With You Behind The Mirrors (Neverland)
It’s June of 2002. As it feels so empty without him, Eminem is at number one. Things empty fast, as Will Young takes over with “Light My Fire.” Two weeks after that is Elvis vs JXL with “A Little Less Conversation,” which plays out McGann’s second season. Atomic Kitten, Enrique, Ant and Dec, Kylie Minogue, Nelly, Scooter, and Oasis also chart. And in news, a ten meter-wide object casually explodes over the Mediterranean Sea. Also, the sun goes dark. Thankfully, they’re totally unrelated. Also, the US Congress admits that the telephone was actually invented five years before Alexander Graham Bell by Antonio Meucci.
While on audio we have McGann’s second “season finale,” Neverland. Doctor Who, prior to the new series, was never good at the season finale in the contemporary “wrap up all the plot lines” sense. In total the number of times it’s solidly stuck the landing in capping off a story arc number about two – Enlightenment and Timewyrm: Revelation. It’s not always that the efforts are bad – No Future, for instance, is a charming book, albeit the weakest of Cornell’s first four New Adventures, and So Vile a Sin is a tour de force that was wrecked only by its scheduling problems. But past that you have lackluster efforts like Lungbarrow, The Ancestor Cell, and, to go back a bit further, The Armageddon Factor or Trial of a Time Lord.
Indeed, the history of Doctor Who is, up to the point we’re at now, mostly a series of exceedingly good cases against the entire logic of metaplots. They’ve never actually gone well for the series. And not just in the “one bum installment” problem that any serialized work is going to have: Doctor Who has consistently, when getting to the end of its metaplots, failed spectacularly to stick the landing.
And it’s not even that Neverland is bad. At least twenty minutes too long, sure, but not entirely unpleasant. The problem is really that, conceptually, it’s a damp squib at best. Gallifrey is facing the greatest crisis in its history, all of time is unraveling, and oh look, we’ve got some fresh new revelations about Rassilon. Fantastic. I mean, Doctor Who was really hurting for all of these things.
It would be one thing if Neverland actually had anything new to say about any of these ideas. It doesn’t of course, a fact that may or may not be related to the fact that there is nothing whatsoever new to say about any of these ideas because they are mediocre ideas that have been done to death. (Shall we recall the funniest sequence Kate Orman and Jon Blum ever wrote, in which “Dark Sam” plays up the Doctor’s dark and mysterious past to some villains, prompting the Doctor to ask how she knew all of that, to which she replies that it was just the plot of a Babylon 5 episode she’d seen once?) But there’s not having anything new to say and there’s the lengths of superficial banality that Neverland shoots for in its concept, and, unnervingly, the latter is by far the more impressive.
The crux of Neverland’s problem is its unproblematic embrace of one of the great banalities of science fiction: the idea that everything must have an opposite. Since this principle carries through both this and the next audio we’ll cover, let’s divide and conquer a bit. A week from today we’ll do Zagreus, and we’ll look at this idea within the context of Doctor Who’s history. For now let’s take it on its own terms: the idea that all things in the universe are balanced out somewhere by their opposites. And thus, of course, in addition to time there is anti-time, a dangerous force that, if unleashed, could destroy all of history just as antimatter destroys matter.
First of all, let’s point out the catastrophic problem at the heart of this: anti-time is meaningless. I don’t mean this in the “it’s sci-fi technobabble” sense of the word, either. I mean that the idea makes no sense. Nowhere is there any clue as to what anti-time might mean, what it might be like, or how it might work. I mean, anti-matter is a tricky scientific concept, but at least there’s an intuitive dimension to it: you take matter, you take anti-matter, you put them in contact, and there’s an explosion. Stuff that destroys whatever it touches. That’s not too hard. But what the heck would anti-time even be? How are we meant to understand it as a concept? Even if there is some concept in theoretical physics that could fairly be characterized as anti-time, unlike antimatter it doesn’t lend itself straightforwardly to being used as a plot point in a sci-fi adventure because there’s no intuitive handle to be had on how it works.
Of course, that’s not really a problem for Neverland, given that all it really needs anti-time to be is generically evil. It doesn’t have to make any sense, because it sounds like an evil thing. Which isn’t a problem in and of itself – evil things are often needed for sci-fi adventuring, after all. But it does rather mute the effectiveness of the actual concept. I mean, when all your big epic Gallifrey-destroying crisis has going for it is “it’s rather evil,” you’ve not exactly landed in the realm of brilliance. Doctor Who is brimming with evil things. You don’t need to introduce anti-time to do it, and in fact, it would be a heck of a lot more satisfying if you just used something with more mythic resonances. (In this regard the existence of The Apocalypse Element, which does a generic base under siege with Daleks, only set on Gallifrey, is one of the most telling chapters in Big Finish’s history. They manage to hit on the special sauce that makes the Time War eventually work as a properly epic conflict, and they squander it on Part Two of a trilogy of generic Dalek stories. That the degree to which this plot can’t be topped for sheer epic stakes was not a disastrous blow to Big Finish’s subsequent use of the Daleks or Gallifrey speaks volumes of how mediocre The Apocalypse Element really was.)
