Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Time Crash

Well now...

First post for a while, but then the first bit of new Doctor Who on the telly for a while. And I'm still trying to get over Last of the Time Lords. So has this helped at all? The fact that Time Crash can be slotted into that final episode might give it a bit more of a feelgood factor in future viewings. We can only hope...

What did I think of Time Crash then? Reading through the comments on Outpost Gallifrey, I sometimes (no, make that often) wonder if I've watched the same programme as everyone else. Suffice it to say, I didn't cry, and I haven't watched it twenty times yet. I found it perfectly acceptable as a charity episode: entertaining and fun, with nice interaction between the two leads - good to see Davison back in character. Great while it lasted, but that was all. Probably I'm coming across as a bit of an old curmudgeon here. It's not that I don't engage with Doctor Who on an emotional level - my major difficulty is that the bit which seems to have moved people is the bit I have the most problems with: the tenth Doctor's bizarre eulogizing of the fifth, especially the "You were my Doctor" speech. It's not so much that it breaks the fourth wall - I'm all for a bit of post-modernism - more the fact that it steps outside the characters and seems to become the writer and actor directly addressing their hero. Which just feels very, very strange.

There are some interesting continuity ideas though. Shorting out of the time differential as an explanation for why past Doctors look older in reunion episodes (although the pedant in me would point out that it doesn't account for why Troughton and Pertwee look older before they're scooped in The Five Doctors, but you can't have everything). There's also the question of whether the Doctor can remember his meetings with his other incarnations once he returns to his own time: why for instance, doesn't the fifth Doctor know Borusa's the villain in The Five Doctors if he's lived through it four times already? (I remember there was even a letter to the Radio Times in 1983 asking about that...) Considering the resolution of Time Crash depends on Tennant remembering what he had to do to save the day, one can only conclude that the Doctor does in fact remember these things. But then, doesn't that mean Davison will know he's not going to die on Androzani? that the Master isn't dead on Sarn? and so on and so on. One suggestion is that these anomalous memories are somehow lost in the time differential - they're memories that belong to the tenth Doctor's part of the time stream; when the time differential shorts out, in addition to physically ageing Davison, it somehow unlocks Tennant's memory of the incident. (It's an explanation that would work in most cases - although Troughton recalls the events of The Three Doctors before he gets scooped in The Five Doctors, so nothing's perfect...)

There's been some debate on when exactly in the fifth Doctor's life this event occurs for him. Plenty of speculation and lots of suggested answers. To place the story in The Complete Adventures, I had to make some quick decisions on the night - and the most obvious clues to pick up on were those that Tennant suggested: Nyssa and Tegan, Mara - a placing between Snakedance and Mawdryn Undead seems to work. Davison doesn't confirm it, but he doesn't deny it either - and as I've just discussed, Tennant ought to be able to remember it! In the absence of any other clues, I'll stick with my original guess. (Though I've no doubt a book or audio will come along in years to come and tie it down definitely...) It's been pointed out to me that Mawdryn Undead opens with the Tardis nearly colliding with another spaceship, which offers a neat sense of symmetry.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Doing It Again...

So here’s a question: can the Doctor have the same adventure twice? Obviously, I’m going to say yes – my standard answer being that in a quantum universe, anything is possible. However, there are some fans for whom it’s a real problem: the sort of fans who insist on defining and zealously policing a rigid canon. I’ll talk about the politics of canon debates some other time, but the sad thing is, it seems to me that some people want a canon solely for the opportunity to exclude things from it. I’ve had arguments with people who want to dismiss the audio adventures as non-canonical on the basis of Jubilee being the inspiration for the tv episode Dalek. It’s not like they’re the same story in anything but basic ideas. (And if repetition of ideas was enough to disqualify stories, we ought to throw out Planet of the Daleks for revisiting The Dead Planet – or for that matter, The Caves of Androzani as a rehash of The Power of Kroll.) As if the Jubilee/Dalek thing wasn’t bad enough, I’ve even encountered someone who wanted to invalidate Spare Parts for being the same story as Rise of the Cybermen – well, it was pretty apparent that person hadn’t actually heard Spare Parts and was just going on what he’d heard third-hand from posts on Outpost Gallifrey – but he wanted a justification for his exclusion of the audio adventures and thought he’d found it. Never let the facts get in the way of a good canon debate…

