Sunday, September 15, 2013

Doctor Who: 1988

Episode 675: Silver Nemesis, part one
First broadcast: 7.35 pm, Wednesday 23 November 1988
<< back to 1987
Ace's newspaper
Silver Nemesis, part one
Gosh. When, later this year, The Day of the Doctor celebrates 50 years of Doctor Who, part one of Silver Nemesis will be exactly halfway. For this ancient dinosaur who still thinks of the Seventh Doctor as new, that is really quite boggling.

That first episode of Silver Nemesis is also one of just five of the 798 episodes in the series so far that is set on the day it was broadcast:

  1. The Feast of Steven (25 December 1965)
    It's Christmas Day in Liverpool at the start of the episode, and there's nothing to suggest it's not 1965.
  2. Volcano (1 January 1966)
    The TARDIS briefly stops in Trafalgar Square as the bells sound the new year, and again there's nothing to suggest it's not 1966.
  3. Logopolis, part one (28 February 1981)
    Two stories later, in Four To Doomsday, we learn the date that Tegan missed her flight.
  4. Silver Nemesis, part one (23 November 1988)
    Ace's newspaper gives the date and it's the day predicted for the return of the comet.
  5. The Big Bang (26 June 2010)
    The date, given through the series, of Amy's wedding and the TARDIS exploding.

There are a few near misses. Ben says in The Faceless Ones, episode 6, that it's 20 July 1966 - “the day it all started” – but that's four days after the broadcast of The War Machines, episode 4. The Wedding of River Song says the Doctor dies on 22 April 2011, the day before the broadcast of The Impossible Astronaut.

Though the more recent Christmas specials are often set on Christmas Day, they're not set in the year they were first broadcast. The Christmas Invasion, broadcast 25 December 2005, must be set in 2006 because Rose has been away for more than a year according to Aliens of London, where the missing persons poster says she vanished in March 2005. The next Christmas special takes place a year later as it refers to the events of the previous Christmas, so is set in 2007 (but broadcast in 2006), and so on until The End of Time, part one. The last scene of The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe (2011) is set, according to Amy, two years after she last saw the Doctor, on the day of his 'death' in April 2011.

What does any of this matter? Well, for a show that can go anywhere in time, the series rarely lands in the present day. The apparently 'present-day' episodes are often a few years in the future – which, as I've argued before, allows the programme more freedom to destroy famous landmarks, spread deadly plagues and generally create mayhem.

There's also an issue of scheduling: the makers of Doctor Who can't always be certain of the date an episode will be broadcast. It might be bumped for the football or Eurovision, or because of events in the news. The schedules are only confirmed a few weeks ahead of broadcast and anything might change.

I think it's fun that for a series about an erratic time machine that doesn't always go where it's meant to, it never quite lands according to schedule. And that, for a show that's often telling us about the relativistic nature of the 'past' and 'future', events rarely happen 'now'.
The Doctor can't remember
where and when he's meant to be,
Silver Nemesis, part one
(Thanks to Jonathan Morris and Jim Smith for letting me put some of this to them before posting it.)

Next episode: 1989

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