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There are two Doctor Who stories largely set in a more or less contemporary parallel universe, the 1970 Jon Pertwee series "Inferno" and the 2006 David Tennant two-parter "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel". I rewatched the latter, and the relevant episodes of the former, to compare and contrast the two takes on the same theme, thirty-six years apart, and in particular (this being my own personal area of greatest interest) to consider the two stories' takes on the politics of a parallel Britain, and what that tells us about how the world has changed since the year Edward Heath came to power.

There is one notable similarity between the two settings. In both, Britain has lost its monarchy. In the Brigade Leader's world of 1970, we are told that the royal family were all shot after the second world war, and the dictator of the Republic appears in photographs on every wall (in fact depicting the BBC's chief visual effects designer, Jack Kine). In Pete Tyler's world of 2006, the "President of Great Britain" is played on screen by Don Warrington. We are not told what happened to the royals in this case (or to Northern Ireland).

The Doctor's reaction in the Brigade Leader's world of 1970 makes it quite clear that the fate of the royals is a Bad Thing about this world, one of numerous early signals that it is a much nastier place; this is backed up by the fact that almost every sympathetic character in our world has a nastier counterpart in the Brigade Leader's world, with the exception perhaps of those who were already nasty on our side. At that time, of course, dictatorship was a lot closer to the audience in both time and space. The second world war had ended twenty-five years earlier, if not in the living memory of the kids in the tea-time audience, certainly in the memory of most of their parents. Portugal, Greece and Spain were still dictatorships, and Communism still had almost two decades to go in eastern Europe. The royals were seen as a contributing factor to Britain's political security. (Gosh, it's difficult to remember those days; indeed, the fall from grace of the royals and the fall of Communism happened about the same time.)

In 2006, Pete Tyler's world at first looks rather more attractive than ours. The very first thing we see are Zeppelins, which, let's face it, are just cool (it's a safe bet that very few in the audience could remember their deadly use in bombing raids nine decades earlier). There are mildly interactive billboard advertisements; the president is Afro-Caribbean. Nice people who are dead in our world (Pete Tyler himself; Micky/Ricky's grandmother) are alive here. It seems like the Doctor and friends have come to a better place - but it rapidly becomes clear that we haven't; the President tells Pete that it is "a sick world", his government is in the pocket of an insane plutocrat who also controls the media, the homeless are being rounded up for scientific experiments, working class areas are under a curfew, and even the rich have to get hold of whisky though the black market - "pardon me, Mr President!" (though given my earlier suspicions about Northern Ireland, that may well be whiskey).

In the Brigade Leader's world, the violence of the system is overt - the Doctor's first exposure to it when the Republican Security Forces start shooting at him, he leaves it as Squadron Leader Liz Shaw shoots the Brigade Leader dead, moments before they are all engulfed by magma from the Earth's core. Pete Tyler's world, however, finds redemption rather than holocaust. In "Doomsday" we find out that the "People's Republic" have taken over Torchwood and put him in charge of it, in contrast to our world where it is a law unto itself.

So, what do we learn from this? One thing that I think hasn't changed is the acceptability of parallel-world storylines. The notes on the "Inferno" DVD point out that the 1970 audience could well have been familiar with the 1969 Gerry and Sylvia Anderson film, Dopplegänger aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, which featured a similar storyline, and the John Wyndham short story "Random Quest", in which the central character is shunted into a world where the second world war didn't happen, was filmed for "Out of the Unknown" that same year (directed by Christopher Barry, who also directed the first Dalek story for Doctor Who). Indeed, if anything I felt that the explanation of what was going on was a bit more painfully explicit in 2006 than 1970.

The political difference: the threats to Britain's social order are perceived today as much less visible and more insidious than they were in 1970. Then, the enemy was visible and armed, defending scientists who were likely to bring us all to Hell. Now, they are more subtle - corrupting our own government in order to remove our brains.

Scary, isn't it? But that's the point of good drama.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
del_c
Sep. 23rd, 2006 11:12 pm (UTC)
My theory about the alternative history of Rise of the Cybermen is that it arose from the Doctor's meddling in Queen Victoria's time. The Torchwood Institute, founded by her to protect the Kingdom from alien threats, carried out its mission by eliminating the werewolf royal family, hence the need for an alternative head of state, the President.