But there’s a larger problem here, which is that the entire frame of “everything has its opposite” is morally bankrupt. In effect it excuses the existence of evil and trivializes the existence of good by declaring that both will necessarily exist. There is no reason to do good – the self-maintaining “balance” of the universe will ensure, after all, that somebody will. And there are no real grounds to condemn evil when its existence is pre-ordained as a basic force of the universe. And so all moral force simply drops out of the equation. There are no actual stakes, because nothing can ever change.
The result is horrifyingly reactionary, often without any particular intention on the part of the people writing it. When nothing can change and evil is excused as a fundamental feature of the universe then what ultimately gets endorsed is the status quo. So any existing structures of repression become permanent. When meaningfully doing good or reducing evil becomes a completely pointless act there’s no reason to try to change anything. Ethically, of course, this is poisonous to anything that Doctor Who has ever been good at. At every functional moment in the series’ history the idea that trying to change the world is pointless is anathema to it. But it’s such an ingrained principle in post-Campbell sci-fi epics that people are oddly addicted to it. And so people apply it reflexively to Doctor Who when trying to write a Doctor Who epic, and in the process turn Doctor Who into appallingly reactionary crap.
Which, as it happens, Neverland is. Eventually it’s revealed that the anti-time Neverpeople are the people erased by the Celestial Intervention Agency’s Oubliette of Eternity, which, in a characteristically original concept, makes it as though people never existed. Let’s pause here and consider how astonishingly good a metaphor Neverland hit on here. Because it’s a better metaphor than Barnes could possibly have been going for when this was written. The Celestial Intervention Agency is, of course, originally a joke about the CIA. So Barnes has the CIA conducting horrible atrocities in the name of the state. And these atrocities are completely covered up – after all, once a person has never existed at all there’s nobody to ask questions about them. So we have extra-judicial black ops killings conducted by the CIA. Barnes has, quite by accident, created a Doctor Who story that is a perfect stand-in for the United States’ handling of the War on Terror. And even if that wasn’t his intention, the metaphor works. This is, in fact, the War on Terror to a tee.
So what’s his end position? That the Neverpeople are abominations that must be destroyed. That the CIA head who, realizing the horror of what the CIA was doing, erased herself from existence is, in fact, a bitter, twisted and irredeemable person. And that, ultimately, the objections of the Neverpeople to their oppression on the part of Gallifrey are for naught and only reasoned and careful reform as executed by Romana can effect meaningful change. I mean, yes, the CIA comes in for criticism too. But that only makes the situation worse. OK, sure, extrajudicial killings are bad. But they’re not bad in a way that creates any moral obligation on the part of the state or anyone in it to do anything about it. An uprising from a population subjected to genocide is forbidden. Overthrowing the oppressive state is bad. Because, of course, all things need balance. If the CIA is wrong to erase people from time then the people erased have to be wrong to try to overthrow the state that’s murdered them. The CIA may be wrong, but there’s nothing for it but the slow workings of the existing political system as embodied by heroes like Romana.
And all of this stems from the original decision to have the Neverpeople be anti-time creatures and thus fundamentally evil. This is hammered home at the end, when the Doctor’s corruption by the anti-time of the Neverpeople turns him into the monstrous Zagreus. Once you’ve committed to that you’ve foreclosed any possibility of a more interesting relationship between people and their oppressors. And, look, I really don’t think it’s too much to ask for stories in which the message is not “horrifically oppressed people shouldn’t be so uppity.” Because there’s not actually a moral difference between what the Neverpeople want to do and what’s been done to them. Both sides are genocidal. It’s just that one side is a legitimate western-style government and the other side are inherently evil terrorists. And while the western-style government may do bad things, they are by definition the non-evil side, and so must be seen to triumph over the inherently evil terrorists. Which, without siding with any particular terrorists, is perhaps a bit blinkered.
Much like Earthshock, of course, we can’t make any sort of causal case. Neverland was recorded months before 9/11, and could not possibly have been intended as a commentary on terrorism and the appropriate response to it. But it doesn’t matter. We deserve better. “Not putting Doctor Who on the same basic side as the Bush administration” is, in fact, a reasonable baseline expectation of Doctor Who, and one that Neverland fails spectacularly. It doesn’t have to be consciously written as Bush-administration propaganda to be awful; there are other routes to horrible besides 24. But Neverland fails at that.
And let me be clear, I really don’t think it fails because of active neo-conservative beliefs on the part of Alan Barnes. I think it fails because the logic that Doctor Who is striving for in this story is fundamentally morally bankrupt. I think it fails because Doctor Who is, in doing a big epic in which Gallifrey faces down the Pure Evil Thingy-Things, is deciding on an appallingly reactionary worldview that is first and foremost about endorsing the status quo and the inherent and unquestionable moral legitimacy of the state. And I think for a series that was originally based on mercurial anarchism and whose most influential single writer was a curmudgeon who hated nothing so much as self-righteous authority that this is, if not inexcusable, at least a case for why this approach isn’t worth pursuing. Why should Doctor Who claim a major place in British culture if all it has to offer is the selling out of all of its good points over the years? Who cares?
