Time Can Be Rewritten 32 (Death Comes to Time)
I’m hard-pressed to come up with much of an argument for being anything other than honest about this one. This is an absolutely terrible story. Virtually everything about it is completely misconceived. For those unaware of it, it’s the first of four attempts at a webcast Doctor Who during the wilderness years. It was successful enough to do more, but not nearly successful enough to justify the same approach – the next two attempts would be farmed out to Big Finish, and after that, attempted their online continuation of Doctor Who in the form of Scream of the Shalka, which we’ll get to in due course. All of which said, what is it about this story that’s so mind-wrenchingly bad?
Back on Friday, in the comments, there was a discussion about the importance or lack thereof of continuity. Which is convenient, because one of the most obvious and often-raised objections to this story is that it is a complete and utter departure from all established continuity. That it kills the Doctor in his Seventh incarnation, thus apparently attempting to relegate the McGann movie into the abyss might fairly be taken as charmingly cheeky by some fans. That it does so in a way that discards the entire New Adventures line would have sacrificed points with many of those fans, but no matter. But that it does so along with completely redoing the Time Lords, turning them into magic sorcerers with no shortage of clear inspiration from Highlander, is pretty tough to swallow.
Why is this? After all, for the most part I’ve been pretty vocal in support of a “there’s no such thing as canon/continuity” approach to Doctor Who. Why not throw major strands away and start over? Continuity, after all, just endlessly and eternally limits what you can do. So if you’ve got a better take on the Time Lords than the series’ – and let’s face it, given that the series’ Time Lords went out with Trial of a Time Lord, itself following the Arc of Infinity/Five Doctors version of Gallifrey, this is not a high bar to clear – why not scrap them and replace it with a new one?
One line of thought is that this is OK, but that it has to be done deliberately and consciously. I largely disagree with this. I think it’s more accurate to say that if you want to ignore continuity completely and go lark around with new ideas, feel free. Destroy Atlantis for the fourth time. Provide yet another explanation for how human evolution progressed with alien influence. Destroy the Earth again. Go for it. To insist that Doctor Who not revisit ideas like these over the decades is just silly.
But what’s notable about this set of continuity glitches is that they’re ones that can come up from writers who just aren’t aware of what one another are doing. OK, it’s admittedly a little weird that Sloman and Letts nuked Atlantis twice in two seasons, but the fact that they contradicted Gregory Orme from five years earlier is almost completely uninteresting. The phrase “back in The Underwater Menace” was, one can almost guarantee, never uttered anywhere in the course of making The Time Monster. This category – things where two writers independently come up with similar ideas within Doctor Who that then jar with each other somewhat – is just about the least interesting category of continuity error imaginable. And I have little regard for any account of the series that thinks consistency in these things, or even attentiveness in these things, is worthwhile for anything other than pub conversation.
But first of all, continuity is separate from reference to the past in general. The fact that it is closing in on a half-century of history is a substantial part of what Doctor Who is at this point, and in that context making reference to the history of the program can be, and indeed often is, worthwhile and interesting. And it shouldn’t be too controversial to suggest that, if you’re going to reference the past of the program, it might be a good idea to get it right. This is separate from a suggestion that continuity matters in general. For the most part a writer for Doctor Who can get away with ignoring almost everything that has gone before beyond the broadest outline of what the series is about and what its general ethos is. But if you start engaging in continuity then, well, you’re engaged in continuity and stuck dealing with its implications. Invoking continuity and getting it wrong can be an error even if ignoring continuity entirely is not.
That said, even within this there are two versions of continuity, which we can roughly call cultural continuity and textual continuity. Textual continuity is the sort that people usually talk about when they talk about continuity – the actual, material stuff that was in episodes of Doctor Who. It tends to be detail-oriented. But there’s a second version – cultural continuity – that is, in most cases, more important. To use an example from the new series, textual continuity is what points out that Sarah Jane did, in fact, meet the Doctor again in The Five Doctors, and in several spin-offs to boot, and that her whole “you left me and never came back for me” routine is at least arguably unsupported by the series’ history. Cultural continuity, on the other hand, holds that almost anyone in the audience who is aware of Sarah Jane’s history with the Doctor will remember The Hand of Fear better than they remember which companions returned in The Five Doctors, and that the status quo as presented in School Reunion is the one that will be most familiar to the most viewers.
When dealing with the past of the program this is a very important distinction to draw. And when looking at an invocation of the program’s past one has to figure out if one is dealing with cultural continuity or textual continuity, and read it properly. The trouble, when it comes to Death Comes to Time, is that the story seems to be trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, bringing McCoy and Aldred back seems to position the story as a direct successor to the end of the television series. Similarly, the fact that it was explicitly positioned in the “cult” section of the BBC’s website makes it clear that this is meant to be pandering towards fans, not towards lay memories.
And yet Ace is almost unrecognizable (both visually and in terms of her character), and McCoy’s Doctor is little better. Worse is the appearance of the Brigadier in the final episode, where he shows up in the following exchange of dialogue, which, I regret to inform you, I quote exactly:
General Tannis: Enemy craft! You have the honor of being addressed by his excellency General Tannis, supreme commander of the defense forces of…
Brigadier: Enemy craft, you have the misfortune of being addressed by the Brigadier! Now get out of my solar system!
At which point the incidental music switches to Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” although, frankly, I recommend thinking of it as “My Humps” simply because it’s about the only entertainment that it’s possible to wring out of this atrocity. Even if this dialogue were well-written – and it isn’t – it would fly in the face of the entire basic premise of the Brigadier post-Pertwee era, who is manifestly not some sort of superhero who goes around identifying himself as the Brigadier as if nobody else in the military has ever attained the rank. And completely flying in the face of the basic concept of a character is kind of exactly what you don’t want to do with a moment that exists only to nod towards an informed and savvy bunch of fans. (Even if you want to try to treat this as a return to the Pertwee-era Brigadier it’s miles off-base. There’s no way out of the fact that the character is defined by an understated unflappability, not by a tendency to strut around and tell alien emperor’s that he’s the biggest badass on Earth.)
But equally, much of Death Comes to Time seems to belong to the cultural approach to continuity. Taken broadly it fits firmly in the tradition of “reboots” of series. Freedman is pretty clearly taking the basic idea of Doctor Who – that there’s this man called the Doctor who travels around in a blue box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and he’s a renegade Time Lord – and taking it in a new direction. The problem is that he’s half-assing it. If that’s the direction you want to go, hire a new Doctor and actually start over. The approach Death Comes to Time takes, whereby it tries simultaneously to be the climactic end of the McCoy era and the start of a new take on the series doesn’t work.
But even if we give Death Comes to Time maximum credit and decide to read it purely as a reboot there’s a catastrophic problem. Generally speaking the benefit of a reboot is that it lets you clear away the bad decisions of a previous take on a concept and to return to first principles. So, for instance, the 2005 version of Battlestar Galactica takes away the badly dated glam space opera of the original series and maintains its most interesting concept, the idea of the last vestiges of humanity trying desperately to escape extermination. In other words, if you’re going to reboot something, you kind of have to actually improve on the original.
The problem is that Freedman’s script fits firmly into the long line of attempts throughout the 90s and early 2000s to reboot Doctor Who along the standard issue lines of epic science fiction in the Hollywood tradition. These attempts are, generally speaking, all staggeringly ill-advised. In order to get an idea of just how terrible most of these ideas were, consider this: the Paul McGann movie was made largely because it was the best of them. And so we’ll deal with this little trainwreck as a nice bit of metonymy, whereby we don’t have to touch any of the others. Because people were actually stupid enough to spend money making this, it gets to stand in for a dozen equally crap things that were avoided. That said, let’s briefly mention the worst of the things that did not come to pass: the so-called Leekley Bible, an overview of the series based on the quest of the Doctor to find his father, Ulysses, in order to stop his half-brother the Master. Because it’s the one that gives us the clearest way into understanding what is so staggeringly wrong about this.
The Leekley Bible, like all Hollywood science fiction of the era, doesn’t even pretend to have inspirations beyond rote execution of the Joseph Campbell playbook. My disdain for Campbell has been discussed in detail previously, but the short form is this: he carelessly shoehorns a ton of mythology into a paradigm that is blatantly patriarchal and strongly favors western mythologies over eastern ones. The metastasis of his crank literary theory into a straitjacket for all of Hollywood science fiction is, in this regard, inevitable. The valorization of white men, the uniformity and mass production of a narrative product, and the tacit message that you too might be the chosen hero who wins the lottery and changes economic classes over the course of his life – sorry, that fulfills some prophecy or another – are perfect for mass production capitalist entertainment.
