Ha Ha! He Got It Wrong On The First Line! (42)

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Sparkle with me.

It’s May 19th, 2007. McFly are at number one with “Baby’s Coming Back/Transylvania.” Akon, Linkin Park, the Manic Street Preachers, and Scootch, the latter with “Flying the Flag (For You),” their suitably disastrous entry in Eurovision 2007, which also explains why we have two weeks of news to cover. The Kerguelen Plateau, a sunken island off of Antarctica that used to be a part of India, is discovered. So is the largest supernova ever. Tony Blair announces that he’ll step down in June, finally clearing the way for Gordon Brown. Nicolas Sarkozy becomes President of France. And Chelsea defeat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final, the first game played in the new Wembley Stadium.

On television, meanwhile, 42. On one level, this is the most straightforwardly sensible matching of brief and writer imaginable. Take the writer who did the big action scripts of Torchwood and match him with the pastiche of a big dumb American action show. And on the other, there’s a level on which this script falls agonizingly short of its promise.

For all the hate Chibnall gets, his Doctor Who work on the whole isn’t all that bad. The Power of Three is marvelous until the ending. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is exactly what an episode with that title should be. The Silurian two-parter flounders, yes, but that’s actually the only time he turns in a story that just doesn’t quite work on a storytelling level. Because 42 does exactly what it sets out to do - it’s an efficient action piece that pulls off the actually fairly difficult “real time” structure. It hangs together logically, sets up its conclusion well at the start, and while it has a few ideas that deserve to euphemistically be called bizarre when what we really mean is “mind-wrenchingly illogical,” this is Doctor Who, and if it doesn’t do a sequence of doors sealed by an evil pub quiz then really, what show will?

And there are moments of the story that are quite good. Putting the Doctor through this sort of wringer is absolutely marvelous - his screaming and saying that he’s scared is  genuinely unsettling in a way the series hasn’t really managed since Sutekh’s dominating of Tom Baker. Martha’s attempt to make a last call to her mother, where they talk at cross purposes, is wonderfully heartbreaking. “Burn with me” isn’t quite “are you my mummy,” but you can still properly freak someone out with it.

Most obviously, of course, it’s directed by Graham Harper, so we get a ton of interesting camera angles and well-executed visuals. The scene of the Doctor and Martha staring out the windows at each other as the escape pod separates is an absolutely phenomenally shot scene. “The Doctor and the companion get separated” is one of the absolute oldest and most bog-standard tricks in Doctor Who, and under Davies there’s been a particular focus on stressing the physical distance between them (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Gridlock, and, of course, Doomsday), but the shot of them physically receding from each other, watching each other drift away, and trying desperately to communicate across the silent void is absolutely breathtaking.

Sure, there are some flaws - the ship’s crew is forgettable. It’s hard to sketch a cast that size in one episode, but Chibnall doesn’t really give it much at all. Perhaps most gallingly, the final a-ha goes to the Doctor when, given everything leading up to it, it blatantly should have gone to Martha, who’s more than clever enough to figure out “dump the sun particles back to the sun.” But these are small objections.

No, the real problem is that the episode exists. This is, to say the least, an inscrutable decision. Sure, Doctor Who doing its own contorted version of an existing television show is standard operating procedure. After three “remake oddball story types from forgotten eras” stories in a row, it’s actually kind of a relief to see Doctor Who go back to mining new territory. But, well, look, why exactly is Doctor Who doing a remake of an infamously racist American show overseen by people who party with Rush Limbaugh?

To be clear, my objection is manifestly not that Doctor Who is taking on 24. That’s delightful, especially given the observation that reversing the digits both gives you roughly the episode length and a Douglas Adams joke. The problem is that this episode is nowhere near as brilliant as its premise and title suggest. Doctor Who inverting 24 to get to a Douglas Adams joke is a brilliant idea that shouldn’t be wasted on a straight remake of 24. Instead we get an interesting technical exercise - a game of “is it possible to do a Doctor Who story where...” in which all that can really be said at the end is “yes, it is. What’s next week?”

There’s an annoying lack of any sense of Doctor Who in this. It’s just another action episode - the fourth big sloppy action episode in a row. Sure, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks also had a sudden revival of the show’s educational mandate, but it was still the kiddie monster two-parter. Yes, fine, Doctor Who can do action reasonably well, especially on its new souped up budget, but all we’ve got here is “we can do action with a writerly trick too.”

Where this becomes really annoying is when you consider what the alternatives could have been. Because the real trick here wasn’t to do a real-time action piece with Doctor Who, it was to do what the title promises and give us the Douglas Adams version of 24. There’s no era of Doctor Who where the high point is its well-done action stories. No, not even Earthshock, which, if it’s to be called brilliant, gets that honor for Beryl Reed and some plot twists, not because it was actually any good at doing a big explody action movie.

Sure, in the new series it can do competent action, but the fact remains - at every stage in Doctor Who’s history, what it’s really been absolutely best at is dialogue-heavy science fiction that’s high on wit and cleverness. I mean, if we’re going to remind everybody of the fact that Douglas Adams wrote for Doctor Who once, perhaps we should also recall that Adams’s best script, widely and correctly considered one of the all-time best Doctor Who stories, period, was City of Death, a story that amounted to a bunch of excuses to get Julian Glover and Tom Baker to explain a pleasantly farcical plot to each other, and where the tendency for Doctor Who stories to resolve through action sequences is aggressively lampshaded.

Put another way, can you imagine if Davies had given this brief to Gareth Roberts? (Or Steven Moffat, who’s obviously suited to it, although he got his own version of “do the technically tricksy one” this season. And that was already him taking it because he had to pull out of the opening two-parter, apparently because Jekyll was taking up too much time. Which is surely true, but equally, good lord did he trade a two-parter that wasn’t in his wheelhouse for something that was.) If this were, instead of forty-five minutes of running through corridors a little faster than usual, then, you know, there would be something like a reason to it.

And it’s not like it’s hard to do something like this. I mean, coming up with talk-heavy reasons to have a ticking clock over the entire episode just isn’t that hard. But instead we have an episode where, on the commentary, Davies and Chibnall chortle gleefully about how they have the longest effects shot in Doctor Who history to show the ship falling into the sun. Those with a mind towards history might recall that this is exactly the logic that led to such classics as The Power of Kroll.

Inasmuch as hubris has been one of the driving themes of Doctor Who of late, this is, quite frankly, the sort of story that explains why. The only point of this is to show off. That’s an accusation that can be leveled against other stories this season, and showing off isn’t necessarily a problem, but what you really can’t get away with is showing off and hitting more or less adequate. It’s not, in the end, that there’s anything wrong with 42. It’s that there isn’t even trying to be anything particularly right with it.

It will not escape notice that this has not been a particularly great stretch of episodes for the series. Indeed, you’re on pretty solid ground if you want to suggest that this marks the end of more or less the worst stretch of four episodes in the new series. There may be people who identify another stretch they like less, but nobody’s going to suggest it’s an unreasonable suggestion. And it’s worth asking what went wrong.

