Tag Archives: Doctor Who

When is a TV Show About Time Travel Not About Time Travel?

When it’s Doctor Who, usually. For a TV show where the lead character is a time traveller, there is very little regard for the implications inherent in time travel, and they’re usually presented in contradictory ways when they are mentioned.

For instance: I was watching The Shakespeare Code, wherein the Doctor explains to Martha that if they fail to foil the Carrionites’ plan, the world will be destroyed right then and there in 1599 and Martha’s world will cease to exist. This is surely in contradiction of the Doctor’s assertion in the Waters of Mars that some points in history are fixed, and must stand no matter what; if the world had ended in 1599, Adelaide Brooke and her base on Mars would surely have been wiped from history too. I realise this is probably a pedantic point, but it reaches to the heart of one of the really major failings of the Russell T. Davies (RTD) era of the show: that logic and consistency would be thrown out of the window in favour of whichever plot mechanic was found most expedient at that point. It’s an ultimately unsatisfying way of telling a story.

To some extent Doctor Who has an excuse for poor continuity, with the consistency of past events with current ones; as Paul Cornell (writer of the excellent Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter) point out, the effects of (to a greater extent) the Time War, and (to a lesser extent) time travel can re-write history, meaning that it’s not impossible to see two totally contradictory versions of events.

This provides no explanation, however, for the inconsistency in the nature of time travel itself; one would expect the laws of physics to be invariant under any sort of temporal abuse.

I’m greatly hoping that Moffat’s era will tread more carefully in this area, and the evidence presented by his old episodes show that he’s one of the few writers on the series who treats the time-travel mechanic as much more than a convenient plot generator; his first episode, The Empty Child, has a plot in which Jack Harkness runs self-cleaning scams, where the evidence is cleared away by a known historical event. Blink employs a non-linear narrative, where the Doctor invokes non-linear causality to justify him reading aloud from a transcript of a conversation he’s still having! This is all a great step up from the usual uses of time travel, which is to enter some historical period at the start of an episode, and then leave it again at the end.

Moffat’s stories show that it’s possible to tell compelling stories which are properly guided by their own consistent internal logic, requiring no great leaps of suspension of disbelief.

I was thinking about this in relation to an idea while reading the post by Paul Cornell I linked above, and combining it with my viewing of The Shakespeare Code; if time travel is re-writing history, would there have even been a threat to Earth in Shakespeare’s time if the Doctor had never gone there? Sure, he saved the day, but is just his presence in any point of history destructive to the timeline? Monsters and chaos and death seem to follow the Doctor, but is it coincidence or causation?

I think that would put a potentially interesting spin on the nature of the Doctor and the Time Lord’s policy of non-interference if the presence of time travellers was actually harmful. It would certainly put a dent into the Doctor’s otherwise impeccable morals.

I suppose this is slightly ruled out by Turn Left, in which we see the monsters would have come anyway, but I still think it would be interesting to explore.

You can tell compelling, emotional stories without totally fucking up your internal consistency. Y’know, unlike the ones told with unbreakable time-locks, for instance. Which are breakable if you want to risk going crazy. Or you can toss a diamond into a hologram as well as Timothy Dalton. I do know a lot of people who were confused by that reveal: “I thought the time lords were dead, not trapped in a bubble!”. The de-emphasis of the mechanics of time travel in the series is, I think, one of the contributors to that lack of understanding.

I do have to give RTD some credit, though. I am desperatly curious about what exactly the Could-Have-Been King and the Nightmare Child are. I suppose it’s easier to come up with cool-sounding names when there’s no requirement to ever actually have to depict them on screen!

Bring me a dream…

Sandman_Preludes

I had heard over the proverbial grapevine that The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman (writer of the films Stardust and Coraline) was an excellent graphic novel, so on one of my regular visits to the fantastic geek-Mecca that is Forbidden Planet on Shaftsbury Avenue I picked up the first volume, then the second on my next visit, and then the third.

Then I just gave up trying to space them out and bought the whole remainder of the series from Amazon, and devoured them within a few days.

