You Were Expecting Someone Else 16 (The Infinity Doctors)
The Infinity Doctors, BBC Books’ 35th Anniversary book, presents the adventures of an unspecified version of the Doctor having adventures on Gallifrey, seemingly, but not necessarily prior to An Unearthly Child. The result, unsurprisingly, is wholly incommensurable with continuity. Cheekily, and typical of Parkin, he builds this out of an excessive loyalty to continuity. Parkin has noted that he built The Infinity Doctors by taking all of the Gallifrey stories at once and taking them seriously in such a way as to generate a tangled mess that makes internal sense but contradicts virtually everything outside of it. So if you try to place The Infinity Doctors as a prequel leading up to the series you run into the problem of Susan’s tangible absence. Repeated reference is made to Lungbarrow even though it provides an alternate theory of the Doctor’s departure from Gallifrey. The villain is nicked from The Three Doctors and another character from The Arc of Infinity, but both stories are nearly impossible to reconcile with the Time Lords’ relationship with Omega here. And so on and so forth. It’s all true, therefore none of it is.
As with Iris Wildthyme, the most interesting question is where the brakes get slammed on in this process. Parkin, after all, is not going to just casually destabilize the entire narrative of Doctor Who. The Infinity Doctors is carefully related to everything that’s going on around it even as it rebels and blows up all of the normal structures. The main clue, unsurprisingly, comes at the end, as the Doctor ponders the adventure here and comes to the conclusion that Gallifrey is unable to change and thus broken, and that he’s therefore going to have to go have adventures in time and space instead. So there we have it: the defining aspect of Doctor Who and what keeps it coherent is its mutability: the fact that it is subject to change.
In a purely factual sense, at least, this is more or less true. Doctor Who is still on the air in 2013 in a large part because Innes Lloyd took the decision in 1966 to recast the lead actor, thus allowing the show more or less completely free rein to change with the times. And while I might be the sort of person to quibble that this is perhaps somewhat flatter than a broad philosophical commitment to pleasure and fun in as many configurations as can be found, it seems unfair to complain merely that Parkin doesn’t have as thoroughly philosophic and theoretical a foundation as Paul Magrs.
Anyway, there’s a more interesting point to be made in all of this, which is that Parkin also constrains the extent of change. This takes place both on a pragmatic level – however much The Infinity Doctors may embrace change, it doesn’t throw anything from the past away. But more telling is its conclusion, in which the mind duel between the Doctor and Omega is resolved in part when the Doctor says that the power to rewrite anything renders it meaningless. Which is to say that Parkin is careful about what he means by change. He does not suggest that Doctor Who thrives through continually throwing out the past and inventing something new. He distinguishes between change and wholesale rewriting and reconceptualization. No, change is an incremental process based not only on what the thing changing becomes but on what it was at the start.
On a broad level, Parkin ties this to the arc of history. The problem the Time Lords have is that they are unable to change in a historical sense – their society has no sense of progress. So there’s a significant bit of parsing to be done here, distinguishing between a sort of mad flux of change and inventiveness and good old material social progress. The present, and more to the point the future, are of interest and given meaning only inasmuch as they extend from the past. Hence the sequence in which the Sontaran/Rutan war is resolved by locking General Sontar and the Rutan Host on the Doctor’s TARDIS for a good long while with a state of temporal grace in effect such that the two of them progressively work through trying to kill each other, independently seeking a solution, and finally cooperation and peace, effectively collapsing centuries or millennia of social development into one event.
But The Infinity Doctors takes seriously the prospect of change beyond mere linear development. It does not, after all, advance Doctor Who on to the Ninth Doctor. Instead it creates an alternate Doctor Who. This is significant – it’s a change not based on incremental historical development but on an act of creation. This too is something posited within the book itself – the Doctor defeats Omega with a non-existent anti-singularity, engaging in a raw act of creation. This creation is, of course, still influenced by the past; it’s still a form of change and progress. But it’s not linear development. It’s something else: a different form of history.
There are, of course, obvious parallels to be drawn to the act of writing and creation. Most of the Omega/Doctor duel doubles neatly as this. When the Doctor warns Omega that nothing has any meaning if you’re all powerful, he uses the example of creating and uncreating Skaro at will. So that’s a bit of an obvious swipe. But there are larger concerns as well, of course: the conventions of genre, for instance. Parkin notes in an interview that “I tried to tell something radical and ended up with the High Council plotting against the Doctor and ancient evil and ‘by Rassilon’s fingers’ and all that.” Which is to say that even in excess of what Parkin attempted, the conventions of the genre and form of “Gallifrey stories” weighed on him.
It’s not accurate to call this a shift or a development in Doctor Who. Rather, and fittingly for the argument being made, it is a reconceptualization of something that was always there. Doctor Who’s relationship with history and progress has never been one of social realism. This has at times been a frustration, as the series exists side-by-side with social reality and as a result interacts awkwardly with it in places. But the way Doctor Who engages history and progress is via the act of writing and creation. This is, of course, the most blatantly obvious thing imaginable to say about a work of fiction. But Parkin is entertainingly unwilling to simply let the fact lie there obvious and unstated, instead migrating the logic of how one usefully engages history and progress via fiction from a writerly concern to one within the narrative.
Which brings us to the question of what the book is doing in the broad sense. Of the books of the BBC era, The Infinity Doctors is perhaps the one that sticks out the most oddly in hindsight. Its entire basic mandate is to be the big movie version of Doctor Who. This was, in the 1990s, a chronic concern. Everyone was well aware of what the TV Movie had spared us, but with the failure of the TV Movie the newfound status quo was that if Doctor Who came back it was going to be as a BBC Worldwide produced movie, and Doctor Who Magazine dutifully repeated whatever the most recent flavor of rumor about the movie was. Doctor Who’s return to television was arguably delayed by a solid half-decade as initial meetings with Russell T Davies came to naught due to BBC Worldwide’s complaint that a new series might scupper their movie plans. So in 1998, for the thirty-fifth anniversary, all evidence was that if Doctor Who came back it was going to be a big Hollywood version, which was, inevitably, assumed to be a reboot of some sort.
Obviously, in 2013, this is something of a faded concern. Not an entirely faded one, as the frankly bizarre slow burn spat between David Yates and Steven Moffat on the subject of a Doctor Who movie demonstrates, but one that doesn’t way on day-to-day life particularly. At this point even if there is a movie the future of the television series seems secure for the foreseeable, which means that the prospect of a movie that overwrites television continuity isn’t really a risk. And let’s be clear, that is the big thing that people don’t like about the idea of rebooting Doctor Who. It’s not that the idea of a movie that doesn’t tie into TV continuity bothers them – after all, nobody loses sleep over Peter Cushing. It’s the idea of Doctor Who’s primary form denying its history. Which is understandable, as there’s no earthly reason why it should have to. As long as you start from the perspective of someone into whose world the Doctor drops and end with them falling out of the world there’s no reason you can’t start Doctor Who with the Eighth, Ninth, or Fiftieth Doctor.
Even within that, though, there’s a concern, which is that a movie would involve Doctor Who being run by people who didn’t “get” it. What getting it entailed is, of course, terribly contested, since there are plenty of us who would, for instance, say that Ian Levine doesn’t get Doctor Who. Nevertheless, there’s a sense, right or wrong, that before you get to be in charge of Doctor Who you have to earn your stripes, so to speak. So what we get here, from Parkin, is a demonstration of what a total reboot could look like if built out of an encyclopedic knowledge of the series – you know, by the guy who wrote A History of the Universe. And it’s interesting enough, and it works, but there’s something lost to it simply because its concerns are oddly foreign to the present day. The question of how you’d do a total reboot of Doctor Who seems wholly academic.
Worse, and if we’re being honest Parkin already identified the problem here, Gallifrey is boring. He couldn’t really escape that, ultimately ending up with the same broken structure of Gallifrey that he was reacting against. A thorough explanation of Gallifrey ends up being less than the sum of its parts. There are great ideas here, but they don’t have great implications. Which is what Gallifrey has always been – a cool and compelling image that has no usable depth, and that becomes less compelling the more clearly you show it. More broadly, this entire novel serves to prove a point that is, in hindsight, not as interesting as it seemed in 1998. Yes, he’s figured out how to do a reboot of Doctor Who, but that’s a kind of hollow prize in hindsight. Because all he’s done is reconfigured the mythology of an essentially unchanged show. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the 1990s, and for that matter of the 1980s, the Doctor’s relationship with Gallifrey is not the most interesting thing about the show. It’s just about the least interesting part of it, in fact.
