Thursday, March 13, 2008

What’s in an alias? (A post about Doctor Who)

A note for anyone writing about the 1972 Doctor Who story ‘The Time Monster’: The pseudonym adopted by The Master, supposedly the Greek form of his nom du guerre, is ‘Professor Thascalos’, not ‘Professor Thascales’.

Just about every published guide to the show (e.g. Lofficier’s 1981 Programme Guide, Howe and Walker’s 2002 Television Companion, Cornell, Topping and Day’s Discontinuity Guide, Miles and Wood’s About Time) prints the name as ‘Thascales’. But against this there are three important points to be made.

First, the cast in the transmitted episodes consistently say ‘Thascalos’. Well, actually, most of them sound like theyre saying ‘Thascalus’; but that’s presumably a typical English failure to enunciate vowels properly (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this, but equally sure that I don’t have time to look it up). Certainly no-one is saying ‘Thascales’.

Secondly, this is the spelling Terrance Dicks adopted in his 1985 novelization. If I remember rightly, novelizers were given copies of the original scripts, so Dicks would have the text by Robert Sloman and the uncredited Barry Letts to work with (and Dicks had in any case been script editor of the show at the time). So the probability is that this was the spelling in the script.

Thirdly, ‘Thascalos’ has the advantage that it is the Greek for ‘master’. ‘Thascales’ sounds Greek, by analogy with such evocative names as ‘Themistocles’ and ‘Pericles’, and indeed, it is a Greek word. But it is a feminine and in the genitive case, so means something like ‘belonging to the mistress’; perhaps not quite the message this particular Time Lord is trying to put across.

The error seems to go back to the episode list in Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks’ The Making of Doctor Who. Certainly it’s there in the second edition of 1976 (perhaps someone reading this with access to the 1972 edition could tell me if the same error is printed there). In those days printed material on Who stories was limited, and opportunities to check with the original broadcast all but unknown. So Hulke and Dicks was authoritative, and the mistake repeated in work after work.

There are three other interesting observations to make.

1. When the Brigadier doesn’t spot that thascalos is the Greek for ‘master’, the Doctor berates him for his lack of a classical education, in the same way as he had berated Jo Grant the year before in ‘The Daemons’, when she didn’t realize that magister was the Latin for ‘master’. The thing is, thascalos isn’t Classical Greek; it’s Modern Greek. It’s a contraction of the ancient didaskalos, which form can still sometimes be found. (This makes more sense when one see the two words written out in the Greek alphabet and understanding that the delta has shifted from being pronounced as ‘d’, which is what we think was the case in ancient times - but see James Davidson’s preface to The Greeks and Greek Love, which I’ve cited before - to a softer ‘th’ sound. I can see why Modern Greek has moved away from thithaskalos.)

2. It’s Jo who comes up with the answer to the Doctor’s question, and goes to the top of the class. From this the Discontinuity Guide concludes that Jo knows Greek. This seems unlikely given that only a year before it was established that she doesn’t know Latin. Has she been on an intense ‘Languages of the Mediterranean’ in the meantime? There isn’t really a need for this conclusion. As the Doctor holds class (in typical Pertwee fashion), Jo is seen thinking, before saying I get it! “Thascalos” is Greek for “Master”.’ To me, it’s plain that, rather than drawing on any linguistic knowledge, Jo has worked it out; she knows that Greek matters are in the air, and that the Master has previously hidden under a classical alias, and that the Doctor thinks that if only the Brigadier knew the classics, he’d know what the name meant. (Of course, if I was in charge of an international intelligence organization and knew that my no. 1 priority threat had an m.o. of using versions of his nom de plume, I’d make very sure that there was a team of analysts translating every name they came across, but that’s another issue.) From these bits of information Jo deduces the answer the Doctor has already reached. In the novelizaton, which may well be working from a script, Jo says ‘I get it! I bet “Thascalos” is the Greek for “Master”’ (emphasis mine), which makes it clearer that she is confidently guessing.

(The Discontinuity Guide has a few odd ideas like this. They are the source of the notion of two Dalek histories, one before the Doctor changed everything in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and one after, about which the authors of About Time are rightly sceptical. But then the Discontinuity Guide is meant to be humorous.)

3. ‘I am the Master. You will obey me.’ Such is the evil Time Lord’s mantra. So you’d think that when he used translations of his name into Latin or Greek, he’d take a name that meant ‘master of slaves’. But he chooses not to be the Reverend Dominus or Professor Thespotes. Instead he takes on names which mean ‘master’ as in schoolmaster. Is this an accident on Sloman’s and Letts’ parts? Once might elicit no further comment – but to choose the same meaning twice? It’s worth noting that Letts and Dicks have explicitly stated that the named the Master by analogy with the Doctor – a Master’s degree is the next qualification down from a doctorate. So I think Letts was having a sly joke with the chosen pseudonym.


Hamish said...

Does your blog have an RSS feed? I don't see a button anywhere.

Tony Keen said...

Yes, there's a feed ( There's no button on the page because older Blogger templates don't have them, and you have to add them manually. Unfortunately, I've just spent half an hour looking through Blogger's help pages, and failed to find enough information to be able to add a button. Life is too short for this.

Paul F Cockburn said...

As someone old enough to have a copy of the original Picillo edition of The Making of Doctor Who, I can happily tell you - ah, sod it. It only goes up to "The Sea Devils"...