In spite of all of this, Neverland is structured quite nicely. Lala Ward is always fun to listen to, and though McGann clearly is not loving his technobabble, he has some lovely scenes. India Fisher is wonderful, even though she spends most of the story in a refrigerator being symbolically raped. It does everything an epic season finale should do. The problem isn’t with its quality.
It’s that there’s no point to Doctor Who if this is what it’s going to shoot for.
March 22, 2013 @ 1:11 am
Brilliant. Spot on.
March 22, 2013 @ 1:28 am
There is I think one scene in which Romana is recognisably the same character as Lalla Ward played in the television series. Otherwise, all the name and actor do is establish that we're supposed to accept her as a good guy, in the role the Brigadier fills when he's about.
March 22, 2013 @ 1:48 am
It's interesting to note that some years earlier, when writing for the DWM comic strip, Alan Barnes proposed a storyline in which the the Time Lord government was exposed as corrupt, dealing with an alien organisation known as the Threshold (basically a morally bankrupt business empire). The Doctor was going to vow to tear the Time Lord's empire down, and was all set for a big crusade against his own people… but the editor, Gary Gillatt, vetoed it. It's all in the 'Endgame' graphic novel collection.
March 22, 2013 @ 2:34 am
Have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this article, although I disagreed with almost all of it. Firstly I do agree that Neverland is well-structured and well acted. It’s a good end to (for me) a great season of Doctor Who. It delivers the payoffs about Charley that Time of The Daleks was criticised for lacking. It ends on a nice twist too. Admittedly the Gallifrey stuff was so so at best but, as this blog has clearly demonstrated, there’s not much you can really do that is interesting about Gallifrey. I even agree that to some extent it could be seen as a metaphor for the War of Terror, but I read it in a totally different way. The neverpeople are not evil, they have been extremely ill-used by the CIA, and they did not deserve to be destroyed and banished to this realm, yet should they return to ‘our’ universe then time would unravel. What can the Doctor do, the fact that they have been poorly-treated surely doesn’t allow them to destroy the universe, he has to oppose them. For me this is like the War on terror, clearly people in the middle east had legitimate grievances against the US and western foreign policy, terrible things have been done in the name of democracy, but if some people are going to react to the actions of our governments by flying planes into buildings and blowing up buses to kill as many innocent people as possible what can we do, we have to oppose this. I am not saying that the War on terror was not a disaster, in many ways it was, but there had to be some response to the actions of Al-Qaeda surely. The Doctor is disgusted that the neverpeople have been treated the way they have by the CIA, but that doesn’t give them the right to kill all the other innocent beings living in the universe, so he opposes them, what else can he do in the circumstances (this is not to say that the US did not have options other than invading Iraq after 9/11, clearly they did, and they should have pursued them). The same applies to Big Finish, should they not release an audio play they have recorded months before 9/11 because it now appears to raise uncomfortable parallels with (then) current events, how could their business model survive that. The idea that there is only one side of events that the Doctor should be on and that if Doctor Who is represented a worldview that disagrees with our own it therefore has no reason to exist seems wrong to me. Lots of people enjoy Doctor Who, yet it doesn’t belong to any of them, as a show it has to be all things to all people, and this is a tightrope it walks with difficulty, but for me it has no role to play beyond telling interesting stories, which Neverland does successfully (at least for me).
Mark D Pompeo
June 6, 2017 @ 3:03 am
Great defense of the story! I really enjoyed it and rather didn’t like the way Phil shat all over it.
March 22, 2013 @ 3:22 am
The thing that gave me trouble with Neverland was that I never really felt that they'd justified the whole plot arc being there in the first place. The whole thing is predicated on this idea that by taking Charlie with him instead of leaving her to die (in the never actually shown destruction of the R101), the whole Web of Time has been Upset and is unraveling. Which always felt to me like not-really-well-thought-through slavish adherance to that stupid throwaway line back in The Aztecs. We're never actually, so far as I can recall, given any sort of reason why saving Charlie is any different than any of the people he's saved from death anywhere else in time and space, and I was left with the impression that it's just "The history books say 'no survivors' therefore no one can be allowed to survive" — when it seemed to me from the very beginning that there were already two "obvious" counters to that: first "Charlie goes off with the Doctor and is never seen in her native time again and is therefore assumed by history to have died on the R101", and second "No one actually knew she was on the airship in the first place so there'd be no record of her having died on it anyway". But no, Charlie was slated to die and by not dying, she's wrecked the web of time.
