Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fish Custard (11)

One last thing, before moving on.

You remember the opening of Genesis of the Daleks? The Doctor tries to "beam up" from the Sontaran base to Space Station Nerva, but finds himself six zillion and four years in the past on the planet Skaro. A Time Lord explains to him that this week's story involves him preventing the Davros from creating the Daleks, and would he get on with it please? Doubtless Terry Nation could have come up with some special reason for the Doctor to decide to go and witness the creation of the Daleks off his own back, but it would have taken much more screen time and probably not been much more fun. Authors always have to nudge their heroes towards the plot: erecting a big neon sign saying "Step right up! This way to the plot!" is merely a particularly transparent way of doing it.

This, incidentally, was just about the only valid use of the Time Lords in the Doctor Who setting: as a convenient reverse deus ex machina to drop the Doctor into interesting situations (but never, ever to get him out of them. Well, hardly ever.)

Someone is already typing that no, in fact, this wasn't a plot device: this was (as explained in the totally canonical 2006 Doctor Who annual) the first skirmish of the last great Time War and therefore a pivotal moment in the history of the Doctor Who universe. I wish they wouldn't. [*]

Similarly, in Star Trek the Next Generation there was an all-powerful alien sprite called Q whose function was to pop up once a season and created a Dilemma for Jean-Luc Picard to agonize over. Although John De Lancie's characterisation was great fun, and although he sparked entertainingly off Patrick Steward, no-one ever really pretended that Q was anything other than a plot device: another stand in for the Author. Q shows Picard a future where he is sad and lonely; this has the result that he become less aloof and more willing to play cards with his colleagues. Q shows Picard and alternate world in which he is a merely competent officer, not a great hero, and this enables him to embrace (rather than feel ashamed of) his reckless youth. Doubtless those things could have been revealed through a more conventional narrative - but the device of the omnipotent god-like alien being, used about once per season, was a perfectly valid short cut.

(Captain Kirk also used to meet up with omnipotent alien beings, at the rate of about one in every three episodes. Some of them have been ret-conned as members of the Q continuum, I believe. But the points of these stories were invariably to show how Kirk reacts in the face of an all-powerful force and thereby make a point about religion and communism, or rather, to make the same point over and over again. The omnipotence and god-likeness of Apollo or the Squire of Gothos was the point of the story: the omnipotence and god-likeness of Q was only ever a means to an end.)

Now: I've said that there is not much point in inserting surrealistic dream sequences into Who, because the series itself is so surreal and dream like that it doesn't make much difference. I think that the same thing is true here. Clearly, The Dream Lord is a stand-in for the Author; and clearly his function is to create an environment which will reveal things about Amy's, or the Doctor's personality. And clearly this is, in the modern show, a pretty redundant plot device because every episode of Doctor Who is an environment which is intended to reveal things about Amy's or the Doctor's personality. The dreamscape created by the Dream Lord brings us to the moment when Amy chooses Rory over the Doctor; but then, the hardly more sensible costume drama in Venice existed mainly in order to bring us to the moment when Rory could tell the Doctor that he doesn't realise how dangerous he makes people to themselves (quite a prophetic remark, as it turns out).

Mr. Moffat introduces Rory (Ep 1) reveals that Amy fancies the Doctor (Ep 5) and kills of Rory (Ep 9). So in episode 6 he needs to accelerate things to the point where Amy definitely knows she love Rory and wants to have his babies and definitely thinks of the Doctor as more of a friend. Ergo, on comes The Author to put up big neon signs which say "The audience knows which way you are going to swing, so could you hurry up and swing that way, please."

Mr Whedon did a similar thing in a more off-the-wall way in the classic musical episode of Buffy. He introduced the very silly idea of a magic curse demon plot machine thingy (I have honestly forgotten) that forced all the characters to sing, which was very silly and very funny, but it had the very serious consequence that, in the best tradition of musicals, all the characters sang their innermost thoughts. Various major plot developments – the departure of Giles, the fact that Xander and Anya's marriage can never work -- are revealed in the space of 45 minutes.