The 2007 series gave the canon-exclusionists their most powerful ammunition yet, in the form of two literary adaptations. Whereas it was apparent quite early on that Human Nature would be adapted from the novel of the same name, we knew very little in advance about Blink, other than that it would be a “Doctor-lite” episode and really scary! Nearer to the time of broadcast, a few facts had started to emerge – most notably that the main protagonist was called Sally Sparrow. Those of us who’d read Steven Moffat’s story in the 2006 Annual would already be familiar with that name, of course – and so it began to look as if Blink would be an adaptation of it. At least they were honest about it, mentioning it on Confidential and popping the original story up on the website. What I found interesting was the relative lack of consternation about this adaptation – in complete contrast to the pages of argument on Outpost Gallifrey over the previous fortnight regarding the canonical status of Human Nature. It may be that an Annual story just doesn’t register on most people’s radar in the way the New Adventures did…

Nevertheless, there were a handful of comments that Blink had effectively removed the Annual story from canon. Once again, I marvel at the willingness of Who fans to discard stories on the flimsiest of evidence, but in this case, I really don’t see the need. Admittedly, the basic idea is the same, but most of the details are different. The two Sally Sparrows live in different time periods, are different in age and appearance. The settings are completely different. There are no Weeping Angels in the Annual story. It’s just the notion of the Doctor, separated from the Tardis, sending messages via a recording medium that links the two tales. It’s no more a rehash than Dalek was of Jubilee, and we survived that. I think the question only arose because Moffat named his heroine Sally Sparrow, perhaps in homage to the Annual story, perhaps because he just liked the sound of the name. If only he’d called her Mandy Magpie, I don’t think there would have been an issue.

Human Nature is another matter entirely – as probably the single most popular Who novel ever written, the adaptation was always going to cause ructions on all sides of the canon debate – arguments that are still rumbling on to this day. It seems obvious that Paul Cornell himself anticipated this, and tried to head them off with a blog entry on the subject of canon. I’m not sure if he really thought it would still the debate, but it seems unlikely. (Many, but not all, of his points I would agree with, incidentally…)

But inevitably it happened – even before broadcast, people were declaring the novels as non-canonical, again based on that spurious argument that the Doctor couldn’t have the same adventure twice, and that the tv version had to trump the novel. Even despite the fact that the novel existed first! (It’s a mind-set that’s difficult to shake off. Even for someone like me, who spends so much of his time fitting all forms of Doctor Who together, there’s still some subconscious impulse to regard the tv series as the taproot, as somehow more real than any of the other media. Certainly, I know that I can recite the dialogue from entire episodes, whereas I can’t remember more than basic details even of books I read quite recently.)

Of course, the argument soon brought NA supporters out into the open, to offer any number of reasons why Human Nature could have happened twice, without “de-canonizing” the novels. Many of these invoked the Time War, as having in some way undone the previous sequence of events. (Indeed, Cornell suggested this in his blog entry.) This is quite an easy get-out clause, though, and in fact it comes up more and more frequently these days as a catch-all explanation for continuity discrepancies. And frankly, that’s just lazy…

I suppose I haven’t been as bothered by all this as some people – it’s not as if the notion of adventures happening twice is particularly new. The Ultimate Adventure stage play happened to three different Doctors. Shada happened twice as well (and in that case, the repetition was explained in the story). Then there are a number of comic strip adventures for the fourth Doctor, that previously happened to the second or third Doctors. And all this happened long before the Time War came along to start buggering about with the timeline. In The Complete Adventures, I’ve suggested explanations for all these occurrences. One idea I’m particularly taken with is that the Doctor, on some subconscious level, is drawn towards such areas of quantum instability, as if feeling the need to restore missing sections of his timeline. (Or maybe the Tardis deliberately seeks out these space-time discontinuities…)