Look, there’s no way to get around saying this, so let’s just bite the bullet: Parkin gets it wrong here. It’s vividly clear in hindsight that one of the best ideas Russell T Davies had in rebooting the series was nuking Gallifrey because it solved for once and for all the tension between having the Doctor be dwarfed by the magnitude of the Time Lords and having him be the narrative center of his universe. The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. Perfect. Now he gets to be bigger and more important than all of them while simultaneously allowing them to be mythic and larger than life. Parkin’s strategy here, going back and finding a way to make Gallifrey work, turns out to have been the wrong one. Wiping Gallifrey out and leaving it to the imagination works so much better.
All of which is to say that despite seeming impressive, there’s something oddly insubstantial to The Infinity Doctors. It solves the wrong problems, and its solutions seem less weighty than they act. It’s a book that seemed very important at the time, and not just because it was proclaimed to be the 35th Anniversary book, but that in practice mostly reveals just how far off the reservation the BBC Books line had wandered. A brilliant solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is, in the end, not compelling.
January 18, 2013 @ 12:57 am
I'm sorry if the 1st comment is off-topic, but having just re-watched the 1998 Channel 4 "vampire" miniseries "Ultraviolet" I wonder if you had plans to include it as you're passing through the year?
Archeology of the Future
January 18, 2013 @ 1:17 am
I've just finished reading The Infinity Doctors and I'd agree with much of what is said above.
The thing that puzzled me was that the story was only interesting up until the point where the story leaves Gallifrey. After this (all the bits with Omega) was ridiculously dull. So, in a book where you rebuild Gallifrey, it gets boring when you try to then have a story with the Doctor at its centre. As Phil says above, RTD grasped that you could either have one or the other and made the right choice.
Reading I never once felt that this was anything other than the seventh Doctor, even if the description fitted the eighth.
I was reading it alongside the absolutely awful The Nth Doctor by Jean-Marc Lofficier. It was odd doing this as it seemed The Infinity Doctors was a response to The Nth Doctor, though I don't think that's chronologically possible.
I suppose Parkin was working through all of the rumour and gossip about the aborted big screen versions of Doctor Who, all of which sound awful too.
I was hoping it would be a bit more like The- Doctor-who-never-left from Mark Platt's Doctor Who Unbound Big Finish plays 'Auld Mortality' and 'A Storm of Angels'.
It's interesting that Parkin needs to give The Doctor a lost perfect other to make him lonely in The Infinity Doctors to replace the culture lost by exile of Doctor Who up to The Deadly Assassin then lost up until the 2005 reboot (at least on telly).
I think one of the reasons that The Infinity Doctors doesn't work is that it's hard to see The Doctor as really lonely when on Gallifrey. He seems perfectly content, in fact. Which suggests we can't have a content Doctor or a grounded Doctor and have a story work.
That's been a thread of this blog from the start, hasn't it? And Phil's right: The Doctor is a character that doesn't and can't follow the rules of other fictional characters.
This is why attempts to get facts about The Doctor's pre-telly past into cannon are pointless. The more detail we add to the Doctor's past, the more we reduce essential qualities of the character. The more detail The Doctor's past has the less teh character can be and do the things now that make a present story work.
There's a central magic that is only hollowed out by the attempt to add mundane 'historical' fact to it. I suppose it's the similar to the idea that trying to apply literal 'historic' detail to religious narratives makes them more powerful, rather than less.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:38 am
I was reading it alongside the absolutely awful The Nth Doctor by Jean-Marc Lofficier. It was odd doing this as it seemed The Infinity Doctors was a response to The Nth Doctor, though I don't think that's chronologically possible.
The Nth Doctor was 1997, I think, so Parkin would certainly have been aware of it when he wrote The Infinity Doctors. In any case, rumours of what was it the early Segal scripts had been circulating widely in fandom for years before Lofficier published the book – IIRC there are some glancing references to Ulysses, etc, in Cold Fusion.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:58 am
Parkin was active on rec.arts.drwho back when this book came out. My recollection is that if you asked him where in the Doctor's life The Infinity Doctors was meant to be set, he'd respond by suggesting that there was a problem with you for thinking that a story ought to fit into some particular place in a character's overall arc. Which seemed like kind of a douchey answer to me, even if it contained an element of truth.
(There was also some discussion over the meaning of the book's cover, in that it seemed very deliberately to be stylistically distinct both from the EDA line and the PDA line. But as this involved literally judging a book by its cover, there was plenty of opposition to such analysis)
I always said that the problem with Gallifrey was that there were only two good stories to be told about it, and they'd already told one and a half of them.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:42 am
I don't know, I particularly liked the part about the Needle People, who could only remember the future and had wildly differing theories about their pasts.
‘That is Willhuff’s theory,’ Helios added. ‘I think I like it best, even though it probably isn’t true. It relies on apocryphal sources and a great deal of speculation on his part. Gordel’s theory is equally outlandish. I incline to the view that we are from the Accidentally Left Behind When Everyone Else Transcended This Reality Interest Group…
‘I think that Helios is Merlin,’ said Willhuff.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:48 am
One thing that Parkin has in common with Miles and Magrs is that their books are bristling with digressions, and those are some of the most memorable and entertaining parts. (The Scarlet Empress is basically nothing but digressions. Same with Parkin's final 8DA, The Gallifrey Chronicles)
This isn't really an experience a TV series can replicate, and that's perhaps part of why I felt a vague sense of disappointment at first when the new series began.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:53 am
Parkin seems to get the best covers. Perhaps that's because his books tend to be very high-concept, even though they also pack in a lot of digressions and side trips. Whereas I can imagine the cover artists throwing up their hands at the task of coming up with an image that conveys the plot of Alien Bodies. (There's absolutely no excuse for the Scarlet Empress's cover, though.)
January 18, 2013 @ 5:04 am
I love this book so much. It's possibly my favorite Doctor Who novel. Parkin makes Gallifrey so grandiose and beautiful. And the way he presents this Doctor is really well done. I especially love all the stuff with Patience- how can any character be the Doctor's lover after somebody like Patience?
I think The Infinity Doctors does such a fantastic job of enabling the Doctor to have a sexual relationship. Parkin creates a partner for the Doctor that is mysterious and kept at a distance from the reader. There is a real sense that the Doctor has lost something enormous in his loss of Patience and it helps to explain his later lack of attachment.
I find it so frustrating when fans treat The Infinity Doctors as an Unbound story. Parkin makes it really clear in Ahistory that this was not his intention. Dismissing the novel from the canon because it contradicts other stories is so silly, because so many of the accepted stories contradict each other.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:07 am
"It’s vividly clear in hindsight that one of the best ideas Russell T Davies had in rebooting the series was nuking Gallifrey because it solved for once and for all the tension between having the Doctor be dwarfed by the magnitude of the Time Lords and having him be the narrative center of his universe. The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. Perfect."
I don't think Russell deserves any credit for that. That idea was done back in the 80's in the Audio Visuals tapes.
"Now he gets to be bigger and more important than all of them while simultaneously allowing them to be mythic and larger than life."
I don't think the Time War business added anything to the Doctor. If anything it took away from him, stripping him of his careful disciplined, pragmatic zen approach, and turning him into an emotionally imbalanced, volatile and even monstrously self-obsessed mess.
And as for the Time Lords, after End of Time turned the Time Lords into a bunch of all destroying maniacs for no apparent reason (or universal suicide bombers rather), it was clear RTD had taken someone else's idea and given a fanfiction spin on it of 'wouldn't it be so cool if it turned out the Time Lords were the even worser bad guys than the Daleks?' and didn't even bother to think of what sense it would make. And I gradually realized that maybe the real reason RTD wrote the Time Lords out was that he just doesn't 'get' how to write them.
Well that and a desire to tease the Time War itself as some big playground secret only he knew the answer to.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:38 am
I think the idea of showing the Time Lords as having "gone bad" works well as the culimination of all of the hinting through the specials and even before that without companions to keep him anchored, the Doctor has the capacity to drift to a very bad and dangerous place. The Time Lords of The End of Time are, in this sense, the punch-line of "Here is what happens when someone with the power of a Time Lord decides that the ends justify the means".
