What can I do but cheat?

Three moments, not in chronological order.


Barbara Wright is in a junkyard.  She walks into a Police Box.  She’s in a large, brightly lit control room.

This can happen on screen because of the cut.  The material conditions of TV production, manifested as a splicing together of two recorded moments into the appearance of one fluid event, makes this possible.  We have “discovered television”.  We can put huge buildings inside small boxes.  We can put Narnia inside the wardrobe; Wonderland inside the rabbit hole.  The quintessential trait of British fantastic literature for kids – the eccentric relationship of impossible spaces – can be made visual.

Doctor Who‘s very nature as storytelling is utterly bound up with the limits of the material conditions of television production.  So much so that living on that limit became its raison d’etre.  Its development has always been inextricably connected with what can materially be done, and how it is done.  And what it has done has always developed what it wants to be able to do next.  As I’ve said elsewhere, ‘The Space Museum’ pushes the show onto a new track, politically speaking… and it does this partly because the aesthetics of the show – which stem from the limits and capabilities of material TV production – crunch up against an allegory about empire.  This sort of thing happens several times, but the first time it happens is that cut from the junkyard to the control room.  The kind of story that is told is fundamentally shaped by its material production.  Later, the kinds of stories that are being told demand new developments in how stories can be told.  The dialectic starts here.

This is analogous (I’ll go no further than that) to one aspect of how history itself works.  The productive forces determine (in the soft sense) the ideas and relations built upon them; then they come into conflict and new ideas arise that demand new developments in the productive forces. It’s fitting to find this analogy in the clockwork of a show that puts so much stress on history.  It does stress history, by the way, even when it moves away from ‘historicals’ and into SF.  Its mode of SF is essentially allegorical and utopian.  And that too is fitting, because of those eccentric and impossible spaces of British fantastic children’s literature upon which the show is so reliant.  In the post-war era, those spaces became gateways to newly-imagined social pasts, presents and futures.  Under the rubble, rabbit holes might lead to a New Jerusalem.


The Doctor picks up a sharp rock.  Ian evidently suspects that the Doctor intends to do something brutally pragmatic and brain Za with it.  The Doctor claims he wanted to ask Za to draw a map back to the ship.

Either way, the Doctor saw a rock and decided to use it as a tool.  Given that this story is about ‘cavemen’ who are dying out because they’ve forgotten how to use their own technology, I think this is pretty big.…

Continue Reading