Here Standing In Front Of You (The Time of the Doctor)

(197 comments)

In this image, Clara is cleverly disguised as the number 2.
It's December 25th, 2013. X-Factor winner Sam Bailey is at number one with "Skyscraper." Eminem, One Direction, and Pharrell Williams also chart, as do Leona Lewis and AC/DC. In news, since Tom Baker last appeared as Doctor Who, the Syrian civil war rumbles uncomfortably on, and the official intermediate report on the Sandy Hook shooting was released. Paul Walker died, as did Nelson Mandella. Pope Francis gives his first Urbi et Orbi speech. Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi. 

So here we are at the last entry of TARDIS Eruditorum. Nothing flashy, I’m afraid. I can’t possibly go bigger than I did for Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, and the elaborate structural games of things like Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways or Ghost Light don’t quite seem appropriate. Just an ordinary entry, as befits an ending where, in truth, everything carries on perfectly fine without me.

Still, some cards on the table. Why here, first of all. After all, due to the twice-weekly schedule of the Smith era, these posts have carried on well past Series Eight. Why not blog it? Because Time of the Doctor is a good end, ultimately. And I needed one. You have to to end somewhere, and a regeneration story at the end of the program’s fiftieth year is a good place to do it. It gave me an end I could build to for a nice, long while, and gave me the same advantage with the Smith era that I had in every other era, which was knowing where I was going with it. And, as I discovered to my pleasure when it aired, it’s a good story. One of my favorites, in fact. 

Second, since this is the last of the posted-out-of-order entries, why have I been posting some stories out of order ever since I put The Name of the Doctor in place of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Which perhaps gets at another nagging question I should answer before walking off the stage, which is why I do odd things like this in the first place. The answer, for better or for worse, is to explore the idea of non-linear storytelling in a more direct way. So much of the Moffat era takes place out of chronological order, with consequences preceding causes and explanations preceding the things they explain. And that seemed worth dealing with. The obvious vector was River Song, the character in the Moffat era most defined by her non-chronological nature, and so I decided to put the River Song posts out of order. I considered both along her own timeline and backwards, but neither seemed quite appropriate. River’s own timeline simply prioritizes a different story while retaining chronology, and backwards was always going to be a big risk if she appeared again. So I decided to do it genuinely out of order, picking stories for slots based on what thematic concerns they engaged and what would come of contrasting those with the points in the chronological narrative they fell. I started with The Name of the Doctor because what’s most interesting about Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is the way in which it belongs to the future of the show, and so I took the most immediately present moment of the series that fit the bill.

Here, on the other hand, I’m breaking the rules a bit, since this isn’t actually a River Song story. But it is very much a story that’s haunted by River. Essentially nothing about the story would have to change if Tasha Lem were replaced by River, hence the wave of speculation that followed transmission. There’s that odd Trenzalorean who appears at the end in several shots, lingered on just enough that we notice her, who looks like Alex Kingston in much the same way that Barnabas deliberately invokes Caitlin Blackwood. There’s the odd non-plot involving Clara’s grandmother and Amy’s ring. And, of course, there’s the fact that this story is steeped in the past continuity of the Smith era, which is to say, the continuity of River and the Silence arc. Plus, of course, it’s interesting to take the final entry of the blog and of the Smith era and instead make it the fourth entry of the Smith era. Putting the end of the era right alongside its beginning feels like the right contrast in a way that The Angels Take Manhattan or Let’s Kill Hitler wouldn’t. So here we are. 

We have by now laid out the basic narrative move that underlies most of Moffat’s writing from 2010 onwards - the logic of narrative substitution. When this logic is at its best it is usually because the substitution is ideologically motivated - when the story that is abandoned is abandoned because there is something genuinely wrong with it, and where the point is that the new story is in a real and ethical sense better. When, in other words, the alchemy really does lead to material social progress. The Time of the Doctor takes this approach to its most brazen level as it considers and then ultimately rejects the narrative of death and mortality.

This is, or at least should be, impossible to do well. Narratively speaking, rejecting the possibility of death is almost inevitably going to be crass. Death, after all, is not an element of the social order to be rejected or reconsidered. It’s not a set of narrative tropes that we should have long since thought better than. It’s a fundamental condition of life. Rejecting death thus runs the real risk of crossing a line into just being ridiculous. There is no point to be made by declaring that you reject the idea of death save for your own mad hubris. 

But what jumps out about The Time of the Doctor is how deft and nuanced its treatment of death is. It’s the little things that make this, but they’re real and significant. The scene towards the end in which the Doctor has grown too weak to open the Christmas cracker, and Clara reaches to help him is an utterly tiny detail, but it’s a detail that tangibly comes from interacting with and caring for elderly and infirm people. This in turn gets at the real thing to highlight, which is the nature of the death on display here: death from old age. This is not the pumped up action of The Caves of Androzani or the tragic reckoning with fate of The End of Time. This is the most ordinary, mundane death imaginable - the truly inevitable one. 

This comes from one of the ostensibly controversial decisions that Moffat makes, which is to combine his insertion of John Hurt into the Doctor ordering with a cheeky continuity point of counting the Stolen Earth/Journey’s End regeneration in order to hit the Robert Holmes-penned regeneration limit from The Deadly Assassin. On the one hand, it’s necessary for Time of the Doctor to work. The image of the Doctor staying on Trenzalore to make toys for children and save lives is only as powerful as it is because the Doctor is giving the rest of his life to the decision. 

On the other, however, the move seems on the surface to scupper a story that many assumed would eventually happen. Everyone assumed, after all, that the Deadly Assassin limit meant something - that it would result in some big plot in which the Doctor would know he was mortal and, presumably, seek out extra lives or some way to save himself from death. The idea of a Doctor who was truly, properly mortal was, for a certain type of fan, terribly enticing because it offered the opportunity for some epic plot. And even if it was generally accepted that he would somehow find more regenerations (although there really was a set of fans who wanted the series to end and reboot), at least you’d get the big, dark epic.