One reasonable claim would be that the pressures of attempting this, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures all at more or less the same time overwhelmed the production team. Certainly three series is an awful lot to be running at once, and the fact that this was just about the worst blip in quality is something of a relief. Another is that the series was slightly rudderless at this point. It hadn’t just lost Rose, it had lost its entire supporting cast. A third is the observations from last post about Martha’s frailties as a character, although, equally, the fact that she’s the companion for the five weeks that are effectively the new series’ nadir probably don’t help her either.

Tat Wood, in the final essay of About Time 7, quotes former Marvel UK editor Neil Tennant’s concept of the imperial phase - a moment when a cultural icon like a pop group is bulletproof and effectively immune to criticism. Wood suggests this phase covered the first two seasons of the new series, hence his suggestion that 2006 was the new series’ annus mirabilis. Theres a certain logic to it, and the follow-up observation is that Season Three marks the point where that invulnerability faltered. It was obviously not the end - the series’ popular peak is, in fact, firmly still ahead of it. But between the misfires of the season finale and this stretch, the sense that Doctor Who could do no wrong shattered. This is, in many ways, ironic - in many ways the problem with Season Three is just that it ran its four turkeys one after another, while Season Two had the sense to space them out. On the whole, there’s a sound argument to be made that Season Three has the higher average quality.

Nevertheless, this marks the first extended run where one could describe the series as kind of crappy and not have anyone disagree with you too loudly. Sure, there are other stretches that attract lots of criticism, but here we have four episodes that it’s hard to find many defenders of. And this marks an important shift. The new series had its detractors roughly from before it was announced, but its obvious success always made those arguments hard to refute. After this the arguments that the show had gone off the rails stuck around a little longer and a little louder. Doctor Who could, in fact, do wrong.

This isn’t a major problem. Sure, it may be hard to find much objection to the idea that this is the worst run of four, but equally, there’s probably not a run of three episodes that get such a decisive consensus of love for them as the next three. This is obviously not some major blow to the series’ future. But it is the end of the imperial phase, and the point where the possibility that it could all go to hell in a handbasket again starts being a mildly present fear. 42 may be the one of the four with the least responsibility for that. But it’s still damning that, in many ways, the fact that it marks that transition is the most interesting thing about it.

Comments

Chicanery 3 years, 6 months ago

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is exactly what an
episode with that title should be." Rapey and full of sexism? Terribly unfunny? Help me out here, because I don't think Chibnall has ever written a Doctor Who worth watching.

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

I watched this for the first time a couple of nights ago and I think it's better than you allow. Well, I agree completely that it is a waste of the 42 premise. There's little to no resonance between the story and 24, or between the story and the real-time framing device, or as you say between the story and Douglas Adams. The best contrast with 24 that I can come up with is that it's a story with no real villains - the sun monster is basically lashing out in pain and the solution is to give it what it wants - which is I suppose a criticism of 24. Nobody resolves the problem by shooting their way out. Nobody gets tortured for information with no lasting trauma.

If you ignore the real-time bit, it's pretty solid. It's not only better than the last three episodes, it's better than The Shakespeare Code and Smith and Jones. Yes, Doctor Who can do much better than this, but if this is its baseline it's in good shape.

This episode really doesn't at all mend The Lazarus Experiment's problems with Francine Jones though. We're supposed to think that she's showing loving concern for her daughter, yet what we see is someone trying to micromanage her children's lives.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 6 months ago

"...the five weeks that are effectively the new series’ nadir..."

I don't want to go all GallifreyBase here, but can you just clarify exactly what this is based on?

Discussions about quality of Doctor Who stories often degenerate into Is/Isn't/IS!/ISN'T! arguments based around viewing figures, and while I'm intelligent enough to realise that simply counting the number of viewers is a poor way to judge quality, based as it is on the whole of the audience. Nevertheless it's still part of the spectrum, and in this case, these four stories were not absolutely in the pits (all 4 of them did better than "Blink").

Secondly, and far more importantly I think, the "perceived quality" of a story must be in part determined by the reaction of its target audience. Arguably Who's target audience is Family-stroke-Kids, and (speaking as a parent who has watched with kids) most of the enjoyment of a Family comes from watching it with the Family. The actual quality of the show is almost secondary. In short if the kids you're with enjoy it, you enjoy it. It's very rare that a parent will get up and walk off, saying "Well this is a pile of shit." leaving a bemused 7 year old on the sofa.

As far as these stories go (and judging by my kids and what I remember from being their age), these stories press all the right Doctor Who buttons: Scary monster lurking; Doctor in peril but managing to get out just in time; Companion in peril either escaping on her own or being rescued by the Doctor; Ticking Clock. From a 5 to 10 year old's point of view these are probably very successful Doctor Who stories. In fact by the same criteria, "Blink" probably isn't - the Doctor and Martha aren't in it; the monsters don't move; and the peril isn't immediately as obvious as something creepy lurching towards you.

On the other hand, if you approach it from the smallest (but most vocal) segment of the audience - fans of Doctor Who above the age of 12 - then everything's turned on its head. Blink becomes a masterclass in horror and suspense, while 42 becomes a bland US-inspired runaround.

Personally I've found that I get the most enjoyment from the current crop of Doctor Who by watching it as a child (as well as with children). So long as the only expectation I have is that there will be cool bits, creepy bits, sad bits and scary bits, I'm rarely disappointed.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 6 months ago

The worst crime a Doctor Who story can commit is to be dull, forgettable and boring. 42 manages to tick all three boxes.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 6 months ago

I felt like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship came fairly close to being enjoyable, but fell short because of Chibnall's obvious failures as a writer. Two examples of this really stick out to me. The first is John Riddell, who is obviously a colonial figure. He's clearly placed in the show to mess around with the idea of a colonial figure, but Chibnall fails to do anything with him but make him an awful sexist, and doesn't use him to make any statements about colonialism. The next example is the jarring tonal shifts between the scenes with the dinosaurs and the scenes with Solomon. You could make the argument that it's deliberate, but it never comes across this way to me. Ultimately, the problems with Chibnall as a writer in my opinion are epitomized by this quote: "Did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look Solomon. The missiles. See them shine, see how valuable they are? And they're all yours." Chibnall is onto something good here, but he hasn't quite reached it yet and it doesn't totally work.

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Prole Hole 3 years, 6 months ago

Yea I'm pretty much inclined to agree with this. The only real connection it has to 24 is the real-time format (and 24 wasn't the first to ever attempt that) and the fact that's it's action driven. I've always been of the opinion that people read too much into a punning title, it's just seems to me like a mild contextual joke as much as anything else. Other than that title there's no connection to Adams at all so, you know, let's not get too carried away. And while Doctor Who might not be at its best as an action show almost every era has its action stories (you might have a time finding a Hartnell one, but maybe something like The Chase would qualify) so it's not like it's a complete outlier.

