Another Look For My Recorder (Planet of the Dead)

(137 comments)

Roughly speaking, the tagline for Planet of the Dead was
"David Tennant and Michelle Ryan went to Dubai and stood
sexily in front of a London double decker bus we smashed.
It’s April 11th, 2009. Lady Gaga is at number one with “Poker Face,” with Flo Rida and Ke$ha, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift also charting. This feels like yesterday, as is fitting for an era of Doctor Who that is already colliding with the series’ onrushing present. Since the banalities of The Next Doctor, Israel announced a ceasefire in the Gaza War, quickly followed by Hamas doing the same. The President of Guinea-Bissau was assassinated, and the Icelandic economic crash happened. And, a few weeks ago there was a G-20 summit on the subject of the financial crisis in London. Protests during this summit resulted in Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor who suffered a fatal heart attack after a severe police beating administered despite no evidence of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, at the summit a large financial stimulus was agreed upon, and the Queen scolded Silvio Berlusconi. 

While on TV is the much-maligned Planet of the Dead. It seems strange that such a slender and basically toothless little story has attracted such condemnation as one of the worst of the Davies era. Certainly, in the cold, harsh light of the Capaldi era it is difficult to argue seriously that this is the era’s nadir. It is a piece of fluff, certainly, but a basically well-structured bit of fluff that gets its desired jobs done. There’s one big critique, which is the decision to film in Dubai, a location with, to say the least, problematic laws and policies not least of which is the active criminalization of homosexuality. Certainly there’s something to sigh somewhat wearily about in that decision, although, on the other hand, it’s not as though one couldn’t imagine any number of great outraged critiques about the moral obscenities involved in filming in a country that’s formulated a massive surveillance state with cameras on every street corner, or one whose actively imperialistic tendencies are the ruin of hosts of developing economies. Which is to say that while the political regime of Dubai is undoubtedly a nasty piece of work, it’s also low-hanging fruit that encourages a myopic view about how bad foreign places are.

But that’s not the usual critique anyway. The usual critique is just some variation on the idea that the story is “dumb.” This seems positively bizarre, save for the context of its original presentation, as an Easter special and as the only island of Doctor Who between Christmas and the end of the year. What would have survived perfectly fine in the giddy second or third episode slot of The Fires of Pompeii, Tooth and Claw, or The Shakespeare Code instead ended up having to serve as exactly the sort of big, tentpole event it was never designed to be. The episode’s officially sanctioned description was as the last time Tennant’s Doctor got to have fun, but that sits in almost conscious opposition to the notion of “the only Doctor Who you get in an eleven month period.” This is the only special that could have been eliminated entirely. Just move the “knock four times” prophecy over to Dalek Caan and you’ve basically gotten rid of any purpose this special filled other than giving the BBC another hour of Doctor Who to flog. Which has never been an inherently bad reason to make an episode of Doctor Who, but it may very well be a bad reason to spend scads of money flying to Dubai to make a “special” episode that you release as the oasis of Doctor Who in an otherwise barren year. Which is, in the end, the heart of a lot of the complaints. At the time, this was terribly frustrating because it’s one of two episodes of Doctor Who in a sixteen month period, and both of them are fluffy bits of filler. You can do “Doctor Who as huge event television that appears occasionally,” but you can’t do it with the completely and utterly disposable.

There’s little evidence that anyone outside of fandom thought so, however. Ratings were marvelous, the AI figure was great, and the general public appears to have been reasonably happy with this episode. Yes, it was unsatisfying for anyone weird enough to keep track of how long it is until the next episode of Doctor Who (roughly 220 days at time of writing), but people like that are paraphiliacs whose opinions are rightly not to be taken seriously when structuring a television schedule. (Rule of thumb, if 365 episodes of Doctor Who a year would not be wildly too much for you to handle, your opinions on scheduling are suspect.) The aesthetic under which this is a problem is, to be sure, a suspect one.

But equally, there is something slender about this. It is, under the hood, a rewrite of Gareth Roberts’s first New Adventure, The Highest Science, although other than the bus and the presence of the “the 200” joke (which, with a different number, was a major plot point of the novel), even less of this survives than the influence of Roberts and Hickman’s The One Doctor on the previous story. That novel was notable primarily for how it stood out in the New Adventures line at that point. At a time when Doctor Who was focusing increasingly on the Doctor as a figure of mystery and even menace who manipulated vast numbers of events to his advantage, Roberts wrote a novel that was full of warmth and humor and was very consciously aimed as a critique of the usual picture of the character at that time.

That doesn’t really apply here, though. Sure, Tennant’s Doctor is full of standing in the rain looking miserable, but there’s nothing like the move towards a gloomy arch-manipulator that the earliest New Adventures at times risked. A move back towards whimsy and humor isn’t a revolutionary act in 2009 in the same way that it was in 1993. This might be taken to explain why large swaths of the story have been changed from that original version, but the thing is, they haven’t been changed to anything. The story is still basically a romp for the sake of having fun.

If anything, what jumps out about this story is that despite having an entire hour, precious little happens in it. For the third time in just over a year we have the Doctor and a bunch of passengers on a vehicle where everything goes terribly wrong. For the second time, it’s a bus - a fact that gets casually lampshaded. The first time, Davies did a story about the nobility of people. The second, about their monstrosity. Without any further options on that spectrum, we here get a story that’s basically about their disposability. Other than the magical black woman who provides running prophetic commentary, nobody save our companion of the week is a character to speak of. Barclay and Nathan are so utterly interchangeable that you could collapse them into one role, except of course that the black one gets jokes made about how thick he is. Angela doesn’t even have a role in the plot, nor, for that matter, does Lou, who exists mostly to talk to Carmen occasionally. Instead we get a lengthy side plot with insects who get casually killed off the moment they might be required to do more than chitter and allow the Doctor to explain a bit more of the plot, we get the entire Malcolm thing, and we get a lot of excuses to hang Michelle Ryan from wires in ways that flatter her figure. 

The obvious interpretive line here is one of hubris, but we’ve been taking that one for a while now. Yes, this is the program rather embarrassingly deciding that it doesn’t actually need to try, but for one thing, it’s still basically getting away with it, and for another, it didn’t try last episode either. The decision to give us an episode that consists of nothing save for Tennant’s Doctor having fun for the last time is, to be sure, egotistical, but it’s not actually unpleasant as such. It’s just froth - a bit of excitable nonsense that is gone the moment it’s consumed. On the other hand, this does have the effect of turning the final scenes, in which the Doctor’s imminent death is finally teased and built towards, into something almost relieving. One comes to welcome the fact that the Doctor is dying, simply because it at least means the Doctor is doing something.

It’s worth comparing this story to the “last hurrah” stories that other Doctors have gotten, as this is a distinct genre. Many of the Doctors have an adventure towards the end of their run where everybody seems to be aware that they’re doing classic, iconic things for the last time: The Smugglers, The Seeds of Death, The Monster of Peladon, State of Decay, and Frontios spring to mind as stories that are, on some level, aware that the normal order of things is going to break down shortly. These stories vary in quality. Some - The Monster of Peladon most notably - are appalling wrecks that seem mostly to confirm the worst instincts of the eras they represent. Others are suffused with an idiosyncratic melancholy that makes them interesting despite the many ways in which they are retreads - The Seeds of Death and Frontios, most obviously. But what these stories all have in common is that they all make the end of their eras necessary in a sense.

Put another way, there is no other moment in the Russell T Davies era where it is possible to imagine the sheer and unbridled laziness that Planet of the Dead represents. At no other point in the new series’ history has there been the sense that Davies would ever allow a story to be made that exists purely to do what is expected of it. The idea of a story that exists purely to be froth, with no twist whatsoever to it is simply unthinkable. At every previous nadir of the new series, regardless of what you think those nadirs are, there’s at least been a sincere effort to do something interesting. Hate The Doctor’s Daughter or Love and Monsters or 42 as much as you like, but all of them are at least trying to do something new and to be special and exciting.

Which is to say that Planet of the Dead is a story that only makes sense in the very context in which it disappointed - as a story that exists in this space after the Tennant era has ended but before it’s gone off the air. It is an episode that takes all of its power from the fact that Tennant’s Doctor is a dead man walking. In truth, it’s essentially the sort of episode you’d do early in a Doctor’s run. It’s not unlike Tooth and Claw or New Earth - episodes that have little going on beyond “you’ve not seen this particular Doctor do the usual stuff yet!” Which is important for introducing a character, but, equally, it’s important for his exit. In essence, Planet of the Dead is the story that says what the Tennant era was, as opposed to what the remaining two stories will be, which is actually saying goodbye to all of that.

The thing is that this inverts the Tooth and Claw or New Earth paradigm. Where those headlined themselves with some high concept bit of “something we’ve never done before,” Planet of the Dead ultimately doesn’t. The Dubai filming? The bus? The swarm of CGI metal manta rays? None of this is in this story for any reason in particular. It’s just a jumble of big ticket items put together for the sake of having a story. The entire point is that you have seen Doctor Who do all of this before, albeit with a handful of changes. This story ends up turning the Russell T Davies era into Season Five of the classic series - suddenly everything before feels like it’s been the same, no matter how much it didn’t feel that way at the time. 

The trouble, though, is that what the Tennant era was appears to be froth and empty calories - an insubstantial flicker of spectacle whose only real appeal is that it weds together things other shows don’t into particularly strange and alluring images. Which is, perhaps, the real problem that can be raised with the Davies era in general: a handful of genuinely meritorious exceptions aside, it is frustratingly timid. Yes, it succeeded in breaking Doctor Who out to a massive new audience, but it seemed at times terrified into impotence at the prospect of losing that audience. On the occasions where it did go far enough to actually alienate a few people - Love and Monsters or Aliens of London spring to mind - it retreated quickly and seemed to promise to never be so daring again. Davies would occasionally throw a brave punch or embrace the experimental, but more often he was populist to a fault. Sure, the show was massive, but it often seemed as though it was willing to hold onto that massive popularity at any cost. Which mostly means that it tried the same basic things that had worked before, without enough changes to constitute a risk.

It’s easy to make too much of that criticism. Davies made tremendously successful popular entertainment and made it so that it’s unthinkable that Doctor Who will be cancelled any time soon. But for a program we have, throughout this project, valued for its ability to inject weirdness into the mainstream culture, it is worth being at least a little bit frustrated in how little Davies seemed interested in exploring that weirdness. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Planet of the Dead is how a story about an aristocratic cat burglar, a flying bus, a psychic, a planet full of deadly metal manta rays, and some talking flies can be so utterly straightforward. 


But it is. Everything is played in the most predictable manner possible. Given the chance to make four final statements, Davies chose to use one of them with the safest and most banal story imaginable. Sure, it’s fun, and as advertised, Tennant’s Doctor gets his last hurrah of simple pleasures. That’s not a problem as such. But it’s nothing to celebrate either. The major effect of Planet of the Dead is that when you’re done watching it, it’s an hour later than when you started. 

Comments

Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

Very much agree with much of what you wrote, especially how this is effectively New Earth without the feeling of newness. It's interesting in the BoxSet Age to watch the five specials together as they have the shape of a 13 episode series with a lot of viewing time removed. Planet of the Dead is pretty well a series premiere episode: this is Doctor Who, and this is what it can do, and here are hints of what is to follow. Similarly, The Next Doctor is the (by now) traditional Christmas romp with a dark undercurrent; Waters of Mars is the meaty mid series story that will probably win a Hugo Award; and End of Time is the two part all singing all dancing finale.

In this respect, Planet of the Dead works, and more than that, it is understandable why the production team believes it would work. As you say, it's the isolation of the story that makes it disappointing. It is interesting that when faced with a similar problem of an actor at the end of his contract and potentially large gaps between transmission, Moffat ended up with splitting a series into two with separate story arcs, and then finishing on two specials.

It also makes Nightmare In Silver the Smith era's Planet of the Dead (/Smugglers/Seeds of Death/Monster of Peladon/State of Decay/Frontios) but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

the real problem that can be raised with the Davies era in general: a handful of genuinely meritorious exceptions aside, it is frustratingly timid.

I'd say that, within the context of Doctor who you may have a point (although I'd also say that the concentration of family and character over plot would counteract this idea) but in the context of British television production in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century Doctor Who was anything but timid: even Planet of the Dead, for all it's familiarity within Doctor Who was unlike anything else appearing on television at that time. Indeed, the contemporary tv show it most resembled (Primeval) was broadcast opposite and if both were watched side by side it showed which was lacking.

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"It also makes Nightmare In Silver the Smith era's Planet of the Dead (/Smugglers/Seeds of Death/Monster of Peladon/State of Decay/Frontios) but we're getting ahead of ourselves"

I'd have gone with "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" personally.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

has attracted such condemnation as one of the worst of the Davies era

I wasn't aware of that; it's one of my favourites, actually.

And I think this episode is a little less run-of-the-mill than you imply. For one thing, it has a pretty huge and distinctive moment: a potential companion who is clearly worthy (I mean, hell, she's a cross between River Song and Catwoman -- what more could one ask?) but who nevertheless doesn't become a companion, not because she turns him down (like Grace Holloway) and not because she dies (like Astrid Peth or Reinette) but because he rejects her -- not for her flaws but because of his own fears.

That's unusual, and a sign of how badly he's been affected by Donna's fate. This connects it very much to the "not any more" from the previous episode and the fall into hubris in the next. It's one thing for him to tell Jackson Lake he's decided against having any more companions, and another to see him actually reject an ideal one when offered. No one-word test like he gives Clara; no test or chance of any kind; just "No." That's a devastating scene.

Roughly speaking, the tagline for Planet of the Dead was "David Tennant and Michelle Ryan went to Dubai and stood sexily in front of a London double decker bus we smashed."

Well, sure; what better excuse for an episode could one demand?

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

You can do “Doctor Who as huge event television that appears occasionally,” but you can’t do it with the completely and utterly disposable.

I suspect you'll contradict yourself when you get to the two most recently aired specials.

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gatchamandave 3 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, Dr Sandifer.I think you've missed the elephant in the room as to why this episode was so disliked on initial broadcast, and that's the sheer dislikeablity of, to quote my Falsetto Voiced Sock Puppet fellow Scots, Lady Katherine d'Eastenders.

