This Point of Singularity (The Three Doctors)


It's 1807. Major hit songs of the year include Ludwig van Beethoven's Mass in C, the ballet Hélène and Paris, the operas Joseph and La Vestale, and Thomas Moore's publication of Irish Melodies. While in non-musical news, Napoleon makes an attack on Russia, Aaron Burr is acquitted of conspiracy, the England/Argentina soccer rivalry has pre-season friendly as Britain mounts a disastrous attack on Buenos Aires, and Robert Fulton launches his first American steamboat.

While in London, William Blake abandons his masterpiece, The Four Zoas. Intended as the culmination to a lengthy series of what are now described as his "mythological works," the piece was never finished to Blake's satisfaction, although parts of it were recycled into Jerusalem, one of his two last great mythological pieces (the other being Milton, A Poem, whose introduction gave the words to "And did those feet in ancient times, arguably now England's most popular hymn and unofficial national anthem).

Fingers stained with ink and the caustic acids of his relief etchings, Blake stares with an unfathomable eye at angels, gods, and demons. A visionary in every sense of the word, he sees within the festering wounds of industry the promise of salvation, sees the fall of man in a pastoral landscape. From within one meager corner of this unbound and incommensurable vision we see Nebuchadnezzar, bestial king of Babylon cast down into insanity for his hubris. The mad king speaks:
Without me, there would be no time travel. You and our fellow Time Lords would still be locked in your own time, as puny as those creatures you now so graciously protect. Many thousands of years ago, when I left our planet, all this was then a star until I arranged its detonation. It was an honour, or so I thought then. I was to be the one to find and create the power source that would give us mastery over time itself. I was sacrificed to that supernova. I generated those forces, and for what? To be blown out of existence into this black hole of antimatter? My brothers became Time Lords, but I was abandoned and forgotten!
And in his universe of antimatter, dark Urizen prepares. A lost shard of holy Albion, fallen and abject, Urizen spins law, gives shape and form to the universe. A solar engineer, Urizen collapses a sun into a cosmological abscess, a crack in the skin of the world. He does not create law so much as extrude it from his being, forming his net of continuity and myth purely by being. His gravity is inescapable. Here begins the long history of Rassilon and the Other, of secret centuries-old plots to destroy Skaro and looms. Here is the line between question and answer, between mystery and revelation.

He is called a fallen Time Lord, but this is wrong, implying a unity of Time Lords prior to his fall. Rather it is his fall, the schism of some primordial entity, that creates these categories in the first place. Time Lords and Urizen are both fragmentations of some greater being - each the emanation of the other. Urizen is that which is not Time Lord, that which can never be Time Lord. Time Lords are that which is not Urizen, and that which can never be Urizen.

Aware of this gulf, aware of that space his laws cannot encircle, Urizen casts out his emanation as he cast out Ahania, leaves them to wither, draining their very energy, unmaking them. This is not unification, not the reclamation of Edenic totality, but something else, a further splitting and division towards mere corpuscles suspended in ether, a world of single objects in static, known forms.
Dire shriek'd his invisible Lust
Deep groan'd Urizen! stretching his awful hand
Ahania (so name his parted soul)
He siez'd on his mountains of jealousy.
He groand anguishd & called her Sin,
Kissing her and weeping over her;
Then hid her in darkness in silence;
Jealous tho' she was invisible.
If we are to understand the Time Lords as the protectors of the arc of history, then we must understand them first as agents of change. When the Doctor declares that being without becoming is an ontological absurdity, he is firmly within the intellectual tradition of existentialism. To be said to exist, a thing must exist within time, must be subject to change. Central to the idea of a "thing" is the prospect of its encounter and interaction with other things, the prospect of it shaping and being shaped.

Are the Time Lords themselves subject to this process? They must be - to exist they must be changed, must alter continuously. Nothing can exist as a constant, as a defined thing. The Time Lords must constantly change and adapt. Unless we take the corollary of the Doctor's maxim. Being without becoming is an absurdity. But what of becoming without being? A truly unceasing change, so rapid and complete that it never settles, never takes form. The raw power of transformation. This constant change is the shape of eternity. A unity comprised not of form but of chaos. Time becomes not the ordered progression of causal events but a cascade, a tide eroding away the very foundations of being.

