Paul M. Cray (pmcray) wrote,
Paul M. Cray
pmcray

Self-Consistent Timelines

Over the last year, I have been blogging heavily at Atomic Razor with 280 posts since 31 December 2013. There is an RSS feed. It would be good to have some way of automagically posting the Razor entries to my LJ without having to cut and paste. If anyone has ideas, please let me know. As a taster of what is on the Razor, below the cut is today's entry on Self-Coinsistent Timelines.

So, "Last Christmas" is about dreams within dreams. At the end, none of the participants waking "finally" from the dream show any physical ill effects. But, of course, it is a dream and the dream crabs might simply be a figment of the nightmare. But whose nightmare? Clara's? The Doctor's? But we have "dreamy-weamy" in Moffat before in the series 8 finale and in "The Dream Lord". If Santa is still "real" at the end of the episode are we still in a dream? Will this turn out to be significant in series 9 or will it never be mentioned again (until it suits Moffat)?

But this is playing on themes from series 8 and, indeed, earlier ideas of Moffat's. I seem recall him saying a few years back around the time that he became show-runner thatDoctor Who is a fairy tale. So Santa Claus makes the point that the Doctor is no different him. But a similar point was made in "Robot of Sherwood". And, of course, is the Moon "really" an egg and was the world "really" turned into a forest overnight in order to protect the planet from a solar flare?

As the Weasel suggests, a reasonable deduction based on the evidence of the end of "Last Christmas" is that whole is the dream/fantasy of Tommy Westphall. I did do a little research (as did the Weasel) and we both found the Tommy Westphall Wiki. Which does indeed mention DW. The wiki doesn't really make the logic of the connection very clear, but from other sources (Ned Beauman's Guardian article), but it goes something like this according to Ned:

St Elsewhere's Dr Turner, for example, was investigated for murder by Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss from Homicide: Life on the Street. Their colleague Detective Munch once questioned The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files. The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files smokes Morleys, the same fictional brand as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy spun off Angel, in which one of the clients of the evil law firm Wolfram and Hart is Weyland-Yutani. A Weyland-Yutani spaceship was spotted in a hangar bay in Red Dwarf, and so was the Tardis. All these shows seem to take place in the same fictional universe - so if St Elsewherewas all a dream, then so is Doctor Who.

Colour me slightly unconvinced by that rather tenuous skein of connections. As I said, I want something a little more direct. How do we know, for instance, that Weyland-Yutanin in the Red Dwarfiverse is not named as a homage to the firm in Angel? In Ben Aaronovitch's The Also People, the People are Banks's Culture with the serial numbers filed off. But the Culture is an explicitly pre-Singularity civilisation. Whereas the defining characteristic of the Time Lords (there's a clue in the name) is that they are time-active. As far as I know the Culture/People are not time-active in which case we might wonder why the Time Lords would want to sign a non-aggression treaty with them? The FoAK puts the Time Lords at Kardashev scale Type IV. There are, of course, Type V societies in the Whoniverse (the Eternals, the Immortals and probably others). Nevertheless, the Time Lords are surely a post-Singularity civilisation (the Singularity is characteristic of Type I civilisation according to the FoAK, which, of course, does make sense, and a post-Singularity society might jump to Type III or IV or even V and beyond straightaway, at least in principle) and there are definite suggestions that the Time Lords have the capability to undertake metaphysical engineering (ontological engineering is a real thing, but not what we are after here). There's a lot of Gallifrey/Time Lord stuff in Classic Who, the novels and the audios, out there. How much of it was canonised by "The Night of the Doctor"?  It is, of course, too much of a coincidence to believe that Miles's Time War and Davies's Time War are not the same event (in some deep ontological sense, perhaps). In which case, yes, we do get the Faction Paradox as canon, of course, and surely that's there whole point. As Clarke might say (who has said this?), any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. Voodoo Tardises, for instance. Can't say the Goth vibe in Alien Bodies did it for me, but I need to read more FP. The Book of the War indeed.

(Of course, episode X9.1 is called "The Magician's Apprentice", which were told at the end of "Last Christmas", James Bond-style. The Doctor was referred to at least once as a magician in that episode. There are two types of magician, the stage illusionist, which presumably is what the references to his clothing were alluding to, and the wizard practitioner of Ritual Magick. Which describes the Doctor in Clarkean sense certainly. But, who is the magician of the title? The Doctor or someone else? And who is the apprentice? Clara? Shona? We know that Ace became a Time Lord. Shona is more Ace-like than the Doctor-like Clara. Could Shona be destined to become a Time Lord like Ace?)

Humans are story-telling machines. (Story, not plot!) So, the mind takes in the evidence from its modalities and creates as far as it can a self-consistent story of what is going on. Of course, the more self-consistent the better from a Darwinian point of view. But it only has to be good enough. This much is C19th/C20th psychology (the Unconscious, the Subconscious) and cognitive science. With natural language, we use stories to make sense of the human and natural worlds. Thus for computers to be fully conscious in the human sense, they must be story-telling machines.