There is, in other words, something horrifyingly conservative about the Campbell structure as practiced. It creates a drab monoculture, governed by its monomyth, always presenting the illusion of the heroic individual while tacitly positioning the vast majority of the world as the people who sit and passively watch as the heroic individual saves them, and, ideally, pays for the privilege. In its modern configurations, where far too many otherwise intelligent people are duped into breathlessly proclaiming that superheroes or Star Wars or whatever are modern mythology, inevitably pointing to Campbell as their evidence, it becomes downright sickening. Even the most staggering banalities of reality television pale in comparison to the cultural bleakness implied by the idea that our mythology is now corporate-owned and bound up in perpetual copyright. And yet academic fans of popular media take on an almost post-coital afterglow as they proclaim just that.
What’s interesting about Doctor Who is the extent to which, over a fourteen year stretch in which people were actively trying to feed it to Campbell’s blunt engine, it stubbornly resisted. And of course it did, since the mercurial anarchism that is written in Blakean fire on the very heart of the show’s concept is diametrically and vehemently opposed to the Campbell approach. This is why so many of the Campbell approaches just sound horrible. Because turning Doctor Who, as Leekley does, into a drab quest to restore the family unit (or, sorry, as Campbell calls it, “Atonement with the Father”), or, as many of the other proposals mooted during the wilderness years do, a story about a man scarred by a love triangle just cheapens it. Doctor Who is so much larger and weirder than the hero’s journey can ever hope to encompass, and these Campbell-inflected treatments of it all just feel pathetic. This is, in many ways, the joyous trick of Doctor Who. In Doctor Who fighting a giant licorice allsort feels tremendous and momentous, while fighting to save the universe from your evil half-brother and searching for your father feels like the most dull and mundane thing imaginable.
And Death Comes to Time takes the cake in this approach. It exposes the real reason that the “Ace becomes a Time Lord” plot idea is idiotic – because it just steamrolls Ace into a Campbell-by-numbers joke. She spends the entire story walking the Campbell road, while the Doctor gets shoehorned into the Obi-wan Kenobi role without a second thought (hence the absurdly dumb idea of killing him off in your big online launch of a new Doctor Who story – because he’s the supernatural aid, and that’s what happens to supernatural aids). And it’s just dull. There’s nothing remotely interesting about the Time Lords as guardians of some ancient order of things and the balance of good and evil and they have great power that they must never ever use and oh my god just shoot me now please. It’s all the most cliched epic sci-fi drek imaginable, without an ounce of creativity or soul to it.
And, unsurprisingly, it becomes an ethical trainwreck of the worst sort. The over-arching message of the story, reiterated explicitly at multiple points and levels, are that rules are the only things that matter and that even if they are completely arbitrary they must be obeyed because the alternative is catastrophic. The very act of breaking the rules is always morally depraved, no matter how good one’s intentions are.
I’d really like to stress this. Because I know there are people who drift past my blog, reading, say, the entry on The Celestial Toymaker or the one on The Twin Dilemma and, seeing me take an anti-racist or anti-misogynist position, immediately curl into a defensive crouch of “he’s reading too much into the story.” I’m really not, for what it’s worth, and virtually every version of these arguments I’ve seen (and I’ve seen them a lot, because they show up in my referral logs once a month or so) tend to be of the form “I disagree with this one small point so the entire thing is invalid,” or, even better, “but X” where X is something I actually already acknowledge in my argument. But lest there be any mistake or confusion, this is not me reading into the story. This is unambiguously and explicitly reiterated as the moral of the story over and over again. Rules are rules and must be followed absolutely even though they are arbitrary. Any breaking of the rules is evil.
To put that message out under the title Doctor Who is, frankly, sickening. No, it’s not as basely vile as The Twin Dilemma or The Celestial Toymaker, both of which have a material component to their moral failings that make them more immediately odious. But it’s still a complete rejection of everything that David Whitaker or Malcolm Hulke or Robert Holmes or Patrick Troughton or Graham Williams ever did with the program, and an appalling insult to all of their memories.
All of this, however, makes Death Comes to Time seem rather larger and more self-important than it deserves to be. Let us instead put it in a more straightforward perspective. After demonstrating that the UK has the military power to fight back an intergalactic conquerer where the US can only cower impotently, the story has UNIT picking over the alien technology and talking about how it will bring about a new age of prosperity. The story’s ethics are, in other words, exactly what Russell T. Davies skewers just four years later in the form of the Yvonne Hartman-led version of Torchwood. So let’s just take that image of Death Comes to Time: stupid, evil, and thoroughly defeated.
August 13, 2012 @ 1:56 am
Hard to disagree with any of that. Wasn’t it offered to BBC radio first, and turned down because it was unbroadcastable? When I think of Death Comes To Time now – and I try not to – two things tend to spring to mind: Nev Fountain’s multiple tales of agony from working on it, and his funny sideswipe when writing about Underworld in a DWM special; and Sylvester’s reading of The Pandorica Speech, as seen all over the internet. I love Matt’s Doctor, but somehow it seems so utterly right for Sylv, and somehow conjures up the feeling of a lost Sylv story that’s tantalisingly out of reach but so much better than the two that went out actually set at Stonehenge…
August 13, 2012 @ 2:00 am
Regarding the stuff about Joseph Campbell and Hollywood: Word.
August 13, 2012 @ 3:08 am
I can see Doctor Who fitting with Campbell, but only as the Destined Hero breaking out of the confines of his Immutable Destiny. In other words, faced with the idea of a final happy ending or a heroic death, the Doctor waited until no one was watching, then stole a blue box and went off to escape and do more interesting things.
August 13, 2012 @ 3:55 am
For what it is, it's technically fairly well made. But other than that, I agree with just about every word. It's AWFUL. It's just not Doctor Who, at all. I've only seen it once, and I have no plans to watch it again.
I love your last paragraph, but you missed out that the US aren't just shown as impotent, but also apparently mentally defective. George W Bush is one thing but that NASA(?) guy, played by David Soul of all people, was just shocking!
It's not at all helped by the fact that it's three hours long.
"It’s all the most cliched epic sci-fi drek imaginable, without an ounce of creativity or soul to it."
August 13, 2012 @ 4:32 am
the mercurial anarchism that is written in Blakean fire on the very heart of the show’s concept is diametrically and vehemently opposed to the Campbell approach.
This is why so many of the Campbell approaches just sound horrible. Because turning Doctor Who, as Leekley does, into a drab quest to restore the family unit… just cheapens it…
And Death Comes to Time takes the cake in this approach. It exposes the real reason that the “Ace becomes a Time Lord” plot idea is idiotic – because it just steamrolls Ace into a Campbell-by-numbers joke.
Wow, you must really hate Series Five, not to mention Rose's entire arc.
Henry R. Kujawa
August 13, 2012 @ 5:06 am
"The metastasis of his crank literary theory into a straitjacket for all of Hollywood science fiction is, in this regard, inevitable."
I've heard it said, in Hollywood, nobody wants to be "first", but everybody wants to be "second". Someone has a success, and everyone else will say, "YEAH! Let's do something LIKE THAT!!!" Which explains, among other things, all the tacky "space" movies that followed "STAR WARS", and nearly every "slasher" film that followed "HALLOWEEN".
I've also read that George Lucas did not actually base "STAR WARS" on anything Campbell wrote, but merely claimed to do so 2 decades later, in an attempt to make "STAR WARS" somehow seem more "legitimate".
One of the worst examples of doing "Campbell" (or "Lucas") I can think of was "THE MASK OF ZORRO". The film was an outstanding production on nearly every single level– locations, sets, costumes, cast, directing, acting, editing, stunts, actions, effects, music, you name it. But I wanted to KILL the writer. It was a rare instance where the "quality" of the film, I felt, was acting in total opposition to a story pieced together by some hopeless, soulless HACK, who, among other things, decided that Don Diego Vega should suddenly become Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Having him thrown into jail the day his arch-enemy was leaving the country, having just murdered his wife and kidnapped his daughter, and then escaping prison 20 years later, at the moment his enemy returned (but not before) and having to deal with his daughter having been raised by his arch-enemy (an idea already touched on in Spielberg's "HOOK") convinced me that the film's script had not been written– it was "assembled". Spielberg was not the director, but he was one of the producers. (Guilt by association.)
August 13, 2012 @ 5:30 am
"I've also read that George Lucas did not actually base "STAR WARS" on anything Campbell wrote, but merely claimed to do so 2 decades later, in an attempt to make "STAR WARS" somehow seem more "legitimate"."
Not quite, but certainly the influence of Campbell on Star Wars has been greatly exaggerated.
The story of Star Wars developed as a mash-up of Kurosawa's "Hidden Fortress", classic pulp SF and Saturday morning sci-fi serials like "Flash Gordon". As he was developing Star Wars, Lucas read extensively in myth and fairy tale as well as SF, and these had an influence on the story.
It was while he was writing the third draft of Star Wars that Lucas read Campbell's "The Hero With A Thousand Faces". At this point he realised that Star Wars was already following a Campbellian structure, not through conscious design, but through intuition and instinct. The actual changes that Lucas made as a result of reading Campbell are small-scale and basically trivial.
