Lords of Time #3: Doctor Who Vs Future Diary
Gustaff Behr continues the series pitting Doctor Who against some of the biggest time travel fiction.
“You got a Dead End right?” – Yuno
“How did you know that?” – Yuki
“I saw it coming a mile away.” – Yuno
Although I am a huge fan of time travel, watching the same temporal paradox or the same trip to the past (Back to the Future), trip to the future (The Time Machine) tends to get tedious. A good story isn’t always its reliance on the genre elements of the kind of story it’s telling, but the way it incorporates those fundamental aspects and combines it with other genres. This is something Doctor Who excels at – weekly! Think about it, if it used timey-wimey in every story, the novelty would get old real quickly. The same goes for multi-Doctor stories. If they happened every season, the magic would just die…kinda like the overuse of Daleks! Today, it’s a case of you know I know you know, but with a last man standing twist!
This brings me to this week’s challenger – Future Diary. It is a truly magnificent piece of work and the premise itself is quite remarkable. As with Classic Doctor Who and most common time travel shows, time travel is a tremendously important element to the plot, but here it’s almost part of the background once the story gets underway (well unless you’re not paying attention). It’s not all about paradox this or alternate universe that. It gives a new spin on things and although there is an actual time travel arc secretly running through the whole series that eventually becomes part of the foreground (huge spoilers), the main attraction here is twelve people, each with the ability to predict the future in some way, trying to murder one another in ridiculously mind blowing and cleverly thought-out confrontations.
About the Challenger!
Country of Origin: Japan
Yukiteru Amano (aka First) is an asocial who isolates himself from the world. To compensate, he writes down everything he perceives in a diary on his phone. One day he discovers that his phone is littered with entries concerning events that he hasn’t recorded yet. His not-so-imaginary friend – Deus Ex Machina, God of Space and Time – is dying and has set up a game to determine who will take his place as master of reality (cough** Time Lord cough**). Yuki meets Yuno (aka Second), a Diary User who has a bizarre obsession with him and has been stalking him for almost a year without his notice, writing down everything he does every ten minutes. Ten other contestants are also each given a ‘Future Diary’ that, as the name implies, predicts future events and records them as diary entries, each in a slightly unique fashion. The goal of the game is for each contestant to kill the other 11 and the last man/woman standing will be declared the Master of Reality (cough** Time Lord cough**).
For all intents and purposes, Future Diary is a dark psychological thriller with a pretty unique and diverse cast. You have twelve people each trying to out think one another. Imagine River and the Doctor’s standoff in Let’s Kill Hitler (the banana one) and multiply that exponentially. Not so easy to win when everybody knows your next move eh?
The diaries themselves are also one of the big draws to this series. They don’t all work the same way because that would just be boring. Instead, their functions depend on how the phone was utilized beforehand. You have Yuki’s diary – the Indiscriminate Diary – which tells him everything that happens around him, but not too him directly. Yuno’s diary – the Yuki Diary – tells her everything that will happen to Yuki – what he does, what he says, but doesn’t tell her anything about herself, unless it pertains to Yuki.
Yuno herself is also one of the main attractions. Her character is not only incredibly enigmatic, but also obsessively (and creepily) infatuated with Yuki for some reason, willing to murder anyone whom she deems a threat to her happiness. She’s a proper mystery that needs to be solved before the game is over. She’s also more callous than any person I’ve ever encountered in any narrative before. She steals the show in every episode and manages to win your sympathy whether you want to give it to her or not and her eventual backstory is one that solidifies this series as an A in any critic’s book.
Dynamics and Differences
Contrast to Doctor Who, the futures written in the diaries aren’t fixed. They change constantly to reflect what the characters do in response, whereas in Doctor Who, as soon as you read something, it becomes fixed and must happen. The Fires of Pompeii is Doctor Who’s counterpart to this alternating diary entry situation. The Doctor has mentioned that he himself has the ability to see multiple future outcomes to present situations.
It’s never touched upon, but Future Diary seems to have an element of writing back to the past as the entries tend to be recorded in the first person, implying that the users are being updated by an alternate future version of themselves that are never seen. Although; given that entries tend to go something like this: “I am cornered by the serial killer and murdered. Dead End”, one has to wonder how it’s even possible to record your own death. Silly me! Doctor Who already managed to do that, but I assure you that there’s no Teselecta in this story.
Another thing that makes Future Diary so different is that all the Diary Users are evenly matched, so the series tends to fall into the Xanatos Speed Chess category where plans need to be adjusted almost as frequently as the entries in the diaries. This doesn’t happen very often in Doctor Who. Usually one side is far stouter, which makes Doctor Who look like it has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. In recent years, the Doctor has become unmatched as an opponent, barring Daleks and Cybermen. There have been very few times when this author has actually wondered whether the Doctor might actually be in danger of losing. This is not counting companion farewell or regeneration episodes which are meant to be the exception to this rule.
Future Diary works in the opposite direction. Anyone can die here and it is used cruelly throughout the series to torture viewers. In fact, Fifth even remarks that no matter how infatuated Yuno is, there can only be one winner. There is no getting past that rule in this game and as a mild spoiler…he is correct! You can’t pull a Hunger Games cop-out finisher and refuse to fight until you and your hubby get your happy ending. Life unfortunately doesn’t work like that! An example of animation being more realistic than live-action. This trait is also shared with Doctor Who as, when you study it, most companions part ways with the Doctor in unfortunate fashions as opposed to everyone getting their happy ending. Go ahead and think about how many of them (barring previous ending character returns) lived truly normal happy lives.
Future Diary might look like two protagonists facing off against ten other psychopaths, but this series manages to somehow convince the viewer to look at events from the other users’ perspective. There is no good or evil, only intent. Why they do what they do is explored and most characters have a unique storyline that justifies them wanting to win this game, regardless of what they plan to do afterwards. Unfortunately, Doctor Who has a laser targeted viewpoint on this subject. A lot of the times, viewers are forced to just accept that whoever he is facing this week is the enemy and needs to go down, without really allowing us to see things from the villain’s POV. There are exceptions however and when Doctor Who utilizes these exceptions, they are magnificent. Kahler-Jex from A Town Called Mercy is the perfect example. Concentrating and exploring the villain’s background provided a new layer to the story and made the narrative rich and even more interesting.
Doctor Who is no slouch. It has used psychological thrillers successfully before, magic phones that can transcend time and space are nothing new here; companions receive one as part of the standard startup package and as mentioned, our protagonist is his own Future Diary – the Doctor Diary!
- Plot – 4.5/5
- Characters – 4/5
- Character Development – 4/5
- Tearjerkers – 4/5
- Timey-Wimey ball – 2.5/5
- Plot Point – 3/5
Based on these criteria, Future Diary scored…
22 out of a possible 30.
This means that the rankings look like this now:
Join us next time when we rake up another challenger. Clue for next article: Starbright!