THIS STORY TAKES
PRIOR TO THE TV STORY
"TIME AND THE RANI,"
AND IS CONCURRENT
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN AUGUST
Carsus: the largest
knowledge in the
universe - in any
universe, for there is
an infinite number of
potential universes -
or rather, there
should be. So why are
there now just
117,863? And why,
every so often, does
another one just wink
out of existence?
arrive on Carsus to
see the Doctor's old
Rummas - but he has
been murdered. Can
they solve the
mystery of a
expose the murderer?
bind the Lamprey
family to the past,
present and future
around him, only the
Doctor can stop the
descent into temporal
chaos. But he is lost
on Janus 8. And
Schyllus. And a
Earth where Rome
never fell. And...
It is the 23rd of July 2008 and a copy of “Time’s Champion” has just landed on my doorstep with a distinct thud. And weighing in at around the 400-page page mark, believe me, it was quite a hefty thud.
And I am excited about “Time’s Champion”; I really am. It feels like years since Doctor Who fans have been treated to a big ‘event’ novel… and that is because it has been years. One of the last ones to be published before the classic series novels were pulled was Gary Russell’s “Spiral Scratch”, a story that will inevitably be discussed in the same breath as “Time’s Champion” because essentially, their gimmick is the same. Both purport to be the sixth Doctor’s final adventure; his unseen-on-screen regeneration story. But surely that cannot be right… how can one Doctor regenerate twice? A few weeks ago, I might have been sceptical, but after the tenth Doctor’s ersatz regeneration at the end of “The Stolen Earth”, all bets are off…
“...And thus each person who is died and buried in one of the countless cemeteries
all over the world is responsible, in theory, for birthing equally countless parallel realities, all due to them going left rather than right...”
“Spiral Scratch” may not have been the first Doctor Who story to explore divergent timelines and/or parallel universes, but it was certainly the first to wallow in all the possibilities to such an extent. Reading it again last weekend, I was astonished by the similarities to Russell T Davies’ script for the recent television episode, “Turn Left”. Do not get me wrong – the two stories are worlds apart when it comes to plot, but there is certainly something there in Russell’s often delightfully reflective prose that put me very much in mind of Donna Noble’s finest hour.
However, whilst conceptually I revelled in what Russell was trying to do in “Spiral Scratch” – i.e. showing us all these different manifestations of the same characters in different universes - I did find that the passages about the supporting characters dragged terribly. Little lost green kids? Scientists with dying wives, having affairs? I could not care less! Thankfully though, the book more than redeems itself once Russell begins to explore the parallel Doctors and Melanies. We see everything from a near-identical incarnation of the Doctor to a scarred, black-clad version that turned out to be far more interesting and unfathomable than the ‘mirror universe’ baddie-caricature that I had somewhat naïvely expected him to be.
I think what surprised me the most about this book though was that it is as much about Mel as it is the Doctor; hell, it could reasonably be argued that Mel comes out of “Spiral Scratch” better than the Doctor does. Not only does this story introduce us to an enslaved Mel (well, ‘Melina’) from a universe where Rome never fell, but it also shows us Mel’s half-Silurian foil and gives all the Mels featured a correspondingly tragic back-story that really helps to flesh out her often maligned character. Now for the record, unlike this book’s author, I am resolutely not a Melanie Bush fan, but nonetheless I have to concede that this story is one of her very best outings.
Furthermore, in terms of tone “Spiral Scratch” hits the nail right on the head. This book has the same doom-laden feel to it that classic regeneration stories like “The Caves of Androzani” and “Planet of Spiders” had. If you were to read this book without any foreknowledge of the ending, I am convinced that you would see it coming anyway. More than that though, as with some of the best regeneration stories (“Logopolis” and “The
Parting of the Ways”, for example) the stakes are, very aptly, frighteningly high; higher than they had ever been before by this point in the Doctor’s life, in fact. Long before Davros and his new Dalek Empire plotted the destruction of all creation, the Lampreys scratched the spiral and threatened to consume the multiverse.
“Don’t cry Mel. It was my time. Well, maybe not, but it was my time to give. To donate.
I’ve had a god innings you know, seen and done a lot. Can’t complain this time. Don’t feel cheated.”
And, most importantly of all, the sixth Doctor’s sacrifice and ultimate demise is breathtakingly written. I do not think that anyone could possibly argue that the above quotation is less fulfilling than “Carrot Juice! Carrot Juice! Carrot Juice!”
With all of his possible selves and companions in attendance, ‘our’ Doctor stands up to the Lamprey(s), overfeeding it (them?) with an overabundance of chronon energy… but literally draining his batteries in the process. But the story does not end there; the regeneration itself occurs almost an afterthought, a bit like in “The Caves of Androzani”. Mel struggles to get the Doctor back to the TARDIS where he sets the coordinates for deep space. There, he looks out over the cosmos that his sacrifice has helped to preserve before quietly fading away – the very antithesis of his bombastic birth.