As your conceptualization of the historical background introduction makes clear, the finances of the Capitalist world are in meltdown and what are we presented with as a potential new companion ?

A woman who has turned to cat burglary because all "Daddy's" money has been wiped out in The Crash. No two ways about it, this is a lady who, with her riches gone, has decided to steal from museums, sell to private collectors, and give to...herself. So, like all the other rich fat cats who are seeing the money evaporate, she's decided the Public will pay so she can continue to live in the manner to which she has become accustomed."Hello, I'm Lady Catherine - five guineas - pleased to meet you - ten guineas - I'll be your companion tonight - fifteen guineas...".This is not Selina Kyle, turning to cat burglary as a better alternative for her and Holly's gutter boundaried life, this is a woman of entitlement enacting her own vision of Droit de Signeur ( ooh, I bet I spelled that incorrectly ).

Nor is she a very good cat burglar - certainly she makes no effort to ensureher accomplices escape. So she's no Modesty Blaise either.

As for her character arc...pffft...it is to laugh. At the end not only does she escape the long, rightful arm of the law but she does so in a flying bus. Handy next time she decides to loot the British Museum.

And we're supposed to cheer for this Murray Gold certainly seems to think so.

It jars, Phillip, that the show, at a time when we were - and to no small extent still are - struggling to get by is siding with the sort of people who at the very least, don't see it as their problem, let alone fault. If she'd had a Flambeau style moment of realisation that would have been enough.

But she doesn't. Off the amoral so-and-so flies. Off to loot and spend.

Let's hope no one ever really gets in her way..

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think Matt Smith has a farewell business as usual episode. Whatever the flaws of Nightmare in Silver, it's not business as usual for Smith's era. It's an event episode, with event monsters and an event writer; it's trying something ambitious; it's adding two new travellers with the Doctor to the mix. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, again whatever it's flaws (personally I loved it) is also an event. Crimson Horror is a Doctor/companion-lite episode until half way through.
Probably the episode that best fits the description is A Town Called Mercy.

Not necessarily a good thing: it occurs to me that the wish to showcase wacky Matt Smith comedy business for the last time would explain some of the weaker bits of Time of the Doctor.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 9 months ago

I was hoping someone would say this better than I would have. Thank you.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

What is amazing is how Planet of the Dead manages to get everything so spectacularly wrong and still not be the worst episode of the season. It manages to make Michelle Ryan in a leather cat-suit not sexy but just slightly annoying, fill a London bus with forgettable and disposable characters (seriously, you name the characters but I couldn't visualise any of them.), damage said bus in transit and only half-heartedly incorporate that damage into the plot, make the spectacular Dubai desert look not only boring but foreground it by showing hot and sweaty actors looking like they regret accepting the bribe of a foreign shoot jolly, turn the idea of a voracious flying manta ray swarm into a CGI effect that shouts CGI effect and, most disastrously, give Moffat some of his worst ideas which he will proceed to flog to death during the next three seasons.

Sassy, slightly criminal femme fatale swapping screwball comedy dialogue with the Doctor? Check. 'Wacky' mad professor with a physical comedy schtick spouting childish technobabble? Check. (Yes I do believe Malcolm was the prototype for the Eleventh Doctor) Dubiously explained cracks in the Space-Time continuum? Check. Unsubstantiated 'prophecies' trotted out by magical ethnic people? Check.

This last being the most irritating of Moffat's tropes. I love the Matt Smith era, I love Matt Smith's portrayal of the role, I love Moffat's 'fairytale' take on the narrative but I hated all those prophecies, sing-song nursery rhyme predictions and fortune cookie portents of doom that were scattered through the series. In a narrative about Time-Travel how can pre-destination be a factor? Well that would be a good question for a Doctor Who writer to tackle, unfortunately Moffat never did so. Rather he uses 'psychic prophecy' merely as a kind of 'Next...' or 'Coming Soon' trailer. Admittedly RTD started it with the Ood and the 'Magical Lady of Colour' in this episode but Moffat picked up that crystal ball and ran with it right to the end of Eleven's tenure. 'Silence will fall' the 'Tick tock goes the clock' Demon's Run/Good Man goes to war rhyme, the 'First Question, hidden in plain sight' omen etc. etc. No explanation as to where or how these 'prophecies' originate, just an "ooh there's a mystical prophecy! It must come true!" Why? And people complain about potions!

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Daniel Tessier 3 years, 9 months ago

I reviewed this episode rather favourably after broadcast. Now, it is one I can enjoy but can also happily skip if I'm doing a Tennant rundown. It is, as you say, fluff. Perfectly good fun, but nothing special, which is rather a problem for a special. As posters above have said, it would have gone down far better with fandom had it aired as part of a regular season.

I'm no fan of Lady Christina, whose characterisation is particularly lazy. Then again, I do like Malcolm, and I normally can't stand Lee Evans, so what do I know?

As for the choice to film in Dubai; the extent of the UAE's hateful political regime was only beginning to get the media coverage it required in the west. Now it is well known that Dubai is a state that, among other things, imprisoned women for 'allowing' themselves to be raped. It is utterly repugnant, and I disapprove if anyone travelling there for the purposs of tourism, which supports and tacitly approves of this treatment. I would be appalled if the BBC filmed DW there again. At the time, though, we weren't so well-informed.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Does Frontios really count as a last hurrah story? It's the last story that doesn't say goodbye to a companion / the Doctor. But what in the Davison era is it retreading? It's a base under siege, but it's not as if there's a genre of Davison-era base under siege. The two other bases under siege of the Davison-era are Kinda and Warriors of the Deep - I defy anyone to define traits those two have in common. (Apart from shoddy giant reptiles.)

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Most of the mystical prophecies you cite are predestination paradoxes. That is, they originate with people for whom the event prophecied is in the past in their personal timeline.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

My own thoughts about Planet of the Dead are of a type with the way I think about the Davies era generally: skipping too fast over what an era could be. This episode is built like a season premiere: introduce a new companion (the hypocritical-to-the-times Lady Christina), the basic framework of her relationship with the Doctor (rogue-ish flirtatious thief who periodically aggressively tries to corral him into bed), have a wacky adventure where the most important narrative feature is establishing that relationship. Then the shock comes when, at the end of this episode that's structured like a typical Davies series premiere, the Doctor shuts it down. The fifth full season of the Tennant era, 13 episodes of his adventures with Christina, would have begun here.

I find the Davies era in general filled with these narrative blocks. Eccleston regenerates after a single year where the Adam Mitchell betrayal plots and the Eccleston-Rose-Jack team are condensed into five episodes instead of a whole second Eccleston season (which would have been awesome). Adam's betrayal would have made a great first season finale, with a slow build over the second half of the season showing his increasingly ethically dubious behaviour until one climactic moment that's too much to handle. Then The Empty Child could have been a two-part season premiere introducing a brilliant TARDIS team, Eccleston-Rose-Jack for the whole second season, where the confrontation with the Daleks that regenerates the Doctor and transforms Jack comes at the end of that year. The Davies era has all these spaces that the imagination can expand, which were cut away due to production circumstances beyond their control, or because Davies decided on another narrative.

I sometimes wonder how the Tennant-Penny season would have gone.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

@David Anderson. I'm not sure that's the case. Is there evidence to support that? It's not the content of the prophecies I object to but rather the nature of their 'mystical' provenance. As I said - '...how can pre-destination be a factor? Well that would be a good question for a Doctor Who writer to tackle, unfortunately Moffat never did so' There's a difference between a character saying "I've seen your future and this is what happens" and perhaps inadvertantly creating that future, as in The Day of the Daleks or Moffat's own Blink but the examples I quote are, by their grammatical syntax, ("Silence will fall", "When a Good Man goes to War", "He will knock four times" etc.) specifically presented as magical prophecies and, more disturbingly, often delivered by cliched priests or priestesses, ethnic minority characters, or if space alien in origin, representing some kind of oppressed 'otherness' - Dorium's blue skinned dodgy trader, the Ood's status as a noble slave race etc. If there had been some exploration of the 'predestination paradox' as prophecy that would be a different thing but Moffat and, to be fair, RTD's angle is often just to give the Doctor some sing-song hint which could mean anything and work out the details later (if at all).

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dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 9 months ago

Well if nothing else, at least this episode did give us the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre version.

"He will knock three times..... on the ceiling if you want me. Twice on the pipe if the answer is no."

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Thomas Lawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

This is the story of the Tennant Specials which most suffers from not having a regular companion in it. You're right to identify the inconsequential nature of the story s it's biggest flaw, given the context of Tennant's departure and it being the only story for months either side. And the difficulty with having a one-shot companion is they're almost definitionally inconsequential. That leaves the Doctor himself as the only character to be meaningfully impacted by events, but prophecy aside this is an exercise in wheel-spinning for him too.

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

Will he? Surely the argument in defense of the "Day of the Doctor" and "Time of the Doctor" would be that they are not disposable at all.

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Seth Aaron Hershman 3 years, 9 months ago

...are you honestly implying that as little happens in either the 50th or the Christmas special as happens here? I mean, sure, whether you like them is subjective, but you can hardly argue that their plots are as flat as just sitting on a bus doing nothing for half an hour.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 9 months ago

Phil presents a wonderful essay, and then you, Adam, present even more good stuff - still, at least Planet of the Dead has allowed both of your texts to happen. I love your "what if" / expansion idea, and I agree on the most part. I also wonder what it'd be like if RTD was more like Moff is now - a little more experimental, at least testing different series structures, juggling multiple arcs and stories at a time. Because whilst I'm not a fan of it (not much, some of it's excellent though), I feel Moff's been a lot more risky and inventive in this sense. RTD, I feel, sometimes played it safe - the companion revolving door swung at the end of each series, there'd be a two-part finale, it was formulaic (in the sense that ep1 did present day, ep2 and ep3 then did past/future), the series structure never really changed.

I like that, I do. It's successful and it's nice to know, each year, what you're getting. The table is set out, but the food/the content will be the different and exciting part. But I think, also, if Russell had tried to do a "Moff" and play with structure and stuff more, he could've been in some trouble. After all, RTD had to reinvent the show and build up the blocks. Only come Series 4, Series 5 can those blocks be moved around, removed, deleted, altered, and only come Series 4/5 can risks really be taken because the show's embedded in and everyone's watching it.

I'd love to see Russell do another series now, after the Moff era, just to see what he'd do. Would he 'revert' to his old formula or would he be that bit more daring?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

I quite like "Planet of the Dead" but it's always gives me the same feeling you get when you watch an old TV programme scaled up to 1080 on a modern TV. It looks like it's been blown up bigger than it deserves to be, both physically and figuratively.

While "Blink" looks like a Special that's been condensed down into ordinary episode size.

"Waters of Mars" on the other hand feels "just right".

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Dr. Happypants 3 years, 9 months ago

...And the poetic, mystical prophecies in the Moffat era all turn out to be misleading in the end, garbled or misinterpreted messages from time travelers falling into the Destiny Trap. "Silence will fall" isn't even a prophecy at all, it's a slogan! After "Time of the Doctor" I thought it was pretty clear that Moffat was subverting the whole concepts of prophecies and portents using time travel.

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Allyn Gibson 3 years, 9 months ago

This is the story of the Tennant Specials which most suffers from not having a regular companion in it.

Whereas I think "The Waters of Mars" is the one that suffers the most from not have a regular companion. :)

My problem with "The Waters of Mars" is that there's no reason for the Doctor to get involved with events at Bowie Base One, and there's no reason for him to decide to change history. Adelaide Brooke and her crew are mildly interesting, and maybe a little better developed than the "base under siege" norm, but they don't provide the personal spark for the Doctor's fall to "Time Lord Victorious." It has always seemed to me that the reason the Doctor marches out across the Martian desert then turns around was due more to the millions of children screaming at the television, "Don't let them die, Doctor!" than anything intrinsic to the story.

Had the Doctor arrived with a companion (perhaps Lady Christina?) and she had become infected with the water, that would have provided the necessary spark for the Doctor's fall. The Doctor would have said, "I couldn't save Christina, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let these people die." The Doctor's fall wouldn't have been as arbitrary as it played out in the existing episode.

But that assumes there was a long-term plan for the specials year, and as the second edition of The Writer's Tale makes clear, there wasn't, which is why the specials don't cohere in terms of theme or characterization. (And while Philip says that "Planet of the Dead" is the disposable special, it was "The Waters of Mars" that was always on the bubble in terms of production.)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think he was subverting anything; I think he just got to the end of Matt's tenure, decided he didn't want to carry that baggage forward with Capaldi, and therefore ditched it all by having everything turn out to be irrelevant.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

"Day of the Doctor" and "Time of the Doctor" are wonderful. Both of them have significant amounts going on if you're willing to engage with them. "Planet of the Dead" is forgettable fluff. I think Jane might be able to come up with some interesting things to say about it but that's about it. Doctor Sandifer hits the nail on the head here.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 9 months ago

I think it's pretty clear at the end of "A Good Man Goes To War" that "Silence will fall" is not a prophecy, it's a delaration of intent. The prophecy, if prophecy there be, is that silence won't fall.

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Galadriel 3 years, 9 months ago

When I watched this episode, I felt she was too greedy and too much of an adrenaline junkie to last long if she traveled with the Doctor. She'd eventually take an unnecessary risk and die from it. And to be honest, that wouldn't upset me too much.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I think Dr. HappyPants and Daibhid C have it here. Pretty quickly it becomes apparent that the whole "Silence Will Fall" thing is only half understood by the Doctor (and by extension) the audience.

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Galadriel 3 years, 9 months ago

Some of the "prophecies" you cited were more along the lines of arch words, such as 'Bad Wolf," 'Torchwood," and 'Vote Saxon" for series 1-3. The nursery rhyme was only used in Night Terrors, the end of Closing Time, and The Wedding of River Song--my impression was that it was a garbled memory of River's actions, not a prophecy.

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

A lot of the problems in the Moffat Era era stories extend from poor communication - whether it's the companions, the monsters or the Doctor himself.

It makes thematic sense that all the "prophecies" that are involved are garbled.

