“Being without becoming” – Disjointed Thoughts on Dialectics and the Third Doctor, Part 1
“Being without becoming [is] an ontological absurdity” says the Doctor in ‘The Time Monster’.
He’s talking about time, about the fact that time is – by definition – a process of change. Time is what entropy looks like to those of us in the midst of it. Entropy increases, thus time’s arrow goes forward. ‘Becoming’ is just a way of saying ‘change’. Everything is always in the process of becoming something else. Every apple is in the process of becoming a rotten apple, or an eaten apple, or seeds resown. ‘Ontology’ is the fancy name used by philosophers to mean the study of what it means for things to exist, to be real. The Doctor is saying: “the idea of things being frozen in time is inherently absurd because things that don’t change effectively don’t exist”.
Though, of course, in ‘The Time Monster’, things and people do get frozen in time. The story shows us something happening which has already been established as impossible. It’s almost as if we are being explicitly invited to read the story metaphorically.
This is something that doesn’t quite happen in ‘The Three Doctors’. As Phil Sandifer has said, the story should be set in the Land of Fiction. The moments when Omega materialises an ornate chair from nowhere, and when the Doctors make a normal door appear amidst all the bubbly orangely madness, are moments when we see how Omega’s realm should have been done – as an openly metaphorical realm of familiar imagery surreally employed. We have a similar problem in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’. Clearly the entire trial should have occured in the Matrix, in the realm of metaphor, in the nest of sinister and surreal Victoriana, instead of in a bog-standard courtroom with some spangly bits stuck on because it’s in space. Omega’s realm should have been such a place. It should have been like the Land of Fiction, or Goth’s Matrix, or the Valeyard’s Matrix, or Heaven in A Matter of Life and Death. We are, after all, clearly engaged in a life and death metaphor here, with things disappearing from our world and being stranded in another, and then hauntingly returning to attack our world. However, as I say, ‘The Three Doctors’ attempts to foreclose on such readings by stubbornly insisting upon sciency-sounding jargon. Black holes, anti-matter, etc. The metaphorical possibilities of being transported from one realm of reality to another of unreality are shut-down (the attempt is at least made) by the technobabble about matter being processed so it can exist in a world of anti-matter.
Thing is, it never quite takes. Anti-matter is rarely used to mean anything scientific in sci-fi. The name itself is metaphor, expressing a scientific concept that is very hard to grasp in literal terms, especially for the layman. In sci-fi, ‘anti-matter’ is usually metaphorical. In ‘Planet of Evil’, anti-matter is straightforwardly hauntological! It is evil matter. Ghostly matter. Gothic matter. Hammer matter. It can infect our world, bringing ghosts with it, making jungles into haunted spaces, turning a sci-fi boffin from a Dr Jekyll into a shambling, simian Mr Hyde. …