SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

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SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Patrick on Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:31 pm

Part of the idea behind this post stems from the fact that I just purchased this summer's movie "Star Trek" on DVD. (Some cool extra stuff on the second DVD, by the way.)

So here's the thesis/question. I'll be particularly interested to hear Frank's input on this. Are we seeing a new trend in science fiction? Did RTD pave the way to obliberate superpowerful civilizations for story-telling reasons? Is this a new invention? And what does it portend for future sci-fi drama?

My evidence: When RTD brought back Doctor Who, one of his early creative decisions was to write off Gallifrey. All the Time Lords, Borusa, Omega, The Castillan, even the Mind Probe (no! not the mind probe!) went. They became a footnote to the new iteration of Doctor Who.

You know what? I'm fine with that. Dramatically, it excised a whole lot of backstory no one ever really needed in the re-launch of the show. And it worked. Christopher Eccelston in The End Of The World, talking about the death of his civilization while Rose suggested getting chips. Martha demanding David Tennant come clean about why he lied to her, and his descriptions of what Gallifrey was like, in Gridlock. The new paradigm worked, for presentation and dramatically.

So now we have this new Trek movie. And early in the story, they wipe out Vulcan. Vulcan! Spock's home planet, the seat of rationality and logic, who famously coached humans on being a warp-capable species and emerging into a larger galactic community... contracted into a black hole.

The Vulcans, in Trek lore, were always supposed to be intellectually better than us mere humans. And they got wiped out. Gallifrey, in Doctor Who lore, is millenia ahead of us in all manner of scientific ways. And they got wiped out. Is this a trend? Are we mere humans, imperfect and facing perils (in a sci-fi context) that have the capability of wiping out more advanced civilizations than our own, being left alone? Is 21st Century science fiction telling us there's no help out there? We're on our own?

A rather daunting idea, if this trend I've detected is correct. I'll be curious to hear what my fellow Wrinklies think about this. Smile

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Dave Webb on Sun Dec 06, 2009 6:23 am

You're a bit late to the party.

In recent memory, JMS wiped away all of the powerful civilisations in the B5 galaxy as a deliberate part of the young races maturation. Prior to that, there's the departure of the Elves from Middle Earth - and that's just the two examples I can remember off the top of my head.

I think partly there is the necessity for stories to reflect the growth of the protagonists - the simplest hero's journey is from ignorance to wisdom or from youth to maturtity, and this also includes the neccessity of taking responsibility for one's actions. That's the position that The Doctor has been forced into.

With RTD, he did more than off the Time Lords. He took out the Eternals too. He stripped the Who Universe of its gods. Which isn't surprising for an athiest.

I think the destruction of Vulcan is something else, though. It differentiates the reboot from the original, gets Classic Spock out of the way and gives the Vulcans something interesting to do now they're a diaspora.

I think the big changes that are made to the mythos of an established story generally signal a coming of age, although in Trek's case I think it was more about establishing a pivotal event that makes the two versions of Spock different.

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Dave Webb on Sun Dec 06, 2009 2:42 pm

I've just read back what I wrote and i want to apologise to Patrick for my tone, which seems to me to be condescending and arrogant. Sorry, Patrick, that's not what I intended at all and I regret any offense I may have caused you (or anyone else).

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Patrick on Sun Dec 06, 2009 3:34 pm

Dave Webb wrote:I've just read back what I wrote and i want to apologise to Patrick for my tone, which seems to me to be condescending and arrogant. Sorry, Patrick, that's not what I intended at all and I regret any offense I may have caused you (or anyone else).

No worries, Dave. I took no offense. You may be right that I'm simply late the party.

In B5, the 'older' races weren't wiped out, per se. What JMS was proposing was that there was a cyclical nature to the broader interstellar community. Older races watch over the younger ones, and then allow the younger ones to take their place watching over even younger civilizations, while they move on. The Vorlons and the Shadows weren't defeated in that context, they were helped into the epiphany that their time had passed, and they, too, needed to move on.

You may have a point regarding Vulcan. The younger Spock refers to himself as a member of an endangered species, which certainly highlights a critical difference between his Trek universe and the one established with the first four television series. The irony is that Vulcan was 'offed' using their own invention (red matter) against them.

With Gallifrey, though, we're always meant to know the Time Lords and the Daleks wiped themselves out- mutual assured destruction that went hot. So how come we keep getting Daleks every season? (Oh, I know, I know: you can't have Doctor Who without Daleks, but it seems a little unfair to me that the Daleks keep making returns, and even bring Davros back, but Gallifrey remains a smoking cinder.)

