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I have never felt less sane than I do right now.

...so, hey, this is a post all about how the fifth series of Doctor Who is really Michael Ende's The Neverending Story in disguise. Well, no; it's about the commonality of particular [awesome] themes and ideas to both Doctor Who (the original neverending story, let's be honest) and The Neverending Story. I have focused mostly on the book rather than the film, but both are relevant to this post. Obviously this post contains spoilers for The Neverending Story (book and film), and Doctor Who up to "The Pandorica Opens". I also mention the title of the next episode although there are no spoilers for that episode contained in this post.

The Childlike Empress and the Old Man of Wandering Mountain; the Doctor and River Song

Both The Neverending Story and Doctor Who contain near-omnipotent "protector" figures who are both incalculably old and eternally young. The Childlike Empress is described in the book as the "centre" of Fantastica, while the Doctor — as we all know — "burns at the centre of Time". While the Childlike Empress is aloof in the way the Doctor seems to consider himself and does not judge or exercise her power, the Doctor involves himself in events. They both go by an alias — The Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes, the Childlike Empress; the Doctor — but their names are hidden. In fact, the Childlike Empress's true name has been forgotten; River Song alone knows the Doctor's true name.

Each of these characters has a foil: in the Childlike Empress's case, her foil is the Old Man of Wandering Mountain and in the book these characters represent the beginning and end of things respectively; the Doctor's foil is the mysterious River Song. While the Childlike Empress is fixed in her Ivory Tower, the Old Man of Wandering Mountain is described in the following Doctor-esque way:
"Our folk also say," Atreyu went on, "that you never can know where the Old Man's mountain will be at any particular time. They say that when he appears it's always unexpectedly, now here, now there, and that you can only run across him by accident, or because the meeting was fated."

"That's true," said the Childlike Empress. "You can't look for the Old Man of Wandering Mountain. You can only find him."

"Does that go for you too?"

"Yes," she said, "for me too."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 151

Conversely, in Doctor Who the Doctor is the character who cannot reliably be found (or even telephoned), while River is — more or less — fixed in the Stormcage Facility. However, there are other parallels between the Old Man and River:

Both The Neverending Story and Steven Moffat's Doctor Who contain the idea of time being written as in a book — in fact, a physical book in both cases: the book containing the neverending story itself, which exists simultaneously in Fantastica and the "real world"; and River Song's diary. The Old Man states that once he has written something in his book it is fixed — "even you, Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes"; and although the Doctor tells River that time can be rewritten she insists that he is not allowed to rewrite even a single line of her diary.

...and neither the Old Man of Wandering Mountain or River Song can allow the Childlike Empress or the Doctor to read ahead.
"You are Fantastica's memory, you know everything that has happened up to this moment. But couldn't you leaf ahead in your book and see what's going to happen?"

"Empty pages," was the answer. "I can only look back at what has happened. I was able to read it while I was writing it. And I know it because I have read it. And I wrote it because it happened. The Neverending Story writes itself by my hand."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 162

RIVER: Sorry, you're not allowed to see inside the book. It's against the rules.

THE DOCTOR: What rules?

RIVER: Your rules.
Doctor Who 4x08 "Silence in the Library"

At the climax of the first half of The Neverending Story, and of "The Pandorica Opens", both the Childlike Empress and the Doctor are trapped: the Childlike Empress inside the blue egg at the top of the Wandering Mountain, and the Doctor inside the Pandorica.
"By my hand everything becomes fixed and final — you too, Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes. This egg is your grave and your coffin. You have entered into the memory of Fantastica. How do you expect to leave here?"

"Every egg," she said, "is the beginning of a new life."


"True," the Old Man wrote and said, "But only if its shell bursts open."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 162

Just as the egg the Childlike Empress is in needs to burst open, the title for this week's episode of Doctor Who — "The Big Bang" — implies a kind of rebirth for the universe.

Bastian Balthazar Bux; Amy Pond; and the Idea of Conjuring a Person's Internal World into Being

Bastian, like Amy, is a character with little connection to anybody in his life. His mother has died and his father has retreated into himself — in fact, at one point Bastian envisions his father as being encased in a block of ice which Bastian cannot melt; Amy's aunt (the only family of hers we know of) is, apparently, similarly detached. Both Bastian and Amy are children of broad imagination, who (like Mary Katherine Blackwood of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson) lead rich internal lives — and they refuse to listen to other people when they tell them not to believe in fairy tales.
He had never been willing to believe that life had to be as grey and dull as people claimed. He heard them saying: "Life is like that," but he couldn't agree. He never stopped believing in mysteries and miracles.
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 127

AMY: Twelve years and four psychiatrists!

THE DOCTOR: Four?

AMY: I kept biting them.

THE DOCTOR: Why?

