He Still Possesses The Moment (The Ancestor Cell)

(99 comments)

We’ve skipped The Fall of Yquatine, Coldheart, The Space Age, and The Banquo Legacy. One’s got a giant worm, one’s rapey, one got credited with capturing the Eighth Doctor perfectly despite being adapted from a twenty-year-old TV script that didn’t even have him in it, and one’s West Side Story in space. The Ancestor Cell is the big one - the novel that wraps up all of the plot lines that have been running since Alien Bodies. In it Gallifrey is destroyed, the Doctor loses his memory, Romana turns very evil and dies, and Faction Paradox is thoroughly dealt with. As one might imagine given the adamance with which they hated this entire plot line, Doctor Who Magazine called it a “surprising success” and “essential.” Lars Pearson wrote the politest and most supportive review ever to compare a book to “surgery without any anesthetic.” And the fan consensus dumps it at fifty-fifth, with a 60.2% rating.

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It’s July of 2000. Kylie Minogue is “Spinning Around” at number one, which is replaced a week later by Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” That goes a week later to Corrs’s “Breathless,” then Ronan Keating’s “Life is a Rollercoaster,” and finally Five and Queen with “We Will Rock You.” S Club 7, Coldplay, Oasis, Limp Bizkit, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, and Savage Garden also chart.

Since The Shadows of Avalon the Playstation 2 came out, Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia, the whole Elián González thing wrapped up, the Tate Modern opened, India’s population reached one billion, and the Human Genome Project was finished. While during the month this book came out, France wins the European Championships in football. In shuffles of power, the delightfully oxymoronic Institutional Revolutionary Party sees seventy-one years of power in Mexico come to an end, Bashar al-Assad takes over Syria, and Alex Salmond resigns as the head of the Scottish National Party. Big Brother premieres, and the News of the World pushes Sarah’s Law, the UK version of Megan’s Law, which would continually disclose the residences of all convicted sex offenders.

And in books we have The Ancestor Cell, a book that is almost universally recognized as a bit of a bad move, in the “invading Russia in winter” or “watching Timelash with your new girlfriend” sort of senses of that phrase. This is all completely true. This is not a good book on any level. Its prose is turgid, its plotting is awkward at best, and its ideas are bone-headed. It consistently insults the reader’s intelligence while cheerily driving its plot forward as an outright idiot plot. (I particularly love the moment where the Time Lords forget that putting a Klein Bottle in the time vortex flattens it and lets the contents escape, which on the one hand misunderstands a Klein Bottle and on the other hand assumes that Time Lords are prone to forgetting basic facts about how four-dimensional objects work.) It is an absolutely awful book. But the particulars of why it’s bad are almost immaterial. What’s more interesting is that this is the book that pays off nearly three years of plot threads and speculation by finally wrapping up the War arc introduced in Alien Bodies, which is still, I should remind you, the fourth-most popular Eighth Doctor Adventure ever. What’s interesting here, in other words, is not that it’s horribly stupid to have the Doctor destroy Gallifrey and promptly acquire amnesia, it’s that this is what they mustered as a response to all of the big ideas that the novel line had come up with thus far.

Yes, these are the same ideas I’ve been saying for a month could never work. But what’s striking about The Ancestor Cell is just how much they didn’t work. It’s one thing to blow the ending of a doomed arc. But The Ancestor Cell isn’t just bad. It’s a story like The Twin Dilemma, The Eight Doctors, and the TV Movie - a story that’s bad in such a way that it did long term damage to the series that required healing and repairs. That the War arc was going to end badly is in hindsight obvious. But even still, it’s not obvious that it had to end this badly.

In the broad case, beyond the fact that the book is terrible, there are two flavors of objections to be had here. The first is that Miles was uninvolved. This was due to a number of factors. For one thing, Miles wasn’t going to wrap up this arc, having flounced off and quit in a puff of Internet drama. (An impressive feat given that Miles, at the time, did not use the Internet.) His stated reason for this was his belief that he’d “lost his mandate,” which is to say, nobody really wanted the continuity to go in the direction he wanted it to go. By his later admission, this wasn’t true - he didn’t realize that he had a sizable fanbase that just wasn’t in charge of any of the magazines that posted reviews, but at the time he’d made a break from the novels. Beyond that, there’s no particular sign Miles was interested in paying off the War storyline now, or, you know, ever. The closest he’s come to talking about a plan was a Dalek novel to be called Valentine’s Day that dealt with the idea that the Eighth Doctor had become corrupted, and a proposed six-book cycle that dealt with the War from the perspective of alternate universes, from which he claims Cole nicked several of the ideas for The Ancestor Cell, particularly the idea of a giant bone artifact floating above Gallifrey. Neither of which were clear-cut endorsements of the idea of actually writing an ending for the War arc.

But equally, there’s a case to be made that this book was mad to even attempt without Lawrence Miles. Every one of the major ideas in this book, after all: sentient TARDISes, a future War, Faction Paradox - they’re all Lawrence Miles’s. To do a wrap-up of these ideas without Lawrence Miles seems fundamentally mad, especially because Miles was virtually the only one to deal with them substantively. Orman and Blum used Faction Paradox as a sort of embellishment in Unnatural History, there’s the skipped but apparently quite good The Taking of Planet Five, and obviously there’s the bit about Compassion in The Shadows of Avalon, but none of these come anywhere close to Alien Bodies or Interference in terms of how much of this mythology they set up. This is, at this point, firmly Lawrence Miles’s mythology, and it’s one that other people haven’t really touched. To take it away and give it to someone else just in time to conclude it is a fundamentally doomed endeavor.

“But wait,” I hear a commenter say, “didn’t you say on Wednesday that Miles needed to have the arc taken away from him to prevent the horrible rape of Compassion story he intended? You’re contradicting yourself!” Well, yes, I did say that, but it’s not a contradiction at all. Miles did need to not be in charge of the arc due to the bad direction he wanted it to go in. And, furthermore, the arc was impossible to resolve without Miles. But this isn’t a contradiction - it’s just a situation that ensures that the arc cannot possibly resolve well. Which, to be fair, I set up way back in Alien Bodies.

But none of this explains how shockingly bad The Ancestor Cell is. The crux of it, I think, is that there’s a fundamental mean-spiritedness to this book. This isn’t just the book that wraps up Lawrence Miles’s plotlines. It is, as he points out, a book whose sole purpose is nuking every trace of Miles’s influence from the line so that it could go in a new direction. It’s not just that the line loses Miles right before it gets to the conclusion of his arc, it’s that the arc concludes in a way that feels like a u-turn: a tacit admission that the whole thing had been a disastrous idea.

But if the arc was completely doomed - and it was - what’s so bad about that? I mean, the whole thing was a disastrous idea. Why is its abandonment such a searingly awful moment in the series’ history? The answer is something that’s been obscured by our particularly selective approach to the Eighth Doctor Adventures: because every other idea the line had was worse.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate, in that it suggests quite wrongly that the line actually had other ideas. In fact the bulk of what we’ve been skipping is some of the most generic Doctor Who imaginable. Going through the Virgin books exhaustively would have been a struggle, and I’d probably have had to abandon the two thousand word minimum I impose on my posts, but to do the Eighth Doctor Adventures exhaustively would have been the most mind-wrenching slog imaginable. I honestly don’t think it possible to get an interesting critical essay on every one of the books in this line, simply because they didn’t have anything to say. So as flawed as the War arc was, it was, if you wanted interesting and stimulating ideas in your Doctor Who, the only game in town. So whatever the flaws, seeing it completely sold up the river as a bad idea to be systematically nuked from the novel line is a depressing moment simply because it feels like an admission that the novel line is, upon careful reflection, completely opposed to the prospect of having any interesting ideas.