It’s one of the most astonishing, wonderful, imaginative, collection of tales I have ever read. To (probably mis)quote one of the introductions, “If this isn’t literature, nothing is.”

The central figure (I would say protagonist, but often he isn’t) is Dream, Lord of the Dreaming, Prince of stories; the very personification of the act of dreaming itself. The idea of dreams is at the very heart of The Sandman – the tales are often fantastical and nonsensical, but at the same time have a truth to them, a resonance that’s undeniable. There’s horror and humour, profundity and absurdity.

Neil Gaiman is the kind of person whose writing both simultaneously makes me want and not want to become a writer; his tales are so fantastic that it makes you fall in love with story-telling, but simultaneously despair that you would never be able to arrange words as wonderfully and as eloquently as he, or touch on so many themes, or make such excellent historical and mythological illusions, or have so many dazzling ideas.

The story has an overall arc and theme, summarised by Gaiman himself as: “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.” Twisted alongside that main tale are squabbles with his family the Endless, his brother and sister personifications, e.g. his older brother Destiny, older sister Death, and the particularly antagonistic Desire, who is simultaneously male and female and the tales of the lesser beings who come into contact with Dream and the rest of the Endless, like the cat who dreams and learns that once cats ruled the world before the dreams of men revised history, or the man in the Middle Ages who learns how to live forever, and meets Dream once a century for a drink in the same pub, or the Roman emperor Augustus who is told to pretend to be a marketplace beggar once a year.

The writing I literally could not have more effusive praise for; it is utterly magnificent. However, this being a graphic novel, writing is only half the story, which is part of the wonderful richness of the medium; there’s the art.

Sandman _50 Ramadan Gaiman Klein Russell This being a very long series there are a number of different artists who’ve worked on this series, so there might well be some you enjoy, some you won’t. There are some incredibly standouts; the work of P. Craig Russel in the story “Ramadan” is breathtakingly wonderful, for instance. Overall, they do a really good job of embodying the strange world of Dream.

I really couldn’t recommend The Sandman highly enough. Anybody who knows me can ask and I’ll lend you the first volume. Or second or third, and the stand-alone set of stories, Endless Nights; alas, that’s all I have with me.

All that remains to be said is that I really, really want Neil Gaiman to write an episode of Doctor Who. He’s British, he’s a fantastic writer, it needs to happen.

Now the exams have let up a little…

Finally getting on top of things. I only have one more exam, Applications of Quantum mechanics and Electrons in Solids on Thursday morning, then I’m free, free like a bird! So far I think the exams have gone pretty well, but we’ll see how things stack up in the summer!

The Steven Moffat-penned Doctor Who two-parter was as good as his previous work would suggest i.e. excellent, so I’m really happy with the fact he’s going to be in charge of the show for series 5. Shame that won’t be until the year after next! I do wonder what he has lined up for River Song in future – the fact that she’s a character the Doctor will know in his own personal future suggests we’ll see her again down the line.

I recently picked up Buffy Season 8 #15, and it’s possibly one of the best issues yet! Mecha-Dawn vs. Giant Dawn on the streets of Tokyo; can you really ask for more?

I also picked up (at the same time, oddly enough) Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky, the latter of which has a sequel, Iron Sunrise, that I’ve already read, courtesy of my sister buying it for me as a birthday present. So far I’m really enjoying both of them – the best sci fi doesn’t just have character and plot, it has wonderful ideas around which those plots and characters can wind until you have a rich world that at once is both fantastic and believable.

Snow Crash follows the fantastically named Hiro Protagonist: hacker, sword-fighter, pizza delivery boy, in a wonderfully neo-corporate future where a computer technology called the Metaverse allows you to walk around in a virtual-reality version of the Internet. I can’t quite believe it was written in 1992, as some of the ideas contained within are actually starting to come true in parts. The technological vision in here seems like an inspired extrapolation in the Internet-saturated world of today; from 1992, it’s visionary. This is of course one of the other functions of science fiction – to serve as a technological prophet of things to come.

