...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day 2272: Mysteries of Doctor Who #8: Logopolis… what's THAT all about?


Daddy is waxing lyrical…

Logopolis is described as the keystone of the universe, and similarly "Logopolis" is the keystone of Doctor Who's eighteenth season, with its story arc of CHANGE AND DECAY.

Script editor and, for this story, author Christopher H. Bidmead wanted to base Doctor Who's stories on sound science again.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is NOT technobabble: it's not just words put together to "sound" like they mean real science. It IS real science. The entire story, the entire SEASON is building up to this one point: things fall apart; EVERYTHING DIES.

But it is more than that, because "Logopolis" is also telling us a story though art as well as science.

Where Season Seventeen gauchely name-drops Leonardo Da Vinci and juggles a half-dozen Mona Lisas, Season Eighteen quietly but confidently shows us the series as a different form of art for four serials in a row: "Warriors' Gate" is a German expressionist piece after La Belle et La Bette; "The Keeper of Traken" is all velvet Shakespearean play; and "Castrovalva" is most famously an etching by Escher.

Between these, we have the Greek tragedy that is "Logopolis": the Doctor as protagonist, the Master as antagonist, and a chorus of companions all step out onto a sparse stage to tell us a sad story of the ending of things. The Doctor gets to be his own deus ex machina too, literally depending from the great machine as he intervenes to overcome the forces of evil. "Logopolis" ends, not with the inevitable triumph of entropy, but by overturning the message of all the season: not everything dies: the Universe lives and the Doctor is reborn.

The regeneration at the end – when the Doctor doesn't die, but actually becomes YOUNGER – is such a triumph, a real rage against the dying of the light moment.

Still, it does raise one or two rather puzzling points.

The obvious one is just what DOES he think he's doing: flooding the TARDIS to get rid of the Master?

But then, and rather more worrying, is it possible that the Doctor might actually be responsible for the destruction of a good third of the Universe?

To take the obvious point first: the Doctor has learned that the Master has hidden his own time machine somewhere inside the Doctor's. He was able to do this by predicting that the Doctor would go to Earth and materialise the TARDIS around a genuine police box and by getting there first.

This poses a bit of a problem for the Doctor: not only is the Master already aboard, it seems likely that any plan that the Doctor can concoct can also just as easily be predicted by his rival.

"He's a Time Lord. In many ways we have the same mind," he tells Adric.

So, how can he outwit the Master?

Well possibly, he realises that what he needs is an unpredictable – random almost – course of action. This is not without precedent, since he previously tried navigating the TARDIS out of E-Space using the I-Ching, and with some success too. So maybe he decides to do just whatever it is that Adric says next.

He first gets the idea to materialise the TARDIS under water just after confessing that the Master can effectively read his mind and Adric's reply is:

"Can't we flush him out?"

So maybe he tries that because, knowing it's bonkers, he also knows it's not something the Master will be remotely expecting.

Of course, he never actually does it, because another random factor intervenes, and instead he ends up heading off to Logopolis with the Master still ensconced.

Laurence Miles and Tat Wood's "About Time 5" suggests that by doing this the Doctor is, at least in some part, responsible for the devastation that ensues.

They also say that despite this being almost certainly the single highest body count of the entire series, there appear to be no consequences to the timelime.

Or are there?

Well for starters, Earth's galaxy is described as having several hours left… by the end of which the Doctor and the Master have stabilised the Cassiopeia CVE and saved the Universe. So in local "galactic" terms the events of "Logopolis" may not affect us or any of our neighbours, so it would be difficult to tell.

Although, in fact, it's notable that although the Seventies are rather busy on the invading the Earth front, there's a sudden halt to hostilities in 1980. (At least until the Cybermen start bothering us, and they come from the Solar System anyway.) Maybe even the nearby aliens noticed something we missed.

But what about powers outside of our galaxy?

Well, the Dominators claim to be masters of ten galaxies but are never heard of again. Is that just because they are rubbish villains, or could it be because their ten galaxies are among those annihilated by the entropy wave?

But ignoring such trivial figures, there are two major forces from outside Earth's galaxy.

In the first case, there's the Daleks. It's always the Daleks.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth takes place in the Twenty-Second Century. Any Daleks on Earth earlier than that ("Evil of the Daleks", "Day of the Daleks", "Resurrection of the Daleks", or "Remembrance of the Daleks", never mind "The Chase" and "The Daleks' Master Plan") are always quite obviously established as time travellers.

(Only "Power of the Daleks" with its near-Earth colony Vulcan poses a question here, though it seems very likely that the Dalek factory – apparently dimensionally transcendent – is a Dalek time machine. Or just fix the dating of "Power…" to sometime around the Dalek Invasion.)

