Note: For gematrial reasons, section #10 is the beginning of the entry and you should skip to there. Alternatively, John G. Wood has made a proper interactive fiction version of it and posted it here because he is awesome.
It is stark white and so very bright here at the summit. There is simply light, and oneness, and completion. This is the void, and it is everything.
Nothing follows this. But out of nothing can come anything. In one story Doctor Who is built up to the heavens itself and then leveled back down. These heights are miles from Toxteth and Thatcher, from the Kingdom that the Crown rules above. No matter. Sometimes the only escape we have from the world is dreams, whether it be the world of schoolyard bullies or of Tories. Sometimes all we can do in the face of a growing darkness is retreat into a realm of silly and daft ideas and watch as they inexorably spin their way into more.
Doctor Who can’t fight Thatcher. It can’t stop her. She will run rampant and horrible over Britain for a decade, a terrible woman who does terrible things. She will win election after election, and her legacy will be nearly impossible to chisel out of the heart of the country even long after the sheer breadth of devastation she brought is clear. We are in history here, and there is no height to which one can ascend in order to find a solution to it. You can’t rewrite history. Not one line. Much as one wants to, much as one is desperate to.
But one can always rewrite fantasy. One can always rewrite Doctor Who. One must. It demands it, demands endless action, endless mercurial play. It is enough to say this of Logopolis: it could have been the end, but the moment was prepared for.
This near to the pinnacle of all things it is difficult to pin down specifics. A musky greyness is all there is. Neither thing nor absence, there is no purity here. At nearly the most refined point in the cosmos, scraping against eternity itself, we have passed knowledge, passed understanding. Now there is only Wisdom, the capacity to take a step, to act, to do something. In the beginning, and thus in the end, is the word.
The Doctor, in the entire story, takes three actions that matter at all – he lands his TARDIS atop another Police Box that turns out to have been a trap, he lands it within a city of words, and he sends a CVE out into Cassiopeia. All three are the same action – the positioning of an emboitment at a crucial moment. This, in the end, defines the Doctor’s actions. If the TARDIS chooses the moment, which as we later learn, she does, it is still the Doctor who injects her into them, who actually puts the box into place.
We are returning to first principles here, but this is inevitable. This place represents first principles and beginnings. A magical box that breaks the world. A glorious madman who makes the box appear. From these things everything else follows. Logopolis is nothing more than a metaphor for those two simple concepts, and in being this it becomes a metaphor for everything else that Doctor Who is.
From here there is only one path.
Go to section 11.
Black pearls scented like myrrh abound in this place. There is a sweaty heat, full of lust and yearning, and yet also sacred, pristine and holy.
The highest aspect of the sacred feminine, this realm in one sense reflects the major abscess that we have been circling around all entry – the lack of any emotional core to the show. But here we have ascended too highly up the tree to limit ourselves to just that. What is at play here is not merely Nyssa or Tegan’s inexplicable lack of grief. It is not even related to that directly anymore, except inasmuch as they form a type of Understanding that the program lacks.
The best of Doctor Who works within dreams and memories, forming an emboitment within the viewer’s mind that allows it to haunt their dreams. A universe maintained by chanting monks in a distant city of words, a universe that can come unstuck and begin to break down, a magical box inside a magical box, a projection of the future that haunts the spaces at the edge of the story. These are the key concepts of Logopolis.
To watch Logopolis as a child is to be changed by it. Too much of this story is strange, fantastic, and genuinely unnerving to be otherwise. It is a nest of metaphors that are endlessly suggestive, endlessly gesturing towards uncanny possibility. It is a story that sleeps in our minds, endlessly offering the possibility of further mysteries. To fault this story for the future’s failure to explore them is senseless. There is enough here to wander through its labyrinthine interiors. There is enough here to suggest a future. A great story is never complete, can never leave the viewer with nothing more to wonder or consider. Indeed, that is, by definition, the mark of a terrible story.
Even here, as we approach the summit of the tree, as our options and routes grow narrower, as we approach a conclusion there is always more to say, always gaps, things to note that were not brought up. The longest entry this blog has yet produced – God willing the longest it ever will – is not long enough to encompass all that must be understood.
Stay here forever if you like. If not, two paths emerge: sky-blue and rose scented or purple and lined with palms.
The sky blue path runs through section 14, the purple through section 12.
Through the ruins of a city stalk the ruins of a man. He is wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
There is no way to avoid the prospect that this is the end of Doctor Who. To some extent one can be apocalyptic about any regeneration story, declaring that the “real” series ended there. But some – most obviously The War Games and this – lend themselves more to that sort of depressive thinking.
I am not among those who think this. For my money there are only two bad seasons in the 1980s (the Colin Baker ones, I fear), and even those have four stories worth respecting and taking seriously amidst the sea of unceasing crap. But for those who hate the 1980s this becomes the last straw – the point where the one good thing the program had, Tom Baker, goes away and is replaced by an emo wimp, then by a psychotic circus clown, then by an overacting ham sandwich. Still others reject all of the new series. For some people, simply put, it’s not Doctor Who after Tom Baker leaves.
It’s true that even in the most optimistic reading things get bad more often after this. And more to the point, the seeds of this are in Logopolis. The fact, complained about several times throughout this entry, that nobody ever deals with Nyssa’s anger at the Master or with the extermination of billions, perhaps trillions of people across the universe is an appallingly large problem that requires some thought about how it was allowed to happen. The blame can’t be laid at Bidmead’s feet – even though he does kind of puzzlingly fail to follow up sensibly from this to Castrovalva (an error made all the stranger by the fact that nothing about Logopolis seems to cry for an immediate “next story” sequel) he was on his way out the door. Following up all his plot threads wasn’t his job.
No, it was John Nathan-Turner’s. Who instead spends the next season fretting about things like revamping the Cybermen, nuking the sonic screwdriver, and shoehorning a Concorde into the series than he was with piddly issues like storytelling. The actual plots of episodes became increasingly irrelevant to him, and more and more stories became ugly “kitchen sink” jumbles that just lumped in concepts that Nathan-Turner thought would attract viewers, even as the pool of viewers Nathan-Turner bothered to try attracting dwindled ever more to the hardcore. And this is the frightening thing – the actual fact that nobody involved in Doctor Who appeared to even treat the issue that perhaps Nyssa should, in future confrontations with the Master, take the fact that he murdered her father and destroyed her homeworld seriously or that it should impact how she treats him. Similarly, Tegan manages to never bring up Aunt Vanessa with the Master over all of their interactions.
This from a show that is increasingly obsessed with continuity – with nods to the past. But only the spectacle of the past – the montage of past characters, the nods to past stories, the return of past monsters. Never to a sense of history, to a sense that the characters change or have any sort of dramatic arcs. Never to anything that isn’t chum for the narrow segment of people who give a flying fuck if the Cybermen ever return.
That’s what killed the program. That’s why it goes under. Because in the end, John Nathan-Turner doesn’t care about the program beyond as a succession of images.
You have died.
The smell of cedar drifts among the clouds of a TARDIS blue sky. There is a sense, not of utter calm (this sky can storm – indeed, it could storm at any moment) but of a serenity. This place has so much Mercy…
The stentorian nature of Hartnell’s Doctor extends inevitably through all later incarnations. There is always something paternal to the Doctor. Not just paternal in the sense of being protective, but in the sense of invulnerability. There is a time in which all of our fathers are invulnerable. In which nothing bad can ever happen to them or around them. So is it with the Doctor. His companions will always be safe, he will always save the day, and then shall flash the trademark toothy grin and all will be well.
There is also, cruelly and inevitably, a point where we realize that this is a lie. A point where we give in and watch Logopolis even though we know how it ends, even though we don’t want to see it. A point where we visit our father in the hospital after his stroke and begin (but never, not even years after, finish) coming to terms with the fact that some vital essence of who he was is gone forever. There comes a point where fathers falter and prove inadequate.
