Till We Meet Again, Sarah (School Reunion)

(110 comments)


Previously on TARDIS Eruditorum


No, no, darlings. I'm the tin dog.
It’s October 23rd, 1976. Pussycat are at number one with “Mississippi,” with Rod Stewart, Chicago, ABBA, and Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots also charting, the latter with, well, the only song they ever chart with, “Disco Duck (Part One).” In the week prior copyright is extended by twenty years in the United States and Cearball Ó Dálaigh resigns as President of Ireland because the Minister of Defense insulted him. And, the day in question, Lis Sladen makes her final appearance on Doctor Who.

The show almost immediately collapses. Three weeks later, in the very next story, a particularly violent cliffhanger attracts the rage of moral crusader Mary Whitehouse, whose rantings are deemed sufficiently inconvenient as to necessitate a bureaucratic change. Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe is moved over to produce Target, whereas Target’s intended producer Graham Williams is put on Doctor Who with a mandate to tone down the violence. The Williams era has its moments, but is largely a brutal step down from the highs that Doctor Who reached with Lis Sladen around, and the show methodically circles the drain for a decade before finally falling through.

Thirty Years Later…

K-9 must live!
It’s April 29th, 2006. Gnarls Barkley remains crazy, while Rihanna, Fall Out Boy, and the Black Eyed Peas also chart. In the last week, Benedict XVI was reported to have agreed to a relaxation of rules on condoms (which are, for the record, a wildly more fascinating and unusual theological issue than anyone gives them credit for being), Tony Snow became White House Press Secretary, several years too early to be the victim of image macros involving government lies and the phrase “You know nothing, Tony Snow,” and Silvio Berlusconi announces that he’ll resign as Prime Minister of Italy, like he does every few years.

On television, Lis Sladen returns to Doctor Who in Toby Whithouse’s School Reunion. A big episode by any measure, deserving of a big post. No fancy formatting - let’s just take a wander. The good old-fashioned way, like we used to do.

One line of criticism regarding this episode is the idea that Sarah Jane is somehow cheapened by being put into a “romance” plot - that her character is lessened somehow by becoming “the ex,” as Mickey puts it. But let’s be careful here. Yes, Sarah’s relationship with the Doctor is clearly one that plays a role in her life that for other people are filled by romantic partners. But there’s no suggestion that it was romantic as such. In fact, there’s an explicit hedge against it - what devastates Sarah Jane is explicitly the fact that nothing earthly, romance included, can possibly compare to adventures in the TARDIS.

On the other hand, one can’t deny that the question of romance is present in the episode. But what’s interesting is that there is a clear distinction here between the frame and the content, so to speak. Yes, the relationship among the Doctor, Rose, and Sarah Jane is presented in the televisual terms of a love triangle, but nothing whatsoever in the past of Doctor Who supports the idea that just because you present something in the frame of a genre it is entirely a part of that genre.

The key observation is who makes the “missus and the ex” comment: Mickey. Ignore absolutely everything else about School Reunion, in fact, and focus on Mickey and Sarah Jane’s relationship, as it is the single most interesting thing in the story. Mickey, after all, is from EastPowellStreet. He belongs to the soaps. It’s not just the fact that Sarah Jane runs into the Doctor’s world again that prompts her story line, in other words, but the fact that she runs into Rose’s. Or, more to the point, Mickey’s, because Rose is by this point treated more like a character in the Doctor’s world than one in EastPowellStreet. Becoming a god will do that to you. (Observe the stark difference between her two appearances in Victorian stories - in The Unquiet Dead she’s in a period gown, in Tooth and Claw she’s in contemporary clothes. She’s become bigger than any genre she steps into, including her own.)

And crucially, Sarah Jane Smith is a Doctor Who companion. She has no life beyond that series. She’s a journalist, ostensibly, but is this really her plan? Go to schools where it looks like aliens might be running a Doctor Who plot and write news stories about them to stop them? I mean, try imagining Sarah Jane’s day-to-day life. How exactly does this style of journalism make her any money? It does not seem like anything that can happen at Deffry Vale High School can possibly make a publishable news story. And, further, she’s apparently the sort of person who drives around with a broken-down K-9 in the back of her car. This, I think, says it all about how fundamentally ill-suited she is to real life.

And this isn’t a problem. She wasn’t designed for real life. She was designed for a specific 1970s television show, and when the Doctor left her she stopped existing. There is no Sarah Jane Smith before The Time Warrior or after The Hand of Fear. That’s not how fiction works. You can write one, but there isn’t one. And even if you write one, you’re only adding a version to Sarah Jane Smith who stopped existing after The Hand of Fear. That’s what happens in stories when they end. That’s why endings are sad.

But there’s no avoiding an ending. Everything ends. That’s how stories work. The secret of alchemy is material social progress, and that means death. Sarah Jane knows that. She was quite literally there when it happened. That’s the consequence of it. The story after Sarah Jane leaves is the one with the continuity bit that cancels the series. This is what the Hinchcliffe era was about: death. And given that, Sarah Jane’s ending is a mercy because she gets to just walk away, held in our memories forever, our Sarah Jane.

Put another way, we can end the story at The Hand of Fear because then Lis Sladen never dies. Because it’s impossible to watch this now without that event just ripping through you. It was one thing when Hartnell died - he was always old. Troughton was harder, but it’s key to remember that he was around for a long time. His presence haunted the entire series - he appeared with four other Doctors, almost with a fifth, and died at the dawn of a sixth. And it was a long time ago. So was Pertwee, honestly - over a decade ago when Lis Sladen died. And that had been the last really big one. Yeah, there were sad ones. Verity Lambert was hard. Jacqueline Hill, oof. John Nathan-Turner, actually, was really sad, as we’ve learned. Even Nicholas Courtney didn't quite compare to Lis Sladen.

And that's because of this story. Because she got brought back to be a regular on the new series, and to get her own spinoff. And for God’s sake she deserved it. I mean, you talk about your heartwarming stories - that she gets that kind of late career recognition. But it made her death so fucking hard for fandom. It was just one of the most devastating things to happen. And this episode is already so metatextual that it’s impossible not to read it that way.

And that’s the choice you get to make. You can leave her at The Hand of Fear or you can let her come back. But if she comes back, she gets old and dies. Those are the rules. Those are the two worlds you get to live in.

She gets old. She changes. She has to. You cannot just walk from The Hand of Fear to School Reunion without stepping through thirty years of history like they’re just pages in a book. The rooms aren’t arranged that way. If you go from The Hand of Fear to School Reunion you get a character who simply does not work in the series any more. Because she hasn’t changed in thirty years, and the series has. So she can’t change just by contact with the show, because of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect or something - look, I could work this bit of theoretical poetry out if I wanted to, but it’s not actually that interesting. Let’s skip ahead.

The fact that she gets aged to match up with the show through a soap opera love triangle plot is a joke. But it’s a joke that ties a particular connection between Mickey and Sarah Jane. Mickey has become a sort of Lone Gunmen character - a perfectly ordinary guy who’s become a Doctor Who fan, only he’s done it within the story instead of outside of it. Mickey Smith’s From Outer Space. This is only possible in this new iteration of the show where it’s about its own success - now that Doctor Who is a thing in the culture it has ordinary people who are fans, and so Mickey has become a meta joke about that. It’s very clever, and it keeps him present in a show that’s now about Doctor Who being a cultural force that Coronation Street will poach a producer from. (Likewise, Jackie becomes the person who still really doesn’t get this Doctor Who thing, even though all the kids are into it.) Sarah Jane Smith is a Doctor Who character who is suddenly thrust awkwardly into being a soap opera character, Mickey Smith is a soap opera character who is suddenly thrust awkwardly into being a Doctor Who character.

And then there’s the tin dog. Tin is one of the alchemic metals, just as mercury is. If the Doctor is mercurial than describing K-9 as the “tin” dog is as significant as changing the Cybermen from being lunar to being martian. Again, wibbly wobbly, alchemical whemical, but the end result of the alchemical argument will be that describing K-9 as tin in an alchemical sense will result in him being a force of the old order that is holding us back and that we must surpass even though it hurts. I’m sure Jane can explain it in comments.

Shortly after Sarah Jane’s departure, as one of the first acts of the new producer, K-9 was brought into the series. He was at once immensely popular with children and a perfect symbol of the show’s decline because he was, let’s be honest, absolutely stupid. There’s thus an oddly fitting balancing of him and Sarah Jane - her departure marks the end of the beginning, his arrival marks the beginning of the end. And they’re inexorably paired because of a naff spinoff attempted in the 1980s that didn’t work, but that starred the two of them.

