Time and The Doctor

To mark the closure of the first part of the tenure of Steve Moffat, and our retrospective of The Time Meddler, Phaseshift looks at Time in the Whoniverse. Warning – any time you spend reading this blog is lost to you.

Time and the Doctor

A popular criticism (at least, on some internet boards) of the first three series of the tenure of Steve Moffat is his approach to time. That it seems to lack “rules” (or rather consistent application of rules) is a common one. It’s led to some entertaining debates and rigorous perspectives on the mechanics of what happened in various stories (for example, these blogs produced by @bluesqueakpip and @nick on change and no-change in Day of the Doctor).

I actually like it, and I’ll endeavour to explain why. The main reason, I suppose, is that its reignited some very old debates on how Time works in the Whoniverse, the nature of reality, individual perspective on events, and delivers a crash course in elements that have existed in the show since its very early days. These arguments seemed to solidify (to me) on the academic internet in the late 80s/early 90s. Students, with too much time (and beer) on tap, suddenly discovering how sexy ideas like Chaos Theory and Uncertainty were, and given a convenient electronic means to speak to like-minded (i.e. drunk) people .

Many of the elements that Steve Moffat brings to the table have clear precedent in the Whoniverse. We’ve seen them before in individual stories in the BG and RTD years. What’s unusual is to see them overlain, and the nature of following an arc of stories forces you to consider the overall shape of the narrative, to trace the flow of cause and effect. His series also revel in dialogue and iconography that reflects perceptions and metaphors for time.

Take a look at Series 6 for example, and it’s soggy with watery metaphors for time. The series is bookmarked by Lake Silencio, the lake being a pretty commonly used metaphor in stories for measuring your life against. A still point. You have a ship calmed on the Tides of Time and the Red Waterfall of an accelerated time stream. Throughout it you have River, and if theres ever a metaphor that’s been applied to Time, time and time again, it’s that one:

“Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Time is a flowing river. Happy those who allow themselves to be carried, unresisting, with the current. They float through easy days. They live, unquestioning, in the moment.”

– Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Series 7 used in the iconography of the leaf, in substance and implementation a signifier of Chaos theory. A simple random occurrence of a leaf blowing in the wind (perhaps a wind started on another continent by one of those bloody butterflies) initiates a meeting between Clara’s parents.

Ellie: What? You kept it.
Dave: Of course I kept it.
Ellie: Why?
Dave: Because this exact leaf had to grow in that exact way, in that exact place, so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch, and make it fly into this exact face. At that exact moment. And if just one of those tiny little things never happened, I’d never have met you. Which makes this the most important leaf in human history.

– Rings of Akhaten

The very talented TimeDancer visualises The Eighth Doctors Butterfly Room via Deviant art.

I’m glad SM chose the leaf, as I’m afraid the Butterflies (The Butterfly Effect) have been done to death. Edward Lorenz, a meteorological physicist at MIT wrote a paper “Predictibility: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas” in ’73. Its conclusions, that tiny changes to a system can radically change an outcome, tend to be misrepresented in pop culture like the film, er, The Butterfly Effect, simply because trying to quantify a direct route cause of an event in a complex system becomes impossible. Among the many pop culture uses of the Butterfly, the Eighth Doctor novels had an enormous open space within the TARDIS filled with Butterflies – a visualisation of the TARDIS systems navigating their way through the endless shifting range of possibilities.


Largely – a lot of the jousting in old and new conversations seems to be between those who preferred the idea that Time was written, and nothing could alter it, and those who saw time as a dynamic flow. The River is an excellent metaphor for this one. The Doctors TARDIS flies upriver, back in time and lands with a splash at its new locations. The adventure occurs, and causes ripples in the eddy and flow of the River of Time. The Doctor leaves, with everything looking “about right”. Going back forward in time, and the River may look the same, but inevitably small changes on a minuscule level may have occurred and grown. Things the Doctor doesn’t particularly notice, because he’s not everywhere.

Evidence that the Universe doesn’t really change around the Doctor is a bit thin on the ground, to be frank. The early days of the Whoniverse saw a large number of tales set in the Earths past as the Doctor fruitlessly tried to navigate the TARDIS back to Earth to drop of his human passengers. Implicit in these travels seemed to be the understanding that time could not be changed, or so it is said. Many remember the Doctors advice to Barbara in The Aztecs:

“You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!”

A line that was to be echoed by River to the tenth Doctor regarding her own life. But that seems more of a plea, than a statement of fact. In The Massacre, the Doctor ruminates of Steven:

“Even after all this time, he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history.”

