Doctor Who – 42

Not for the first time I’m left wondering if it isn’t the TARDIS that makes the really important decisions regarding both the Doctor’s destinations and battles. In this episode we see it respond to a distress signal from a crippled spaceship that is hurtling towards a vengeful sun in a Galaxy far, far away. Yet how many distress signals must it ignore as it travels through space-time, passing countless disasters and tragedies on its way?

Then, having decided into which deadly situation to place the Doctor, it has the knack of landing at a location and time that makes it impossible for the Doctor then to be able to use the TARDIS as a convenient escape route. In short, like the Vikings, it burns the Doctor’s ship (albeit in a temporary and figurative sense) to ensure that there is no turning back.


There is a definite modus operandi here. For example, in The Time Meddler the TARDIS parked itself below the high tide mark in order to be under water during the limited window of opportunity that the Doctor and Crew had for escaping in it. In The Robots of Death it parked itself inside one of the sand hoppers of a Sandminer (extracting the minerals of on a ‘Dune’ like planet) just prior to its being filled with sand. Often it is enough that the Doctor is immediately treated with hostility and suspicion by people who, to be fair to them, have already been struggling in a life and death situation for some time before his arrival and are, therefore, disinclined to allow him access to his mode of transport. It has to be said that with each regeneration the Doctor appears to need less encouragement to sink his teeth into the problems that are placed in front of him. Yet it seems that the TARDIS just likes to make sure that he isn’t going to suddenly develop slopping shoulders.


All of this suggests to me that rather than the Doctor using the TARDIS, it is the TARDIS using The Doctor. The TARDIS, or the space-time entity at its heart, selects the injustice or threat that is to be tackled, then launches its resident Time Lord symbiont at it.


So, if we follow this line of reasoning, it suggests a far more alien Doctor than that we humans are capable of seeing. We see the Doctor as an adventurer, hero, do-gooder. He follows the pattern for human heroes, real and mythical, that we understand. Yet we are only seeing half the equation. He is not merely a variant on humanity, but something far stranger, far more incomprehensible. He is in fact a form of gestalt being, but it is a form that is difficult for us to understand. The Doctor’s function is both to action those crises the TARDIS selects and act as understandable interface to those sentient, mostly humanoid, species that they encounter. The question is, does he know this?


So, in this episode, why would the TARDIS choose this distress signal to respond to? Human beings die in tragic circumstances every day, but in this story it was also saving the sentient Sun from harm as much, if not more, than the foolish humans who had carelessly harmed it. It also means that the knowledge of a sentient sun doesn’t have to die with the crew. Instead the knowledge can be used to make humanity (hopefully) wiser.


The set design in this episode conveying a distressed working (cargo) spacecraft was very effective and continues to reflect the BBC’s commitment to high production values for the series. The story felt a little reminiscent of the second series two-part story The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, but this can only be a minor criticism. What irritates more is the unnecessary ignorance of science that continues to be displayed on the series. I would like to know how any craft could ‘impact’ the surface of a sun? And how any craft, being one minute away from such an impact, could have engines that were powerful enough to pull itself away, yet not tear the fabric of the spacecraft apart or how it hadn’t already vapourised? The story is also set in a distant (that’s far, far away) galaxy and it seems to be another Doctor Who tradition to confuse star or solar systems and galaxies. The distances between galaxies aren’t just a little bit more than going to another part of our galaxy. I doubt if you could ever make that journey in a spaceship. You’d have to have a TARDIS at least.




    May 21, 2007

    Now, I am not old enough to have watch the other series of Dr Who (Just a few of the 3-D specials) but I always thought that the TARDIS had more control over where/when it landed than the Dr.

    I don’t know if I was just told this or it was explained away in some lost ep, but I always thought of the TARDIS as seeking out people who needed help.

    This was a great episode, and I thought the production values on it were great.



    May 21, 2007

    I’ve always thought that the Doctor was more alien than was generally recognised. I’ve always been impressed that the Time Lords could recognise each other despite regenerations.
    There was one episode set on Galifrey where the Doctor met an old friend who said: “Hello Doctor, I see you’ve regenerated again.”
    Definitely a bit further along the cosmic evolutionary path, our Doctor.


    May 21, 2007

    Hi Hated the robots of death – they were just freaky.


    May 21, 2007

    Yep, the TARDIS has always seemed to have a mind (or will) of it’s own. Mentioning the satans pit episode, I’ve been unlucky enough to not see where the tardis landed in that episode or how they arrived there, BUT, the TARDIS suddenly turns up right at the bottom of the pit in time to rescue the Doctor. (I don’t think they arrived on the planet/moon/rock down there did they?
    Although I think he could have camped up his “ooh ello!” a bit more!


    May 21, 2007

    You??????re correct Mark. In the very first episode of Doctor Who, one of the two first human companions (though at the time he was an interloper) unintentionally launches the TARDIS in an attempt to open the doors and escape from a very paranoid first Doctor. This resulted in the Tardis not having any reference points prepared making subsequent navigation impossible. This, together with a certain level of mechanical unreliability, meant that the crew of the TARDIS (and more importantly, the viewer) never knew when or where their next adventure would take place. So, in that way at least, the TARDIS had far more control over where they landed.
    In Lawrence Miles?????? Doctor Who Alien Bodies (published by BBC Books), I seem to recall that the Time Lords were fighting a war and that their more advanced forms of TARDIS were sentient and could adopt human form when required, walking and talking like any other person. The Time Lords, in this story, captured juvenile individuals of some species that inhabited the Space-Time Vortex and imbedded them (somehow) into their TARDIS machines. The process was equivalent to the way we capture and train horses for transport I suppose.

    I think Andrew that you must have been suffering from ??????Grimwade??????s Syndrome,?????? when watching ‘Robots of Death,’ which sort of shows how good a story that was, one of my favourites in fact.??????


    May 21, 2007

    Hmm interesting.

    The Tardis wouldn’t ignore the other distress signals though, as it can go back to them.

    Good write-up Peter. I’m a casual fan of Dr. Who and I don’t know about the episodes you mention above. Until now, I just thought the Tardis was a bit intermittent, things usually go bang, pop or a few violent shakes whenever the Dr. tries to go where he wants. The Dr. is always kicking and banging the ‘console’, so maybe its not a delicate machine after all. Maybe he does know that the tardis is sentient and a bit of an ‘ornery critter’ and has to use a bit of force to get what he wants now and again.

    I enjoyed the episode very much – well done the beeb.

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