Of course, this book does have some interesting implications for the future of the series in that it’s the first work to officially destroy Gallifrey. As Lawrence Miles points out, of course, this was a staple of big epic fan fiction, which tended to nuke Gallifrey from existence as a sort of standard way of immediately becoming “epic.” Nevertheless, the destruction of Gallifrey in a big reality-breaking Time War is one of the cornerstones of the new series. Heck, the fact that the Eighth Doctor was in some fashion involved in a big reality-breaking Time War that destroyed Gallifrey is one of the cornerstones of the new series. And here we have a book where, well, I’m not typing it all out again.

Except that Russell T Davies goes out of his way to make it clear that this is not the same Time War at all. I mean, I suppose the nature of a reality-breaking Time War is that it can simultaneously be a war against a bunch of angry petri dish cultures mutated by an empty bottle of cheap chardonnay and a bunch of angry petri dish cultures mutated by Davros, but it’s nevertheless telling that the way that all of this plays out is that the Eighth Doctor Adventures end by bringing Gallifrey back so that Russell T Davies can destroy it in a different way and have the Doctor be endlessly guilty about that one instead of the first one. I mean, nobody writing the new series ever gives the Doctor a line where, after moping about his guilt at destroying his entire species, he mutters “again” or anything like that.

No, for all that the new series vaguely copies the outline of the Eighth Doctor Adventures in destroying Gallifrey and leaving the Doctor as the only one of his kind, the most notable thing about this book is how much it’s rejected. Much like the half human revelation of the TV Movie, this book manages the rare feat of anti-canon - so radioactive and universally considered a bad idea that it’s been actively rejected; people have gone out of their way to dig it up just to shoot it and make sure it’s dead.

And this is, of course, the third blow of this sort to happen in just over four years. And if War of the Daleks was the point where the idea of an official Doctor Who suffered a mortal wound, this is the point where it finally collapses under its own weight. There is, at this point, no way to even attempt to make a definitive statement as to what the proper continuation of Doctor Who was. Ever since the debut of the Big Finish line Doctor Who Magazine blatantly and publicly switched their allegiance over there. On the one hand, this was a decision that made at least some intuitive sense to people because, well, Big Finish had proper actors and was a performed medium, which was closer to what Doctor Who historically was. On the other, however, it came off as a huge swipe at the Eighth Doctor Adventures, since Big Finish came along almost in sync with Interference and a bizarre period in the reviews in which Vanessa Bishop essentially slagged off a year’s worth of novels on the grounds that she hated Interference.

The only problem was that Big Finish only had the 5th-7th Doctors. But that wasn’t as big a problem as it might have been, given the inherently contested status of Paul McGann. If anything Big Finish made itself even more appealing to traditionalists by being, in this regard, more old fashioned. But more to the point, even if you did want Paul McGann in the mix, just six months after The Ancestor Cell came out that’s exactly what Big Finish gave you with a run of four Eighth Doctor stories. So the moment where the Eighth Doctor Adventures make a spectacularly compelling case for just giving up coincided perfectly with the moment when Big Finish made a real bid to take over.

This created an interesting situation. My understanding, at least, is that the lowest-selling Eighth Doctor Adventure still solidly outsold Big Finish’s offerings (though the years since in which the Eighth Doctor Adventures have mostly been out of print while Big Finish can be downloaded easily may well have swung that). So while The Ancestor Cell marks the point where the Eighth Doctor Adventures lose their clear mandate as “the one Doctor Who line tracing the future of Doctor Who,” it manifestly doesn’t mark the point where that mantle transfers anywhere else.

Instead we get to something of a paradoxical point. The lens of history tells us that Doctor Who’s return is well provided for at this point. Although it was near invisible at the time, it’s clear that the momentum for return was in place. But equally, we’ve entered a point where Doctor Who’s coherence as a concept is, in fact, completely shattered. As of the start of 2001 there’s no clear thing that is the “official” Doctor Who. In a very real sense a continually serialized narrative that had run since 1963 came, at this point, to a shuddering halt. Or, more accurately, to a dispersal. Doctor Who, obviously, survived The Ancestor Cell. It’s just the idea that there’s a continually told story that got decimated.

In an odd sense, then, the Time War does in fact happen to Doctor Who at this juncture. Suddenly everything is in play - the entire post-1989 series has a massive question mark, everybody is picking and choosing the bits of Wilderness Doctor Who that they actually like and crafting rules to make those the canonical bits, and there’s no clear sense of what the state of play for Doctor Who is. And with several lines, most notably the Eighth Doctor Adventures, making rather massive changes like “oh we nuked Gallifrey so that it never existed in the first place,” it actually was necessary to discuss this. Suddenly anyone writing Doctor Who had to start with the metaphysics, squaring away exactly what they meant by Doctor Who in the first place. Even writers who wanted out of that and to just do “the TARDIS lands somewhere and an adventure happens” sorts of stories had to pick a team, which became increasingly hard as this period wore on and the Big Finish line made a weird turn into an idiosyncratic plotline that largely prevented doing untroubled, straightforward Doctor Who. And if you decided to jettison it all and go start over you had the same problem because you were just setting out another stall in an already too crowded field of visions of Doctor Who.

In hindsight this seems like a cathartic moment in which the last of the existing order of Doctor Who finally blew up and cleared the deck for Russell T Davies to bring the series back. But again, all of the processes there were already in place when The Ancestor Cell came out, and it’s difficult to argue seriously that The Ancestor Cell was needed. I suggest an alternate reading, if you will. Let us for a moment assume that Doctor Who works according to its own narrative principles - that, in other words, time can, in fact, be rewritten. After all, in an era in which Faction Paradox, Time Wars, and dramatic rewritings of Doctor Who’s own narrative history are the norm, why not treat The Ancestor Cell as exactly what it looks like in hindsight: a strange and early mirroring of the new series.

The effect of the Time War, after all, was to create a point of searing trauma in the Doctor’s own narrative from which he could be freshly defined. It’s a very soft reboot, but more importantly, it is a case of getting the Doctor’s narrative to coincide with the series’ narrative. Because the series experienced, from 1989 to 2005, an upheaval that required a clean break in reaction against it, the Doctor got one too. This was savvy on its own merits, as was the decision to pinch the destruction of Gallifrey, which, whatever flaws it may have had in the Eighth Doctor Adventures (and it had many, and we’ll discuss them over the next two and a half months), at least allowed the new series to opt out of all of the mythology of Gallifrey and the Doctor’s past (as well as the Hero’s Sodding Journey, although it obviously makes a different sort of appearance in the new series), all of which the Wilderness Years had rendered unusable. I am not convinced that there was no way to do a retooled Gallifrey in 1990. By 2000, however, so many people had screwed up trying it or fruitlessly contradicted one another that there was no longer a workable way to do Gallifey In a very real sense the Time War is exactly what the Wilderness Years were: a traumatic event in Doctor Who that necessitated the destruction of Gallifrey.

In which case The Ancestor Cell seems oddly useful in its shattering of the unity of Doctor Who. Not because the unity was something Davies was going to have to fight against: Davies would have been able to do the Time War stuff exactly the same even if the Eighth Doctor Adventures had conclusively kept the crown of “proper Doctor Who” in the early aughts. No, its use is because it literalizes the chaos of the period in the Doctor’s life. It made it, in other words, so that continuing with the Doctor reeling post-traumatically from a reality-breaking event was what continuing the series entailed in the first place. By shattering the unity of Doctor Who here, in 2000, and in a way that stemmed out of what the Time War is really a metaphor for, The Ancestor Cell provided for the reconsolidation of that unity in 2005. In a very real sense, the last survivor of the War isn’t the Eighth Doctor at all: it’s the Ninth.

Comments

Stuart Ian Burns 4 years, 3 months ago

Of course then there's Lance and Lars's approach to all this in AHistory which proposes essentially that both this and the tv series's time war are the same thing from different points of view and the Grandfather Paradox is the figure who regenerates into the Ninth Doctor.

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elvwood 4 years, 3 months ago

Nice. I bought The Ancestor Cell in 2006 when I was just getting into the novels, because it had BIG! EPIC! EVENTS! and it sounded like a good idea. I then read it, concluded it wasn't really such a good idea after all, and sold it again. It was the start of me developing some sense of what I did actually like (and dislike) in my textual Who, so I guess I can be grateful to it for that.