AMY: They said you weren't real.
Doctor Who 5x01 "The Eleventh Hour"

In fact, Bastian and Amy live such rich internal lives that objects of their imagination can be conjured into being. When Fantastica is destroyed, Bastian recreates it. Unlike Fantasticans, Bastian, a human, is a "Child of the Word" — he alone is capable of writing reality and of naming things. Likewise, Amy's memories, dreams, and ideas are written into being by the Nestene Consciousness.
Because one thing he was good at, possibly the only thing, was imagining things so clearly that he almost saw and heard them.
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 23

But sometimes the objects of our imagination find their way to the real world as lies...

"The Nothing"; "the Silence"

This is the most obvious parallel between Doctor Who and The Neverending Story. Both universes are being devoured by a mysterious "nothingness" which leaves only a peculiar sort of emptiness or 'silence' in its wake.
THE DOCTOR: If the time energy catches up with you you'll never have been born. It will erase every moment of your existance. You will never have lived at all.
Doctor Who 5x05 "Flesh and Stone"

SIGNORA CALVIERRI: There were cracks. Some of them tiny. Some were as big as the sky. Through some we saw worlds and through others we saw silence and the end of all things.

Doctor Who 5x06 "The Vampires of Venice"

ROCK BITER: Near my home there used to be a beautiful lake - but then, then it was gone.

TINY: Did the lake - dry up?

ROCK BITER: No. It just wasn't there any more. Nothing was there any more, not even a dried-up lake.

TINY: A hole?

ROCK BITER: A hole would be something, no. It was nothing. And it got bigger, and bigger. First there was no lake any more and then finally no rocks.
The Neverending Story (1984)

"If somebody put his foot into one of them by mistake, the foot — or hand — or whatever else he put in — would be gone too. It didn't hurt — it was just that a part of whoever it was would be missing. Some would even fall in on purpose if they got too close to the Nothing. It has an irresistable attraction — the bigger the place, the stronger the pull."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), pages 21-22

"The Childlike Empress is sick,
And with her Fantastica will die.
The Nothing will swallow this place,
It will perish and so will I.
We shall vanish into the Nowhere and Never,
As though we had never been.

The Empress needs a new name
To make her well again."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 96

In the world of The Neverending Story, when a Fantastican is swallowed by the Nothing they become a lie; when Rory is swallowed by the Silence in "Cold Blood" he returns in "The Pandorica Opens" — but as an Auton, a memory of Amy's conjured into reality as a lie.
"Gmork, the werewolf, told me," said Atreyu, "that when a Fantastican is swallowed up by the Nothing, he becomes a lie. Is that true?"

"Yes, it is true," said the Childlike Empress.
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 147

Memory, Hope, and the Naming of Things

Bastian's power of creation is tied up in his ability to name things. The Fantasticans themselves cannot create anything new, so none of them are able to rename the Childlike Empress — but it is because she has no name that she is unable to protect Fantastica, and her name has been forgotten because humans like Bastian no longer believe in fairy tales. It is also a significant turn of the Doctor's relationship with River that she apparently knows his true name.
"Only the right name gives beings and things their reality," she said. "A wrong name makes everything unreal. That's what lies do."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 149

In The Neverending Story characters often have to forget things in order to accomplish their goals — in order to pass through the No-Key Gate to reach the Southern Oracle, Atreyu must forget his entire mission; as Bastian makes the wishes which restore Fantastica he gradually forgets everything about himself until he has lost even his name. On Doctor Who, people and things are forgotten as they fall into the Silence — but the Doctor is always trying to make Amy remember things: she has to remember something he told her when she was seven; "if something can be remembered it can come back".
"Dame Eyola," Bastian asked, "you promised that when the right moment came you'd tell me what I had to forget to find my last wish. Has the time come?"

She nodded. "You had to forget your father and mother. Now you have nothing left but your name."

Bastian pondered. "Father and mother?" he said slowly. But the words had lost all meaning for him. He had forgotten."
The Neverending Story (Penguin Books), page 349

THE DOCTOR: Remember that night you flew away with me?

AMY: Of course I do.

THE DOCTOR: And you asked me why I was taking you and I said there wasn't a reason. I was lying.

AMY: What, so you did have a reason?

THE DOCTOR: Your house.

AMY: My house.

THE DOCTOR: It's too big: too many empty rooms. Does it ever bother you, Amy, that your life doesn't make any sense?
Doctor Who 5x12 "The Pandorica Opens"

Finally, it is because humans have no hope and no belief that Fantastica is in peril. Belief, and hope, have both been big themes on Doctor Who over the past couple of years — and what is traditionally 'left' when Pandora's box has been opened?


in the beginning, it is always dark


I leave you with "Mad Girl's Love Song", a poem by Sylvia Plath which I think also touches on some of the ideas contained within Doctor Who series five:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

In conclusion, Amy is going to wish the entire universe back into existence.
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Mary

September 2010

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