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.

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The Zeroth Doctor

Who is Hurt!Doctor? The generally accepted theory is that he is the regeneration between the 8th and the 9th Doctors who was responsible for the destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War. There are three problems with that theory: (a) Nine and Ten spent a great deal of time mopping around and being all angsty about the terrible things the Doctor did in the Time War; (b) would the average casual viewer actually remember/care anything about the Time War from several seasons ago now (and in Davies's tenure)? (c) it would be very boring. There are a few other possibilities: a future Doctor, but that's been done (the Valyard), a 2.5 Doctor, but that's incredibly obscure, some kind of alternative Doctor, but again that's been done (the Dream Lord amongst others).

My preferred theory, and naturally I am not the first to come up with the idea, is Hurt!Doctor is the Zeroth Doctor. The title of the episode "The Day of the Doctor" suggests that the story will be about how the Doctor got his name. This is the 50th anniversary special. One would expect it to be about the beginnings of Doctor Who in some way. The Doctor's pre-"An Unearthly Child" is essentially totally unexplored (and there are those such as Dr Sandifer who would wish it to stay that way) and thus is replete with unused potential unlike the Time War (how would a 8.5 Doctor fit in with the continuity of the novels and audios?). A Zeroth Doctor would ft better with what we see of Clara helping One steal the TARDIS. Finally giving the Doctor an origin story would set the programme up for the next fifty years. As an added bonus, if there were a Zeorth Doctor, Eleven has thus used up all his regenerations and Twelve can start again with a whole new set after various travails that can drive the Christmas special. (I remember talking to my brother about the regeneration limit after "The Deadly Assassin" back in 1976 and him reassuring me that they would come up with something when the time arrived.)

Yes, you're right, Hurt!Doctor will probably turn out to be 8.5 Doctor. If that happens, colour me disappointed. A Zeroth Doctor seems much more interesting and much more Moffat to me. Of course, with a bit of timey-wimey, Hurt!Doctor might turn out to be Zeroth, 2.5, 8.5, future and alternative Doctor. We'll know in two weeks. 


Worlds Apart

I was in Liverpool on Friday and I had just walked past the Adelphi on my way back to Lime Street when I spotted what looked like a comics shop and "sci-fi" collectables shop and I thought "I don't remember that being there from the Liverpool Eastercons. Should I go in? I don't know when the next train back to Preston is. I might miss it. Oh, what the heck, if life gives you a comics shop, go in it." There were a lot of comics in the shop, although no non-comic-related books that I could find. I suspect there must have been some somewhere surely. The main thing that struck me was the shop was full of schoolchildren. OK, about half a dozen mid-teenagers, boys and girls, in school uniforms. And I thought that was me thirty years. OK, there was no comics shop in Preston and I was more interested in RPGs and written sf, but the very fact that there are still 15-year olds doing what I did/would have done at 15 gave me hope for humanity. And to think that if you were a 15 year-old male sf fan you might able to meet girls who were interested in sf!

I bought a copy of the new-style Interzone as I felt I ought to buy something and it was by far the most plausible thing that I could find aligned to my own current interests. But I got something much valuable from the shop: a renewed faith in the future. And I didn't miss my train.

Summa Technologiae

The most exciting news of the week was the discovery, via the daily newsletter, that Stanisław Lem's Summa Technologiae is finally available in English translation. This is a book that I have wanted to read for years. It sounds absolutely amazing, although whether it can possibly live up to my expectations is another matter. Still, I now don't have to learn Polish in order to read it in the original. Unfortunately, there is no Kindle edition available yet, but I have ordered the hardback and can hardly wait for its arrival (early June, I hope). 

Doctor Who: "The Chase"

