Tag: Steven Moffat

Doctor Who Series 9: A Change of Bootstraps

Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the Flood
Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the Flood

“Well on the plus side, at least he doesn’t need those sonic sunglasses any more…”

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.

As is always the risk, the least surprising part of this story was that things weren’t quite what they seemed. But how could it be when the Doctor had been so certain that he was dealing with ghosts? His previous younger and more excitable selves hadn’t been blown away in Army of Ghosts or Hide.

It was a jam packed story. The Jörmungandr Norse mural was writing on the wall in its true sense. A portent as the affectionately Star Trek uniformed characters set sea against a storm of a big dragon like, red faced monster. Norse mythology will continue its running theme throughout this series next week… And while there were franchise scrambling references to Star Wars as well as Star Trek on the way, the real paradox was classical and physical.

Yes, In this case the bootstraps were pulled from the feet of the Doctor, Clara, us, and poor old Ludwig Van Beethoven. We weren’t expecting that at the end of Under the Lake. Nor maybe a talking to…

Physics lesson

Of course those bootstraps belong to a paradox, as we were immediately informed in the second part’s opening lecture… I suppose it started with Listen. The Doctor popping up ambiguously address the audience directly, like good old Bob Ballard showing up at the end of an episode of SeaQuest DSV. If only Tom Baker had thought of that instead of a talking cabbage for a companion in the mid-1970s. Then again, while it’s effective it’s a horrible short-cut of an expository plot device that can’t help undermine what’s otherwise a clever little story. We may not have to worry about over indulgent catchphrases at the moment, but that will hopefully be kept on a short leash. Or we’ll find that all this time there’s been someone else aboard the TARDIS…

The collective noun for paradoxes

Familiar to Doctor Who fans…

So what was the Doctor explaining? One among a number of different posited temporal paradoxes. A familiar one is the grandfather paradox, postulated by writer Nathaniel Schachner in Ancestral Voices in 1933. There the easy logic is that a time traveller cannot venture back in time and kill his grandfather at a point before the time traveller’s existence is guaranteed. To do so would eliminate the possibility of the time traveller existing in the first place, so would eliminate his actions in the past… Only to ensure the grandfather existed so the time traveller could in fact attempt it. And so that spirals on. It can’t help but appear a rather banally biological and very human approach to temporal physics.  It also conjures up other issues. Even if the time traveller attempted the same after his bloodline was secure, he wouldn’t be able to alter anything that would prevent his travelling back in the future. For instance a badly injured grandfather with years of in-built aggression against a homicidal grandson – or one who withdraws his science funding. All grandfathers should be prepared to do that. See Ray Bradbury’s marvellous Sound of Thunder for an alteration that leaves a time traveller acutely aware of the horrifically minor changes resulting from his mistakes in the past. Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: A Change of Bootstraps”

Doctor Who Series 9: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Skaro and the End of the Acid Reign

Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice
Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice

“Guys! Guys! I think I’ve landed a walk on part…”

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…

Thanks for all the fish

Douglas Adams was surely Graham Williams’ ideal ally…

Moffat’s remarked on his regard for one time script editor Douglas Adams, not just for his small but extraordinary body of personal work (who doesn’t?), but for the legendary writer’s rather more divisive tenure on Doctor Who. In the mid-1970s, Adams had made a living out from writing comedy for radio, even forming a writing partnership with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and being only one of two people outside the troupe to gain a writing credit on a sketch for the Flying Circus. Not fully on board with the likes of deadlines and delivery, it’s still surprising that he took the script editing seat for Season 17 in 1979 alongside producer Graham Williams. It didn’t help that the laws of the universe ensured that his little radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was commissioned for broadcast at the same time. Still, for the producer unlucky to follow Philip Hinchcliffe, tasked with fencing the show off from the heavy criticism that met his predecessor while retaining the viewing figures, Adams was surely an ideal ally.

The result is one of Who’s real mixed bags. Sadly, having already contributed a mind-bogglingly budget-straining script to the show the year before, Adams generally takes the credit for the highs of that time, while the lows are rather unfairly brushed under Graham Williams’ production seat. Adam’s The Pirate Planet from Season 16 is seen as a doughty attempt push ambition onto a screen that can barely contain it, The City of Death (co-written by a strained Williams and Adams from David Fisher’s idea under the David Agnew pseudonym) is a beautiful mess of sharp scripting, superb casting, foreign location and hard science fiction that managed to claim the classic show’s highest ratings. Shada had the foresight to never complete its production and shot swiftly for mythical status.

The rest of season 17 retains a fair few detractors, although there remains a few ardent fans for that loose and difficult time before the strident science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead swept in, while Tom Baker took an arbitrary approach to whether the material bored him of filled him with sizzling physical comedy. If you like your Who served as comedy this is the place to find it.

Don’t Blink

To paraphrase 10cc, it’s just a phase Who’s going through.

Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Skaro and the End of the Acid Reign”

Doctor Who at 10 years old: Classic versus New

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

New Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary

A decade in, how’s the bold New Doctor Who bearing up to compared to its Classic predecessor

10 YEARS. 10 YEAR’S ALREADY. 10 YEARS. THE TIN ANNIVERSARY. AND THEY SAY TIME IS RELATIVE. Since Doctor Who returned on 26th March 2005 we’ve heard more about fixed and immovable points of time than ever before. Sure, they haven’t been treated too consistently over the past decade, but if ever there was a point that had ultimate mobility it was one spring day 10 years ago.