That's a big part of the reason I'm annoyed that Moffat decided to pick up the whole "The Doctor becomes dangerous and prone to abuse his vast powers when left to himself." It's rather like continuing the joke for another three seasons after the punchline.
January 18, 2013 @ 7:52 am
It's the best UK genre tv that I can remember from the 90s. But I can't see how Phil would fit it into a story other than as a road not taken by comparison with Buffy.
On the subject of Idris Elba, I want to know whether Phil's going to find a way to fit in The Wire.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:00 am
I think the Wire would be better connected thematically to Faction Paradox than Doctor Who.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:02 am
The thing is, the Doctor 'went bad' because he was suffering war trauma after a battle against a relentless destructive enemy for years, in which he lost everyone dear to him, and it was framed as being something that would happen to anyone who had lived through what he did.
The Time Lords emerging from the same experience deciding to end the whole of creation (even though presumably they entered the war to prevent the Daleks from threatening the universe any further), is just a far too fantastical leap to believe, let alone understand, and it's sadly typical of RTD's writing to leap from one dramatic story point or set-piece to the other without rhyme or reason.
Time Lords gone bad, I can go with. It's hardly unprecedented infact, either in terms of what we know of the Time Lords, and what we know of many civilized societies that did terrible things when they went to war. Time Lords gone worse than Daleks however, and deciding even to 'screw self-interest, let's blow our whole universe up', is pretty much a middle finger to both and to the mythos.
And if it's the punchline to the set-up, then I'm afraid it also cheapens a lot of that set-up, and certainly cheapens the Doctor's sacrifice. That it's okay that the Doctor killed his people now because they were all bad anyway, so he sacrificed nothing really. It makes Dalek a lesser story even, because it's no longer about a war that can be believed in, happening to people who were worth caring about. And if the Time Lords were the worse side, then it undoes everything that motivated the Ninth Doctor during Series One. You'd almost expect him to regard the Dalek in Van Statten's cell with 'oh well, maybe a Dalek survived but at least the far worse Rassilon didn't'.
As for Moffat, I was kind of glad he was moving past the Time War in Series 5, after it had been completely demystified, and it was that very respite that even allowed me to care about it anew when it was brought up again in The Doctor's Wife (although that could have held more promise if it were done as a two-parter and if the possibility of the Doctor finding another survivor had been teased out a bit more).
And I kind of like the idea in Victory and Asylum of the Daleks that the war is is no longer a war of mutually assured destruction, but now it's one that the Daleks have outright won, which is to my mind how it should have been done in the first place.
But I'm with you that having the Doctor now feel he's a danger to the universe and must slink back into the shadows, to the point where he's refusing to get involved in threats to Earth, is…. well it's kind of going against the very reason people watch the show, really.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:04 am
I'd say that's mostly true, but that Love and Monsters felt fairly digressive to me.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:09 am
Which is, of course, Lawrence Miles's favorite episode of New Who.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:09 am
What it actually reminds me of is the original stated intent of DC's All-Star line: Stories that you can put in continuity if you want, and leave out if you don't.
(In practice, neither the wonderful All-Star Superman nor the ridiculous All-Star Batman and Robin fit anywhere except in their own worlds, but.)
January 18, 2013 @ 8:17 am
I don't think there is any discrepancy in The Infinity Doctors with other stories that cannot be resolved or accomodated.
I always try to be a canon inclusivist. With Batman, I would like to think at least some of the 60s TV series fits into the comic continuity somewhere.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:25 am
Personally, I was expecting the story to end with the Doctor in the singularity rebooting the universe to the "right" history, and so, was quite gratified that this didn't happen.
You're quite right about Gallifrey being the problem with this book. Something I noticed is that there's only a couple times that the Doctor is allowed to relax and banter – the bits with the Needle People, the final confrontation with Omega – and they're all away from Gallifrey. And the more worldbuildy parts just showed how ludicrous the basic setup is. I'm not saying that the idea of class stratification among the Doctor's people is a bad one, but the idea of Low Town – "like a stereotypical medieval city, but people regenerate there" – is painful in its lack of imagination.
I think you could get away with a non-boring Gallifrey story only if it completely upended the status quo. Actually, there's one story I'm surprised they never did in the classic series: a youth revolt on Gallifrey. (Hey, there's a resolution for the "Ace becomes a Time Lord" story, even.)
January 18, 2013 @ 8:28 am
"The Doctor as really lonely when on Gallifrey. He seems perfectly content, in fact. Which suggests we can't have a content Doctor or a grounded Doctor and have a story work."
This is interesting. I wonder if part of the reason the Doctor's relationship with Gallifrey never works* is that it tends to be written by people who don't find themselves at odds with their native culture?
* And no, it's not a particularly interesting problem in itself, but I think that's partly because Gallifrey hasn't been written correctly since "Deadly Assassin", or even then. There's a disjunct between concept and execution.
But I'm still not sure blowing up Gallifrey was the best solution. It denies us the possibility of putting a tension on the Doctor there, and it also, bizarrely, reaffirmed Gallifrey's overlarge shadow over the programme. The best solution would have been to ignore it, and would have saved us from drivel like "The End of Time".
January 18, 2013 @ 8:36 am
"I don't think Russell deserves any credit for that. That idea was done back in the 80's in the Audio Visuals tapes."
Yeah, and what's with giving Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert the credit for Doctor Who, anyway? We've had wanderer heroes since Ulysses, and time machines go back at least to H.G. Wells.
More seriously: There's a difference between originality in concept and originality in execution. It's easy to say "Here's a story idea: destroy Gallifrey!"; what matters is how you do it. (I mean, it's been rumored that the Pip and Jane Baker "Gallifray" story in the Seasonish would've involved that idea, and how terrible would that have come out?)
January 18, 2013 @ 8:43 am
Also: It's interesting that you have this as a "You Were Expecting Someone Else". I think I sort of get why…?
January 18, 2013 @ 8:44 am
It wouldn't be hard to fit into the background of Morrison's stories, anyway.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:56 am
There seems to have been an odd inevitability to this particular idea, which kept circling Doctor Who like a shark throughout the later part of the Old Series and the Wilderness Years. One of the movie treatements would have involved the destruction of Gallifrey as well, it was even called "Last of the Time Lords."
January 18, 2013 @ 8:56 am
The You Were Expecting Someone Else/Outside the Government line is tricky. Originally I had intended Outside the Government to be TV stuff that isn't proper Doctor Who, but the Benny NAs made me expand it a bit. So it's spin-offs, whereas You Were Expecting Someone Else is alternate versions of Doctor Who.
Curse of Fatal Death strained this a bit, and maybe should have been a You Were Expecting Someone Else, but since originally Outside the Government was meant to be TV I put it there. This, though, features an alternate Doctor and so went here. Ish. Or something.
Archeology of the Future
January 18, 2013 @ 9:29 am
"I wonder if part of the reason the Doctor's relationship with Gallifrey never works* is that it tends to be written by people who don't find themselves at odds with their native culture?"
Yes! I was thinking something similar today, but that Gallifrey has to be the foil for whichever Doctor we're looking at for it to be of any use at all.
The Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin work really well as a foil to the Fourth Doctor, just as the authoritarian people who put the Second Doctor on Trial are a great foil for him.
Once Gallifrey becomes a place with fixed qualities it just doesn't work with The Doctor at all. I did like all the myth building of Time's Crucible, but the Doctor doesn't interact with that at all.
I suppose, post Deadly Assassin, Gallifrey becomes 'the place the Doctor comes from' and has to be fleshed out as a world rather than something that can mean something more than that. I love the public school/House of Lords stuffy faffiness of the Deadly Assassin Gallifrey. It allows us to see why The Doctor would want to leave such a stagnant, privileged place and be a victorian adventurer to the stars.
When we see it again (and again) it's a place where Gallifrey-ish things happen that are of great importance because that's where The Doctor is from.
Musing over the question of Gallifrey I had the most wonderful thought: I wonder if Gallifrey has shops? Or restaurants? Do Timelords keep blogs? What to young Timelords get up to for fun? Are there Timelord hobbies beyond 'doing stuff a bit like a college Don would do?
January 18, 2013 @ 9:31 am
Gotcha. The Benny ones were the ones that confuddled me a bit.
