Adric has found the Doctor sulking in the TARDIS cloisters. The Doctor has lost Romana and K9. He’s feeling his age. His ship seems to be falling apart too. The stone pillars, overrun with vines, crumble under his fingers. And, to cap it off, Adric wants to be taken back to Gallifrey.
“I sometimes think I should be running a tighter ship,” he says sadly.
“A tighter ship?” gasps Adric, as though this is a threatening notion.
“Yes. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is taking its toll on the old thing. Entropy increases.”
“Yes, daily. The more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart. That’s the essence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken.”
It’s only fitting that the Doctor should fight one of his most elemental battles against omnipresent entropy. The Doctor has encountered entropy many times on his travels. The Tribe of Gum were dangerous because their world was dying in the cold, all heat drained away. The Moroks froze entropy in an attempt to freeze their own declining imperial history. Skaro was a petrified jungle, everything “turned to sand and ashes”. Later, the same planet was depicted as a wasteland, with technology evolving in reverse as the Thals and Kaleds fought a backwards war of attrition. The Exxilons built a city that sucked all life and vitality out of their civilisation. Skagra tried to fight entropy by subjecting all life to his will, thus turning the universe into a machine for constructing more and more structure. The Argolin were sterile, living on a desolated world. The Melkur came to the Keeper’s walled garden and started breeding blights and weeds. The Doctor even comes from a world that has stalled entropy forever, only to find itself socially entropic. Entropy has always been implicitly unbiquitous in the Doctor’s universe. Just as he notices it nibbling away at the TARDIS, it becomes explicitly unbiquitous.
SF is obsessed with entropy because SF is one of the cultural products most peculiar to modernity. Modernity is, essentially, the condition of the rise and triumph of capitalism. Capitalism is entropic. Like the Master, it ‘generates’ entropy.
SF expresses the dizzying possibilities of modernity in terms of space travel and time travel. It is not ‘scientific’ but it would be unthinkable without science. The language of science is the language it uses to reiterate the old myths and legends of death and decay and eternity. It is, perhaps, the quintessential genre of modernity. It is how fiction tackles the “relationship of man to his tools” in a modern, capitalist age when the tools have become powerful enough to destroy worlds and (seemingly) think for themselves. SF keeps coming back to the hyper-destructive violence of high-tech war. It keeps coming back to the end of the world, the post-apocalyptic wasteland. It keeps coming back to stalled and tottering dystopias. It keeps coming back to the malfunctioning of technology, its unintended by-products, the machines that kill and ruin.…