Saturday, January 4, 2014

Doctor Who Saturday: Temporal Mechanics or You Can Get There From Here

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog with a stable time loop and an unstable writer.

I'm Dave-El and this is Doctor Who Saturday, the day where I dedicate my blog to something Doctor Who related.  Today I want to chat a bit about the time travel side of life with the Doctor. 

Most science fiction shows approach time travel with a sense of trepidation or fear or dread. How many times did a time travel plot pop up on a Star Trek series only to have one of the characters bemoan the complexities of temporal events? These were characters who could technobabble their way out of almost any fix yet visitors from the future or incursions into the past would make their Starfleet Academy educated heads spin. There was an entire section of Starfleet given over to investigating temporal paradoxes; the members of this division were especially cranky, especially when Capt. Kirk was involved.

But time travel is part and parcel of the whole Doctor Who deal.

  • The TARDIS travels in space AND time.
  • The "T" in TARDIS stands for "Time".
  • The protagonist is a TIME Lord.

So there's no escaping time travel in this particular science fiction program. Still, for the most part, time travel is just another device to establish the story.  This adventure is set in the past; that adventure is set in the future. The ability to travel in time is mostly to get the Doctor to the next story. 

But sometimes time travel becomes not just the means for getting to a story but becomes part of the story itself. This is when writers and fans alike may find themselves trying to navigate the pretzel logic that comes from following the currents of the time stream. And nobody twists that pretzel more than Steven Moffat.

Think about how the Doctor gets out of the Pandorica. The Doctor from the future gives Rory Williams the sonic screwdriver to release the Doctor in the past. Then the Doctor in the past puts the fatally injured Amy (along with his screwdriver) in the Pandorica to heal and pop out 2000 years later. Then the Doctor from the past pops into the future to greet Amy after she comes out of the Pandorica so she can give the screwdriver to the Doctor in the future so he can pop back into the past to give the screwdriver to Rory to free the Doctor from the Pandorica.

OK, I'm dizzy. And that's a fairly easy temporal loop to navigate.

Sometimes when it gets to complicated, Whovians invoke the term that Moffat himself created in the episode Blink: wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.  It's another way of expressing the mantra of Mystery Science Theater 3000: it's just a TV show, you really should just relax.

But sometimes that's not enough. The questions begin to overtake our enjoyment and we find ourselves puzzling over the details instead of taking in the whole picture. And when a blemish or imperfection becomes the focus of our attention, the beauty of the whole can become diminished. Unless we can somehow reconcile the alleged imperfection into the work.

After the events of The Time of the Doctor, the following Tweet was posted:

Richard Mathers @1_mathers 27 Dec
Can someone explain why in Time of the Doctor he thought he couldn't regenerate? A 13th doctor appeared in 50th aniversary ep.
As Amy Pond once said, "That's a fair question." 
And here was my answer to Richard:
The Time Lords on Gallifrey commented a 13th Doctor was present but our Doctor may not have been aware of him.
To elaborate, the 11th Doctor would have been aware of the presence of his previous personas in orbit over Gallifrey but he would not have been aware of a future self.
I received this Tweet:
YADWF @yadwf 27 Dec
Dave-El has it. And since the Time Lords knew of the 13th's existence, they had to help create it.
I can never hear enough that I'm right about something.  But YADWF had an additional question:
YADWF @yadwf 27 Dec
But what the heck happened to the events from 'The Name of the Doctor'?
So I gave this a go:
1) GI (Great Intelligence) messes up the Doctors time line.
2) Clara jumps in, splinters herself across time to save the Doctors.
3) The 11th Doctor follows to retrieve Clara after her various selves stopped the GI from killing all Doctors.
YADWF @yadwf 27 Dec
Right, but now none of that happened because the Doctor didn't die.

Now THAT is a really in depth question.  Has Steven Moffat been too clever for his own good? Did the events of The Time of the Doctor totally negate everything that happened in The Name of the Doctor?

Not necessarily but this does require a bit more finesse to sort this out.

Here's my first theory derived from Tweets to YADWF and to Richard.

  • The Name of the Doctor happened due to events spinning out of the timeline where, in the future of that timeline, the Doctor dies and is buried on Trenzalore.

  • After the events of The Name of the Doctor and through the events of The Day of the Doctor, the Doctor's destiny on Trenzalore is still out there, waiting for him.

  • Then we come to The Time of the Doctor and the Doctor finds himself on Trenzalore and events begin to proceed that will lead to his inevitable death.

  • Clara makes her appeal through the crack in the universe to the Time Lords who are perhaps moved by her words or they think she looks hot in a short skirt or perhaps someone remembers, "Hey there was a 13th Doctor present when the Doctor did that crazy thing that saved us from the Daleks. Maybe we should make sure that happens."

  • So the Time Lords save the Doctor with a new regeneration, the Doctor does not die on Trenzalore and a new timeline is formed.


It helps if one remembers the 10th Doctor's admonition that time is not necessarily a linear progression of events. The events of the Doctor's death on Trenzalore in the future feed the events of the Doctor's present in The Name of the Doctor. Then the Doctor's present moves through events to bring him to that point in future time. But instead of turning right, he turns left.

One might also make the case that the Doctor does indeed still die on Trenzalore. But the events of The Time of the Doctor were NOT the events that lead to his ultimate and final death.

But as I indicated in my response on Twitter, I prefer the alternate timeline scenario. It changes the Doctor's destination from Trenzalore to...we don't know. And neither does he.  And YADWF concurred on the timeline hypothesis.

Doctor Who requires of you what you want to give it. You can choose to apply logic and imagination to help make sense of things. Or you can just hang on for dear life and enjoy the ride. Either mind set can be equally entertained.

Me, I like figuring out how things work but it's not an obsession. Sometimes I navigate the pretzel; other times, I just eat the pretzel.

Be good to one another.


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