Tag Archives: River Song

Zeg, Tarrant and The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (2010)

pando opens 2

TARRANT: Dalek Zeg! We had best get on with organising this alliance of alien races for our latest campaign against the Doctor.

ZEG: Oh, bugger it! How did we get lumbered with this, Dalek Tarrant? I’ve already been doing overtime on the redesign of our casings!

TARRANT: Yes, and look how well that went down, Zeg.

ZEG: It was going fine till they made me add that hump on the back.

TARRANT: Anyway… what we need is an alliance of alien badasses that will scare the etheric beam locators off anyone who dares to question the might of the Daleks!

ZEG: Don’t we already have an alliance, lying about the place somewhere?

TARRANT: We used to have one, but it was pissweak. Remember? There was that spiny faced guy…

ZEG: Oh that’s right. And the seaweed in a big robe.

TARRANT: That big black Christmas tree…

ZEG: And that guy covered in half globes! He looked ridiculous!

TARRANT: So none of those numpties get invited again.

ZEG: All right, who do you want for this lot then?

TARRANT: Well, the Nestene Consciousness, I suppose, ‘cos we’re going to need duplicates.

ZEG: Wait a minute, don’t we make duplicates?

TARRANT: Yes, though lately ours have tended to have eye stalks erupt from their foreheads at inappropriate moments.

ZEG: Fair enough, it’s a terrible giveaway. Who else have you got?

TARRANT: Um, the Cybermen?

ZEG: Ooh, that’s going to be totes awks.

TARRANT: Why do you say that, Dalek Zeg?

ZEG: A few years back they proposed an alliance to us. And we exterminated their arses.

TARRANT: They won’t care.

ZEG: They might!

TARRANT: No, they literally won’t care. They can’t, remember? That’s their whole thing.

ZEG: OK, who else you got?

TARRANT: The Sontarans?

ZEG: Ugh. I don’t get those fuckers. They’re supposed to completely obsessed with that “interminable war with the Rutans” TM. But then they’re always getting involved in these other hijinks. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll jump at the idea. Anything to avoid actually prosecuting that war they’re meant to be a part of.

TARRANT: Silurians?

ZEG: Those lizard things? That’s going to be pain. We’re going to have to wake them up. Have you got a big drill or a cyclotron or something? Then we’ll have to explain the whole thing to them… They’ll want to do their whole, “kill all the apes and reclaim our planet” routine… On the other hand, they’re on their home planet, so we won’t need to pay their per diems.

TARRANT: Judoon?

ZEG: Didn’t you already say them?

TARRANT: No, I said Sontarans.

ZEG: What’s the difference?

TARRANT: Not a great deal. But the Judoon have better boots.

ZEG: Oh they’re the police ones, aren’t they? I’m not sure they’re going to want to be in a kind of super group of villains.

TARRANT: Sycorax?

ZEG: Those guys in the big flying rock? Jeez, if you want. None of that voodoo bullshit though. Just let ‘em stand at the back and keep quiet.

TARRANT: The Hoix?

ZEG: The who?

TARRANT: The Weevils?

ZEG: You’re just making shit up now.

TARRANT: Terileptils, Zygons, Chelonians, Drahvins…

ZEG: The Drahvins? Oh come on, I draw the fucking line. A bunch of skinny chicks with elaborate eye make up? Fat lot of use they’ll be. Are they bringing their special magnetic net?

TARRANT: Dalek Zeg, I sense you are not approaching this task constructively.

ZEG: Give me a fucking break, Tarrant. The bloody Drahvins? What a bunch of b-listers. It’ll be the freaking Slitheen next.

TARRANT: Well, actually…

ZEG: Seriously? Why not call the Bandrils? I hear they’ve been free since about 1985. What about the Vardans? I bet we can get the Krotons for equity minimum. Ooh, no I’ve got it… the Monoids! With their cattle prods of doom!

TARRANT: If this is the sort of attitude you brought to the redesign of our casings Zeg, I can see how we ended up looking like giant M&Ms.

ZEG: What’s all this in aid of anyway?

TARRANT: Well, it appears that the Doctor is going to bring about the end of the Universe.

ZEG: Hey, that’s our job!

TARRANT: I know, right? So we’ve got to prevent him from being able to do it.

ZEG: How so?

TARRANT: We’ll lock him in a big box.

ZEG: Genius. Where is this box?

TARRANT: Stonehenge.

ZEG: Um, why?

TARRANT: Well, a scenario has been constructed from the memories of the Doctor’s companion.

ZEG: And she once went to Stonehenge?

TARRANT: No, she liked Roman occupied Britain when she was a kid, and it’s kind of close by. Plus, she likes the box thing, so there’s that as well.

ZEG: But wait a minute, we think this will ensure the Doctor shows up?

TARRANT: It’s a trap the Doctor cannot resist!

ZEG: It just sounds a bit complicated, Tarrant. If we want the Doctor to show up, why don’t we just do something evil? He’s turned up every other time we’ve done that. Without bloody fail!

