|The Twelfth Doctor|
Time Lords such as the Doctor are able to live so long thanks to a unique biological trait which allows them to regenerate their bodies whenever death approaches, much like the proverbial phoenix. There is a catch though---Time Lords are only allowed to do this twelve times, meaning that the thirteenth incarnation of a Time Lord is the final one. However, there is no particular time limit set to how long a particular incarnation can last. The Doctor’s thirteenth incarnation, numbered Eleven due to some pretty convoluted reasons, lived for hundreds of years, ageing slowly but surely. He ended up an old man, and funny things happened afterwards.
Fictional long-lived individuals are of course not restricted to BBC science fiction television shows. The Hebrew Bible speaks of Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah, who lived till the really ripe old age of nine hundred and sixty nine. It is said that he died a week before the biblical flood came and washed everything away except his grandson’s ark and all the arkizens1. His name, which means “his death shall bring judgment”, seems about right.
|Jurojin with deer|
The first I had ever heard of the name Methuselah was sometime in the early nineties. I had a pair of extraordinarily well-written illustrated encyclopedias from Dorling-Kindersley, and one article concerning how champagne is prepared had a beautiful photograph about different champagne bottle sizes, with the 2L Magnum somewhere in the middle and the 6L behemoth Methuselah topping them off (yes, they name bottles after old Hebrew mythological characters and kings). I had but a hazy conception of what champagne was, mostly thanks to Tintin in Tibet and my father’s unique way of getting me to pronounce the word correctly2. That illustration was beautiful, and the closest I could find to it on the net is this one.
|Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish.|
Since biological immortality is probably still a long way off, humans attempt to achieve immortality through other means; artistic, scientific, architectural, socio-political or even militaristic contributions (think Sun Tzu) can offer immortality to their long-deceased contributors. At the turn of the century, on the first day of the new millennium, a twenty minute piece of recorded music started playing, and is designed to keep playing for the next thousand years without repetition. A computer algorithm ensures that the music is never repeated…well, not in a millennium at least. The piece is called Longplayer, and it can played on your music player by downloading this m3u file which is also available on their website. I have been listening to it for the past three minutes and thirty three seconds and my impression is that it is both eerie and soothing at the same time. The music was composed using Tibetan instruments. Longplayer was conceptualised and executed by English musician Jem Finer.
|Clock of the Long Now|
Wouldn’t it be rather grand if by some quirky law of entanglement of fictional and real universes, the Doctor might set his TARDIS down near the Clock of the Long Now sometime in the distant future, taking a short break from his never-ending adventures across space and time, and hike up the mountainside to see the last time anyone was there to see the clock tell its tale?
- That’s what I call the denizens of the ark. I know, I’m lazy. But who isn’t nowadays, brandishing their smslingo everywhere like it is the M1 Garand. ↩
- I used to pronounce it exactly as printed, with the first part rhyming with ham, the second with rag, and the third with hay. My old man assured me that it was the right pronunciation, but I would get even more bragging rights among my friends at school if I managed to say sham-payne. Bragging rights? My eyes lit up. Of course it took quite a few more years to learn that shahn-pan-yuh works even better in the bragging rights department. ↩
- As opposed to viruses or certain seeds or tardigrades that can exist a long time by simply being dormant. ↩
- Hillis conceived of his 10,000 year clock in 1986, more than a decade before Longplayer, in case you were wondering. ↩