January 18, 2013 @ 9:33 am
The way Infinity Doctors fits into continuity is explained stragihtforwardly enough in the novel itself. Omega basically says that the "Whoniverse" is always in flux and different, mutually contradictory versions of history exist alongside each other:
‘I have seen the past and future change. I have seen a universe where there was no Rassilon, and the Time Lords were gods thanks to me. I have seen a universe where Rassilon still rules Gallifrey from deep within the Matrix. Another where he was a woman, and my lover.’
‘Such places exist, but this was our universe, riddled with paradox and contradiction likes weevils in a biscuit.’
(Omega also claims there's only one of him, however; he's a singularity, like Primus and Unicron in the Transformers mythos. Then again, that's exactly what a self-obsessed tyrant like Omega would want to think.)
So in practical terms, this is an alternate past/present/future for the Eighth Doctor, a story that does not take place in the same continuity but is still part of the same universe. It's something like the whole DC Comics concept of Hypertime which was established a little later; a much better way of thinking, to me, than the "bottle universe" paradigm since it doesn't require a single "real" version. (Lawrence Miles establishes the idea of the Doctor's history being in flux in the main continuity in Interference, but consigns the NAs to a bottle universe at the same time, which is pointless and petty.)
Whether or not Parkin knew about Hypertime (which I think Mark Waid had in mind a while before he officially established it in The Kingdom, after which it was ignored by almost everyone else), DC Comics's approach to storytelling was definitely an influence. The Infinity Doctor is meant to be a story like The Dark Knight Returns or Kingdom Come, a story that exists outside the primary continuity but still informs it.
January 18, 2013 @ 9:36 am
Public service announcement for those in the UK who don't know: the second half of the Big Finish season leading up to Lucie Miller/ To the Death (which Phil says he's planning to cover) is currently being broadcast on the BBC Radio 7 and then iplayer.
January 18, 2013 @ 9:47 am
Indeed! If we're going to be making Gallifrey a world, it needs to be a world, not just a pile of bureaucracy and Oxbridge tropes.
January 18, 2013 @ 10:55 am
@Archaeology of the Future:
You've nailed the agony and the ecstasy of Gallifrey right there. "The Deadly Assassin" makes Gallifrey seem intriguing because it gives us just enough detail for us to imagine there must be a whole big wide world beyond the stuffy and insular concerns of the Time Lord elites: a world of news broadcasting, hints of whole other "plebian" classes separate from the Time Lords proper, Shobogan vandalism…And what this gives us is a hint, a tantalizing hint, of what it might have been like for the Doctor to live there, and how that made him rebel.
Yet when we see Gallifrey in later stories, we get a lot of "cosmic" stuff, but never explore Time Lord society or culture in the same way. "The Invasion of Time" tries, but it just has so many problems as it is…
One of the many very clever things Lawrence Miles does in his Faction Paradox world is to take this lack of engagement with Time Lord culture seriously as a diegetic feature of this narrative world, and reconceptualize the Time Lords as beings so stuffy and sterile that they don't even have a proper culture.
I'm still convinced it would be possible to tell interesting Gallifrey stories, but only without the Doctor. Like a high fantasy noir detective series about the hard-boiled Castellan dealing with absurd and conceptual crimes among the "lower orders".
Or, as Ununnilium suggests, look at a youth rebellion: what if Gallifrey had its own Summer of Love? What kinds of crazy time-drugs would Time Hippies take? But, again, there's only a limited role the Doctor could play in that without overshadowing the whole thing…Obviously he'd be an inspirational, iconic figure to the Time Hippies, but how much could he really participate without squeezing Gallifrey itself into the margins? And if Gallifrey isn't central to that youth rebellion story, why not just set it on a different planet of sterile class-stratified cosmic elitists whose youth are inspired by stories of the Doctor?
January 18, 2013 @ 12:31 pm
@Archeology of the Future: That's essentially the big complaint about the Master in the later years of the show. Delgado played him as very much an evil counterpart to the Doctor — a sort of smooth 70s action-man as villain, somewhere on the John Drake-Doctor No spectrum, and he was paired off against Pertwee's 70s action-man Doctor. But once Ainley took the role, his standing orders became "Do your best Roger Delgado impression", and even leaving aside that Ainley never did an especially convincing Delgado, that kind of foil just didn't work opposite the other Doctors. And when did the Master stop sucking? When they brought him back not as a copy of the previous character but of the original concept, as a sort of intense, manic sociopath who really takes joy in destruction, paired against a manic, intense Doctor who takes similar joy in the universe.
(Of course, the anorak brigade hated it. Not being refined and stodgy? No goatee? How DARE they!)
January 18, 2013 @ 12:36 pm
I want to know more of these "temporal drugs" of which you speak.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:02 pm
Completely upending the Gallifreyan status quo was what the war arc was supposed to do. Arguably it worked too well, as the whole thing got complicated enough that when Justin Richards became editor, felt the need to get rid of Gallifrey to try and make a clean slate. The problem was that the new regime never came up with something else to define the Doctor against now that Gallifrey was gone. By making the Doctor amnesiac and therefore trying to cut off Gallifrey entirely, the latter half of the EDAs kept the Doctor from growing beyond it, the way he has in the new series.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
This is the novel where I fell out of love with Lance Parkin. Just War was wonderful, one of the very best Doctor Who books, written with real passion and intelligence. The Dying Days was great fun, everything the TV Movie should have been but wasn't. But this? I just remember an overwhelming sense of sterility. It felt like a novel that had been written in order to win arguments on rec.arts.drwho rather than as a meaningful work of art in itself.
You describe it as "A brilliant solution to a problem that doesn't exist". That's almost exactly the description my brother – who has trained in just about every martial art going – uses for most martial arts: "ingenious solutions to non-existent problems". If the purpose of a novel is to go out kicking and screaming into the world, forcing its way into the culture and demanding to be heard, then The Infinity Doctors is content to stay within the safe confines of the dojo, practicing complex moves that no one in the world outside will ever need or use.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:21 pm
There's some truth in that criticism, but I think it mainly applies to the Davison years. In the Master's main outing against the Sixth Doctor, he is a zany madcap with a florid vocabulary, while against McCoy he is a sinister game-player who manipulates his human companion (and his relationship with Midge clearly reflects the Seventh Doctor and Ace). Both of these work as dark reflections of the Doctor in question, the latter in particular, and Ainley was cleary adaptable enough to make these different takes on the character work.
It's really only with the Fifth Doctor that Ainley is, as you put it, just set up to do a Delgaado-lite, and it is never really satisfactory. The various writers never seem to have really given much thought to who the Master is beyond some kind of interstellar Dick Dastardly, and all Ainley can do is ham it up and hope for the best.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:26 pm
I think the Sixth Doctor era was too broken to really make a firm statement about the Master's place in it, but I will happily grant you that in Survival, Ainley seems to have actually been allowed to develop the Master as his own character and not just Delgado-Lite.
(In fact, I very nearly wrote a little paragraph about the juxatposition in Survival between the Doctor as the strategizing game-player with the Master becoming his mirror by eventually descending to the level of an unreasoning beast, but I decided I was getting tangential)
January 18, 2013 @ 1:34 pm
I don't think I agree with that account of Survival. Survival is one of the (later) McCoy stories in which his Doctor is at his most improvisatory – just running around and prodding things to work out what's happening. And I think that the critique of capitalism makes use of Ainley's Master being a bit of a camp and rubbish villain. That is, it's making out that the sort of giving 110% weak go to the wall macho sloganising that goes along with Thatcherite values is really a bit camp and rubbish.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:38 pm
I think I would take Omega's words with a pinch of salt.
If Infinity Doctors was meant to take place outside normal continuity, why does Parkin bother trying to fit it into his Ahistory chronology?
The Infinity Doctors was published within the Past Doctors range of BBC novels without any indication that it was outside of the continuity in those novels.
The Doctor in Infinity Doctors comes across a lot like the 8th Doctor, but it is never stated that he is an alternate version of him. The story could be fitted into several other periods of the Doctor's life and his oval-shaped face strongly hints at him being a younger Hartnell Doctor.