The problem is, K-9 can’t grow old. He’s a robotic dog. There’s no future for him. He’s disco. And so he’s dying. Decaying within the series, a festering wound. Putrefying. Fittingly, the monsters are putrefactive themselves, transmuting as a result of… wait, actually. Why do Krillitanes have oil? This is never explained in the plot. They have to use the children because they’re allergic to their own oil, but why they have their own oil in the first place is unknown. But the fact that they are creatures of continual change explains it - they are oil in the crude oil sense - the carbonization of life itself. They change through death.

In other words, they’re creatures of chemistry, not alchemy - a rationalist cult science fiction series come to destroy our fun little televisual fairy tale. They’re even led by Anthony Stewart Head, who is of course both brilliant and cult, in the second funniest instance of Doctor Who directly plundering Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And look at what they offer the Doctor - the ability to go back to the Time War.

Ah, yes. The Time War. That big mythic thing, the awful scar of cult television and cancellation. Here’s an interesting question: why does the Doctor respond to Sarah the way he does in the basement? I mean, “everyone died, Sarah” has to be one of the most weirdly jarring lines ever - a complete non-sequitur of a conversation. Is part of it the shock of him seeing her? No, because he’s overjoyed to see her still living. It’s something else - it’s her horrified reaction. That she thought he’d died.

Because he did, of course. In the very next story, which pinned that stupid regeneration limit in place for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than Robert Holmes needing a reason why the Master was decaying and not Roger Delgado. The show was given an endpoint so the Master could look like a pizza. That is how far the show fell after Sarah Jane Smith left. (Delgado, of course, was the first really big “death in the family” for Doctor Who.) But that’s not what he’s referring to. He’s referring to the Time War. Which is actually ages after Sarah Jane left. And that’s not the only weird thing about that conversation - there’s also the whole regenerated “half a dozen times since we last met,” which doesn’t work. Even based purely on The Five Doctors it doesn’t work, except, of course, John Hurt. But she met McCoy and McGann in novels, so it still doesn’t work unless you take that line as decanonizing the wilderness years in toto. (Or at least the BBC Books range.) Which, yuck.

Except that we’ve already come to read the wilderness years and the Time War as equivalent. So the only issues are related to John Hurt, the wilderness years, or The Five Doctors. Two out of three are the Time War. Which the Doctor overtly brings up. Why? Surely the easiest explanation, consistent with absolutely everything we are told about the Time War, is that every single Gallifrey story got retconned by it. And so when the Doctor went from The Hand of Fear to The Deadly Assassin he really did go straight to the Time War, because that’s what The Deadly Assassin is now. (And notably, this tidies up The Five Doctors as well, which, as a weak spot in time due to four incarnations of the Doctor being there at once, and furthermore as what must be a fixed point in time given the momentous political events, was surely a major battleground of the Time War. I mean, there was lone, mad Dalek - the only time we’ve seen a Dalek on Gallifrey - trapped in the Death Zone, fallen through time, screaming out for orders that would never come.)

So what we have are cult villains threatening to eat the entire past of the series by elevating the Doctor to the status of a god. And, of course, the real joke is that they’re rubbish. These aren’t the Daleks. They may talk a big game and supposedly be really bad “ancient foes” that even the Doctor is scared of, but they’re firmly in the tradition of suicidal vegetable-enviers and ancient gods with thrones that have bum-massaging hands. But they’re not actually huge threats. There’s never really any danger to this story, and there’s not supposed to be. There’s just some rubbish bat creatures. The only danger they pose is the brief flirtation with the narrative collapse of the series posed by letting the Doctor go back to the Time War and save them all. Even Sarah, who doesn’t have to get old if only the Doctor embraces the ropey old cult show.

And Sarah Jane says no. Sarah Jane Smith says it is better to grow old and to die than to do that. And she’s the only one who has to. But she accepts it. She has to. She knows. The secret of alchemy is material social progress. To defeat the harsh chemistry of the Krillitane requires true alchemy. She will pick the real world of Mickey Smith and love and dying. Because it doesn’t mean abandoning the Doctor’s world, it just means growing up.

Except there’s one other price. It is rarely remarked upon that the only time a proper unambiguous companion has ever really died in the new series is K-9. Yes, Rory, but Rory comes back. K-9 doesn’t. Not this K-9. Not K-9 Mark III, the robot dog that first appeared in A Girl’s Best Friend, the pilot episode of K-9 and Company, and then again in The Five Doctors. Because the series has to sacrifice its past. Sarah Jane accepting death means K-9 has to die. It’s not quite enough to accept death in theory. Something actually has to die. We have to get over our pasts.

So K-9 dies. He gets the big, epic heroic death scene as a companion sacrifices themselves to save humanity. And the wonderful thing is he relishes it, going out with an “Affirmative” before nuking the school. (And in the process making the picked on nerd cool!) He’s a badass motherfucking dog. He should be voiced by Samuel L Jackson or something. And in that is something else. Triumph of the camp, perhaps. The reclamation. The thing we get. Death is the price paid. What do we get for our death? What did Sarah Jane safe for us? This. A tin dog sacrificing himself in a blaze of glory to blow up a school and make the bullied kid a hero. Hooray, as Davies and Gardner would put it.

And notably, of course, Mickey is the tin dog. There’s an interesting cyclic structure to this episode. Sarah Jane meets Mickey Smith and gets cast in a love triangle due to her abandonment issues from the Doctor. This gives her the strength to accept death and thus to redeem K-9 by offering him a spectacular and epic death that is the apotheosis of the 70s cute robot aesthetic he belonged to. And K-9 gives Mickey a way into Doctor Who. The Doctor needs a Smith. Mickey Smith is elevated to where he gets to see the wonders of the universe because of the giddy camp wonder of a disco tin dog - the one that featured in Queer as Folk at that. And that’s our reward. That’s what we get for accepting death. Giddy wonder. The fact that we’re alive in the first place. The ability to revel in the triumphant death of a disco tin dog from the year five thousand.

That’s the secret of alchemy.

Comments

elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

Oh, wow. That was lovely, a big ball of narrativey-commentary... stuff.The shout-out to Jane and these comments just adds another strand that curls back on itself. Who needs clever formatting, eh?

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

With reference to the show "collapsing" after the departure of Sarah Jane Smith, I'd like to refer my learned friend to my recently-completed study of viewing figures over Doctor Who's 26-year "classic" run. In particular Season 14, which does show that whatever the merits of the show from a fan perspective, the General Public were either sufficiently forgiving (or mindlessly fickle) to continue watching:

http://spacewarp.co.uk/who/DWSeason14.htm

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J Mairs 4 years, 1 month ago

Sorry - I tuned out after the speculation regarding John Hurt's character; Related to the "Time War" only in the sense that "Time Can Be Rewritten".

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 1 month ago

I think I'll gloss over this Eruditorum post, no offence. I just disagree with a lot of it.

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Scurra 4 years, 1 month ago

I love the meta-fictional concept of Sarah Jane ceasing to exist between Hand of Fear and School Reunion: now that you've raised this as one of the driving forces of the "season", it becomes harder and harder not to see it all over the place.

I'm less bothered by the "regenerated half-a-dozen times" line; I don't think necessarily renders the NAs non-canon, it's just a convenient short-hand for the casual viewers who, by this point, know the tv history well enough for that line to make sense (especially given things like Confidential.) Whereas the obsessives can enjoy shouting things like "but I liked Bullet Time."

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

. She’s a journalist, ostensibly, but is this really her plan? Go to schools where it looks like aliens might be running a Doctor Who plot and write news stories about them to stop them? I mean, try imagining Sarah Jane’s day-to-day life. How exactly does this style of journalism make her any money?

As far as I can tell, Sarah Jane Smith is actually a terrible journalist. I mean seriously, she seems to spend her entire career not reporting on things, even to the point of engaging in and masterminding huge cover-ups to avoid reporting on things.

(Not that this is particularly odd for a fictional journalist. Fiction's full of journalists who suppress The Biggest Story Ever because The World Is Not Ready (or for far more venial reasons (Looking at you, Buck Williams)) or because they don't want to make waves or hurt people (Looking at you, Rory Gillmore), or because they've got their own big secret they can't risk exposing (Looking at you, Sabrina Spellman), or because the status quo requires that the character not become famous or successful)

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elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

Or, indeed, Trainflight.

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps she rattles off a Jan Moir style appalling right wing troll opinion piece for the Mail every week, to fund her alien investigations.

Now there's a thought: Jan Moir, Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips - Defending the Earth!

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ferret 4 years, 1 month ago

also "half-a-dozen" is, in my experience, frequently used to mean "about six" and not "exactly six" - otherwise you'd just say "six".

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C. 4 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps she had a Peter Parker-type thing going, where she got exclusives on whatever cover stories UNIT conjured up to explain the latest alien invasion.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Now I'm curious: What do you disagree with?

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elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

And I'm curious why you couldn't get anything out of the way it was written, regardless of how wrongheaded his opinions appeared to you. I found the twisty, turny paths of thought a joy to follow, and only really thought about whether I disagreed briefly in passing. Until I got to the end, but even then I spent most of my time reflecting on the form of the argument.