Both of these quotes don’t rule out the possibility of change though. They seem, on the face of it, to suggest that it’s undesirable. Perhaps in this early stage of the Doctors life he still believes in the rules of Time for his people, or perhaps because he understands that, for his companions who exist further down the timeline, change could be disastrous. Being there could be dangerous – actively changing the outcome of known events could lead to a serious case of “not being born”. An embarrassing outcome in anyone’s life.

RTD seemed to throw a lifeboat of optimism to the solid state mindset with the idea of “Fixed Points” in time, which could not be changed. These all boiled down to perception though. A popular one is Fires of Pompeii which, some argue, shows the Doctor always destroyed Pompeii. Did he though, because locating the cause of that scenario reaches backwards and forwards in Time? Pompeii wasn’t going to be destroyed in this timeline because the Pyroville were tapping its power. They tapped the power to convert the Earth. They did this because their planet had disappeared. Their planet was taken by the Daleks. The Daleks had removed themselves from time to fight a Time War with the Time Lords. It’s timey-wimey, but the net result is that, in the Universe pre-timewar, Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii. The Doctor made sure that in the post-timewar Universe it still did.

RTD then set about deconstructing his own idea of a “fixed point” in Waters of Mars. The events (the Doctor believes) are a fixed point, and he changes them. We see a big event being displaced as the headlines the Doctor recalls change. We see two people, who should be dead, survive to tell the tale. There is a sense of time unravelling until the suicide of Adelaide seems to stabilise things. Her death is the critical aspect of the events of Mars. Perhaps others could be saved, but the outcome that should have been preserved – that Adelaide’s granddaughter should go to the stars based on heroic tales of a grandmother she never met, was preserved. It’s a matter of perception, and being able to anticipate the crucial elements of cause and effect, and even the Doctor can’t get it right. SM pulled a similar trick in Series 6 – the Death of the Doctor. If everyone calls the events of Lake Silencio the fixed point of the Death of the Doctor, does it make it true?

Arguments for the transient nature of the Universe the Doctor inhabits are actually difficult to ignore. Not that long after the events of The Aztecs we had the Doctors first Trenzalore in the Space Museum. The Doctor sees his fate mounted in the Museum and seeks to change the outcome. He’s successful (and delighted, as you would be). We also had the introduction of The Time Meddler. Like the Master later, a member of the Doctors own species who actively sought to alter events for his own purposes. Even non-renegade Time Lords were later seen to desire changes in time when it suited their purposes.

TIMELORD: We’d like you to return to Skaro at a point in time before the Daleks evolved.
DOCTOR: Do you mean avert their creation?
TIMELORD: Or affect their genetic development so that they evolve into less aggressive creatures.
DOCTOR: Hmm. That’s feasible.

– Genesis of the Daleks

And the Doctor succeeds – the Daleks were never quite the same after that, and the story became one of Davros, who perhaps should have really died in the original Time Line. One of the frequent hazards of time travel stories is that the outcome you seek to avert becomes worse, or solidifies. It’s why this story is often seen (especially by RTD) as the start of the time war. The Time Lords inadvertently created the Time Line that would lead to the Time War. The Butterfly flaps its wings, and Chaos followed.

Shortly after that, the Doctor gave a demonstration to Sarah Jane of the cost leaving work undone in Pyramids of Mars. Asking to leave the adventure uncompleted and Sutekh on the verge of escaping, she asks to go home – they know how these events will play out and Sutekh doesn’t succeed. He takes her to her own time to experience a destroyed, sterile, Earth. They can only return to the Earth she knows by defeating the foe in the past. Evidence that the Doctor was always fated to intervene? A fixed event? You could equally argue that Marcus Scarman may, before the Doctor began causing ripples in the Time stream, never have found the Tomb of Sutekh. An earlier adventure may have caused just enough change in a minor player to contribute to a chain of events that gave Marcus the location of the Tomb. Perhaps that’s an explanation of the meandering nature of the TARDIS. Navigating to yet another pressure point of change for the Doctor to sort out to ensure that the timelines, more or less, travel on the “accepted” course.

Time is a storm in which we are all lost. Only inside the convolutions of the storm itself shall we find our directions.

– William Carlos Williams, Selected Essays

Think like that, and you can see why his fellow Time Lords consider the Doctor an absolute madman. Backwards and forwards, with little changes leading to big events. Just about the most dangerous individual in the Universe, even if his hearts are in the right place. The Eleventh Doctor wondered if he’d ever get done with saving us, but the trick is, he may be the cause of some of the issues he saves us from. He’ll never be done, because each intervention leads to yet further disturbances.

So I think Steve Moffat has spent his time profitably. Dealing with some big concepts in a poetic way. A tea-time TV show that can spark more debate about perceptions, root-causes, and uncertainty over time than just about anyone else outside of physics. Not bad.

I hope the new incarnation of the Butterfly, Peter Capaldi, will continue to flap his wings. Let new storms commence.

