Tuesday, June 05, 2007

the Time Lord and His timeless maid

I recently finished reading The Time Traveller’s Wife and although I thought it was beautifully written it did occur to me that this was yet another version of the Time Lord archetype: the classic tale of one Man’s handling of time and space – the burdens and the thrills that come with the responsibility of this skill – either actively sought or involuntarily encumbered with – as he fixes broken connections and sometimes saves Humanity, or individual humans, from certain disaster, into the bargain. This is Henry of The Time Traveller’s Wife, and this is Sam Beckett of Quantum Leap, and this is George from HG Wells’ The Time Machine and, perhaps most significantly for text and film of our current era, this is Dr Who!

Why do ideas about time travel – the real final frontier that leaves space travel in its star dust – seem so incompatible with the female body? I mean, I’m not a Dr Who fanatic (although I watched most of it ((from behind the sofa)) through the 80s and catch it now when I think about it), but as I understand it, the Doctor is a kind of alien – a different ‘species’ as Martha put it in last week’s episode – who resembles human form. So why does that human form have to be male all the time? Why exactly have we never had a female Dr Who? As far as I was aware it is in fact the tardis, not the Doctor’s penis, which enables time travel!!

And I suspect that this is the crux (or crotch!) of the matter: time travel is associated with a thrust of dynamism, an aggressive linearity of slicing through, thrusting forward, and bursting out of, the indescribable, the incomprehensible, the abstract void of time itself. There is an aggression about it – the fireball of a tardis tunnelling through time and space, shuddering as it rockets through – and there is also a mastery about it – of mastering and understanding the intricacies of time travel – hence the hierarchical human-given-to-alien (!!) title of ‘doctor’.

These phallic attributes are not associated with the female body. It is time which is being associated with the feminine. In other words, dynamic linearity is required to penetrate, control, explore the internal intricacies of, and do its best to conquer, the apparently cyclical and potentially circular – or in fact entirely shapeless and erratic – events of the entity of time as it is presented. A woman cannot time travel because she is time.

And this is essentially why, in almost every Time Lord representation, there is also a hetero relationship in order to give the time traveller a context and stable identity: He cannot be fully Male until an Other is present against which he is contrasted, and with whom there can be the suggestion of a sexual being who can, in turn, define the Time Lord’s sexuality. Who, at the very least, assures us of the time traveller’s heterosexuality.

This is essentially why Henry needs his wife, Clare, who’s time it is that Henry seems to spend his time (sometimes violently) travelling in and out of. His life is Clare, and Clare and her life-line, her time, are the inseparable, uncontrollable, inevitable moments that Henry spends his life intruding into, imposing himself upon, governing, shaping and trying to control – while Clare must herself wait, passively and helplessly, for him to reappear and direct her life towards its inevitable, tragic conclusion.

But this is why Dr Who’s ‘apprentices’ are often required to be more like servants, or lovelorn ‘groupies’, hanging on the Doctor’s every last word, awaiting instructions, and attempting to carry them out even if it means serious personal risk, or instantly dropping her own pursuits: such as Martha’s ambitions to become a doctor herself being abandoned in order to willingly don servant’s attire and commit herself to an unspecified period of servitude, attending to the (currently-insomniac-suffering) Doctor’s beck and call, while he happily canoodles with another woman.

Well why wouldn’t she, when this is, in fact, what she always does – what they all do? Martha as maid is just an extreme representation of the usual relationship that exists between the besotted companions of the Time Lord, and His Lordship, in all His phallic, time-slicing, heroic glory.

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