My quantum universe model allows for all versions of the same story to have occurred in the same continuity. There’s no need to imagine they’ve somehow un-happened. They just haven’t occurred in the current quantum iteration of the continuum. There’s an important point about Human Nature, that the canon debate has largely ignored – the tv story is not just a straight adaptation of the novel. It seems superficially very similar, certainly the closest of the adaptations so far, but it’s not identical by any means. Some of the characters are similar, but have different names. Some have the same name, but are different characters. Some are missing altogether. Most importantly, the Doctor’s reasons for becoming human are completely different – and the villains of the piece aren’t the same either. (And where were the scarecrows in the novel?) So my fundamental question is: if the events of the novel didn’t happen, who defeated the Aubertides? (As with Blink, I have to wonder if fandom would be quite so bothered by all this if Cornell had changed the names of his characters and called the story something else. Who am I kidding...?)

Here’s a theory, then: everything in the novel happened back in a different branch of the quantum universe – the seventh Doctor decided to try being human, the Aubertides came for his biodata, and were eventually defeated. So far so good. Centuries later, the tenth Doctor is in a different quantum permutation of the continuum. (It could have been the effects of the Time War, it could have been anything – but those past memories just aren’t accessible to him any more. However, we can imagine that the Tardis memory banks retain that knowledge at some quantum level.) When the Doctor activates the chameleon arch, he leaves all the details to the Tardis. The John Smith schoolmaster persona would be automatically drawn upon to create the Doctor’s new human form; and the Tardis would then locate a setting in which to place him, homing in on an area of quantum instability to try and protect the integrity of the Doctor’s timeline.

Or it could just be a massive coincidence…

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Making History

Ten or twelve years ago, I was watching a police series on BBC 1. I don't remember much about it, but there was a scene where a nasty piece of work (drug dealer, I think) was threatening his girlfriend whom he believed had grassed him up. She was terrified, backing away from him as he came towards her with murderous intent. Why does this scene stick in my mind? Because in their wisdom, the set dresser had seen fit to place a couple of shelves of Doctor Who videos behind the actors. Now, I have a finely-trained eye that can spot the Doctor Who logo instantly, no matter how small or far away. (This has served me well at car-boot and jumble sales over the years of course...) From this point on, all I could focus on were those videos. Aside from briefly wondering why the BBC was depicting a Doctor Who fan as a violent drug dealer, the thing that kept bugging me was this: once the action got close enough that I could read some of the titles, I could see the videos weren't arranged in series order! Which was simply unthinkable...

Seriously, it simply wouldn't have even occurred to me to shelve my videos in anything but series order - same with DVDs, same with the books - all the Target novels in series order with the Missing Adventures slotted in at the appropriate points. It just wouldn't make sense otherwise. And I think this desire to put things in order is a symptom of being a fan. Pretty obviously, it's an obsession that drives me. (That set dresser really didn't do their research...)

But you know, I've really got it easy with The Complete Adventures. Sorting everything into series order is relatively simple. Sure, there are some major headaches along the way and a lot of uncertainty in the margins (and I suppose that's where the fun's to be had...) but the groundwork is all there - we know what order the tv episodes are in - we know which Doctor follows which, which companions were around when, and so on... That gives us a good start, and enables us to find the clues and make educated guesses (and sometimes barmy guesses). The other, more difficult, way of trying to order things is to put Doctor Who stories into an historical chronology. That way lies madness...

Now that's not to knock the industry of people like Lance Parkin (indeed, I take my hat off to him). There's a lot of fun to be had reading between the lines - interpolating a possible sequence of events from the known facts is an interesting intellectual exercise. But ultimately that's all it is, a joining of the dots - Who chronologies can never hope to be definitive, especially when a new story might come along next year and throw an enormous spanner into your previously-estimated sequence of events. And they can never hope to be histories either, merely a list of events. Real history is about cause and effect, about the development of cultures and civilizations. Take The Aztecs for example - most fan chronologies only mention the events of the tv story itself, and any past incidents that might be referenced by it. Nothing about the rise of the Aztec culture, or the coming of the Conquistadors. No sense of the historical context. And that's the past, something we already know about - what chance is there of constructing any meaningful future history?