Instead Moffat swallows the point as an incidental detail. It’s not until over halfway through the episode that the fact that the Doctor is actually on his final regeneration comes up. The means to make him the final regeneration didn’t even exist until the preceding episode. All told, the plot that everyone was assuming would consume an entire era of the show lasts a bit less than twenty minutes, all of them ones in which the audience knows that Peter Capaldi’s coming at the end of the episode. The triviality with which the regeneration limit is kicked down the road so that someone else can deal with it in 2063 is in its own way quite jarring.

But, of course, it’s just narrative substitution. And here there is an ideological point behind it. Moffat firmly and emphatically rejects the idea that the possibility of death would in any way alter the Doctor’s narrative. The plot point that Smith’s Doctor is the final one may last only twenty minutes, but it’s cheekily retconned onto an entire era such that the Doctor has been unable to regenerate since The Eleventh Hour. This is, of course, a brazen and pure retcon. In fact nobody making The Eleventh Hour knew that Smith was secretly the thirteenth Doctor. Nobody even thought he was the twelfth, even though Journey’s End allowed for it. This really is a flat out retcon. And yet the effect of the retcon is oddly perfect. It takes an era of Doctor Who that acted as though it was business as usual and proceeds to declare that it was, in fact, the big epic storyline that a hundred mediocre fanfiction writers had dreamt of for years. (And come on, admit it - who has never, ever speculated about what they’d do for the Thirteenth Doctor? Certainly I’m guilty as charged.) The point, of course, is to reject the premise of that story and tell a different one. A story in which the Doctor is somehow different just because his life is on the line, as though his quasi-immortality was the only reason he could ever be the hero he’d been since 1963? How wretched. 

Instead the entire point becomes that the Doctor would never have done a thing differently just because he was going to die someday. Yes, Moffat takes an entire storyline off the table, but he does so for what are, in the end, sound ideological reasons. He removes the possibility (or at least, delays it some fifty years) of a bad story. Even if one disagrees (I certainly don’t, obviously), it’s difficult to object to the decision in principle. Especially because in its place Moffat tells a story of quietly immense power. One in which the Doctor accepts death, but does not accept the vast, epic war that Trenzalore initially seemed to augur. Instead he grows old like everybody else, serving as a literal Father Christmas. He makes toys for children and keeps people safe, because every time he saves a life it’s better. Even in the end, when he tells Clara to remain behind in a gesture that will surely only keep her alive for a few minutes, it is for him one last victory. There is a pristine beauty to this; an immortal man agrees to grow old and die, just so he can save a few lives. The Doctor stays on Trenzalore for untold centuries, and everyone he saves dies anyway, and it is, in the end, not the point at all. The point is that he keeps the town of Christmas happy and safe for as long as he can. And when he can’t anymore, he faces even this with dignity.

This narrative substitution defines the entire episode, in fact. An episode billed as the resolution to all the plots of the Moffat era to date stubbornly refuses to give a moment of definitive resolution to any of them. The Silence become a joke about confession, the entire Season Six plot is written off in some throwaway dialogue, and none of the buildup and massive, sweeping story arc is given any space to matter at all. All parts of it that do appear are recast as benevolent. The ominous crack becomes a source of hope. The chilling decree that silence will fall becomes a slogan of peace. When the episode goes to big action sequences, they are almost explicitly flagged as narrative necessities. There’s one last scary Weeping Angels sequence (with a great new conceit - Weeping Angels coming out of the snow, so you lose sight of them), but it has neither setup nor resolution. It’s just there, existing for its purest purpose of giving the episode an exciting bit at a point where it needed an action sequence. 

As above, so below. The same logic applies to the episode on the level of individual shots. The Smith/Capaldi regeneration is done in a cut. The big scene we think is it isn’t it at all. The Doctor’s big “I will always remember when the Doctor was me” speech isn’t his last line. Neither is the Karen Gillan cameo. Instead his last line is, in fact, “Hey.” Perhaps more to the point, the moment when “our” Doctor disappears is swallowed entirely. The camera cuts away from him proclaiming that there’s a new sheriff in town, and when we next see him he’s old. When Matt Smith finally appears without prosthetics again, in his regeneration scene proper, he plays the part slightly wrong, showing more age than he ever did covered in latex. Every buildup and expected moment of the crashing sci-fi epic is instead underplayed, subverted, and rejected. Abramal and Marta, the couple who explains the truth field, get more attention than the Silence do. (And their lovely scene, in which the Doctor asks if the truth field makes life difficult, and they each, perfectly honestly, give a different answer, makes them interesting characters in a way that Tasha Lem simply never can be.)

And so instead we get a story that forces us to focus on the small moments - one that makes more of Handles’s death than it does of a massive Dalek assault. One where the Doctor stays on Trenzalore for, ultimately, no reason other than that he promised Barnable he would, and he refuses to do that to another child. (Note how Amy’s theme plays as Barnable hides behind the TARDIS, telling us everything we need to know about what story this is.) It is a story that continually considers the epic, and then concludes that, no, what is more important are people. And yet all the mysteries are tied off. The Five Doctors is invoked to remind us that the Time Lords can grant new regeneration cycles. Kovarian and the question of who blew up the TARDIS are all answered and explained. But the explanations are pointless. Coming up with made-up explanations for made-up things is, after all, trivial. So trivial as to be a pointless, empty pleasure. The point never was the mystery, but about the people around the mystery and how they lived their lives. And the answer is “well.”

And so the story ends. The Doctor grows old and dies for the last time. He faces the Daleks, knowing it’s his last battle, and does nothing but accept the inevitable. 

(Within all of this is Matt Smith’s acting. The story is, in effect, about the end of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and it is built as an utterly constructed piece to allow him to go nuts with his acting. More than any other Doctor Who story, ever, in the history of the series, this is a showcase for the lead actor. Yes, Caves of Androzani, The Parting of the Ways, and even in its own way The End of Time provided showcases for their actors, but this episode is placed on such utter high speed on its plot that there is nothing holding it together except for Matt Smith’s performance. In one sense this is the apotheosis of the Moffat era - a self-consciously incoherent shambles of sentimentality held together by nothing save for Matt Smith’s ability to flail about in unconvincing latex prosthetics. It is as though the script has gone out of its way to do everything wrong, to piss off every contingent of critic that has ever complained about the Moffat era, just so that Matt Smith can hold the story together with his sheer charisma. Ultimately then the episode lives or dies based on whether you think Matt Smith pulls it off. 

