Time Can Be Rewritten(…ish) 24
…ish is one of those pieces that is desperate for you to recognize how clever it is, which would be irritating if it weren’t so damned clever. Indeed, it’s sufficiently clever that an irritating number of reviewers seem to think that this is a lot of clever presentation wrapped around an overly simple story. This, however, involves an unfortunate confusion of plot with story. The plot is standard Doctor Who fare – an expedition to an alien planet inadvertently collects something… evil. It escapes back among the humans and threatens to cause untold devastation. After uncovering malfeasance among the people who went on the expedition the Doctor stops the evil thing and saves the day. As basic as they come, really.
The only tricky bit, really, is that the “something evil” is, in fact, a word and that the nature of the threat is the complete collapse of all language and meaning. The word – referred to as the “ish” – destroys meaning itself – as, of course, does the suffix itself. The threat is that the ish will be unleashed into the Omniverbum, which is essentially the Word of “in the beginning was the” fame.
It’s just that this tricky bit causes the story to extend considerably beyond the straightforward plot. It also, however, enables a mass of cleverness, some of which is oft-noted and some of which is less so. The most obvious thing to observe is that this is a story that required Baker’s Doctor. One of the key characteristics of Baker’s Doctor is a degree of pomposity. Unfortunately, as Tat Wood rather cuttingly observed in About Time, this tends to manifest such that Baker comes off as a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person is like. Which is to say that the writers had an irritating tendency to write with the thesaurus open such that Baker’s Doctor displays a certain… ludicrous logorrhea, if you will. (The trait is, of course, compounded when Pip and Jane Baker are writing for him, since their tendency is to write everybody verbosely to begin with.)
So for a story that is about words and language there was really only one Doctor to choose. And the story is littered with bits of wordplay and what is less continuity porn than continuity erotica – a bevy of jokes that are both terribly obscure and utterly artful. (An impossibly large encyclopedia volume beginning with DAL, for instance. Or a Delphon joke.) There’s also a rampant set of jokes referencing post-structuralist literary theory – several bits of dialogue are straight lifts from major postmodernist thinkers. (I caught at the very least a Lacan and a Deleuze reference) This is also a compelling bit of timing. The era this story is set during was the real breakout of postmodernism, both in popular culture and in academia, and a story that is about postmodern literary theory is a natural fit – a story that on the one hand would never have been made in the era itself, but on the other still speaks to the cultural concerns of the era.…