...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Day 2021: DOCTOR WHO: "The Butler Did It"


More as a PS to Daddy's big long review of Doctor Who, I have stuck my nose into Lance Parkin's Ahistory in order to see how this year's THRILLING events interact with the things that ALREADY take place in Dr Who's Universe.

It is quite a fun book that tries to take all of Dr Who's adventures and put a date to them and then set them all out in CHRONOLOGICAL order.

It is not quite as good as Mr P's earlier versions of the same book, but this is not really his fault – since the last time he wrote this, Dr Who has had a LOT MORE adventures in books and audio plays and then the new series have happened. And these have rather MUDDLED UP the history of the universe, which is a shame. People should have read Mr P's earlier book!

One thing that I have noticed about the new adventures on television is that they have taken Daddy Richard's wise advice that there is a LOT of room in the future and they have gone off into new and distant and unused parts of it. "The End of the World" is five billion years in the future; "The Parting of the Ways" is in 200,100; and "The Satan Pit" is apparently in 43,000 and there are NO adventures for Dr Who set anywhere near any of those times.

The past is a bit more crowded, of course, but there is more of the TWENTIETH century that they can go to as "the past" now rather than as "the present" so that is interesting.

Another thing that I thought was INTERESTING, though, was the coincidence that there is only one story that Mr P has dated to 2007: "Warhead" by Mr Andrew Cartmel.

In this novel, set in 2007, a corporation called The Butler Institute, or BI, controls all the other companies in the world and is working on a project that will save people from impending ecological crisis by cybernetic conversion.

In this year's television series, set in 2007, Mr John Lumic runs a corporation called Cybus Industries, or CI, that controls all the other companies in the world and is working on a project that will save people from death by cybernetic conversion. Oh, and in a later episode it is revealed that his world is now in an environmental crisis!

Incidentally, Mr Cartmel's book is called "Cat's Cradle: Warhead" in it's full title, but Daddy Richard has a crazy theory about the order that the early New Adventures go in.

I will let him tell you about it (this is a good opportunity for you to go to SLEEP, by the way!):

Chronology in the early New Adventures

Superficially, it is very easy to say that the first eight New Adventures take place in the order in which they were published:

Timewyrm: Genesis
Timewyrm: Exodus
Timewyrm: Apocalypse
Timewyrm: Revelation
Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible
Cat's Cradle: Warhead
Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark

There was, however, something a bit grating about this order:

The opening of Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible begins in Perivale, Ace seemingly having persuaded the Doctor to allow her to visit Audrey, her mother, on their way back to the TARDIS. It reads very much as though it follows on from the closing moments of Survival – also set in Perivale, and also about Ace completing her "journey" home from Iceworld by defeating the psychological demons of her past (made manifest by the "monsters" of Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival itself).

There is nothing to suggest that the Doctor and Ace haven't been on many other journeys in the meantime: but there's nothing to suggest that they have either and it seems unnatural that Ace, having exorcised the last her demons by returning home Survival, would later ask for the Doctor to return her there.

So the idea started to grow in me that the presented order of the New Adventures might not be the correct chronological order as far as our two heroes might have seen it.

There is also a pleasing symmetry in suggesting that the major arc of the New Adventures concerning the legendary history of Gallifrey should begin in the first story and end in the last, Lungbarrow.

There are a couple of other points that suggest a non-linear chronology:

Ace's Memories

At the opening of Timewyrm: Genesis, the Doctor accidentally (he claims) erases all of Ace's memories. He quickly restores them from the TARDIS telepathic circuits.

Dramatically, of course, this is a device by the author to allow him to recap the events of the nine television stories featuring Ace and the seventh Doctor, thus setting the scene and bringing any new readers up to speed.

With hindsight, however – and a little insight into the manipulative character of the seventh Doctor – it is possible to suggest that the Doctor has not, in fact, restored all of Ace's memories, merely those up to Survival: that in fact he has deliberately chosen to remove Ace's recollection of events between Survival and the start of Timewyrm: Genesis, either for his own motives or for her benefit.

Ace's Age

The description and portrayal of Ace's age varies quite a lot over the course of these stories. On television, we see an evolution from a passionate if troubled teenager in Dragonfire – Ace confesses to being 16 – through to a maturing young woman in stories such as The Curse of Fenric and Survival.

The early New Adventures seem, occasionally, to be unable to decide whether she is still an excitable teen (Timewyrm: Exodus; Nightshade) or a more collected twenty-something (Timewyrm: Revelation; Cat's Cradle: Warhead).

In spite of several other (more unfortunate) consequences, the decision to have Ace leave in Love and War and return several years older in Deceit did at least finally settle her age into her early twenties.

Unfortunately, there is nothing consistent about the young/old Ace conundrum. It is, unfortunately, just a rare example of bad editing (probably down to it being so early in the series).

So, my first thoughts were: are Cat's Cradle and Timewyrm just the wrong way around?

