The Doctor: The TARDIS. She’s… time. We… wibbly vortex and so on.
Production Code: 3.9.
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep9).
Story Number: 235.
The sound of fear…
When factors of Doctor Who‘s success and longevity over five decades are considered, one thing that is oft-overlooked is the sound. In the digital world of the 21st Century, when strange sounds can be conjured at the press of a computer button, the 20th Century analogue triumphs of the Radiophonic Workshop can be under-appreciated. The idea of painstaking attention to detail and requirement of mastery of an array of machines during times past is communicated by the set-up that Alec uses to trap the sounds of Caliburn Ghast. “The music room is the heart of the house” – so says Emma of the Caliburn House but she could well be speaking of the structure of Doctor Who too.
Cold War shows Clara as a seasoned TARDIS adventurer, (going through the rite of “TARDIS appears not quite where it should” after her introductory “joining the TARDIS” two adventures), and so does this – but even more so, with her turning up with a cheeky confidence and a quip that made some of the audience cringe when the Tenth Doctor said it during Army of Ghosts; Clara pulls it off. “Ghostbusters!”
They know what’s going on, or at least know more than the other duo – the Doctor and Clara are contrasted against the hesitant partnership of the Professor and his companion (no, assistant, it’s the 1970s), this other duo haven’t quite clicked yet. (Ultimately this will be the point of the story.)
The patience and careful crafting of the analogue century means some time for Alec and the Doctor to bond over the processes of the dark room. (If they were just pressing a button for technology to spit out some colour prints from a colour camera then there would be no scene.) The parallels between the two professors (no, the Doctor, it’s not the 1980s) are subtly made.
Halfway through they turn Doctor Who upside down.
The trips: back to the newly created Earth; to the Paleozoic Era (the dragonfly); to 200 or so years ago; to the desolate far-future wasteland of Earth.
The whole span of the Earth.
As Clara said – the whole of humanity are ghosts to the Doctor.
The shocking line that she says – her body being buried out there somewhere on the dead Earth.
The Doctor weaving in amongst the ghosts with his time machine. A lot more on-the-screen and visceral than Rose’s ruminations about the dead Earth of The End of the World.
It’s fascinating to have a companion actually react to the Doctor with something like horror. It’s an uncomfortable sequence.
It’s like Doctor Who was traversing Doctor Who, all those stories of the ancient hopeful past, all those of the far and desolate future.
After Clara has had this new understanding, she speaks with Emma.
“I just saw something I wish I hadn’t.”
“What did you see?”
“That everything ends.”
“No, not everything. Not love. Not always.”
The analogue slideshow is great – it would have less charm and mystery to it if the Doctor had asked them to gather for his powerpoint presentation. The photographs that become a flickbook, a zoetrope showing what the ghast is – a woman running. But from what?
The mispronunciation that rocked fandom (or alternatively something that you completely ignored) is part of the technology that allows the Doctor to try to rescue the woman – a crystal from Metebelis III.
The apprehension created for the audience is now transferred to the fear of the half-seen monster.
There is a difference between a story of terror and a horror story. Terror is the dread of the unseen.
Doctor Who has always used our primal fears of the dark places, from the Cave of Skulls onwards, from alien corridors humming with static to the fearful sounds of a not-quite-deserted-forest. It is especially terrifying for younger viewers for the Doctor to say “I am the Doctor and I am scared”.
The mirroring of the professor & his assistant leads us to think they should be the perfect analogy for the TARDIS duo, but then – the shifting perceptions of the audience.
The ghost is just a daughter.
The monster is just a Romeo.
A monster story – the Doctor.
A ghost story – Clara.
What is going on? (The Doctor is shown to have an ulterior motive for bringing “sensitive” Emma and Clara together – what is the answer to the mystery of his new companion?)
“Get ready to jump!”
A leap of faith, of love.