You've Got Some Battle Scars There (The Room With No Doors)

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I'll Explain Later

We’ve actually legitimately skipped Bad Therapy, which tries to fix up the whole Peri thing, and Eternity Weeps, which casually kills off Liz Shaw and less casually divorces Jason and Benny. It’s not well liked.

The Room With No Doors properly begins the winding up of the New Adventures, and also ties Kate Orman with Paul Cornell for number of books in the range, with So Vile a Sin putting her over the top two months later. Note that the majority of her books came out in the last year. And they were all good to boot. 16th century Japan and a lot of angst on the part of the Doctor and Chris. Dave Owen deems it “a humorous book that is never dull, and frequently delightful,” which I’m not entirely sure is actually a description of this novel. Lars Pearson goes with “a much needed epilogue to the Virgin New Adventures,” which is notable as an actually plausible review. The Sullivan rankings put it at thirteenth, with a 78% rating, making it Orman’s second most liked book. DWRG Summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide Entry.

——
It’s February of 1997. Blur are at number one with “Beetlebum.” A week later it’s LL Cool J with “Ain’t Nobody,” then U2 with “Discotheque,” and finally No Doubt with “Don’t Speak.” George Michael, Placebo, Tori Amos, En Vogue, Depeche Mode, the Eels, and Daft Punk also chart, which is actually quite a good little list, if a preposterously late 80s/early 90s throwback chart.

In news, the Hubble Space Telescope begins repairs so that it actually works. Dolly the sheep is actually unveiled to the public, prompting Bill Clinton to ban federal funding for human cloning in a beautiful moment of crass pandering. And the Conservative Party actually becomes a minority government, actually for the second time, having previously gone four days without a majority in January.

While in books it’s The Room With No Doors. The New Adventures proper, as an era with a distinct viewpoint distinct from everything that had come before in Doctor Who, began with Timewyrm: Revelation. But more significant, in many ways, is the two book sequence that continues into Time’s Crucible. These two books, in hindsight, establish the bulk of the New Adventures’ mythology, with Cornell establishing the mythology of the Doctor’s interior landscape and Platt establishing the larger mythology of Gallifrey and the Time Lords. And so as the Seventh Doctor’s period in the New Adventures winds down we symbolically repeat this pair with one more novel dealing with the ideas of Timewyrm: Revelation followed by Platt’s other New Adventure, the final revelation of the “Cartmel” Masterplan.

As is usually the case with the New Adventures, the retrospective emphasis gets put in all the wrong places. Lungbarrow may be the book where all the big mythic revelations about the Doctor are made, but this is the novel where the actual meat of the New Adventures and their take on the Doctor is resolved. The central innovation of Timewyrm: Revelation, of course, was the decision to treat the Doctor’s mind and memories as a landscape such that the history and mythology of the program acquires its own mythos. The Room With No Doors, then, circles back and asks the obvious question: what place with the Virgin era and its vision of the Seventh Doctor will have within that mythology.

Initially, as you’d expect, it plays for angst. Given the deep scars that the Virgin line wrote into the Doctor’s psychic landscape, most obviously the literalizing of the aesthetic trauma of the Colin Baker era as actual psychological trauma, the idea that the Seventh Doctor could slot smoothly into the landscape was untenable. Too much effort had been put into making the Seventh Doctor into a limit case - the most extreme and manipulative and callous that the Doctor could possibly be while still remaining the Doctor. And this manifests in the eponymous image of the room with no doors - the psychic cell in which the Seventh Doctor imagines he will be imprisoned, just as the Sixth was. Tacitly, of course, this is also a reference to the sidelining of the entire Virgin era that is now only months from taking place. The entire psychic landscape Cornell devised is, after all, a means of embodying the history of the program. And in a real sense all appearances were that the Virgin Era was about to be consigned to the Room With No Doors.

In many ways, of course, this happened. There were exceptions - Lance Parkin and Kate Orman both preserved major strands of thought from the Virgin era for their BBC Books contributions. But far more was abandoned - the Seventh Doctor was practically ignored by the Past Doctor Adventures for the first five years of their existence, with all but one of the novels coming from the Robert Perry/Mike Tucker pair. Those novels that did exist stayed far from the extremes of the Virgin era’s characterization. And the overall effect was that of a hangover - as though the Virgin line, whatever its qualities, had gone too far and for too long, and the series needed to be reined back in. (Or blown up in a new way if you were Lawrence Miles or Paul Magrs.) The Virgin era is curiously irretrievable - even Big Finish has only done a trio of Virgin-set stories, and one of those is a remake of Love and War. For the most part, Virgin really was sent into the Room.

