The regeneration is implied as extremely recent in the episode, and as Pertwee adjusts to his new form as the Doctor, he finds himself facing against new villains in the plastic army of Autons, controlled by the Nestene Consciousness. This scenario is echoed in 2005′s Rose, when Eccleston faces the Nestene Consciousness again, also after a recent regeneration never seen on film.
I am very pleased with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. Despite having had his TARDIS disabled, he seems to have more wisdom and confidence than the first two. He has a likable quiet and gentle manner, but turns his sharp wit and temper against foolishness, often quite amusingly. As far as I’ve seen, he never panics and never despairs. Bonus kewl points: he knows Venusian karate, which harmlessly disables opponents much like a Vulcan nerve pinch. This is a handy skill, which the Doctor apparently lost when he next regenerated. And his costumes are both flamboyant and stylish, certainly the ones I’d most want to wear myself.
UNIT is providing security cover at an experimental drilling project designed to penetrate the Earth’s crust and release a previously untapped source of energy. Soon however the drill head starts to leak an oily green liquid that transforms those who touch it into vicious primeval creatures with a craving for heat.
And then, unexpectedly, and close to an hour into the story:
The Doctor is accidentally transported by the partially repaired TARDIS control console into a parallel universe where the drilling project is at a more advanced stage. Thwarted by his friends’ ruthless alter egos, he works to save both universes.
I found this serial impressive in what it achieved, but not particularly enjoyable. Too much of watching people being endlessly insufferable, in both universes. And that’s the extent of my review of Inferno itself.
The Whoniverse Multiverse
It is, however, worth noting that this is not a matter of ambiguity or moral grey areas. The Fascist universe is undeniably a bad place in which to live; however, it is not portrayed as unambiguously so. Similarly, the democratic universe is not necessarily portrayed as the “good one”; it may be a happier place than the Fascist world, but it also incorporates graft, prejudice, the abuse of authority, and so forth. It is also interesting to note that the scenario opposing Stahlman and Sir Keith reverses the usual stereotype of the intelligent scientist and the unfeeling politician; just as some people are happier and/or more successful under a Fascist regime than under a democracy, so a politician can be intelligent and a scientist a petty, self-serving dictator. Again, it is not a matter of apologising for Fascism or portraying authority as a good thing, but of questioning the significance of the individual versus the group.
The mirror universe was so named because many people and places seemed to be opposites of their characteristics in the prime universe, with numerous ‘good’ aspects now ‘evil’ and vice versa, thus ‘mirror-like.’
“An infinity of universes. Ergo an infinite number of choices. So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed.”
Rather than addressing this immediately, I’m now going to paste in a long block of further text from the Moore/Stevens review.
This leads us into the final and most important theme of the story, which is revealed in the Doctor’s remark upon returning from the Fascist universe: “So free will is not an illusion after all.” This remark works on several levels. Firstly, it relates to the Fascist universe itself; the idea of free will being an illusion is the sort of Nietzchian (sic, apparently it’s supposed to be “Nietzschean” but I really don’t care), deterministic doctrine which tends to be common among Fascist groups. Certainly most of the people in the Fascist universe do not seem to feel they have a choice in their actions. The Brigade Leader refuses to believe that the crew will be abandoned to their deaths, asserting almost to the last that his superiors will save them. Liz is more pragmatic, but even then she does not leave her post. Around them, meanwhile, we see the reversion to the primitive of the project’s technicians, which flies in the face of the Nazi ideology of upward progress while at the same time embodying Nazi principles thoroughly; in the end, Nietzchian philosophy just comes down to brutality and the survival of the strongest and most vicious.~It is also worth noting that the Fascism we find here is a particular sort of Fascism. It is not the ideology of Germany or the totalitarianism of Stalinist Russia, which were both triumphant and triumphalist. The England we see is a defeated country and, as in the Weimar Republic, its people are defensive, upset and disillusioned; if Britain fell in 1943, most of the people whom we see would have been children or teenagers at the time. This again reflects the Nietzchian nature of this universe; the idea that they had no choice in the matter justifies their submission to conquest, and ignores the fact that the situation in the Fascist universe is as much a product of free will as is ours.~The quote about free will also, however, links into the continuous rethinking in Doctor Who on the subject of the ability to rewrite history. In “The Aztecs”, the Doctor asserts that it is impossible for Barbara to change history; however, by this he appears to mean that her attempts to eliminate human sacrifice will ultimately come to naught against the tide of Aztec society. Later, this statement is rethought into a literal lack of change: by “The Reign of Terror”, Dennis Spooner is asserting that it is physically impossible to change history, (somewhat ironically, given that the actions of the Doctor and companions have had an impact on events in all the historicals). By “The Time Meddler” Spooner has changed his mind and is now stating that history can be changed and interfered with, and that the Doctor, in not doing so, is just following a golden rule. The Doctor’s reasons for following this rule are later stated in “The Massacre” when he says that he “dare not change the course of history,” because “We are all too small to know its final pattern,” (although this does not seem to stop him abducting schoolgirls from 1966!). In “Inferno”, however, the idea is put forth that there are infinite futures, each hinging on actions and decisions taken; the future is therefore not fixed, and so the impact of the Doctor’s forays into the past and future can be taken into account without violating the idea of history having unfolded as the viewer knows it.~Finally, the quotation refers to the Doctor himself. He was seemingly powerless to prevent the conclusion of the Inferno Project in the Fascist universe. Consequently, although he asserts to the Brigade Leader that by returning to the other universe he may be able to prevent the same events from occurring, the thought must have crossed his mind that perhaps he couldn’t. However, the fact that the project has evidently been proceeding along a different timeline in his absence reveals to him that the events are not predetermined, and therefore that his intervention can help stop the project.~“Inferno” has long been acclaimed for its stunning characterisation and intelligent portrayal of a Fascist society. It is also worth praising, however, for its philosophical depth and clever reflections on other aspects of the Doctor Who mythos.
