Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe, then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering.
Henceforth this shall be known as That One Scene That Made Charamei Learn To GIF Because She Wanted To Talk About It So Much, so sit down, kids, because I’ve just spent the better part of a day learning to rip DVDs and swearing at size limits and boy am I going to talk now.
For those who don’t know, the scene on the left is from The Invisible Enemy, in which the Doctor contracts a mind-controlling virus and so, naturally, medical science being what it is in the future, they and Leela make tiny clones of themselves and enter their own brain to get rid of it. So yes, that is Four standing in (and discussing the biology of) their own brain. Invisible Enemy is also the serial which introduced K-9, in a completely unrelated piece of trivia.
Into the Dalek has some very clear parallels with Invisible Enemy on a storytelling level, so much so that every classic Who fan I’ve seen liveblogging it has made a comment to the effect of ‘are we getting another tin dog then’. But in terms of scene-to-scene parallels, this one is by far the most noteworthy: the Doctor specifically points out the part of each brain which is responsible for the creation, or simulation, of a hivemind. And in the second example, Twelve explicitly calls it evil.
So. Let’s talk about the reflex link.
Gallifreyans are telepathic and have a hivemind. There are plenty of examples of this, but the one which springs immediately to mind is in Dalek:
Doctor: I’d know [if any more Gallifreyans had survived the Time War]. In here. (taps head) Feels like there’s no one.
The nature of the hivemind has varied throughout the species’ history: originally it was pretty much all-encompassing, save for some lucky individuals, but after Rassilon rewrote their genome to accommodate things like regeneration and individual thought it seems to be more like the Ood: a sort of collective subconscious.
There’s also the Matrix, which is a collective store of all Gallifreyan… well, all Gallifreyans. Brain scans, biodata, knowledge. There are multiple ways to access it, but at least one of them seems to be telepathy: it’d be a bit like having WiFi delivered straight to your brain.
So just to clear this up, the reflex link is not the source of all Gallifreyan telepathy or the primary link out to the hivemind. First, there are more than a thousand Gallifreyans in existence; second, the Doctor had demonstrated telepathic abilities before Invisible Enemy (most importantly in Deadly Assassin, where they were able to interface with the Matrix) and would do so again in later serials. What the reflex link seems to be is the remote access link to the Matrix: Four was able to access it in Deadly Assassin because they were literally plugged into it, but the reflex link would have allowed them to access it from anywhere in the universe.
And that’s where the parallels start to get interesting.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: among its other uses, the Matrix acts as a repository for the memories of dead Gallifreyans. Meanwhile, the cortex vault is storing the Dalek’s memories… and censoring them.
Which brings us to the less obvious one.
The Matrix stores the biodata of everyone on Gallifrey. Biodata, as the Time Lords use the term, is more than just a person’s memories, DNA and biometrics: it’s also a continually-updated copy of their timeline information, and the connection goes both ways. If you change a person’s biodata, you change the person themself. This was used to great effect in Gallifrey VI: Ascension: Romana quite literally set the entire planet back three years in its history by simply plugging a biodata back-up from that time* into the Matrix and letting it overwrite the current information.
*Okay, it was a bit more complicated than ‘a back-up’, but close enough.
You can edit people with the Matrix. You can remove entire chunks of memory, or tweak someone’s timeline so that certain events never happened to them at all. You can alter the way they perceive events and ensure that they toe the party line - you don’t even have to go to the bother of telling them what the party line is.
*points up to Twelve* Sound familiar?
Considering how utterly useless the Time Lords were in Classic Who (Four once said they had ‘about as much sense of adventure as dormice’), and how terrifying they seem to have abruptly become in the Time War, it’s not unreasonable to wonder just how far they took their Matrix editing in the name of survival. Did Romana or Rassilon just roll out a specieswide upgrade one day? Everyone went to bed harmless bureaucrats and scientists, and woke up with a gun and a burning need to slaughter as many aliens as possible? It kind of looks that way, doesn’t it?
Evil refined as engineering, indeed. The Time Lords, as always, did it first.
I absolutely love this idea thank you so much for posting this (and huge kudos for learning how to gif and making these!).
I had a lot of theory and head canon surrounding the Time War before the 50th came and screwed it all up. Most of it was based on The End of Time and despite more recent events I still support most of the ideas.
The most important one was this: The Doctor did not end the war out or fear or hatred of the Dalek. He had confronted the Dalek countless times before and even decided against their genocide before. And though their threat was a contributing factor the real main reason that the Doctor choose to end it all was that he was terrified of the Time Lords. They had made themselves - and maybe even him - into monsters and were willing to destroy literally all I creation except themselves to get their way. Sound like anyone else we know? The Dalek. The Time Lords, in the end, were no better than and Dalek.
The other important idea I had was that at the time the Doctor fully believed that he was committing the equivalent of genocide-suicide. He did not believe himself to be exempt. He was fully expecting to die, but in stead he regenerated (Eight into Nine. Not this War doctor stuff) and woke up. It was the most terrible realization of his existence: that he had really done it and that he actually had to LIVE with the consequences.
Anyway I don’t mean to talk over your ideas, I just meant to share mine as I think yours fit very well with my own. The idea of them “rolling out an upgrade” is especially telling. It makes me recall The Doctor’s Daughter and wonder if there were parts/aspects of the war that everyone remembers that simply never happened.