A ‘series’ of essays…
A Jokerside challenge for Autumn 2015 – an essay for every story of Doctor Who’s Series 9!
Catch them following the conclusion of each story, the perfect way to brighten your Monday and get the occasional time-straining headache! Handily, bookmark this page to find the short-links to every essay as soon as they’re live.
I. The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar
The first of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, starting with a trip to a mysterious planet in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.
HOW WILL HISTORY RECORD THE MOFFAT ERA? THAT’S NOT A QUESTION FOR NOW OF COURSE, AND ONE UNLIKELY TO BE ANSWERED FOR A LONG TIME. WHEN THE SONIC GLASSES HAVE GATHERED DUST, WHEN THE TWELFTH DOCTOR’S MYSTERIOUS, HAWKISH, STRANGELY FAMILIAR FACE IS LONG GONE. Steven Moffat has written for more Doctors than anyone else, and you can’t even say with any confidence that he’s on his final one as showrunner… Having crossed confidentially onto his second Doctor and nearing the end of his second major companion, it’s not clear Who will go down as Moffat’s ‘definitive’ Doctor. And that joyfully creative mess sets out a simple stall… Read the long read now
II. Under the Lake and Before the Flood
The second of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, it’s time to take on the waters of time with Under the Lake and Before the Flood. Headache inducing, but reassuringly unexhaustive in this timeline.
“There’s nothing more ironic than an unfinished requiem”
AFTER THE LEGACY-SERVING ROMP OF STEVEN MOFFAT’S TWO-PART DALEK PREMIERE THE RELIABLE HANDS OF TOBY WHITHOUSE BROUGHT US A CLASSIC STORY THAT MANAGED TO MARRY CLAUSTROPHOBIA WITH THE EXPANSE OF TIME. It was almost a story of two parts, but not quite. Below the Lake and Before the Flood were linked by an internal logic in almost as distinctive in New Who as the episodes’ striking locations. Depending on how you looked at it, Before the Flood could be set in the past with flash-forwards or the other way round. But while cause and effect was at the forefront of the episode, and crucial to the resolution, the mystery of the first part was only pushed a little further back rather than pushed out he way… Read the long read now
III. The Girl Who Died
The third of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine.
The Girl Who Died had an ominous name, but did its closing moments suggest that the age of the Doctor’s disposable historical romps is over?
ANYWHERE IN SPACE AND TIME, EVERY ONE THAT EVER LIVED. THE PAST IS EVERY BIT AS POTENT AS THE FUTURE WHEN YOU’RE WATCHING A MAD MAN IN A BOX HURTLE THROUGH SPACE-TIME. But while the future offers optimism (or pessimism) infinite for a writer and audience’s imagination to run wild with no constraint, the past brings a different kind of curiosity and challenge. The discovered country, where everything from mysteries to myth, fact to historical figures, form steps to where we are now. If you’re intrigued about visiting the far future or the distant past, it’s a different kind of fascination that draws you to either. Or if it isn’t when you set off, it will be once you arrive.
Historical adventures have been wired into the TARDIS console since Doctor Who’s first serial. Even in their prestigious and epic prime during those early years, some were less enthralling than others. It didn’t take long for the story length to shorten and the educational slant of those slightly loose historical ganders like The Aztecs and The Romans to give way to a science fiction influence. In fact, the last Who historical story of any weight that featured not a toot of a sci-fi conceit was 1966’s The Highlanders… – notable for introducing one of the all-time great and, therefore surprisingly, male companions in Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon, primed to last the entirety of the Second Doctor’s run. The actual last was the slight Black Orchid in 1982, but as that also avoided any historical point of interest it’s easy to overlook… Read the long read now
IV. The Woman who Lived
The fourth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The show kept us in the past, this time landing on the highways of the seventeenth century to pick up on the consequences of the Doctor’s actions at the end of his Viking adventure. What do the adventures of the Ashildir now the Lady Me, the latest in a long line of the undying, tell us about humanity?
