Rules and World Building
If you write a story you’re creating a world, or a part of a world. It could be as close to ‘real life’ (whatever that is) as possible or it can be completely made up or it could sit somewhere in between. But it will obey rules.
The world you invent can be at odds with the external world or can be congruent with it, or parts of it. Somehow this needs to be made clear, but best to avoid info dumps, or clunky descriptors, but also avoid easy shorthand and clichés.
The story will possess an internal logic or consistency and for readers to suspend their disbelief it generally must be maintained. For internal logic to change it needs a really big defence and explanation. But one that won’t tire readers or viewers, it needs to be set up, slowly, over the course of the story.
Let’s take a story set in an established world. Let’s take a time travel story and let’s take, entirely unrandomly, The Day of the Doctor. Because some people have issues with the episode. Mainly about the rules.
Woolly Headed Decisions
Think of the story as a big woolly jumper. The jumper is a big nice comfy thing, it suits some people and others not so much, you can stretch bits and wash it and wear it and it will bounce back. It is also made of a bunch of small things and small decisions – the wool – of which there are different colours and lengths – but it’s knitted together through the action of the writer, in this instance mainly Steven Moffat, (the knitter) working to a knitting plan (restrictions on running time, format, theme, budget, casting, deadline etc).
The wool is the material the writer can use. And there are lots of it, 50 years of past TV, the movie, all the audio stories or novels, plus anything Moffat can imagine, any idea sparked by himself or any one of a number of people involved in the production. He can be inspired by all of literature and history as well, and the writers frequently have been. Especially Dickens. And that’s what this episode is, in fact. John Hurt’s Doctor is the Scrooge that’s about to destroy a world looking upon his own future through the powers of The Moment, a bomb with a conscience.
Nothing that happens inside the Day of the Doctor refutes anything that has gone before or after. It’s a story so closely woven around its own past/s/future/s the weft of the plot is difficult to pull apart, plus what was produced was beautiful. But it won’t stop me. (Ok if Moffat can use previous quotes so can I).
Right up there are shout outs to Tom Baker’s Doctor with the scarf, which becomes significant and useful, later. That Oswald is such a companion. Then a call back to Malcolm who invented a unit of measurement and named it after himself in The Planet of the Dead.
KATE LETHBRIDGE STEWART: The ravens are looking a bit sluggish. Tell Malcolm they need new batteries.
Amusing and instantly setting the scene for UNIT and another indicator of where 10 is at in his time-line. Plus there are a heap more. Anyway all this is well and good but the main point is the Daleks. They are the thing in this episode, exactly like that story that doesn’t mention the very thing the story is about.
Everything in the two futures shown to the War Doctor allowed The Moment to bring about a way to change the future of Gallifrey and the Time War, and therefore bring about The Doctor’s actual future, including meeting Rose in 2005 and creating Bad Wolf. While using The Moment is a direct link back to the End of Time Part Two, when Rassilon knows the Doctor has the weapon.
Everything that happens in the plot is a micro-plot to show to the viewers and to the Doctor how he can solve the biggest problem he ever faced – how to save Gallifrey and end the Time War. Solving the door problem enables him to think of a way to run code and the Moment also sees his sonic as a metaphor for the Doctor, same inside, different outside. Which is a direct message to everyone watching: each Doctor is The Doctor.
The Zygon sub-plot is there to show the War Doctor who he has become. And in the 400 years since the Moment that defined his most recent lives, he recommends diplomacy over bombs and peaceable intervention instead of destruction – or at least less destruction. It doesn’t mean he won’t protect himself from his enemies (in the painting he explodes a Dalek), but the main point is that it has taken him that long, with all the attendant experiences to see how there is a another way than just killing everyone (like the Emperor did with exploding every planet with a Cyberman on it).
In the episode Dalek, Rose showed a very traumatised and recently regenerated Doctor that even genetically modified killing machines don’t just go around murdering, with the right intervention. At the time this is a message he doesn’t want to hear. In other episodes throughout New Who, the Daleks are depicted as beings who are the great survivors, and capable of unrestrained murder but also of change and consideration. It often takes intervention for this, but they literally and figuratively evolve. Often they die. But at least some try.
The Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is a mini preview of what’s to come: people’s actions and memories are erased by the actions of the Doctor, who goes back in time to save himself. The Doctor also manages to remove the Tardis from the net of the scavenging brothers, just like he later/earlier, will remove Gallifrey from danger, just like he put Earth back in place. As a side note, it’s interesting that the one brother he has the most sympathy for is the one who thinks he is a robot, no? The opposite of Oswin who thinks she is human but is a Dalek.
