The Ballard of Dr Who

Patient W

“A pair of basketball shoes. A photograph of an abandoned slate quarry in Wales, dated 5th March, 1983. A gamma-ray spectrograph of the BL Lac object in the constellation Dorado. A blue quartz crystal. A toy robot in the shape of a pepper-mill. A recorder. A hand-written bibliography of research relating to the dissolution of British India. A small instrument resembling a dentist’s drill.”

Travers looked up from the collection of objects and documents. The chief prison psychiatrist’s gaze was abstracted, as if his mind were turning inward as some kind of defence against the delusions of his patients.

“And you’re telling me that this collection constitutes some sort of time machine?”

“Not in the conventional sense.”

Travers slapped him.

The Disaster Reports

The broadcasts were received in most parts of the world over a period of decades. Although the subject matter varied widely, the theme was constantly one of disaster averted. Any sense of reassurance was undercut by the recurrent nature of the catastrophes, and by their exponentially increasing scope and magnitude. The earliest broadcasts dealt with one or two people, or small communities, threatened with death, torture or imprisonment. Despite the fact that the broadcasts were seemingly designed for children, the scale of the disasters increased rapidly, and within a decade, the threatened complete destruction of the Earth, or its invasion by superhuman aliens, were commonplace occurrences. The process of escalation did not end at the Solar System: eventually tremendous cosmic forces, more like ancient gods than natural events, were to menace first the entire galaxy and then the very structure of the universe with the prospect of annihilation. Once it had become impossible to increase the scale of the disasters in space, they were expanded on the temporal level, and the narrative structure of the history underpinning the disasters was under constant attack, as if time itself were gnawing at its own entrails. This may indicate that the disaster reports serve as metaphors for some crisis of the mind’s ability to retain an integral image of itself over historical time.

Ms Found Written on a Paper Aeroplane

Travers walked between the decrepit exercise yard and the abandoned swimming pool, streaked with rust and algae. “Really must remind the director to get that bloody thing cleaned,” he said to no-one in particular. He was reluctant to engage with the patient, but found it a more cheerful prospect than afternoon tea with the chief psychiatrist, whose sole conversational topic apart from shoptalk was fly-fishing.

The patient, a man in his late twenties, was intent on one of his balsa-wood constructions. These all seemed to be aircraft at first glance, but on closer inspection turned out to be missing some critical spatial dimension, so that when turned in the hand, they seemed to transform into an unwieldy rectangular box. This shape was clearly a critical component of the patient’s delusions. He had filled not only his own room but half of the adjacent ward – space was not a problem due to the underpopulation plague and the invention of home-care telepathy – with these strange objects.

“Ah! Dr Travers!” said the patient. “Just in time to see my new design.” He threw the object towards the opposite wall, where it cracked in two pieces, a result which he received with an irritatingly whimsical smile.

Travers mentally reviewed the patient’s case history. Immortality, saviour of the world countless times over, cheerful in the face of adversity. More or less asexual but his strange delusion of a “second heart” could be some kind of cathexis for erotic impulses.

“What-ever,” Travers said to himself with his inner inaudible voice, rolling his imaginary eyes.

You And Me And The Doctor Makes Three

Paradoxically, subjects reported feelings of affection and reassurance during and after exposure to the disaster reports. These were in proportion to the scale of the disasters and the degree to which the characters were exposed to peril. Feelings of sexual desire were frequently reported, particularly with regard to the younger “companion” characters. It is postulated that the increasingly self-referential nature of the escalating disasters serve as an objective correlative to the narcissistic aspect of sexual desire, which, in turn, adds actual emotional content to the increasingly implausible narrative of the reports. Due to the subjects’ tendency to lapse into reverie or argue about the respective attractiveness of ‘companions’, often escalating to the production and exchange of amateur fiction on sexual themes, further research on this topic is not recommended.


6 responses to “The Ballard of Dr Who

  1. I had no idea you were such a well-informed Who fan! This is fantastic.

  2. Pingback: "As if time itself were gnawing at its own entrails"

  3. Is the character of Travers a reference to the Second Doctor’s ally against the Yeti, Professor Edward Travers?

    • No – Travers is one of the names of the central character of Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition sequence. I’m happy that it’s an accidental Who reference.

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