For me, it stretches credulity to the breaking point to imagine that this is all it takes to destroy time and space, and yet it's never come up before. It would have made a HUGE difference for me if they'd explicitly introduced a concept like the New Series notion of "fixed points", and just made it an explicit fiat that "Charlie's place in the web of time is Special and saving her really is different from what the Doctor normally does," but as far as I know, they never actually do that, they just sort of assume "yeah, can't contradict what's in the audience's history books. Can't even do a thing that does not technically contradict the audience's history books but which gives just the appearance of contradicting a very naive and simplistic reading of the audience's history books"
If you want to do an arc whose big turn is that a small and seemingly inconsequential act — saving one young woman from dying in an airship crash — can have implications on a universal scale, that's fine, but if you want the audience to come along with you, you really need to make it a Deliberate Thing You Are Doing, otherwise, I'm left trying to sort out why taking Charlie off the R101 destroys the universe, but, say, two schoolteachers hopping over two years in the sixties does not.
March 22, 2013 @ 4:04 am
This (all the stuff about the Neverpeople not being evil and having genuine grievances and Gallifrey being made up of people who have seriously done the wrong thing, but now have to be sided with to stop the destruction of everything) is basically what I was going to say. I think this is a brilliant play – and I really like what it does with Rassilon telling the Doctor that he's done a good job, only to betray him horribly next week.
March 22, 2013 @ 4:49 am
And, actually, the history books say that six people survived the crash of the R101. So it's a doubly-blinkered concept.
March 22, 2013 @ 5:05 am
"For me this is like the War on terror, clearly people in the middle east had legitimate grievances against the US and western foreign policy, terrible things have been done in the name of democracy, but if some people are going to react to the actions of our governments by flying planes into buildings and blowing up buses to kill as many innocent people as possible what can we do, we have to oppose this."
Had the Doctor simultaneously opposed The State (as represented by Gallifrey) and taken it down, the conversation would be decidedly different. This goes back to the problem of Anti-Time. This setting up of dichotomous thinking makes it appear that Gallifrey vs. The Neverpeople is a Good vs. Evil story (whichever side you're on) when it's really an Evil vs. Evil story.
And Gallifrey's the "cause" of all the evil in the first place! But does the Doctor take down this great evil? No. He sides with it. And the metaphorical implication is to justify State power. Now, in a series that's all about the glory of state power in the first place, this isn't a problem, but Doctor Who isn't that series.
An alternative way for the story to play out is for the Doctor to destroy Gallifrey and then, in an act of self-sacrifice, bring the Neverpeople back to Neverwhere to save the rest of the universe. Destroy the Evil State and neutralize the evil born of legitimate grievance. That's the proper moral ending. But BF dared not destroy Gallifrey and infuriate their fanbase of continuity fetishists. Well, not with Lalla Ward alive and willing to do audios.
March 22, 2013 @ 5:30 am
Commander Maxil: I agree that the Doctor had no choice but to do what he did – but the writer had the choice of how to set up the situation. Heck, even with real-life events you can pitch the movie as heroic freedom fighters fighting morally bankrupt regimes or evil terrorists undermining democracy – and here, where Alan Barnes had the freedom to make up his own events, he could easily have chosen to go down a less pro-establishment route. I think that's what Philip's getting at, and to an extent I agree.
Having said that, I enjoyed Neverland far more than he did. Sure, it was overlong, anti-time was just the latest version of Destructonium and the bitter neverpeople were universally less concerned with collateral damage than was realistic; but it had some great ideas, it was visually striking, it wrapped up Charley's arc reasonably well, and I enjoyed the "thrill ride" aspect. I wasn't looking for anything deeper.
Perhaps it made a difference that this was the first time I'd encountered Gallifrey since The Five Doctors? I can see that after The Ancestor Cell this might seem like just another ho-hum ultimate threat type story, but that's not how I experienced it.
March 22, 2013 @ 5:31 am
"But past that you have lackluster efforts like Lungbarrow, The Ancestor Cell, and, to go back a bit further, The Armageddon Factor or Trial of a Time Lord.:
To this day I'm still surprised you didn't attempt a redemptive reading of some sort for Armageddon Factor, as it actually holds up quite well to one and fits in with a lot of the ideas you were putting forth about the Key to Time arc.
March 22, 2013 @ 5:48 am
Jane: It seemed to me that the story was making the CIA the establishment bad guys, rather than the whole of Gallifrey; and the Doctor made his contempt and dislike of them clear throughout. Now, you could (justifiably) say that the CIA is a symptom of the evil inherent in the Gallifreyan system, but that is a further step. You could also say that the Doctor should have done something about the CIA before now, if he despised it so much; but he's always run from his responsibilites at home, preferring to topple other people's corrupt regimes (or just rooting out their rotten apples, if he thinks toppling is going too far), and he didn't have an opportunity this time.
I dunno; maybe I'm being too kind on the story, because I can certainly see where you and Philip are coming from. I'll think on it some more.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:02 am
This is pretty much where the pre-revival Eighth Doctor stories at Big Finish goes off the rails for me.
One of the biggest issues is the rather ham-fisted importance of Continuity, which is one of those things which is a recurring problem of Doctor Who in the Wilderness Years as they try ever so hard to create some epic story beyond the traditional one-off stories made up the great bulk of the TV series. This is a story which simply MUST be followed up on, because they're so obviously building up to some status quo altering event.