If this was Doctor Who passing out of its imperial phase, at least as it does so it doesn't fall as far as, say, Fear Her or The Idiot's Lantern (this is manifestly better than either of those, even if just for Tennant's performance, which to be fair does definitely elevate the material here).

Also, I am not going to be the one that points out that City Of Death is resolved by "the most important punch in history".

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Nyq Only 3 years, 6 months ago

I thought it was fun and a step up from the Lazarusy thing. I also think it helped Blink by announcing that the show would experiment in ways that it hadn't done before.

Spacewarp: Sorry but while I agree that my kids liked 42, Blink absolutely captivated them and 'weeping angels' became a playground staple (which hadn't happened since "are you my mummy"...)

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, I'd go along with all of that. I actually think Harper's direction harms it a little, because everyone tearing around like its the most thrilling thing ever becomes unintentionally hilarious. His trademark of "lotsapacenenergy" looks on paper like a good match for a 24 parody, but the script just isn't there. One thing that occurs to me is that Chinballs doesn't realise that the point of a real-time episode is to show several storylines unfolding at once and bouncing off each other in unexpected ways - so yes, the writer of the Coupling episode "Nine and Half Minutes" would have been a better choice. If all you're going to do is say that a fairly linear story takes place in roughly three quarters of an hour, are you really doing anything that different from, say, Gridlock, which doesn't go out of its way to break the unity of time?

I confess, I nearly bailed after this episode. Thank heavens the rest of the season was better. One thing that worried me about this string of sucky episodes was that they were all sucky in different ways - Daleks was cheesy and manifestly illogical, Lazarus was indulgent and half-assed and 42 was ill-conceived and creatively empty. None of those faults are strangers to the Doctor Who fan, but it's not often you get punched with them one after another like this.

And also, you know, once South Park did their 24 parody casting Eric Cartman as Jack Bauer (the role he was born to play!), all bets are off...

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Ross 3 years, 6 months ago

Absolutely. At no point in watching 42 did I get any sense of why anyone thought it was a particularly worthwhile idea to do this story in "real time". It would have been more interesting if they'd called the episode something else and left it for the fans to speculate whether or not the episode was in real time (There'd still be no point to it, but at least then there'd be something interesting for the viewer to do).

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

It had dinosaurs. They were on a spaceship. What more does your inner eight year old need?

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Chris 3 years, 6 months ago

"The Power of Three is marvelous until the ending."

I've always felt it was originally written as a two-parter, but when Moffat declared no more of those, "The Power of Three" simply got cut down (the final four minutes of the first episode replaced with a slightly tweaked final four minutes of the second). I'm sure my "began life as two episodes" hypothesis will be disproved, but I'm going to hold on to my fantasy as long as I can because I did so enjoy everything until the magic wand ending.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 6 months ago

But why? The only consensus I can ever find is on internet forums, where it seem accepted wisdom that a certain story is terrible. But only within that fan community. For a person who continually says "This is not a review blog", and someone whose Classic Series posts often addressed head-on the accepted view of iconic Doctor Who stores, Phil does seem to following the path of fan consensus more and more as we approach the modern day.

I suppose that's unavoidable without the detachment of time between him and the story he's addressing. Still I do find it sad that he is finding it increasingly difficult to say something novel about Series. I mean compare the sublime viewpoint that not only isn't The Tenth Planet the first Cybermen story, it also isn't the first Regeneration story with this post that basically says "42 is crap....because it is".

This isn't a defence of 42 either. I find it rather ho-hum as well, and I rewatch other stories in this series far more than I have ever rewatched "42".

But addressing my earlier point as well, the possible influences of "24" and Real-Time US drama on this story are largely irrelevant to a goodly proportion of it's viewers, who would never have seen an episode of "24" (on account of being far too young).

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

I was more disappointed with this essay than I was with the episode. For a blog that's ostensibly not a review blog, this one strays awfully close to being a straight-up review. In that respect, the fact it calls out 42 for playing to the show's weakness (action pieces) is rather ironic.

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elvwood 3 years, 6 months ago

My feeling (with both The Power of Three and The Rings of Akhaten) is that the author was writing a story that wasn't about the monsters, and put all his energy into making the non-monstery aspects great - but took his eye off the threat too much, and then couldn't recover in time.

Of course, either/neither/both could be true, for all I know.

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elvwood 3 years, 6 months ago

My reaction was different: after five episodes that I didn't get much out of at all, 42 was the one that made me think, "yeah, this has still got something". Neither this nor Smith and Jones were brilliant (42 is almost exactly halfway down my league table), but they were the ones that kept me watching long enough for something to come along and blow my socks off.

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David Thiel 3 years, 6 months ago

Ironically, the two Chibnall episodes were, for me, the highlights of Series 7.1.

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Wm Keith 3 years, 6 months ago

What more? Allegory. Ambition. Character. Story. Fairness. Focus. Tone. Wit.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

The 42 premise rather harkens to Adams' vocal atheism, and the subsequent absurdity of a universe without deity.

And no, Who's 42 doesn't trade on that absurdity -- but it absolutely covers the ground of deity. I'm rather surprised that the blog hasn't gotten around to playing with the main theme of Series Three, which is an exploration of the Doctor as a personal god. And sure, it's easier to see in hindsight, but at this stage of the game, when the show is designed to be seen multiple times to catch what we miss the first time around, I think it's perfectly fair game.

In the series finale we have the Doctor resurrected as a forgiving Jesus, pretty blatantly. Martha plays John the Baptist -- indeed, the surname of Jones is derived from that source, while the name Martha comes from the biblical source of the Lazarus story; it's also the female equivalent of "Master." In Family of Blood we get a sequence that comes straight from The Last Temptation of Christ. We've got resurrections in Smith and Jones, and more Christian imagery in Gridlock.

So 42 is the story where the Doctor has become her personal god. She says, "You don't know the Doctor. I believe in him." This is all juxtaposed with the Sun God, who possesses men and burns women. The star itself, Torajj, sounds very much like Torah. But this kind of relationship has deleterious entailments. It means separation from the man, the individual. To be a god, the Doctor would be burned out from the inside. So the question of the Doctor as personal god is answered unfavorably.

The other thing about the number 42 is that the story has commentary on numbers built into it. One of the "pub questions" is about Happy Primes, for which the Doctor puts on his glasses (nerd mode) while standing under a ladder (ascension referent.) So, a bit of recreational mathematics. First, we should all know what a "prime" number is: it's any integer which can't be divided by any other whole number, except for itself, and 1. The "happiness" of a number is a bit more complex. We start by taking the digits of a number, squaring them, then adding those squares together to get the next number in the sequence, like this:

7 gives us 7 squared, which is 49
49 gives us 4 squared (16) plus 9 squared (81), which is 97
97 gives us 81 + 49 = 130
130 gives us 1 + 9 + 0 = 10
10 gives us 1 + 0 = 1
1 gives us happiness.

