I have decided to try something a little different, something I thought about trying with Timewyrm: Genesys, but couldn’t due to time and general mental fogginess. Since I may be working on Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible a bit longer, I am going to experiment with doing a read through. Basically, this means I will summarize a couple chapters at a time and give my thoughts on those chapters. This will enable me to get my thoughts organized and out there quicker (i.e. – more blog posts), and it will also enable readers who do not have the book to follow along or get a more detailed synopsis. If you are like me, you haven’t read very many of the Doctor Who books (NAs, MAs, EDAs, PDAs, and so on). Most of these books are out of print anyway, and while there are many sites out there that do a good job of offering detailed synopses, sometimes it is fun to tackle things in a bite-sized post.
Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible is the 5th book in the Virgin New Adventures series. It was written by Marc Platt, which marks (heh) the first time a writer for McCoy’s Doctor has penned an original novel for the Seventh Doctor. Essentially this means that the writers for the show are having a hand in the formation of the book series, which is a big deal. Platt, who wrote Ghost Light, wrote this book. Andrew Cartmel, who was script editor for seasons 24 – 26, wrote the next book. So while they may not have been directing the direction of the book line, at least they had a say in things and were able to develop themes and ideas from their approach to Doctor Who.
The Doctor frets over some of the TARDIS’s quirks and noises, particularly that a noise he had grown accustomed to has stopped. He casts his mind back to the Time Lords and the frustration he feels for their imbalance of power and potential. He disagrees with their fundamental belief of sitting and observing, not interfering. Lost in thought, the Doctor burns his toast, and then he remembers a nursery rhyme:
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
On the one hand, this prologue seems to exist to introduce the casual reader to a few of the general concepts of Doctor Who: time travel, the Doctor’s disagreements with his people, his headspace—where thoughts take precedence over food—and so on. But on the other hand (since I have read ahead a bit), I know that this prologue also serves as a type of thematic thesis. Platt draws our attention to the TARDIS’s operation and to the Time Lords. In particular is this gem: “The most powerful civilization in the cosmos would have been better off staying in the Dark Time; the time of Chaos and superstition.”
And so we have the introduction of Chaos and superstition as Dark. The implied inverse is, naturally, Order and reason as Light.
The nursery rhyme is an interesting addition for its connection to children and play. Connect to that the book’s title (or the mini-series title), Cat’s Cradle, and there is a type of frivolity and playfulness implied. A cat’s cradle is a type of game which refers to making figures through a complex web of string. A cat’s cradle is the perfect way to describe how this Doctor constructs his adventures. He has been characterized as a chess player, but he may more accurately be described as playing a game which weaves complex webs of events, players, and time. And given the dark ending to the couplet above (spoiled his nice new rattle), I expect something will be broken. (The TARDIS, obviously, but will it only be the TARDIS that is broken?)
Chapter 1: Moussaka and Chips
On ancient Gallifrey, Vael is a special young man who has the ability to become a Young Hero. He studies time theory and generally prefers to be alone, something that was difficult after the Pythia, Gallifrey’s ruling matriarch, proclaimed that his red hair marked him as an Individual.
Vael can block his mind from the thoughts of others, something that is uncommon among Gallifreyans. In general he is a troubled youth. He can see the conflict brewing between Rassilon and the Reason revolution and the Pythia. He doesn’t want to be a Hero like Lord Prydonius, who had recently returned with the head of the Sphinx, but he has no choice as he can see that the future rests on him. His choices and actions will tip the balance one way or another.
And he has visions of a blue police box.
The Doctor and Ace, meanwhile, are eating at a café. The Doctor contemplates baked Alaska: “frozen in the middle, but hot on the outside.” A tom cat enters the café and stares at Ace, unnerving her. The Doctor entertains a young girl by playing spoons. Then the clock drips to the floor. The geometry of the café begins to shift and alter. Another cat appears, this one silver. The Doctor is suddenly racked with pain. He and Ace notice the rapidly disintegrating reality, but the other people in the café do not. The Doctor says they need to get back to the TARDIS.
Talk about plunging in to the deep end. Jumping right in to ancient Gallifrey takes some chutzpa. We had been given myths and references to it on the show—stories of Rassilon and Omega, the Death Zone, the Great Vampire—but we have never seen it. In fact, the mystic/science divide is a development of the conflict between the Time Lords and the Sisterhood of Karn (“The Brain of Morbius,” “Night of the Doctor,” “Sisters of the Flame/The Vengeance of Morbius”). On some level Platt isn’t portraying anything too far removed from what has been mentioned on the show. Seeing it, however, is sometimes a different thing altogether. But I’ve listened to enough of Platt’s Big Finish stories to feel safe with him, even if this story preceded those by a few years.
There was an idea in Paul Cornel’s Timewyrm: Revelation about the battle between the Doctor and the Timewyrm being an event that reverberated throughout history, that all stories of ancient evil and ancient good were derived from this battle. A monomyth, essentially, the real event of which all myths are mere shadows. In Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, Platt gives us epic, Gallifreyan heroes who slay mythical beasts. He is deliberately placing this story in mythic time which may be the real time from which myths are shadows.
Putting Vael, an angry and thoroughly unpleasant character, as the pivot for the future of Gallifrey is horrifying. But then, how often is the future determined by unpleasant people? For better or worse, such is history.
With the Doctor and Ace hanging out in Ealing (and I looked this up, Perivale is a suburb of Ealing), I can’t help but wonder when this story was envisioned in Platt’s mind. Was it to immediately follow “Survival,” or was it always conceived as the follow-up to Timewyrm: Revelation? It isn’t an important question, but there are certain thematic ideas which come up in the next few chapters that make me question when Platt thought this story was placed. Or maybe things were played fast and loose back then. I have no idea.