Monday, December 3, 2012

Gunslingers Across Time and Space

At the end of season 6 of Doctor Who, in the penultimate episode entitled "Closing Time," the Doctor goes to visit his friend Craig (who was previously seen in season 5 in the episode "The Lodger").  At the end of the episode, after the Doctor has once again saved the world from the Cybermen, he tells Craig that he must go.

Craig begs him to stay, saying that Sophie (his girlfriend) will be home soon, but the Doctor tells Craig that there is somewhere that he must be.

Craig tells him to wait and returns with a cowboy hat, which he tosses to the Doctor, saying, "You ride 'em, pardner!"

On his way to the TARDIS, the Doctor sees a group of kids; one of them later reflects, "I thought maybe he was a cowboy on his way to a gunfight."

I was intrigued by this cowboy hat and the associations it conjures up; in particular, this hat made me wonder, "Is the Doctor a gunslinger?"

This might seem like a silly question to ask about a man who abhors guns and violence of all kinds, but when Doctor Who is read in connection with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (which begins with The Gunslinger), several interesting parallels arise.

[note: significant spoilers from both The Dark Tower series and seasons 6 and 7 of Doctor Who follow]

Sure, a cowboy hat in and of itself isn't enough to make a case for a connection, but a closer look at these final episodes in season 6 point to several significant similarities between the two texts.  For starters, the final episode of season 6 of Doctor Who--"The Wedding of River Song"--is all about time getting stuck and collapsing on itself, something that we also see in book 3 of The Dark Tower series, which is entitled The Waste Lands.  In "The Wedding of River Song," all of history is happening at the same time; in The Waste Lands, Roland and Jake remember two alternate versions of history, one in which Roland lets Jake die and one in which Jake is still alive in New York City.  Interestingly, in both of these stories, these temporal disruptions are caused by someone not dying who had died in an alternate version of reality.

The larger structures of both texts bear similarities to each other as well.  Season 6 of Doctor Who is a giant loop in time, framed by the Doctor's death on both ends.  And for those of you who have read through the end of The Dark Tower, you know that King's entire 7-book series is a giant loop that Roland has to relive, time and again.

Additionally, the Doctor and Roland play similar roles in the universe.  In "The Wedding of River Song," the crew of the Teselecta (a giant shapeshifting robot) tell the Doctor that, like him, they are "champions of law and order"--a role that Roland plays as well.  And both the Doctor and Roland come from long lines of noble ancestry--Roland from the line of Arthur of Eld, and the Doctor from the Time Lords of Gallifrey.

But it is in the relationship between each man and his traveling companions that I find the most significant similarities.  Roland travels with Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy--a group bound together by fate that he calls his "ka-tet."  The Doctor travels with a variety of companions, most recently Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and episodes like "The Power of Three" in Season 7 present these three as a unified team--a cube, in this case. 

In spite of these close connections, however, the Doctor and Roland stand alone.  Although they are both surrounded by core groups of wonderful friends and traveling companions, both gunslingers have seen too much and lived too long to really be able to fit in.  And in the end, they both must leave their companions behind, or be left by them.

This tension between belonging to a group and standing alone is ultimately what brings the Doctor and Roland Deschain together--two champions of law and justice who stand against the forces of space and time to do what is right, even at great personal cost.

Both of them gunslingers.

By Jen Miller