...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Day 2462: Mysteries of Doctor Who #12: Who sends the Doctor after the Key to Time.


One of Dr Who's MOST FAMOUSEST adventures is Mr Dr Tom's year-long QUEST to find the six pieces of the Key to Time. For this reason Doctor Who's sixteen season is often called "The Key to Time". Obviously.

This series has just come out new on DVD, for the first time (in Region Two anyway), in a spanking limited edition box set – and they are selling out FAST. My Daddies already have five! If they can find a sixth then the KEY TO TIME WILL BE OUUUUUURRRRRSSSSSS!!!!!!

That's what Daddy says, anyway.

The story begins when Dr Who's TARDIS is stopped in mind flight, apparently by the WHITE GUARDIAN, a personage of some importance who might just possibly be god. I say "apparently" because there's a bit of a question about this which I shall come to in a moment. Mr the Guardian asks Dr Who if he has heard of the Key to Time – which Dr Who HAS. The Guardian claims that the Key is needed because every now and again the universe needs to be stopped just for a short while so that the forces within it do not become unstable. There's a bit of a question about THAT too. He then proceeds to send Dr Who off to find the various bits (which like the TARDIS are disguised as other things), giving him a magic wand (the locator) and beautiful assistant (Ms Romana, before she got married to Mr Professor Richard). All in all, Mr the White Guardian is QUITE the CONJUROR.

Now the real question is who or what the White Guardian actually is because at the end of the quest the Black Hat turns up and he is OPPOSITE and more importantly EQUAL to the White – so even though he LOOKS a lot like god – kindly old man, white beard – he is certainly NOT the god that gets talked up in Sunday school.

Of course, he also looks a lot like the MAN from DEL MONTE, and anyway, "The Keeper of Traken" shows us another kindly old man who can take over the TARDIS in flight, and only has Tim-from-the-Goodies' chair and some swanky technology to rely on! So it's quite possible that the Guardian isn't ANY kind of higher order of being at all, just this bloke.

In which case, just who do these Guardians think they are?

Who died and put them in charge? Are they eternal, or do they get to retire and be replaced? Can you get to BECOME a Guardian? Is there an entrance exam? Or a test… like some form of QUEST, perhaps? Are there, in fact, only two of them…

DWM once introduced us to the Beige Guardian, but mainly in jest, while in books like (I'm sorry but it was dreadful) "The Quantum Archangel" it was suggested that there were SIX Guardians: black, white, gold, lavender, puce and stripy (NOT my horse). Or something like that. And that's just one of the LESSER reasons for not including "The Quantum Archangel" in the CANON!

…or only one? And what are they supposed to be GUARDING anyway?

You might think that they are the Guardians OF the Key. Since (if you are in "Mad Larry Mode") Time is something that was BUILT by the Time Lords, then the Key is probably some sort of remote control for the operating system they wired into the Universe. That would probably make the Guardians a couple of Rassilon's chums, appointed to keep an eye on things. The answer to what do they Guard is the Key itself – and that's not out of character: both "The Invasion of Time" and "The Five Doctors" give us a Rassilon who's a wee bit TRICKSY and not inclined to trust anyone with absolute power. On the other fluffy foot, why the Omega would Rassilon set up his security men as White and Black with opposing missions of Chaos and Order? Unless they've gone a bit STRANGE in the intervening Millenniums. And even so why does only Mr White have a handy segment locator?

Or does the Universe come pre-formatted with a pair of squabbling archetypes with optional avian headwear? And if so why can't they fetch their OWN Key?

Mind you this whole MISSION looks decidedly IFFY when you think about it. In the first place if the Key has been split into parts to stop anyone getting their UNWORTHY fluffy feet on it, how come the White Guardian has got a handy points-to-the-prize wand for finding it again? And given that he and the Black Guardian are supposed to exist by OPPOSING each other, why does he want to use the Key to restore the balance rather than to WIN outright? The Black Guardian certainly wants to win.

