Can stylometry pick the difference between Dr Who, ala Team Davies vs Dr Who ala Team Moffat?
Spolier Alert: 2005 –The End of the World; Dalek; The Parting of the Ways
2006 – The Impossible Planet; The Satan Pit
2007 – Last of the Time Lords
2008 – Journey’s End
2010 – Vincent and the Doctor
2013 – The Time of the Doctor
Stylometry is the recognition and quantification of patterns of building techniques in the creation of art. The frequency of use of a technique, or groups of them, is thought to be unique to an artist. Armed with the resulting statistics authorship of pseudonymous works or disputed authorship is able to be clarified. In theory at least.
If we take writing for an example, what a stylometric study can focus on is the frequency of use of a particular word over its synonyms; the frequency of coupled words; a favouring of a particular phrase; or the use of archaic or obscure words over more common ones. Apparently the author leaves his/her unique signature in their technique. The same principles are used in music and the plastic arts. But what about TV?
Dr Who has been screening on and off TV for over 50 years. In that time there have been 13 Doctors (including the one with no number). If a sample of screenplays were to be picked up for any season over those years there would be a recurrence of words that could be used for a stylometric analysis. This recurrence has a ratio, an operand, in the larger canon of Dr Who screenplays. Because TV is a visual storyteller, I would also employ other operands: visual elements and props. My computer program would search for an enigmatic alien, a sonic screwdriver, the Tardis, an earthling companion, villanous Daleks and Cybermen.
As separate operands I would have themes. My program would: chase time travel throughout British history and the development of the British consciousness; feature an earth coveted by ferocious aliens; return to the alienation/separateness of the well-meaning, travelling Time Lord; have a sense of wonder at the unknown possibilities of the Universe; and espouse the power of the mind for pacifism over physical aggression.
On paper there appears to be a homogeneity of storytelling elements. A stylometric computer program could be forgiven for not being able to recognize what the fans do, it’s changed a lot over the years. A die-hard Whovian for the early episodes may serve you an earful of deficiencies: the new ones move too fast; there’s too much lovey-dovey going on; too much soap-opera with the families of the companions; there are consequences to the adventure that weren’t dealt with before – do they really need to be dealt with??
You may want to fob it off as old-fogey talk complaining about anything new, but then again fans of the 2005 reboot will tell you the 21st century Doctor has undergone a transformation bigger than a few regenerations. A die-hard Whovian will tell you that something changed when creative supervision passed from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat. Not that one approach is better than the other, but that they’re different.
The Davies’ episodes tend to be darker. The Moffat ones, more optimistic. I see an underlying thread that binds the Davies episodes that is missing from the Moffat. That thread is Christianity, specifically Davies’ excursions into turning upside-down and inside-out the basic trappings of Christianity, its Jesus story. He questions the need for the story when it’s message, love-acceptance-pacifism, can exist without it. Again and again the belief that God is male, that Jesus is a man, that the creator of an entire race can be the omnipotent creator of all things, races, universes, is questioned. Religious inspired imagery is worked into the futuristic storylines. E.g., In the episode, The End of the World (2005), the Ninth Doctor takes his new companion Rose Tyler to the year 5 Billion where they will watch the explosion of our Sun. The Sun, the source of all earthly life, is coming to an end. To its end of days. To its Apocalypse. The only place to survive from the explosion is on a space station. It’s shape, a gothic-proportioned cross.
In the Dalek episode of the same season, Rose is most obviously set up to assume a divine role, not like the Virgin Mary, but akin to the triune godhead. The imprisoned Dalek is a souless, metallic robot, born to sin, from sin, and is predestined for mass genocide. It maintains within it a spark of life but no higher faculties. The camera focuses in on Rose’s hand as she approaches it. We see her fingers, stretched out to touch it. It’s a very famous sort of stretch, Michelangelo painted its prototype in his masterpiece, the Creation of Adam. After God touched the earthen Adam, after He had given him His image, He gave him life. When Rose touches the metal skin of the Dalek, she passes to it her DNA and gives it sentient life.