I always smile at Lance Parkin's twisted attempt in AHistory 2.0 to make it fit in with the Time War of the new series: it was Grandfather Paradox who regenerated into Christopher Eccleston. Which fits with the "I watched it happen - I made it happen - I tried to stop it" line. Bonkers, of course, but wonderfully creative, and better than having two almost-identical Time Wars. But I prefer the "alternate timelines" theory anyway.

Hmm. Here already. I was hoping to read Father Time before your review, but seeing as I haven't started it yet it seems unlikely now!

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Nick Smale 4 years, 3 months ago

Heck, the fact that the Eighth Doctor was in some fashion involved in a big reality-breaking Time War that destroyed Gallifrey is one of the cornerstones of the new series.

Actually, I don't think the new series ever definitively says *which* Doctor was involved in the Time War. I tend to think it was the ninth...

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Kit 4 years, 3 months ago

The new series deliberately implies, at least, that the Ninth hasn't had time to look in a mirror at any point between regeneration and the beginning of "Rose."

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Nick Smale 4 years, 3 months ago

But "Rose" also deliberately implies that the Ninth Doctor has had many previous adventures - the whole strand of the episode about Clive and his conspiracy archive exists to establish this. Specifically, we're shown that the ninth Doctor was present at JFK's assassination and the launch of the Titanic.

I think the remark about the size of his ears the Doctor makes in Rose's flat has to be read in the light of this. It's RTD's way of hinting that the Doctor has had different faces in the past (something, let's not forget, which would be news to the fresh audience "Rose" brought to Dr Who) not specifically that this particular face is new.

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

@Kit: But it does it in a sufficiently roundabout way as to deliberately leave it open to interpretation. (And the fact that Rose isn't in any of Clive's pictures seems a deliberate move to implicate that all those adventures are pre-'Rose')

I'm starting to understand now that one of the things that always made me uncomfortable during the Wilderness Years is the way they tried to make the Doctor Who universe "small". They claimed otherwise, but, and once again, I'm probably interpolating a lot from having spent time in rec.arts.drwho, there always seemed to be a feeling that the Doctor Who universe was getting "full" and that there was a need to jettison things "so we can get back to having good old-fashioned adventures".

That's at the core of a lot of things that bug me during the Virgin era and ZOMG especially during the BBC Books era. It seems like whenever some thread or concept or line wasn't going to pay off, they felt that it wasn't good enough to just move on and do something else, they had to instead bring the narrative to a crashing halt, nuke it from orbit, salt the earth, and preferably cause a temporal paradox to make sure it never happened in the first place. Like everyone was spending sleepless nights clutching sweat-soaked blankets in abject fear of the wrong sorts of things getting into their precious canon. (I'll go back to the TVM here just for a second to recall that one of the actual complaints I heard was "The worst thing about this is that it counts. If it were just an NA or a comic or something and wasn't really properly canon, it would just be an interesting non-canonical idea, but this counts and thereby ruins Doctor Who FOREVER!!11ELEVENTY!!"). Gallifrey and the War don't seem to be going anywhere useful. That's okay, it's a big universe. Stars can be cold. Just go somewhere else and stop paying attention to it. But no, they say, the universe isn't big enough for our continuing storyline AND Gallifrey and the War, so we need to nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

The thing -- and I didn't realize this until decades later -- that had always drawn me to Doctor Who as a child was how big the Doctor Who universe was. It's a place (and this bit I really only appreciated once I started reading this blog) where literally anything can happen. And in more than 25 years of it happening, I can pretty much count the times that the details of past things which were in the canon actually mattered on my fingers. It was a big enough universe that if something didn't seem to be panning out, you could always just *walk away*.

That sense just isn't there for me with the stuff that came out of the Wilderness Years. The Wilderness Years seem to be the result of people who were living in desperate fear of running out of Universe in which to set Doctor Who.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

'To take it away and give it to someone else'

Steve Cole was the editor of the range, it's not 'taken away', what we see is the guy who's in charge share his vision, and the result is a terrible book that clearly hates the Cole era.

That his books are terrible and clearly don't understand the appeal or audience of the range points to the real problem, I think. As does the fact that the moment his baleful influence is lifted the books suddenly get a lot better.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't think Steve Cole understood that the EDAs were a range - he clearly wanted a set of bland standalones for 'general readers' ... what the NSAs are, now. But it's not what the audience was in the nineties: everyone read them, every month, they discussed them online, they knew which authors hated which other authors, they knew the continuity stuff backwards and forwards.

So the readers jumped onto the Lawrence Miles stuff because it was actually suggesting that reading all the books would build up to create a bigger narrative. If the books are not sequential, they are inconsequential.

And the other authors picked up on it for the same sort of reasons. But things like a War where the Doctor died in the first battle and Compassion were just stupid ideas, and things like Faction Paradox and other-Sam were not actually all that strong, either. The Enemy was probably too clever an idea to be functional in a running series.

And you have an editor who doesn't seem to know any of that, or to have any great insight into what the bottles or Faction Paradox or whatever are, and whose grand vision for Grandfather Paradox is to make him the Valeyard.

Steve Cole was clearly of the DWM party, the people who didn't like big words, kissing and new things in Doctor Who. The side who lost the war in 2005, but who spent the nineties opposed to the novels, even though they never read them. His encouraging of Miles, at times, does feel like Jack Donaghy trying to tank NBC.

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

Judging by Nine's checking out his daft ears in the mirror in Rose, I've assumed he's recently regenerated. My head canon says he regenerated after "pushing the button."

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

And this is what I get replying before reading the rest of the comments. Phil, you can nuke these both, Time War style!

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sorrywehurtyourfield 4 years, 3 months ago

I would love to read a behind-the-scenes account of the EDAs, an era which seems every bit as bizarre and baffling as the mid-1980s on television. Lawrence Miles undergoes such a strange trajectory; in 1999 he's the toast of the town, writing what was clearly the "event" book(s) of the year, with more established names like Orman and Cornell playing along with his concepts. Then by mid-2000 relations seem to have broken down so utterly that they perform this dramatic purge on all in concepts. (So was this the result of one of his controversial interviews? I thought that he didn't take to doing those until after Ancestor Cell was published.)

But weirder still, in late 2001 he's back with another "event" novel, introducing another Miles character who dominates much of the remaining range. I mean, what happened? Did they change their minds and decide the range couldn't function without his ideas after all?

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Nick Smale 4 years, 3 months ago

Was Cole still the editor? I was under the impression that Justin Richards had taken over by this point - Ancestor Cell was him commissioning Cole to tie up the plotlines from his era, before Richards kicked off his own era the following month with "The Burning"...

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sorrywehurtyourfield 4 years, 3 months ago

I could be misremembering here, but I thought that by the time of The Ancestor Cell Justin Richards had taken over as editor and it was he who instigated the purge. So what Cole oversaw was essentially the relatively forgettable standalones of 1998 then the ramping up of Miles' ideas in 1999, suggesting he was open to something more ambitious but seemingly lacking much ambility to coordinate it. Then I thought it was Richards who decided to drop everything and thereby return to a more standalone format, with Cole brought back for this novel to close off his "era". I could be utterly wrong about that though, it's been a long time.

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

@Kit: "The new series deliberately implies, at least, that the Ninth hasn't had time to look in a mirror at any point between regeneration and the beginning of Rose"

@Nick: "But Rose also deliberately implies that the Ninth Doctor has had many previous adventures - the whole strand of the episode about Clive and his conspiracy archive exists to establish this."

Aack! I have new head canon.

Looking into the mirror is very symbolic in the Revival, which is all about the exploration of Identity. It's entirely possible Nine had many adventures before "looking in the mirror" because the last thing he wants to do after the Time War is to confront himself and what he's done. He's become a loner, a "generic Doctor" without a Companion.