After the fact, of course, the whole Campbell thing became massively overblown, not least because it suited Lucas to have a more "respectable" source for his storytelling motifs than old Flash Gordon serials.
All this is set out in considerable detail in Michael Kaminski's "The Secret History of Star Wars", which I highly recommend if you're interested in this kind of thing. It's not commercially available, as the copyright clearances alone would be prohibitive, but can be downloaded freely at secrethistoryofstarwars.com
Henry R. Kujawa
August 13, 2012 @ 5:50 am
There's also the overwhelming number of similarities (I've seen a list somewhere) between things in the SW movies and Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" books. Having just re-read all of them from the early 70's over the past year, even I could see the similarities. It's possible they were inspired by the same ideas, but sometimes, you really have to wonder, as in the scene where "Scott Free" escapes from the hell of Apokalips. The planet's ruler "Darkseid" says, "If courage and bravery took him here– some of it was mine! Stay, warrior! Let me complete the destruction of Scott Free– so you may live with the majesty that is the power of Darkseid!" (Which calls to mind the line in "EMPIRE", "Let me complete your training…") There's also the part of the back-story where Darkseid instigates a horrific war, just so he can have his own family wiped out, leaving him in charge of the entire planet, a theme similar to "SW Eps. 1-3", where the Senator manipulates things behind-the-scenes just so he can gain total power. Or the fact that one of the other heroes in the story, "Orion", is actually Darkseid's son (a secret which doesn't become public until nearly 2 years into the narrative).
I've always sensed from the first day I saw it that STAR WARS sprang from a wide variety of sources. (So it seems odd that Lucas has never once mentioned Jack Kirby among them.)
August 13, 2012 @ 6:00 am
Kaminski's book mentions the influence of Kirby, especially the New Gods saga. It's certainly a significant element in the sci-fi stew that Lucas brewed into Star Wars, and indeed Kirby comics were among the visual references that Lucas provided to Ralph McQuarrie.
A lot of this stuff was kicking around in other sources, too, such as Smith's "Lensman" books, so it's hard to point to specific elements and say they were definitely taken from Kirby, but there's no doubt that Kirby was one of the significant influences.
August 13, 2012 @ 6:26 am
And so, Sylvester McCoy joins the Joseph Campbell Roadshow!
Sorry. I've never see this, and now I don't have any wish to, either. But thank you for pointing out how the myth of the individual hero is used to suppress the desire for mass collective action, something that frustrates me a lot. The closest to a synthesis of the two I've come across is Pixar's most subversive movie, A Bug's Life – which broadly follows the hero's journey but ends with the system being dismantled by the little people standing together.
Henry R. Kujawa
August 13, 2012 @ 6:35 am
Thanks. Some Kirby fans had argued about this point awhile back, so it's nice to be able to pass it on to them that at least somebody was acknowledging he was part of the mix. I could see all the other parts, so I never believed he was the biggest, but then, it took me about 15 years before I saw "THE HIDDEN FORTRESS". The one sequence in the film that most reminds me of the SW movies is when they're in the woods, and some soldiers find them, then race off on horseback. The chase is very similar to the one in "RETURN OF THE JEDI", while the scene it leads up to, the hero facing the villain who was once his good friend, is clearly the Obi-Wan/Vader fight in "SW".
Of course, you also have things like Quentin Tarantino's films, where, judging by his "checklists" of influences, and there tend to be so many of them, nothing in his films seems to be the result of an origin idea– or at least, a natural inspiration. I often think the best stories just come to you, fully-formed. I get a kick out of it when I realize, years after-the-fact, what probably inspired something I wrote. It seems more "natural" when you're not aware of it, when it just comes together because it's "right".
August 13, 2012 @ 7:23 am
I'd just like to say I enjoyed your analysis and agree with many of the points made – however I did enjoy listening to this audio – and treat it as an Unbound – What if Big Finish didn't make the audios! I thinks fine for a casual listener; in the same way as the FASA books were fine for the casual role player.
August 13, 2012 @ 7:50 am
Not really, because both of those avoid the worst of it. Well, Rose's plot has some issues along those lines, but it doesn't change the entirety of Doctor Who to be about Pete. But there's no "atonement with the father" in Amy's plot, and while you can just about bludgeon her arc into a Hero's Journey shape, it's not hitting those beats with the sort of self-righteous fury that characterizes the classic Hollywood sci-fi plot.
I mean, Campbell's structure isn't pulled out of thin air. It fits a lot of myths, and a bunch more are close enough that he can finesse it. I think the Rose and Amy arcs are in that latter category – you can read them as Hero's Journey stories, but you're hardly compelled to. Whereas the Leekley Bible and Death Comes to Time resist any other approaches.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:01 am
I feel like this one was written just for me! Splendid!
I'd say that "cultural continuity vs. textual continuity" is close, but not quite right. In place of cultural continuity, I'd put emotional continuity – what is necessary to keep the emotional beats of the story in place? In this line of thinking, Sarah Jane coming back in The Five Doctors is ignorable not because so few people remember it but because it's a throwaway scene with no emotional impact.
"In its modern configurations, where far too many otherwise intelligent people are duped into breathlessly proclaiming that superheroes or Star Wars or whatever are modern mythology"
Actually, I'd say that superheroes are most certainly a form of modern mythology. Not due to Campbell, or to any academic study of whatever, but simply because mythology maps way too well to the structure of superhero universes. (Including the big event crossover; Jason and the Argonauts is basically Brave and the Bold #28, and the Trojan War is Crisis on Infinite Earths.) It really seems to be coming from the same part of the human mindset.
And it's not a good thing that modern mythology is caught in a corporate grip, but frankly, the vast majority of modern creative work is. It would be surprising if it wasn't.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:04 am
August 13, 2012 @ 8:12 am
Actually, Iain… if you want to support the author, the final version of Mr. Kaminsky's book is available in print on Amazon right now; has been since… 2008, I think, actually: http://www.amazon.com/The-Secret-History-Star-Wars/dp/0978465237
I proudly own a copy. 🙂
August 13, 2012 @ 8:26 am
I have a vague memory from a long time ago of seeing links to Death Comes to Time on the old BBC Doctor Who website. Before watching it, I found a summary — I think it was on Shannon Sullivan's old reference guide — and having read it, thought the entire story idea was terrible from the start. So I never watched it, fairly secure in the knowledge that I could spend three hours of my life more pleasurably and productively. I always think this to myself after having read your account of one of the true stinkers, Phil, but I'll say it for real here.
Thank you for your sacrifice.
Less facetious, but equally honest, thoughts. I think one of the core reasons for Doctor Who's deep incompatibility with the mainstream epic register is one of the points you made in the Eruditorum's earliest days: Doctor Who need never end. Sure there's the 12-regeneration limit, which I think was canonized specifically through its repetition throughout the Nathan-Turner era and the Master's storyline's dependence on specifically having to cheat that limit. But that's easily retconnable now: when Rupert Grint regenerates into a still-youthful Tanay Chheda, there can be a line about how the ancient Time War changed everything, and we'll move on.
Epic stories in the register of Star Wars, Avatar, and Death Comes to Time do have that natural endpoint. The whole story is really just a brief buildup to a climax (brief because the constant ratcheting of tension continually accelerates the pace of the narrative), and an even shorter epilogue. The problem with this is that it's impossible to run a long-term franchise in this mode. Star Wars, again, provides the best example. Not the prequels, but the Expanded Universe novel series. Even though Return of the Jedi was crafted as the end to the greatest adventure, the franchise has to keep telling epic narratives. So despite having earned, as characters, their reward of a reasonable life, the core team keeps getting sucked into increasingly epic and destructive wars. Luke, Leia, and Han fought for nothing but being able to see their children pulled into an even more horrifying repetition of their own story. The initial story is devalued by its continuations having to be bigger and bigger epics.
Harry Potter ended with the opposite problem. The grand epic of the Harry-Voldemort battle has this damp squib of an epilogue where a balding Harry sends his son to Hogwarts as just one more pupil in the tradition. He and Draco are no longer fierce rivals when they meet at the platform, but one more pair of old school acquaintances who don't like to hang out much. The protagonists of Star Wars are devalued by constant inflation to epic registers, while Harry and the gang are deflated by having lived the epic but are unable to return.
Doctor Who stories can be able any kind of conflict on any scale, so can wander from one to the other without fear: there is no default mode, exit from which would deflate or devalue it.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:31 am
This problem with the epic register implying a natural endpoint to a narrative is also why I wish Seth Green's idea for a sitcom based in the Star Wars universe had ever gotten into development. He would have been able to tell stories on a quotidian level in an epic universe, breaking the stranglehold that the continual pressure to escalate has on its writers.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:39 am
Yeah, you've pretty much confirmed the feelings that put me off seeking this out, despite enjoying (and, indeed, contributing to) a series of fanfics about the Minister of Chance (mostly involving gags about other Stephen Fry characters).
