Model Train Set & Totem.


Books  Doctor Who as short prose has had a long history.  The first original stories published were in the short form, in the first Doctor Who annual with Bill Hartnell on the cover.  Over the years in the annuals and in anthologies they've been the perfect way of exploring an aspect of the adventure or characters in a way which simply wouldn't fit into the 'normal' format of the tv series.  They're often experimental or in some cases allow for the ironing out of the various continuity errors which have cropped up during the history of the series.  I'm sure there's one out there attempting to rationalise UNIT dating -- good luck.  Honestly, some of my favourite stories ever have been just eight pages long.

In Model Train Set [from: Short Trips (1998)] The Doctor finishes the work of an earlier incarnation on a toy railway working weaving around the floor of the TARDIS.  He gives an intelligence to tiny model people and sets them to work building and operating a train service, with stations and passengers on an endless commute back to were they started.  It's a wonderfully simple but beautifully crafted story.  Writer Jonathan Blum brings a slightly biblical tinge to some of the passages, even at one stage offering 'And the Doctor looked at the model train set and saw it was good.'  There are some lovely details: some of the passengers resemble his past selves; the track weaves through book cases; the technical aspects of the trains themselves.

Totem [from: More Short Trips (1999)] is even more enigmatic   We find out little about the time, although the place is Funchal, Madiera.  Tara Samms slowly drips the information out and leaves much of what we find to our own interpretation.  This tells a story of a Senora Panstedas, a lonely woman who's lost her husband and son who is visited by a man called John who offers to work her deserted farm for her, with eggs for breakfast his only payment.

The most telling moment in here is when Senora Panstedas overhears John talking to someone in the dark.  The desciptions of the sounds and the dialogue seem to indicate that The Eighth Doctor is talking to Seventh with the latter trying to persuade him to carry on whatever mission he'd set down (we aren't sure how he's appearing -- is it himself or a manifestation?  That the Senora can hear the conversation muddies things slightly).  Seventh berates Eighth for getting his hands dirty and bloody:

'Calluses won't hide the blood on your hands.  Let others do the work for you.'
'Why?  When I should be doing it myself?'
'You are the champion of -'
'I am The Doctor.'
'You can't just ...'
'I am the Doctor.  No other.'

Most chronologies place these two stories between The Dying Days and Vampire Science.  I had assumed it was because The Doctor was travelling alone after dropping off Bernice.  But thematically they feel very similar.  I like the idea that in these tales he's actually pottering about coming to terms with who he was and deciding who he has become before carrying on his big adventure in time.  For all his heroism in The Dying Days, he seemed particularly tricky around Bernice because she'd known what he was like before his latest change.  In both of these short stories he doesn't feel like a whole person yet as though he's searching for some kind of contentment, either in creating his own little world or bringing light to someone elses.  I think they're probably responding to what was happening in the Virgin New Adventures.

My inclinging is that The Seventh Doctor became a very dark person and did some unspeakable things in the name of being 'Time's Champion'.  The exchange with him in Totem is the beginning of the end of the new Doctor's time with the Senora because he's won the argument by being a different person who's willing to wade in himself to do what must be done (something we also see at the end of Model Train Set).  As he unearths her husband's body, the indication is that he's contented at doing something genuinely good, laid to rest the ghosts of his past self and is ready to continue his life's adventure with renewed vigour.  He's not only brought closure for her, but also to himself.

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