Unlike the last one, I could kind of see that, a little bit.
But once again it’s one of these.
Okay, so one of my favourite moments in the entire original series is right out of “An Unearthly Child”…when Susan wonderingly tells her teachers that the fourth dimension is Space.
I love that. It’s a wonderful example of how SF stories, especially SF stories for kids, can hand you a bit of a science-koan and leave you to work it out for yourself. There’s even a time-honoured mechanism here: putting the cart before the horse. Warren Ellis did it in Planetary/JLA when he introduced the “loop of light” time machine — certainly a possible idea given the almighty E=mc2, but the hilarious thing about it is: what in this universe can make light go in a loop, anyway, eh? So, CART BEFORE HORSE, for sure, but it’s brilliant anyhow…it gave me that same shiver I got as a child, seeing Reed Richards explain “sub-space” by drawing a dotted line through a circle…he might as well have shoved a pencil through a tennis ball…I mean it presupposes so much, but it’s so beautifully Einsteinian: here’s what the picture looks like, now make up what it means please, attentive children…
I mean, for example: the Tardis is “dimensionally-transcendent”, right?
But another way of saying this is that the police box is really a three-dimensional door, to another locale outside of three-dimensional space. And that’s called a wormhole, folks: a spherical defect in spacetime, whose centre is a translation-point to Elsewhere. Of course wormholes are evanescent, and they don’t look like police boxes…at least not to us they don’t. But this is what it means to be a Time Lord, I suppose: you can make stable wormholes just to use them as the welcome mat to your house of super-science.
And this is what comes of putting the cart before the horse, you see?
But, hmm, did not expect to make that digression…
So anyway: Susan in the classroom. It’s an absolutely gorgeous possibilistic moment.
Why give it up?
Here’s what I might do with Doctor Who: just start from the beginning, but go in a completely different direction — a direction in which everybody gets to have a really interesting “main-ness” about their character. Susan and the man she calls her grandfather…and there’s something funny about that, there’s something wrong with him it seems…have left the home she describes, somewhat mysteriously, as “Gallifrey”.
And where is it?
And what is up with that old coot, anyway?
And that’s the show, but now here are the background details: “Gallifrey” is less a world than a condition — we are putting the “mau” back in gallimaufry, here — and it lies in the far future…or at least, as possibly Susan will one day say, “what you would call the far future”. It seems evident that it is a planet, her ellipsis notwithstanding…
…But whatever Gallifrey is, it’s ruled by the Time Lords, of whom the Doctor is one — and it seems the Doctor was being inducted into a prestigious order that the Time Lords spend all their very long lives waiting to get into, when abruptly he ran out on it and got Susan and commandeered the Tardis and took off into time and space. Eventually, you and I would probably recognize that what the Doctor was being inducted into was the Matrix, being connected to the total stored knowledge of the Time Lords…and yet this Matrix wouldn’t be very much like the one we know, just enough that the following proposition makes sense: that once having begun to join with it, the additional knowledge he received gave him the impetus to break off the process and go and escape with Susan. But he both left behind part of himself in the Matrix, and took something of the Matrix with him, and so this is Doctor Who by way of Vernor Vinge — modules of the Doctor’s personality and memory were swapped out with informational modules of the Matrix, whether purposely by him or accidentally as part of the process (which, maybe, at some point someone might refer to as “Regeneration”…which who knows why they would call it that, but let’s not make things sound too cut-and-dried, here! Maybe there’s a good reason!), and so he’s not the man he was…and a partly-amnesiac Doctor is just too interesting not to have right away, so pausing just long enough to thank Andrew for the idea I’ll now jump all over it…which is to say, he’s not quite the man Susan remembers.
Nor the man we remember, because this Doctor has an overriding purpose that we don’t understand, and perhaps neither does he: except it’s something to do with getting Susan away from Gallifrey. And I won’t say what that is, because the possibility doesn’t need collapsing: after all, why must Susan be less mysterious than the Doctor himself? The Doctor we know has been absolutely loaded with secrets and mysteries for over a quarter-century, and they’re still not all out, and people don’t seem to mind…they seem to like it, in fact, so let’s not be in such a hurry to get to boring conclusions about Rassilon or The Other, because what makes all this more interesting is that there’s nothing wrong with Susan’s memory…she’s just not telling what she knows, though she knows less than the Doctor what she knows has the advantage of being all in one piece. So, her grandfather is the only one who can pilot the Tardis, but he’s been both handicapped and augmented and generally changed-around…which makes Susan a necessary component of the show, because she is a young girl who is caring for her aged relative, at one and the same time that she is being protected by him and led by him…because as a family story, wrapped in a mystery, buried underneath science fiction, Doctor Who necessarily must enjoy multiple character viewpoints for us to identify with: Ian and Barbara in some sense stand in loco parentis to Susan in this strange situation (as do we, in a way!), and provide us with a sense of wonder at it all as well as a sense of wondering-what-to-do about it all…not to mention representing to us a certain issue of affection and forced romance that can be made much of but not necessarily too much…rather like the way it was handled between the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Which is all perfectly fine stuff, but additionally Susan is the show’s emotional centre, and her occasionally-fraught relationship with her grandfather is what carries our sympathies most powerfully…so we can switch our viewpoint-allegiance to her just as easily. As for the Doctor himself, he doesn’t need to change much from the Hartnell performance: just changing the relationship dynamics around him will be sufficient to bring in a faint suggestion of Lear, at the same time bringing a faint suggestion of the posthuman boddhisatva (or in this case: post-Gallifreyan), and of course at the same time maintaining about him all that is Who. Again borrowing from Andrew, I should say that the adventures through time and space represent an occupational therapy for him, after his episode of cognitive damage…even as he undertakes them only for Susan’s sake.
As to the general question of Tardises, the overwhelming question of just what in the hell it is that the Time Lords do all day…I would propose that the Tardises are used pretty much exclusively to bring people to Gallifrey, and never for gallivanting around the cosmos, so I think if at any point a marooned-on-Earth Doctor is desired, it can be accomplished…with the caveat that it might go down a bit differently. Possibly the Time Lords are ignorant of Susan’s existence/importance, and only want the Doctor…possibly there is something in the Doctor’s head now which ought to be in the Matrix but now isn’t, and that’s why they don’t know…you could do a whole bunch of Gallifrey-based revelations after you give it about fifteen years or so, that could be quite different from the revelations the series itself actually delivered…
And if you kept it going on that long, by all means change actors at some point, and even use the word “regeneration”…especially since that word’s been somewhat subverted or compromised, from having already been used in a different context. We just don’t know anything about these Time Lords. The Doctor’s physical regeneration may be very strange, it may be that he is growing younger. He may not actually be “him” at all, but manifestations of other Time Lords whose essences he’d stolen from the Matrix…who contributed to it the knowledge of whatever mysterious imperative it is that involves Susan in all this in the first place. It might be that. It might not be. The door’s open.
I would want to use the Mad Monk as a bit of a trickster-figure.
And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal just now: because I hope it all does seem possibilistic. In my head, this thing is writing itself on its own fairly well, even as we speak — so if somehow I’ve been lucky enough that it’s doing the same in your head, I can’t think of a good reason to get in the way of that.
Whoooo, I really did not think I would be able to come up with the slightest idea for a revamped Doctor Who! But happily, in the end…
…That seems to be exactly what I’ve come up with.
Time to open the champagne!