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23 August 2011 @ 06:43 pm
this is what happens to me late at night.  
For tedious reasons, I wound up looking back at a bunch of stuff I'd written when I couldn't sleep last night. One of the things I found myself looking at was the post I'd written about RTD-era Doctor Who and its treatment of history: history as theme park.

(Too lazy for proper link: http://tempestsarekind.livejournal.com/123567.html )

And it occurred to me that so far Moffat-era Who has managed to soothe a lot of my frustration on this score without doing the obvious thing that inspired the previous post, the idea of having a companion from the past. A large part of this soothing is due to the forty-five-minute miracle that is "Vincent and the Doctor," which is so lovely and compassionate, never dismissive of its historical figure in the way that some of the other historicals have been. But part of it is to do with the respective stances on history--or stands in history, perhaps--of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.

Ten orients himself primarily as someone from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; he sets up shop there, if you like. (And he likes a little shop.) Some of his earliest words are a quote from The Lion King; he makes Ghostbusters references and talks about "happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones." Likewise, Rose sees no difficulty in referring to him as a punk with a bit of rockabilly thrown in. And his attitude toward history is frequently the attitude of a modern human in some ways: because he orients himself with our "now" as the starting point, he sees the human past as past, and the future as future; weirdly, he tends to see history in linear fashion. This is why he imagines Queen Victoria as an image on a stamp--which is a very present-day way of thinking about the Queen, I think, although the Penny Black does come into use in 1840--or declares that the Elizabethans have still got one foot in the Dark Ages: time is progressive.

Eleven, on the other hand, is actively scornful of linearity: "Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly...in the right order?" His first day as the Doctor is all about temporal screw-ups rather than being fixed in time and space, but more importantly, he sets up his temporal shop anywhere and everywhere. (The more I think about it, the more I wonder how a Moffat season with Ten would have worked, if David had stayed on, because Eleven is so tailored to Moffat's interest in non-linearity.) In "The Lodger," Eleven can't even remember the right order of the centuries, and his way of thinking about history seems far more associative than year-based; when he lands in Venice, he thinks immediately of Casanova and worries they might run into him, even though they're hundreds of years off the mark. He owes Casanova a chicken, he's on Virginia Woolf's bowling team1, and he thinks that Picasso and Van Gogh aren't "proper" artists like Gainsborough: the first two indicate continuing relationships rather than completed encounters (unlike "I got rope burn off that kite!"), and the third shows us that Eleven's standards for comparison are all over the map; he doesn't start from our "now" and tack forward or backward as Ten often seems to do. This has the effect--for me, anyway--of making Eleven's attitude toward history, without any major changes in the kinds of stories being told, feel a lot less flippant and a lot more playful.

It's also true that one of Eleven's major storylines is non-linear even from his own perspective as an individual moving through his own life: his relationship with River Song. Here again we see Moffat's interest in back-to-front and inside-out storytelling, suggested to us at the end of "Blink" when the Doctor apologizes to Sally Sparrow by telling her that things don't always happen to him in the right order. In that episode we see what that's like from the outside, from Sally's perspective, but with River we see it simultaneously from the Doctor's own perspective and from River's. So Eleven has a second source of non-linearity built into the way we see him approach time.

(An aside: the thing about River--at least the one relevant to this post--is that she is fearless in the face of time, because she knows it will always catch her. This is literal at the beginning of "The Time of Angels" and "Day of the Moon," but it's also the way she sees the world; she can fling a message out into the universe, or carve it into the side of a "home box" or a cliff face, and wait for it to do its patient work--and that might take thousands of years, while the box sits unregarded and old in a museum, or the cliff face stays a mystery, but River knows that somewhere, for the Doctor, that message is also arriving now.)

(A second aside, which is mostly a flail: at the beginning of "The Time of Angels," Amy comments that museums are how the Doctor keeps score. When River shows up, she says the same thing--which reads, from the perspective of season five, simply as a point of similarity between the two women and how they understand the Doctor. From the perspective of "A Good Man Goes to War," though...that sounds an awful lot like the kind of thing a mother would tell her daughter about the madman who took her away on adventures when she was younger.)

All of that built-in non-linearity gives the Eleventh Doctor a sort of temporal openness that the Doctor should have, I think. In that earlier post I wrote, "We could go anywhere, with that wooden blue box, but why bother if everywhere we go is just like home?" I wrote that sentence out of my dissatisfaction with the easy, glib comparisons that Ten tended to make between our "now" and the past, and I'd thought that the way to change that was to change the sorts of stories being told. Instead, Moffat and co. have changed the outlook of the Doctor: every place we go isn't just like our home, but the Doctor can make himself at home in every place, because he isn't tied to any one place or to seeing events in any one order.

Though the Doctor is still a being, a single point; he may see time fluidly, and he may be a bit fluid himself--capable of a new personality and even a new face--but he is still bounded, he still experiences only one moment at once even if he can experience those moments in any order. So it's interesting to compare him to the TARDIS in that regard, in "The Doctor's Wife": the Doctor's view of time is non-linear, but the TARDIS' is omniscient, in a literal sense: she cannot distinguish--even at the Doctor's local level of a single adventure, a single chain of cause-to-effect--between the has-happened and the will-happen. "Tenses are difficult, aren't they?" she says as Idris, and of course they are, because it's only when the TARDIS talks--when she's forced into language, which is to say, forced into putting things into a particular order--that she has to try to understand them. The Doctor from the TARDIS' point of view ("I exist across all of space and time--and you talk, and run around, and pick up strays") is as limited as humans are from the Doctor's, which is why their relationship takes on that parent/child tone in the junkyard ("You're like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motorbike in his bedroom!"); and from her perspective, too, he is just as fascinating and amazing to her as humans are to the Doctor, which is why the relationship doesn't stay in that parental place.

(Aside number three: I love, by the way, that the Doctor is like us because he talks.)

(Aside number four, inspired by "What do you think, dear? Where shall we take the kids this time?" at the end of "The Doctor's Wife": a brief word of love for the very many families that this Team TARDIS has managed to construct with each other: all overlapping and shifting--for example, sometimes Amy is Amelia, being sent off to bed by her worried "uncle Doctor," as she inadvertently calls him in "Vampires of Venice," and then in the next breath she's worried and protective over him--but never displacing or supplanting each other. It's possibly my Martha bitterness that makes me feel this way, but so much of Ten's time, and even Nine's too, seemed to be about competition, but the Eleven-Amy-Rory-River dynamic, so far, is different: "I choose my friends with great care" instead of "I only take the best.")

1Which is a comment he makes in direct response to Amy's linear thinking, in "The Time of Angels"; when Amy wonders how they can visit the builders of the Maze of the Dead if they're all dead, Eleven replies, "So's Virginia Woolf, and I'm on her bowling team."
the real kwon: hear we got swaggerbookelfe on August 24th, 2011 05:14 am (UTC)
These are all some of the many, many reasons that I enjoy Ten so much more than Eleven.
tempestsarekind: eleven is awkwardtempestsarekind on August 24th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
I used to love Ten quite a lot, for quite a while, but toward the end of his time I just got so burned-out toward the character, and the way that the only narrative to be told about him was one where he was always alone.

Eleven is still all new and shiny for me--but more than that, he's so much more open. When his heart breaks--and it does--he doesn't close himself up, at least not to the same degree. He can be very private, and he definitely withholds information, but he doesn't hold back from affection.