And if he does, it’s in an absolutely bizarre way. Because he ends with the most unsettling decision of them all - to simply stop acting like his Doctor well before the end. He is a completely different character in this at the end. As is fitting, given the script, because by this point the Doctor has slipped into a completely different continuity than it was in just one year ago. There’s no more River Song. The crack in the universe hangs there on the wall, but there’s nothing from its iconography here. No Atraxi, no Prisoner Zero, no Ponds or Williams. And Matt Smith’s Doctor has gone away as well. Now he’s playing some weird Hartnell pastiche opposite a companion who’s coming out of a world the audience has never seen her in. Clara gets a whole new dimension to her character here, so even she’s unfamiliar. And Jenna Coleman sells the hell out of it, finding new ways to be surprised in childlike ways. Yes, she’s unabashedly playing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, just as Matt Smith is unabashedly doing a physical comedy routine about old people. It’s absolutely bizarre. 

But it works because every production decision is spot on. The music shifts around tone enough times and ways to continually suggest new things and the sense that a story is advancing. The use of light and editing and pace is incredibly deliberate even as the story frays apart. By the end we’re watching entire plot threads of Doctor Who and the nature of its universe get explained with a single sentence quickly delivered, but we can spend ages luxuriating on a shot of an old man and his granddaughter figure opening a Christmas cracker on the day the old man dies. The question of how time works - we’ve fallen from “time can be rewritten” to “not even the future can be rewritten” - is literally squared away with a single line about the Time Lords, who are no longer a secret origin for the Doctor but weird gods of shimmering light that flicker like faeries through a barely opened door. All for the purpose of getting in the long pans across children’s drawings of the Doctor. It’s a stunningly meticulous program. 


This is born of real work in the Moffat era. In a very real sense, this is what the oddities of Hide and Journey to the Center of the TARDIS and even The Wedding of River Song have consciously led to. There’s a very strange and wonderful moment right as Moffat reached Let’s Kill Hitler, which is very nearly the point at which he simply ceased talking substantively about his show, to the point of not even doing DVD commentaries or particularly meaty interviews, in the Brilliant Book 2012, in which he gives an uncharacteristically detailed explanation of his thoughts on how the show should work in 2012/13.  “We had more public interest from Let’s Kill Hitler - just those three words - than any trailer we’ve ever done,” he explains, “so let’s do a series like that.” Which is to say, Let’s Kill Hitler was the explicit model for the anniversary year.

“Internal consistency is the only rule,” he says in defense of Let’s Kill Hitler. “The story makes sense within its own terms,” which are “a regeneration romcom, guest starring Hitler - it’s what the world has been waiting for,” he says with meticulous self-deprecation. Elsewhere in the book he goes further with this line of thought. “If you look at something like The West Wing,” he explains, “I’m not sure I’ve ever understood a single episode.” But he still identifies it as “probably my favorite thing ever.” His reasoning is that “an awful lot of storytelling isn’t really about making people understand - it’s about making people care.” And so he deliberately tramples over the mythology, consciously setting up an utterly ludicrous situation of someone who’s barely thirty playing a man who has lived for millennia and is finalyl dying. Moffat has simply walked away from the series lore and decided to make television with strange pictures like it’s a new medium nobody understands. This isn’t a sort of television or a sort of narrative structure anyone has ever done before.

It’s even reflected in the sort of merchandise and extras. Where there used to be documentary series devoted to explaining every detail of Doctor Who, now the paratext of Doctor Who is simply more Doctor Who. Minisodes everywhere but no explanation or apology. Everything is done in narrative now. And so we get, in effect, a little minisode with Clara and Matt Smith playing yet another different sort of Doctor - one who’s old, but with no more physical comedy and all with tone and pacing his dialogue. And then one in which Peter Capaldi flails about in a part he’s not actually had time to think about and is just improvising with, because they can and will sort his Doctor out later. This entire episode is just a sequence of minisodes in which Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman do Doctor Whoish things, over which Matt Smith slowly evolves his character to a dying old man making his peace with the universe.)

Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call. Everybody lives.

Because, of course, this was never about people. It has always been about stories. Death and endings are the province of time’s cruel lens, but the Doctor has never been a creature of time. Not really. We know the truth, after all: we’re all stories in the end, and the Doctor, lord of Fiction itself, more than anyone. The question isn’t whether people die, but whether stories do. And some do. Some stories have ends. Sometimes a story reaches a point where there is nothing more to say, and no more good to be had from it. Sometimes things end.

But not always. Sometimes they just change. Even when they do die, the world goes on, still tied to the past through memory and reaching to the future through imagination. Indeed, the maxim that everything ends and everyone dies is just a special case of the real truth: that everything changes. That everybody lives, and in living brings mercury to the world.

On a panel at the big official 50th Anniversary convention, Steven Moffat had a rather lovely little monologue. “It’s hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes are important. Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History books tell us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now, but heroes tell us who we want to be. And a lot of our heroes depress me. But, you know, when they made this particular hero up, they didn’t give him a gun - they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray. They gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts, and that’s an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”

A hero for whom death is irrelevant to why he is a hero. Who will simply save lives and make the world a better place, because he would never seriously consider anything else. Who doesn’t save the day or try to fix everything, but who just tries to make things better than they are. An eternal tide of mercury to sweep away the dead and the rotting and to give us space to tell new stories.

After fifty years, we still need this. Of course we do. As long as there are stories, there are Doctor Who stories. When the stars go out and the universe freezes, around the last fire on the last world, there will still be Doctor Who stories to tell. And when we are done telling them, at long and final last, in the distance will be a strange wheezing, groaning sound. And out will step an impossible man, and he will save the day.

The Doctor grows old and dies like everyone else, and until then he saves lives and makes people happier.

And then he breaks the rules and keeps doing it. Because that’s a better story. 


The End

Comments

John Callaghan 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for your writing, Philip.

Note that the Doctor can't regenerate in Let's Kill Hitler, even though he suggests it (and in Nightmare In Silver, too).

