Posts Tagged ‘Theory’

Warning: absolutely giant massive spoiler alert!

OK, so: part one of the final David Tennant episode of Doctor Who, The End of Time, has now aired in the UK. The fact that I’ve been predicting the return of the TimeLords ever since Tennant first announced his retirement has left me with a warm, glowy feeling of narrative vindication. (The fact that said glow has undoubtably been heightened by the large glass of eggnog sitting to my left is by the way and nothing to do with it.) As soon as the Ood declared that ‘they are returning’, I knew it was game on, which view was ultimately proven correct when Timothy Dalton appeared mid-episode wearing the unmistakeable red and gold of Rassilon. It makes perfect sense that the Tenth Doctor’s exit would in some way be tied to the return of the denizens of Gallifrey, as his tenancy (hah – pun!) has been entirely characterised by their absence. In terms of mining the original show, the other TimeLords are the single facet yet to be brought back, and as the Daleks have turned up numerous times despite their supposed destruction during the Time War, finding a means of resurrecting their enemies is an act of natural balance. In the trailer for the final act, it has also been revealed that the drumming tune in the Master’s head – the inspiration for the four knocks which are prophecied to preempt the Doctor’s death – is representative of the double beat of a TimeLord’s heart. Armed with this knowledge and a glipse of the final episode, therefore, here are my predictions for the final ever episode of David Tennant’s term in Doctor Who.

Back in The Sound of Drums, it was revealed that what originally sent the Master mad was the TimeLord ritual of staring into the Time Vortex through the Untempered Schism. From this point on, the drums in his head were always calling to him. We know, too, that the Doctor can sense the presence of other TimeLords alive in the galaxy – but there are exceptions to this ability. Consider that creator Russell T. Davies, much like Joss Whedon, has a habit of planning his storylines long in advance, such that he is in a position to drop hints as to their eventual conclusion. One such notable clue is the Medusa Cascade, a place the Doctor was reported to have sealed off during the Time War, but where Davros and the Daleks were later proven to be hiding, along with a number of stolen planets, at the end of Season 4, by being a second out of sync with the rest of the universe. I won’t venture an explanation as to how, but my speculative guess, after the Ood announced that ‘things which have already happened are happening now’, is that those TimeLords who survived the Time War did so by a similar trick of temporal displacement; perhaps even utilising one of the Nine Gallifreys of old. Which is why, when the Master gazed into the Vortex all those years ago, the sound of drums was embedded in his head: he could hear the future/present of the timeless TimeLords, and was irrevocably altered by their (which is to say, Timothy Dalton and his prophetess’s) call to war. The Ood can sense this displacement at a psychic level, and now that the Master has turned everyone on Earth into copies of himself, the fact of this will allow the rest of the TimeLords to return: because of what he is, and of what was originally done to him.

Which leads us to Wilf, who appears to be having visions of a female TimeLord council member, and to Donna Noble, who is no longer quite human, and who has been forced to remember everything she was made to forget. This is somewhat interesting, as the Doctor has explained that Donna can’t remember without dying; but if she can, then what does this say about her deeper nature? Perhaps – one might speculate – her survival has something to do with those Huon particles she imbibed so long ago, given their relationship to TimeLord technology. We were told ealier that there was no coincidence in the Doctor meeting Donna more than once, and now we know that there is no coincidence to Wilf’s continued appearences, either. Why is he the only man to remember his bad, precognitive dreams? Perhaps this is an example of cyclic time: due to the Doctor’s protection, he was never going to turn into a copy of the Master, and was therefore able to remember in the present what his future self would eventually learn. Wilf is a stargazer, a soldier who has never killed a man; alternatively, his significance might lie in the fact that he is human – wholly human, unlike Donna – and therefore represents a viable template from which the human race might be restored. But he also has a choice to make, a life to take: the Doctor’s, the Master’s, or perhaps Timothy Dalton’s.

So, to wrap up all these vague speculations, I’ll end on a more solid, if perhaps more obvious note: Timothy Dalton’s character will die; Gallifrey will return; the Doctor will be offered the mantle of Lord President (again) and refuse; the Master will escape to fight another day, as per his speciality; and Donna’s memories will be restored.

There. How’s that for a prophecy?

