The Could-Have-Been King

Meanwhile . . .

It’s not a very scary word. It doesn’t trigger any deep terrible memories. There’s no involuntary shudder rippling through you. It’s just a way to simulcast time, really, or quick-march to the important stuff. What could possibly be frightening about meanwhile? Unless it’s lurking in the shadows. If it prowls through the darkness, suddenly there is a shudder. Used as a weapon in a war,  it evokes terror even in a Time Lord.

We hear it mentioned only once, in the last half of “The End Of Time.” As the Doctor reveals to the Master what the war turned into, the horror it became, the last thing he mentions is the Could-Have-Been King and his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres. Of all the fascinating ideas Doctor Who generated, none got me thinking more than this.

For the record, this isn’t Doctor Who canon. I didn’t read this anywhere, or hear it from some inside source. This is just me playing with ideas.  Don’t be surprised if none of this ever comes up in Doctor Who, because if it ever does, I will be shocked. Pleased, but shocked.

If  Doctor Who preaches nothing else, it preaches that time is not static. The future flows and bends, shifting through a sea of probability.  But “future” is a relative term. The future is what happens after now. If you can travel in time, “now” can happen  whenever you want.  The Doctor says it best in “Blink.”

“People assume that Time is a strict progression of cause to effect. But actually, from a non-linear, non subjective viewpoint, its more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey . . . stuff.”

 As you change events, you change other things too. Things that happened suddenly can’t. Most of the time, they either fade into the void or spin off into a whole new universe.  But sometimes things that happened once just can’t happen. Sometimes the possibilities that led to them become too remote. The events that allow them to be dwindle away to none, until they are finally left adrift in the Void, an effect without a cause. These impossibilities are legion, but alone, each trapped in its own bubble of not.

All except one. What if one of those impossibilities was Time ruled not by a race, but by one being? Let’s say some immortal creature managed to master all the secrets of time travel and made itself King of Time. Then, in a moment fraught with potential, this creature meets someone like the Gallifreyans. They too have learned the intricacies of Time, and suddenly, there is conflict. Maybe this was the First Great Time War. Outnumbered, outflanked and eventually outgunned, this mighty entity is forced into temporal impossibility. Suddenly no roads lead to the King of Time. No universes exist where it ever was, and so it floats in the Void, a Never-Was. But unlike the others, this Never-Was understands the Void, at least enough to break into some of the other Never-Were’s bubbles. It unites them, promises a road back to reality. It dangles the ultimate carrot; they could exist again. This is the Could-Have-Been King.

And he doesn’t exist, which can put a serious damper on one’s plans of conquest.

Enter the Time War.  Both sides are locked in a struggle for survival. One by one, the rules go out the window as each side grows more desperate to exist. The first rules to go are, of course, the least important. Later, though, the players get serious, and start taking risks.  The Could-Have-Been King is an experienced temporal strategist, capable of considerable guile and cunning, with a powerful motivation. It wants to exist again. It doesn’t get much riskier than that. And so, as the war grinds on, someone contacts His Never Majesty, and he begins to ooze in through the cracks of time.

The impossible occurs.

What does that mean, exactly? Playing with the idea of rubber time, where Time Lords can travel in phone box sized palaces, where does possibility end? At what point does wibbly-wobbly become shattery-wattery?

In this case, it’s all about cause and effect. His Never Majesty is all effect. The causes of his existence are gone, wiped out of the universe. He can be anywhere, anywhen. And since he is an aberration  of the Laws of Time to begin with, he isn’t bound by them. He can be simultaneous. He can bounce back and forth through time at will, with no regard for the “causal nexus” that binds his opponents. He shreds reality wherever he goes. He is paradox unbound, running loose in creation.

And he has help. Imagine an opponent capable of existing at three times at once, past, present and future occurring in the same instant. I don’t mean different incarnations at the same point in space-time, as with the “Three Doctors” and “Five Doctors” episodes. I mean one entity from one point in it’s timeline existing at three or more different points in the continuum at once. It can watch you exist, working your way through your own personal causality until you get to the end. It gets to see all your weaknesses. What’s more, it can act. When you are at your weakest, it can strike. It can, in one smooth stroke, create a weakness in your childhood, create the best conditions to exploit it as you pass through adulthood, and spring it on you when you least expect it. It takes no time at all for such a creature. It happens all at once.

And suddenly Meanwhile is very, very scary indeed. Meanwhiles are the silent killers in the Time War. Unseen stalkers, they live across your  existence, striking exactly when you are least prepared to defend yourself, using your whole life as a weapon against you. No one is safe. Once such creatures are unleashed, they would be nigh impossible to stop.

So why was there a universe left after the Last Great Time War? Once the Could-Have-Been King and his forces come out, how does reality stand the strain? Not very well. Remember, this is the last thing the Doctor mentions before he says the war became hell. Maybe the only thing to do is Time Lock the whole thing. Turn the war into a massive loop, then pinch the loop off from the rest of time. Don’t let anything in or out. Not ever.

Of all the ideas Doctor Who ever presented, none have seized my attention like the Could-Have-Been King. It is raw concept, an image seeking description. I find it evocative, and in retrospect more than a bit haunting. Its all nonsense, of course, pretty much by definition. Such things can’t exist. Admit it, it makes your head hurt just thinking about it, doesn’t it? So why don’t you just sit back, hit your browser, and go see what someone else thinks for a while.

Meanwhile. . .

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4 Responses to The Could-Have-Been King

  1. dreygeaux says:

    Many thanks to Ronny for helping out with the imagery.

  2. wow brilliant. its almost like you would describe the devil or satan, as God or Jesus is the King, The Devil or Satan be named the could have been king, if time, was bent and manipulated enough to rearrange the history of the universe.

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