Except...and this is what makes the story either tremendously clever or a bit of a cop out, and I'm guessing we aren't going to find out which until the season finale....except that the God-like Alien, the Surrogate Author is not Q, not a Time Lord, not the Trickster but the dark side of the Doctor himself. And I actually literally don't know what to make of this. I love the way his identity is revealed casually by the Doctor in the final moments, as if it was obvious, which it should have been; and I like the actual sneering persona and the way the Doctor and the Dream Lord interact. But it turns out that the point of the story isn't "Amy realises that she loves Rory" but "The Doctor forces Amy to realise that she loves Rory". And I don't quite know what to make of this. The Doctor has been playing matchmaker: he has brought Rory onto the TARDIS because he thinks it is historically inevitable for his wedding to Amy to go ahead as planned. But when Amy is sort of may be kind off hesitating between her boyfriend and her hero it's the Doctor's evil side which brings them together. (Not, say, an externalisation of his unconscious desires. We could have run with that: at a conscious level, the Doctor wants to stay with Amy, but deep down he knows this is impossible, so the Red Kryptonite empowers his repressed mind to send her back to Rory.)

So what does the Dark Side of the Doctor want? Is the marriage of Amy and Rory so obviously a very bad idea – both for the two characters, and for the future stability of the universe – that it requires the intervention of the Evil-Author-Doctor to bring it about? Or was Amy's romantic development an unintended consequence of a plan to trap the Doctor in a dream-world forever? (Is the idea that if the Doctor had believed the TARDIS dream world was real, he would have stayed there and the Dream-Lord would have taken control in waking Doctor?)

There was a really terrible and badly thought out Colin Baker story in which an evil Time Lord lawyer is said to be a future incarnation of the Doctor himself. The idea there was that if the Valeyard could get the Doctor killed, he will somehow inherit his remaining seven incarnations. Perhaps more intriguingly, we are told that Barry Letts original plan was for the final Jon Pertwee story to have revealed that the Doctor and the Master were the same man.



[*] It's a little more complicated than this, actually. Doubtless, Shakespeare could have used any number of plot machines to tell Hamlet that his wicked uncle murdered his father – maybe the Prince meets a witness who was in the orchard, or overhears Claudius saying his prayers. But, while the plot might come out much the same, the atmosphere of the play would be a lot different: Hamlet isn't just "the story of a man who is told that his father was murdered" but "the story of a man who is told by a ghost that his father was murdered". Similiarly "The Doctor goes back in time to discreate the Daleks" is a different story from "The Time Lords order the Doctor to go back in time and discreated the Daleks". The dramatic "do I have that right?" scene wouldn't work nearly so well if the Doc was there voluntarily.






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11 comments:

  1. I always thought that the Time Lords were best thought of this way: The Time Lords are to the Doctor as the Doctor is to ordinary people. Of course, they really only were that in Wargames/theonewiththeMaster/Genesis.

    But they were good in them - I loved the implication that they were much smarter and more powerful (didn't even need Tardii etc.)

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  3. Perhaps more intriguingly, we are told that Barry Letts original plan was for the final Jon Pertwee story to have revealed that the Doctor and the Master were the same man.

    I don't think this is true. I can't honestly say I've even heard it before. Letts talks about his plans for the end of the Master on the Frontier in Space DVD and never mentioned anything like this. The idea frankly sounds a little crazy to me. I could see Robert Holmes coming up with something like this, but not Letts and Dicks.

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  4. I should have resorted to my usual formula "There is widely disseminated oral tradition to the effect that..."

