|Pop between realities, home in time for muffins.|
Let’s talk about a pair of boxes.
In his excellent, ongoing project TARDIS Eruditorum, Phil Sandifer discusses the so-called E-Space stories of Doctor Who, a period in which the Fourth Doctor and his companion was thrown into an alternate universe by a deep-space encounter with a phenomenon referred to as a Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Sandifer makes the point that “emboit,” etymologically, looks like it should mean “to place in a box,” and a Charged Vacuum Emboidment is therefore a box containing a vacuum that has a charge differential across it, not a bad description of a CRT television screen. The TARDIS, in other words, smacks into the TV screen and ends up slipping into another universe (read: TV show).
Sandifer has a lot of fun with this concept of emboidment throughout the rest of the series, and of course he does not fail to notice the presence of another prominent box that contains the series, the TARDIS.
As I noted in my article on Time Lords and Terror, the TARDIS is a mobile version of a classic staple of British children’s literature, the everyday object that contains liminal space. Well-known examples include Narnia’s wardrobe, Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4, and (most importantly for the work we’re tackling today) Alice’s looking glass. These gates to another world normally lead to a new space where adventure can occur; what makes the TARDIS near-unique is that the space within it is entirely liminal; it is when one emerges that one finds oneself in a new world.
This pair of boxes is a large part of what gives Doctor Who its longevity; the power of the TARDIS is that it can emboit almost any genre or story, bringing it into Doctor Who and playing with it.
Early in the fan-made audio drama series Doctor Whooves and Assistant, Ditzy Doo mishears “paradox” as “pair of box,” spawning a minor running gag through the rest of the series. This is, of course, a complete coincidence, but it’s a fun coincidence. Let’s run with it.
Interestingly, just as the rigid structure of Ace Attorney ensures that any crossover with it becomes Ace Attorney with some unusual guest stars, the flexibility of Doctor Who has the same effect. Because Doctor Who is so readily able to emboit any other story it comes across (even, contra Sandifer, “the story where the Doctor is a serial rapist”–you just have to add the final twist that it was the Valeyard or the Dream Lord), almost any fanwork crossing Doctor Who with something else will tend to deform toward standard Doctor Who with characters from that something else as companions. Friendship Is Magic has the slight advantage in this regard of having no humanoid characters, but in the end this just means that Doctor Whooves and Assistant evolves toward standard Doctor Who with Friendship Is Magic characters as companions and a pony-shaped Doctor.
Most tellingly, Doctor Whooves and Assistant‘s serial nature (to date, four of the six stories occur across multiple episodes) causes it to develop a similar property to Classic Who, which is that it is nigh-impossible to marathon. (A fact which I learned to my dismay this past week.) The pacing of episodes makes attempting to watch them back-to-back extremely grueling, which isn’t helped by the fact that this is amateur work. Most of the episode ideas are quite good, but the execution is sometimes lacking, most notably with the painful age-regression sequence in Episode 5 and the interminable, mediocre musical numbers in Episode 8 Part 2. Like the classic series, there is quite a lot of padding, especially in the crossover with Doctor Whooves Adventures that comprises episode 7, where the split across two series means that many scenes depicted twice, those which aren’t frequently have to be summarized for characters that weren’t present, and on top of that many ideas and debates are recycled for no apparent reason. Coupled with the lack of any banter between the two Doctors (the primary source of entertainment value in any multi-Doctor episode) and the total run time of three and a half hours, this makes episode 7 the most grueling slog of the series. (Though it could be rather a lot worse–the same writer, under another pseudonym, is responsible for the vile “Ask Discorded Whooves” Tumblr.)
At the start, the series seems to invert the emboitment which Doctor Who usually performs. The first story, which takes place across episodes 1 through 3, places the Doctor entirely within Friendship Is Magic. Indeed, his presence is entirely irrelevant; he ends up (together with Ditzy Doo) witnessing but not influencing the events of the Friendship Is Magic premiere, reflecting his and Ditzy’s roles as background ponies. The next story, episode 4, appears to continue this trend of placing the Doctor on the fringes of a Friendship Is Magic episode, as the Doctor returns to Equestria for Winter Wrap-Up and is guided through the pony holiday by Ditzy. However, once the two of them stumble upon and thwart an alien invasion of Equestria, the story becomes one of the most familiar and well-established story structures for Doctor Who, the pseudo-historical.
In a pseudo-historical, the Doctor lands in an established period of history (or at least, that period as filtered through the popular consciousness), but rather than interacting with that history itself, he instead deals with some science-fictional menace that threatens to disrupt that history; examples from the most recent Doctor’s run include “Cold War” and “Vampires in Venice.” However, because Doctor Whooves and Assistant takes place in the world of Friendship Is Magic, the equivalent to history is aired episodes of the show; it is thus the stories set in the “present day” of the program that function as pseudo-historicals.
In other words, episode 4 (as well as episode 6, which is set during “Over a Barrel”) emboits the Doctor within an episode of Friendship Is Magic, but then emboits that episode within a standard Doctor Who formula. Episode 5 then takes this further by placing all of Equestria within a Doctor Who episode. In this episode (on of the series’ best), the Doctor travels to the future of Equestria only to find a Cyber-pony invasion underway, having an adventure which is both recognizably in Equestria and in a Doctor Who episode (notably, the episode’s climax is reminiscent of both Doctor Who‘s “Closing Time” and Friendship Is Magic‘s “A Canterlot Wedding”).
The most recent episode, episode 8, is notable for introducing the first real continuity to the series, something which is much more pronounced in Doctor Who than Friendship Is Magic (the vague hints of a season-long arc in Season 4 of the latter notwithstanding). The presence of another time traveler, the introduction of a new companion, and the first defeated villain to swear revenge all suggest that the series is starting to develop an overarching plot in addition to the individual stories making it up, becoming more serialized and thereby more Who-like.
In the end, Doctor Whooves and Assistant has little to say about Friendship Is Magic or Doctor Who. Increasingly, it is just a fan-made Doctor Who audio drama with a lot of pony puns. But that’s a fairly entertaining thing to be, especially if taken in chunks no larger than a half-hour or so.