Heading¬†just finished¬†Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, I found myself wondering, not for the first time,¬†why vampires, zombies¬†and werewolves make for such popular subjects. Even accounting for boom-and-bust periods, they still dominate in comparison to stories about other kinds of semi-human mythological creatures. Fairies, angels, demons, witches¬†and succubi all have strong followings, but what is it about shapeshifters, bloodsuckers and the undead¬†that we just can’t get enough of? Why are nagas, centaurs, sylphs, dryads, ifrit, djin and selkies (to name but¬†a few) so comparatively¬†underrepresented?

There’s no one aswer to that question, but as I was mulling things over, it occurred to me that, unlike any of the other creatures listed above, vampires, zombies¬†and werewolves exist outside of any specific¬†religious context. Historically speaking, they are creatures of folklore more than creatures of myth, and while many cultures have stories about shape-shifters, the concept is strong enough to stand apart. By contrast, succubi, incubi, angels and demons are all heavily embedded in the Judeo-Christian tradition; witches have been¬†demonised by and therefore incorporated into¬†many religions, but are also associated with a variety of pagan and neopagan traditions in their own right. Nagas hail from the Vedic/Hindu tradition; centaurs, sylphs, dryads, hamadryads, oceanids and¬†nereids are part of Greek mythology;¬† fairies and selkies are from Celtic and Irish mythology;¬†and¬†djinn and ifrit are from the magic of old Arabia.

While religious and mythological origins are hardly a barrier to¬†the reimagining of fantastic creatures¬†for new stories¬†– indeed, they¬†frequently contribute to a rich sense of¬†worldbuilding – perhaps there’s an argument to be made that this selfsame quality also forces¬†writers¬†to¬†address the¬†traditional context of (say) angels¬†before a new schema can be introduced. Which isn’t to say that vampire (or zombie, or werewolf) stories don’t have¬†to tackle existing preconceptions of their main species, so to speak –¬†rather,¬†it’s a question of associated beliefs.¬†Zombies, vampires and werewolves don’t exist as part of any religious or mythological canon.¬†Mentioning a vampire protagonist does not¬†infer¬†the existence of old gods in the way that dryads or¬†demons might, and while there’s certainly a strong tradition of involving Christianity in vampire, zombie and werewolf¬†narratives, the fact remains that neither species¬†is an¬†intrinsic part of Christianity or the Christian mythos. Instead, their ungodliness has been extrapolated in retrospect, making it¬†comparatively easy to remove.¬†Challenging the ungodliness of demons, however, or questioning the saintliness of angels, requires a much more determined assault on established cannon.

Put simply, it is easy to turn¬†vampires, werewolves and zombies into secular protagonists – and therefore to adapt them to modern scenarios – precisely because¬†they lack concrete allegience¬†to established mythological frameworks. Other creatures and species, of necessity, bring more baggage¬†with them: there are stronger assumptions to be overwritten, and especially when¬†the existence of one race (say dryads) goes hand in hand with the existence of another (say centaurs), it is less common to try and¬†recreate dryads as the sole magical¬†species of a given story. Which isn’t a bad thing in the slightest – but it might go some way towards explaining why vampires, weres and zombies are constantly being reinvented, and why their mythological bretheren tend to dwell in¬†bigger, more magical¬†worlds.

What does everyone else think?

It’s fair to say I think about elves more than the average person; that is to say, firstly, that I think of them at all, and secondly, that a sizeable chunk of this time is dedicated to theorising what elves really are. Among other things, this makes me slightly crazy. But I’ve come up with a theory. And now, rejuvinated by the illustrious Harkaway’s recent musings on cryonics, I’m ready to show and tell. Or maybe just tell, in this case. Whatever.

Anyway.