Changing the Past
New Worlds of Possibilities
There are an infinite number of alternate quantum realities, one for every possible outcome of any event that occurs. Each reality has its matter resonating on a unique constant quantum signature. Quantum universes were separated by barriers from one another. Although each universe was separate, they had a similar past until the particular diverging event occurred.
“An infinity of universes. Ergo an infinite number of choices. So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed.”
Blogger Steve Goble brilliantly debunks this:
That last line brings me onto the meagre push-backs that I can come up with. To me, an infinity of universes in which every choice is played out suggests no free will for their inhabitants, who must follow whichever alternate choice their universe is there to accommodate. Granted though, we could probably argue about this forever, but only if we were in the right universe for it.
An alternate timeline is a reality that diverges from the ‘true’ timeline due to the actions of time travellers or other temporal phenomena. They are different from a parallel universe in that they do not exist as seperate continuums. … Whether it is possible or not to travel to a timeline after it has been negated is unknown, though every point in time has its alternative, and so every alternative may always exist.
Because the universe only has a finite amount of mass and energy, the creation of an alternate timeline adversely affects the real timeline, causing chaos throughout the universe; releasing enough energy can destroy the timeline and set history back on its correct course.
By the way, the sort of thing where the Doctor is able to bring Sardick as a boy from the past to meet his adult self, without consequently removing him from the timeline, is only conceivably possible if it’s a closed loop. Yet the changes made to Sardick are not a closed loop.
Inevitable Outcomes and Fixed Points
Finally, the quotation refers to the Doctor himself. He was seemingly powerless to prevent the conclusion of the Inferno Project in the Fascist universe. Consequently, although he asserts to the Brigade Leader that by returning to the other universe he may be able to prevent the same events from occurring, the thought must have crossed his mind that perhaps he couldn’t. However, the fact that the project has evidently been proceeding along a different timeline in his absence reveals to him that the events are not predetermined, and therefore that his intervention can help stop the project.
it seems to me that the very notion of the Doctor dying being “fixed point in time” is daft anyways and contradicts the eminently sensible concepts presented in ‘Inferno’ about ‘an infinite number of choices… and ergo an infinite number of parallel universes … so free will is not an illusion after all’– the Silence people DECIDED to bump off the Doctor.So why would that make it a ‘fixed point in time’? If they were persauded to CHANGE THEIR MINDS and not kill him (as, indeed, River Song did, decided she didn’t want to!) then the future would be changed, and he’d not be killed.
The Real Question
Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
This applies equally to what will happen: that is not for us to decide; we can only decide to try to make a difference for the good of others, ourselves, or some higher cause.
The Doctor is literally given much more time – or rather, more of time – in which to make decisions, but why should any outcome lead him to think that he was not free in the decision he made? Until he came to the point at which he made the free will statement, the Doctor thought that he may have been observing events which were inevitable in both known universes. But the addition of a second universe does nothing to further the proof that free will is real. It does demonstrate that different decisions lead to different results, but it does not prove that the decisions were free. One’s assumptions about free will from this world merely carry over into others.
As for myself, I do believe free will is real, and yet I also believe in inevitable events, fixed points in time. I believe in prophecy. I believe fixed points in the future are the outcome of free choices. The choices we make are far more important than their apparent success or failure in the end. But if I believed that free will is an illusion, the existence of a multiverse would do nothing to persuade me otherwise.
A closing word: I have taken issue with Moffat’s belief that the Doctor should “apologize for fighting evil,” but if the Doctor should decide that it is really his role to determine what happens wherever he goes, well, then he would be playing God. His endless failures to save creatures should keep a lid on that delusion, though.
My next post will cover Terror of the Autons, The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, The Curse of Peladon (which I am currently in the middle of), The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, The Time Warrior, and Planet of the Spiders, assuming none of them provide anything as richly indecipherable as that infernal free will quote from Inferno.
I’ve also just re-watched an old favorite, one of the best Star Trek episodes ever: The Inner Light. In it, Captain Picard encounters an alien probe which, in twenty-five minutes, gives him the full experience of living the rest of his life on a world which died out a millennium before. He has a wife, children, and a grandchild, only to reawaken on the Enterprise, the only living remnant of that lost civilization. The closing scene of Picard back on the Enterprise, left alone with only the music of his dream-life, made me tear up when I was 12, and still does. It’s on Netflix instant view (I rented the DVD), and I highly recommend it.
Wait, what’s this?