BENNY I’ve come to think of him as invulnerable. Yet you saw him die – one of him at
least. How did it happen?
MEL Well, he fell over and banged his head on the TARDIS console.
- “Head Games”, Steve Lyons
Regrettably though, in the time since its publication some fans of the Virgin Doctor Who novels, who feel that the regeneration as depicted by Russell is irreconcilable with what had been established previously, have attacked “Spiral Scratch”. I cannot for the life of me see what their problem is; the Virgin books never explicitly depicted the regeneration. What they did was to fascinatingly delve into the troubled psyche of the seventh Doctor – a man that became so twisted by guilt over the years that he actually began to believe that he actively brought about the death of his previous incarnation; whether he did or not is just as much open to interpretation whether the Doctor died banging his head on the TARDIS console or died as a result of the injuries sustained in “Spiral Scratch” after banging his head on the TARDIS console.
Of course, Russell’s response to the above would be that the Doctor of “Spiral Scratch” exists in a different universe to the Doctor of Virgin books. And as “Spiral Scratch” unequivocally acknowledges the existence of all these infinity Doctors, Russell has made his compartmentalised view of the Whoniverse somewhat difficult to rile against. In my view though, the suggestion that Doctor Who stories told in different mediums should be shoehorned into different universes is a real cop-out.
As much as I like the old science-fiction chestnut of the parallel universe, particularly when it is used in the ‘what if’ context of the Doctor Who Unbound audios, for example, i.e. to tell a shockingly different story never intended to form part of the series’ continuity. But to create
all these universes just for the hell of it – some of them only ever so slightly different to accommodate the most trivial of slip-ups – feels like overkill to me. Post-“Zagreus”, if some minor continuity blunder is just too damn unbearable, the whole story (or indeed the entire range from whence it sprang) is quietly stiffened off into a parallel universe.
There is one passage in particular in “Spiral Scratch” that really annoyed me as it suggested that, irrespective of compatibility, each medium takes place in its own universe. Why? Any inconsistencies in the sixth Doctor’s era are trifling at best and can be put up with by most,
or easily explained away by the few that actually care. I like to think that the Doctor I am reading about, or listening to, or watching on television is the Doctor - the ‘prime’ Doctor if you will – not some shadow thereof! Russell has made no secret of the fact that he is ‘obsessive’ about tying up continuity, but to me the ‘multiverse’ idea is like using a sledgehammer to crush an egg.
What’s more, certain aspects of the ‘multiverse’ idea confused me utterly. Before reading “Spiral Scratch”, I thought I had the notion sussed in that there are infinite universes that make up the multiverse, but after seeing terms like “omniverse” and “multiverses” (plural) bandied about in this book, I have not got a clue what is what anymore.
Nevertheless, however much it may frustrate the more retentive reader (guilty as charged), “Spiral Scratch” is, for the most part, a blinding novel and a fitting end to the Colin Baker
era. After all, any story that can turn the abysmal pre-title sequence to “Time and the Rani” into a spellbinding cliffhanger has certainly done something right! Russell’s novel shows us the dignified death of the calmer and much more likeable Time Lord that the sixth Doctor eventually became, and to be fair the only serious compliant that I could have about the story is that it was released as a book instead of as an audio drama. I for one would have loved to hear Baker bow out in style!
Who knows though, perhaps he still will? If his Doctor can have two regeneration stories in print, I would be very surprised if Big Finish did not furnish us with a third. While they were at it, they could create a parallel universe version of “Time and the Rani”…
…one that’s good.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In readiness for the sixth Doctor’s upcoming regeneration tale “Time’s Champion”, we’ve returned to read the sixth Doctor’s regeneration tale “Spiral Scratch”. Yes, it’s all very confusing – this isn’t the first time that the circumstances for the sixth Doctor’s regeneration have been explored, and it probably won’t be the last.
“Spiral Scratch” was one of the last of the BBC’s Past Doctors range of novels, published just after the series returned to TV. It seemed that, with time running out, the books team decided they’d better cover this outstanding continuity gap (“World Game”, covering the end of the second Doctor’s life, also appeared around the same time). Gary Russell seems an obvious choice of author here; an unapologetic sixth Doctor and Mel fan, he’s always had
the knack for writing for this team. In this book he captures both characters perfectly, something which is absolutely vital, especially as by the end of events, there are several of them running around.
