In my continuing read through of Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible (that’s a mouthful), I hit chapters 2 and 3, and learn to hate Vael.
Chapter 2: Cat’s Eyes
We are back with Vael, only moments after his encounter with the Pythia and his vision of the TARDIS. He heads out on to the streets, where people are still celebrating the hero Prydonius. He is confronted with Loie, a young woman who insists on trying to be his friend. He rebuffs her. She insists that despite his attitude and scores, the Academy needs him as a temporal physicist for the Time Scaphe project. As Vael tries to get away from her, he meets the gaze of the dead Sphinx and hears a riddle: Who are you?
He insists he wants nothing. He wants to be a nobody. He doesn’t want a future.
He can’t get the visions of the TARDIS, the Sphinx’s eye, and the Pythia’s eye out of his head.
Back in Ealing, reality continues to do its Dali impression. Being a time traveler, Ace is able to see timelines streaming through the streets. People move slowly. She realizes the TARDIS is warning her and the Doctor about something dangerous. She encounters her mother, but since they are currently inhabiting different flows of time, her mother does not notice her. The time streams are yet another obstacle keeping them apart. Not that Ace cares.
The sky cracks, slowly ripping apart. Ace finds the Doctor kneeling beside the TARDIS. He can’t get in; the machine rebuffs him each time he tries. The Doctor tells Ace that something has made its way into the TARDIS. He doesn’t know what it is, when it got there, or where it came from. The TARDIS, in an attempt to protect itself, has removed its door. All the while, the Doctor and Ace hear a scrabbling sound from inside the TARDIS.
Psychic advertising! I love this concept, not because I particularly want it to be implemented in our world, but because it seems like a plausible detail about a telepathic society. In this case, it compels people to buy junk food from vendors.
Reading Marc Platt is a bit like reading Grant Morrison. Sometimes I can’t quite make out what is happening. There’s quite a bit of surreal, abstract things going on which I sometimes gloss over. Vael’s characterization works, though, and I am starting to dislike him. I’m pretty sure that is the point. He insists on being nobody, which probably means he won’t get his wish.
Ace encounters her mother, who she continues to hate. This is a character detail that I wish would resolve itself. Honestly, I’m surprised it has come up again. I got the impression that season 26 was about deconstructing then reconstructing Ace. Granted, the show was cancelled and any further development was dropped. Maybe the character change was all in my head, but I liked what I saw, even if it was imaginary.
Chapter 3: Bootstrapping
The Time Scaphe has its Chronaut crew and Pilot. The Pilot is a child who plays with toys as the ship moves through time. The Chronauts propel the ship with their minds. Captain Pekkary holds everything together, but he is extremely concerned because he was assigned a last-minute replacement for his quantum theorist/Pilot guardian. The previous quantum theorist had been killed in a freak accident, and Vael replaced him. Unfortunately, Vael didn’t like the Pilot, and the feeling was mutual. Also irritating was that Vael could shield his thoughts from the rest of the crew. With the sensitivity and danger of the Time Scaphe experiments, Pekkary is uneasy having this unproven addition to his crew, an addition who had not trained and bonded with the rest of the crew.
Vael takes joy in scaring the Pilot, which is extremely dangerous as the stability of the Pilot keeps the ship from going wild in the vortex. Unfortunately, Vael steals one of the Pilot’s toys, and the crew loses concentration.
Okay, when you start stealing toys from a child you start signaling that we are supposed to hate you. But the circumstances surrounding your arrival on the ship are quite suspicious. Is it mere coincidence that the previous quantum theorist was killed and Vael reassigned? The Pythia thought Vael was important but also thought he was wasting his life. The Pythia and Rassilon are at odds with one another. A genius who can shield his thoughts from others in a telepathic society would be very dangerous. He would be a perfect spy and saboteur. And here he is, tormenting the Pilot of a time machine and, presumably, knocking them off course.
The concept of a time machine piloted by a child is interesting. The implication is that only children have the imaginative capacity to adapt to the psychological changes that accompany time travel. As such, they are perfect pilots because their minds haven’t been conditioned against such things. Similarly, time travel is technically instantaneous, but artificial passage of time is necessary to keep the mind from stress. In this case, the crew stays in the Scaphe for 90 minutes but will be travelling 90 days into the future. Those 90 minutes are yet another illusion, another alteration of reality. Things are not what they seem, although there is logic to their unreality. This is a challenging book, but it has some great ideas beneath the surface.