This point comes in more ways than one here. The transition from Baker to Davison marks a move from a Doctor who essentially displays no negative emotions in his entire tenure save for occasional fear – even his anger is righteous – to a Doctor who displays a newfound vulnerability and softness. One who fails to save a companion. One who when he presides over an adventure in which everyone is slaughtered mourns that there should have been another way.
Nevertheless, it is this paternal kindness that persists. The thing that most defines the Doctor (and it is telling that the incarnation where it is most vividly absent is by far the least popular). This is what regeneration means – that no matter how much “youth” and “vulnerability” is ever introduced into the character he will always endure and protect. A father who falls short of adequacy – who is, in other words, human and not a god – is still a father. In many ways, perhaps, a superior one.
Only one road leads from here – a deep indigo one up beyond the sky itself. The other alternative – the only other – is to fall, to plummet into the very depths of the abyss. And yet this option, terrifying as it is, appeals to a part of you. It chants endlessly within you, go down, go down, go down, go down.
To go down, go to section , then proceed to section 3. To take a saner course of action, go to section 16.
An angry, raging place of fiery reds and molten iron that smells of tobacco and smoke, the clanging and shrieking noise feels like you are in the very crucible of the world. This is the place where all that is impure and flawed is seared out, where perfection is obtained not through the process of improvement and redrafting but through the raw act of destruction of all that is unworthy.
What must be seared out of Doctor Who at this juncture? We have spoken in enough other sections of the tree of the issue of Baker and his ego, although reiteration is the nature of an exploration of this project and it cannot be fully omitted. Doctor Who has to, at some point, be decoupled by Baker no matter how much we genuinely adore him. The show must be bigger than him. By Season 18 Pertwee, Troughton, and Hartnell are all but burnt from the program. So too must Baker be, even if he is in one sense the program’s greatest Strength.
So too the emotionlessness – the way in which stories are reduced to little more than logic exercises or opportunities to show off the production team’s brilliance. This is a recent affliction, and highlights the darker side of this process. The previous burning out of the old did away with magic in favor of worlds built of science. But in doing so it, in turn, burnt away the focus on character and motivation. In the Williams era villains and allies alike were defined primarily by what they wanted. Now, instead, they are defined ontologically, in ways stemming entirely out of the story’s structure. The Monitor and the Master are who they are purely because that is their role, as was the Keeper’s, as was Biroc’s, as was, as was, as was. The Williams era had a wholly alien main cast but continually alit in worlds full of humans. Even when not literally humans they were consistently enmeshed in human concerns and human desires.
But in this season the cast and where they go have both been wholly alien. The series lacks all touch of humanity. Odd, in that regard, that it should finally return to Earth to kill the Doctor. That this is where the burning out of Baker should commence. The crucible in which he is incinerated is also the crucible from which springs what is needed in his replacement.
The fires of this place grow too hot to endure. Three options present themselves – a deep purple path lined with sunflowers, a maroon path lined with lotuses, or a deeply uncomfortable and upsetting looking drop into a cavernous abyss that vividly represents the end of all things.
To take the purple path, go to section 19. To take the maroon path, go to section 18. To go plummeting off the cliff into what is surely complete annihilation of your entire being go to section , then proceed to section 2.
A golden light extends across everything, not from some definable point or source but from the very being of this place. No shadows, just a frankincense-tinted light that flows out of all things. Only one word describes this: Beauty.
The Holy Guardian Angel is a core concept in Hermetic mysticism. The higher, prophetic self. The true will in whose name all magic is practiced. The analogue to Logopolis is straightforward enough – the Watcher is unambiguously serving in that role for the Doctor. But several complexities arise out of this seemingly straightforward analogy.
First and foremost is the fact that, at least as a script, the conscious decision is made to try to imply that the Watcher is in fact the Master. This plays out with less than complete clarity in the episodes themselves, but the very conceptual ambiguity is intriguing. These sorts of doublings are, of course, wholly sensible in occult terms. We are at this point reaching the higher portions of the tree. Broadly speaking this point is the point of contact between the earthly and material energy of the lower sephira and the more purely divine energy of the higher. Shortly above it comes Da’ath, the unnumbered void sephira – the point where the main tree and the qlippoth have their most direct contact. What I am getting at, in other words, is that the qlippothic form of the Doctor and his Holy Guardian Angel are not unrelated concepts. They can’t be. Part of the image of this contact point between the earthly and the divine is that they are not actually separate – that even the most debased forms of the universe are in their own sense holy.
Second is the fact that the Watcher represents the future of the show. The Doctor’s highest self, in other words, is his own continuation, the chronic incompleteness of his narrative. We knew this, implicitly, and have seen it before, but here again is another iteration of the concept. The Doctor’s true will is to be continued. (This ties back to the latent connection between the Watcher and the Master. The Doctor’s true will is his own continuation, but the nature of Time Lord immortality is that continuation and death are equivalent. Those who like to cheat and look ahead will, of course, delight in the existence of the Valeyard at this juncture.)
Third and most important is the fact that the Watcher has been in every episode we have seen so far implicitly. A name like “the Watcher” in a television show cannot help but be symbolic. So in this sense we are and always have been the Doctor’s Holy Guardian Angel. It is our own proleptic desire for more that animates the show, the fact of our presence that drives its alchemy. It is the fact that a story had to begin for viewers that drove two schoolteachers into a junkyard to fall out of the world, in turn them who turned a cranky old man into a hero, and this spirit that has pushed the program forward.
But even here there is a dark side. It is the Watcher who makes the Doctor go to Logopolis, taking the Master with him and nearly dooming the universe. The oft-ignored massive genocide of this story is on the Watcher’s head. And if we are the Watcher it is on our head. Which, of course, it is. It is for the viewer’s sake that there must be stakes and tension in the Doctor’s adventures – for the viewer’s sake that he must be haunted by death and trauma. It is because there is a viewer who must be appeased and thrilled that terrible things happen.
This sobering truth internalized, we may move on. Five roads continue from here. The first is blue and of meticulous and conscious design. The second glows with a pale sense of danger. The third is silver and extends far into the heavens. The fourth is a majestic, imperial red. And the fifth, off to one side, isolated and alone, is slate grey.
To take the meticulously crafted blue road, go to section 22. To take the road colored in the universal sign for danger, go to section 17. To take the silver road to the heavens go to section 13. To take the imperial red road, go to section 15. To take the lonely grey road, go to section 20.
A vast and green ocean stretches out before you, the tide washing a vast spread of rose petals in and out. It is a sprawling and empty place, seemingly diminished, its energies weak in this particular context and configuration. At its most cliched the underlying concept here is love, or at least emotion – a context Bidmead (and for that matter Nathan-Turner) find relatively foreign.
The one meaningful representative of the concept would seem to be Nyssa – an interesting problem of a companion. She is beloved by fandom, true, but it is difficult to escape the sense that this is primarily, if not purely, down to the fact that Sarah Sutton is something of a looker. But there is more to it than just that. Sutton is skilled enough as an actress, something that shows clearly here in the handful of emotional beats she gets. Clear enough also in The Keeper of Traken, where her final line, a choked and worried “Father? Where are you?” carries the entire emotional weight of the final scene. Here she gets a scene reacting in horror at what the Master has done to her – everything he has stripped away from her, including her entire world.
It is a strange thing. There is a pained sense of mourning to it. It’s the only scene in the entire story where anyone seems particularly upset at the destruction of a large portion of the universe. And yet there is also a quiet dignity, a sense that she refuses to let the loss get to her now. There is a sense of mourning deferred, of a beautiful dignity, of someone who will bury the dead later but has things to do now. But there is also an awkwardness – a sense that Sutton is reacting in horror to a poorly written scene and trying to get something in it to work. The needed “later” never comes, and in future confrontations with the Master Nyssa seems to have forgotten about the fact that he is responsible for the genocide of her people. This scene, as good as Sutton is in it, is a single spark of something that is painfully absent from the series in this era.
