Playing with time

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I spent a bit of time last night doing some research on the Last Great Time War, because I’ve got this idea for a fanfic set during the war and needed to iron out some details. I found it absolutely fascinating that I spend far more time researching Doctor Who history, both the lore as well as what we see in the episodes, than I ever did for papers and projects during school.  The same activity can be considered work or play, depending on the context.

I wanted to get a good feel for the history of the Time War, how events progressed, and it was completely fascinating – there’s so much that’s been established that’s not in the TV show (and I haven’t gotten to yet in all the audios). Here is a little bit of the history.

  1. The first event is the Daleks creating a virus that would corrupt Time Lord DNA to wipe them out.
  2. The Daleks then hack into the Matrix so that they can use it to invade Gallifrey. Romana traps them in the Matrix and shuts it down, to trap the Daleks in a time loop.
  3. Narvin (from the CIA), unaware that Romana’s fixed the situation, gets the Fourth Doctor to attempt to stop the Daleks from being created or delay their development.
  4. In retaliation, the Daleks try to create a clone of the Fifth Doctor to send him to assassinate the High Council.
  5. The Daleks then attempt to get the Hand of Omega, to gain mastery over time. They are stopped by the Seventh Doctor.
  6. At this point, the Daleks start the Last Great Time War.

In case you haven’t noticed, point 3 is “Genesis of the Daleks,” point 4 is “Resurrection of the Daleks,” and point 5 is “Remembrance of the Daleks.” Basically, while creating the history of the Time War, the showrunners went backwards and worked classic episodes into the timeline of the war. They’re no longer just random encounters the Doctor had with Daleks; there are now reasons for what happened, all part of the Time War’s history. The way they did this is just so cool, fitting this all in. It’s also wonderful to see the pre-Eighth Doctors having some hand in the Time War (it’s always bothered me a little that the Time War lasted for hundreds, probably thousands of years, but the classic Doctors were not involved in it at all [not that they could be, mind you, from a beyond-the-fourth-wall point of view]). I suppose this is one of the advantages of a show with a long history that deals with time travel: you can manipulate the history into loops, creating an even richer backstory than you originally intended.

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From a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint

People seem to be confused by the events in “The Day of the Doctor,” especially the part about how the Moment was never fired and the effects of this. In specific, there are a lot of questions on the internet about whether or not all the events of the past eight years of the show actually happened, and how does the events of The End of Time fit in at all. I think I pretty much understand and accept the new reality, but I decided to try and trace my thoughts through all of it and see if it came out coherently.

First, I want to point at a very famous quote which I think stresses the way we need to look at this issue: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” (Tenth Doctor, “Blink”) Couple that with another quote: “Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.” (Seventh Doctor, “Remembrance of the Daleks”) In order to make all of this make sense, we have to view time like a Time Lord does: seeing not only the immediate effects, but the multiple time streams that can branch off from a single action.

The action in question is the refusal to fire the Moment and, instead, call all of the Doctor’s incarnations to freeze Gallifrey in an instant of time. From our viewpoint, Gallifrey stands and the Doctor no longer needs to mourn and regret his destruction of his people. Thus, the Ninth Doctor should not be angry and vengeful, and the Tenth Doctor is no longer the Man Who Regrets. This appears to invalidate the last eight years of the show. I posit that the last eight years of the show still stands, because from the viewpoint of a Time Lord, Gallifrey both stood and fell.

Here’s a visual aid for this. In it, I refer to the Doctors by their actors’ names rather than their numbers. Also, please note that the black arrows are the Doctor’s personal timeline, not the absolute universe time, though these blur into each other for a bit.

The horizontal timeline is the history we have seen in the show since 2005. Eccleston regenerates into Tennant, who deals with the Time Lords trying to come out of the time lock then regenerates into Smith, who will regenerate into Capaldi. The timeline is not to scale, as Eccleston and Tennant together didn’t live ten years, while Smith has lived over four hundred.