    Wikipedia, which in many of the more relaxed parts of Bristol has supplanted the Guardian as the standard repositry of all wisdom and knowledge, states that the final story of Season 11 would (if not for Roger Delgado's sudden death) have been called "The Final Game" and would have written out the Master by revealing that he and the Doctor were different aspects of the same individual (the Id and the Superego, apparently.) Wikipedia refers us to http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/lostaf.html which cites the same information, adding that the story was comissioned in Feb 1973. It cites an interview with Robert Sloman in Doctor Who Monthly #314. Since I don't have a set of back numbers of this esteemed organ, that's as much as I can say. Mr Sullivan implies that the idea for the story came from Barry Letts, and that it fitted in with his interest in Buddhism -- as did "Planet of the Spiders", the story which eventually replaced it. Obviously in the event the Master did not turn out to be the Doctor's Darksied, although in "Planet of Fire" he was stated to be the Doctor's own...argh!

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  5. I would be very surprised if the Dream Lord/Valeyard/Evil Doctor wasn't the big villain in this season's final episode. (SPOILERS for episodes to date)

    --They've introduced him into the story quite elegantly, such that viewers of the new series but not the old will have no trouble understanding who he is.

    --The themes introduced in "The Pandorica Opens" include the idea that reality is not all it seems, and the idea of the doctor as a bad guy, which both sync up nicely with the Dream Lord. And if you're going to be trapped in a box for a long, long time, confronting your evil side seems like a logical thing to deal with, right?

    --There's been no explanation for why the TARDIS explodes; perhaps the Dream Lord took control of the Doctor's body while they were all passed out in "Amy's Choice", and programmed it to self-destruct at a later point? Maybe this whole episode was a distraction?

    --More nerdishly: there's been a pattern, one I believe I heard that the creators of the show intended, of each new season relying on a Big Bad that was introduced during the run of a subsequent Doctor, hence:

    Series one/First Doctor: Daleks
    Series two/Second Doctor: Cybermen
    Series three/Third Doctor: The Master
    Series Four/Fourth Doctor: Davros
    TV movies/Fifth Doctor: Rassilon

    The Valeyard, coming from the Sixth Doctor era, would mesh with this.

    Oh, and there's the fact that, technically speaking, the Doctor's on his second-last incarnation, right? So the Valeyard would be running out of opportunities to manifest himself as one of the Doctors, so it makes sense that he'd strike now. AND, given the strong hints that River might kill this Doctor at some point in the future, that adds extra urgency to this possibility.

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  6. Well, come to think of it, maybe that isn't much weirder than what we did get in Planet of Spiders with K'anpo. I suppose it's possible.

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  7. Money still on Omega over Valeyard, if only because a cosmos that contains the Valeyard scarcely bears thinking about.

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  8. The difference between using the Time Lords as Q as a device to set up a plot and using the Dream Lord as a similar device is that just because Amy says she loves Rory doesn't mean that I have to believe her. Any more than I believe that Rory could so fully have grokked the Doctor's nature and his dangers in the few hours he'd known him in "Vampires of Venice" (see also Amy at the end of "The Beast Below"). It's actually Rory and Amy who are being used as devices here, and they're the wrong kind of characters for that sort of thing. Or are supposed to be, anyway.

    Besides, it's clearly not a choice between Rory and the Doctor as romantic partners that Amy is being faced with. It's a choice between marriage and traveling with the Doctor on the TARDIS. What's keeping Amy from marrying Rory is the fact that she's deeply ambivalent about marriage in general and marriage to him in particular, so when that ambivalence is resolved by her realizing that, wait, yes, she does love him - after an entire episode in which her behavior towards him has remained the same brand of slightly fond exasperation most of us would consider too chilly in a best friend, much less a potential partner for life - I call bad writing.

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  9. I'm thinking that part of Amy's behaviour stems from the inference that she is as much a trap for the Doctor as the Pandorica was (and indeed as the Rorton was for her).

    But part is shoddy writing, yes. I think perhaps not all the writers were on the same page as to who really thought what about whom.

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  10. Also, I find Amy's behaviour is less about love than fear of losing people: it has taken both of Rory's deaths so far (I really hope we get at least one more) to see Amy's fiercely devoted side really come out but it's the same fierceness that she showed when the Doctor was talking about Vincent topping himself.

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  11. Did you get my photos of the fish custard recipe, by the way?

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