The only quibble I'd make with the coming of age argument is that while RTD's Doctor Who didn't have Gallifrey, it did still have a Time Lord and a TARDIS. The Doctor's presence, and his alone-ness, seem to mitigate against a coming of age coda.

And to further muddy the waters, what if the rumors that the Time Lords are making a return in End of Time are true? What does it say if you wipe out an all powerful civilization, and then resurrect it?

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Zoltar on Sun Dec 06, 2009 6:14 pm

For me, the destruction of Gallifrey and Vulcan share in common the desire to make more unique the most prominent heroic figure from both places - The Doctor and Mister Spock. Besides, there's good drama to be mined from showing that even the very powerful can be defeated.

Patrick wrote:With Gallifrey, though, we're always meant to know the Time Lords and the Daleks wiped themselves out- mutual assured destruction that went hot. So how come we keep getting Daleks every season? (Oh, I know, I know: you can't have Doctor Who without Daleks, but it seems a little unfair to me that the Daleks keep making returns, and even bring Davros back, but Gallifrey remains a smoking cinder.)
Yep, it's unfair...but that's the point. The villains cheat fate and the heroes make sacrifices. The Daleks returning again and again just reminds the Doctor that the Time War was all for naught. It's also meant to add to their menace, can nothing permanently stop them?

Patrick wrote:And to further muddy the waters, what if the rumors that the Time Lords are making a return in End of Time are true? What does it say if you wipe out an all powerful civilization, and then resurrect it?
Well, I'd say the universe has made adjustments to the Time Lords being gone. One question their return could raise is can they resume their former place in the cosmos? Should they return, or is the universe getting on just fine without them?

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Lucy McGough on Mon Dec 07, 2009 4:18 am

Patrick wrote:What does it say if you wipe out an all powerful civilization, and then resurrect it?
That you want to make the series more interesting?
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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Dec 07, 2009 8:10 am

JMS says that the older races, the First Ones, went Beyond The Rim, which is his way of putting them off the playing field; it's the same as Tolkien's Elves going Into The West. However, it's also the B5 universe euphemism for death. In one of the straight to DVD movies, someone notes that G'Karr and Dr. Franklin have both gone exploring Beyond The Rim, because the actors that played them are dead.

Removing the higher authorities and making sure they can't interfere is also a way of making sure you can't look to them for support or to solve problems. This is a key element of Doctor Who- we see it in Father's Day, and it's referenced in Age of Steel (or Rise of the Cybermen). Comments about the other fallout are peppered through the first series too, and the upshot is that, as you said initially, we're on our own and we have to solve our own problems. This is a bit of an RTD thing- as far back as The Second Coming, he's been saying that the most important thing in the world is the ordinary person and the choices we make, that we don't need heroes or gods or anything else very much because we can do it all ourselves.

:Look at Gridlock - while we eventually discover that The Face of Boe has sacrificed himself to keep power to the undercity, what's actually kept those people going through everything they have endured is the commonality that they share, the bizarre gridlocked community they have built up. What keeps them alive is that they're people being people.

Vulcan didn't ever really occupy the same point in the Trek mythology. If you were looking for Time Lord-alikes you've got The Q, the Squire of Gothos (who might be a baby-Q) and the Organians - to name but three. There are a few more rattling around, I'm sure. Trek pitches the Federation and the Klingons ateach other in Errand of Mercy and the Organians interfere; they have the power to render both sides utterly harmless, and the threat is that they will do so if there'sa fight. This puts the Trekiverse into a state of cold war, which ends when the Organians depart. We know what happens next: the Klingons get their foreheads back and change into a race of honourable warriors instead of being the paranoid and constantly survielled people they were in TOS. Vulcan doesn't approach this, unless you look at the events of Enterprise, in which the Vulcans are very much the disapproving parents to Archer's rowdy teenage humans who've just got their first car.

The solitary Doctor doesn't mitigate a coming of age coda, because it's the Doctor who is supposed to be coming of age. For a while, he seems to want to make sure that the laws of time are followed just like the Time Lords are still there, then just recently he has a fit of rebellion because he, like a lot of us, has realised he's growing up to be his parents (and doesn't want to be like them at all). He willfully breaks the laws that were put in place to stop bad and stupid things happening, and I think we're about to see an awful lot of that come to pass in the last stories of the year.

I think the Universe is a lot more interesting without Time Lords, because it's generally a lot more interesting if the most powerful civilisation in history is a legend rather than a visitable fact. The Time Lords were badly used, never as well realised as when they made their first appearance and were subsequently whittled away at until they ceased to have any real power or impact. Seen in flashback, they have a kind of nobility that Arc of Infinity and Trial of a Time Lord couldn't give them. They also have a majesty that they sorely lacked, and because they have passed into myth we can forget they were ever a bit rubbish, let the Doctor remember them for us and see them at their best. The Daleks can come back as often as anyone wants to bring them back, because they're the foe that the Doctor is bound to more than any other. But the universe is a place more open to possibility without the Time Lords around.

