Survivors of the Flux Extra Thought: A Corporal in 1967

I already wrote about my feelings of the most recent episode of Doctor Who: Flux, entitled Survivors of the Flux. Without prattling on about it again, suffice to say my impressions were pretty negative.

There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the more nit-picky reasons is due to odd way the show addresses the question of dating the UNIT stories.

Specifically, the question is why the story had Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, more commonly known as the Brigadier, show up in a voice cameo taken from archive material with actor Nicholas Courtney as a newly recruited UNIT corporal in 1967?

There are numerous reasons why it doesn’t make any sense for the man to have such a low rank at this point in his career.

First, it’s questionable that he ever would have held the rank of corporal–that would imply he worked his way up the ranks as an enlisted man (not sure if my terminology is correct) rather than entering military service with an officer’s commission. This would imply that he never attended any sort of military academy, which seems very unlikely.

More than that, Lethbridge-Stewart first debuted on Doctor Who in The Web of Fear (1968) as a Colonel.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with the confusion of dating the UNIT stories, the gist of it is this: it’s sort of imply that The Web of Fear takes place around 1975 (it’s said to be about 40 years after The Abominable Snowmen which was in 1935. Then Lethbridge-Stewart returns in The Invasion which is supposed to be about four years later. That means the Third Doctor UNIT stories should be happening in around 1980. And in The Pyramids of Mars (1975) Sarah Jane Smith claims to be from 1980.

But then in 1983, Mawdryn Undead came along and claimed that the Brigadier retired in 1977 (which in real life is shortly after the character stopped appearing), suddenly putting the UNIT stories into a more present-day timeframe. Ever since then there has been tons of in-joke references and non-canonical explanations about this phenomenon.

So, depending on where you or I (or Chris Chibnall) date the UNIT stories, The Web of Fear is probably taking place somewhere from 1968 – 1975. Thus, even if we take the latest date as our guide, and we imagine that Lethbridge-Stewart only became a Colonel shortly before The Web of Fear, there is no way that the is a young corporal in 1967.

Now the production team obviously know there own show, and Lethbridge-Stewart’s inclusion is clearly something that was done very deliberately, so it seems impossible that they’d made such a silly mistake. But if it was done on purpose, then what could the reason for it have been? Why go to all the trouble to add such an Easter Egg and then make it so deliberately confusing, when all you had to do is change the world Corporal to something like “Captain”?

Perhaps the idea that the Flux or the Grand Serpent’s actions are messing up time, and that is why Lethbridge-Stewart’s history is messed up?

But if so, this is a terrible way to relay this information–the casual fan would probably not even realize it’s a cameo by Nicholas Courtney, let alone realize that his appearance means anything.

And if this was so, it’s made extra peculiar that we still have Kate Stewart (the Brigadier’s daughter, played by Jemma Redgrave) showing up and talking about how her family has invested in UNIT over all these years.

The whole thing is inexplicable–it’s either a continuity gaff so ludicrous as to argue for someone’s incompetence, or it’s a hint to something delivered so obscurely that it proves their ineptitude.

In spite of all this, I was happy to see UNIT again and to even have a bit of an explanation as to why the organization disbanded so unceremoniously a while ago.

I don’t understand, however, why Kate Stewart would just let the Grand Serpent just go like that when she clearly new he was an alien threat and had just openly confronted him–why didn’t she arrest or shoot him? But one of the few things I’m looking forward to about the end of Flux is seeing her as the leader of the earth resistance against the Sontarans. Hopefully, it’ll be cool.

One thought on “Survivors of the Flux Extra Thought: A Corporal in 1967

  1. In reflection of how Downtime was a sequel to The Web Of Fear, how Daemos Rising was a sequel to The Daemons and how BBV’s AUTON trilogy was a sequel to the classic Who’s Auton stories, I’m personally somewhat more attuned to UNIT continuations that were made when Dr. Who was not as overwhelming as it is today. Maybe that’s the issue when we consider the demands that people in charge of Dr. Who must meet to keep the enjoyably familiar areas flourishing, even with all the creative conflicts under Chibnall’s reign. When it comes to somehow bringing back familiar roles like the Brigadier and Kate, or even monsters that were unforgettably battled by UNIT, perhaps in Big Finish, most recently with UNIT: Nemesis, it may feel creatively more coherent. For Dr. Who’s current status on TV, the joy of seeing familiar returns may be more predominating even if’s not a good-enough reason to stray too far from the best continuity.

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