Apropos of Nothing

(41 comments)

What's really interesting about Hide and The Rings of Akhaten is the consequence of Neil Cross being brought into Doctor Who. It tells us that Moffat was watching Luther, and that the shows were cross-polinating. Doctor Who and Luther, of course, currently share a tradition of being meaty character parts. The appeal is that they're big, broad, theatrical parts that give the actor a solid platform on which to build a definitive performance. Then they go on to get character parts as villains in American co-productions, and that's how they make the real money. See also David Tennant as Barty Crouch, Christopher Eccleston as every movie part he's played recently, et cetera. Except it didn't really work for Tennant - his movies never took off - and he's come back for another round of television where he's bankable; Broadchurch. (Is it good? Should I watch it?)

So, Doctor Who's a chameleon of a show. That's its Raison d'etre under Moffat; it will jump around and imitate all sorts of things in a schizoid fashion. And one of the biggest things Doctor Who has never really intersected with is the Prime Suspect style of show. Long stories where you know the villain and state of play at the start of it, and the pleasure is in watching the lead actor work through it. And where that very open perspective is contrasted with an emotional drama. So we have a story in which the mystery plot is one in which we watch the main character come to a conclusion we already know, but the emotional plot is one where we and the main character move along together. Luther is similar, but with a clever twist in the form of Alice Morgan, who plays the Irene Adler sort of role of simultaneously being a villain and a romantic interest. And so every episode (for the first season at least) the crime plot unfolds completely open whereas the emotional plot plays dangerously closed.

The open approach is a structure that works trickily with Doctor Who, because it needs some equivalent of a crime. And Doctor Who doesn't quite do crimes. (Nor does Sherlock, apparently - Series 2 has exactly zero episodes about Sherlock solving a crime.) Typically it's only possible to do that sort of open storytelling with a baroque alien invasion plot. So, for instance, in The Bells of Saint John we know who the bad guys are and what they're doing, but we build a mystery around why, since their plan is horribly over-elaborate. But it's hard to build an emotional plot around that, since having the Doctor fall in love with the femme fatale is just jarring and a bad idea. (Unless it's the Master.)

All of which is just to say that this is, structurally, how to understand the River Song story. It's an attempt to find a way to the Luther plot structure in Doctor Who. So instead of a crime we have a time-wime. But we and the Doctor still both know who did it: River Song. But River, like Alice Morgan and Irene Adler, is also a love interest. And since it's not strictly speaking a crime but a time-wime, there's no obligation that River be villainous. So she can fulfill the emotional structure of the femme fatale - the hero loves someone who's guilty - without actually getting into the messy bits of that trope.

And now that we see that Doctor Who and Luther were cross-polinating, we can see where Moffat got the basic structure and approach from. (Tellingly, the first post-Luther episode of Doctor Who is The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon, which is where the River Song story veers most blatantly towards the Prime Suspect/Luther format, to the point of actually having a murder to solve.)

In any case, if the Kickstarter gets to $10k before Wednesday, I'll post the Rose update - a 13,000 word beast that I'm phenomenally proud of - as a backer-exclusive update. That means anyone who has donated, even a little bit, gets to see it early. So please, consider even the low-end contributions like the $5 ebook, or even the $1 backer-exclusive essay (likely to be Big Finish's recently-announced The Beginning).

Also, we hit $7,000, which means the Logopolis Choose Your Own Adventure-style book is happening. That's available for pre-order via Kickstarter by adding $15 to any existing pledge level. ($20 if you're not in the US.) And right now we're stretching towards making some merchandise like prints and t-shirts out of James Taylor's fabulous cover designs.

Comments

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 12 months ago

That's funny - I just thought I'd refresh this site even though it's an off-day, and lo and behold!

My take on River as I'm starting to look at it - which is starting back at "The Time of Angels", and I really should get to watching that - is that she threatens to take over the narrative. She threatens the Doctor's position as the all-knowing (for plot purposes) mysterious character. She can fly the TARDIS better than he can. She knows where she is going. Etc. So he is rather frustrated by her at the beginning. This never quite goes away. The whole thing is a matter of things happening because they were supposed to happen, because of the way time works when you become a time traveler. They don't have much control over it. Part of why the River relationship is different in "The Angels Take Manhattan" is because it's after the fact for both of them. And she's hardened by all of it. As an audience we expected a normal love story, and so did she, but it didn't turn out that way. The Doctor had been afraid of her since the beginning. (Well, I'm not entirely sure about "Silence in the Library", but definitely after that.)