"Get out of my solar system"? It sounds as if Freedman remembered the "get off my world" bit in Battlefield, but couldn't quite remember the how and why of it.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:45 am
You phrased what I wanted to say about the superheroes far better than I probably would've- I agree completely.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:48 am
The biggest problem I have with this analogy is that what we now treat as mythology was contemporarily treated as religion. People worshipped their gods and treated their mythic heroes as actual history. Superman doesn't fill that niche, no matter how much Grant Morrison wants it to.
August 13, 2012 @ 8:58 am
Oooooh, yes, excellent.
And I agree on the Extended Universe, though I don't think it's a necessary part of any continuation to Star Wars so much as it is the corporate structure encouraging the EU writers not to stray from the original.
The Potter epilogue, OTOH – well, that wasn't my problem with it. Draco and Harry's rivalry had already been effectively resolved, after all.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:03 am
Also, Amy's arc in S5 can't possibly be "a quest to restore her family" because the audience didn't even know "restoring the family" was an option on the table until twenty minutes before the end. The real arc of S5 was about the Doctor, having fallen into the undesired role of "fairy godfather," trying to find a way to ensure that the young princess gets her fairy-tale happy ending and ultimately sacrificing his own life to do it. (Spoiler: He gets better.)
August 13, 2012 @ 9:27 am
Well yeah. But there is nothing that fits that; in the modern era, we've separated the storytelling structure from the religious structure. This is the storytelling structure applied to secular ideas and modern worries.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:31 am
Yes, but I'm skeptical of the ability for the two to be split up that neatly. I think the religious structure is integral to the storytelling structure. I think it's a case of an approach that is close enough to accurate to produce results, but not accurate enough to produce good ones, and that how superheroes work is similar to mythology, but still different enough to require understanding on its own terms.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:32 am
Another major influence on Star Wars was Dune. A desert planet, a galactic empire, a monastic order of mystics, a boy with strange powers who finds out he's the (grand)son of the villain, reference to "spice" (and "clones") ….
August 13, 2012 @ 9:34 am
"I've always sensed from the first day I saw it that STAR WARS sprang from a wide variety of sources."
Not just SF sources. The attack on the Death Star IS the raid on the dam in The Dambusters, right down to the tactics: two planes covering a third which attacked the target (Lucas even kept a couple of lines of dialogue).
August 13, 2012 @ 9:35 am
Re Kirby's New Gods: likewise there's the mysterious sentient power the good guys draw on, called "the Source." And its opposite, "Anti-Life," is like the Darkseid, I mean dark side, of the Source.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:40 am
I was thinking of an analogy instead to "Get off my plane!" when Harrison Ford throws the terrorist leader off Air Force One in Air Force One. I saw that movie with my mom when I was 13, and we both cracked up laughing at that part. I probably would at the equivalent part here.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:43 am
People worshipped their gods and treated their mythic heroes as actual history.
Well, yes, but there was widespread discussion in antiquity as to whether the myths were literally accurate. It's hard to believe that Euripides, for example, literally believed in the myths he was (re)telling, given how full his plays are of elements that undercut them. And a few centuries later, the Platonic view that the myths are not literally true had become the dominant position, at least among the Greek and Roman literati; and to this many added the view that the gods are not even literally plural. (What the average Greek in the street thought is harder to discover.)
August 13, 2012 @ 9:44 am
There's still a strong disjunct between that and unambiguously fictitious superheroes, though.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:49 am
I suspect there may be some influence from this Babylon 5 scene. But of course what works for Ivanova doesn't work for the Brigadier (and it works for Ivanova only because of the context; she doesn;t go around talking that way all the time).
August 13, 2012 @ 9:51 am
We wouldn't want to go back to that kind of religion, though. Leaving the corporate influence aside, I think the function our secular myths perform for us is primarily ethical: narratives that influence and shape who each of us is and what each of us wants to become as we explore the stories.
Understanding myths in the religious sense that they actually occurred is more of an ontological reading. It's difficult to take that ontological understanding of religious narratives seriously (aside from the ridiculous level of political power such ontologically religious people hold) anymore. They become Levine-ish caricatures. But when an insecure or socially awkward person can find a role model for developing their own eccentric, idiosyncratic assertiveness in the performance of, say, Tom Baker or David Tennant, that's when the ethical power of myth comes into focus: to make a material difference in the daily lives of people.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:05 am
So this is an AUDIO drama, right? So why is everyone writing as though it's audiovisual? Not only do several of the commenters talk about "watching" it, but Philip himself says "Ace is almost unrecognizable … both visually and in terms of her character." Philip, what do you mean in saying she's unrecognisable visually?
August 13, 2012 @ 10:06 am
It's not an audio drama in its original form – it's a webcast with limited animation.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:14 am
You know, I think that mythology and the religious impluse aren't quite as split-up as most of us would like to think. A lot of fandoms have examples of people treating their hobby like it's a religion. Put some fans under a CAT-scanner, and you'll probably find that the fiction they are a fan of triggers the same parts of the brain as religious feeling does.
And it's quite likely that some ancient cultures treated at least parts of their mythology as fiction, rather than religious fact. 1001 Arabian Knights is clearly mythological storytelling, and yet is unquestionably distinct from the Islamic religious culture in which it was originally written. I doubt it's the only such example.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:26 am
Also, can I mention how much I detest John Leekley. His entire schtick is finding some property to license and then tweaking it just enough — and invariably in some way infuriating to fans of the original property — to justify puffing up his contributions as being just as important as the original creators. He did the same thing to "Kindred: The Embraced," "Knight Rider 2010," and "Spawn."
August 13, 2012 @ 10:33 am
I dunno, I think it's pretty easy to read the Heroic Journey beats in Series Five. The Crack in Amelia's wall is her Call To Adventure. The Doctor falling out of the sky is the Mentor, supernatural aid. She's not reluctant (not all heroes are) so she has to wait, until she is reluctant, whereupon the Doctor presents her with an Apple. The Beast Below is an obvious play on the Belly of the Whale as she crosses the threshold into otherworldly adventures.
Then comes her initiation, beginning with a near-death experience in the face of the Angels, which leads her into temptation — a role rejected by the Doctor. He fetches Rory, and in a nice bit of gender reversal, our favorite nurse takes the position of the Goddess — because Meeting The Goddess isn't about knowing the Mother, or knowing Woman, it's about knowing Love.
And then this soft place to land is taken from her, for she must have her "at-one-ment" with the Father, the principle of Power and keeper of both terror and mercy, who in this case is the Doctor, and this culminates with her taking his place inside the Pandorica, home for the most feared being in the Universe, who is the Creator, and also the gentle man who tucks her into bed with a story.
She dies and is reborn as she Remembers the man in front of her is her lover, Rory Williams, Roman or no. This claiming of the Boon (Memory is divine in Moffat's Who) is simultaneous with her death and rebirth, a form of Apotheosis. She is subsequently Rescued From Without, but from herself as a child in another world; so begins her Two-World mastery, which comes to fruition at The Wedding (a metaphor for the union of opposites) and she brings the Doctor back into existence, returning a Boon to the world. Free to live, she dances.
Both Amy and Rory get "at-one-ment" with the Doctor in spades during Series Six, to the point where it's almost ridiculous. "You're turning me into you," Rory complains, but he's much more likely to lampshade a trope than his wife.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:41 am
As I said, you certainly can read S5 that way. But the problem with Campbell's structure isn't that it jarringly fails to fit a lot of stories. It's that when you read stories according to it you tend to lose a lot, and I think S5 is a prime example of that.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:42 am
I'd definitely say superheroes are different enough from mythology to require their own approach, and that anyone who was trying to analyze superhero narratives starting by blindly applying the techniques of myth would be in for a rude awakening. But what I'm saying is that people who say "superheroes are our modern mythology" are exaggerating, but not innately wrongheaded.
Also, yeah; looking at classical theater, I was initially surprised by how secularly they thought about the tales that had been passed down. Not too surprising, tho.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:46 am
I think we'll continue to disagree somewhat about continuity, and someday I'll get around to writing a defense of the impulse to seek it within Doctor Who. For now:
I agree to some extent that it's useful to talk about textual and cultural continuity. I think, though, that the two are at some point going to overlap, and whose culture matters the most. Aren't you really saying that what "normal" people remember is important for continuity, and what geeks remember isn't?
About the Sarah situation: I think it helps Whithouse that The Five Doctors was an unusual reunion in a lot of respects. First, the circumstances of the reunion are unusual, and we might imagine that she didn't have a clear recollection of them when returned to her time. Second, and more important, she didn't see the version of the Doctor who left her, and thus had no chance to discuss her emotions with him specifically. I think it's reasonable to think she might not have had such a conversation with Davison, to her a total stranger. But by the time she meets Tennant, it's at a different point in her life, they do get a calm moment, and she's had reason to believe she might really never see the Doctor again. (I don't know which other spinoffs she's met him in; are we talking Big Finish here? Past Doctor Adventures?) It makes sense to me that she might save this conversation until now, both textually and culturally.