Fantasy (or perhaps Fantastika) is intrinsic to story. Consider the earliest stories. The Doctor is an archetype and the Whoniverse is a giant collection of myths that the BBC has ben pumping into the collective consciousness of the world over the last five decades. It no longer belongs to the BBC. How could it? To fic is human. We can tell many tales about our heroes. We don't have to demand that they respect continuity between tales (necessarily) and there is plenty of leeway to use sleight of the tale-teller's hand with tales. Story logic and all that. It wouldn't happen in real life like that. But this isn't reallife. We can invoke the narrative conventions. It's more real than real. But, of course, like Tolkien, we are today the products of the age of the railway timetable. Self-consistency with the very much overlapping magisteria. We can try. We have to try. Surely there is a canon of some kind. Because if there isn't why do we care (when someone dies). Gun might demand the foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds and Frock might know what is really important, but reality that is that which doesn't go away when you stop believing in it. Perhaps we need to 100% Gun and 100% Frock. Dead people stay dead.

Just this once, nobody dies. Perhaps we do get reconciled with our dead relatives in heaven or at the Omega Point. But if there is a representation of Danny in the Matrix somewhere, is that representation really Danny? And if Danny does come back to life (heck, the Brig did as a Cyberman), is that cheating the viewers. Don't Katrina and Sarah Kingdom and Adric have to stay dead for it to matter.

I have just started by watch of Torchwood as part of my Who marathon (five years now!). I have seen little TW before. It didn't generate much of a reputation in the UK. But, of course, it did have its fans and gained traction in the US before Moffat's Who trumped it. Terrance Dicks was right all those years ago. If you set your low-budget show in Cardiff, the only storyline you have is shape-shifting monster possessing people in Cardiff. The actors like to do possession. And Chibnall must be front-runner to be DW show-runner. But has Moffat actually said he is going? Anyway, TW is explicitly (indeed!) set in the same continuity as DW. "The Christmas Invasion" and "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday" are referenced in "Everything Changes". But, of course, a world that had really experienced such events who be utterly transformed. It's story logic again. People explain away things they can't understand and thus the significance of the alien invasion fades against the mundane contingencies of people's lives, True enough. There's a story there about that. But I think real Dalek/Cyberman invasions would leave a long shadow.

But the real problem here is Torchwood itself. In series 2, Torchwood is so incompetent it has never managed to arrest the Doctor despite the fact that he spent several years embedded with the British Army. But then the UNIT timeline can't be the timeline ofTorchwood or NuWho. There is no mid-century British interplanetary crewed space programme in NuWho. Mid-ranking police officers in 1953 are aware of Torchwood and by the late 2000s, Torchwood 3 in Cardiff seems to be familiar to all security personnel around the city. Is this the same Torchwood? What's clear is that the original (Canary Wharf) Torchwood only exists during Eleven's personal timeline. This explains why Three, Four, etc., didn't encounter them. They didn't exist in the Doctor's timeline at that point.  

In "Inferno", the Doctor seems surprised by the existence of parallel worlds. By 2006, Micky has a genre-savvy media watcher is thoroughly familiar with the concept in "Rise of the Cybermen". The Doctor lies. There might be other Doctors in other universes, but we are concerned only with the timeline of one instantiation. The Doctor and the Tardis are constantly consciously and subconsciously messing with the timelines in order to ensure that his timeline is always self-consistent. What do you think they spent all those years learning at the Academy? As we saw in "Father's Day", bad things happen when the Doctor's local self-consistency starts breaking down. So, Katrina/Sarah/Adric/Danny stay dead because if the Doctor tried to bring them back it would disrupt his timeline. The Doctor can reboot the universe and shift constantly into other timelines, but he must always respect causality in his time cone. Or else! Of course, causality means something different to a Type IV metaphysical engineer embedded in Story than it does within quantum relativity paradigm of modern physics, but you would expect that. And the Doctor is not the only time-active actor now or in the past. There's plenty of chronotech that's been left on Earth over the years and also the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Enemy (the Daleks? The Doctor?) and many other groups have all been messing around with causality at different levels.

The Doctor and Tommy Westphall and Santa Claus and other mythic figures then are elements of the recursive, self-reflexive, self-generating cybernetic metaphysical system of which our reality is merely one membrane of existance. As Lance Parkin said in The Gallifrey Chronicles "One of the things you'll learn is that it's all real. Every word of every novel is real, every frame of every movie, every panel of every comic strip." But if everything is true and everything is connected to everything again, why does anything matter? Because of the Directed Acyclic Graphs of which the Doctor and other actors are part that generate locally self-consistent causality and continuity. Forget about the global, we can only see the stuff bear to us. Stick close to the Doctor if you can or if you dare. "It won't be quiet, it won't be safe, and it won't be calm. But I'll tell you what it will be: the trip of a lifetime!"

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