They're not prophecies anyway. They're stories: stories from the future. They detail individual perceptions of events, not the events themselves.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

A lot of the problems in the Moffat Era era stories extend from poor communication

I wonder if this has anything to do with Moffat's experience as a sitcom writer, given that "Problem caused by poor communication" is basically the plot of about 96% of all sitcom episodes

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Chicanery 3 years, 9 months ago

The 50th Anniversary special which revealed new wrinkles to the Doctor Who mythos, was broadcast live across the world in cinemas, and creates a new status quo for Doctor Who is insubstantial? You may not have enjoyed it, but it is far from that. There's a good 10k words Dr. Sandifer could write about the context and paratext of it alone.

And Time of the Doctor is a regeneration story all about the core of the Doctor's character, i.e. the man who ran away. It's nonsense to say it's insubstantial. I didn't enjoy it, but it was dense.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

And yet I submit that it is inconsequential. It is primarily a coda to an era of the show which did not exist: the era of the War Doctor. It trades on his pain, on how he broke the oath by entangling himself in the Time War, but fails to actually show us any of this (I have seen more to convince me that Matt Smith's Doctor is an oath-breaking Warrior who has broken the promise of his name in desperate times by taking up arms than I have of John Hurt's Not-Doctor-But-I'm-The-Only-One-Who-Makes-This-Distinction). It treats the destruction of Gallifrey as though it was a major revelation, when the fact that the Doctor destroyed his home planet was revealed back in 'Dalek', and the fact that it was a deliberate act was revealed no later than 'The End of Time'. It goes on to dismiss all the talk from The End of Time and even Night of the Doctor about how war had changed the Time Lords and made them little-to-no-better than the Daleks and perhaps even a greater threat as it depicts the people of Gallifrey as frightened civilians and a war council with little interest beyond defending their home -- Rassilon and the High Council are dismissed in the course of a single sentence. It ends with what looks like an attempt to set up a new and really cliche plot arc about the Doctor's meandering quest to find his lost home, only for the very next episode to dismiss that as well.

And Time of the Doctor is broad, not dense. It encircles a large and dense story, but it does not actually tell it: there's a lot of distance between the beginning and the end, but no actual journey. Moffat doesn't do character development: he just has a character go away, and then come back later having undergone a bunch of character development off-screen, and this is the third time he's done that with this Doctor. Moreover, Time of the Doctor and Day of the Doctor are all about screaming "Nope! Doesn't matter!" The Doctor's ABSOLUTELY INEVITABLE INESCAPABLE fate at Trenzalore? Nope! Doensn't Matter! Trivially solved by Clara asking the Time Lords to fix it for him. The ABSOLUTELY INEVITABLE INESCAPABLE regeneration limit? Nope! Doesn't Matter! Trivially solved by Clara asking the Time Lords to fix it for him. The HUGE INESCAPABLE THREAT of the Silence who have determined that THE QUESTION must never be asked? Nope! Doesn't matter! They were just a radicalized faction of the Doctor's allies. The ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER CHOICE IN THE NAME OF PEACE AND SANITY destruction the War Doctor wrought to end the war? Nope! Doesn't matter! Trivially solved using a montage of photoshopped stock footage! Last season's cliffhanger where the Doctor had jumped up his own crack even as River insisted that there would be ABSOLUTELY NO WAY EVER NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T DO THIS he'd ever be able to come back? Nope! So unimportant we won't even bother addressing it!
(cont'd)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

(cont'd from above)

You want to say that Matt Smith's Doctor goes from a man who Can't Sit Still For The Life of Him to the Man Who Stayed? No argument. That sounds like an awesome character arc.

Only there's no "arc". In 'The Power of Three', he's still the Boy Who Can't Sit Still. Two episodes later, he's retired to his cloud and sworn never to go anywhere again. That change happens entirely off-screen. And if you don't accept that he's made the transition by The Snowmen, okay, but there's nothing between The Bells of St. John and The Name of the Doctor that shows this process either. No; it happens in a montage during Time of the Doctor. There's no arc. He never grows or changes; rather, we see him undergo essentially no character growth from The Eleventh Hour through The God Complex, then when we next see him in Closing Time, he seems to have accepted his fate and you might view this as a new phase for the character, though again, there's no process here; he just turns up Older And Wiser all of a sudden. Then no more character growth through Time of the Angels (and the minisodes indicate that even those events were not the trigger for his next transformation), then he's lost much of his youthful impatience in The Snowmen, a big change accompanied by a new TARDIS interior and a new wardrobe, then nothing at all up through Time of the Doctor, where, basically between him ditching Clara the first time and her return, without the need to actually show us anything, he turns into The Man Who Stayed.

Everything about these last two specials (This is also somewhat true of The Name of the Doctor, but it is only clear in retrospect) seem to me to build inescapably to the conclusion "Don't worry about it. You're not here for stories and resolutions and character growth. You're here for little emotionally manipulative set-pieces and to cheer at spectacle." And the spectacle isn't even all that great -- the HUGE WAR OF ALL TEH EVILZ VERSUS TEH DOCTOR feels like it's screaming "I'm EPIC, damnit!" while actually being downright claustrophobic

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 9 months ago

Odd as it sounds, you're making me wish the Doctor had taken her on as a companion. Why give an increasingly hubristic Doctor the chance to say "yes you're unsympathetic and flawed in all the wrong ways, but you're fun and totally impressed by me" and not use it?

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 9 months ago

Until reading this post, all I remembered about this story was that it thoroughly and totally put the lie to RTD's claim that audiences care about humans as opposed to aliens from the planet Zog. The Tritovores were far more sympathetic and memorable than anyone on that bus and I'm still annoyed neither of them survived.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 9 months ago

I seem to recall that all the sing-song prophecies were done as a kind of voice-over to the action but were not done within the context of the scenes themselves. In other words, we don't see someone actually singing "River kills The Doctor" in the scene, we just hear some voice singing it as the episode closes down. I took this to mean that these were nursery rhymes from thousands (if not millions) of years in the future that are only vaguely connected to what actually happened.

Consider The Pandorica. When River first mentions it (in show) to The Doctor he says that it is just a myth. This implies that it is a story that The Doctor has heard many times over during his travels, just never on screen during the show itself.

Demons Run.

Trenzalore.

All of these things are things that The Doctor has heard whispers of over they years, but it is only at the time those places become relevant to the story that they are mentioned in the story. But they are mentioned as if they have been around for a long time.

I think this is the brilliance of some of Moffat's long term thinking on the show. If you are telling the story of a time traveller who has literally been everywhere from the beginning of time to the end of time then he is going to leave a lot of stories in his wake that he will hear rumours of long before he encounters them. Moffat is one of the few writers on Doctor Who who has as fully explored the consequences as we have seen.

But them I'm a sucker for that kind of story telling. Others may not like it. Oh well.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 9 months ago

I think it is just generally hard to imagine what it would be like to walk with the sound of dying people screaming in your ear. The Doctor has heard this one to many times and "Waters of Mars" is the moment when he decides he can't take it anymore.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps the review is meant to hew to the perceived faults of the episode -- that is, it's not really trying to delve too deep.

Again, I'm intrigued that we get foreshadowing into the next era -- because D'Souza is certainly a River Songish character, and as such becomes a metaphor for the underlying insecurities of the Doctor himself. Given her less savory aspects (privileged, initially unprincipled, thief) she's practically -- dare I say it? -- a monster. And this is very much the function of monsters in the post-Buffy era. They provide insight into the characters' psychologies.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I think "The Waters of Mars" is MUCH better for being motivated by the plight of a group of people -- "historical figures" in a sense that companions generally aren't -- than it would be if motivated by a companion. We've seen the latter time after time, and it makes the Doctor seem a lot less noble if he's only ever moved by the plight of his quasi-girlfriends. I think that, by the time he decides to act, it feels plenty personal, at least to me.

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gatchamandave 3 years, 9 months ago

Upon thinking further I tend to the possibility that the problem for the Last D'Souza is that she has, alas for her, bumped into the wrong iconic British hero.

She's written, and is played by Michelle Ryan down to even the body language, as The Good Girl Who's Gone To The Bad Until She Gets A Good Seeing To By The Right Man. Or as Broccoli and Saltzman memorably put it to Roald Dahl " Bond Girl no 3"

And given that The Big Film for Easter in the UK is either You Only Live Twice or Octopussy might go some way to explaining why RTD might think she would work.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

Lady Christina reminds me of no one so much as catburglar ordinaire Tabby "T.C." Fellowes from the FASA role-playing game. It seems unlikely that Roberts would have been aware of her, but the coincidence pleases me.

I'm perfectly comfortable with the "enjoyable fluff" assessment of this. I'd agree that, spliced into an ordinary season, it would have been quite comfortable; we'll be getting to some far lower points in the Moffat era.

I think Malcolm is the part of this that grates the most. He stays just this side of unbearable, but only just. In a show where people who adore the Doctor are few and far between, it would have been a fun surprise to run into a superfan within UNIT. But since people generally fall over themselves to lick the Tenth Doctor's boots, either immediately or after a brief charm session (thank you for existing, "Midnight"), Malcolm is just one more embarrassingly effusive drip in a long grating line.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 9 months ago

What is so interesting about Adam's ideas of how the early RTD seasons should go is so... right, that it takes a great deal of imagination on my part to realize that it DIDN'T go that way. It was set up so well for that. It seems that i simply must have forgotten some episodes along the way since 2005.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

She's yet another parallel to the Doctor, actually. Instead of a planet of Lords she comes from a family of them, and though she's run away from them and is now committing crimes against their laws in a stolen vehicle, she's still a bit of a patrician in appearance, demeanor, and approach.

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Ed Azad 3 years, 9 months ago

This, to my mind, confirms that Tennant was the most meta Doctor yet. So much of his tics and mannerisms, the situations he found himself in (surrounded by fawning companions and acolytes across the globe), his quasi-heel turn in "Waters of Mars", even his reputation for "vanity" amongst later Doctors... all of them reactions and counter-reactions to Tennant's real life popularity at the time.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 9 months ago

I think you're conflating not liking Day/Time with them being disposable. Let's look as objectively as possible at what happens in each of these three stories (spoiler warning, obviously):

- Planet of the Dead - the Doctor and a jewel thief are on a bus in the desert, and they have to save all the passengers before time runs out and the world is destroyed.

- Day of the Doctor - the Doctor teams up with two of his past selves and makes the decision to un-destroy his home planet, which has been destroyed for 7 seasons.

- Time of the Doctor - the Doctor spends hundreds of years defending a planet while aging to death before being granted a new regeneration cycle and changing into a different person.

I accept and understand the fact that you dislike both of Matt Smith's final specials, but saying that they're insignificant fluff just isn't true.

"It treats the destruction of Gallifrey as though it was a major revelation, when the fact that the Doctor destroyed his home planet was revealed back in 'Dalek', and the fact that it was a deliberate act was revealed no later than 'The End of Time'."

What? It certainly treats showing the Time War as a major revelation, as we've never seen it before, but it doesn't treat the fact of its existence as a revelation. The revelation in the episode is that the Doctor chooses NOT to destroy Gallifrey.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

It's not a Coda to an era that didn't exist; it's a Coda to the era of Doctor Who defined by the Time War. It doesn’t treat the actual act of destroying the planet as revelatory; it doesn't dismiss that some of the Time Lords are monstrous; just that it would be wrong to kill 4-Billion Children. It separates the sins of the High Council from the people they rule. It gives the show a new tack on Gallifrey, which gives us a new spring board to tell stories.
In terms of “Time of the Doctor”…you didn’t actually think that the Doctor was going to die there? Just as no one thought the Doctor would die at Lake Silencio. Just as no one thought that Doctor Who would actually end at 13 regenerations as long as the show was still popular. The point of the exercise is seeing how our protagonists solve the problem. This has been a thread on this blog since the Hartnell era. These big threats are set up so we can see if we figure them out the same way as the writers. Given that assumption of course many solutions are going to seem trivial. Of course that’s going to hit an awful lot of episodes pretty hard. The time stream business in “Name of the Doctor” is just to get us to the reveal of John Hurt; we don’t need to see it resolve because we’re not missing anything other than “another trivial resolution”.
Further time of the Doctor isn’t about the changes in the Doctor through his eyes. It’s about watching a loved one grow old and die. It resonated with me as I watch my parents and grandparents age, becoming less vital and settling. I imagine for a lot of fans of the series that started in the past 9 years, there was a lot of resonance. The point is this very human story, painted against the back drop of this massive war. The Cybermen, Sontaaran’s, even the Daleks…of course it’s screaming that it’s epic. What possible weight could something as pointless as a naff sci-fi war have against the story of someone’s life?
Ross, you complain that “Day of the Doctor” sets up a clichéd plot, and then that it does not follow through on that plot that you don’t want to see. Doesn’t it strike you how absurd that is?

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"I wonder if this has anything to do with Moffat's experience as a sitcom writer, given that "Problem caused by poor communication" is basically the plot of about 96% of all sitcom episodes"

Probably - but of course, the difference between comedy and drama is a matter of Time. ;)

I mean, it's not like Amy and Rory's marriage problems are played for comedy, eh?

That said, it's telling that one of the key episodes in Moffat's arc is played as an Absurdest Farce than drama (and then promptly criticized by online fans because it forgoes drama in favour of farce!)

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"The point is this very human story, painted against the back drop of this massive war. The Cybermen, Sontaaran’s, even the Daleks…of course it’s screaming that it’s epic. What possible weight could something as pointless as a naff sci-fi war have against the story of someone’s life?"

What I like about the Time of the Doctor is that is uses that uniquely Doctor Who technique of telling the story of a thousand year long fight to the death mostly from the point of view of someone who wasn't even there.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

That's why I consider the Eccleston year to be the most alchemical (if I can appropriate that concept a little bit from Phil's usage into my own) of the Davies era. It was an absolute gamble, no one knew how any of it would turn out, the production of the entire season was teetering on the edge of disaster, yet it formed the basis of Doctor Who conquering the world. What's more, there's so much potential to spin just the events of that single season into years worth of an Eccleston era. I could also see shades of that kind of potential in the first year of the Tennant era (particularly if the Tennant-Rose-Mickey team had lasted all the rest of the season, and we had deep and sticky soap opera character tension between the three of them, as they're essentially a love triangle).