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

Hmm... surely if we are to read into the tin dog, we must at least consider that Britain is traditionally identified with the Cassiterides, the Tin Islands of classical lore? The Doctor finds the tin entity broken down, decayed, in need of destruction and rebirth--is that a flicker of the old revolutionary/utopian spirit of the first few seasons of the classic show?

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occono 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm pretty sure the writer's intention was that Sarah hadn't seen the Doctor since Hand of Fear, not even in The Five Doctors. So I'm pretty sure the authorial intent was ignoring the NAs.

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David Ainsworth 4 years, 1 month ago

Interesting post, but I can't help but raise two objections.

The first: Elisabeth Sladen died April 19th, 2011. Nicholas Courtney died February 22nd, 2011. I suspect the Brig isn't mentioned here because there's a natural, later place in the new series to address his loss. But calling Pertwee the last really big death? I'm going to choose to believe you simply haven't been able to register Courtney's death yet, and it thus hasn't yet happened for you...

The second: I'm happy to let the Five Doctors pass as a return-point for Sarah Jane, given your reading of it as caught in the Time War. It's the story that might have happened but then didn't. But the one sentence dismissal of K-9 and Company, however well deserved by the quality of that particular attempt, means that you miss out on an opportunity to strengthen and underline one of your main points.

Because everyone knows the Five Doctors is a one-off. It doesn't really count in the same way. Sarah reunites with the Doctor who died on her, not the Doctor who left her. It's like a dream she wakes up from (even if the larger lessons of the Five Doctors build themselves around memory, death and identity). And the stories that aren't on the screen didn't happen in the same way.

But however tempting it is to pretend K-9 and Company didn't happen, it did. And Sarah's actual, successful spin-off and this deserved failed attempt entirely reinforce the point about the tin dog, life, change and death.

Our option isn't to leave Sarah in a freeze frame, one which in a way could be as notorious as the one in Deadly Assassin. It's to imagine her living and dying... or imagine her as adjunct to the tin dog. Forever.

Because if K-9 represents fixity, that's the alternative to death. Sarah dies or she lives as the headliner in a show that features a prop in the title and renders her as "company," like she's just dropped by for tea or like K-9 has his own performing group. The points about Hand of Fear to School Reunion become even stronger if we're moving from K-9 and Company to School Reunion. And that's explicitly what School Reunion does, to the point of Sarah still carrying around the dog when doing so makes no sense. Of course the human star of K-9 and Company has to carry the dog around with her in her car, even though the show didn't get picked up! And K-9 has to go to exorcise the immortality-through-stasis he represents.

Instead, we get a reboot K-9, one who will take his place as adjunct to Sarah Jane in a spin-off with HER name in the title. A spin-off where the single Sarah, the Sarah who lost her "man" and will die childless, finds a son and a family and a legacy which emerges from her time with the Doctor without being circumscribed by it.

Alchemy indeed. Sarah Jane, so far at least, is the only character capable of turning the Doctor himself into a guest star...

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

Well I always thought "Metropolitan" magazine sounded a bit of a cross between Vogue and Bella, with very few of it's articles acknowledging that anywhere existed outside of Greater London.

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Travis Butler 4 years, 1 month ago

I certainly can't speak for Lewis, but some of the things I found most disappointing about the post:

* Completely glossed over the parts of the story I found most interesting - the relationships between the characters. Dismissing it as 'a soap opera love triangle plot' doesn't cut it.

* It's true that Lis Sladen's return to the show (and I'm counting Adventures of SJS as this) and her subsequent death loom over this episode when you go to watch it now, and that makes it hard to view it in its original historical context. But one of the major purposes of this blog is to discuss episodes in their original context, so I find it disappointing that it didn't even try.

* While the post's correct in calling the villains 'rubbish' - for that very reason I think trying to tie them in thematically with rewriting of the Gallifrey episodes due to the Time War, etc. etc., is also pretty rubbish, and reading a lot more into things than is there. The temptation to undo the loss of his people is real, but also relatively simple; at most I think it could be linked in with his tendency towards hubris as seen in the last episode. (And in that sense, his refusal did a great deal to keep me watching the show, as I utterly loathed that ep.) I could even argue that it was mainly put in there to provide a callback to Sarah's role as the Doctor's morality chain (c.f. Genesis).

* I also agree this post spends far too much time nit-picking over the 'half-a-dozen times' line; to me, at least, it's clear that he just tossed it off to say that he's changed a lot since they'd travelled together, and isn't meant to be taken seriously as a literal tally. (As someone else mentioned, if he'd wanted to be precise, he could have said 'six' instead.)

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

Sarah Jane, so far at least, is the only character capable of turning the Doctor himself into a guest star...

Well, her and Elton.

*ducks incoming fire*

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

I can't remember (and I'm not watching it again to find out) but did Sarah Jane even meet the fifth Doctor in 'The Five Doctors'? I know everybody ended up in the tomb at the end, but things were quite confused and they may well not have gotten around to being introduced. In which case for the Doctor 'the last time we met' was still 'The hand of Fear' (as the third-Doctor parts take place, for the Doctor, before 'The hand of Fear').

Basically, though, the line is from the 'continuity is not what happened, it's what the audience remembers' school, which has always been Davies's basic principle. So he wouldn't sweat ignoring the books, which the new target audience hasn't read (if you've read the books, you're not part of the target audience for the New Series), or 'The Five Doctors', which was a piece of unmemorable anniversary fluff, when it would get in the way of a line, the intent of which is to convey to the audience 'this is a character from a long time ago, yes, before you were born, ask your parents about her.'

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

*cough*

Tin is one of the seven "planetary" metals in The Great Work, corresponding to Jupiter -- the god of material wealth, abundance, health, jovial contentment. Like a tin coating on a metal can, this happiness only goes skin deep. We need truth, the social relationships of "social material progress," and self-actualization. Tin is the appearance of happiness, from the outside, not the bliss that comes from within.

Now "alchemy" in the esoteric sense is a journey of transformation, turning the "lead" of one's received life into the "gold" of illumination. This journey is sometimes described in three stages -- a blackening or putrefaction, where
the shadow self is engaged, called nigredo; a stage of purification, called albedo, which brings to light the self as two opposing principles; and rubedo or "the reddening" which is the union of these internal forces.

This journey can also be described as a circuit through seven planets, seven metals:

Lead / Saturn -->
Tin / Jupiter -->
Silver / Moon -->
Mercury / Mercury -->
Iron / Mars -->
Copper / Venus -->
Gold / Sun

So, yes, it's quite reasonable to position Mickey in that early stage of alchemical development. He's finally realized that there's more to life than the surface comforts he and Jackie championed in Parting of the Ways. (For contrast, consider Stannis Baratheon -- "stannis" means "tin" -- who is being alchemically worked over by The Woman in Red. Alchemy is everywhere in our contemporary mythologies.) Mickey is at the nigredo stage of the Great Work, confronting his inner demons.

But K-9, though described as the "tin" dog for alchemical purposes related to Mickey, is not in fact made of tin. K-9 is rusting, which is a property of iron: he is in the stage of "reddening" or rubedo and shows us the way out, which is through self-sacrifice, a metaphorical death, which is the death of the ego. And lo and behold, the story ends with his resurrection: yes, a new K-9, but the same K-9; these are not mutually exclusive categories, but a reflection of the union of opposites.

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Aaron 4 years, 1 month ago

Do you mind explaining the reason for the (IMO slightly annoying) free association stream of consciousness thing that you did for this post? Usually I understand the connection between your structural choices and the episode itself, but this time I don't get it.

Relatedly, can someone please justify the grasping at straws tin = mercury = the past = alchemy thing that seems to be going on here? Because I really don't understand how those sorts of free associational connection actually succeed in telling us anything.

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

What about xanthosis/citrinitas?

K-9 is rusting, which is a property of iron: he is in the stage of "reddening" or rubedo and shows us the way out, which is through self-sacrifice, a metaphorical death, which is the death of the ego. And lo and behold, the story ends with his resurrection: yes, a new K-9, but the same K-9; these are not mutually exclusive categories, but a reflection of the union of opposites.

I love it!

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I can't see how you can assert so much about "writer's intention". Do you also think his intention was to retcon away all the stories from The Deadly Assassin onward, since the Doctor's response implies that the thing he left Sarah on earth for was the Time War? As in he went directly there and that's the only reason he didn't come back for her?

No, I never took that line to mean anything other than "That's how long it's been since she was his companion," and I think it was absolutely not intended to mean "They absolutely have not seen each other since, not even in The Five Doctors".

