25 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.12-13b


I wrote yesterday about similarities between the TARDIS and the Narnian wardrobe. Now, let's talk about Lovers divided by a wall between parallel universes. 

Basically, the ending of "Doomsday" (Doctor Who Season Two episode 13) is exactly the same as the ending of The Amber Spyglass, the final volume of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In yesterday's post, I asked: 

were the writers of Doctor Who inspired by Philip Pullman -- or vice-versa -- or were all of them inspired by Classical antecedents -- or are there certain archetypes within fantasy that are inevitably explored over and over again -- or are these just the fundamental questions and images of the human mind, so they are going to come up over and over whenever imaginative writers are given rein? 

First, the facts. 

This Doctor Who episode was first broadcast on 8 July 2006. 
The Amber Spyglass was published in 2000. 

Therefore, like with yesterday's discussion of Narnia, it appears that the authors of the Doctor are ripping off someone else's idea. 

But let's look a bit closer. 

First, the endings are not really exactly the same. Yes, two people in love (in some sense or other! -- age is obviously a complicating concern in both cases) are separated by being trapped in different parallel universes, more or less permanently. But there are a few differences. 
1. In the Pullman story, the two characters are originally from different universes. Rose and the Doctor are both from ours, albeit from wildly different planets in that universe (we think). 
2. In the Pullman story, Lyra and Will voluntarily choose to separate, to prevent their two universes from being destroyed by leaving the gap open. Granted, they wouldn't have much of a life if they stayed together, since each one could not survive in the other's world, so they didn't really have much choice. The Doctor has to close the gaps between the worlds for much the same reasons, but they choose to stay together in their own world, and Rose is taken to the other world more or less by accident (or at least against her will). 
3. Pullman has a very specific theological (or anti-theological) message to communicate in his novels, about the dangers and evils of Theism and the power and value of free love, even pre-adolescent sexuality. The Doctor's separation has a narrative function and, sadly, a marketing goal. The Doctor, being immortal, can never stay with one human woman for very long, so this was perhaps the kindest way of separating him from Rose without killing her off. AND one actress had to be got out of the way so the next actress could be introduced by the end of the season. Ah, pragmatics. 

But I'd also like to inquire, as I did before, whether there are Classical precedents for this idea. Well, sure. The idea of other worlds or parallel universes is probably as ancient as the human imagination. Orpheus and Eurydice were separated by something very like different universes. More recently, Lewis Carroll's worlds behind the Looking Glass are much like parallel universes, though there is not separation of lovers that way.  

And of course, the theory that there really ARE parallel universes -- the multiverse theory -- is gaining credence in the sciences right now, and the idea is an old one. Democritus of Abdera (c.460–c.370 BC) put forward some version of this idea.William James coined the term "mutiverse" in 1895. Richard Feynman proposed a "multiple histories" idea, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1965. And now, Andrei Linde and Brian Greene have been working on (and popularizing) this idea for the last two decades or so.

All that to say this:

1. The idea of parallel universes is as old as the human imagination. 2. This is a common theme in imaginative literature of all kinds. 3. The specific concept of the multiverse was heating up in the decade right before Pullman, and then Russell T Davies, wrote their stories. 4. It is an easy imaginative leap to start with the concept of multiple universes, populate your stories with characters from different universes or different ends of the same one, have them fall in love, and then realize that the greatest tragedy would be for them to get caught in separate universes.

All that to say, finally: I don't think Doctor Who is ripping anybody off. I think it is tapping into deep, common archetypes in the human imagination and deploying them in creative, yet inevitable, ways.


Steve Hayes said...

I've not seen "Dr Who" recently, so I can't comment on what goes on there, but I have read "The Amber Spyglass", and I found it the worst of the trilogy, and a bit of an anticlimax. After raging against Christian asceticism through all three books Pullman finally has Lyra and Will opt for something very much like it themselves.

Iambic Admonit said...

Good points. I didn't think those elements ruined the work as literature, but you are in good company: I know Alan Jacobs agrees with you.