But clearly we do have some level on which we care about continuity, right? If Sarah reappears at some point and makes somehow reference to all the adventures they had immediately after Kastria, and how the Doctor didn't drop her off to go to Gallifrey until his sixth incarnation, that seems to matter, doesn't it? It's OK to keep wrecking Atlantis because we feel safe saying no one really cares, but even though there are probably a lot of new fans who haven't seen The Hand of Fear, we do sort of feel that it makes a difference whether Whithouse gets that more or less right.
So yes, continuity does get in the way, because once some writer establishes something that makes your eyes roll (like "the Doctor isn't just a Time Lord" or "Time Lords are loomed" or "the Doctor is half human") you either have to grit your teeth and work with it or define continuity as "everything that doesn't suck." But I think continuity is also what makes stories feel real, no matter whether they last for 10 pages or almost 50 years, and unless you approach them purely academically and decide that "feeling real" is something only children want stories to do, you have to be careful about preserving some of it.
On your Brigadier example: surely that's the easiest problem to fix? Just have him deliver the line dryly and say "Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart" rather than "the Brigadier" and you're set. Sounds like it's everything else around that line that makes it exemplary of suckage.
August 13, 2012 @ 11:36 am
What would a religion based on Doctor Who look like? Surely something far different than The Jedi Church, but it's not like religion can't emerge from modern myths, while at the same time acknowledging the fictionality of those myths.
Not that I'd point to the Jedi Church as a beacon of postmodern neo-religion, for it's rather belief-oriented, lacking much if anything I can find in the way of ritual. For me, ritual is a crucial component of religion, not just myth or philosophy. (Indeed, the Jedis seem more like a philosophy than a religion.)
Nor does religion necessarily entail literal belief, though it's certainly the predominant form we see, especially in religions that claim material authority over their congregations. I know plenty of people who are simultaneously atheists and religious, who use myths as metaphors — "stories that never happened, but are always happening."
August 13, 2012 @ 11:45 am
"But I think continuity is also what makes stories feel real, no matter whether they last for 10 pages or almost 50 years, and unless you approach them purely academically and decide that "feeling real" is something only children want stories to do, you have to be careful about preserving some of it."
August 13, 2012 @ 11:55 am
Exactly. Continuity errors interrupt the narrative in the same way as scientific, historical, or other factual errors. Instead of focusing on the story, the mind of somebody who spots the error is going "that's not right". Too many significant continuity errors, and the audience starts to dislike the story because of them.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:02 pm
Ah. Okay, that explains it.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:10 pm
What makes you think that a Campbellian reading (a flavor of Jung, as I understand it) is mutually exclusive to all others? Surely it's one of many approaches, each of which is necessarily limited. One could say the same of a feminist reading, or a psychochronological approach, for that matter.
It's like this — every approach to reading a text is like drawing a map to the territory. Political maps highlight different features than hydrological maps, but they both have value, depending on your intentions. The value of the Campbellian/Jungian reading is seeing the metaphors at work, at multiple levels.
And certainly Moffat's familiar with Campbell — from the word "MYTH" blazoned on the laptop of the 11th Hour to a literal Star Whale, surely he's got something to say about this influence. Is it really much different bringing Campbell into the psychochronological fray than, say, invoking the Hammer horrors when discussing Hinchcliffe?
August 13, 2012 @ 12:17 pm
I have to say Stephen, Adam and Ununnilium are on to something in my opinion. I do think a comparison can be made between ancient myths and modern pop culture. It's not a direct link and Campbell is of course the absolute wrong way to go about it, but there's still a comparison I feel. To pick up on the thread Jane and Stephen introduced, look at how fanatical some fans are about, well, Star Wars. It's a way of life to these people in such a way it might as well be a religion given how much it's shaped their worldview and defined their lives. You wouldn't have to go too far to find them either: I've met and read plenty of people like that who even freely describe their fandom using religious terminology.
There's a real academic path to take as well, I feel, in looking at the ways corporations have sort of monopolized creative fiction in the western world and problematizing it. I'd challenge my fellow commenters to try and find an example of a work of fiction widely shared, disseminated and experienced in the western world that's not corporate-controlled or at least has a strong commercial undertone to it that isn't old enough to be in the public domain. The West has, like it or not, come to be almost defined by corporatist capitalism and that includes our shared oral traditions. It's not Campbell (or at least not by definition Campbell), but it does reveal some uncomfortable truths about the way we live.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:17 pm
One could say the point of a Campbellian reading is to be exclusive. It is called the monomyth, after all.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:18 pm
Star Wars drew on a lot of things. Much like Doctor Who, really, though with different aims.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:22 pm
I wonder what an attempt to do a full on reboot or reimagining of Doctor Who would look like if a creator were able to shed the temptation to go full-Campbell. Or, at the very least, is it possible to do a Doctor Who story that deliberately plays fast and loose with both kinds of continuity in such a way it only keeps the barest minimum of plot threads? Would that be something that was both sustainable and that fans could accept?
August 13, 2012 @ 12:23 pm
And, much like those other classes, it matters to the proportion that the error matters to the story. Scientifically, for instance, if you make a mistake in calculating the amount of time a rocket would get from here to Mars, the readers aren't going to worry about it; even informed ones will roll their eyes and keep going. If you make the same mistake, though, when the characters are on a deadline to get back from Mars before one of their number dies, it'll yank those same people out of the story.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:28 pm
But all of this still depends on figuring out what epistemology of continuity is actually in play. "Error" pre-judges the contradiction, and is thus a problematic term. What underlies all of this is the question of what, exactly, the presumptive status of past stories is.
It's perfectly possible to imagine an almost wholly discontinuous Doctor Who in which every story is an individual telling of a hazily defined lore of Doctor Who stories – one that's structured like an oral tradition in which Doctor Who is defined purely as a genre of story, and all allusions to past or future stories are simply intertextual allusions, not literal references to other events in a single narrative.
It's also perfectly possible to imagine an Ian Levine-esque Whoniverse conception in which Doctor Who is treated as a rigorously defined text with defined levels of canon, Star Wars-style.
The issue, in other words, is figuring out what set of expectations are in play in a given story. Some (Attack of the Cybermen) clearly and vividly push for one approach. Others (The Infinity Doctors) clearly push for another. A continuity contradiction in the Attack of the Cybermen style of approach has a very different status than one in the Infinity Doctors approach.
In practice, of course, it's not a dualism but a field of approaches. But the larger point is that the question of what constitutes a "continuity error" is a question about reading techniques and audience expectations.
Put another way, a science error in a Road Runner cartoon isn't the same as one in Star Trek.
August 13, 2012 @ 12:55 pm
True true! And, as you said, the important part is to be faithful to whatever continuity you invoke.
August 13, 2012 @ 1:30 pm
"mercurial", "anarchism", "Blakean fire"…
Grant, the Hipster Dad and I (and anyone else playing the Eruditorum Drinking Game) are going to be under the table soon.
August 13, 2012 @ 1:54 pm
One could say the point of a Campbellian reading is to be exclusive. It is called the monomyth, after all.
Yes, but that doesn't mean we have to adhere to that particular limitation. And I'd go so far as to say that the point of the Campbellian reading is to be inclusive insofar as it recognizes the value of myths everywhere. Sure, whether they can be universally understood as metaphors bridging the conscious mind with its subconscious impulses is debatable, but it's a good debate — for even though he's in over his head regarding the non-Western myths of pre-modern societies, surely Doctor Who is a modern, Western myth with the kinds of subconscious implications he puts forth.
And even if one completely disagrees with the Campbellian approach, there's still the matter of reconciling his influence, and how it plays out in Doctor Who — to what extent does the show subvert and distort this particular narrative structure? Especially considering how ubiquitous it's become.
August 13, 2012 @ 2:10 pm
Okay, so you've defined two ends of the spectrum, but you've also suggested with the "School Reunion" example that most people live somewhere in the middle. It's a space where we recognize the difficulties of continuity (so many writers, so many stories, so many years, and that's just counting TV) and the disadvantages of continuity (at the strict end, it would presumably mean one heart, no Doctor/Master history before "Terror of the Autons," the 13th Doctor rather than the 5th, etc.), but we still have some desire for some measure of it. I think it's important to recognize that said desire comes not from the spectre of Ian Levine in all of us, but from the human being that experiences stories in an ordinary human way.
I assert that there is a minimal level of continuity that we're not prepared to surrender entirely to "oral tradition," some thread that makes Doctor Who different from Anansi or Zeus, different even (though to a smaller degree) from Sherlock Holmes or James Bond, a thread that even those of us who smirk at continuity aren't willing to cut.