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prandeamus 4 years, 1 month ago

"I love the meta-fictional concept of Sarah Jane ceasing to exist between Hand of Fear and School Reunion"

That kind of theme (and variations on it) is why I love the Thursday Next novels of Jasper Fforde. Comedy, metafictionality, the outright bizarre, and the occasional mention of Daleks.

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prandeamus 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you so much for reminding me of L&M. Like the oncoming storm, I know it's on the horizon but please let me enjoy the summer weather while I wait.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, naturally - the production collapse always comes a couple years before the viewer collapse. Jumping the shark only means that you've started the slide down. And Doctor Who had a lot of built-up good will - and a lot of people who were willing to spin plates for it as long as possible.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

...been reading this blog, have you?

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

1) The difference is that Sladen had her own series and had appeared three times in the new series, and Courtney had done one guest appearance on Sarah jane. The difference in scale is real.

2) But K-9 and Company gets an odd shadowy state. I mean, you're right that K-9 and Company happened, but notably not enough to change Sarah Jane's state, which is still fixed at not-Croyden and not drinking Chardonnay in the mid-afternoon to a bad synth tune. We're still picking Sarah up from Hand of Fear, the only change she's had is randomly having K-9 written into her story. But we get her story before we see K-9 at all.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

In his defense, the style that annoys him is basically me going back and writing a post in something approximating the style I did in the Hinchcliffe era. I haven't done this in a while.

Still surprised to see the post being controversial.

Mind you, I think "grasping at straws" with the alchemy is a little harsh given that I abandon the point halfway through and fob it off on Jane.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

Still, fair point that Courtney's omission from that list is jarring. Reworded.

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Aaron 4 years, 1 month ago

Course I have, since the beginning. I just don't post a lot because it takes a lot of time for me to write anything. Most of the time I'm completely on board with Phil's analysis, but the sort of pick and choose random things in the episode and make them symbols for unrelated things irks me sometimes. I was okay with it back in evil of the Daleks, because I think Phil justified his alchemical framework much better then. I just don't know what we gain by comparing the tin dog to something that it clearly doesn't have anything to do with. At least not without justifying the framework better.

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Aaron 4 years, 1 month ago

Thanks Phil, I didn't realise that this was consciously a throwback to an earlier style. That makes the post make way more sense.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

I mean, it's not done as a big, flashy thing, but yes, I consciously modeled it on The Brain of Morbius in particular (hence the final line) - work through a couple narrative structures in play in the episode, and then spin together a whole out of them. In part, I admit, to see if I could - because I was curious whether spinning outlandish and certainly false fan theories could work in the Tennant era like it did as late as The Deadly Assassin, and, perhaps more to the point, curious about why it does or doesn't.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I still get confused when people bash L&M. I just love it so much...

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 1 month ago

It's an interesting way to think about the problem. I wasn't thrown off at all by the more loose style of the post, possibly because I kind of like it when you write this way. I was particularly impressed by your meditation on the nature of mortality and the inevitability of death. But I have some vague speculations on why the "aggregate of ideas" style might not work in the Tennant era quite so well as they did in the classic series.

I think it has to do with character development, and the new importance of richly detailed (as well as meta-textual) characters to Doctor Who. Some of the earlier commenters were saddened that you didn't talk more about the character interaction. And I think it's more difficult to pass over character development in the Davies era simply because character development is openly happening, season arcs are planned with character developments at the forefront of thinking, and the stories themselves put character at the forefront of the television presentation.

Where in the classic series, character as a long arc of the series wasn't particularly important. There was always a tendency to think of Doctor Who, especially after the programmatic plots of the Troughton era, as an anthology show where the characters were fairly constant throughout, and defined mostly by how they served the plots and ideas. In that context, one can write a post that's a grab-bag and synthesis of interesting ideas and have that serve brilliantly. With character at the front of the stories, the old approach doesn't work as effectively.

Yet in this post, I see an abstract idea that's very important to the character arc of the story: the engagement with mortality and the inevitability of death. When a character is fairly programmatic and exists in the context of a sci-fi anthology show, the characters exist as static entities: here is what Sarah Jane and the T. Baker Doctor do in the following setup; or Mel and the C. Baker Doctor; or Nyssa, Tegan, and the Davison Doctor. The characters in this context are abstract ideas, impervious to age, mortality, and nuanced character development.

By taking Sarah Jane from that context of the classic series and putting her in the new series where stories are told over a duration of time in which a character undergoes real changes, we do subject her to mortality and death. All that separates 1974 Sarah Jane from 1977 Sarah Jane is that Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes write the character with different authorial priorities and focusses. But 2005 Rose or Mickey are worlds apart from 2006 Rose and Mickey simply because they're in a narrative context where characters change the same way humans do. Slowly, aggregatively, where major events cause genuine breaks. Rose and Mickey are mortal, and my entering the world of the new series with its durational character development, Sarah Jane also becomes mortal.

The importance of character interaction and development is all over this post. You just have to know where to look for it.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

It's also, I think, a question of what Doctor Who's gaps are. If you want you can trace the history of the series in terms of the nature of the narrative gaps in it. Up until about The Deadly Assassin the narrative gaps are mostly ones of insufficient information - there's so much mystery that the series is in many ways a blank canvas. From about The Deadly Assassin through the TV movie there aren't really any narrative gaps - the series is reasonably well explained and knowable. But after the wilderness years it acquires a new problem - oversignification. There's so much detail to every feature that a gap exists because of overload.

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George Potter 4 years, 1 month ago

I still get confused when people bash L&M. I just love it so much...

Same here. I think it's not only Davies best Who script, it's the best thing he's ever written that I've seen (and I've seen most of his work.) I love the unreliable narrator aspect of the episode, and Dan Zeff's sly direction, the over-lapping structure and, yes, even the Abzorbaloff (after all, what would a meditation on the Unbearable Lightness Of Being A Who Fan do without a dodgy monster for fans to be pissed off about?) and the ending. I, personally, think Elton's just flat out nuts, talking to a paving stone in his lonely room.

Most of all, I love the balanced look at fandom. Yes, there are aspects of Who fandom that are joyous, community-building, and great fun. There are also wanna-be dictatorial assholes who suck the life out of the whole experience.

Very much looking forward to the blog when it hits that episode.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

I didn't really expect the essay to take that particular line. Though I remain pretty boringly traditional in my loyalties to the Letts/Hinchcliffe eras, I must say that of the classic series stories I habitually name as my favorites, at least four out of my top five are post-Hinchcliffe. And I think there's still a consensus (which I understand, though I don't share it) that the McCoy era was still a local if not absolute peak of quality.

I think of this turning point as being a little like the way I think some people perceive the breakup of the Beatles; it was perhaps the end of the era in which Doctor Who had a reasonable hope of appealing to "everybody," and began to fragment.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

I mean, I took almost the exact same position in the Hinchcliffe era itself, only I moved the peak a few stories back and did it with Talons via the Mary Whitehouse post. But for the purposes of collective memory Sarah Jane is close enough to that turning point that you can get away with using her metonymously.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

I could even argue that it was mainly put in there to provide a callback to Sarah's role as the Doctor's morality chain (c.f. Genesis).

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Are you referring to the scene where Sarah is urging the Doctor to touch the wires, and the Doctor is hesitating?

I also agree this post spends far too much time nit-picking over the 'half-a-dozen times' line

For me this is easily enough fixed by editing: "since we first met," for example. I agree that was clearly the intent, though I gather "intent" only means so much. :)

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

I admit to being bemused that now, two and a half years into the blog, someone is finally getting around to calling me out on basing vast interpretations on minute readings of throwaway lines.

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

I see basically three reasons people hate L&M. I agree with one of them, but I still like the episode over all.

1) It's funny, and more to the point it consistently and loudly refuses to take itself or Doctor Who as a whole remotely seriously. This is anathema to the sort of person that considers joy childish and seriousness a mark of maturity.

2) It depicts fandom negatively. I don't actually believe it does--I think it's quite balanced--but some people have a hard time telling the difference between loving teasing by people who are, after all, total anoraks themselves and an attack by outsiders.

3) The ending is legitimately horrifying in an apparently unintentional way. (This is the one I agree with.) Ursula is subjected to a horrible fate, and the suggestion that she is happy to spend the rest of her life never leaving the house, unable to so much as turn the pages of a book without assistance, and performing unreciprocated oral sex on Elton is at least as bad as anything the Doctor does to the Family of Blood.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

I've never really understood the argument that having something horrible happen to you that leaves you permanently disabled should mean that you're not allowed to be happy with your life after that point.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Yeah. There's this weird (perhaps unintentional) vibe of "How DARE this person be HAPPY in a situation where I PERSONALLY would rather be dead?" that I always get when people freak out over the cluster of stories that end with the Doctor "saving" someone in a science-fictiony-sort-of-"disabled" way. As if it's a moral outrage for the Doctor to save someone's life in a case where some people would rather die, that he should, what, err on the side of assuming that people would rather die than live in some disabled state and only intervene if they think it through first and promise that they've decided they really do want to live anyway?

