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INDEFINABLE MAGIC

“Creaking doors, thunder and lightning, monsters and all the things that go bumpety-bumpety in the night.” DWM investigates the weird world of the supernatural in the Doctor Who universe…

Ghosts are real in Doctor Who.

There is no doubt about it any longer. The Doctor encounters them in the Drum, an underwater facility in 2015’s Under the Lake, and concedes that they are just what they appear to be – to his companion’s surprise.

“You said there was no such thing,” protests Clara Oswald. “You actually pooh-poohed the ghost theory.” She’s right. In fact, she is more right than she knows.

When it comes to ghosts – and indeed, all matters paranormal – the Doctor has a long history of avowed scepticism. In 1971’s The Dæmons, Jo Grant only has to mention “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” for him to retort: “I’m obviously wasting my time trying to turn you into a scientist!” “Well, how do you know there’s nothing in it?” Jo challenges him. “Well, I just know, that’s all. Everything that happens in life must have a scientific explanation – if you know where to look for it, that is.”

So, when Benton is later attacked by invisible spirits, the Doctor insists that the culprit must be “a forcefield… even a psionic one”. “You’re being deliberately obtuse,” argues self-declared white witch Olive Hawthorne. “We’re dealing with the supernatural, the occult, magic.” “Science!” the Doctor barks back.

He’s just as quick to scold Leela for using the M-word, in 1977’s The Robots of Death. “I know, I know,” she apologises, “there’s no such thing as magic.” “That’s right,” the Doctor avers. “To the rational mind, nothing is inexplicable, only unexplained.” In 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord, Peri refers to “the spooks and ghosts you’re always telling me don’t exist” – while in the TV Movie, the Doctor states, “I don’t believe in ghosts!”, which seems pretty unequivocal.

“Yes, well, well,” he defends his complete about-turn in the Drum, “there was no such thing as, as socks or smartphones and badgers until there suddenly were… No, these people are literally, actually dead… I’ve never actually met a proper ghost!”

But that depends on how you define the word, of course…

At some point prior to 1989’s Battlefield, the Doctor taught Ace ‘Clarke’s Law’ in reality, the third of science-fiction writer Arthur C Clarke’s famous Three Laws. “Any sufficiently advanced technology,” Clarke decreed, “is indistinguishable from magic.” Ace misquotes him slightly, but retains his gist.

The point has been demonstrated often in Doctor Who. The Face of Evil (1977) and The King’s Demons (1983) spring to mind: two stories in which primitive societies mistake the Doctor himself for an evil, supernatural entity.

In 2015’s The Girl Who Died, the Doctor paraphrases Clarke’s Law again, before attempting to convince a tribe of Vikings that he is their god Odin, using a yoyo. He should have known it wouldn’t work, having failed to pass himself off as Zeus by dint of his “supernatural knowledge” in The Myth Makers (1965)…

So, when Henry Gordon Jago sees a ghost backstage at the theatre (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, 1977), there is a rational explanation. It’s a hologram, designed by time traveller Magnus Greel to guard his lair from superstitious Victorians. Makes sense to those of us who, in more enlightened times, are familiar with Scooby-Doo.

The woods around Fetch Priory are also reputed to be haunted (Image of the Fendahl, 1977), though in this case the Doctor blames a “time fissure… a weakness in the fabric of space and time. Every haunted place has one, doesn’t it? That’s why they’re haunted. It’s a time distortion.” What, every haunted place?

A similar fissure brings the disembodied Gelth to Cardiff in 2005’s The Unquiet Dead - although the Doctor calls this one a ‘rift’. “A weak point in time and space,” he explains in familiar terms, “a connection between this place and another. That’s the cause of ghost stories, most of the time.” So, most haunted places, then.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: An interview with actor and Doctor Who fan Rufus Hound; Showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers’ burning questions; a feature by Steve Lyons investigates the weird world of the supernatural in the Doctor Who universe; the feature 'Crack of Doom' finds out more about Big Finish’s audio box set Doom Coalition 4; Toby Hadoke pays tribute to Rodney Bennett, the director who oversaw three very different productions during the early years of Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor; the original Master returns for new comic strip adventure 'Doorway to Hell' part two, by Mark Wright, with art by Staz Johnson; 'The Fact of Fiction' examines 1972's 'The Mutants'; The Time Team rewatch the 2011 series opener 'The Impossible Astronaut'; plus Previews, book and audio reviews, news, the Watcher's column, the annual season survey poll, prize-winning competitions and much more!
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