I much prefer the triumphant and celebratory tone of the TOTD regeneration to the self-pity of End Of Time.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

"It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for."

Love this story. Love this essay. That is all.

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Sean Case 3 years, 7 months ago

But what do we win?

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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Carey 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm surprised you missed the other narrative trick the Time of the Doctor plays: having cast the oldest actor to play a new Doctor since William Hartnell, and having to segue to him from the youngest actor to ever be cast as the Doctor, Moffat mischievously structures the entire episode around the young actor ageing into the older actor.

The Time of the Doctor is, from a storytelling point of view, the only way forward for Doctor Who after the epic that was the Day of the Doctor. In many ways, Time is the come down after the party, and I'd classify it as an "Anti-Epic." Big things happen, but as you rightly say in your essay, we never really focus on them, and instead focus on the small things that are happening around these epic events. The expiration of Handles is far more important than the excised subplot of the Doctor fighting the Weeping Angels and loosing a leg in the process. And the story (and Doctor Who in itself) is all the better for it. For as you say dying, or being wounded, isn't and shouldn't be important to the Doctor: it is those around him that are the important ones, and have been since the early days of the programme where he completed his character arc from a selfish old man to a hero.

Premature, I know, but many thanks for the Tardis Eruditorum-- it's been a pleasure to visit here regularly while having a tea break from work.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

It has to be said, and it's been bugging me ever since Christmas. If the Doctor has been carrying this secret for so long, then what the hell was all that golden smokey glow around him on the shores of Lake Silencio?

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Carey 3 years, 7 months ago

All the golden smokey glow around the Doctor were simply special effects from the Tesselecter. Remember, the "death" at Lake Silencio was for spectators, and the Doctor had to give them what they were expecting. If he'd have simply dropped dead after a gun shot, then the Silence would have doubted he was dead. It was all stage managed for the Silence (who were in story representations for the audience).

In my own personal mind narrative, the 12th regeneration being the final one doesn't mean that a thirteenth cannot be attempted. It's simply doomed to end in failure (something backed up on screen by, of all things, The Twin Dilemma and Azrael's attempt at a final regeneration) unless an external force comes into play.

Note also that the further into the regeneration cycle we get the more violent the transition, which is then contrasted with the "blink and you'll miss it" regeneration from eleven to twelve.*

*Am I alone in wanting to abandon the numbering of Doctors after the Hurt Doctor and start naming them after their primary attributes. So if the War Doctor is War, what does that make the rest? Grandad, Dandy, Scarf, Bland, Bad Taste...

Any other suggestions?

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IG 3 years, 7 months ago

I do wonder what the solution to the Doctor's 'death' was originally supposed to be. There were strong rumours that that season went off the rails for one reason or another, and that extra scenes were shot at the Lake Silencio location at the start of the season with the intention of dropping them into Wedding of River Song, but in the event they were never used because the plan changed. Maybe it was intended to be the Flesh Doctor that got killed? Not sure if a regeneration effect would make sense in that scenario or not.

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Scott 3 years, 7 months ago

@Carey:

My personal suggestions would be along these lines:

The Original Doctor
The Tramp Doctor
The Dandy Doctor
The Scarf Doctor
The Cricketer* Doctor
The Mad Rainbow** Doctor
The Question Mark Doctor
The Poet Doctor
The War Doctor
The Post-War Doctor
The Pinstripe Doctor
The Bow-Tie Doctor

* Slightly less value-judgemental than 'Bland'.
** Slightly more poetic than 'Bad Taste'.

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Dave 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh boy, I found it! Doesn't seem like that secret of a message though... is this some sort of subtle commentary on Moffat's de-emphasizing of puzzles and fan scrutiny in favor of narrative and character?

On a copy-edit note, you've got a Karen "Gillian" and a finalyl in there--unless there's some sort of code I'm missing ;)

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

For a while I toyed with naming the Doctors based on how they interacted with their companions were it a family-type setting:

Grandfather
Uncle
Father
Cousin
Brother

But Colin Baker's portrayal was the first truly alien in my opinion. I could say he was a know-it-all younger brother while Davison was a protective older brother, but that starts into some repetition that would get confusing - McCoy seems like another uncle, and McGann seems like an understanding father while Pertwee was a disappointed or overcaring father. New Series Doctors all seem like cousins to me.

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

I do love this story, but one part has bothered me. Toward the end, The Doctor tells not-Barnable that he has a plan, and then tells Clara that he doesn't have a plan. All within the truth field.

I'm sure it's just a mistake, and I should accept that. But what kind of fan would I be if I didn't want to hear some ridiculous rationalizations for this scene? Please offer up your convoluted explanations.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Once again, you somehow seem to see exactly the same things in this episode I did, yet not come to the conclusion "fuck this noise.".

Back in January, after stewing over it for a while, I finally decided, for the sake of my mental health, to go through the house, gather up every piece of Doctor Who-related stuff, and shove it all into a series of boxes, because I'm a grown-up and Doctor Who isn't worth filling up my house with thousands of dollars worth of junk over.

This entire episode is just a sequence of minisodes in which Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman do Doctor Whoish things, over which Matt Smith slowly evolves his character to a dying old man making his peace with the universe

Right. Because fuck telling stories. Who needs it? It's so much cleverer to have everything amount to nothing than to have it amount to something.

The Silence become a joke about confession, the entire Season Six plot is written off in some throwaway dialogue, and none of the buildup and massive, sweeping story arc is given any space to matter at all.

Yes. Moffat did an absolutely fantastic job of convincing me that none of it really mattered. Too good, in fact. This one was practically singing from the rooftops: "Where are we going with this? Doesn't matter and fuck you for caring!"

Thirty years. Thirty fucking years I have watched this show and loved this show. And then this. This big epic multi-season plot arc... That comes down to nothing. How could anyone work this hard and get this out in the end and feel anything other than disappointment? How could anyone not feel they'd been tricked, cheated, used? This isn't clever. It isn't cunning. It isn't a subversion. It is exactly as clever as pretending you've got a special secret members' only hidden message encoded in your radio play, but really it's just a cruddy commercial.