At this point the sequence ends, and if it's going to end it ends at 1. However, there are numbers that don't end in 1 at all. Instead, they go into a perpetual loop, like this:

42 gives us 16 + 4
20 gives us 4 + 0
4 gives us 16
16 gives us 1 + 36 = 37
37 gives us 9 + 49 = 58
58 gives us 25 + 64 = 89
89 gives us 64 + 81 = 145
145 gives us 1 + 16 + 25 = 42
42 gives us unhappiness. (Nor, obviously, is it a prime.)

This is a rather Buddhist conception of happiness and unhappiness. In Buddhism, one seeks to break the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, which only causes suffering. And in most conceptions of Buddhism, there's no personal savior.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

Allegory: Atonement with the Father. Sure, it's Campbellian, but it plays out in the relationship between Rory and Brian, and also with Amy and the Doctor. Amy's Doctorish in her own right; she even recognizes she has companions. And now she's borrowing the Doctor's position regarding who'll be the end of who. Meanwhile, Brian becomes the seasoned traveler, and Rory recognizes his father's wisdom.

Character: Brian Pond is absolutely glorious, and all three regulars are quite on form. The conflicts between them are all character-derived and honest. Even the minor characters of Nefertiti and Riddell serve as mirrors to Amy.

Ambition: On the production end it's quite ambitious. The story delivers on a promise that wasn't kept back in 1974. But even the robots are a marvelous work. The sets are quite atmospheric, and even evoke some the visuals of A Matter of Life and Death.

Story: Delivers on the basic three-act structure, with a myriad of conflicts and hooks. It's got the classic exploration of a mysterious environment, the pathos of Tricey's death, several different mythological angles to explore, some fantastic action set-pieces, the morality play condemning capitalist values, and one that doesn't let the Doctor quite off the hook for his choices.

Fairness: Can't see how the story doesn't "play fair" with us.

Focus and Tone: Yeah, it's all over the place, but in general the focus is on "romp" and by and large it sticks with that conceit.

Wit: Brian Pond's reactions to his situation are priceless.

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Pierce Inverarity 3 years, 6 months ago

I'm not sure if it counts as wit, or simply good acting, but this exchange made me laugh as hard as anything has in recent Doctor Who:

Brian: "Are those kestrels?"
Doctor: *beat* "I do hope so."

Something about Smith's delivery of that line just kills me.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

I think the ending of Power of Three is just about perfect -- Rory, Amy, and Brian Pond eating with the Doctor. It's the Last Supper, and they receive the blessing of the Father.

Oh, the bit with the Shakri? In a story that's blatantly a character piece, I thought it was deliberately mocking the whole monster aspect of the show. And yet it also serves to highlight the show's themes -- the danger of mythology -- which is ironic, given that Doctor Who is itself mythology. At a dramatic level, sure, it's not a huge success, but metaphorically it's right on target; the whole sequence plays with near-death imagery and signposts it with a reference to The Looking Glass.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 6 months ago

I try not to be the guy who asks these questions about short-sightedness on the internet, because this is the internet, and every time someone starts writing a comment, their short-term memory seems to disappear completely. To say that Phil has had trouble coming up with new things to say about the revived series utterly ignores 1) the brilliant explorations of alchemical imagery that he brings back from his David Whitaker analysis for Evolution of the Daleks, which was only just this Monday; 2) his account of Torchwood season one as actually being about something profound, rather than a mediocre spinoff that overdoes the gratuitous sex and violence; 3) the entire genre-based mode of storytelling analysis that began with Rose (the episode); and I only want to name the first three things I can think of this morning.

I find the idea that somehow the Eruditorum is running out of new or interesting things to say utterly ridiculous. The frequency of remarkable essays to reasonably interesting to read essays has always stayed pretty much the same. 42 is a story that didn't really live up to its potential to be interesting. It could have been, as Phil and the episode's title suggest, a pastiche of Douglas Adams social/metaphysical satire with the action-paranoia style of 24, the latter having already become a self-parody by 2007. But Chibnall and Harper largely drop that ball, if they ever even saw that anyone was passing it to them. This is, instead, a straight action story that uses the 24 gimmick; that's how it's written, and how it's shot. The story could have been developed as a multi-levelled satire of action tropes and the imperialist idea that the world can be harvested regardless of consequences, allowing Phil to write an essay of the sort we regular readers love to see from him. But instead we got a generic action story with an Eruditorum essay that comes closest in a long time to being a generic review.

Of course, I can think of no better way for an essay to critique how generic this episode is, and what a fall it is from the misfired ambitions of Evolution and Lazarus, than to write an essay that seems like it isn't trying about an episode that seems like it isn't trying.

And I can think of no better way for me to explain my redemptive reading of Phil's refusal to give a redemptive reading to 42 than to write it in a reply to a reply to a comment.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

Don't forget, the reptiles aren't the only dinosaurs on that spaceship.

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Ross 3 years, 6 months ago

Maybe the reason that Phil is drawing closer to fan consensus has to do with psychochronography: if our host's approach to the classic series is wrapped up in understanding of the stories as existing in a particular place in space and time and culture, it shouldn't be surprising that the closer that space-and-time-and-culture gets to "here-and-now-and-this-one", the less his position differs from the common consensus. That is, it's not that Phil is moving closer to fan consensus, it's that fan consensus is moving closer to him

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah that was a really interesting and enjoyable episode let down only by its having to turn back into a Doctor Who episode in the last 15 minutes.

The villain, too, was one of the least compelling the new series has yet managed. Matt Smith was playing it like he was facing a figure from his nightmares, but it was just some old guy going on about "The TALLY!" Yawn. And is it just me or did they leave all those people on the ship to die?

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 6 months ago

That's precisely what The Power of Three is about. The typical way to think of an ending to a Doctor Who story is as the defeat of the bad guys, and what comes after is the epilogue. But The Power of Three isn't even set up to be about the plot — all the imagery of the plot like the generic nature of the Shakri and the purposely blank cubes that can also do whatever the writer finds convenient to push the plot forward is a kind of parody of monster and bad guy plots. The episode is about exploring the dynamics of this relationship that hasn't really been seen on Doctor Who before, where the companions don't actually travel with the Doctor, but live on their own on Earth, and he pops in for visits and vacations.

My way of thinking about Chibnall is that he doesn't do very good character development in episodes that are mostly focussed on plot. One thing I noticed about 42 was that, apart from Martha's phone call to her mother, every piece of dialogue was designed with the sole function of moving the plot. This was a dragging force in his Silurian two-parter as well. But in Chibnall's best stories, like his episodes for series 7, the development of characters is the plot.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

It's a real shame this episode didn't engage with either Douglas Adams or 24, after setting up that expectation with the title. I think it says a lot that the most interesting thing they could put in the title was the running time.

Is it just me, or was this more or less a remake of Planet of Evil? Thus continuing S3's conscious attempt to "do" various types of stories from the classic era.

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Archeology of the Future 3 years, 6 months ago

Of course! The dinosaurs aren't the only dinosaurs!

F**king hell Jane, I very often find myself in awe of your insights!

I sometimes look forward to your comments as much as the posts they accompany.