Then again, how exactly can the Universe be "approaching a time" when it might fly to bits? Dr Who has been all over time in his TARDIS and surely he'd have spotted the universe going pop somewhere in the middle as he went past! How can there be a time limit to finding the segments of the Key – surely that only depends on how early you choose to arrive in the TARDIS. For that matter, how can the locator take the TARDIS to different times – surely all six segments must exist simultaneously somewhere in the Universe in ANY given time zone!

Actually, that is another interesting aside – why don't all the stories take place in the same time zone?

It would make more sense if they did – and that would resolve the problem of the Universe "approaching" this crisis time, if they Key only becomes accessible shortly before each crisis for which it is needed. So COULD they be at about the same time?

Well, the first story is "The Boris Operation" (outsized conman with extravagant personality and dishevelled appearance tries to convince the Nasty Party of the Greater Cyrinnic Empire to buy his scheme and it ends badly for both of them, former left impecuniate and latter in tatters… could never happen). Although it takes place on a medieval pre-astronomy world, the world is being visited by people from said Interstellar Empire. One of the visitors, Mr Garron, though comes from Earth. That would suggest a future, or far future setting. However, Mr Garron talks about selling Sydney Harbour to an Arab who came after him with a machine gun, all of which sounds very CONTEMPORARY. So, it MIGHT just be possible to suggest that Mr Garron IS from late twentieth century Earth but – in best Douglas Adams fashion – has hitched a lift off-planet.

Story two is "The Parrot Planet" although it has disappointingly few parrots on it [A: parrots or pirates, it's only one. But you REALLY notice the one!]. We can't REALLY tell the time zone, although the Earth is THREATENED with being the next planet to get pirated, we don't go there and don't find out the Earth year. Everyone LOOKS very human, but that's just typical of this Universe so we can't for certain say that they are descendents of Earth either. In other words, we COULD again claim that this is set in the late twentieth century.

The third story is the EASIEST to set, because "The Staines of Blood" REALLY definitely IS set on Earth in what was then the present day.

Fourth in the season is "The Andrews of Tara". The planet Tara looks splendidly Ruritanian, with its European-esque nobility and robotic serfs. It is usually assumed to be a degenerate "lost colony" of Earth's from some time in the future – and because Dr Who happens to remark at one point "I've just travelled four hundred years (and twelve parsecs) to get here" it's assumed that he means "from 'The Staines of Blood'" and so this must be in the future. But Dr Who talks a lot of GUFF sometimes, and aside from one of his throwaway remarks is there anything that say that this MUST be an old Earth colony? No. With no DEFINITE connection to Earth, it's not too much of a fudge to say that this COULD take place at the time of the late twentieth century too.

And just skipping to the end, the same is true for the final part of the quest, "The Armagedding Out of Here Factor". This takes place on twin planets Atrios and Zeos that could be anywhere in the Universe. So they might as well be anywhere in the Universe circa 1978.

But it all falls to pieces with "The Power of Kroll" – and how many times do you hear THAT said? (No, no silly title, either; this one is silly enough on its own)

"Kroll" is set on a moon of Delta Magna with colonists and swampies and the mother of all calamari. But, and here's the clincher, the swampies are being provided with support and – allegedly, though in fact not – guns from a group called the "Sons of Earth". So the colonists are definitely from Earth and this is definitely the future, Earth Empire period at the very least.

So it's all nonsense and "The Andrews of Tara" probably IS a lost colony in the future and "The Boris Operation" could be anytime from now till Doomsday. (No, NOT the one in Torchwood Tower, 'cos THAT's in June 2007. Or 2010. Probably.)

Thus, the Key is scattered through Time and yet somehow a time of crisis is approaching. On the whole this suggests that Time behaves in, to say the least, a very peculiar way. It implies that, in a sense there, is an ABSOLUTE clock for the Universe, and that's the one that is ticking. The time that we experience in our own time zones is in some way flexible and permeable, but absolute time, Guardian Time, is solid and unbreakable. The logical inference is that this must be the fabled "Gallifreyan Mean Time" that keeps Time Lords from meeting in the wrong order. It's a timeline that exists outside the Universe's time and means that what we know as "history" can be changed from moment to moment from the Time Lords' point of view. Though they would rather it didn't.