Yet right up until the Dalek Asylum the Doctor thinks there can be no rapprochement with his greatest enemy. He uses everything against them, even a jammie dodger, but he doesn’t learn, not really. Not until he realises Oswin is both fully human and also entirely Dalek. This is the purpose of his companions, Amy sees, in her nano-affected state, that the Daleks are people. The Doctor just sees Daleks. Amy, but especially Oswin, demonstrate that one can have the full array of emotions and intelligence, humour and lust and ego and sense of self, while also being something else. It means a Dalek, albeit a human/Dalek, can save the Doctor. The long-term answer can’t be to reduce everything to dust as with Bad Wolf and The Moment do/can, but to refuse to in hope, in an affirmation of life. It also means Clara (and all her incarnations) is the opposite of Bad Wolf thematically.
All this means The Moment can only introduce his futures at the culmination of his Dalek experiences. Doctor 11 has had the time to forget and learn more, while Doctor 10, after just visiting Good Queen Bess, is walking towards sending Gallifrey back into the Time War. The Moment couldn’t show the War Doctor any other versions of himself, Nine was too raw, too damaged and mostly still angry. Only 11, remembering Oswin Dalek, and 10, aware of his immanent fate (the four knocks), are at the right point for the War Doctor, who forgets what he did and promptly regenerates into Nine. Ten as well was responsible for (with the Daleks) moving a whole bunch of planets – again nice thematic tie in that doesn’t destroy RTD’s version of Doctor Who but actually makes it crucial.
Here’s my big prediction: in the long run, it must be the Doctor to save not just Gallifrey from falling, but Skaro and the Daleks from themselves. If he is and will be the Doctor, he can’t also be the Predator or the Oncoming Storm to the Daleks, or even write himself out of history. For the most satisfying narrative resolution he must save them.
However, just because Gallifrey is saved and in hiding doesn’t mean it’s the bucolic planet of his childhood that he once described to Martha. No. The planet he refused to blow up had already seen Arcadia fall and, with Rassilon, so many die, only to be resurrected to fight and die again. His planet needs a Doctor, (to quote the Master). It needs healing, not just preserving. And I don’t suppose much of the universe would welcome its return, but if the Doctor can be rehabilitated (at least mostly and sometimes), so can Gallifrey.
– The Doctor’s regenerations should not have numbers. Since he is practically immortal with a future and past spanning who knows how long, we actually don’t know how many lives has he really had. We learn he had 12 – soon 13 lives as the Doctor – but if Clara saw all his future forms in his grave – why only 12? There should have been many, many more future ones. Or is this all undone in the Christmas ep with another Clara reset experience?
– Can scientists not be geeky, for just once? Why does glasses equal geeky? This is a lazy shorthand portrayal. I know Oswald tackled a Zygon with a scarf, but come on.
– Why did Queen Elizabeth sound like she was in an episode of Black Adder?
– He left Gallifrey, went back a few times, but that first impulse to run needs further exploration.
– Um, what happened to the Zygon-human diplomatic meeting? Bueller?
In fact Ferris Bueller quotes completely make sense in reference to Doctor Who:
Cameron: I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.
– Why don’t Nine and Ten also see the Moment when she let’s them back in to prevent or help the War Doctor? That’s not fully explored, except, as in Dickens, only Scrooge sees the ghost of Christmas Past, Future, etc.
– They all hear the War Doctor mention ‘Bad Wolf girl’ and apart from one intense look (see below), the mention is skipped over entirely.
– I hope, in all the writing and planning, that there was filming of spare random bits for future unwritten episodes and anniversaries. Moffat plans things over years so I expect anything is possible.
Non Issues and their Solutions
Issue: whatever the issue you think there is remember he always lies. Even and most especially to himself.
Issue: Crossing time lines. He is not technically crossing his time line, it is being unwound/fast forwarded by The Moment. But let’s say he is. When this has happened in the past, there have been consequences, (like Rose’s father Pete dying) and there are consequences now. He is told two consequences – he will live and he will forget. In fact forget so entirely he ends up PTSD Doctor Nine. And we forget he is a creature of time, he is writing and un-writing his past and future like he does his body.
Issue: Not interfering. Well one of his mottoes (he tells Amy in the Beast Below) is they won’t get involved in the lives of peoples or planets – unless there are children crying. He counted all the children crying on Gallifrey, so how could he not get involved?
Issue: Is everything pointless and undone since New Who started? No and yes. Everything stands except Gallifrey is not destroyed. He just believed it was for 400 years, which still caused everything that happened to him. And yes everything is different because he announced his promise, which is his premise: Never Cruel or Cowardly, Never Give In, Never Give Up. He is different because saying a thing makes it more real. It’s not just aspirational, but it is who he is as the Doctor. Clara’s new role is not to save him, but to hold him to his promise.
Issue: What the Tom Baker? It was a fannish moment, but it was hinted at with Oswald. He no more said to himself that he could retire as a Curator than a future version of himself as Curator (on a kind of revisit of old forms), arrives and gives him back a future. A future beyond the silence at Trenzalore. Because of this everything is different. It is because he has hope. Hope of a return. Hope of home.