But meeting Rose is his turning point -- it "reverses his polarity" and makes him specific, because now he has a relationship. An appropriate relationship, too: as a Doctor with a "Northern" accent, he comes into focus by having a Companion from the council estates.

BTW, does anything one else get the impression that Clive stands for a particular type of Doctor Who fan -- specifically an anorak-type obsessed with "darkness" -- and that his pathetic death (destroyed by consumerism) is a meta-statement on the part of Davies? 'Cause I do!

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

@Ross: "It was a big enough universe that if something didn't seem to be panning out, you could always just *walk away*."

The problem isn't the "stuff" in the Universe that's problematic, but the memories of the characters, because big traumatic memories play such a huge role in shaping character motivation. And at this point, it's clear that hitting the reset button on the characters for every story -- not unlike most of the post-Lambert series -- is equally problematic.

It actually makes a good deal of sense to me that the 8th gets amnesia from the Time War, given that he's got to deal with the fallout of that event if you don't. And, obviously, we eventually get to a point where dealing with that trauma is exactly the right way to go.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

Justin Richards commissioned him, but it's Steve Cole (and Peter Angelhides') book. I don't think the brief was 'pretend to lack understanding of the ongoing plotlines'.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

Richards commissioned Cole to wrap up the storylines of the Cole period. Anyone who asserts that the author of The Ancestor Cell just didn't get what went before has to accept that its (co) author edited what went before.

Yes, it's a very obvious, mandated clearing of the decks. But it's a job given to the guy who'd been arranging the decks for the previous few years.

And the Richards stuff isn't standalone - you have a series of mini-series, basically.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 3 months ago

I just want to say here that for me, the single best interpretation of all this (and one that chimes a lot with what Phil says here) is by Richard Flowers and Alex Wilcock, in their essay A Fractal History Of The Time War, which can be read in http://olsenbloom.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/pep.pdf (a zine I edited three years ago), from page 28 on. I honestly think it's essential reading for any Who fan.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

And, yes, it was presumably Richards' idea to wrap everything up in one book, but this wasn't the first time a series has had to wrap up sooner than planned ... and the problem with The Ancestor Cell is not that it's so crammed with awesome there just isn't room to do it all justice.

If they'd commissioned Miles to do it, I'm guessing it would have been a better book, or at least a far more interesting one.

I think what it demonstrates, though, is that Cole - who was running the series - just had no clue about where the series was going, plans for big revelations ahead or anything like that.

The problems with the range under Cole can be split up - Miles and his unworkable, bad but fascinating ideas; the good authors who played along with Miles; the bland authors who churned out filler. But the overall lack of purpose and direction for the range ... that's the editor's fault, surely?

This is a guy who turned down a Lance Parkin Dalek book that Parkin was willing to write for free in order to give the slot to himself to write Parallel 59.

I can sum this up very easily: the guy who wrote The Ancestor Cell thought The Ancestor Cell was an All Good Things / Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow style finale of the EDAs up to that point.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

Cole has said the following in an interview:

" think it's great. When I asked Justin to take over I did so knowing he would have lots of good ideas about what to do with it. He was really the only choice for the new editor, and it was always taken as read that big changes were going to happen in the range - there should always be something big coming up, it's what you build up to, what keeps a dynamic going across several books. I wanted to round off my time on the range with the book that became The Ancestor Cell that would tie up a lot of loose ends... we'd built everything up, now it was time to knock it back down and start growing something new. With the past brushed away in suitably apocalyptic fashion, I think it's great that Justin's opted to go 'back to basics'... certainly it left me free to tell a story in Vanishing Point which was about characters rather than continuity, which I was really pleased about."

So while I don't know where the precise Cole/Richards handover point was, it's clear that The Ancestor Cell was the intended finale of Cole's run designed to set things up for Richards and what Richards wanted to do.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

If I ever want to talk about Doctor Who again once I've finished this project, a proper history (as opposed to a critical history) of the Wilderness Years in general is the project most likely to tempt me back, so to speak.

Assuming I haven't infuriated and alienated all possible interview subjects with my blog by then.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 3 months ago

It makes me wonder: When you finish the thorough and horrifyingly detailed TARDIS Eruditorum project, will you ever be able to be a fan again? And just enjoy Doctor Who?

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

That was quite tasty.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

Yeah. My understanding is that The Ancestor Cell was the first book commissioned and edited by Richards, and he commissioned Cole, briefing him to wrap everything up (and presumably to blow up Gallifrey and set up the Earth arc).

So it's a 'Richards edited book', not a 'Cole edited book'. It's not the ending Cole would have done, left to his own devices. But it's also clearly the last Cole era book which *ends* with the clean break. Cole was commissioned to round off the Cole era. Wrapping everything up in one book is editorial fiat, and Richards was the editor, but Cole's picked because he is, theoretically anyway, eminently suitable. He's not some outsider or hired hand.

The Ancestor Cell's main crime is that it's badly written. The 'flashback' to The Ancestor Cell in The Gallifrey Chronicles (also a book written in a hurry to wrap things up by editorial fiat) that changes nothing at all *except all the words* is just a masterclass in how you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear after all.


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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

Well, I squealed with joy at bits of The Snowmen, so thus far I'm still doing OK.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

You linked this once, well over a year ago, and I made a note to read it before writing this entry. Then I forgot to. It's pleasantly comforting to know that it largely wouldn't have impacted my handling of this entry at all. (Though obviously we're not done with the Time War by a mile.)

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ir3actions 4 years, 3 months ago

It's entirely possible that Nine had recently gotten a haircut that exposed his ears. Some of the images we see of Nine in his Rose-less adventures show him with Eccleston's full head of hair.

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ir3actions 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't think there's any great mystery to Lawrence Miles' return to the range. Lawrence was running low on money. He was prepared to accept this. However, some very exciting Lego sets were being released. Wanting to buy them, he pitched a book to Justin Richards.

Richards, being an absolute professional who judged authors' material by the quality and not the author's personality, liked Miles' material. Miles proceeded to write the book. At no point during Miles' proposal did Miles mention that the book was written as a historical document centuries after the events it described, or that the Doctor would get married, or that the Doctor's second heart would be removed. Miles checked with Richards about removing the Doctor's second heart and Richards gave his permission. The book was submitted. It was not what Miles had proposed. But Richards accepted it anyway and asked to continue using the character of Sabbath as he found him very intriguing. Miles agreed and proceeded to complain that every subsequent writer mis-handled Sabbath. Sabbath was supposed to be the one who understood how the post-Time Lords universe worked, according to Miles, while the Doctor was clueless and incapable. But instead, the writers made Sabbath dangerous and destructive and made the Doctor the hero of his own series (shame on them, eh?).

Miles claims to have been banned from the books since then, not by Richards, but by Steven Moffat. I think it's more likely that BBC publishing isn't eager to hire someone who posts personal attacks towards the current producer of a science fiction franchise that's been very successful for the BBC.

Justin Richards would later comment (off the record) that he thought Lawrence Miles was a very talented writer who seemed totally uninterested in writing DOCTOR WHO novels and instead wanted to write his own characters and concepts without the Doctor at all.

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Nick Smale 4 years, 3 months ago

It's entirely possible that Nine had recently gotten a haircut that exposed his ears.

I think this is my favourite theory. I often remark on the size of my ears after they've been revealed by a haircut, even though it's been ages since my last regeneration.

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ir3actions 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't know if it's true that Stephen Cole didn't *understand* Lawrence Miles' material. It seems more likely to me that he didn't have a lot of time or space to resolve all of Miles' material. He chose the best solutions he could come up with in the time that they had, and because of the rush and the need to wrap everything up in one book, he wasn't able to create resolutions that matched Miles' material.

THE GALLIFREY CHRONICLES does indeed have a fabulous rewrite of the Doctor/Grandfather Paradox confrontation. Would that Lance Parkin had given THE ANCESTOR CELL a revising pass, eh?