It’s an immortal question. Inspired by The Woman who Lived…
DID YOU FEEL ROBBED? WERE THE HOOKS OF THE GIRL WHO DIED NOT FULFILLED? Perhaps the MacGuffins and red herrings confounded expectation? But in any event, there’s no doubt that this casual two-parter was always intended to realign itself as one of Doctor Who’s occasional treatises on immortality.
The resulting 45 minutes, with its unusual structure pushing full force onto Peter Capaldi and Maisie William’s double-act, proved one of the show’s great explorations of that mighty theme. An irresistible concept that the show’s often danced around but never answered. If it ever did, there’s a good chance things would never be the same again.
“People like us, we go on too long”
Immortality is built into Doctor Who, and not just in the inexhaustible fuel of the show’s format: Ideas and imagination without constraint that may outlast the Eye of Harmony. At the heart of the show is a Time Lord, almost the last one – recently given a whole new regeneration cycle when the first one might simply have allowed him to live forever. “Barring accidents” as the Fourth Doctor put it once. You can imagine the TimeWhich statistics on Gallifrey, warning year after year that most regenerations happen in the kitchen. Regeneration means every Time Lord or Lady has 12 reset buttons on his genome and mannerisms that could give them a new life as a woman, girl, Mekon, dog or sentient lamp – but has so far always landed the Doctor as a humanoid male between the Earth years of 25 and 60… Read the long read now
V. The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion
The fifth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The return of the Earth invasion, politics and the last brilliant multi-Doctor story. But something wasn’t quite right. The Doctor wasn’t in total control. His companions were.
A question brewing for 10 years. Inspired by the The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion
IT’S NOT TOO SOON, IS IT? WHEN COMES TO DOCTOR WHO IT MAY AS WELL BE TOO LATE, SO LET’S JUST SETTLE ON THE TIMEING BEING EXACTLY RIGHT. From where I sit in the far future Clara’s been gone for centuries and I’ve managed to get over it… Yes, this might be a little strong. Episodes of Series Nine are increasingly piling up the doom and gloom surrounding Clara’s imminent departure. It could be any time now, but even if it falls before the series finale, the repercussions will reach to the end and beyond. It’s certainly going to be a wrench. As the recent two-parter proved, she’s not only the modern era’s longest serving companion, but quite possibly the most important companion in the show’s history…
But Clara’s colleague companions have been important for many years. If the New Series can be marked out from the classic years in any terms, it’s not the missing Time Lords but the increased role of who the Doctor calls his “friends”.
The Classic Years
Far beyond… “The nightmare scenario…”
Companions had a simple purpose in many of the padded stories of the classic era. Classic companions like Leela, who accompanied the Fourth Doctor, had foibles and qualities that fed into the tone of the stories that followed their introduction. In further adventures they often used these to find new and very personal ways to get into trouble. Leela brought an Eliza Doolittle model to the TARDIS. Harry Sullivan was an imbecile, but also a doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was a reporter… Read the long read now
VI. Sleep No More
The Sixth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. Sleep No More could lay claim to being the series’ first single-parter proper. It was the regular outing for recurrent writer Mark Gatiss who dwelt on one of those concepts in the best Doctor Who tradition… But was it a mistake to pick on the grand old base under siege story once again this series?
Trapped, as well as inspired, by Sleep No More.
“Don’t watch this!”
“It’s like a story!”
“I did try to make it exciting”
SLEEP NO MORE SURE SET ITSELF A STEEP CHALLENGE WITH A FOUND FOOTAGE CONCEPT THAT RELIED ON SCARING VIEWERS OFF. IF YOU THOUGHT THE SERIES NINE MARKETING THAT HINGED AROUND THE UTTERLY GIPPING CONCEPT OF “SAME OLD, SAME OLD” WAS DRIPPING WITH HUBRIS, THIS ISN’T GOING TO SWAY YOU. Sleep No More has duly sunk to the lowest point of the series in terms of audience appreciation, but that’s not too surprising. It was a throw-away single-parter for all the talk of a sequel being in the works, amid many two-parters that lacked names among guest star packed casts. Reese Shearsmith seemed more of an inevitability. After Daleks, ghosts and Zygons its threat was an unknown quantity. However, it was siezing the nearest thing to the Blink spot in this restructured series and certainly wasn’t as derivative as some of Mark Gatiss’ concepts – the third of these essays dwelt on the horrid historical froth of last year’s Robot of Sherwood. Read the long read now
VII. Face the Raven
Doctor Who’s seasons and series have waxed and waned for over five decades. Face the Raven set a new bar, with a companion departure seemingly setting up a maybe-two part finale. Choosing statistics over grief, this essay looks at the show’s changing approach to confounding expectation and compounding the drama.
