The Doctor’s armour buckles; Ace’s resolve doubles.
Here we have a story which is allegorical, literal, and contemplative while still maintaining a twisting plot. And it’s wonderful.
Today’s reading sees the Doctor succumb to the Timewyrm in an effort to rescue Ace, and he does so in the most stylish way possible, literally dancing with Death herself. The questioning of one’s nature continues here, with Death contemplating why she was brought into being, why she must kill, and something sad about roses.
All of the characters in this story are narrative constructs, but some are also constructs within the constructed world of the novel we’re reading. As Ace recalls in the garden, it’s all about context. Death is a fictional construct- and yet she kills the Doctor in a way sufficient to the Timewyrm’s purpose. The roles behind words and names have power in this unreal dimension.
This is further explored when Ace is in her eight year old body, but with the mind of her adult self. She stands up to her bigoted teacher, but using the language of her eight year old self. As her memories continue to fade, she relies on a mantra of what is important to her (“loyalty, trust, bacon sandwiches and high explosives”) to keep her personhood intact. This is a world where words can create or destroy, but that isn’t just a magic wand to fix all our heroes’ problems.
The guilt of the Doctor is explored here, having been alluded to previously in the series. We get a payoff for the constant Katarina references in Genesys, and her appearance alongside Sara and Adric is truly unsettling. The Timewyrm is trying to strip the Doctor of the sense that, despite the deaths in his past, he has had a positive impact on the universe. It’s the same reason she wants to drive a wedge between him and Ace, as she has been so entwined in his schemes. Her effort with Ace is to rob her of not only her trust and loyalty of the Doctor, but the strength of character she has built through fighting with him (and even before that when fighting against racism). Never before has a villain in the series attacked the Doctor or his friends more personally and intimately. This is an excellent reminder of how strongly linked the Timewyrm and the TARDIS – and therefore the Doctor – really are. This is how she got her intel for this attack- especially seeing as both the Doctor and Ace have had their memories accessed by the TARDIS.
I also love the concept that the Timewyrm is now the virus, rather than the physical form that was once Qataka. Her ability to load herself into the wetware that is the 8-year-old Chad is chilling, and gives the scenes where she is by herself an intangible quality. I find it hard to imagine these as there is little in the way of visual references, and that’s entirely fitting. What do I imagine here? Something ethereal, like a calmer version of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s stargate sequence.
Timewyrm: Revelation– Chapters 5-7.