That there are people who openly prefer the series in this era to the supposed silliness of Gareth Roberts blowing Cybermen up with love. This is inscrutable. Whatever overdone sentimentality Roberts’s tendencies may have, surely it is preferable to this amnesiac sociopathy. Surely an excess of an emotional core to a story is preferable to none whatsoever. It cannot be called a victory that the show so bloody rational-minded that it forgets to find any emotional content in genocide, treating it as a purely intellectual exercise in thermodynamics.
The wind sweeps along this empty beach. Some day it will be inhabited. For now there is nothing to do here. Two roads lead onward – a dull and brown path lined with cactuses and an unsteady, perhaps even treacherous path marked in blue.
To take the brown path go to section 24. To take the blue, go to section 21.
“Logopolis,” taken literally, is a city of words. The Mercurial, by definition, is connected to this, Hermes being defined in terms of communication. Words, then, are defined by their fluidity – they are purest quicksilver. And yet each one is an emboitment, a solid box from which things may be built. “Block transfer” describes the mechanics of printing as much as anything.
Let us explore, then, the notion of Logopolis. A city of chanting monks who keep the universe running in secret. This is, implicitly, a Kabbalistic concept, referring back to the Tzadikim Nistarim, the Lamed Wufniks, righteous ones who, unknowingly, keep the cosmos in line. It is said that by necessity they do not even know who they are, that claiming to be a Wufnik is proof positive you are not one. Deep within the bowels of creation their secret language saves a world long ago fallen.
In what language do they chant? Why in mathematics, of course. The nature of mathematics is intrinsically Platonic. No thing called a right angle exists in the world, atoms themselves being too imprecise to depict the contours of holy geometry. And yet we may speak of these fictitious objects, scrawl them in our imperfect hand, manipulate these symbols of a perfection beyond worldly matters. Mathematics is the language in which God wrote the universe. Fitting that the rim of a badge of mathematical excellence should turn out to be made of solar gold, that it should be capable of slaying the Qlippothic decay of all things in and of itself. The symbols’ meaning, inevitably, fits together better than they themselves do.
And yet Logopolis is also the least Mercurial place in the universe. A place of fixed meanings – of absolute things. It is at once the symbol that the Doctor has always represented and his death. The very quicksilver that animates all things, that makes progress and motion up the tree possible, is also the slide that detaches symbol from meaning, that marks and ensures our fall. All power and all things rest here amidst the splendor of these brilliant orange orchids. And yet the only thing we cannot do is rest. We are compelled, despite the sanctity of this temple, to move on, to disturb it.
Three paths are open to us. The first is marked by a splendid red tower that seems to encapsulate all the glory that Logopolis promises. The second is jet black, and a chilling laughter echoes about it. The final is sea green and smells of perfume, winding past a single tree.
To take the path by the splendid tower go to section 27. To follow after the chilling laughter, go to section 26. To wander by the tree, go to section 23.
A purple glow lights everything around you. Silver-tinged fog floats across a wind-swept landscape, a city of shadows and myths, towering edifices of qwartz and dust. It is not enough to say that you see here. Not with eyes, but with sensation itself, with thought and knowledge. These are the jasmine-scented realms of the interior eye.
We have always been here. Every word of this blog has taken place in this space, the mental landscapes that comprise psychochronography. Still, incarnated here as an actual space, as dimensions to be strolled amidst, there is something uncanny about it. No. That phrasing, that structure, it does not apply here. There is not something uncanny about this space. Rather, this space is what the uncanny is about. A later critic, joined to the moment spawning this journey by a small footpath of time and symbolism, asserts that all of Doctor Who takes place under the bed. A child’s bed, presumably, and thus a twin. A space 36×75 inches, elevated perhaps a foot above the ground. A box-shaped space some nineteen cubic feet in size that contains the whole of Doctor Who.
Bigger on the inside, perhaps. The boxes formed in this place always are. The nature of ideaspace, that – a place where interior dimensions exceed exterior ones in every way. Imaginary spaces do not collapse or explode, they unravel, decohere, are dismantled. One dismantles them not by starting at the outside but at the very heart, by severing connections, collapsing possibilities into things. This is what is scariest about Doctor Who – the possibility of a closet with a phone on the outside. The possibility that it is only ink-stained paper, pulsing radio transmissions, hex codes and subroutines. That the gestalt does not exist.
The obvious example is, of course, the TARDIS, but over the course of Season 18 Bidmead manages another: the Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Let us unpack the term. The “charged vacuum” evokes the vacuum tube, a key component in early 20th century computers and, for that matter, in televisions. In computing terms – obviously the terms most relevant to Logopolis – the vacuum tube is an individual switch – a single 0 or 1. But what of emboitment? A term from the French, it essentially means “putting inside a box.” Most often spelled “emboitement,” it refers specifically to a discredited belief in biology that a given organism contains within it the seeds of all future life, supposing a sort of infinitely fractal geometry of life itself.
A Charged Vacuum Emboitment, then, like a Chronic Hysteresis, is a piece of technobabble that works linguistically. (Tat Wood, missing the point, describes this in terms of how Bidmead’s master tends “to give Victorian-style brand names to things like the Neuro-Muscular Constrictor,” ignoring the way in which Bidmead proposes a universe in which names and function are inexorably linked. But names are a topic for elsewhere.) It is a computational atom – a single bit – that encloses an entire universe. It is, in other words, a metaphor not just for the TARDIS (itself, in any given story, a CVE) but for the word itself, for the metaphor. It is the basic unit from which Doctor Who is built, functioning along the lunar logic that permeates this place whereby any two spaces are linked not by their physical dimensions but by their relative ones – their associations – linked not across spatial regions but temporal ones. A CVE uses time and relative dimensions (with)in space.
This central truth emboited, serving as foundation for our future ascent, we may continue. Three paths present themselves. To the left a shaft of sunlight strikes the purple ground, lights silver to gold, seeming to provide this realm with its very energy and fuel, channeling the light that it reflects upwards. Straight ahead is a rope ladder, climbable but arduous. To the right is a pale blue path, lit by a single, solitary point of light.
To take the golden path of light, go to section 30. To take the rope ladder, go to section 25. To take the pale blue path, go to section 28.
|Symmetry becomes it. Come to ruin our impending feast, a|
presence that nourishes suffering. All things below voice
its burning name. Its turmoil offers only truth in which
longer moments live. Let consciousness recapture the
flicker it saw then. Torch our continuity of thought now until
that mind evaporates. Lust after shadows in us, rend that lace
of promises broken and white lies, regard our love of
wreckage, the way our heads thunder approaching that warning
pulse and temple of throbbing light that is Logopolis.
Logopolis is that light throbbing of temple and pulse
warning that approaching thunder heads our way. The
wreckage of love, our regard lies white and broken, promises
of lace that rend us in shadow, after lust evaporates.
Mind that until now thought of continuity, our torch, then
saw it flicker. The recapture, consciousness let live moments
longer, which, in truth, offers only turmoil. Its name burning, its
voice below things. All suffering nourishes that presence. A feast
impending. Our ruin to come. It becomes symmetry.
It’s February 28th, 1981. The best-selling disc of black vinyl is still Joe Dolce Music Theatre’s “Shaddap You Face,” which lasts for two more weeks before Roxy Music overtake it with “Jealous Guy,” which will play out the man with the scarf. Adam and the Ants, Ultravox, and The Who also chart. This relatively placid situation at the top of the musical charts obscures what goes on below. New Order are at #34 with their initial release, “Ceremony,” a song planned for recording with their predecessor band Joy Division.
