Wednesday, May 1, 2013
In some ways, 'Blood Heat' is almost a metatextual commentary on alternate universe stories as much as it is an alternate universe story. It starts out like your typical alt-u storyline; the Doctor winds up in a parallel reality where the Silurians won World War II...er, that is to say, where the Silurians killed the Doctor and wiped out the vast majority of the human race. Only a few survivors remain--and as is always the case in stories like this, those survivors just happen to be alternate versions of the Doctor's close friends. Liz Shaw, the Brigadier, Benton...even Jo Grant shows up, in total defiance of any kind of real world logic or even her own regular role on the series, solely so that we can finish off the scorecard of Pertwee regulars. (Well, okay. We don't get Mike Yates. But there's always one regular who died tragically off-screen, to show that this reality Is Serious Business.)
Then, of course, we get the other tropes of parallel universe stories fired off at us; the dystopian alternate present, because the hero has to be shown to have Made a Difference; Manisha, the character who died in the "real" reality, but who survived in this reality, because the heroes have to wonder if maybe Things Wouldn't Be Better This Way; and the escalating action as the heroes obtain a nuclear weapon and the villains find out the heroes' secret base, because these thing always have to end in a blood-soaked apocalypse that kills everyone off so that the heroes can put everything back to normal with no qualms at all...
Except that's not what happens at the end. At the end, everyone survives. The Brigadier finds a way to make peace with the Silurians, the humans move past their fear and the Silurians move past their genocidal hatred, and the next generation has hope for the first time. The Doctor even stops the nuclear missiles. It's all the kind of miraculous ending you never get in a "proper" alternate universe story, because the traditional alternate universe story always builds up to the one thing that the regular episodes can never do--total narrative collapse, as expressed through the death of people who are normally off-limits due to the need to have them in the next story. (See "Inferno" for a perfect example.)
Instead, everyone lives...until the Doctor steps in to personally inform Ace and Benny that no, that's not the way things are supposed to work. Parallel universes are made to be destroyed. The narrative collapse can't be averted by anything as mundane as saving the day and making people get along. This world was here for one reason and one reason only, to elicit an emotional reaction. Now that's done with, it's time to switch it all off.
The rest of the novel is good enough, but it's in that moment where 'Blood Heat' really does something unique and fascinating. The Doctor stands revealed, just for a moment, as one of the men behind the curtain, an agent of the narrative and not of morality. He's there to make sure the story runs the right way, not to save the day. No wonder Ace and Benny are repelled.