ROB’LL FIX IT – A STUDY IN FIXED POINTS IN TIME
The 2009 series of Specials features a story entitled: Waters of Mars. An episode considered, by the standards of many viewers, to be an absolute Classic piece of Who. There were, of course, many contributing factors to the success that is Waters: inspired direction, a chilling monster, a great script that came up with an absolutely terrifying concept (a single drop of water turns you into an evil zombie) and, most notably, the Doctor goes just a little bit mad at the end. But while all these elements made it a great story that even the casual viewer would love, Waters Of Mars does something absolutely wonderful for the "dyed-in-the-wool-watched-every-existing-episode-fifty-times" fan that makes us love it all the more. And I don't just mean the reference to the Ice Warriors!
What really makes the hardcore fanboy and/or fangirl delighted about Waters is that it finally provides us with an All-Important Rule. A Rule we've probably been waiting to learn properly since the day the TARDIS left Totter's Lane and visited the Tribe of Gum. It answered that great question that nags every Who-fan:
Just how much is a time traveller allowed to tamper with history?
Cause, let's face it, no matter where the Doctor goes - he's travelling in history. Sure, there have been a fair share of historicals and pseudo-historicals throughout the show's tenure in which the TARDIS crew go into Earth's past and get into all kinds of trouble. But, ultimately, no matter where he goes - the Doctor is meddling with someone's past. There will always be people living in the future that will be affected by any actions the Doctor takes. Even if he visits our own personal future. Say, the Doctor drops in on London on June 4th, 2505 A.D. Well, from June 5th, 2505 A.D. onward, that visit is now part of London's history. Which means that anything the Doctor does every time he steps across the threshold of that old battered Police Box could have radical effects on the Web of Time. Every trip he makes stands a chance of altering the course of history. Even - as it is paradoxically referred to - Future History.
But then Waters Of Mars finally gives us a clear idea of things. After hearing little "teases" of time travel rules ("You can't re-write history - not one line!" or "The Web of Time is a delicate thread of coincidences that It can't be tampered with. Unless, like me, you're a Time Lord") Waters lays it out for us nice and clear. Quite simply, if you're a time traveler mucking about like the Doctor does, you're pretty safe to tamper with history, most of the time. Time, as they say, is in a state flux at most points that a time traveler arrives at. You can change things for the better or worse and Time will adjust itself to the alteration. But, every once in a while, you can arrive at these nasty little things called Fixed Points. These are special little events that occur in that crazy Causal Nexus that cannot, under any conditions, be tampered with They must take place exactly the way they're meant to. And if you do try to alter them in any way, then the Universe will implode. Or, possibly, explode. Basically, something big and nasty will occur. And it will all be your time-meddling fault.
In the case of Waters Of Mars, the Fixed Point that the Doctor arrives at is the destruction of Bowie Base One on the surface of Mars on November 21st, 2059. This is an event that must happen exactly the way it does. As much as he may want to save the crew of the Base, he knows he cannot. He must leave things to happen the way "Future History" has declared. Of course, we all know the Doctor decides to break the Laws of Time and change things, after all. But that's not, so much, the point of this article's focus. What is most interesting about this wonderful Tale of Martian Danger and Intrigue is the actual nature of a Fixed Point in Time. Because we know that the Doctor has visited, at least, three of them in recent times: the destruction of Bowie Base One on Mars, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Rome and his own "death" at Lake Silencio in Utah . But, surely, we don't think those are the only three occasions that the TARDIS has brought our favorite Time Lord to such a time period? There must have been other moments in the show where the Doctor showed up in such a spot, mustn't there? Could they have been moments where he just decided to be less verbal about the importance of these events happening properly or didn't bother to explain to his companions what a Fixed Point is?
Basically, has the Doctor visited other Fixed Points in Time? If so, what might those occasions have been?
To properly answer such questions - we must, first, determine the traits of a Fixed Point. Essentially, we need to figure out the characteristics of an event that is meant to be Fixed and see what makes it different from other events. From there, we can look through the Doctor's past and see other adventures he's been involved with that also have those traits or characteristics. If the details match up, we can safely guess that, more than likely, those events were Fixed Points, too.