And the problem is that Doctor Who's status quo tends to be a state of flux anyway. The Doctor (played by many different actors) wanders to a new location with a constantly changing roster of friends to have an adventure which will have little or nothing to do with any previous adventure. The only way to change up that status quo is to, say, exile him on Earth and force him to have a status quo.
So they end up seizing on Gallifrayan politics, but with his good friend, Romana, as President they can't go too crazy. It's always going to be some smallish group running black ops and getting the President in some kind of jam, which the Doctor will have to get her out of.
Which rather missing the point of the Doctor wanting to leave these folks behind to go out and see the universe.
The new show manages to get around this using these status quo altering events as either the hopes and/or fears of the Doctor. He desperately doesn't want to be the last Time Lord, but is frightening by the return of his people (who are set up to be properly sinister), he's both unnerved and intrigued by his future wife, River. But the key is these events, while seemingly status quo altering, exist to drive a short-term narrative agenda before they get back to the Doctor doing what he does best, traveling through the entirety of space & time having adventures with the absolute minimum of status quo that he can get away with.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:05 am
Jane your take on this is interesting (as always) and I confess not one I had though of. On the whole though I would not accept that the destruction of Gallifrey and neverpeople would be the proper moral ending. Surely that would still involve numerous innocent people being killed. Romana is shown in this play to have explicitly forbade the sorts of techniques the CIA had been using that created the neverpeople in the first place, should she pay the price for the actions of a previous regime, and what of all the (presumably) innocent people on Gallifrey. For me this would take us into very murky waters indeed, and brings us back to the war on terror again, i.e. to what extent do we, as citizens of the West, bear responsibility for the actions of our government. To some extent that question is at the heart of the argument about targeting of innocent civilians, both by terrorists group or western governments. I certainly don’t feel that I am responsible for the actions of the UK and US in the world, but I do have to acknowledge I benefit form them in terms of my living standards.
Elvwood. I do agree that the writer has other choices to set up his story, and could have done this differently, but I suppose I tend to judge Doctor Who stories on whether they succeed in the writers own terms, rather than whether the writers terms of reference were ‘correct’ or not. That is probably why I enjoy reading this blog so much, it gives me a very different take on Doctor Who than I’ve ever considered before, even when I disagree with it (which is often!). I also have to put my hand up and say I am one of those continuity fetishists, I love Lalla Ward as Romana, I’d probably pay to hear her read her shopping list, so accepting her as the villain would never work for me!
March 22, 2013 @ 6:27 am
From what I know of Neverland, anti-time obviously isn't well-conceived (thought better than the "anti-time" of ST:TNG's "All Good Things" was — i.e. a nonsense term used by Data to explain an otherwise ridiculous plot). But I do think the idea is workable within DW and, in fact, worked quite nicely in The Wedding of River Song. When the Doctor talks about Time, he is really talking about Causality, and the Web of Time refers to the interconnected chain of causality that explodes out of Event One like a spider's web with the Big Bang at its center. Anti-time. then, is the antithesis of this — a realm where cause and effect are unconnected. The power of the TARDIS is that it allows the Doctor, like a particularly nimble fly, to jump from one position on the web to another without getting stuck.
Or to put it another way: In a universe ruled by Time, there is roughly a 50/50 chance of a coin landing on heads or tails. In a universe ruled by Anti-Time, the odds of either heads or tails is 1/infinity, with an equivalent chance of the coin exploding, growing legs and walking away, or turning into an embittered bowl of petunias just before it hits the ground. I wouldn't want to live there, no matter how morally justified the inhabitants might be in trying to force such an existence on me.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:33 am
And what idiot ever came up with the idea of "Romana becomes President of Gallifrey" anyway?!? Her sole qualification for being president is that (a) she's a Time Lord (b) who was on the show (c) and whom the audience is predisposed to like. Nothing in her character history from "Ribos" to "Warrior's Gate" suggests that she would either be interested in Gallifreyan politics or welcomed into it by the stodgy reactionaries she exiled herself to another universe to escape. They might as well have made Drax into the Lord President for all the narrative sense it makes.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:42 am
Elvwood: Sorry, I get caught up in the destruction of Gallifrey as being a good thing for the narrative purposes of Doctor Who — I frankly wish it would have gone by the wayside back in The Tautalogical Assassin. And really, it isn't the people of Gallifrey (go ahead and save them, hell, marry them off to the Neverpeople in a bubble universe) but the system of Gallifrey, and what it represents — especially as they pretty much have power over all creation. To pretend that this power is benign, or would never be corrupted… nope, not buying it. Now, strip Gallifrey of all its power, make it a backwater planet no greater than any other, and you might have something; likewise, paint it as the Big Bad that's always to be fought, that's taking a position with all the right metaphorical entailments.