Actually, this raises the vexed question of whether Skaro is in our galaxy or not. On the whole, the evidence is that it isn't: "The Daleks' Master Plan" sees the Daleks forming an alliance of the Outer Galaxies against Earth and the Solar System, suggestive at the very least, and they also establish a base of operations on a planet that is in Earth's galaxy (in this case Kembel) – something they do again in "Planet of the Daleks" (Spiridon) – which would also imply that their own home is extra-galactic; "Destiny of the Daleks" sees the Daleks' enemies the Movellans travel in a ship that Romana identifies as having intergalactic drive – so Skaro is probably in a different galaxy to the Movellans, if not to Earth. "The Parting of the Ways" has Captain Jack describe them as the most dangerous force in the universe, not just the galaxy, and as a time traveller he should know.

Maybe of most significance, there's the discussion between the Doctor and Kaled scientist Ronson in "Genesis of the Daleks". Ronson informs the Doctor that "Davros has proved that there is no other intelligent life in the nine galaxies". The Doctor's response is interesting: he says, "it is also a fact that there are more than nine galaxies". He doesn't flat out deny Davros' evidence, so perhaps Skaro really is isolated in a distant galactic group – isolated, that is, until something wipes out large chunks of the intervening universe and suddenly unleashing the Daleks on an unsuspecting Milky Way.

But even if a sudden "shrinking" of the universe doesn't bring them into contact with Earth, it would appear that the Daleks don't interact with Humans until well after the events of Logopolis.

The other big extra-galactic force, actually a pair of forces, is the endless war between the Rutan Host and the Sontarans.

The Milky Way seems to be of little strategic importance to either side most of the time, but now and again the front lines pass through our galaxy. There may be a battle front nearby during the twelfth century ("The Time Warrior") although Larry and Tat convincingly argue that the Sontaran Linx may be a time traveller (it would certainly explain the title).

In that case, the first major development that we know about is the series of strategic withdrawals made by the Rutan during the early twentieth century, Earth time ("Horror of Fang Rock"). But then the next thing we know is the Sontarans considering whether to occupy the Milky Way sometime at least fifteen thousand years in the future ("The Sontaran Experiment").

So what held up the Sontaran advance? Why wasn't the galaxy ravaged in the meantime by the war? Could it be the unexpected wiping out of great chunks of their own (and the Rutan) territories suddenly rendered Earth's galaxy right off the war map?

(Of course, another explanation would be that the Daleks barrelling into the Milky Way from the other side rather put off both Sontaran and Rutan armadas!)

It might be seen, then, that in both cases there is a significant change in our relationship with an inter-galactic power in the millennium following the Logopolis catastrophe.

But the main question is one of responsibility.

The Doctor is adamantly against going to Logopolis with the Master aboard the TARDIS until he talks to the Watcher, and then suddenly he changes his mind entirely. (Perhaps another instance of being able to get around the Master's mind reading because he's following an unpredictable external suggestion.) And here he talks about "a chain of events that lead to the unravelling of the Universe itself".

Incidentally, it seems with hindsight that the Watcher may only speak to the dead. Here he talks to the Doctor, and later, in the TARDIS, he speaks to Adric – who has a date with destiny in "Earthshock" – alone, rather than to him and Nyssa together. (Nyssa does say at one point: "he said he was a friend of the Doctor" but we never see him actually talking to her – maybe he approached Consul Katura, doomed with Traken, and spoke to her and it was she told Nyssa). Is it significant that Auntie Vanessa sees the Watcher across the Barnet bypass when Tegan doesn't? Mind you, everyone is likely to die sometime, so perhaps it's not so significant.

The Master is clearly familiar with Logopolis, enough to know it holds a single great secret. Also, it may be Adric who ends up in his Hadron Power Web in the next story, but the fact that the Master has it ready – and his easy familiarity with the potential uses of Block Transfer Computation – suggest that he was planning on plugging in a Logopolitan. Perhaps his original plan, before Entropy turned it all to dust, involved kidnapping the Monitor. The Doctor is clearly quite right when he realises that Logopolis (rather than himself) is the Master's target.

Consider also: the Master has trapped Tegan aboard the TARDIS, rather than killing her (see how he indulges himself with Auntie Vanessa because she is extraneous to his plans) – if he's not just bonkers then he has a reason, and it is probably so that he can kill her later to prove to the Doctor that he means business, and still have Adric as hostage.

But the Doctor's decision gets the Master to Logopolis for free and without the Doctor finding himself held at the business end of the Tissue Compression Eliminator.

Essentially, the Watcher's message may be that it is inevitable that the Master will get to Logopolis, it is his intention and he has the means to force the Doctor to take him. And once there – though his lack of understanding – the consequence will be the release of the Entropy and the actual end of not a third but the entire universe.