So if we begin by looking at the stories in which the Doctor has openly claimed that he is involved with a Fixed Point, we can actually see that there are several "common threads" that run through all of them. Let's try to break them down:
1) A Fixed Point is well-documented and/or "famous":
In the case of all three of our "Fixed Point Tales", the events are well-known and well-remembered by a variety of people. Fires of Pompeii is probably the best example of this - as it is based in reality. It uses an actual famous historical event as its setting. But Waters of Mars and the death of the Doctor as witnessed in both Impossible Astronaut and The Wedding of River Song have garnered a sort of "fictional celebrity status" within the mythology of the show, itself. When the Doctor arrives on Bowie Base One, he immediately goes on about how famous the expedition was and the "press clippings" that the story constantly cuts to re-enforce that idea. While it is an event that is meant to happen in our future - it is, without a doubt, an event of great notoriety that will be remembered by a huge number of people in later generations. It will, quite simply, "live on in time". In much the same way as the great volcanic eruption in Pompeii did. While all kinds of other events in the past are forgotten - these two won't be. The same can very much be said about the Doctor's Death. Obviously, the Doctor didn't know much about it, himself. As such information would be kept from him as much as possible. But this is not the case with other species in the Universe. This is best evidenced when we first run across the Teselecta in Let's Kill Hitler. The event is very well-documented by them. To the point where poor old River Song is now a highly-sought-after target for these time travelling policemen. But they are just one of several organisations that seem to know about how famous this moment in time is. So, even though this information has been kept from the Doctor as much as possible, it's still well-known in several other corners of the Universe.
With this idea in mind, we can safely guess that most of the more famous happenings in Earth's history that the Doctor has visited are probably Fixed Points. Stories like The Romans, The Mythmakers or even The Visitation all deal with well-known historical events (respectively, the Destruction of Rome, the Fall of Troy and the Great Fire of London). Whereas other stories like The Time Warrior, Ghostlight or Tooth and Claw are, more than likely, not Fixed Points. While these are stories that also take place in history, nothing particularly noteworthy seems to happen in them. The Fall of Irongron, the Betrayal of Gabriel Chase or Queen Victoria's Scrape with the Werewolf are not adventures that are highly referred-to in our history books! So the necessity of those events happening the way they do doesn't seem particularly important. Which tends to disqualify them as Fixed Points.
If we try to peer into Future History using this trait as a guideline, we can guess that The Dalek Invasion of Earth was, most likely, a story that is a Fixed Point - as it is referred to over and over again in several other stories. More than likely, both Tomb of the Cybermen and Revenge of the Cybermen deal with Fixed Points. As the re-awakening of the Cybermen on Telos gets talked about a fair amount in other stories, too. As does the Defeat of the Cybermen in the Intergalactic Wars. Sadly, however, famous moments in Future History is not something that gets discussed much in Who. So it's tough to determine other future events that might be Fixed Points by using this criteria, alone. Fortunately, there are other traits that we can go by.
2) A Fixed Point often introduces huge change or upheaval.
Admittedly, this idea is based more on logic than examples from the series. Although we could say that all three stories that have identified themselves' as being Fixed Point Events do introduce a certain degree of social, economic or political upheaval - it is more in terms of the idea that they were all major tragedies that affected a lot of people. No doubt, those people affected made different decisions than they would've had they not been struck by the tragedy. Which, in turn, initiated great changes.
One might be inclined to think that most occasions where, say, a government is toppled is probably a Fixed Point. Or an economy is ruined. Or a civilization is wiped out. Or anything where a sizeable population undergoes a radical transformation for the better or worst. Huge events like these are probably meant to happen at a specific moment and in a specific way. Which would, by definition, make them Fixed Points.
With this in mind, a lot of revolutions and uprisings that the Doctor has been responsible for were, quite likely, Fixed Points. Even a "clunker" story like Timelash was, more than likely, a Fixed Point. At the beginning of the story, Karfel is being oppressed by an evil dictator using a weak democratic council as his puppets. By the end, the survivors of the council have prevailed and the dictator has been deposed. Obviously, a radically new system of government is about to be instituted and things are going to be run very differently on Karfel. It would seem logical that an event that introduces such a major social change is meant to happen.
And, more than likely, had to happen at that specific time. If the Borad had been deposed any later, Karfel would've been wiped out by the Bandrels. Nor could the event have happened any sooner. Enough Karfelons had to be outraged by the Borad's tyranny before they would act against him.
So the revolution on Karfel had to happen exactly when it did and the way it did. Which leads one to believe, more through logical reasoning than examples from the "established Fixed Point stories", that this is an important trait for this type of space/time event. This would mean that other stories dealing with rebellions overthrowing dictators are, more than likely, Fixed Points, too. The Sunmakers, The Happiness Patrol and even Vengeance On Varos (which takes place in the same season as Timelash) are highly likely to be Fixed Points.
