Far More Than Just (The Deadly Assassin)
|Fair warning – this entry is, er…|
12,716 words long.
It’s tough to pin down, but it’s probably somewhere in 1994 – I’ve got myself around 6th grade for this one. I’ve still got the VHS tape on my shelf. Well, by my hand now. Because my shelves are cluttered, I had to move two objects to get to it. The first of these was a DAPOL action figure of K-9 – the inexplicable green one. The second was a bottle of Yankee Candle branded Balsam and Cedar oil for use in an oil diffuser. For personal reasons of what I want to focus on in my meditation and thought these days, I am burning things with cedar in them of late. It was in my bedroom, near the table where I put candles and incense. I’m writing this in an armchair maybe two yards from it, which is also where I have been watching the episodes for the blog to this point – though I am moving in the next week or two.
The cover is exactly what I remember – Tom Baker in Prydonian robes staring straight out of the tape. He’s looking straight at me, right now, an eery reconstitution of Patrick Troughton’s screen-peering for a no-longer new media age. The tape was on the third shelf of books. This is a fact that will be lost on anyone who does not know me well. In the first year of my PhD program, I had started class before I had finished unpacking. Or, rather, I had done a very hurried unpacking in which I shoved books on shelves out of boxes however they were packed, vowing to organize my library later.
In one of my classes, we were reading Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf. It’s a history of the bookshelf. Which is to say, it’s a history of how we store and organize our knowledge. It ends with an amusing essay proposing various ways in which one could organize one’s books in the modern world – ways beyond the obvious ones like alphabetically or by subject. And Petroski shares amusing anecdotes or comments on the pros and cons of various methods. He talks of one friend who had a room that was, among everyone he knew, considered a marvel of interior design because she had orchestrated a complex color scheme for her library where various regions of the room, from paint to decor to the books themselves, were organized by color – reds fading through oranges to yellows across a wall of the room.
One method he proposes is by strict order of acquisition. That is to say, he proposes that whenever you get a new book, you shelve it immediately to the right of the previous newest. And I realized that, for reasons relating purely to my own idiosyncrasies, I could actually remember to a usable degree of detail the order in which I had gotten my books back to about 5th grade. Since then I’ve stretched it back further, though only with about five or six books from childhood. Currently my library runs from Matilda by Roald Dahl to Ken Knabb’s Situationist International Anthology.
I like this system of organization for several reasons. First, I find it convenient. It is easy to maintain, and does not require me to ever commit periods of time to full-scale library reorganizations unless for some reason I reintegrate books obtained from my parents’ storage, and even then I have to do a hefty chunk, as I leave small gaps for that purpose. I just put the newest book on the rightmost position on the newest shelf, and buy new bookcases as needed.
More importantly, I find it easy to use. I value my media collection. It is very large – I believe it required over 40 boxes the last time I moved. It spans a very long period of my life, and I have strong associations with almost every part of it. I remember very well the circumstances I obtain and read books in. It borders on synesthesia. As a result, I can find things this way – by going “Ah, yes, I’m going to need Constance Penley’s Nasa/Trek, which I bought on Amazon in Chicago along with two other books on slash fiction for my Masters thesis.” This highlights a second organizational benefit – there tends to be logic in what books I get at what time – I will get a number of books on one topic or by one author. Thus it doubles as an approximate subject ordering. There are a few glitches I allow myself to facilitate this – sometimes I will move a newer edition of something back to where I acquired the original edition because the associations are stronger for me there. Other moves happen for similar idiosyncrasies – one volume of a series I got at a time very different from the others might get shelved with the rest of the series for convenience.
I say all of this to explain that a given point of shelving in my library represents a moment in my history. When I pulled this video off of my shelf, I did not pull it from the Doctor Who videos section, but from the space that, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, is immediately between the book or video that I experienced before The Deadly Assassin and the one I experienced after. The fact that it came off of the third shelf indicates further that this is from early in the period of my life that my books and media collection spans back to. And that period of my life is, in a literal sense, looking at me right now. It’s kind of spooky. Just saying.
The VHS is the old movie version of it. With an 85 minute runtime and no cliffhangers. This is how the early video releases and many reruns of Doctor Who treated it, and is the source of my continual stressing that Doctor Who stories should be understood episodically instead of in this format. Because the movie versions do real violence to the sense of pacing in the stories. The back is a monument of back of video box writing:
DOCTOR WHO ON TRIAL FOR MURDER! The President of the Time Lords is dead. Only Doctor Who predicted the assassination. Only Doctor Who was seen firing the riffle. And at his trial, with quite probably three hours to live, who else but Doctor Who would announce that he now wants to run for President!
THE DEADLY ASSASSIN is a Masterpiece of special effects and pure spectacle. It’s the ultimate showdown between Doctor Who and his arch enemy, The Master – now more deadly than ever in his twelfth, and final, regeneration!
And, yes! This is the program with the now-legendary hallucinatory battle to the death between The Master’s relentless, mysterious champion and the wildly wily Doctor!
I remember this one vividly. Everybody does. It’s one of the big classics. And yet watching it this time, I noticed for the first time the chalk outline of the Time Lord President, complete with the tracing of the elaborate Time Lord robes, and I burst out laughing. This is the sort of story that has that sort of absurd detail.
This is also the sort of entry that has that sort of absurd detail. It’s one of those entries. The longest one of the project to date, and God willing a record I am never going to come close to challenging. In four distinct episodes, although also quite viewable in movie form. Ladies and gentlemen, The Deadly Assassin.
It’s . are at number one with . , , , and also chart. In other news, while on the and . While on television, ‘s time playing the Thirteenth Doctor comes to an end in a stunning sequence in which . He does not regenerate. The series ends.
What’s bewildering, of course, is that it’s a throwaway line in The Deadly Assassin too. And yet for some reason, that line is taken as gospel by a significant number of people – as some rule that demands that Doctor Who is, with Matt Smith, coming perilously close to its end. The Deadly Assassin is, in this regard, accurately named. There remains a bizarre faction of Doctor Who fans – a death cult of sorts – who view this story as something that provides a necessary reason why Doctor Who as it exists must someday die completely. This is the story, it seems, that assassinates Doctor Who itself.
I mean, if we’re being remotely sane, of course the show will survive. Writing your way around the twelve regeneration limit is as trivial as Holmes dropping it in is. The bewildering thing, though, is that when the time comes and regenerates into the Fourteenth Doctor there are going to be fans who are upset. Somehow, this story has led to the phenomenon of fans who want the show dead, and who will be terribly upset if it doesn’t die.
It’s November 5, 2011. At least, it is when I’m writing this. Tomorrow will be thirty-five years to the day since Part Two of this aired. Rihanna are at number one with “We Found Love.” Also in the top ten are Maroon 5, LFMAO, and Kelly Clarkson.
An account of the news. Top headlines on CNN are an army staff sergeant testifying in a trial charged with murdering civilians in Afghanistan and a story on a Mississippi ballot referendum to outright criminalize abortion by declaring a fetus to be a person. The New York Times’s website leads with Greek Prime Minister Papandreou surviving a confidence vote and the death of Colombian guerrilla leader Alfonso Cano. While the Guardian’s top headlines are lawyers warning Downing Street that interns should be paid, and the declaration that a global recession is closer because the G20 summit has failed.
Out of the headlines but very much in my mind are the Occupy movements – a growing swirl of global leftist activism. These movements are interesting – attracting more sympathy on the right than any leftist movement I have seen in some time, while deeply unnerving chunks of the establishment left, who predict their inevitable failure with inexplicable glee given their stated aims. As is surely unsurprising given my inclinations, I am tremendously fond of them, and think objections to their tactics are ludicrous. Their tactics are visibly adapted from those of the Situationist International, who, we should note, ran the most successful leftist uprising of the 1960s. Yes, it failed, but it failed spectacularly and having come impressively close to success. There’s not a better playbook to pull from.
But the general spirit of the times is uneasy – as though things are on the brink of some collapse. The Occupy protests are not in the headlines today, as I said, but have been a mainstay for weeks now. The riots before them – The Guardian has several stories on the results of government inquiries into them today. It’s a slow, ratcheting up of tension – a growing sense that some historical shift is dropping soon. One reaches around, trying to find some larger narrative to fit into. Conspiracy theories appeal.
Many of my thoughts on the conspiracy theory as a genre have already been published in my eternally-temporarily-defunct blog The Nintendo Project, particularly in this entry and this one. The conspiracy theory is the flash of ordering insight behind the chaos of a world that defies explanation. Alan Moore, one of this blog’s major intellectual influences, observes that there is obviously a conspiracy. There are, in fact, hundreds of them, all running around. But the truth of the matter is that the conspiracies just crash into each other. No conspiracy actually runs the world. The horrifying truth is that there is nobody driving this thing. The world is completely rudderless.
But the conspiracy theory gives the illusion that it is otherwise. That there is some sort of master signifier that orders creation. Understood this way, we realize that the paranoid logic of the conspiracy theory is more prevalent than we give it credit for. Big-Ass Science is, in the end, as much a conspiracy theory as any other – an adamant belief that there exists one explanation that accounts for everything that there is. In this case, that only in mathematics will we find truth.
The conspiracy theory is a defect of reasoning given animus. The compelling nature of an explanation metastasizes from solving a material problem to an ordering principle of the universe. History repeats itself. These data points form into patterns, patterns form in the mind into narratives, and we find ourselves with a story that explains everything.
These narratives are not false. This is the true appeal of the conspiracy theory. Even the most vile and baseless contain somewhere within them a germ of truth. A conspiracy theory is not nonsense, but parasense. Birtherism is a pathological form of the observation that the election of a biracial and cosmopolitan intellectual marks a tipping point in the cultural balance of power in the United States. 9/11 Truthers are an insane form of legitimate observations about how the underlying geopolitical narrative that led causally to 9/11 has been erased in favor of 9/11 as an origin point for a new geopolitical configuration. The conspiracy theory is never quite wrong.
But it is never quite right either. Clearly a new approach is necessary. A new heuristic for a world with a surplus of conspiracies and a deficit of ordering principles. A new kind of paranoia. A new kind of conspiracy theory. Let us further set the rules here. We will define this type of conspiracy theory through its construction, bootstrapping it, to borrow from the language of computer science. We will form a new form of conspiracy theory by writing a conspiracy theory about it. And by dint of the larger rules of this blog as a structure, we will form it in relation to the Doctor Who story entitled The Deadly Assassin.
This is not, of course, by accident. The Deadly Assassin is, after all, the point of death for Doctor Who as a concept. We know from The Brain of Morbius that death is the engine that drives alchemy itself – a thesis reiterated in softer forms through previous stories. If The Deadly Assassin is the point of death for Doctor Who – and at the very least it is a point of death for Doctor Who – then it is the perfect field for this fight. This is a story that can, at least for a moment, be located at the absolute center of Doctor Who. In the Panopticon, if you will.
The logic of the conspiracy theory is the opposite of falsifiability. For a school of people, who I have been tweaking gleefully of late, this is prima facie evidence of their inadequacy. The criterion of falsifiability, however, was never designed for use in this fashion. Its originator, Karl Popper, set out not to define truth but science, distinguishing it from metaphysics. Science is, under Popper, defined by falsifiability. A claim is scientific if it can be disproven. Science, under Popper, proves no affirmative truths – it merely provides statements that can be disproven but that have resisted all attempts to disprove them. Those that have resisted the most are considered the most important and fundamental. Those that have resisted fewer attempts are emerging and interesting theories.