/gushing praise

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Spacewarp 3 years, 6 months ago

You know I think it's "fan consensus" that concerns me the most. Apart from the fact that it seems to be passed down as general knowledge that certain stories and/or seasons are "poor" or "epic", without anyone pointing to the origin of this consensus; if the comments section of this blog can be seen as a small cross-section of Doctor Who fans...then there isn't a consensus here. You only have to look at previous comments to see that posters disagree on whether individual stories are better or worse than others.

Even on a forum such as GallifreyBase, or the comments sections of DenofGeek you see the same thing. Posters decry a particular season or story, and defenders defend. Healthy (and sometimes not so) arguments ensue. If there was any kind of fan consensus that (for example) Series 3 of "New" Doctor Who was particularly poor, then one would see a majority of opinions online agreeing with this, and a small amount of naysayers.

But we don't see this. I suspect that what we see is the initial fan reaction, the one that was said first, and which people have repeated (most often from an influential onine review). If that happens to be "Rise of the Cybermen was a missed opportunity" then that begins to be repeated by online fandom simply because a review is somehow seen as carrying more weight than a personal opinion.

This is often confirmed by the tone of people who appear to be bucking the trend ("Well I'm ashamed to say I actually liked it") and for some reason feel they have to apologise for liking something that "fan consensus" says is rubbish.

Fan Consensus certainly becomes more concrete with time. At the moment, we see phrases like "The Jury's still out" when we're still partway through a series, or indeed when it's just ended. It still remains to be seen whether Series 7B is better or worse than Series 7A, and things are still fluid about Series 5 and 6. But look back to Classic Who, and it's set in stone. There's even consensus about whole eras, and the way they are often "re-evaluated" (see Pertwee).

This really is a way of thinking that I believe to be a strait-jacket to serious discussion and analysis of Doctor Who's merits and failings over the years, and yes I agree that Phil has managed superbly to escape from that jacket on most occasions. It's just a shame that fandom hasn't...and in fact is singularly unaware there is a strait-jacket at all.

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Chris 3 years, 6 months ago

Well, the DWM Mighty 200 poll put 42 136th out of 200, the Lazarus Experiment 150th out of 200 and Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks 152nd out of 200. The Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings site puts 42 160th out of 242, Lazarus 205th and DiM/EotD 223rd. In both cases these three stories were the lowest ranked of the season. That seems to be a consensus to me!

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 6 months ago

(I may have said this already here; if so my apologies for repeating myself.)

It's worth remembering that the set of traits which will endear a scriptwriter to a production team is not necessarily at all overlapping with the traits which will endear one to the audience. I strongly suspect that Chibnall is extremely good at delivering scripts on time which can be filmed easily within the allotted budget and do not exhaust the actors or stunt doubles, and that he takes editorial notes well.

The world needs ditch-diggers too.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

By the ending I actually just mean that final "let's work the title in" monologue.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 6 months ago

I come at this from a different perspective. I watched old Who in college back in the 80s. I didn't start watching new Who until Matt Smith. It was then I went back and first watched all of new Who and have now (thanks to this blog and adventures with the wife in space) started watching old Who from the beginning.

So my history with Doctor Who is all over the map (I've been watching it off and on for 30 years and yet Capaldi's will be the first regeneration I will see in real time).

Also, I didn't start reading forums on Doctor Who until I had caught up on the new series. So it is interesting to compare my impressions of the show as I watched them with "fan consensus". And I often find myself going, "Really? People hated that episode? I thought it was pretty good."

Which is really just a long way of saying that sometimes reading to much fan commentary can ruin your enjoyment of the thing you are a fan of.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 6 months ago

I am going to say this and leave it for the Episode proper to start the inevitable comment disscussion:

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" is the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 6 months ago

1 is the Loneliest number that you'll ever know.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 6 months ago

I would just like to say that the worst thing an episode of Doctor Who can be is Colonialist, Conservative, and Paternalistic.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 6 months ago

I wouldnt call Broadchurch an example of ditch-digging

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Triturus 3 years, 6 months ago

I think 42 is pretty good as well. It's not trying to do anything particularly clever, but I don't think that's a problem given that it succeeds in what it is trying to do, which is to be a fast-paced solid SF action piece with Doctor Who in it.

Although given Lewis Christian's comment at the start of this thread that one of the worst things a Dr Who episode can be is forgettable, it may be significant that when I re-watched Season 3 recently, 42 was the one I remembered least about, which was why I was kind of surprised to find myself going "Hey! This isn't bad at all".

So Maybe 42 is the Silence of Season 3. Burn after viewing. Otherwise you will remember nothing.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 6 months ago

I have to disagree about Blink; my niece got *exactly* what the peril was it was and why it was creepy as hell (The statues are scary because they *don't* move? But there's statues that don't move everywhere!)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 6 months ago

@Chris

Yes, but how many people voted in the DWM Mighty 200 Poll? Wikipedia (yeah I know, but still...) has it that DWM's circulation is about 35,000. Voters in the Dynamic Rankings site, maybe less, maybe more, who knows? But my point stands that we're talking a consensus of a subset of fans (the ones who voted), who are themselves a minute subset of viewers.

And yet an argument that we so often hear online is that BARB Audience Viewing Figures are no guarantee of quality. In other words if 9 million viewers watched an episode of Doctor Who and gave it an AI of 86%, that statistic is somehow less important than the rating it got in a poll of Doctor Who fans?

To be honest, for a certain subset of Fandom I suspect it goes like this (present company excepted of course):

1. Fan watches Story/Series/Era. Forms personal opinion.

2. Checks out Popular View of said Story/Series/Era.

3. If popular view matches personal opinion, Popular view is used as justification of opinion in future online discussions

4. If popular view opposite to personal opinion one of two things happens:

a) If popular view positive and personal opinion negative, an agressive tack is taken when discussing online with anyone who holds opposite view, claiming that popular consensus is wrong.

b) if popular view negative and personal opinion positive, an apologetic tack is taken, most probably because of the lack of a Popular View to use as justification for one's own opinion.

c) In rare cases the Fan quietly changes their opinion and hopes no-one notices.

:D

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

My problem with The Power of Three is that it doesn't really do the character development either. It takes a strong premise, looks like it's running with it really well, and then it turns out that it was just running on the spot. It was a good place to start from, but it seemed as if Chibnall didn't know where he wanted to go with it. That said, there was a limit to where Chibnall could go with it, given that it wasn't an arc episode.


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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

Just to add: I like the evil pub quiz; or rather that the crew set up the evil pub quiz while drunk and then didn't update it when they got sober or when some of the crew members left. That's the sort of illogicality that actually happens. The last episode of Pyramids of Mars would be instantly improved by a line about the Osirans designing the security system after they'd all got drunk one evening.

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 6 months ago

I think the AI is very much the "id" of audience responses - instant, unsophisticated, unconsidered. That doesn't make it useless, but it does make it incomplete. It seems to me that what can be observed about the AI is that it likes familiarity. Seasons with new Doctors / companions tend to take a brief hit. Episodes with returning characters / monsters tend to get a temporary boost. In the original series, The Five Doctors is joint highest. In the new series, Stolen Earth / Journeys End. Both are stuffed with familiar things that haven't been in the show for a bit.

Things like the Mighty 200 are self-selecting self-described fan views, but I wouldn't be so quick to assume that that means they don't correlate with a general audience's longer-term views. It's pretty clear that Blink, despite being undistinguished at AI level, has had a wider cultural impact since its broadcast than other episodes that seemed to be roughly equally well received at the time. Does that prove it's best in show? No. But if one particular measure of popularity only shows a 1% or 2% difference between DiM, EotD, Lazarus, 42 and Blink, I'm going to go ahead and say it doesn't really tell us anything productive about individual episodes.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

For me the metric I'm inclined towards is necessarily qualitative, but it's "who absolutely loves the story." Love and Monsters got crap AIs and widespread hatred, but it has such a clear block of people who adore it and think it's brilliant that it seems to me silly to call it the series' nadir. Likewise, I have a hard time with the "Season 24 is the worst season" argument simply because it's fairly easy to find people who love Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen (even beyond myself) - certainly easier than it is to find anyone to praise the Pip 'n Jane years, or Attack of the Cybermen, or Timelash as anything more than "not quite as bad as their reputation."

That, for me, is what's so damning about this stretch of four episodes - I don't think I've ever seen ecstatic praise for any of them. They are almost nobody's favorites.

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Ross 3 years, 6 months ago

It felt to me like The Power of Three was going to go off the rails when they established that this was going to be the episode about The Time The Doctor Came To Stay and Live Like A Normal Person, but then about ten minutes in, he gets bored with staying and living like a normal person and swans off for a bit.

Re Pyramids of Mars: Having grown up on Adventure games, I'd have preferred the explanation not be that they were drunk, but that the Osirans were just plain nuts in this particular regard. "Yes, that. Strange cultural neurosis where they just could not get over the idea that it was a remotely good idea to base all their locking mechanisms on discarded puzzles from the MENSA entrance exam. Tedious. Had to carry around a five quart bucket and a three quart bucket all the time in case you needed to get anything out of your safe deposit box. Popped back to visit them once with my old friend Raymond and he inadvertently masterminded the biggest bank heist in their history."

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Nyq Only 3 years, 6 months ago

I think Broadchurch will have a retrospective halo effect on Chinball's Doctor Who work.

On that note have US contributors to the forum been watching it - and when does it reach its conclusion in the US?

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Nyq Only 3 years, 6 months ago

Oh - and after the Rose fueled discussion of EastPowell street we all forgot to mention the presence of Michelle Collins aka Cindy Beale of EastEnders and whateverhernamewas on Coronation Street.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 6 months ago

Maybe it is an extreme case of Sapir-Whorf. If your native language is Osiran those puzzles are fiendishly difficult even if you've heard them before. The upside is that in Osiran it is really easy to work out stuff like transdimensional tunnel thingies and psychically controlled robots.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 6 months ago

//That, for me, is what's so damning about this stretch of four episodes - I don't think I've ever seen ecstatic praise for any of them. They are almost nobody's favorites.//

True but these episodes are about to be overshadowed. The top picks from this season are giants - so the stretch from Manhattan to 42 would never be the top picks from that season even if they had fewer flaws.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 6 months ago

yeah, i love the "general fandom preception" of this not being a good story, because, once again, i disagree. and this is one of the few times that Philip's spin on it seemed rather out of left field. I didn't expect any engagement with Douglas Adams, i don't think that there was any reason to believe that except a fannish part of the brain wishing it was so.

This was a decent version of Planet of Evil with an industrial spaceship ala Alien done on less budget, and done entertainingly well. The soundless shots when the pod was jettesoned from the main ship were exceptionally well shot and edited. After that earlier clunkers, this was the first story this season when i found myself thinking, "well done, that was entertaining. That was proper Dr Who." Long after the public has forgotten Keifer's annoying 24 series, this one will be in rotation as a fun sci-fi episode of Dr. Who. It will not be most innovative thing ever done, but nicely done.

Can we get a post, Philip, on bravery, specifically, being brave enough to challenge the structure of Dr. Who, either by the scriptwriter or the showrunner? I think that, given the discussion of Chibnall's writing, it seems to come down to him either being good, in 45 minutes, with plot or characters, not not juggling both well. the brave thing to do, with Rings of Akhnaten, would to have had no monster, but 45 minutes of fish out of water, first alien world, character driven story with no monster. And while Moffatt is brave enough to twist time around, he's not brave enough to do Dr. who without a monster. The power of three? I could care less about the ending, because neither could the author. But the rest? Brilliant inversion of the Doctor dropping in and running about in the real world.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

Jane - it is comforting to know that my readership agrees with me on which blog entries are kinda crap.

This and The Lazarus Experiment were as brutal as the depths of the Wilderness Years in terms of generating essays. They're just not terribly interesting and don't really have 2000 words of stuff to say about them. I mean, maybe I could have spun some waffle about the sun. But this one is largely about filing 45 minutes on the BBC One schedule, and not much more.

Ironically, I don't actually mind it as an episode. It's perfectly pleasant and largely inoffensive, and I continue not to get the Chibnall hate. But as a subject to write 2000 words about, it makes one feel like one is bashing out an essay for a particularly banal college class.

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 6 months ago

I've never been fond of 42, either...it's highest ambitions are mediocrity and while it succeeds at that with flying colors I find it difficult to commend it for that.

Not to mention that it really doesn't have many ideas of its own- the gimmick is of course taken from 24, visually it looks a bit too much like The Satan Pit (when I first watched it it really just felt like a rehash of that story), and even the plot is basically a redressed Planet of Evil- complete with burning eyes and all.

It's probably my least favorite of the new series...there are others that are technically worse, and others that are far worse ethically, but nothing perturbs me more than a show as varied and imaginative as Who doing something so middle-of-the-road and uninspired.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

Also, just popping on to add that I found the episode's treatment of Queen Nefertiti disappointing, if not enraging. I am very much an aficionado of Egyptian culture and the Armana period in particular. Nefertiti was an embodied goddess, married to the most revolutionary figure ancient Egyptian culture ever produced, and their marriage was, by all accounts, based on a melding of minds and genders that confounds observers to this day. That she would be deployed merely to engage in flirtatious banter with a character like Riddell, disparage Akhenaten's sexuality (it's easy to "queer" Akhenaten and remain on solid historical/speculative ground, but it's vile to use that in order to burnish Riddell's macho cred) only to fall into bed with him at the end, smacks of sexism and imperialism of the rankest sort.

Plus, she would have been bald under her crown. But of course what else should we expect from straight boys' club that found it necessary to give the Silurians breasts and short skirts so they would appear safely "sexy"?

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 6 months ago

Im in the US but I watched it a couple of months ago. It finishes on BBC America in 2 weeks

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Triturus 3 years, 6 months ago

I know we've only recently had the definitive Moffat / sexism post, and I really shouldn't get drawn into this, but.. I genuinely don't understand this. The new Silurians were designed by a straight boys' club because the female Silurians have breasts? That is... odd, even before considering how the word 'safely' is applied.

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

I think it's a little more than just mediocre. Yes, it's not spectacularly original. But it is doing things that standard base under siege Doctor Who hasn't quite done before. And sometimes doing things that haven't quite been done before is as worthwhile as doing things that are quite different from what's been done before, even if it's less spectacular.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 6 months ago

You could've filled some space talking about Joe Lidster's prologue (http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/misc/fiction/42_prologue/)

(IIRC, this was written because the show was off the air for a weekend due to Eurovision, so the official site provided this to help fill the gap. Ironic that.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 6 months ago

The Power of Three would've worked better as a two-parter which saw the Ponds simply decide to stay at home, as "stay-at-home-friends-for-good" of the Doctor as opposed to travelling with him anymore.

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Kit 3 years, 6 months ago

How many lizards with tits do you see in the average garden? (And contrast with the sexual organs on display in the original Silurian designs.)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

The same number you see that can talk and have zap guns. The original design was a full-body rubber suit. The redesign was one that allowed for individual faces and tried to maximize the degree to which the actor can move around to allow for a more thoroughly rounded performance. Sure, they could have bound the breasts or attempted to impose gender ambiguity on all of them, and I think a gender-ambiguous alien species that retained humanoid faces and movement to the extent of the Silurians would be awesome, but the point of the Silurian redesign is very clearly to give them as much humanity as possible and to make the monster costume as transparent as possible. Retaining human gender markers helps with that. It makes them look more like us, and their equivalence to us is what that particular monster is all about.

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Ross 3 years, 6 months ago

I think making the Silurians gender-ambiguous would be awesome in abstract, but as a part of the entire history of Rubber-Faced-Aliens in television, not marking them explicitly as female is pretty much de facto marking them as male -- if you tried to make them de jure Gender Ambiguous, you'd be making them de facto male (I mean, unless you managed the Star Trek The Next Generation level of boneheadedness in, apparently by accident, creating the Planet Of The Angry Boyish Lesbians).

Instead, they gave us a Silurian culture that is at least gender egalitarian, if not outright matriarchal. And for that, I think the fact that they let "A large percentage of female equity members have breasts" trump "It doesn't make biological sense if Silurians are reptiles adhering to the biology of modern earth reptiles in that particular way that they would have breasts" is a "mistake" that does, like, negative damage to the characters.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 6 months ago

Capaldi's will be the first regeneration I will see in real time

Me too -- with the exception of 7 --> 8, which I did see on tv in '96.

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Assad K 3 years, 6 months ago

Is there any removing of scenes from Broadchurch to allow the commercial breaks...?

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Assad K 3 years, 6 months ago

As I've said before, the Doctor deciding that the time to give Martha the key to the TARDIS immediately after she plays kissyface with someone who isn't the Doctor seemed a bit.. manipulative.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

Phil,

I totally get feeling that way about Lazarus -- in my own close reading, it just didn't offer up that much (at least with the Dalek two-parter there was a lot of interesting imagery.) 42, now, that's right in my wheelhouse. And sure, a lot of how the story is told is told through the visuals, which falls more to the direction than the writing, and seeing as this blog is more oriented towards writing than visual analysis, I'm not surprised it didn't give you much.

It's easy to post a bunch of screenshots on a blog, but that wouldn't help you much when it comes to the print books, which aren't in color, and where pictures are probably a lot more expensive just to print. (I assume fair use would cover any analytical purposes.) But, I dunno, especially when you get to Moffat's run, I think there's so much to miss without a good hard look at the actual images in play.

For example, in 42 there's a great shot of the ship juxtaposed with the sun, and it's obviously playing on the mythology of the Phoenix. Which makes sense, given the Sun Creature -- and also with the Doctor himself; ever since the Revival, regeneration has been marked by fiery visuals. But it's more than spectacle, because it's playing on the themes of the season -- the Doctor as personal god, and all that entails, as evidenced by the conversation Martha has with Riley in the escape pod.

I dunno, I think there's something interesting to say regarding the Doctor as a religious icon, and how that can be taken (and not taken) especially given the professed atheism of the showrunners. But maybe that's veering into academic language for a mystical take, rather than mystical language for an academic perspective, which may run counter to the intent of your work.

Just something to consider. "You too can be the Doctor," says Harlan Ellison. "Burn with me," the reply.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

I really like 42. I wouldn't go so far as ecstasy -- the supporting characters are pretty weak, a cast that's too big and too sketchily drawn to get into the meat of the central theme of the story, and Tennant overplays his hand once he's possessed. But it's better than Shakespeare Code, and half of Series Two.

This is a case where the genre collision -- Doctor Who drops in on a mashup of 24 and a reality tv (the ubiquitous quiz show) -- fails to serve the underlying story, and vice-versa. Even if all the quiz questions directly related to the themes of the underlying story, I'm not sure this would come out as a good fit. Perhaps if, instead of the quiz show, it was Mass for shut-ins...

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 6 months ago

Am I the only one that feels it would've been stronger for the Silurians not to look human? I'm talking faces here (I couldn't care less if they have breasts or not), but I think them looking alien and unlike us strengthens the point of them as characters, since we're so quick to assume they're evil monsters when in actuality they're just like us.

I mean, I suppose that was the point of the masks hiding the human faces, but it just feels like such a cheat that they become more identifiable once it's revealed that, oh hey, they look human, so they must be allright.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

I think that's also a really interesting story, but I think it's subtly but slightly distinct from what the Silurians are. The Silurians are ultimately a metaphor for indigenous populations. They're the people whose land we've taken. Adding inhumanity to that dilutes that metaphor.

In fact, if you want a story that does the same basic idea of "the monsters are actually like us" you're probably looking for, erm, 42. In which a generic possession baddie turns out to be justifiably upset over having been disemboweled.

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Mark Johnson 3 years, 6 months ago

"It is comforting to know that my readership agrees with me on which blog entries are kinda crap."

Now that is something you don't read on the internet everyday.

I thought the entry was fine. I actually liked the episode on first viewing and have never gone back to revisit it since.

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

The quiz questions themselves aren't important. (And we only hear three? of them.) What's important is what they tell us about the crew's lives: they only have time to deal with their security system when they've got drunk but don't get around to fixing it when they're sober. It's not the only thing they haven't got around to updating. The figure is synecdoche rather than metaphor.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 6 months ago

I like to imagine the Silurians' masks are actually their proper faces. I know that's me being a dick and ignoring the episodes, but it works for me.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

First off I am sorry I posted my comment way down here instead of in the "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" thread above.