Or, ALTERNATIVELY, the "mission" is a load of baloney and Mr White is a BIG FAT FIBSTER.

In other words, he's NOT Mr White AT ALL, but in fact Mr Black in DISGUISE.

This is a very POPULAR theory. When Mr Black turns up at the end of the sixth adventure, he twiddles the knobs on his telly and turns from Inverse Video into Valentine Dyall doing a not-too-convincing Looky-Likey of Mr White. So, goes the theory, what if it was him doing that (more convincingly) at the START of the story too.

This would in fact FIT and explain several inconsistencies. If Mr Black has only recently got his hands on the locator and finds that he needs a PATSY to go use it for him, then the Doctor would present himself as a very useful catspaw. Since Dr Who is – unknowst to him – already ON Mr Black's payroll, that would explain why Mr Black never uses his own (equal and opposite) TARDIS-stopping powers to simply put his rival out of the race. And if it was Mr Black all along, then the mission was a fraud and it doesn't matter that Dr Who scatters the Key segments again apparently before Mr White gets a chance to do his emergency spring clean and oil-change for the Universe.

(The alternative theories have it that EITHER the White Guardian is busily tidying up for the few minutes while Dr Who is having his cosy tête-à-tête with Mr Black, OR the Universe DOESN'T get fixed which is why "Logopolis" happens!)

Well, here's a completely different suggestion – do the Guardians even exist AT ALL? Let's put aside the duck-wearing, schoolboy-assassin-hiring giggle-maniac of season twenty, and his pasty opponent too, and reassemble the facts in a DIFFERENT picture.

At the start of the story NO ONE is present for Dr Who's meeting with the White Guardian apart from Dr Who himself.

At the end of the story, the Black Guardian appears ONLY on the TARDIS screen – a screen that we know is connected to the TARDIS's telepathic circuits, and ever since Mr Pat was Dr Who we've known that he can put stories and images up on the screen from his own mind.

The villainous "Shadow" in story six, is the ONLY other person to talk to the Black Guardian (at least until Turlough gets bopped on the noggin in 1983). But the "shadow" is famously a JUNGIAN ARCHETYPE: it is your own darker self, a shadowy reflection that mirrors your actions.

Is it possible that NONE OF THESE PEOPLE ARE REAL?

i.e. that the Guardians and their shadowy agent, ONLY EXIST IN THE DOCTOR'S HEAD!

Yes, yes the Shadow gets to move around and bully people – usually Ms Lalla Ward, which is telling – and go nyah ha ha ha haaaaa a lot like the great big ham he is… but we HAVE seen Time Lords create mental projections of themselves before (and indeed since) in stories from "Planet of the Spiders" to "Logopolis" to (arguably) "The Trial of a Time Lord".

Look at the KEY exchange between Mr White and Dr Who at the beginning of "The Boris Operation":

Dr Who: and what will happen to me if I don't volunteer?

Mr White: Nothing

Dr Who: What? Nothing will happen to me?

Mr White: Nothing at all. Ever.

One of Dr Who's two biggest fears – aside from Daleks, Cybermen and Yartek Leader of the Alien Voord with a big stick – is being BORED. So, on the one fluffy foot, this is a VERY EFFECTIVE threat from "nice" Mr White. But on the OTHER fluffy foot, PSYCHOLOGICALLY speaking, this could be Dr Who telling himself he won't have any more exciting adventures if he DOESN'T go on this quest he's subconsciously dreamed up

(His OTHER big fear is of turning BAD, as ultimately expressed in Mr the VALEYARD. This division into – boredom and badness – is another of the DUALITIES that litter the whole Guardian business. Good and Evil. Chaos and Order. Black and White. The series then producer Mr Graham Williams was interested in the idea that we, and by us here he means Dr Who, need to find a BALANCE. The Key is key to that balance, just as Mr White says. But you can only understand that by knowing which side – which colour – is which.)