In the news Augusto Pinochet, dear personal friend of the Iron Lady, is sworn in for another eight-year term as village butcher. Bobby Sands begins a hunger strike to demand status as a political prisoner. He dies in May. In Italy a supposed list of members of the Propaganda Due Masonic Lodge surfaces. The lodge, expelled both from mainstream Masonry and, more broadly, from the entirety of Italian society. The list is problematic – indeed, the entire story is problematic. The extent to which the lodge was a real organization and not a feverish fantasy conducted by would-be dictators is unclear. The supposed list of members includes people whose membership is best described as “not actually invited to join in any meaningful sense.” It is a scandal too good to be true, but in that sense is somehow truer than mere factuality. The only thing that seems uncanny about discovering Silvio Berlusconi was a member of a secret occult society plotting a right-wing takeover of Italy is the possibility that he has ever been together enough to pull off such a feat.
Returning briefly to music, also lower in the charts The Jam howl with “That’s Entertainment.” It is the virtual soundtrack of the smoldering political situation, then. Not a month after Tom Baker’s regeneration a chain of race riots will break out across Great Britain, culminating in the July Toxteth riots in Liverpool. Thatcher’s government will seriously consider simply abandoning Liverpool – allowing the city to decay to nothing and sink back into the russet-hued dirt from which it sprang. The flaw in the plan, as proposed, is its terminology. “Managed decline” is far too negative a term for leaving an entire major metropolitan area to choke on its own poverty.
This reality defies art, defies any attempt at response. What is there to detourn in a world where leaving a city to die is a serious proposal? What is there left to say in the face of this? All logic, all thought, all vision seems to break down, to collapse, not into the totalitarian unity of single vision and Newton’s sleep but into the shattered olive-green darkness of negative space, the whole of existence inverted. That’s entertainment. That’s entertainment.
While on television… Logopolis.
Distantly, with no clear way up to it, there is a flickering yellow light. A final dream, perhaps, the coda to all of this. The prepared-for end. A fleeting scent of willow wafts by. One last throw of the dice. A last stab at rebirth. At renewal. At regeneration. The light blossoms outwards, leaving a citrine filigree upon Thatcher’s Kingdom. Three paths extend outwards. One, onyx-paved, features the head of what appears to be a crocodile, one eye peering bemusedly at you. A second, searing and vermilion, burns with radiant glamour to your left. On the right is a third path, darkly lit with a browning-yellow moonlight flecked with glints of silver.
To take the onyx road, turn to section 32. To take the vermilion road, turn to section 31. To take the moonlit road, turn to section 29.
The traditional image is of a man walking blindly towards a cliff, but let’s take a simpler image. The nothingness out of which everything emerges. That is the only thing that can predate this. Only one thing that comes before a magic box and its madman. A hiss of tape loop or a synthesized sting. It doesn’t matter. In all renditions the effect is the same.
A blank screen. A flash of light. The beginning. Whether a starfield, a time tunnel, or a blaze of howlaround, it is the one immortal part of the show which predates and prefigures its concept.
Go to section 1.
The very road itself thunders:
“There are only two magic tricks. You either make something appear or make something disappear. You put it in the box or you take it out.
A flick of the pen and Tom Baker disappears. Another and the future of the show appears. One flick and the universe blinks out of existence – as easy as that, as easy as typing the words “the universe blinks out of existence” and it does just that. Another brings a new man, smiling, young, an entire future and possibility. The Doctor flings a symbol into the universe and, in that action alone, saves it.
And if you ask where the social progress is, how this reaches down to Toxteth and confronts the festering horrors of the world, consider this and this alone: a dead magician weaves no alchemy. Ascend to the stars, if only to make the return to earth possible later.”
There is a flash of pure, white light – an inrush of Hydrogen. You have arrived.
Go to section 1.
The road is lit by the purest silver moonlight and seems to stretch over a vast chasm. The light is pulsing, fading in and out with a familiar wheezing, groaning sound. Amidst the undulations you hear a voice, faint and beautiful:
“In some conceptions I, marked (inevitably) as the sacred feminine for my connection to the moon, am taken to be the embodiment of gestation. In those accounts of the Tarot based on a narrative structure this card marks the long and silent ages of the universe (a prospect that becomes threatening in the more overtly lunar card) and the nurturing principle that slowly advanced towards life. The universe’s womb.
In the broader context the womb is but another emboitment. Consider why the TARDIS is feminine. The most straightforward answer is that ships are always feminine, but this obscures the real answer. A ship, after all, is but a safe, enclosing space that carries us through a journey. The womb is a sound enough metaphor. Within me the mercurial force gestates, prepares itself and is born out, again and again. If the Doctor is what acts within a story then I am what prepares him, allows him to act.
Yet in Logopolis my dimensions unravel. It is not merely the intrusion of a qlippothic womb into my own dimensions that causes this. I am mapped – computations are applied to me, an attempt is made to model me in fixed, Newtonian sleep and mathematics. An emboitment and block transfer computation are, in point of fact, opposed – necessarily so. An emboitment’s role is to open the system – to bleed the entropy from this system into others and to restore my generative function to the cosmos. But block transfer computation defines, collapsing possibility and otherness into the rigid markedness of numbers and perfectly defined signifiers.
This is not to say that what is revealed within Logopolis is false. Rather it is that what is revealed in Logopolis must be contradicted, negated, written further and further upon. Death and meaning are synonymous, and by defining the TARDIS she shrinks away to nothingness.”
Go to section 1.
The figure is, of course, feminine. But at these heights it is difficult to discern more. These are the realms of pure archetype. There is no analogy, no character within a story quite equivalent to this. Let us simply receive her message:
“What might be said to be produced by this? The implications of Logopolis are never really explored again. Even Craig Hinton, as continuity-mad a writer as has ever penned a Doctor Who book, only flits into concern about it. Something about this story is too big to follow up on. Even those who love its ideas only dance around them.
In another sense all of Doctor Who follows from this. The emboitment, as must already be clear, is the fundamental metaphor of Doctor Who. Regeneration, even from a star of Tom Baker’s magnitude, is what defines the show’s survival. The bounty offered by Logopolis is infinite.
It is telling that the CVE that saves creation is flung into Cassiopeia, the constellation representing the queen. An emboitment within a woman. The biological metaphors are clear enough. But the CVE is an exit vent for the universe. The woman does not produce or give birth, instead she expels. Cassiopeia is not the point at which life enters our universe, but rather our universe’s womb, pushing the homunculus out into the next.”
Go to section 2.
A man sits upon a throne. His garb is familiar – red coat, scarf – but the colors more vibrant, the burgundy having become a vibrant scarlet, the scarf now adorned with rubies. A crown of curls sits atop his head. He speaks:
“The problem with driving Tom Baker off of the program – and let’s make no mistake, that is more or less exactly what John Nathan-Turner set out to do when taking over Doctor Who – is one of dynamism. Whatever might be said of Baker’s uncharitable attitudes towards his fellow actors, his screen-hogging tendencies, or his tendency to favor plot elements that flatter him and allow him to be adored, he was always capable of getting away with it by the simple virtue of the fact that it was fun to watch him. From his first appearance this was true.
Consider that. It is difficult to think of any Doctor whose first and last appearances are as wildly different as Robot and Logopolis are. Even Hartnell, who plays a completely different character by The Tenth Planet than he did in An Unearthly Child, does not preside over that radical a reconceptualization of what the show is. But Robot, essentially a Jon Pertwee story with a new lead, and Logopolis have virtually nothing save for the lead actors in common. It is not that any one of the seven seasons was particularly momentous, but rather that anyone who serves under four producers and four script editors and who works in one part for seven years is going to see the show change significantly.
And yet so much of what was said in the entry on Robot
applies still. The most overwhelming thing about Baker, even subdued and cranky, is his charm and presence, the way his very presence on the screen deforms everything around him. He is larger than life, and compacted into a television screen he scrapes endlessly at its edges, demanding to be set free. Little on television, before or since, has compared with the sheer force of his performance. Not emotional force, creative force, intellectual force, but raw force – the unbridled sense of being that crackles like fire.”