Singularity Sky is different again – set in a future where a hyper-intelligent AI, the Eschaton, has bootstrapped itself into sentience on the Internet, and then distributed humanity across 3000 light-years of space, sending them back in time one year for each light year out, so the civilisations at the edge are 3000 years older than those in the centre. One of the most brilliant things is that real physical ideas are found in abundance – faster than light travel exists, but it’s also a means of time-travel, as such a thing would also be in the real world. Relativity is a fact, not something ignored as too complex to include.

However time travel is not unrestricted; any attempts to violate causality (the principle that events must occur after whatever causes them) are thwarted by the intervention of the Eschaton, which preserves causality for its own ends. This is just the thin end of the idea-wedge in here! The others include mediations on a post-scarcity society, and further ideas on post-human intelligences. Great stuff.

In a public service announcement, you can hear the whole new Coldplay album here: http://www.myspace.com/387267497 Alas, you have to sign up for that insidious hive, MySpace. I’m not sure what I think right now – it’s certainly growing on me, and some songs on here are instant classics, like Lost, and Violet Hill.

Right now I’m also trying to work out what I’m going to do with my time over the summer. I have a handful of ideas, including giving this site the overhaul it’s needed for a while now, and possibly figuring out some way of skewing a satellite map of London so that it matches the distortion of the Tube map. And possibly a good way of managing music. I’m not sure yet…

I’ll leave you with one of the works of the excellent Team Roomba. Best keep your volume turned down…


TF2 Karaoke: Bohemian Rhapsody from FLOOR MASTER on Vimeo

Moffat is new Doctor Who showrunner!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/news/080520_news_01

This is really just the best news ever. I guess the news I heard was true. 

Annoyingly, the full 5th series won’t actually be on until 2010. In 2009 all we get is 4 specials. Lame! Also lame is that the first of Moffat’s two-parter this series (The Silence in the Library) is delayed by a week due to Eurovision.

Targeting the core demographic

So I’m just having a look at the stats for this site.

Top search terms for all time:

  1. andy simpson
  2. asuseee
  3. weeping angel doctor who
  4. sally sparrow
  5. weeping angels dr who
  6. weeping angel dr who
  7. andy simpson music
  8. revision sucks
  9. weeping angel
  10. office 2007 student deal

I think this rather clarifies that my core audience seems to be people interested in me, followed by Asus EEE users, then Whovians.

So people interested in me, you’re in the right place. Congratulations.

Asus EEE folks, you’ll want to check out eeeuser.com because it’s a fantastic resource, the wiki is well worth having a look at. Also, if your institution has some sort of VPN-over-insecure-network as a way of connecting to their network, it’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to hack in WPA Enterprise.

We all love Sally Sparrow. This seems to be a universal truth. The fact that we’re instead getting Catherine Tate, a re-run of Martha (she was OK, I guess…) and Rose (again? They don’t make barriers between parallel worlds like they used to) for the next series of Dr Doctor Who is just brain-numbingly painful to me. I sometimes wonder if Russell T. Davies actually has some kinda soft mulch inside his cranium, instead of the finely-tuned ninja-writer-brain possessed by pretty much everyone else writing on that show. Is the head writer supposed to be the worst of the lot?

I mean, I think the biggest achievement of the Sound Of Drums / Last of the Time Lords two-parter was to make you not notice the huge plot holes. I mean, why exactly did the Master go to all the trouble of becoming Prime Minister? One would think that controlling an army of 6 billion armoured robotic spheres would do the job well enough.

Never mind that the Doctor said he permanently fused the controls on the Tardis, only to then fix them again at the end of the episode. Maybe he just locked the controls out with private key encryption or something, but it seems ridiculous that the Master could turn the Tardis into a Paradox machine, but couldn’t fix the controls.

Awesome tangent. Anyways, I think my favourite term not in that list is “insipid boom-fest” for which I’m randomly the top search result on Google. Weird.

Thanks to Dickie for inspiring me to look at search terms, mine are all much duller than “ugly fatties”.

Update: I forgot to mention, I saw a League of Gentlement / Doctor Who actor/writer Mark Gatiss, as well as another Doctor Who writer I recognised but couldn’t name in Forbidden Planet in London. It was cool, and made my sister angry, which is always fun. Felt too lame to ask for an autograph, so I didn’t.