The Spiral of the title is the fundamental underpinnings of the Vortex, where all realities
meet. As you can imagine, a scratch across this is a very bad thing. The Doctor is drawn
into events when he and Mel travel to meet an old Time Lord named Rummas, on the planet Carsus – a planet-wide library (predating the Moff’s use of such a concept in Silence in the Library by a good three years). They are dismayed to see, not only several corpses of Rummas, but of the Doctor himself. Reality isn’t at all well, it seems. They are met by the surviving Rummas of the ‘Prime’ reality (a conceit of the novel that Mel notes is essentially ludicrous – there can be no prime universe in an infinite array of possibilities). Rummas sends them on a mission to track down the source of the disturbance to time and probability.
From here, the story jumps all over the place. Russell isn’t the greatest writer in the range, but his prose here is solid, enjoyable and easy to read. The lightness of tone helps make the mind-boggling events of the narrative easier to take in. The humour does miss the mark quite often, and many of the supporting and incidental characters are a bit one-note and forgettable, but the regulars, in all their guises, are a delight. I find the idea of a half-Silurian Mel intriguing, if scientifically absurd, and I absolutely adore the Doctor of the universe
where Rome never fell (that old stalwart). An expansive figure in a cloaked, all-black outfit (just as Colin Baker wanted when he took the role), this thoughtful, damaged, scar-faced Doctor is a fascinating character. His background is a brutal reflection of ‘our’ sixth Doctor’s life, and this has left him a more humble individual, burdened with guilt but never overwhelmed by it. The brief mention of the Master of this world - the Dominicus – is interesting, also…
The villain of the piece, the Lamprey, is a bit of an abstract concept, but suitably threatening - a being that intends to devour everything, throughout all the omniverse, leaving no reality standing. The climax of the book, in which multiple Doctors stand up to the Lamprey, overwhelming it with chronon energy from their own bodies, is a breathless read, even if the concepts bandied about are intangible and hard to swallow. I find Russell’s attempt to pin down the various versions of the sixth Doctor – from TV; novels; audio; webcast; and comics – a trifle mean-spirited, not to mention a little odd. At the time he wrote this he ran the Big Finish line, so why did he want to make the Doctor in the audios separate from the one in
the novels, when he was supporting both? Still, it’s vague enough to dismiss as simply various versions of the Doctor who retain a resemblance to the ‘prime’ Doctor’s past.
When the regeneration comes, the scene is quietly played out. The final moments between Mel and her Doctor bring a lump to the throat, as his exhausted body gives up the ghost. With one last look at the cosmos he saved, he resigns himself to his fate.
“Don’t cry Mel. It was my time. Well, maybe not, but it was my time to give. To donate.
I’ve had a god innings you know, seen and done a lot. Can’t complain this time.
Don’t feel cheated.”
The angriest of Doctors finds a peace, in a moment that reflects how Colin Baker’s Doctor, his time cut short and almost written off, has been given a new lease of life in the novels and audios. It’s a top moment.
At the time I write this, “Time’s Champion” has yet to be published. How it can be reconciled with “Spiral Scratch” I do not know, but apparently it can. With “Spiral Scratch” leading directly into the opening moments of “Time and the Rani”, it seems difficult. Nevertheless, with all these alternative realities, why can’t we have a selection of ends for the sixth Doctor? As the Doctor from the original series whose run has been so thoroughly expanded recently, it does seem quite apt.
Why tie this most uncompromising of Doctors down to one lifeline?
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Pip and Jane Baker’s 1987 novelisation of Time and the Rani suggests that it is the TARDIS’ “tumultuous buffeting” whilst caught in the Rani’s tractor beams that triggers the Doctor’s sixth regeneration, leading to
a number of jokes in later stories about the sixth Doctor having perished as a result of a mere “bang on the head”.
However, a number of 1990s novels speculated that the Doctor’s nascent seventh incarnation forced the sixth Doctor to deliberately pilot the TARDIS into the Rani’s tractor beams in order to become “Time’s Champion” and prevent himself becoming the Valeyard. It should be noted though that the novels which championed this theory explored the seventh Doctor’s neuroses, and so - particularly given later developments (see below) – it seems more likely that the angst-ridden seventh Doctor’s conscience corrupts his inevitably hazy memories of the renewal.
This novel would eventually clarify the cause of the regeneration, detailing the Doctor’s encounter with a pan-dimensional being which leads to him receiving a potentially lethal dose of chronon energy. The “bang on the head” in the subsequent “tumultuous buffeting” is simply the final straw.
In 2008, Chris McKeon finished the late Craig Hinton’s novel Time’s Champion which claims to be the sixth’s Doctor “true” regeneration story. However, at the end of Time’s Champion, the Doctor uses his new powers as “Time’s Champion” to over-write Mel’s timeline with the events of Spiral Scratch, preserving the continuity of both.
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