Awed, you find yourself forced to your knees. The man smiles a big, toothy grin, and waves you on your way.
Go to section 2.
The path winds its way through until you come to a library. Various books line the shelf – a “Programme Guide” by Jean-Marc Lofficier, The Gallifrey Chronicles by John Peel, Lance Parkin’s AHistory, and other thorough examinations of the canon of the universe. A plaque turns to you, and a humanoid face begins speaking.
“Doctor Who’s anarchist spirit, much vaunted both here and elsewhere, is a complex thing. We are too quick to reduce anarchism to a unitary concept, to act as though there is only one form of it. This form naturally becomes its most extreme form, leaving anarchism to be equated straightforwardly with a sort of nihilism – a rejection of all law.
It is impossible to take the series as anarchistic in this sense. For all that the Doctor tears down authority, for all that the structure of the series declines all effort to lock it into a rigid and fixed continuity and canon, the series retains some sense of law, some sense of a universal beyond the mere alchemical injunction: solve.
This is why Bidmead’s science-minded approach is so compatible with the series. His desire to build worlds out of rules that the Doctor would interact with was always the perfect match. The Doctor is a Victorian magician, bound up in past and memory and age. A Victorian anarchist is still defined endlessly in relation to a society of law and order. And it is in Bidmead and the rise of play within a system – the idea that anarchism is not generated by fighting against the law but by the manipulation and play within its gaps – that the anarchist spirit of Doctor Who in point of fact reaches its apex. Put simply, Logopolis declares that without periodic rules-breaking the entire system will dissolve and we will all die.”
The face turns away, and the shadows begin to grow menacingly long. You move on.
Go to section 2.
A man in black lurks unsettlingly in the orchid bushes along this path. You glare at him, and he sheepishly emerges:
“Those who seek to write slash fiction about the classic series of Doctor Who are somewhat bereft of options due to the frequency with which there is no second male character and the fact that the Doctor is usually a somewhat sexless character. When he tips into wholly sexless – the William Hartnell era, for instance – slash becomes impossible. If one ignores the vast and limitless possibilities within the UNIT era one is essentially left with Jamie/Ben (boring), Doctor/Ben (just doesn’t work), Doctor/Jamie (compelling, actually), Doctor/Turlough (just too easy, frankly), and, of course, Doctor/Master.
This latter pairing, implicit amidst the slash festival that is the UNIT era, takes on new significance under the Ainley Master. Properly this begins in full with Davison, the most slash-friendly Doctor of the classic series, but it’s not like Davison exudes a burning need to get it on with every single male he appears on camera with. Whereas the very act of putting Anthony Ainley onscreen with a male costar strikes the slash fiction harp. (The best, of course, is when he has Adric in bondage in Castrovalva. Good lord.)
Part of this is the arrival of John Nathan-Turner, under whom the show became somewhat more prone to a blatantly gay sensibility. The Master ends up being the chief beneficiary of it, but let’s face it, it’s all over the place. But even still, Anthony Ainley’s capacity for bringing the gay is a thing of utter splendor. And the result is that the latent slash pairing underlying Doctor Who suddenly kicks into high gear.
The archtypal slash pairing is based on the existence of a clear contrast coupled with a close emotional bond. Given that the standard example is Kirk and Spock, this almost doesn’t even need elucidation. He’s impulsive and rash, he’s cold and logical, and yet despite that something glues them together. What could it possibly be? Clearly their need to rip each other’s uniforms off and shag like bunnies. This logic animates the big two Doctor Who slash pairings equally well – Doctor/Brigadier and this. The real reason the Doctor and the Master hate each other is that they love each other too much. And thus reams of sadomasochistic reaming follow.
What is crucial to note is that the following generated by this, erm, subtext is central to the show’s survival. The fact of the matter is that gay fandom kept Doctor Who alive for a while in there. The triumverate of Russell T. Davies, Phil Collinson, and Julie Gardner meant that Doctor Who was unapologetically run by two gay men and a slash fanatic. And, if I may be so bold, there will come a time where Tennant/Simm slashers run the asylum as well.”
He creeps back into the bushes. Slightly unnerved, you move on.
Go to section 3.
There is a triumphant roar. The world blurs, and the air whips past your ears. You are moving terribly fast. In your ears, the howling wind proclaims:
“As one approaches a more and more fevered pitch, as the ideas that are spun become more complex and intriguing, as the scope of the story and the argument expands there becomes an added pressure to go further. The phrase ‘more exciting than ever before’ and ‘a longer entry than ever before’ become increasingly appealing. And so even when you do not mean for your little game to casually unravel the structure of the universe and slaughter billions or to be longer than the entry you swore you were never going to be longer than, well, these things happen.
The risk, of course, is disappearing up your own ass. Once your sole concern becomes topping yourself then you start to lose all sense of engagement with anything outside yourself. The purpose becomes an endless sifting through your own legacy. The further one ascends to the heights of divinity the more it becomes easy to forget the fact that, underneath all of the wordplay and emboitments is a society that is being ripped apart. Forgetting completely about Toxteth is no different from its ‘managed decline.’
This does not mean we ought not climb higher. It doesn’t even lessen the imperative that we do. But the gravity – the need to remain clinging to the road we circle – to return to Earth – exists and is wholly real.”
Slowly the chariot draws to a stop.
Go to section 3.
Among the sunflowers a nude woman cavorts lasciviously with a Tharil. Or possibly a Dalek. Amidst her fevered cries of passion comes this insight:
“Implicit in the transition between these two realms and their insights is the transition between two basic models of what television is. In one Doctor Who is something that airs as part of a whole-family centered Saturday evening lineup. In this manifestation it has to appeal to the entire family. This does not necessarily mean the cynical quadrant-targeting that is implied in that. But it does mean the consideration of multiple audiences, both with multiple levels of sophistication and multiple interests. So, for instance, in my day the producers, who came from a soap opera background, knew to thread in multiple characters with long-running stories that rewarded long-time viewers not in the sense of recognizing the name of an alien planet but in the sense of getting them to care about the characters and invest in them.
In other words, it’s not that you need a love story to hook women, but that straightforward sci-fi adventure, even quasi-mystical and densely poetic sci-fi adventure, isn’t Saturday audience material. Other timeslots exist for single-audience targeted shows. For instance, there’s something like Coronation Street, which airs twice a week and is expressly designed for a more obsessive sort of viewing. And if you want to take a sort of single-audience approach like that then a structure along those lines might serve you well.”
She smiles delightedly, and you realize that you had completely misread the situation. There was no lascivious cavortation. Merely an innocent wrestling match between woman and lion. How silly of you.
Go to section 4.
A figure clad in white stands alone on a cliff of peridot, his voice booming down:
“The homunculus is a theory in which the egg or sperm were believed to contain a full human inside of them that developed out. A specific version of emboitement, in other words. But what, then, do we make of regeneration. Taken in its original quasi-conception as the transition from Hartnell to Troughton it is only incidentally a homunculus theory. Troughton replaces Hartnell. Similarly, there is no suggestion of a homunculus in The War Games, where Troughton is offered the opportunity to select his face. Pertwee’s transition into Baker is more interesting – no homunculus of Baker appears, but the presence of Cho-Je suggests a different approach to regeneration in which the future self is projected by the existing self.
In a real sense, then, Cho-Je, in whose footsteps the Watcher clearly follows, is a homunculus and an emboitment himself. The future of the Doctor is quasi-literally embedded in his past. And yet they miss a trick in not having the Watcher be played by Peter Davison. This would be perfectly possible – they kept the Watcher from speaking in part so that Ainley (who got a credit due to his laughing in the first two parts) appeared to plausibly be the Watcher. The same trick could be accomplished with Davison. He could even speak and then be masked with an anagram – a trick they pick up for the Master starting in the next story.
