elisi: (Storytellers by kathyh)
[personal profile] elisi
in ex·tre·mis: in extreme circumstances; especially: at the point of death

Welcome to the meta café, one and all. Make yourselves at home, this is a long one. ETA: Now dedicated to [personal profile] maia - Happy Birthday! ♥

First of all a few points that don't fit anywhere else:

- I adore Nardole. Not just because it's v useful having non-human companion w/greater knowledge of technology/the wider universe, but of course also his [not so] secret Badassness. <3

- Bill continues to be a delight, and her interrupted date is one of the funniest things I have seen. (Check out Tumblr’s ‘Interrupting Pope’ meme!) She is smart and bewildered and scared and the Doctor is so gentle when they are finally reunited, and he has to explain what is happening.

- Generally assume that I liked everything. Everyone at CERN drinking wine. Missy's snarky asides. The way the episode was structured. How the plot unfolded. Etc.

- Quick point however, re. the Doctor calling Bill and telling her 'Call Penny tonight.' As you are probably aware, episode 11 is called 'World Enough and Time', which is obviously taken from Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. (But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near - the Doctor can hear it very keenly indeed...)

But. This episode tapped into so many things, that I have been forced to somehow narrow them down…

However, since it is not actually physically possible to take into account 9 years worth of storytelling & meta, this will be me touching on certain aspects that particularly stood out… Because in this one, not surprisingly, we are going all the way back to The Library. In many many ways. Let’s just start with the silliest one first. :)

A Cry For Help





It's funny, but also ties in with the larger themes. From Oxygen:

DOCTOR: The universe shows its true face when it asks for help. We show ours by how we respond.

The Doctor asks for help - with a kiss. :)


The Doctor has used his reputation/history/death toll before:

DOCTOR: Because this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to rescue her. I'm going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I'm going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I'm going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
DALEK: But you have no weapons, no defences, no plan.
DOCTOR: Yeah. And doesn't that scare you to death?

Bad Wolf

DOCTOR: Don't play games with me. You just killed someone I liked. That is not a safe place to stand. I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up.
(There is a pause, then the shadows withdraw.)

VASHTA NERADA: You have one day.
Forest of the Dead

DOCTOR: Could you all just stay still a minute because I am talking! The question of the hour is, who's got the Pandorica? Answer, I do. Next question. Who's coming to take it from me? Come on! Look at me. No plan, no back up, no weapons worth a damn. Oh, and something else. I don't have anything to lose! So, if you're sitting up there in your silly little spaceship, with all your silly little guns, and you've got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who's standing in your way. Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing. Let somebody else try first.
The Pandorica Opens

There are different reasons for the grandstanding - warnings, buying time etc.

But here the context [of the episode] is different than what we have seen before. Allow me to demonstrate:





The offer standsx

The Doctor wants forgiveness (“Don’t we all?”), but as he is not a believer (“Funny, I don’t believe much. I’m not sure I believe anything”) the Church’s offer is not something he can avail himself of.

However this is probably one reason why forgiveness (living without all that guilt) is something which matters to him greatly, something he wishes for, knowing it is impossible, and something he offers to others freely:




Clara’s story in the S8 finale - and the Doctor’s response, as shown above, helped throw this into fresh light, and it’s something especially pertinent wrt Missy. He knows Missy will betray him if she gets the chance. She’ll never ‘turn good’, no matter how much she pleads, but that doesn’t make a difference to how he treats her here.


Just going to keep mex


But - we need to make a distinction between ‘saving’ and ‘salvation’ - that is, saving someone physically, and saving their soul…



‘Divine intervention therefore is permitted for a maximum of five minutes.’ This might be my favourite line out of all of it. But the key point is the Doctor’s ‘immortal soul and any peril thereunto.’

Of course, the Doctor has been ready to kill Missy before, and she saw the danger too (in the S8 finale when a distraught Clara would have killed Missy in retribution, and the Doctor stepped in and offered to do the deed himself):


The Doctor spends his life saving others, but who saves HIM? Often his companions, but again there is the distinction between physically saving and saving someone’s soul. And River was the first one to spell that out… The woman born to kill him, but who instead (repeatedly) sacrificed her life to save him (giving up her regenerations, her freedom, her life). And because their lives were so entwined, she could see very clearly where the issue lay:

Wegetthatwordfrom youx

Clara picked up River’s mantle, holding the Doctor to the mark when needed:



But Clara is of course gone, so it is beautifully fitting that River reaches out once more, this time from beyond the grave, to stop the Doctor from making a mistake:


What her feelings are regarding Missy is anyone’s guess. But we can be sure she does not want her husband to carry the guilt that would come with killing his best friend.

Although the ‘priest’s’ opening is telling:

“Greetings sinner. Only in darkness are we revealed.”