Maxil: It's a terrible shame what's happened to the character of Romana — I'm all for some more Lalla Ward, but not as President of a corrupt all-powerful society. Never mind that she's so ineffective that she's unaware of the terrible black-ops CIA operating right under her nose, simply accepting that office of power legitimates something that really shouldn't be legitimated in the first place.
It would play differently if her idealism for Gallifrey was shattered and she became a renegade again.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:49 am
Huh! I like that. It's fun.
Me, I always think of Time not as the chain of causality (a metaphor I don't really agree with) but as Change itself. It's only the fact that things change at all that makes Time a relevant concept in the first place. So if Time is Change, then Anti-Time is the status-quo, unchanging Eternity, the place of Platonic Forms and continuity-fetishism.
In fact, this makes Time the power of revolution and Anti-Time the most reactionary power of state conceivable.
March 22, 2013 @ 6:59 am
Strangely, it appears that idiocy comes from none other than Paul Cornell, in Goth Opera and Happy Endings. Gee, thanks Virgin.
March 22, 2013 @ 7:30 am
I will say the last couple of series of Big Finish's Gallifrey have been pretty good, as they dumped Romana and a few friends into alternate realities where they get mixed up in truly evil Gallifreyan politics. I think those stories work because it sets them up as the underdogs and they're forced to make difficult decisions in their quest to a) get back home and b) make a difference in the alternate reality.
But, sadly, the entire Romana as President idea compounds the mistake the series made during the Tom Baker years of making Gallifrey a friendly port for the Doctor… aside from the handful of people who always want to kill him, otherwise they'd have no story.
As the lawful opposites of the Doctor, they should almost always play the heavy.
March 22, 2013 @ 7:34 am
"No Future, for instance, is a charming book, albeit the weakest of Cornell’s first four New Adventures"
I actually liked it a lot – better than Love and War (haven't read the other three yet).
"Doctor Who has consistently, when getting to the end of its metaplots, failed spectacularly to stick the landing."
Obvious comment about the RTD era goes here.
" But there’s a larger problem here, which is that the entire frame of “everything has its opposite” is morally bankrupt. In effect it excuses the existence of evil and trivializes the existence of good by declaring that both will necessarily exist. There is no reason to do good – the self-maintaining “balance” of the universe will ensure, after all, that somebody will. And there are no real grounds to condemn evil when its existence is pre-ordained as a basic force of the universe. And so all moral force simply drops out of the equation. There are no actual stakes, because nothing can ever change."
Ugh, yes – I hate hate hate "the balance of good and evil". The entire point of maintaining a balance is that doing so is good; if there's some necessity of balancing good things and bad things – well, what you said above. Excellent point.
"Ethically, of course, this is poisonous to anything that Doctor Who has ever been good at. At every functional moment in the series’ history the idea that trying to change the world is pointless is anathema to it. But it’s such an ingrained principle in post-Campbell sci-fi epics that people are oddly addicted to it."
I don't think it has anything to do with post-Campbell sci-fi epics, tho. I think it's the same odd tendency people have had from early on to treat "You can't rewrite history" as a moral commandment.
"An uprising from a population subjected to genocide is forbidden. Overthrowing the oppressive state is bad."
Wooooooooooooooooow. …wow. …holy crap wow.
March 22, 2013 @ 7:35 am
The whole concept of Anti-Time ended up being made ridiculous by the Divergent Universe… where time does not exist, save for the fact that it very clearly does exist in most of the stories no matter how much the Doctor would like to insist that it doesn't.
I was going to use an analogy about the Doctor being stuck on a world where he doesn't know the language, but that's wrong. He clearly understands the passage of time in those stories. He's just seems unnerved that everyone insists on wearing white after Labor Day as he has to resort to monologues about "time not existing" and how wrong that feels to put forth the central conceit in complete defiance of reality.
March 22, 2013 @ 7:36 am
Seriously? He vetoed the most obvious story you can do with Gallifrey that no one's ever done? Man.
March 22, 2013 @ 7:40 am
This, pretty much.
March 22, 2013 @ 8:17 am
I did kind of like the end of that arc, though, Eternal Return locking horns with History. I wonder if they cribbed that from Mircea Eliade.
March 22, 2013 @ 8:36 am
This, so very much.
The idea that the Doctor's saving of Charley was somehow a unforgivable paradox shows a downright stunning lack of familiarity with the sort of thing the Doctor has always done. The TV movie showed a better understanding of the storytelling associated with the series than that, ferchrissakes!
But this is a constant problem with Big Finish: they have a weird love of these epic-sounding stories, and basically no skill at thinking them through thematically or logically. We're on the doorstep of the divergent universe arc, which makes even less sense (the complete absence of time apparently means nothing more than that clocks don't work). Their talent has always been in excellent, done-in-one stories like "The Marian Conspiracy," "The Kingmaker," or most of Rob Shearman's oeuvre.
As for "Neverland" itself, I found myself enjoying it more when I listened to it yesterday, but I think Phil's pretty much on the money. It didn't have to wind up such a mess, but it goes out of it's way to hammer home its banal "good versus evil" plot, even giving Sentris a hackneyed "you're either with us or you're with the enemy speech." It's frankly inexplicable that Alan Barnes even bothers to add the back story concerning the Oubliette of Eternity, since he immediately disregards any pathos it confers on the Neverpeople or culpability it confers on the Time Lords.