You can read as much Popper as you wish and you will never find a line that dismisses the importance of metaphysics. Popper does not dismiss them. He merely renders them a separate category from science. But if you think about the structure of Popperian science – a wealth of contingent truths any of which could shift out from under the very foundations of knowledge with a single experiment – this is hardly a surprise. Popper, by coming up with a clear and simple rule that drives science, renders it more postmodern than any attempt at deconstruction ever has. (There is a reason that the hardest of hardliners in the Big-Ass Science crowd – the likes of Alan Sokal – despise Popper as well.)
The conspiracy theory, like Wikipedia and occultism, functions on a logic of verifiability. That which provides a satisfying explanation is true. We cannot function without this logic. But the consequence of it is that multiple contradictory perspectives become true. The Situationists, to whom this blog is as indebted as much as it is to Alan Moore, from this build to their idea of the spectacle – the contradictory nexus of representations that, through material systems of power, is actualized not just in spite of its contradictions but because of them, becoming the dominant paradigm of the social order.
The spectacle is the apotheosis of the conspiracy theory – the fusion of all conspiracy theories into a worldview so totalizing that it has become material. As Guy Debord puts it, “When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings.” Thus the spectacle rejects attempts to deny its reality as a mere computational matrix.
If we cannot deny this reality, what other options are available to us? Continuing within the theory of the Situationists, we have two major artistic concepts: détournement and the derivé. Détournement is defined simply as “the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble.” That is, taking established portions of culture and transplanting them into new contexts, or severing them from existing ones. The derivé, on the other hand, is “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.” Designed originally for use on physical geography, “in a derivé one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”
Subsequent development, particularly Alan Moore’s suggestion of “Ideaspace,” a realm in which ideas arrange spatially into a landscape of associations, suggest that the Situationists have in fact identified two instances of the same tactic. The derivé detournes the city, and détournement is simply a derivé through psychic spaces.
But for this to work, we must find a psychic equivalent of the attractions of physical terrain. This is inherent in the concept of Ideaspace. Moore’s standard example for how Ideaspace works is that, in Ideaspace, Land’s End and John o’ Groats are adjacent to one another despite being defined as being opposite ends of Britain. But if we take a broader view, we can see clearly how it works. History repeats itself. These repetitions form leylines and paths through psychic spaces – patterns that can be walked.
The derivé is used to produce psychogeography. Here we create instead, long after we’ve developed the technique in practice, its obverse: psychochronography. An extended perambulation through imaginary places. The lines we walk are, of course, conspiracy theories. But here they are conspiracy theories with their usual motives for movement and action stripped out. We do not seek a totalizing explanation, but seek instead to slide out from one conspiracy theory into the next. A conspiracy theory is not a path out of the labyrinth of the spectacle, but merely one of a multitude of roads and paths within it. We will reconfigure the psychic space to our liking. We will tear out its logic and replace it with our own.
In contemporary media terms, we call this the retcon. The retelling of a story along a different logic. Which means that The Deadly Assassin is itself a psychochronography of Doctor Who. Its technique and the technique of this blog are indistinguishable.
History repeats itself. But a reiteration is always different from the initial event. This is what historical progress is – the sum total of deviations from progressive iterations of events. It is necessary to repeat ourselves. It is necessary to revise. We can see these repetitions across this story. The Deadly Assassin assassinates Doctor Who. It also, however, features a literal assassination – the striking down of the President of the Time Lords at the end of its first episode. This is itself a recurrence of the more famous assassination of a President, JFK. This event is itself indistinguishable from the start of Doctor Who. These events are iterations of a larger whole. There are big things afoot. This is a narrative collapse story.
We have already developed a basic principle of narrative collapse. The Doctor can reconstitute the narrative after its complete collapse, albeit at great cost. What is the cost this time? There are three costs, as it happens, and all are among the most severe the series will ever pay. The first, as we have discussed, is the setting of an endpoint for the show.
The second is one we’ll deal with primarily in a few more entries’ time – the sacking of Philip Hinchcliffe happens because of this story. There is a line of causality from this to the cancellation of the show that can be traced. It is not the strongest argument that can be made, requiring as it does the almost total condemnation of both Graham Williams and John Nathan-Turner, but as with any conspiracy theory, it is not quite wrong either. The fallout from Hinchcliffe’s sacking results in a neutered show that is less equipped to handle shifts in the television landscape than it has been before, setting off a death by a thousand cuts.
The third consequence, however, is potentially the most damning: fandom.
I have throughout this blog maintained a love-hate relationship with fandom. And, for that matter, I have throughout my life done so. As is obvious by the fact that this blog exists, I am as much a ridiculous fanboy as they come. But my issues with fandom as a gestalt entity are numerous. The case that fandom led to the demise of Doctor Who is far stronger than the case that Hinchcliffe’s sacking did. And this story has one of the strangest roles in fandom imaginable.
On the one hand, it is as much a cornerstone of the series’ continuity as The War Games, if not moreso. Its reconception of Gallifrey becomes the canonical one. This is in and of itself a bewildering phrase – “canonical.” This is perhaps the most chilling legacy of the story – it creates an idea that there is some sort of unifying explanation of Doctor Who. This is the most bizarre conspiracy theory of all – that Doctor Who forms a single coherent story that is resolvable and understandable. That there is such a thing as “canon.”
But what is strangest about this is that, at the time of transmission, Doctor Who fans flipped out at the story because of its capricious disregard for past canon. The story that went on to become the cornerstone of Doctor Who’s canon was, initially, hated for its violation of that same canon. The cornerstone of this is Jan Vincent Rudzki’s review of the story in the first issue of the second volume of the fanzine TARDIS. The review floats around a fair amount – an online copy can be found here.
There are many things that are very strange about this. First of all, canon is based on a sort of extreme exegesis of the text itself. But that exegesis still isn’t even possible at this point in the series. The series has not obtained repeatability in a meaningful sense. Accordingly, the very evidence that is required to build a canon doesn’t exist yet. Canon is archeological at this point – stitched together from memories and the distorted recollections of paratexts. At this point, Countdown to TV Action contributes more directly to the sharable evidence of what Doctor Who is than the actual evidence.
Second, and perhaps more importantly it’s only the fans who believe in canon. The production office doesn’t give a damn. In all likelihood, the problems Rudzki identifies all come down to one very simple thing – Robert Holmes in no way cared enough about consistency with past stories to check them. Canon is, at this point, being imposed entirely from outside the show. Nothing in the show itself is attempting to be anything other than an ongoing TV show working roughly along Terrance Dicks’s old rule that anything from within the last year can be reintroduced without explanation, but anything older than that should be assumed to have been forgotten by the audience.
So the cornerstone of Doctor Who canon – the story that envelops both the beginning and end of Doctor Who – has several problems. It cannot possibly have a canon, it is not intended to have a canon, and the most prominent person at the time to argue for its canon, Rudzki, lacks the ability to review the text in sufficient detail to construct a canon.
Here, then, we make our stand. Here is where we build our new conspiracy theory. In the most obvious gap available. The Deadly Assassin is the centerpiece of Doctor Who’s canon, and yet nobody has made a sincere effort to build a canon out of it. Let us, then, break the rules productively. One of the primary tricks that this blog has used since day one is that it has been willing to treat any given moment of Doctor Who as the Panopticon that fixes the actions of all other moments. This is one of the basic derivés we’ve developed. We let ourselves drift along the logic of each story on its own, instead of in accordance with the supposed master map of Doctor Who.
Let us, then, take that to its most radical level. Let us ask precisely what is going on in The Deadly Assassin and allow, for a moment, at least, that to be the primary lens through which we view the series.
Our methodology will be straightforward – we will assume that whatever we see in The Deadly Assassin is correct, and that all other stories must be understood in terms of it. Beyond that, we will apply a sort of Occam’s Razor to the matter – we will attempt to alter readings of past stories as little as possible, but will always opt to retcon them instead of rejecting the apparent implications of The Deadly Assassin. What we won’t do is care at all about what comes after this story – we are going to limit ourselves entirely to what could have been observed in 1976.
Our technique will be equally straightforward.We will play the same game that Rudzki is trying to play, albeit with a significant advantage: we have reference books and video recordings of episodes that Rudzki necessarily lacked. The form will be, then, a mad folly – an extended fanzine rant written 35 years too late. A systematic debunking of Rudzki’s points long after they stopped being immediately relevant. Or, to put it another way, an attempt to see what other default positions were available to fandom.
A thought experiment. A alternate reality. Or perhaps just a computational matrix.
Rudzki starts with what seems the most obvious point to raise – the fact that we are told that this is the greatest crisis ever to face the Time Lords. He raises the obvious point in response to this – “I suppose Omega was only a minor nuisance!” This is actually a subset of a larger problem – one Miles and Wood deal with at length in their side essay “Did Rassilon know Omega.” Essentially the problem is this – The Three Doctors and The Deadly Assassin give us two very similar stories about the early history of the Time Lords, but in one Omega has the starring role, and in the other Rassilon does.
Miles and Wood suggest that, until 1983 at least, the easiest explanation is that Omega and Rasilon are two different names for the same person. This is not a bad explanation, but it is wholly extra-textual. A more textual explanation exists. We know that two things occurred at the end of The Three Doctors, after all – Omega’s black hole becomes a supernova, and the Time Lords utilize it as an energy source. Now in The Deadly Assassin we are told that Rassilon took the heart of a black hole to Gallifrey. By far the easiest way to account for this in the context of The Three Doctors is to assume that Rassilon obtained the heart of the black hole – presumably the Singularity – when it exploded as a supernova, i.e. after The Three Doctors.
The only problem this raises is it requires that a massive amount of time pass on Gallifrey between The Three Doctors and this story, but that is easy enough to account for even if you demand that the Doctor and Gallifrey age in sync – it’s not that hard to assume a lengthy jaunt around the universe for Pertwee without Jo – he ran off without her in The Green Death and nobody thought anything of it, after all. And after as massive a reconfiguration of Time Lord society as The Three Doctors implies, it presumably doesn’t take that long for the civilization to reconstitute itself according to a completely new order of things. The ancient past of Gallifrey doesn’t have to be nearly as ancient as people tend to assume.
We also should, in thinking about all of this, deal with Genesis of the Daleks, in which the Time Lords opt to sneak around and try to destroy the Daleks in their past rather than meet them head-on as a threat. The Time Lords subjected the Daleks to history there. Why, then, would we be surprised when the Time Lords are themselves subjected to history? Far from a strange anomaly in The Deadly Assassin, this seems the point of it – that the Time Lords have been cast down into the gristle of history.
Rudzki moves on, declaring that “the next blunder was the guards,” specifically their existence given the supposed omnipotence of Time Lords. Again, however, we saw that omnipotence broken in The Three Doctors, with the Time Lords abandoning Omega’s black hole for a new source of energy. The easiest assumption is simply that this new form of energy renders the Time Lords in need of guards. But all of this ignores a larger issue with The Deadly Assassin – the strong sense that eventfulness of this sort is profoundly rare on Gallifrey. Never mind the degree to which the guards undermine the past sense that “the Time Lords were supposed to be very powerful.” Regardless of how necessary the guards are to deal with any given threat, what threats are they actually there for in the first place?
Again, there is a relatively easy explanation that alters very little: the guards, like almost everything else we see, are a matter of ceremony. This is, after all, wholly familiar to a British viewer, where the phrase “guards” can readily be linked to the ceremonial Changing of the Guard. The scarlet clothing of Gallifreyan guards even seems to evoke the Queen’s Guard. The Guard are, like everything else on Gallifrey, the empty repetitions of past historical moments.