‘Sinner’ is not a word heard often in Doctor Who. But it fits here. We are all sinners, we are all on the same playing field. It's a counterpoint to the 'divine intervention' and to seeing the Doctor's actions as somehow god-like. Greetings sinner. He is powerful, but still mortal, still accountable for his deeds.

The line ‘In darkness are we revealed’ is also important - especially since later we have the Doctor confiding in Missy:


Circling back to the Forgiveness theme… the Doctor in many ways has a confessor already. Not someone who can forgive him, obviously, but someone to confess to.

I sincerely doubt this is a good idea.


And now for a collection of images (images are a shortcut, as I cannot possibly lay all this out in writing without creating a 10,000+ word essay)...

Guarding Gallifrey, our Childhood, our Home



The Doctor guarding his people/his childhood friend. And in both cases he is protecting the world from them. Time Lords are dangerous. But he is also devoted, guarding the crack for best part of a thousand years, and committing to another thousand for the Vault.

Women in Boxes





River is obviously the odd one out, as she could come and go as she pleased, and wasn’t guarded/protected by a loved one.

But River is also the only one of these who had agency, who chose the box as the price she was willing to pay for the choices she made.

DOCTOR: Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.
Mummy on the Orient Express

Agency could quite possibly turn out to be one of the major themes this season - [personal profile] shadowkat lays it out beautifully in this comment. Missy’s *lack* of agency so far will probably be a feature, as she has never been willing to just sit back and let others decide.

TWoRS paralells

The Prison rising out of a lake



The truth that has to be spoken



The execution of a Time Lord



The twist, where the executioner refuses to play along



And finally, the Doctor visiting the prisoner (a woman in a box)



There is a sense that the characters have played musical chairs, but the beats of the story are remarkably similar (I’m not saying this is a bad thing - quite the opposite. Day of the Doctor was River’s story in miniature. A good story is always worth revisiting. Indeed, there is only a limited number of basic stories that can be told, the differences lies in the *how*.)

It’s even in things like the fact that it’s more than possible that the Doctor was as unwilling a participant in Missy’s execution as River was in the Doctor’s. Who would *volunteer* to kill someone then guard the dead body for a thousand years?

Ditto we don’t know why Missy was sentenced to death, or whom by. Given her history it could be anything, but remember, the Doctor was going to be killed quite simply for being the Doctor.

So yes - it’s interesting to reflect that the Doctor has been *exactly* where Missy found herself.

If this is all a dream, whose dream is it?

First of all, a couple of links for those who are interested in the philosophical/theological/historical underpinnings of the episode. Well worth your time. (With thanks to [personal profile] enevarim):

Adam Riggio: When a Legendary Fear Is True

One of Descartes’ most famous ideas was first articulated by a woman

(By the way, this is where I ran out of energy & time to make pretty pictures. Imagine them please.)

The Library is, as always, the foundation of all of Moffat Who. Although I did compile an (undoubtedly incomplete) list of times when dreams/virtual realities/duplicates of our characters have been a feature:

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (people being saved to the data core, virtual lives)
Journey’s End (Ten!Too is still the Doctor, despite being human)
Amy’s Choice (alternative realities/dreams, need to die in the dream to take up in reality)
The Big Bang (pocket universe, need to escape/reboot, Nestene!Rory is still Rory)
The Rebel Flesh/Almost People (the duplicate Doctor is still the Doctor)
The Name of the Doctor: All the Clara echoes are still Clara
Girl Who Waited (different time streams, older!Amy and young!Amy are both Amy)
Wedding of River Song (broken time, different reality, mangled memories, still themselves)
The Bells of St John (people killed/uploaded to computer)
Robot of Sherwood (are we more important as people or as stories, is Robin Hood 'real'? does it matter?)
Dark Water/Death in Heaven (dead people uploaded onto Time Lord matrix)
Last Christmas (dream in a dream in a dream - Inception - dream check: book test)
The Zygon Inversion (Clara in dreamworld, dream check: newspaper)

And in the Library the questions of what is ‘real’, and what it means to be ‘saved’ are both at the heart of everything.

The Library belongs to a little girl who lives in a virtual world, and she effortlessly steps between the real and the imaginary. Here is the relevant dialogue for those who can't immediately bring to mind the plot of an episode from 2008...

ANITA: It's the little girl. The girl we saw in the computer.
LUX: She's not in the computer. In a way, she is the computer. The main command node. This is Cal.
DOCTOR: Cal is a child? A child hooked up to a mainframe? Why didn't you tell me this? I needed to know this!
LUX: Because she's family! Cal. Charlotte Abigail Lux. My grandfather's youngest daughter. She was dying, so he built her a library and put her living mind inside, with a moon to watch over her, and all of human history to pass the time. Any era to live in, any book to read. She loved books more than anything, and he gave her them all. He asked only that she be left in peace. A secret, not a freak show.
DOCTOR: So you weren't protecting a patent, you were protecting her.
LUX: This is only half a life, of course. But it's for ever.
DOCTOR: And then the shadows came.
GIRL NODE: The shadows. I have to. I have to save. Have to save.
DOCTOR: And she saved them. She saved everyone in the library. Folded them into her dreams and kept them safe.