While you consider the transient nature of our perception of time, don’t forget to change your clocks tonight in the UK as we shift to British Summer Time. Damn Time Meddlers.


  1. @Phaseshift

    Thanks for this excellent and thought provoking piece. I definitely need to read it several more times. Two quick thoughts from me though (given my contrarian nature).

    Your comment:

    Many remember the Doctors advice to Barbara in The Aztecs:”You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!”

    A line that was to be echoed by River to the tenth Doctor regarding her own life. But that seems more of a plea, than a statement of fact. In The Massacre, the Doctor ruminates of Steven:

    “Even after all this time, he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history.”

    I have come to the opinion that the difficulty/danger arises from changing what you KNOW to be History (which of course doesn’t mean that the Doctor can’t be part of making that History happen). After all everywhere the Doctor arrives is a part of someone’s History even if it hasn’t been written down yet. Practically how does this differ from Human History (except what the Doctor knows about this from visits in Earth’s future ?). The difference lies (for me at least) in the number of times the Doctor has visited any location and the extent that he’s researched its past and future. In any case, History itself represents a flawed understanding of the past (certainly for us today), which leaves much room for maneuver anyway :). I’ve always had a problem with AG Who’s conception of fixed points in time as a result.

    On the Daleks (Genesis) you are, of course, spot on that they way that BG Who presented Dalek stories after Genesis changed radically, but I’m less convinced this needs any wholesale changes to BG Who Dalek timeline (which was what exactly ?). I might argue that as soon as the Dalek’s invented Time Travel (The Chase back in 1965), some form of time war between the Daleks/Time Lords became inevitable ? Why choose Genesis as the opening shot ?

    [I recall you promised a post on Dalek history (time permitting 🙂 naturally]. Looking forward to it !]



  2. @PhaseShift. As usual, another erudite and thoughtful blog. I am in a greement with much of what you say, and it made me think about my own thoughts on how the show has handled the question of timelines and interference with time. On the Speculations/Whishlist thread, I called for a return to a strict adherence to non-interference in time, which I felt (still feel) was a core element in early Who. And would distinguish early (ie, Verity Lambert) Who from something called BG Who, which is definitely not an undifferentiated mass.

    It is made explicitly clear in ‘The Aztecs’ that you cannot interfer with time. The Doctor’s opposition to this is just as strong in ‘The Time Meddler’. Now, @Nick makes the very interesting point that a key factor is how well the Doctor knows the time line of the planet. I would emphasis a slightvariation on this: that is is about how much knwledge of the timeline the audience has. And thereis only one planet’s timeline that the audience really knows about: Earth.

    Seen this way, (and keeping in mind the agenda for the show in the Verity Lambert years to be partly educational) what the Doctor is so upset about in ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Time Meddler’ is the

  3. Damn! Punched the wrong key and no edit function. Continuing…

    …is the irresponsibility of either Barbara or the Meddling Monk. Why irresponsible? Because their motivations are selfish. The Meddling Monk because it makes him feel good, and Barbara because it assuages her feelings about the sacrificial culture of the Aztecs. Essentially, they want to interfere in the time line because it makes them feel better. But the Doctor knows that we have a higher responsibility. It is the same wish that drives Amy to hope that Vincent will not commit suicide. But that perfect episode shows that we cannot change time just to make us feel better.

    So in the whole discussion of whether you can or should interfere with time is really, I believe, about Earth’s history. Because when the issues were raised under Verity Lambert, this was one of the moral and educational points being raised. So, if we focus on the question of responsibility, I think that those early reflections on the timeline were discouraging us from thinking we had the right to change history to suit our own desires. No, there was a larger responsibility – a social responsibility – to think about. Otherwise, the unintended consequences of changing the past simply to make us feel better (Barbara’s dilemma) would bring about the butterfly effect, catastrophic consequences.


  4. Apologies for the grammar and typing. This is what happens when you are having a late Sunday morning in bed, typing onto an iPad with no edit function. Oh, for an edit function on the blogs!

  5. @PhaseShift  – Love the comparisons of Time with Water.


    On butterflies:

    From ‘The Shakespeare Code’

    MARTHA: … But are we safe? I mean, can we move around and stuff?
    DOCTOR: Of course we can. Why do you ask?
    MARTHA: It’s like in the films. You step on a butterfly, you change the future of the human race.
    DOCTOR: Tell you what then, don’t step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?
    MARTHA: What if, I don’t know, what if I kill my grandfather?
    DOCTOR: Are you planning to?
    MARTHA: No.
    DOCTOR: Well, then.


