One of the things I love most about the last three series of Doctor Who is how open Steven Moffat and his writing team have been to playing with the flexibility of traveling through space and time. It may sometimes get confusing but then it should, as that is the nature of travel without boundaries. It’s only bothersome when you try to force the narrative into a recognizable pattern but when you do that you’re missing the point.
We perceive our movement through time and space as a linear progression but what if this is in fact a kind of perception filter? Just because we see a thing – doesn’t mean we are seeing the whole thing. One of the strengths of Doctor Who is its willingness to investigate concepts that are (sometimes quite literally) alien to us. So in the spirit of the program, let’s create a paradox by adopting a linear list to discuss how Doctor Who uses nonlinear, fluid elements to tell its epic story.
10. Nonlinear Storytelling
Steven Moffat has gone out of his way to use the premise of time travel to explore nonlinear storytelling. Normally when you watch a TV episode or series arc you view the beginning, the middle and the end. You get those elements in Doctor Who of course, but not necessarily in that order. In fact the first half of series 7 seems to have been almost entirely out of sequence. Things that were alluded to in “Town Called Mercy” for example – Rory losing his phone charger in Henry VIII’s en suite – we don’t actually see until “Power of Three” which aired afterwards. This leads one to wonder if the Doctor was traveling back in his own time stream throughout the series in order to re-visit Amy and Rory after he lost them in “Angels Take Manhattan”. As a time traveler, it makes more sense for the Doctor to bounce around from point to point rather than follow a straight line.
River Song’s timeline is a complete jumble especially in association with the Doctor’s. We were led to believe in earlier episodes that the two protagonists in this star-crossed relationship were traveling in opposite directions but that no longer appears to be the case. In “Angels Take Manhattan” they seem roughly parallel. Which is good because backwards is still linear and that wouldn’t be how two time travelers would meet up. It’s much more likely they would appear at random moments within each other’s time streams – neither one ever really knowing how much time they have spent together.
This article was first posted on October 9, 2012