Rudzki next objects to the nomenclature of the TARDIS, specifically that it is identified as a “Type 40 TT Capsule” whereas previously it was a Mark 1. Well, first of all, here we have the benefit of better record keeping than Rudzki enjoyed. Properly, it’s the dematerialization circuit that is a Mark 1 in Terror of the Autons. All we know is that the Master’s uses a Mark 2 circuit, and that the Monk’s TARDIS in The Time Meddler is a “Mark 4.” Nothing, in other words, suggests that the Doctor’s TARDIS is a Mark 1.
At this point it may appear that I’m just picking nits, but there are two important points here. The first is simply to expose the absurd speciousness of discussions of canon in general. The second is that Rudzki, in poking holes that don’t exist in the story, is missing the actual point. He asks why there is only one Type 40 TT missing, but that’s not a question. It’s an answer – the Doctor is unlike the other renegades we have seen as well. We knew his TARDIS was older than theirs, but we had no idea that it was so old as to be overtly obsolete and no longer in use.
I will skip most of the bits in which Rudzki complains about the seemingly depowered Time Lords, as I’ve already proposed that treating The Three Doctors as a turning point in Time Lord history makes sense. I will similarly leave be his assertion that the problem with Holmes’s CIA joke or with Time Lords who have bad hips is that “there is a time and a place for humour, and this wasn’t it” as a simple aesthetic difference instead of a factual one. But I will finger his claim that “Time Lords are aliens and do not need to conform to human motivations whatsoever,” a fact he believes to have been supported by The War Games of all stories.
First of all, let’s note the obvious thing about Time Lords – that as non-human species go, they sure look like humans. Sure, plenty of aliens do, but equally importantly, plenty don’t. In the iconography of Doctor Who, true alienness is defined by monstrosity. But more than that, the Time Lords have always appeared as a race with an inherent tie to human culture, if not humanity. They’re the guardians of history and were first set up on opposition to the guardians of war. These are concepts that are only meaningful in a humanesque cultural context.
Rudzki next complains about a variety of anomalies surrounding the Doctor. Again, however, Rudzki is complaining of inconsistency where none exists. The overall point of everything he identifies – that the Doctor has premonitions where other Time Lords don’t, that he scoffs at how primitive Time Lord technology is, and that he has seemingly been forgotten by most of the planet – is that the Doctor is in some sense special. Bewilderingly, Rudzki manages to complain about the exact opposite, complaining that the Doctor should be better known because “it’s very rare for a Time Lord to leave Gallifrey.” But this is the entire point! The Doctor is here shown to be, if I may borrow a phrase from the future, far more than just another Time Lord. After all, the strong sense is that his fight with the Master is, at this point, bigger than Gallifrey – that this is not a case of the Doctor being caught up in Gallifreyan affairs, but one of Gallifreyan affairs being caught up in the Doctor’s affairs.
Again, this is not inconsistent with what has gone before. The Doctor has never appeared like an everyday member of his society. But notably, he’s never seemed notorious either. Consider his initial descriptions – he is “cut off” from his people, and he says to the War Chief that he had “every right” to leave. His granddaughter was seemingly unusual in her psychic abilities, although he thought of returning to his home world to help her develop them. And of course there is The Mind Robber and its implications, if we want to go in that direction. But since Rudzki says the reason they should know who he is is that he saved their bacon in The Three Doctors, let’s just get our explanation straight from there again and remember that we are, with the Doctor, dealing with someone who broke the first law of time.
Surely anyone who is committed to the idea of a consistent Doctor Who continuity in 1976 would be struck by the potential ramifications of that phrase. If we are to treat The Three Doctors as some sort of monolithic continuity event that The Deadly Assassin is remiss for contradicting, surely we must treat it with considerable attentiveness and seriousness. (I, of course, have little desire to treat The Three Doctors that way, much preferring my Blakean fantasia, but if we are going to play this game with The Deadly Assassin, let’s play it.) In which case, we have to admit, The Three Doctors constitutes such a change to what the Doctor is that there are next to no assumptions that can still be made about his relationship with the Time Lords.
And again, this is borne out. We don’t see the Time Lords again until Genesis of the Daleks, save for K’anpo, who is a renegade as well. And in both that and The Brain of Morbius, they act profoundly different. Rudzki admits this – he cites both stories as ones that “go very much against what has been done before.” But this cannot be considered a problem when both the Time Lords themselves and the Doctor were shown in The Three Doctors to have gone through a transformative change. The Time Lords had the entire technological foundation of their civilization thrown into reverse and the Doctor violated the most fundamental law of time. I wasn’t cheating in the least when I let that entry go completely mad. The Three Doctors plunged Doctor Who into complete chaos by any continuity standards.
Which brings us to Rudzki’s next sequence of objections, involving the question of why the Time Lords appear bounded in what they can see in time. To some extent this is simply a restatement of principles we’ve been applying to the Time Lords since The Curse of Peladon. If we treat the Time Lords as we have – as guardians not of history in the sense of an ordered and fixed set of events but of history as a process that is continually in operation at every moment in time – then the powers Rudzki wants to ascribe to them would be the last ones they would have. “Why need the brain machines to predict the future?” Because the future is determined by the Time Lords’ stewardship of the historical process. This has always been how the Time Lords appear to work after all – they foresaw a time when the Daleks would be the dominant life form. They foresaw the key moments of history on Peladon and Solon that required the Doctor’s intervention. They clearly don’t have a perfect record of all that has happened.
Or, to put it another way, if there is such a thing as a planet of the Time Lords upon which a thing can happen in the first place, the Time Lords do not exist sufficiently outside of time to be all-knowing. The possibility of having anything happen to the Time Lords requires that they have a sense of the present. And the present only makes sense as the moment that is accessible as opposed to only available through imagination or memory. This has to work both ways. The present is not just a threshold beyond which we can only predict, it is equally a threshold beyond which we can only remember. Thus we answer, at least thematically, Rudzki’s next question – why they do not use a time scanner to learn exactly what happened at the assassination. We’ll return to the practical matter later.
It is at this point that Rudzki makes his most nonsensical statement. I quote, “Another fact forgotten is that Time Lords are immortal. In ‘War Games’ the Doctor said they could ‘live forever barring accidents’.” These two sentences are in direct contradiction. If they can only live forever barring accidents, they are not immortal. If you’re allowed to bar causes of death, anyone can live forever. Having something that can kill you is called being mortal. The obvious assumption, once we reconceptualize the two face-changes the Doctor has made as “regenerations,” is that this is the process by which Time Lords handle accidents. They get a regeneration cycle of twelve regenerations that allow them to survive mishaps. Barring any mishaps, each regeneration is immortal. Not only is there not a contradiction when you look closely at the episodes, there’s not even a contradiction when you look closely at Rudzki’s words.
Rudzki then inadvertently raises one of the great misses of continuity in Doctor Who history – the world’s most reasonable fan theory. Here we must give him credit – he gets it spectacularly wrong, but his case is impeccable. Remember how in Brain of Morbius, Morbius shows us what give every appearance of being pre-Hartnell Doctors? Well… there are eight of them. Then Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee. So eleven. That would make Tom baker the twelfth Doctor, and thus mean that whoever his successor is must be the final Doctor.
Rudzki is, of course, completely right – this is, by any standards that are trying to impose a “canon” of facts about Doctor Who, clearly the intent of the program. It makes sense – the Doctor and the Master are contemporaries. If the Master is this close to death, surely the Doctor would be as well. The evidence is even better than Rudzki thinks it is – both Morbius and this are Robert Holmes scripts, but Morbius was under the pen name Robert Bland to handle the fact that it was a heavy rewrite of a Dicks script. It’s clearly the intention that whoever writes the story in which the next Doctor dies is going to have to kill him off forever.
Rudzki continues, managing to identify a legitimate plot hole before coming back to his insistence that Time Lords should look at the past obsessively with time scanners. Clearly they don’t do things like that in this story. So why does Rudzki obsess on it so? It is in fact worth noting that in none of the four stories we have seen in which scenes are set on Gallifrey has anyone mentioned anything called a “time scanner.” This device appears to be wholly of Rudzki’s invention, though it is admittedly something that it is now widely assumed the Time Lords have. The closest thing to a time scanner that has ever appeared in the show before was the Time-Space Visualizer, and that became an agent of narrative collapse. (And let’s get around to interpreting the Time War in light of that story some day, shall we?)
But these devices are integral to Rudzki’s entire objection to how the Master is able to tempt Goth with knowledge. Once again, the problem Rudzki identifies disappears. But here it is worth pausing and identifying an outright theme of problems – one Rudzki ultimately identifies as well. The Time Lords are seen to be able to be tempted by the devil in exchange for knowledge. Aside from being a straight lift from Faust, this combines with the next big point that Rudzki raises – why don’t the Time Lords know their own history?
Because they don’t. This alone should have been evidence that these time scanners he thinks they have don’t exist, given that there’s no actual evidence for the blasted things. But here I’m being a bit unfair. Goth would not have had to use a “time scanner.” He could have used a TARDIS. I mean, even if the Time Lords don’t watch history, we at least know that they go and visit it to observe it in person.
Don’t we? Let’s stop just a moment – we’ve only actually ever seen three TARDISes in Doctor Who – the Doctor’s, the Master’s, and the Monk’s. We’ve actually never seen any other Time Lords travel by TARDIS. The bowler-hatted one from Terror of the Autons and K’anpo both appear to teleport. In The War Games, we pointedly see SIDRATs on Gallifrey, and they’re used to send Jamie and Zoe home – not TARDISes. It’s worth noting, after all, that the total number of Type 40s ever in use were 305. That is, for a populated planet, extremely small. If that is an entire model of TARDIS, TARDISes must be extremely rare items. (In fact, the only people we’ve ever seen with them are renegades.)
This clarifies Goth’s position considerably. If we assume that Time Lords spend most of their time on Gallifrey in their present, the very fact that he was traveling and on Terserus to meet the Master suggests a Faustian nature to him. Knowledge is tempting precisely because the Time Lords seem to allow themselves so little of it. The point that Rudzki doesn’t raise but should have, given his other objections, is to the idea of storing the brainwave patterns of dead Time Lords in the first place. What does death even mean to time travelers? If you want to meet a dead person, you go back in time and do it. But instead the Time Lords furiously archive their brains. This suggests that, rather than valuing huge, sweeping overviews of history that they value the material experience of it – a claim very much consistent with the larger arguments of this blog. The Time Lords, for reasons wholly consistent with what we know of them, appear to engage in sketchy historical record keeping. Indeed, they seem unwilling to commit much of any history to anything beyond memory – the prospect of something being stolen from their files was unusual in Colony in Space, after all.
I will skip Rudzki’s extensive complaints about the ending – they again seem like complaints of aesthetic rather than content. This leaves, by my reckoning, one major point to deal with – how to reconcile the seemingly partial knowledge the Time Lords have of the Doctor with their lack of knowledge of their own ancient history, and, in turn, how to reconcile the fact that the Doctor had heard of Omega with his apparent lack of knowledge of Rassilon. Rudzki proposes something close to the solution we’ve been moving towards – that the Deadly Assassin takes place in the far future of Gallifrey – but rejects it because of this problem of the Doctor being remembered.
