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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Christopher H Bidmead on Entropy & Rebirth

The Doctor and Adric stand on a dock
on a cold winter day on the River Thames,
while the iconic smokestacks of Battersea Power Station
puff along in the background.

In the Doctor Who story "Logopolis," written by Christopher H Bidmead, the Doctor grows convinced that the TARDIS isn't operating properly. Like many of us with our cars, he's taken his time machine all over time and space, and rarely stopped to perform preventative maintenance. Suddenly, he's worried that his trusty old TARDIS is breaking down. At one point, he even asks his companion Adric to help him measure it, as he wonders if it might be shrinking. 

Logopolis is an interesting story for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was Tom Baker's final story playing the Doctor. While the Doctor is concerned that the systems on his TARDIS are breaking down, Tom Baker was contemplating a major life change. After being a national celebrity in England, he was stepping out of the limelight to take on other roles. After seven years of constant employment, it was back to the hustle of auditioning again, and wondering what roles he might be offered. And then there were the worries: he might have gotten tired of playing the Doctor, but he had nearly given up on acting before he got the role. Nothing in life is certain, and for all he knew, he might end up working on a construction crew again. At least that's where he had been working, when Barry Letts, the then-producer of Doctor Who, asked him to audition for the role. Now, several producers later, he was working with John Nathan Turner, and the two weren't getting along. As if all that weren't enough, he was contemplating marrying actress Lalla Ward, who had portrayed his former companion Romana. Lalla was a beautiful, dynamic woman, much younger than Tom. Although they were very much in love, the two continually quarreled during their time in the TARDIS, often to the point where Tom Baker refused to look at her when they were filming a scene together. So it's understandable that the Doctor looks so introspective in this episode, more like an absent-minded professor than the take-charge man he usually is.

I enjoyed walking along the River Thames last November, and touring the nearby Battersea Park. Sure, it would have been nice to have seen the plants and the trees in spring, when everything was in bloom and bursting with vitality, but change is an inevitable part of life. Everything has its proper time and place, and all things in life go in cycles. A few years ago, author (and SFWA Grand Master) Robert Silverberg told a crowd at Condor that he had stopped attending science fiction conventions for several years in the 1970s, when fans lost interest in discussing ideas, science, and literature, and conventions became more about games, dressing up, and media fiction. Recently, I've learned that Condor, which formerly styled itself as a literary convention, is deemphasizing the science and literature to concentrate more on what the fans seem to want, which is Cosplay (dressing up as comic book or movie characters, and acting out those roles), Steampunk (which is dressing up in Victorian-styled costumes, and having tea parties), and Sci-fi and Fantasy movies and TV shows. So, we move with the times, and change with the cycles. We die to one thing, and are reborn to another. When Entropy comes, what had cared about and loved no longer seems important, so we gravitate to what works for us now. Or at least, what we feel we need.

Of course, it's unfair to dismiss Cosplay, Steampunk, and Media Sci-Fi, as if they are inferior creations to literature. All are deeply rooted in literature, and merely finding expression in a new medium. (I should point out that, while I'm writing this blog about a climate shift within popular culture, I am in fact writing about a Sci-fi TV show, and not a book). Still, a few years from now, fans in San Diego may be looking back, and wondering why they're not discussing SF literature any more. Say, whatever happened to all those authors that used to attend science fiction conventions?

It's kind of like Tom Baker and Lalla Ward's marriage. It didn't last for very long, certainly not as long as either would have liked, but then they recognized they weren't right for each other, and parted on amicable terms. Five years later, he was to marry former Doctor Who assistant editor Sue Jerrard, and this marriage would be one that would endure. 

The Doctor and Adric no longer stand on that dock,
but it still serves passengers and ships along the River Thames.

I enjoyed my visit to Battersea Park last November, and seeing the little dock on which the TARDIS landed in "Logopolis." It may have been cold, and the pathways littered with leaves, but Fall possesses its own radiant beauty. Now we're enduring the heat of summer, but soon it will be Fall again, with declining temperatures and falling leaves. Now I'm sweating, but all too soon I'll be shivering again, and looking forward to summer. Oh yes, and wishing once again that, this year, I had finally gotten around to installing insulation in my house. 

Yeah, that would have been smart.

How are the forces of entropy currently affecting your life? What changes are you most looking forward to, and how are you preparing to harness them?

Dragon Dave

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