Monday, 23 February 2015

Before "The Beginning" (philosophical issues)

Tomorrow I'm going to post a review of The Beginning, Marc Platt's Companion Chronicle telling the story of how the Doctor and Susan stole the TARDIS. As I write this I haven't yet listened to it because I want to get some thoughts down about the whole idea of Doctor Who “prequels” and why I find them a little problematic.

On one level I think its important that Doctor Who begin with An Unearthly Child. There's a definite character arc that starts there and pays off somewhere during Marco Polo in which the Doctor moves from being a scientific observer to something like a functional hero figure. This makes pre-Unearthly Child stories a challenge, to say the least, because before Ian and Barbara stumble into his life the Doctor really isn't the sort of person who has adventures.

This isn't to say there have been no good stories set before the series but the ones I've liked tend not to be about the Doctor so much as Susan. The novella Time And Relative and the audio The Alchemists both use Susan as a protagonist and the Doctor (known simply as “Grandfather” at this point) as more of a background figure. In Time And Relative, Susan and her school friends are trying to reach the Doctor through a vicious snowstorm while in The Alchemists he's been abducted by the SA and Susan is trying to rescue him.

The Beginning is a different beast, I feel, since this is very much a Doctor-centric idea: the moment he absconds from Gallifrey. True, the story is (and can only be) narrated by Carole Ann Ford as Susan but there's little way I can foresee to background the Doctor in this set-up.

Then there's the issue of whether this is something the mythos needs. There are stories I am sure every fan has written in their head at some point and the big two are 1) the death of the Thirteenth Doctor and 2) this. When just about every fan has their own personal conception of such a huge unseen moment it runs the risk of being disappointing by default just because it differs from what people imagined. There's certainly a strain of criticism concerning The Time Of The Doctor that follows this (not that there aren't valid criticisms of Time to be had, just that quite a lot of criticism falls into this category).

Of course, this is a real moment of culmination for Marc Platt, who has been working towards this story for a very long time. His 1989 TV script Ghost Light was meant to be about visiting the Doctor's family home and he eventually told that story in his novel Lungbarrow which introduced ideas about the Doctor's life on Gallifrey he expanded in the audio Auld Mortality. So he has form, to say the least, though some of his ideas have always been controversial.

And that's not to mention that, in my personal view, the Big Finish audios are canon. I'm of the opinion that just about every officially published Doctor Who story is canon regardless of contradictions so this, to me, is THE story of how this went down, not just a version of the story. That raises expectations in a way that might not be helpful to my eventual appraisal of the story.

Tomorrow: what I actually thought of the thing. 

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