This is why I think Davies intended more than simply spinning his wheels on Planet of the Dead. This is the ersatz season premiere for the Tennant-Christina year. All the beats of a standard Davies season premiere are there, particularly beginning the story from the perspective of the female companion. We see a day in the life of Christina just as we did with Rose in her eponymous episode, Martha in Smith and Jones, and Donna in Partners in Crime. The Tennant-Christina season itself would have been an absolute hoot: a companion with the skills of a thief and the ego of a minor royal travelling around the universe with the Doctor. He would barely have been able to control her. And it would have slammed into the perfect tragedy when Christina's risk-addicted behaviour got the better of her in the season finale.

But Tennant refuses her request to travel with him. This is how Davies signals the special nature of the Specials season, that the Doctor is putting walls around himself that he ordinarily wouldn't. And as we saw from the 50th Anniversary show, a Doctor without a companion (or at least a friend) is a Doctor no more.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

@Adam Riggio.

Why don't these blog comments come with a Thumbs-Up "Like" button?
:)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

@Callum: There is a difference between being "about" something and actually doing anything.

Imagine there were an episode which consisted just of a title card for 50 minutes that said "The Doctor Saves The Universe And Restores Gallifrey."

Would you call that significant?

The un-destruction of Gallifrey and the revocation of the regeneration limit are "disposible" in that the very nature is to say "Fuck the rules. Nothing matters any more! From now on, I can just handwave away anything I like." Nothing has to have consequences any more -- we got seven seasons of the show being DIFFERENT NOW because of the Time War, and it turns out that at any time, they can just go 'Actually Gallifrey isn't destroyed any more'?

You have to earn signifigance. Moffat doesn't. He simply declares it. He declares gallifrey un-destroyed. He declares the regeneration limit not a problem. He declares the War Doctor to be Something Different. He declares that the Doctor had been an ADD-addled manchild and he declares that now he's a grown-up. He doesn't earn these things. He doesn't show me the War Doctor committing attrocities. He sets up big problems and solves them not by earning a solution,but by simply declaring the problem solved. That's not storytelling, and it's not alchemy: it's just cheap stage magic.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 9 months ago

"The un-destruction of Gallifrey and the revocation of the regeneration limit are "disposible" in that the very nature is to say "Fuck the rules. Nothing matters any more! From now on, I can just handwave away anything I like." Nothing has to have consequences any more -- we got seven seasons of the show being DIFFERENT NOW because of the Time War, and it turns out that at any time, they can just go 'Actually Gallifrey isn't destroyed any more'?"

Well, no. That's not really true. For example, going around the regeneration limit was a necessary thing for the show to do to continue its survival, and Moffat got around it in a way that had clear precedent within the show itself - the Time Lords granted the Doctor a new regeneration cycle. For this to happen, the Time Lords would need to still be around, so for this and a variety of other reasons, Moffat wrote a story in which the Doctor brings the Time Lords back, which was ultimately inevitable and, in my opinion, done very well.

"He declares the War Doctor to be Something Different."

For all it seems this way, the War Doctor isn't really something different. That was the whole point of his story - the War Doctor coming to accept himself as the Doctor, and not as the Warrior.

"He declares that the Doctor had been an ADD-addled manchild and he declares that now he's a grown-up."

If you're referring to the Doctor settling down in Christmas to protect the planet, he doesn't say that the Doctor is now a grown-up or anything similar, he shows the Doctor as willing to go against his nature in order to protect people. I also don't like the phrase "ADD-addled manchild."

"He doesn't show me the War Doctor committing attrocities."

No, but he shows you a grizzled and war-weary old man tired enough of war to attempt to destroy his whole planet and people for what he considers the greater good. Isn't that good enough?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Now, you see this is where we risk falling into the same trap as the 1980s did - allowing the series (and ourselves) to get dragged down by its own continuity. By the time of the 5th Doctor the series was so strait-jacketed by what had gone before that it was impossible to do a Gallifrey story without the Matrix, Cardinals, Law, and dusty senators in brocade robes. The awe and mystery of the Time Lords of "The War Games" was gone, never to return. Similarly the Daleks, instead of being single-minded deadly xenophobes, became political robots forever embroiled in a civil war following the orders of a cartoon villain.

The Eccleston series was the first Doctor Who we'd had free of continuity (and dare I say canon) for almost a decade, and it was fantastic. Everything was up for grabs, the sky was the limit, and we loved it. More importantly the viewing public did too.

But slowly over the years, the strait-jacket's been creeping back on. Plots this season have to tie in with revelations last season. We're back on Trenzalore? Well it doesn't quite match up with what happened on Trenzalore last time. Another glimpse into the Time War? Jars slightly with previous glimpses.

Is the fault with ourselves? Probably, but also possibly with Moffat who is far more continuity-minded than Davies was. That was part of RTD's genius, he was restrained enough and sensible enough not to give us everything we said we wanted, because he remembered when JNT gave us what we wanted in the 80s. It wasn't what the "not-we" wanted, and it actually wasn't what we wanted either.

Moffat unfortunately has got the keys to the sweet shop, and hasn't got quite as much restraint as RTD. Not saying I don't love all the nods the the past, but I worry that we're getting too much of it again, like we did in '84/'85.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

She's absolutely a mirror to the Doctor -- and the point that he's stolen the TARDIS is explicitly made after her revelation of stealing the Cup.

That golden cup had a real "holy grail" vibe to me, symbolically. The Grail demands certain questions: "What ails thee?" is one, "Whom does this Grail serve?" being another. Wrapped up in the Grail Quest is the quest to be selfless, to be free of ego. Given that Christina's name is a derivative of "Christ" this appropriately charts out her character arc.

The origin of the "actual cup" is interesting -- it was supposedly a gift from the Welsh king, Hywel Dda. King Hywel is noted for the codification of Welsh law, while D'Souza (and the Doctor) are better known for their disrespect of such. Indeed, the Doctor wrecks the cup.

But that desecration is for the greater good. It's in service to saving these otherwise anonymous people on the bus. And that, in turn, is a reflection of a Grail philosophy. Likewise, the loss of the cup signifies a sacrifice on the part of Christina, having put her skills to the good of other people (as well, but not just for, herself).

The whole bit with the jewel in the magnetic clamps, by the way, looked awfully suspiciously like the Jewel in the Lotus. The "jewel" is replaced by the bus, with Christina inside. She becomes the jewel in the lotus.

I dunno, I think the story has merit in terms of describing the Doctor's final arc. We see that while he's not inviting anyone to come with him anymore, he's more than willing to keep Christina from falling into the hands of the authorities, given what she did to help the others survive. And, of course, she stands as a metaphor for River Song -- "souza" derives from a river in northern Portugal, and "Sousa" (same derivation) was a famous composer, giving us the union of music and the water of River's name. Stealing the bus also has, as Phil noted elsewhere, a thematic unity with Iris Wildthyme, a Time Lady.

So, there's plenty here for a die-hard Who fan to study and appreciate, even if the obvious aspects of the story are fairly straightforward for the "casual viewer."

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm generally with everyone in this thread who's not Ross, but more broadly, I just don't understand how Ross's critique of these two specials is in any way similar to the critique Dr. Sandifer is making of this episode. I like the last two Smith specials, but even if you don't like them, the criticisms to be made of them are nothing like the criticism of "Planet of the Dead," which is that it's disposable trash. If you want to criticize a Moffat episode on the grounds of it being disposable trash, I think the obvious examples are "The Beast Below" and "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe." I suppose you could make this criticism of "A Christmas Carol," as well, except that it's really quite good. I really don't think "completely and utterly disposable" is in any way the proper criticism to be made of any of Moffat's other episodes, or even that it makes much sense. But, then, I don't really understand the criticisms of the Moffat era in general.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I just don't understand how Ross's critique of these two specials is in any way similar to the critique Dr. Sandifer is making of this episode

Because the sentence I directly quoted from our host's analysis of Planet of the Dead is literally the exact thing about Day of the Doctor that upsets me. If you skip straight from 'The Name of the Doctor' to 'Time of the Doctor', you lose almost nothing -- a few minor, non-load-bearing lines become weird references to something that apparently happened off-screen. If you skip straight to whatever Capaldi's first episode proper is, I'll wager you miss even less. You might feel like you've missed some closure, but you won't feel that any more than you would if you actually watched the episodes.

Day of the Doctor is, like Planet of the Dead, a perfectly good self-contained episode that I'd have taken hardly any issue with had it been sandwiched between Hypothetical Season 8 Episode 4 and Hypothetical Season 8 Episode 6.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

Also, another Easter Egg -- the Doctor calls Pizza "Geronimo" by accident before reaching UNIT. Yes, another prophecy.

Other bits -- the union of Hot and Cold, what with the freezing Tritovore spaceship in the middle of the baking desert. There's flying fish. Christina first gets passage onto the bus by giving the driver diamonds. The flying bus itself signifies Christina's ascension. Melody Pond will steal a bus.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

Every now and then, I rant about Doctor Who on Twitter, on my blog, and on the comment forms here. And if Ross wants to have a look at my giant account of a pile of what was going on in The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, he can go to these posts, which say pretty much all I want to say regarding what's actually going on.
Day: http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2013/11/catch-conscience-of-doctor-jamming.html
Time: http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2013/12/the-simple-story-of-epic-adventure.html

Ross echoes a critique that's been making the rounds of Tumblr now that the trend of calling Moffat a misogynist has drifted away. This is that because his stories often end with the rewriting of some historical event, that he erases character development by making the pivotal event non-existent. Namely, the destruction of Gallifrey is erased, rendering all the character development post Time War non-existent.

But the key theme of Moffat's ontology, what the universe is made of and how it works in his Doctor Who, is that time can be rewritten. The existence of events themselves are in flux. But our memories of them are not. We can remember events that have technically been erased from history, and this memory is more important than the reality.

Regarding the Time War, Moffat erased its most terrible consequence: the Doctor's genocide. But he didn't erase the character development because the Doctor still remembers 400ish years of his life in which he had committed genocide, and that memory is preserved. The War Doctor's and the Tenth Doctor's memories of saving Gallifrey disappeared, and he experienced the trauma of the one day he committed mass murder of innocents. The character development lies in that memory being part of his personal narrative. Being a time traveller, he can stop massacres after they've occurred by rewriting history.

As for the apparent problem of Time of the Doctor, Theonlyspiral and J Mairs hit the nature of the story exactly. The story isn't about the Doctor; it's about Clara losing the Doctor. Again, see my post from December. The epic story exists only as an epic story; we see the Doctor at key moments of that story. But Time of the Doctor is Clara's story, the trauma of Clara losing her friend, told in a Moffat-esque manner of skipping through time. If the leaked footage of on-set filming that came out earlier today is any indication, a key element of Capaldi's first episode won't be about the Doctor, but about Clara coming to accept Capaldi as the Doctor.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross: If you skip straight from "An Unearthly Child" to "The Time of the Doctor," you won't miss anything but a bunch of actors running around having a bunch of adventures that don't even mean anything. It's all just the Doctor running around in the TARDIS having adventures. What's the consequence of any of that shit?

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

It's very clear to me that I have completely failed to explain what I'm talking about. I think I should probably give up since I can't think of a different way to express it. I've spent a quarter of a century loving doctor who and defending it against fans and detractors alike, and then Day of the Doctor happens and now I find myself not especially caring whether the show gets cancelled or not, or how many episodes there will be next season, or what Capaldi's going to be wearing, and the best I can do to say why is that it felt like the show was shouting at me that I was wrong to have cared in the first place.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Adam - I disagree entirely. Time of the Doctor isn't Clara's story. It's the Doctor's all the way. It's the story of what happens when the madman with a box grows old and dies like everyone else. That's the heart of it, and why I adore that episode more than almost anything else Moffat's written for Doctor Who. "The Doctor gets old and dies" is one of the handful of Doctor Who concepts that actually seemed impossible within Doctor Who. And he does it as a beautiful little fairy tale.

It competes with The Big Bang for my favorite Moffat episode.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I share some of Ross's dissatisfaction regarding the treatment of the War Doctor. I think there was a great missed opportunity there for some real specificity and character work. I can understand the rationale -- it's the 50th anniversary special, we're not going to dwell on the Doctor being, however temporarily, kind of a monster. But imagine for a moment if we had just five minutes of John Hurt's character being battle-weary but tough as nails, doing something we really can't imagine the Doctor doing in the name of fighting the war, something which maybe hints at the Time Lords being "as bad as the Daleks," in place perhaps of the risible sequence of Hurt borrowing a gun so that in the midst of a firefight he can shoot words into a wall and then crash a TARDIS through it. Just five minutes out of what, 75? "Night of the Doctor" covers so much ground with such admirable economy -- Moffat CAN do this when he wants to. I generally enjoyed "Day of the Doctor" and generally didn't enjoy "Time of the Doctor" (it might still grow on me), but this small change might have really made a big difference to my mood about them now.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Problems caused by poor communication?
Romeo and Juliet: yes.
Julius Caesar: maybe.
Anthony and Cleopatra: yes.
Coriolanus: yes.
Hamlet: yes.
Othello: yes.
King Lear: yes.
Macbeth: probably not.
That's six out of eight of Shakespeare's major tragedies.

Problems caused by poor communication are inevitably going to be prominent in fiction, because problems caused by poor communication are important in life.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

Phil: I think we can both be right, as I much prefer to live in a universe complicated enough that multiple conceptions of the story can co-exist.

Ross: Keep thinking. Mull it over in your mind. Watch the 50th Special over and over again to figure out precisely what it's doing that grates on you. You'll either figure it out, or learn to love it and the problem will disappear. But it will not have become inconsequential for having disappeared. ;)

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

It's the story of what happens when the madman with a box grows old and dies like everyone else.

I love that idea, and I think it's the best and most promising encapsulation of what that story is on paper.

Off paper, on screen, it just didn't feel like a satisfying answer to that "question," and I'm still not sure entirely why. I think some of it lies in the fact that "what happens" seems, largely, to consist of "doing what he always did but just on one planet for the whole time" and, generally, keeping a stiff upper lip from start to finish. Which is admirable, but not quite interesting, to me at least.

Anyway, I look forward to your elaboration on that theme, and also to your discussion of "The Big Bang," another episode I think I like better in hindsight than I did at the time.

