mat larkin

REPROACH

SPECU-CRANK: DOCTOR WHO AND THE CANON OF DOCTOR WHOS

Here is a question which I expect you think you can answer. It’s very simple, and you definitely think you’re right about it. Here we go:

How many Doctor Whos have there been?

You know, don’t you? Write them down if you’re unsure. Don’t forget Colin Baker. Got your answer? Here, I’ll even give you some options:

a) Eleven, plus the new guy makes twelve

b) Twelve, plus the new guy makes thirteen

c) Fourteen, because they made that film in the sixties, plus the new guy

d) There’s a new guy?

e) I take baths

Here is a guide to interpreting your answer:

a) WRONG

b) WRONG

c) WRONG

d) Read something else

e) Stop reading something else, it’s distracting you

Why are you so wrong, I hear you plaintively ask except with ‘am I’ instead of ‘are you’ in your part of that sentence?

Answer: CANON.

Nothing is more important in science fiction than accurate recall of and obedience to the complete, non-self-contradictory set of official, approved facts about a fictional universe. All the best fans know this, which is of course why there can’t be a black Captain America or female Ghostbusters.

It’s not up to me, of course. Canon, you see. Won’t allow it.

So it really angries up my respiratory bypass system when so-called ‘fans’ like you think you know how many Doctor Whos there have been. I bet your list looked a bit like this:

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee
  4. Tom Baker
  5. Peter Davison
  6. Colin Baker
  7. Sylvester McCoy
  8. Paul McGann
  9. Christopher Eccleston
  10. David Tennant
  11. Matt Smith
  12. Peter Capaldi

You may even have cleverly inserted John Hurt in between Eight and Nine without changing the numbering, because as War Doctor he doesn’t count.

You arrogant fool. Don’t you even know Peter Cushing played Doctor Who in two movies made in the sixties? Or that Ten once regenerated into his own hand, making Eleven not Matt Smith but A Hand? And that that hand later shagged Rose Tyler?

Don’t you know that Richard E Grant played Doctor Who in 2003’s one-off, official BBC-canon webcast ‘Scream of the Shalka’, putting him between your list’s Eight (post-Cushing Nine) and Nine (post-Cushing Ten (not counting the War Doctor (who doesn’t count)))?

Don’t you even know about the 1999 Steven Moffat-penned special ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’, in which Dr. Who is played by Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant (again), Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley, making them Doctor Whos Nine through Thirteen, slotting in between Eight (Nine) and Nine (Ten (now Fourteen (not including the War Doctor (who looks a bit confused))))?

Haven’t you even seen 1976 serial ‘The Brain of Morbius’, where a machine shows the Fourth Doctor Who earlier incarnations of himself, played by George Gallaccio, Robert Holmes, Graeme Harper, Douglas Camfield, Philip Hinchcliffe, Christopher Baker, Robert Banks Stewart and Christopher Barry, making them Dr Whos One through Eight (pushing Hartnell to Nine and Capaldi to Twenty-Five (not counting the War Doctor (who seems to have stepped out)))?

Haven’t you read the 1991 novelisation of 1989 Seven TV serial ‘Battlefield’, which depicts a future regeneration with red hair who might be Merlin, or seen controversial 1986 serial Trial of a Time Lord, in which the evil Valeyard is revealed to be an amalgam of the dark side of Dr Who between his twelfth and thirteenth regenerations (not counting the War Doctor (I think he’s down the pub))?

Don’t you even know about the Watcher, or the Dream Lord?

I bet you don’t. Yet they’re both canon and therefore the accurate and complete truth about the show about the phone-box time-travel man from space.

And you say you love Doctor Who. You sicken me. So no, you may not watch the new ‘Thirteen’ trailer again. Work on your Cyberman design-change timeline instead.

MAT LARKIN, MELBOURNE

The author has neglected to mention the limited-edition stereoscope adventure released in the late 1960s where the Doctor underwent hypnosis and recalled a past incarnation, the memory of whom he had suppressed—and not just because he realised leopard skin underpants weren't actually "cool". [Eugene Sandow], photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902, State Library of Victoria, H96.160/715.