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by stanmore on Mon Dec 07, 2009 12:17 pm

What I like about The Deadly Assassin is that it shows Timelords being people. They have mastered the scientific secrets of the universe (or think they have) despite being squabbling or petty or oddballs. Doctor Who has something of the failed intergalactic policeman and the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin is his Scotland Yard. Actually, there is more than a little fun that could have been had using the police scandals of the 1980s (it's certainly as corrupt as the Met...). I think it's sad that The Deadly Assassin is blamed for Arc, Trial and The Invasion of Time. The idea of a grim, decrepid, politically questionable and morally bankrupt Gallifrey isn't a bad one - or even one that ties the show to endless continuity - it's just the stories past 1976 that tried to show it were s***.

I never liked War Games-style Timelords until they were contextualised by later revelations. This was a front - the non-interfering almost-Gods - a concept that Timelords created out of self-delusion or propaganda...
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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Dec 07, 2009 3:34 pm

stanmore wrote:The idea of a grim, decrepid, politically questionable and morally bankrupt Gallifrey isn't a bad one - or even one that ties the show to endless continuity - it's just the stories past 1976 that tried to show it were s***.

My problem with that is, when do we ever show a society that works? Why should Time Lord society have been any of those things when the central tennet of their non-interferece was "we have all this power and if just one of us goes off the rails in any major way we could bring the universe crashing down around us, so let's not." It's brilliant, as a premise. Why aren't the Time Lords out there bringing two-fisted justice to the universe? Because they daren't! Excellent! Let's keep them off stage now (and potentially forever) because that way we retain the mystique of them being really powerful.

If you show it, you erode it. Unless you go all out to show the effects of that decision - like, for example, actually going into Gallifreyan society - which should be uber-Gormenghasty, a trait displayed in "Lungbarrow" - or the internal politics of the planet, which could be insane with layers of meaning and subterfuge ("Did you see that? The Patrexian Usher raised an eyebrow! This takes the game to a whole new level. Castellan! Bring me something amber to drink! Let's see what he makes of that!"). You justify it by noting that a race as warlike and expansionist as the Time Lords has to have something to do in order to while away the ages, and you further note that some Time Lords still remember things like the war against the Racnos and the struggles with the Vampires, and are waiting very patiently for the inevitable call to action.

The Time Lords had immense possibility and all of it was frittered away by a selection of duff stories.

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Patrick on Mon Dec 07, 2009 5:13 pm

Dave Webb wrote:
stanmore wrote:The idea of a grim, decrepid, politically questionable and morally bankrupt Gallifrey isn't a bad one - or even one that ties the show to endless continuity - it's just the stories past 1976 that tried to show it were s***.

My problem with that is, when do we ever show a society that works? Why should Time Lord society have been any of those things when the central tennet of their non-interferece was "we have all this power and if just one of us goes off the rails in any major way we could bring the universe crashing down around us, so let's not." It's brilliant, as a premise. Why aren't the Time Lords out there bringing two-fisted justice to the universe? Because they daren't! Excellent! Let's keep them off stage now (and potentially forever) because that way we retain the mystique of them being really powerful.

If you show it, you erode it. Unless you go all out to show the effects of that decision - like, for example, actually going into Gallifreyan society - which should be uber-Gormenghasty, a trait displayed in "Lungbarrow" - or the internal politics of the planet, which could be insane with layers of meaning and subterfuge ("Did you see that? The Patrexian Usher raised an eyebrow! This takes the game to a whole new level. Castellan! Bring me something amber to drink! Let's see what he makes of that!"). You justify it by noting that a race as warlike and expansionist as the Time Lords has to have something to do in order to while away the ages, and you further note that some Time Lords still remember things like the war against the Racnos and the struggles with the Vampires, and are waiting very patiently for the inevitable call to action.

I'd pay to see that. Very Happy

The appeal of super-advanced civilization, at least for me, would be in peeling away the layers of how it got to be super-advanced. What is it's history? What is it's culture? What are their values? What would a Gallifreyan do for fun on a Saturday afternoon? And how would all this manifest itself in their internal politics? I'd definately be interested in that.

And then for true geeky appeal, how about a geography lesson of what Gallifrey looked like on a map? Didn't it also have a couple of moons? We could make and sell little globe sets of Gallifrey and its moons. Even having to pay a license fee, we'd make a killing at Christmas time.

