Alison J Campbell’s piece on LOST was so well received, she was inspired to write something else. How could I possibly say no? Technically this one should go somewhere in the Moffat era, but I’m still on vacation, so think of it as a message from the future, a New Year’s present – for the moment.
|Aviary Box by Joseph Cornell. Trust me on this.|
The problem with time-travel stories isn’t in the contradictory nature of their construction — neither in the apparent paradox of information that doesn’t seem to have a causal origination, nor in the notion that time can be rewritten. The main problem with time-travel stories is that they’re too often taken literally. Time travel stories are inherently metaphorical, because our most basic conceptions of time itself are ensconced in metaphor. Without the metaphor of Time as a Dimension of Space, wherein everything we know experientially about moving through the three dimensions gets applied to Time, we would never have the concept of time-travel, let alone time-travel stories. (We also conceive of Time as a Moving Object, particularly a River; and third as a Resource, something that can be apportioned and managed as other resources are.)
The second and much less trivial mistake is that time-travel stories aren’t logical constructions, but are laid on the foundation of dramatic concerns. It’s in this respect that Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife really shines (unlike its botched movie adaptation) and most likely why it’s been so thoroughly pilfered by Doctor Who.
Indeed, it bears many features of a Doctor Who story. First and foremost, it plays with the notion of smashing different genres together. One the one hand, we’ve got the stalwart SF trope of time-travel, presented in science terms – Henry DeTamble is a Chrono-Displaced Person, his Chrono-Impairment deriving from some redundant “clock genes” that create an electromagmetic pulse in his brain, not unlike an epilectic seizure, which sends him careening backwards in forwards in time, without apparent rhyme or reason, and certainly without any control. In this respect he’s not unlike the good Doctor himself, at least in the early days of the show, when he could barely navigate the TARDIS.
On the other hand we’ve got a romance, detailing his relationship with Clare Abshire, who isn’t a time-traveler. We get first dates, hot sex, a wedding, and triangles for them both. Henry is the leading candidate for Reformed Rake, the bad-boy turned good by the influence of the right woman; for much of the story, Henry and Clare are Star-Crossed Lovers, kept apart by Henry’s fatalistic displacement; at the same time, they are truly Fated To Be Together. There are, in fact, a lot of novel ways that Romance tropes can be exploited through the mechanism of time-travel.
Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes apparent that TTTW is neither a SF story, nor a Romance, nor really a weird cross-breed of the two. On the one hand, it’s rather slim in its use of SF tropes – the genetic explanation is dodgy as all hell, and aside from the cornucopia of pharmaceuticals that Henry takes in a vain attempt to master his condition, there aren’t any scientific concerns to speak of at all, at all.