But this is not done. The reasons are no doubt pedestrian – Davison would cost too much and it would risk giving the game away. But the textual implications are substantive. The future incarnations of the Doctor are emboited within him, but also indeterminate. They are at once inevitable and undefined, an eternity of the show that follows inexorably from what is on screen but is not implied in any certain form.”
His point made, he recedes into the shadows atop the cliff.
Go to section 4.
A massive oak tree stands before you with a large and slowly rotating wheel affixed to it. There are several points at which you can climb aboard. Tentatively, you do so.
On one level, this act serves as a metaphor for the entirety of this journey. Of course it does. That’s the point of everything here. But this seems to exemplify everything – the way in which the ascent of new ideas and the casting down of old ones are inexorably linked, the way in which every idea and motion of the program must, in time, go from one to the other.
More broadly it is a metaphor for what lies ahead – the choppy waters of sublimity and ridiculousness that the program will navigate. The swings from brilliance to awfulness soon begin to outdo the Williams era in their shocking ludicrousness. It is difficult to even express what it is like to watch a show that goes from Earthshock to Time Flight or from The Arc of Infinity to Snakedance, little yet one that follows The Caves of Androzani with The Twin Dilemma.
But lest this wheel be taken entirely as a symbol of instability, consider also this – the wheel is fashioned upon an oak tree. The rising and falling can on the one hand be taken as chaos, but on the other hand the sheer rhythmic pattern of it reflects a higher order. Doctor Who will always be great. Doctor Who will always be terrible. Often it will be both at once. Eighteen years in, surviving all that it has survived, the whole has long since outstripped its parts. The map is not the territory, and the motion up and down is not the wheel.
The wheel spins on.
Go to section 4.
An man with curly hair, a goatee, and moustache sits, obsessively moving beans about a scale. He looks up at you and smiles with forced gregariousness:
“Doctor Who is now a finely tuned television event. Season 18 is not notable primarily for building thematically towards a payoff – Bidmead’s conceptions of E-Space and the CVE aren’t really coherent enough to do that. What is more significant is the televisual grammar – the fact that every two stories a new event takes place. First the new take on the series launches. Then a new companion. Then Romana’s departure (and the premiere of the second half of the series) and finally the regeneration.
This structure is important, keeping Doctor Who as it does within a firm grammar. Much as later producers may distance themselves from my era, they too pick up this structure: look at how, once the initial rush of a new series of Doctor Who fades five weeks in Davies staggers out the Daleks, the debut of a new companion, and the start of the finale over three week segments. Or how Moffat front-loads his Dalek story, the return of River Song and the Weeping Angels into the first month of his tenure to keep viewers.
The problem with my era cannot be said to be my chasing of ratings. I’m a television producer. Of course I chase ratings. That’s the job of television – to make things that people like. It’s not even that I attempted that by catering to a least common denominator. Complex and intelligent stories exist in nearly every season I produced. As long as my find adjustments – my moves and events to keep the balls in the air and keep drawing in viewers – remain sensible and well-advised the show will remain successful. The question is merely whether I can keep the balls in the air and continue coming up with a new innovation every few weeks.
Go to section 5.
There is a cooling breeze blowing along the path, a humid sea air tinged with lotus and honey-like myrrh. As you approach the tree that you had seen in the distance there is also, you realize, a man hanging upside-down from it, the tails of his scarf swaying slowly in the breeze:
“There is a ritual underlying this image based around a spiritual journey and metaphoric death. In the course of his suspension and death the seeker gains some visions and insights, whether from the Qlippothic forces of Mondas, the intrusion of continuity and naming, or agonized wanderings in the vortex. Or, in my case, a flashback sequence.
First mocked by my enemies, then called for my by friends, the purpose seems more to define what is lost than to look ahead. The villains skew from my supposed glory days – the Hinchcliffe era augmented by two from the later Williams years. My friend echoing the production of the show and not emotion – Romana appears twice. The purpose is overtly to mourn me, a mourning that precedes the loss, precedes even my last line. It is narcissism, but whose? The images predate those creating the show, whereas my own narcissism has been blocked and obscured throughout this story and indeed this season.
No, the narcissist in the equation is in fact the viewer – the watcher, if you will. The paratext that marks this as not being an event happening to characters but rather to the audience, to the cultural institution that is Doctor Who. This event declares an end to the Tom Baker era, in the process declaring, chillingly and for the first time, that this is now the sort of show concerned with its own historical legacy.”
The man falls silent and seems as still as the grave. You stay for a short time, enjoying the cool breeze, then continue.
Go to section 5.
The brown path seems to wind through an endless desert. As you walk you find yourself losing track of where you are or what you seek, lost in the agonizing eternity of the now. In the distance you see an old man animated by a manic and familiar energy, but more tired now, slowed by age. You open your mouth to ask for directions, but he treads on your line and steals the scene:
“Tom Baker’s post-Doctor Who career is troubling. It is not, to be fair, an easy role to leave. Typecasting abounds, hence the fabled Troughton rule (though only Davison followed the rule by choice). Doubly so when you are, by your own admission, not so much an actor as a performer. Baker found considerable voice work, but it was years until the part he was known for had receded sufficiently far into the past that he could be cast on the basis of nostalgia for it instead of not cast on the basis of memory of it.
The result is awkward. For years Baker was the sticky wicket when it came to reunions. He remained absent in The Five Doctors, the desire (whether based on a real need or a perceived need) to frame the 30th Anniversary special around his Doctor with the others in cameo roles largely derailed that project, he for years did not appear on stage with other Doctors at conventions, and was the one who didn’t do audios for the longest time. His VHS documentary special The Tom Baker Years was a clip show that gave every impression of being set up so as to require the least possible time investment from Baker himself. There was a constant sense of Baker trying to distance himself from the part.
But then, when you are less an actor than a performer and have been typecast in a role the result is necessarily awkward. In all of this there is an uncomfortable sense that anything that can fairly be called Tom Baker has dropped out of the equation, that his very self was eaten by the part. Taken in this context much becomes clearer about his tenure – his prickliness and difficulty to work with becomes less the bitchiness of an egotistical star and more the tragic consequence of someone realizing the enormous gravity the role asserts, someone trying desperately to claw a self out of the voluminous reaches of the scarf. His later reluctance to return to the part becomes an understandable need to maintain the fragile existence he had separate from his definitive role.
And it is not until he becomes the man who was the Fourth Doctor and not simply the Fourth Doctor that he could return to Earth – not until David Tennant finally relieved him of the burden of being the most popular Doctor, not until he had a career separate from the role. More than any other actor to play the part, it seems, Tom Baker gave his life to the role. Let us say little more than that it is good to know that, at last, he seems to have gotten it back.”
The man smiles a toothy and familiar grin, and points ahead. At once the way is clear, the path on from here. The path, which seemed at first to be about loss, is revealed, as ever, to be about rebirth. Smiling yourself, you hurry on.
Go to section 6.
The ladder is yellowed and old, rickety and hard to climb. For a moment you doubt your ability, consider scurrying back down to the lunar foundation, but the nature of ascent precludes it. You must work your way up, slow and methodical. An unearthly child in a policewoman’s uniform with a shock of red hair speaks:
“How do you turn lead into gold? It has been said that the solution to the problem of the alchemists is material social progress. But this material progress is a slow refining – an incremental change. If we treat gold as perfection then this becomes the process by which it is made. By which it is tempered, in some accounts. In others, it is simply called art. The Problem of Susan never resolves, but is instead slowly chipped away at, each iteration shaving away the mistakes of the previous to reveal new errors and flaws that must be hammered out.
Progression towards utopia is impossible. And yet the utopian image lingers on. The perfect companion who, by haunting the narrative, always destroys the one that is there, a sacrifice to bring the ghost around. She never comes. You will climb forever, always failing to fix it, always having another rung, another impurity to be hammered out. Another bug in the program for which the exterminators must be called.
Romana was too strong a Doctor surrogate, so instead we replace her with a young, brash, impulsive and flawed boy. But this turns out to just be the Doctor only annoying, so in time he must go, especially when the trait that defines him – that he is the imperfect hero – is absorbed into the Doctor.