I get that they wanted to draw a closer parallel between the Humans and Silurians, especially as it was the protective mother who set off the plot by killing the captive. My problem is that Moffatt just can't resist making everything conventionally "sexy" in a very fanboyish way. OK, reptile breasts, fine. But miniskirts and fishnet stockings? A friend of mine looked at that first publicity image and said "Oh no! They got Seven of Nine'd!" It's coming from the same mindset that puts Lara Croft and various comic book heroines in their ridiculously impractical, but sexy, gear. It's the same mindset that insists Nefertiti can't be shown accurately bald, because it would go against our ideas of taste, and would prevent her from having "sex hair" after she finally submits to the Great White Hunter.

The problem, for me, is compounded by the fact that while Moff & Chibnall obviously think they are being modern and progressive by making the females of the species the warrior caste, but the whole plot hinges on this feminine emotional lack of control, and depends on the wiser heads of the Doctor and the male elder Siliurian to get the hysterical females under control. I mean, why not make ALL the Silurians female? That would make more biological sense, remove that irksome patriarchal aspect of it, and make more sense of Vastra's character as well.

I really wanted to like this episode, there is a lot that's good or even great about it, and I really appreciated the attempt to update the moral conflict of the original for a post-Bush, post-Iraq world, but it just can't deliver on the promise.

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

@Seeing_I: Sorry, what, the Silurian outfits are sexy? I mean, I get that the whole ensemble has a fishnet weave -- not just the leggings, but the arms and the tunics -- but I thought that was playing off the Sea Devil design. Plus, with all the thick rings around their necks and limbs, and the ghastly metallic squares adorning the tunics, I'm really not seeing it. And considering that the Silurian breasts are so firmly concealed -- it's not like there's cleavage or sideboob showing -- it's not like it's an exploitative design.

Second, it's not like the male Silurians go without commentary. The Silurian doctor is given the Mengele treatment, and the leader is completely ineffectual. Alaya, the one who dies, doesn't lose her temper at all -- she's completely cold and calculating. Meanwhile, the Doctor taps Amy and Nasreen to represent humanity in the intellectual endeavor of making a peace treaty -- how is this a trope of getting hysterical females under control?

And no, making the whole race female would again carry a different set of connotations that runs counter to the metaphor of indigenous populations. All female, they become Amazons, and carry a commentary about women instead, which would be much more problematic.

Finally, Nefertiti and Riddell. I find your reading of the final scene problematic, assuming that it's Riddell who's submitted to The Great White Hunter, as if any coupling automatically carries this male/female dynamic. The key is in the earlier dialogue, where Riddell tells Nefertiti that all she needs is a man with a very large weapon. However, in the final scene, it's Nefertiti who wield the very large weapon. And this means that Riddell's dialogue is actually a mirror into what he needs, and that he's the one who's been bagged by the woman. Her big hair, by the way, evokes River Song, making these two a mirror to River and the Doctor. This should make sense -- we've seen White Hunter mirrored against the Doctor before, notably in the McCoy run.

But this is not to say that there aren't problems with either Chibnall story. The Silurians are problematic because the Doctor and the show continues to uphold and respect military culture. They're seen as integral to our prehistory, which continues the myth that militarism is integral and inherent to sentient life, but the archeological record in South America says otherwise. Considering how much Chibnall draws on the Pertwee era, I can't say I'm surprised, but it's still disappointing that militarism isn't portrayed as inherently flawed in the first place.

The Nefertiti/Riddell resolution -- where she has captured him, not the other way around -- continues to buy into the myth that men are redeemed by submitting to women. As mentioned in the Moffat/Feminism essay's comments, this is a rather Marstonian construction. It's not misogynistic, but it's definitely sexist, a step up on the evolutionary chain of the feminist ladder, but from the 1940s. The idea that any gender needs redemption from the other, or that one is more suitable to leadership than the other, is problematic. (Reparations, on the other hand...)

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David Anderson 3 years, 6 months ago

Broadchurch was on ITV originally. So there must have been room for commercial breaks originally. Maybe not as many as the US broadcasters would like.

It seems to me arguable that a detective mystery format could play to somebody's strengths in a way that an anthology genre format doesn't. The anthology genre tempts one to start with an interesting premise that doesn't really have a plot attached. Whereas with the detective mystery format the resolution to the plot is the premise. (In Broadchurch there's a line of dialogue - if you've seen it you'll know which one - that is almost certainly the seed on which it's all built.)

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Triturus 3 years, 6 months ago

Personally, I didn't think of the costumes as being conventionally sexy on first watch. Having just had a quick google image search to remind myself what they look like, I do sort of see what you mean, although to me the costume is more 'tunic and leggings' than 'miniskirt and fishnets'.

I had to google 'Seven of Nine' too, as I'd not heard of it before (never having watched any of the Star Treks). IMO the Silurian costumes aren't as sexualised as that get-up; it's almost just bodypaint..

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jane 3 years, 6 months ago

I think something like Broadchurch is easier to write well than Doctor Who -- though not necessarily easier to write.

First, you've got eight episodes to flesh out all your characters, which is a boon. The plot can unfold at a more natural pace, and as it's the sort of show that doesn't depend on spectacular set-pieces, there's even more room to breathe. You don't have to worry whether production can fulfill your vision. And on top of it, you don't have to figure out how the story fits into a larger season, and you don't have to write for pre-established characters that someone else created and that you may not know particularly well.

Of course, writing Broadchurch would take more effort, more time and work, because so much of it (aside from the genre stuff) is all original. But I still say it's easier to make a quality show given the lack of constraints.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 6 months ago

Something nobody else has mentioned is that, when I saw this, it felt like essentially the same story as The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. An action focus, possessed people, a setting that's hanging in space around a prominent astronomical feature... I mean, there's a lot of aspects that are different, but back on first viewing, it felt very retread-y.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 6 months ago

I was more pissed-off in "Dinosaurs" by the fact that Chibnall apparently is not very much of a student of history.

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 6 months ago

I actually mentioned it above- but yeah, when I first watched it I found it very hard to distinguish the two stories in a lot of ways. The only thing that really stuck out to me at the time was, as it seemed to for most people, the pod sequence. Other than that it really just felt like a rehash of the earlier story.

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Ciaran M 3 years, 6 months ago

Well, I absolutely adore Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.

Absolutely adore it. The last good Dalek story.

The Daleks all have wonderful personalities; Caan gets an especially lovely moment looking out over New York and musing over the destruction of Skaro.

And Martha gets to kick butt and do some doctoring, which is always nice.

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Robert Lloyd 3 years, 6 months ago

Jane, can you explain what you mean by a deity-free Universe being absurd? 'Cause some of us find that kind makes a lot more sense than the alternative...

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cardboardrobot 3 years, 6 months ago

@Assad, yes, BBC America has been cutting scenes from Broadchurch to allow for more commercials. From what I've read, it sounds like ITV has only perhaps 8 to 12 min. of commercials per hour. BBC America is closer to the usual 15-18 minutes. For the sixth episode, which is the most recent one I've seen, an A.V. Club reviewer referred to a scene where Tennant's character smashes up his office in frustration. We did not see this scene on BBC America.

However, the show is gorgeous in BBC America's lovely HD feed. It looks SO great. If I got an illicit d/l and watched using my computer monitor, it wouldn't look half as nice.

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