TARRANT: Yeah, it would be simpler but we just don’t have anything on the drawing board that’s ready to go.

ZEG: OK, so what’s the plan once the Doctor is inevitably drawn to this devious trap?

TARRANT: Well, we shove him in the box.

ZEG: And then?

TARRANT: That’s it.

ZEG: Right. It suddenly goes from hugely complicated to sort of alarmingly simple. And what do all the other alliance members do?

TARRANT: Well the Nestene duplicates…

ZEG: Which we could at a pinch supply ourselves….

TARRANT: Well, they’ll actually put him in the box. Bit hard with the old plungers, y’see.

ZEG: OK, and everyone else?

TARRANT: They just sort of turn up for a gloat.

ZEG: Right. Tarrant, you remember the last time we had an alliance? Remember what our alliance members did then?

TARRANT: Um yeah. They stood around a big desk for a bit. Then they went to a conference and clapped idiosyncratically. Then some of them betrayed us and had to be exterminated. And then we got bored of them and locked them all up.

ZEG: And none of them were strictly speaking necessary either were they?

TARRANT: Not critically, no.

ZEG: Tarrant, this is the dumbest thing we have ever done.

TARRANT: Says the Dalek who painted us the united colours of Benetton.

ZEG: Fair enough. Shall we just exterminate each other now?

TARRANT: Agreed.

*Ka-shoom! Screen goes negative*

LINK TO The Claws of AxosPresumably the Axons are in this formidable bunch of alien badasses somewhere. (With thanks to Will Brooks

NEXT TIME: Mercy, just look at this place. We unearth The Tomb of the Cybermen.

 

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Secrets, separation and The Husbands of River Song (2015)

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There’s a disquieting undertone to this episode, despite it being a big, bold Chrismassy romcom. Yes, it’s the episode that wraps up the relationship between the Doctor (Peter Capaldi, relishing the comic moments) and River Song (Alex Kingston, relishing every bit of it), and it does so in a festive melange of romance and continuity references. Yes, it’s a genuinely funny knockabout caper which celebrates the bond between two fascinating characters. But there’s a nagging concern I’ve been unable to shake. Here it is:

This is the story where River’s true self is revealed to the Doctor. And then he dumps her.

Much was made in this story’s pre-publicity of the comedy value of the Doctor seeing what River does when he’s not around. Due to an unlikely combination of contrivances (River’s convinced the Doctor has a limit of 12 faces, he’s been introduced as ‘the surgeon’), she doesn’t twig who he is, and so she lets the veil drop a little.

We meet a far naughtier character that we’ve seen her be before. We see that she has multiple husbands and multiple wives. That she’s prepare to marry a villain in order to steal from him and kill him. That she borrows the TARDIS when the Doctor’s not looking and stores hooch in a handy roundel. That she’s welcomed onto a spaceship full of mass murderers.

The Doctor looks suitably bemused at all these revelations. But it’s a short exchange with River over dinner that really seems to rock him. She talks about how she got King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) to fall in love with her.

RIVER: It’s the easiest lie you can tell a man. They’ll automatically believe any story they’re the hero of.

And she holds up her TARDIS diary to emphasize the point. Later…

DOCTOR: …you look sad.

RIVER: It’s nearly full.

DOCTOR: So?

RIVER: The man who gave me this was the sort of man who’d know exactly how long a diary you were going to need.

DOCTOR: He sounds awful.

RIVER: I suppose he is. I’ve never really thought about it.

DOCTOR: Not somebody special then?

RIVER: No. But terribly useful every now and then.

Of course, she’s shielding her true feelings, but still, it’s clear that these words sting the Doctor. Later on, in a more honest and revealing moment, River explains that while she loves the Doctor, he doesn’t love her in return.

RIVER: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!

Penny in the air. She turns to look at the Doctor. Penny drops.

DOCTOR: Hello, sweetie.

It’s a moment of reaffirmation. But the damage appears to be done. This relationship is toast. And River won’t get a say in how it ends.

Consider what happens next. The spaceship, under assault from a meteor storm, dive bombs into a planet. River recognizes the planet immediately as Darillium. We fans know what happens on Darillium. It’s the site of her final meeting with the Doctor before she dies. To escape the crash, the Doctor and River take shelter in the TARDIS. It survives the crash and is planted on Darillium. River is unconscious. The Doctor is awake. And now he has choices.

He could take off again. He and River could go off adventuring anew. No need to stop the fun. Another great escape.

But he doesn’t do that. He makes a conscious decision to engineer the building of a restaurant of Darillium so that he can take River for dinner there, and spend their last night together. He knows this will precipitate the end of their relationship. He does it anyway. It his opinion, it’s time.

