed like a bizarre throwaway to some, but as Steven Moffat would confirm (via BBC), this was actually a direct nod to the show's online fandom. Billy's line was a reference to a discussion on the fan forum Outpost Gallifrey, in which viewers criticized the 2005 TARDIS design for having different windows than past models. Doctor Who fans this may be concrete evidence that the show does listen to fan complaints, but obviously continues on doing its own thing regardless.
"Are You My Mummy?"
"The Empty Child" is one of those classic Doctor Who episodes that captivated audiences with a classic science fiction trope that can haunt anyone's nightmares, a creepy child. The gas mask wearing child and his phrase "Are you my mummy," have become classic references to the fandom, and memorialized on fan pages and bootleg t-shirts several times over.
The line itself has also been nodded at a couple times on Doctor Who, and both were pretty fantastic. The first came with David Tennant's Doctor in "The Poison Sky," in which The Doctor asked the question to a commanding officer whilst wearing a gas mask. The second came with Peter Capaldi years later during "Mummy On The Orient Express" where, you guessed it, The Doctor asked the same question to a Mummy. I'd say the show should cap it off after those two brilliant references, though I'd hate to discourage any further nods being written for this iconic line.
John Smith's Parents
The "Family Of Blood" is a notable Doctor Who adventure for many reasons, but in the context of the show's history, good for one deep cut inside joke. The Doctor swapped his memory and biology with the Chameleon Arch and became John Smith, a human. the device retained The Doctor's memories and essence, while John Smith had a constructed background as so not even he could suspect he was anyone different. This included human parents who had names that any Who-storian would be familiar with.
John's parents were named Sydney and Verity, the same first names as two of Doctor Who's early major players, Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert. Newman is credited as the creator of the franchise, while Lambert was the first producer for the show way back at its start. Without either of them this franchise would not exist, and maybe, they should've gotten a much bigger in-show reference than this. Still, to be in an episode as classic as "Family Of Blood" is a high honor, so Whovians should nod their heads in reference whenever watching this episode.
O's Inconsistent Findings On The Doctor
Doctor Who went all James Bond in "Spyfall," and found an ally in an MI6 agent by the name of "O." O would later be revealed as a new (or past) incarnation of The Master, but that's not really important here. What is important is the throwaway line in which O references the scores of documents he has on The Doctor that have "a lot of inconsistencies."
The line seemed like an open acknowledgement that the world of Doctor Who and history of The Doctor in general can be inconsistent. For all the callbacks and references this series does do, there are also times in which plot lines are abandoned, ignored, or forgotten when new episodes are written. The show has been on for 50 years, so it's inevitable there are going to be some inconsistencies, so I guess it's cool that The Master has seemingly made those inconsistencies canon.
"I'm Not His Assistant"
Doctor Who has gone through many changes over the years, both visually and culturally. There has also been some changes to the verbiage used in show, such as the term to refer to the humans that assist The Doctor on his journey. Currently The Doctor calls them "fam," before that it was "companion," and before that it was "assistant."
This concept was touched on in a rather hilarious way during the episode "School Reunion," in which classic Doctor Who "assistant" Sarah Jane came back into the story. When Sarah refers to Rose as the Doctor's assistant Rose takes grave offense, even though Jane was merely stating the term as she knew it. The reference was a great nod to The Doctor's past, and perhaps a nod to how the role has evolved over the years.
The Doctor is known for many things, honesty being one of them. One thing that isn't necessarily a hallmark of his character is a unique eye for fashion or design, though he does tend to be a staunch critic of the design choices of others. More than a few times in Doctor Who The Doctor has said "You've redecorated" with enthusiasm only to quickly follow with "I don't like it."
The trend started way back during the tenure of the Second Doctor, who mentioned on a couple occasions not liking the interior design of locations. The trend continued with Matt Smith's Doctor, who remarked the same after visiting the house of Craig Owens (played by James Corden). Smith's Doctor would get his just desserts later during a team up with David Tennant's Doctor, who would remark he didn't like what had been done with the TARDIS redesign.
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