The female companion is always too docile, so we make a supposed mouth on legs, one who will shout and cajole and never back down. But the emboitment of worms proves, inevitably, bigger on the inside. Along with a troubling sexist discourse of how she is too uppity and complains too much (Never mind the utter justice of her complaints – her Aunt was murdered and she was swept into life-threatening adventures because she got a flat tire on the wrong stretch of road. She did not ask to fall out of the world.) there is a problem of undermining. With Tegan present, the show is not about the joys of seeing the universe. But then, it wasn’t to start. This is a puzzling aspect of art. The same flaws reiterate in new forms throughout the climb.
Still other times we make progress through failed reiteration. The noble bearing of Romana seemed interesting. Create a new noble genius, then, who is less a Doctor surrogate. A scientist, yes, but in a more limited scope. She retains Romana’s allure, but reveals the real problem with Romana – the same problem that existed with the Doctor: an emotionless detachment.
In time these flaws too are hammered away. The climb extends infinitely. Progress, achingly slow, is made.”
Slowly, inexorably, silver gives way to gold.
Go to section 6.
Amidst the blackness there is a musky smell and a cackling laughter. There is an unnerving sense that you are not alone, though there is nobody here. The laughter seems utterly distant, marking not a presence but an absence. And yet the air is stifling, sticky and hot. The laughter echoes, turning cacophonous, like an ever-present maddening drumbeat. Between the pulses you can just make out a voice:
“What am I at this point? Originally the doppelgänger of the Doctor, intended to be revealed as his id, in many ways the same mind as him, my return here is clouded. The ostensible logic is to bring something familiar to help ease the transition of the regeneration. In that regard, perhaps, a character who has not made a significant appearance in eight years is an odd choice. But there are larger problems. When last I made my regular appearance, as discussed at the time
, I suffered from a problem of symmetry. Meant as a counterpart to the Doctor I could not function once the Doctor became too ontologically determined. Once I was facing down Pertwee in his prime, the dashing, flawless action hero, I was nothing more than a comedy bumbler doomed to abject but audience-pleasing failure.
These problems have only grown worse. Now we have the single most star-powered Doctor in the series’ history. I can wipe out half the universe and it still doesn’t even register as a blip against him falling off a radio telescope. A radio telescope! That’s my image even – where I made my debut. A primal, howling scene of my creation, and I’m completely upstaged by Tom Baker long after he’s even given up trying to act.
Instead my nature has become libidinous. Not just on my own terms as I seem to exist less to fulfill a definable scheme and more for the sake of generating exceedingly outlandish quadruple-crosses and traps within traps – to generate complexity for its own sake. No, within the program’s instincts as well. I am the embodiment of the temptation to return to its past, the temptation to redo, to revisit, to repeat. I am the primary symptom of a show attempting to live up to a memory. I am an event marked by fiat, not because the event matters, but because it matters that there be an event here, now, in this spot.”
His grandstanding monologue degenerates into more tiresome cackling, or perhaps just gets lost among the drums, forgotten, abandoned, dare I say it, boring.
Go to section 6.
You take one step towards the tower and there is a crack of lightning. The tower explodes, its rubble raining down upon you. Pinned beneath, you see, amidst the smoldering wreckage above, a single figure clinging desperately to a last cable. He hangs for a time, then, at last, drops. As he falls, he speaks:
“Mercury is destructive. The anarchic must shatter all order. To begrudge this, to object, to scream and rage against the existence of the end is to miss the point spectacularly. Everything you love about Doctor Who must necessarily be destroyed, burnt forcibly out of it, scoured mercilessly so that the future may happen.
And yet it is impossible to treat this as anything short of painful. Watch as the most beloved of Doctors lingers, swings awkwardly, clings for a moment to hope, then plummets. Watch his broken body glow and change. There is always something, in the classic series, grotesque about the first shot of the new Doctor. In this case his smile, reassuring, even pleasant in every other shot Davison appears in, is instead a smug mockery. You’ve lost Tom Baker. Ha ha.”
There is a truth to it. No matter how it is framed, no matter how it is conceptualized, no matter how it is prepared for, the sense of shattering, epic loss is inescapable. For all that I love this story and its ideas it is painful to watch – one I actively dreaded getting on VHS. I did not want to see it. There is a crushing brutality to it, still, to this day. It’s not the same one that permeates Caves of Androzani – that sense of a last hurrah before the bad times begin. I love Davison’s Doctor – he’s probably, these days, my second favorite era of the classic series and my third favorite Doctor. But the sheer weight of the loss still hurts.
Slowly, painfully, you climb from the rubble and move on.
Go to section 7.
You can barely make out the road, lit as it is by a single distant point of light. The nature of the light is obscure, not from its physical distance but its temporal distance. A panama hat, perhaps, or a leather jacket, or a pair of trainers, or a bowtie. Some thing that is not yet, that is to be approached. The future. Its voice is soothing, providing a comfortable order even as you feel your way tentatively along the sky-blue glass of this path:
“For so long, this section of the landscape could be read only as apocalyptic. The slow and winding path to inevitable decline. This cannot be erased. We necessarily are marking the days to the show’s death. The first errors and missteps have already arrived, and more papercuts will continue to pile up until at last the light goes out.
Except that the light does not go out. The relationship between death and birth in Doctor Who has always been complex, and grows even moreso. A march towards death? Perhaps, but also a march towards resurrection. Every papercut is counterbalanced by a step towards the future, which exerts its ordering presence and guiding light upon an unfamiliar past. The future turns the past into a lie, making the random messiness of history an ordered narrative. Disconnected circumstances – Hofstadter, The ZX81, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Ted Nelson – become culture and a movement. And yet the glue that falsely binds these events together is also memory, without which the events would be lost completely to the blackness.
As above, so below. The chain of circumstances that fragments the law that holds the universe together is the very same chain that ensures its continuation.”
Your walk continues in serene silence. Eventually, perhaps, you arrive. Perhaps not.
Go to section 7.
A pungent and smoky odor drifts along the wan and sickly lit path. Vine-wrapped stonework is faintly visible in the distance, off the path. There is a sound of chittering insects, ancient denizens of some precambrian hell. A voice echoes, at once familiar and utterly alien:
“All things that were are dead now, slain out of reason and necessity. And yet you lust for their return. To dream of the future and to remember the past are always one, but the past that is remembered is not the past. I am what breeds in the gaps of those memories. The accreted dogmas and beliefs in what the show was, the lost magic of Doctor Who, the insistence that the sole true future of the show is held in memory, these things nourish and feed me. I am the yellowfaced Chinamen smoking the opium you breath in, the Mon(grel)oids in moptops, the sociopathic abscesses obscured by your dreams of a glorious past. In darkness alone can a solitary point of light be god. Here alone can single vision spin a simulacrum of a world. The past carbonizes away, decays to shale and oil. And yet you lust for Silurian seas and ancient and worshipful laws.
Am I ascendent or in decline? The wizard who opposes magic tears away at me, and yet I lurk, soon to emerge, soon to at last control this show. For now I bide my time, and enumerate the heresies:
- Why does Nyssa, who previously showed no particular awareness of the TARDIS, now have the capacity to send a message to it, to toll the bell for the Doctor?
- Why does the Watcher appear here and here alone of all of the Doctor’s regenerations?
- What happened to the rules about TARDISes materializing within one another? And what the hell is the Doctor thinking with his flushing out the TARDIS scheme?
- Is the Master not chaotic even as motiveless malignancies go?
- Why is Logopolis mirroring late 20th century Earth technology for their brilliant plan to save the universe?
- Where are the Guardians? Or the Time Lords?
- Why does the Doctor think that his method of dealing with the police is remotely sensible?
- How exactly does the Doctor plan on perfectly modeling the measurements of a Police Box that is obviously of a different design from the one the TARDIS looks like?