Donna is ‘saved’, but her life in the computer is a dream… And so are some of the people in it:

MISS EVANGELISTA: Your children are not real. They're fictions. I'm sorry, but now that you understand that, you won't be able to keep a hold. They are sustained only by your belief.
DONNA: Okay. That was lovely, wasn't it? That was a lovely bedtime. We had warm milk, and we watched cartoons, and then Mummy read you a lovely bedtime story.
ELLA: Mummy, Joshua and me, we're not real, are we?
DONNA: Of course you're real. You're as real as anything. Why do you say that?
JOSHUA: But, Mummy, sometimes, when you're not here, it's like we're not here.
ELLA: Even when you close your eyes, we just stop.
DONNA: Well, Mummy promises to never close her eyes again.
(The children have vanished. Donna is frantic.)
DONNA: No! Please! No, please! No! No, no! No, no!

These children are basically computer programmes. Were they real? (Similarly, were CAL's father and 'Doctor Moon'?) Did Donna's belief make them real? Remember, in the end they join CAL, and River reads them bedtime stories...

Bill says: "I need to know what's real and what isn't real."

The Doctor later (to the Monk) observes: "Oh, you don't have to be real to be the Doctor."

But belief is an important part of this. The Doctor a little later muses: "Funny, I don’t believe much. I’m not sure I believe anything. But right now belief is all I am."

Belief is a powerful thing. One of my favourite lines from the Buffy 'verse was:

'Reality bends to desire'

It's in connection with a ghost willing (believing) himself to be able to interact with the physical world.

As soon as the Doctor started talking about all the issues (and Mario deleting himself from the game) I was reminded of 'Wreck It Ralph', an animated movie whose the plot follows that exact format, except not so much deleting, as escaping from. (It's also the underlying plot of Sophie's World of course.)

The other side is those who go the other way - who come from the real world and become part of the virtual/dream...

DOCTOR: There's always one thing you can do from inside a computer. Even if you're a jumped-up little subroutine, you can do it. You can always e-mail!

Nardole says he came from Darillium. However I have a feeling he spoke with River in the Library when he went to fetch the Diary. I may have been influenced somewhat by still vividly remembering this (created by [personal profile] owlboy back in the day):

Finally, I shall draw on some meta that [personal profile] promethia_tenk wrote a long time ago (April 2010, before Time of Angels aired, and all we knew of River was her Library episode appearance):

River Song, the Moffat, and Myth (analysis/speculation)

So let’s say that the library really is the sum total of all knowledge--ultimate, perfect knowledge. But by bringing together all those books, the creator of the library also brought together all the monsters that would take it over. Why? In myth knowledge is a dangerous thing. The end of ignorance is the beginning of suffering and death, curiosity gets you punished, and perfect knowledge is meant only for the gods. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, Pandora’s box is opened, Prometheus is chained to the rock and tortured. How, then, can the universe allow mortals the infinite knowledge of the library? It can’t. The library is covered in shadows, and those who come to the library either die or become immortals. The Doctor gives the library over to the Vashta Nerada because there are limits to what the living can know.

In Extremis we are taken to the Haereticum, the library of forbidden and heretical texts. Dangerous knowledge hidden, only available to the few. And those who read the Veritas kill themselves. Too much knowledge can be dangerous, but it should be put in the context of the fact that the pursuit of knowledge is generally a good thing. The Vault is positioned below a university, and the Doctor has an actual job as a lecturer, as well as tutoring Bill academically. And running around saving the universe does not stop her from having homework. Learning is applauded, and the Doctor generally saves the day by *thinking* his way of of the situation.

The Doctor has to leave River--and her book--hidden beyond the shadows of the library because he still has living to do, but now we know that his life is going to be touched by what she represents. Every hero needs a guide to help them on their journey, so we see her, for example, drawing him where he needs to be to find out what he needs to know (the note on the psychic paper). She acts as a brain to his heart (“You need to stop being so emotional right now”/”pull him out of there when he’s too stupid to live”).

And now, she has become the heart to his brain: Don’t kill your friend. Be a Doctor. Be my Doctor.

River's death, however, is really a transcendence as she is absorbed into the library. Now all-knowing and eternal, I don’t think we can really continue to think about her in human terms--she’s become a symbol. She’s also become a storyteller--*the* storyteller. Maybe she is meant to seem maternal in that final scene, but more importantly she’s the wise woman telling the children (and telling us) the tales that give shape and meaning and redemption to our lives.

I'm sure you can see how relevant this is to our current story...


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