The author has neglected to mention the limited-edition stereoscope adventure released in the late 1960s where the Doctor underwent hypnosis and recalled a past incarnation, the memory of whom he had suppressed—and not just because he realised leopard skin underpants weren't actually "cool". [Eugene Sandow], photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902, State Library of Victoria, H96.160/715.

WHINGE

SWITCH

Of course, when I was a boy all this was fields.

Electromagnetic fields, to be precise.

Electromagnetic fields you could control.

With switches.

Switches, in my day, were brilliant. Take darkened rooms, for example. Back then, darkened rooms were a cinch. You would walk in (utilising simple technology dating back to the time of primitive cave-dwelling homo sapiens, whose wholesome desire for privacy and egress management inspired the invention of the door [1] and immediately notice a distinct shortfall in the quantum of illumination required for the purposes of, say, a single-session completion of a particularly knotty Choose Your Own Adventure, or few quick rounds of Hungry Hungry Hippos. [2]

An afternoon ruined, you might think. But you would be wrong. Hah! How does feel, Wrongy? Thought you knew everything, didn’t you? Well you don’t. The arrogance of you. You sicken me. [3]

What you forgot, of course, was the switch. Rooms, back then, had an almost miraculous device. A single, elegant, symmetrical switch, right on the wall, right next to the door, at perfect reaching height.

Imagine it. With a single click, a satisfactorily tactile toggle of a binary state, the raw power of a distant power station would be passed across the tungsten filament of a grateful, overhanging incandescent bulb to flood the room with a few quadrillion happy, bouncy little photons.

And away you would traipse in the direction of the Soda Stream or hula hoop collection, blithe and bonny, heedless of the wonderful cascade of cause and effect you had so effortlessly catalysed. Heedless because exceptional design, like the sneaky anchovy in the lamb stew, is intangible yet profoundly enriching. [4]

And then life changed.

Humanity, in its insatiable lust for the comely twin succubi of comfort and complexity, began to muddy even life’s simplest, near-perfect pleasures.

There were panels in colours other than cream or very-slightly-darker-than-cream. There were dimmer switches.

There were, curse their filthy souls to an eternity of cream or very-slightly-darker-than-cream hellfire, multiple panels controlling the same light in a room. Is up OFF or ON now? Up could easily be ON now. UP COULD EASILY BE ON NOW. It is as though the shady, untrustworthy quantum physics of the electron has tunnelled through the plaster to pervert the innocent, macro world of the switch.

And then, the final sneeze on the smörgåsbord potato salad. There were multi-switch panels.

A panel can now have more than one switch on it. Two or three are common. Some have as many as five. Five. And they let children near them.  I mean, honestly.

Any switch could do anything. Is this the hall light, the kitchen light or the other hall light? Which inexplicable combination of my many dozens of brazenly superfluous energy-saving halogen downlights does this switch set off? Why, when I flick the third switch in the spare bedroom, do I only hear a distant whir and a sound that cannot with certainly be said not to be screaming?

Why is there always a middle switch that does nothing? Look at it. I’m flipping it over and over right now, and nothing is happening. LOOK AT IT.

Which is a long way of saying, do you stock a laundry light switch that will infallibly prevent me from using the outside light as an alert to passing neighbours and low-flying air traffic that I am about to use the downstairs toilet?

Thank you and I look forward to shopping at Bunnings Northland in the near future.

MAT LARKIN (@MATCHTRICK), MELBOURNE

  1. And, relatively shortly after, the knob.
  2. Frogger was also an option. Rooms were versatile back then.
  3. I don’t mean that. Let’s never fight again. Come on, blow your nose. Bit more. Just get that … yeah, on your lip, too. There you go. Let’s hug it out. That had better be your belt buckle.
  4. And almost certainly fatal to the allergic.