Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Part 1

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Uninvited Guests

 

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Uninvited Guests

Whilst this begins a different kind of tale from what we have seen before, it is in fact, in many ways, a logical evolution. The influence of both fairy tales (e.g. Frayed) and high fantasy (e.g. The Daleks) I have commented on before. I have also commented on how Marco Polo feels like our characters have entered into a book. Now the Sorcerer’s Apprentice brings this subtext to the surface:

“Astride it, as though torn from the pages of a history book, was a knight in a red plumed helmet bearing a shield and lance.”

And this is not just historical, it goes full into science fiction and fantasy with crashed spaceships, magic, dragons, dwarves, elves and leprechauns[1].

Whilst this is apparently not a storybook but an alien world (more on that later) the conceit of it appears to be taking on the plot elements of this story. This turns out to be a blessing and a curse.

It would be easy for this series to get into a very repetitive pattern with the kind of questing adventure that seems to be the standard format. By putting it into the context of the traditional trappings of the fantasy story it gives it a feel that is different without moving outside of the general conceit of these episodes. It also allows for further exploration of the archetypes of The Doctor as a Wizard, Ian as a Knight and Susan as a Princess.

As you may notice from the list there is one person missing and this is the most outstanding flaw. The story seems to have little use for Barbara. This is not just a minor oversight but a major one, as we have her traditional role as the scholarly historian taken over by Ian. This mirrors all too clearly the marginalization of women characters in many traditional fantasy stories.

A further disappointment is the exoticization of people of colour. Whilst we are told there are people of all different skin colours in Elbyon this seems only to be noted in order for it to be noted how different that is for medieval Europe. This is a fact that is not only completely untrue[2] but also represents one of the problems we see in the numerous all-white fantasies. Further, based on Ian’s reaction it does not appear that any of the speaking characters are people of colour[3] so it appears to be making people’s ethnicity just one more weird occurrence. A very problematic choice in my view.

Circling back to the actual planet we do learn some curious facts about it. Someone appears to have been manipulating it, putting eight moons in orbit and a “Merlin” making landfall. However, this does not appear to be the crashed spaceship discovered as this is supposed to be contemporaneous to the period they are meant to be in. This seems to eliminate the possibility of a planet that happens to coincidentally be just like Earth (as was the want of some Star Trek The Original Series writers). Unlike The Daleks we get a lot of information on this world fairly quickly, although the reason for this all happening is still hidden from us.

The other key thing hidden from us is the other narratives we occasional jump away to. Firstly, we have the prologue of Klist where he appears to be being enveloped in darkness. Then we get the imperial mission of some military team. Is this related to the crashed ship from “Empire City”? Are they outside the world or is there some part of the planet that has a more science fictional mechanism?

One last element I do want to mention is The Doctor’s skepticism. We have seen hints of it previously but here it appears to be in full force. Even when a dragon is in front of him and about to destroy him he is still willing to claim it to be impossible. When Gamling, the court magician, summons an illusion in front of him he is determined to look for the rational answer and declare it is merely advanced technology. In spite of being the archetype of the wizard (and characters declaring him and Susan having something magical about them) he is very much the scientist and skeptic. Whether that continues to be the case in this realm of fantasy we will see.

 

 

[1] Given how Tolkienian the story is, it is possible these are a copyright free insertion to replace hobbits. However, this is purely speculation on my part.

[2] You can see the excellent medievilpoc.tumblr.com for numerous examples of this in art to the contrary.

[3] Although they have not been specified so it is just possible that I may be proved incorrect in later parts.

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