Doctor Who Series 9: Influences leave a Score to Settle

Doctor Who Series 9 Heaven Sent
Something tells me Rachel Talalay’s directing this one…

 

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.

Influences

Inherent horror

“Every 100 years a little bird comes”

The influences that comprise Heaven Sent run thick and thin. It’s a welcome return for director Rachel Talalay. Her entrance to the Who universe with the show’s first two-parter since 2011, Dark Water and Death in Heaven, made for an iconic and memorable finale in the rather downbeat Series Eight.

Heaven Sent is another adventure steeped in horror, just as Talalay’s previous episodes were. Although this time, the action moves away from crypts, the undead and body horror to a haunted house and corridors fit for a stalking veiled slasher. Heaven Sent is slasher horror in many senses of the genre. It’s strange to think of the Doctor’s nightmare as a palace of mystery with a corridor lurking monster, when it may very well have resembled a large, ornate garden in need of tending- as he takes a moment to dismiss early on.

Talalay’s worked extensively on genre television in recent years, but high on her resume is prolonged involvement in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Production duties led to her directing debut, helming 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare. That was the deep-end: not only the closing chapter and heightened meta entry of the series but filmed in 3d.

“I’m in a fully automated haunted house, a mechanical maze”

The Veil carries the hallmarks of the slasher genre in Heaven Sent. Haunting the corridors, sticking with a never changing speed akin to Michael Myers, an unknown origin like Jason Voorhees and the product of a dream world like Krueger himself. All that was missing was the slashing, but when that arrived it did so in sizzling and quite graphic quantity. Billions of years of it. Like those single-minded icons of slasher horror, the Veil was part of a code. There was no hidden morality, but its purpose was dictated by the singular aim of unlocking the Doctor’s confession. Unlike most slasher icons, this clockwork fiend never had the capacity to rise to anti-hero.

And of course, this might well have been Dracula’s Castle. It was steeped in the gothic tradition, the bizarre camera point of view that heralded the Veil’s Ghost of Christmas Future march – an update of mirrors that catch a vampire’s likeness. Or a keen reference to ScroogedRead more…

Doctor Who: Silents II – “Back to back on the fields” (Whovember #11 Omega)

Eleventh Doctor and Handles #Whovember 

No, you haven’t forgotten… The final Whovember concludes the story of the Silents as their plot crawls towards the Fall of the Eleventh. Their second plan had failed, so the Silence turned to their tall and forgettable servants. They could definitely get the job done… 

THE SILENTS HAD TWO FIRST APPEARANCES, BUT OF COURSE THAT’S EASY TO FORGET. Previously, they’d subtly emerged in a ‘deadly’ cameo in Series Five‘s The Lodger before emerging from the shadows in the two-part premiere of the sixth series.  When that season wrapped up the associated River Song arc in the middle, the Silence had failed twice to eliminate the Doctor.  When it came to resolving the arc, and dodging the 50th anniversary antics, Moffat’s other definitive creation proved crucial. Yes, the time of resolution was near:

First, another cameo…

Closing Time (Series Six, 2011)

the River Song we left in Let’s Kill Hitler hears a song that she knows, like us, means a season finale’s coming

It’s a refreshing step back to department stores when Closing Time starts. Of course, it’s less a sequel to The Lodger than Gareth Roberts Series Eight episode The Caretaker. There it’s thematic, here it’s picking up the Doctor on his goodbye tour. The Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio has been constantly reinforced as fixed point in time. This may be a light distraction, a bit of a riff on the Tenth Doctor’s extended farewell tour, but it’s crucial… While this Doctor’s constantly convincing himself not to help, he doesn’t have as many people to see (even though it’s been a hundred years at least since he personally met Craig) and is strangely open to a way out of his predicament.

There are some nice touches amid the frippery. Oddly, Star Trek gets another mention, again twice. For all the lightweight filler of Closing Time, the Cyber reveal and their slow involvement actually makes for one of their better appearance in the New Series. Since 2005, they’ve been treated worse than the Sontarans. In that respect it’s just a shame that love proves to be the Cyber downfall. And yes, at the middle of the plot is yet another deserted ship where the crew are purposed, like The Girl in the Fireplace, like The Lodger… However, this time it’s fortunate that the lightweight plot doesn’t fill 45 minutes. That gives the Doctor time to purloin four TARDIS blue envelopes and a Stetson… And we flash forward to the Silences’ plot three about to kick in. The kids in the street, reflecting on their fleeting meeting with the Doctor as adults are nonsense, but does help to build inevitability as we realise why Closing Time has to be on this list. In the final few minutes, the River Song we left in Let’s Kill Hitler hears a song that she knows, like us, means a season finale’s coming:

 “Tick tock goes the clock even for the Doctor”

It’s a multi-verse premonition that pops up at the end of Mark Gatiss’ Night Terrors, and would carry through to the thirteenth episode of the series… Read more…

Doctor Who: Silents I – “You should kill us all on sight” (Whovember #11 Sigma)

