Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible Part 3

Cover for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

In my continuing read through of Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, I hit chapter, which has some significant throwbacks to the early days of Doctor Who.

Chapter 4: Inside Information

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace are questioned by the police. The police are concerned about the Doctor’s well-being. Is he ill, drunk, having an emotional breakdown? Ace is aware of the surreal landscape morphing around them, and realizes that the police officers cannot see it. The Doctor insists that he just wants to get in his TARDIS, to get in the police box. Unfortunately, neither of the time travelers can enter the ship because the door keeps moving. The TARDIS has gone into self-defense mode as it attempts to keep something dangerous from entering. That includes the Doctor and Ace, unfortunately. Ace tries to get the police to find the door to the TARDIS, but that fails as well. She then tries to get the police to call UNIT to confirm the Doctor’s identity (and thus, sanity), but that fails as well since the police have never heard of UNIT. The Doctor theorizes the only way to find the TARDIS door with this particular defense mechanism is to happen upon it by accident, with no deliberate attempt or thought.

Then the TARDIS phone rings.

The Doctor answers it, confirms his identity, grabs Ace’s arm, and they are yanked into the TARDIS. From inside the TARDIS, they can hear a “scrabbling” sound. Something is just outside the door and it is trying to get in. The TARDIS scanner shows a normal Earth landscape, further reinforcing that the surreal images were put in their heads by the TARDIS as a warning. The fault locator registers everything as normal, which is good.

“Unless there’s a fault in the fault locator,” says the Doctor.

But the next clue they notice is that the door controls are gone, an empty space on the console. All the while, the scraping of claws on the door continues.

The Doctor decides to flush the creature out of the space between the TARDIS door and the dematerialized world. The Doctor searches through a trunk in the console room and pulls out the TARDIS manual. Pages have been consumed. The effects of the TARDIS’s defenses have caused time to echo. Basically, the creature hasn’t yet entered the TARDIS, but at the same time, it already has entered the TARDIS. As a result, the creature is both inside and outside the TARDIS at the same time. The Doctor fears it could be a datavore, a creature that consumes information and knowledge.

Then Ace notices that all the TARDIS coordinates are set for zero. The Doctor checks the console circuitry and sees the fluid links are malfunctioning. All power is being slowly drained away. The Doctor needs to find the secondary control room. Unfortunately, with the TARDIS malfunctioning like it is, the interior dimensions of the ship are uncertain. He gives Ace the TARDIS key and tells her to “trust us. Don’t leave home, Ace.” He then grabs a bicycle and rides off into the dark corridors of the TARDIS.

Commentary

This chapter had a strong vibe of “Edge of Destruction” to it. In that story, the TARDIS was malfunctioning because of a broken spring. The defense mechanism gave surreal clues to the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara. It even altered their perceptions. At one point the crew theorized that something had entered the ship and was influencing them. Platt seems to have taken that red herring and applied it as the actual threat here. He gives us some throwbacks to the First Doctor’s first season in this chapter: the fault locator, fluid link. Ace even mentions that the Doctor built the TARDIS, which echoes Susan from those early days of Doctor Who. It is a bit of an odd statement considering we know that the TARDIS is a piece of Gallifreyan technology. Does Ace not realize this? Is it a continuity error? Is it a result of the defense mechanism?

So, full confession: I’m not a big fan of “Edge of Destruction.” While David Whitaker is one of my favorite of Doctor Who’s early writers, EoD is probably my least favorite of his stories. Combine that with 1960s art-house surrealism, which I also don’t much care for, and you are left with a story that I am glad is mercifully short (two episodes). I love the ideas in it, I just don’t care for the journey.

And since this chapter draws so heavily from that story, I am just a bit ambivalent to it. Too much attempt to obscure, too slow at revealing things. It is odd that I’m engaging more with the chapters that don’t include the Doctor and Ace.

Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible Part 2

Cover for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

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

Synopsis

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.

Commentary

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

Synopsis

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.

Commentary

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.

Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible Part 1

Cover for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

Series Introduction

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.

Book Introduction

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.

Prologue

Synopsis

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.

Commentary

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

Synopsis

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.

Commentary

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.