    The 11th Doctor’s plot arc was explained thus (in TTOTD):

    TASHA: … The Kovarian Chapter broke away. They travelled back along your timeline and tried to prevent you ever reaching Trenzalore.
    DOCTOR: So that’s who blew up my Tardis. I thought I’d left the bath running.
    TASHA: They blew up your time capsule, created the very cracks in the universe through which the Time Lords are now calling.
    DOCTOR: The destiny trap. You can’t change history if you’re part of it.

    It’s the same brain-blistering plot device as ‘The Day of the Daleks’ (a Moff fave). The self-fulfilling prophecy which is caused by those trying to prevent it.

  6. @Blenkinsopthebrave

    Yes, I agree with you. Both AG and BG Who is constrained by audience knowledge of Human History (most settings used are Eurocentric even). As a result, there is a strong tendency in Who to respect History while setting stories in the historical past (although mistakes happen and the received understanding of history changes over time). By definition that limits what is possible within the narrative (no matter how you explain it, Etna has to erupt in Roman times). However, if you write the same story set on Planet X, you are free to make whatever choice you want to as writer. The “clever” thing about Waters of Mars was to take this principle and make it apply to Earth’s future as well, although I think it’s mostly used as a vehicle to demonstrate the Doctor’s hubris, rather than explain how time works I think.

    In fact I’d say many Who writers have taken time to be reasonably accurate in the historical setting they’ve chosen. Fortunately we have yet to sink to Hollywood levels of substantial rewriting of actual History to suit the story they wish to tell.

    I tend not to emphasise that much of the inconsistencies we like to discuss related to narrative considerations inherited from the story writer (even in RTD/SM era).



  7. @nick

    Not so sure that the writers (particularly AG writers) have taken the time to be reasonably accurate historically. I cannot recall any histories of Victorian London I have read mentioning a giant Cyber King stomping over half of Pimlico.  This goes to the heart of my concern about the way history (our history) is treated in a lot of recent Who. I suppose I yearn for the emphasis on social responsibility that was being pushed in stories like ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Time Meddler’. History was never treated in a cavalier fashion in early Who. It was making the point that our history was part of who we (as a people) are. This really was a case of taking the children in the audience seriously and asking them to think about issues like that. And the astounding thing was that the show in those early Verity Lambert years could combine stories that challenged the youthful audience to think about issues like social responsibility in reference to history with wildly exciting adventures. This is something that has been lost, and I would love that level of gravitas to return to the show.

  8. @Blenkinsopthebrave

    Chiang or Fang Rock for example), but the broad thrust (ie Etna always erupts) as you can argue the fantasy like stories aren’t meant to be taken that seriously. This contrasts favourably with some Hollywood films, which largely rewrite real history to suit their story (the two “300” movies for example).

    I think you’re onto something on your larger point as well, although you can argue that that take didn’t last that long in terms of the life of the series as a whole. Taking a different, but in some ways related perspective, my impression is that, with a few exceptions (Auton Invasion for example), BG Who down played events set in contemporary/historical times so its much more believable that it was “forgotten” or covered up than in AG Who, where the events are obviously major international crises, but that don’t seem to have any ramifications.

    It would be a pretty major event if we were able to prove their is life somewhere else in the Galaxy (or solar system) today in the real world, but I can’t help thinking that if an actual Alien Invasion happened tomorrow (and we survived) then there would be global political and social ramifications that (AG) Who largely ignores. I guess this is largely down to budget and special effects constraints of course, but it does make me feel that there is a larger fantasy element in Who today than in the past (or at least sometimes anyway). I think this reflects a larger social trend that is happening as we are getting more cocooned from reality in our lives and have less social consciousness than we once did.

    Thanks for the thought proving comment !





    The setting itself is reasonably well done (although I suspect reading Dickens might lead you to think otherwise)

  9. @Phaseshift    I really enjoyed this (although, like @Nick, I had to read through it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t missing any bits!).

    I had never consciously made the connection between the name “River” and its possible relationship to the character’s meaning within the program. River, in a way, is a personification of the movement of time and, for the Doctor, the movement of someone through time. Very nice.

    I like the notion that the rule about not changing history is potentially more concerned with fallout for the companions than fallout for the universe. I have discussed in the past my dislike of the “fixed point in time” concept, because for me it feels both too rigid and too arbitrary. Too rigid, because it assumes that for often inexplicable reasons, certain events must always be; and too arbitrary, because it often seemed to me to be an easy explanation for why the Doctor could not intervene in some situations, but could in others. I have always subscribed more to the idea that time heals itself, that a change made here or there will be adjusted for as the water moves downstream (to keep with the river metaphor).