At once, Albion casts out its emanation Jerusalem as feet walk among England's mountains green. Omega's black hole drains Ahania's energy, not consuming his emanation but denying it, rejecting it as sin, while at the same time, in a junkyard on Totters Lane, an old man and his granddaughter hide within their magical box. In her garden, Amy Pond spends twelve years waiting five minutes as Edward Young scrawls his thoughts on death and immortality in the margins of Blake's great unfinished epic. Giles Deleuze and his closest working colleague, Felix Guattari, write on the rhizome:
At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings bring about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further. There is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed or subjugated by anything signifying.
The first episode of The Three Doctors is, if not the greatest first episode in the classic series outright, at the very least the greatest first episode of its first decade. With alarming and methodical speed the episode transforms itself, performing the act of becoming that proves so central to its larger existence. It starts as a near mirror for Spearhead From Space, a comedy yokel affected by objects falling from the sky. Then the fixed tropes that provide the framework of the Pertwee era begin to be torn away. The enemy pre-empts UNIT's investigations, making a beeline for Unit HQ until it is under siege from strange and bulbous horrors. The Doctor is given no time to investigate, is in fact given only a few clues before he becomes the very target of the threat. In a panic, he calls the Time Lords, begging them for help.

But they too are victims of this mysterious Urizenic siege, driven to a desperation the likes of which we had thought impossible. Their power almost vanished into Omega's abscess, drained by singularity, they are forced to abandon the first law of time itself, to allow the Doctor to cross his own time stream. Let us reflect briefly upon the implications of this law. On the surface, it is a strange thing to have as the first law of time - more important, it seems, even than their long-standing opposition to meddling.

The only thing it seems remotely commensurable with is the Doctor's old admonition that you can't rewrite history, not one line. The adamance of this plea to Barbara is the only other thing that seems anything like a sacred law of time, and even it, we now learn, is not the first. The first is that you cannot meet yourself. Why might this be?

The obvious answer is that it is a special and even worse case of rewriting history. So what is wrong with rewriting history? Tat Wood, whose observation about the Blakean nature of Omega's antimatter dimension sparked my own observations about the more radically Blakean nature of this story, along with Lawrence Miles, quote David Whitaker:
The basis of time traveling is that all things that happen are fixed and unalterable, otherwise of course the whole structure of existence would be thrown into unutterable confusion and the purpose of life itself would be destroyed. Doctor Who is an observer. What we are concerned with is that history, like justice, is not only done but can be seen to be done.
But as we know, time can be rewritten. Why can time be rewritten where history cannot? The standard answer given in the series - that there are fixed points in time - is strange for a series that has previously declared that a fixed point in time - a fact, if you will - is anathema to the Time Lords. Let us attempt a different explanation - one inspired by a comment from William Whyte back on the Evil of the Daleks entry: that the fundamental bound on changing history has little to do with the stability of the universe and everything to do with the stability of the self. One cannot alter the components of one's self - the stories and memories that create the unity of "I."

The reasoning is clear: in a world defined as formless chaos, the stability of the I, the observer, the visionary, is the only source of being available. The I, by dint of seeing, creates being out of becoming, literally altering the world into vision. To change it is to change the entire universe.

And to allay his freezing age
The poor man takes her in his arms:
The cottage fades before his sight,
The garden and its lovely charms;  
The guests are scattered through the land
(For the eye altering, alters all);
The senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a ball, 
The first law of time thus abandoned, the Doctor, himself an I altering, is brought forward to meet himselves. But he is trapped in a time eddy. This is a strange concept - a point in which time moves counter to its own arrow, becomes circular, a whirlpool in time. This is fitting. It is, after all, not the first time in which we have seen Hartnell's Doctor in these circumstances. In Totters Lane, before Ian and Barbara fell out of the world and into his now, he existed separate from both past and future, a man without history who has not yet become.

But this is not the first strange hole we have seen. Urizen himself dwells within a whirlpool in space, a point where space itself swirls in on itself. The Doctor's time eddy and Urizen's black hole are inexorably linked, two sides of the same coin, at once equivalent and separate. Thus we must conclude that the Doctor and Urizen are also linked - that the Doctor is, just as much as Urizen, a cast off emanation of some greater eternity.