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

(And skipping ahead a bit, it suddenly occurs to me to wonder how the Hurt Doctor could have done something so bad as to merit being stripped of his title, when the Smith Doctor unilatterally decided for everyone trapped in The Intelligence's wifi that death was a kinder fate than living as a disembodied intelligence -- the same fate he gave his own wife. That one was one of this season's two absolute show-stopping wall-bangers for me. Because The Doctor does not tell a bunch of innocent strangers that he is going to proactively kill them, and that this is for their own good. Not in the name of the Doctor.)

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Anton B 4 years, 1 month ago

There's also something going on, which I believe starts here, with the Doctor's adoption of the name 'John Smith'. Hearing that name prompts the first reminiscence of 'her' Doctor in Sarah Jane. The next time Ten uses the name is (I believe, someone may correct me) when he meets Martha and then later in 1913 whist 'humanised' by the chameleon arch which leads to all sorts of shenanigans as we know. Is the John Smith 'name of the Doctor' just used like the sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper, to get him in and out of places when his Doctory charm and bluster simply isn't enough? Or is there another reading? John Smith is his 'pretending to be human' name, used when he is obliged to descend to our mundane level, like Zeus or Odin disguised as a human to engage with human emotion, invariably resulting in a more tangled engagement in human emotion than he would like. It's telling that the Tenth Doctor, who is painted as so problematically godlike is the one who feels the need to use this alias so often and that it is in this aspect that he reunites with Sarah Jane.

It is possibly also noteworthy that, at least twice, Ten uses the Smith alias to become a teacher. A cover which allows him to crash that most British of genres - the School Yarn (E.g. 'Harry Potter', 'St, Trinians' 'Billy Bunter', 'Grange Hill', 'If', The Bash St. Kids etc.) which is most often about class, repression and anarchy, unlike its American counterpart -the High School Adventure which is possibly about emerging sexuality and group allegiances amongst other things. In 'School Reunion' Anthony Head is of course the bridge between the two, meta-textually spanning Sunnydale High and Deffry Vale High. This positioning of the Tenth Doctor in a pedagogic role may have further resonances with the hubris which is his ultimate downfall. I don't know but I'm sure Phil or someone here will be able to elaborate. Possibly when we get to 'Human Nature'.

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

For me it's the combination of her disability with the fact that she's now in a heavily implied, entirely one-sided sexual relationship, and the Doctor never asks in advance if she's okay with this (as, obviously, the Abzorbaloff doesn't either). Basically, Ursula as a character exists solely as an object to be acted on by men, and her reduction to a bit of pavement makes this literal.

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Kit 4 years, 1 month ago

"There’s no future for him. He’s disco."

Tell that to Lindstrom. Tell it to Todd Terje. Tell it to "Get Lucky!"

Unfortunately, it's too late to not tell it to Bob Baker...

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Matter-Eater Lad 4 years, 1 month ago

You don't even have to ignore the Five Doctors, just assume she had no memory of it because time travel. Then you get six regenerations: 4 to 5, 5 to 6, 6 to 7, 7 to 8, 8 to 9, 9 to 10. Unless I can't count. That's quite possible.

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Travis Butler 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Are you referring to the scene where Sarah is urging the Doctor to touch the wires, and the Doctor is hesitating?

Yes. When she made that argument against Head's character, I was immediately reminded of that moment in Genesis; the same questioning of the Doctor's hesitation, a moral appeal, even a similar tone of voice.

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Froborr 4 years, 1 month ago

I'd say American High School Adventures are about emerging sexuality and group allegiances, as you say, but also about individuation--the end point is usually the emergence of a unique self distinct from (and usually defined in contrast to) group and family ties. For instance, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's endpoint is the liberation of Buffy Summers from being defined by Giles;* since she is no longer the only Slayer, she is free to define for herself who she will be.

*To his and the writers' credit, Giles spent much of seasons 6 and 7 increasingly worried that Buffy's development was stifled by his presence, so please don't take this as criticism of that character.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

Of course, in Genesis she's urging him to change history (by committing genocide!) in order to save billions, and here she's urging him not to change history because many of those same billions had "their time," and "everything ends." I agree that there's an interesting parallel, though I'm not sure if "morality chain" is the term I'd use. In both cases it seems to me she's acting as the voice of the audience ("yes, kill the Daleks!"/"yes, reject the devil's bargain!") and advocating the obvious choice rather than stopping to think about the morality of it.

I do think "everything ends" is what all of Whithouse's Who scripts have been about, and I give him only a 50% hit rate on working that theme in a way I find satisfying.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

"Well, naturally - the production collapse always comes a couple years before the viewer collapse."

Good point. There's probably a 1-year (or 1-season) lag factor. People stick with a season hoping it'll get better, but then a year later decide not to watch the next one, remembering that the last one "wasn't as good".

Having said that though, I can't help seeing this as a cyclical argument. "Doctor Who started losing viewers a few years after Sarah Jane left, therefore Sarah Jane leaving caused viewers to switch off...which was why the ratings went down."

If anyone knows of a site that documents what was on UK TV during the 70s and 80s I'd be very interested to see it. I'm convinced that Who's periods of failing ratings would be put in better context if I knew what it was competing with. Season 18 is a perfect example - hammered by Buck Rogers.

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David Ainsworth 4 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for the edit. I can somewhat see your point, although I'd counter by saying that Courtney's presence in the series as a while is considerably greater and it's only by excluding anything before the new series that allows Sladen primacy. When we get to it, there's something to say about their respective status in the new series continuity, with Sarah Jane still "alive" but the Brig officially dead. I think a case can be made that Sarah's life matters more to the new series while the Brigadier's death matters more, but that's for a later entry.

I also don't agree that Sarah Jane in School Reunion is the Sarah Jane at not-Croyden. She's the Sarah Jane of K-9 and Company who decides she's going to apply her Doctor-acquired skills to investigate and solve mysteries, which is effectively the same premise that drives the Sarah Jane Adventures. That she's Brendan-less in School Reunion simply reflects the passage of time.

And if your adventures post-Doctor were all of the quality and character of the one in K-9 and Company, I'd argue it'd put you into precisely the emotional mood Sarah is in when she meets Ten. (One can certainly see why she'd not mention that particular "adventure" to the Doctor when reunited with him.)

If Sarah's really still at not-Croyden state, doesn't that elide the aging and history that's front-and-center of her role in this story? I can't read her as having had nothing happen between stories, just nothing worth mentioning in comparison to her adventures with the Doctor.

But thanks (I think) for writing an entry that led me to imagine Sarah Jane Smith as Xanxia...

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David Ainsworth 4 years, 1 month ago

"while" in the first paragraph should be "whole."

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David Ainsworth 4 years, 1 month ago

We might be able to fix that overload problem. All we need is a bunch of chip-fueled students with computers...

Oh, my God! We're the Deffry Vale student body!

Seriously, though, it's interesting that the Krillitane problem isn't simply their changing, it's the fundamental incapacity to change in a way which doesn't make their prior states and conditions deadly. In effect, their past becomes toxic to them. The abstract ideas Adam discusses in the classic series get rewritten as memories and drawn into the new series, where they can stand as abstract ideas (the memory of a thing, not the thing itself) while also being alive, changing, and becoming mortal.

This may come up again.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 1 month ago

"But one of the major purposes of this blog is to discuss episodes in their original context"

One of the things I noticed when I discovered this blog last year and read the whole thing from the start was that people kept saying this in the comments, invariably in the context of complaining about Phil's failing to do so.

What I didn't notice was Phil ever saying that was one of his major purposes, or indeed showing any signs of doing so. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a quote somewhere where he says something to the effect that pretending you're watching Doctor Who in the sixties makes no more sense than pretending '60s Who was made today.

While looking for the exact quote (didn't find it), I was reminded how much the entries on the early Hartnells embody it. The driving narrative up to Dalek Invasion of Earth is all about the character "learning to be the Doctor" - a perspective which only makes sense in retrospect, once we know who the Doctor becomes, and certainly can't have been how the 1963-4 audience understood the show. The entry for TDIOE itself suggests that the Doctor's reaction to the Dalek rising from the Thames is best understood in the context of a serial written 24 years later and a novel written 17 years after that. The closest thing I could find to an entry focusing on "original context" in the sense of "how the viewers would have watched it at the time" is Web Planet, which is all about how the modern day perception of how the viewers would have watched it at the time is wrong.

(As an aside, I think I use the term "historic context" differently from you; I'd say that it means looking at something from a perspective not available at the time. The Sarah Jane Adventures and Liz Sladen's death *is* part of School Reunion's historic context, just as "These are going to be the main monsters in the series, and by the way it's a show about monsters now" is part of the historic context of The Daleks.)