Two things bug me about this:

He does it without consulting River. There are two people in this relationship but the Doctor is the one who decides to end it. Why doesn’t he discuss it with her? Presumably because he knows she won’t want to go, but everything has its time and every Christmas is last Christmas or something. Imagine if your partner took an action he/she knew was going to end your relationship, but didn’t discuss it with you. Or did it while you were unconscious! It’s pretty appalling.

He does this after she revealed her true self to him. There have been no end of opportunities for the Doctor to take River to Darillium. He chose this time. What’s different about this time? It’s all as exciting and wisecracking as usual, except this time, River has displayed some habits he doesn’t like. There is air of punishment about this, which is, well, icky. If you don’t like her stealing your TARDIS and murdering despots for jewels, then say something. Don’t just unilaterally decide to end the relationship.

When River works out what’s going on, she naturally protests. She begs for a loophole, for another chance. But the Doctor’s mind is made up. The silver lining? One night on Darillium lasts twenty-four years.

Well that sounds alright in theory, but have these two met each other? Neither of them can stand still for a minute and they’re proposing to spend nearly a quarter of a century in a restaurant? Personally I don’t think it will last twenty-four hours, let alone years.

Perhaps that’s River’s revenge. Perhaps while he’s off to the loo, she steals his TARDIS and pilots it twenty-three-and-three-quarters years into the future. That’ll serve the manipulative old git right!

LINK TO The Three Doctors: “remember that time when there was two of you?” says River. She wasn’t talking about The Three Doctors, but still.

NEXT TIME… As my random who generator’s will, so mote it be! It’s time to summon up The Dæmons.

 

Anything, everything and The Wedding of River Song (2011)

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“All of history is happening at once,” says Caesar Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) at the top of this season finale, and in a short space of time, the viewers know exactly how he feels. The Wedding of River Song (hereafter referred to by its pleasing acronym TWORS) throws everything it’s got at us. And it throws it all at once. To bamboozling effect.

It starts with a lengthy recap from other adventures in this narratively complex season, retelling how the Doctor (a foreboding Matt Smith) is trying to evade his forthcoming death on the shore of Lake Silencio in Utah. Once the viewer has this under their belt, it’s on to the pre-credit sequence, showing a London with all of history combined into a mix-and-match selection of ancient Rome, World War 2, Silurian pre-history and modern day. The viewer is expected to keep up as Caesar Churchill notices that the date and time never changes, and calls for his imprisoned Soothsayer. Who turns out to be the Doctor, recently returned from a visit to Whiskeron.

Then post-credits, there’s another pre-credits sequence. In short shrift, the Doctor robs a dying Dalek of information about the Silence. Which leads him to a bar to meet Gideon Vanderleur (Niall Grieg Fulton), an envoy of the Silence. Except it’s not Gideon, it’s the time travelling, shapeshifting robot the Teselecta, seen previously in Let’s Kill Hitler. The Teselecta’s Captain Carter (Richard Dillane) leads the Doctor to another bloke, Gantok (Rondo Haxton) and a deadly game of chess. This leads him to the Seventh Transept, and the talking head of Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker) who at last can give the Doctor the information he needs to start the story.

And by now, we’re about five minutes in.

That’s indicative of both the pace and the general feel of TWORS. This is a story which makes few concessions for the casual or inattentive viewer.  From here it’s a rapid fire trip (via steam train) from strange London to strange Cairo, taking in the Silence, altered versions of Amy and Rory (Gillan and Darvill), Madam Kovarian (Frances Barber) and terminating in the wedding of River Song (Alex Kingston) itself, and the history rewriting impact it has. Plus a sidetrip to mourn the death of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s full on, and there’s a lot to get through.

We’ve been here before, when talking about AGMGTW (acronym mad, I am). This is a season of  Doctor Who which expects a lot of its viewers. And it doesn’t let up; TWORS is artillery barrage Doctor Who.

*****

I suspect that how much you enjoy an episode like TWORS  or AGMGTW  or even TNOTD depends on how satisfied you are with an episode which is less a distinct Doctor Who story and more a string of explanations, wrapping up storylines from a season’s overarching story arc. Which in turn, I think, depends on how interested you are in that story arc.

Assuming you are interested in this arc, I think your enjoyment then depends on how satisfied you are with those explanations. If you’re pleasantly surprised at the answers, and don’t feel cheated or that the producers have copped out, then I think these sort of loose-end-tying-up episodes are just fine. And TWORS does an admirable job of just that, plus dropping plenty of intriguing hints for next season’s big story arc.

Personally, I find these sort of episodes enjoyable, but less than the sum of their parts. I enjoy having a few mysteries resolved, but I rarely revisit them after an initial viewing. In fact, I sometimes struggle to recall what the story’s about. And I think that’s because it’s not about anything. Instead, it’s about everything, all at once.

*****

But if any of this bothers you, don’t let it. Thing is, this story never really happened. Nor did TNOTD. Nor did all of Series 5, as far as I can work out. Because in these narratives, things can go to all levels of doolally, and then be reversed by some timey wimey conceit.