This is the Doctor's choice then: go to Logopolis now, even though it means his own death – the Watcher's presence proves that – and have a chance to save something, or else end up being forced there with no choices and die anyway.

"Castrovalva" is only more explicit about having the power to make choices and defy pre-destination. "If" can be the most powerful word in the English language, Tegan says.

The Doctor gives up his life for the biggest "if" in the Universe.

No, he's not responsible for the death of a third of creation; he's responsible for saving two-thirds of it.

Episode Four of "Logopolis" was first broadcast on 21st of March 1981, so 2007 is its 26th anniversary!


Nine days to go!



Millennium Dome said...

Our friend Mr Alan writes…

I refer the right honourable elephant to the reply given by Douglas B
Killings in the rec.arts.drwho group on the 19th September, 2000:

OK, this is uncanny. And also more proof that I have far too much time on my hands.

Let me backtrack a moment. A few messages ago I asked for information about the location of Skaro according to the books. Someone produced some evidence from Terry Nation himself, to the effect that Skaro was located in Galaxy Seven, which Nation states is "out beyond Andromeda".

I in turn speculated that this might mean Galaxy Seven was one of the
Maffei objects, a set of galaxies out beyond M31. Well, after putzing around some of my astronomy texts and poking around the internet, I'm finding that identifying Galaxy Seven as a galaxy in the Maffei family (called the IC342/Maffei Group, after two of it's most prominent members) is actually a very good fit, given some of the stated evidence.

1) In Genesis of the Daleks, Davros states that Skaro was the only
planet "in the thirteen galaxies" that contained life. This fits very well with the IC342/Maffei family, which appear to form a small group of their own. At this time there are thirteen known members of this group.

2) Location. The galaxies are all in the 9-10 million light year
range. The group was probably at one time a member of our Local Group (which contains the Milky Way and Andromeda/M31 galaxies), but evidently was ejected after a close encounter with Andromeda. The galaxies currently sit in the direction of Andromeda but well beyond it. Again, this fits very well with Terry Nations's description.

3) In The Dalek Masterplan, mention is made that the Daleks were in the process of conquering a neighboring galaxy, with the aid of some
allies. Later on, it is mentioned that at least one of those allied
races came from Andromeda, which makes it probable that that is the
galaxy being conquered. From the IC342/Maffei group the next set of
galaxies after our own would be another < 10-12 million ly distant in
very nearly the opposite direction, which means that any aggressive
species in that group would be more inclined to head our direction than not.

4) Most of the galaxies in this group are small, dwarf ellipticals,
consisting primarily of old (9-12 billion year old), small stars. This fits very well for a couple of reasons. First, the older the stars the less likely they are to have formed rocky planets [1]. Also, dwarf ellipticals such as these tend to be compact, with thousands of stars in relatively small volumes of space; again, a condition which does not lend itself well to the formation of planets in stable enough orbits to permit life. Thus, we can extrapolate that if Skaro is in one of the Maffei objects, it is a stable, rocky planet in a corner of the universe where such stable worlds are rare.

This leads to the second reason, which is that it provides an excuse for the Daleks wanting to invade the planets of our galaxy -- there are few habitable worlds from which to choose from in their neck of the woods, so their only alternative for expansion is to seek other worlds in other galaxies.

[1] This is because in the younger universe heavier elements like oxygen and iron were not as abundant or even non-existent -- these elements were primarily formed as a byproduct in the process of ordinary stellar life, and were ejected into space as stars aged and burned through their hydrogen (or, in the case of heavier elements, formed in cataclysmic events like supernovae). Thus, the earliest waves of star formation probably did not include rocky, solid planets, and so the older the star the less likely it is to have rocky planets such as Earth or Skaro.

This does not mean that planets cannot form in these galaxies; stars do continue to form, and presumably later generations of star systems would have the materials needed for rocky worlds to come into being. However, small galaxies such as these also have much smaller amounts of materials from which stars might coalesce, so the formation of such stars would be rare and planetary systems even rarer. All of this indirectly supports Davros' claim that there was no life in the 13 galaxies nearest Skaro. Indeed, the formation of life on Skaro may very well have been a lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) fluke.

Taken together, based on some evidence from the TV series and from Terry Nation himself, it seems probable to me that a good case can be made for Skaro's location being in the IC342/Maffei group of galaxies. Of these galaxies, it seems to me that Maffei-1 is the most likely culprit, as it is probably the largest galaxy of the bunch (and hence more likely to have star formation recent enough to form planets) as well as being closer to us than either IC342 or Dwingeloo 1 (another prominent member of the group).

God, I need a real life. Oh yeah, I already have one. OK, I'll take
the fannish one after all.

And if any author is reading this and decides to use it in their novel, please, please, please stick in an acknowledgement. Something to prove that the last several hours trying to nail this down weren't wasted...

:-) Thanks!

Douglas B. Killings

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