Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Time Monster - "It was the daisiest daisy I'd ever seen."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Time Monster - Details

Season 9, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #64) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Gifs
(Where it's pointed out this clearly inspired "The Lodger")
Started drafting this post focused on the gizmos and gadgets -- time detectors, speedy Bessie, and whatnot (as the GIFs still reflect) -- and how this story, and this era, occasionally tip too far away from the core of what makes Doctor Who such great fun. Replacing the joy of exploring time and space in a (science sufficiently advanced it appears to us) magical blue box with a reliance on the Doctor driving up in Bessie to reverse the polarity and rig up a spinny-thing was a series-level miscalculation that hung over the production from its implementation in Series 7.  However, I'm going to let the spinny, silly things speak for themselves, and not rehash the observations about how the 70s were obsessed with von Däniken, ancient aliens, Atlantis, cryptids, Pyramid Power, and all kinds of hokum that would never fly with today's more sophisticated viewers of Finding Bigfoot and Ghost Hunters and ... oh, never mind.

Instead, I want to focus on just two scenes that are, if not brilliant and marvelous, have admirable aims and keep the spirit of the show alive despite the format having tied one hand behind the series's back. The other alternative approach would be to tackle the well-intentioned, I think, but groanworthy attempts to work in feminist characters railing against sexism. Letts, Dicks, and co. may have aimed for education about, and acceptance of, the Women's Liberation movement, but are so patronizing in the effort, I wince just remember some of the dialogue.

The more significant of the two is the scene after Jo executes the Time Ram and the TARDISes of the Doctor and the Master find themselves in Kronos's realm. This scene highlights the compassionate nature of the Doctor -- and is well in-tune with where Moffat has put Twelve, as opposed to how that aspect of his character took a beating at times under RTD (think of the Family of Blood) - while serving as a case-in-point for Clara's pointed barb when Missy/the Master's fate is in the Doctor's hands again in the cemetery scene near the end of "Death in Heaven". Here, the Doctor asks Kronos to spare the Master from a punishment of eternal torment. The series doesn't always endorse this position, or take the position that it is always wrong to kill, but notice how the Doctor here doesn't ask for the Master to receive only a swift death; he'd rather the Master go free than even suffer that more merciful, though final, sanction. When it comes to thinking about defense and punishment. We may need the lesson of Three more today (more than ever) than even Twelve's more position -- one that is more nuanced, perhaps, but ultimately includes the death penalty.

The other is the scene where the Doctor tells Jo the story of his blackest day, the day that was also the best day of his life. If the story of how the Doctor, as a young boy, sought the advice of hermit is a direct lift from a kōan, it's not one I could find in a few minutes of searching. But, the elements of his tale are a direct lift from that tradition. Hermits on mountains being questioned by a student seeking understanding, and that student receiving confusing or paradoxical replies to test their progress on the path to enlightenment, are common to many kōans. In his case, the Doctor went up the mountain miserable, for unspecified reasons (maybe because his friend was exposed to the Untempered Schism and went mad? or because someone grabbed his ankle from under his bed in the night?), and received the unexpected wisdom of a Gallifreyan hermit.

Here's the dialogue, courtesy of Chrissie's Transcripts:
DOCTOR: I felt like that once when I was young. It was the blackest day of my life.
JO: Why?
DOCTOR: Ah, well, that's another story. I'll tell you about it one day. The point is, that day was not only my blackest, it was also my best.
JO: Well, what do you mean?
DOCTOR: Well, when I was a little boy, we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. And behind our house, there sat under a tree an old man, a hermit, a monk. He'd lived under this tree for half his lifetime, so they said, and he'd learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me.
JO: And he told you the secret? Well, what was it?
DOCTOR: Well, I'm coming to that, Jo, in my own time. Ah, I'll never forget what it was like up there. All bleak and cold, it was. A few bare rocks with some weeds sprouting from them and some pathetic little patches of sludgy snow. It was just grey. Grey, grey, grey. Well, the tree the old man sat under, that was ancient and twisted and the old man himself was, he was as brittle and as dry as a leaf in the autumn.
JO: But what did he say?
DOCTOR: Nothing, not a word. He just sat there, silently, expressionless, and he listened whilst I poured out my troubles to him. I was too unhappy even for tears, I remember. And when I'd finished, he lifted a skeletal hand and he pointed. Do you know what he pointed at?
JO: No.
DOCTOR: A flower. One of those little weeds. Just like a daisy, it was. Well, I looked at it for a moment and suddenly I saw it through his eyes. It was simply glowing with life, like a perfectly cut jewel. And the colours? Well, the colours were deeper and richer than you could possibly imagine. Yes, that was the daisiest daisy I'd ever seen.
JO: And that was the secret of life? A daisy? Honestly, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Yes, I laughed too when I first heard it. So, later, I got up and I ran down that mountain and I found that the rocks weren't grey at all, but they were red, brown and purple and gold. And those pathetic little patches of sludgy snow, they were shining white. Shining white in the sunlight. You still frightened, Jo?
JO: No, not as much as I was. 
"The Time Monster" is more than a little bonkers. It's heavily padded to reach six episodes. It's science and philosophy are all over the place, and Atlantis is not well-realized. At the same time, it lays more than a little ground work for aspects of the show that we accept as commonplace now, but were firsts here. Tat Wood points out several of these in About Time, not the least is in introduction of the idea the TARDIS travels in a time vortex and spins on its axis as it travels. It's also the first appearance of voluptuous Hammer horror star Ingrid Pitt in DW. She'll be back in "Warriors of the Deep," but she's more recognizably in her element here as Queen Galleia.

Odds and Ends

The time detector is quite the phallic symbol. "Jo, I've built a time detector. Hold it in your lap. It vibrates a bit. And mind the whirly bit at the tip, it's very sensitive." (Not an actual quote.)  More like an Ingrid Pitt detector, if you ask me.

It's a time detector. Why? What did you think it was?
I've been linking these BBC official site pages for the classic series, this is first time I've com across the archived page note? Hmmm... I'd hate for all these classic series posts to end up with dead links because the BBC got away from their documentation of these older shows.

Benton gets the advanced space time theory in this one. Then is turned into a baby. Baby Benton. There is a distinct vibe of Early 1970s sitcom about this one. Like a sci-fi Three's Company.

With "Last Christmas" fresh in mind, I feel like I left something out if I didn't at least mention that this one starts with the Doctor having a precog-ish dream featuring, some reason a volcano. I can't make any sense of it, but there you have it.

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