Here it is worth simply summarizing the observations we have made in response to Rudzki’s points. We have already observed that the doubling of creation myths to include both Rassilon and Omega (with Rassilon’s accomplishment of removing the Singularity seeming much more impressive than Omega’s of nuking a star) sets up an apparent problem. Likewise, we noted that the most straightforward way to resolve this problem is to observe that Time Lord society is radically transformed at the end of The Three Doctors, and that Rassilon’s story took place after that story. We do not know how long after, though we are forced to conclude that it’s been a while.
But not, apparently, so long that the Doctor is out of sync with Gallifrey’s history. People still remember him. But curiously, he is not remembered as the hero of the Omega situation. He’s remembered only for his exile to Earth and for his schoolboy antics. Much of this discrepancy, however, begins to disappear if we understand the Time Lords in terms of memory. As we observed, all evidence is that the Time Lords keep extremely shoddy records of everything but the minds of past Time Lords. The implication is that they are a society that works entirely according to memory. This is not surprising – few concepts are more fundamentally allied with time than memory. In which case all we are actually being asked to believe is that Time Lords would have hazy memories of the sudden restructuring of their own society.
This is, however, not unreasonable. We are in a Robert Holmes script, as Rudzki states repeatedly, seeming to believe this is a bad thing. Holmes is exactly the sort of writer who would write a civilization that completely forgets their history after restructuring their society. In fact, and I assume this is fair play due to the lag between an episode airing and getting a fanzine out, that Rudzki had probably seen the next story, which deals with this exact theme of cultural memory and its foibles. Porting the conclusions over here is not unreasonable. Miles and Wood give us opportunities to do so as well, observing the similarities between the resignation ceremony and the State Opening of Parliament, an ancient and tradition-steeped ceremony that, at the time The Deadly Assassin was written, was a whole 124 years old. The idea that the Time Lords have a short memory for their own history is, in other words, completely consistent with everything we see.
As for the Doctor, as we said, he violated the first law of time. We can see from Borusa’s attitudes about how the Time Lords need heroes that rewriting the official record is commonplace (another reason why the idea that the society as a whole has forgotten the Omega affair is not difficult to accept – Holmes has the Time Lords behave like exactly the sort of regime that casually rewrites history to suit political needs). Why would we assume that someone who did something as horrific as violate the first law of time would be remembered? In fact, it seems far more likely that someone who violates the first law of time would be run off of Gallifrey and largely erased from the historical record. And come to think of it, it wasn’t just Pertwee’s Doctor that violated the first law of time – it was Hartnell’s. And we don’t actually know when in the Doctor’s time stream Hartnell was plucked from…
But even if we don’t decide to connect the dots and claim that the Doctor’s exile from Gallifrey is actually caused by events in The Three Doctors, it’s just not that hard to square all of this away. All it requires is a willingness to entertain ideas more creative than “Time Lords as generic godlike technocrats.” The Time Lords rewrote their culture – which exists entirely as memory and oral tradition anyway – after The Three Doctors and excluded the Doctor for obvious reasons. Those Time Lords who knew him still remember him as the student they knew him as, but institutional memory declined to remember him. This is hardly surprising – you can rewrite political memory much more easily than personal memory. The Doctor, not having been on Gallifrey much lately, doesn’t know the new history, but figures it out quickly, probably helped by the fact that he remembered The Three Doctors better than the Time Lords did. Simple, consistent with everything we’ve seen, and, I would argue, a more logical interpretation of the events up to this point than the one that fandom settled on. (What the series settled on is a matter for another entry.)
The remainder of Rudzki’s objections are aesthetic, not factual. Though this is ultimately the deconstruction of Rudzki’s objection. In his concluding paragraphs, he first retcons The Deadly Assassin out of existence, declaring that this entire episode was just a crazy nightmare that shouldn’t be considered part of Doctor Who canon. Before going on to bemoan the aesthetic horrors of the changes this story brought. He simultaneously rejects the idea that the story makes any sense and talks about how he hates what it means.
He is wrong, of course, that it does not make sense. We have at this point resolved most of the continuity errors he raises. This leaves only his aesthetic complaint – that “Once, the Time Lords were all-powerful, awe-inspiring beings, capable of imprisoning planets forever in force fields, defenders of truth and good (when called in). Now, they are petty, squabbling, feeble-minded, doddering old fools.” Which is true – the Time Lords of this story are at times petty, squabbling, feeble-minded, doddering, and old fools.
Rudzki then asks the following question, reprinted verbatim:
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?
It’s October 30, 1976. Pussycat remain at number one with “That Place Where They’re Going to Define Fetuses as Human Beings.” After two weeks, Chicago unseats them with “If You Leave Me Now,” which remains at number one through the end of the story. ABBA, Rod Stewart, Wild Cherry, and The Who also chart.
In real news, Jimmy Carter defeats Gerald Ford to win the Presidency of the United States, setting off the American equivalent to the few years of relative social calm Britain is currently experiencing (relative, at least, to the government-felling upheavals of 1974 and 1978). Not much else happens.
Let us, then, take stock of what is on television.
The Doctor arrives on a fallen Gallifrey. But more instructive than the fact that it has fallen is the nature of its fallen state. In the course of making sense of this story, we have found ourselves reimagining the Time Lords along a conception of time that is radically different from what is usually assumed. We should note that this conception is not simply a high-minded and wooly bit of deconstructive theory, even if we did build it via a brazenly postmodern attack on what is basically just a 35-year-old equivalent of a shrill Gallifrey Base post. It is relatively easy to conceive of the Time Lords as a functional society that works as I outlined above.
All of the parts make sense. If the Time Lords actually travel relatively rarely and maintain a primarily living memory, they are Lords not in the sense of being masters of a fixed map of history, but rather in the sense of being masters of an eternal present. They alter the past and future as they see fit, pushing the universe at large towards their view of the arc of history. But they themselves are also subject to that arc. They do not set the agenda of history, but rather enforce it. They are not history’s authors, nor its readers, but its grammar – its sentinels, if you will. In essence, they exist in the eye of history’s storm, (an Eye of Harmony, perhaps) changing the past and future at will, but also being changed by their engagements. This is not a sign of their weakness, but of their ultimate commitment to this sort of history – they allow their own history to be nothing more than memories and stories, allow themselves to be subject to their own grammar.
This is, as I suggested, essential – the alternative “detached technocrat” view is antithetical to everything the series has shown us. If the Time Lords were, in fact, detached, disinterested, all-powerful beings who simply wrote history by fiat they would, in the language of the show to date, be evil. All-powerful beings who bend the universe to their own design are, after all, the archetypal villains of Doctor Who. Similarly, Doctor Who has always shown an awareness of the Faustian aspects of knowledge. That was the point of Planet of the Spiders, for instance – that greed for knowledge is bad. Surely Goth’s noting that the Master offered him knowledge must be taken in that vein.
No – the Time Lords make far more sense as a race who understands time not as a map that can be studied but as a phenomenon that is experienced – something that divides the universe into a past that is remembered and a future that is imagined, with a knife’s edge of the present in which the arc of history continually exerts its pressure. This race of ancient beings with memories spanning millennia who act in a continual, short-sighted present is, in a fundamental sense, both a better understanding of time and of the series’ ethics than the detached technocrats, which seem to amount to little more than assuming the Time Lords are a rip-off of Star Trek’s Guardians of Forever. (This captures one of the essential ironies of fandom – despite the fact that by any sane measure Doctor Who had been more successful than Star Trek had been up through the late 80s, Doctor Who fans were by and large insistent that it should act more like Star Trek. They got their wish, and the show proceeded to immediately become as successful as Star Trek had been: cancelled.)
In which case the strange power visibly held by the Master and the Doctor makes sense. The Time Lords at large may be the living grammar of history, but those who travel with TARDISes are its writers. Note that the one non-renegade we hear about traveling is Goth – one of the highest ranking Time Lords in existence. The implication is that travel is a symbol of power, as it should be given the potential consequences of it. This explains fully the strange reverence that the Doctor and the Master are held in by the rest of Gallifrey. They are known to be travelers. The games they play are bigger than Gallifrey itself.
And the game they play is the Kennedy assassination. Or, at least, a repetition thereof. But, of course, repetition is never equivalent to the original event. The whiff of Camelot (itself a suggestive term indicating that the Kennedy administration is itself a repetition of some earlier and not-actually-American event) may circulate around this story, but reading it as allegory is impossible. For one thing, the Doctor actually cast as Lee Harvey Oswald? Or is he on the grassy knoll? Similarly, where does the CIA fit in? Is Goth Lyndon Johnson, or is Borusa? Perhaps most significantly, what on Earth are we supposed to make of the fact that the cop who figures everything out and helps the Doctor clear his name is played by a Czech actor in an Eastern European accent?
No – this is not the Kennedy assassination, but rather the memory of the Kennedy assassination. A dreamscape, if you like. But, crucially, this falls somewhere between depiction and symbol. It is not simply the Kennedy assassination with a veil of allegory drawn over it, nor is it merely a symbol of the Kennedy assassination. It is a restaging – a reiteration. It is not the event itself but an echo of it.
Here the genius of Robert Holmes comes into play. He is, in fact, the only writer thus far in Doctor Who capable of managing this story. Holmes’s specialty, after all, is his grasp of the small. He is at home with stories like Carnival of Monsters. His genius in The Brain of Morbius was his grasp of small absurdities like having the all-powerful galactic conquerer be a suicidal vegetable envier. And here we see that genius in applied form – Holmes manages to perfectly capture the tone with which a crisis actually plays out – not with inspirational rhetoric but with political bitchiness and squabbling.
This introduces, in other words, a genuine materialism to this. And it’s a materialism that The Deadly Assassin appears to display consistently. This is in many ways the primary appeal of reconceptualizing the Time Lords as a race that is ordered around the idea of memory. Memory is the material form of history. The reiterated dreamscape of the Kennedy assassination is closer to what the Kennedy assassination is for actual human beings than any thorough and well-documented account of the event could possibly be. The Kennedy assassination is far more important as an idea than it is as a documentable and falsifiable event.
And here we get to the true and frankly sickening absurdity of Rudzki’s argument. What has happened to the magic of Doctor Who? It bothered to apply itself, that’s what happened. It bothered to acknowledge a world in which history is accomplished by squabbling politicians instead of detached technocrats holding to absolutist ideologies of “truth” and “good.” It bothered to be magic that affects the real world instead of magic that masturbatorily holds to the world of ideas. Far from undermining the Time Lords of The War Games, this is the story where we finally see the Time Lords bound by the same focus on the material realities of history that they demand of the Doctor.
I mean, really. If we’re going to talk about the “magic” of Doctor Who – and notably, it’s not even me who picked that word this time – which of these two options appears more magical? A show in which the past and future are fixed and knowable events that can be casually looked up on a time scanner, or a show in which the very nature of the universe is continually in flux because of a race governed by memory and imagination is continually trying to maintain the moral force of history even as they descend into material squabbles?
If magic is to be considered valuable, it is valuable only as the bridge between the realm of ideas and the material realm. That is what the revelation at the center of The Brain of Morbius is about. The claim that alchemy is solved by material social progress is not an abandonment of magic, but a confirmation of what magic is and always has been. Magic is not an empty intellectual exercise – the mere understanding of an already determined universe – but an engagement with it.
This brings us around to one of the most incongruous moments of the story, in which the Doctor refers to Borusa’s coverup as his proof that “only in mathematics will we find truth.” Here again, in the name of the fealty to the material past of the series that fandom so ignores in order to fetishize, we ought acknowledge our antecedents. We have, after all, already been told that the TARDIS is a Platonic device. Likewise, the claim that mathematics is an absolute form of truth derives from Plato.
