I first got into Doctor Who fandom in 2006. Seems like a lifetime ago for me, but some people have been in it a lot longer than that. Once “initiated,” I soon began to hear the most common and discussed opinions on the classic series and its various spin-offs, including the Virgin New Adventures. Possibly the first I ever heard of them were about the Looms, devices used to “weave” genetic material into fully formed adult Time Lords rather than having children the conventional way. It’s something of an understatement to point out just how hated these things were and indeed are. “The stupid books in the mid-90s changed too much! They hated the idea of the Doctor having sex in any way whatsoever, so they made Time Lords not be able to have sex and Susan not his granddaughter!” is a general summary of what’s brought up anytime someone mentions the Looms. Many people haven’t read the primary* book that deals with them, Lungbarrow, because looms exist in it and I’ve even seen people who won’t go near the entire NA range all together because of the looms.
At first, I bought into this thinking, hook, line, and sinker. I myself was loomed out of early RTD Who so of course
the Doctor was a sexual person and to say he doesn’t have sex is silly. Of course
Susan is his actual granddaughter. Of course Time Lords just have sex and have babies; what the heck were these people’s problems to make such a convoluted system just so the Doctor would remain someone who can never have sex? Then, sometime down the line, I did the smart thing. I actually read Lungbarrow. And all of a sudden, everything made sense. Much of what I had been told about the Looms was straight-up misinformation, exaggeration, and distortion.
So a while ago, I decided to write-up a list of things that one should be aware of when discussing the Looms and how many of them differ from what you might hear said about them.
1. Lungbarrow is a damn fine novel in its own right.
Beyond anything else, even if you don’t like the particular idea of the Looms, that doesn’t mean you may not like the novel or shouldn’t give it a try. It’s not a front-to-back manual on the inner workings of some fictional machines. It’s a wonderfully surreal mystery, loaded with atmosphere and ideas flying at you from every direction, that has the Gothic sensibilities of the Hinchcliffe era, the straight-up weirdness from the 60s, and a common similarity to Ghost Light (unsurprising, since Ghost Light was rewritten from a planned TV version of Lungbarrow). You may hate the Looms just as you did the day before, but still think it’s a great book in its own right.
2. It doesn’t mean the Time Lords don’t have sex.
The Looms are not the natural or “normal” way for Time Lords to reproduce. It’s a loophole to get around all Time Lords being prevented from having biological birth. The books take the show’s idea that in the early Rassilon days of Gallifrey, the universe was a weirder, more magical place, full of darkness and superstition, and that the Time Lords, led by Rassilon, helped to eradicate it, even on their home planet. As described in Time’s Crucible, the early rulers of Gallifrey were a matriarchal group of soothsayers, but before they left and were replaced by the days of an engineer-as-founder-of-society, some of that early universe magic was used to curse all Gallifreyans with sterility. The Looms were the response, a new and logically efficient way of having kids. But that has nothing to do with having sex! It just has to do with the actual reproductive process, but guess what, loads of people have sex for reasons other than to start the reproductive process and in many cases, actively trying to prevent its occurrence while still performing the act. And more to the point, it is actively shown in the story to be a Bad Thing that things have gotten this out of hand, and by the end of Lungbarrow, the curse is lifted and Leela becomes pregnant with Andred’s baby, shown unabashedly as a Good Thing. It’s hardly shown by the author as an awesome and kick-ass way to make people without that whole stupid sex thing, which the Doctor never has. Ah, which reminds me…
3. It doesn’t mean the Doctor doesn’t have sex.
For some reason, people are convinced the reasons the Looms were created because it would finally prove once and for all that the Doctor is asexual. Now, I gather that back when it first came out, there were quite a lot of people who wanted the Doctor to be an asexual figure only and who therefore promoted the theory as “proof,” although since I’ve been in fandom, I’ve seen waaaaaaay more people mention and complain about those people than I’ve seen those people themselves. But the Doctor having sex, or not having, sex is a complete non-sequitur to the Looms. As already said, the Looms doesn’t mean Time Lords aren’t born equipped with genitals or that they’re incapable of sex; simply childbearing. Even more importantly, the very next book after Lungbarrow has the Doctor have sex with someone off camera. If it really was some master plan to remove sexuality from the Doctor all together, why would Rebecca Levene let Lance Parkin put that in the very next book? There’s no evidence this is what Marc Platt or anyone else had on their mind.