There are obvious, and continuous, links from each of the Timewyrm series – the story of the rise and fall of a creature called the Timewyrm – to the preceding books, meaning that they necessarily form a sequence in publication order. The Timewyrm is created in the first book, as we see her evolution from an earlier cybernetic enemy; the Doctor traces her path from the first book to the second; in the third the Timewyrm is practically defeated and in the fourth she has retreated to her hiding place of last resort: the inside of the Doctor's head. There is no logical order for these stories other than publication order. (Although there might be room for one or more "missing" adventure between Exodus and Apocalypse. Timewyrm: Judges, perhaps?)

The links between the Cat's Cradle series are not so strong: in fact really only the first and third novels are in anyway relevant to the overall theme.

The first story, Time's Crucible, sees the TARDIS invaded by an alien parasite resulting in its apparent destruction. The Doctor is able to reform his TARDIS at the end of the story, but she is still very badly damaged. This damage causes the TARDIS to land the Doctor and Ace in Wales at the start of the third novel, Witch Mark, where she shuts down, apparently dying. The Doctor is ultimately only able to repair her by obtaining alien biomass to use in the TARDIS core at the end of the story.

However, apart from a dropped-in continuity reference to carpets at the end of Time's Crucible (referring to Ace being sent to meet Miss David who trades in Turkish carpets) there is little to tie Warhead in to the other two novels. In fact, the frequency and accuracy with which the Doctor is able to use the TARDIS in Warhead flatly contradicts the idea that she has just been blown to bits and is on the brink of death.

Warhead has rather more elements that tie it to the "Future Histories" arc (Love and War, Transit, The Highest Science, The Pit, Deceit, Lucifer Rising) that follows on from Nightshade. It is during the Future Histories that the Doctor becomes his most secretive and manipulative, driving Ace away in Love and War and alienating his new companion Bernice Summerfield on several occasions.

Deceit, in which Ace returns, also reveals that the TARDIS and, via the telepathic circuits, the Doctor himself had become contaminated by a speck of "evil" biomass at the conclusion of Witch Mark. Recognising this, he had shut off a little part of himself to work out a solution while the rest of him behaved "normally": i.e. went off crusading to defeat ancient evils such as the Hoothi or the Yssgaroth. This is the same part that constructs the tesseract that he gives to Ace in Love and War and that drives her away having found Benny to look after him in the meantime. Unfortunately, this self-defence mechanism also emphasised his more amoral character aspects.

The characterisation of the Doctor in Warhead – on a crusade against evil, but amoral and manipulative using Ace and Cartmel's new characters Justine and Vincent as pawns in his game – is much more in keeping with the Doctor of the Future Histories arc. Additionally, the Doctor's adversary in this story is the Butler Institute: a front for powerful corporate interests. In Deceit, the Doctor is confronted by The Spinward Corporation, in fact the company that the Butler Institute has grown into, partly as a result of the Doctor's interference in Warhead. Corrupt corporations feature heavily in both Transit (STS) and Lucifer Rising (IMC) and their influence is referred to in all of Love and War, The Highest Science and The Pit as well.

Thus, overall, it seems much more logical that Warhead is in fact the first part of the Future Histories than the middle part of Cat's Cradle.

Finally, where to place Nightshade? Nightshade is an excellent standalone novel, but contains two distinctly contradictory points for the chronologist.

The characterisation of Ace feels very much more the "young" Ace rather than the more mature version. Although she "falls in love" with Robin Yeadon, it comes across very like the teenage romance, almost crush, she feels for Captain Sorin in The Curse of Fenric. Coupled to this, Ace falls for the traveller Jan Rydd in the very next published book, Love and War, and that relationship is portrayed quite differently: Ace is outwardly much more confident, and at the same time demonstrates a much deeper (and more nervous) internal response.

Of course this is largely down to the differing writing styles and priorities of Mark Gatiss and Paul Cornell. Similarly, the fact that Ace doesn't think of Robin while getting close to Jan is probably a lapse of script editing rather than either writer.

Nevertheless, all of this combines to give a sense of a large separation in time between Nightshade and Love and War.

On the other hand, at the conclusion of Nightshade the Doctor quite deliberately takes Ace away with him, leaving Robin behind. This, it is subsequently suggested, is because he cannot be alone with the "evil" biomass in his head. That bit of him that is working to cure himself knows that he will need Ace in order to find himself again. This would suggest that Nightshade has to take place after Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark.

This would suggest a possible running order of:

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible
Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark


Timewyrm: Genesis
Timewyrm: Exodus
Timewyrm: Apocalypse
Timewyrm: Revelation

The Future Histories: Warhead

Unfortunately, there is a problem with this.

Timewyrm: Revelation takes place almost entirely inside the Doctor's head and finishes with him triumphantly routing not only the Timewyrm but also his inner demons. It is surprising therefore that no one says "aye aye, what's that blob of evil over there?"

And it seems such a betrayal of the heroic conclusion of Timewyrm to suggest that this is all achieved by the "shut off"/"amoral" Doctor when it is so clearly a triumph for his complete self.

So, reluctantly, I'd have to say that the order probably returns to the almost unchanged:

Timewyrm: Genesis
Timewyrm: Exodus
Timewyrm: Apocalypse
Timewyrm: Revelation

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible
Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark


The Future Histories: Warhead

Is ANYone still awake?

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