Just before Hurt regenerated into Eccleston, he fired the Moment, which obliterated Gallifrey and the Daleks (and a hell of a lot of other planets and species), creating the personal misery of the next three incarnations. In “The Day of the Doctor,” Tennant and Smith return to the Moment, just before it is fired, and with Hurt, come up with and enact an alternate plan to trap Gallifrey in an instant of time, obviating the need to fire the Moment. An alternate timeline is created, an alternate universe, in which the Doctor has no action to regret.

At the instant that Hurt does not fire the Moment, he becomes two people: the Doctor from both timelines. He returns with Tennant and Smith to the museum, but their timelines are not in sync. When he leaves in his TARDIS, the timelines re-sync: one with a War Doctor who fired the Moment (the horizontal line), and one with a War Doctor who didn’t (the vertical line). Neither can remember the actions of the other.

Which timeline does the show follow? It follows the original timeline. Smith went back and changed the fate of Gallifrey, but returns to his own timeline, the one in which it originally fell. He does not become the Eleventh Doctor from the timeline in which Gallifrey survived, and this is supported by the fact that when the timelines re-synced, he doesn’t have memories of a different past than what we’ve seen. (As this would be a huge plot point, I’d like to assume that the writers would have told us this if it had happened.) He does know that Gallifrey didn’t fall, because he knows what he just did.

Meanwhile, Tennant returns to the only timeline he knows, the one in which Gallifrey fell. When his timeline resyncs, he cannot remember what just happened either. You might argue that from the moment that the time fissure started opening, his timeline split in two, one in which the fissure didn’t appear and one in which it did, and he returned to the former, which is the “real” show timestream, thus forgetting.

A few other points about the figure.

  • Tennant appears in “The Day of the Doctor” sometime after “The Waters of Mars” and before The End of Time. In The End of Time, he lands on the Ood Sphere and mentions he had been traveling, one point of which was getting married to Elizabeth I.
  • Some people have wondered where the events of The End of Time fit into “The Day of the Doctor,” so I tried to indicate that. The attempt to escape the time lock could have happened at any time before the Moment was fired.
  • I marked alternate Eccleston with a (?) because I am not convinced that Hurt would have regenerated into Eccleston in that timeline. With the outcome of the war so different, his regeneration may have resulted in a completely different man.

Where exactly is Gallifrey in this diagram? It’s trapped in an instant of time, so it could be anywhere: it isn’t necessarily in either of the two timelines. In fact, I would say it’s outside of both, in its own little time pocket somewhere.

So there. Yes, it’s wibbly-wobbly as well as timey-wimey, but I think it makes sense and explains why we continue to regard what we’ve seen in the show as having happened. I definitely welcome any comments, feedback, and criticism, as I love working through theories like this and would love to see any holes that I’ve overlooked.

More thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”

We watched “The Day of the Doctor” again last night, to fix it better in our minds and to get the bits of dialogue we missed while the theater audience was laughing or clapping. And I have to say, I still like it a lot. The scene where Ten and Eleven place their hands on the War Doctor’s on the Moment’s switch brings a tear to my eye.

Remember, by the way, spoilers!

Personally, I think my favorite scenes (other than the climax at the end; I always love scenes in which the situation is resolved by the appearance of multiple incarnations) are the ones in which Ten and Eleven play off of each other. The two Doctors are very different from each other, the One Who Regrets being the emo (for lack of a better word) who has been tormented both by the events of the Last Great Time War and, more recently, by the loss of Rose and Donna, and the One Who Forgets being the child who tries to forget the Time War and the loss of the Ponds. At times, they are in opposition, and at others, they are best friends. Either way, though, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith work together flawlessly. It saddens me to think that they’ll never be brought together like this again. (Unless the Powers That Be produce specials for them, the next multi-Doctor special will focus on future Doctors, not these. And if they only do this for major anniversaries, it will be ten years before the opportunity even comes up.)

