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.