It might be the shape of the TARDIS, as one small example, speaking of "Attack of the Cybermen". Suppose Chris Eccleston had come back in a TARDIS that could change shape with no reference to the fact that it had never been able to do so in the past. Or perhaps in one that looked like a red phone booth, or in one that looked like a Mini Cooper and could drive when it wasn't flying. Would you object to this at all, or would any of these be just fine because Doctor Who is more like a Road Runner cartoon than Star Trek? I'd imagine you might object on the grounds that none of these three options is as good on some level as the blue police box — maybe the shapeshifting option seems too mercurial (!), or the red phone booth too modern (shifting perceptions indeed!), or the car too gauche. But of course you'd still be measuring it against the police box, and I don't think you'd find it strange to wonder how the change even happened or feel there's a piece missing.
What if we saw the blue box in "Parting of the Ways" but the red phone booth in "Christmas Invasion"? Would you wait for an explanation of any kind, or chalk it up to a move away from Trek through Sherlock to Anansi?
What else, if anything, is sacred now that we've had so much of it? Two hearts? Regeneration (not how many, just that it can be done)? What if the new series claimed the Doctor was from a planet called "Alzarius"? OK? Not OK? What if Tennant said "Gallifrey" but Smith said "Alzarius"? Does it matter?
Sorry to go on at such length, and probably with more typos and poor word choices than I'd normally make. My point is: yes, I agree there are different expectations about continuity, and that they vary not only by what show you're watching but also who you are and what you bring to the table. But I also think we're not quite as far apart on those as, wary of accusations of "Cryon-lover!", we'd like to imagine we are.
August 13, 2012 @ 2:15 pm
This is rather a longer version of the kind of question I ask below. I guess that answers it for me.
That said, the mere existence of Doctor Who: Unbounded and "The Infinity Doctors" indicates to me there's some more wiggle room here than perhaps you're willing to grant. I mean, I know where I stand, but I'm certainly not expecting my thoughts to be an adequate cross-section of fandom.
August 13, 2012 @ 2:51 pm
True true – the influence of Campbell is worth tracking even if you don't think it's a perspective worth reading from.
August 13, 2012 @ 3:06 pm
I've never heard any of the Unbound series, and the Amazon sample of The Infinity Doctors didn't grab me enough to make me buy and finish it (heck, I'm still in the middle of Interference, so there's quite a lot of "continuity" I'm sure I still don't know about in the non-televised realm), so I'm going mainly on Wikipedia et al. here.
But the first reply I'd make (assuming you're addressing me) is that the fact that you have to call it "Unbound" suggests that you know just going ahead and saying, "yeah, this is just regular old Doctor Who" wouldn't fly. That listeners wouldn't come to it and blithely accept that the Doctor never left Gallifrey or that the Valeyard had actually won at the end of Trial of a Time Lord. At the very least we'd need a "oh, by the way, this is a parallel universe" at some point, which is what I think is going on with The Infinity Doctors, right?
The interesting thing with Doctor Who, at least in my own imagination, is that it's both uniquely bound and unbound by the time travel element. On the one hand, it's chosen to thread itself in sequence: one Doctor becomes another, often with companions there to provide a chronological link between them. We can count them and we can place them in order.
On the other hand, almost everything else is technically up for grabs. I'm not the type of person to carefully think through how time travel "works" and figure out Dalek history or the arc of the Earth Federation or anything like that; I just don't have the patience. So for me, it doesn't seem any more far-fetched than anything else on the show to imagine that even when the Doctor is trying to be careful and not change anything, he almost invariably does, so that even something apparently unrelated like the events of The War Games might subtly change Atlantean history, and even the Doctor might not be fully aware that anything has changed. He remembers stuff, sure, but he might not know what he doesn't remember. So even though part of me really hates some of the universe-reboot stuff Moffat's done, it also doesn't seem totally beyond the pale and in theory it could be justification for all sorts of continuity changes now.
So there's a lot of wiggle room, I think, but also not as much as we'd like to pretend. If the Doctor talked like Zaphod Beeblebrox and his TARDIS looked like the Ark of the Covenant and his sonic screwdriver was a glowing tube that went "thrumm thrumm" when he swung it around, we'd probably still recognize what show it was trying to be. But I don't think we'd accept it. Heck, there are fans who barely accept the McCoy era as the same show, and a lot of that is down to aesthetic reasons, not nuts and bolts continuity. I think that's a meaningful clue, as is Philip's observation about "cultural continuity."
August 13, 2012 @ 5:31 pm
Quite the qlippothic endeaver, hmm?
August 13, 2012 @ 5:39 pm
There was a theory a few years back regarding LOST that the production team deliberately introduced "continuity errors" as a way of marking or tagging certain scenes as having been altered by time-travel. I don't know if that's the case, but this was before the Byzantium/Pandorica story where a "continuity error" of the most banal sort — the Doctor wearing his jacket when it had already been snagged by an angel — turned out to be exactly that.
Phil's right that "error" is a prejudgment of contradiction; it's wholly possibly to deliberately weave in contradiction as one of the points of a work — and possibly essential when it comes to dealing with the subject of Alchemy, and the transcendence of duality. If "Doctor Who" defines every error as not-error, doesn't that make it functionally perfect?
August 13, 2012 @ 6:07 pm
Are you going to connect RTD's Dark Season with DW's wilderness years? Or even Moffat's Joking Apart pilot episode (particularly its timey-wimey structure)?
August 13, 2012 @ 6:25 pm
August 13, 2012 @ 6:36 pm
Argghhh; I was going to say that! 😛
August 13, 2012 @ 7:54 pm
I assumed the jacket was an intentional clue, not an actual error Moffat needed to find a clever way to cover up. But yeah, in a time-travel show, it's not really that hard to explain away any errors or, more importantly, stuff you want to change because it was kind of lame before. A crack in time followed by a reboot of the universe nicely handles the fact that the world would otherwise remember Dalek invasions and Cyberkings and so forth — it's a little extreme, but it works. If what I probably shouldn't call my "butterfly effect" principle — the idea that the Doctor's travels change little things in unrelated parts of the universe (or, if you like, that he shifts into one of the infinite parallel universes) and that history does NOT heal itself along the most parsimonious lines — were to become a canonical part of the series, it would really only take a throwaway scene. Something better written than this, perhaps:
DOCTOR: We can't be sure who'll be there, that's the thing. Might be Hendrix, might be Manson.
RORY: What…Charles Manson? At Woodstock?
DOCTOR: He wrote songs, you know.
AMY: But we know what happened. Hendrix played Woodstock, Manson killed people.
DOCTOR: That's what I remember, too. But I haven't been there in a while. Stuff…might have happened. Things we've done, even, might have shuffled the cards a bit. It might be different now. That's what makes this so much fun. You never know what you're going to find until you go and look.
August 13, 2012 @ 9:25 pm
You never know what you're going to find until you go and look.
Which isn't too different from what we get:
AMY: My life doesn't make any sense.
DOCTOR: I know.
AMY: It's what I've been trying to talk to you about.
DOCTOR: I know.
AMY: Like, when I first met you, I didn't have parents. I never had parents, and you did whatever it was you did and rebooted the Universe, and then suddenly I had parents, and I've always had parents. And I remember both lives, in my head, both of them, in my head, at the same time —
DOCTOR: And it's fine, isn't it.
AMY: Yeah, but it shouldn't be.
This union of opposites, as I've said before, is the well-known secret heart of alchemy (material social progress is its manifestation.) It's been around in Western thought at least since Heraclitus, and it's a central feature in all kinds spiritual traditions (particularly Eastern ones) as a representation of the religious experience of Oneness with the Universe — moreso in the "mystical" flavors of such faiths than in those beholded to literalism. (This is where Campbell is coming from, I think, but the "monomyth" as a discursive object is incapable if not detrimental to instantiating the underlying sentiment.)
But the kind of "continuity fetishism" as described and derided by Phil is in direct opposition to this embracing of contradiction — it is, in fact, much more in line with religious literalism, insofar as there's more concern with establishing a "canon," adhering to History, wallowing in nostalgia, often at the expense of avoiding all the other strange things that Doctor Who narratives are capable of exploring.
It's… it's a matter of service, I think, service and values. Continuity in service to the characters and their stories embodies a different value system than putting characters and stories in service to continuity. And as the above passage shows, the dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity is a false dichotomy; these opposites can coexist, though such lines of thought are often considered absurd.
August 13, 2012 @ 10:41 pm
Just…. nobody say "bathetic", O.K?
August 13, 2012 @ 10:59 pm
I like that. Cultural Continuity. It also kind of helps with stuff like the 11th Doctor talking about his pet name for the TARDIS when they're alone.
The implication is pretty strong that it's "the Doctor" that has always called the TARDIS "Sexy", not just "the 11th Doctor", and yet we can't really see any of his predecessors getting away with it. I can just about see Tennant saying it, but not Troughton or Pertwee. The best they could manage would be an affectionate "old girl". And as for Hartnell. "Where shall we go now, my Sexy old thing? Hmmmm…what…?"
August 14, 2012 @ 2:12 am
I have been accused of "blasphemy" by an enthusiastic fan for trying to write about some Star Trek stuff on Wikipedia which was not considered part of the "canon".