    I like the idea about Fires of Pompeii; my only problem with it being that, in that episode, the Doctor himself seemed to believe that he had always destroyed Pompeii. Although that is a different issue than the “fixed point” issue. We only know Pompeii to be a fixed point, because the Doctor says it is. This is the kind of thing that bothers me about the concept. You don’t mention The Angels Take Manhattan, in which the Doctor becomes increasingly panicked as they read things in the book that he is then powerless to change (although @Nick‘s point about changing what you know to be history relates to this). This is an example of the issue that always felt exceedingly thin to me, simply because it ascribes an awful lot of power to something as relatively small as a page in a novel.

    It does seem that the definition of fixed point in time has shifted back and forth between a point that cannot be changed, and a point that must not be changed. But I prefer the view that certain facts of history should not be changed, that the attempt to change things can lead to unintended consequences, but that more often than not, the river of time will flow into the same ocean in the end, whichever route it takes to get there.


  10. @blenkinsopthebrave    Really interested in your last comment. I think that the difference is between telling a story that deals with history, and using the historical setting as a backdrop to whatever story it is that the writer wants to tell. It is the second approach that is mostly used today, I think (and to be fair, in the latter days of BG Who as well). As someone who studied history and is pretty passionate about it, I love the vivid depictions of historical periods that we get in some of the AG episodes. It is too bad, however, that the modern view seems to have defaulted to the notion that monsters or aliens are required to threaten every situation.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to see the Doctor in a historical setting, struggling to put something right that he himself has accidentally pulled astray? Or, temporarily separated from the TARDIS, struggling to survive in a hostile historical environment? We had a glimpse of what this might be like in the brief scenes in Day of the Doctor, when the Doctor(s) were imprisoned in Elizabethan England, and trying to figure out their next move. I would love to see historical episodes where the emphasis was on the human lives involved and not on the monster that threatens them. Goodness knows, human beings can be threatening enough all by ourselves! As you say, Vincent and the Doctor showed how well this could work; I think stories like The Empty Child and The Unquiet Dead demonstrate it as well. If you removed the monsters and aliens from these stories, and replaced the threat with something native to the setting, they could still be great stories. And, as in the old Verity Lambert days, we could all learn something about our past at the same time.

  11. @Arbutus. Agree entirely with your point about monsters. Both ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Time Meddler’ eschewed them and  the monster in ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ was sort of peripheral to the story (which I saw as being about Amy).

    Passion for history. Ah, yes, well I suppose I should fes up and admit that I watched Verity Lambert Who with wide-eyed wonder and Ian and Barbara were my favourite companions, and so it is not surprising that I trained as a historian and ended up becoming Barbara, with a bit of Ian thrown in!

    If only someone could find all of ‘Marco Polo’ intact, I could enter my dotage years a happy man!

  12. @phaseshift – sorry this is definitely off topic (where is the topicDalek when you need her ?)

    @Arbutus @blenkinsopthebrave

    The shift in the form of story (historical or otherwise) is also (part) driven by the change in the Doctor’s character IMO from (and I apologise in advance for exaggerating) “Gentleman/Scientist/Explorer” in the turn of the century amateur tradition, through “Explorer/Scientist” to “Magician” waving his wand (sorry all action universal screwdriver tool). [By the way, I think you can argue that this reflects the growth of our entitlement culture, but that’s a different discussion].

    In the past you could believably write a story where the Doctor was locked up or chained up by a Human foe, but can you now ? Taking a recent example,

    Day of the Doctor locked up the 3 Doctors in the Tower of London. However, if you think about it there are so many ways the old fashioned sonic screwdriver of the Pertwee era could get round that in only a few seconds (metal fatigue on the door bolt or hinges, vibrating the stone around the hinges until it fell apart etc), that as a dramatic event, it no longer really works (and was used by Moffat to create a pause to allow a solution to the end of the Gallifrey genocide to be thought up).

    I think that many of the traditional story elements of early Who don’t really work any more. It therefore gets much harder to write a traditional story, especially a Historical one. I ask myself, just how well would any of the Human baddies from early Who match up against the modern Doctor and just what would that story look like in a 40 minute episode. I’m not a creative type, but its a hard question to answer I think.


  13. @Nick — I’d agree that sensibilities and TV itself has changed so much since the 60s that many of the purely human historical villains would possibly not work anymore. However, part of me would kind of like them to try. I don’t think using one episode in a 13-ep run to try and do a ‘pure historical’ would be too much to ask and would make for an interesting experiment. Especially as major acting talent seem to queue up to do Who and it would be nice to give one of them something more meaty than just camping it up as one-off villain.

    (Sorry to hear you’ve been under the weather of late. Hope your recovery is going well. It’s good to have you back with us.)

  14. Massive apologies to all for not responding – It seems inconsiderate posting a blog and then having to disappear, even if you’ve got no control over the reason.