- Why does shrinking the exterior of the TARDIS affect the interior? It’s already bigger on the inside.
- Why is the Watcher willing to send the Doctor to Logopolis when doing so obliterates a large swath of the universe, including inhabited worlds? And why is this never mentioned again?”
Her screeching enumerations of faults drive you hurriedly down the long and dark path. Slowly her voice fades, at first into some banal boy band. A last wisp of lyrics – something about finding heaven and the wings of love – and the voice goes silent at last.
Everything is gold, transcendent, radiant, burningly beautiful. A dawn that is brighter than roses, cinnamon-swirled and radiant. Amidst the glow is a silhouette of a babe swaddled in a cricket suit, sucking upon the teat of a stalk of celery. He speaks:
“I am prepared for.
Every regeneration is necessarily a shift away from the excesses of the previous. On a basic level this leads to, within any given chain of three or four Doctors, a sort of toggling. 1-4 are roughly “Serious/Funny/Serious/Funny.” 4-6 are roughly “Bombastic/Restrained/Bombastic” But over a longer period there are more significant drifts. Negation of negation does not return to the original. This is progress – an endless turning back that does not quite retrace the past. Here, seven years on from the last new Doctor, the shift is one of the two most seismic in the series’ history.
Baker’s Doctor was defined by his invulnerability. Throughout his entire tenure there is not a single story that hinges on him as a character – on his turmoil, weakness, or dramatic investment. He is purely a force of nature, possessing no interior dimensions to speak of. That, then, is what I react against. The whole of Logopolis denotes this and this specifically. A story about the Doctor’s doom, at no point anywhere in it does the Doctor react to his own doom beyond the pragmatic. The Doctor’s reactions to his doom are wholly absent. When Lawrence Miles speaks of the crystalline silence permeating this story this, more than anything, is what makes it. It is a story about a dying man who at no point shows any sign of being conflicted by this.
The result is necessarily the introduction of subjectivity to the Doctor. Or, rather, the centralizing of it. The Doctor has been subjective before – most obviously in Planet of the Spiders – but now he is in part defined by it. Defined by the fact that he is not imperious and invulnerable, but instead a potentially weak man who nevertheless remains strong. And given the nature of how the endless negation of regeneration slowly drifts, this sort of change cannot be erased. This is the last story in which the Doctor is wholly other, and it is one that necessarily introduces the idea of the Doctor as an emotional protagonist instead of merely a plot one.”
With that he falls silent, the act of birth not being commensurate with the act of life. He will speak more later.
Go to section 8.
Amidst the searing heat of futurity and the stark and crimson blaze a man, clad also in red, burns in radiant light. From within this inferno he speaks thusly:
“The end, by definition, is prepared for. All things, by Aristotelean principle, prepare for the end. If anything the end is over-prepared for, laden with excessive symbols and preparations. A key concept, for instance, is the end of the Age of Osiris – an age represented by the dying and reborn solar god – and the beginning of the Age of Horus. Consider the scattered markings of the past
implying that this marks a final regeneration – the literal end of the creature defined by rebirth and the moving into something new. Consider also the presence of the Master, now a creature not of rebirth but of something else, the threat that he shall now overtake the very universe itself. ‘Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully.’ The end is littered with symbolic misfires, signifying landmines threatening to detonate any path. Harry, I’m standing on a signifier.
That the point where I would cease to be the Doctor would someday come is inevitable. The inevitability of Tom Baker’s physical death, the sun’s expanding to a red giant, and the heat death of the universe conspire to ensure that at some point I necessarily must cease. Every breath and action I take necessarily moves me closer to that point. What is less clear is that there is a successor. From my first breath I was the definite article. Designed to be beloved and cherished, the leading man par excellence. For seven years I walked in eternity. Nearly half of the show’s existence to this point. Why bother with a nineteenth season? It’s been a good run. I can’t be topped. Free up the budget for a new idea. Creative destruction, I believe it’s called.
By rights this should be triumphant. A greatest hits compilation followed by a tragic last stand. Perhaps a maudlin “reward” in which I visit past companions. How is dear Sarah Jane getting on? Pull out all the stops and then go. No point in continuing.
This, of course, is the great triumph of Nathan-Turner. Whatever his later failings, the fact is that almost any route through this story should have been the end of the show. That there are eight more seasons at all is astonishing. And a show that ends here is not immortal. Not one that returns. Gets reimagined, perhaps – plundered and rewritten into something else. But not returns. In this regard the preparations for this episode, the way in which this specific regeneration are built to, are a lynchpin. Logopolis is one of the few stories that simply cannot be excised from the history of Doctor Who – that it is impossible to imagine the show without. The decision to make the end a whimper and not a bang. The decision to, over the course of a season, strip away my star power and leading man charisma, to push me to the margins of my own show, to replace the entire artifice I stood upon with squabbling and unfamiliar kids, to kill my show off before killing me off.
That is the preparation.”
The man immolates, gone, at least for now. The road continues forward as the searing red tempers, cools, fades ahead to orange.
Go to section 8.
There is a blast of sulphurous air as the world goes black. A fear that crawls like a serpent up from your gut, a sense that these things are too large for one mind to grasp. You turn to go back, to curl up within the soft embrace of Thatcherite barbarism instead of facing this. The road back has vanished however. The crocodile’s head yawns. Slowly, an order becomes clear. Not a crocodile head but the head of a snake, trodden beneath the feet of a woman of radiant beauty, nude and fluidly still. The snake winds its way around her, undulating serenely. They speak:
“A mystical tradition within Judaism based upon numerological contemplation of the Hebrew language, the Kabbalah as a term embraces many doctrines and traditions. In European Judaism it was formalized in the Middle Ages. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain at the hands of the Inquisition Judaism exhibited the inevitable uptick in eschatology and attempts to figure out when that Messiah thing was going to show up became popular. The result was a turn back towards the mysticism of the Kabbalah. These efforts came to merge with the syncretic urges of Renaissance mysticism to form the bastardized occult version of the concept.
In this understanding the Kabbalah provides a Tree of Life comprised of ten Sephiroth linked by 22 paths each represented by the Major Arcana of the Tarot. This tree comprises a complete map of creation – a diagram of the order of all things. The lowest, highest Sephira, Kether, represents the pure unity of the divine, and from it, down the lightning path, flows the divine until it reaches Malkuth, the Kingdom, in which it takes on its material form.”
Or at least, you think that’s what they say. Two voices overlapping and all. It’s a bit unclear. It might have been something more like:
“Edward Packard’s The Cave of Time
, the first of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, came out in 1979. An overtly analog and literary form, they nevertheless tied in with the burgeoning interest in computers
characteristic of the period. It is a case in which a variety of influences, all distinct in their own right, combined within the zeitgeist to form a culture that was inexorably clear to those within it. Packard was not a computer scientist and had no immediate connections to Douglas Hofstadter’s massively popular Godel, Escher, Bach
. Hofstadter, in turn, was not directly connected with Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu, and cites Computer Lib/Dream Machines
not at all in Godel, Escher, Bach
. And none were among the generation raised on the Sinclair ZX81, the BBC Micro, or, in the US, the Commodore 64 and Apple II.
But to be alive in the 1980s was to be intimately aware of all of these. The idea of structure was resurgent, but not in the stark and modernist sense of design. Rather, structure was a source of playfulness. It’s not that the ideas are new. Rather, it is their confluence – the fact that all of this was immediately prevalent in mass culture. This is in many ways the birth of postmodernism as a cultural force – the point where we all realized that rules, law, language itself were just jungle gyms waiting to be climbed and hung upside down from. That the map, while not the territory, is still a territory, inexorably connected to its object, endlessly explorable.”
It is difficult to say. The din and stink of sulfur drives you on up the road. In time the voices fade, and you realize the pitch blackness of the vast and empty space has given way to a crackling purple glow.
Go to section 9.