Something obvious has just occurred to me: there is really no point in talking about Doctor Who after it's happened unless it's to find greater enjoyment in it somehow. I should probably remember that more often than I do.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 9 months ago

Adam - I agree, Time does not follow Day in advancing the shambolic quest plotline introduced in Day of the Doctor, but I really don't think you can thus far judge the series as having failed to follow up on the plot considering there's only been one episode since Day. I thought it was fairly clear that Day was intended to introduce a plotline running through Capaldi's era and Time was intended to tie up the loose ends of Smith's era.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

But imagine for a moment if we had just five minutes of John Hurt's character being battle-weary but tough as nails, doing something we really can't imagine the Doctor doing in the name of fighting the war, something which maybe hints at the Time Lords being "as bad as the Daleks," in place perhaps of the risible sequence of Hurt borrowing a gun so that in the midst of a firefight he can shoot words into a wall and then crash a TARDIS through it.

That's what doesn't work for me with the War Doctor. As soon as they did that scene, I knew the end of this story. There was never one moment in the entire serial when I believed even for a second that the War Doctor would actually do it. You go into this show "knowing" as "absolute" fact that this story must lead to the War Doctor destroying Gallifrey, and yet in the space of one scene, I am completely convinced that's not going to happen, and nothing happens from that point on to change my mind.

If you stop the show after that scene, you would have an easier time convincing me that the Smith Doctor goes back and pushes the button than you would that Hurt's gonna use The Moment. (But I'd still tell you that the most likely end of this episode is "The three doctors work together to find a way to save gallifrey, but the solution gives the appearance of it having been destroyed in order to maintain plausible denyability")

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm having trouble seeing why the ease of the Doctor escaping with Clara from his timeline is a deal-breaker and not, say, Rose not being disintegrated in Bad Wolf. I find the resolutions of Parting of the Ways and Journey's End difficult to swallow, because they really do seem to come out of nowhere. Whereas I don't find that the Doctor's final death at Trenzalore or the non-destruction of Gallifrey are problems at all. I suppose the difference for me is that the Davies finales make up new rules, while in Moffat we have the Doctor (or Clara) evading or finding loopholes in the rules. And I find the latter more satisfying. But also, I find Moffat's more interested in the journey, and so he can get away with fudging the ending more.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

They don't escape his timeline. The next time we see them, they have escaped. I'm having trouble seeing how the difference isn't obvious.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 9 months ago

Moffat actually clarified this in DWM, they were going to film Matt taking Clara and leaving the timestream but Matt had injured his knee and was unable to film the scene.

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

I still don't understand how Ross's objections to Day and Time are anything like Philip's objections to Planet of the Dead. The former seem to amount to something like "Moffat doesn't earn the emotional catharsis he is obviously aiming for, and deals with various continuity points in ways that I find unsatisfying." The latter seems to be "Planet of the Dead is a light-weight romp with very little substance placed in a situation where it has to bear a lot more weight than such a romp can really sustain, and, in any case, it's not a very good light-weight romp." How are these the same objection?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I admit, I have trouble seeing why the "escape the timeline" thing is an issue. Once the Doctor rescues Clara, he seems thoroughly unbothered by the mechanics of escape. He just suggests they do so, as though getting out is straightforward. The "how will they escape" question has always seemed to me one that some fans invented without the particular aid of the series itself.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

@John: My objection is "Day of the Doctor is a light-weight romp with very little substance placed in a situation where it has to bear a lot more weight than such a romp can really sustain." All the stuff about Moffat's failure to earn his catharisis is my objection to the counterargument "No, Day of the Doctor isn't a light-weight romp"

@Dr. S: The fans invented it and not River when she begs the Doctor not to do it?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

River's objection appears to be the likelihood that it will shred him to pieces like it did the Great Intelligence and very nearly did Clara. The danger appears to be in entering, and in the scene in question the only real danger seems to be in staying. The Doctor appears, within his own timestream, to be able to simply materialize objects at will - he creates Clara's leaf out of thin air, and then seems to manifest himself out of a flash of light.

Nothing points to exiting being the issue here.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

And that doesn't feel like a level of stretching that would leave Reed Richards sore for a few days?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Why would it? I mean, watching it I never had any particular sense that escaping was a huge deal. They appeared on their way out when the episode ended, detained only briefly by the need for John Hurt to be ominous. This was confirmed at the start of Day of the Doctor by their, sure enough, being out. It wasn't until people started complaining loudly that I even thought of it as a problem, at which point I went over the relevant scenes to see if I'd missed something.

I hadn't - nothing sets that up as a problem. It's not stretching to note that the episode actually never sets up the problem you're complaining about.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I think we're at an impasse here; I can't even begin to imagine how this wasn't a thing for you. After that scene with River, I was absolutely certain that whatever happened in Day of the Doctor, the first part would be "How the Doctor and Clara got out of the Doctor's Crack," and my presumption was that the business with the Zygons, and with the Mysterious Guy Later to be declared the "War Doctor" would be related to the Doctor fucking up his own timestream by jumping into it. I never even considered that it wouldn't be that. For it to be otherwise would mean that the whole totality of the Big Emotional Scene with River was utterly pointless. If the tension was meant to be "Will he survive entering his own timestream? If he does that the rest is trivial." then the appearance of the Doctor in the last scene should have been structured as a reveal: we should have spent some time wondering if the Doctor was indeed well-n-truly destroyed, and only then have a reveal that he somehow managed to survive. Instead, he's just... There.

I can just about imagine someone denying that the scene with River is meant to set up a large dramatic tension -- it's weird, because it undermines the whole emotional weight of the scene. But you seem to be asserting that, yes, that was meant to be a Big Scary Conflict, but that it's a perfectly fine solution to, in the very next scene, go, "Nah, everything's fine; there was never really any danger."

The whole crux of the climax there is "Clara sacrifices herself to ABSOLUTE CERTAIN DOOM to save the doctor. The Doctor turns around and sacrifices himself to ABSOLUTE CERTAIN DOOM to save him." I can't even begin to imagine how you can accept that, but still go "But as it turns out everything is fine with no sacrifice or even any effort. The Doctor jumps in and is perfectly fine and then they both just walk out again and it's not only easy, it's so easy that we don't need to bother showing it." I can't see how that isn't on the level of "And then he woke up back in bed and it had all been a dream"

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross, what you seem to be saying is that The Day of the Doctor is trying for big emotional moments and failing. That doesn't seem the same to me as Planet of the Dead, which is not trying for big emotional moments at all.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

I view the episode in context. (Two context, actually!)
1) It's an Easter special. It aired at a time when families are together and when new viewers are more likely to intersect the show for the first time. (If one family member insists on watching others will see it too!) So what we have is a "Doctor Who 101" episode intended to capture the spirit of the series, especially for people who've never seen the show but had heard it was big in this last year. Like the Christmas Invasion of Voyage of the Damned or The Runaway Bride... this is fluff intended to air at a high-exposure timeslot intended to entice new viewers. And it's light and fluffy because... Easter. Depressing Christmas episodes are a norm but a depressing Easter special just feels WRONG.
(I have no idea how successful this was in terms of exposure but Who had never done an Easter special before, so.)

2) This is bizarro-Midnight. There's even an ad on the bus for the same novel Sky was reading before she flipped out. A bus full of people stranded in the middle of nowhere on an alien planet. Once is a bleak descent into dysfunction and the darker side of human nature -- and one is hopeful and shows that hey, people are pretty good inside and can pull together, ya? (And this episode is definately told from the perspective of the people on the but, unlike Midnight which is told from the perspective of the Doctor. When the Doctor and Christina part ways Christina stays with the Doctor.) Arguably some of this is canted with a perspective towards the economic downturn, where the big happy gesture at the end if the Doctor getting the two good boys jobs since the young were hit hardest by the last-hired-first-fired economy.
In the end though it doesn't work very hard about being a thematic... anything. It's light and fluffy and hits some easy targets and really, that's all you need for a holiday episode, ya?

Are you going to review the Neverland CG-special? (I want to know if I should bother rewatching is to tear into it.)

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

/When the Doctor and Christina part ways Christina stays with the Doctor./

Er, when they part ways the CAMERA stays with CHRISTINA.
(Admittedly Doctor Who is one of the few series where characters can part ways and simultaneously stay together, look no further than the 4th Series Finale for that....)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Neverland might make a good double-act with The Vault of Secrets

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

I think the Waters of Mars was an itch in the Doctor's shoulder blades. The TARDIS avoids fixed points in time! Why did it bring him to one? It knows he likes to meddle, so maybe it's okay to just stop and look around a bit....
(On the most basic level the TARDIS probably brought him to a fixed point in time to protect him because time was shifting unstably in a pre-echo of the Master's return, which is why Ten couldn't reach the prison in time for his rebirth. The TARDIS attempte dot land somewhere nice and safe to wait out the shifts only to have Ten screw things up and become the cause of the shifts she was trying to protect him from.)
Yes, it's an act of hubris that was thematically appropriate but it's also an act of TEMPTATION. He was, by pure dumb luck, placed right in front of a giant "Do Not Touch" sign. The TARDIS knows him, she knows better than to put him in front of things that say 'do not touch!' But this time she had nowhere else to go for cover and, alas, the Doctor was undone by his need to Look With His Fingers Instead of His Eyes.

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

Beyond that - your problem with the whole time stream business seems to actually be a problem with "Name of the Doctor", not a problem with "Day of the Doctor."

Here, BTW, is everything said after Clara's last monologue and before the War Doctor's appearance in Name:

CLARA: Doctor? Doctor? Doctor? (falls to ground sobbing) I don't know where I am.

DOCTOR (voice): Clara. You can hear me. I know you can.

CLARA: I don't see you.

DOCTOR (voice): I'm everywhere. You're inside my time stream. Everything around you is me.

CLARA: I can see you. All your different faces are here.

DOCTOR (voice): Those are my ghosts, my pasts, every good day, every bad day.

CLARA: What's wrong? What's happening?

DOCTOR (voice): I'm inside my own time stream. It's collapsing in on itself.

CLARA: Well, get out then!

DOCTOR (voice): Not until I've got you.

CLARA: I don't even know who I am.

DOCTOR (voice): You're my impossible girl. I'm sending you something: not from my past, from yours. Look up. Look. This is you, Clara; everything you were or will be. Take it. You blew into the world on this leaf. Hold tight. It'll take you home.

DOCTOR: Clara! Come on! Come on [something I can't make out]. You can do it. I know you can.

CLARA: How?

DOCTOR: Because it's impossible, and you're my impossible girl. How many times did you save me, Clara? Just this once, just for the hell of it, let me save you. You have to trust me, Clara, I'm real. Just one more step. (they embrace) Clara! My Clara!

Throughout this exchange the Doctor is pretty supremely confident. He doesn't seem to doubt he can save Clara, or even that there's anything particularly difficult about saving her once he's found her and she's come to him. That part of the story is already basically over when the War Doctor appears. After his little exchange with Hurt, the scene ends with him rather purposefully walking away while carrying Clara. I can see how someone might think there was going to be more of this, but I don't think a close viewing really supports that at all.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

You talk about the "Fourth Tenant Season" like it's a sort of inferred hypothetical but it's not -- at one point it wasnt' clear if they were goign to get another year with Tennant and Moffat mentions that he originally conceived of Amy Pond as a companion for Ten if they got another year with him -- taking him in a different 'fairy tale man' direction that still 'worked' as a thematic continuation of Series 4. Imagine skipping the specials and going from "Journey's End" to "The Eleventh Hour" (with no regeneration.) It would be a fresh start and new life as the doctor who had become 'lost' found himself again in a child's eyes.
I think what you have here is RTD's take on the same -- the hypothetical "one more Tenant Season" all crammed down into 1 special.

(I tend to think the fact Amy was conceived as a Ten companion is part of why she works so much better than Clara or River; Moff felt like he had to match someone else's tone instead of just doing whatever bland, clever thing interested him and the result was better for it.)

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Drawing this discussion back to Planet of the Dead, one of the recurring themes of both RTD and Moff is the absolute importance of the Companion to the Doctor's effectiveness. The War Doctor apparently spends his entire career without a companion and becomes completely jaded and embittered by his experiences. Ten eschews companions in The Next Doctor and rather brutally rejects a potential companion in Planet of the Dead, and it totally sets him up for disaster in Waters of Mars because there is no one on hand to yell at him for being stupid. In Day of the Doctor, all three Doctors accept the destruction of Gallifrey because they see no other solution ... until Clara asks Eleven to find another way and he can't bring himself to burn Gallifrey with a Companion watching. Personally, I think any Companion from the history of the show could have talked the Doctor out of using the Moment. The Companion's opinion of the Doctor has almost always mattered more than any other factor. To me, that was the true significance of Planet of the Dead: It ends with the Doctor rejecting the idea of a Companion, and we the audience intuitively know that's somehow wrong.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

No explanation as to where or how these 'prophecies' originate, What do you mean no explanation? That was the whole point of Time of the Doctor. The "prophecies" are based on the personal experiences of members of the Church of the Silence splinter group that went back in time to kill the Doctor by blowing up the TARDIS and inadvertently created the time line from which they originated.

You're welcome to not like the fact that Matt Smith's entire run is one big ontological paradox (I've complained about it myself) but you can't really say that nothing was explained

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Once is a bleak descent into dysfunction and the darker side of human nature -- and one is hopeful and shows that hey, people are pretty good inside and can pull together, ya?

I actually wonder if we're supposed to think that Ten learned something from Midnight, as he quickly noticed when the PotD bus travelers were beginning to panic and he immediately gave a speech designed to both calm them down and appeal to their better natures (as opposed to the "I'm smarter and better than you so shut up and do what I say" schtick that nearly get him killed in Midnight.

Also, to harp on my earlier point, in PotD, he did have a companion of sorts in Christina, and the two of them presenting a united front and complementing on another allowed for a much more successful appeal to the passengers than the Doctor could achieve on his own in Midnight. IIRC, a lot of our commentary on Midnight noted that the Doctor might not have been in as much trouble if Donna had been there with him.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

There's also the fact that Ten genuinely admired Adelaide both for her character and her role in human history. The grin he gave when she said "what would be the point of that?" about the possibility of seeking revenge against the Daleks was infectious. I think he fell a little bit in love with her (as I did).

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

I hated Malcolm. I don't care for Lee Evans in general, and I particularly don't care for the RTD/Moffat position that by the 21st Century, UNIT is mainly a bunch of Doctor fanboys and girls who squeal like groupies whenever he shows up.