Terry's back to the portmanteau style of "The Keys of Marinus". I wonder whether people noticed or minded at the time. And here he gets to incorporate plenty of comic relief into the mix. Well. he did begin his writing career as a sketch writer for the likes of Tony Hancock. And I wonder  what people made of that. The Daleks were at the height of their popularity and Hugh Weldon for one was keen on seeing them back in the show as soon as possible. Nation clearly struggled to come up with plots that could sustain a story for much more than an episode or two ("The Daleks" is basically a three-parter welded on to a four-parter.). Amongst Who writers he wasn't alone in that, but those other writers made the effort to plough on for four or six episodes of a halfway coherent story as, indeed, Nation himself managed to do in his five 1970s stories (exactly how much help he got from the script editors then is a very interesting question). So what we get here is an episode of the TARDIS crew mostly messing around with the Spacetime Visualiser, some business on a desert planet inhabited by amphibians, comic scenes, for certain values of "comic", at the top of the Empire State Building (Peter Purves playing Morton Dill, a stereotypical Southern hick: oh, how they must have laughed), and on board the Mary Celeste, an episode set in haunted  house that is not all it seems and a finale involving a Dalek replicant of the Doctor (it wasn't an especially good idea then and it wasn't be a good idea now - I'm looking at you Stephen Moffat) and another attempt to create the new Daleks on a jungle planet.
Just three adventures with them in and already the Daleks are already declaring that the Doctor is their greatest enemy. That seems fast going even for the Doctor who didn't even seem to have heard of the Daleks less than two years ago in "The Daleks". Of course, the Daleks in "The Chase" might be Daleks from the future that have met and been defeated by many incarnations of the Doctor. I don't think that was what Nation was thinking, but then today we can't help from wondering why the Doctor conceals his knowledge of the Daleks from his companions in "The Daleks". Phil Sandifer in his rather wonderful TARDIS Eruditorium is keen on the idea that the Doctor's pre-"An Unearthly Child" career is brief. I'm not so sure. The Doctor lies. And he's a manipulative bastard, One every bit as much as Seven or Eleven. I find it more plausible that the Doctor lies about how much he knows about the Daleks than in his name-dropping from history. I don't see why he shouldn't have coached the Mountain Mauler of Montana. Three was keen on his martial arts, so why not One in his younger days? I'd much rather have a Doctor who is telling the truth about that kind of thing, even if he is not letting on everything he knows about a good many other things to his companions.

To the audience in 1965, there is no reason not to take everything they are presented with at face value: the Doctor has met and defeated the Daleks twice already, and that's enough within the narrative logic of Saturday evening teatime telly Today, with 47 years of continuity to wrestle with, we can't help speculating about untelevised adventures with he Daleks, both pre- and post-AUC. We might, for instance, wonder what kinds of things Susan was learning at the Academy, but perhaps the Time Lord education system works more on the principle of the gradual revelation of hermetically concealed truths. A bit like the Masons or the Mormons or the Scientologists. Or the British education system. How much does Romana know about Daleks in "Destiny of the Daleks"? But then she is a fresh graduate of the Academy whereas Susan has dropped out relatively early on when she absconds with her grandfather. Perhaps she never got to courses on the Daleks. It'll be years though before we start hearing about the Academy, much pondering what Susan might have doing there. For most viewers of the day, the Doctor had already done plenty enough to earn the Daleks' ire.  

As for the comic Daleks, we had Daleks on Skaro who turned out to be one of the scariest things ever followed by scary Daleks in an occupied Britain. So perhaps, in Nation's mind, doing funny Daleks was the logical way to go. No doubt there were plenty of Dalek jokes around then in the era of Dalekmania as now, so running with the gags might have made sense. It's noteworthy that the next Dalek story was co-written with Dennis Spooner and also has something of a portmanteau format and that when Nation comes back to the Daleks in 1973, it will be with a retread of "The Daleks" Nation only had so many ideas and it will be David Whittaker to take the Daleks to new heights. It's a pity that only one of his thirteen Dalek episodes survives.    

But, of course, it's not comic Daleks that are the real milestone in "The Chase", but the return to 1960s Earth and departure of Ian and Barbara. The scenes of the couple (and surely they are)  joyfully cavorting through are one of the highlights of the Hartnell era. They were shot (they are still photographs) by Douglas Camfield as part of the production of the next story. Ah, the simple pleasures of a trip by Routemaster through the streets of the C20th metropolis after sojourns on Skaro, the Sense-Sphere and Mechanus! This is one of the points at which Who could have ended. Ian and Barbara are the show's original heroes with the Doctor more as an antihero to start with. But that didn't last as the Doctor turned out to be not quite what he might at first have been. The Doctor will prefer to keep some young male muscle around for a while (if you include UNIT, until Season 13), but it's been clear for a while now exactly who is top dog in the TARDIS. The Doctor doesn't need Barbara and Ian any more, even if he hasn't quite realised that to himself yet, and neither does the show. Ian and Barbara are so good that's a shame they do leave, but it probably makes sense for this story arc to be completed in a way that is true to the goals of the characters. They might have a bit of explaining to do though about exactly where they have been for the last couple of years.  

