Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Frayed – Part 1

Frayed Part 1: Pilot (pp 1-67)

So here we are, at the beginning of this journey and it’s interesting that it opens with a story about stories. Further, we get our two key perspective characters acting as distributors of tales. Firstly, we have a librarian, Webber, who states that you can understand a lot about people by what they read. And we then have Jill who communicates what is happening through the myths she has been told.

In fact, this seems to be the case for the entire planet of Iwa and can be observed best by the two travellers that we see enter this story. First of all, we have the Old Man who, by the end of the first part, appears to have become the titular Doctor Who. Yet this is only because he has absorbed the stories other people have told about him, as they try to rationalise his presence. Whilst he claims to be a scientist and an engineer (and appears to at least have some technical knowledge) he doesn’t seem to unequivocally state he actually possesses a Doctorate, rather he just finds it a noble title. And this seems to be his nature, he slips himself into other people’s stories. Even in the first moment we see him he is taking notes, he wants to understand what is happening here, to find a story of his own.

Then, we have “The Girl”, our pilot from which I have given the first half of this story its name. However, given the Old Man’s tendency to give people the facts they want, it’s not 100% clear if she actually is a pilot or merely a convenient fiction to get the soldiers of the refuge searching for her. And this really reflects how she is portrayed in this part. She is given the name of Susan by Jill but she does not seem to know her own, just that this doesn’t fit her. She is a blank piece of paper being shaped by the stories others are telling of her and putting her in. As she is wandering into caves and being chased by wolf-like creatures1 she seems like the young girl crossing over into the woods, from her safe place into the darkness. I think it is fair to level some criticism at the choices made here. It might be going too far to consider her a McGuffin but it’s still her rescue that is motivating everyone else whilst she is left as a blank page. I hope that we get to learn more of her in the next part but I would not be surprised if she is merely treated as a plot device throughout and dies before we learn more about her. I hope not but it is a trope too well used to not consider it a likely plot choice.

Going back to the idea of stories, it is necessary to talk about Jill, although we do not learn her name until almost the end of this part, so it might almost be better to call her “The Storyteller.” For this is what she seems to do in two senses. Firstly she intercuts the central narrative with the Meso-American myths and stories of her relationships with Olmec2 and the Mentors. Yet we also learn that she is able to project images into the minds of the Mentors and it seems like Jill is likely to be the one constructing the world inside the dream chambers. She is managing to balance hearing tales, telling them, creating them for herself and distributing them. Whilst many of the other characters inhabit one or more of these worlds, she is the only one we have seen that is able to balance them all simultaneously.

At the opposite end of the scale we have Cass. She does not read, nor does she often believe the stories she is told. Her only dream is in engaging directly in action and being able to be in the fight. This most certainly is not designed to make her in anyway better than Jill, in fact we read her racist thoughts about her crew-mates indicating where we might be able to expect this kind of ignorance to lead. To a different more dangerous kind of fiction.

We also can observe that with the people of Earth too. The refuge is put far out of the way of Earth, allowing people to live in an ignorant fiction, where they believe they are helping keep themselves safe from criminals. They do not need to see the horrible treatment and the company does not bother to actually look at the research for helping these people. A third kind of dangerous fiction.

So, if we can tell all about a person based on the books we read, can we divine anything about the series upon which we are about to embark from this opening chapter? It appears to be one that is at once mysterious but also a little prone to didacticism3, it mediates on story telling society and character. It is neither grimdark nor utopian, but exists in the shades of grey. And it looks to be an interesting world to discover.

1 For all the discussion of foxes the wolf seems to meet the description and images better. There may however be more mythology around foxes which I am unaware of.

2 I do not want to talk too much about Olmec and the stories yet as we have yet to actually meet him or see fully how these might connect with the story. However, it is raising an eyebrow that we have a character called Olmec telling stories of Aztec and Mayan Gods. It just seems to be a poor choice, particularly when we have got almost no information about the character other than their relationship to Jill.

3 This could easily be a function of being the first volume as it needs to establish a large number of characters quickly. Whilst the method may be a bit shaky, it does an effective job and they seem like real people, not just cannon fodder.


GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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