Also, no one has mentioned it yet, but I couldn't help but notice how Ten saved the day and then nearly got everyone killed anyway by UNIT because he obstinately would not tell the the major what was going on. I swear, Dumbledore and Ben Kenobi were both more forthcoming with information essential to their allies than the Tenth Doctor.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

//Moffat unfortunately has got the keys to the sweet shop, and hasn't got quite as much restraint as RTD. Not saying I don't love all the nods the the past, but I worry that we're getting too much of it again, like we did in '84/'85.//

How many montages of the Doctor's past faces have we had in Moffat's run? How many other glimpses of them? They're happening once or twice a season now.
RTD went up until "The Next Doctor" before he showed a glimpse of a Doctor prior to 9 and even then it wasn't his idea -- he fought against it (a little) and Julie Whatshername had to talk him into it "as a Christmas gift for the fans." He was really deadly afraid that it was too much sugar, too much fan-pleasing empty calories. He didn't want to show to fall into the trap of tapping those "easy" moments of viewer-glee so he kept a tight reign on it.
...then Moffat came in. He's like the Tenth Doctor. Sometimes he needs someone to tell him when to stop.

As for Time of the Doctor... I felt bad for Matt Smith, going out on his worst episode.
TotD suffered from Matt Smith announcing his departure after the 50th special was written just like the 50th suffered from Echelston's refusal to participate.
Echelston bowing out made Moffat turn a liability into an asset by using it as an opportunity to tell a story "disposing" of the 13 regeneration limit 'early' before it grew into a narrative so immense that the show would have trouble working around it. (That was terribly clever of him, I hate to admit.)
But that meant there was one more thing for the nest season to deal with; aquaint the Audience with the regeneration limit and reveal that the Doctor is at the end of his. In addition to the whole thing about Trenzalore, the fact the Man Who Lies Will Lie No More (which the Whisper Men said) the whole setup with the tomb and Why is River's grave fake and Dammit River, How Can You Still Be Here? that name of the Doctor raised.
The entirely of Series 8 would be leading up to a 2-parter on Trenzalore! He'd have ALL of those episodes to deal with these problems in a sensible manner as well as the issues of the Silence and the cracks and the 30 other plots he'd been juggling since Series 5 began! They would be resolved elegantly and everything would come together into an intricate structure that would suddenly make perfect sense -- but not in the way anyone had thought -- and women would praise him and call him "Clever Boy!" and his run of Doctor Who would be an awe-inspiring example of how --
Oh bugger all, he's LEAVING?
Wait, you mean I have ONE EPISODE to cram all of that into?!

That happens. It's a reality of TV production, and he really did get screwed by the War Doctor/Regeneration Limit decision putting one more thing on the plate in an already jam-packed episode.
But absolutely DAMNINGLY... he didn't cut anything. His arcs, his oh-so-clever arcs they all had to be intact! So we got them all shoved in and addressed on fast-forward. The Silence; instead of being an epic reveal was thrown away in a SINGLE LINE. River; well I guess Tasha Lem is her, which given that she's the Pope of the Divine Mainframe and River was last seen being uploaded to a mainframe and the Silence blew up the TARDIS but she's the reason the Silence existed and LOOK STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! The Regeneration Limit is brought up, explained and established in 30 seconds. The Cracks -- flashbacks to the maze -- Oh look it's Young Amy, let's devote 45 seconds to how awesome Amy was -- and voiceovers TELLING us what happened offscreen again and again just like RTD's sendoff for Tennant! ...except when RTD did it the voiceover was a tone element. Moffat adopted it out of necessity because he quite literally had no time to establish stuff -- it was forced onto the VO.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

(continued)
Not only did he not cut -- he kept throwing new stuff in! Clara's family, the hologram clothes, the FIRST trip down to Trenzalore where they're naked and encounter the Angels and then just manage to run away from them...! NONE of this was necessary for the episode, and introducing a dozen new clever idea-toys to an episode already full-to-bursting with things it absolutely NEEDED to accomplish (because Moffat wasn't willing to cut ANY of his plans) was, frankly, stupid.
And the truth field, frankly, was a bad idea. In an episode devoted to it the truth field would have been GREAT! They would have had time to address the messy details of "Why can't you tell the Time Lords this isn't a good place to come through?" And "Why could you lie and tell not-Barnabas you had a plan" would receive some sort of -- well frankly, it would have been implemented less messily. Instead it's brought up, used for the Cyberman fight sequence (which was VERY clever!) and basically sits there, except when it's being ignored because the episode doesn't want to deal with it. The episode would have been better off if it ditched the truth field because it didn't have time to devote to doing it right.
And, you know, the TARDIS arriving and leaving from 'the impassable planet' like 6 times in the episode, and jaunts up into orbit and back down as the episode frantically shuttles characters around to try and accomplish every Clever Thing Moffat had been planning for 3 years without cutting anything.

Let me be clear; Steven Moffat is a GEINUS. It is an enormous credit to him that "The Time of the Doctor" came out that well given the sheer number of things it had on its plate.
But it shouldn't have had as much on its plate to start. And it definitely shouldn't have been adding new things. And frankly, some of the beautiful clever arcs should have been dropped, or at least deferred to be dealt with next season. Moff created intricate plots that had absolutely no room for forgiveness in them and when suddenly he had to change his long-term plans to deal with a production reality -- he couldn't, or he refused to.

And, you know... the entire fucking POINT of an intricate logic problem is that by establishing rules the solution to the problem has to arise from those rules. ...but that didn't happen. Instead we got "if you pile enough predestination paradoxes on top of one another you get timey-whimey and the TARDIS never exploded and the doctor never died and the graveyard they visited never existed. Because emotional limit-break finisher." (To be fair the emotional limit-break finisher works. You find yourself on the other side of the scene and well CLEARLY it must have made sense because you got here without questioning it!)

He's a geinus for making that episode turn out that well. But;
a) He's the reason it was so jammed in the first place and his unwillingness to adapt to the situation was the single biggest problem with the episode.
b) It's the exemplar par magnifique of "Moffat writes intricate and clever plots with fuzzy and unsatisfying resolution."

Sure, you can make an excuse that "It's because Smith decided to leave! His plots would have been awesome and have a great resolution otherwise" but Moff's track record says otherwise. We were spared of a series full of unsatisfying resolutions to plots that existed for their own sake which the previous 3 series had spent far too much time servicing and setting up.
I take it back; Time of the Doctor was a GREAT episode. Look what it saved us from!

(Sorry Phil, this is your blog not mine.)

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

But not Zordon, right?

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

Not just "Vault of Secrets," "Prisoner of the Judoon" also referenced Dreamland.
IIRC IDW's first run of 11th Doctor comics referenced Dreamland in passing as well.

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"Macbeth: probably not."

I'd say a clear "yes" - them thar witches speak in riddles...and Burnham wood comes to Dunsinane... a cop-out so anti-climatic that a disappointed Tolkien felt compelled to write a 'real' version of that scene. Shakespeare must go!

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm puzzled that Tasha Lem is River is cited as one of the too many things going on in the episode, given that as far as I can see it's a piece of fan speculation that isn't in the episode at all.

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"My problem with "The Waters of Mars" is that there's no reason for the Doctor to get involved with events at Bowie Base One, and there's no reason for him to decide to change history."

I would have assumed "to save the lives of some quite decent, innocent people" would be enough.

It's on of the reasons I find The Waters of Mars to be morally bankrupt: the Doctor does what he always does, what we're tuning into see, and the entire production condemns him for it because of 'Reasons'.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd agree that looking back over the transcript it seems clear enough that getting out of the timestream wasn't THAT big a deal -- just one more of the impossible things the Doctor does before breakfast -- but I certainly didn't invent post facto the feeling that there was something vague and unfinished about the whole trip into the timestream thing.

Maybe it was that the dialogue is unambiguous about the fact that entering the Doctor's timestream will kill Simeon / the Great Intelligence, and Clara too:

SIMEON: The Doctor's life is a open wound. And an open wound can be entered.

DOCTOR: No, it would destroy you.

SIMEON: Not at all. It will kill me. It will destroy you. I can rewrite your every living moment. I can turn every one of you victories into defeats. Poison every friendship. Deliver pain to your every breath.

DOCTOR: It will burn you up. Once you go through, you can't come back. You will be scattered along my timeline like confetti.

And:

CLARA: If I step in there, what happens?

RIVER: The time winds will tear you into a million pieces. A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space, like echoes.

CLARA: But the echoes could save the Doctor, right?

RIVER: But they won't be you. The real you will die. They'll just be copies.

The implication isn't "you'll be trapped in there," but "you'll be shredded into a million pieces." And we know she has to be, in order to save the Doctor at all the same moments that the G.I. is trying to destroy him. And presumably that happens:

CLARA [OC]: I don't know where I am. I don't know where I'm going or where I've been. I was born to save the Doctor, but the Doctor is safe now. I'm the Impossible Girl, and my story is done.

and the Clara the Doctor comes in to save would, I guess, have died in there if the Doctor hadn't come in to lead her out. Earlier:

VASTRA: Is she still alive? It killed Doctor Simeon.

DOCTOR: Clara's got one advantage over the Great Intelligence.

VASTRA: Which is?

DOCTOR: Me.

So presumably Simeon dies only because what's left of him doesn't have the Doctor to lead him out again. It's all there in what's said, but I'd say it's not dramatized very well, such that the imagery it put in my head (maybe not in anyone else's) is very difficult to reconcile with what I can piece together of how this is vaguely supposed to work. I had similar problems with a lot of the offhand Mystery Machining in "Time of the Doctor," where (e.g.) presumably if you sit down with pencil and paper you can put together a timeline of the Silence, but if you're not prepared to geek out to that extent and you just want to follow this as a piece of television, it's hopelessly tangled and difficult to visualize.

This is the "writing for the box set" problem, and while on one level I appreciate it as an exploration of the storytelling possibilities of this relatively new way of watching TV, on the level of casual enjoyment of a story it really leaves me cold.

Anyway, my point is just that I don't agree with the implication that "how did he get out of this terribly dangerous timestream?" is just grouchy anti-Moffat refrigerator logic. Maybe I'm just dim, but I was sincerely confused.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

(Credit to http://www.chakoteya.net/ for the transcripts. For the purposes of writing about Doctor Who, I'm not sure there's a more valuable site in existence.)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

That Christina is morally problematic is clear. That this makes her unlikable is not. And it's not as if the Doctor has never travelled with anyone morally ambiguous or problematic before. Or, y'know, been so himself.

And I still have trouble seeing this episode as "fluff." The premise of the show is that the Doctor travels with companions. This is the episode in which he's presented with an ideal companion (not an ideal moral exemplar, but an ideal companion) and turns her down. And makes clear he plans to turn any successors down as well. It's a narrative collapse.

Of course it's fixed in a couple more episodes. Narrative collapses are, so long as the show doesn't get cancelled. That doesn't make it less devastating in its own right.

And the plot of the episode embodies the theme. Stranded, out of gas, on a dying planet with no way to get back home is a pretty good symbol for narrative collapse.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

It manages to make Michelle Ryan in a leather cat-suit not sexy but just slightly annoying

YMMV.

fill a London bus with forgettable and disposable characters

Again, YMMV.

damage said bus in transit and only half-heartedly incorporate that damage into the plot

How was the damage not crucial to the plot?

make the spectacular Dubai desert look not only boring

YMMV.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

"Planet of the Dead" is light? Maybe I'm viewing it through the lens of the gut-punch at the end, but it seems like one of the darker episodes to me.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

...which is hilarious, because -- strangely, I'm the first person here to note this -- "Planet of the Dead" was the first Doctor Who episode EVER to be produced on HD video.

Surely, that's a milestone, no?

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

The witches speaking in riddles in Macbeth would only count as poor communication if they were trying to be clear. As far as we can tell, they aren't.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

@BerserkRL
Indeed Y or anyone else's MMV. Are we not to assume that any replies here are the subjective opinions of the writer?

To answer a specific point
'How was the damage not crucial to the plot?'
The bus and its passengers could have been stranded on the planet without the bus being damaged. The actual damage to the bus became just another component in the extra-diagetic narrative which seems to overwhelm this story. As Phil Sandifer says "David Tennant and Michelle Ryan went to Dubai and stood sexily in front of a London double decker bus we smashed."
Your MM of course V.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

On the subject of poor communication, I seem to be guilty of just that. My comments on the 'prophecies' scattered through recent Doctor Who have stirred up some vehement refutes and defences here which, while I'm sure RTD, Moffat et al are grateful for them, seem totally unnecesary. Please allow me an attempt at clarification.

First I need to state that IMHO Moffat's run on Doctor Who has been an extraordinary success and personally I think the last three seasons have contained some of the best stories of the past fifty years.

I am not objecting to the specific content of the 'prophecies' rather to the manner in which they are inserted into the narrative as 'teasers'. Here I am talking specifically about the lady on the bus in the episode we are discussing in this thread. To introduce a cliche Magic Ethnic Person spouting enigmatic dialogue such as 'He will knock four times" is...interesting but not really good writing. The pay-off of that line, with Wilf in the season finale, is actually well handled and also nicely feinted in Waters of Mars but this doesn't excuse the weakness of introducing a character with knowledge of the Doctor's future without explanation just to provide a spooky sounding tag line. This is bad writing.

It's a standard trick of 'mentalist' performers such as Derren Brown to produce the flourish reveal, the 'prestige' if you like, at the end of a routine, demonstrating for instance that he knew all along what card would be chosen or which nespaper headline would be picked. Moffat and RTD pull the same trick in their writing. Yes The Time of the Doctor provided more or less satisfying answers to most of the enigmatic prophecies but does anyone really think those were the answers Moffat had in mind from the beginning? The point is he had to tie himself in knots to cram in all the pay-offs he'd seeded via his clever prophecies and sing song nursery rhymes from the future because he himself had no clue what they all meant. It was just some 'cool shit to lay on our ass' to misquote Tarantino.

So yes Alan of course there was an explanation The "prophecies" are based on the personal experiences of members of the Church of the Silence splinter group that went back in time to kill the Doctor by blowing up the TARDIS and inadvertently created the time line from which they originated. but only after the event. When the prophecies are first presented we have no idea that those relaying them are talking (or singing) from personal experience or are just fantasy seers of some sort and so we have no reason to give them credence other than because the author says we must. The only effect this had, for me, was to take me out of the narrative. If we (but not the Doctor) had known the answer from the beginning it would have been a more powerul narrative without the fake 'mystery' which Moffat often seems to find necessary. There is no 'ontological paradox' here just wise-after-the-event smart-alecness.