    As such, if you can say with me for a while, I’ll respond to some of the questions/points to me in depth later and just thank everyone for the contributions. Sorry to hear you’ve been ill @nick – speedy recovery, and I hope we can keep you distracted during your recovery period!

  15. Hi @Nick

    It therefore gets much harder to write a traditional story, especially a Historical one. I ask myself, just how well would any of the Human baddies from early Who match up against the modern Doctor

    I think I will have to disagree with on this.  As a matter of fact, I think the notion of a modern person, or better still a futuristic person being thinking that he can easily defeat a mere human from the past has great potential.  That mere human, by virtue of being under estimated, can prove to be much more interesting.

    Imagine, for example, that the Doctor is thrown in some medieval dungeon.  Confident, or even OVER-confident, he waves his sonic around like it really is a magic wand, expecting his jailers to cower before him.  But, they don’t have to be morons just because they’re primitive.  They could be wholly unimpressed, challenge the Doctor to prove his “magic”, tell him he isn’t the first “sorcerer” who couldn’t break out of their cells.  And better still, relieve him of the offending object, for examination by the court alchemist.  Leaving the Doctor to have to get out of a jam the old fashioned way (as it were) and admonish himself for falling into the trap of thinking ignorant equals stupid.

  16. @Brewski @Jimthefish

    I’m with you both as well. Whilst I think its probably hard to make work, I do and would rather like them to try it out and see if you can make the “educational” historical work in the modern era.  When writing my comment above, I pondered how (or even whether) you could make something like Monster of Peladon work today.

    (mainly because I watched the DVD a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised – my memory from the Target book of it was rather boring – I would have been 6 when I originally watched).




  17. @blenkinsopthebrave    That is so cool. Isn’t it interesting what sends us off in different directions. My first introduction to the notion of history as something actually interesting was reading Lord of the Rings and then discovering how much of his wonderful invention was based on actual cultural history. My love of medieval history has never left me, and expanded into all kinds of other areas.

    *As a side note, I’m pretty sure that history is taught all wrong in school. My son is currently learning Canadian history and finding it only moderately interesting (although he does enjoy coming home and telling me things he has learned from his rather countercultural socials teacher, such as “Cartier was a jerk”!). However, has been finding Downton Abbey absolutely fascinating. The original creators of DW were bang on as to how much well-crafted historical fiction could teach our kids.

  18. @JimTheFish    Yes, my fear is that having set the dial to “the Doctor is a superhero who fights monsters”, it might now be hard to dial it back. How do you suddenly explain that he is no longer a superhero? However, continuity has taken so many wobbles over fifty years that I suppose it could be done, if they wanted to do it. The question is, Do they? I suspect that they don’t, firstly because of what they believe (with possible justification) that the modern audience wants, and secondly, because of their own vision of what the show is about (fantasy vs. scifi vs. human drama vs. history, and so on). Myself, I prefer my heroes with as little of the miraculous as possible, but that’s just me.

    @Brewski   That’s exactly what I mean. All that it would take would be for the Doctor to be somehow separated from his technology, and he could be under considerable threat. And the sonic doesn’t work on wood!  🙂

  19. @nick

    Just on the Daleks, I think it’s easier to accept there was a massive shift in the Time Lines because of the shape and history of the stories – it can reconcile some very big differences pre and post Genesis. Most have to do with Thals, Skaro and the Dalek Empire. I may write the blog about this, but subject to that it fits with what we are talking about, anyway.

    Pre Genesis, the Daleks are seen as an expanding and aggressive enemy launching invasions of space (which are often de-railed by the Doctor of course). Post Genesis, the Empire is still in place, but often more on the back-foot. Pre Genesis they spent the 25th/26th centuries plotting the invasion of this Galaxy in Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks. Post, the entire Dalek fleet is said to spend that period locked in a Logic stalemate (huh?!) with the Movellans.

    One of the Thals invites Jo back to Skaro in the 26th century in Planet of the Daleks, and in Destiny, Skaro (same period) is said to be uninhabited. The Doctor then facilitates the destruction of Skaro in the 1960s. A double genocide and time change if the Thals are still around.

    So it’s easy for me to concede that this is a timeline change. The intervention of the Doctor on behalf of the Time Lords did significantly change the outcome of the war between the Thals and Kaleds. For one thing, although the Doctor thought he’d slowed down the Daleks development (he tells Sarah at the end) it may have resulted in fewer Thals surviving – dying out, leaving Skaro to the Daleks.

    I’ve always thought this was the easiest and less extreme version of events. Some of those early conversations I mentioned posited an alternate past(ie. Parallel Universe/Multiverse model) for the development of the Daleks, pointing out that The Daleks we first met claimed to have come from a species called the Drals, and not Kaleds. But that’s just a word, and in the translation matrix of the TARDIS, such things may be open to the perception of the hearer.

