Auld Mortality by Marc Platt

Someone once said to me that "Auld Mortality" makes more sense if you’ve read Lungbarrow. That speaks volumes for why I found it such a waste of seventy minutes. I haven’t read Lungbarrow but I gather it is a rather complicated book which ties together years of hints and clues, mixes them with the mind which gave us Ghostlight and serves it up as a final middle finger to those that brought the New Adventures to an end. Either that or it is really good, deep and profound. Whichever it is, knowledge of it is apparently useful or even essential to a proper appreciation of Auld Mortality.

The scenario is "What if… the Doctor never left Gallifrey?" The answer seems to be that he became a celebrated author and recluse, waited on by a large furry robot called Badger and addicted to a machine which we’ll get to shortly. He potters around and avoids the political machinations of the Gallifreyan elite. Indeed, he spends most of his time messing around with his "probability generator".

The probability generator is a pointless halfway house between the Matrix and a Tardis. With it, the Doctor can have adventures (these form the basis of the novels he writes and seem largely to involve surreal versions of Earth’s history) without ever leaving his rooms. In other words, having created a "What if…" which erased the Doctor’s travels, they immediately contrive another way he can have adventures. Ones which aren’t mere simulations so they are every bit as life-and-death has his counterpart’s exploits in time and space. Rather than examine what he would’ve become as a politician, a scientist or even a writer of Swiftian satires of the established order, they choose to present him as a confused old man who doesn’t really know where he is.

Not that we, the audience, know where we are either. It is never entirely clear what is real and what is faux-real (the probability generator is more than simulation but less than reality), throw in a ghost which seems to live inside Badger and scenes where different alternative realities seem to be playing themselves out simultaneously and you’ve got a cluster of audible proportions. Confusing the audience with what is real and what is just projection/simulation/imagination/generation will become a theme of this Unbound series. Auld Mortality starts out confusing and becomes incomprehensible by the end. Whatever happened to telling an actual story?

And ha! The silliest bit of all is that the Doctor is in his Tardis all the time. The console was hidden under a pile of papers. What? That is quite absurdly silly. It turns out the Doctor didn’t decide not to leave Gallifrey – his mind was affected and he simply forgot to do it. Or something like that. Bang goes any hope of an interesting idea. Say what you will about Exile (and who doesn’t?) but at least it explores the consequences of the Doctor making a choice. Auld Mortality doesn’t even do that. It ignores the interesting question it initially claims to pose and replaces it with,

"What if… the Doctor was a bit simple and elderly and didn’t notice anything any more?"

Auld Mortality should’ve been excellent but it went in the wrong direction from the start. It had the ultimate premise and it squandered it. Whoever was overseeing the range should’ve ensured it either opened with a nice, traditional story that made sense or that the simulated reality of Auld Mortality was a one off rather than the main body of three of the six plays.