Books Yesterday after reading the news that someone’s been cast as Delia Derbyshire in Mark Gatiss’s drama documentary about the making of An Unearthly Child and some other things, I repeated on Twitter my long cherished idea of celebrating the 50th anniversary by turning the franchise into a kind meme spread across the BBC’s programming with the Doctor, his companions and elements of Who turning up in unusual places, either subtly or as a full blown part of the plot. So you’d be listening to The Archers and suddenly a familiar growning weezing sound would be heard and the Doctor would pop into the local shop to buy to some tea or he’d be in Waterloo Road as a supply teacher or it’d simply be the TARDIS parked in a period drama or an afternoon play would feature characters which have previously appeared in a Doctor Who story, like Churchill and Bracewell, played by the same actors.
But the trick would be that you wouldn’t telegraph them in advance. Someone would simply be watching Doctors and THE Doctor would wander in and help out in one of the subplots and then be gone again which would lead to a social media frenzy as viewers passed the word and more importantly the iPlayer numbers would be huge as people went back and watched the appearances they’d missed. It’d be great marketing for the various strands through which the meme spread, and at the end of it all, the BBC could release a box set of all the material or if the Who team wanted to be really sophisticated it would turn out that everything had actually all been part of a real Doctor Who adventure, some kind of Key to Time homage perhaps with the TARDIS having leapt between dimensions (just so that it wouldn’t be assumed that suddenly all drama had become part of the Whoniverse).
One of these meme dramas might look something like Martin Day’s The Sleep of Reason, which is in the genre of story, like Love & Monsters, Blink, many Short Trips (notably Glass) in which the Doctor and his friends and their adventure is viewed through the lens and point of view of ordinary beings, only really becoming an urgent part of the story when the fantasy element takes hold. Laska, a young woman with a history of depression is admitted to a “Retreat” where she finds herself experiencing visions of angry wolves and madness seeping from the walls. Amongst the staff works a Dr Smith whose in residence with some research students and find her condition fascinating. As she come to terms with her condition, she reads her father’s papers, specifically two diaries written by a psychiatrist which outline strange phenomena which happen to have occurred on the same spot.
Day shifts the narrative between Laska’s experiences and excepts from those diary which in filmic terms reads like bits of A Dangerous Method and A Company of Wolves being edited into Girl, Interrupted (if you see what I mean). As such the author puts a lot of faith in his reader; for the first hundred pages this barely reads like a Doctor Who story and even when the fantasy elements kick in, it’s still more akin to tv's Sea of Souls. His motive is to allow his characters to breath so that Laska isn’t just some stereotypical distressed woman waiting to be saved, her problems are given a real psychological underpinning and of all the characters she’s the most likeable or at least understandable. The rest of the cast are made up of staff members and patients and of the order that might turn up in post-watershed ITV drama, full of suspicious ambition and carnal foibles.
Contemporary reviews were extremely positive pointing to Day’s book being evidence that there was still like in the EDAs yet, that it was still willing to take narrative chances even this close to the potential conclusion of the series. Matt Michael in DWM adored it. I’m not so sure. I didn’t enjoy it as much and I’ve been trying to work out why and disappointingly my conclusion is that I tend to like the kinds of stories about the Doctor and his companions in which they have narrative agency. With Jokes and hijinks! Which makes really rather traditionalist, doesn’t it? On top of that, I also have a nagging feeling that if the story was told from the Doctor’s POV it would actually be a rather generic bit of Who instead of what looks like an exciting complex weave, though I’m willing to agree that might be Day’s point. What is relatively mundane business for the TARDIS team is extraordinary to everyone else.
Which, and this is going to be a spoilery paragraph, doesn’t mean there aren’t at least a couple of solidly “intriguing” ideas. For the one thing, the monsters of the month utilise time tunnels which manifest themselves as cracks in time ala the cracks in time one of which the Doctor uses to travel back a century into the period of the diaries in order to stop them. He then goes and sleeps through the century in a mausoleum until time catches up with him, the presumable sleep of reason of the title. Which means by close of business here, while the amnesiac Doctor was wandering the globe between The Burning and Escape Velocity, a future version of him was buried in a crypt at the same time. With the half dozen or so Captain Jacks knocking around as well, the Whoniverse in the 20th century has a fair few stranded time travellers biding their time, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, I will agree that it is admirable that with four novels to go, the EDA editors are (were?) still trying new things, still keeping the experimental underpinnings of the series in play even as they become more stand alone and wind towards their conclusion. Perhaps it’s not a bad novel. Perhaps, I’m just not sure it’s good Doctor Who. I’m perplexed, especially since structurally it’s exactly how I’d hope one of those meme stories might go, the viewer watching Laska turn up at the Retreat only to find the Doctor meeting her at the gates. She doesn’t know who he is, but we do as we reach for the nearest Twitter client to tell everyone, the drama giving people enough time to tune in ready for Matt Smith’s next appearance (as it would be now). So weirdly I’d still recommend it to you especially since it’s a rare EDA that's still in publication, having been re-released on the Kindle. Three to go.