The Davies team are not through with Rose yet. In the final episode of the season, The Parting of the Ways, Rose assumes the role of Messiah, Holy Spirit and God. After the Daleks invade a Game Station where Rose and the Doctor have been trapped, Rose is tricked into the Tardis by the Doctor in order to save her life. He believes that he will die. She is returned to her own time and told via hologram to have a good life. Instead, Rose opens the heart of the Tardis and allows its power to permeate her being. She becomes both omniscient and omnipotent. Travelling back through her experiences with the Doctor, she leaves cryptic warnings for him everywhere. She doesn’t do this physically but using the power of the vortex within her. Her words, her Logoi, are imprinted on the environment they shared. In the same way God is the Word (Logos) and by his word all things are possible. It echos Psalm 19:2-4
“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…”
While this consuming power rages within her she has the ability to destroy the Daleks and raise the worthy dead. This consuming fire, so reminiscent of the Holy Spirit, will destroy her meager human self as she cannot contain it. Pure of heart, like Jesus, she has come as a Messiah and is a willing sacrifice for the greater good. The Doctor by kissing her, draws the vortex/spirit within himself, saving her life but losing one of his own.
The role of Messiah is alluded to visually and thematically in the third season’s, Last of the Time Lords (2007).The Doctor, being left powerless under the Master’s control is humiliated and impotent. It takes the faith of the world in him, stirred up by his companion Martha Jones, to resurrect his verve and ability to overcome the machinations of the Master. When the Doctor realizes the power of this faith, he levitates towards the Master, assuming the pose of Jesus. After the Master is shot, the Doctor cradles him and urges him to regenerate, to save himself. This kind of love and forgiveness is beyond the understanding of the Master, who allows himself to die, to spite the Doctor. The Doctor who was twice the capacity to love and forgive is Christ-like. The faith of humanity in the Doctor empowers the god/Doctor. Human belief makes him vital and viable. Without human belief the god doesn’t exist.
Davies’ team work the idea that Satan, and via association God, are entities that our belief has created and maintain in a couple of very clever episodes written by Matt Jones, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (2006). A planet orbits around a Black Hole without being sucked in. It’s an anomaly. How? Why? If nothing can exist in or escape from a Black Hole, something very powerful, yet unseen, is at play. Chained down a seemingly bottomless shaft, Satan awaits a body that his soul can possess so that he can be freed. While his soul is in the chained body of the beast, the planet encircles the Black Hole. Once he possesses the free body of a humanoid, he can leave the planet severing its orbit, allowing it to be pulled into non-existence. You see, while people believe in the existence of Satan he cannot be sucked into the nothingness of the Black Hole and so the planet was locked in impossible orbit.
Between Moffat and Davies there is another great difference. There is a darkness over Davies’ Doctor, in his view of the Dr’s personal life but also as a reflection of his world. This is best illustrated when comparing, Moffat’s (2010) Vincent and the Doctor episode written by Richard Curtis, with Journey’s End (2008) written by Davies. In Vincent and the Doctor, the Dr and his companions go back in time and meet Vincent Van Gogh. The encounter touches the Doctor’s companion Amy Pond as much as Amy pond touches the artist. When they return to present time, we hope that Van Gogh’s fate has been changed. That he doesn’t commit suicide. But he has. Is the episode depressing? A little, but it is also uplifting. Moffat’s team deliver a sad ending with a silver lining.
Journey’s End, on the other hand, proposes a “happily ever after” ending for Rose, the Doctor’s true love, that is ulcerous at worst. Rose must be irrevocably returned to her alternative-reality universe or the fabric of the cosmos will collapse. She may no longer participate in the adventures she has enjoyed with her Time Lord boyfriend. To compensate, the Doctor banishes with her, his human self that was accidentally begotten in the Tardis. The Human Doctor has all of the Doctor’s memories, intellect, values and emotion attachments. We must now look at the Human Doctor as the Son. He is best described in the words of the Apostles Creed:
“I believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ (New Doctor)
the only begotten Son of God (Time Lord Doctor)
begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light, true God of true God,
begotten not created, of one essence with the Father…
For us (Rose) and our (her) salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit (Heart of the Tardis) and the Virgin Mary (companion Donna Noble facilitated the process) and became Human…”
The Human Doctor lacks his “father’s” immortality and ability to time travel. Rose is confused. Now they can grow old together and play house but without the Tardis, without the quest, is this Human Doctor the same person? Has he been emasculated? Can so much knowledge, verve, experience, be satisfactorily contained in a human existence?The Time Doctor returns to his universe, bereft of all companions, alone.
Darkness is expected before the regeneration of Doctors but not so in the transition from the 11th incarnation to the 12th. Under the watchful eye of Moffat, the 11th Doctor is allowed to age. He spends three hundred years in a place called Christmas, a beloved member of the town. He is on duty of course, safeguarding a wound in the fabric of the cosmos, however, he is not alone.
Could Stylometry really tell apart, episodes under Davies’ team from those of Moffat’s? I doubt it.
With heartfelt appreciation, I dedicate this post to my favourite Whovian, Stella Tarakson.
Dr Who Series Sand Sculpture
Tardis and Time Traveller