Who's the doctor? - John C. Kirk
Apr. 7th, 2007
09:57 pm - Who's the doctor?
I've just been watching the second episode of the new Doctor Who series ("The Shakespeare Code"); it was ok, but it also had a few dodgy points. In particular, following up on my post last week, it had some rather dubious first aid by the alleged doctor. (I did have some concerns about her disappearing off when she had commitments at her hospital, but I'm now inclined to say that they're better off without her.)
So, the premise of this week's episode is that the Doctor and Martha travel back in time to 1599, to meet Shakespeare and watch his plays. In the process, they bump into alien witches.
One of the themes of this episode was that Shakespeare was a genius. I remember coming to the same conclusion at about 3am one day when I was sitting in the school library writing an esay on one of his plays and digging through various study guides that discussed the hidden meanings, so I'm happy to go along with this. Mind you, the running joke of "I like that phrase, I'll have to use it" was getting a bit tedious by the end of the episode. More generally, I think that Gaiman covered similar ground in his Sandman comics, and did it much better.
Speaking of running jokes, I was glad that they didn't mention "Saxon" in this episode (or that I missed it if they did); hopefully this means that this series will be a bit different to the last two. In the 9th Doctor's series, we saw the phrase "Bad Wolf" showing up in various places (e.g. graffiti), and it struck me as being a bit of an obtrusive indulgence, since it would be odd to have different people using the same phrase in their graffiti 50 years apart. However, that turned out to have an in-story explanation, rather than just being an inside joke by the production crew to amuse themselves; not a great explanation, admittedly, but I can live with that. In the 10th Doctor's first series, they kept referring to "Torchwood" (presumably as advertising for the spin-off series), and it became blatantly obvious that they were having to shoehorn it in where it didn't belong. If they want to establish a new Prime Minister, that's fine by me, but I'd prefer them to just get on with it rather than having to do a conscious name-check every episode.
There was a bit of a meta-level discussion in the episode, where Martha raised questions about the way they did things. For instance, she was concerned that they'd stand out with their clothing, but the Doctor brushed this aside by saying that they should just act as if they belonged there. Personally, I think they should make more of an effort to blend in, and it's a bit silly for each incarnation of the Doctor to always wear the exact same set of clothes every day. On the other hand, he's been using this tactic for a long time, and clearly it works for him, so in that sense there's no need for him to change.
This reminds me of a scene from Alan Moore's Supreme (a thinly veiled counterpart to Superman), where a journalist is wandering around his museum/souvenir hall. The general objection to huge creatures like King Kong or Godzilla is the square/cube principle. Basically, if you double the length of everything (so that a gorilla is twice as tall), each area will now be 22 times the original, i.e. 4 times the size. However, each volume will now be 23 times the original, i.e. 8 times as much. That means that the pressure on the gorilla's legs/feet will be twice as much, and if you keep scaling up then you'll eventually reach a point where he can no longer support his own weight. So, when the journalist sees a giant gorilla, he claims that this is impossible, and that the creature couldn't possibly exist. Supreme just says: "Well, I'm sorry, but he did!" (Quoting from memory.)
This ties into the wider theme of time travel logic. I can accept that they're fairly relaxed about potential world changing consequences; Quantum Leap had a similar approach, by assuming that anything Sam changed would be fairly localised. I'd also say that the Doctor is pretty much the opposite of Starfleet, since the whole point of his travels is that he's following the anti-Prime Directive ("butt in as much as possible!"). I'm also willing to accept that the Doctor is less casual than he seems: he's been doing this for a long time, so he makes it look easy, but he actually knows what's safe and what isn't. (This has been alluded to in previous episodes.) Similarly, if he has to explain temporal physics by analogy then those analogies will probably be flawed - the whole "lies to children" principle.
Having said all that, I was a bit dubious about his reference to Back to the Future. I liked that trilogy, and I think its internal logic holds together pretty well. However, the key point of the first film is that Marty changes his own history by screwing around in the past, almost erasing himself from existence. In the context of this episode, the alien witches were threatening to destroy the world, but Martha said that she knew they didn't succeed, otherwise she wouldn't have been born in the 20th century. The Doctor referred to BTTF, by saying that their actions would ripple forward, causing her (and everyone she knew) to be erased from existence. Surely that only works if she'd actually done something to help the witches' plan? Basically, I'm thinking about multiple laps of the timeline here.
Lap 1: The witches make a plan to destroy the world, but fail on their own (or are thwarted by the locals). 400 years later (give or take), the Earth is still around, Martha meets the Doctor, and they hop into the TARDIS.
Lap 2: Martha and the Doctor meet the witches, and the plan succeeds. This then means that Martha no longer exists.
