Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE INFINITY DOCTORS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE INFINITY DOCTORS

Matthew Kresal takes a, perhaps, timely look back at The Infinity Doctors.

The day after Fugitive of the Judoon aired, with its implications for continuity, the Wilderness Era novelist Lance Parkin made an interesting post on Facebook:
“I’m just glad Chibnall was able to work that cake I sent him into a story.”
Parkin likely referred to a number of his works over the years that hinted William Hartnell’s First Doctor was, in fact, not the very first Doctor. He had done so in an essay for the fan magazine Matrix, republished in the anthologies License Denied and Time Unincorporated, and in his number of his licensed novels such as Cold Fusion (adapted for Big Finish) and The Infinity Doctors. It’s the latter, published as the defacto thirty-fifth anniversary story for the series, that is perhaps his crowning achievement and one of the definitive Gallifrey tales ever written.

Part of what sets The Infinity Doctors apart both then and now is what Parkin chose to do with it. To quote from the blurb on the back of the novel: "Featuring the Doctor, this adventure ." Within pages of starting the novel, it's clear this isn't quite the Doctor Who you might have been expecting going in. Nowhere are things both familiar and different than with the Doctor himself.

From the first time we meet this Doctor with close-cropped hair and a long face, this isn’t any incarnation of the Doctor we’ve come to know. True, there's strong echoes of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor to him, especially in the characterization and dialogue. There's a more human aspect to this Doctor, a sense of genuine wonder and excitement to him that feels in keeping with McGann's Doctor and there's even a brief reference to the TV Movie thrown in at one point. Yet in other ways he completely new to us, a different man from the Doctor's we had encountered before (or even since). He's does things that are very Doctorish but aren't quite in keeping with any of the ones we've met before, particularly a set of actions going into the last act of the novel. The Doctor at once familiar but with layers that perhaps only a literary work could explore.

There’s more to this Doctor, as well. As readers discovered with Time Unincorporated, the original pitch to this story did feature a pre-Hartnell Doctor. Specifically, different incarnations of the Doctor based on the faces seen in The Brain of Morbius (which Moo covered in considerable depth elsewhere), and eventually regenerating at the end into one based on the actor Geoffrey Bayldon. The latter being of interest since he played the role of an alternate First Doctor five years later in the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound tale Auld Mortality. While that doesn’t happen in this version, a lot of what Parkin pitched did and it adds to the mystery around just who this Doctor is meant to be.

Indeed, the novel is not unlike Big Finish’s Doctor Who Unbound series, set outside the usual confines of the series. It's something that has driven some fans crazy in the past two decades, trying to figure out where and when it fits into the show's canon. Without a specified Doctor, is it a pre-Unearthly Child First Doctor, the Eighth Doctor of the BBC novels, an Eighth Doctor before the Time War (which would be created by Russell T Davies in a few more years), or none of the above even?

Here's another, perhaps more important question: Does it really even matter?

For what Parkin does in the space of 280 pages is exactly what the blurb suggests "celebrate[s] the thirty-fifth anniversary of Doctor Who." Parkin draws on three and a half decades of Doctor Who lore across different media ranging from TV to comics to novels to create a sweeping vision of the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey rarely seen elsewhere (except maybe in Marc Platt's Lungbarrow which gets references here as well). Expect appearances by some familiar names and faces, new visions of familiar places, and much more. Yet the novel rarely feels like it's just covering old ground but is instead reinventing it around you as you read, making it readable by fans both new and old.

Nowhere is all that more clear than in the novel's last act. In it, Parkin brings together elements from not just different media but across the show's history together into an incredible but actually quite eventful series of events that brings back one of the show's villains, explores the Doctor's background, puts Gallifrey along with the rest universe under threat, and pulls off a great meta-ficitonal moment on page 229 along the way. It also gives us the scene that gives this novel its title, and raises a good point about the nature of canon and the history of the series: that as it important as it might seem to ask how we got here, there's times when we need to just enjoy where we are and find ways of going forward. For a series that had been off the air for nearly a decade, that was still years away from regenerating for a new audience in a new century, it was an important message and the sense of false nostalgia stopping progress is one that is as important now as it was then for the series and the reader alike.

Whatever Doctor it might feature and at whatever point in his life it might take place aside, what's clear after nine years and two separate readings is that there isn't anything else quite like The Infinity Doctors anywhere else in the series. Within its 280 pages, Parkin doesn't just celebrate Doctor Who at thirty-five but turns it and everything we think we know on its head. It's not a case of out with the old, in with the new but finding new ways to explore old ground and tell a story that uses the past as a springboard for the future.

It's no wonder then that in the first I, Who book writer Lars Pearson described this as the perfect novel to make into a Doctor Who feature film. "What's old is new," as the saying goes. The Infinity Doctors, after more than twenty years proves that point rather admirably and remains a must-read for fans of the series and those seeking answers to the mysteries of the Doctor’s past.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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