And I'm not even sure I'd agree it's well structured. Its length is a bigger problem than Phil suggests, IMO, and the ending is visible before the halfway point. Add to that the diminishment of Romana as a character (I can deal with her as a politician, but not as such a clueless and insensitive one) and you have a mess. Which, in keeping with my own growing disillusionment with Doctor Who during this period, I remember being hugely well received by fandom on its release. :-/
March 22, 2013 @ 9:24 am
"…you have a mess. Which, in keeping with my own growing disillusionment with Doctor Who during this period, I remember being hugely well received by fandom on its release."
Ugh. It was the cliffhanger, wasn't it?
March 22, 2013 @ 10:11 am
I agree that the impulse behind the set-up is to make Gallifrey's own past misdeeds into the source of the threat. So the intention is that the threat isn't the anti-time Other but Gallifrey itself. It's an attempt to get away from black and white morality.
Unfortunately, the way it's done leaves the script with the worst of both worlds. You have the complacency of an enemy who are pure black and can't be negotiated with but only destroyed, without any compensatory idealism. There's an acknowledgement of guilt with no attempt at reparation or restitution. The equivalent of the politician who says, 'I take full responsibility,' meaning they take no responsibility.
Saying that yes, we're at fault but now we've got to defend ourselves against our enemies is at best the morality of Macbeth: I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
March 22, 2013 @ 11:41 am
I rather liked that at one point even The Doctor calls bullshit on the whole "time doesn't exist" thing, pointing out that there's no time travel and people say "What?" whenever he uses the word time, but no one has any problem with concepts like "tomorrow" or "yesterday"
March 22, 2013 @ 2:23 pm
From 1963 to 1980, there was an equivalence: time = history = progress = good. To change history would be to deny progress. Then, prefigured only slightly by Armageddon Factor, we moved from Dicks and Marx into the era of Bidmead and Thatcher. Suddenly, time = decay = nostalgia. History became a personal sentiment. Truth had been privatised.
This led to the multiplicity of truths in the Blair-Bush years and to the eventual fracturing of the universe and Moffat's reworking of the original equation replacing history with memory.
March 22, 2013 @ 2:34 pm
"Their talent has always been in excellent, done-in-one stories like "The Marian Conspiracy," "The Kingmaker," or most of Rob Shearman's oeuvre."
Couldn't agree more. They're also OK at small-scale, character-driven arcs — the whole Forge/Hex storyline worked pretty well — but any time they get into 'epic' they lose it horribly.
March 22, 2013 @ 2:48 pm
@jane: The cliffhanger was liked, but I think a lot of people were just wowed by the deliberate "epic" nature of the thing. As I said, this is where I really started to feel alienated from fan consensus (as I perceived it). The breaking point was a long forum post concerning "Zagreus" that took issue with the negative portrayal of Rassilon. There were a thousand legitimate issues with that story, but picking on that, which actually made some thematic sense, struck me as ludicrous. It's a wonder I didn't abandon the franchise entirely at that point (to which I credit "The Wormery" and "Scherzo," the two excellent audios following "Zagreus," for restoring some of my faith).
March 22, 2013 @ 3:53 pm
Me, I loved Zagreus — not so much for the story, but for the discourse. I found all the guest voices in different roles a real hoot, I especially appreciated the dynamic between Charley and Eight — which was the most redeeming aspect of Neverland as well. It's a shame that BF ends up throwing that away in such short order.
March 22, 2013 @ 8:09 pm
I didn't really hate "Zagreus." I was hoping for more from it, but a relatively brainless romp with returning actors having a ball is pretty much par for the course for these anniversary shindigs, so I can't in good conscience criticize it and admit to enjoying "The Five Doctors."
But in the context of Big Finish's releases, it just didn't work for me. I was getting desperate for something with some actual weight to it. It's not that the individual stories were bad (I enjoyed two of the three "villain trilogy" stories leading into "Zagreus," for instance), it's just that it was beginning to look like the only choices left were either "romps" or rubbish "epics" like "Neverland." I enjoy those kinds of stories as much as anyone, but I tire of them pretty quickly, especially when the cost of following them was $20/month. So getting "The Wormery" and "Scherzo," two stories with deliberately low stakes that actually had clever scripts to go with their entertaining performances and production, in short order did a lot to save my subscription.
March 22, 2013 @ 11:42 pm
I would say that many of the earlier Gallifrey stories are good, too – I certainly enjoyed them. But they aren't Doctor Who*, any more than Torchwood is; they can take a different stance and tell a different kind of story that wouldn't be appropriate for the parent program. And that's where I think the criticisms of this story (and the whole "Romana as President" thing) do stand up. Such stories are always going to feel a bit "off" for anyone sensitive to the nature of Doctor Who. (Which sometimes includes me, and sometimes doesn't.)