I don't think there is any need to see Infinity Doctors as taking place in an alternate continuity when Doctor Who continuity is so vague, inflexible and indefinite.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:42 pm
Outside the Government seems to be stuff that people would generally leave out of the canon, like In a Fix with Sontarans, while some of the You Were Expecting Someone Else material is stuff that fans will debate the canonical status of, like this novel and the comics.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:46 pm
That's definitely not it, as K-9 and Company and the Five Faces repeats got covered. This one is definitely a You Were Expecting Someone Else. The real debatable one was Curse of Fatal Death, which maybe should have also been a You Were Expecting Someone Else.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:46 pm
It felt like a novel that had been written in order to win arguments on rec.arts.drwho rather than as a meaningful work of art in itself.
I haven't read this one, but from what I hear you might be onto something here. My good friend Lurky McLurkLurk said much the same about The Gallifrey Chronicles.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:46 pm
But it's so beautifully written!
I don't think I see The Infinity Doctors as trying to solve a problem, but as simply a different view of the Doctor, a beautiful snapshot of the Doctor as we have not seen him before. I think the novel can really be enjoyed and appreciated from that point of view.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
Ah, I had forgotten K9 and Company was in Outside the Government.
January 18, 2013 @ 1:52 pm
There's also a BF sale this weekend, which includes the adaptation of Love and War. I know I'm getting it.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:07 pm
Well, but on the other hand, there's no reason you can't put it into an alternate continuity, if you want to. It's flexible that way.
(Also, I didn't realize it was put out as a PDA. I just bought the ebook version off Amazon.)
January 18, 2013 @ 2:11 pm
The thing is, "getting into a war" isn't a very good idea in and of itself for a new status quo. There's only a few new story options it opens up, and most of them are very un-Who-ish. I mean, do we really want to hear about the Doctor as a soldier, or as an espionage agent? The only really Doctorish thing he can do is try to stop the forces that are pushing this war into happening – which is something he could do with any two races at war.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:17 pm
Also, agreed on the unimaginativeness of the portrayal of the Gallifreyan social structure and economy. The idea of the Time Lords having a money economy, which seems to have been pinned down in The Eight Doctors, is thuddingly unimaginative. It would make more sense for them to have a reputation/information-based economy of some sort.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:19 pm
What Matt said, pretty much. I can see it being inspired by those arguments, but unlike, say, War of the Daleks trying to force a specific idea of what Dalek stories are, The Infinity Doctors is about taking a walk through the possibilites of what Doctor Who stories are.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:19 pm
I think that is how most fans prefer to treat it, at least it seems that way from what I read online.
But one could just as easily treat The Deadly Assassin, Love and War, Alien Bodies or The Wormery as alternate continuity. The Infinity Doctors seems to get marked as an Elseworld just because it is a bit harder to fit.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:21 pm
We've done a lot of speculating in this thread about stories set on Gallifrey, but there's actually a whole series set there, the Big Finish Gallifrey audios. It seems to have a substnatial following, in spite of being about exactly the stuff us Who fans find dreadfully boring about Gallifrey–the political negotiations and such. (I've heard it described as a sci-fi version of the West Wing.) Of course it's mainly focused on a set of intersting characters–Lady President Romana, Leela, and the machiavellian Cardinal Braxiatel–who are much more interesting than the usual Time Lords. But I'm curious, for those who've listened to it, does it managed to make the Gallifreyan milieu more interesting than the TV stories set in it?
January 18, 2013 @ 2:24 pm
Well, that and it self-consciously avoided making itself easy to fit by declaring itself to feature "the Doctor" and playing games with continuity and seeming contradictions. Since it consciously acts like an Elseworlds it got itself treated as one.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
Well, the thing is, none of those are "just as easily" because all of those stories have direct consequences in later stories. The Infinity Doctors doesn't obviously follow on from anything, nor obviously lead into anything. The stories that it does reference are deliberately contradicted. It's written very specifically to not quite fit, but also written so that you can almost fit it anywhere.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
Dangit, Dr. S said it better while I was writing mine.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:36 pm
I only listened to the first series. Personally, I didn't think it made Gallifrey any more interesting. It was lovely to hear Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward together, but I found it most enjoyable as something to nod off to after a long and stressful day.
It's light years away from what the BBC books have done with Gallifrey.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:39 pm
"It's written very specifically to not quite fit, but also written so that you can almost fit it anywhere."
Yes. In a sense, The Infinity Doctors is almost an experiment in continuity (though it does much more than that). By taking so many conflicting details about Gallifrey, Parkin pushes and plays with the limits of what can be done within the Doctor Who canon.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:40 pm
Well, under these terms, it both is and isn't an alternate continuity, because there are different histories taking place in the same universe which can nevertheless inform and interact with each other. I think this is a much more productive way of thinking about the relationship between the different versions of Doctor Who in the Wilderness Years than seeing them as completely disconnected parallel timelines, or trying to force them into the same continuity. (I don't know how this fits with the way he sees continuity in AHistory but "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" and all that.) One of the things The Infinity Doctors is doing is dealing with the "vague, inflexible and indefinite" nature of Doctor Who continuity in diegetic terms and building a story around that.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:51 pm
It's true, and fits with what you were saying about Hypertime.
Of course, the main problem with Hypertime was the idea that timelines crossing for too long was a bad thing – that they needed to be kept apart. (Well, that and the fact that it was a Grant Morrision concept executed mostly by people who didn't have his abilities with such ideas.) Here, we see how timelines can and should flow and merge and split.
January 18, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
Did Morrison ever write a story about Hypertime? I actually forgot he was the one who created it, though it fits well with his philosophy, and I had no idea how it was actually supposed to work in practice until I read this.
January 18, 2013 @ 3:19 pm
There's something I've been mulling around my head for a few years now, and looking at the discussion in this thread, now seems as good a place as any to bring it up. It's the concept of the "interest-span" of an average Dr Who viewer. I think I'm fairly typical in that I began watching the programme when I was 5 or 6, not really understanding what was going on, but enjoying being scared by it. By the time I was 8 or 9 I was well into the period of "my" Doctor, but by about 15 I was losing interest and was seen off by a regeneration (Baker to Davison). This is kind of mirrored in what I've seen lately in my son's generation. He began watching in 2005 (when he was 7) and has seen two regenerations, but now he's 15 he's kind of drifting away from the series again. He still watches with me and my 9-year old daughter, but has said that over the last few years contemporaries in school are starting to declare that "Dr Who is crap" and that they don't watch it anymore.
It does seem to be that a typical period of viewing for Dr Who is about 7-8 years, spanning 2 Doctors. To me that indicates very strongly why the programme can safely reinvent itself every 8 years or so – it's current viewers don't remember back further than that, so rarely bother about continuity.
Fans of course are very bothered about continuity, but I think it's fairly certain that someone who takes note of what happened 20 years ago in the programme is fairly rare (committed Who fans are after all a very small proportion of current viewers). Hence any kind of reinvention/reinterpretation of the Time Lords in "End of Time" is fine with 99.9% of viewers, since none of them remember the Gallifrey of the 70s and 80s.
Of course I realise it's a different kettle of fish with the books, as they are almost exclusively read by people who are aware of the difference between the Time Lords of "Trial" and "The War Games". Which is why one probably shouldn't compare any literary portrayal of Gallifrey with the concepts introduced in 2005, as the subset of people reading /viewing both is likely to be incredibly small.
January 18, 2013 @ 3:33 pm
Well, I've decided that this is what would have happened had the Doctor not fled Gallifrey – which he did for multiple reasons – but the first being the inevitable scrapegoat for the violation of the First Law of Time by the Time Lords in "The Three Doctors"…
(I enjoy coming up with convoluted and nonsensical solutions to fix non-existent continuity issues)
January 18, 2013 @ 3:38 pm
I think that's quite true (at any rate, it mirrors my own experiences), but you miss out the bit when you get to some point in your twenties (or maybe later) and remember how enjoyable that daft old TV programme was. So your son should hopefully be drifting back in time for the Tilda Swinton era of Doctor Who.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:06 pm
Things have changed somewhat, though, now that we have more fans coming to it as adults and with the DVD releases and such. (Especially in America, where Doctor Who isn't really seen as a kid's show at all, and most of its viewers are teenagers or college students). That said, there's still the issue of limitations in time and attention. Not everyone has the time and energy to delve into Doctor Who as deeply as we do. I know a fair number of people who are only Moffat-Who or RTD-Who fans, with little interest in the other, or in the classic series. Or rather, the many other versions of Doctor Who that makes up the classic series. Doctor Who isn't just one show, it's many different shows, though they're all part of a greater whole. So, though all Doctor Who is worth celebrating, it's fair to only be a fan of one. (That said, people are still completely wrong to not like the Doctor Who I like.)