These are not fixed oppositions, not simple points of defined balance. The Time Lords are not the opposite of Urizen, Urizen is not the opposite of the Doctor, the Doctor is not opposite himself. They are divisions, a fragmentation of a larger concept, each complete reflections of the whole, fractal consciousnesses within the radiant whole. As Donald Ault says of Blake:
The spectator's desire to complete the drawing behind the text in these examples parallels the reader's urge to find an ur-narrative behind the poem. On the physical page, of course, there is literally nothing behind the verbal text, for the rectangular space and the inscribed words constitute their own complete visual field. Likewise there is literally no primordial story behind the surface details of the poem's narrative. The presumption of such a story dissolves under close scrutiny of particulars.
Without the possibility of fixed eternity, with no prospect of single vision to encompass the whole of The Three Doctors, we are forced to a new approach. Our understanding of the story must become polymorphic, incommensurable. The entry must be allowed to shift beneath us. The figure of Omega, his mask a seeming reflection of Blake's vision of Nebuchadnezzar, must also become Urizen, one of Blake's Four Zoas, the aspects of eternal Albion. Urizen is reason itself, accompanied by Tharmas, instinct and strength, Luvah, passion and love, and Urthona, inspiration and imagination. The Time Lords must also be Ahania, the emanation of Urizen. And thus Omega must be Ahania, and the Time Lords Urizen, trapped in their laws, bound helplessly by singular vision.

The entry will not cohere. It will not make sense as such. It will make something else - vision, perhaps, or understanding. Or perhaps more accurately, it will make too many senses. It will be a textual labyrinth - one to get lost in and to puzzle over. The entry must be an act of becoming. But what shall it become?

At the center of things, Los, fallen form of Urthona, hammers forth the heartbeat of the world. Not the arc of change but its engine, he is the force that creates, that first great magick trick, the creation of something from nothing. The throbbing mass of ideas, churning wildly, seems to reverberate endlessly. In Lambeth, William Blake sees each strike as flashes of the world of angels and gods that lives behind his eyes. In London it is David Whitaker tracing the path of a bead of mercury across a sheet of glass seven years long. In Bristol, Bob Baker and David Martin swat desperately at the hydra of ideas the hammer beat brings forth. In Newtown, I nurse a cup of tea and work to tame this impossible tangle, or perhaps to be tamed by it.

Who is this figure at the center of things? Peer through the raging fire and he is as invisible and impossible as the rest. One moment he seems an old man in a strange chair peering awkwardly at cue cards, the next a dashing dandy, Beau Brummel as action hero. Blink and through the smoke you can just make out some strange hobo, a pied piper clad in innumerable secrets. And in the shadows cast flicker countless other forms - a trailing scarf, a cricketeer, an umbrella, a bow tie, and others that you know with eyes that have not yet seen, but someday will. Try even see how many forms he has and you will fail, inevitably losing count at thirteen. Pick one:
When you’re a character actor you’re having to make decisions all the time, and that’s a question of gaining confidence in the part you play, and that takes the time, really. Whereas with ‘Doctor Who’, the three years of it, you weren’t learning lines, really, you were learning thoughts.
Patrick Troughton, whose acting I have praised before, is of course amazing. The most mercurial of actors, he, as ever, works his way through the narrative like a magic spell. His first scene is awkward. Troughton is impeccably gracious as an actor - a trait Pertwee, if we're being honest, never displayed. The two of them got on poorly at first, due to Troughton's tendency to improvise his lines during rehearsal, playing his way through the tone of a scene and learning that, then wrapping his dialogue around his already selected tone. Pertwee was put off by this, and a bit of a tiff ensued. Troughton, the class act of the two, played it Pertwee's way, to the detriment of his performance (as, perhaps, intended - see also Pertwee's flagrant attempt to make sure Richard Franklin knows who the star is on his first appearance. For all that Pertwee was a gracious and fun colleague to many of his co-stars, he could be depressingly catty).

