Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Time and Relative – Part 1

Time and Relative Part 1: The Cold Night (pp. 9-60)

Time and Relative


When he thinks about the cold, he becomes cold…
Calculating and tabulating but not connecting, not caring, not feeling

Time and Relative pp.25

Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know

Let It Go, Frozen

Perhaps as a result of its media proliferation, it’s hard not to see what Kim Newman does here in comparison with what Buck and Lee did with Frozen. This adaptation of the Snow Queen stalled for a long time as various people struggled with what to do with the titular character. The breakthrough came when they considered what it would actually feel like from her perspective. Here Newman considers what it would be like to be an alien stuck in early 1960s London, with more power and knowledge than all those she lives among but she has to hide who she really is.

But this not just Susan, the whole of Shoreditch is full of these people. Gillian is treated as stupid because the school system isn’t setup to recognise her kind of intelligence1, she is blamed for lashing out when she is being abused by her father and other pupils, even though all the teachers know this is happening. John wants to make things but is forced by his father into a military career where he is more likely to blow things up. The six-year old Malcolm is racially abused and told to go back where he came from in spite of being born in London. And even Susan’s grandfather, we now learn, ran away from their society where they were forced to conform to rules with which they disagreed.

So all these characters are forced to repress who they are. Whether through the physical violence which Gillian is put through on a regular basis or the mental blocks which have been applied to Susan and her grandfather to make sure they do not interfere.

As this repression happens we also see memories fade. Gillian blocks out her abuse for survival. Susan and her grandfather seem to be losing parts of their own memories ever since they left their home. Even ordinary adults, we learn, refuse to accept things that aren’t familiar to them. And as a symbol of all this repression comes a blanket of snow.

Even though isolation and ice come (I believe) from two different linguistic routes, the relationship between cold and loneliness are inextricably linked in our language. If we ignore someone, we give them the cold shoulder. If someone is unfriendly we may describe them as icy. If someone is neglected they are left out in the cold. Therefore it is unsurprising both Frozen and Time and Relative have this metaphor to act as a background, as we see more of our central characters treated this way, so does the ice build up and the temperature drop.

But Time and Relative goes further. From the perspective of the Ice itself, humans are just as much outsiders as Susan and her grandfather. We hear it declare that humanity is an infestation and usurpers. Whilst soldiers may tell Malcolm to go back where he came from, it appears this ice creature would like humanity to as well. The answer to both is the same, No, this is my home.

And this is where Susan’s power comes in. Whilst I was critical in Frayed that Susan is only really used as a listener and a storyteller, this same strength comes into play here in a rather wonderful way. Even though she has seen the worst of humanity and wishes sometimes she could produce “breath freezing death, crystallising them into breakable statues”, and knows herself to be an outsider, she does not regard them as an infestation. She believes she doesn’t have to obey the rules laid down by the people at home, that she should interfere and save people. She seems to be the halfway point between the alien and the human, an outsider and an insider. Hopefully, it can allow her to be the agent of change she wishes.

It is also interesting to see this in contrast to Frayed not just in terms of Susan’s development (where I could fill a thousand words just listing all we learn about her) but also in terms of the adventure itself. On Iwa they are in and out as quickly as possible, only staying as long as they do and getting involved because of Susan being stuck in the dreamscape. Here Susan decides she wants to stay at school and has been there for an indefinite amount of time2. Frayed went at break-neck speed with no point to stop and breathe, London in the 1960s is the inexorable slow passage of time where the danger is much more insidious than psychic children or materialising foxes.3

The danger as much comes from the adherence to archaisms and absurd rules as it does from the ice creatures attacking them. On the most minor level they are forced to use fountain pens on the argument it will build hand muscles even though it impacts many children’s education. This however runs all the way up to not being able to set fire to public property even thought it will save their lives.

The only real hope for humanity surviving this ice or evolving as a species is to break away from all these barriers holding them back. They just need to Let It Go.

1 It seems she may have dyslexia but this is not explicitly confirmed within the text

2. She thinks it might be five months but she says it always feels like five months to her. As we learn their home is a place where time has no meaning it is fairly easy to understand why protracted stays in a linear time would get confusing.

3 Even Susan is not immune to all of the casual racism around with some of the terms she uses, even though it is implied she has been to other times and areas on Earth. Spend enough time in a prejudiced society and it is not surprising you will pick up a lot of misinformation.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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