To a certain extent, Doctor Who has depicted a broadly consistent future timeline for Earth and the human race - there's scope there for the intellectual jigsaw puzzle of synthesizing a suggested chronology, as long as you're prepared to abandon it when the next tv series contradicts all your guesswork. What's less certain are those other fan favourites - chronologies of the main alien races, especially the Daleks and the Cybermen. The Doctor spends most of his time with humans, so we've been given a lot to go on. Despite their seeming ubiquity, we really know very little about the Daleks. Out of a history that spans thousands of years, the Doctor has had just a handful of encounters with them - usually just battles and other violent incidents. That's not enough to conjure up a proper history.

Here's an analogy: take one hundred battles fought by British forces in the last thousand years. You've got only accounts of the fighting, and maybe a few background details on who's fighting whom and for what. None of the historical, cultural and political context. Then put those accounts together in a random order, often without dates attached. From that, could you accurately construct the history of the British nation? Of course not, you just don't have the information - nothing about how the monarch or the government has changed, about what alliances and treaties have come and gone in the periods between. Dalek timelines always tend to assume that nothing significant happens between the stories we know about. The history of a real civilization is far, far more complex than that...

Monday, 27 August 2007

It's All in the Game

First off, a big thank you for the comments. It's nice to know that someone is actually reading this, and might even be moved to say something about it - even if I have no idea what Neil is talking about most of the time!

NickF however raises an interesting point, with which I would agree wholeheartedly. The question of Decide Your Destiny books came up recently during one of the interminable debates on Outpost Gallifrey over what does or does not constitute "canon" - (the correct answer of course being everything and nothing - but I will write here about the futility of canon debates some other time...) One of my correspondents had decided that only broadcast Doctor Who performed with live actors could be considered canon - but later decided to add an exclusion clause for Attack of the Graske, because it was "only a game", even though it fit all his other previously-stated criteria. But that's canon debates all over - arguments are continually fudged to fit an individual's preferences.

For the purposes of The Complete Adventures, I had no problem at all accepting Graske, the Decide Your Destiny books, nor any of the earlier Find Your Fate volumes as bona fide Doctor Who stories. The major argument against their inclusion (the "only a game" gambit) is that they depend on the input of the viewer/reader to decide their outcome. My answer is that the game aspect is something of an illusion. The outcome (or outcomes) is a given, provided in the text of the book, and the reader is guided through a series of choices to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. In the case of some of the books (and indeed Attack of the Graske) the choices are very narrow indeed, leading you via a few diversionary paths to a very limited set of outcomes. So, the complete adventure is there - it just has a few variations. As NickF says, this is the very definition of the quantum universe hypothesis I've proposed.

There's a flipside to this of course, which is that some things really are "only a game". I would place things like Destiny of the Doctors and earlier computer games, role playing game modules, and even those "paper counters and dice" board games that used to appear in Doctor Who Annuals (some of which have quite elaborate backstories) as adventures that might have happened to the Doctor, but which have been inadequately recorded. Their narrative and conclusion, being defined solely by player involvement, makes them a sort of "potential reality", and for that reason they haven't been included in The Complete Adventures.

I was also recently asked about some of the more extreme additions to Doctor Who - educational books like the Doctor Who Discovers series or the Quiz Book of Dinosaurs, and whether they ought to have been included. My main reason for ignoring them is for the sake of my sanity. My get-out is that they're not actually adventures, and so don't fall under the remit of my site. I suppose they too come under the category of "potential reality", things the Doctor might have got up to (setting vaguely educational quizzes for his companions during the time they weren't busy having adventures and saving the universe and so on...) Rather usefully, the Doctor Who Discovers series was ret-conned by the Big Finish play The Kingmaker into a series of educational texts penned by the Doctor himself during his fourth incarnation - so it's quite possible he continued this writing career subsequently, and the Quiz Books are the result.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Many Worlds (Slight Return)

Well, I haven't written anything here for a while. But now people have been asking me (well OK, one person...) - when am I going to update my blog? The truth is, I've been put off Doctor Who somewhat recently, and the culprit is most definitely the final story of the last series. I've already expressed my misgivings about Last of the Time Lords, so I won't bother going over all that again - except to say it leaves a bad taste in the mouth and a sense of general indifference. I'll get over it. Although there continue to be things that don't inspire confidence - the whole Catherine Tate business for a start - on the whole I've enjoyed the new series and I think the producers generally know what they're doing. And at the end of the day, it's only a tv show... (Hmm... Do fans expect too much from Doctor Who? There's a topic for a future entry right there.)