January 18, 2013 @ 4:46 pm
That is an admittedly American perspective, though, coming from a place where Doctor Who seems to be seen, bizarrely, as some kind of science fiction show, in the same sort of cultural space as, say, Battlestar Galactica or whatever the latest flavour of Star Trek might be.
In the UK, Doctor Who's natural place is as a mainstay of Saturday evening light entertainment, accompanying Strictly Come Dancing and vying with The X Factor. Its closest relatives/rivals in drama are Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife.
I don't think there will be many kids in the UK who are particularly RTD-Who or Moffat-Who fans, any more than I was a Williams-, Bidmead- or Saward-Who fan when I was that age. It's all Doctor Who and it's all good – until you go through that adolescent phase of being too grown up for Doctor Who, which lasts until you get a bit older and realise there's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes.
If you first come at Doctor Who as a teenager or young adult I can see that you would have a different perspective – but it's been long enough since 2005 that I think there is literally no one in the UK who comes at Doctor Who that way any more.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:54 pm
There's certainly mileage in looking at Ultraviolet as (a) exactly what a 1990s cult-TV take on Doctor Who would have been like (b) exactly the opposite of what the 2005 revival was like.
I mean, I love Ultraviolet, but it does take itself very, very seriously, all moody lighting and intense character drama. Which works – the whole idea is to make this vampire story seem credible by taking it utterly, utterly seriously at all times – but can you imagine a version of Doctor Who along those lines? Jesus, it would have been awful. He'd probably have ended up on some angst-ridden quest to find his long-lost father or some pish like that.
Whereas, of course, Doctor Who comes back in 2005 all vivid colours and daft grins, and it's glorious.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:58 pm
The Swinton era was my favorite, even if it wasn't all in 3D.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:19 pm
I love Love & Monsters quite a bit, but only because it's such a wonderful little digression from the usual run of things. They just pinned their ears back and had some good cartoony fun… which the audios have been doing on a semi-regular basis for some time, but I didn't know that at the time.
Kind of like how "The Runaway Bride" was the perfect antidote to the overly melodramatic exit of Rose, with RTD using the entirety of his run as sort of mix-tape. Giving us a wide variety of emotions in different combos, creating an emotional journey much greater than any single episode could deliver.
Although when Miles wrote down his feeling about the sort of fans who didn't enjoy it, he ended up disproving one of his basic assumptions. He said non-bores loved it and bores hated it… and his entire essay proved he was about the biggest bore on the planet.
Seriously, I hate when fans engage in nonsensical character assassination of the opposing viewpoint to prop up their opinion. It's like a recipe, it's never going to be to everyone's taste. A dessert you think is divine is too rich for someone else. Whereas a perfectly frivolous episode for some might be too silly for someone else.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:21 pm
BTW, "overly melodramatic" =/= bad. Wonderfully tear-jerking it was, but I'm glad he didn't let that note stand until the Christmas episode.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:32 pm
"That is an admittedly American perspective, though, coming from a place where Doctor Who seems to be seen, bizarrely, as some kind of science fiction show, in the same sort of cultural space as, say, Battlestar Galactica or whatever the latest flavour of Star Trek might be."
That would be over-estimating Doctor Who's impact on American culture by quite a large factor 🙂
BSG & ST coming from network television gave them a much higher profile back in the 60s & 70s where simply being on television made you instantly known by everyone, so people tend to have an opinion when they return to our screens… even if it's only getting a few million eyeballs on a cable channel somewhere.
Doctor Who was kind of hidden away on PBS in the 70s, where people were generally aware of it, but far less likely to watch it. As a kid, I actively avoided lots of shows on PBS because the channel was like vegetables in my mind, something meant to be "good for you", which I rebelled against by the time I was seven.
Which means the big promotional push for the last series is really the coming out party for Doctor Who in America. And the show is probably only just starting to reach children as parents discover it's one of the most family-friendly shows on television.
January 18, 2013 @ 5:57 pm
Since you've managed to jump ahead of my readings (still trudging through The Longest Read… errr, Day), I've not much to say on this one.
Aside from it's always nice to see writers who have the same sensibility I have toward Who Continuity. Don't worry about contradicting established lore, but don't go out of your way to do so.
It's pretty much the best of both worlds. You get to have an ever-expanding history to draw upon, but you don't bore new readers with endless ret-cons to make everything "make sense".
January 18, 2013 @ 6:02 pm
Hm. Yes, good point. Both on The Runaway Bride and on nonsensical character assassination. >:/
January 18, 2013 @ 6:03 pm
It got mentioned a bit in 52, but the problem was, the apex of the Hypertime era came while Morrison was working at Marvel.
January 18, 2013 @ 7:44 pm
I found out about Doctor Who when I was about 8 or 9, when my cousin gave me the Pinnacle editions of The Android Invasion and The Dinosaur Invasion. My interest grew and grew through to about the time I turned 14, which would have been near the end of 1988. As I recall we were getting the McCoy episodes about the same time the UK was. I still watched a lot of the McCoy stories over and over, but never quite warmed to them the way I had to Pertwee, Baker, and Davison. I'd stopped buying the Target novelisations with Dragonfire (wish I'd hung on for a little longer). I still ended up buying some of the NAs and the PDAs over the years, but I didn't really get back into the show with a vengeance until New Who was underway and I wanted to revisit the old stories.
Now, of course, I'm a huge nerd about it all over again. Innocence through Experience and then back to Innocence?
I'm glad you guys love the Swinton era as much as I do. I'm looking forward to finding out who they cast as the Fifth Romana; I hope he's cute.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:51 pm
The archive factor is a huge difference here, I'd say. Someone, even someone young, can get into the new series and within a few months start watching Troughton and McCoy. That doesn't mean that they won't get tired of it in two or three years (though many won't), but it does mean that someone going through the Tennant era episode by episode can finish off with The End of Time and decide to move on to The Deadly Assassin just because they've heard that's the best Gallfrey story and they want to know more about it.
January 18, 2013 @ 8:54 pm
My off-the-top-of-the-head idea is that this is what happens when the Time Lords decide to be lenient on the Doctor after The War Games, bringing him back to Gallifrey instead of exiling him.
January 18, 2013 @ 11:17 pm
I think this column is sometimes in danger of far over-estimating the impact (and number) of Dr Who "Fans" in the world. I agree that the Dr Who climate has changed somewhat after the advent of the 2005 series, and the programme now has a certain respectability that it never really had, not even when Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee were at their peak. However it is still Dr Who and the UK Public's general view of Dr Who is never far from the surface. Now that we're 8 years into the New Series the Honeymoon period is over, and I'm starting to feel that as a non-child who watches Dr Who I'm in a bit of a minority again. Certainly at work there's only one other person who regularly watches and enjoys it, and she's got kids the same age as mine. Even the resident SciFi nerd (BSG, Stargate, Star Trek) only watches it occasionally.
True fans of the programme are still in a minority, and by fans I don't think a bad definition would be "someone who watches the programme even if he no longer enjoys it"
January 18, 2013 @ 11:54 pm
Speaking from my experience, I have never had the experience of being a regular viewer of Doctor Who and knowing one Doctor as 'my Doctor.'
I got into Doctor Who the year after it had been cancelled. My first experiences of the show, aged nine, were Target novels and VHS releases and later the series of repeats in 1992.
I watched Rose, but did not bother watching most of the RTD era and I watch the Moffat stuff on my laptop while taking notes to write reviews.
I experience of Doctor Who has generally been as a cult show or an exclusive hobby. As a teenager or young adult, I would occasionally buy a video or Doctor Who novel, but it was always with the sense of enjoying something from the past.
Maybe that means I can't relate to the magic of growing up remembering Baker or McCoy as 'The Doctor.'
January 18, 2013 @ 11:56 pm
I really enjoy Gallifrey (caveat: I've only heard up to series three, which ends on a gamechanging cliffhanger). It is very "undoctorish" – politics, spying, civil war – and I can't see how the Doctor could fit into these stories. I thought the first two series were more successful than the third, though each ended weakly whereas the reverse was true for series three.
However, Gallifrey itself is no more interesting than it ever was (post-Deadly Assassin). It's not the world that makes the series enjoyable, though it's not just Romana, Leela and their respective K-9s who provide the interest – there's a large supporting cast who are more than spearthrowers. Some who seem very superficial at first (coordinator Narvin of the CIA, for instance) grow in depth as time goes on, though admittedly others remain rather one-note.