While revolutions are often the greatest agents of social change, there are other tales that the Doctor has become embroiled in that don't involve "good rebels overthrowing evil tyrants" but still greatly change a civilisation by the time he's left it. One of the earliest stories of this type would be The Keys Of Marinus. Admittedly, it's not too different from the usual good rebels vs. evil dictator formulae. It's simply the reverse, actually. In this case, the rebels are evil and the rulers are good. But one would guess that Marinus will probably become a very different society now that the Voord have been crushed and the Conscience of Marinus destroyed (not to mention that we already heard a revolution occuring off-camera when those nasty brain-monsters got smashed up by Barbara!). So, as the story concludes, a great amount of social change occurs without the Doctor having to actually find some underground force working against a corrupt regime. Making Keys an excellent example of a possible Fixed Point that presents a major shift in the way a society works that doesn't have to involve an actual legitimate revolution of any sort.
Another historical event that brings about huge changes but doesn't involve revolution or rebellion would be any time a major war ends. We've seen from our own history that both the World Wars of the Twentieth Century thoroughly altered political, cultural and economical landscapes at their conclusion. Again, if we take this idea that huge changes are probably Fixed Points, then we can logically guess that a story like The Armageddon Factor might be one. Or Genesis of the Daleks. In both adventures, a gigantic war reaches its end before the final credits roll. So both of these stories could qualify as Fixed Points since, no doubt, the societies affected by these wars will now be radically different from what they were before the wars began (interesting to note, of course, that Guardians and Time Lords were also meddling with these events - maybe the Doctor trying to change a Fixed Point in Waters of Mars isn't such a crazy notion, after all!).
Other events that can also introduce huge social change might be the curing of major plagues (so the Doctor's untelevised visit to Draconia might be a Fixed Point) or assassinations of major political figures (the Doctor's face in the crowd during Kenedy's Death).
Again, however, it should be noted that this supposition is based more on logical deduction than reference to the three stories that all openly identify themselves' as Fixed Points. So, of the three Fixed Points characteristics that are being discussed in this post, this one should be taken with the biggest grain of salt as it is the most difficult to legitimately substantiate using established facts from the show, itself. Still, it seems highly probable that any time a civilization goes through a sudden and radical transformation, this is probably a Fixed Point in Time and is meant to happen exactly the way it does. Even if the Doctor is helping the event along - he is merely assisting History in executing itself correctly and not actually interfering with a Fixed Point like he does in Waters of Mars.
3) Fixed points tend to set up a crucial series of causes and effects.
This is best illustrated in the speech the Doctor delivers to Adelaide Brookes in Waters of Mars as they're reviewing maintenance logs. Where he explains that her granddaughter will be inspired by the sacrifice Grandma makes on Bowie Base One and become an astronaut, herself. An astronaut that will cross the boundaries of space to a greater extent than any other astronaut has. And someone else further down in her lineage will also do something great for the sake of space exploration. And so on ...
The Doctor's "death" has a similiar effect. Although, in this case, it will prevent a string of causes and effects from happening regarding how Silence will finally Fall ("On the Fields of Tranzilore at the Fall of the Eleventh, a Question will be asked". Or, at least, this is what Dorium’s head explains to the Doctor in Wedding of River Song). Again, we see a whole chain of events that are meant to ensue. We can even see this, to some extent, with Fires of Pompeii. An entirely new word is invented. Power within the Roman Empire has also shifted. The way future settlements were established even changed ("If a mountain's rumbling violently - Don't build a city by it!"). This string of future circumstances isn't all that heavilly discussed in any of Fire's dialogue. But we know through history, itself, that this happens.
In some ways, this idea is similiar to our second point, of course. Point Two discusses the idea that a major change occurs after a Fixed Point. But it is a single major change that stands by itself. Point Three takes things a step further by saying that a whole series of ongoing changes will occur. One event causes another to happen. Which will then spark another event. And that event that was sparked causes another event. And that event causes .... well, you get the picture.
Again, that bit in Waters of Mars exemplifies this idea the best. But we can see that all three Fixed Point Stories support this idea.
Where have we seen a similar effect in Classic Who? Well, the absolute best example of this would actually be the Davros stories. His betrayal at the end of Genesis of the Daleks sparks a whole series of important developments that, very much, seem to fall back on each other but, ultimately, lead us down the path to a full scale Dalek Civil War and the destruction of Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks. Many fans even like to hypothesize that the events in Remembrance were the first shots fired in what would become the Time Wars between Gallifrey and the Daleks. That's a whole series of causes and effects that depend on that crucial moment in a bunker on Skaro where a mad Kaled scientist learns that his creations have outgrown him. His execution is pivotal in setting off this whole chain of events that lead us through one of the most epic ongoing storylines in the whole show's history. Imagine if that one fateful moment had not happened the way it did. Davros might never have taken a valid interest in time travel (after all, he only sought the powers of the Time Lords so that he could wipe out a rebel faction of Daleks that were refusing to obey him) and the Time Wars might never have happened. Really, you can't find a better example of a series of causes and effects than this!
