Monday, 26 September 2016

Time and Relative by Kim Newman, illustrated by Bryan Talbot

Telos Novella #1
Time and Relative
Written by Kim Newman
Illustrated by Bryan Talbot
Published: 23rd November 2001
Read: 19th-20th September 2016

What's It All About

It's March 1963 and the United Kingdom is in the grip of a months-long winter that has brought the country to its very knees. As ordinary people struggle daily to live out their lives, the British government blame the Soviet Union for the terrible conditions gripping the country.

Through a series of diary entries written by Susan Foreman herself, we see how the community of the Coal Hill area of London deals with "The Cold". Told from the first person perspective, Susan observes how her teachers and friends from Coal Hill School, as well as a few characters from the local community, react when the mundane but inconvenient, turns horrifically deadly. Within a single scene, we can go from a good-natured snowball fight to a deadly attack by a snowman which sees a child impaled through the leg by a massive icicle.

The struggle becomes worse for the people of Coal Hill as "the Cold" continues to grow stronger and take on a life of its own. The cute but deadly snowmen, soon take the form of terrifying Cold Knights that stalk the land and kill people in a horrific manner.

Susan believes that her grandfather can save them all from "the Cold", but he has been indoctrinated not to meddle in the affairs of other species. Besides which, when "the Cold" has a prior claim to the planet Earth, he needs convincing whether humanity deserves the right to exist.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Although we've had a few visits to 1963 over the course of our journey, only two stories have been really steeped in the history and feel of that time, this and Hunters of Earth. However, while Hunters focused on the kitsch and nostalgia of the era with very few negative aspects, this story presents a more truthful warts-and-all perspective which the Doctor and Susan have been living in for the "last five months".

The whole backstory behind the story focuses on the Cold War between the East and West with both sides blaming each over for the terrible winter which has wreaked havoc over the Northern Hemisphere. The fact that the USSR was proved to be responsible from unearthing "the Cold" through their Novobirisk Project in Siberia, a plan to engineer climate change, just goes to show how bad things were in the early 1960's. After all, we are only a few months removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The hardcover for Time and Relative.

One other key aspect of the 1960s that is examined is the casual racism that was rife across the United Kingdom at the time. Through Susan's babysitting of Malcolm and her interactions with his mother, both from Trinidad, we see the everyday insults and disdain people of colour were greeted with. Naturally, this aspect is pushed to extremes at the height of the story when Malcolm is attacked by the vicar's wife who believes that people like him and brought this terrible situation on them.

If the background of 1960s political events and racism wasn't enough, we also have issues of parental abuse and post-traumatic stress syndrome to deal with. These two weighty subjects are examined though Susan's two school friends, John and Gillian (no relation from Dr Who's grandchildren from the TV Comic strips). Gillian's story seems the most harrowing of all, with many mentions to what she has to endure at home from her father, although it is never outright stated, it is fairly obvious she is suffering some form of abuse from her alcoholic father. In a similar way, John also comes in from abuse from his father, Colonel Brent, who is determined that the fourteen-year-old should follow him into the military and put his own thoughts and desires aside.

Give everything that I've written so far, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was quite a bleak story, yet it isn't. Through the perspective of Susan's diary entries we not only witness the terrible deaths and tragedy that is caused by "the Cold", and indeed it can be quite graphic at times, but the good in humanity is also recorded. Deadly Cold Knight attacks are juxtaposed with stories of Susan and Gillian "aging up" and trying to get into the local pubs and clubs or the horrors of having double Geography on a Friday.

Susan and her grandfather.
Despite his absence for much of the story, the Doctor's presence is felt throughout this story in the faith and love that Susan has him in, and the belief that he'll be able to fix everything. Again, it is that hope and faith that lifts the story up, and indeed goes a long way to resolving the story. It is not only Susan's faith in him that causes the Time Lord to help save humanity, going against years of indoctrination, the hope that humanity can become better as seen in young Malcolm. Together, the young boy from Trinidad and the Time Lord from Gallifrey are able to weaken "the Cold"'s grip on the Earth, long enough for the Doctor to reduce it to the size of a snowflake and take it to Pluto so that it can live and grow unencumbered.

Summing Up

Considering the story was written by Kim Newman, a writer not unfamiliar with the horror genre, it was no surprise that this story veered towards gory on a couple of occasions, but perhaps no more so that the series was during the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era. In summary, I must agree with Justin Richards in the afterword of this novella, when he goes on to state that Time and Relative is the quintessential Doctor Who story. The fantastical and the mundane are brought together in perfect harmony and top it all off with a few monsters and a couple of laughs.


Continuity Corner

  • Susan claims they arrived in 1963 London "five months earlier", despite it only being late March. She simply goes on to criticise how "hidebound" humanity is by chronological systems.
  • At this point in time, Susan is said to be fourteen-years-old (she is said to be fifteen in An Unearthly Child).
  • Both Susan and the Doctor have developed a specific form of amnesia which blocks out many of the details of their homeworld and their people. The Doctor seems worse affected, but whenever Susan dwells on it, she develops a terrible headache.
  • Despite the amnesia, Susan does recollect some details when she puts it into the context of her everyday life at Coal Hill School. Constantly reiterated is the fear of the "Truant Officer", a sinisterly bearded individual, that they fear is tracking them across time and space.
  • Susan has been keenly absorbing many aspects of human culture, including cinema and sampling the night-life. She likes Peter O'Toole, John Lennon and Patrick McGoohan. She loves Lawrence of Arabia, The Beatles, and Danger Man, but doesn't like Albert Finney.
  • Sneaking into the cinema to see X-certificate film, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Susan and her friend Gillian saw Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright in the audience.
  • Susan has a Saturday job, looking after a six-year-old boy named Malcolm, while his mother works at the local newsagents.
  • In order to get "the Cold" to Pluto in the Far Future in the TARDIS, the Doctor had to make five landings before landing on Pluto, and an additional twelve landings to make it back to Totter's Lane at the exact point he left.