Luckily though, our heroes retain their memories of these adventures that never were. It’s a peculiarly Moffaty piece of logic. And it creates an odd effect for the viewer where two sorts of realities exist simultaneously; we always seem to be in a permanent state where events did/didn’t happen. Some people have wondered if because River married a giant robotic replica of the Doctor and not the man himself, are the two actually married? Never mind that, surely because history was changed, the wedding never actually took place (and least this wedding. They could have tried again some other time)?

But it also leads to the feeling that you can never actually trust a Moffat storyline. When Clara recently bought the farm in FTR, I don’t think there was any regular viewer who thought there was no ‘get out of death free card’. We’re so used to time being rewritten and people coming back from the dead that the series has lost some of its ability to shock. Nothing’s a matter of life and death any more, just a matter of time.

*****

So… A bewildering, unlikely set of events. A strange melange of imagery. A bit of romance, a bit of a punch up, old friends and old enemies popping up everywhere. And at the end of it all, no-one can quite remember what exactly happened.

All in all, just like any other wedding.

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: at one point ‘timey wimey’ becomes ‘tiny winy’. Clearly a subtitler not versed in Moffatese.

LINK TO TCH. Both are Matt Smith stories of course, but also Mark Gatiss wrote one and pseudonymously appears in the other.

NEXT TIME: You had juan chanze, mah frend, juan chanze! Direct from a relay station in Nigeria, it’s TEOTW.

Quips, questions and The Name of the Doctor (2013)

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River Song (Alex Kingston) has a succinct assessment of the Doctor (Matt Smith), which she delivers in The Name of the Doctor: “He doesn’t like endings.” We might adapt it for showrunner Steven Moffat by saying “he doesn’t like explanations.” His style is to not explain everything to the audience and to not let exposition slow down a story. I think explanations bore him, and if they are only going to be meaningless bafflegab anyway, why bother?

This tendency to under explain is all over The Name of the Doctor and it starts at the very beginning. In 1893, a prisoner, Clarence de Marco (Michael Jenn), is manically reciting a rhyme. As Vastra (Neve McIntosh) discovers, this man has knowledge about the Doctor and co-ordinates to his final resting place on Trenzalore.

But how does he know these things? We’re never told. At least not in this episode.

To find out how he acquired this knowledge, we need to turn to a special feature on the DVD release, Clarence and the Whispermen. In it, it’s revealed that de Marco was visited by the spectral Whispermen, who implanted the knowledge within him. To me, that’s not inessential background information. That’s important to the plot. And so we have an episode where you need to watch the DVD extras to get the full story.

Next, the conference call. Moffat wants to bring five key protagonists together to brief them on the plot, but they’re separated by time and space. Solution: they all enter a drug induced sleep. Because, we’re told, “time travel has always been possible in dreams”. Explanation enough, it seems.

And so Vastra, Jenny (Catrin Stewart), Strax (Dan Starkey), Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and River are able to meet up and discuss the plot. This is particularly impressive in River’s case, because by this stage she exists only as a digital copy of herself. Quite how Vastra delivers a message to her, or how she imbibes the soporific drug or indeed sleeps is left unexplained. As unexplained as how River can conjure up a bottle of champagne in this dream world. Laugh it off with a quip, and move on.

While our heroes are all tripped out, the Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) strikes. He transports Vastra, Strax and Jenny’s corpse (she was recently killed by the Whispermen while she slept. But to paraphrase the Eighth Doctor, death never meant much to Moffat. She and Strax will be killed and resurrected once more by the time this episode’s out) to the Doctor’s final resting place on Trenzalore. Um, how exactly? He’s a ghostly formless entity floating around the cosmos and can probably travel there at the speed of thought, but what about those three corporeal beings? Did he carry them? Again, don’t ask, let’s move on.

The Doctor and Clara crash land on Trenzalore and Clara realises she can still see and hear River. “The conference call,” River offers, “I kept the line open.” But wasn’t the point of the conference call that you had to be unconscious to dial in? Clara’s definitely awake and acting her boots off. But then River can’t just be in Clara’s mind, because although no-one else can see or hear her, when she speaks the Doctor’s name, the tomb opens. No doubt the TARDIS can hear her. Even though she’s a shadow of herself. And herself is a back up. On a computer no doubt light years away. And centuries too.

(Ah yes, the TARDIS. Once Clara and the Doctor get in, suddenly it is time for explanations, but not from this episode, but from three episodes previously. In Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Clara heard about her various “impossible girl” personas and the Doctor’s fixation with them. But the events of that story were reversed by a massive plot contrivance. So now it’s time for all those memories to come flooding back. How odd, to go from a conspicuous absence of explanation to ODing on them in order to get to the climax the episode needs.)

That climax is similarly vague on selected points. It transpires that the Doctor can also hear River, but touch and kiss her too. “How are you even doing that?,” asks an incredulous River, but her question goes unanswered. She should know better, really.

By this stage, the Great Intelligence has entered the Doctor’s time stream to poison all his days, and Clara has followed him in as the antidote. All predictions were that this would prove fatal, but in the way of these things, she survives by some zillion to one chance.

She lands, um… where exactly? The Doctor’s timestream seems to have some physical space where various Doctors run about mid-adventure. What is this place? How come it can be physically penetrated? Even the Doctor can enter it, and use a magical leaf he’s summoned up from somewhere to meet up with Clara. Is this a practical or theoretical space? What is happening?

Then, in the dying seconds of the episode, we meet a grim, foreboding figure that exists in this strange, in between world. The Doctor is plainly terrified of him. The mystery man turns to face us… And we don’t recognise him. Onscreen captions have to finish the job for us. “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor”.

And I think, with all the love in the world for Doctor Who,  this has to count as an epic storytelling flub. If you need captions to make sense of what’s happening on screen, surely you’ve failed to tell the story well enough. Sure, circumstances were not as the Moff may have liked. Had it been Christopher Eccleston who turned around to face the camera, there would have been no need for a caption to say who this actor is and who he’s playing. So the irony is that this episode, which has so far avoided all those pesky explanations, finally has to put one in big white letters on the screen.

But let’s not stop there. How do the Doctor and Clara escape from within the time stream? How do the Paternoster gang get home? And the big one, given the future changing events of The Time of the Doctor did any of this story actually happen?

This endless stream of questions. It sounds like I’m having a go at the Moff for not bothering enough to fully explain the events on screen. And I suppose I am in a way, but mostly I’m just pointing out that this is a characteristic of Moffat’s Who. He’s not that interested in explanations. It’s not that he doesn’t have them, or that he’s incapable of included them in his episodes; far from it. It’s that he makes a conscious decision to leave them out. Sure, you might be mystified. That’s fine with him.

Recently, there was an even more brazen example of this approach at work. It’s in The Witch’s Familiar. The Doctor is sitting in Davros’s chair, force field in place to survive the inevitable blasts from a miscellany of Daleks. He sips calmly from a cup of tea and says serenely, “of course the real question is ‘where did I get the cup of tea? Answer: I’m the Doctor. Accept it.”

Try writing that in a script at film school and it’ll quickly be struck out as indefensible. But here, it is the work of a supremely confident writer, setting out a modus operandi, if not a manifesto. He’s saying: any explanation I give you is going to be bollocks. So let’s not tarnish the spectacle of the Doctor in Davros’ chair sipping tea. Let’s not let explanations spoil the fun.

LINK to The Five Doctors. The Name of the Doctor actually has bits of The Five Doctors in it!

NEXT TIME… Right! Cut it open! We finally break the Season Seven drought with The Ambassadors of Death.

 

Fans, fiction and A Good Man Goes to War (2011)

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Imagine if you pitched this story to any publisher of Who fiction, such as Big Finish or BBC Books or DWM‘s comic strip: The Doctor’s companions have had time vortex-exposed sex and conceived a baby. The baby is kidnapped by a squadron of religious soldiers, so the Doctor gathers an army of allies including Silurians, Sontarans and Judoon to help him rescue her. The Cybermen also make an appearance, as do Captain Avery and Danny Boy, and there are continuity references to nearly every story in the last year and a half. As it turns out, the baby is actually another of the Doctor’s companions who’ll grow up to be his a. assassin and b. wife. (Actually, the whole thing’s beginning to sound like a Virgin New Adventure. Let’s travel back to 1991 and pitch it to them.)

Surely, no one would touch it with a barge pole. Because it reads like fan fiction. A fan writing a story for other fans. And as fan lore tells us, that’s bad. That’s about the worst thing you can do if you’re writing Doctor Who. Apart from question marks on collars or not taking things seriously enough.

(A quick recap on how we got to the idea that writing for a fan-based audience is bad. 1980s Who saw some liberal reuse of old monsters, characters and costumes from stock. Internal references to previous eras peppered the stories. Initially a popular approach, it was overused and the production team were criticised for trying to please fans rather than entertain a general audience. And since then Doctor Who fans have taken a dim view of writers trying to please them. Don’t try to please us!, they say. Think of the general public!’)

But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that A Good Man Goes to War is written for folk with an advanced level of knowledge of Doctor Who since the beginning of series 5, some 18 months previous. In short, it’s written for fans. But who are fans nowadays?

Steven Moffat has argued that everyone’s a Doctor Who fan these days; that the general audience do tend to watch most episodes of the show so you can tell detailed narratives without worrying that they’ll be alienated and switch channels. If he’s right, then Joe Public would have been completely comfortable with the complicated story arc of Series Six, in which A Good Man etc is thoroughly embedded.

But if he’s wrong, then I think A Good Man would be greatly perplexing to less dedicated viewers. To offer an episode as dense with references to previous storylines as this must be very offputting at least and bewildering at best. How else can we imagine a casual viewer reacting to dialogue like this?

DOCTOR: It’s all running about, sexy fish vampires and blowing up stuff. And Rory wasn’t even there at the beginning. Then he was dead, then he didn’t exist, then he was plastic. Then I had to reboot the whole universe. Long story. So, technically the first time they were on the TARDIS together in this version of reality, was on their…
VASTRA: On their what?
DOCTOR: On their wedding night.

Get your head around that, casual viewers! Even the pay off to this story – the revelation that River is Amy and Rory’s daughter – only works if you’re invested in the series long story arc, and you care about such things. Otherwise, what does it matter who’s daughter River is? Why would anyone but a fan care?

*****

Old Who had its share of continuity heavy storylines, allegedly written with fans in mind. The granddaddy of them all was Attack of the Cybermen, so let’s pick on it as an example.

Broadcast in 1985, it contained various plot threads from stories as distant as 1966’s The Tenth Planet, 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen and 1968’s The Invasion. It has since been roundly criticised for expecting casual viewers to know detailed plot points from stories broadcast almost 20 years previously. Although I suspect that for a casual viewer, it can be enjoyed on a simple Doctor vs the Monsters level, in a way that A Good Man cannot because the very purpose of the Doctor’s actions in the latter story needs to be seen in context.

But we should remember that Attack of the Cybermen and its nostalgic 1980s stablemates existed in a very different space than modern day Doctor Who. With no repeat screenings, few home video releases and VCRs an expensive luxury, it was rare even in the mid 80s to see a story more than once. Under those circumstances, the less you distracted your audience with needless continuity the better. Modern Doctor Who is designed for multiple viewings – indeed, it rewards them – and its audience is better equipped to follow long, complex narratives. And if Moffat pulls Sontarans, Judoon and Danny Boy’s spitfire out of his toybox, it could well be that they cut down the costs of creating new prosthetics and CGI assets.

My point is not that A Good Man is this century’s Attack of the Cybermen, although they are both, to my mind, equally obsessed with fannish continuity. It’s more that fandom’s go-to criticism of writing for fans is outdated, because as new Who continually shows, you can write Doctor Who for fans and still make compelling TV. And if we accept that, perhaps we can look at some of those 80s continuity fests in a new light. Perhaps, we can learn to stop worrying and love the fanwank.

Anyway, enough of this. I’ve got another story to pitch to the powers that be. It’s going to be a match up between the Master and the Cybermen. They’ll walk down the steps of St Paul’s like in The Invasion! And UNIT will be in it. And the Brigadier will come back from the dead… Not too much continuity, do you think?

What do you mean it’s been done?

LINK to: Terror of the Vervoids: in both we meet friends of the Doctor from unseen adventures (Travers in Vervoids and all sorts of people in A Good Man).

NEXT TIME… When you’ve quite finished grinning like a Cheshire Cat, we’ll delve into The Mind of Evil.

The wife, the girlfriend and The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (2010).

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Steel blue cool and looking a million bucks, The Time of Angels has a killer opening sequence. An elegant woman stalks the corridors of a space ship; black evening dress, red heels, dark glasses, mean little pistol in hand. She breaks into a vault and burns a message for the Doctor (Matt Smith) into a steel box. Then she outwits the guards, blows an airlock door and flies smack into the Doctor’s arms. She’s Doctor Who’s own femme fatale, River Song (Alex Kingston).

She’s as wild, witty and adventurous as the Doctor. She’s a spinoff series waiting to happen. Some people long for a female Doctor, but you might say we already have one in River. But there’s one way in which she differs from the Doctor – she clearly signals her interest in sex.

She’s a woman who stuns unwitting guards with a kiss. She makes no secret of her carnal interest in the Doctor. “You, me, handcuffs,” she says to the Doctor at one stage. “Must it always be this way?”. On another occasion, she’ll remark that “I’m quite the screamer. Now there’s a spoiler for you.” And she’s the first companion to refer to the Doctor, regularly, as “hot”.

She’s also a walking, talking plot device. Whenever she turns up, she’s a figure of mystery. The Time of Angels is only her second appearance, and as such, much time is devoted to speculation about who she is, why she was in prison, can she be trusted and so on. It’s one of those stories where the impact it has is reduced on rewatching because we now know the answers to all the questions it goes to such lengths to pose. Like River herself, we benefit from future knowledge. Spoilers, indeed.

The audience’s speculation about River is often given a mouthpiece. In Silence in the Library it was the Doctor who vocalised the questions about her, here it’s Amy (Karen Gillan). “Is she Mrs Doctor from the future?,” she asks the Doctor early on, and later on she’s made up her mind. “You’re so his wife,” she says to River. 

But then Amy has marriage on her mind.

*****

Like a TARDIS squeezed into a modestly sized bedroom, there’s an unexpected closing sequence appended to Flesh and Stone.  Amy has asked to be taken home. So the Doctor obliges and lands smack in her bedroom. There Amy admits that she’s supposed to be getting married in the morning, and in an act of last minute wild oats sowing, takes the opportunity to try to seduce the Doctor. “Have you ever fancied someone you shouldn’t?” Amy asked a Dalek-made android with a Scottish accent and a bomb in its chest in the last story (and it’s not even the weirdest part of that story). Anyway, Amy clearly has and it’s the Doctor. He’s her alternative to marital tedium.

Which is all leading to the point that this story positions the Doctor firmly as an object of desire for his two companions. One sees him as her periodic lover, the other as her clandestine final fling. They join a long line of female companions who since 2005 have held romantic feelings for the Doctor, but they are the first to openly express a desire to take him to bed.

Since 1996, the Doctor has gradually become sexualised. No longer is he the chaste figure of years past. He rarely expresses sexual desire himself (a recent notable exception was in Nightmare in Silver, where he declared Clara to be “a riddle wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight”.) And he quickly deflects Amy’s advances, so we’re left with River to remind us that beneath that alien exterior lies a red blooded man. The Doctor warms up over time. In The Time of Angels he still seems to gently resent River’s presence, but by the time we get to The Impossible Astronaut he’s openly flirting with her. By then, I think he’s quite comfortable, even proud of, his ability to attract women. (And it is exclusively women, and least to date)

It turns out that Amy is right, and River is indeed Mrs Doctor from the future (at least in one sense, although she actually married a lifesize replica of him, staffed by thousands of tiny people – and that’s not even the weirdest part of that story). It’s interesting that the Doctor’s long delayed sexual awakening needs to be couched in terms of marriage. Perhaps that makes it OK? And it does seem like a sexual attraction to River, whereas he seemed to have a more G-rated attraction to Rose. Amazing the difference a few little marriage vows can make. He’s an old-fashioned Time Lord at hearts.

River’s presence ends any speculation about whether the Doctor does it with girls. It even ends any sexual tension of the “will they ever get it on?” variety; she’s Mrs Doctor from the future, so they’ve already got it on. And we didn’t even notice.

It’s an example of how River and the Doctor’s sex life (really the same thing) are kept at a distance from us. She’s not a full-time companion, she comes and goes. So we never get to see what full time married life is like on board the TARDIS. Would they head off to bed after each adventure? Would there be squabbles about snoring and toilet seats left unclosed? It saddens me to say, probably. So while I’d love to see a run of Doctor/River stories, I’m also glad that domestic concerns remain out of view.

*****

The Doctor’s sexual experiences are a recurring theme in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. It was Moffat who introduced dancing as a euphemism for sex in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. (And oops… How does that episode end? Is his relationship with Rose really so chaste?) And in his next story, The Girl in the Fireplace, Reinette takes the Doctor for a quick dance between scenes. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that with Moffat in charge, we’ve seen the Doctor increasing positioned as a sexual being.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does change the show. It does tie the Doctor a little more closely to those carnal human urges above which he’s always seemed to hover. And that Olympian detachment – in the company of many, many spunky ladies – appealed, I’d argue, to a lot of Doctor Who fans. To luckless teenage boys who couldn’t get a girl. To girls – and gays – who wanted to watch a hero who didn’t want to bed his leading lady.

All changed now. In The Time of Angels he has a wife and a girlfriend, the only female characters in the cast, and both want to do the timey-wimey with him. Watch out girls and too bad gays! This guy’s a stud.

In a bow tie.

LINK to: The Curse of Peladon. Three stories in a row, deadly statues.

NEXT TIME… Silly child, silly child! We take desperate measures against a powerful enemy in The Rescue.

America, Amnesia and The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (2011)

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I want to be in America

A few minutes into The Impossible Astronaut, Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill)  have arrived in Middle of Nowhere, Utah, dropped off by an iconic yellow school bus. As the bus drives away, we see the Doctor (lanky Matt Smith). Not leaning nonchalantly against the TARDIS, that blue police box, a little outpost of Britain where e’er it goes. But lying on the bonnet of a bright red Edsel wagon (is it his TARDIS with a working chameleon circuit?), a stetson pulled down over his face.  The message is clear; the Doctor has swapped UK for USA.

This story, New Who‘s series six opener, is the first of two pivotal Matt Smith stories set and partially shot in the US. Both are steeped in Americana. The Angels Take Manhattan features Central Park and a rampaging Statue of Liberty, but also uses the tropes of US film noir so that it feels authentically American. The Impossible Astronaut goes even further. Apart from the breathtaking starkness of the Utah desert (and this story surely has the best location footage of any Doctor Who story), there’s a classic roadside diner, NASA and its space paraphernalia, Area 51 and the monstrous Silence, who echo long rumoured saucer headed alien visitors, familiar from texts as diverse as This Island Earth  and Whitley Strieber’s Communion. And of course the White House and the President.  I’ll come back to them.

The US is a huge market for Doctor Who, the brand as much as the TV show. It seems completely logical that the show should start paying America more attention in its fictional world. I would be very surprised if there aren’t more episodes shot State-side in the future. And that’s a good thing. Courting a new audience or pandering to US broadcasters it may or may not be. But more practically, filming away from Wales is vitally important to save the series ‘filming out’ its locations. It keeps the series looking fresh. After all, how many times can you redress Millennium Stadium or the Temple of Peace?

Series Six is also where overseas viewers got a specially filmed pre credits primer on the program, narrated in character by Karen Gillan. It was odd watching these in Australia, a country which has been broadcasting Doctor Who almost as long as the UK, and whose audience does not really need to have the basics explained to them. But these little intros weren’t designed for us, but for the US.

So in more ways than one, The Impossible Astronaut is where the series starts directly addressing America. And that’s quite a leap when you consider the rather cartoonish way the old series had presented America in the past: the lampooning of The Gunfighters, caricatures like Morton Dill, Bill Filer and Mrs Remington. The old series’ introduction of an American companion (played by a British actress) seemed like a crass attempt to appeal to the fan convention circuit rather than a genuine attempt to recognise a potential new market. And if you think about the string of new series episodes set in the US (Dalek, Daleks in Manhattan, The Impossible Astronaut, A Town Called Mercy), they gradually become more invested in the US; not just stories set there, but stories about there.

But where does it end, worried fans sometimes ask? A US reboot of the series? An American Doctor? Both feasible, but unlikely I think. But what might be possible to garner if you can point to a sizeable US audience, is interest in a Doctor Who movie. That may or may not be the game plan, but a few more episodes set in America couldn’t hurt.

Hail to the chief

Steven Moffat’s favourite TV series is presumably Doctor Who, then Sherlock. Maybe the other way around. Either way, what comes in third?

I reckon there’s a good chance it’s The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s celebrated White House drama which ran for seven series from 1999 to 2006. Moffat mentions it every so often, sometimes in relation to Doctor Who‘s ability to speak to a US audience without losing its fundamental UK trappings. His argument (and it’s a valid one) is that you didn’t have to have a detailed understanding of US politics to enjoy The West Wing.

Fast moving, funny and at times mind bendingly complex, The West Wing is addictive stuff, particularly in its first four seasons where Sorkin was showrunner. And it’s a hallmark of the iconic success of the show, that it’s impossible to leave any TV depiction of life in the White House uncompared to it. Even a science fiction version such as The Impossible Astronaut, because knowing that Moffat is a West Wing fan, he must have been influenced by it. But what can a series about a fictional Presidency, striving for realism, have in common with a fictionalised one with alien monsters?

For a start, Sorkin and Moffat have similar styles; rapid fire dialogue, peppered with jokes. And a recurring habit of not spelling everything out; trusting that the audience will get the joke or reach a conclusion without it being didactically spelt out. But the main similarity is that both The West Wing and The Impossible Astronaut put the President front and centre. In its initial conception, President Bartlet was meant to be only a tangential presence in The West Wing before Martin Sheen’s powerhouse performance pushed the character front and centre. In a similar manner, The Impossible Astronaut features President Nixon heavily, eschewing the approach of The End of Time which kept President Obama on the sidelines.

Nixon (deftly played by Stuart Milligan) adds a note of winking postmodernism to proceedings. History’s judgement of him flavours much of the script, including the Doctor’s instruction to him to tape every call that comes to his office. Nevertheless, Nixon is an almost loveable presence, with Milligan’s knack for mimicry helping sell a number of comic moments. He even gets to travel in the TARDIS, which must be a first for any world leader. But despite the fun that Moffat has with Nixon, you can’t help thinking that if he’d had the chance, it would be Sheen’s President Bartlet stepping through those doors to the tune of ‘Hail to the Chief’. Maybe that’s a crossover which could still happen.

Things I’ve forgotten

The Impossible Astronaut is a thing of beauty; slickly directed by Toby Haynes, and lovingly shot by Stephan Pehrsson. But there are a few details about it which seem to have slipped my mind.

Why, for instance, is Canton’s three month mock hunt of the TARDIS crew necessary? Sure it gives the second episode a brilliant opening, but as the Doctor’s investigations have the President’s blessing, why the need for subterfuge? Why does the Silent in the White House tell Amy to tell the Doctor about his death? If she does, doesn’t this spoil their plan to use River to kill him? And what exactly possessed that imprisoned Silent to say such an ideally convenient sentence as ‘you should kill us all on sight’? Lucky it did though, because the Doctor had already gone to all the trouble of rigging Apollo 11 for its broadcast.

No doubt there were perfectly good reasons for these things but maybe my memory has been edited. Along with how those flipper handed Silents did up their ties.

LINK to The Android Invasion. As someone who isn’t Gary Gillatt pointed out in the DVD review of The Android Invasion, its white suited, helmetted androids are a bit similar to the eponymous Impossible Astronaut.

NEXT TIME: We ride to destiny with Silver Nemesis. We surely do, honey!