Fuck this noise, Moffat. I'm done.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

The Doctor has a plan to keep not-Barnable's hopes up? Or he's equivocating on the word 'plan': when he's talking to not-Barnable, he means 'things I'm going to do,' and when he's talking to Clara he means 'things that I'm going to do that I think will succeed.'

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Richard Pugree 3 years, 7 months ago

Long time lurker, first time commenter.

Thank you for this, this was just stunning (and for Eruditorium in general - the posts and discussions here are wonderful).

On a more boring continuity note, but one that actually does speak right to the heart of what is so good about this episode, how it approaches death and storytelling, and what you've said about it here, is that this (beautiful) reading only seems to work if we disregard Day of the Doctor. From that episode, Smith's doctor knows that he will get more regenerations somehow so that he can become Capaldi and eventually the Curator. With that knowledge his 'sacrifice' on Trenzalore becomes more hollow, no? Putting on a show of it and just waiting out the inevitable gift of more regenerations? Which, sure, is quite fitting in someways for what the episode is doing, but it takes one of the hearts of of the story I think. I'm quite prepared to take the episodes separately on their own merits and not worry about it - I thoroughly enjoyed both and they work well independently. But they don't quite square together unless I've missed something. Any thoughts anyone? What do we make of Smith's playing of this sacrifice if he knows that it's not actually going to be anything of the sort?

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Nah. It's just another Moffat fuck-you to anyone wasting their time expecting the rules to apply from one scene to the next.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

That does sort out one of the fan-gripes about the Lake Silencio event, which was the first the Doctor actually does die there, but then he somehow "cheats" Time by getting the Tesselecta to "pretend" to be him. Fans were complaining that you couldn't just do this, as it would be changing the past and wouldn't Time somehow "know"? But of course what seems to have happened is that the event Rory, Amy and River saw was always the Tesselecta. The past wasn't changed, but merely fulfilled.

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Matter-Eater Lad 3 years, 7 months ago

The War and Tenth Doctors both note that they can't remember their encounter with a future self. My guess is that Eleven and the Curator were specific enough in their exchange that Eleven likewise had to forget their meeting, but retained enough memory of it to have dreams about finding Gallifrey somewhere in the universe.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

This is also the problem with continuity and canon. Both Time and Day are perfect stories in their own way...so long as you don't think about one while watching the other. Which is quite difficult as they are only a few weeks apart. It's like "Journey's End" negating the impact of the end of "Doomsday". But then in 50-odd years of stories you're going to get this again and again, as Doctor Who desperately tries to remain unbound from the straight-jacket of it's own past.

Sometimes it succeeds by telling stories that are totally detached from the past ("Blink" for example). Sometimes it fails miserably, and clanks its way through a whole year dragging the weight of its past behind it (Seaon 21 anyone?). And sometimes it simply starts afresh (New Series One), only to feel the carbon whiskers of continuity starting to grow upon the brushes of inspiration. Series 5 was the first attempt by Moffat to rev up the motors and burn away the past, and he's got more daring as each season has progressed. Because Moffat understands what we, the fans, often can't yet grasp - that although what went before is flavour, it is also largely unimportant. What matters is telling the story.

Of course this is largely how humans think anyway - someone reminds us of something we said 20 years ago and for some reason we feel constrained to honour that statement. But whey the hell should we? Tastes change. I'm not the same person I was 2 decades ago, and I don't see why I should be if I don't want to. What I do want is to be free to be whatever or whoever I want to be. The series Doctor Who is 5 decades old now, so I think if it (and it's showrunner) wants to be truly unbound then it damn well ought to be, and we should be priveleged to be along for the ride.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Pride in the knowledge of a job well done, not that it involved much in the way of work or anything. It's just, you know, a Chinese fortune cookie -- no, it's like opening a Christmas Cracker and receiving some kind of joke, because it's certainly not a poem.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

His honest plan is to tell not-Barnable what he thinks the boy wants to hear. The Doctor was always good at figuring out how to break the rules. That is, after all, the nature of the mercurial figure.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

it's people who matter -- character, relationship, and all those shared moments that become ingrained as memory. Life isn't a narrative. It simply is. "Story" itself is a lie, and the "epic" is the worst sort of lie, unless (and only if) it's pointing to the greatest of truths, which is that

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Scott 3 years, 7 months ago

The Doctor does have a plan. He even says so:

"Talk a lot. Hope something happens. Take the credit."

It's just not the kind of plan that would settle the minds and nerves of the locals, who are clearly expecting something more along the lines of "amazing rabbit out of the hat that's going to destroy the Daleks once and for all". So technically both are true and neither is a lie: the Doctor does have a plan, but he doesn't have a plan along the lines of what Not-Barnable and the others are thinking.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

And so an episode meant to get that point across-that people matter, not things, that it isn't the gifts that define Christmas, it's the relationships-provokes you to devalue all the things you have related to Doctor Who (including the story "things," approaching the show as a series of puzzle pieces and not as stories about people, just as the Doctor treated Clara as a puzzle and not as a person until he stopped). At the same time, you're posting here, at a place where people collect to write about Doctor Who.

So you're saying that this episode had the effect it was written to have, so powerfully and conclusively that five months later, the effects are fresh, and that's a sign that it's a betrayal?

Looks to me like your experience suggests it was a wild success, just not the kind of success you were willing to accept.

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dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 7 months ago

Where there used to be documentary series devoted to explaining every detail of Doctor Who, now the paratext of Doctor Who is simply more Doctor Who

Sorry to go all I*n L*v*ne on you, but what definition of "more" are you using here?

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

Why are we constrained by something we said 20 years ago? Because that's a claim to the most important kind of continuity, that we were and are and continue to be alive and the same. Because changing means the possibility of dying, that thing that appears in all the best children's stories but that we try to shield children from.

The mercury-model is one way to conceive of change as life-affirming and life-granting. Not a denial of death, but an embrace of it as another change. That endings aren't just endings, that the real death is stasis, refusal to change.

Does it make sense if Eleven remembers all the Day of events that he should treat his death here as his end? Absolutely. Because he remembered the Time War one way until it changed. If your days are like crazy-paving, how can you trust that your past or your future will ever be quite what you remember? The important thing isn't that Eleven knew he was or was not going to die, once and for all. It's that he was ready to. What Ten fled, Eleven finally embraced. "The Old Man must die, and the New Man will discover to his inexpressible joy that he has never existed."

