Making it all work

I am so buying that jeweler's loupe. I bet it'll be useful while crafting.

I am so buying that jeweler’s loupe. I bet it’ll be useful while crafting and painting minis.

Happy new year, everyone! Here’s wishing you the best in 2014!

I realized the other day that I really love images of the Tenth Doctor wearing his glasses. Not the 3-D ones. Those pictures actually annoy me, because that look has become so iconic for the Tenth Doctor (so many t-shirts showing all eleven Doctors have Four with his scarf and Eleven with his fez, and then Ten with the 3-D glasses), and he only used them in one episode! It’s the horn-rims that should be his iconic accessory! Anyway, that’s beside the point. It occurred to me that one of the reasons why I do so love the glasses is that I identify with him: the Tenth Doctor is a science nerd. While all the Doctors are all scientists and engineers, some are more so than others, and Ten is one of the nerdiest. He loves to tinker and find tech solutions to problems (“It’s a machine that goes ding. Made it myself. Lights up in the presence of shape-shifter DNA. Ooo. Also it can microwave frozen dinners from up to twenty feet and download comics from the future. I never know when to stop.”), spouts technobabble all the time, and loves to explore. I really love that the Tenth Doctor saves the universe wearing nerdy glasses.

Another thing that I was thinking about recently is how much we rationalize things in this show. “The Day of the Doctor” had people upset because they felt it invalidated the show’s history from 2005 until that episode. I didn’t have much of a problem deciding that all those events did happen and that the events in the episode also happened, but that didn’t stop me from coming up with my own theory of how it all really works out, and that took a bit of work. Now we have “The Time of the Doctor,” which is causing the same consternation: if the Doctor didn’t die at Trenzalore, then he could have never gone there during “The Name of the Doctor” to see his timestream and have the Great Intelligence and Clara jump into it. This means that the entire second part of series 7 didn’t happen, since most of it has to do with Clara being the Impossible Girl from jumping into the timestream. I tried to work it out for myself the way I did for “The Day of the Doctor,” but it doesn’t work without bringing in the “it’s timey-wimey” excuse. I plan to try harder to make it work sometime later.

As I thought about it more, though, the problems with the show and how we deal with it tells us a lot more about ourselves than it does about the show. If you think about it, this show, with its 50-year history in TV, books, audio, and comic books, and its differing narrative objectives over the myriad of producers, writers, and directors, has always been at odds with itself. You can’t hand the show to a new set of people and expect that everything is going to stay consistent. Heck, it’s even hard to stay consistent with your own work. Here’s a few examples:

  • The UNIT dating controversy: The shows in the 70s and 80s differ on when UNIT began and who was where when, which is why in “The Day of the Doctor,” when Kate Stewart asks for the Cromer files, she says it’s either in the 70s or 80s depending on the dating protocol.
  • The Doctor’s age: The Seventh Doctor says he’s 953. The War Doctor implies he’s in his 800s, and the Ninth and Tenth Doctor say their in they’re 903-906.
  • “Blink”: The Doctor states that the Weeping Angels turn to stone, but the final montage, which implies that any statue could be an angel, includes bronze statues. This is an inconsistency within a single episode.

So, it really comes down to how big an inconsistency must be to bother you. The UNIT dating controversy and the inconsistencies in “Blink” (there are actually quite a lot of them) don’t bug me: the first really doesn’t matter, and the second can be overlooked and should, because that episode is fantastic if you don’t think too hard about it. The Doctor’s age bugs me, because his age adds to the feeling of timelessness associated with the character and he should be able to keep his claims consistent. I’ve rationalized this as either the Doctor doesn’t know his age because he’s jumping around in time all the time and it’s too hard to keep track (I’d think the TARDIS could keep track for him, though), or he’s lying and choosing an age that sounds good to him. As for the can of worms opened by “The Time of the Doctor,” I’ve just decided that all of the season happened and left it at that.

You might already see where I’m going with this. The reason why we pick apart the show and get upset about these problems is that we care: we’re immersed in the Doctor Who universe and we desperately want it to make sense beyond just watching the episode for the adventure of the day. And, we’re going to get a lot more upset about the inconsistencies of the characters we care about. For me, I care so much more about the Ninth and Tenth Doctors than I do about the Eleventh Doctor, so I’m willing to hand-wave away the problems with “The Time of the Doctor,” but I spent hours crafting an explanation for “The Day of the Doctor” to make sure that the trials of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor didn’t get invalidated.

It’s interesting that our love for the show can manifest as anger, but then I suppose that’s completely natural: we get angry when people we love let us down, too. I suppose the real challenge is finding the happy medium, in which we as the audience can accept the inconsistencies and move forward with them while the show itself doesn’t mess itself up too much.

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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.