    As you say though, when two adversaries have time travel it can lead to the kind of one-upmanship that was lampooned in “Curse of Fatal Death” – just who did get to the architect and bribe him first – the Doctor or the Master? 🙂

  20. @Arbutus  That’s exactly what I mean. All that it would take would be for the Doctor to be somehow separated from his technology, and he could be under considerable threat.

    True.  But an even bigger point to me is that they SHOULD be able to do historical stories without having an enemy that’s automatically easy to defeat.  Even if the Doctor DOES have his superior technology and experience.

    Many “primitive” people have gained an advantage because they were under estimated.

  21. @phaseshift

    LOL – a challenge for sure. I have read most of the better known Who guides produced over the years (Wood/Miles, Parkin, various Howe et al versions, Lofficier starting with Terrance Dicks one in 1976), so I think I’ll take a pass on arguing what the BG Dalek timeline is, let alone where AG Who fits in, other than to say that it doesn’t actually make much sense. I think you can  just about anything you want to argue and that can be made to fly with no history rewrites to several (with several more still in AG Who).

    Given I seem to not be able to resist – for what its worth – here’s my go anyway (and I don’t include any time war resets). I think the easy bit is: the three stories that are actually given a date on screen:

    1. 22C – Earth invasion
    2. 25C – Planet of the Daleks
    3. 41C – Master Plan

    In terms of time travel technology there is none in 1 and 2, but is in 3, where they have a proper time machine. By inference, Chase ought to fit in either before/or Master Plan as the Daleks use the same technology.

    I think we could all (probably) agree that Destiny and Resurrection are set at about the same time. The Daleks are using Time Corridor technology (rather than full time machines), so I’d argue that this ought to fit in between Planet and Master Plan. The Daleks use similar time corridor technology in Day and Remembrance, so these should occur in the same part of the BG time line. Given the Imperial/Ordinary Dalek civil war and the reappearance of Davros, so it seems that Revelation also fits into this time period.  [I have read versions which place these after Masterplan, which doesn’t seem to work for me as it would imply a backwards step in Time Travel technology, but that isn’t an absolute problem]

    I think you have to assume that either the Imperial factor lost (and Davros died) before between Remembrance and Masterplan happens or that Masterplan is an Ordinary Dalek only operation and the Imperial’s are off elsewhere at the time.

    Power of the Daleks is a bit hard to fit in, but it works more easily if you place in somewhere close to Earth Invasion I think.

    The really hard one is Evil. Its not clear what sort of Time Travel technology the Daleks are using, but it looks like Time Corridor technology so you could argue that it fits into the gap between Planet and Masterplan as well (and its just the Daleks on Skaro who are destroyed in the civil war). To support this, you could also argue that the Emperor is really Davros (in a decayed form) and that the civil war in Evil is solely an Imperial faction issue (which caused the non-imperials to stage a come back. The Emperor’s shell is white or light coloured – but the normal ones are back into their standard grey form).

    [If you don’t like that view, you can stick it anytime after Masterplan]

    Genesis must be the earliest and Daleks pretty much must come before any of the other stories (notwithstanding the destruction of the Daleks in that story and the apparent absence of space or time travel). We can’t know how long the gap between the two stories is, but I suppose you could say that it’s likely to be many hundred years (perhaps thousands). The environmental damage caused by a large scale nuclear exchange and the fall out generated, is going to take a long time to repair itself. Its also going to take a long time for the Daleks to escape the Bunker, develop and build the technology to create their City and invent the technology to invent interstellar travel. I don’t see any major objection to fitting this into the same gap as its clearly necessary for the Thals/Skaro itself to recover from the nuclear war either.

    I fully appreciate there are all sorts of continuity issues, narrative and plotting problems with this timeline and I absolutely agree you could redo it with some of the holes/gaps being caused by time war induced restarts and rewrites. I’ve read a few, which I didn’t find wholly convincing and I’d love to read your opinion.

    I think the real point is that

    • we all know that continuity and timelines has never been a big deal in Who;
    • that I don’t think you necessarily need to assume time war restarts unless you are minded to  and
    • whichever way you attempt to rewrite it, there are always going to be continuity problems.

    Looking forward to your thoughts (and the tacit ok to discuss it here !) and every or anyone else. I’m off to look for a tin-hat and body armour now (just in case 🙂 ).



  22. Great blog @Phaseshift, and great discussion.

    Personally I like the way representation of time has been developed in DW, and how it can be front and centre in AG. I also think it was pretty much inevitable. The more the Doctor and his companions travelled, the more it would become obvious that even just by being there, they are potential agents for change. A conversation here eg even Barbara’s protests in the Aztecs could lead to a new train of thought, a delayed meeting because the protagonist had met the Doctor instead etc etc could all change the course of history.