Continuity, like memory, plays funny tricks sometimes.

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colin malone 3 years, 7 months ago

...be...sure...to...drink...your...Ovaltine?!?!

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

...

Yes? It was a wild success at making me not love Doctor Who any more? Guilty as charged.

When the stars go out and the universe freezes, around the last fire on the last world, there will still be Doctor Who stories to tell

Only Doctor Who isn't about telling stories any more apparently. As God says in Mar-ville , "People should care about characters, not about the stories that writers make up for them."

Except, of course, that God was wrong and Mar-ville sucked.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

A few decades ago someone pulled me up on the fact that I was arguing from a position contrary to where I'd previously been. I shrugged and said "It's the prerogative of everyone to contradict themselves at least once a day". It was just a throwaway comment but after I'd said it, I felt strangely liberated and it's something I've stuck to ever since.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

If you're really done, you're doing a rubbish job of it. You're still here talking about Doctor Who, keeping it in your life, and being very invested in it.

Just because the episode is structured as mini-episodes doesn't mean there is a story; quite the contrary. It's the most effective way to tell the story of the Doctor getting old. What does it need to amount to? What are you looking for here that you're not finding? Doctor Who was never going to give you the definitive statement of your life over the last 30 years.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

You know what? That's a good point. I should stop picking at the scab.

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Scott 3 years, 7 months ago

It kind of has to be said; for someone who is 'done' with the show, who is genuinely angered and betrayed by what the show has become that this betrayal has apparently removed any fondness they may have had for what the show was before it became that which they now loathe, so moved to furious anger with a previously beloved TV show that they've removed any trace of it from their home apparently out of genuine concern for their mental health no less, you do seem quite quick to come to a forum devoted largely the show you no longer love -- and is not focussing heavily on the period of the show that made you detest it so much, no less -- to inform everyone of how you're done with it and now hate the show so much.

Please understand, I'm not saying this in a "so go away and let us gush over the show" sense -- I certainly don't want you to stop posting here, and have no power to make you do so even if I wanted to. But at the very least, it does kind of suggest that you're not quite as done with the show as you want us all to believe. That there is something that, even five months after you apparently gave up on it, still keeps you coming back to it, apparently even despite yourself.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, both are true, because "truth" isn't objective, it's always dependent on a context. The Doctor can say contradictory things, and both will be true, because they're true in different contexts. Which rather harkens back to the introduction of the truth field, and whether it makes life difficult -- both "yes" and "not at all" are true.

This is a union of opposites, by the way, a fusion of polarities. Which, you know, I've been yammering on about throughout Eleven's run.

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Toby Brown 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for helping put into words what I've found so beautiful about this episode. I've got a few friends who hated it (for quite ridiculous reasons; one 'expected it to be more epic', another said it didn't make sense - except I know a load of other people who understood it, so surely it makes some sense?) and occasionally we'll have a conversation where I try to explain why I thought it was so wonderful.
For me, it's biggest accomplishment is my mother and father, who watch the Christmas episode with me every year and occasionally catch a couple of other episodes, and went in without any expectations and absolutely loved it. They didn't care about the continuity references or the regeneration (my mum didn't actually realise it was Matt's last story until he sneezed and became Peter Capaldi), they just thought it was a particularly beautiful story about a man growing old while entertaining children and protecting a village, with the climax not being any confrontation with daleks or sontarans, but with him sat, frail and senile, with a young girl celebrating Christmas one final time. I'm just not that sure why anyone would want a story about the Doctor blowing up aliens instead of that.
Also, my mum had to hold my dad's hand during a couple of the dalek scenes, which is not only one of my favourite memories ever, but I'm also not sure whether there are many valid criticisms that can be made about a show that makes a 53 year old woman flash back to her childhood so vividly.

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BatmanAoD 3 years, 7 months ago

.... Guess I'd better finally watch this episode, then.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

Whatever the video in the middle is, it's coming up as a 404.

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brownstudy 3 years, 7 months ago

I need the semiotically educated text-whisperers among you to check me on these two statements from Phil's post:

"After all, due to the twice-weekly schedule of the Smith era, these posts have carried on well past Series Eight."

But..."these posts" have not carried on past Series Eight -- last week we were still in Series Six. Am I misreading this sentence?

"Second, since this is the last of the posted-out-of-order entries... "

So...this is the *last* of the out-of-order series, but perhaps not the *last* of the Smith season revaluations done chronologically as per the usual schedule?

And that picture of the Angel is definitely from the series 5 episode following VOTD. And this is where that post would have gone.

My own naif reading of these statements would be that they are clues to the type of structural game Phil likes to play with his readers and which many of us eat up (as some of us eat up Moffat's structural games). Which gives me hope that there is more to come. But damn, it does read like a final statement.

I'll know more if/when Wednesday gets here.

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brownstudy 3 years, 7 months ago

mistake, 3rd para: "still in Series *Five"

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

The heavy implication is that there's more non-chronological entries to come, it's just that from the perspective of reading this entry in its proper place, it will be the last one. To speak, hmmm, let's say diegetically, this entry "was written" after Series 8 finished airing. Of course, for the benefit of people from that distant time period using whatever the future version of the Internet Wayback Machine, series 8 has not yet begun to air here in Pastworld.

If nothing else, Silence in the Library still has to be published, and it sounds like it will be a doozy. I could hazard some guesses as to when we'll see it, but I'm no longer sure of what seemed so certain before this entry went up.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

In the sense of "televisual Doctor Who-branded material from the BBC that is not a transmitted episode of Doctor Who." So Confidential, minisodes, Totally Doctor Who, DVD extras.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Works for me and the random person I just checked with.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I think the difference, and I'm willing to suggest that it is a Strong Ideological Difference, is whether one looks at the story of "a dying old man making his peace with the universe" and sees it as failing to "amount to something" or not.

I think I accurately perceive what Moffat intends as the payoff to all those arcs, and it is "it's not the ability to make a big impressive puzzlebox that matters - any fanwanker can do that. It's telling a story about people. Here's one you've never seen before or thought of, by the way."