Now that we’ve established the three qualifiers for a Fixed Point – let me note an important disqualifier. I know I have sited quite a few stories as being possible Fixed Points and you might even be thinking: “I thought Fixed Points were rare. He seems to be insinuating every other story is one!”. So let me make a few things clear:
Firstly, I hope you’ve noticed how often I’ve used terms like “could be” or “possibly” when referencing stories that weren’t clearly identified as Fixed Points. Because the Doctor doesn’t say things like: “We’re on Karfel during the fall of the Borad. We need to be careful. This is a Fixed Point” I won’t claim that Timelash is definitely a Fixed Point. Even though it meets a lot of the criteria for one. So a lot of what I’ve just claimed is more of an insinuation rather than a statement of fact. If, in the dialogue of some future episode, the Doctor mentions the importance of his sixth incarnation’s visit to Karfel to the fate of the Causal Nexus then I’ll definitely put that special stamp on Timelash. Otherwise, I can give it a rating of “possible Fixed Point” and nothing more. The same goes with any other story that I’ve alleged to be a Fixed Point in time.
The other thing we need to take serious note of is that wonderful speech the Doctor delivered in Kill The Moon - the idea of “blurry points”. These are moments in time that tend to contain all the key ingredients of a Fixed Point but are, in fact, the exact opposite. Yes, the event is famous. Yes, it’s a major upheaval. Yes, it has far-reaching consequences. But he still can’t say, for sure, that the whole thing is meant to happen. Things could go either way in that moment and Time will just compensate for whichever outcome.
In the case of Kill the Moon, humanity is presented with two choices: destroy the creature incubating in their satellite or let it hatch. The Doctor claims humanity is allowed to make either choice without damaging the Web of Time. The universe will continue to function the way it’s meant to regardless of which choice is made. If the premise of Kill the Moon was a Fixed Point, the Doctor would’ve insisted on a single course of action. Things would’ve needed to happen a certain way or there’s going to be big trouble. Instead, he identifies the whole event as being “blurry”. He’s not sure which way it should go. That either outcome is, in the greater cosmic scheme of things, acceptable.
With this notion in mind, we can take any event in the show’s history that hasn’t been clearly sited as a Fixed Point and dismiss it as being a “blurry point” - if we should so desire to. It doesn’t matter how well it stands up to the points I’ve made. It could, in fact, meet those standards even better than the tales that have been identified as Fixed Points. But unless the Doctor, in all his Time Lord Wisdom, attaches the label to it – then we can just stamp a great big “blurry point” label on it and move on. Yes the event is significant but its outcome is only so important. The Universe and the Web of Time will continue without a problem regardless of what decision gets made that day.
Having said all that – we can’t complete this little diatribe without mentioning good ‘ole Captain Jack. In Utopia, the Doctor clearly labels him as a Fixed Point in time. And yet, there’s nothing that Captain Jack seems to have done that really gives him that qualification. At least, according to the premises I’ve set forth in this essay. Captain Jack doesn’t appear to be a well-known historical occurrence. Nor does he cause major upheaval. Nor are there an extended string of consequences that emanate from him. So what’s going on here? How is Jack a Fixed Point?
Here’s how I rationalize it: Rose Tyler stared into the Heart of the TARDIS and had the entire Time Space Vortex going through her. During that time, of course, she has god-like powers. She is able to bend Time to her will. So she doesn’t actually make Jack a Fixed Point but does bestow upon him the powers of one. Captain Jack Harkness must happen. Which means he must remain alive. At least, that’s how the Universe now recognizes him. His continued existence is an absolute necessity to the proper functioning of the Web of Time. So this is why he is now immortal.
With this in mind, we might even be able to see why he might have become the Face of Boe. Jack might’ve radically changed his biology on purpose so that he would, eventually, become unrecognizeable to Time and the Universe. In so doing, he loses his status as a Fixed Point and can finally die.
A bit of a stretch, I know. I’m more inclined to believe he didn’t actually become the Face of Boe. But, it’s an interesting idea!
So, there are some basic rules governing the ideas of Fixed Points. Keeping them in mind, have fun re-watching the series and coming up with your own private notions of where you think you might see a Fixed Point happening. It’s a fun way to make the show fresh on repeat viewings.
And so, Rob Tymec’s first Doctor Who Essay is posted. A most important event that could cause major upheaval and long-reaching consequences.
Perhaps, you’re seeing a Fixed Point in action even as you read this…