Taking 45 minutes out, inspired by Face the Raven.
THE CLOSING SCENES OF FACE THE RAVEN WEREN’T EXACTLY UNEXPECTED, BUT FEW WOULD DOUBT THAT CLARA’S INFLUENCE WILL STRETCH TO THE END OF SERIES NINE AND PROBABLY BEYOND. EVEN ADRIC MADE AN APPEARANCE AT HIS FINAL DOCTOR’S REGENERATION. AND HE WASN’T AN IMPOSSIBLE GIRL. That precocious mathematician wasn’t even the first of the Doctor’s companions to perish, it’s safe to assume that honour went to Sara Kingdom, adventuring for all too brief a time alongside the First Doctor during The Dalek’s Masterplan. But Adric’s was the most laboured and ill thought out demise. Sleep No More may have bodged the opening title replacement the week before, but it’s impossible to imagine the sapping horror if Face the Raven had rolled silent closing credits. But if the intervening 33 years between Adric and Clara’s departure have taught us anything about loss and companionship in Doctor Who, it’s that there are many fates worse than death. Read the long read now
VII. Heaven Sent
Heaven Sent broke many rules of rule-defying Doctor Who as it paved the way for the huge series finale of Gallifrey’s return. But was it such a great departure? It drew liberally from the show’s heritage, the considerable creative talent involved and the rich canvas of science fiction. Most importantly, amid the wealth of influences, it was as much a showpiece for the show’s music as it was the Doctor himself.
Trapped in a revolving door, inspired by Heaven Sent.
WHETHER IT’S THE MIDDLE PART OF A THREE PART FINALE OR A SINGLE SLICE OF ANTHOLOGY, HEAVEN SENT WILL BE LONG REMEMBERED. And apart from the evident format breaking, immediately following the departure of one of the New Series’ longest serving regulars, many strands of influences were evident in the penultimate episode of Series Nine. What’s not in doubt is that Heaven Sent is an immaculately produced piece of television thanks to those influences. And rising to the top is the mighty Murray Gold once again. In his tenth year as the show’s music director he’s once again seamlessly provided something so perfect that it’s easily overlooked. But as much as this Heaven Sent is held up as a one-hander for the Doctor, the music was with him every second of eternity. Read the long read now
VII. Hell Bent
And so Doctor Who Series Nine found the doctor where no one thought possible, back on his home planet of Gallifrey. But true to form, the culmination of years of seeding and two sublimely produced episodes wasn’t really about the Doctor’s homecoming at all. As the audience might have expected, it was more about the companion and the return to a mysterious one word story arc…
Travelling to end of time itself, inspired by Hell Bent.
“Tell them I know what they did. And I’m on my way”
WITH THE INNOVATIONS AND MODERNISING OF DOCTOR WHO’S NEW SERIES CAME THE ARRIVAL OF THE ‘FINALE’. That just didn’t happen in the old days, when seasons of serials gave you a denouement-full of finale every four to six weeks on average, mostly once a month. It was almost coincidence when a season closed with a classic story – but then, no production team aimed for a sub-standard story, let alone one to end the year. But with the show’s return in 2015, the wise call to adapt the show to the recognised series format meant an inexorable rise to a finale from the start. It was unavoidable, even if it’s seldom presented itself in the same way over the past decade. But in becoming a series, following the standardised particularly developed by American networks, the emphasis, weight and propulsion simply had to fall towards the story that closed each year. This essay series has already looked at the structure and peaks that developed from reconstructing the show around a series format, and how Face the Raven broke expectation. But in a series of predominantly multiple part stories, that episode commenced a three-part finale. And once again, as the integral difference that marks a series out from a soap, they don’t come much heavier than the finale. Read the long read now