CT522 - Jez Strickley

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Panoply of Perceptions

By Jez Strickley

“If you could keep that [box] exactly that distance away, and have it here, the large one would fit inside the small one.” (The Robots of Death, 1977, Chris Boucher)

From fuzzy wordplays to rigorous typologies, articulating sense data – the building blocks of perception – is at the heart of our daily lives. It informs our understanding of the world, allowing us to navigate our surroundings spatially and temporally. Philosophically speaking, René Descartes’ thinking thing – ‘res cogitans’ – is front and centre here.

Perception is central to Doctor Who’s time travel premise. We perceive time as a continuing event, what some academics call ‘historical consciousness’. This is what helps to make the Doctor’s travels so remarkable. Likewise, our sense of space renders the TARDIS’ transdimensional interior mind-shattering, so when the Doctor baffles Leela with his large-box-inside-a-small-box explanation, we’re confounded too.

“I’m a million different people from one day to the next…” (‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, Urban Hymns, 1997, The Verve)

Regeneration is another perception-altering experience. The departure of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is particularly striking in this respect. His profound confession, that facing his fear was more important than “just going on living” encapsulates his dignified perception of reality. Here, regeneration is more than a survival instinct; it’s a radical perceptual transformation.

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, A Night at the Opera, 1975, Freddie Mercury)

Have you ever wondered if reality is an illusion? The idea that the world is a simulation – a topic much debated by SpaceX boss Elon Musk – is explored in Doctor Who. From fake realities and Matrix schema to hypnotic illusion and personal deceptions, the series is brimming with artifice. Christopher H. Bidmead’s Castrovalva gives us one of the true heroes of existential doubt, Shardovan the librarian, whose solitary peregrinations – not unlike those of the protagonist in Jorge Luis Borges’ poem The Circular Ruins (1940) – hint at the true history of those lofty Dwellings of Simplicity.

“Then you deny what is real.” (Resurrection of the Daleks, 1984, Eric Saward)

Perception is also about social norms. How we respond to each other, how we treat each other, how we care about each other, are each shaped by our perception. The Doctor’s denial of Davros’ “universal way of life” points to another way of ‘seeing’ reality, based on empathy and compassion – the very traits which prevent the Time Lord from cold-bloodedly murdering Davros, wiping out the Daleks at their inception, and abandoning Davros as a child to a field of hand mines.

I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them.” (Memento, 2000, Christopher Nolan)

Our everyday perceptions are processed and packaged, variously becoming memories and imaginings. Therein lies another conundrum: where does the line between memory and imagination blur? Chris Boucher’s 1987 Bergerac script The Memory Man explores this question. The fugue state of the story’s antagonist is taken to extremes in the 2008 Italian graphic novel Dylan Dog #264 ‘Liam il bugiardo’ (trans: ‘Liam the liar’), where the figure of Liam Losey seemingly is able to sustain his very existence through falsehoods. In the Doctor’s travels, the tragic case of Oswin (Asylum of the Daleks) is perhaps the best example and certainly one of the most moving.

From indefinable magic, canonicity and literary theory to anti-matter universes and perceptual variation, via some power over the eyes and the ends of the earth, please join Michael S. Collins, Nick Mellish, Fiona Moore, Ian Scales, JR Southall, Alan Stevens (who also made valuable editing suggestions), Daniel Tessier and Arthur Wellow on a journey into perception.

To close, Jan Vincent-Rudski pays tribute to DWAS’ first coordinator, Stephen Payne, and fans have their say in ‘The Screaming Jungle’

With special thanks to Andy Lambert for his excellent Kinda-themed wraparound cover and Nicholas Hollands for his wonderful layout.

Kindest regards,