Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Frayed – Part 2

Frayed Part 2: Fox Hunt (pp 68-134)

Frayed Fox Hunt

We are now at the conclusion of the opening two-parter and I feel both more and less informed about this show.

We appear to learn a lot about The Old Man (now regularly referred to as The Doctor, so I will too) but it is unclear how much of this is true. Webber makes a big statement about him, that he is not human, not from Earth and she is not a pilot, nor does he have a ship that can take them back to Earth. All of these The Doctor appears to agree to and would appear to support some of the hints we have been getting so far. However, at the end we see him enter a ship and suggest it is possible for them to reach Earth. So are all these facts untrue or just the last one?

His actions also hint at a contradiction or hypocrisy. He is regularly utilitarian, thinking the deaths of others to achieve a greater good is acceptable. Until, of course, it comes to his granddaughter. Then he is willing to throw all caution, even his own life, in order to rescue her. From an external perspective this could be argued to be because he needs her in order to pilot his ship, but it is definitely presented as a genuine affection. That he can be truly heroic when the situation is presented.

Unfortunately, his granddaughter (now Susan) fares much worse. Whilst she is not fridged (as I feared she might be given how these stories often go) she is still largely put in peril in order to motivate The Doctor, rather than actually taking any action. It is perhaps most emphasised in one scene where she tries to speak but her lips fall off. By the end she does indeed play a role but it is not as a pilot (as it is suggested she might be) or a scientist (as The Doctor gets to be) but rather that she can listen to people and tell good stories. Now the merits of this approach are arguable within the context of this episode.

For the ability to communicate is central to the narrative. Whilst the first half was concerned with the stories we tell, this is concerned with what we don’t say. The war largely takes place because of an inability to communicate between the Humans and The Foxes and their desperation causes them to make irrational choices. The dreamscape is created so Jill can summon Olmec because she cannot reach him. Even the Foxes entity’s ability to understand the dreamscape is central to the resolution. So it could be argued that Susan’s role is one of the greatest strengths of all, as The Doctor is quite reticent about divulging any information and we still do not know how much of what he says is really lies. Yet within a broader context Susan is diluted into a poor role to introduce her. As this is only the second episode we can only hope she will get expansion, not merely continue to be pushed into the background.

In the midst of this miscommunication, Cass moves into being the central villain. She willfully deceives and kills purely in order to gain the power she seeks. Yet her real fatal flaw that leads to her fall is ego. In many ways her impulse is one that many people feel, if only I was in charge things would run a lot smoother. Of course, like coup leaders and demagogues the world over she soon discovers that life is not that simple. People are not automatons and the enemy is not simply a force of pure evil. For the Foxes trust those who “do not wear the colour of killing”1.

Then we get to the ending. I did not just avoid talking about this until now for the sake of chronology. Rather this consists of a series of rather problematic choices, which really need to be addressed separately. The first point is the solution to the problems of the dreamscape. In here the Mesoamerican legends are declared to be “just stories” by Olmec after being convinced as such by Jill and Susan. At worst this is horrific erasure of real beliefs pushed by white people. Even in the most generous reading it has to be acknowledged as terrible optics.

Outside this goes further. The humans live in occupation under threat of death but it is presented as a positive situation, suggesting an occupying peace is better than war and servitude to an occupying force is little different to working for a corporation. Now I am neither a fan of capitalism nor military ventures but this is the height of false equivalencies. When combined with the prior treatment of native religious beliefs these choices are deeply troubling.

Less related but still troubling is the central romantic relationship between Olmec and Jill. Olmec at this point seems to only be a trace of his original self so he seems to be fulfilling the fantasies of the Pre-Teen Jill. It could be argued that as they both only exist in a dreamscape this is all harmless, but I question the element of choice that is really present for either of them.

Perhaps there is some point in this. That the universe is a dark place where endings are messy? However, if so, none of the characters make this clear and I would expect this given that we are often well into the realms of didacticism with the other points the tale is making. Instead it is presented as a happy ending. For an opening two-parter, this is an…odd choice to say the least.

Will we ever see this planet again? It is possible of course but it seems with the title and ending we are destined to follow the Old Man and his Granddaughter, now (for the moment at least) Susan and our titular Doctor. Will we next see them on Iwa, Earth or another planet all together? We shall see.

1. Although, given that a key part of this story emerges out of the fact that they murder a bunch of released animals from a petting zoo. Now some could be argued to be carnivores but what about if there were rabbits or chickens. I find this protestation a little hard to swallow. I feel I have to retcon this as a result of The Foxes assuming they were some kind of weapon but this feels like heavy lifting on my part.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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