Supposedly, had there been a third Who/Dalek film, it would have been have based (naturally enough) on "The Chase". It's a pity that it wasn't made and it would have slotted in well enough with the British sub-genre of portmanteau horror films and the forests of Mechanus and the Mechonoid city would have been quite something in garish colour. Who knows what US audiences would have made of it, no doubt even less than of the two films that did get made, but it would have livened up rainy afternoon in the mid-70s in the UK perhaps even more than the other two Cushing films did. Certainly out of its context within the unfolding text, it would, had the script anything like fidelity to the television version, have been a genuine curio.I wonder whether they would have played the comedy up or down. They could have got Jim Dale to play the Ian character and Barbara Windsor the Barbara character or, perhaps, a young relative of Doctor Who. And if Peter Cushing were unavailable to reprise his role, possibly they could have drafted in a comedy actor to had made such an impact as Doctor Fettle in Carry On Screaming...   

Now Write On...

Barbara and Ian crop up a fair amount in various deuterocanonical texts. We might reasonably hope that William Russell will get to be in the series proper again during its 50th anniversary year. They could do something really touching and invoke the memory of Jacqueline Hill.

There is probably much that could be done with the Space-Time Visualiser. For instance, why has the Doctor not got it out again? And there is something of a body of work about the Mechonoids (or, indeed, Mechanoids). With modern special effects including CGI, we could enjoy vast hordes of the terraforming dodecahedrons as they raise cities of the jungle, desert and tundra of planets through the galaxy in preparation for the arrival of the human colonists. Things might get interesting when the colonists do eventually arrive. Perhaps even a descendant of Morton Dill.

Doctor Who: "The Space Museum"

"The Space Museum" is arguably the first ordinary Doctor Who story: the first sf four-parter. Now you might say that "Planet of Giants" was originally supposed to be a four-parter and, indeed, will be again soon after a fashion. But "Planet of Giants" is technically a sideways story, whereas "The Space Museum" is a futuristic adventure of the kind that would not feel very out of place in the Williams or Nathan-Turner period. We are going to be seeing a lot of this kind of stuff in the years. Unfortunately, "The Space Museum" is also not very good. We've seen some of that already and we are going to be seeing a lot of it in the future. But then as Lawrence Miles said recently, the fact that most Doctor Who is not very good doesn't matter. There is much more to Doctor Who than whether or not most of it is actually any good.    

But, then again, "The Space Museum" is also in some ways a sideways story. The TARDIS has skipped a time-track and the crew discover that they have been shot, stuffed and mounted in the Space Museum on the planet Xeros. That's not a bad idea (how could it happen?), a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey quantum gravity stuff that Moffat or RTD might have come up with. The classic series didn't do very much with time paradoxes or alternative worlds, so it is interesting to see an very early example of this, not that it is done well, but that it is done at all. (And, see also, "The Time Meddler" in two stories' time, so perhaps there was something in the air in 1965.) We get decadent imperialists with South African accidents, feeble student revolutionaries in turtlenecks, that old trick with yarn for when you're stuck in a labyrinth and the Doctor hiding inside a Dalek shell. It all sounds a lot more fun that it actually is. It certainly sounded more fun in the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special. A lot of stories did. Glyn Jones is still alive and still writing. Perhaps they could ask him back. As with so much much Who, the real problems here are the actors, the director and the script editing (in that good script editor can always do something with a script - if they have the time). In different circumstances, this might have been at least somewhat even livelier if never quite "Carnival of Monsters", another sideways story in a politically unstable society. Perhaps Robert Holmes was watching.       

Now Write On...   
We see another space museum, the largest in the universe, in "The Time of Angels". And Moffat throws it away in a couple of minutes. Of course, the Doctor could go back. Apparently he goes there regularly to keep score. And Moffat threw away a library the size of a planet. How could he not do something interesting with that. I had that idea years ago and now it's ruined, at least for Who. I could reclaim it as a trope for That leaves feeble revolutionaries - there's probably some mileage in that - or the TARDIS skipping a time-track. And that will never get old. (Do Nye/Moffat explicitly nod to this story in "Amy's Choice"?) The TARDIS crew turn up somewhere to discover not only that not only are they already huge celebrities, but in some way that's surprising and troubling to the crew. Perhaps they are gladiators in a society in which political power comes from the arena. So the crew have to discover how they ended up in such an unexpected situation and work out how to deal with the fact that their other selves appear to be starting to rather enjoy themselves.

