I don’t understand all the fuss that’s been made over the announcement of the new Doctor Who. Or rather, I do, but at the moment I’m pretending not to for stylistic reasons. Bear with me; this sudden change of face may seem irritating at first but I’m sure you’d whoop and cheer after another eleven. I could tell you more, but, as Alex Kingston would no doubt smirkingly chasten: Spoilers!
To return to my original theme – transparent subterfuge though we all now know it to be – I don’t understand all the fuss that’s been made over the announcement of the new Doctor Who. I can see why the BBC should care, of course, for a character charged with saving time, space, and their operational budget, but I don’t see why I should be expected to join in the pangalactic fan – and boy do I mean fan – fanfare. It’s not as though the time lord is really anything that special.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the company I keep. Take my personal physician, for instance. Not only is she an actual, qualified doctor with a GMC number and her own stethoscope, but she’s also no stranger to time travel. I mean, she’s been whizzing through time for years.
She’s not alone in possessing this power, of course. She belongs to a proud and ancient race who have the power to wade through the troubled streams of time without so much as getting their trousers wet. The world goes by at a different pace for them: months pass between weekends, minutes can stretch over hours, and nights barely give them enough time to close their eyes. Their language has its own indecipherable word for their kind, but in our mortal tongue they are known as the Busy People.
This rather prosaic appellation may make them sound like the villains of a B horror movie from the 1970s – something in the vein of Curse of the Cat People or Return of the Killer Tomatoes – but let me assure you they are very real. And the Busy People do not have time to throw curses, let alone go to all the trouble of returning. The Busy People have no need to return, because whatever pressing issue initially required their attention was swiftly resolved before they left.
Time seems to pass more quickly for the Busy People than it does for us. They inhabit a separate time stream parallel to our own, just close enough to allow for the occasional, miraculous synchronisation of realities. But these rare moments of cosmic propinquity are not without their paradoxes.
It was physicist and notorious Busy Person Albert Einstein who best encapsulated the temporal gymnastics involved, through the power of a thought experiment taken straight out of an early draft of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It begins, as all good musical experiments do, with the enforced separation of young twins; possibly the result of an itinerant housemaid unduly distracted preparing lunch for her astronaut husband.
One of the twins – in all probability the tenor lead – finds himself bundled aboard a spacecraft in the lunchbox, while the comic baritone is left alone in the nursery with two tuna mayo sandwiches, a packet of crisps, and an apple. The nursemaid, wracked with guilt at her own carelessness, stuffs them into a sailor suit and passes them off as the missing brother. It takes until Act 3 for anyone else to notice.
Meanwhile, the tenor lead is travelling through space at virtually the speed of light, bumping into soppy two-headed aliens and singing saccharine love trios that from his frame of reference last until the second interval. By the time he returns to Earth, however, he finds that his brother – not to mention the audience – appear to have aged some fifty years. The parted siblings fall into each other’s arms, the astronaut reclaims his long-lost sweetheart, and the two-headed alien quietly chokes on the apple.
Experts agree that the unique combination of ohrwurms and wurmlochs present in the Relativity operetta make it one of Einstein’s most memorable and enduring gedankenexperiments. But well though he captured the spirit of the physics involved, even at the height of his powers he was not able to fully convey the emotional hurdles that time travellers are occasionally obliged to vault.
Travelling through time at different speeds is enough to perturb the most devoted of couples. For one thing, keeping track of anniversaries is a nightmare. For another, you’re never entirely sure when the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly will let you pop back into each other’s lives. It’s a constant, never-ending battle against the powers of darkness, fought with calendars and good intentions and a cracking great script.
So with all due respect to Stephen Moffatt and Peter Capaldi, when your own reality involves being a companion to a doctor in a different time stream, who’s got time to watch TV?