The story was really about the War Doctor’s journey to find himself and decide what was the right thing to do. The Moment takes him to see his future incarnations to see what he becomes, and he sees what look like two children: both young and energetic, with glib tongues and an apparent inability to take anything seriously. The War Doctor is disgusted with them (a deleted scene has him lamenting that they never shut up) and wonders how they ever came to terms with the genocide of the Time Lords and the Daleks; he (and the Tenth Doctor) is further amazed that the Eleventh Doctor has willingly forgotten the horrors of the Time War, because he can’t bear to remember them.

But then the War Doctor watches them solve a situation very similar to his own: when it seems that the humans have to destroy a city to preserve the rest of their race, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor force a solution in which the two sides of the conflict must stop the destruction and peaceably work out a solution. It’s this act that makes him realize that these two Doctors are great men doing what they must. They both deeply regretted obliterating the Time Lords and the Daleks, but doing so saved everyone else, and they continue to strive to save the universe that they once saved by activating the Moment. This epiphany gives the War Doctor what he needs to make his decision, and he returns to the Moment to do what he must.

The one thing that I didn’t like in this episode was the emphasis on the deaths of the Gallifreyan children. I felt that this plot point was played for its pathos, and ignored all of the other horrors of the war. First, as I’ve mentioned above, the Doctor commits at least two genocides when he activates the Moment. Both the Time Lords and Daleks are wiped out, but the Moment convulsed the universe, obliterating other planets and galaxies: far more than just two sentient races were destroyed. The power of the Moment to do far more damage than just destroy Gallifrey should have been at least mentioned.

Second, the show implied that the Doctor fired the Moment because the Daleks were about to destroy Gallifrey and if he didn’t destroy both, the Daleks would go on to destroy the universe. But this isn’t the real reason. In The End of Time, Rassilon reveals what the High Council was doing during the final attack on Gallifrey (mentioned in “The Day of the Doctor” when the general complains that the High Council is sequestered).

RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart.
MASTER: That’s suicide.
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be.
DOCTOR: You see now? That’s what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them.

The Doctor didn’t fire the Moment just to stop the Daleks, sacrificing his own people in the process. He fired the Moment to prevent the immediate destruction of the universe by the High Council of the Time Lords.

Now, perhaps Mr. Moffat took the easy route with the narrative, since focusing on the children is a lot simpler (and quicker) for the audience relate to than dredging up the complicated backstory last seen three years ago. (Though, one might argue that the children were doomed in any of the three possible outcomes: killed by Daleks, destroyed by the Moment, or erased by the Final Sanction, since the majority of Gallifreyans are not Time Lords, who are the ones who would ascend.) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to narrative flow.

The change to the end of the Last Great Time War takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s great that the Doctor now has something of a quest to work towards. Eventually he will find Gallifrey and bring it out, and then the Time Lords will be back. The Time Lords are jerks. They always have been. They’ve insisted on non-interference in other planets’ affairs and enjoy taking the Doctor to task for it, and then go off and interfere themselves, to their own selfish ends, sometimes on a planetary scale (see Ravolox). When they go bad, they go really bad (see Borusa and Rassilon), and the Last Great Time War corrupted them even more (only two of them voted against the Final Sanction). I can’t imagine that Rassilon is going to be very happy to see the Doctor when Gallifrey reappears.

I’m also enjoying the mental gymnastics needed to really grok this storyline; the analysis has been fueling the conversation between me and my husband for the past two days (one outcome of which I’ll elaborate on in the next post). I find it difficult to really see how the Ninth and Tenth Doctor (and most of the Eleventh Doctor) comes out of the events here. The Moment wasn’t really fired, but up until the events in “The Day of the Doctor” in Eleven’s timeline, the Doctor thinks the Moment has been fired. Whaaa-? I know that the takeaway is “Everything in the last seven seasons of the show really did happen – just go with it,” but I’m a fan of the backstory and I must understand how it all fits together.  Yes, I know, this is Doctor Who and it doesn’t all fit together, but I try.