Doctor Who: Zagreus Could Solve the Series’ Big Bad Problem
Zagreus album cover

Doctor Who: Zagreus Could Solve the Series’ Big Bad Problem

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and we were discussing the fact that since the revival of Doctor Who, the Big Bads of each season have been a little…redundant. Daleks and Davros, Cybermen and the Master, and only occasionally a shake-up like bringing back the Great Intelligence. Only Series 6 has featured an original Big Bad, the Silence.

That’s not terrible on its own. I’m always up for a good Cyberman story, and the return of the original Mondasian Cybermen this upcoming season is probably the thing I’m most excited about. However, it does make the series feel not only backwards-looking and timid, but not even very original in plumbing the long history it does have.

My friend’s suggestion for a new returning Big Bad was the Black Guardian, whose machinations were responsible for the best arcs of two different Doctors. My proposal, though, is Zagreus.

“Zagreus” was Doctor Who’s unofficial 40th anniversary. I say unofficial because it’s an audio story from 2003 when the show was off the air, and the Big Finish Audio stories were not canonized until ten years later in “Night of the Doctor.” The story brought together every surviving Doctor except Tom Baker, and even included the deceased Jon Pertwee through some clever use of previously recorded work. Not only that, every Companion actor who had participated in Big Finish up to that point had a role, making it one of the largest cast reunions in the show’s history.

The name of the adventure refers to an anti-time entity who was a boogeyman-like figure in Gallifreyan legend. In the end, the entire legend was merely a ruse by Rassilon, who was attempting to make sure only humanoid lifeforms ascended to high technology. Everything else he banished to a universe with circular, not linear, time, from which nothing could escape. Meanwhile, he manipulated events so that The Doctor would sacrifice himself to stop a bomb of anti-time. In doing so, he absorbed an overdose of anti-time, and went insane, believing himself to be Zagreus. Rassilon planned to return to rule the Time Lords through The Doctor/Zagreus as his puppet dictator. The plot was eventually undone by Charley Pollard and The Tardis itself, who took the form of the Brigadier and used old memories of previous Doctors to outwit Rassilon.

The Doctor regained his sanity, but was still infected with anti-time, meaning Zagreus could come back at any moment. He willingly banished himself to Rassilon’s circular universe to protect ours. While there, he and Zagreus became separated, with Zagreus taking the form of a suicide victim named Perfection. Zagreus attempted to escape the universe, but was tricked by The Doctor and Charley, who returned to our universe and to traveling.

One of the great unanswered questions, still, of the Whoniverse is how exactly Rassilon managed to escape the circular universe. We know he did because he appears in both “The End of Time” and “Hell Bent.” Presumably if he did, Zagreus might be able to, and if so, he would be the perfect Big Bad.

Zagreus is the quintessential evil doppelganger. It has all of The Doctor’s memories and intelligence, having literally been grown inside him. Let loose on Gallifrey, especially in The Doctor’s absence and the destabilization of government following “Hell Bent,” there’s no reason not to believe Zagreus wouldn’t be able to use the vast resources of the Time Lords to make them conquerors far worse than the Daleks ever could have been.

It would also give some chances for old Doctors to make some appearances on the show. Zagreus might as well use the form its most accustomed to, and The Doctor is still president of Gallifrey, so it has its advantages. Remember Mr. Clever from “Nightmare In Silver”? Matt Smith as his own cyberized version of The Doctor was one of the best moments in his whole run as Eleven. I would love to see a return of him as Zagreus, leading Gallifrey against the next Doctor. Or why not Tennant, McGann, or even one of the older Doctors? It’s not like the Time Lords were ever present for any regeneration except from Two to Three. Why wouldn’t a wizened form of Sylvester McCoy come back to rule Gallifrey?

This is all just spitballing, of course, but I wanted to throw a new idea out there and see if it got people thinking. All I know for certain is I really have no desire for another Dalek apocalypse as the show closer. At this point I’d even welcome back something as silly as the Master of the Land of Fiction. As long as Doctor Who is going to go with the whole Buffy the Vampire Slayer season structure, they need to start ramping up their villains, not just throwing in Davros and hoping for the best. It makes each subsequent appearance of these monsters a little less impactful.

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