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ir3actions 4 years, 3 months ago

In "Rose," the Doctor leaves Rose briefly in the TARDIS. Then he returns. Any number of adventures could have taken place during that gap, including every adventure that Clive documented and shared with Rose.

I don't think there's any firm answer and it's at the discretion of the individual viewer.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 3 months ago

I prefer Jane's theory, but isn't it also possibly (albeit unlikely) that all the events Clive documents happens after the Doctor visits Rose's flat? As in, he visits, then hops off in the TARDIS and does all these crazy adventures, and then pops back to get rid of the Nestene?


Mind you, that does leave the question of why the heck the Doctor would interrupt fighting the Nestene to go back in time and signal Rose with all these adventures, but then I guess nothing's perfect.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 3 months ago

I think the problem is all the Big Events had the effect of making the Doctor Who Universe smaller. Before, the Doctor is a drop of water in a universe of infinite possibilities. The attempt by fans to make the universe more coherent (with big status quo shattering events) end up making his world seem so much smaller and familiar.

It used to be every time they showed us a future of Earth, it was different from what was shown before. Then after a while, you're just waiting for the Adjudicators to show up.

It was a sad day when the Doctor started giving his companions lessons about former companions... on the off chance that being able to identify Jo Grant could earn you points with a planet's rebels. Or when Benny is telling everyone in a three mile radius about the Doctor's history with the Master, because he can't be arsed to do the necessary exposition anymore.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 3 months ago

Dammit, I was typing my comment and then ir3actions snuck in with the same theory. Ah, well.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 3 months ago

A wonderful theory. One can surmise that the Doctor had been for a haircut in Hendricks'.

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

The whole bit with the Russian Nesting Dolls theory of the polycosm is my favorite bit: Time is layered, with previous iterations buried beneath the current one. This is why River Song is an archeologist.

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, I think that introduces a big load of "But why?" for no better reason than to justify the desire for the earlier scene to be shortly post-regeneration, which in and of itself doesn't actually have any advantage for the series. Why would the Doctor pop off in the middle of saving the earth to have a bunch of other adventures? Especially *this* Doctor, who isn't Tom Baker-in-Robot or Matt Smith who can't stand to sit still for a ten-count, but who's instead a much grimmer, darker sort of guy who, just for example, explicitly points out to Rose that you can't just go popping off to cheat once you're part of local events.

Just doesn't work for me, not with *this* Doctor especially.

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EarBucket 4 years, 3 months ago

He also dematerializes briefly at the end before returning to tell Rose that the TARDIS is also a time machine. One fan theory I've seen suggests that he has a bunch of adventures in between those two moments.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 3 months ago

"he clearly wanted a set of bland standalones for 'general readers'" -- sorrywehurtyourfield

I doubt "bland" was part of the mandate, but Doctor Who is largely a series of stand-alone parts, even the New Adventures which usually only shared a Continuity rather than actively built upon itself. Most attempts to do that usually ended up with middle parts tossing in a handful of references in the hopes that it served the over-all plot that few cared overly much about.

Even with today's show with a fairly strong series-long arc, they minimize as much as possible the walking into the middle of a movie problem by mostly serving up stand-alone stories.

The problem ends up being how to make that interesting and the big problem with the EDAs is they didn't have a familiar Doctor to use as a foundation.

And I think that's probably a large part of the reason why ended relying on status quo shake-ups, something which has been few and far between up until then. Going big with a Time War is practically a Hail Mary, because if that fails, then there's no way they can go bigger.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 3 months ago

"It was a sad day when the Doctor started giving his companions lessons about former companions... on the off chance that being able to identify Jo Grant could earn you points with a planet's rebels."

See, this seems perfectly charming to me, and one of the reasons why you'd want to be consistent about these things.

That said, I very much support being able to walk away from a bad idea.

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Matthew Celestis 4 years, 3 months ago

Which raises the question of what happens to the main timeline 8th Doctor if he does not become the 9th Doctor. Presumably, he regenerates into the Shalka Doctor.

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ir3actions 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't think there is any doubt that the authorial intent for "Rose" is that the Doctor recently regenerated. It's just that there's sufficient ambiguity for fans to be open to the idea that this isn't necessarily the case. Each individual fan can decide for themselves.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 3 months ago

The problem I see creeping into the show in the 80s is that the lore was becoming cumulative, rather than just odd peeks behind the curtain which may or may not contradict previous peeks behind the curtain. The Brains of Morbius puts forth the intriguing idea that Hartnell was not the first Doctor, which totally didn't gel with anything else and ended up being a bit of trivia for Who fans.

Then after a while it seems like they can't go three stories without someone mentioning the 12 Regeneration Rule and how many lives the Doctor has left. The McGann movie even opens with a recitation of the basic lore... which has absolutely nothing to do with anything in the movie, but by then they were in such a habit of explaining it all (even in the New Adventures) that the Doctor would have seem naked without it, I guess.

But I do think this kind of thing makes the show seem smaller, which is pretty much the thinking behind the Cartmel Masterplan in which they remind the audience at least once a year that the Doctor has some major secret that they're totally not telling us.

One of the things that strikes me about the New Adventures (and to a lesser extent, the EDAs) is how un-Doctorish it all is with the Doctor being a pretty massive chatty Cathy about stuff he was pretty tight-lipped about for ages. The Doctor putting his companions on a need-to-know basis in the new series feels so much more Who to me.

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elvwood 4 years, 3 months ago

@EarBucket: Yeah, that's the version I've heard. He shrugs his shoulders, thinks bitterly "oh well, I didn't want company anyway", goes off and has a bunch of adventures (usually related to murder and disaster), before realising he really does want Rose to travel with him and can have another go at changing her mind. And he's not interrupting an attack on Earth to do so.

If you insist on him being newly regenerated in the 'ears' scene, this is the best place to put all those trips IMO.

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elvwood 4 years, 3 months ago

Ha ha! Love it!

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Archeology of the Future 4 years, 3 months ago

'The Doctor Who universe is big / The Doctor Who universe is small' dilemma creates a honking great problem for telling
Doctor Who stories. If the universe is small, it becomes impossible for The Doctor to avoid evidence of his own future actions as he is effectively written through history like words in a stick of seaside rock.

That's why epic and Doctor Who aren't an amazingly good mixture. Events need to shake individual characters and end their worlds, rather than events shaking the lives of countless billions we never see. If the event is too big, then The Doctor will know about it. The seventh Doctor was an answer to this problem in that he *did* know about it. That was the point. He knew what none of the other characters (and us) knew: what was going to happen.

That's why The Eight Doctor has to keep losing his memory.

Or, in the case of Miles ideas, why the Doctor had to be introduced to a series of ideas that were effectively 'from beyond'.

In a funny way, I think Steven Moffat is really, concerned about issues like this. He seems to be on a mission to 'fix' the logical inconsistency of the Doctor Who universe. He's obviously trying to return to a universe that is massive and where everything is possible, but is battling his own instinct to create a universe which is small and where The Doctor has about ten friends, all of them at the end of the phone.

He's so concerned by this that he's a)rebooted the universe and b)had the Doctor try to erase himself from history.

I actually get the feeling sometimes that Moffat's worldweary Doctor knows that Moffat is coming to the limits of his ability to tell new stories about him. He's tired because he's been pushed through a process of tryin to openb up new storytelling possibilities but which as painted him into a corner. The Doctor wants out because the mechanics by which his story happens are becoming entropic.

How does the Doctor's story escape entropy? You can change the Doctor, change his universe or change the mechanics by which his stories are created.

But is that enough?