And we should have someone hiding in a Dalek shell again.   

Grandfather of Assassins

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of Grandfather of Assassins. I recall from my AD&D days that the title of fifteenth level assassin was Grandfather and discovering from the Encyclopaedia Britannica that the Grandfather of Assassins was another title for the Old Man of the Mountain, the ruler of the fortress of Alamut and the head of the cult of assassins based there. Now we know that the Doctor is a grandfather (or, after the Time War, was), but we know every little about the Doctor's family. We don't know how many children he had (or indeed exactly what being a father or grandfather might mean to a Time Lord - looms and Jenny and all that), much less how many grandchildren. How much do we really know about the House of Lungbarrow and the Pyrdonian Chapter and the lengthy training of the Doctor and other Time Lords at the Academy? He know that the Time Lords in general and the Doctor himself don't seem that ninja-like. But, for the usual reasons of plausible deniability, the CIA or other Time Lord bodies might choose to have the training of assassins outsourced. The Assassins of Alamut would be the perfect organisation to outsource it to.

It would thus be perfectly natural for Susan to want to visit her siblings or cousins at Alamut. She might well be unaware of the exact nature of what it is that they are being trained to be and might well feel moral qualms when offered a chance to join them. It is entirely plausible that the First Doctor would know exactly what was going on Alamut and that it was not necessarily a librarian internship. A problem is that the First Doctor doesn't control the TARDIS's destination and Alamut might be a bit too much like the settings for "Marco Polo" and ""The Crusade" to be different enough for Barbara and Ian. Of course, we could make this a pre-"An Unearthly Child" story and perhaps even explain what the First Doctor was doing on Earth in the first place. When did the Doctor make his first televised controlled journey in the TARDIS? Perhaps the Doctor is sent there by the Time Lords. Zoe was a librarian, so one could imagine Two, Jamie and her ending up at Alamut and Two not wanting to reveal to his companions that he suspects that they might be on a CIA mission (foreshadowing of Season 6B?). Alamut seems like somewhere that Leela would have plenty to do and the novel could also be a homage to "The Robots of Death". Romana I would be good. There could be a Key to Time wild goose chase, setting up a clue for a televised story, and the Guardians of Time could make an appearance. Seven and Ace might be a good pairing as it would be quite different to any of their televised adventures. Going against the grain, Five, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. Now that would be a real writer's challenge to do something interesting with that crew. I am sure Alamut would offer plenty of possibilities to breath a bit of life into those three. I almost thinking on the basis of casting against type that that is going to be our stimulating choice. Where might a suitable gap be to fit this story in?.                

Doctor Who: "The Crusade"

There are only two missing episodes from Season Two (it is the shortest season of early Who at 39 episodes, but not really that much shorter than the other Hartnell/Troughton seasons), and if there were to be two missing episodes from this season, we would rather they were from "The Space Museum" or "The Chase". "The Crusade" is a very solid historical and the audio tracks for episodes 2 and 4 unfortunately don't allow us to imagine what is going on as easily as is the case for the missing episodes of the more straightforward Base under Siege story of "The Moonbase". With the "The Reign of Terror" shortly to be released with its two missing episodes, we can hope that "The Crusade" might be revisited. I could certainly do with revisiting it myself. It's a over two years since I saw it and there are a great many potentially ticklish obstacles to be navigated here by the production, although I think on the whole I think there are navigated successfully, although it is a pity that the BBC resorted to blackface. This is very far from the debacle it might have been in less sensitive hands, but I think a second "viewing" is in order with an eye to determine just how orientalist the story is.

I recall a duplicated sheet from second year history with a cartoon of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin shaking hand and a caption declaring that the Third Crusade was a draw. Saladin was "our" kind of "Turk" in popular imagination (mostly it seems owing to Sir Walter Scott), which helps to make the whole production less freighted than it might have been - or might be today. As with "The Aztecs", we get some cod-Shakespearean dialogue, but, with actors as skilled and well-cast as Julian Glover, it works in context and the audience of the time probably would have expected it, being more familiar with that kind of thing than today's. Bill Russell gets to do much the kind of thing that we got to do in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Barbara has a meaty subplot. I'd need to see it again to determine just how similar Barbara's predicament here is at one point to her predicament at one point in "The Keys of Marinus".  

