Which is why I’ve always said that detectives and computer technicians have something in common. I’d even go so far as to say it’s why I enjoy detective stories; as a fan of time travel, the storytelling is often surprisingly similar: we start with an end result and then have to work backwards to see how it got there. Take a murder mystery: there’s a murder that frequently is known to the audience in its entirety. We’ve seen who did it, we know how it’s been done. Now the fun is in watching the detective piece it together. In a time travel story, like Catch-1782, we start in the future and have all the pieces presented to us. When Mel is cast back in time, we needn’t worry because we’ve been given the outcome from the start, but it’s still loads of fun taking the journey to see how we arrived at it. It still makes for good, fun storytelling but the real delight is in watching the events unfold.
This is why Catch-1782 is so good: it’s a simple time travel story without even throwing in a villain but it holds the attention from start to its big finish. Mel is visiting her uncle when she is cast back in time to the 1780s. The Tardis has been damaged, so the Doctor can’t pinpoint her exact location and ends up leaving her in the past for 6 months. When he and his temporary companion, Mel’s uncle John, travel back, they find that the person who has been taking care of her has fallen in love with her and won’t let her go.
If I take any issue with the episode, it’s that this is the second story to feature the 6th Doctor with Mel that displaces her in time for an extended period. Her previous adventure, The Juggernauts, saw her trapped without the Doctor for few months, and this time she’s lost for half a year. At what point does she want to leave the Doctor? No wonder she finally gave up! More importantly, do the series writers have a thing against her that they keep leaving her behind?? Speaking of Mel, she’s been able to “act the part” before but she seems totally incapable of doing so in this episode. She just needs to act in front of the family for a few minutes and she would be allowed outside, where she could then get to the Tardis but she fails epically to do so. I also have to question the Doctor who never seems to figure out what’s going on, even when the audience does! But my biggest complaint is that when the Doctor and John go looking for Mel, it was supposed to be December of 1781, but they arrive in June of 1782. Now, for the Doctor to get it wrong: no big deal. For the Doctor to be unable to tell the difference in temperature between December and June… that I have a harder time with.
Also, I know we American’s say a number of things differently from our overseas cousins, but I’d never heard “centenary” pronounced centeenary before. Ok, that’s not so much an issue with the episode, I’ll be fair… To balance out the silly comment, you can color me surprised when episode one did not end with Mel’s “Doctorrrrrrrrrrr!” Big Finish actually pulled a fast one: she says it and I rolled my eyes. “Here we go again,” I thought. “Another episode ends with the blurring of the cry with the closing of the episode.” But no! The episode ended with a surprise! So, hey, it makes up for “centeenary”.
As a computer technician, I’ve often had to look at a problem and reverse engineer it; figure out how something happened. It’s like going back in time to see the cause so it can be addressed. We’re detectives in that way, figuring out the “crime” and making it right. And time travel stories, done well, can be just as engaging as a good crime story. Which is why I’ve always said that detectives and computer technicians have something in common…. ML