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

There's also a certain amount of wiggle room on what "recently" means in this context. Can you really say "The Doctor hasn't seen himself in a mirror yet therefore he regenerated as a result of ending the time war and came straight here?" as opposed to "The Doctor regenerated in the middle of the time war and is only just now looking at himself in a mirror because he's been busy with that whole 'time war' thing"

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David Anderson 4 years, 3 months ago

I've just read Father Time, and I liked it. (More than I liked The Dying Days.)
I'm not sure what the status of Phil's account is, whether we're charting things as they happened or looking back with hindsight. Because with hindsight, going by Sullivan's rankings, the next ten books are going to contain some of the highlights of Doctor Who in novel form.
Certainly there's a crash in the number of votes, so it could be that only the relatively undiscriminating were still voting. But comparing Seeing I and Year of Intelligent Tigers as a control case, I'd say that's not so.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 3 months ago

Of course, in the end Davies probably put it in there merely to hint at the notion of regeneration and make the Doctor more strange and unusual off the bat (which is I think the point of that entire scene).

Certainly when I first watched it (being my first experience with the show, and only vaguely familiar with the idea of regeneration) I had just assumed he had regenerated because of the explosion in the first scene and happened to have the same face or something. Obviously that doesn't make sense with the actual idea of regeneration, but I think that's the purpose of the remark- to not be logical or make much sense. Because the Doctor at this point is weird and alien, and makes absolutely no sense at all.

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 3 months ago

Strangely, I never interpreted the mirror scene in Rose to suggest a recent regeneration. I figured it was just supposed to represent a quirk of the ninth Doctor's characterization.

I was really surprised when it became clear that "recent regeneration" was the accepted interpretation of that scene among fandom. I mean, I can see it, I suppose, but it still strikes me as a very vague suggestion at best. For a fandom that's more than happy to hand wave The Brain of Morbius, it's surreal that so many people are fixated on this particular reading.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 3 months ago

No, in the AHistory theory there is only one timeline, in which the Eighth Doctor is present at the destruction of Gallifrey trying to stop Grandfather Paradox, then goes on to become Grandfather Paradox, and is present at the destruction of Gallifrey where he regenerates into the Ninth Doctor.

Odly, this interpretation seems to completely contradict Lance's quite clever reinterpretation of Grandfather Paradox in The Gallifrey Chronicles, which AHistory had just referenced two pages earler in the entry on The Ancestor Cell.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 3 months ago

And with several lines, most notably the Eighth Doctor Adventures, making rather massive changes like “oh we nuked Gallifrey so that it never existed in the first place,”

From what I remember at the time, I think that should read "...so that maybe it never existed in the first place. It's up to you; do you want it to never have existed in the first place? Whether it did or not isn't really relevent to the story we're telling, so it's a matter of interpretation."

This, of course, didn't work for a number of reasons, but I'm pretty sure it was the intention.

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

Part of why the mirror scene has such strong regeneration connotations has to do with the role of mirrors in the Classic series -- and specifically, how the 4th Doctor uses the mirror to comment on his new appearance in Robot.

"Well, nothing's perfect. Have to take the rough with the smooth. Mind you, I think the nose is a definite improvement. As for the ears, well, I'm not too sure. Tell me quite frankly, what do you say to the ears?"

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J Mairs 4 years, 3 months ago

What's more interesting than the fact that the Eighth Doctor keeps losing his memory is the fact that his series...es mirror him a lot in the sense that they seem to get easily distracted and never finish properly.

Second War in Heaven? Let's get rid of that. And finish the entire run on a cliffhanger with the Doctor jumping into a volcano of carnivorous flies!

Trapped in a Divergent Universe? Quick! It's coming back on TV - ABORT ABORT!

Traveling with a fish-person for a companion? No reason *not* to leave that hanging!

And then there's the fact that Big Finish are never really going to be able to end the Eighth Doctor's story...


On the other hand, I'm on board with the "There was only one Time War" hypothesis. They're both enjoyable in their own merits and it undermines everything and everyone if the same bloke is responsible for blowing up his home planet twice in rapid succession.

That said, I've decided the sequence of events should be Last Great Time War -> Destruction of Gallifrey -> Second War in Heaven. "The Moment" (which is now suddenly referenced in the title for this post) is the fact of Gallifrey's destruction, weaponised by the Doctor from his biodata. He'd already lived that Moment hence why everyone wanted wanted his corpse... And another mystery is solved.

Also, The Daleks are clearly the Divergence. And I won't expand on that until April 1st. :)

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Something else that also struck me about The Ancestor Cell -- if memory serves, at the time it was also supposed to deal with the thorny issue of Doctor Who continuity by essentially wiping it all away (through destroying Gallifrey and wiping the Doctor's memory) and effectively suggesting/admitting that the continuity of the series had just become too top-heavy and to effectively run the series you'd need to do a full reboot and start all over.

How valid this idea was at the time is up for debate (on the surface at least, the new series arguably more or less blew it out of the water by managing to be hugely successful and popular while still clearly being a continuation of the old series, although it's not entirely free of a tendency to reboot either -- the Time War, of course, being the most prominent example) but BBC Books arguably cacked this up a bit as well, since in practice they didn't really get rid of continuity at all -- they just turned it into a massive elephant in the room that they were determined to ignore despite all the people constantly pointing it out to them, since the question that everyone naturally asked was "So when's the Doctor going to get his memories back then?"

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Oh. And one other thing. Having never actually read this book, I'm curious: is that thing on the cover a flower made out of petrified tongues?

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Ununnilium 4 years, 3 months ago

"That said, I've decided the sequence of events should be Last Great Time War -> Destruction of Gallifrey -> Second War in Heaven. "The Moment" (which is now suddenly referenced in the title for this post) is the fact of Gallifrey's destruction, weaponised by the Doctor from his biodata. He'd already lived that Moment hence why everyone wanted wanted his corpse..."

Yes. I love this idea and I'm stealing it forever.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 3 months ago

So basically a House of M approach to "fixing" an aspect of the setting, making a change that doesn't work as an ongoing status quo because it's presented on the same level as the changes the heroes normally undo.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

RE: Miles not being invited back to the Doctor Who line, it's also perhaps likely that the publishers of a range of shared universe novels are a bit hesitant about publishing the work of someone who, while he undeniably has fantastic ideas, has a history of complaining loudly whenever his ideas get shared and used by anyone else in a manner he doesn't seem to be 100% in favour of.

It's often been said that Lawrence Miles is a Doctor Who writer who doesn't seem to want to write Doctor Who at all, and while there's something to that, I'd argue that he's also the kind of writer who just doesn't really prosper in a shared universe. Granted, we can all get protective of our particular babies, but the very nature of working in a shared universe means that you ultimately have to be willing to cut them loose and let others play with them come what may, and Miles just doesn't seem willing to do that. He's not really a team player, and he ultimately wants to control everything that happens to his ideas. Not that that's a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that he's never really going to fit into a shared universe like Doctor Who writing kind of demands you to.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

While I fully agree with the 'keep getting distracted and / or leaving things hanging' point, to be fair the arrival of the new series kind of threw everyone a bit of a curveball. IIRC the comic strip at least was planning to resolve the whole 'fish-person' thing by having Destrii travel with the Ninth Doctor for a few issues at least, but it was nixed when Russell T Davies -- who it perhaps should be noted was otherwise perfectly happy for the comics to start using the Ninth Doctor to the point of allowing them to officially show the regeneration -- nixed the idea of the Ninth Doctor travelling with anyone before he met Rose.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

That's pretty much it, yes.

Which in hindsight makes it a bit amusing how irritated BBC Books would get with everyone wanting to know when the Doctor would get his memories back and insisting it was permanent now, since it's almost like they essentially tried to do the exact opposite with the Amnesia arc of what they did with the War arc; with the War arc, they took a concept that was never meant to have a resolution and tried to give it one, and with the Amnesia arc they have a concept that -- given how 'the hero has amnesia' trope almost inevitably results with the hero recovering his / her memories -- everyone automatically expects to be eventually resolved, but they keep resisting it and insisting that it's never going to be.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

Nope - it's a flower made out of bone. :)

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Matthew Celestis 4 years, 3 months ago

Yes, there is one timeline on this scenario. But it still leaves an 8th Doctor who does not become the Ecclestone Doctor.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

If we're criticizing old Who for being "small", why not New? "Journey's End", after all?