"The Crusade" has a special place in Doctor Who lore as one of the three DW novels were published in the 1960s. It was Whittaker's most substantial script up to that point so it is perhaps little wonder that he chose it as the one to novelise. I remember my eldest brother returning excitedly from Hewitt's, our local newsagent, to announce that three DW novels were now available. The copy of Doctor Who and the Crusaders, with its wonderful Chris Achilleos cover, might still be in the house in Preston somewhere, along with the other two and some other DW novels I got later. I remember considering it a curious object as a child - pure historicals were something that belonged to a remote age. Sadly I don't think I have ever read it;  certainly, if I did, I don't recall anything of it other than its mere existence, but there must be lots of fans (my brother amongst them?) who did need read. Indeed, there must have a number of fans who during the interregnum between 1966 and 1973 came across it in libraries and jumble sales and the bookshelves of their elder siblings. I wonder what they made of it and I wonder how it stands up now.

Now Write On...
I can't see the BBC doing the Levant in the studio these days. But, heck, they could go there on location. What about something set in C9th Baghdad or C12th Alamut? The Doctor and co. turn up at Alamut to consult a rare manuscript in the library  The Doctor finds himself investigating a series of murders - in a fortress of assassins. This could be a homage to The Name of the Rose as well as to the richness of Islamic culture. The shadow of orientalism lies heavy, but a writer of sensitivity with knowledge of the period could do something very interesting here I think without falling into those traps.

Doctor Who: "The Sensorites"

"The Sensorites" is not very good. In fact - whisper it quietly - it is probably worse than "The Keys of Marinus". At least, that had a portmanteau format and, if you didn't like one setting there, there would be another along in a minute. Here we get six episodes in which almost nothing seems to happen, certainly nothing of any real interest. The Sensorites themselves, leaving those pesky feet, do actually look surprisingly good, in spite of the zips, although the idea that are all identical is clearly absurd,  They must be the most timorous race in the universe. This is not a promising premise. They are afraid of everything it seems (bright lights, loud noises, making decisions) even if they do possess some pretty advanced technology (see later) and apparently don't need vacuum suits (perhaps there is a pressurised walkway around the spaceship). If this were a story of the Sensorites overcoming their timorousness with the Doctor's help, there might be something to get our teeth into, but the humans are as bad as the Sensorites. Lorne Cossette did not so much phone in his performance as radio it in by Morse from the Southern Ocean, but at least Stephen Dartnell is trying. A bit too hard. It's not until we get to meet the Commander that things liven up. We can see what the story should have been about and this fits with the theme of Newman's Yesterday's Enemy. A problem was commissioning a writer who clearly had little feel for sf. For all his many flaws, Terry Nation at least had some. "The Sensorites" needs a lot more shaping from Whittaker and Lambert, but it probably looked better on the page and much of the blame has to be placed at the hands of the directors and, to a lesser degree, the actors. "The Sensorites" could probably have been saved by cutting it down to four episodes and increasing the amount of screentime of the Commander and the survivors of the original Earth expedition. As it is, this is probably the weakest story to date and had things gone on like this, it's hard to imagine that the programme would have long survived. Luckily, every story is a reboot for Who. Things can get better.     

The best thing on the DVD is Toby Hadoke documentary "Looking for Peter". Peter R. Newman's short life and scant career are a tragedy of unfilled potential. He suffered writer's block and worked as a porter at the Tare Gallery. He died after a fall at the gallery in 1975, aged just 48. He never got to have the consolation though "The Sensorites" isn't very good, he and it aren't and won't be forgotten.  

Now Write On...

It is as much, if not more, than the Sensorites could hope for that the RTD created the Ood as an homage to them. The Sensorites are able to remove the TARDIS lock and thus prevent the Doctor and co. getting back in. No other race manage to do that, which suggests either that the Sensorites are a lot more advanced than they look or that the have access to Time Lord(-level) technology that few if any other races in the Whoniverse do. There's a hook there: someone removes the TARDIS lock and the Doctor has to find out where they got the the technology to be able to do that from. It turns out to be the Sensorites. Of course, that just raises another question... I also think there might be some mileage, if handled delicately enough, in the idea of a group all the members of which appear identical to members of the group, but which are clearly differentiable to other people.