4. Why the Looms were actually created.
Okay, so if it isn’t the fan myth that “They were created to get rid of any sexy Doctor notions!” then why were the Looms created? First, let’s go to what Marc Platt’s actually said on the matter, via his introduction to the once available online version of Lungbarrow:
Marc Platt, author (Ghost Light, Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, Lungbarrow) wrote:
I had been woken at 5 AM one morning by the idea of the family and the living house. The last thing the Doctor’s family could be was obvious. He comes from an alien planet, however terrestrial (and British) its inhabitants appear, so I was determine to get away from any Earth-style 2.4 children sort of family. It had to be strange, yet familiar too. The idea I woke up with arrived in such detail that I got quite feverish, unable to get it written down fast enough. One Loom, forty-five Cousins, two Drudges and one very grumpy House were all in place along with their hierarchy and their terrible fate.
Simple! The Doctor’s an alien, he was going to write a story about the Doctor’s family, and he decided to create an alien family rather than just do what was expected. Also, it conveniently solves a question about how a society of near immortals who can live for thousands of years could go on for millennia without overpopulation (certainly, anytime we’ve seen Gallifrey on screen, it’s looked a little… bare).
5. Susan is still his biological granddaughter (technically).
This is the other big issue when it comes to Lungbarrow, Susan. Now, obviously, a family system without parents/grandfathers is going to leave Susan looking like a loose end. But unlike, say, Eric Saward who once wrote a piece saying Susan was descended from Rassilon and had no relation to the Doctor whatsoever, Marc Platt specifically goes out of his way to try and justify both concepts; the Doctor is from a family of 45 Cousins and
Susan is his granddaughter. It’s all tied in with another early Rassilon era idea from the Cartmel era (when Lungbarrow was first thought-up), that the Doctor was Rassilon and Omega’s associate and fellow partner, a version commonly referred to as “The Other.” It’s a clever way to both justify the faces shown in The Brain of Morbius (because within the context of the story, it’s obviously earlier Doctors and not Morbius himself as is commonly hand-waved away) while still having Hartnell’s Doctor be the “First Doctor.” At the end of his life, the Other threw himself into the Looms and was later “rewoven” as the Doctor, who grew up not knowing who he was before. When Hartnell leaves Gallifrey, he does the impossible and visits an earlier point in Gallifrey’s history, where he meets Susan. Given that these are those early days, she is the biological granddaughter of the Other. The First Doctor has no memory of her (or anything from his Other days), but she distinctly and assertively knows he’s the exact same person as her grandfather, even if he’s in a different incarnation. Is this more complicated than what’s shown in An Unearthly Child? Absolutely! But isn’t it all? We’re not told they’re Time Lords, we’re not told they’re from Gallifrey, Susan openly says to have made up the name TARDIS (a claim more credible post-The Deadly Assassin if she truly was from the early days of Gallifrey)… Yes, it’s perhaps overly complicated in order to squeeze in both ideas… but what matters is that Platt easily could’ve just had Susan be some random Time Lord the Doctor decided take longer and were later brainwashed into thinking they were related or something, but he explicitly has Susan be his granddaughter and even if he doesn’t remember the incarnation that “made” her, the Doctor her grandfather.
If you’ve read all this… and especially if you’ve actually read Lungbarrow… and still dislike the idea of the Looms, that’s fair enough. Everyone’s got different tastes and one person’s favorite story is another’s least favorite. But if you’re just ragging on them because of what you’ve “heard” about them from second-handed sources (including this, I suppose!), do yourself a favor and try to read the damn book and figure out where you stand yourself.
6. Why is it Lungbarrow that gets all the hate and not Time’s Crucible?
It is, after all, the book the Looms came from and yet whenever they’re discussed, you hardly hear anyone mention that it came from that first and then was only elaborated on in Lungbarrow.
If you're a loon for liking the Looms, then the mad have taken over the asylum. XD