Or, at least, it was on the level of overt references and mythology. In another sense, as we’ve seen throughout the Virgin-era posts, the influence these books had on the future of Doctor Who was absolutely gigantic. If one is to insist on having a “canon” of Doctor Who there can surely be no better definition than the bits of Doctor Who that are actively referenced and reworked in later stories. In that regard, at least, the Virgin era is wildly more canonical than the entirety of Eric Saward’s tenure on the show. Even if the mythology of the Other and the Eternals and Time’s Champion are long since abandoned we’ve seen the multitude of ways in which the blueprint for the future of Doctor Who was sketched out in this period.

Which largely comports with Orman’s solution to the Doctor’s fear of imprisonment. The dreams of the Room with No Doors turn out to be nothing more than the psychic projections of an alien trapped in a cryogenic pod. There is no Room waiting for the Doctor, and, as he finally comes to realize, there’s no absolute distinction to be made between himself and his past or future regenerations. As the Doctor muses while digging himself out of his own grave, “it’s all too easy to take the metaphors literally. But we’re not separate: we’re a chain of cause and effect.” And so the mythic hell that seems to await the Doctor turns out to be yet another small and easily missed bit of life (it’s stressed over and over again that this is not a big, epic threat - it’s just an adventure, and the dangers posed within it do not threaten the universe, the planet, or anything so bold). In truth, the Virgin era is a part of Doctor Who, a step in its evolution, and one that necessarily influences what comes after it. Even the Saward era, largely rejected, is at least actively rejected. The return to the human scale offered by Cartmel was still caused by the collapse of Saward’s Doctor Who and the aporia of the Seasonish. Perhaps most vividly, the Virgin era, which is on the one hand just about the furthest the series ever gets from the ideas of the Pertwee era, cannot keep from referencing the Pertwee era constantly.  Yes, the Virgin era is initially reacted against. But that counterrevolution runs into its own problems, and in time the ideas of the Virgin era reassert themselves even if the actual narrative frame of the era does not.

Ah yes. Our old friend the arc of history.

That the Virgin era’s Doctor is eventually reconciled with the larger arc of the series does not mean, of course, that there is no such thing as the Virgin Doctor, distinct from the others. The most concrete term for this vision is, of course, “Time’s Champion.” But what, exactly, does this mean? We have discussed time often enough in this blog, so let’s start with championship and circle back towards time. To champion something is not merely to fight for it, but to defend it. Implicit in requiring a champion is an inability to advocate for one’s self and a need for someone else to do it. The champion thus has a level of independence from their cause. The Doctor is not Time’s Lackey, but a separate force who acts in a way Time herself cannot.

So Vile a Sin reveals, at least, the nature of the gap between Time and her Champion. Time works along the lines of the arc of history, whereas the Doctor moves along the human level. More fully, as we saw, the Doctor provides the link between these two levels. He is Time’s Champion because she is the means upon which she can act upon the human level. In this regard it is telling that his major opposition is Death. Death, like Time, provides an inevitable outcome for things. Everything dies. The difference is twofold. First, Death is always a destructive path. The Return of the Living Dad plays with the idea that Death is a nameless creature who thus takes other people’s names for her own. This is compelling, doubly so to anyone who’s read Derrida or Paul de Man. Death is only final and absolute once something has become not only no longer animate but no longer speakable. Death is not merely the cessation of life but the complete removal of something from the social context. Time, on the other hand, can offer alternatives: change, most obviously. The difference, in other words, between death and regeneration.

Second, Death always exists on the individual scale. One dies. Alone. Time, on the other hand, exists on the large scale. This, then, is the way in which the Doctor defies Death: he renders Time individual and personal. He provides an alternative to Death’s absolute dominion on the personal scale. The Room With No Doors even allows him to do so on a meta-fictional level by bringing back the character of Joel Mintz from The Return of the Living Dad. Mintz, more than any of the other characters in that book, was the stand-in for Doctor Who fandom. Now he finds himself in fifteenth century Japan and tries to write himself into history. Joel’s explanation of his plight is telling: “I suddenly realized that all I could do was read. I couldn’t post something to the Internet about what I’d experienced, all the aliens I’d met, all the adventures and stuff I’d had. Nobody could know. Nobody would ever know… I’ve helped save the human race, and they call me a nerd.” He wants, in other words, to be elevated from the personal to the grand level of Time.