In fact, Phil's always been very clear is that the endpoint of the blog will be when he *has* to look at the episodes from the original perspective, because the lack of historic distance means that's the only perspective we've got.

(It's very late, so apologies if this is gibberish.)

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Dr. Happypants 4 years, 1 month ago

Ross:

But "The Name of the Doctor" makes it clear that the Doctor doesn't, in fact, consider River to be still alive: merely an echo that should fade over time. By implication, the wifi uploads in "Bells" aren't full-fledged living people either, at least not once their bodies are gone.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

So the missing-episodes rumor takes twistier and darker turns: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/06/24/will-a-missing-episode-teaser-appear-on-the-end-of-doctor-who-the-zygons

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Galadriel 4 years, 1 month ago

Prandemus, Thursday Next is amazing! Daleks in the DRM!

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Galadriel 4 years, 1 month ago

As someone who began watching with the revived series, this episode was the one where Classic Who entered the picture. Sure, I'd heard causal comments about Something Big (bad day, bad stuff happened), but this episode--Sarah Jane walked in and I was like, what happened to the Doctor before Rose?
I mean, I'd tried watching An Unearthly Child and other Hartnell episodes, but I was utterly, completely lost. But then I skipped to Time Warrior, and it all "clicked." In fact, I now recommend Time Warrior as the starting place for Classic Who, because of Sarah Jane.
As for Sarah Jane's ambiguous status in the current show, I've seen posts on all sides of the issue, some wanting a proper farewell in honor of Sladen, others clinging to the last words of the Sarah Jane Adventures: the adventure continues...forever. But either way, there's a sense of loss, even unconfirmed.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

@Froborr: I mildly contest the "entirely one-sided sexual relationship". Those two are coded so strongly with the "sexless nerd" archetype, I think we're meant to understand that what he means is "we can still kiss", and the idea that it's about oral sex is something that we're meant to think of but which would never occur to either of them.

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Doctor Memory 4 years, 1 month ago

So here we have it: our one in-series nod to the Great Road Not Taken. If David Fury and the BBC had managed to come to terms back in 2002, the show would have returned a few years earlier, and with Tony Head in the starring slot.

And indeed, my one real complaint about this episode was that Sladen's return couldn't help but have overshadowed ASH's role. (Cameo, really.) Heck, that's not even really a complaint as such: Liz Sladen coming back should have overshadowed any other possible even, in-text or not. But I can't help but feel like they wasted Mr. Head's appearance.

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Doctor Memory 4 years, 1 month ago

I think this has now reached the "not even slightly plausible" stage of rumor mill evolution. The rediscovered films' holders demanding the firing of the current series executive producer? The BBC having to negotiate for the return of their own copyrighted material and being willing to consider making personnel changes on an in-production series to do so?

Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

The rediscovered films' holders demanding the firing of the current series executive producer?

That I can totally imagine. Fans are fans.

The BBC having to negotiate for the return of their own copyrighted material

What is the legal situation with regard to lost reels? I know copyright doesn't give owners rights over the physical copies; if I buy the last copy of Stephen King's Under the Dome, and the publishers accidentally junk all their copies, and King's hard drive crashes too, neither King nor his publisher can come get the last copy from me or enjoin me from burning it. But the BBC's legal position would depend on how the copies got to their current hands (assuming).

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 4 years, 1 month ago

Bleeding Cool seems to be trying to save face somehow. Caro Skinner was done in 2012. The idea that someone is holding missing episodes hostage on the demand of Moffats "dismissal" sounds like somebody has been reading a few too many message boards.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 4 years, 1 month ago

Ironic that you mention Tony Snow , who sadly also lost a battle with cancer.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

The real shock is going to come when the missing episodes turn up and we'll discover that somehow the Doctor is played in every one of them by John Hurt...

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

I have it on good authority that the person who has the missing episodes is George Lucas, and that his demand is that Jar Jar be digitally inserted into every episode.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

The rediscovered films' holders demanding the firing of the current series executive producer?

If some of the regulars on rec.arts.drwho got ahold of a missing episode, they'd almost certainly demand that gallifrey come back, the RTD years be undone and they promise the Doctor never ever kisses a girl again. And that they FINALLY bring back Sil.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

My inside source has shown me some of the changes that the BBC is agreeing to:

"One day meesa comin back, yes, meesa comin back."
"When meesa sayin run, weesa run, okeyday?"
"Meesa reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, okeyday?"
"Are meesa having the right?"
"Adric?"
"Yousa bein forgivin my if meesa no joinin you, okeyday?"
"If weesa fightin like animals, weesa dyin like animals!"
"Meesa bein half human, okeyday?"
"Weesa bein fallin through space, yousa and my, clingin to the skin of this tiny little world, okeyday?"
"Meesa bein sorry, meesa bein so sorry."
"Meesa bein angry! Meesa not sure what's going to happen now."

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Matt Michael 4 years, 1 month ago

5th to 6th, 6th to 7th, 7th to 8th, 8th to Hurt, Hurt to 9th, 9th to 10th - that's half a dozen. Case closed.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 1 month ago

Hasn't The Doctor always been something of a pedagod? (Yes, No, or Maybe are equally acceptable answers).

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Bennett 4 years, 1 month ago

Ross:..when the Smith Doctor unilatterally decided for everyone trapped in The Intelligence's wifi that death was a kinder fate than living as a disembodied intelligence

Dr. Happypants:...By implication, the wifi uploads in "Bells" aren't full-fledged living people either, at least not once their bodies are gone.

If I recall correctly, The Bells of Saint John strongly implies that the people in the WiFi no longer have full conscious control of their thoughts (hence the mindless repetition of "I don't know where I am."). They are suspended in confused agony, their will supplanted by that of The Great Intelligence - with whom they have been fully integrated. There is no life for them outside, and no self for them inside.

They are not disembodied intelligences. They are mental corpses used as grist for the mill, and The Doctor ensures they are laid to rest.

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Daru 4 years, 1 month ago

L&M is absolutely one of my total favourites of the RTD era. I adore its unashamed joy and this is what shines through with Elton's character - joy!

Whatever happens to him and Ursula they still find joy, that somehow feels important for me in relation to being a Doctor Who fan, as joy as a child was the reason I got into the show in the first place. One of my all-time joyful moments in the show so far is when we get the heart and soul of Elton's character revealed to us when he beautifully headbangs and dances around to ELO - lovely!

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Scott 4 years, 1 month ago

Much as "L&M" isn't exactly my favourite episode (although I don't utterly despise it with venom like some do), I've never got the whole "The Doctor saved Ursula's life -- the MONSTER!" part of the argument (although I do think Froborr raises an interesting point re: sexual agency; I'll need to rewatch the episode to see if I agree, but it's food for thought). The way people act, you'd think the Doctor deliberately and spitefully made Ursula into a paving stone for shits and giggles, when he's in fact saving her life in the only way he can in that situation. Because, well, he's the Doctor. Saving people's lives is kind of what he does. Much as I'm not exactly a fan of the Tenth Doctor's moral outlook at times, calling him out for that one seems like a real stretch.

Plus, there's often a slightly questionable vein of paternalism often involved, particularly since Ursula's fate is, in many ways, a sci-fied up version of paraplegia; like Ross says, it often seems like people are imposing their own view of the situation onto someone else. They wouldn't be happy, so Ursula by extension can't be happy, and the fact she clearly looks like and says she is is irrelevant.

(There is, of course, the whole question of whether Elton's just gone loopy and is making up the whole thing, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of worms.)

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

@Bennett: That is plausible. But regardless of whether or not it's the case, what bothers me is the Doctor unilaterally making that decision for what are clearly entirely selfish reasons, based apparently on his just intuiting how things are. There's no indication that the Doctor has any basis for knowing the thing you suggest -- indeed, the very fact that he knows the ones whose bodies are still alive can be put back suggests otherwise, that it's only the lack of a living body to stick them in that dooms the others.

So if as you say, the uploaded people aren't real, or complete, or have free will, or whatever, there should have been some actual indication of that in the show. The big scene where the Doctor confronts the video wall and agonizes over the fact that he can't do anything to save them and *tells us* that they're not really alive any more. Instead of what actually happens on-screen, where the Doctor outright says that the ones who still have bodies can go back and the others will be destroyed because it's the only way to get Clara back, and that's all he cares about.

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Bennett 4 years, 1 month ago

@Ross

Oh yes...I forgot* about that line where The Doctor says that those with bodies to get back to can be easily unmeshed. That does rather muck things up...

Consider my opposition retracted.


*I promise I'm usually not this careless - but as I'm watching one Doctor per month for the anniversary year I haven't seen Bells since transmission and cannot watch it again until November.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Normally I go out of my way to defend the series and its morality, but ever since the Doctor glibly murdered Solomon, I've been paying special attention for hints that the Doctor's Gone Wrong ('When he doesn't have a companion, The Doctor loses his moral compass' is a hand it feels like RTD and Moffatt have overplayed between the two of them), which is where I thought Trenzalore was going, but this whole thing with the Hurt Doctor having done something so bad that he lost his name over it is hard to justify given some of what the current guy has pulled.