So let's forget about that for now and concentrate on something I can talk about - continuity! I've been giving some further thought to my Many Worlds Interpretation as outlined below. For my sins, I was discussing this on Outpost Gallifrey - (I think there's another blog entry some time in the madness I've encountered on the OG forum...) - and one of my correspondents accused me (yes, accused - that's not too strong a term) of using a "multiverse" explanation as a way of avoiding continuity issues. Naturally, I strenuously denied this. I was however being disingenuous. MWI is indeed a multiverse theory. But I think I can be excused because the concept of multiverse is fairly nebulous and can have varying definitions depending on who you're talking to.

Generally speaking (in science fiction anyway) a multiverse is taken to be any number of alternative universes exisiting in parallel, usually with alternative versions of your main characters. This concept crops up in Doctor Who a few times (Inferno and Rise of the Cybermen being the most obvious) but those are very specific examples. And that's not what I'm postulating with MWI - although my OG antagonist clearly thought that I was. So it was to distance myself from the whole "parallel universes" thing that I denied my belief in a multiverse. Because that way lies madness - there are people who want to believe that the novels and the audios exist in different parallel universes. And some authors even want to try and prove it. (I'm looking at you, Gary Russell...) And back along, Lawrence Miles thought that Virgin and BBC novels existed in separate universes - though seemingly none of the other authors did - but as that gave rise to some interesting ideas, I'll overlook it.

What I'm suggesting is a single universe where all possible outcomes and permutations exist. The series itself supports such a notion - there's the famous scene in Pyramids of Mars where the Doctor travels into the alternative future. Looking back over my previous entry, I think some confusion has crept in when I said this:
Every time the Doctor steps out of the Tardis, he changes the conditions of the universe around him. At any moment, only some of his past adventures might actually have happened to him.
What's probably more accurate to say is that all of his past adventures have occurred to him, but he might not be aware of them all at any precise moment. Because quantum theory is all based around observation - so the Doctor may find himself in a part of the continuum from which it is impossible to observe (or even remember) certain other events. We could even take this idea one stage further and suggest that it's us, the audience, who are the observers. At one time, we could only see the tv episodes, and so we perceived them as following on from each other. With successive iterations of the universe, the books and comics and audios start to appear and we "perceive" that they must have fitted between the episodes in ways we just couldn't conceive before. Well, it's a thought...

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Last of the Time Lords

Jesus H Bidmead....

I haven't been able to bring myself to write about this one until now. What can I say? That really was one of the worst pieces of television I've seen in a long time. Hard to believe that this sordid piece of bad taste could be written by the same person as the uplifting and moving Gridlock. Do I really want to see my heroes being humiliated and tortured as Saturday night entertainment? It's hard to see what Davies was trying to do that couldn't have been achieved with a more intellectual threat. There were the germs of good ideas there, but the execution was appalling. Generally, I like the idea of the Doctor encouraging the people of Earth to believe in an ideal - if he had somehow taught them to feed into the Archangel network and empower themselves to overthrow the Master, that would have been fantastic. But to turn himself into a god figure was just horrendously done. Still, the one good bit was the Master's death: the idea that he chose to die as the only way he could gain a final victory over the Doctor was very powerful.

Hey, never mind, earlier the same day I enjoyed The Infinite Quest, which was much more like it.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Sound of Drums

OK... Not sure how I feel about this one. It didn't do much for me last night. There are some good bits in it, but overall I didn't warm to it. Especially Simm's portrayal of the Master. It left me feeling much the same as The Runaway Bride did: fun, but silly and ultimately unrewarding. But Bride could get away with it as it was a bit of fluff for Christmas - you expect more for a big season finale. Well, this may all just be build-up to next week, which certainly looked different from the teaser. My friend Nick said the other day that Russell T Davies doesn't really write two part stories, he writes two separate episodes that might share the same setting and characters, but could be stylistically and thematically very different. And this could well be the case here. It seemed to improve with a second viewing, so maybe this one will grow on me, especially when seen in context.