Mathematics, in this view, is distinct even from science. After all, mathematics is not based on falsifiability but on proof. The claim that 2+2=4 is not an empirical claim, but one of absolute truth. Indeed, the truth of mathematics transcends reality itself. The combination of atoms into molecules and reality is less precise than geometry itself. No mathematically true right angle exists anywhere in the world, and yet we understand the properties of a right angle. Mathematics is the realm in which we manipulate Platonic forms – the truest realm of all.
Given the spirit of this claim – and it seems unmistakably what the script is gesturing at – the Doctor’s claim that Borusa’s coverup proves this statement must be understood as a claim that the messy political reality that Borusa’s coverup represents is as much an ordering principle of the universe as mathematics itself. It is worth repeating this claim, lest its sheer radicalness be obscured by the fact that it occurs over 11,000 words into a grotesquely long blog entry: human nature is as fundamental a property of the universe as mathematics.
This is, of course, a corollary of the nature of alchemy. But that does not make it any less radical, simply because it appears in a story in which we see the breadth of human nature. Human nature, after all, has always been a part of history in the sense that the Time Lords seem to represent. Human nature extends from our limitations – the fact that we are mortal, and that we are bound by the surface tension of the present, able to access eternity only through memory and imagination. And so of course, if the Time Lords are to be understood as embodying time as experienced they are also testaments to the fact that human nature exists and orders the universe.
We see here, then, the show’s understanding of materialism. Because in crafting a dreamscape of the Kennedy assassination defined by its fealty to the squabbling pettiness of human nature the show has engaged in the real world in a manner far more material than it did just last story by faffing with a nuclear reactor. This is far more real and material than anything the show has ever done while earthbound. And this is the show’s great radicalism – its stunning rejoinder to the “hard SF” crowd – that the realm of stories and ideas is every bit as material as the realm of physical things, and that engagement with memory and imagination is as real – perhaps even moreso – than engagement with technology and contemporary culture.
There is a messiness to this, although the mess seems to me problematic only if you are the sort of person who wants Doctor Who to be more like Star Trek, or who is prima facie opposed to the idea of granting memory and imagination power over the empirical. It is, after all, the same messiness that underlies the problem of conspiracy theories. In a rudderless world governed by a mad spectacle of contradictions, where the false is the moment of the true, what defense is there beyond a messy account of the world?
The conventional wisdom would have that there are two phases of Time Lords in the classic series – one that begins in The War Games, and another that begins here. We have already seen that the disjunct between these phases is not as stark as one might expect. But in truth it is more than that. This is the story in which the challenge offered up by The War Games – a challenge that was itself offered up by the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s – by the flower children and Marxists and radicals of the world. There, I said:
But in another sense, this is the real endpoint of the 1960s. The revolution failed. However much we may have liked it – and for my part, I loved it, especially in the Doctor Who sense in which the psychedelic revolution is literally embodied in Patrick Troughton’s Doctor – it failed. It’s time to break up the band. It’s time to face the reality that the bad guys aren’t external monsters, but the people who want to send riot police to crush the sex deviants planting flowers. It’s time, in other words, to face reality. This is the message every sane and useful mystic in the world will tell you. It’s all well and good to journey among the interiors of the mind and at the furthest fringes of consciousness and reality. It’s all well and good to face gods and demons and encounter the fundamental truth of the universe. But the real test is what you can bring back from those mystical realms to reality. The real test is how you can live as a mystic in the real world.
Here we finally see the Doctor understanding how. Baker retains the mercurial dazzle of Troughton, peering out at the viewer, whether from screen or video box. This is once again a Doctor who trades in anarchy – who brings the Time Lords’ world crashing down around their head just by his presence. Who runs for President to get off on a murder charge, then kills his opponent in a nightmarish dreamscape created by his arch-nemesis. Who grins and swaggers and charms his way around, and respects no authority. Who is animated by nothing so much as a giddy sense of joy at the universe (whereas his arch-nemesis proudly proclaims his sense of hatred). From day one, that was what we said of Baker. He is a creature of pure charm.
And now he returns to face his jailers. In a perfect detail, Goth is even played by Bernard Horsfall, here in his fourth and final appearance. (He is, it seems, a favorite of David Maloney’s, and rightly so.) Now he returns to show them that he has learned to use his anarchy. That he has realized the world of stories and the world of men are one and the same. Now his jesting becomes détournement. His wanderings through space and time are derivés. Now he mocks his way through history, aware of all its foibles and how they drive the engines of the world.
If this story is to be a gravestone for Doctor Who, then so be it. I do not say this because it is the best story, although I’ve no argument with any who say it is. No. Let it be a gravestone for Doctor Who for one reason alone. Because if we do center Doctor Who here, if we do let this be the rock of our canon and our fandom, then it does serve as a tombstone in one regard. It does mark where the magic of Doctor Who has gone.
It’s gone into the world itself.
November 9, 2011 @ 12:50 am
This is the best story. Well, this and Fenric, maybe. And this entry is a great entry. I love the insight that TARDISes are rare and the link to Faust — and you'd think there'd be more Faust in Doctor Who, given the alleged point of Planet of the Spiders; maybe the problem is that the Doctor is essentially incorruptible, despite the alleged point of Planet of the Spiders. And I love your reading where there's no contradiction between the Deadly Assassin and what went before. I'd add a couple of things, one more fanwanky than the other.
First — this is clearly a jab at the House of Lords, as you say, and that means that part of the inspiration is Bagehot's The English Constitution and its distinction between the dignified and the efficient parts of government. Up till now in Time Lord stories we've only seen the efficient side of the Time Lords. Here we're seeing the dignified side. There's no particular reason why one side's characteristics reflect the others: the ceremonies could sit in Gormenghastian isolation in a surprisingly-small Panopticon while the rest of Time Lord society, outside the Citadel, gets on with things. (This isn't the impression that later Time Lord stories give, of course, but it's consistent with the show to now). Of course, one of the points of The Deadly Assassin is that the dignified side of the Time Lords isn't all that dignified, so there's a clear implication about the efficient side too.
The fanwanky point: I continue to believe that something horrible happened before An Unearthly Child that killed Susan's parents, left Susan dangerously unstable, aged the Doctor terribly, and unhinged the Doctor's relationship to his own timeline. It could be something technological, like the Doctor flipping the wrong switch; it could be something magical, like an observation of history so intense that the Doctor's form couldn't contain it; it could be something in between, an experiment with Forces That Were Not Meant To Be Tampered With. All of Hartnell is his attempt to run from this. Troughton lets a long time go by before claiming he's the Doctor because the regeneration was in part this hole in the timeline swallowing up Hartnell, and Troughton genuinely doesn't know yet whether he's the Doctor or not. He continues running from the Time Lords because he knows that what he's done is irreversible and the consequences will be terrible. When he meets the War Chief in the War Games, he knows it's safe to call the Time Lords because the War Chief doesn't remember what the Doctor did — the hole in time the Doctor caused has now eaten up the actual memories of his crime, and all the Time Lords remember is that they want him for something, but they can't remember the specifics and just end up putting him on trial for the relatively weak beer of "getting involved" in some sense. But it's this hole in time that the Doctor brings with him that makes him able to meet himself in the Three Doctors, and this hole that the Philip Hinchcliffe Doctor and the Graeme Harper Doctor and the Jeremy Thorpe Doctor peer through in The Brain of Morbius.
The point of all this is that the transition from Three Doctors to the Deadly Assassin can be looked on as the result of changing the power supply. Or it can be looked on as what happened to Gallifrey as a result of bringing together three copies of the Doctor's hole in time; the result broke Gallifrey. Or, even more fundamentally, it's Gallifrey's punishment for breaking the First Law of Time, and the exact mechanism is unimportant: the Three Doctors is the original sin, and what we see in the Deadly Assassin is the aftermath of the Fall.
November 9, 2011 @ 1:01 am
My throwaway Jeremy Thorpe gag above reminds me that when this story was being written, the shooting of Norman Scott's dog Rinka was the other political assassination that was on everyone's mind, and looking on The Deadly Assassin as a mashup of The Manchurian Candidate and the Jeremy Thorpe case makes it make a lot more sense than looking on it as The Manchurian Candidate alone.
And I know this isn't a review blog, but it's worth saying that this is the start of a run of four stories that are better-made than anything until Earthshock, and better-written than anything until Ghost Light. The perfectly pitched use of the word "heliotrope" is a great indicator of how high Holmes had raised his game at this point: how solid this world is in his head that he can mock it from within, in character, without undermining it at all. I've never understood people who, even if they don't like the picture of Gallifrey in the story, aren't lifted up by the cheaper but rich pleasures of the dialogue and the direction. Holmes and Maloney finally together!
November 9, 2011 @ 1:31 am
Seems churlish to pick up on one minor point in the middle, but what the Hell? I like being churlish. You've confused 'canon' and 'continuity' again.
November 9, 2011 @ 2:43 am
Absolutely fascinating, and probably the biggest insight so far into the towering edifice you make of your great philosophical reconceptualisation of the whole of Doctor Who. As usual, I think some of it’s brilliant, some of it’s flawed, and some… not to my taste 😉 I won’t go into a great screed today, but in this particular case my overlap or opposition to your ideas may come down to you thinking it’s about magic, my thinking it’s about religion and politics (as I’ve said in a surprisingly shorter article), and my then thinking we probably meet on deconstructionism. I agree with William Whyte, though, that it’s the best Doctor Who story of them all, still the series’ most radical and creative vision, both conceptually and visually. I particularly like your idea of the Master as the assassin of Doctor Who – I’ve often seen him as the director of the story – controlling its beginning and ending with that amazing coincidence of November 22nd / 23rd (I’m sure Holmes had no idea of the serendipity when Hinchcliffe came up with the idea of doing a conspiracy thriller, but it works brilliantly in the context you summon for it).
It’s entertaining that I agree neither with Jan’s famous article nor with your fisking; I got to know him many years later and had several enjoyable debates with him about it, which I wish I’d turned into a complete article – I’ve had bits of one knocking around for years with the argument, ‘The Time Lords Are Gits, And Always Have Been’. Though you seem to raise it as an absurd corollary, ever since I first saw it twenty or so years ago I’ve been saying that the Time Lords are indeed the ultimate villains of The War Games (for me, the clincher is that the story is bookended by grossly unfair trials that ignore the Doctor’s defence and sentence him to death – the obvious parallel can hardly be there to tell us that the Time Lords are the nice guys). I think, incidentally, that Jan got his version (to note the impossibility of ‘canon’) of the “Mark One” from the novel of Terror of the Autons, in which Terrance Dicks does indeed make it about the TARDISes themselves as a character point, so that the Doctor in effect sides with the ‘vintage roadster’ against the ‘flashy new model’.
As I said, most of all you’ve published today is a fascinating illustration of your ambitious worldview, but there’s one point at which, not to pull out too many of your bricks, I think you’ve let your desire to fit everything neatly into your overview warp your reading of the text. When you say “it seems unmistakably what the script is gesturing at,” I’d (mathematically) argue that you’re almost a perfect one hundred and eighty degrees out. Surely the point the Doctor remembers Borusa making with “Only in mathematics will you find truth” is not that everything human (sic) nature is as true as pure mathematics, but that every bit of it is as impure as anything else. In remembering this lecture, the Doctor is telling us how Borusa can justify his “truth”: the point is not that Borusa’s spin-doctoring of reality is as true as mathematics, but that because nothing in real life is absolutely true, altering any of it is therefore no more false than leaving it as you found it. It’s cynical, not epistemological.