    @Blenkinsopthebraves’s comments about the motivations for change being personal are interesting. And it ties into my ideas about “Fixed Points”. All history/experience of time is inevitably personal. Even for TimeLords, who have a wider perspective on time than most. Changing fixed points won’t necessarily end the universe – but it will change its course from the most “desirable” outcome – from the Time Lords’ perspective.

    Waters of Mars is still an outstanding episode for me, partly because it deals with Fixed Points head on and shows that it is possible to change them. (albeit with @Bluesqueakpip‘s theory of time “healing” and rearranging itself round the event). Therefore fixed points are only “fixed” from a particular perspective.

    I liked the reference to the remains of the Doctor’s travels round the universe (in NotD) as “scar tissue” and the point being made that he has time travelled so much more than any other known being. That’s a lot of butterfly wings!

    @Nick I bow to your massive knowledge of Dalek history 🙂 and add my best wishes for your speedy recovery to the others.

    I’m with @Blenkinsopthebrave re a return to “strict” historicals – the constriction on the doctor NOT to change the outcome even when his companions or “the good guys” are in peril can be a strong source of dramatic tension eg the Hartnell story – The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve – where the Doctor doesn’t stop the massacre and the only glimmer of hope for the people we meet and care about is the possibility the the Doctor’s next companion is possibly a descendant. (That and Marco Polo, and I too will die happy).

    However, I think that’s unlikely, for all sorts of reasons, not least audience expectations of 21st century TV storytelling. But also because our understanding of time and the universe has changed hugely since the 60s, with all sorts of new concepts I only have the dimmest concept of inc quantum physics, string theory, possibility of alternate universes etc.

    Mostly tho, I like the modern take, I like my brain being thoroughly boggled. Always did, and DW on form always boggled it superbly.

  23. @ScaryB

    Hello again, old friend. Is it really unlikely that they could no longer do strict historicals any more because of our knowledge of quantum physics, string theory, etc? Not so sure, myself. Look at “Vincent and the Doctor”. It captured the issues that Verity Lambert historicals dealt with (not being able to change the past, not being able to cheat death) simply and with great beauty. I think it showed what is still possible to do.

  24. @ScaryB, @blenkinsopthebrave

    I agree that modern theories of physics probably aren’t in themselves a reason that purely historical episodes couldn’t be done. There could be lots of things preventing the Doctor from changing history, besides fixed-point rules or time travel philosophy. It would just require some clever writing. The Doctor might not actually have the ability to change things (Vincent and the Doctor is an excellent example: even with considerable interference, he couldn’t change Vincent’s ultimate fate). He might not be able to change something without risking his own or his companion’s survival. “Father’s Day” would have been more interesting in my view if they had written it so that the problem with saving Pete wasn’t the arrival of the monsters, but the manner it which it changed Rose’s own future.

    It’s worth pointing out that Big Finish has done some historical audios that were just brilliant, and perfectly believable even in our modern world. The question of whether these kind of stories would succeed with a more mainstream TV audience is however a fair question.

  25. @Arbutus @Blenkinsopthebrave
    It’s not that I think they couldn’t do a proper belter of a historical now, it’s just that they choose not to and writers are presumably not encouraged to go in that direction.
    But you never know – series 8 promises a whole raft of new possibilities – new (very different) Doctor and pretty much a clean sheet in terms of setting, old baggage safely stored away. I’d also guess that Moffat will see this as an opportunity to show what else he can do with the show to really make his mark on it. Or not!

  26. @phaseshift I missed this the first time around and am here now (aptly, several years into the future, and with a couple of excellent WhitDoc historical episodes – Rosa and Demons of the Punjab – under our belts) because of your link, in light of Whit Doc’s comment that Orphan 55 is just one earth timeline (one possible future).

    I really enjoyed the read, including all the comments <waves @scaryb are you still about old friend? >

    I think it’s certainly established in Nu Who that there is something particularly very-not-good, for non-Time Lords, about trying to overwrite your own personal time-line, as illustrated in the Ecclestone Doc episode Father’s Day, when Rose causes a time-paradox by saving her father’s life back when she was a baby.

    The Doctor can skate closer to the wind, because s(he) is a Time Lord. As when Tennant Doctor popped back in time to see Rose one last time, before she met the Ecclestone Doctor, but was careful not to let her know who he was, so he didn’t alter her timeline.

    We are, perhaps, about to find out more in S12, with WhitDoc at the helm, about Gallifrey’s historic relationship to timey-wimeyness, and what those rutheless b*****s, the Time Lords, were prepared to do, in their own history, to gain mastery (heh) of time itself (apart from, as we already know, abandoning poor old Omega to his fate).

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