But in the handful of scenes in episode two where he's with Nicholas Courtney and John Levene, both of whom he's worked with before, he visibly relaxes, playing, for that episode, the Doctor again instead of the "Second Doctor," the goofy comedy sidekick he invented for reunions. (Everyone gets shuffled around a bit for the reunion. Courtney, in an inspired turn, gets to play the Brigadier finally snapping, unable to believe what is going on around him, while Benton gets to be the utterly unflappable one, explaining to everyone how the "multiple Doctors' thing works.) But this moment to show himself as the Doctor
(A moment tragically denied to Hartnell, who looks distressingly unwell on the monitor, and is visibly pausing between sentences to peer at cue cards, barely able to get through the lines, little yet add any character to them. It is of course still incredibly moving to see him and to have that connection to the very dawn of the program, but it is moving in the sense of managing to make it to the bedside of an ailing relative before they pass. Hartnell passed away just over two years after this aired of the same condition that was robbing him of his abilities in his final months on the show.)
allows him to assert genuine power over the narrative. He sneaks several moments to shine, is central to figuring out how to defeat Omega. Pertwee's Doctor gets to figure out how to build a gizmo that will destroy Omega, but Troughton's is the one who works out how to trick Omega, and Troughton's is the one to do the deed, giving the moral weight to the Doctors' judgment that death is the only freedom Omega can ever have. In tricking Omega, when he makes contact with himself, Troughton's Doctor turns and makes eye contact with the camera, repeating his frequent trick from his time on the series. This trick suggests that the Doctor controls the medium of television itself - a suggestion we have probed the implications of before. (This is fitting, given that one of the monsters in this story is visually processed so that, despite being made with a physical prop, it looks like a video effect instead of like a physical object) Here, then, the Master of the Land of Fiction himself returns - Los in his most powerful form.
I loved Patrick Troughton, he was smashing to be with, and the whole thing was a real kick. Mind you, concerning the mini-skit I wore in that story, there’s a scene where you can see my knickers! Most improper for children’s viewing time, don’t you think?
Enitharmon, the emanation of Los, deserves to be talked about more, and this is in many ways the place to do it, because once she's paired with Patrick Troughton we finally really get to see how her character works. Enitharmon may have originated in the mould of wholly consistent characters stuck in absurd worlds - beings without becoming stuck in situations of pure becoming, if you will - but she has steadily progressed. All of this is consistent - when she is caught by Urizen in Terror of the Autons because she stumbles and knocks over some crates, the way she rises up with a sheepish look on her face while being captured by someone she knows to be terrifying and evil is sheer brilliance. Enitharmon simply refuses to play by the rules of the narrative, and does so not out of rebelliousness but out of a sort of sheer plucky creativity.

Since then she has developed the process to an art, cheating the narrative regularly without ever seeming aware of it. In this regard, she is most like Los's Troughton, who was also not so much a character as a force of nature within the narrative. This is an essential realization. Los's Pertwee is in many ways the least whimsical of his forms. Or, to be blunter, he lacks mercury. Paired with Enitharmon, who is as steeped in mercury as Troughton, there is a completion. It is very hard to argue that Pertwee is a superior actor to Troughton - in fact, I'd go so far as to say that it is very easy to argue that Troughton is much superior to Pertwee. His tonal readings make the blows of his hammer echo through the entire scene, shaking the very foundations of the story. Pertwee is exciting and charming, but he never inhabits the story itself like Troughton does.

But on the other hand, it is equally hard to argue that the Pertwee/Enitharmon team is anything less than head and shoulders beyond any Los/Companion pairing to date. Even Los's Hartnell paired with Ian and Barbara do not quite sparkle like this. Los's Pertwee and Enitharmon are perfect compliments to one another - the very model of the double act.

Enitharmon, of course, is a complex and libidinous creature. She is on the one hand the Emanation of Los. But her name contains within it the name of another Zoa, Tharmas, who represents sensation. His emanation is Enion, who represents sexual urges. Their successful union produces Enitharmon, who is herself the sexual counterpart for Los.

Fitting, then, that Enitharmon should be the one to pose nude with the Doctors' Shadow. This figure is the darkest part of Blake's fourfold division of man, the ashes left by dead desire festering away. Ahania, originally Urizen's emanation, becomes a shadow when she is cast out and denied by him, just as Omega becomes a shadow as he separates irrevocably from the Time Lords.