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

Hmmmm... you know, I can change a few words in that statement... et, voila:

"I think it's great. When I asked [Steven Moffat] to take over I did so knowing he would have lots of good ideas about what to do with it. He was really the only choice for the new [showrunner], and it was always taken as read that big changes were going to happen in the [series] - there should always be something big coming up, it's what you build up to, what keeps a dynamic going across several [episodes]. I wanted to round off my time on the [series] with the [story] that became ["The End of Time"] that would tie up a lot of loose ends... we'd built everything up, now it was time to knock it back down and start growing something new. With the past brushed away in suitably apocalyptic fashion, I think it's great that [Steven]'s opted to go 'back to basics'... certainly it left me free to tell a story in [SJA's "Death of the Doctor"] which was about characters rather than continuity, which I was really pleased about."

Eh? ;-)

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jane 4 years, 3 months ago

@Matthew: "Hmmmm... you know, I can change a few words in that statement... et, voila:

Eh? ;-)"

Which just goes to show that the fractal theory of Who continuity applies to the real-world as well. Talk about ideas that can think for themselves!

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John Seavey 4 years, 3 months ago

It wasn't that they couldn't walk away because they had to wrap it up, it was that they couldn't walk away because, well...where else would they go? As Phil points out, the EDAs apart from the War stuff weren't really stimulating the imagination, so people kept returning to the War because it was at least interesting. :)

I'm not totally agreeing with Phil, here--I think there's something of a fallacy of the excluded middle going on. I remember plenty of people at the time perfectly willing to slot the EDAs, the PDAs and the audios into each other's gaps, and it wasn't really until 'Spiral Scratch' that Gary Russell started really insisting that this wasn't possible, at which point the TV series came back on the air and it became obvious that demanding people choose a narrative primacy might have unforseen complications for your bottom line somewhere down the road. :) But 'TAC' was still a bit early for that.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

...which is kind of telling, don't you think?

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 3 months ago

It doesn't. In that scenario, the eighth Doctor grows up to be Grandfather Paradox (who remembers meeting his younger self), then regenerates.

Grandfather Paradox isn't an alternative future for the eighth Doctor, he's the actual future eighth Doctor. So it's one individual.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Possibly -- to be honest, I'm a bit overworked, underslept and headachey, so other than it suggesting that RTD had an arc in mind for the Ninth Doctor with regards to his companions, I'm not quite sure what you're driving at. :-)

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storiteller 4 years, 3 months ago

It looked like a banana peel to me, but I figured that couldn't be correct.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

The fact that Rose was somehow always meant to be the "All-Important Companion" for the RTD era, which impacted on everything else around it (including other characters' stories)... that kind of grated, on me. :-/

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

It's the "apocalyptic fashion" line that really made me think of it.

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Kit 4 years, 3 months ago

But "Rose" also deliberately implies that the Ninth Doctor has had many previous adventures - the whole strand of the episode about Clive and his conspiracy archive exists to establish this. Specifically, we're shown that the ninth Doctor was present at JFK's assassination and the launch of the Titanic.

I assumed at the time that all of those photos were taken after the events of "Rose", and have never really reconsidered this. It's certainly clunky to ram them into the middle of the story, but if it makes people happy then all the best to them.

The haircut explanation is plainly the most elegant, though.

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Kit 4 years, 3 months ago

(Missed Ross's note below - Rose just doesn't have to be standing next to The Doctor at the moment the photo was taken! [Or he can nip offscreen for all those adventures between televised episodes...] )

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Ahhhh... it's several aspirins and a nap later. I get ya now. :-)

I can see what you mean now, although to be honest Rose as All-Important Companion didn't bug me so much in series one -- it did kind of suit the dynamic of the Ninth Doctor's overall character arc from shell-shocked and bitter war-veteran trying to put on a facade of normality to more of a 'Doctorish' figure to have Rose be more of a central and important figure to him than if he'd had previous companions in that particular incarnation.

It was when the relationship with Rose and the Tenth Doctor became a bit smug, cliquey and codependent that I started feeling the cheese-grater. Without wanting to get too far ahead, I always thought they really should have shook up the Tenth Doctor / Rose dynamic rather than trying to replicate the Ninth Doctor / Rose dynamic.

(It helped that Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper had much more engaging chemistry than Piper and David Tennant, in my view.)

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Just wanted to add my own voice of love to that particular theory.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

As for the Time War, my own personal head-canon has the Time Lords themselves try to split the Eighth Doctor's timeline in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to avert their own destruction at his hands, but with each timeline ultimately leading to the same point.

And the more they try this, the more the effects reach back to previous Doctors, until we get 'split-off' realities (i.e. non-TV canon like the Virgin New and Missing Adventures, the three Ninth Doctors, the early comic strips, etc) and adventures involving the First and Second Doctors getting wiped out of time, and so forth.

Not quite as intricate as some (and less fractal than the theory outlined in the document Andrew linked to above), but it works for me.

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elvwood 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm a bit slow sometimes. I suddenly realised I could pause the book I was reading and switch over to Father Time, then finish the other one later - so I've just finished it. I liked it too - but I'll say more on Friday...

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm not crazy about the idea that Rose, who the show seems dead set on telling is is TEH MOST IMPORTANTEST COMPANION EVAR manages to not even once get her picture taken with the Doctor during their travels together.

No, Clive clearly doesn't have any sense of the Doctor ever having a traveling companion, and to me that only makes sense as "The Doctor is coming off of a long period of being on his own." Playing little technical games to justify the idea that 'Rose' is immediately after the regeneration -- even though it's the kind of mental exercise I usually find fun -- seems to me to be dodging the thematic implications of that episode: in order to make the canon work out the way you like it, you end up sacrificing the whole idea of the characters as *characters* who have a story and an arc, reducing them to just being cult-sci-fi-style plot token archetypes.

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

@Matthew Blanchette: I'm not sure what you'retalking about re Journey's End, but, while I'll admit there are blips, the new show seems to be pretty consistent about depicting the universe as large -- in fact, if anything, it seems like every time they get into a position where you can predict the anorak brigade trying to infer a boundary to the universe, they outright defy it. Hence RTD's love of nonsensical numbers: whenever you can sense poor old Jean-Marc Lofficer out there somewhere trying to squeeze your stories down into one canonical timeline with fixed dates for everything, RTD will come along and tell you that this story happens in the year "Sixty Bazillion" or, heck, "Apple" -- numbers designed not to help someone nail down firm boundaries, but to sort of mock them for even trying

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

I think RTD went too far with Rose, but I still find it preferable to the alternative. When I drifted away from Doctor Who for a while (Roughly the period from the TVM to 'Rose', though the timing was largely a coincidence), one of the things that I found made it hard for me to keep enjoying the old series was the sort of casual disinterest it had in its own regulars. A sort of expanded Problem of Susan, if you will, where the show was almost always fairly mercenary about the fact that companions weren't really characters in their own right, but just a slot to be filled with someone who could fall down, get captured, and prompt the Doctor for exposition. They were, in a very real sense, disposable (No, not 100% completely, but as a general rule) -- they'd turn up with nothing to really distinguish them from any other Sympathetic Guest Star Of The Week, and when their contracts ran out, they'd be unceremoneously dumped wherever they happened to be at the time. They were rarely treated as characters so much as custodians of the "companion" role (Contemporaneously, I slowly evolved toward being an adult sort of person who had relationships and commitments in the world, and it became increasingly disconnected to me to imagine this stream of adult human beings who could simply drop out of their preexisting lives to go off and travel the universe with a madman in a box, many of them *never going home again*. Real people's lives don't work that way unless their name is Sol Paradise). Rose was a really serious attempt to change that, to make a companion who was first and foremost an individual person with a whole life, and not just person-shaped meat to fill the Doctor's Companion-slot (That sounded dirtier than I meant it to be).

