|Night Thoughts by Edward Young|
Doctor Who has never quite come up with a unified theory of time. There were the early proclamations that you cannot re-write history – "not one line" – which were followed by the Time Meddler’s admission that you can. If the past is changed then the exact minute – "the exact second" – it happens your memory will change. Over the years there have been many conflicts, contradictions, clarifications and other assorted temporal theories but the basic constant has always been that if you are at point B and you change point A (a moment in the past) then everything between points A and B will change. Point B will be different only because of that period of adjustment. So if the Monk had succeeded in destroying the Vikings and Harold had won the battle of Hastings we would’ve seen over a thousand years of altered history between the destruction of the fleet and Vicki/Steven’s history lessons at school. Night Thoughts presents us with an altogether different idea.
The premise of Night Thoughts is that you can be at point B, change point A and the effects of that change will only be felt at point B. So the Major can kill the girl, wait ten years, send a message back to himself not to kill the girl and wait for the girl’s preserved body to come back to life. It is an absurd idea within an excellently atmospheric story.
But is it an absurd idea? The Doctor makes it quite clear that this time affecting machine is too weak to damage the web of time. In the future it is a device used to provide a little amusement at parties. A technological dead end which never resulted in anything more than the sort of incredulous reaction Derren Brown might get from a willing victim. It creates nothing more than a momentary blip in the correct running of history. It is rather like switching a torch on when the battery is too weak – the light flickers briefly but soon dies. There simply isn’t enough energy in the Bartholomew machine’s interference to rearrange the time line.
So that’s fine – that is explicable and acceptable. I’m even happy that the resurrected corpse sticks around for several hours rather than the minutes the Doctor says she ought to. I’m less impressed by the suggestion that rigging the machine to send a constant stream of messages would keep her "alive" for longer. But as a means of preventing the web of time from instantly repairing the damage it is vaguely logical. It seemed an unnecessary explanation because the rule that the effect would only last a few moments came from the Doctor. If he’d said "a few hours at most" it would’ve made the extra explanation unnecessary.
The stuff about the bear is too utterly awful for words. I got the distinct impression that this resurrected sixteen year old was wandering around inside a preserved bear and scaring people. The less said about it the better.
Ditto the stuff about Happy the stuffed rabbit. The final scene – where the zombie girl attacks the bound major – seemed to imply that she had been the voice of Happy all along. Or something. I don’t mind wrapping my brain thing around the Bartholomew machine’s strange impact on linear time but figuring out why a toy has the voice of a zombie or a zombie takes the voice of a toy is too much.
Which is rather the thing that lets Night Thoughts down. They presented us with a marvellous setting, some decent characters and even an original "monster" with genuine reason to kill them all off. Everything was great. So why add in lots of extra stuff to explain more than needed explaining? Why have the Doctor travel back to kill the girl only for him to wimp out at the last minute? (Could he not simply have arrived before the operation and disabled the receiver so the message wouldn’t be received and his conscience only had to accept that he prevented a life being saved rather than him actually having to murder her).
A time experiment has created this temporary aberration – a paradox which is intent on avenging her death. She takes her revenge and the Doctor, Ace and Hex leave her to it, safe in the knowledge that she will die again shortly. That is more or less what happens but they tacked on some unnecessary explanations and gimmicks. It left me with minor niggles and irritating gripes which a story of this calibre doesn’t deserve. It had imagination, atmosphere, intelligence, good performances and compelled one to carry on listening to it. Its just that one more run through the script editor could’ve turned something good into something great.