Dave Webb wrote:The Time Lords had immense possibility and all of it was frittered away by a selection of duff stories.

As I noted in my review of Season 20 for CT, it also wasn't helped by the fact that we almost never had the same actor play the same role. How many different Borusas did we see over the years? Yes, you can explain all that away conveniently with regeneration, but there's something to be said for consistency in a role as a character development tool.

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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by stanmore on Tue Dec 08, 2009 6:35 am

Dave Webb wrote:My problem with that is, when do we ever show a society that works? Why should Time Lord society have been any of those things when the central tennet of their non-interferece was "we have all this power and if just one of us goes off the rails in any major way we could bring the universe crashing down around us, so let's not." It's brilliant, as a premise. Why aren't the Time Lords out there bringing two-fisted justice to the universe? Because they daren't! Excellent! Let's keep them off stage now (and potentially forever) because that way we retain the mystique of them being really powerful.

If you show it, you erode it. Unless you go all out to show the effects of that decision - like, for example, actually going into Gallifreyan society - which should be uber-Gormenghasty, a trait displayed in "Lungbarrow" - or the internal politics of the planet, which could be insane with layers of meaning and subterfuge ("Did you see that? The Patrexian Usher raised an eyebrow! This takes the game to a whole new level. Castellan! Bring me something amber to drink! Let's see what he makes of that!"). You justify it by noting that a race as warlike and expansionist as the Time Lords has to have something to do in order to while away the ages, and you further note that some Time Lords still remember things like the war against the Racnos and the struggles with the Vampires, and are waiting very patiently for the inevitable call to action.

The Time Lords had immense possibility and all of it was frittered away by a selection of duff stories.

Yes, I think it's fair to comment that if you can't show something properly, then don't show it at all.

The odd thing about about the All-Powerful Non-Interfering Timelords they were only that for half an episode of The War Games, and even that all-powerful non-interferingness was a direct threat to our heroes. It is a challenge to create a society that works and for it still to create drama. Perhaps as a constant threat to The Doctor? All individuals have to be kept in check? If it's the latter, your blurring onto the areas that The Deadly Assassin was hinting at. Obviously we have renegade Timelords, so they don't naturally follow the established order - therefore it is not particularly a jump to assume that there are ways and means that the Gallifreyan hierachy keeps control of itself and the laws of time.

As it happens, though, I agree with the decision to get rid of The Timelords. I like The Doctor being unique - if they are going to bring the Timelords back, I hope to God they complete The Cartmel Masterplan!

Patrick wrote:As I noted in my review of Season 20 for CT, it also wasn't helped by the fact that we almost never had the same actor play the same role. How many different Borusas did we see over the years? Yes, you can explain all that away conveniently with regeneration, but there's something to be said for consistency in a role as a character development tool.

Once upon a time, I tried to write a version of The Invasion of Time that was, well, good. I did a first chapter, posted in on Outpost Gallifrey, it was ignored and I gave up... but anyway... one scene I've always wanted to write was the Sontarans being completely bamboozled by the fact that their enemies just won't stay dead. "Do we have control of the capital yet, Krutz?" "Not yet, sir!" "Didn't I ask you to kill everybody?" "We've killed them all twice already, sir!" etc, etc...
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Re: SF Themes: Gallifrey Is Gone... The Powerful Aren't Here Anymore

Post by Nick Barlow on Tue Dec 08, 2009 3:48 pm

Thinking about The War Games, there's an implication about the Time Lords there that's dropped straight afterwards. When they capture the Doctor and put him on trial, it's not really presented as someone being judged by a court of his peers but more of a rebellious youngster being punished by his elders (and getting grounded as a punishment, of course). Of course, the whole idea of the Doctor as an immature Time Lord goes out of the window when Pertwee turns up and they start writing him as though he owns the universe.

Of course, that's also the last time that Gallifrey is presented as a genuinely weird place - and it's much more of a place rather than a planet, having more in common with the Land of Fiction than anywhere else we've seen in the series up to then. After that, it tends to be presented as something from the Big Book Of Generically Highly Advanced SF Cliche Planets and starts becoming mundane. It should be Mount Olympus, but once you've introduced the idea of the Time Lords having a Traffic Control department, it doesn't feel as special as it should.

I think that's why I like the way Miles et al depict the Time Lords Great Houses in the Faction Paradox series - they're presented as something ancient and unknowable by the mundanes like us, having agendas we can't comprehend and living lives we can't understand. I think if they were to bring them back in the series - and I really hope they stay dead - they come back as something genuinely incomprehensible, like a multi-dimensional game of Mornington Crescent, with Rassilon as Stovold.

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