From Enitharmon and Los's union comes Orc, the spirit of revolution, at first embodied by Blake, but in time, as Blake grew skeptical of the possibility of charismatic revolutionary leaders, pulled within, made an aspect of the soul.
The terror answerd: I am Orc, wreath'd round the accursed tree:
The times are ended; shadows pass the morning gins to break;
The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,
What night he led the starry hosts thro' the wide wilderness:
That stony law I stamp to dust: and scatter religion abroad
To the four winds as a torn book, & none shall gather the leaves;
But they shall rot on desart sands, & consume in bottomless deeps;
To make the desarts blossom, & the deeps shrink to their fountains,
And to renew the fiery joy, and burst the stony roof.
That pale religious letchery, seeking Virginity,
May find it in a harlot, and in coarse-clad honesty
The undefil'd tho' ravish'd in her cradle night and morn:
For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;
Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defil'd.
Fires inwrap the earthly globe, yet man is not consumd;
Amidst the lustful fires he walks: his feet become like brass,
His knees and thighs like silver, & his breast and head like gold.
What, then, do we make of the ending, particularly the somewhat strainedly long scene in which every single supporting character, whether we care about them or not, gets a farewell before stepping through the singularity to be restored to the world? The first thing to notice in this scene is that although the characters enter the singularity one by one, they seem to reappear on Earth simultaneously. Clearly, then, the singularity is not simply functioning as a portal.

We also know that the singularity is at the center of Omega's constructed reality - the tool by which he turns his will into things. (Just as Enitharmon is both Tharmas's daughter and Urthona's emanation, Urizen is also here the Doctor's shadow.) We also know that the Master of the Land of Fiction is right by the singularity, and is moments from asserting his control over the story via his signature gesture of looking out of screens.

So into the singularity are put the elements of Doctor Who. Even the Doctor himself is symbolically there, since the singularity and the time eddy are aspects of the same thing. And then, by consuming their own shadow, Los turns Urizen's necrotic tangle of laws into Eternity.

For one moment, Jerusalem stands within Albion again. And from this moment Los builds Golgonooza, while the Doctors rebuild Doctor Who, or perhaps build it for the first time. In one moment, all of what the show was and ever has been coexists, overlapped, chaotic, contradictory, but there.
Where is the Covenant of Priam, the Moral Virtues of the Heathen
Where is the Tree of Good & Evil that rooted beneath the cruel heel
Of Albions Spectre the Patriarch Druid! where are all his Human Sacrifices
For Sin in War & in the Druid Temples of the Accuser of Sin: beneath
The Oak Groves of Albion that coverd the whole Earth beneath his Spectre
Where are the Kingdoms of the World & all their glory that grew on Desolation
The Fruit of Albions Poverty Tree when the Triple Headed Gog-Magog Giant
Of Albion Taxed the Nations into Desolation & then gave the Spectrous Oath

Such is the Cry from all the Earth from the Living Creatures of the Earth
And from the great City of Golgonooza in the Shadowy Generation
And from the Thirty-two Nations of the Earth among the Living Creatures

All Human Forms identified even Tree Metal Earth & Stone. all
Human Forms identified, living going forth & returning wearied
Into the Planetary lives of Years Months Days & Hours reposing
And then Awaking into his Bosom in the Life of Immortality.

And I heard the Name of their Emanations they are named Jerusalem
Patrick Troughton oozes like mercury around alchemic diagrams, while Roger Delgado leers maniacally. In Totters Lane, William Hartnell bundles Susan through the doors of the TARDIS. Vicki and Jo skip arm in arm down the streets of Skaro looking at shopwindow dummies while fireworks mixed up by Liz Shaw and Ian Chesterton explode across the sky where Steven Taylor draws a Blue Peter Badge in contrails from the Planet Mondas. Jon Pertwee captains the HMS Bessie with Ben Jackson and reminisce about Polly, who right this moment is slipping through the UNIT tearoom planting retcon as part of her new gig with Torchwood. Staying carefully on the other side of the room for fear of offending her ex-husband, Sara Kingdom chats with a familiar looking Brigadier, while Barbara cradles Katarina sapphically. Victoria has odd dreams of Sergeant Benton chasing her through the London Underground, while Mike Yates and Jamie McCrimmon make like Izlyr and Ssorg. And in the sky the Wheel in Space spins like a circle of destiny, as Zoe Heriot calculates the precise arcs of history.

There is no understanding this moment. No comprehension. Singularity itself is destroyed in favor of eternity. An unfinished show, an eternal cliffhanger, an act of eternal becoming. Never perfect, but in turn never done, Los's hammer driving forward in its heart.