Jokerside’s always been kind to the show’s prolonged hiatus. For all the shame that Who was cut down at the all too young age of 26, when it was reaching a considerable 1980s high, and clearly by decision makers who had little objectivity, the hiatus has proved crucial to the show’s legacy. True, we might have lived without the American TV Movie, although losing Paul McGann would have been criminal. More important was the throng of fan activity that quickly swung into place to continue the Doctor’s adventures and keep the Sacred Flame alive during the lean early 1990s; imaginations starved that quickly adapted to generating content for themselves.

Creative Explosion

Keeping the Sacred Flame alive

The New Adventures came about through the chance inquisitiveness of Peter Darvill-Evans at Virgin Publishing, before BBC books found repeating that magic wasn’t that easy. Among the roster of Virgin’s subsequent New and Missing Adventures were Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Paul Cornell… On screen, the wittily disrespectful Curse of Fatal Death gave Steven Moffat a chance to script Who that wouldn’t otherwise have materialised. At the end of the decade, Big Finish roared into prolific recording, reviving those would be soon called classic doctors thanks to Nick Briggs, Gary Russell et al – creators who would have a significant role to play in 21st Century Who.

While many were dragged into the world of New Who following their involvement in the above, reputations enhanced by proven success, there’s no doubt that the looser editorial control in the early 1990s (that is, from the BBC) allowed Who to diversify and deepen far more than it could on television. And the legacy of creative explosion on New Who is undeniable, even as it sits proudly back its traditional Saturday family slot.

Time Wars

Masterful appropriation of fate

More importantly, when all these events combine, the hiatus became the ideal metaphor for the perfectly vague Time War. A non-descript, highly destructive war of which few could speak and the Doctor would take no little time to recover from: Masterful appropriation of fate.

Who loves a birthday, but has rarely managed to hit the date. There may be something coming up in Series Nine to celebrate this anniversary, which would be a neat reference to the Classic series 10th anniversary special, which may have fallen in Season 10 but was almost a whole year early. Whatever happens, we’ll be very lucky to see Three Doctors team up this time around.

So if you took 10 key points of Doctor Who – how would these first 10 years of New Who compare to the Classic Series?

  1. THE TUNE AND THE TUNNEL

New Who has been lucky to retain Murray Gold for its entire run

1973

Delia Derbyshire’s distinctive arrangement of Ron Grainger’s theme stayed broadly unmolested for seven years from the moment her second version had rung out at 17:16 on 23rd November 1963, just as the highly influential work of genius in the key of E should. There were a few minor tweaks of course – such as the echoes that appeared during Patrick Troughton’s first season. With colour and overhaul to the title sequence that had managed to last one doctor without sporting the protagonist’s face, came the first big theme change. Jon Pertwee’s first season in 1970 saw extra sting to match its Quatermass horrors arrive during The Ambassadors of Death. But the Third Doctor also saw his tune lose some of the introduction, completely mislay the middle eight and take fright at fading, opting for a stutter and eerie chopping.
Continue reading “Doctor Who at 10 years old: Classic versus New”

Doctor Who: The New Series Whovember Recap!

New Whovember recap

 

New Whovember has concluded: Three Doctors, Two show runners and War Doctor in a right state…

The 50th anniversary saw Jokerside take on the 26 years of classic Doctor Who, so it was only a matter of time before the New Series came under the sapce-time visualiser.  

NEW WHOVEMBER FOUND ITSELF IN A VERY DIFFERENT UNIVERSE FROM ITS CLASSIC FORBEAR. So the Classic Whovember recap ran, that “monumental 26 year run stretching from Totter’s Lane in East London on a fog-bound night in 1963 to the sun-drenched, cat-stalked streets of Perivale” to Millennial San Francisco took its leisurely time and eight Doctors. When the show came back, the show needed to update and almost everything changed.

The 10th anniversary of the new series takes place at the end of this month, when Jokerside will take a long look at the how ten years of the new series compare with 10 years of the classic run. But first, a summary of the recently completed New Series Whovember. With its own Fourth Doctor at the beginning of a hopefully long run, it falls to a trilogy of Doctors who include one of the shortest serving and two of the longest running.

The spirit of the original Whovember remains, where each article took an individual Doctor and a different, crucial aspect of the show’s myth and viewed them through the prism of a plot arc or set of serials. It wasn’t an exact art then, but the new series posed new problems, with the most complicated and arc-based era of the show’s 50 years setting some stern challenges. As usual, a little seen episode or a fresh viewing would set the parameters…

The Ninth Doctor - Doctor Who

#9 – Slitheen – The Green, the Good and the Ugly

The return of the one giant and previously missing Who staple… The Cliff-hanger!

There was little steer when it came to the single series of the Ninth Doctor. But one idea seemed irresistible, albeit a little horrid. The Slitheen. These green and bulbous aliens managed to make quite an impression on the reborn show. They would spill out quite happily into spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures but while they never made the impression that the Weeping Angels would and have fallen away from monster montages they played a pivotal role in that first series. Not only were they the focus of the show’s first two-parter and therefore cliff-hanger, but they were also the first new ‘monster’ to earn a return appearance.

For all the other highlights of that first series, it’s a delight to find that the mini-Slitheen arc in Series One is solid and show advancing stuff. Running just before the series finale, Boomtown is the first of Who’s bottle episodes, something that would stretch ingenuity with incredible results in subsequent series. For its lightweight approach, it made room to tackle difficult issues:

Continue reading “Doctor Who: The New Series Whovember Recap!”

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