Ironically the recent Sherlock three-parter demonstrated with its 'There are thirteen possible ways I could have faked my death' that you can present an audience with an entertaining mystery where the 'how' is less important than the effect. Moffat attempted the same trick with Doctor Who but, for me, it didn't quite come. off.

YMMV

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

For all his flaws Zordon's judgment ("D'oh; when I said 'with attitude' what I actually meant was 'with world-class martial arts skills and a psychological makup that won't shatter and leave them gibbering idiots when faced with being the only hope for humanity's salvation in the face of an extraterrestrial menace with magical powers'"), "Withholds information from children the withholding of which places them in mortal peril" was not one of them.

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Toby Brown 3 years, 9 months ago

I quite like this reading actually. It ties in very nicely with the end of Waters of Mars (a potential companion rejects the Doctor so thoroughly that she'll kill herself to thwart his plans), and then the End of Time is very clearly when the Doctor finally learns to appreciate his companions and will willingly die for one. It even almost makes me see the point of the companion montage at the end. Almost.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Beyond that - your problem with the whole time stream business seems to actually be a problem with "Name of the Doctor", not a problem with "Day of the Doctor."

In 'Name of the Doctor', it's a cliffhanger. 'Day of the Doctor' does to it what it does to everything else in the show: turns around and says "Nope! All that is irrelevant!"

Throughout this exchange the Doctor is pretty supremely confident. He doesn't seem to doubt he can save Clara, or even that there's anything particularly difficult about saving her once he's found her and she's come to him.

Oh, well okay, you're right. The Doctor, the Matt Smith Doctor in particular, never acts like that when he's actually in a very dangerous situation with no plan.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 9 months ago

In terms of the blog post's comments, this is the one that keeps on giving.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I realise I'm being a bit of a Moffat-partisan here, but I think most of your criticisms apply more to Davies than to Moffat. If we consider the prophecies about Donna in Season Four, Davies has cryptic psychic messages about Donna's song coming to an end. Silence in the Library has River who clearly knows about Donna's future because it's River's past, and who isn't elaborating to avoid the ontological paradox. Prisoner Zero is clearly speaking from a position of knowing something that he's surprised and pleased the Doctor doesn't know. (As for whether Moffat had it all planned all along, I'm not sure whether that kind of authorial intent is relevant unless it leaves its traces in the text.)

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

@David Anderson. Perhaps you're right. My musings on prophecy were after all inspired, as I said, by a character's enigmatic pronouncements from this very RTD episode. (Planet of the Dead lest we forget.)

As to authorial intent of course we can never know and speculating gets us nowhere.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The point of the companion montage is that it's the Doctor's "homecoming" in the parlance of NDE'ers, what's truly important -- relationships. And, yes, to have an emotional.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The cliffhanger in Name of the Doctor is the reveal of the Hurt Doctor, not "how does the Doctor get out?" And, frankly, the Hurt reveal is far superior as a cliffhanger. It's a story question, something that changes the nature of the game. Threats to the Doctor's life are nothing; we've seen them over and over again, especially throughout the Classic series. One is a question of who and the other's just a question of how.

This is much like the cliffhanger at the end of The Impossible Astronaut. The tension isn't generated from the threat of the Silence (that's the penultimate scene) but from the reveal that the Astronaut is a little girl, and that Amy shot her, right after disclosing her pregnancy. It sets up a story question centered on who Amy is; the "how do they get out?" is trivial in comparison. Day of the Moon (interesting how the title mirrors DotD) begins its focus on Amy running, which speaks loads to how Amy's reacting to the new status quo.

Again, look at how the final scenes are constructed -- closeups on John Hurt, proclaimed "the Doctor" after being disavowed as such, and on Karen Gillan, in shock that she's just shot a little girl. The cliffhangers are questions of character, on the nature of the situation. To construe them otherwise is to misread the scenes entirely, using the logic of yesteryear's television.

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John 3 years, 9 months ago

What Jane said, basically. To add to this, the problem isn't that The Day of the Doctor didn't resolve the "how will they get out of the Doctor's timestream" cliffhanger at the end of Name of the Doctor. It's that the end of the Name of the Doctor led Ross to believe there was a "how will they get out of the Doctor's timestream" cliffhanger when that was not, in fact, the cliffhanger.

Part of the issue, I think, is that Moffat's writing style is built around lacunae: there's always tons of stuff happening that we don't get to see. The hard part of saving Clara happens off-screen, in between the Doctor jumping into his time stream and him finding Clara.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

@Anton: "When the prophecies are first presented we have no idea that those relaying them are talking (or singing) from personal experience or are just fantasy seers of some sort and so we have no reason to give them credence other than because the author says we must."

I disagree. The use of prophecy in Moffat's run has always been signified by temporal shenanigans. In Series Five, Prisoner Zero came through the Crack, which is all timey-wimey. Time-traveling River foresees the Pandorica. "Silence will fall" is repeated at the end of Vampires of Venice, congruent with the camera passing through the TARDIS keyhole. It's repeated again in The Big Bang inside the TARDIS, with River present, shortly before the TARDIS blows up.

In Series Six the prophecy returns in the midst of sorting out the ontological paradox of the Doctor's seeming death; we learn that the Silence have the power of time-travel. It's further elucidated through the Tesselector, a time-traveling robot. While the "Demons run" rhyme is first alluded to by Dorium (who is primarily a Sidney Greenstreet character, not as a Magical Ethnic Person but embodying the color of the TARDIS) it's recited in full by time-traveling River in voice-over, just before she returns from the Doctor's future to "fix" the events of her birth and abduction. That the nursery rhyme is prophetic only becomes clear in Closing Time, in a scene with River and Kovarian, who are both known time-travelers. All this comes together in the finale, in an alternate universe created by breaking a fixed point in time -- timey wimey.

The only one that's truly misdirected, at least at first, is the prophecy of Trenzalore. This one is wrapped up in the Order of the Headless, in the transept of a church, by a talking head in a box surrounded by mobile carnivorous skulls. However, as we've noted, while Dorium may be surrounded by mystical indicators, he's also "blue" (evoking the TARDIS) and has a media chip in his head; he is thoroughly postmodern, as evidenced by his reveal of The Question.

In which case, the prophecy becomes not one of mystical mumbo-jumbo, but one of narrative collapse, and specifically the kind of collapse that comes from too much awareness of the text. When this prophecy is finally explored, it's in a timey-wimey way (the Doctor visiting his future grave) and when it's resolved it's resolved to fix a problem of narrative collapse (the moral weight of genocide, and secondarily the arbitrary regeneration limit.) That Trenzalore was prophesied by Dorium is, in hindsight, perfect.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Usually the Doctor isn't making judgements in the middle of his adventures on whom is a "little person" that "isn't important". Also he rarely just decides to change the course of human history (possibly for the worse). The Doctor decides that history is subject to his will and THAT is why he is condemned.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

The problem wasn't saving the lives of "some quite decent, innocent people." Eleven stated directly that it was not a problem to save "the little people." The problem was saving the life of Adelaide who, by the specific circumstances of her death, would have an enormous impact on the next 1000 years of human history. It would have been quite simple for the Doctor to prevent the Titanic from sinking, but had he ever done so, it would probably result in significant changes to the timeline, as quite a few of the world's wealthiest people went down with the ship. Now, since Waters of Mars, Eleven has demonstrated that it is possible to alter fixed points in time if you successfully ensure that history plays out the same as it would have absent your intervention. That is, if Ten had dropped Adelaide et al off on a distant planet 10,000 years in the future, the effect on history would have been the same as leaving them to die.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

@Alan: Exactly.

The Doctor isn't just interested in saving people, he's interested in rewriting "history" according to his own personal vision, which takes away the choices of not just Adelaide but also her descendants.

The use of the "webpages" detailing their personal histories is key here -- he's wanting to change the whole story, but as far as Adelaide is concerned it's just one word. The Doctor has, in other words, become a source of narrative collapse himself.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

Good point, Matthew. And, again, the introduction of the HD aesthetic in the year of Specials becomes prophetic for the subsequent era.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

jane, I was hoping you might come along and untangle the web of hoo-ha I've got myself into here by pointing out the metaphorical resonances and allegorical reflections in these bloomin'prophecies. Okay I give in. As you and others have pointed out they're all shiney timey wimey and button nosed innocently pre-shadowing IMPORTANT STUFF etc. And I'll admit shehorning Dorium (a character I loved, Sidney Greenstreet indeed!) into the Magic Ethnic trope was a stretch ( I woulda gotten away with it too if it hadna been for you blasted kids!). HOWEVER...
I still found the prophecies irritating and I thought it was an indication of bad writing. As has been said...YMMV.
Now onward! and let's never speak of prophecies again.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

@jane Day of the Moon (interesting how the title mirrors DotD)
One could link this to 'the Doctor Moon' who presides over the library where we first encounter Amy's daughter grown up and witness her 'death'. Both stories also feature the Doctor interrupting TV, breaking the fourth wall to communicate. As of course he does in Blink which has the first appearance of the Angels who subsequently haunt him, ultimately causing River's parents' 'death' or at least removal from the game. The Doctor Moon is the guardian of the (soon to be Papal?) Mainframe where first the little girl and the inhabitants of the library, then Donna, Miss EvANGELista then River are kept in a kind of virtual undeath. Angels, Rivers, the Moon and Death as images are all connected in myth and mystical imagery.

@John. Moffat's writing style is built around lacunae: there's always tons of stuff happening that we don't get to see.
I agree, it's a lot like Grant Morrison's compressed meta-narrative style of writing in comic series like 52, Final Crisis and his run on Batman wherein he omits bridging scenes and exposition, crediting the reader with being able to fill in the gaps or to just assume it doesn't matter.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

Anton, you don't get off that easily. Why are prophecies (in general) a mark of "bad writing" to you? Is the story of Oedipus Rex "badly" written because it all hinges on a prophecy, and how the character reacts to it? Or, perhaps more relevantly, does the prophecy of being poisoned by a spindle make Briar Rose a poorly written fairy tale?

I'm less interested in the judgment of "prophesy" as a writing technique, which is inherently subjective. Much like Film Crit Hulk suggests we'll have more interesting conversations by discussing what films are actually doing and what that subsequently means, versus simply judging them as "good" or "bad", I'd like to discuss (briefly) how prophecy can be utilized as a narrative device, and what its effect actually is.

Like, for example, isn't prophecy just a matter of foreshadowing? We don't object to foreshadowing as a general principle, do we? It's a way of building tension. It builds tension because we're told to look out for something, more or less, and yet we know that what we're looking out for is quite likely some kind of misdirection, like a stage magician's trick. A seed is planted, and we don't know how or when it will grow, only that it will, at some point, sprout.

I dunno, I think "prophecy" can be used effectively or not, just like any other narrative device, or just like any stage magician's act.

Here's a prophecy for you: You're going to die. No getting out of this one. Now, you're the stage magician. What are you going to do with that prophecy? In the end, isn't it really a matter of what's set up for the prestige?

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 9 months ago

//I'm puzzled that Tasha Lem is River is cited as one of the too many things going on in the episode, given that as far as I can see it's a piece of fan speculation that isn't in the episode at all.//

-They specifically mention River song as a Psychopath created by the Church to kill him. "Totally married her!"
-Tash Lem died screaming "several times"
-Tasha Lem can fly the TARDIS.
-Of Tasha Lem: "You've been fighting your inner psychopath all your life!"
-And, you know... she's boning the Doctor. (Easy money says she tops.)

It's true that "Tasha Lem is River" isn't directly addressed in the episode -- it's the ONE plot Moffat was willing to shift off to the next season. But Time of the Doctor underlines her probably-Riverness at several points in not-at-all-subtle ways. (Dies several times?)
Of course it's Moffat, he'd love to screw with our expectations on that, but given the existing "Wait, 'Name of the Doctor' featured River from a point AFTER her death, how is that possible...?" plot was had already been dangled I'm given to take the hints at face value.

Even if Moffat is going to defy expectations you cant' say that Tasha-is-River "isn't in the episode at all" because whether or not it's f fakeout the hints are playing with that idea.
Given the structure of the episode I think Tasha was slated to be introduced in Series 8 and we'd have learned her identity before this and since Smith bowed out Early Moffat just decided "screw it, I'm not cutting a single one of my precious plots!" and used her anyway, off-shifting the actual revelation onto Capaldi's first season.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Tasha Lem dies several times because after the daleks have tortured her to death they bring her back using dalek nanomachines so they can do it again. It's an indication of how strong-willed Tasha is in refusing to talk. That's clearly and straightforwardly what the line is talking about: they've just been discussing how the daleks killed Tasha and brought her back to life, but she didn't tell them how to take down the forcefield.

Nothing about the line 'totally married her' suggests that the Doctor believes he's talking to River. Likewise, it didn't seem to me that the Doctor was interested in her sexually or romantically.

The psychopath line connects Tasha to River thematically, but also to the Doctor ('one psychopath to a TARDIS' says River explaining why she won't become a full time companion). (Given that a lot of people complain that Moffat can only write two or three women characters, I'm not sure why Moffat reusing one of his basic templates suddenly becomes a clue.)
So we're left with the fact that Tasha can fly the TARDIS. That of itself is interesting, but doesn't seem to be enough to build anything on. She could be Tegan or Nyssa.

It's possible I'm wrong about Moffat's plotting. But certainly, 'died several times' has nothing to do with it.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

crediting the reader with being able to fill in the gaps or to just assume it doesn't matter.

I just want to point out that being able to puzzle out what might have happened during a narrative gap (or to infer that it doesn't matter to the story) and finding that dramatically satisfying are two different things.

Sometimes these storytelling techniques are used in ways that ARE dramatically satisfying, perhaps more so than not using them would have been. And sometimes, and I'd agree individuals will disagree about which times they are, they are used in ways or instances that fall flat or seem asserted rather than demonstrated.

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"The witches speaking in riddles in Macbeth would only count as poor communication if they were trying to be clear. As far as we can tell, they aren't."

And, again, why aren't they trying to be clear?