But he is, of course, wretched at it. His attempts to change history are shambolic. But his larger flaw is failing to recognize his value in the world. The Doctor tells him as much: “between your imagination, your attention to detail, and your experience, you’re ideally suited to the job - dealing with aliens and faraway people quietly and peacefully.” It is not a role that gets written into history and saved from Death. But it is one that matters - one that has its place within Time.

This does not, of course, address the degree to which “Time’s Champion” is synonymous with the Seventh Doctor’s supposed ruthlessness and manipulativeness. The term is designed to project a measure of hubris - to express that the Doctor is so arrogant as to think he has the favor of Time herself. It is worth noting specifically that the bulk of moral conflict within the New Adventures has not been over the Doctor’s actions as such but over his arrogance. It is not, for instance, that he sacrificed Jan’s life to stop the Hoothi, but that he blithely presumed to have that right. Just as So Vile a Sin appropriates the central moral logic of Inferno while actually lending depth and nuance to the occasion, this entire line of thought reaches back to Genesis of the Daleks, turning its “have I that right” speech into something other than a blithe “is murder ever acceptable” debate. Instead it becomes something far more fundamental in its implications: a question over who does, in fact, have the right to make such the moral decisions of history. If, after all, we treat time as an ethical position, assuming history to have a natural endpoint, then the question of who has the moral authority to shepherd history along and to make the personal, human decisions that it requires.

And when the Seventh Doctor has been brought into moral disrepute it has been over that - the degree to which he simply presumes to have that moral authority. And that conflict has, especially in the later portion of the series, has tended to focus on the specific disjunct between the demands of history (as Roz puts it in So Vile a Sin, ““history kills people and sometimes even you can’t save them”) and the Doctor’s desire to ensure that nobody dies. On the one hand the Doctor does, in fact, have that right - he has to, because he is the Doctor, the hero of Doctor Who, and the nature of his role means that he has to have that right. Even in Genesis of the Daleks he has that right - he merely declines to exercise it. And the Doctor recognizes this - when challenged on the moral authority to be Time’s Champion, his answer is, inevitably, the simple fact that he is Time’s Champion. (This is, again, why that Zebulon Price sequence in Original Sin is so silly - because the Doctor suddenly forgets that he’s the Doctor in the story. This is particularly galling coming off of Human Nature, a book that is all about the Doctor’s ontological role.)

On the other, however, he does not want that right. He would, on the whole, prefer to save everyone. But while he may be the Doctor in his story, and may even be the lost Master of the Land of Fiction, he is still bound by the fact that he is a character in a particular type of story. The rules of that story still hold. And more than that, because the Doctor is the moral heart of the type of story he is in, he necessarily understands this, and understands that the type of story he can be in is one where people do die. He is subject to Time as well - he is, after all, not her. He’s just her champion. Indeed, the presumption is less in his fulfilling his role as Time’s Champion - a role that really just means “being the hero of Doctor Who,” but in thinking that by stepping into that role he has the right to decree a happy ending for everyone. Whereas in practice, to be Time’s Champion is not to presume that one can save everybody, but merely to presume that one can be the Doctor.

And so the Virgin line’s take on the character is. And so their place in history is assured.

Comments

Adam Riggio 4 years, 4 months ago

What I find most intriguing about this post (a wonderful summation of the arc of your engagement with the New Adventures, far better suiting your style than if it had come in Lungbarrow) is that brief contrast you make with the Saward era. Because looking back at the history of the show, especially with your help, that really was were Doctor Who lost its way most catastrophically. Every relationship between characters on the show in that period just became so antagonistic, even among ostensible friends. Without that element of kindness to the Doctor's character, he isn't really the Doctor, and it isn't really Doctor Who anymore.

This makes my relationship with the show so much more complicated. Because the idealism of Doctor Who is that there can be an adventurous world of battles against destructive forces where casualties aren't necessary, where everybody lives. Even in the other problematic periods of the classic series, like season five and the Pertwee era, there's that sorrow at losing people. Davison's Doctor as a character had that quality, even as the adventures he was having were structured in ways that forced him to accept the necessity of death.

I guess that is why the Sixth Doctor got his psychic room with no doors. His entire personality articulated the misanthropy and violence of Saward's world. It makes the character Colin Baker plays on audio today a literally different, if tangentially related, character from who he played on television. It makes Caves of Androzani, a story I've always loved, so much more problematic now that I see this aspect of Saward's vision: Davison's Doctor writes people off. He comes back into Jek's lab after getting the spectrox cure, looks at all the dead people around him, and doesn't give a damn.