And then she rises, Eternity herself in brilliant blue, at last restored to us, ready to take us anywhere. All of space and time. Anything that ever happened or ever will. The hammer strikes. The Doctor fiddles the coordinates. There is a wheezing, groaning sound. Turn on the scanner, see where we are.
I first saw The Three Doctors in late 1992 or early 1993, on a scratchy VHS tape from my parents' collection. It was my first time seeing Hartnell or Troughton, and I remember vividly how charmed I was by the latter. But this isn't the place in the narrative for me. Not quite yet. 
Between The Time Monster and The Three Doctors, Jane Fonda famously makes her trip to North Vietnam to earn the moniker Hanoi Jain. Bloody Friday erupts in Northern Ireland as the IRA kills nine and seriously injures a hundred and thirty more in a series of 22 bombings in Belfast. Then comes Bloody Monday, with three car bombs. In Munich, terrorists murder eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games, while Bobby Fischer becomes the first American world chess champion. A race riot breaks out on the USS Kitty Hawk. Richard Nixon storms to re-election, and the first version of Pong is released. The last Apollo mission flies to the moon. While during the story, the UK finally properly joins the ECC, and Last of the Summer Wine, the world's longest running comedy series, begins. As the final episode airs, Richard Nixon is inaugurated for his second term.

Nebuchadnezzar faces down the Doctors and Benton.
While in music, Jimmy Osmond's "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" is at number one, and remains so for all four weeks of the story. This has the tragic result of blocking David Bowie's "Jean Genie" from the number one slot, as well as the even more tragic result of having millions of innocent people hearing a nine year old boy promising to be their long haired lover from Liverpool and do anything they say. Less openly pedophiliac songs in the top ten include T. Rex's "Solid Gold Easy Action," The Sweet's "Blockbuster," Carly Simon's song about me, Elvis Presley's "Always On My Mind," John Lenon's "Happy Xmas/War is Over," and Elton John's "Crocodile Rock." It's December 30, 1972.


John Peacock 9 years, 5 months ago

I wonder whether The Three Doctors isn't the first modern Doctor Who story - up to that point the series was a meandering flow of stories about this character who kept changing face and personality (and narrative format) largely in response to events and accident and budget constraint and (occasionally) whim, like a game of consequences with invading aliens in it. The Three Doctors is the first story about Doctor Who itself, which has been the main subject of the series since 1995 (and ever since Tom Baker left the series has been at least self-conscious. Self-consciousness is one thing that Baker T. could never be accused of.)

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mjfilla 9 years, 5 months ago

I'm trying to figure out which "disastrous" attack of Napoleon's you are referring to. The two battles France and Russia fought in 1807 - Eylau and Friedland - were a draw and a French victory, respectively. Napoleon's invasion of Russia was certainly disastrous, but it didn't happen until 1812.

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Spacewarp 9 years, 5 months ago

This story was a fantastic New Years treat for me. Just turned 11 a month before, and suddenly I get my childhood Doctor back (the 2nd, not the 1st). This was a very big TV event at the time of broadcast, but strangely not a tenth of the promotion you get today for just another Doctor Who series. The Radio Times had a cover edition and that was about it.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 9 years, 5 months ago

"Troughton is impeccably gracious as an actor - a trait Pertwee, if we're being honest, never displayed."

As I've argued before, there's evidence to the contrary. Your perfidious campaign against Pertwee must be oppos'd, sir!

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

My point was that his grace is rather more peccable. :)

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William Whyte 9 years, 5 months ago

This is a fantastically bonkers entry, and thank you for the namecheck.

On a very prosaic level, playing to your observation about how the craftsmanship of Doctor Who gets better as time goes on: it's interesting to contrast Troughton's taunting of Omega here with his taunting of Kleig in Tomb of the Cybermen. There, it's just a lead up to the cheap shot of "now I know you're mad". Here, it's a key part of 2's attempt to find out what exactly is going on.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the clever insight that cleaned up my understanding of The Aztecs and Whitaker's conception of history considerably. :)

And glad you enjoyed the bonkers post. I hadn't unleashed the more bonkers elements of the blog since The Invasion, and this entry seemed to need it. I expect it will lose a few people who persist in thinking this is primarily a review blog (I described it to someone the other day as "currently a lengthy meditation on the role of utopianism after the 1960s that is structured around a British sci-fi show," personally), but, well, tough. This is my blog, and I am insane. :)