The "three-parter" debate is rumbling on. With the quite summary dismissal of last week's cliffhanger, it looks like I was right to regard Utopia as a separate entity. Unless they do pick up the whole refugee rocket storyline next week - but I can't think how they'd have the time. Some have suggested that it might be revisited next year - maybe even that the search for Utopia will be next year's arc. That could be interesting...

I doubt I was the only person to shout out "Cloudbase" when the Valiant appeared. Although the aircraft carrier was probably a lot bigger - bigger than any seaborne carrier in fact. It looked like it had three runways, with an airliner landing at one point. More like a floating airport! I'm wondering if this could be a subtle tie-in to the continuity of The Indestructible Man. But I'm probably the only one there...

And so to the biggie. There's been a lot of hand-wringing over on OG about this. The depiction of Gallifrey and the Citadel was fantastic. Interesting that they chose to stick with the look of the Gallifreyan robes and collars though, considering that they usually like to redesign the iconography. I'm not sure why the young Master was wearing "War Games" robes either. If they're Academy colours, does that mean the Doctor's trial was conducted by a bunch of students? - it might explain why they let him off so lightly! Perhaps they're House colours? Could Goth and his cronies be from the same House as the Master? Or if they were members of the CIA, could it mean that even at that age the Master had been chosen to serve the Agency? Am I just thinking about it too much?

The big problem though is the depiction of the Master as an 8 year old child. Does it contradict Lungbarrow? On the OG forum, the novel-haters are already using this to wipe the book or even the whole New Adventures range out of canon. Well, good luck to them. I know the novel fans will just find ways around it. The series has always been littered with contradictions, and as I've often said, they're a part of the fun. So on the one hand, you've got the depiction of a Gallifreyan child starting at the Academy. Placed alongside references to the Doctor's father and mother (not to mention his brother and granddaughter), to "Time Tots", to a Gallifreyan maternity service and nursery rhymes, it doesn't seem odd in the slightest. Then you've got Lungbarrow, which suggests Gallifreyans are woven from the Loom in a fully adult state, albeit with the minds of children. Gallifreyan Houses are filled with giant-sized furniture, so the youngsters still feel like children. We actually get this information from Leela, of all people, who's reporting it from what she's learned from her husband Andred. Is it possible that she has simply misunderstood the nature of child development on Gallifrey, and rationalized it according to her own understanding of child-rearing?

Of course, when we get inside the House of Lungbarrow, we see the giant-sized furniture for ourselves - but that in itself seems really peculiar. If Gallifreyans were born as full-size adults, then surely their society and culture would just accept that as normal? - it's the way their minds would work. They wouldn't need to go through some contrived developmental process designed to fool them into thinking they were children - unless it was important for them to fit in with the rest of society. So this got me thinking - the only House we see inside is Lungbarrow itself. What if it's only Lungbarrow that produces fully adult cousins from its Loom, and has to convince them they're kids? The other Houses could just weave actual children. (And I don't think the Doctor explicitly states that he himself was taken into the Academy at the age of 8.) So maybe the Loom of Lungbarrow is damaged or faulty - it might explain why the Doctor's cousins seem to be such a bunch of weirdos and nutters.

(To be generous to Leela though, I'd accept that the House of Redloom might weave adult cousins too - perhaps it's a fault in the Looms that only affects certain Houses...?)

Mind you, they might show an 8 year old Doctor next week, or reveal that actually the Master is his brother after all, which would blow another lovely theory out of the water....

Monday, 18 June 2007

The Many Worlds Interpretation of the Quantum Whoniverse

Many, many moons ago, I was a scientist. Oh yes, I took a degree in astronomy. For a number of complex reasons, that didn't work out and now I'm a local government officer. But hey, those are the breaks... Nevertheless, I've always maintained an interest in cosmology, especially the more cutting edge ideas of quantum mechanics. I'm absolutely fascinated by it, and sometimes I even like to pretend that I can understand it all...