Yeah, they'll admit, it's all made up, but, still, some of the texts should be considered "real" than the others. So, they don't believe it to actually be true – quite difficult as the production process is so well documented – but they are consciously acting as if they did.
August 14, 2012 @ 4:16 am
Doctor Who going full Campbell was that unutterably awful first version of what became the 1996 movie, where the narrative was completely rebooted and showed the Doctor leaving Gallifrey in search of his father, Ulysses (shudder), and to stop his evil half-brother the Master from taking over the universe.
Even FOX could tell how stupid it was. In comparison, McGann's actual tv-movie was a masterpiece.
Henry R. Kujawa
August 14, 2012 @ 4:43 am
Well, now, this blog post has spurred a discussion, and then a full-blown argument, about Campbell's involvement with STAR WARS, between me and a friend of mine over in Wales. According to him, around 1983, Campbell was interviewed on TV, and very clearly, specifically, stated that he & Lucas had "collaborated". Let me quote here…
"Back in the early eighties Cambell was on TV talking about his collaboration with Lucas on the Star Wars project.
Lucas was not on that show. It was a BBC2 programme I think, about myth and suchlike and Lucas was not in that programme. Joseph Cmbell talked a lot about all of the myth and archetype notions that were put into Star wars as a result of Lucas getting Cambell involved.
So I think you have jumped to a wrong conclusion about Lucas. He was on the level and did not retrospectively add cambell into the mix. He used a collaborative method with cambell he did not just read about Cambell later. From what Cambell was saying Lucas used a great deal of his ideas and it was a true colaboration."
I don't know what to think now, as this is the first I've heard of it. But I do respect my friend's opinions on a wide variety of subjects, so I tend to be open-minded when HE passes on stuff like this in my direction.
I responded by saying…
"What bothers me, frankly, is the number of Hollywood types who, ever since, have been following in Lucas' footsteps regarding Campbell. I see movies where the stories are asssembled by the numbers, apparently without any real personal inspiration.
We've talked enough about how stories can write themselves. And that's not what I see in a film like THE MASK OF ZORRO, which left me deeply offended by the time I walked out of the theatre– in spite of the overwhelming amount ot skill and craft that went into making it. For years afterwards, I had trouble talking about that film online, because so many people just seemed to love love LOVE it, and I hated it with a vengeance. But, that's personal taste."
Henry R. Kujawa
August 14, 2012 @ 4:52 am
"Doctor Who going full Campbell was that unutterably awful first version of what became the 1996 movie, where the narrative was completely rebooted and showed the Doctor leaving Gallifrey in search of his father, Ulysses (shudder), and to stop his evil half-brother the Master from taking over the universe. Even FOX could tell how stupid it was. In comparison, McGann's actual tv-movie was a masterpiece."
OY. What is the sick obsession Hollywood has with "origin" stories, even when the original source material never had one, it wasn't called for, and sometimes, when what they come up with totally contradicts even previously-existing origin stories?
"THE SHADOW", all 4 of the WB "BATMAN" movies (1989-up), and "CONAN THE BARBARIAN" were all guilty of this. Conan, particularly, really did not need an "origin".
Imagine my shock when I re-read "1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #1" from 1975, with Jack Kirby's "Atlas", and found the first half of the book was near-identical to the first 10 minutes of that THING John Milius put out. It could be coincidence… but my gut feeling is, he stole it from Kirby, and worse, he ruined what he stole by then making changes.
It really burns me that because of DC's lack of confidence, Jack did the 1st half of a 2-part story, but never got the chance to do the 2nd half!
August 14, 2012 @ 5:28 am
Kaminsky's book cited above goes into a lot of detail about this, and quite thoroughly makes the case that Campbell's influence on Star Wars was minimal, and has since been exaggerated over time.
If Kaminsky's book is a bit too much for your friend to read (it is a very long book), you could always point him to this web link that concisely explains Campbell's interview statements:
August 14, 2012 @ 6:05 am
Actually, I can hear that coming from Hartnell. 😀
A better litmus test is how many Doctors would end an informative letter to Leonardo da Vinci with the phrase "Love, the Doctor"; 4 did it, and I can see 11, 2, 5, and maybe 9 doing it as well — after that, though, things get a little more… dubious. 😛
August 14, 2012 @ 6:06 am
Only if I'm taking a bath… 😉
Henry R. Kujawa
August 14, 2012 @ 7:01 am
Thanks. I could try, but he seemed rather touchy about it for some reason ("What's all this HATE being spread about Campbell?"), so I'd rather drop it for now. Especially since it's one of those things where I don't really care about Campbell (or Lucas) that much one way or the other, I'm just casually trying to figure out what's what.
(Do you suppose Campbell overplayed his involvement in that BBC interview my friend described?)
I suppose it's sort of like how over the last 30 years I've read countless articles & interviews about the history of Marvel Comics, and after awhile, a CONSISTENT picture begins to form. But on one side, you have dozens and dozens of people all telling ONE story, and ONE man, who has an army of devoted followers, who is telling a completely different story. So, are ALL those other people lying??? And the merest hint that the ONE guy whose story doesn't make sense may be the one lying (for ENORMOUS financial gain) gets his fans extremely angry, rude & insulting at the drop of a hat.
Another online friend of mine feels it's like someone is trying to take their teddy bear away from them…
Perhaps the best thing would merely be to pass on the link with an explanation for what it is, and let my friend read it and see what HE makes of it? Hmm…
August 14, 2012 @ 7:20 am
The desire for canon is a desire for authority. No wonder I love a text as inherently apocryphal as Who.
August 14, 2012 @ 9:26 am
Who's the dissenter on the history of Marvel Comics? And what part of it does he disagree with everybody else on?
August 14, 2012 @ 12:56 pm
I don't think it's authority as much as knowledge. What matters? What other stories will increase my appreciation of the story I'm reading/watching/whatever right now?
That, in my opinion, is the true reason people care about having a canon, and, for that matter, a continuity – to answer "What matters?" And yes, the answer to that question can become a fascistic law – but it can also be a guideline, a framework, or just a starting point. The official canon doesn't have to be your canon, but it's good to know what everyone else is working off of.
August 14, 2012 @ 1:25 pm
The '89 Batman is interesting, though, in how it plays with the typical origin story and how it's revealed to the audience. Though I don't know how the others are guilty of it..?
August 14, 2012 @ 2:31 pm
Yes, I'm not entirely sure what it is about origin stories that people in the American film industry are drawn to. They can work when told well, but they're hardly necessary to get into a franchise or a character. It's what I found kind of silly about the new Spider Man film: we really didn't need to see the origin again (though I'm always glad to see Martin Sheen on screen) because the last film was such a short time ago, and it didn't even really offer a different riff or perspective. Some of the other things Spider Man 2012 did were interesting, but I think the coolest thing a studio could do is make a film with an iconic hero whose story we all know that just tells a cool story about that character, with little reference to origin and backstory.
One thing I like about Batman is how the origin story is always told a little differently every time: the basic event remains the same, but the context and surrounding narrative vary wildly. And given Chris Nolan's comics inspirations, I was happy to see how he purposely gave multiple contradictory origin stories for the Joker in Dark Knight. I remember Alan Moore saying that The Killing Joke, his take on Joker's origin story, was work of his that he disliked. Nolan seems to screw with the whole concept of origin stories on purpose. What's important for his Joker is that he have no origin story. And one of the major elements of Dark Knight Rises depends on hidden details in Bane's origin story.
Thankfully, we have Doctor Who, where origins are something to be rewritten, where they even exist at all.
August 14, 2012 @ 6:06 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
August 14, 2012 @ 6:09 pm
Everybody says, and Stan Lee used to say, that Ditko and Kirby came up with very nearly everything by themselves at home, and wrote their own stories, with Lee then adding, or rewriting their own, dialogue in his own voice. (Sometimes contradictory to what they'd intended. Or what was actually shown on the page.)
In recent decades, Lee has been paid a million dollars a year to go into court when required and attest that he made everything up and told them what to do, and as he was an employee of Marvel then no-one can possibly think these dumb freelancers might be even slightly entitled to any hint of rights or royalties.
August 14, 2012 @ 8:22 pm
My friend managed to acquire the entire stack of scripts used as reference for "The Nth Doctor" and for the past two years at the TimeGate convention we've done table readings of them, complete with sound effects and music. And you think they sound bad in synopsis?? Oy vey. At least now we can safely and retrospectively appreciate them as camp, and healthy reminders of just how lucky we Who fans are.
Henry R. Kujawa
August 15, 2012 @ 7:43 am
I admit, I loved how the '89 BATMAN film did it. The origin was in there, but it wasn't the whole film, and was served up in bits here and there. And that was all that was needed. The only mis-step, if it was, was saying The Joker killed his parents. Sheesh.
