The fact that Doctor Who travels back and forth through time does tend to confuse things a little, especially when various incarnations of the Doctor meet up with each other.
It's no secret that I am a huge fan of the British science fiction television show, Doctor Who. I've mentioned this before -- and you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll remark on it again -- but I remember watching the very first episode on the BBC television channel on Saturday, 23 November, 1963, when I was only six years old. Even the introductory electronic music was strange and scary -- until then, all programs were accompanied by a classical orchestra -- let alone the program itself, so I observed everything from behind the sofa for safety.
Funnily enough, I met Nick Martin, the founder of Altium, at an Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Silicon Valley a few years ago. Nick and I are about the same age, and he told me that -- like so many of our generation -- he also had watched Doctor Who from behind the sofa at his family home in Tasmania when he was a kid.
After going off air for a number of years, Doctor Who was rebooted in 2005. This new version is a big-budget operation with splendid story arcs and sumptuous special effects. I love it.
One of the things about the Doctor Who character is that he periodically regenerates into a new body (actor). The previous Doctor was played by Matt Smith, who was in his late 20s and early 30s at the time. The most recent incarnation is played by Peter Capaldi, who is in his mid-50s. Capaldi adopted the role in Season 8, which aired in 2014. Initially, some fans expressed their concern that Capaldi was too aged to play a 2000+ year old time traveler, but he seems to be growing into the role.
The only problem is that Season 8 -- and the associated Christmas Special -- is over, and we now have to wait until August 2015 for the start of Season 9. That's a lifetime away! What is a poor boy to do?
Well, I don’t know about the other fans, but I've started watching the entire program from the beginning of the 2005 reboot. This will be my third voyage through this extravaganza. I'm currently at the beginning of Season 3, all of which brings us to the point of this column...
The fact that Doctor Who travels back and forth through time does tend to confuse things a little. This is only exacerbated by the fact that he keeps on regenerating into another body. And don’t start me talking about the episodes where various incarnations of the Doctor meet up with each other.
As the Doctor famously said in Blink, which was the tenth episode of the third series circa 2007 (click here to see the video of this speech):
People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint -- it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.
He wasn't joking. As an aside, Blink is probably the very best episode you could use to introduce someone new to Doctor Who, which is strange in a way because the Doctor has very little screen time in this episode, but there you are.
Things really came to a head when the Doctor came together with the character of River Song, who also travels through time. Due to the way in which they both bounce back and forth like temporal yo-yos, the first time the Doctor meets River Song is the last meeting for her, and vice versa, and then things start to get confusing.
Actually, I just had a quick Google (it's alright; no one was looking) and I discovered the following two depictions of the way in which the Doctor's timeline intersects with River Song's timeline.
While I was mulling this over, my mind turned to thoughts of depictions you find in books like The Timechart History of the World (there are similar items for religions and civilizations and suchlike). When you open this book, you can unfold a jolly interesting 20-foot long poster showing the order in which different things happened in relation to each other.
Based on this, I started to ponder creating something similar for Doctor Who. I actually became quite excited by this prospect. I began to envisage myself creating the best wibbly wobbly Doctor Who timeline ever! I also started to have visions of myself unveiling my masterpiece to a grateful world of Doctor Who fans, all of whom would wish to express their gratitude by offering lots of free beer to me wherever I wandered. Sad to relate, however, my hopes were cruelly dashed when I bounced this idea off my chum, Rick Curl, who is also an aficionado of the Doctor. Rick gently explained that others had already thought of this idea, and suggested I Googled "Doctor Who Timeline."
Arrggh -- he's right -- many people have trodden this path before me. For example, this interactive timeline on the BBC website is rather interesting. My favorite thus far, however, is one that resembles a map of the London Underground.
You must admit that this is rather clever (it brings to mind Edward R. Tufte's amazing book, Envisioning Information, which presents ingenious ways of graphically presenting complex data). I cannot imagine how much work went into this. My hat is off to the creator of this little beauty. There is one obvious problem, but I bet you have already worked that out for yourself. In the meantime, if you know of any other interesting depictions of Doctor Who's timeline, please share them in the comments below.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting