Tag: Steven Moffat

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the BBC and the Unstoppable Leaks #Who-ly

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A rather sad and unexpected first post in the #Who-ly series…. On the leaked Doctor Who Series 8 scripts and THAT question… Clue: It has to be a no. Why is that Doctor..?

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought. “ – The Moonbase

A QUICK POST WRITTEN IN ANGER WITH AN OLD ‘TOON – WISTFUL AS EVER AND THE SEVENTH TO BOOT.  CRUCIALLY, PERHAPS HE WAS THE LAST DOCTOR IN A FULL, OR EVEN MINI-ADVENTURE, WHO DIDN’T HAVE TO ENDURE THIS… THE INTERNET.

There is absolutely no excuse…

Today saw the BBC apologise for the biggest lapse of ‘New Doctor Who’ era. Yes, more than that American DVD release last year, more than the premiere plot point reveals in 2011, more than any ill-thought out appearances by Graham Norton, deliberate or otherwise… This time the scripts of five episodes of the new series have been leaked to the masses. The BBC’s response was contrite regret. Mea culpa was all they could cry, kicking themselves with a giant and very public shoe.

It seems that in the sprawling growth of one of the Corporation’s big brands, it once again came a cropper of its own success, and the need of its constantly static/constantly beleaguered sole owner to wring the most from its own properties across the globe. The lapse lies with the BBC, the apology was correct, but yet again fans and television lovers alike are left with the same conundrum: Not ‘should the scripts be tracked down on the web?’ or not, but ‘how do we spend a good run in until late September avoiding spoilers?’

Because of course, there is absolutely no excuse to read the scripts.

A Poisoned Chalice

Wasn’t it worth it?

I have known BBC whistle-blowers I believe, heard of financial whistleblowers, but this is more destructive than revealing the Beeb’s idiosyncrasies. It’s all small-fry compared to the ongoing Yewtree investigation of course, and not to the detriment of that, I’ll keep matters closely defined to this intellectual property leak.

If it’s an act of love, it’s a misguided one, if it had good intentions, they laid down a path to The Satan Pit.  Of course, once they’re out there, why not, eh..?

Well… It’s been almost two years since the last nominal series debuted, this is the most anticipated Doctor, and it’s a full five episodes. With a feature length opener that’s feasibly 250 minutes of storyline to complete the spectacle. Could there be a more anticipated time? Or to twist it around, a time when the storyline should remain the greatest kept Who surprise of all time?

Of course, that’s why these scripts should be avoided at all costs, who’d want to ruin that? Steven Moffat will no doubt be apoplectic once again. Let alone the craft, graft, the hard work, the perseverance to get these episodes to screen – from him and hundreds of others – it’s the effort in maintaining those secrets. Maintaining those secrets in a show where secrets are crucial.

Remember the look on Moffat’s face last 23rd November, utterly petrified before the world simulcast. I was lucky enough to ask him a question that day, the answer playfully batted back under the towering auspices of BBC PR. And then there was the relief that the faith in fans and press everyone else had kept those secrets. And then the telling truism: ‘wasn’t it worth it?’

Surely, after the events of last November’s secret operation  it wasn’t overconfidence that led to this leak. But whatever the cause, what’s the excuse for reading those scripts that find themselves lost and cold in the public domain? Love? Starvation? Love and starvation of the show? Believe me, I along with many others believe this is a fundamental show, one that’s been a crucial part of this country’s make-up, played an active part in my existence as a person, an Englishman, a writer – it’s potentially morally affected me growing up as I’ve gone to some lengths to explain. I’m not alone. And that’s why there is no excuse.

Praise for the Beeb

She is unique.

I have railed against the BBC splitting episodes, splitting seasons, creating the illusion of continuity with specials and season breaks obscuring budget and other issues. All the while American networks, writer strikes aside have easily pushed out 13 episodes a year of genre TV, often 26. But then, this is the BBC. Very few broadcasters match them in scope and even then, with not nearly as many debilitating fronts of defence. For all the faults that come with the organisation, a civil service organisation despised by the ‘ruling’ party it is crucial to add, they are unique and a jewel not just in this country’s crown but the world’s. What the BBC represents is precious, as a Brit, and even – if incomprehensible to many – as a human in the 20th or 21st century. Of course there are bigger issues, crippling, destructive issues, for the BBC and humanity. There are many humans, and many billions more who will never know the name.

But she is unique.

And for all the effort she’d put into retaining a commodity she crafted by accident, she will never and should never give it up for want of all the baying capitalists who poke and prod.

Blame for the Geek

Anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about

Perhaps there’s something worse than the uncontrollable need to give into this temptation; the inevitable fan snidery that comes with it. There’s no science-fiction fan who shouldn’t feel that they could write and create better than the crafters of their favourite shows, novels and properties. That’s part of the deal. But go out there and do it. For all the friends I have who delve and snob between Wells, Asimov, Lem or Gibson to Trek, Who, V or goddamit even Andromeda, there will always be a tipping point where you can choose to give into this.

And often for unfortunate reasons I find. The arrogance and pseudo-intellectualism may be self-confessed. But why does it always seem to simply be so that you can pass judgement first?  While, as in this case you may have a unique chance to see the script prior to premiere, I fail to see how that’s different from looking back at the well distributed scripts of past adventures, especially of the RTD era. To reach for what I pretentiously tried to call out to day as ‘Eliotian transformation’ seems  anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about.

Television First

“I just hope that guy never watches my show again” – Steven Moffat, 2011

True, it’s spun across the time vortex, using literature, scripts and journalism as its iron lung at points, but it’s no Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There, one-time Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams created a different copy for radio, television, book and by proxy film. Doctor Who is, and ever was an immovably televisual phenomenon. It should be watched and judged first and primarily on the small screen.  I think that’s fundamental. Quick, responsive unpretentious. Reading filming scripts just doesn’t count. And to read those scripts seems mean and self-satisfying at the very least.

Not that I’ve ever resisted turning a novel a few pages further on, but I’ve never jumped to the final page. This script leak for me is not about recapturing that band at a point before they’re mainstream. The ‘I knew them’ first and ‘I’ll know this first’ culture is the entropy of fandom as I see it. Or as Moffat rather pointedly summed up ‘slighter’ plot leaks in 2011:

“It’s heartbreaking in a way because you’re trying to tell stories, and stories depend on surprise. Stories depend on shocking people. Stories are the moments that you didn’t see coming, that are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism. So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet, I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do.”

And true, what a shame it is. For all the bile poured at the BBC for letting paying customers in America see footage of the 50th anniversary special last year, before us ‘license fee payers’, BBC One has uncharacteristically set down a near-two month campaign of promotion. This leak is no publicity stunt, for a few it is really heartbreaking.

Patience Most

“In years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?” – The Great Curator, The Day of the Doctor, 2013

For context: This year is the 40th anniversary of Tom Baker. The greatest Doctor (certified once again in Doctor Who magazine #474), now the curator infinitum. For all the years I’ve been a fan, for all the chance I’ve had, I’ve put myself in the position of never seeing two Baker stories.  Two left: one that’s gleefully ridiculed, the other an apparent bona fide classic. I’ll have to reserve judgement as that classic, though it’s sat on my shelf for a great while, will not be watched until the 40th anniversary of Robot comes around. To find out what that is, tune in this December – if you can wait. I can’t mention it, because obviously someone will feel fit to rather pointlessly spoil it.

Being a fan isn’t about gorging, even with content 30, 40 or 50 years old. It’s hard to choose a quote about moderation, there are so many. But “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl-chain of all virtues” works as good as any.

Try it, the benefit’s there.  It really is.

In paraphrasing Robert Louis Stevenson in The Sensorites, perhaps the Doctor’s Granddaughter summed it up best:

“Isn’t it a better thing to travel hopefully than arrive?”

 

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part Two)

The Impossible Girl - Silence Will Fall

Part two of a retrospective of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl. She had just over half a season to pose her riddle, so how did the ever so unaware Clara measure up?

The riddle had unravelled over half a half-season so far…

The Sharp Edge of the Roundel: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

“You’re an android. You don’t get bored.”

It was always going to go wrong wasn’t it? It may be the most hyped episode of Series Seven, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a let down. I feel a bit for writer Stephen Thompson. Great episodes of Sherlock, fine plays, Quatermass incoming – and he doesn’t half get a short straw on Who. The pirate episode we shall not name was rushed and edited into nonsense while here he ended up penning a sequel to Castrovalva. Remember the old days? Corridors of the same white roundels? Well in this brave new age of intricate design and multi-million pound TARDISes… Nothing has changed. The claim that we’d go further into the TARDIS than ever before may not be too inaccurate, but it’s like promising Asylum of the Daleks would feature every Dalek. We’re wise to those tricks now. Still, it starts of fairly promising… Apart from the blink and you’ll miss it shoe-horned paradox cutaway and any idea quite how Clara ended up where she did.

Amid the middling dynamics the guest cast have to work with, the only things of interest are glimpses at the swimming pool, a rather familiar telescope and at last the library!  Other than that, a curious tone is set by the Doctor’s peculiarly devious, and unnecessary, ruse of a Faustian pact. In an episode where a time limit has no meaning, impalement injuries are brushed off and characters appear from nowhere in an infinite ship the rather effective paradox monsters don’t stand much of a chance. The Doctor’s name signals its intention to steal the Impossible Girl’s thunder soon enough – though quite why the Doctor keeps a reference book on the Time War is inexplicable. Pure sadism.

The companion riddle returns when the Doctor gets the chance to go a little psycho on Clara – he’s really on edge in this episode, are things getting to him? He’s now reached that point that’s strike a chord with many: Millennium old alien meets girl who does twice and refuses to reveal how she’s alive once again.  Now needs to prove once and for all whether she’s a deliberate trap or not and the TARDIS has gone to great lengths to create a suitable atmosphere. To be fair to the Time Lord, he had run through River Song and Bad Wolf storylines in the past few hundred years. That joins the well placed misdirection of the console rooms as a high-point: alas few and far between. Somehow during these sex sticks an oar in, pretty much discounting – we very much hope – that Clara is actually Susan (or Jenny) may be his granddaughter.

It soon becomes clear – thanks to a strangely Hellraiser monster and a giant neon sign saying ‘Eye of Harmony’ that we’re back to paradox. You know, those are the ones that we were reliably told generally resolve themselves in Cold War? Fortunately in this instance they intervene to create a convenient plot resolution and repair some family damage in the meantime. It’s a mess, which is a shame for an episode that contributes a fair amount to the Impossible Girl riddle (albeit through negation). Fortunately, it’s sandwiched between two classics.

Current Clara theory: Now the Doctor knows she’s not a trap – she must be a future echo and NOT REAL.

Rockets at Dawn: The Crimson Horror

“The Wrong Hands”

Could this be the time Mark Gatiss lives up to his true potential? Yes, but it takes significant splatterings of Carry on Screaming, Frankenstein, Bond villain, Joker origin, Total Recall, Bioshock and the Doctor’ own previous scrape with The Green Death to get there. Once again in the Moffat era, too much is packed into this one-parter.  A lot sticks but thanks to the skill of all involved that it’s not overwhelming.  In particular, The Crimson Death is saved by its excellent direction. The flash-back trick – whether it’s down to Gatiss or director Saul Metzstein – works very well indeed.  If only it wasn’t quite so derivative. Homage can only get you so far.

On the Impossible Girl front, it’s the first time back in Victoriana since the Doctor actually met Clara for (yes, the second time he talked to her), or the idea of her at least.  That brings the potential of reuniting her with the so called Paternoster Gang. Unfortunately for them, they already feel tired after less than a handful of appearances. Even when Jenny makes an emphatically ninja statement of her own… the Doctor has to step in to rescue her. Strax’s humour continues to grate and amuse in equal measure, fortunately not reaching the nadir of the season finale (Repeat mantra: “They’ve ruined Robert Holmes’ Sontarans”).

It’s easy to pick at a fantastically enjoyable adventure. There’s the (deliberately) stilted dialogue, the ‘hilarious fainting gentleman’, the pointlessly anachronistic rocket technology (surely Mr Sweet, a ‘bacteria’ at the time, didn’t pick up the tech from the Silurians), and the fact that everyone survives the rocket chamber during the old school shoot out. But then you also have the Rigg dynasty on top form, gorgeous set design and fantastic quotes. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you” – brilliant. Up against that lot, Clara was always going to come a cropper. In fact, it’s astonishing that any danger can be wrung from a girl we’ve already seen die twice.  Even more so that the Doctor’s new success in saving her is wonderfully realised. By the time the TARDIS crew board their craft there’s a real sense that the plot’s moved forward– perhaps accelerated by the Doctor’s lost impotence when it comes to this compulsively fatal friend. You know what I mean…

While the Doctor may appear to have more of an idea as to what’s going on with his erstwhile friend, the Paternoster trepidation reinforces that Clara’s still a live mystery and very unaware herself. Fortunately, even in the clutch of a riddle, this Doctor is insistent on having breaks from companions – only seeing Clara every Wednesday we would learn the next episode. And when Clara returns home she finds that of all things… She’s undone by the internet.

And there on the side sits the oddest toy in a house of 21st century children – a mid-1980s Galvatron Transformer. Something’s really not right there…

Current Clara theory: She’s just a bloody Victorian or not of the 21st century anyway – there’s a Galvatron toy in her house!

Upgrading Cyberia: Nightmare in Silver

“The Time Lords invented chess, it’s our game”

After the universally praised The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman may have returned to Who a little too quickly, but what an irresistible draw: make the Cybermen scary again. After all, their non-Mondasian birth in Series Two left them on the back hydraulic foot compared to the Daleks’ first appearance.

It’s reliving to jump straight in without the extra scene explaining Clara’s charges’ arrival in the TARDIS. That’s a welcome theme this half-season.  The preceding cliff-hanger had done enough, but really, could the Doctor have chosen a more dangerous place for them? Apart from Skaro about 6,000 years ago or Vulgaria.

The little seen Cyber wars have always held a firm fascination for me. Moffat has touched on them more than most, but here they’re at the heart of the story: and it’s the old phoenix paradigm just a few episodes after the Ice Warriors tested the water. Ramping up the threat and avoiding one of Who’s curious weapons, this time Cyberia didn’t get wiped out by gold: entire galaxies were blown up to rid humans of “The Great enemy” at the cost of trillions. This is big stuff.

When the retooled Cybers appear, Gaiman makes some shrewd decisions. The upgrading instinct and ‘remote detachability’ is a modern and relevant ‘upgrade’ of the spare parts idea that everyone’s clamouring to see on screen. Quite rightly they march and don’t fly, although it’s a shame that the tombs we glimpse aren’t of a more classic design. It’s a wonderfully broad set-up, almost as though he was an expert at setting up entire comic book universes.  It’s also suitably biblical for another one of Doctor Who’s great good versus bad conflicts. Time Lord and Dalek skirmishes are increasingly too blurred.

There are some interesting character points for the Doctor here; the suggestion that he can’t be converted, that he could regenerate out of the Cyberplanner tussle. If there are any doubts about the Fenric throwback chess conceit, just look how ham fistedly Terry Nation tackled logical warfare in Destiny of the Daleks. In all, Gaiman’s goals are achieved in a creditable bordering extremely good episode… sadly after The Crimson Horror’s great advancement of the Clara/Doctor’s dynamic, this must be the least important story in the Impossible Girl arc. Not that she does do anything however; in fact Clara’s brush with power shows her rather too comfortable sending her troops to their inevitable doom. She’s quite the leader…

Current Clara theory: It’s all misdirection – she’s destined to become the Doctor’s greatest adversary. Could she be… the Rani reborn?

Standing on the Magic Carpet : The Name of the Doctor

“I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor”

No, no Clara, no you weren’t. Like Rose before you, you created yourself and how much more tiring it must have been. Sat somewhere in the middle, how increasingly tragic does time-strapped, kidnapped and infertile Amelia Pond look…

The excitement when this episode aired on 18th May 2013 was palpable. Or was that just fear when some American DVDs jumped the traps a bit early?  In any event, we were possibly minutes away from learning the Doctor’s name (did anyone really think that may happen?), so close to wrapping up Clara’s inexplicable story and just 45 minutes away from the anniversary special. This is when we’d get all the answers, hurling vats of red herrings into the vortex.  But which one of these would make the episode memorable?

It kicks off brilliantly, with (logically presumed) Time Lords in the workshop on the day it all began, swearing under their breath at an idiot thief. There follows a ‘rather’ lovely montage of Clara chasing after every Doctor. If you look too deeply into it, it falls apart of course. I mean, she was there during that Dragonfire cliff-hanger? But still, it’s a nice and fan-consciously generous act.

Could there be the slightest bit of Moffat-Gaiman baiting going on here? An episode previously, Gaiman blew apart the Doctor’s attempt to remove himself from the time continuum with some cold logic dressed up as script. Here Moffat returns the grudge by contradicting one of The Doctor’s Wife’ssentiments. If it was Time Lady Clara who chose the Type 40 capsule, why the ill feeling Big Blue Box? Or is she after all a little more connected to the TARDIS than she seems..?

There follows 40 minutes of explaining the why, with the standard season ending rhyme and some outrageously good acting from a rather upset Matt Smith. Overall, this marks the biggest suspension of disbelief this series.  Steven Moffat’s desire (or Doctor Who’s need) to reach an emotional peak and move the plot forward seems a little forced, again in a single episode. It doesn’t have the neat, in-built plot device of The Angels Take Manhattan. The few disappointing non sequiturs include how the Great Intelligence mastered space and (presumably) temporal travel without any craft apparent, how the Doctor touches dead and hallucinatory River Song, how the TARDIS crew even gets from a corridors to the ‘exterior’ of the craft’s front door and how everyone instantly recovers from a heart squishing. Again, pointing out plot holes in a work of fiction is sinful, but frankly the list grows like a mourning TARDIS.  Only the Great Intelligence’s suicide stands as remotely understandable: Surely because he’d created the cliff-hanging short-cut in Dragonfire in the first place!

That said, there is a resolution and a reason given for the impossible Girl, all wrapped up this single episode. The list of irregularities fades against that and the host of new reveals. Because unlike her predecessors who were robbed of their main function in one season, Clara’s drawn the really short straw and resolved herself in half that. And all the time it was contrived to get her standing there in the quiet recess of the Doctor’s lifetime and unearth a darker, deeper mystery: the only Doctor who doesn’t ignore her, and isn’t a Doctor at all.

Real Clara fact: She’s a superhero, the Impossible Girl, born to save the Doctor on Trenzalore. She’ll never, ever need to have regeneration explained to her. The show-running Bible is quickly updated. 

Dawn Arrives

At the end of this preposterous journey it’s a bit of a shock to have a resolution, but it’s an immense disappointment that it’s merely a set-up to a BBC vision mixers wet dream. Ah well. We got a good companion out of it and the following two episodes were classics, so fair enough, right?

Well not quite. The riddle of the Impossible Girl is unfortunately one of the weakest arcs to grace the new show yet. It doesn’t seem to have had anywhere near as much attention as River’s did. Perhaps it’s a shame that so much of it lives extra-diegetically. Clara wasn’t just born into the story, but, nudge, nudge wink, wink her birth date was all part of the anniversary year itself.

In the Whoniverse, any coherent explanation of her story renders it so broad and coincidental as to make it pointless. It’s clearly inexplicable in the context of the show, and that’s accepting, to stress once again, that questioning plot holes in a work of fantastical fiction is totally redundant.

Conscious Companion

Take that early stop on Gallifrey. She must be a Time Lady, one who stayed on Gallifrey and quite probably is now living on in a pocket universe saved by the Doctor. We know she didn’t fade Quantum leap style when her tasks were complete as we’ve seen her die in timelines twice before. Now that would make more sense.  True, it’s not necessarily the case that our Clara was consciously aware of what she did on Gallifrey, but the fact she uses the name Doctor suggests she is, as does the fact she chases all the classic Doctors down. Come on, the classic series didn’t move that quickly! The montage shows a Clara, time specific, actively pursuing the Doctor. All we’d known previously is that she lived entire time spans, unaware – this almost makes her another City of Death-style Scaroth, this time faceted through time and space the universe.  In future or alien places she probably bumped into herself so what happened then?  If she’s a Time Lady and a Dalek is she also a Weeping Angel or a Fendahl? If she’s actively seeking the Doctor, how does that tie into the Clara of Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen who are unaware.  What if on this mission she doesn’t find the Doctor?  What if she lives entire  lifetimes, starts thousands of families on every known world.  Calm down.  It’s fine: Most paradoxes resolve themselves remember.

It’s a good thing that he whole and only real, compelling dramatic purpose is to delve into all the Doctors’ time streams, thus exposing his darkest secret: The War Doctor.

It was a relatively short arc, but one that says a lot about the modern show. The need to find a modern equivalent for those classic cliff-hangers is greater than ever; the need to convolute to create viewer involvement so strong that these mysteries need to overlap and spawn each other.  No more simple bad Wolf references for us.

Perhaps the Impossible Girl’s main function was extra-diegetic.  Perhaps subconsciously it was to confirm that the show’s a phenomenon after all. One Clara may well have broken through to our universe and make that Asylum of the Daleks appearance all the more important on both sides of the camera. That means of course, the Doctor could do the same – all part of that nice world of opportunity opened up by the Land of Fiction and continued through all sorts of meta-fiction, including the IDW comic The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. PerhapsClara is actually Jenna Colman and it simply makes no odds if she is or isn’t.

When saved from a personal time stream that’s clearly and handily name dependent, that leaves a whole other issue that should, in a right-working universe, create opportunities and challenges for writers: there’s now no surprises left for Clara. She’s seen regeneration, some classic adventures, so perhaps she could become that greatest ever companion after all. That said, having seen all that, I would leave him and the TARDIS right now, wouldn’t you?

A Neater Puzzle

Thank goodness Clara didn’t leave him, even during the drawn out events of The Time of the Doctor. For all the faults and missed opportunities of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl arc, adding bureaucracy to the Daleks, seemingly wiping out one of the show’s most enduring, rediscovered monsters and defrocking Ice Warriors, it also left us with a fantastic companion.

The Dawn of the Impossible Girl had been linked to the Great Intelligence ever since Christmas 2012 served up The Snowmen, in the middle of a very drawn out series. Unfortunately that meant that, much like the Ponds’ fate was rather oddly linked up to the Weeping Angels, she was part of that entity’s story and that proved to be to her and the arc’s detriment.

The “Fall of the Eleventh” had a wealth of plotlines to tie up and miraculously it managed to do so quite well, but it just seems that it could have been so much neater. As the running theme through the Eleventh Doctor’s first two series it seems bizarre to have minimised the Silence/Silents in his last. And if you’re going to create the Whispermen anyway, why not use the Silents? Creatures with ready-made space technology would not only have solved logical issues but also dramatic problems that wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the events of The Time of the Doctor. That would surely have worked out far more satisfyingly and left the Great Intelligence as more than half-season footnote just as the Impossible Girl proved to be to the War Doctor.  Intelligence has fallen just doesn’t carry much mustard.  There’s a rather disapppointing truth in the new avatars of the GI we see in Name of the Doctor; unravelling and empty.

But then, in this new, brave age of the companion, whoever credited the Great Intelligence with being intelligent.

THE END?  OF COURSE NOT…

 

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part One)

Impossible Girl Great Intelligence Jokertoon

Impossible Girl 1

Today marks one year since the mystery of the Impossible Girl was unravelled like a multi-incarnation time stream in a giant overgrown TARDIS crypt… After the Doctor’s longest companion was whisked back in time, how did the riddle of the Doctor’s most mysterious companion unwind?

A look at the latest companion entrance…  Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.

IT’S A YEAR SINCE TWO MOMENTOUS THINGS HAPPENED IN THE WHONIVERSE: The riddle of the Impossible Girl was solved and a new, yet long hidden, incarnation of the Doctor was born.

Irresistible riddles

The Doctor’s had mysterious companions before of course, but not like this.  Amy came with a riddle of her wedding, the Pandorica and went on to spawn the backwards riddle of Melody Pond/River Song.  River was the incarnation of Steven Moffat’s correct assertion that a show about time travel should be just that.  She was all about the journey, a backwards that provided some great moments but as an inverted stroll it doesn’t quite add up and is unfortunate to sit so roundly during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.  Rose ran out of mystery after one season, but that didn’t stop the Bad Wolf riddle being stretched and redeveloped all the way up to last year’s 50th anniversary special.  Rose created herself after all.  Further back, Turlough was spy on the TARDIS, but his Faustian pact was revealed from the start and the truth of his alien roots weren’t that compelling…

Companions Only Die Twice

Few companions have had the build-up of Clara warranted; three appearances to join the TARDIS.  We’d seen her die twice before… Or had we?  That’s what this arc was all about.  Whittling down all the Whos, Whys and Hows…

Her first appearance was a wonderful cameo in the Season Seven opener.  A bold start to a season that lived up to its claim that it would serve ups a blockbuster a week.  Unfortunately, while it was a far cry from the dull, washed out Season Five but never quite reached the heights of the first half of Season Six.  In part that was down to the ‘blockbuster’ intention that manifested itself not in boldness but derivation.  Slavish copies of actual blockbusters: The Thing, Jurassic Park, Batman packed out the first half as the Clara question set-up in Asylum of the Daleks was left to stewThat was partly because, as with theWar Doctor’s later introduction, it was a riddle on-screen as off.  Jenna Colman’s appearance hung on her recently announced casting, not the experiences of the two travelling companions to be.  Fans would have to wait until Christmas for a resolution.

Von-Trapped: The Snowmen 

“Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember…”

The Snowmen was a wonderful festival special that did everything the show should do at Christmas.  Huge guest stars, snow, magic, the return of an old, old monster and utterly gruesome deaths.  While it could only improve on the haplessly dull The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe that offended screens the Christmas before, it was weakened by choosing multiple influences rather than the more streamlined plot of A Christmas Carol and The Time of the Doctor.  Unfortunately, Clara was right in the middle of that confusion.  Moffat dug deep into The Sound of Music, the Ice Queen, Edward Scissorhands and Sherlock Holmes for inspiration; far too many influences to bolster a plot in the right way.  While the governess storyline would become a valid red-herring, it wasted the unrequited Von-Trapp love of Tom Ward’s character and rendered Clara’s pub wench role pointless.

In particular, The Snowmen should be applauded for being so horrific.  The scared and crying family at Christmas, Clara’s prolonged death, Simeon’s demise… It’s surely the Doctor’s most melancholy festive adventure. And it was an adventure wisely telling its own story, rather than solving Clara’s.  Just as well since she faced an uphill struggle bringing this Doctor round from his hermitage after Amy Pond’s considerable efforts to avoid it.  But the end of The Time of the Angels was forgotten…  Only the Doctor’s dress sense had improved.

Current Clara theory:  With the reveal that Clara – or at least one aspect of her – was born on 23rd November, the 50th anniversary was written all over her. She’s nothing less than the show itself!

Wireless:  The Bells of St John 

“The woman twice dead. And her final message…”

Oh, and now the Doctor is an actual hermit.  But not a monk.  After three sensational season openers, it was about time to return to the Davies method of ‘season build-up’.  For the most part, The Bells of St John trod a very safe road, more Partners in Crime than The Impossible Astronaut.  It also took safety in some classic Who tropes – the hidden danger in the every day, the contemporary setting, the evil at the top of the tower as well as some light satire and the chance to kick social media.

As Clara’s third introduction – having already used one great TARDIS line – it’s not surprising that the sails weren’t catching the same wind as previous Smith openers.  Those include The Eleventh Hour, the greatest ever companion and Doctor introduction and one that Moffat must have been mulling over for decades.  Bells often comes across as a soft rehash of Blink, with Spoonheads that may as well be Smilers or… Whispermen.  There are some nice links and further red herrings in Clara’s proper first story though.  The computer literacy of Asylum is played with and solved – could we be watching the creation of the girl we saw die on her first appearance?  As well as being a modern governess, she also has a book by one Amelia Williams…  That it’s the character from the old companion’s book that tries to kill the new one is nice, dark stuff.

The rest is a tonal hotchpotch.  The little darkness there is doesn’t mesh well with the comedy, particularly the creep-filled ending and Mahler’s misjudged question to UNIT.  But having learned from the Rory misfire, it’s refreshing that Clara won’t be dying every time we meet her.  That would have been very tiresome indeed.  While Doctor’s tics when putting her to bed recall the nadir of Wardrobe, it’s helps to show that Clara will make a great companion.  Let’s hope some smaller questions are tied up in the answers to her conundrum: Just who was the woman in the shop?

Current Clara theory:  With GI infused programming skills, Clara’s a giant trap of the great intelligence’s making. Remember: “The abattoir is not a contradiction”.

Space Opera: The Rings of Akhaten

“There’s always a way”

Neil Cross was the writing revelation of the Seventh Season as you might expect.  His first episode divided the critics, but there’s a haunting newness to this episode which makes me one of its staunch defenders.   It pushed Clara the companion to the fore while the Doctor also got his moment in the sun.  For all the Mos Eisley feel and generally effective stabs at humour, it’s nicely alien and quite unlike other recent Who stories.  The homage quotient is less than recent episodes, but still include Indiana Jones and religion-baiting and really the only thing that lets it down is some sorry-budget necessitated clumsy editing.

The Impossible Girl?  She floats in on a leaf of course.  It’s a stretched and whimsical metaphor, but it holds together. It helps highlight the darker side of the puzzle as well: While this ridiculous Doctor could be taken straight out of the Beano he is actually stalking his companion – new and quite sinister territory.  But with that kind of start, it also starts to show the strain.  “She’s not possible” exclaims the Doctor, quickly reminding us of the Series Six is she/isn’t she pregnant storyline. Perhaps more tellingly for Clara, while other companions had to compete with their predecessors she has the unenviable task of competing with herself.  If the basic question of why escorting Clara through time and space will help solve her riddle remains, Akhaten isn’t going to answer it.

The root of this episode is a semantic mistake and great mythical concepts.  “Consume the seven worlds” chat is wonderful stuff and as soon as the travellers arrive on that planet, the villain of the piece is in plain sight.  Amid the good old fashioned space opera, red herrings are alive and well, along with a sneaky reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, surely not a coincidence in a story about a Queen and a “grandfather”.

The separation of Clara and the Doctor is weak, but that’s not uncommon in five decades of Who.  In fact, it allow Clara some time to breathe; her empathy with the young Queen not only develops the companion but also triggers the plot itself.  Clara just gets more and more likeable, unless you’re the TARDIS.  The arrival of the bads may knock the tone off a bit, but that adds to its off-kilter appeal.

”You don’t walk away” is the clear message here; fate is the undercurrent from the leaf to the religious aspects.  Here the Doctor becomes slightly more like his predecessor, defiant but oddly blasé when a chorister is killed.  Perhaps when the Doctor exclaims ”We don’t walk away when we are holding something precious…”  he’s justifying his stalkerish pursuit of Clara.  Although he seems a little fallible amid the tonal shifts, one question really bugs: hasn’t the Doctor met an intelligent celestial body before?  Hasn’t he read Alan Moore’s brilliant Mogo doesn’t Socialize? Even with the life lessons and themes Cross builds in here, he would get more right with his second story.

Current Clara theory:  She is a mystery in plain sight, and a well known one at that.  She could be the TARDIS, or an aberration like Jack Harkness…  but no, surely not – she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter– why else would the Doctor have mentioned her!

Frozen Out:  Cold War 

“We’ll negotiate but from a position of strength”

The next episode was ready-made for developing Clara.  And oh dear, what hope rested on a strong, if slightly obvious return of the Who Martians?  I’m not a fan of the return of the Ice Warriors, partly because of derivative, desperate plot silliness and partly because they take their kit off.  Apart from that they wasted two Game of Thrones actors, unforgivably squandered Doctor Who Unbound David Warner and relied on a misjudged combination of CGI and poorly made rubber hands…

Still, there are moments of great direction – see the (again, wasted) David Warner in the porthole.  Just as well considering this plot is pure Thing – with added HADS-type and lost sonic screwdriver contrivance.

After the fate-obsessed Akhaten, Cold War signals the strongest indication that all bets are off when it comes to fixed time.  Ironically, that puts it in direct opposition with Waters of Mars. Surely such time-crunching has something to do with the Impossible Girl?  The Doctor’s more prominent than his companion in this simple tale, even though they are literally both in the same boat.  When Clara does offer herself as a sacrificial lamb, Jenna Colman makes the most of some great moments despite Skaldak’s escape being well signalled.  By the end she’s Clara’s role is superfluous as the Doctor appeals to Skaldak and all that remains is a lament for the missing Lego hands of these still cryptically cyber-enhanced Martians.  Not a classic for anyone.

Current Clara theory:  “Stay here, don’t argue!” “Okay”.  Clara is the perfect companion, formed and sent by the universe in readiness for the Doctor’s Day. 

Ghostbusters : Hide

“We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing”

Welcome back Mr Cross.  Hide is fantastic. On grounds of originality and confidence, content and direction, could it pip The Crimson Horror as episode of the series?  Hmm, wait and see.  With pop referencing relish, the travellers are thrust into a plot that puts the TARDIS crew in a haunted house with bizarro copy of themselves.  If anything that means romance is going to be the main comparison.  Hide contains some of the greatest moments of Modern Who, both hard science-fiction meets horror and comedy (“I’m not holding your hand!).  While the ending requires a suspension of logic, and certain plot points refuse to make any sense (the writing on the wall, how the other alien arrived…) Cross handles pace changes expertly – particularly the chat between Clara and Emma Grayling.

In the Moffat era, that skill is a must.  With some terrifying moments (what a shame it was broadcast in April), the holding hands sequence rates as one of Who’s funniest moments. Love is the main concern here, but there’s always that “sliver of ice in his heart”.  The empath works both ways of course, and the Doctor has the chance to ask about his companion.  So, Clara is a perfectly normal girl – it’s just coincidence their equivalents were made for each other all along. .?  We’ll see.

This isn’t the first time that Clara’s been made innocent of her riddle and allowed to be a companion in turmoil.  But it’s one of the most effective.  Special praise must go to the neat links built in, from the use of Ten’s orange space suit to the new pronunciation of Metabelis III.  Regarding the past, there’s another confirmation that the Whoniverse’s treatment of time has changed – could it have been after The Big Bang’s reset?  “Paradoxes resolve themselves by and large” says the Doctor at one point – a strange thing to say the more you think about it.  In any other episode, that wasn’t quite so good, that comment would have jaws on the floor.  Don’t event try to rationalise that with The Angels Take Manhattan just a few episodes earlier in the series.  Even worse, the Doctor later mentions fixed points in time which clashes horribly with with the previous episode.

If one dramatic balance comes a cropper it’s the level of fear the Doctor shows.  That’s why companions are there, so the Doctor can go on the hunt for a solution rather than be petrified.  Overall though, it’s astonishing what’s packed into Hide; brilliant sci-fi and an undeniable love story on many levels…  It’s just a shame that, in the year Jessica Raine played Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time, there couldn’t be a neat 50th anniversary link up here…

Current Clara theory:  Simple – She’s just another companion head over hills in love with the Time Lord.   

Did Clara find her purpose?  Did the Doctor chill out?  Well, if it’s good enough for a Who Series…  See how the series concluded in part two of  The Dawn of the Impossible Girl!

Doctor Who: 999 “You need a Doctor…” – Nine of the Ninth

The Ninth Doctor's Ninth Anniversary

9d ann square

Nine of the Ninth Doctor’s best moments on the ninth anniversary  of his arrival… Yes, the anniversary was on Wednesday the 26th, but new Doctor Who’s all about Saturdays, just as it should be…

IT SEEMS LIKE JUST A FEW DAYS SINCE THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON’S CASTING AS THE DOCTOR… AND IT WAS. And sure as that Type-40 TARDIS is still stuck as a Police Box, just over a year later he made his first appearance on prime time BBC1. The build-up was lovely if a little understated, fuelling long-term and fair weather fans alike as they grasped for snippets of the theme song and story hints as this new leather jacketed character leapt around shouting “Do you want to come with me?” “We already are” we might have all shouted in unison if we weren’t asking “When the hell are you going to start?” instead.

It was unclear then (though it never should have been) how or if this Doctor would fit in. Would it really be the same Doctor, linking directly to the classic series? Would some elements change? Would the show be rebooted, chucking off millions of hours, pages, CDs, strips of continuity..? Sure enough, was screened on 26th March 2005. And it didn’t really answer any of those questions. True to the classic series, we’d have to wait…

So as after respite from last November’s Whovember, what better time to get back on that British wagon train to the stars: The Ninth Doctor’s top nine.

Astonishingly not all of these are from The Parting of the Ways, still I consider, by way of massive hint, the new series finest hour.

9. Rose – “Run”

A rare remake

A great entrance, and no doubt something showrunner Russell T Davies had thought about at length. Like his 9d - ann1successor, current showrunner Steven Moffat, Davies must have toiled over this for years. It was crucial that this Doctor stepped out of his Police Box just as fully-formed (yet mysterious) as he had when he emerged in the fog of Totter’s Lane in 1963. Here the scrap yard was replaced with a department store, the granddaughter replaced with a, frustrated but ambitious London teenager.

And the story, brilliantly, was lightly drawn from Classic Who’s greatest writer Robert Holmes. Yes, he created The Sontarans, much of the Time Lords, the Master… But the Auton mannequins sat motionless on the high street, the personification of Hitchcockian suspense… Until they surprise a Bobby… Were one of his best. Here they make for a rare remake for the series (only bested in content by the underwhelming Silurian debut) and why not? A strong build-up of tension (broken only by Graham Norton) and then that hand in the dark…

8. The End of the World – “I’m a Time Lord, the last of the Time Lords”

And then off for chips

I pondered that Time Lord moment, but in the context of the show nine years and seven seasons on, it sticks out a mile. The show’s all about the Time Lord, but not the super Time Lord.

In Rose, you may strain to hear the dying Nestene Consciousness scream “Time Lord”…  But here he said it.

Yes, the moment from that second episode has to be executive producer Julie Gardner’s favourite. That speech to Rose, that confession… Those keywords checked off in the midst of commuters all unaware how this figure had saved them, their descendants, their ancestors many, many times… And then off for chips. ”You think it will last forever…” It’s another moment that Moffat impressively managed to expand during the anniversary. Back then he was the impossible alien. Now he was discovered. It was the concept that the show would be built on…

7. Bad Wolf – “Would the Doctor please come to the Diary Room”

A light start to a pivotal episode

Popular Culture can’t ignore itself. This light parody checked all the boxes, managing to involve Davina but not aping the reality behemoth too exactly or too much (see the disappointing Dead Set for that). Davies, quite rightly a long-term fan of Big Brother had hinted at some kind of Who/Big Brother parody for some time. But here it was a light and familiar start to pivotal episode.

For Big Brother critics it was a particularly dicey move, but nine years on while Trinny and Susannah-style fashion shows and The Weakest Link have disappeared from the schedules… Big Brother’s back to its heady heights. Alongside Doctor Who.

6. The Unquiet Dead – “At such a cost, the poor child”

The Doctor’s darker hue

After the disposable plot setting of Rose and the nonsense whodunit of the majority of The End of the World, The Unquiet Dead did far more than establish a present, future, past season template. It really hinted at what Doctor Who could do while making a good stab at the horror that has always been at the heart of the show. It wasn’t perfect… Often criticised for being a light attempt at a classic story, later period pieces would add more spectacle and of course, this is this episode that supposedly lost us Eccleston.

But there are highlights, not least the Doctor’s darker hue, his fallibility and the hard decisions that should be woven into every story. Death is a heavily woven into Who’s fabric of course, coming every episode – but as the mid-70s and mid-80s showed, it needs to be handled correctly. The Unquiet Dead did that and also, it premiered on my birthday. Darker Who on my birthday. Fantastic. But it would get better…

5. The Empty Child – “Nobody here but us chickens”

An irresistible mystery

Mark Gatiss’ The Unquiet Dead had stoked some Who horror flames, but its zombie-ghost facade was cartoonish compared to this. Negating ghosts, period celebrities and zombies Moffat’s first Who classic had a comfortable two episodes to ramp up the pressure, the mystery and the horror. Here the Ninth Doctor has time alone to stalk around a mystery.

From a telephone that shouldn’t work to a door side encounter with classic ‘haunted’ house tropes. This Doctor is caught in an irresistible mystery, that instantly tests his instincts. “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” he says, laughing sever-so-slightly nervously as he’s torn between protection and running.  Failure to do either would be dereliction of the Doctor’s mantle…

9d - ann24. Dalek – Eye to Eye

The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series

To think that there was a chance that Daleks wouldn’t appear in that first series, or at all… After pondering that, it’s worth considering this story with its back-up aliens. The Toclafane would later show up in the series three finale as the chilling coda of humanity.

As it is, this loose adaptation of Big Finish’s Jubilee and penned by that play’s author Rob Shearman himself, improves with every viewing. A siege story in the classic sense, this meeting of aliens must be one of Who‘s most watched moments. The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series, and perfectly set up by the Alien comparison.

In hindsight the last the Doctor saw of his copper nemeses were some ravaged Dalek shells as he grafitti’d Gallifrey with “No More”. Both species were destroyed… And then, the last remaining members of each came face-to-face in near-future Utah. The Doctor at his most vengeful, a Dalek at its most duplicitous… The ultimate destroyer and then unstoppable force but not always the way you think.

And to start, a fan pleasing surprise. A wonderfully simple, empty cyber head, oddly a Revenge of the Cybermen iteration … the Cybers almost met the new Doctor first… if only they’d stuck with that classic design a season later.

3. The Doctor Dances – “Just this once, everybody lives!”

A true fan wrote this

The myth of the Doctor being the most dangerous man in the universe took five seasons to grow, but it was clear from the beginning that his travels were fraught with danger. After seeing more than a few characters, not least in The Unquiet Dead fall foul of his intervention… Or solution… This was joyous. A true fan wrote this and packed the plot with hard science-fiction to boot.

2. Bad Wolf – “Rose, I’m Coming to get you…”

This was about the Doctor and his companion.

Arguably the greatest moment in modern Doctor Who. Packed with promise and its unavoidable recall to the 9d - ann3Time War. Jumping forward to the cliff-hanger resolution, imagine those Dalek missiles hurtling against a fleet of fully manned TARDISes during that war, weapons and crafts zapping through time zones while in fully manned console rooms Time Lords fly this way and that, regenerating in an endless domino effect around a central console… But of course, this wasn’t really about the Time War.

This was about the Doctor and his companion. Many co-travellers have brought the Doctor back into the fold, ever since the original crew quite reasonably created him. Oddest of all is the most recent, where despite a pleading afterword from Amy Pond, it took a mystery as deep as The Impossible Girl to pull him back in. Again, with recent hindsight, Rose is the Doctor’s first companion since he lost Cass in *that* crash on Karn… Eight or so years before we saw this Doctor’s origins, the show had recovered its confidence and swagger.

The pitch is never better – it’s simple and effective: the Doctor is happy to warn them: he’s going to storm into the heart of the Dalek ship and rescue Rose. Because that’s what he does.

1. The Parting of the Ways – Saving Bad Wolf

What was Bad Wolf’s cost?

As 2013’s The Time of the Doctor showed once again, Bad Wolf is a concept too good to be constrained by one season. There’s no doubt that such a light arc benefitted from coming in the first series, but it was the fantastic pay-off that made it.

Having taken a holiday while plot arcs took a firm grip on television science-fiction, New Who had time to unfold mysteries one by one. Bad Wolf, as light as a line of dialogue, a glimpse of a German bomb, or a smudge of graffiti scattered across a few episodes was perfect fodder for Whovians. No arc since, certainly not recent complications, would recapture that simple delight.

But in the end, what was Bad Wolf’s cost? The Daleks survived, Rose as well… The true cost was the Ninth Doctor. A short, rather miserable existence that wouldn’t know the redemption of the 11th Doctor (nor temporarily the 10th). Locked in a war with the Daleks, his only comfort was that the Daleks were destroyed once and for all.

It’s very unlikely we’ll see the Ninth Doctor again, thank goodness we’ll never forget him.  Three Doctors and seven series on, his departure isn’t showy or nostalgic – his regeneration really is fantastic.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read the Ninth Doctor Whovember for the missing Slitheens 

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