* Except in the "everything except Noddy" sense.
March 22, 2013 @ 11:59 pm
Maxil: I'm all for judging stories on whether they succeed on the writer's terms – in theory. Sometimes, though, the politics gets in the way.
Jane: "Sorry, I get caught up in the destruction of Gallifrey as being a good thing for the narrative purposes of Doctor Who"
Hey, no need to be sorry – I think that's been proven to be the case now. But in the context of the time I can understand BF thinking, "well, it's been tried already; we should do something different."
Both: As for Romana, if she hadn't been made President in the books I would have said it had something to do with Lalla Ward's voice: she just sounds like she should be in charge!
March 23, 2013 @ 3:44 am
"The whole thing is predicated on this idea that by taking Charley with him instead of leaving her to die (in the never actually shown destruction of the R101), the whole Web of Time has been Upset and is unraveling. netc"
I've always taken as being that Charley's death was "acknowledged" by the Web of Time, and the damaging thing about Storm Warming wasn't so much that she survived but that she went running off with the Doctor straight-way. Her survival created a wound in the Web of Time, like all other people the Doctor saved, but usually the Web of Time heals naturally. Plucking Charley out of time and taking her across the stars meant this wound never had the opportunity to heal and every time it almost heals, Charley is plucked out of time again. Like any scab, if you pick at enough it's bound to get septic.
March 23, 2013 @ 4:03 am
I've always liked to think of the Web of Time being like a trellis holding a plant in place. It guides the plant to a prefixed design – but the plant can grow independently from the trellis.
That, and it's the canals that the Arrow of Time flow through Space/Time – and like any electrical current, if there's a loop in it, it will short-circuit – hence the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.
That said, I like the idea that the show is in a post-Web of Time state – which paradoxically makes me wish the show hadn't jettisoned the idea to throw out past continuity references and would deal directly with the idea of a post-Web of Time universe! 😉
March 23, 2013 @ 4:13 am
I think History = Memory is something that always been bubbling around in Doctor Who. Moffat's has made the fundamental organizational principle of the universe what we remember – in the sense that the only bits of continuity "we" – read, "general public" remember are the ones that matter.
March 23, 2013 @ 7:27 am
Time can be rewoven?
March 23, 2013 @ 8:40 am
Moffat's also tied the notion of Remembering to death and divinity, whether it's Madge drawing on her memories to travel through the vortex, or Amy's horror at Pedro's group walking into the light and not remembering each other. Using the Forest as the place of the Afterlife, the Akashic Records.
March 23, 2013 @ 8:41 am
The Web of Time is obviously a creation of the Eight-Legs, not so much woven as spun, like a tale. All hail the Eight-Legs!
March 23, 2013 @ 10:01 am
Sure, and that would be fine if they'd ever actually done anything to convey that to the audience. They didn't actually even need a real reason — look at The Fires of Pompeii: all we need is to have the Doctor say "Some points in time are fixed and have to happen no matter what or the universe breaks, and as a Time Lord I just have an inherent ability to identify those points, and she's one of them." But they don't actually say that. What they actually say seems to be pointing to the much more simplistic and fraught "You're never allowed to change history (as defined by the history books of the audience's time)"
March 23, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
"What they actually say seems to be pointing to the much more simplistic and fraught "You're never allowed to change history (as defined by the history books of the audience's time)"
Exactly. You can change as much as you want so long as the story remains the same. The fact that 6 people survived the R101 isn't part of the story of the crash – the story is that it killed all on board. A lot of the information you'll find about the crash pretty much says "contrary to popular opinion, people survived".
Similarly, "The Aztecs" itself is based on all the plot points we'd associate with the Aztecs, including the… controversial point that mars most portrayal of their civilization that human sacrifice in and of itself was an deeply routed sin which doomed their society. We have to keep the story in place.
And this is the thing that's been bubbling through Doctor Who for a long time, taken to it's apex most recently by Moffat with "The Angels Take Manhatten" in which you literally can't change the ending once you know it.
March 23, 2013 @ 4:05 pm
"And this is the thing that's been bubbling through Doctor Who for a long time, taken to it's apex most recently by Moffat with "The Angels Take Manhatten" in which you literally can't change the ending once you know it."
Particularly when "the ending" is the most final of endings, the ending of death. In a way, death has become sacrosanct.
December 14, 2013 @ 9:12 pm
"Indeed, the history of Doctor Who is, up to the point we’re at now, mostly a series of exceedingly good cases against the entire logic of metaplots. They’ve never actually gone well for the series. And not just in the “one bum installment” problem that any serialized work is going to have: Doctor Who has consistently, when getting to the end of its metaplots, failed spectacularly to stick the landing."
I would say this persisted with Russell T. Davies, with Doomsday working because it really wasn't part of a metaplot. And it persisted again with Steven Moffat; although The Big Bang is quite watchable, I groaned at the subsquent "arc closers". The Name of the Doctor works, but the leadup to it is really very short, similar to the leadup to Enlightenment.