Elves, according to a wide range fantastic and mythological sources, are essentially very pretty people who live damn near forever in beautiful cities considerably superior to those of other races by the grace of their higher intellect, magic, advanced technology or a combination of all three. Outside of cities, they dwell in forests or natural areas, usually in a deeply symbiotic relationship with their surroundings, but in either instance, elven society is usually lauded as being progressive, or at least very successful. They are highly culturally advanced, but despite professing a preference for peace, tend, when roused, to be lethal in war. Outsiders often know little about them, as they prefer not to mingle with humankind, and their settlements are often isolated; typically, they also exhibit a low birth-rate in compensation for their incredible longevity. There is also a strong tendency to infer relationships between elves and dragons, or elves and white horses of superior stamina and intellect, both of which species are, in such instances, rarely if ever found elsewhere, granting their elvish masters the exclusive advantage of swift transport in largely medieval settings. Finally, elves are frequently described as placing a dual emphasis on learning, academic or otherwise, and on leisurely, creative passtimes.

Got all that?

Good.

Now, if we take the above hallmarks of elfness, remove the fantasy connotations, and render them as a set of socio-cultural markers, we end up with the following list of real-world characteristics:

1. Longer than average lifespans;

2. Objectively exceptional but culturally normative looks;

3. Technological superiority at an everyday level;

4. An outward preference for pacifism underwritten by extreme martial capabilities;

5. A preference for isolation from less advanced societies;

6. Largely urban lifestyles balanced against deeply held environmental convictions;

7. Access to superior modes of transportation and information relay;

8. A low average birthrate; and

9. A largely functional societal model extolling the virtues of both learning and leisure.

Sound familiar?

I find it both amusing and ironic that the mythical beings of early European culture are starting to look like the end point of modern Western society. True, we don’t live hundreds of years, but our lifespans are ever-increasing thanks to the ongoing advance of medical science. Give it another couple of decades, and who knows where we’ll be? And true, we’re not universally beautiful, but there is an increasing emphasis on physical perfection and achieving a set body type. With the advent of plastic surgery, many people now choose to alter their own appearance, and¬†consider, too, the unveiling of the first ‘designer baby’ clinic in LA, where the new practice of cosmetic medicine allows parents to select the appearence of their future children.

Technological superiority? While it’s true that most of the world is now online, there’s certainly¬†accuracy to the¬†statement that affluent western,¬†eastern¬†and northern European nations have access to more and better gadgets than their counterparts in Africa, South-East Asia¬†and South America. Similarly, technological prowess confers the advantage of both swift, secret information relay and rapid transportation worldwide.¬†The notion of esposuing pascifism but practicing violence is, traditionally, a hallmark of nations throughout history; nonetheless, it seems particularly apt in a day and age when countries can initiate wars or engage in battles so geographically removed from their own turf that no risk of invasion is run, and where stockpiling WMDs¬†has become¬†routine practice. As for isolation, one need only look at the recent global tightening of immigration laws, particularly in the west: we might praise the notion of living in¬†multicultural societies,¬†but still¬†remain fearfully recalcitrant when it comes to the very process which allows them to take shape.

The recent passion¬†for reducing our carbon footprint while retaining an urban lifestyle is, to me, a particularly elvish dualism, and one which is sweeping most of the developed world. Similarly, while it’s difficult to try and argue for a lowered birthrate on such an enormous and diverse scale (although¬†China’s One Child Policy is an intruiging counter-example), anecdotally, there seems to be a trend of affluent, educated¬†women giving birth later¬†and to fewer children, while our childhoods – or, more particularly, the time we spend at school and¬†under the parental roof¬†– is growing. Our current social model promotes a minimum of thirteen years’ schooling, while more and more people are attending university as a matter of course. At the same time, we deeply value labour-saving devices, the creation of entertainment and the right to leisure time, which is arguably a kind of social symbiosis: we work hard at learning how to do less in one¬†sphere of daily life¬†in order to create more time for learning in another, which in turn leads to more time, and also to the necessity for each generation to learn¬†enough to keep up.

In short, we are growing into elves: not the fey creatures of our early imaginings, but into long-lived, scientific, face-selecting humans of a new technological era. Whether for good or ill, I’m not prepared to judge, but in either case,¬†the comparison seems¬†warranted. Which leaves only the question of magic, that elusive quality so associated with mythological elfhood; and yet even here, we might find a real-world comparison, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote that¬†“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Because if any one of us went back in time to the genesis of elven myths; if we stood before our ancestors, iPhone-wielding, smooth-skinned, nylon-wearing, bedecked in even the cheapest, meanest jewellery and spoke of our world, what else could they name us –¬†what else could they think us –¬†but elves?