November 9, 2011 @ 3:52 am
As Alex says, it's cynical, not epistemological.
This is a serial that's actively hostile to the very idea of mythologizing and to reverence for ideas. Robert Holmes sets himself up here as the explicit anti-Philip. In passing he also denies the existence of the soul.
It's not just that the Time Lords are old men with bad hips and bumbling cops…And hilarious chalk outlines…I first saw this story roughly 25 years ago on PBS and that still cracks me up…
Consider the Matrix. Firstly, we have the rather strong philosophical claim that the mind is nothing but electrochemical impulses that can be stored in a computer at all, but that's not the important part. No, the important part is the dreamscape. We've seen Doctor Who episodes before where thoughts become reality. But look how incredibly differently that same trick is treated here! In The Mind Robber, we fall right out of our reality into a realm where fiction is real–all our conventional notions of ontology are thrown right out the window. In The Three Doctors, Omega can manifest physical objects in his world through pure thought–again, we are in a whole new universe which explicitly defies our conventional notions of physics and reality. These are both extremely metaphysical stories in which things and ideas actually become the same. But in The Deadly Assassin, we get huge wodges of exposition establishing and reinforcing the idea that everything that takes place in the Matrix is just an illusion! The Matrix is probably the hardest SF idea the show has used to this point, maybe ever. Ideas aren't allowed to slop out into the external world at all–ideas can only become real inside the confines of the reality of the mind. The world of the imagination is contained inside the physical one, and can't get out. Thoughts can't change the material world directly, but only by changing other peoples' thoughts.
The collision of conceptual and physical reality here is explicitly made compatible with a completely demystified Big-Ass Science view of the world, because Robert Holmes frigging loves hard SF and grubby physicality and revels in tearing down Big Ideas and has no respect for abstractions.
The whole story is a gleeful exercise in dynamiting the whole concept of mythologization. If that's even a word.
Take regeneration: not just the 13 limit, but how the Time Lords treat it. Runcible asks the Doctor if he's had a "face lift"! In Planet of the Spiders, regeneration was a profound metaphysical rebirth and an ascent to a higher plane of consciousness…and now it's cosmetic surgery.
Take Rassilon: although he's set up as having the same kind of legendary status Omega was, that legend is torpedoed immediately after it's established. The Book of the Old Time is revealed as obscurantist gibberish the Doctor sees through in a New York minute, and we're told that for all his mythical stature now, in his own time Rassilon was remembered as an architect and an engineer…An engineer! Not even a scientist.
All the legendary symbols of Time Lord power turn out to be components in a big hard SF machine (ooh er, nurse!).
The inmates are running the asylum. The guardians of history are themselves subject to it. Nobody's in charge of this universe. A personal vendetta–and that's what the Doctor/Master conflict is: it's no battle of ideologies–comes this close to toppling the godlike civilization at the center of time. The greatest crisis in the Time Lords' long history isn't Omega the God, but an insanely petty and vindictive man nursing a grudge.
November 9, 2011 @ 4:32 am
I am puzzled as to why epistemology and cynicism would be treated as being in opposition. I agree it's cynical. Of course it's cynical. It's a Robert Holmes story. But reducing Robert Holmes to a bad mood and some witty dialogue seems awfully hard on the man.
November 9, 2011 @ 4:54 am
Alex — surely Jan VR's point was not to complain about the Time Lords being gits, but about them being rubbish?
November 9, 2011 @ 5:10 am
On conspiracy theories: one thing about the Deadly Assassin is that, although it's done in the paranoid style, in practice it isn't a conspiracy theory, it's a whodunnit. There isn't a deep-running, organized corruption at the top of Time Lord society; there's a single ambitious bad apple. To this extent it's exactly the opposite of The Manchurian Candidate or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which want to leave you trusting neither the authorities nor your neighbours. The Deadly Assassin, transgressive though it is, ends with the story neatly tied up and no remaining reason to think things aren't exactly as they seem.
November 9, 2011 @ 5:22 am
William – sorry, that's the trouble with making a glancing reference to something I really out to dig out, polish off and publish, but here's the very short concept behind it. You're right that Jan saw these Time Lords as not proper Time Lords because he saw the originals as godlike beings whose ways we couldn't understand and these as just "human"; my counter-argument with him was that I understood them all too well, as bullies wielding arbitrary power – or, to put it simply, gits. But that's to do with my debate with Jan, not directly his critique of the programme (my rebuttal being more complex than 'Oh no they're not').
November 9, 2011 @ 6:00 am
William: It's a fascinating piece of paranoid storytelling because it begins as The Manchurian Candidate but takes a detour into The Matrix. An interesting combination.
November 9, 2011 @ 6:12 am
Right — I agree that it's paranoid, but it's not really in the conspiracy genre. It just pretends to be.
November 9, 2011 @ 6:13 am
To be fair, I also am not really in the conspiracy genre.
November 9, 2011 @ 8:01 am
tl; dr. lol, jk!
Anyway, sir, you've outdone yourself again. And I still can't help but start to think about how all of this plays out throughout the rest of the show to date, and confirms my belief that classic and nuWho are much more two sides of a finely-woven garment than some like to admit.
I also learn a lot from well-reasoned contrary comments, so kudos to all of you as well. I'm not able to chime in here often, but this is quickly becoming just about my favorite place on the whole cyber-tube superhighway.
November 9, 2011 @ 8:01 am
On the specific point of the guards – the story is pretty clear that they have a definite non-ceremonial function as police. The Castellan is always "running the sheboogans in" for vandalism and normally, according to Engin, deals with a less elevated sector of society than Time Lords.
More generally, the odd thing about objecting to The Deadly Assassin as changing everything is that its Time Lords are closer to those of The War Games than those of the intervening stories in every respect except that they're no longer godlike figures of great power and knowledge.
Which may seem a little like "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" But what The Deadly Assassin shares with The War Games is the claim that the Doctor was right to reject this society as static and unwilling to act, which is central to the character in a way that what the Time Lords are exactly like is not. And the show is about the Doctor, not the Time Lords.
When my teenage self in the '80s first saw The Deadly Assassin on Super Channel (a lost bit of DW history, as far as I can tell, but it made me a devoted follower of the show for life) I reacted badly to the bit where the Doctor claims that Time Lord technology is antiquated garbage. The fact that I found it uncomfortable is, I think, a sign that The Deadly Assassin is doing something absolutely right.
November 9, 2011 @ 11:11 am
I was wondering how Philip got through the entire review without referencing the Manchurian Candidate, especially when we just had Holmes plundering Shelley with Morbius.
Far more interesting here is the concept that the Time Lords do subject themeselves to being part of history, i.e. allowing themselves to actually HAVE history and be subject to it as opposed to sitting outside of history and, as a result, being completely static. Given that they rely on cultural memory and a matrix that is a collective unconscious, the casual rewriting of history for political expediency is not something that pisses off the Doctor. Its something that, by now, he expects. WE expected the Time Lords of the War Games with their best suits on, what he expects is exactly what he fled from: a society that has fundamentally disappointed him and that he escaped from.
While you delved into violence before on the program, perhaps we should phrase it as Philip making actions really count more than antying, whether it is a violent action or not. When Hartnell ran around saying, "we can't change history! Not one inch!" He was keeping in the tradition of the Time Lords as grammer police, not as a writer. By the time that the Time Lords are sending 4 back to change the Dalek history, they have already decided that the Doctor is a writer of history, and as such has the power to change and do things. When Baker's Doctor is shot, or hands the gun to Solon to commit suicide, they are deeper actions; deaths that have real meaning, violence that actually hurts, changing lives and timelines in both the matter and anti-matter universe. This is the Doctor that made a point of showing us that he's a writer of history: he shows Sarah the future that could be, the one that could exist if they don't act. Only a writer could make up a future, white it out, and then go back to rewrite the chapter. If hartnell's actions assured history, the Time Lord now acknowledge that the Doctor DECIDES history, and his renegade status outside of the Time Lord politic becomes both troublesome and assured. Love him or hate him, McCoy is firmly in line with that bit of thinking.
November 9, 2011 @ 11:15 am
inkdestroyedmybrush – you wanted MORE words? 🙂
(Mainly, I didn't have time to rematch The Manchurian Candidate, and given that it's one of the best movies I've ever seen I really didn't want to flounder about on the basis of one viewing from over five years ago. And really, convincing myself not to add another few hundred words was not hard by the end of this.)
November 9, 2011 @ 1:14 pm
The most piddling of details: the TARDIS has a time scanner, so they do exist! It was used at the end of The Moonbase to enable the Doctor and co. to discover that a holiday camp is being menaced by a giant claw, something they appear to forget once The Macra Terror itself gets going. And the time scanner was never used again. I feel sad for remembering that but I've always had an odd fascination with random bits of the TARDIS that get introduced and never used again, like the thought television thing the Doctor uses to cue in a repeat of Evil of the Daleks, and the Terry Nation IKEA furniture of reasonable comfort. God knows why Rudzki would harp on about it, though.
November 9, 2011 @ 2:06 pm
McCoy's not only firmly in that intellectual tradition, I would argue he's the logical conclusion to it. I smiled when I read the bit about Rassilon and Omega because now I know Phil is going to link this with "Evil of the Daleks", "The Mind Robber", "Brain of Morbius" and the Cartmel Masterplan and when that happens that entry is going to be glorious.
Not that this one wasn't: As expected, this is another masterwork for this blog. I definitely agree with the concept that "The Deadly Assassin"'s primary triumph is making the Time Lords mutable and subject to history, and it follows predictably on from stories like "Genesis of the Daleks" and "Revenge of the Cybermen". However, I am intrigued by Dr. Happypants' argument and would like to see a little more of it, though I feel it's perhaps more appropriate to view "Destiny of the Daleks" that way rather than this story. However, I seem to be in the minority again on that one so I'm anxious to see it covered here.
One thing I was sort of hoping to see covered here but Phil didn't seem to touch on was how the character of The Master changed from the Pertwee era to here, though the analysis he did give us was certainly more than exhaustive and heartily appreciated.
The 13 regenerations thing has always sort of fascinated me too: Russel T. Davies talks about how bemused he is that certain throwaway lines are given more weight in the fandom than others. He also likens it to The Doctor's age, where so many people latch on to the idea that he must be 900-something years old, despite Pertwee's claim on more than one occasion that he'd been a scientist for thousands of years. I totally agree with him here and also submit the Morbius faces and the recurring implication in both the Troughton and McCoy stories that The Doctor is quite literally older than time itself as examples of this rather baffling focus so many fans have on minor lines and details.
I've sort of been toying around with a theory of late to reconcile things like this, along with trends I see in one of my many other lives as a freelance video game journalist: I think a lot of it comes down to the nature of serialized storytelling itself, wherein the unique quirks of the medium are intertwined somewhat with a kind of capitalist hegemony. In short, the serial can be seen very much as a type of story-as-commodity, wherein fansXconsumers seem obsessed with "what happens next", i.e., consuming more of the storyXproduct, and creatorsXproducers know what to sell and who to sell it to. Doctor Who is notably great at fundamentally rejecting and deconstructing this and always has been, but that doesn't mean its fandom doesn't fall into the trap itself.