That's the intended payoff, I think, and it's one I very much enjoy. And I think it's a move Moffat has been setting up for a while. If you've not been suspicious of the arc and the epic since at least A Good Man Goes to War, you've not been paying attention. As I said in that entry.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I would suggest that Smith's Doctor was unlikely to read the scene with the Curator the same way that we did by virtue of the Tom Baker era being centuries ago for him as opposed to thirty-five years old or so, and by virtue of him not knowing that he's going to get to cheat death in the next story.

It's easy to go "ooh, a future Doctor" when you know the production reality of the show is that there will be as many Doctors as the public wants. There's no reason why the character should be aware of that paratext, however. And more to the point, I think assuming the character would notice and piece together clues and theories based on that is exactly the sort of logic Moffat is rejecting when he has the Doctor become an old toymaker who saves people.

Similarly, I assume only the Time Lords got the "no sir, all thirteen" line.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

This is probably a place to sadly comment that the original video was fifteen minutes long, and I had to cut it because I was getting blocked on copyright grounds on YouTube and had to use Blogger's video uploader instead, which has a 100 MB limit.

This did not impact the basic point of the video, nor its approach - it still came in and exited mid-sentence in the commentary, for instance. But it originally stretched about ten seconds further into the Capaldi era, and started back before Clara arrives on Trenzalore for the last time.

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brownstudy 3 years, 7 months ago

My latest brainwave: time can be rewritten and so can blog posts.
Especially if they'll be revised for later publication.

So -- this post nails his colors to the mast and gives those who dislike this era an opportunity to bow out, if they choose. And then, if Phil has thoughts later about this episode, they would appear in a revised version of this post in the Smith book.

I'm getting a weird sense that Phil's dissections of these episodes is fractally disintegrating into my dissections of his blog posts. Fractals, all the way down.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

As I noted on Twitter, this may be one of my favourite Doctor Who-related essays ever, if not my ultimate favourite. Not that I go around grading essays, but:

I didn't expect this, and groaned when I read the title. That indicates my response to the episode. Then I read through it and you just wow'd me. I still think the episode itself is pretty poor, but you've sold me on how brilliant the 'smaller' moments are, and I love the video in there too.

For me, there isn't a single scene in the episode where I'm on board with everything (dialogue, character, acting, everything together) but Matt is entirely watchable and he elevates the whole thing. I also love his not-quite-Eleventh-Doctor speech prior to regeneration (I view that very much as Matt, Jenna and Karen playing themselves more than their characters, although Jenna is still very recognisably Clara, the outsider to the 2010-2012 Smith Years).

Part of me, to quote Davison, wish there'd been another way - but I'm struggling to say I'd sacrifice this for something else because it actually has a number of truly wonderful lines, acting and imagery dotted throughout.

Wake up, wake up.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

OK maybe only the Time Lords heard Capaldi's Doctor, but in the Curator scene Eleven says "I never forget a face" and they exchange the quips about Baker having been / will be him when he tells him that Gallifrey isn't lost after all. Just as Three recognized One and Ten recognized Five, I think it's really stretching to imply that Eleven didn't recognize Four, or realize he was seeing a future self.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

Just checked it out and, for whatever reason, it's working in Internet Explorer (how horrid) and not in Firefox. Maybe it's some security option ticked somewhere that I can't find, I don't know.

Great video, though. Hadn't noticed that with Amy's ring. Also, I half expected that sentence to go "And this lovely final shot of two people in wigs."

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What Happened To Robbie? 3 years, 7 months ago

Here's where I got confused. So in the End of Time we find out the Doctor put Gallifrey and the whole of the time war in a timelock to protect the universe from the horrors of said war. I took this to be how he put an end to the timewar - no mention of actually killing anyone. Then in Day of the Doctor we're told the Doctor did kill lots of people, only for that to be then undone when it hadn't even be stated till that episode (although yes it was implied in earlier episodes but not confirmed as far as I remember).
Then the Doctor announces he is going to go back to Gallifrey. This seems to be (and maybe this was my mistake) that this is the start of an arc.

One episode later and he has the means to get to Gallifrey but won't because he doesn't want to unleash the horrors of the time war again. Which is where we were in the End of Time again with Moffat seemingly abandoning the events of Day again.

So if I'm right, Moffat (at least partly) retcons the end of the time war in the earlier part of Day, retcons that retcon at the end with the doctors saving gallifrey, then in the very next episode retcons everything back again to the End of Time explanation.

Please someone clear that up for me, I'm sure I must just be dense and it's all simpler than that and I've just got it all wrong.

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What Happened To Robbie? 3 years, 7 months ago

Really Ross? You don't like what Moffat does with the show so you now can't enjoy the previous 40+ years of stories that he had nothing to do with? If you've been a fan for 30 years you'll have already watched plenty of terrible stories surely. If we all abandoned the entirety of Doctor Who due to a poor story or era there would be zero fans left in the world.

I am not trying to criticise you I just cannot understand your logic. I think it would be a real shame to give up on something you've loved so long. Even if you sit out the rest of Moffat new showrunners will come along and do new things with the show that you might love.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 7 months ago

The explanation of the Silence, their ultimate goals and even the battle of Trenzalore was always going to be a let down. Resolved plots necessarily are less interesting that establishing plots. However I think Moffat did the right thing here:
1. The Silence aren't as big and scary as we thought they were. Great. That is what Doctor Who does - it sets up nightmares for children and then defuses them.
2. The crack is tied to the time war. Makes sense as far as anything in the Matt Smith era makes sense.
3. Christmas crackers - they are fun to open but seriously don't expect the joke or the prize to be actually that worthwhile.

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 7 months ago

Thirty years. Thirty fucking years I have watched this show and loved this show. And then this. This big epic multi-season plot arc... That comes down to nothing. How could anyone work this hard and get this out in the end and feel anything other than disappointment?

At the risk of piling on a bit here, I have to say: you've been watching the show for 30 years, which suggests that you slogged your way through both "The Key to Time" and "Trial of a Time Lord," no?