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Scott 4 years, 1 month ago

"I can't remember (and I'm not watching it again to find out) but did Sarah Jane even meet the fifth Doctor in 'The Five Doctors'?"

She basically shakes the Fifth Doctor's hand and says it was nice meeting him at the end (Third Doctor: "Thank you, Sarah Jane, it was nice meeting you too. I'll explain later.") and that's it.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

@BeserkRL

"What is the legal situation with regard to lost reels?"

That's an interesting question, the answer to which has changed over the years. Basically since all reels must have been either destroyed by the TV station they were loaned to, or returned to the BBC, any that are in the hands of third parties are automatically stolen property...which takes you into the easily-understood realms of receiving and passing on stolen goods.

However...the Beeb has changed it's policy on that, which is best explained by the following article about the return of the 1st part of "The Crusade". It will answer all your questions, and is an absolutely rivetting read:

http://nzdwfc.tetrap.com/archive/tsv57/lion.html



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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

The fact that the ones with bodies to go back to can be restored to life doesn't in any way shape or form imply that the existence in the computer is any kind of 'life' worthy of the name, does it?

It's a bit like the Doctor is confronted with a bunch of people suffering from a plague. Some are too far gone to be saved (the ones whose bodies have died) and some have not reached that stage (the ones who still have bodies). the Doctor saves the ones he can; the others were dead anyway, the bits in the computer not the real people but just shadows (like the repeating phrases in the 'Library' stories).

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I have known people who were terminally, incurably ill. Most of them would resent the implication that such a person is already "dead anyway".

Your analogy is entirely terrible. The Doctor doesn't "save the ones he can; the others were dead anyway": he saves the ones he can by killing the rest. It's as if he discovered that he could "cure" some of them by shutting off the ventilators for the rest. THose others might not be "curable", but they are stable, and nothing in the story implies that they're "just shadows" or "not real people". Yes, some of them repeat a phrase. But not all of them. The episode opens with one of them telling the story of what happened to him; the woman in charge orders the transfer from within the system, and nothing implies that the subjective experience of those people changes when their bodies die either.

You seem to be saying "the others are too far gone to be saved... So it's okay to kill them." To, let's say, euthenize them. For the benefit of the few who can still be saved. Kill the ones you can't help in order to help the ones you can. That is exactly the same moral dilemma the Doctor faced with the Star Whale -- the thing where, if he'd done it, he'd have lost his name.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't think it is the same choice. His choice is to leave the ones that are trapped in the Wifi. Forever afraid and Alone. Forever without release. Fed on by the Great Intelligence. I mean I suppose that's a life. Sit around not knowing where you are until the GI gets a bit peckish.

Some of them cannot return to the real world. But some of them can. He makes the choice the nobody else can, to release those that would be trapped forever in isolation, and to return those who were able to their bodies.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

And it's okay that he doesn't ask any of them before making the decision for all of them?

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

I have known people who were terminally, incurably ill. Most of them would resent the implication that such a person is already "dead anyway".

Actually you're right. It's a bad analogy, because the people in the computer aren't 'terribly, incurably ill' they are dead already. They have been ripped form their bodies. their subjective experience has nothing to do with it: their subjective experience is a lie.

The Doctor isn't euthanising some to save the rest; he can't 'kill the ones [he] can't help' because you can't kill someone whose body is already dead. He is saving the ones he was not too late to save.

Asking them would be pointless because their answers would be based on false information (the idea that they were somehow still alive).

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, no. You are not going to convince me that someone can be wrong about whether or not they themselves exist. I've read Descartes.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

By what metric does he judge their responses? If one person says no is that enough to make them all stay? What if it's two? A Plurality?

How should he have made that decision Ross?

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

He's the doctor. The doctor always chooses life. He should have found another way. Put Clara's body on life support for a thousand years while he finds another way, if necessary. A normal mortal human being does not get to decide unilaterally for everyone else that they don't count as Real True People and therefore he can chuck them in the bin and call it a kindness. And this isn't a normal mortal human being; he's the Doctor: we should be able to expect more from him. The Doctor didn't use the delta wave generator to sacrifice the few survivors on the devestated earth to kill the Daleks. The Doctor didn't lobotomize the space whale to save Starship UK. The Doctor didn't euthenize the heriloom varietal plague humans to protect New Earth. The Doctor wasn't even going to kill Mister Sweet. The Doctor does not get to decide that other lives don't count as lives and aren't worth living so he can sacrifice them. The Doctor would find another way. That's what it means to be The Doctor.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

Good essay.

I had two problems with this episode at the time. (Also, I came in too late for Sarah Jane Smith to be other than The Companion of Those Older Fans.)
The first is that it falls foul of the Davies' era tendency to Spell Out Every Emotional Beat. The Davies' era on the whole doesn't dare leave things unsaid in order to say more.
That's, on the whole, of course. If Moffat had decided on seeing School Reunion to write a script that showed that, excepting continuity references, he could hit all the same emotional beats with pinpoint accuracy while also having strong monsters and a clever plot and the Doctor riding through a mirror on a white horse, he would have not had to, because he'd already written The Girl in the Fireplace. School Reunion may be good, but it's apparently impossible to write an essay on it without thinking of Moffat's story.

The second thing that I thought of as a problem is that the episode blames the Doctor for the classic series format. Having been dismissive of the, 'it's fiction,' defence of the Doctor for Tooth and Claw, I think that here the Doctor could wheel it out as a defence against the charge of leaving Sarah Jane. Because the reason the Doctor can't come back for her is down to the actor's schedules and production constraints. And that means that the Doctor's insistence that Rose is different leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, because we know Rose is going to leave when Billie Piper wants to move on.

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

The Doctor did choose life. He restored to life those who could be restored to life. The others were already dead.

Descartes was not in fact right about everything (his odd idea of the soul as separable from the body, for example, set philosophy back a few thousand years from Aristotle).

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

The Doctor gets people killed and makes hard choices all of the time. He is willing to do so in the service of a greater good. Like in Power of the Daleks, he sacrifices the security team in order to buy time so he can save the rest of the colonists. He is willing to kill the guards in Vengeance on Varos. He tries to return to wipe out the Daleks in their incubators during Genesis. In the Tenth Planet he sacrifices an entire world (Mondas) for another (Earth). I think it's important to note as well that the Doctor not using the Delta Wave is presented to us as a failure of the Eccelston Doctor. He chooses life yes, but he is also willing to kill.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Why does no one bat an eye when K-9 says "The Master rebuilt me"??!? Which Master was it?

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Dr. Happypants 4 years, 1 month ago

Ross, what do you make of the Cybermen? Do they no longer count as Real True People? Does the Doctor have the right to make that decision? 'Cause he murders them left, right, and centre. Like the wifi uploads, they certainly *were* living people once, and if they didn't have their emotions ripped out they'd be in eternal torment. If the Cybermen and the "Bells" uploads are different, morally, then how and why?

In fact it seems to me that Cybermen have a stronger claim to being "alive" than the uploads do...Cybermen are in fact the surviving remains of human(oid) beings, maintaining some physical continuity with their previous life. The upload software entities, on the other hand, were never "inside" or part of the original humans, but are artificial constructs meant to imitate them.

Not to mention the broader fact that, whatever his or our ideals may be, the Doctor has in fact killed a bunch of people individually and directly: Ice Warriors, Ogrons, Sontarans, Androgums, Solon...

Has anyone ever sat down and made a comprehensive list of all the times the Doctor has directly murdered someone?

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

@Spacewarp,

Thanks! That's really fascinating.

Had I been Bruce Grenville, I would have tried to find a different metaphor rather than comparing my lawyers to genocidal monomanacs: "If the BBC wish to make a legal battle out of this ... [we] will have top legal daleks in action to defend our ownership of the film."

Whether taking property that has been thrown out counts as theft or not is a murky issue. Then there's the additional question of whether throwing them out (in a place where they can be reclaimed by others) counts as satisfying the contractual obligation to destroy them.

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

Taking property that you honestly believe has been thrown out is definitely not theft, at least under English law, as theft is 'dishonestly appropriating property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive them of it' and if you sincerely believe it was thrown away then you're not 'dishonestly' appropriating it.

However, just because it isn't theft doesn't mean it belongs to you: if you find a watch in the street and believe it to have been thrown away, pick it up, and start wearing it, and then the original owner sees it on your wrist and says, 'Hey, that's mine, I've been looking everywhere for it' you have to (assuming they can prove it is in fact theirs) give it back (the law does not operate on the basis of 'finders keepers').

So it's entirely possible for the goods not to have been stolen, but still not to be legitimate property of the person who has possession of them.