What exactly is the witch's motivation again?? Just one of Macbeth's many plot holes! ;)

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Oh Blimey! Alright jane I'll try and address your points.

PART ONE

I don't think I said that, to me, prophecies (in general) are a mark of "bad writing". I was talking about their use in recent Doctor Who, specifically in Planet of the Dead and Moffat's run.

Yes of course we may cite the classics The Oresteia the Oedipus trilogy, a bunch of Shakespeare etc. I would contend that in all those texts the context of the prophecy is paramount. That the characters receiving the prophecy are predisposed, if not to believe in the veracity of the prophecy itself, at least to give some credence to the phenomena of prophesying. That in the mise en scene if you like of the narrative, prophecy, as a signifier is a given. It is accepted by the characters and they act on it, often by attempting to defy it. This is also the case in fairy tale and fable, a genre into which it is evident Moffat was attempting to crash Doctor Who from The Eleventh Hour onwards. I believe he mostly succeeded. However, in utilising the trope of prophecy in a narrative about time travel, a narrative already tied up with achronal paradoxes, predestination puzzles and where the central question since Tennant's hubristic demise had clearly become 'can one rewrite history? Can one change the future?' was to muddy the waters perhaps too much. Metz in an essay on film narrative proposes that '...narrative is a doubly temporal sequence...there is the time of the signifier and the time of the signified' inviting us to consider that one of the functions of narrative is to invent one time scheme in terms of another time scheme. (eg. A character's whole life depicted as a minutes long montage). So yes predestination paradoxes? Bring them on! Temporal recursions? Yes please! Wibbly wobbly timey wimey explanations of effect preceding cause? can't get enough of 'em. Information about the future accidently leaking into the past? We can deal with that! Prophecies?...not sure....I just feel (subjectively of course) that prophecy, divination and general tea leaf reading and entrail raking is a fantasy step too far. Now that's not to say that I'm one of those "Fantasy has no place in Doctor Who it must be Hard Science or nothing" guys. I love me some potions and I'm totally down with the Magic-Realism etc. Bring on those Sisters of Karn I say! I think the mistake Moffat and RTD made was to introduce prophecy into the narrative more as a fancy set-dressing than as the foreshadowing effect that you suggest. The sing song spooky rhymes and sinister pronouncements would have had more weight if they had been contextualised, if we, as witnesses to the unfolding plot, had been able to determine whether they should be taken seriously or not. whether the information they contained was useful or, indeed as you suggest, misdirection. This might have been an interesting reversal of the fairy tale trope wherein, usually, the audience know the prophecy will come true despite the characters efforts to subvert it.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

PART TWO

So, can we have it both ways? Are these pronouncements actually prophecies or merely (as has been suggested by others) garbled accounts of future events by addled time travellers? I can accept either, possibly both; I'm only suggesting that Moffat handled the execution a little clumsily by being unclear as to what effect he was aiming for other than spookiness. In my opinion.

As to your prophecy about my inevitable demise...Well it's not much of a prophecy is it? More of a safe bet. However I'll play along. I have some experience of stage magic so what am I going to do? A good magician never telegraphs ahead what he intends to do. So here's some misdirection -

Freud, in his extraordinary text Beyond the Pleasure Principle written in 1920 says 'The aim of all life is death'.

Lesley Stern remarks of early cinema 'At it's most representational the cinema could bring into focus the unseen or previously unseeable...it possessed magical powers...could mess with time and matter.'

River Song once impersonated Cleopatra so let's end with some Shakespeare.

'You laugh when boys or women tell their dreams/ Is't not your trick?'
(5.2.73-4)

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J Mairs 3 years, 9 months ago

"Eleven stated directly that it was not a problem to save "the little people." "

When was that sorry? I can't remember Eleven saying something like that. :\


"Eleven has demonstrated that it is possible to alter fixed points in time if you successfully ensure that history plays out the same as it would have absent your intervention."

Time can Rewritten. History can't. An Image of an Angel, it itself an Angel. As above, so below.

"The use of the "webpages" detailing their personal histories is key here"

More specifically, it's *wikipedia* that's being changed.. which is funny on so many levels and a part of the episode I genuinely enjoyed. That and the scary water-zombies of course. ;)

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

@Anton: Thank you for your eloquent reply, and really, just replying. I love replies, they remind me that I'm still alive. I really appreciate it!

PART I

You say you're fine with future information leaking into the past, but not with prophecy. I find this difficult to understand -- if only because I don't quite see the distinction between the two. But, I think this is more a matter of semantics that I'm getting hung up on. Likewise, I don't think you're displeased with the genre mashup, if I'm reading you correctly.

So, let me see if I'm understanding what's really at stake for you.

Here's the bit I find absolutely valuable: "The sing song spooky rhymes and sinister pronouncements would have had more weight if they had been contextualised, if we, as witnesses to the unfolding plot, had been able to determine whether they should be taken seriously or not. whether the information they contained was useful or, indeed as you suggest, misdirection."

At first I thought what you're arguing for here is a desire to be in the "audience superior" position regarding prophecy. That is, to have a better understanding of the prophecy than the character, in order to fully appreciate the dramatic stakes in play (which is absolutely necessary for, say, irony).

However, I'm not sure this is quite what you're driving at, either, if only because we *can* fully appreciate the dramatic stakes for the character simply by being in the "audience equal" position; their desire to interpret "prophecy/future info" as it unfolds should theoretically be as dramatic for us as it is for them.

So I wonder, really, if your objection is to "prophecy" that's encoded as a riddle. For example, "The Doctor will die at Lake Silencio" is a very clear prophecy. We don't know if it's true or not, and we don't even have to have seen it beforehand (though we did, in this case, putting us in a superior position to the Doctor), but we can fully understand what's involved. Simply understanding the nature of the stakes tells us how seriously to take the prophecy, not the actual veracity of the claim.

On the other hand, "Silence will fall" is practically a riddle unto itself. It doesn't actually mean anything at the time we (and the Doctor) actually hear it. So it doesn't add anything to the scene at the time, other than to confuse and confound. In hindsight, of course, we can appreciate it because now we know how intimately tied the prophecy is to the plot device of the Crack, which is actually relevant to the whole story of The Eleventh Hour.

"He will knock four times" on the other hand has nothing to do with the bus trip, and understanding it in hindsight doesn't retroactively add to the drama of Planet of the Dead. And it isn't even really all that spooky.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

PART II

That said, I think it's a mistake to take these usages of prophecy as "fancy set-dressing"; they are certainly being used as foreshadowing, and with some great care, I think.

For example, "he will knock four times" doesn't make a lick of sense in Planet of the Dead, a story doesn't really have much to do with the outcome of the prophecy itself. However, the actual outcome of the prophecy is absolutely supported by the narrative mechanism of prophecy itself.

Now, in this case, the prophecy is buttressed by something pretty clear: "Your song is ending." Which is to say, at least we know the stakes, and so does the Doctor. When the knocking happens in Waters of Mars, the prophecy is re-invoked, and the Doctor's actions to prevent the fourth knock make sense. Likewise, when the Master knocks four times, it also makes dramatic sense, and it completely drives the Doctor's attitude throughout that story. When Wilf subsequently knocks four times, we (and the Doctor) know exactly what that means, and if we're invested in the actual character arc, it's powerful.

At least with "The only water in the forest is the river" we can glean some kind of sense of it. We know River died in the Library, which was called a "Forest", and though of course the prophecy refers to something else, at least we're on the right track. Furthermore, it makes sense that Idris would deliver the prophecy: she's intimately connected to the conditions of River's birth, which is part and parcel of the prophesy's revelation.

All that said, these prophecies are still riddles. They get processed intellectually, not emotionally. We engage in the cognitive activity of decoding them, and I'm not sure that particular endeavor supports the underlying purpose of drama. Maybe that's why you find them so unsatisfying, and why they might not be the wisest narrative conceit.

Like, when River reveals the "water in the forest" riddle, I flashed back to the death of Idris, and while Idris is certainly relevant to this particular prophecy, I was still momentarily remembering a different story altogether -- it took me "out" of A Good Man, however briefly. On the other hand, it triggered the emotions I felt at the end of The Doctor's Wife, and that may have added value to the Good Man denouement. Well, it does for me, in any case.

To conclude, I don't think the narrative conceit of prophecy (yes, I'm dying) is being used as cynically or superficially as you suggest, but I do think it can have narratological drawbacks in its deployment. Does that make sense, more or less?

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 9 months ago

In the interest of clarity, here's the exact Q&A from DWM in which Moffat clarifies the timestream thing:

Q. Will we ever get to see how the Doctor and Clara escaped his collapsed timestream of Trenzalore?

A. He turned round and walked out again, carrying Clara. Simple as that. But frankly it would have been clearer if Matt hadn't hurt his knee rather badly, and had been able to do the move!

So I guess we can chalk this one up to production circumstances, it seems pretty clear they were intending to show the Doctor walking out but weren't able to film it.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

I think you've cracked it jane. A riddle which we haven't the resources to solve because that information won't exist until the writer creates it in the future can only be frustrating. (That's not even taking into account the suspicion that said writer has, literally, literally, no more clue than we do). He/she has put themselves in a superior position not by witholding information but by neglecting to create it yet. Interesting how this discussion has intersected with Phil's musings on puzzle solving.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

...and of course your own musings on the meta-textual shennanigans of LOST which contained plenty of its own prophecies, riddles and paradoxes.

Yeah, communication is what it's all about.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

So, as an amendment to my musings on 'prophecy' in Doctor Who and in fact to the post above where I state that "A riddle which we haven't the resources to solve because that information won't exist until the writer creates it in the future can only be frustrating." Let me add this -

On reflection Moffat, and to a lesser extent RTD's use of riddles about the future woven in and around the show's continuing narrative is an experiment that, while for me was not entirely successful, obviously resonated with a good number of you here and I presume in wider fandom.

There is an impressive heritage particularly in children's literature of an isolated phrase or image, in itself meaningless and with no clear or determinate narrative function, sticking in an author's mind and inspiring them to create a classic work. Charles Dodgson's extemporised story to amuse Alice Liddel and her sisters which became Alice's in Wonderland), James Barrie's improvised games with the Llewelin-Davies boys evolving into Peter Pan, JRR Tolkien's opening line that popped into his head while marking exam papers 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' and CS Lewis's startling vision of a lamppost isolated in a snowy forest waste which inspired the whole Narnia epic.

So, a phrase or a 'prophecy' or an isolated and perhaps distorted image from a possible world that won't exist until the writer elaborates it in the future can indeed be a source of inspiration in literature and other media.

In fact isn't the show we are discussing and celebrating the fiftieth year of based on just such a premise? Both a startling visual image and an enigmatic prophecy? Over to you Doctor and Mr Chesterton -

'Not quite clear, is it. I can see by your face that you're not certain. You don't understand. And I knew you wouldn't. Never mind'
...
Just let me get this straight. A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

I think... I think that *we* might be making a mistake by engaging "prophecy" as something we can unravel, by treating it as riddle when ostensibly it's not. I wonder if it's part of our "training" with Classic Who cliffhangers, and the whole notion of trying to solve "how will the Doctor get out of this?" And really, we're all media-savvy enough to know that half the time the writers themselves don't know the answers to their questions.

So why do we bother? And, perhaps more importantly, why let it bother? At least in the context of modern Who, the use of "prophecy" isn't something to solve, it's something to look for. It's priming the pump, not a puzzle as such.

That's not to say that we can't be irritated by poorly-used prophecy in the moment, such as "he will knock four times," which is overshadowed by the Magical Ethnic trope, and, I dunno, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the other hand, even "window dressing" prophecy can be deliciously employed. What immediately comes to mind is Fires of Pompeii. The entire story is concerned with the mechanisms of prophecy, and when Lucius declares "she is returning" and "there is something on your back" to the Doctor and Donna, at the end of a scene where people are one-upping each other with prophetic vision, it's definitely played to convey a sense of dread.

In the end, at least for me, I like a prophecy that's teased out and seems to come together in a practically inevitable way. All the "clues" to Silence Will Fall, for example, aren't enough for me to be "prophetic" myself regarding what it all means, but the actual solution nonetheless makes complete sense to me, given the context around all those clues.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

@Anton: "There is an impressive heritage particularly in children's literature of an isolated phrase or image, in itself meaningless and with no clear or determinate narrative function, sticking in an author's mind and inspiring them to create a classic work."

The examples you give seem, to me, to function more like "mystery" than "prophecy." Mystery promises a future reveal, as does prophecy, but the former is rooted in the present, not what's happening in the future.

Chesterton's declaration above is a function of Mystery, because he's in the police box, he's there, it's all happening. It would only be a prophecy if, for example, Susan left him a note alluding to that description and his inevitable future encounter with it.

Again, though, I wonder if part of what's so compelling about Mystery versus Prophecy has to do with what in us as "readers" is being brought into play. A Mystery is at least in some respect presently happening, and quite often something visual or imagic, even in literature -- the lamppost in the snow. Prophecy, on the other hand, is almost always verbal. And these stimuli will be processed in different places of the brain; different cognitive functions will be employed. I think Mystery (and visual stimuli) have more far-reaching affects on our cognition, and have a greater chance of stirring our emotions.

So, The Crack is most certainly a Mystery -- it's something the Doctor actually encounters in the present, even before he understands what it means. We can see it, and it can even make a great T-shirt. Silence Will Fall, the prophecy on the other hand, is a slogan. It's just words, that can be parsed in several ways.

Not to say that this is mutually exclusive -- Davies's use of Bad Wolf being the first to come to mind. In Parting of the Ways he makes spectacle out of the words themselves, from Rose's scattering of the corporate logo on Satellite Five to, most impressively, the long shot of her seeing the words drawn out in chalk on the ground, so large they could almost be seen from space. But even here, the recurring words early in the series are played as Mystery as opposed to Prophecy -- they're in the background, for us to discover, and when the Doctor finally realizes they've been following him around does their prophetic function come to the fore.

Interesting conversation, Anton, thank you!

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Thank you for your responses too jane!
Briefly, I also think there's always been an element of the 'uncanny' or 'unheimlich' (as defined in Freud's essay of the same name) about Doctor Who. in its specific placing of mystery within the unfamiliar and horror within the familiar..
In the essay Freud describes instances where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being either uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar, proposing that the uncanny often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time.

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