That can be a decent story, but it's not particularly encouraging, especially since the Doctor had previously told her not to worry about changing anything! I think a better explanation would go like this:
Lap 1: The witches try to destroy the world, and succeed. Gallifrey is unscathed, but the Doctor never visits 20th century Earth to meet any of his companions.
Lap 2: The Doctor happens to come across 16th century Earth on his travels, and stops the witches' plan. This changes the timeline, so 20th century Earth is now populated, and the Doctor's younger self (that's important!) meets friends there.
Lap 3: The Doctor and Martha travel back to 1599, and meet the witches. The Doctor may or may not remember the previous version of events - he never experienced them, but he's also a TimeLord, and he may just be keeping quiet about why he picked this "random" destination. He needs to stop them again, but this time he has Martha tagging along, so things are different; if she screws things up then her world will die.
The first aid came when someone came staggering towards Martha and the Doctor, vomiting large quantities of water, and then collapsed in front of them. (The reason for this was that a witch had been dunking a voodoo doll of him into a barrel of water.) Martha knelt down to check on him, and she did get into the correct position to check his breathing. However, she did this out of sequence (before she'd checked for a response), and she didn't check for 10 seconds. Once she'd decided that he wasn't breathing, she announced that she needed to get his heart beating again, and she then attempted to do a rescue breath before she was interrupted. (Meanwhile, the witch stuck a needle through the doll's chest, causing the heart to stop.) At this point, I would say that the casualty had effectively drowned; this is unusual on dry land (!), but that's the situation that they were presented with. Bearing that in mind, I don't think there was any reason for Martha to believe that his heart had stopped beating (even though it actually had). Still, being positive I will point out that she was correct to start with rescue breaths; normally you'd do 30 chest compressions, then 2 rescue breaths, then 30 more compressions, etc., but for drowning you start out with 5 rescue breaths.
As I said last week, the reason I'm flagging these points is that I'm trying to counter disinformation. I did a quick websearch for other reactions to the previous episode, and I found The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant. To quote from that blog post: "Like Rose, she saves the Doctor's life in her first story; unlike Rose, she uses her skill and intelligence instead of instinct – as a trainee doctor herself she knows the technique of CPR, but she is also smart enough to adapt immediately to a patient with two hearts." In other words, the person who wrote that is impressed by how well Martha did CPR! So, if you think that it's ok for a character to make mistakes, or you're willing to overlook dodgy first aid because it would slow the episode down, that's fair enough; my concern is that other people do take what they see on TV at face value. (I'm not trying to pick on that blogger in particular, that was just the first relevant page I came across.)
When I did a post about Lost last week, I jokingly said that I could use these mistakes as scenarios for an SJA class night. Now that I've thought about it a bit more, I actually think that this could work quite well. We do have some videos in our course materials, but they tend to be a bit cheesy. Tonight's episode of Doctor Who and last week's episode of Lost are both repeated tomorrow, so I'll record them and see if I can transfer them onto my computer (I think the capture card for my webcam should work for the VCR too), then yank out the relevant clip. While I'm generally anti-piracy, I think this falls into the category of "fair use", and it's all for a good cause. So, if anyone does happen to have last week's Doctor Who episode in digital form already, and you could bung me a copy (or excerpt), I won't ask too many questions about where you got it from :)
More generally, I'll try to build up a collection of clips like this. I've heard that Casualty tends to have people doing CPR at arms' length (although I don't watch it myself); this would theoretically work, but it would also be very tiring. When I did my AED requal, I had to do CPR on the mannequin for 2 minutes; I could have carried on for longer, but my arms were starting to get tired. The idea of leaning over the person is that you're just pushing down, so you can let gravity do some of the work with your body weight. Someone else told me about a TV episode where the first aider did CPR with their fingers interlaced (the position you'd be in if you wanted to stretch your arms and crack your knuckles); this may be good if you don't want to hurt the actor playing casualty, but it's less good if you actually want to provide basic life support.
So, if you've come across any dodgy clips in TV episodes or films, let me know, and I'll try to track them down. It doesn't have to be just CPR; putting a broken arm in an elevation sling or yanking a big piece of broken glass out of a wound would be relevant too. (Speaking of which, the Angel episode "First Impressions" gets an honourable mention for Cordelia mentioning this: "A piece of broken glass went into her neck. She pulled it out before I could stop her.") Technically, Short Circuit 2 should probably be flagged as a dodgy entry (jump starting a robot with a defibrillator), but I'm giving that an exception on the grounds that it was a good film, and the technique deserved to work; besides, I'm not training people to do first aid on robots.