I've just realised that my favourite episode – Spirit – takes place almost entirely offworld, which might say something…
January 18, 2013 @ 11:59 pm
The story could certainly fit into Season 6B, though this Doctor does not really feel like Troughton.
January 19, 2013 @ 1:34 am
Whereas, of course, Doctor Who comes back in 2005 all vivid colours and daft grins, and it's glorious.
Ironically though, most of the best episodes of that 2005 season (Dalek, Father's Day, Boom Town, Bad Wolf, Parting of the Ways) were directed by Joe Ahearne, who was, yes, the creator of Ultraviolet.
January 19, 2013 @ 1:44 am
If I remember correctly, Parkin said on RADW that Infinity Doctors was his attempt at telling a Stephen Baxter-'frontiers of physics'-style hard SF story in Doctor Who; I'm quite partial to those, and I rather liked this too.
January 19, 2013 @ 4:49 am
I think the distinction was clear while the primary medium of Doctor Who was television. (Curse of Fatal Death is correct by that distinction.) It's only how to interpret the distinction when the primary medium is something other than television.
What is going to cause another set of questions is when there become in continuity Children in Need and Comic relief events – is Timecrash an episode or an Outside the Government? And do you have a separate entry for things like the teaser for this Christmas special (the one with Madame Vastra and the police inspector), or Chris Chibnall's storyboarded but not filmed epilogue to Angels Take Manhattan?
January 19, 2013 @ 5:33 am
One of the early comments RTD made in interview was lamenting that a whole generation of British children had grown up without having a Doctor, and that now Chris Eccleston would be "their" Doctor to a host of new young viewers.
More than anything this makes Dr Who a unique programme. Ok, Batman and Superman have spanned the decades but they're reboots. Tom Welling's young Clark Kent doesn't remember being Dean Cain or George Reeves.
My daughter's Doctor, played by Matt Smith, remembers being my Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, and that means that even though I'm in my 50s, I can still watch the new Doctor, knowing he's the same as all of the old Doctors.
Of course for someone like me, this can cause problems with continuity and canon…except I don't give a damn about either of them, and I think that's the only way to be.
January 19, 2013 @ 7:25 am
I'm sorry, but I find myself amused at the idea that "it's been the same character all throughout the show" is somehow not, itself, continuity.
January 19, 2013 @ 7:47 am
This is another way in which I gather that my experience as a fan differs from almost everyone else's. I came to "Doctor Who" in the mid-1980s, when I was around 7 years old. That is, I gather, not too far from the age when most British children are first introduced to the show. But the difference was that, as an American, I was literally the youngest person I know to be aware of it in the slightest. The other people I know (and there were only two or three, in total) were all adults, older than my parents.
I was spoiled in that I had two local PBS stations airing it. One was just starting with a chronological run through every existing story (occassionally interrupted by the odd "event," like the release of season 25 and 26, the recovery of "Tomb of the Cybermen," or showing "Logopolis" to correspond to an interview they performed with Tom Baker). The other went for a "themed" approach, where they'd show every Dalek story, followed by every Cyberman story, followed by all the Master stories, etc. As such, I never really developed a "my Doctor" like other fans. If anything, I feel the closest to the first Doctor, since I pulled my first all-nighter sitting through a late-night marathon of the first two seasons two or three months after becoming a fan. But, even then, it was hard to become especially attached to a portrayal when you'd see someone different the next time you tuned in.
I never had to justify my fandom to anyone. Nobody knew about it, and nobody was going to look down on me for following a children's program that no children actually watched. It was more of a shock when I ran into someone who actually knew what I was talking about in the first place! I was somewhat aware of the nature of fandom in Britain, since I was fairly well read, and participated regular on rec.arts.drwho as soon as that became a thing, but it was at a distance, like an outside observer.
The only times I ever "drifted away" from the show was when it started to become prohibitively difficult for me to follow: while one of my two local PBS stations continued to air the show well into the 2000s, I had off-air recordings of every complete story by 1993 or 1994, so I relied on the books and, later, the audios to feed my habit. The novels would go through periodic "dry spells" where they were next to impossible to find stateside, and the Big Finish audios only because easily available here in the past few years, when they started selling them online as MP3s. When I couldn't get a hold of anything, I didn't pay as much attention, but those were all temporary patches.
It really wasn't until the very tail end of Tennant's run that I ever heard Americans talk about "Doctor Who" at all. For the most part, I think it does get categorized in the same way as other television science-fiction, but, then, I also think the nature of television science-fiction has changed quite a bit since the 1980s and 1990s. "Doctor Who," at least among the people I've talked to, is less "Star Trek" and more "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Which doesn't really capture the cultural role of the show in the UK, to be sure, but comes a lot closer than the sort of po-faced, "serious" sci-fi exemplified by things like "Star Trek" or "Babylon 5."
January 19, 2013 @ 9:59 am
"Doctor Who," at least among the people I've talked to, is less "Star Trek" and more "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
In the U.S. at least, they are also very similar in that they have a much larger female fan-base than other science fiction shows. While there was always a substantial female fanbase – often unestimated – for Star Trek, SF has largely been seen as a male geek thing. In contrast, most of the Doctor Who fans I know are women who then got their significant other interested. In addition, I think a good portion of female Who fans wouldn't consider themselves SF fans in general. In fact, one of my friends asked me, "Why are all these women Doctor Who fans?" At the time I jokingly said something about David Tennant's looks, but I think the truth of it is the fact that it does break all of the traditional male-oriented rules of SF. One of my favorite summaries of it thematically is actually this very, very silly bit from Craig Ferguson's late night talk show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9P4SxtphJ4 Rather than the more shoot-em-up style of a lot of modern SF, as he says, "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."
January 19, 2013 @ 10:04 am
Speaking of which… http://www.avclub.com/articles/stephen-baxter-doctor-who-the-wheel-of-ice,90805/ 😉
January 19, 2013 @ 6:37 pm
I assumed that the Trek and BSG references were to the recent versions, not the 60s/70s versions.
January 20, 2013 @ 1:13 am
What I like about the book is that, a couple of years before Pullman tells the same story, the Doctor takes on God and wins. Not just the wuss from the Bible, but the honest to, er, God Omega Point – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega_point . The book shows the Doctor screwing God's wife, then beating Him in a battle of wits.
Parkin's stuff is always sly like that, and that's the great strength of it. There's always another book going on underneath. Like the Dalek stuff in Father Time that flips the entire backstory of the book around, or the systematic sexual abuse in The Eyeless.
January 20, 2013 @ 2:34 am
The 60s/70s versions are why people care about the later versions, which is why I mentioned them. Same reason why the British press cared about the adult content in the New Adventures. These shows entered into the public consciousness of their respective countries long before, so later exploits become more high profile than what their sales/ratings would otherwise warrant.
January 20, 2013 @ 5:47 pm
It's funny; my wife and I were having this exact same conversation a few days ago from the outside in. We were talking about how clever RTD was to get rid of Gallifrey, because it's a place that really has no role in the narrative other than "the place where the Doctor isn't"; its whole point is that it's so sterile and dull that nobody wants to be there, and so stories there inevitably have to be about a place that's sterile and dull. And my wife commented that this was the problem with 'Infinity Doctors', that even Lance couldn't make Gallifrey interesting, because it's not supposed to be.
So we totally agree, there. 🙂
January 20, 2013 @ 6:38 pm
I'm still not really clear on what it is that makes destroying Gallifrey a preferable way of dealing with the Time Lords than, y'know, just not mentioning them. The claim always used to be that the Time Lords were "Too big and too important to just ignore", and that therefore they had to be destroyed so that the series could continue in a timelord-free environment.
But both in the new series and in the EDA series, that's kinda the opposite of what happened: destroying the time lords made them more important to the individual stories than ever. All of the sudden, every third story is about what's going to happen to the universe now that the Time Lords are gone or how their absence affects the Doctor.
Of course, there's a lot of anoraks out there who consider it absolutely essential that we bring Gallifrey and the time lords back — and then have the Doctor run off from them and never see them or talk about them again. Y'know, because their lists all say "The doctor runs away from his home planet because it is boring" and "The doctor pines for his home planet because it is gone" doesn't fit in that checkbox.
