Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'He Will Knock Four Times': Fate and the Timey-Wimey Echoes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Doctor Who

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'He Will Knock Four Times': Fate and the Timey-Wimey Echoes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Doctor Who

Article excerpt

The subject is announced with startling distinctness at the outset, in three short emphatic repetitions of one note falling upon the third below. ... It is as if a fearful secret, some truth of mightiest moment, startled the stillness where we were securely walking, and the heavens and the earth and hell were sending back the sound thereof from all quarters, 'deep calling unto deep', and yet no word of explanation. What is it? What can all this mean? (Dwight 57-8)

Among the thousands of pages printed in the writing and rewriting of Beethoven's biography between his lifetime and the present day, one fact has consistently eluded scholars: during his infancy, Beethoven was saved by the Doctor. Not a doctor in Bonn, the city of his birth, who may have treated his mother during her pregnancy, but the time-traveling Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey, whose 900-odd years of saving the universe have been chronicled on the television show Doctor Who, in movies, in books, on the radio and on the web. This incident in Beethoven's life is recounted in the short story 'Gone Too Soon': when Beethoven's father rejects his newborn son, the Doctor provides the future composer's mother enough money to persuade her husband to raise young Ludwig (Wadley 174-9). The Doctor encounters the composer several more times in subsequent years. He reports in the television episode 'The Lazarus Experiment' (5 May 2007) that he learned to play the organ from Beethoven. And in the short film 'Music of the Spheres', in which the Doctor premieres his own symphonic composition 'Ode to the Universe' - surely inspired by Beethoven's setting of Friedrich Schiller's poem 'Ode to Joy' ('An die Freude') in the Ninth Symphony - he tells the live audience, attendees of the 27 July 2008 concert of the BBC Proms at which this episode was first broadcast, 'I said to Beethoven, I said, I could rattle off a tune. He said, "Pardon?"' Later (or earlier, depending on how you look at it), in the 2009 web story 'The Lonely Computer', the Doctor lands in Belgium in the year 800, an accidental wrong turn en route to 1985 Chiswick, and goes in search of Charlemagne, who has been reported missing. Suddenly and unexpectedly transported to a distant planet to attend a dinner party with renowned figures from throughout history, he looks around the room, past Cher, Joan of Arc and Winston Churchill, until he spots Beethoven, and shouts out to him, 'loved your Fifth' (Laight).

Doctor Who was created in 1963 by the BBC drama department. Initially devised as children's programming, it soon gathered an adult following, and, increasingly aimed at a more mature audience while always remaining 'family-friendly', the show continued to run until 1989 (Layton 5). A television movie co-production of BBC Worldwide and American film companies made in 1996 in an attempt to revive Doctor Who was generally unsuccessful, but in 2005 the BBC launched a new series of the show that immediately garnered popularity and has continued through the present, while inspiring spin-off series featuring its secondary characters. Doctor Who follows the 'last of the Time Lords', a nearly extinct alien species capable of journeying through the Time Vortex to any point in history and location in the universe. For the Doctor, time is not unidirectional and progressive in the way people generally perceive it to be: instead, he explains, 'from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff '.1 The Doctor visits moments from the past, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, as well as imagined future crises across a vast and colourful universe. He travels in a craft called the TARDIS (an acronym for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), which looks from the outside like a small blue police call box but is 'bigger on the inside', as his guests always marvel, and which produces a sound resembling laboured breathing when in flight. Periodically, the Doctor regenerates, growing a new body that shares the previous Doctor's memories and ethical code, but has a different personality and character (making it possible for multiple actors to play the role over the decades). …

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