That's more violence to the character than anything I could conceive of now. If the Doctor's kindness really is the most important part of his character, then Colin Baker's audio character is the real Sixth Doctor, and Saward created some kind of misanthropic sci-fi violence monster who nearly destroyed the show.

And now we have hope. In 1997.

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 4 months ago

My apologies if this is a stupid question, but outside of "The Mind Robber" has there been any indication the Doctor is supposedly the lost Master of the Land of Fiction?

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 4 months ago

Oh, of course not.

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 4 months ago

Adam Riggio:
"that brief contrast you make with the Saward era. Because looking back at the history of the show, especially with your help, that really was were Doctor Who lost its way most catastrophically. Every relationship between characters on the show in that period just became so antagonistic, even among ostensible friends. Without that element of kindness to the Doctor's character, he isn't really the Doctor, and it isn't really Doctor Who anymore."

Minutes before reading your comment, I had just posted the following at the IMDB boards:

"When I was watching the first 3 seasons of the revival, I came to feel it was the BEST thing on TV at the time. (This is more of an indictment of everything else on TV than a praise for the revival itself.)

However, I'd say the biggest thing in the revival's favor may simply be that it was DESIGNED to be a likable show... which is a big turnaround from all those years of JNT & Eric Saward going out of their way to do a show with UNLIKABLE characters, BAD writing and pointlessly downbeat situations and bad endings where the show's hero is made to look stupid, helpless, and hopeless."

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 4 months ago

Well then, speaking as someone who used to insist the notorious "Morbius Doctors" actually were the Doctor's past incarnations (making Colin Baker's the unstable 14th Doctor) it's good to meet a fellow champion of lost causes!

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Ununnilium 4 years, 4 months ago

So what you're saying is, the central conflict of the Virgin era and the central conflict of the Tenth Doctor era are one and the same?

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Ununnilium 4 years, 4 months ago

Oh, now that's just silly. Everybody knows that the Morbius Doctors escaped into the real world, becoming the creative staff of Doctor Who, and thus no longer have a place in the progression of regenerations.

(Well, everyone knows that after Dr. Sandifer proposed it.)

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Dan Abel 4 years, 4 months ago

I read the Room With No Doors again, recently, and I was surprised a the feeling of being 'at peace' I took from it. Like it was a self help book, but at the time of release, with only Lungbarrow to go, perhaps it was.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 4 months ago

Citation for the escape of the pre-Hartnell Doctors to our universe to become Robert Holmes, Phillip Hinchcliffe, and Graeme Harper: http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.ca/2012/06/time-can-be-rewritten-27-times-champion.html

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 4 months ago

It's worth skipping Eternity Weeps, which was a "nightmare brief" compounded by all of Jim Mortimore's bad habits.

You shouldn't have skipped Bad Therapy, though. Although it tries to "fix up the Peri problems", certainly, there's a lot more to it than that.

I always compare it favorably to "Damaged Goods", which has related themes. (Unsurprisingly, given that Matt Jones and Russell T. Davies worked very closely together on a lot of things.)

The main plotline is the forerunner of the Gangers, but used in a rather different (and more explicitly sexual and emotional) way.

The finale in particular, where the Doctor sets up a solution -- and then realizes, after a fair amount of discussion with his friends and companions, that it's not moral -- and then *changes his mind* -- is particularly solid. While I feel like this must have happened before, I can't think of such a case. But this finale reappears in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Repeatedly.

It's also a very important part of the New Adventures wrap-up, since it reconciles the different visions of the Doctor which have been presented, into one which is rather acceptable and coherent.

Frankly, I wouldn't have wanted to read Room with No Doors without reading Bad Therapy first. I do love Room with No Doors, but it features an already "resolved" Doctor, and sets about resolving Chris Cwej. A lot of the psychological situation with Chris Cwej is thematically set up in Bad Therapy, though some is set up earlier.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 9 months ago

" Indeed, the presumption is less in his fulfilling his role as Time’s Champion - a role that really just means “being the hero of Doctor Who,” but in thinking that by stepping into that role he has the right to decree a happy ending for everyone. Whereas in practice, to be Time’s Champion is not to presume that one can save everybody, but merely to presume that one can be the Doctor."

So basically the same revelation as at the end of The Waters of Mars.

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