That's where endless debates over canon come from: The stereotypical fans, like the Time Lords, are focused on upholding the sanctity of the linear progression of the story. That's why fan reviews so often tend to read like consumer reports, because that's exactly what they are: Sullying the canon means sullying the product, and consumers react badly to that.
Now granted this doesn't explain why this story of all stories is given more credence than anything else, though its status as a spectacular retcon is probably at least part of the reason why. However, I do think I could explain a lot of fandom and fixation on canon along these lines, or similar ones.
November 9, 2011 @ 2:41 pm
Speaking of McCoy and only because it was brought up in the context of this entry via Phil's aversion to watching Doctor Who in a feature-length format, I'm anxious to hear his thoughts on the feature-length cuts and re-edits to the McCoy-era serials. A lot of fans, and crew members for that matter, feel them to be the definitive versions because so much material was excised and left on the cutting-room floor during the original run, including material that would have fleshed out important details and made the story flow better.
Also, I probably missed it but a whole section on the Panopticon and not even a name-check for Michel Foucault? I'm in totally anal STS academic nerd mode here, but come now 😉
November 9, 2011 @ 2:43 pm
@ WGPJosh – Yes, McCoy is the end product of this line of thinking… but i don't think that they pulled it off. The closest we get to that particular fanwank is Silver nemesis and god is that dreadful. I guess the problem is writing on the nose, rather than writing around it. The Cartmel "masterplan" was exactly what i wanted as a fan… and that makes me even more suspicious that it isn't where they should have gone.
Rather than a heavy handed "lets make the Doctor tell people he's not just a time lord", it would have been far more impressive to have it been more subtle in shows like Ghost Light. We were so bonked over the head with it in Nemesis.
(McCoy's best moment in the series is the tea scene in the diner in Remembrance, and its the same question that Baker is asking outside the Dalek birthing room.)
As far as fandom picking up on certain lines: The point that i made about actions having consequences, doesn't being immortal make things rather boring? Having a cliffhanger with the TV show lead in a deathly situation is silly, we know that they're not going to get killed. Well, in the Doctor's case, yes, he has been killed. And having a regeneration limit means that him losing lives gives greater weight to the consequences of regenerating. If you just keep on regenerating ad nauseum then who cares of the cyberman shoots you?
I do love that RTD and Moffat put in lines to deliberately screw with the fans…. They must have stock in internet companies.
November 9, 2011 @ 2:50 pm
I haven't decided on the extended cuts yet beyond wishing they were episodic as well. I don't even recall which ones were extended. I know I've seen extended cuts of Silver Nemesis, Curse of Fenric, and Remembrance. Two of those three (the two you'd expect) are my absolute favorite classic-era stories and I've watched them so many times that it barely matters which version I pick. I could practically write those two entries right now if I wanted to.
And Foucault is in there. Look again. 🙂
November 9, 2011 @ 3:53 pm
In fairness, though, the upper-limit-on-regeneration thing isn't just a throwaway line in "The Deadly Assassin"; it's also a crucial plot point in "The Five Doctors," "The Twin Dilemma," and the TV-movie.
On the other hand, of course, those examples also make clear that the upper limit can be extended.
November 9, 2011 @ 4:28 pm
I'm fascinated by your idea of The Deadly Assassin taking place long after The Three Doctors and depicting the ramifications of the latter story, rather than just showing us how the Time Lords have always been. I've never thought about it this way.
Do you think Goth is the same Time Lord as the one Bernard Horsfell played in The War Games? I like to think so, given that Clyde Pollitt also played a member of the Doctor's tribunal and later played a Chancellor in The Three Doctors. I wonder how well this works with your idea of significant time having passed (but I guess it could still have passed for the Doctor as well).
I love your comment regarding the Doctor becoming a character in a TV show created by the Master. I've never heard it put so well, but that's exactly what happens. He finds himself in a story where the usual Doctor Who tricks don't work and has to scramble just to barely stay alive in this hostile narrative.
November 9, 2011 @ 4:44 pm
This is what I really love about this blog, by the way. I first saw The Deadly Assassin about 27 or 28 years ago, and you've given me a completely new way to look at what it is showing us about the Time Lords and their history.
I will say, though, that this idea of Rassilon being a relatively new figure (contemporary with the Third Doctor) does not square well with the history described in later serials like The Five Doctors or Remembrance of the Daleks. A path not taken, I suppose.
November 9, 2011 @ 4:46 pm
Do we really have to wait the best part of a year for the full-on, glorious Academic-Reasons-Why-We-Love-Sylvester-McCoy-Fest? It's agony. It's like waiting for Christmas!
November 9, 2011 @ 5:25 pm
Heck with Foucault — why didn't you ever mention Asimov's The End of Eternity? His neurotic, bureaucratic, squabbling Eternals are pretty much exactly what you've described the Time Lords as being!
November 9, 2011 @ 9:40 pm
While we're on the subject of alchemical assassinations, I can't resist posting this nugget about how the deaths attributed to Tutankhamun's curse were actually murders committed by Aleister Crowley! 'Cause if you can't trust the Daily Mail, who can you trust?
November 10, 2011 @ 12:13 am
Is this entry also setting a record for number of words written in response?
I think the McCoy-era cliffhangerless re-edits are a very different kettle of fish, in that by that era, post-VHS, the stories were being pretty much written for rewatching. No longer were writers writing 'to the cliffhanger', in the soap opera tradition and as Doctor Who had done for most of its history, but they were writing a single story that just happened to have cliffhangers every twenty-five minutes. The better stories integrated these cliffhangers well; the worse ones simply stopped the story so the Doctor could dangle himself off a ledge for no reason and then climb back up next week.
The Curse of Fenric, in particular — I understand that if the re-edit of that had been episodic, keeping the original cliffhangers, the episodes would have been wildly differing lengths. In those circumstances it seems like the free-flowing version is closer to the original intent of the story (and the greatest cliffhangers of that story still work in the movie version, because they aren't just solved in a continuation of the same scene: when Judson stands up and says, 'We play the game again, Time Lord' and the scene changes, that still works as a cliffhanger even without the theme music pounding in. There's a connection here with Moffat's dislike of resolving cliffhangers straight away, finding it a bit boring and artificial — 'What, you mean they were standing there the whole week just to say , "Go to your room"? — and preferring to find another way into the story.
(A well-done cliffhanger raises the stakes of the story: if it's then immediately resolved, not only are the stakes deflated back to where they were before, but the momentum of the whole thing is drained. Moving scenes, leaving the cliffhanger hanging, allows the story to keep operating on the raised level.)
Executive summary: a movie-style recutting of a story which was conceived and designed as a movie that just happened to be split inconveniently into four twenty-five parts because that was how Doctor Who had always been scheduled except when it wasn't, is a very different thing from a movie-style recutting of a story which was conceived as an episodic serial first and foremost. And the distinction is the availability of home video and the assumption that episodes will be rewatched.
November 10, 2011 @ 12:14 am
Is this entry also setting a record for number of words written in response?
I think this entry + comments are now longer than the novelization of Image of the Fendahl.
November 10, 2011 @ 12:27 am
Now, why does fandom latch on some throwaway lines but not others? Well, that's a huge topic.
Of course the reason we now have the thirteen-lives thing 'established' is that it's been referred to so many times. It's an important point in the plot of Mawdryn Undead, for example, before we even get to The Trial of a Time Lord (PS how many entries is that?).
But that just shifts the problem: why did this line get referred to, when others didn't? In this particular case I think there is a good reason and it's one Lawrence Miles recognised when he wrote Alien Bodies: because the idea that some day, in the far future, the Doctor will die, resonates.
Paradoxically, infinity seems small. It's actually quite an easy concept to grasp. Harder to work out the implications of, of course: but still, intuitively, if you have infinite visas of time or space, they kind of all collapse down to one concept: 'Oh, it's infinite'.
Think how much older the universe seems now we know that it had a beginning, than the steady-state theory made it seem. If it's been around forever, then in a kind of way it's just.. there, in an eternal present. but if it had a beginning, then suddenly all those billion of years since the beginning all land on us at once and it's breathtaking (at a talk at the Institute of Astronomy, the moment that really hit me was when I asked if — just as there are generations of stars — there had been 'generations' of galaxies. The answer turned out to be no: as far as we know, we are living in the first generation of galaxies. And that made the universe seem far bigger than if there had been an cycle of galaxies forming and reforming: because like infinity, a cycle collapses down to two repetitions, 'now' and 'before' (Beckett spotted that) and so seems small. Even a cycle of billions of years.
So giving the Doctor an end-point makes, I think, him seem a bigger figure: not just a stuck-in-the-present and therefore small-because-steady-state flat caricature, but an actual archetype.
(As for the age thing, I think Davies has got that wrong: before the new series, there was no consensus about the Doctor's age. I remember sidebars about it in A History of the Universe. It may have stuck in his mind that the Doctor was nine-hundred and something, but fans knew that the given figure had varied wildly (and the more anal ones explained it by the Doctor's vanity). It's only when Davies decreed that from now on the new series would be consistent — the Doctor would start at nine hundred and blah and age one year per series — that the 'nine hundred' figure became accepted (and then mostly among new-series fans who know no better). I personally think that Davies should have continued with the tradition of the Doctor giving wildly different ages, perhaps with the companion occasionally pulling him up on it, and him giving a different excuse each time.)
(But then I also hate the way the new series always uses the same regeneration effect. It's supposed to be different each time, damn it!)
November 10, 2011 @ 12:50 am
If you just keep on regenerating ad nauseum then who cares of the cyberman shoots you?
This is why it's quite important to remind the audience that dead Time Lords don't regenerate.
November 10, 2011 @ 1:00 am
By the time that the Time Lords are sending 4 back to change the Dalek history
NO. NO NO NO NO NO.
They are not characters called '4' or 'Four' or 'Five' or 'Ten' or WHATEVER.
The Time Lords are sending the fourth Doctor (or if you're short of space, the 4th Dr) back to change Dalek history.
DO NOT let me catch you using numbers as 'names' for the Doctors again. Just DO NOT.
November 10, 2011 @ 1:05 am
Oh, hang, on, I misremembered, didn't I? It doesn't cut after Fenric possesses Judson, he teleports away. Damn, example gone. Is it the previous one (the Ultima machine running out of control once they've programmed it with the inscription) that cuts?
November 10, 2011 @ 1:48 am
Everyone's missed the point of this story. It is, of course, a commentary on Chinese politics, which is very apposite given the recent death of Mao Zhedong. I mean, why else would it have an organisation called the Celestial Intervention Agency? I can't believe people miss this while still noticing the ties with Sax Rohmer's film, The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchurian Candidate!
Seroiusly, though, one of the things I don't like about entries like this is that the sheer volume of ideas mean that by the time I've assimilated them enough to comment, the time for comment has passed!
Good work, Mr. Sandifer, and thanks to the folks who do manage to come up with insightful, timely commentary…
November 10, 2011 @ 3:54 am
And I thought it was a preemptive challenge to Mary Whitehouse who, sallying forth from her Castle of the Maidens to stop everything ever from changing, is the true villain of this multimedia piece.
The Doctor, unlike most Time Lords, has given himself the freedom to imagine the reality of violence and its consequences. That freedom of thought gives him the insight necessary to save his own life inside and outside the Matrix.
But saving Time Lord society demands more than one man's creativity. It also demands an imaginative reinterpretation of society's traditions.
Rassilon was an engineer and an architect – he designed and built Time Lord civilisation. Here, the Doctor acts as Rassilon's foreman. He reinterprets ancient ceremonial for modern times, turning it into the weapon that is necessary to defeat the Master and Goth.