THE SHADOW has had multiple contradictory origins over the years. The radio show said he was Lamont Cranston, a millionaire socialite. The pulp novels revealed he was really a pilot, Kent Allard, and that he was friends with Cranston and "borrowed" his identity as a convenience when Cranston was out of town. Along comes Howard Chaykin in 1986, who reveals Cranston was a lowlife criminal scum drug smuggler who'd hired Allard. Cranston got killed (apparently) and Allard took his place! The twist was, 40 years later, because of the powers he picked up in that Himalayan monastery, Allard hadn't aged a day– and Cranston hadn't died, but was in hiding, in mortal terror of Allard. Until he got very old, at which point he tried to force Allard to take him to the monstastery, so he, too, could be imbued with immortality.
So along comes the movie, and, totally out of left field, there IS no Allard, The Shadow IS Cranston, but Cranston started out as a crime lord in the far East, who was then overcome and FORCED against his will to repent and spend the rest of his life fighting evil to make up for his past sins. As in– WHA'??????? If not for that "origin", I could have really liked that movie.
Then there's THE SAINT, who never, ever had a real "origin" story until someone decided that the Val Kilmer movie should have one. Apart from setting the origin in the "near future" (rather than the 1920's), I was amazed that it didn't really contradict anything, and paid tribute to the fact that author Leslie Charteris was born & raised in the Far East. But the film doesn't really get to who Templar became until maybe the last 5 minites… which is probably what doomed it.
As for CONAN… he was raised in the far north, and at a certain age, went south seeking adventure. What more was needed? Instead, the movie has his entire village slaughtered, except for the children, who are sold into slavery. He spends 10 years chained to a wheel to build up his muscles, then sold to a gladiator arena. And at some point, after enough fights, "wins" his freedom. And later encounters the man who slaughtered his family. I'm sorry, I just HATED that movie.
The crazy think was reading Jack Kirby's "ATLAS", which came out in 1975, and seeing the whole "village being slaughtered" scene, and the young hero about to be sold into slavery… JUST like in the later movie… except, he's rescued by someone, the two escape, become inseparable, and later, as a grown man, he encounters the guy who slaughtered his village. I read that and thought, OH yeah– MUCH better!
I still love how the '66 BATMAN tv series got his origin out of the way in a couple of sentences in the pre-credit sequence of the very 1st episode. And only ever referred to it twice afterwards (once each in the 2nd & 3rd seasons).
August 15, 2012 @ 10:36 am
Tracking the careers of both Davies and Moffat is something the Pop Between Realities entries are going to be very actively interested in doing.
August 17, 2012 @ 8:45 am
I think the best thing about DCTT was Stephen Fry's performance as the Minister, at least until the script required him to start ranting and raving.
Not-best things about it included:
* Ace's plotline was pretty much entirely disconnected from the rest of the story; outside it, she was only there to be a prisoner (at the beginning) and a hostage (at the end) and nothing she'd learned in between made any difference.
* An episode or two before the end, the Doctor had an opportunity to kill Tannis with his forbidden powers. He turned it down, several people ended up dead, then he got another opportunity and this time he took it. His reasons for using his powers on the second occasion were equally valid on the first; the only reason for him not to was Because The Author Said So.
* I loathe the whole 'I am content to die because the time of Time Lords is past' attitude that everyone seemed to exhibit. Again, there's no in-universe reason for Time Lords to be obsolete, except that The Author Said So, and just because something's obsolete is no reason for its destruction to be meekly accepted.
* I think the only reasons for playing the New World Symphony over a 'Britain rulez, America droolz' sequence can be utter cluelessness, or intentional sabotage by whoever chose the music.
October 5, 2012 @ 12:50 pm
I agree that it's not clear that fandom is not at least partly religious in nature. Conventions resemble religious pilgrimages rather a lot, for instance.
However, the corporate ownership of pop culture puts it outside the realm of mythology; myths are a kind of folktale, not a creation of the establishment (though the establishment frequently appropriates them).
That said, it might be interesting to try to make a case for fanfiction as modern myth…
October 5, 2012 @ 12:57 pm
Continuity is meaningless when you have an indestructible living time machine piloted by an immortal eccentric Victorian inventor/alchemical wizard/alien god.
December 30, 2012 @ 1:06 pm
This really came to a head when Steve Gerber sued Marvel over Howard the Duck: Jack Kirby illustrated Gerber's Leonard the Duck comic and advised Gerber on the eventual settlement (Gerber, it should be noted, got Kirby a much-needed job at Ruby-Spears handling designs for Thundarr the Barbarian). It was acrimonious enough that Buzz Dixon, a noted animation writer and friend to both men, specifically posted on his blog this past summer that he wouldn't be seeing The Avengers because of what Stan has done to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
December 6, 2013 @ 7:55 pm
"There is, in other words, something horrifyingly conservative about the Campbell structure as practiced. It creates a drab monoculture, governed by its monomyth, always presenting the illusion of the heroic individual while tacitly positioning the vast majority of the world as the people who sit and passively watch as the heroic individual saves them, and, ideally, pays for the privilege. In its modern configurations, where far too many otherwise intelligent people are duped into breathlessly proclaiming that superheroes or Star Wars or whatever are modern mythology, inevitably pointing to Campbell as their evidence, it becomes downright sickening. Even the most staggering banalities of reality television pale in comparison to the cultural bleakness implied by the idea that our mythology is now corporate-owned and bound up in perpetual copyright. And yet academic fans of popular media take on an almost post-coital afterglow as they proclaim just that."
That's a bleakly cynical and I think fairly inaccurate way of looking at things. Star Wars and superheroes are modern mythology but not because of Campbell, but because they just are. Frankly, Campbell is far to limiting to encompass everything that makes superheroes great, much less Star Wars. And the fact that they are corporate-owned and copyrighted is incidental to that fact. They're mythology because even if the companies that owned them abandoned them, someone would still be writing new stories about them, and coming up with new ideas for them. Like what happened when a certain British show about a madman with a box was cancelled.
December 6, 2013 @ 11:50 pm
Everyone in this subthread appears to have been lucky enough never to have heard Hillsong Kids "Jesus Is My Superhero". (You can find it on YouTube, I refuse to link it.) The kids at my daughter's (Church of England) school love it. I think when the church is explicitly using superhero tropes in religion, it may be fair to compare the two.
August 10, 2017 @ 1:30 pm
Continuity doesn’t limit what you can do. It enriches things. Without continuity there can after all be no character development.
By having no continuity your characters and world can be anything but to all intents and purpsoes that means it is also nothing. Nothing has weight, or substance to it.
Doctor Who is ingenious because it has SOME continuity but not too much.
Time can be rewritten but certain fundamentals remain or else are changed via organic mechanisms to the storyline.
Consider American comic books.
Would Gwen Stacy’s death have mattered withint he years of continuity where she existed? Would Norman Osborn’s consequent death have had as much weight without the continuity prior to that that defined his character’s history?
The answer is no.
Continuity is a beautiful thing if managed properly.
And when done properly the only things it limits are things that really should be limited.
Dotor Who’s continuity is somewhat unique because it has established within it’s world a mechanism whereby continuity erros can mostly be reconciled.
That timey whimey line of dialogue isn’t just funny it’s vital to reconciling the show.
Time can change and is inherently not linear but instead operating in a way that mere humans (like ourselves) can’t truly understand.
In effect it’s not as simple as Atlantis gets destroyed again for the 4th time because we ignore continuityso much as it can happen multiple times because the nature of time travel in Dr Who is not linear at all, there are fixed points but time is mostly in constant flux.
For other series like say Spider-Man ignoring contonuty is legitimately an unforgivable sin in much the same way a book ignoring chapter 1 is. It’s one big ongoing narrative. The consistency matters.
In Dr Who that isn’t exactly the case.
With Sarah jane’s return the simplest explanation is to say that the last time she saw him relative to his own timestream is in his 4th incarnation. It wss the 3rd Doctor she chiefly interacted with in the Five Doctors who preceded her adventures with him as the 4th Doctor. Because of this to her and the Doctor it probably seemed more appropriate to discuss their legitimate parting of ways as opposed to their passing interaction in his third and fifth incarnations.
As for superheroes being modern mythology….yeah….that’s accurate.
Because they do what most mythic characters did and exacerbate basic human traits and human truths, either through wish fulfilment, suffering, and the like.
Superman is quite literally coming from the same innate human headspace Hercules did. Its not an original observation but that’s only because it’s 100% accurate. The characters are larger than life and that doesn’t really have much to do with Campbell. Partially this is because some of them or the traditions they stem from predate Campbell but more because they don’t actually conform to the mono-myth’s tenants.
It’s not even a drab observation it’s quite literally true. Superheroes are in fact modern mythology because they conform to the same tropes and hold not arguably comparitve roles to the figures of myth and the mythic heroes did in ancient times. That even transcends cultural boundaires because virtually ever culture ever has created figures not dissimilar to superheroes at some point in their histories.
Is Sun Wikong and Superman really coming from a different human headspace when you get right down to it?
Not really no.
June 13, 2022 @ 3:44 pm
Doesn’t sound like you’ve even read Campbell