Actually the whole issue of 'legitimate property' is complicated as title under English law is always relative, not absolute, but that's really a can of worms that doesn't need to be gone into. Suffice it to say that -- especially when international jurisdictions are involved -- the issue of who has the stronger claim to a reel of film, the BBC or the current possessor, could take years to resolve and make a tidy sum for a not tiny number of lawyers.

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

Oops, just to be clear, in the watch example, you haven't stolen it by picking it up (you can't be done for theft), but you still have to give it up (because their claim on it is legally stronger than yours).

If the other person has proved it's theirs and they are entitled to it and you don't give it back, then you have stolen it, but the theft occurs when you don't give it back, not when you pick it up.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

The cybermen hurt people. That's a line.

Also, I am fairly sure the Doctor more-or-less always gives the cybermen a chance to retreat. He give the Sontarans a chance to retreat. He offers to take the Master away and be his warden for the rest of time. But the innocent people trapped in the web, he kills. And he does it for no better reason than to get Clara back.

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SK 4 years, 1 month ago

The innocent people trapped in the web are (most of them) already dead, so he can't kill them. The ones who aren't already dead, he restores by putting their souls/whatever was stolen from them into the web, back.

And while the Cybermen hurt people, they do it for their own good: to turn them into Cybermen. They only hurt those who resist having their subjective experience elevated to the subjective experience of a Cyberman, which has no pain, no heartbreak, superior senses, etc etc (the Cyberleader's response to the Doctor's line about flowera and meals should have been that Cyber-eyes are far better capable of appreciating the beauty of a flower than mere human vision).

And I don't recall him giving the Cybermen a chance to retreat before sending that chunk of validium to wipe them all out.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

Listening to Richard Molesworth on Radio Free Skaro recently, he mentions approximately 80 or 90 stories returned from Australia to the BBC in the mid-70s. This included most of seasons 4 & 5, and it's fairly certain that the recently discovered "Galaxy Four - Air Lock" and "Underwater Menace#2" came from this batch. So this could be one of the starting points for the "90 stories" rumour - the implication being that if 2 of these 90 could have been "diverted" after they arrived at the Beeb, then maybe the rest were as well.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years ago

SK - I'm not sure you can reject Descartes's mind-body dualism within the context of a show that repeatedly features peoples minds being removed from and reinserted into their bodies. Whether Descartes was or was not right is immaterial, as anything he was right or wrong about was in practice about the real world, not about the world depicted in The Bells of Saint John.

The Bells of Saint John, meanwhile, seems to buy into mind-body dualism pretty solidly.

For me, it becomes an odd inversion of the same ontology Ross cites. The Doctor wouldn't just murder tons of people casually like that, and so therefore he clearly didn't. Perhaps there really was nothing he could do,. Perhaps he, careful scholar of human nature that he is, correctly assessed that anybody would choose death over that life.

Much like many of the bits Doctor Who skips over in the plot, the fact that there's a plausible explanation, for me, removes the need for a methodical one. I don't find the deletion of a lengthy ethical exploration of a completely imaginary hypothetical any more troubling than the deletion of the lengthy technical exploration of said hypothetical. There are numerous plausible explanations for why the Doctor's actions aren't monstrous here. The viewer is expected to pick one.

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SK 4 years ago

I wasn't the one who brought up Descartes!

The Bells of Saint John, meanwhile, seems to buy into mind-body dualism pretty solidly.

Actually I would say that 'The Bells of Saint John' pretty solidly presents the idea that in order to be 'alive' a person requires both a mind and a body, the mind being in the body.

Without a mind, the body dies (there's no suggestion the bodies could be artificially kept live, for example -- the Doctor doesn't try to get Clara to a hospital where they could put her on a ventilator). And without a body, the mind is not really 'alive'.

The episode to me seems pretty clear that the people in the computer aren't alive: as you say, if they were the Doctor wouldn't just switch it off. If they have a body still living, then they can be restored to live by putting them in it. If not, then they can't, and there's nothing he can do.

I don't see any other way to read the episode. that's pretty much all spelt out in it.

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Ross 4 years ago

And I disagree. You want it to be solidly presenting that people without bodies aren't alive, because it's the only way you can be okay with the ending. The actual text clearly shows that there isn't a difference between the people who've been uploaded before and after their bodies die. The Doctor never challenges that destroying the cloud will kill them, he just shrugs it off because it's allegedly the best he can do for them.

Those people have hopes, fears, independent thoughts. You want to say "But technically they are dead so they have no moral value," but that stinks of "I am looking for an excuse to un-person them to make their murder morally kosher." -- you want to say "Sorry, you don't get a vote because you don't technically count as a person."

If those people are dead, then so is Ursula, and all the Doctor did was make a high-end concrete sex toy for Elton.

@Philip Sandifier:
We don't need a big ethical exploration here, we need to take the choice out of the hands of the lonely immortal god. Have the cloud shut itself down. Have someone else do it over the Doctor's protests. Have the Doctor wave his sonic screwdriver and announce that he's beamed them all into the bodies of random incurable coma patients who will now miraculously recover.

I think a big part of what you alluded to in 'Parting of the Ways' is that's the way Doctor Who is supposed to work: if the Doctor finds himself up a blind moral alley, the writer-gods intervene to create another way out.

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SK 4 years ago

You want to say "But technically they are dead so they have no moral value," but that stinks of "I am looking for an excuse to un-person them to make their murder morally kosher."

There's a rather big difference between trying to 'un-person' someone and pointing out that someone is, in fact, dead!

Is it 'un-personing' to point out that someone with no brain activity, whose body functions are being sustained by medical intervention, is in fact dead and so removing the intervention is not 'killing' them?

You seem to want to claim that 'subjective experience' is the definition of 'alive' but (a) within the fiction that's clearly not true, and (b) outside the fiction, that's tendentious.

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SK 4 years ago

As for Ursula, I guess we'll have to add that to the list of 'things on which Doctor Who takes inconsistent positions'.

How long is that list now?

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encyclops 4 years ago

Oh: there's one thing I forgot to mention, and probably no one will read it now, but here it is.

After a couple of viewings, I can't shake the feeling that Tennant plays meeting Sarah Jane Smith not as the Doctor, but as himself. So instead of exploring what happens when this relationship is picked up again after all this time, we see the much less interesting phenomenon of a Doctor Who fan meeting and acting with his heroine for the first time.

Of course, we can account for this in interesting ways. We can talk about the Doctors as separate personas, such that the Tenth is as distinct an individual from the Fourth as the Fifth is from the First, explaining the varying temperature of his relationship with the Brigadier and with Susan. With this in mind, it really is as though he's looking back on his time with Sarah as exciting exploits someone else lived through with her and he just gets to remember as though it's his favorite TV show. Perhaps we could even link this back to the "fictional" status of the Doctor, discussed here under "The Mind Robber" and "Tooth and Claw" et al.

But even if the account is interesting, the drama kind of isn't. I already know how a Doctor Who fan would react to meeting Sarah Jane because I know how I would have reacted if I'd ever had the chance (sadly, I never will). So the effect is to take me out of the story and miss an opportunity to enrich it.

I think that's on Tennant, and not on Whithouse. Tennant's tendency, either from the scripts or the acting or both, to wear his fan status on his sleeve is at once something that distances me from his Doctor and endears him to me as a person.

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William Silvia 4 years ago

I think you left out the remarkable feelings that hundreds of us (myself included) experienced at the Doctor's absolute giddyness to meet this otherwise seemingly unremarkable reporter. The feelings we feel just because of how obviously happy the Doctor is when he says "hello, Sarah Jane Smith" and the shock that we felt at "I thought you'd died" and altogether it was a dip into a nostalgia that we didn't even know we were supposed to feel.

Or, to quote Rose, "I don't mean to be rude or anything, but who exactly are you?"

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William Silvia 4 years ago

I also think you get this episode's relationship with the classic series completely wrong. Rather than killing it, it teaches you a love for it. "Hey, the Doctor's old companions are just as good!" "Hey, K-9 is at least as good as Mickey, and funnier!" "Hey, listen to all these adventures that Sarah Jane went on!" If anything made me really excited about going back and watching everything that came before Rose, this is the episode, or one of the episodes. It's the new show's way of saying "Watch the old show too!" and it's absolutely brilliant at it. Far from killing off what came before, this seems more of a confirmation. "We haven't really mentioned it yet, save for the Daleks, but these things DID come before, and they were awesome."

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Alex 4 years ago

It was the seventies. It was the BBC. He doesn't like to discuss it.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 7 months ago

Ross: the Doctor completely casually kills a really startling amount of sentient creates over time. There's a long essay, wish I could remember which book it's in, about how he only seems to care about humanoids. There are exceptional scripts (Galaxy 4 and Curse of Peladon) but not many.

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