Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Great Intelligence: A Doctor Who Book Report


In the midst of two conference papers, trying to move, being sick and needing a lot of rest, and attending a conference in town on media reform, it’s been hard to find time to rewatch all of the Great Intelligence’s past episodes.  It doesn’t help that, while there are only two GI stories in official canon (one in questionable canon), the two stories are in the 2nd Doctor era where they were perfectly fine with saying “Yes, we’ll split this into six half-hour episodes.”  The two stores were each 3 hours long.  And both of them have been mostly lost to the BBC purge, with cruddy looking recons taking their place.  Plus, while it’s technically two 6-part stories, the two stories are intertwined, making it an unofficial 12-part episode.  If you throw in the one questionable canon film (Downtime), it’s practically a trilogy. So it’s been tough to go back and do the research.  But I got it done.  So now, a little bit about the Great Intelligence:

This is how the 2nd Doctor explained the Great Intelligence to (then Colonel) Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart:

"Well, I wish I could give you a precise answer. Perhaps the best way to describe it is a sort of formless, shapeless thing floating about in space like a cloud of mist, only with a mind and will."

The 2nd Doctor first met the Great Intelligence in Tibet in the 1930s.  He landed at a monastery where he hoped to meet an old friend, the head monk there.  Also hanging out at the monastery was a man named Professor Travers, who had gone to Tibet to find the elusive Yeti, a.k.a. “The Abominable Snowmen.”  They found a good share of Yeti, but it turned out that they were actually robot Yeti.  The Yeti were being controlled by a few of the monks, but the monks were being controlled by the GI.

The Great Intelligence showed an ability to take over the minds of humans, much like Kizlet and her minions in “The Bells of Saint John.”  Although it seemed to be a different type of mind control in “The Bells of Saint John.”  Most people who were controlled by the Great Intelligence in the 2nd Doctor era were a literal mouthpiece for the Great Intelligence.  He (or it, not sure how you refer to it) seems to have found some subtler form of mind control.  Although Dr. Simeon, while subject to some subtle mind control for most of his life, after he had been attacked by the memory word was turned into a GI mouthpiece.

What was interesting was that, in the Great Intelligence’s first episode, “The Abominable Snowmen,” the GI’s plan was not really revealed.  He was trying to create a small army of robot Yeti, but we didn’t know what it was about.  We just heard, from one of the possessed monks, that the GI was doing this simply as an experiment.  A pilot project, preparing for something bigger.  While not a satisfying ending, there was a reason for that:  they already had its second story prepared.  In a strange move for the history of Doctor Who, three stories later, in the exact same season, the episode “The Web of Fear” picked up the story 30 years later, after Professor Travers has brought back a Yeti robot for a museum, and his attempt to figure out how to reactivate one without the GI’s control attracted the Great Intelligence to come back.  That’s when we saw what its real plan was.

The Great Intelligence had been following the Doctor through time and space, observing how brilliant the Doctor was.  So he had created a machine specifically to drain the Doctor’s mind out of his body, leaving the Doctor with the mind of a child.  The Doctor crossed the wires on the machine so that, when the switch was thrown, the Doctor would absorb the Great Intelligence’s mind instead of the other way around.  This would have killed off the Great Intelligence, but the Doctor failed to inform his companions of his plan (he still needs to work on that), so they rescued him from the machine before the Doctor’s plan was carried out.  So the Great Intelligence was left alive.

Downtime is hilariously dumb.  My first impression was that this had to have been directed by someone who was moonlighting from his day job where he directed instructional videos for driver’s ed classes.  But, I looked it up, and it turns out that the director was actually a very long time director who had directed episodes from all the way back in the 1st Doctor era through to the 4th Doctor era.  The episode was very silly because the Great Intelligence’s plan was much stupider:  he just wanted to take over the world.  He had started a college that was a very thin front for a cult that worshiped him.  He managed to control their minds not unlike the way he controlled Kizlet and her minions.  The episode was interesting in that it brought back the Yeti and Professor Travers, as well as the Brigadier, who had been introduced in “The Web of Fear” before becoming one of the most iconic characters in the history of the show, and Victoria, the Doctor’s companion both times  he met the Great Intelligence.  It also had Sarah Jane Smith just because people love Sarah Jane.

Downtime may be silly, but what I do know for sure is that Moffat has seen it.  Two reasons why:  The first is that he brought Kate Lethbridge-Stewart back (well, he didn’t write the episode, but he was showrunner when she was introduced).  Kate appears in Downtime, played by a different actress, but it’s believable that they could be the same person.  Strangely in Downtime she was a single mother living in a trailer and not doing well.  How she went from that to heading U.N.I.T. is beyond me.  But her character was introduced in Downtime, and came back in another questionable canon film (Dæmos Rising), then appeared in two novels.  “The Power of Three” was her first officially canon appearance, and it appears that that means that Downtime is now official canon.  The other reason it’s clear that Moffat has seen Downtime is because in “The Bells of Saint John,” the Great Intelligence knew what U.N.I.T. was.  U.N.I.T. was originally formed in response to the Great Intelligence’s attack on London in “The Web of Fear,” but that happened after the episode so he couldn’t have known what it was unless he met them in Downtime.

I’ve noticed a few strictly aesthetic similarities between the 11th Doctor’s Great Intelligence episodes and the 2nd Doctor’s.  The first is that, where the 2nd Doctor met the Great Intelligence as it was controlling “Abominable Snowmen,” the 11th Doctor met it when it was controlling regular snowmen.  The name of the episodes were surprisingly similar:  “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Snowmen.”  Funnily enough, “The Snowmen” is the first time the Great Intelligence didn’t have the Yeti as his army (at least in visual media, but I refuse to read the novels just for research).  The beginning of “The Bells of Saint John” featured the Doctor in a monastery, which is where the 2nd Doctor first met the Great Intelligence.  And, finally, “The Bells of Saint John” seems a lot like another pilot project.  Like the Great Intelligence was just experimenting for something much, much bigger.

How much the Great Intelligence remembers of the 2nd Doctor now is somewhat unclear.  It didn’t seem to recognize the Doctor in “The Snowmen,” but it certainly knew who he was in “The Bells of Saint John.”  It almost seems as if we’re looking at a different creature called “The Great Intelligence.”  (But, of course, that isn’t the case.)  The Doctor seems to have trouble remembering what the Great Intelligence is because, at the end of “The Snowmen,” he simply says that the name sounds familiar.  But don’t for get that it’s possible that as much as a millennium has passed in the Doctor’s timeline between the 2nd and 11th Doctors.  I can’t remember all of my friends in high school.  I don’t know how I’d remember anything from a millennium ago if I could live that long.

The blog Life, Doctor Who, and Combom, recently brought to my attention the fact that BBC South Africa recently released the one-line descriptions of all the plots of the episodes this season.  The last episode of the season, the title of which has yet to be released, is described as such:

“Someone is kidnapping the Doctor's friends, leading him towards the one place in all of time and space that he should never go.”

I think it’s pretty obvious that this means someone is trying to bring the Doctor to the fields of Trenzalore where he’ll be forced to say his name when it’s asked.  I have no doubt that that’s what this description means.  But is it the Great Intelligence who’s going to be leading him there?  If so…why?

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