Shortly before all this, Dr Who had returned to Gallifrey to claim his position as President of the High Council, an honour that sees him being granted full access to the Matrix, essentially a memory bank of all Time Lord knowledge. This gives him a noticeable FUNNY TURN (even on top of the faked lunacy that he is feigning to keep the Vardans from noticing that he's not really helping them to invade… look it’s a long story, written almost entirely at random on the night before recording because the story they were supposed to be doing fell though on a account of the one-hundred-thousand cat-monsters in Wembley Stadium proving a touch beyond the budget for filming.)

(We know that the Matrix – since we have seen it in "The Deadly Assassin" and again in "Trial of a Time Lord" – is a bit bonkers inside. Also, it has lots of dead Time Lord minds inside it. So, even if you’re not driven potty by the suddenly being well nigh omniscient or by the bizarre environment, there is always the possibility that someone a bit loopy might get at you in there!)

After the Vardan invasion turns out to be a front for a Sontaran invasion, Dr Who disappointingly builds the ultimate weapon and annihilates them, giving himself a SECOND funny turn into the bargain.

So how about this: the Key to Time IS a piece of Gallifreyan technology, which would hardly be surprising – though it would probably be properly called "The Total Controller of Time… of Rassilon" these days. [A: more in the '80s!] When Dr Who was connected up to the Matrix, he learned about it, maybe subconsciously, and then picked up the locator – FROM GALLIFREY – before he left. It was probably in a dusty display case like all the other relics.

The TARDIS does NOT stop in mid flight – Dr Who just has yet another funny turn. When his question "Who are you?" is answered with "Do you REALLY have to ask?" it isn't because Mr White is teasing us that he is god, but because Dr Who shouldn't REALLY have to ask who he's talking to when he's talking to HIMSELF! The little visit to Mr White's "realm" has a very dream-sequence-like quality. And in fact we don't see Dr Who return to the TARDIS; he's just suddenly back where he was with K-9. (Watch closely, though, and you will see that the TARDIS doors are just closing.)

Romana appears from inside the TARDIS. Like she's been there ALL ALONG. And she says that SHE was ordered to join Dr Who on this mission by the President of the High Council. But just who WAS the President of the High Council last time anyone was looking? Or rather just WHO was the President! Yes, could it be possible that Dr Who gave the orders commandeering Romana HIMSELF? If he sent a lackey then she might not realise it either. And it would explain why the Time Lords KNOW that Romana is with Dr Who when they come to want her back at the end of "Meglos".

And Romana starts off spending a LOT of time telling Dr Who that he is BONKERS IN THE NUT – maybe she is actually RIGHT!

In "The Invasion of Time" Dr Who started off on a terrible path: the madness of power might have been faked to begin with, but by the end of the story he is building AND USING the "Ultimate Weapon™".

Daddy Alex has said all along that "The Key to Time" is an attempt to put that right – to write a story where Dr Who assembles the Ultimate Power in the Universe… and then realises that ultimate power is always wrong, no matter who has it or what their motivations. And so he gets rid of it.

Having built and fired the D-Mat gun, betraying pretty much ALL of his principles, Dr Who is having a bit of a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.

So Mr White and Mr Black are the Guardian Angels of the Doctor's best and worst nature made manifest. They tempt him to go gallivanting about the Universe on a big grand quest but at the end he realises that actually to possess the Key give him too much power and too much temptation. Not the temptation to become Mr Black, but to become Mr White.

Because Mr Black is just BOREDOM – and Dr Who builds himself a RANDOMISER so that he won't know where he's going and so he won't get BORED. But Mr White is much, much worse. You can FIGHT against Chaos, you can make your own place in it, you can RAGE against it, you can even EMBRACE it. There can never be ABSOLUTE Chaos, because that would be a contradiction in terms – there are always new patterns, if there weren't then it wouldn't be chaotic. Chaos is change, it is endings but it is also beginnings, it is life.

But Absolute Order is a Universe of nothing happening to anyone ever forever. It is a Universe that is dead.

Who sends him looking for the Key? He does it to himself.

And, in a way, by breaking up the Key he puts himself back together.

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