January 21, 2013 @ 3:19 am
"One of the many very clever things Lawrence Miles does"
Lawrence is, I think, one of only two NA authors who didn't go to university, so he's just not equipped to get it. Gallifrey is a sort of unfettered academia, and I think Infinity Doctors captures that better than most – the squabbles and point scoring isn't a rec.arts.drwho thing, it's what would happen if tenured professors lived ten thousand years. I love the joke that the Doctor's name is a sign of academic underachievement because he's only got a PhD.
The 'it was written to settle fan debates' thing … well, I don't see it. By refusing to say which two stories it's set between, Parkin's provoking questions. Is that the only way we define a Doctor Who story: 'a story that fits neatly between two other stories'?
I'd agree that it's a reaction against the Leekly first drafts. There's an old essay from Parkin reprinted in Time Unincorporated that predates Infinity Doctors but dismantles the whole attempt to impose an origin story and the Joseph Campbell template on Doctor Who. The novel's a dramatization of that essay, I guess.
January 21, 2013 @ 10:55 am
But see, I don't think that's what the new series was doing. Rather, it was moving their role in the narrative, from, basically, the main character's parents who are conservative and frustrating and with whom he gets into a lot of arguments with about where his life is going, to the main character's parents who used to be that thing but now they are dead and he wishes terribly that he could just get into one more argument with them.
January 22, 2013 @ 1:29 pm
Hm… am I the only one who misses Gallifrey because having it reduces the Doctor's importance?
In the classic series, he was always the Renegade Time Lord – important and powerful because he is one, but depending on him could be somewhat dodgy because he was on the outs with his people and you never quite knew whether they'd support him or not. At the same time, you couldn't just ignore his connections either…
Now in nuWho, he's the Lonely God, the Last of the Time Lords, Atlas with the weight of the cosmos on his shoulders, etc. etc. ad nauseam. He's this Great Mythic Figure. And while shades of this can be fun (I enjoyed some of the hints dropped in the Cartmel era), nuWho turned it up way past the point where it made for good Who – heck, it's the kind of thing diametrically opposed to the mercurial trickster that Dr. Sandifer has extolled at many times in the blog…
December 14, 2013 @ 6:49 pm
"Look, there’s no way to get around saying this, so let’s just bite the bullet: Parkin gets it wrong here."
It's a fun romp, though.
"It’s vividly clear in hindsight that one of the best ideas Russell T Davies had in rebooting the series was nuking Gallifrey because it solved for once and for all the tension between having the Doctor be dwarfed by the magnitude of the Time Lords and having him be the narrative center of his universe. The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. Perfect. Now he gets to be bigger and more important than all of them while simultaneously allowing them to be mythic and larger than life."
This actually fails badly, and it fails for fairly obvious reasons. It fails because Doctor Who is like comics. If something exists in the past and you say it's been destroyed, it WILL be brought back, because fans will speculate about it. The New Adventures brought back even the least popular monsters and events in order to retcon them… and Russell brings back the Macra of all things, and then brings back the Time Lords again.
The correct thing to do was subtler. The correct thing to do was to ignore the Time Lords. Much like the Virgin editorial instruction "No stories about the Valeyard."
"Parkin’s strategy here, going back and finding a way to make Gallifrey work, turns out to have been the wrong one. Wiping Gallifrey out and leaving it to the imagination works so much better."
Not really. The key thing is that Parkin's book is fun — it's got sensawonder, even if we can't make out what's going on.
RTD's "Last of the Time Lords" was seriously, well, boring. Also pretentious. Although it was probably inevitable. Any number of previous stories were pointing that way, what with the BBC Books "War" between the Time Lords and the "Enemy" leaving the Doctor alone. And the Virgin books worry about "war" between the People and the Time Lords, which doesn't happen, which is actually my favorite of the wars because it doesn't happen. Virgin threatened the destruction of the Time Lords in Cold Fusion, too. So it was probably inevitable. It's still boring.
December 14, 2013 @ 6:51 pm
"Well, I've decided that this is what would have happened had the Doctor not fled Gallifrey"
This is a particularly attractive interpretation to me for some reason as well.
December 14, 2013 @ 6:52 pm
For reference, Dr. Who fandom in the US has been female-dominated since the show hit the US in the 1980s. I was introduced to it by an adult woman.
December 14, 2013 @ 6:55 pm
Louise Jameson, Lalla Ward, and John Leeson are an unbeatable combination. As characters, they tick the right boxes for a team, too, balancing each other out.
And frankly the political intrigue, combined with "timey-wimey" plots of a rather extreme nature, is a lot of fun.
December 14, 2013 @ 6:57 pm
"The thing is, "getting into a war" isn't a very good idea in and of itself for a new status quo. "
That's the problem, and that's why the best of the three time wars is the one which didn't happen from the Virgin books — the Time Lords vs. the People. The aversion of the war is far more interesting than any actual war could possibly be.
December 14, 2013 @ 7:01 pm
Kate Orman was kind of known for her digressions too. Butterfly Room? Auton spatula?
The thing is, a TV series can replicate this, but only in long-form stories. You can't really do it in two television hours, you have to have the relaxing length of at least a Classic Who six-parter. There are digressions in a number of the longer stories before everything got so much faster.
December 14, 2013 @ 7:04 pm
Stephen: good point. I grew up around academia, I recognized it immediately. And of course it's Robert Holmes (Deadly Assassin) who made Gallifrey explicitly academic, with the "colleges".
I agree that Parkin is reacting against the Leekly drafts. The Doctor is not a hero, remember (this was settled back in The Unfolding Text.) Most of the novels by Parkin, like those by a number of other authors (Orman and Stone come to mind) react specifically to things which were big issues in fan discussions at the time, but which are now probably quite obscure.
December 14, 2013 @ 7:06 pm
I was reading it alongside the absolutely awful The Nth Doctor by Jean-Marc Lofficier. It was odd doing this as it seemed The Infinity Doctors was a response to The Nth Doctor, though I don't think that's chronologically possible.
I suppose Parkin was working through all of the rumour and gossip about the aborted big screen versions of Doctor Who, all of which sound awful too."
Yep, he was. There's a Kate Orman / Jon Blum response to the aborted scripts as well, and there's also a second Lance Parkin response in The Gallifrey Chronicles, which is the cheekiest.
January 29, 2015 @ 6:57 am
I agree completely. The deification of Who in the recent series has troubled me. (The scene where he is carried off by two robotic angels always struck me as bit too on the nose in this regard, though never could figure out if it was an example of a writer with a tin ear accidentally giving us a perfect symbol, or someone recognizing the fault and subtly needling the series.)
Of course, even with Gallifrey we would still have the parallel problem of him becoming the widely known and loved superstar Doctor (which he remains despite the Smith episode claiming he would fade once more into the shadows), but even there, I think the threat of running afoul of his people might have restrained him a bit more.
January 29, 2015 @ 7:03 am
I am not so sure about the prevalence of females among early Who fans in the US. I discovered the Doctor in the late 70s or early 80s on PBS (I was young enough I can't recall when, though I know they were broadcasting Baker episodes.) At the time, I knew no one else who even knew about the show, much less was a fan. As I grew older, in the 1980's, the fans I met were almost all men, and in the late 80s a fair number were gay men. In fact, until the 2005 revival, the only women I met who knew of Dr Who were "Dr Who Widows", women married to fans who loathed the show, or at best asked "why am I watching a man with a bucket on his head?" (Presumably an ice warrior) I don't think I met more than a half dozen female fans prior to 2005, if that. Of course, I did not attend conventions and the like, but my personal experience was of a largely male set of fans.
January 29, 2015 @ 9:37 am
The president of my local Doctor Who fan club was a woman, back in the mid-80s, and this was a pretty small upstate New York town. I can't remember how many other women were in it but it never seemed at all strange.
January 29, 2015 @ 10:49 am
As I said,, I was more of a solitary fan, not much for fan groups, conventions and the like, so my perspective may have been somewhat skewed. But even assuming I was not in the mainstream of fandom, the incredible paucity of female fans I found in the mid Atlantic makes me question of women truly dominated fandom in the 80s. Perhaps in some regions, or maybe in some types of organized fandom, but overall it just did not match my experience. Then again, anecdotal experience is pretty unreliable, so maybe I simply had a unique experience and managed to visit all the wrong places and meet all the wrong people.