Today, May 22, 2022, it is five years ago. On May 23 2017, we woke up to the dramatic news of a suicide bomber in our home town. It killed 22 people including children. The target was an Ariane Grande concert. The artist later came back for a free concert, in memory of those killed. She is still deeply appreciated here, showing courage against terror which no doubt deeply affected her as well. Later today I will take part in a small act of remembrance of the day hate came to my city. Today is also the day England’s football season ends, with the winner still to be decided. Perhaps Liverpool, our for-ever adversary, has the best song for the occasion: You’ll never walk alone.
Hatred grows from a dislike for what is unlike. It may be the colour of someone’s skin, ethnic background, gender (or lack thereof), or (as in the case of Ukraine) independence. The smallest difference can suffice. By not accepting someone’s right to be different from us, we sow a seed that in extreme cases can lead to terror, even against children: Homo homini lupus.
Humanity is under constant attack. Often it is self inflicted: global warming can only be blamed on all of us. And it is not always foreseen. My city is proud of its history: it split the atom (we still have the bench where this happened), and it invented the computer. Both have been used for better, but also for worse. The first provides both energy and medical treatments, but we also have the scars from nuclear accidents, and we now live in fear of Russia’s nuclear weapons. The internet has revolutionized our lives. But it has become become a vehicle for adverts, commerce, emotions and politics, rather than for facts. Could we have foreseen the misuse of Facebook and Twitter? It used to be said that a lie could go around the world before the truth got its boots on. It is so much worse now. Hatred is fertilized by false facts. Perhaps VC tries in its small way to help spread at least volcanic truths.
Other attacks have natural causes: viruses, earthquakes, tsunamis and even eruptions will always be with us. That does not mean we are blameless. Our growing population puts more and more people in the path of danger, and sometimes our planning falls in the realm of wishful thinking. But where there are dangers, there are protectors. They range from the staff at your local hospital to the people manning (and often unrecognized, womening) (which my computer claims is a word that does not exist!) the volcano observatories. The bigger the danger, the more important the protectors. I salute the people who work tirelessly to keep us safe. They can get things wrong – volcanoes are unpredictable – but they have saved countless lives.
The greatest of those protectors first became known in 1963 when the BBC dedicated a program to it. It aired with a bit of delay (about one minute), caused by the fact that earlier that day president Kennedy had been assassinated. The program followed two teachers who are worried that one of the children appears to live in a junkyard. They follow her, and find that her home is an old phone box. Going inside, the worried teachers have a shock: not only is the box quite comfortable, it is also much more spacious than it should be. It is bigger on the inside than outside. The child’s grandfather shows up, and kidnaps the two teachers. This begins a series of adventures across space and time with the box, the enthralled humans and the grandfather – The Doctor.
The first series had four episodes. The next series of episodes introduced the most famous of humanities’ enemies: the Daleks. As one of the producers said, after the airing of the Dalek she heard children playing ‘exterminate’ and knew she was on to a winner. Ever since, the Doctor, in many different incarnations, has been defending the hapless human race against the space invaders. Space opera – with a bit of science, mostly about solving all technical problems by ‘reversing the polarity’ (do not try this at home!), and being vague about various details of physics: “time is a strict progression from cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”. And it shows: one of the companions mentions in passing “Oh, the moon landing’s brilliant. We went four times”. Those human companions now join by choice, not by abduction. The threats to humanity are always severe, but at times come from humanity itself, such as when the last human at the end of the Universe tries to sabotage the spectacle. Especially future human worlds are subject to our failures. Visits to the past more often emphasize alien threats. It is almost 60 years since the first episode, and Doctor Who has turned into a phenomenon, with a very human touch. The episode about Vincent van Gogh required a help line for the emotions reactions it caused.
This, however is beside the point for VC. What we need to know is, does the Doctor ever fight volcanoes? How do they rank on the spectrum of humanities’ adversaries? After all, any alien with bad intentions towards Earth should explore the potential of a flood basalt, or Large Igneous Province.
The first time a volcano played a role in Doctor Who, was in 1966, as a touristic diversion. It was in fact not on TV but in a Doctor Who comic, in which the Doctor visited a Pacific island, witnessed an eruption, and met a mermaid and king Neptune (the latter parts should not be expected as a normal part of volcano tourism. Just to avoid disappointment).
The science of volcanoes was briefly explored by the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, who marvelled at seeing the Earth’s crust forming. The companion, Sarah Jane Smith, was appalled by it. Not everyone is impressed by volcanoes! And that is fine – everyone has a right to be different. Even if I find it difficult to understand! This happened not on TV, but was part of a BBC audio program for a schools study module on geography.
The Doctor is more of a VC fan. He watched two famous eruptions in person. When Krakatoa exploded in 1883, the Doctor was there. This is not shown in the series, but the Doctor talks about his experience, and especially the noise (‘Inferno’, 1970). A drawing showing the Doctor in front of the eruption later was found on a beach on Sumatra. (We have requested a post on this from the Doctor but have not had a response. The email may not have arrived in timey wimey.)
Apparently the Doctor never visited Tombora, a curious oversight since it means we still don’t know what the mountain looked like before the explosion obliterated it. The Year without Summer does occur: the Doctor visits Lord Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley in Geneva. As appropriate for the year, he arrives soked due to the incessant rain. But the Doctor proposes that the poor weather is not due to volcanic ash, but has some other cause. A lone time-traveling cyberman soon shows up. But the mystery of Tambora is never solved.
There is of course Vesuvius, How could a time-traveling volcaholic with a travel box not visit it? But the Doctor arrives unintentionally, actually wanting to visit Rome. They arrive the day before the eruption, and discover an alien race called ‘pyroviles’ inhabits the volcano (making them the original volcaholics). But now there is a surprise: the eruption of Vesuvius is triggered by the Doctor, in order to destroy the pyroviles. Earth is saved by a volcano (and a water pistol, apparently a very effective weapon against volcaholics).
Some volcanic eruptions are slightly unexpected. In ‘The Enemy of the World’ (1967), the adversary Salamander sets off dormant volcanoes in Hungary. This may be a surprise to VC readers. And the surprise would be compete with an eruption in southern England (Bedfordshire, of all places). This happened in a very early episode in 1964, still in the presence of the Doctor’s grandchild. The ever-popular Daleks have invaded, and are working from a mine. It turns they have mined to the edge of the Earth’s core, and intend to replace it with a propulsion engine under their control. The final penetration will be done with an explosive. The Doctor causes it to explode before it reached that deep, and the explosion sets off a volcanic eruption in England.
There are a few volcanic eruption on planets other than Earth. They sometimes play a role in the story, but the only active role is on the planet Dulkis, where volcanoes are used by the adversaries to turn a panet into starship fuel.
So by and large, our ultimate protector has a mixed involvement with volcanoes. the Doctor at times uses volcanoes to destroy the enemy, and has some touristic interest in them. The opposition may live in volcanoes, but tends not to make them erupt.
The message is clear. Volcanoes are our allies. They belong to us, not to our adversaries. The world’s protector does not protect against eruptions. It is up to us to live with them.
In the end, nature is not against us. Volcanoes are unpredictable and dangerous, but they are not our enemies. And may be one day, we will learn to use them.
The Doctor is said to live in the Whoniverse. Perhaps the Volcaniverse has been overlooked.
Albert, May 2022