Of course, back on Earth, Mary Whitehouse isn't finally defeated until Ghost Light.
November 10, 2011 @ 5:56 am
William: There are other conspiracy stories that end with the bad apples removed and the proper order restored. Relatively recent examples range from All the President's Men to the Bourne trilogy. (Part of the problem here is that "conspiracy" isn't really a genre in itself: There are several different sorts of conspiracy stories, and they all influence each other.)
elvwood: You only think you're kidding…
November 10, 2011 @ 7:54 am
President Fu Manchu? Well, we've done worse ….
November 10, 2011 @ 9:16 am
@ SK – OK, you caught me in that i had gotten tired of typing "Tom" and "Baker" so i went for the abbreviation. I don't really like it either.
The only reason to discuss the character in terms of the fourth Doctor or fifth Doctor is really to discuss the changes that came about because: a) the lead actor/director/producer changes or b) the character has evolved. It may be rather fanwanky to think so, but i'd like to see the Doctor, not the fourth or fifth, but the Doctor, as an evolving character, a single time lord that we're following through these adventures.
And yes, it is wounded time lords that regenerate, not dead ones. Wasn't that Dalek that shot David Tennant literally the first one in the history of the show to mortally wound someone, as opposed to just exterminating them? Anyone up the researching that?
November 10, 2011 @ 1:06 pm
Jesse — so I probably talked past the point I meant to make because I got excited about some other point. The point I meant to make is that The Deadly Assassin isn't a conspiracy movie because there isn't a conspiracy. There's just the Master and Goth. Proper conspiracy movies have an actual gang.
November 11, 2011 @ 1:19 am
Machiavelli argues that the most effective conspiracies involve only two people. (Discourses, Book 3, Chapter 6)
November 11, 2011 @ 6:30 am
The most effective conspiracy of all would involve NO people ….
The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
November 12, 2011 @ 8:46 am
Wow, alright, that was brilliant. Alas, I'm a Classics student, so anything might weigh-in with would be fundamentally out of sync with the level of erudition being displayed here in regards to the topic at hand. Pity, I'd like to seem smarter on this topic.
November 12, 2011 @ 1:49 pm
I haven't anything weighty to add, and feel rather unworthy to add much to all this erudition on display, but I just have to say that this post is amazing, even by the dizzyingly high standards of this blog.
David P. Cole
November 13, 2011 @ 6:38 am
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 12, 2012 @ 11:51 am
"a DAPOL action figure of K-9 – the inexplicable green one"
Perhaps just as strange was the 5-sided control panel. On the other hand, the central column DID go up and down at just about the exact speed as the real thing on TV, and with a rather similar sound. A jewel of my toy collection. I don't think they ever sold enough sets to go back and run off a "corrrected" 6-sided version. Pity.
"watching it this time, I noticed for the first time the chalk outline of the Time Lord President, complete with the tracing of the elaborate Time Lord robes, and I burst out laughing"
Ditto– 2 days ago. (Must have seen this 10 times at least by now. Don't know how I missed that before.)
"The entire thing is a Kennedy Assassination joke – hence the infamous mention of the CIA. The Doctor is the framed Lee Harvey Oswald, left to frantically search for the shooter on the grassy knoll. The giveaway clue, of course, is that the Time Lords, otherwise modeled off of British aristocratic institutions, have a President as their head of state in the first place."
"This is a story that can, at least for a moment, be located at the absolute center of Doctor Who. In the Panopticon, if you will."
Coming in at the middle of Season 14– out of 26– puts it ALMOST in the center. More telling, for me, has always been that the last episode of THE PRISONER that was filmed, on PBS, was run DEAD CENTER– "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", which starred Nigel Stock (Dr. Watson of the 60's SHERLOCK HOLMES series– both of them– and the guest-star in "Time-Flight") as Number Six, thanks to a brain-transfer plot (of a kind already seen on THE OUTER LIMITS, THE AVENGERS, and eventually, STAR TREK). Almost exactly halfway thru that episode, Number Six gets to KISS a woman– something Patrick McGoohan never did on the show– of course, it's his fiancee. Also, the episode ANSWERS, in pictures, WITHOUT words, what Number Six answered, with WORDS, but NO CONTEXT, in "ONCE UPON A TIME". "Why did you resign?" You have to see both stories to understand the implication of the answer. I find it clever that the answer to the "mystery" could be found EXACTLY in the center of the 17-episode run. (Mind, the question and the answer are less important than they seem, more a "McGuffin" to drive the stories, as well as a way for "The Village" to break down his resistence to answering ANY questions.)
Henry R. Kujawa
April 12, 2012 @ 12:07 pm
"we are, with the Doctor, dealing with someone who broke the first law of time"
The Doctor didn't do this. THE TIME LORDS did this! It clearly wasn't his idea.
"Remember how in Brain of Morbius, Morbius shows us what give every appearance of being pre-Hartnell Doctors?"
BS. There were TWO Time Lords engaged in that mind-battle. And "THE THREE DOCTORS" already told us, in the dialogue, that Hartnell was the "earliest" Doctor. (Always preferable to go with the simplest explanantion.)
"Surely Goth's noting that the Master offered him knowledge must be taken in that vein."
Are you SURE we both watched the same story? Because I don't remember Goth EVER saying The Master promised him "knowledge"– ONLY "POWER".
"Perhaps most significantly, what on Earth are we supposed to make of the fact that the cop who figures everything out and helps the Doctor clear his name is played by a Czech actor in an Eastern European accent?"
George Pravda, my favorite actor in the entire story, probably playing his best role ever. I love how he berates Hillarad about allowing The Doctor to hide inside a tower 56 stories tall, by asking, "I take it you're trying to confuse him." Or, later, when he sends him to stazer the body and says, "I'm giving you this assignment because he's already dead– you're unlikely to MISS him." Then of course, there's his lines to the Doctor, like, "Alright– CONVINCE me." And, later, "It's getting better and better. Doctor, you MAY become President yet."
"Do you think Goth is the same Time Lord as the one Bernard Horsfell played in The War Games? I like to think so, given that Clyde Pollitt also played a member of the Doctor's tribunal and later played a Chancellor in The Three Doctors."
I like to think so too. It would add (even if it wasn't mentioned in the script) an extra level, that someone PRESENT at The Doctor's trial should be present at this one as well. (Of course, SOME fans have speculated that The War Chief MIGHT be an earlier incarnation of The Master. IDENTICAL m.o. and everything! Then again, the Peter Pratt Master feels more like The War Lord than The War Chief…)
Henry R. Kujawa
April 12, 2012 @ 12:09 pm
And now, my comments from the IMDB boards…
Just saw this again. All my original reactions from 1979 (when I first saw it) came back, except, NOW, of course, I know what's going on.
Part 1 is infuriating. The Doctor shows just how much he'd come to rely on Sarah, as without her around, every single thing he does is the wrong move. He acts like such an idiot, walking right into a situation and a death-trap, even though he had full advance warning of it. It's like, he deserves to be executed for a crime he didn't commit!
Part 2 is brilliant. We find out (for the most part) what's going on, and see that Spandrell is possibly one of the most intelligent people on Gallifrey. (Yes, George Pravda gave perhaps the best performance of his career in that role.) To me, it keeps getting better and better until… suddenly… the Doctor decides to try and find his enemy, by "going inside the Matrix". At which point, originally, I got completely lost.
Part 3 is more of the same. And it goes ON AND ON AND ON for the entire episode!!! It feels like you've somehow side-stepped into a completely different story… or even, a completely different SHOW. And then you have the cliffhanger, which was apparently THE main target of evidence that the show had "gone too far". (At least, as far as censors were concerned, who could not grasp that the show was being made for a FAMILY audience– NOT "just" for KIDS!!!)
Part 4 returns to sanity, but also reveals so much in such short order, I actually had to watch this story 3 TIMES before I understood exactly what was going on. Once I did, I realized Robert Holmes had written something brilliant, but you know, that doesn't take away from the fact that it was virtually impossible for me to "get" it on the first viewing. And considering the comparitively slow pace of the storytelling (compared with the McCoy or later eras), perhaps there was a problem with the story, and not with me. (Hmm…)
Finally: I REALLY wish they had brought back The Master again 3 stories later. Everything in "TALONS" feels like it was supposed to be him, but they changed their minds at the last second. It would have made a very fitting ENDING to the character.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 15, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
In "THE DEADLY ASSASSIN", there's a prolonged sequence (which actually got the producer KICKED OFF the show) where the hero is laying on a table while his mind enters a dream-scape and does battle with someone who's laying on another table, somewhere else in the building. And a few months back, while reading MISTER MIRACLE, it hit me the scene of Scott Free battling that big slug was quite similar. Do you suppose someone on the show read the comic and was inspired by it– or could both scnearios have an earlier, common source?
I've lost track of which issue it was in, but way back in the early days of the Hal Jordan GREEN LANTERN series, there's a story about a planet where an entire city of people are laying on tables, SLEEPING, while they lead full, "active" lives within an electronic computer bank. Until something goes WRONG. That's also somewhat similar… but it's even MORE similar to THE MATRIX movies, which came out decades later.
Seems to me someone said the guys who did THE MATRIX were Kirby fans, but as I just pointed out, that particular major point of those films appears in GREEN LANTERN about a decade before that MISTER MIRACLE comic.
Any earlier examples? Anybody know?
September 23, 2021 @ 12:17 pm
Henry R. Kujawa
April 16, 2012 @ 11:21 am
Got the following replies today:
"There is at least one Brian Aldiss story, I think from the fifties. In the latter half of the twentieth century techniques have been developed to enable people to have controlled dreams. So there are room after room of people hooked up to a computer while they sleep and indulge their fantasies. In the story I recall, the world is in the midst of a major nuclear war whilst the people in the building sleep. I can find out more if you are interested. I think the story appears in Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand."
"Arthur C. Clarke's "The Lion Of Comarre" published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, uses the idea of a city of people sleeping while wired into a computer matrix that feeds dreams to them. I'm not saying that it was the first use of the idea, though, as I haven't read every stf story of the thirties and forties."
I wonder if the people who did "The Deadly Assassin" or "THE MATRIX" ever admitted what their sources of inspiration might have been?
As a writer, naturally, I don't see this kind of thing as swiping. All ideas have to come from somewhere. If you came up with something entirely new, audiences might not be able to relate to the story.
The "trick" is to juggle things in such a way that it seems different enough, so that it actually does become something "new". Otherwise, there would be no "new" things– at all.
October 5, 2012 @ 9:28 am
It occurs to me that there's a rather snide observation to be made about the idea that the continuity-canon fan thinks the Time Lords should demonstrate their godlike powers by obsessively reviewing past events…
February 28, 2013 @ 5:12 pm
Nope. The first person shot by a Dalek on screen, Ian Chesterton, was merely temporarily paralyzed. That said, the visual effect in "The Stolen Earth" shows the Dalek's shot as a "glancing blow" of a sort never seen before or since.
May 27, 2014 @ 5:01 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
November 6, 2017 @ 4:45 pm
The link to situationist, in episode is broken
Good comments here
Did anyone twig the Lee Harvey Oswald manipulated into the book, store, the shot came from another direction,it was the Vice President who wanted the president JFK comparison. Witnesses, video evidence destroyed, the master/JFKs body altered,and the shots on the site of the gun,were fixed so he couldn’t have hit it, references at the time
I know Bob Holmes use to say, imagine if it was a Dalek on th grassy knoll,to other writers