At the beginning of Time of the Doctor, Tasha Lem explains to him that nobody really wants to land on the planet surface, because, as she says, "Every sentient being in the universe who detected that signal felt something. Something overpowering. Fear. Pure, unadulterated dread."

But then there are several things I don't understand.

  1. Why would the Time Lords want to instill this fear into everybody? Were they really trying to get everybody to be afraid of them? Why? Weren't they just testing the waters, so to speak? See if it was safe to come out?

  2. How come Clara didn't feel any fear? She was more than willing to go to the surface. Didn't she count as a sentient being?

  3. And, come on, a feeling so strong that even Daleks don't want to go there? Daleks have effective ways of handling those situations...

    Dalek boss: You. Will. Go. To. The. Planet.
    Other Dalek: But. I'm. Scared.
    Dalek boss (waving plunger around): YOU. WILL. OBEY.

    Right. So if this, ehm, this fear factor was that good, why didn't they use it on the Daleks to scare them off Gallifrey in Day of the Doctor?

  4. And throughout the episode, we see several other enemies breaking through the barrier the Papal Mainframe had set up, and the feeling of dread is not mentioned again. Did they switch it off at one time?

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    I've got a baaaad feeling about this...
    – Mikasa
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


Unknown, but perhaps a literary device.

It's likely that Moffat didn't think this through very well, and there's nothing more to it than that. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it's not intended to be as literal as it might seem.

Like the War Doctor regenerating because he can be the Doctor again, or the nonsensical mess that is The Angels Take Manhattan, Moffat's stories often operate on emotional rather than rational logic.

If we look at it from that point of view, the dread makes sense. Moffat's entire tenure as Doctor Who's producer has been spent telling a story which I've taken to calling "the Myth of Eleven." The audience (and the Doctor) know that Time of the Doctor is the end of that story. The Mysterious Message has ontological weight, a momentum of metaphor and foreshadowing: it signifies the death of the Doctor both literally (the TARDIS tomb at Trenzalore) and on an emotional, meta-textual level (the end of Matt Smith's era).

The dread is an in-story manifestation of the audience's (presumed) dread at losing Matt Smith and reaching the end of the Myth of Eleven. In that sense, it may be Moffat's slightly more subtle version of Russell T Davies' "I don't want to go home." If this is true, the dread is forgotten once it served its purpose. The story was to be a celebration of Matt Smith, not a funeral dirge.

Tackling it literally: addressing your actual points.

Time of the Doctor is a microcosm of Eleven's run as the Doctor, and of Moffat's quirks as its producer. With that in mind, let's look at how the dread lets us recall previous bits of the series.

  1. The Time Lords probably didn't want just anyone poking at the crack, so it makes sense to broadcast a go-away field. However, they're also insanely clever and they know the Doctor very well. Remember the first time we saw Eleven leave Earth? He gave Amy a great lecture about non-interference and then popped out to help a sad little girl. The Time Lords know that nothing gets the attention of the Doctor like a bunch of scared people, and he runs toward danger compulsively. Really, what better way to get his attention than to terrorise the entire population of the universe?

  2. Clara's fearlessness is a bit harder to explain rationally, but if we go for the emotional logic it becomes clear: her companion role is as the Doctor's governess. She keeps him safe, reminds him of what is right, gives him courage and perspective. She's died a million million times across all of history for him. She goes with him because it's her role to chaperone him, and she is fearless because that, too, is her role.

  3. This is easy to address rationally: nobody wanted to go first. The dread alone was never sufficient to keep anyone from going down, but it added to the tense détente over the planet. Recall Eleven's triumphant filibuster the FIRST time he was confronted with a sky full of his worst enemies: "Do the smart thing; let somebody else try first." Which leads to 4.

  4. Once the Doctor broke the détente, the dread still aided him because it kept everyone cautious. But when we're talking about the mightiest races in the universe, faced with the return of their greatest enemy, even a lot of fear will be easy to overcome in order to avoid that fate. Again, remember the Pandorica: out of fear that the universe would be destroyed, the Doctor's enemies united to face the one thing they had feared above all else--the Doctor.

Or maybe they just switched the thing off.

All this is, of course, assuming that the dread effect remained. It's possible that the dread effect was dropped at some point; if we expand logically from the first point, once the Doctor arrived the Time Lords would no longer need to make everyone afraid: it had gotten his attention and kept the Crack unmolested until he arrived. Now that he was there, in fact it would make sense for them to drop the dread so that he'd be under more pressure to speak his name.

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    Maybe I missed something in the episode but I don't recall any mention of something like an actual Dread-Field. They way I understand the episode, they just get the signal from the crack. What actually makes them fear is realizing what the signal means - as you said, that their greatest enemy might return. Just imagine the Allied Forces at the end of WWII if they suddenly received a radio signal telling them, that the 3rd Reich is about to return - instantly and in full power. That would have put the fear of god in them. And still they would have tried anything to prevent it. Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 11:29
  • @Sebastian_H That'd make sense, except that not even the Doctor recognised it was Gallifreyan until Handles told him. Add in the fact that Time Lords had become "mythical" to most sapients after the Last Great Time War, and the dread has to be caused by something other than actual understanding. So no, no mention of a dread-field, but not much else can explain the effects.
    – BESW
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 11:31
  • I believe that the message was encoded, it wasn't speaking Gallifreyan... because if that's the case then everyone would know it was the Timelords and people would have tried to destroy the planet before The Doctor had even got there. At the very least the Daleks would recognize the language... Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 18:56
  1. I don't think it's the Time Lords instilling the fear, at least not on purpose. I think the implication is that everyone there realizes, perhaps only subliminally, but still, that the message is the Time Lords poking their fingers through a crack, and what they fear more than anything in the universe is the return of the Time Lords, because to them, the return of the Time Lords is synonymous with the restart of the Time War.

  2. Clara doesn't fear the Time Lords. She'd just order them to "find another way" if they tried to restart the Time War. :)

  3. I'm not sure it's really fear that's keeping the Daleks away; I think it's actually the stalemate. In other words, it's not that nobody dares go to the planet, it's that nobody wants to go first, because that would make them targets for everybody else.

  4. See #3. (Think 8th grade formal dance: nobody wants to go on the dance floor first, because there will be a dreaded moment when everybody is looking at you; but once some brave soul takes that first step, the thing to do is join in, because otherwise you'll stand out because you're not dancing.) And there's doubtless some inuring going on - people get used to some very horrible things if they have to deal with them every day.

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