The other night, I was watching the Doctor Who story ‘Castrovalva’. Nothing unusual in that – I’d just watched ‘Arc of Infinity’ and found it surprisingly enjoyable, as I was drunk and shouting out ‘Impulse laser?’ whenever anyone got shot, applauding Colin Frazer’s luminous lime-green socks, and rewinding the tape to enjoy again and again Colin Baker’s attempts to steal every scene with his indignantly flared nostrils – but something struck me that had never struck me before.
Well, several things struck me. I’d never noticed how little happens in Castrovavla part two. Really, it has to be the least consequential episode of Doctor Who ever. All that happens is that a) Tegan pushes a button on the console which sorts out the previous episode’s cliff-hanger and b) Nyssa unscrews some doors. That’s it. Oh, and there’s a walk through some woods which seems to go on forever.
But what also struck me was the use of the word ‘must’. Everyone was saying it. ‘I must find the Doctor’. ‘We must do something!’ ‘The Master must be stopped!’ And it struck me because I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use the word ‘must’ in real-life. It’s a real science-fiction word, isn’t it? ‘Must’. It lends a sense of purpose, of determination, to even the most ordinary action. I must do that thing, because that is the thing that I must do.
It’s one of those odd things in science fiction. Everyone talks in a sort of stilted, formal fashion, as though the dialogue has been translated. As Stephen Gallagher once pointed out, people in Doctor Who will never say ‘They’re think we’re stupid’ if they can say ‘They think us fools’ instead.
And they’ll never say ‘I’ve made you lunch’. They’ll say ‘I’ve appropriated you some comestibles’.