Ok, so this time Who took the biscuit. It took the cake. IT TOOK MY WHOLE GODDAMNED SMORGASBORD
Writing, design, score, FX… WHAT HAPPENED?? The whole experience is made so much WORSE because so much of it is already GOOD (namely acting performances and initial premises) but it is made so BAD, like a delicious morsel of cake which we are only served after it passes through Steven Moffat’s digestive system and is served to us as a dollop of shit.
Let’s start with Clara. I’ve already written about how there has been some lazy storytelling with ciphers this season; Clara herself was shown to be one great big cipher, one great big plot resolution disguised as a character.
Who is she? After this episode, the question has not yet been answered and this is unsatisfactory. She is His Impossible Girl? No. That tells us nothing. Nothing about the nature of her character. She is a Nanny. Getting warmer… she perhaps has a nurturing nature. What else? Where was she born? What are her aims? What are her fears? Can she do anything else but make quips and ask questions? What is her essential nature?
This is writing 101. And sure, all companions could be said to have very similar essential natures… they are inquisitive, brash, have wanderlust, have a strong moral sense of what is right and wrong. It is from a character’s essential nature that a story is derived. Joe thinks stealing is wrong. He can’t afford the medicine that will save his baby girl. BAM, instant plot- his essential nature as a moral person is challenged. That’s a story right there. Will he steal the medicine and betray himself, or will he let his daughter die?
In Dr Who, plot is often derived from the Doctor’s alien moral nature versus the human companion who is often appalled at the difference in what is acceptable to them as moral beings. The Doctor is also inspired by this difference and it differentiates him from the other Time Lords. (How often have Sarah or Jamie berated him for seeming inhuman, or reversely even, how often did the Doctor have to challenge Leela’s essential nature and stop her from killing?)
What is Clara’s essential nature? I don’t really know, she appears to be a cookie cutter companion without a solid foundation. Sure, she’s plucky, bright, morally upright… but why? Sarah Jane did it because she wanted to be a good journalist, Rose did it because she wanted to escape her humdrum life (and yes, that is a good reason!) Why does Clara care about humanity? Because she’s a human? Not good enough. Because she is a nanny and cares for children and their welfare? That would do, if only we had even the slightest exploration of the reasons she decided to become a nanny!
Which brings me to the most offensive point: She exists to save the Doctor. She was brought in to the world on a leaf*, lives a thousand different hollow lives to save him. She exists to facilitate his living. (River Song is another female character who exists to facilitate the Doctor’s living). What a revolting idea. She is portrayed with no inner life, no life outside of the Doctor, the emotions she exhibits range from quirky/witty/pleasant to a solitary tear running down her cheek… where is the real person?
It makes me so angry because this has been a very Moffatt trend in female characters… they exist (and die) for the Doctor’s sake, and enable his Cosmic Man Grieving. I’m fucking sick of White Man Grieving on television. There was also the dawning horror afterwards that Clara, in the flashbacks to her involvement with previous doctors, was dressed like previous companions. Is the implication here that Clara is actually all the companions the Doctor has had? I tell you what, it had better bloody not be because not only is that the most egoistic dump that Moffat could take on a television institution, but also counter to the nature of the series itself… the Doctor loves humanity. Not a pre-determined interaction with a cipher-character designed to engineer his protection, but the random, the new, the child born in 5th century China to the old man in the year 3495. He thrives on danger, on the random and unpredictable and the thought that women characters are sacrificing their very natures and existences to facilitate what is characterised as a man-child’s romp through space…
…let’s just say that Sarah Jane would not put up with that bullshit. She was a card carrying member of women’s lib back in the 70’s and it is pretty darn upsetting that in FORTY YEARS things haven’t changed much.
* “carried into the world on a leaf” sounds very beautiful, but it ultimately lacks substance because it’s the show attempting to create it’s own significant lore (“impossible girl”, “leaf girl”) without the history to accompany the lore. Sarah Jane left a legacy because of all the episodes she was in, the fan following over the years, her bright character, the sheer history of it… you can’t create that artificially. Like Lady Gaga trying to write a gay anthem. She’s not the one who gets to decide it!
I’m not even going to touch River Song. I’ve written at length before about how introducing sexuality to the Doctor’s character ruins him completely, about how their supposed “relationship” is extremely unhealthy and disturbing… frankly I disagree with the characterisation of the Doctor as someone who “can’t stand endings” to the point that he would inflict emotional harm on someone (and River as someone who would put up with it because “love”)
(and I hate it so much because Matt is such a superb, fine actor and he makes the material so real, even if the material is just bollocks)
FX: Whoever did that superimposition job with the old footage ought to be ashamed of themselves, and learn a bloody lesson from this year’s Eurovision. IF EUROVISION IS DOING IT BETTER THAN YOU, YOU GOTTA WONDER WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE INDUSTRY
(Honestly, Blake’s 7 looks better than whatever was going on there)
Design: Slightly worse than the FX team. GIANT TOMBSTONE TARDIS? Y’know… sure, I can appreciate the idea of some warped, Evangelion-esque giant decaying world, a fallout of catastrophic proportions heralding the Doctor’s death. They didn’t pull it off. We’ve had far too many catastrophic ‘universe-ending’ type epic stories lately that to pull this off would mean a huuuuge amount of intimate character pieces prior to this, a better build up. As it is, it just looked tacky and also oddly understated. If you’re going to put 40-odd years of history into a design, splicing the occasional clip isn’t going to do it. You need to address everything. ‘TARDIS slightly overgrown with weeds’ is not suitably epic. If they were aiming for ‘decay’, then the electric visualization of the idea of a timestream ruined the effect. Why is the concept of ‘time energy’ always electric like that, anyway? Why can’t it be a pool of mercury? A fuzzy wobble? A black hole? Why is it always so literal?!
Score: Nil points. I didn’t like the orchestral sound from the beginning of Ecclestone’s run, and the soapy climaxes in emotional moments just really don’t work for me. It’s like everything is paint-by-numbers… emotional climax? Sweeping violins! Check! Action scene? Syncopated rhythm and brass! Check! We’ve heard these scores a million times before… they don’t sound alien, they don’t sound new or unusual, they just sound by the book. They don’t add anything to the drama, they just mark what you’re meant to be feeling at any one moment and it’s not working.
So Lil if you hate it all so much why do you watch it?
Apart from sadism and loyalty to a show that was much better 30 years ago… there are some fine elements. Matt is a terrific actor, and Vastra, Jenny & Strax are such a beautiful little trio that I wonder what they’re even doing in the show. The ideas themselves have interesting origins… I love the idea of the horror of knowing your own grave is somewhere out there in time and space, I enjoyed the telepathic conference and Jenny’s lingering spirit. Science fiction is a hotbed of fascinating ideas you won’t get anywhere else! And the concepts can produce some of the simplest, most compelling emotional drama, time travel especially! Some of the ideas recently have been quite interesting but their execution has left so much to be desired. I guess it’s like Clara baking her souffles… all the ingredients are right but they just don’t work.
I know what the problem is, it’s the chef
And now for the 50th it looks like we’re addressing blah blah cosmic guilt blah blah totally not subtle YOU ARE NOT THE DOCTOR, DOCTOR = GOOD, YOU = BAD, I KILLD MENY PEEPLE BECAUWS OF BAD WAR blah blah totally hackneyed destruction of Gallifrey which never should have been approved in the first place, saddling a character with eternal miserable guilt that is totally antithesis to the idea of the show (mischievous yet noble guilt felt at having abandoning the time lords is totally different and quite alright)
Ok, I’m done.