Friday, March 03, 2006

Life on Mars - final episode / Father's Day - Doctor Who and other parallel time loop issues

Although Rob Buckley was unimpressed with it, I rather liked the final episode of Life on Mars. It was left both hanging (still the 1970s) and closed (the 'memories' or flashes resolved in some fashion). But what I especially liked was how it drew upon, referenced or echoed a number of other favourite film/television works.

Of you've yet to watch the final episode of LoM or the Eccleston series of Doctor Who, stop reading this post now (on the latter: where the hell have you been?! depending on geography of course though you may be waiting...)

For some reason in my mind the final episode of LoM particularly echoed Father's Day from the recent series of Doctor Who, where Rose and the Doctor travel back to the day her father died. When she finds herself distraught at seeing his death and wants to offer him some confort at his death, Rose and the Doctor travel back a second time - now watching themselves watching the events from their first travelhop. Rose now rushes to save her father, but doing so - especially in the presence of themselves - 'rips' time. A wound is created that can only be healed once the effect (her father's death) takes place.

There was a question about 'wounding' time in last month's issue of the Doctor Who magazine: given that episode, when is it possible to change events in time without the actions calling The Reapers through the wound? The Doctor claims in the Slitheen episodes that Harriet Jones - MP for Flydale North - would be Prime Minister for 3 terms; but in undermining her in The Christmas Invasion, the Doctor appears to change events. Despite this, no Reapers appear, suggesting that only when there is a double presence is time truly wounded.

... Which brings me back to LoM: right through the series we are haunted by Sam's flashing blurred thoughts/memories/future visions of something both familiar and yet unknown. It turns out that these were actually 'memories' of his father, Vic, killing adult Sam Tyler's 1973 police colleague, Annie: but the memories are fractured in a way that suggests they were 'seen' through the eyes of his younger self, and thus were incomprehensible until his adult (comatose?) self was there to see for himself...

In placing himself (back) at the scene, Sam ultimately has the power to stop the violence and save Annie; to arrest his father and thus prevent him from leaving the family as he had done when Sam was a child. To complete the last two acts would potentially resolve Sam's own 'wound' - his dislocation in time: since that is suggested by this episode as the event that needs resolving to return Sam to 2006. But it would also condemn the family in 1973 to the shame and disruption that a different kind of loss of his father would bring about: no longer able to be seen and remembered as a well-meaning father-figure, but a violent criminal prepared to sacrifice any life to his survival (albeit supposedly in protection of his family). Moreover, how could he know if the saving of his father would not affect his own future?

Thus Sam saves Annie, saves his father by letting him go into hiding, and saves his family by leaving his father's image untarnished: the price is Sam remains stuck in 1973.

This looping overlap, this criss-crossing between past and present, also echoes Twelve Monkeys / La Jetee, which of course has its own paradoxical time-looping: Cole dreams his memories, not yet realising that they feature him as an adult and if he hadn't done certain things, would he have ever even been there...? Is the future really set? Determined by our actions even as those actions are intended to undo the damage done by ourselves?

Man, this is a waffling post. But its been on and off the draft board since Tuesday. So here it is in all its insane ramblings.

You could always wait for the Desert Island Discs...


SimonHolyHoses said...

Nice post Lisa.

This sort of thing is fascinating.

I once read a great article on the consequences of a multi-dimentional time. You get a whole new set of paradoxes. Think it was by a fella called McTaggart?

Time, like consciousness, is one of those spooky things that are very slippery to get your head around yet utterly immediate to all of us.

I suspect that time itself and our perception of it may not be the same thing at all.

On another subject the death of a parent is always a mind boggling experience, especially once you reach a certain age and if you've had a happy upbringing.

I suspect that the temptation to go back in time for certain people in our lives would be awfully difficult to resist.

bot37363838 said...

My list of favourite time travel stories and multi-dimensional stories is too long.

Kate Wilhelm's late husband, Damon Knight, wrote a brilliant novel called The Man in the Tree, about a being who has the ability to twist space/time in order to change outcomes. So if something terrible happens, he twists and shifts into a dimension in which the terrible event hasn't occurred - that quantum theory stuff about multiple universes being created at each bifurcation.

It's a fascinating book, anyway. I also recommend Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, which features time travel and Coleridge.

SimonHolyHoses said...

Interesting. Never thought about that before.

That multiverse thing would disarm the paradox wouldn't it?

In a universe where all possibilites are played out, rather than breaking destiny, you'd just be shunting back and forward through alternative bifurcations.

JoeinVegas said...

Last time we were able to see the good Doctor on TV was about twenty five years ago, when PBS Tv in LA (probably available nationally) broadcast old episodes around midnight on Saturdays. Since then we have had to purchase videos, not always making every episode available.
Guess I better check Amazon UK.

Tristan said...

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