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William Whyte 9 years, 5 months ago

"currently a lengthy meditation on the role of utopianism after the 1960s that is structured around a British sci-fi show" -- you are certainly going to have fun with the Cartmel years.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

Oh, yes. Yes I am. The Cartmel era and what I want to say about it is part of why the blog exists. Through quirks of PBS schedules, the Cartmel years are the closest thing in classic Doctor Who to where I got to experience the show fresh and as a child. Sophie Aldred was my first celebrity crush. I am dying to get there. :)

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Adeodatus 9 years, 5 months ago

I think I need a little lie down ...

... after that superb post. Doctor Who Blakean rather than Miltonian. Yes. Very definitely.

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elvwood 9 years, 5 months ago


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Jesse 9 years, 5 months ago

Blake? You mean the guy from BLAKE'S 7?


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Wm Keith 9 years, 5 months ago

...well. After all that, I'm breathlessly looking forward to your thoughts on Avon. Peccavi.

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Aaron 9 years, 5 months ago

I was sad to see you made no comments on how Hartnell here was now playing "The First Doctor" instead of just the Doctor, a point it sounded like you would hit on here when you mentioned it in the Tenth Planet entry. Maybe it makes more sense to do that in the Five Doctors entry.

I also found it interesting how, between this entry and the David Bowie entry, it seems like the excesses of The Nintendo Project are finding their way into this blog now. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but I used to tell them apart by expecting this sort of entry from the Nintendo Project and more normal entries from this blog.

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William Whyte 9 years, 5 months ago

The first episode of The Three Doctors is, if not the greatest first episode in the classic series outright, at the very least the greatest first episode of its first decade


Great first episodes:

An Unearthly Child
Dalek Invasion of Earth
The Web Planet
The Dalek Master Plan
Power of the Daleks
The War Games
The Ambassadors of Death
Invasion of the Dinosaurs
The Ark in Space
The Deadly Assassin
Talons of Weng-Chiang
Caves of Androzani
Remembrance of the Daleks
Ghost Light

Of these, Ark in Space is my favourite.

Obviously, this tracks my favourite overall stories pretty closely.

Fight back!

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

Certainly many of those are fantastic, although several are just fantastic for the entire run, with the first episode not standing out especially. But of that list, and controlling for things I've seen fairly recently, only Power of the Daleks and An Unearthly Child come close for me. Given that I treat An Unearthly Child as a one-episode story separate from 100,000 BC, and given that as much as I love Power, the pacing gets wonky for the middle ten minutes or so of the first episode, I stand by my assessment - the opening of this story, with its move from standard UNIT to complete chaos and the rulebook not so much being thrown out as set on fire, torn up, and then allowed to sink into the swamp, remains tops. The back three can't possibly live up to its potential and don't (though the whole thing is quite good), but the first episode is a triumph of pacing and inventiveness - exactly what you'd hope for from Baker and Martin heavily rewritten by Dicks.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 5 months ago

Aaron - honestly, I think I was so taken aback by just how frail Hartnell looked that I didn't have the means to say much else. He's not playing the Doctor here, but he's not really playing the First Doctor either - it's tough to call what he's doing acting. He's clearly very sick and barely able to get through his cue cards. It's much more upsetting than I realized it would be when I wrote the Tenth Planet entry.

As for the weirdness, I was a bit wary of putting two gonzo entries out in a week. Normal service is restored for a while now, at least through Planet of the Spiders. I just had two that seems to me to need a slightly more experimental writing style to get what I wanted to say. For the most part, this blog will remain vaguely sane. :)

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Grant, the Hipster Dad 9 years, 5 months ago

"The entry will not cohere. It will not make sense as such."

Well, that's the damn truth.

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Wm Keith 9 years, 5 months ago

"Our understanding of the story must become polymorphic."

At last, something I understand. You're talking about "Polymorph", the episode in which Red Dwarf abandoned innocence in favour of experience.

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Timothy Bramfeld 7 years, 11 months ago

After reading through this post, my initial reaction:
"That's not even a proper word! You're just saying *things*!"
Still entertaining, though. :)

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