Why am I telling you this now? Well, believe it or not, it has a very great relevance to the problems of Doctor Who continuity. Seriously. The Many Worlds Interpretation is an incredible piece of cosmological thinking - I really can't describe it here, but here's Wikipedia's page on it, which gives a very good overview. Alternatively, you might like to try this page. But here's my (possibly inaccurate) layman's summary of it:

The Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) posits that all possible outcomes to every single event exist simultaneously within the universe, each within their own mutually unobservable "world". What this means is that history ceases to be a linear progression, a single (four-dimensional) path through the space-time continuum. Rather, it's more like an ever-branching tree, where every possible event is to be found somewhere along one of its branches.

So what does this mean for Doctor Who continuity? Well, we've all heard the arguments, such as "the comics contradict the tv series, so they can't be canon"; or "Richard E Grant and Christopher Eccleston can't both be the ninth Doctor, so Shalka isn't canon". Leaving aside for now that canon is a dirty word (I'll come back to that at a later date), you can see how MWI slices through such arguments. It's perfectly possible for contradictory outcomes to exist within the same space-time continuum. You don't need to resort to putting books and audios into parallel universes or anything like that. The key is that phrase "mutually unobservable". Once each possible outcome has split into its own "world", it can't interfere or interact with any of the other "worlds". In any instant, you can only observe the version of the space-time continuum you happen to be in at that instant. Every time the Doctor steps out of the Tardis, he changes the conditions of the universe around him. At any moment, only some of his past adventures might actually have happened to him.

On a prosaic level, it accounts for how both The Paradise of Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs can follow on from The Time Warrior; or how The Infinity Doctors can feature a short-haired eighth Doctor living on Gallifrey. It can even account for how the fifth Doctor doesn't remember having lived through the events of The Five Doctors four times over already.

In a series whose central character can travel in time, and where history has been shown to change at the drop of a hat, it seems crazy to want to order the universe into a single, coherent, linear timeline. And here's real science to say that actually time doesn't work like that.

Not so long ago, I was nearly hit by a car. I was using a pelican crossing, and the man was green - but this car came out of nowhere, right through the red light and didn't even try to slow down. Some instinct made me pull myself out of the way. Weirdly though, I didn't feel shaken up or anything. I was really calm about it, and I found myself rationalizing the incident according to MWI. I realized that in a different part of the space-time continuum, my broken body was flying through the air and smashing down onto the surface of the road. But not in this "world". I was alive because I was in that quantum reality where the car missed me. You can only observe the part of the space-time continuum you happen to be in at any instant - and obviously, I couldn't observe a reality in which I was dead. (Go and do a web search for "quantum suicide" if you want some really extreme thinking along these lines...)

So there you are. Somewhere in the universe, I stuck with the astronomy and became a scientist.

Sunday, 17 June 2007


Bloody hell....

Well, a lot of interesting stuff going on in this week's episode. From a continuity angle, a lot of people have speculated on its debt to the audio play Master. The thing that hit me most in the face was the comic strip End of the Line, which seemed to have inspired much of the storyline, the setting and the depiction of the futurekind - not to mention the downbeat futility of the ending! Considering Mark Platt got an acknowledgement for the infinitesimal influence that Spare Parts had on Rise of the Cybermen, one has to wonder whether Steve Parkhouse got just credit here. (And just maybe Captain Jack's Tardis ride contains a hint of The Stockbridge Horror.)

A lot of angst is currently being expended on whether this is a standalone story, or the first of a three-parter. The initial publicity all suggested the former, but now that's not looking so sure. Even Totally Doctor Who called it the start of a three-parter. (But considering I'm a man who regards An Unearthly Child and the caveman episodes to be two separate stories, I'm not one to be bound by official pronouncements.) I think I'm going to reserve judgement until next week's episode. Certainly, the trailer makes it look like a new story - different setting and so on. Perhaps this is more a Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks situation. On the other hand, the rocket to Utopia storyline may continue through the next couple of episodes... We'll see. It looks like it's going to be fun whatever happens.