Doctor Who and the Silence 

They appeared in a – what was I saying? Oh yes, they appeared with a bang in the bolder and more ambitious sixth series of Doctor Who. It would take a few years to find out who these all too familiar aliens were. The mid-point of the Eleventh Whovember looks at the appearance of the Silents in Doctor Who

THE FIRST PART OF THIS WHOVEMBER #11 LOOKED AT THE SILENCE THAT QUIETLY HOUNDED THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR’S TENURE. BUT THAT’S ONLY HALF THE MYSTERY. To uncover the rest you need to go singular. Yes the Silents, who first appeared in the Sixth series opener and went on to stage a number of invasions, and difficult sentences, until the fall of the Eleventh. They don’t appear in every episode of the Silence arc, but their presence was felt earlier than it appeared:

These mysterious, lanky monsters in their sharp suits, all memory clouding and random electricity, could be called a classic Moffat creation. Horrific, scary and with a special monsterish twist. They may look like typical Grey aliens, but you won’t remember them when you turn away. From the lofty view-point of the Twelfth Doctor it seems that the Silents’ story has definitively ended, possibly in extinction. But you can never say never, especially if you can’t remember it. There was always the risk they could be a one-trick pony; on their short journey much fun was had with their memory-evading powers so perhaps it’s not surprising that their presence was felt before they first appeared…

The Lodger (Series Five, 2010)

Since the first full appearance, there has been countless speculation on the possibility of Silent incursions into Doctor Who throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s life and indeed beyond. And why not? He may have thwarted their countless appearances before his Earth exile in the 1970s (or yes, the 1980s, UNIT pedants), but the Doctor will quite reasonably have encountered them many times during his travels on Earth and beyond. Particularly worth thinking about, are the fog covered streets of the East End in 1963. But, sadly, this is a television show. When a billionaire buys Doctor Who from the BBC, he may take a George Lucas approach to retconning Silents into the classic series (while he seamlessly recreates lost episodes, perfectly recolours the black and whites, and up-scales to 3d). But until then, the Silents must be viewed in their specific time. Yes, Amy and River both gasp and stare while uttering non-sequiturs during Series Five, but that’s not necessarily anything to do with the Silents. It’s some kind of web-felled, self-perpetuating retconning – something Moffat’s show-running lends itself to perfectly. But considering some of the clear logic breaks in the Silence arc, it’s difficult to believe that such things could be planned enough in advance. I’d certainly swap them for clearing up some other points of the arc. No, the lanky aliens don’t enter the universe until The Impossible Astronaut, opening Series Six.

Except, that’s not true. Read more…

Doctor Who: Silence – “Fooling you twice the same way” (Whovember #11 Alpha)

The Eleventh Doctor and the Silence that must fall 

It was the interminable, twisting arc that spun from the birth to the death of the Eleventh Doctor… Stay tuned for a Whovember look at the Greys of the Whoniverse, those oh so forgettable Silents themselves. Er, those oh so forgettable Silents themselves. But first… Comes a look at the quiet when they weren’t around: The Silence that constantly threatened to fall on number Eleven… 

JUST HOURS AFTER ONE OF HIS MOST EXPLOSIVE REGENERATIONS, THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR WAS EAR TO THE WALL, SONIC RAISED TO A CRACK IN THE PLASTER THAT WOULD BECOME ALL TOO FAMILIAR. Alright, it wasn’t quite exciting as it sounds – but it was confusing and it was everywhere: it was the Crack/Silence/Silents/River/Melody/Drop-off/ Generation game. But I think it’s safe to say that it finally ended when the Eleventh Doctor died on 25th December 2013. With many-a-head scratched.

He was the longest lived Doctor and he hardly had any respite from the Silence. All his scraps with the Daleks equate to a trip down the shops by comparison, Time War included. In fact, his only break came when he met the Impossible Girl and reintroduced himself to the Great Intelligence (which proved itself to be anything but).

When it came to the Eleventh Whovember, the complexity of this Doctor’s life posed a problem. But then thought Jokerside: Why not split the impossible riddle of the Silence in two: Betwixt the episodes featuring Silence and those featuring the Silents themselves, maybe there’s something interesting to find… And yes, she may glance on and off it, but that means the River Song arc is secondary.

First up, it’s all Silence, no Silents:

And it all began where it should, in the beginning…

The Eleventh Hour (Series Five, 2010)

This is a fairy tale and it’s glorious

You know, The Eleventh Hour might still be show runner Steven Moffat’s finest hour…. And that’s quite understandable considering it’s the one story he must have been writing for decades (and is tellingly on record as saying it’s the most difficult script he’s ever written). Sadly, little of the brilliance of this Smith opener was carried through Series Five. Second episode The Beast Below, despite intentions strong enough to form the basis for the Doctor Who Experience in London then Cardiff, managed to slow this new Doctor in his tracks and set an all too dreary direction for the majority of the series. Oh, there’s plenty to enjoy in those 13 episodes, but its washed out colour and change for change’s sake is a difficult adjustment after the pinnacle of the Davies, Gardner and Collinson years in Series Four. Although for the best part of an hour on 3 April 2010 you wouldn’t have guessed…
Read more…

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