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Eric Gimlin 3 years, 12 months ago

While I fully intend to upgrade my contribution to a higher level once I'm sure what I can afford near the end of the Kickstarter, I'm now your first backer at the $1 level on the chance I can read your Rose entry early.

"The longest one of the project to date, and God willing a record I am never going to come close to challenging."- from your Deadly Assassin post. It looks like Rose wins, and I suspect Logopolis was in the ballpark as well.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 12 months ago

Currently the tally is:

Deadly Assassin: 12,705
Rose: 13,149
Logopolis: 13,628

It's not impossible that Rose will find another 500 words between now and Wednesday. There's a quick side point I want to add in, and I'll give it a once-over before it posts, which often involves adding.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 12 months ago

You should watch Broadchurch...very Twin Peaks like structure without the weird/sillyness

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 12 months ago

Aw, the weird/sillyness is what I *liked* about Twin Peaks!

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 12 months ago

Is there another episode since the series launched that is going to get anywhere close to that length? The 50th is the only one I can think of with that much weight.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 12 months ago

Without the weird/sillieness Twin Peaks would have been really dry and banal.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 12 months ago

I don't know. I could probably do that much on Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead if I wanted to. I know I could on Big Bang/Pandorica Opens. The End of Time could probably sustain it. Hell, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways could.

But those entries, along with The Three Doctors, the TV movie, and, to a lesser extent, a couple of others are enormously taxing on a personal and psychological level. They are not so much written as built inside of me and then surgically removed, fully formed, onto the page. I love them and am enormously proud of them, but I just can't on a regular basis.

Equally, I can't end the blog without at least one more after Rose, so.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 12 months ago

I so look forward to next Wednesday for the totally unrestrained Phil Sandifer. I really do think you're changing the way people think about Doctor Who, and that the Eruditorum marks a groundbreaking change in Doctor Who criticism and fandom.

I'm also now a $20 (from a Canadian) backer of the Hartnell 2.0 Kickstarter. I'll likely kick in some extra money after my end-of-April paycheck for an upgrade to the Logopolis art book reward. And I very badly want to get enough people together to make your $1000 Kickstarter pledge level that gets you re-enacting the death of Soldeed. Maybe I'll start a Kickstarter to raise money to make that pledge line on your Kickstarter.

You brought it on yourself.

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Anton B 3 years, 12 months ago

Broadchurch will give you much to ponder. How Chibnall can be a writer of such erratic quality, The many Doctor Who connections - apart from Tennant there's David (Hartnell) Bradley Olivia (Eleventh Hour) Coleman ( whose performance is stunning incidently), not to mention Rory the Roman playing a vicar! The cinematography and editing is excellent and the Twin Peaks mood is all to do with the psychogeographic connection between murder, landscape and collective mood amongst a small rural (in this case English seaside) community.

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elvwood 3 years, 12 months ago

The whole family were gripped by Broadchurch. I can't really see the Twin Peaks connection myself (except for one character and the outsider/insider detective pairing), but I haven't seen that in ages and might if I watched it again.

It was refreshing to follow through the investigation of, and consequences generated by, a single murder, rather than the "who's dead this week?" vibe of most crime-related shows.

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Alex Wilcock 3 years, 12 months ago

Alice Morgan, who plays the Irene Adler sort of role of simultaneously being a villain and a romantic interest...

I always think that's unfair to Irene Adler that so many terrible adaptations have turned her into "a villain" - utter cobblers and a sign that all those terrible writers are threatened by an intelligent and independent woman, so she has to be evil. Read the original story to see how she's been traduced.

So for me Alice isn't Irene at all. She's plainly the Joker, and Luther becomes Batman without the homoeroticism.