(I don't insist the point of departure be in Pete and Jackie's lifetime: TV skiffy is notorious for having parallel personalities exist in histories they shouldn't have been born in)
nwhyte
Sep. 24th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
Nice thought. Myself I was inclining towards a more recent point of departure, after Scooby Doo (1969) and the recording of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (early 1982) but before Rose's birth (1986); the 1983 election resulted in the SDP/Liberal Alliance coming to power and a constitutional revolution that ended with the removal of the monarchy and withdrawal from Northern Ireland, and (for some reason) a sudden revival of interest in Zeppelins.
del_c
Sep. 24th, 2006 09:01 am (UTC)
You don't have to restrict yourself as much as post-1982. Tight Fit's version is just one of many covers of a song whose origins go back as far as 1939.
nwhyte
Sep. 24th, 2006 09:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, but it's very definitely Tight Fit's version that is played!

Though I was interested to note that the original script specified "The old 60s version (or a cover)".
lostcarpark
Sep. 24th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
Just because the universes diverge doesn't mean that similar events can't happen in both.

I think Torchwood is a key event in both universes, but hardly the divergant point, since clearly Torchwood was founded in both, and presumably the Doctor's defeat of the warewolf was a common event in both universes.

A possible divergance point might be the appointment of a pro monarchy leader in our world and an anti monarchy leader in the other. Or perhaps in our world the warewolf DNA didn't manage to take hold of the royal family, but in the other universe it did, forcaing Torchwood to act against them.

One question that doesn't seem to have been asked is does the other universe have its own version of the Doctor? It seems unlikely that if it does, that he's nowhere to be found when the Cybermen show up.

One possible answer to that is that the Doctor experiences time and space differently to us (we know this already). We are four dimensional beings living in a universe which probably has ten or more dimensions. More specifically we can move (fairly) freely through three dimensions, but have only perception of our forward movement through the fourth. What if the Doctor has control of his movement through the fourth and fifth dimensions (and possibly the sixth), but can only percieve his movement through the sixth (or seventh), which is the range of possible timelines.

This means that from our perspective the Doctor jumps back and forward in time, but from his perspective is just another axis like length or depth, and travelling along it is just like walking down the path to collect the mail.

What he can't do, however, is travel among the range of possible futures (and pasts). This is why he can't simply go back in time and prevent the Time Lords from being destroyed. From his perspective the outcome of the Time War is that there are no longer are possible futures (or pasts) in which the Time Lords exist. From our perspective, it probably means that the Time Lords never existed.

This would also explain why Torchwood only appear on the scene after the Doctor's encounter with the warewolf and Queen Vic. Again, from his perspective, Torchwood only became a possible future once he had caused it to happen.

But as the doctor advances involuntarily through the sixth (or seventh) dimension, in much the same way we advance through the fourth, he will only be in one set of possible futures at a time, even though he may appear at many different points in time within that set of futures. This could also explain why in both Rose and Love and Monsters the conspiracy theorists always seem to see the same face of the Doctor.

This would also explain why the Doctor seems only to exist in one of the alternative universes.

However, this doesn't really help to tell where the divergance actually took place. My gut feeling is that 1983 is too recent for such a significant change. I think some time during or shortly after the second world war would be a strong possibility. The two universes could plod along quite nicely with only minor differences for a long time, but gradually grow to the point where the alternative world seems alien. A key factor would seem to be John Lumic. Perhaps in our world he was spared the injury that left him in a wheelchair, causing him to lead an ordinary and contented life. However, in the alternative, his disability gave him motivation and drive to change the world.

Sorry, I seem to have gone on a bit. I think I might adapt some of this into a post of my own, as I think I've peaked my interest.
wwhyte
Sep. 24th, 2006 09:12 am (UTC)
I don't think it's so much that the royals were seen as an actively contributing factor to Britain's political security, as that *not shooting them* said something about the political system.

I also think that our upbringing in Northern Ireland may have given us a distorted picture of how important it is to people in England... I suspect that if you asked Tom MacRea what happened to Northern Ireland, he'd make something up on the spot.
nwhyte
Sep. 24th, 2006 12:40 pm (UTC)
I'm certain you're right on the second point, but not at all sure what you mean by the first?
raycun
Sep. 24th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
It's not that the Queen exerts a magic calming influence on Parliament, it's that their continued survival is evidence that Britain hasn't been through a major political upheaval. If there had been anything resembling a revolution recently, they'd have been up against the wall (or at least packed off into exile)
wwhyte
Sep. 24th, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Ray, for successfully separating my statement from its jetlagged syntax.
tanngrisnir
Sep. 24th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
At that time, of course, dictatorship was a lot closer to the audience in both time and space. The second world war had ended twenty-five years earlier, if not in the living memory of the kids in the tea-time audience, certainly in the memory of most of their parents.

It still loomed large in the minds of kids then, weaned as we were on a regular diet of war films, TV series and comics (war stories were a staple of things like the Valiant, and the Commando comics were very popular). It was a huge part of the culture of the time.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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