Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Doctor, the Time War, And the Time Lock

This is a blue box.
I swear it's bigger on the inside.
This is not a review of the latest Doctor Who episode, "Deep Breath." How could it be? I haven’t seen it yet. But as we await to see Peter Capaldi in the role of the Twelfth Doctor, I want to address a misunderstanding I have seen since the 50th Anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor” aired.

Since last November, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the events of that episode, and some of the comments I’ve seen have brought to mind a line from The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the radio series, not the movie).
FORD: You know what your trouble is Arthur? You’ve got as much grasp of multi-temporal causality as a concussed bee.
I am sorry that so many of my fellow Doctor Who fans, like Arthur Dent,[1] have as much grasp of multi-temporal causality as a concussed bee. And, if I see another statement about the Time War being time locked, I will “jump up on a table and scream!”[2]

Intentionally or not, Russell Davies made the time lock on the Time War somewhat porous. Dalek Caan[3] was able to snatch Davros from the Time War. When the Doctor said that was impossible, Davros noted that Caan had done it nevertheless. When the impossible happens, you need to rethink your premises. Time Lord President Rassilon was able to send a white-point star diamond to create a physical link to the Master. And in “The Day of the Doctor” Stephen Moffat makes it clear why the time lock was so porous.

The Doctor told us repeatedly, from the Ninth Doctor onward, that the Time War was time locked. Nothing could get in, nothing could get out. We were told that so many times, and we trust the Doctor. Now, as River Song would tell us, “Rule One: the Doctor lies,” but here, it was clear that the Doctor was being truthful, as much as it pained him. He had realized that the only way to end the Time War was by putting the Time Lords and the Daleks within a time lock, and then the Time Lords and the Daleks were gone.

Except, the Daleks weren’t gone. Nor were the Time Lords. Rethink your premises.

The Daleks, of course, we've been tripping over since the reboot of the series. Just maybe, when the Doctor encountered a Dalek, he might have thought that maybe the Time War wasn't really quite so time locked. By the third or fourth time, you'd think he'd get the hint. And then the Time Lords showed that they weren't exactly time locked either.

If you’ve been in a coma since October 2013, you might want to stop here. These are what River Song would call spoilers, though I think you’ve had ample time to see the thing. Instead of sending the Time Lords into the time lock, the Doctor (in thirteen incarnations, including the new one) froze the Time Lords (and all of Gallifrey) into a stasis cube, and then tucked it away into a pocket universe. The Daleks obliged by annihilating themselves in the crossfire.[4] You know, in "The Day of the Doctor."

In order to keep the timeline clean, the Doctor doesn’t get any foreknowledge. Once everything was done, the War Doctor remembered that he had been about to press the button of the Moment, and then the Time Lords and the Daleks were gone. The Moment was supposed to create the time lock, sealing the Time War away from the rest of space and time. Except, of course, that the Doctor didn’t do that.

I’ve thought of it this way: Imagine you pick up a gun and shoot someone who then drops dead. Obvious answer: you shot them. But what if the gun held only blanks, and at the same moment that you pulled the trigger, someone else shot them? Or, perhaps even better, just after you pulled the trigger, they went into a deep coma. The whole point is, you haven’t shot anyone. The Doctor meant to put the Time War into a time lock, but he never even pulled the trigger.[5]

Can I suggest a Rule Two? Even the Doctor can be wrong (though he’d be the last to admit it). And for all those Doctor Who fans who wondered how various things got out of the time lock, well, the Doctor was wrong. The time lock never existed. Just follow the sequence of events, remembering that the War Doctor wasn’t going to remember that the Eleventh Doctor had a better idea.

So, let’s stop all this nonsense about the time lock. He never did it.

Update: I liked that in the episode "Deep Breath" the Doctor says, "I hate being wrong in public."

  1. Arthur was mentioned in the episode “The Christmas Invasion.”  ↩
  2. Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Fit the Third.  ↩
  3. Dalek Caan’s name always makes me think of the actor James Caan.  ↩
  4. Was their last thought “rogue Daleks have attacked, must increase power to weaponry and exterminate”?  ↩
  5. Or pushed in this case. That would be the big red button on the Moment.  ↩

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