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elvwood 3 years, 12 months ago

Hm, I want to rewatch Twin Peaks now! I get the connection, though the focus in Boradchurch is different so it's not just the boring bits of Twin Peaks.

Definitely agree on Broadchurch's engrossing cinematography. For me, the Doctor Who connections faded into the background very quickly - I was watching a different show, and enjoying it for what it was. Although, after watching the last episode, we did tease a friend who hadn't seen the finale that David Tennant's character regenerates into Matt Smith...

My daughter worked out whodunnit, by the way, though she didn't quite get the "why". I didn't get it, so the level of mystery was about right for us - hard, but not impossible.

I'm kind of sorry there's going to be a second series. Chris Chibnall designed it as a one-off, and it's a self-contained story. I'd rather he tackled something different, though I can see the commercial reasoning. Anyway, all power to him for eight hours of gripping TV.

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Matter-Eater Lad 3 years, 12 months ago

And Ripley fits nicely into place as Luther's Robin...

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Froborr 3 years, 12 months ago

Not being familiar with any of his non-Doctor Who work (indeed, I hadn't heard of him prior to this), what strikes me most is how uneven he is, having succesfully written both the worst (Akhaten) and best (Hide) episodes of the season so far, and nothing in between.

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Assad K 3 years, 12 months ago

Perhaps I am not remembering it correctly, but Moffatt's Adler certainly seems to have been pretty villainous, to the extent that Holmes' desire to protect her seems rather.. odd. As far as I recall, she fulfils her obligation to Moriarty, even after knowing what the consequences would be. Which is, of course, not the Adler seen in Doyle's original story.

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gregmcduck 3 years, 12 months ago

I'm actually watching through Luther right now and, some light spoilers, but Ian Reed is totally the 21st century Mike Yates.

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Pete Galey 3 years, 12 months ago

[peeeeeeet here - OpenID is playing up]

I don't see that much of a difference in the scripts. If anything, Rings is narrowly superior in that it at least comes close to delivering on its initial promise; it's let down by some staggeringly inept direction that renders several sequences muddled and confusing that have no need to be. Hide is just a random hurling together of lots of popular "spooky" tropes without much apparent interest in coherence. It has the better set-pieces of the two - I love Clara and the TARDIS bitching at each other - but it still feels rather lazy and sketchy overall.

I would say, more generally, though, how maddeningly inconsistent this season as a whole has been. Some of the directing / editing faults are page one stuff, and this is from an era with notably better art direction than under Davies. The series hasn't lurched around this much since Davison, and then there was the dubious excuse that the producer couldn't judge scripts and hired someone who didn't give a toss to edit them.

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Froborr 3 years, 12 months ago

I dunno, Season Six was also pretty uneven, it just managed to concentrate most of the good episodes in the first half and most of the bad ones in the second, making it hard to notice. I mean, it's kind of mind-boggling that something as sublime as "The Doctor's Wife" shared a season with train wrecks like "The Wedding of River Song" or "Let's Kill Hitler."

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 12 months ago

I agree; perhaps it's just accentuated because it's from episode to episode. It might be the move away from two parters that makes it seem more uneven to me. But even so, I think LKH and WoRS, as much as Moffat had written himself into a corner he couldn't easily get out of, are competently mounted productions; I don't remember basic stuff like shot-matching being as much an issue as it is this year.

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Alan 3 years, 12 months ago

While I'm eager to get to Rose and a discussion of NuWho, I'm even more eager to get to The 11th Hour and the Moffatt Era. Because the flaws in his approach to DW have become glaring enough for me to theorize a unified explanation for them. In a nutshell, I think Stephen Moffat is what you get when you take Ian Levine and give him (a) direct production-level control and (b) make sure he's competent and occasionally brilliant at writing and producing. The result is a sort of "ascended anorak." That is my only explanation for the 45 minutes of television I just sat through that was a competently produced bit of television which, nevertheless, had no reason for existing other than Moffatt's personal disappointment with the last episode of The Invasion of Time.

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Prole Hole 3 years, 12 months ago

It's a bit of a British "The Killing" to be honest, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 6 months ago

Froborr: you say that as if you've forgotten those bloody pirates...

I wish I were you.

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