(A lot of this is also true for the Doctor himself, which is why I liked the tenth doctor's regeneration: for once, we had a Doctor who faced regeneration from the perspective of "I am a distinct individual person who is going to cease to exist and I do not care for that at all" instead of "I am a mere caretaker of the 'Doctor' role, not a person in my own right, so my dissolution is a noble sacrifice because it subtracts one from my Extra Lives counter". The closest we really come in the classic series is Troughton's regeneration, and he comes off more like a schoolchild who's *annoyed* that he's being punished, when they're about to, y'know, execute him)

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Have to agree with Ross here -- went too far with it he may have done, but Buffy alone would mean that any twenty-first century attempt at Doctor Who would have to construct the companion as a person rather than just a plot device.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

@Roos -- except Ten is not a distinct individual; merely part of the whole. Changing that just because RTD's leaving is immensely egotistical, especially in that it tries to turn the audience against Eleven before he even shows up on screen.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

@Ross -- I don't mean the literal universe, but the Doctor's universe; it's very telling that, of all the people to help the Doctor in that two-parter, it's only companions from the New Series. Rose's whiny "and I was here first" is quite telling, in that regard...

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Yeah I just disagree on that. Each Doctor is not "merely part of the whole". Each Doctor is 100% his own individual person as well as part of a whole. When you reach the end of a Doctor's tenure, you don't go "Aw man, the Doctor now only has X incarnations left before he's dead," you mourn for the man who dies, and then celebrate for the man who's just been born. It isn't egotistical, it's how you write a story with characters people can actually care about rather than Cult Sci Fi with Archetypes Whose Purpose Is To Make The Plot Happen.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 3 months ago

The funny thing is, Ten, just minutes after his own regeneration, disagrees with you. As that bit was also written by RTD... I'm still thinkin' that, yeah, RTD was bein' kind of stick-in-the-mud-ish on the whole thing when he himself had to go.

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Yes. Clearly RTD is being a stick in the mud and it couldn't possibly be intentional that there might be a profound contrast between the way a man who has literally popped into existence a minute ago feel about his situation and the way he feels years later when faced with his own mortality. Impossible that, in fact, the tenth doctor's entire character arc was leading him from "I am exactly the same man" to "I'm not going to be me any more; the man I am is going to die and a new man is going to walk away."

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Without wanting to get too far ahead again, or get too blinded by my own prejudices when it comes to regeneration (long story short -- as much as RTD and Ten deserved a send-off, they went a bit too far with the angsty hand-wringing that time, I felt), RTD does seem to contradict himself a bit when it comes to regeneration. I remember when time came for the Ninth Doctor to regenerate reading comments from RTD insisting how he was tired of regeneration being presented as a sign of death and weakness (with the Doctor always prone and lying down, etc) and wanted to frame it as something triumphant and hopeful, as much a rebirth and a heroic act as an end. Come the Tenth Doctor's regeneration, however, we're being beaten over the head with how terrible it is, how it's a death, the Doctor himself nearly crazed with grief and terror about it, etc.

I do get what you're saying about treating each Doctor as an individual person as much as part of a whole, Ross, and I agree, but I do think they went a bit far with it that time. I also kind of agree with Matthew in that, while I'm not certain I'd go so far as to suggest that RTD is deliberately trying to turn people against Eleven (although there's definitely a hint of ego there, especially since most of the last year of RTD's tenure seemed to be filled with RTD finding even more ways of saying goodbye to himself), having Ten be so vocally grief-stricken and having it so explicitly pointed out to us that regeneration is death does kind of stack the deck against Eleven from the start. Yes, any Doctor leaving is supposed to be a moment of grieving in one sense, but RTD seems to forget his own words about it also supposed to be uplifting and hopeful; they make so much of the fact that we're supposed to be wailing and rending our garments over Ten leaving that they forget that we're also supposed to be welcoming in the new guy as well.

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ferret 4 years, 3 months ago

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ferret 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm of the opinion that the Eighth tried to end the Time War peaceably, and is killed trying. He regenerates into the Ninth, his first act being to fight and end the Time War forcibly - another example of the Doctor encountering an adventure he is incapable of surviving, then regenerating into someone who can.

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Kit 4 years, 3 months ago

who the show seems dead set on telling is is TEH MOST IMPORTANTEST COMPANION EVAR

Obviously the historical record is arguing against the show in this regard.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 3 months ago

See, I disagree - I think those few moments we get of Eleven at the end of The End of Time are all about the joyousness of the rebirth, and slot in perfectly with what came before it and what comes after.

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Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

I think that's the intention, certainly (and of course, YMMV; if it works perfectly for you I'm certainly not going to dispute you on that score) but for me at least, I think the way they handled it would kind of make it harder to accept Eleven being all joyful and cheery after having, in the way the episode frames it, essentially 'killed' Ten (and Ten having essentially begged for his life on top of that). Certainly, I didn't personally have any problems dealing with Eleven, but one of the frequent points I've seen about that episode is people complaining that Eleven is quite cheerily callous over the fact that he's 'killed' Ten; like I say, it kind of stacks the deck against him and makes him harder to accept and like from the start, for what seems to be a lot of people at least.

I think it gets back to the issue of whether individual incarnations of the Doctor should be treated as an individual character or as a single part of a larger entity. The thing is, he's both, and it's a tricky balance to pull off, and I'm not convinced RTD (and since Steven Moffat apparently wrote the Eleventh Doctor's first few moments in that episode, I'm focussing on RTD specifically for the purposes of this commentary) really pulled it off.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 3 months ago

But I think it's natural that the continuity aspect of regeneration would be more salient for someone who's just regenerated. and that the death-and-replacement aspect of regeneration would be more salient for someone who's about to regenerate.

Suppose you're about to step into a Star Trek transporter that will disassemble you here and reassemble you elsewhere. It's natural to worry that what comes out the other end will only be a copy and not you. But then suppose instead that you're just stepping out of the transporter, with all your memories intact. Although you have no better objective reason to think you're the same person, it will feel natural to suppose so.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 3 months ago

It’s just the idea that there’s a continually told story that got decimated.

It was reduced by one tenth?

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Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Remember, "reduced by one tenth" in the context that the word "decimate" actually comes from means "Reduced by a staggering amount, far larger than the percentage of combatants who typically die in even an especially bloody war"

(I know how everyone's got this pet peeve about people "misusing" the word 'decimate' because it's "only" ten percent. But "decimate" was always meant to mean "kill off a truly shocking proportion of". Fr'instance, to "decimate" the united states, you'd have to kill every man, woman and child in: Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakora, Vermont and Wyoming.)

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 3 months ago

From oxforddictionaries.com :

"Definition of decimate
verb
[with object]

1 kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of:the inhabitants of the country had been decimated
drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something):public transport has been decimated

2 historical kill one in every ten of (a group of people, originally a mutinous Roman legion) as a punishment for the whole group: the man who is to determine whether it be necessary to decimate a large body of mutineers"

"Historically, the meaning of the word decimate is ‘kill one in every ten of (a group of people)’. This sense has been more or less totally superseded by the later, more general sense ‘kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of’, as in the virus has decimated the population. Some traditionalists argue that this is incorrect, but it is clear that it is now part of standard English."


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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 3 months ago

"Suppose you're about to step into a Star Trek transporter that will disassemble you here and reassemble you elsewhere. It's natural to worry that what comes out the other end will only be a copy and not you."

Only if you don't accept the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, in which case you're throwing away several centuries of science. I would have considerably less unease about changes to my identity from going through a Star Trek style transporter than I do about changes to my identity from going to sleep.

I think there have clearly been different intentions with different regenerations. The regeneration of the third Doctor into the fourth, or the fourth into the fifth, for example, are clearly represented as 'deaths', while the regeneration of the second Doctor into the third is more of an inconvenience.

I tend to see the different Doctors in the same way that I see myself at different ages -- were I to meet myself aged 14, I would differ from him in more ways than we would be similar, but there would be a certain set of core traits that we would both share that would allow us to be identified as "the same person". I'm sure that my fourteen-year-old self would be horrified at the thought of turning into me...

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