I actually completely agree with you that the Moffat era is pretty crap considered as a whole (and while Phil's redemptive readings are hugely entertaining, the problem is that in general they're much more entertaining than the shows themselves), but if failing to stick the landing on a long-form story is a show-stopper in terms of your ability to enjoy the series, I'd think that you would have gotten off the train quite some time ago now. Decades, even.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 7 months ago

The Time War was for the Doctor an unsolvable problem at the time. In the end he felt he had only one awful option. [This from the perspective of the McGann, Hurt and retrospectively the Ecclestone Doctors]
In the End of Time we learn more from the Tennant Doctor's perspective. We learn that not only was the war itself a terrible threat to all of time and reality but that the Time Lords themselves had fallen into tyranny. So the Doctor's unsolvable problem was doubly unsolvable - even if he could save Gallifrey from the Time War, Gallifrey itself had become a terrible threat to all of reality.
In the Day of the Doctor the Smith Doctor has had centuries to think on this. With the help of Doctors with the two perspective above he saves Gallifrey (solving unsolvable problem 1) but parks it somewhere out of harms way (not solving problem 2 but at least leaving it open to solution later).

Now what I really, really like about this is the Doctor's superpower is practical problem solving - and here it is displayed at an epic level. True, the Doctor's "practical" solution essentially involve deus-ex-machina-magic-disguised-as-technology but only because duct-tape would be a boring plot resolution if it happened every episode.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

Also the reason 11 is reluctant to let Gallifrey out of the crack on Trenzelore is not letting out previous monsters...it's the fact that both sides are so afraid of the other that it will start a NEW Time War. With Gallifrey having centuries to come to their senses without war, it's unlikely they'll try to murder everything right off the bat, if they come through at a time and place not surrounded by war.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Matt Smith himself is not such a big fan of his final performance: http://doctorwhoworldwide.com/2014/04/06/matt-smith-wishes-hed-had-a-different-ending-reunited-with-karen-gillan

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

'Objective' and 'dependent on a context' aren't contraries.
(In fact, if you look at it from a certain angle they're synonyms.)

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evilsoup 3 years, 7 months ago

Resolved plots necessarily are less interesting that establishing plots.

I've seen lines like this used in the comments a lot, but I don't think it's actually true. Citizen Kane is no less interesting once you know the answer. Neither is Madoka Magica.

I suppose in murder mysteries and so on, the kinds where it's possible for the reader to put together the clues and solve the puzzle, then that might be the case. But Doctor Who has never been in that genre.

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John 3 years, 7 months ago

I also groaned when I read the title, not because I dislike the episode, but because I find these out of timeline posts irritating. It was a very good post, though, and got at most of what I liked about the episode.

I do wonder, though, if these posts don't rather put the lie to our host's repeatedly stated claim that he doesn't want to do entries on Doctor Who without benefit of historical context. Because, well, all of his out of order posts so far have been about the most recent three episodes (although perhaps he intends to do "Day of the Doctor" again?)

Anyway, really enjoyed the post, even if I'm dubious of the methodology.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

"Why are we constrained by something we said 20 years ago? Because that's a claim to the most important kind of continuity, that we were and are and continue to be alive and the same. Because changing means the possibility of dying"

Hmmm. Surely the concept of a continuous self, the thing that makes us feel committed to something we once said, is the same thing that makes change and death pertinent ideas. You can't have change without a continuous thing that can somehow go on being while being different and you can't have an end without a duration. If continuity is an illusion and we are a branching succession of distinct present states replacing each other, then strictly speaking there is no meaningful sense in which we can change or die.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

Or to put it another way, "We're all cartoons in the end".

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

Wow, that article title is very much at odds with his quote.

“It’s very interesting the Christmas episode and particularly the regeneration. We shot so many different versions of that – we shot much more brutal, emotional and troubling takes and stories in there. The actual take that is used is an interesting one for me. But to be honest, although it’s still a great ‘Doctor Who’ episode, I think perhaps of what we shot and what was cut I would have chosen differently.”

Him choosing differently doesn't mean he dislikes it.

(Also, it's interesting that it appears he didn't get a say, whereas Tennant did get to discuss which version of his final line he wanted them to go with.)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Tennant's "I don't want to go" was supposed to be sung to the tune of REO Speedwagon's "I Don't Want to Know," but a tragic error with the recording equipment forced them to fall back on the 2nd best take. Tennant tells all in his autobio I Am Not Doc.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

(At 3:05 in the video, that's supposed to be the Ood bundling Tennant into the TARDIS.)

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rpundurs 3 years, 7 months ago

I feel exactly as Ross does - you all should be familiar with the concept of the spectacle; the train wreck from which you cannot look away.

I gave Series 7 a miss after Asylum of the Daleks seared my brain clean out, and did not tune in again until the "Blergh of the Doctor" trilogy. I was deeply disappointed and plan to skip Series 8 and start again with Series 9 with Moffat gone.

I know exactly what it is to detest what Doctor Who has become and disengage from the program without disengaging from the paratext. Disappointment is a seductive feeling. Nostalgia is just as effective at binding you to a mediocre present as is wistfulness for an abortive future.

So please let's not resort to trolling Ross with "if u dont liek it y r u here" or other similarly cliched, pat sentiments.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Which, you know, I've been yammering on about throughout Eleven's run.

Yes, it seems that you've managed to work it into the comments section of every single post on all three seasons, culminating in this rather short comment here. It was amazing how up to this intentional anticlimax they seemed to get longer and longer, until the one for "Day of the Doctor" which was almost as long as the post itself.

;)

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rpundurs 3 years, 7 months ago

@Aylwin

Ha! Love it; the Doctor as a Markov process or Mickey Mouse.

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Ethan Iverson 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks to Phil Sandifer for an astonishing run of fabulous Doctor Who analysis.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I'll just chime in as well to say that I really feel for what Ross is going through here, and I appreciate that his frustration with the show under Moffat comes from his love for the show as a whole and not from some shallower, more cynical place. I'm somewhere between Philip and Ross about the Moffat era -- sometimes I adore it, and sometimes it feels yawningly hollow to me, and sometimes both at once -- and I'm glad both of them are sharing their perspectives here.

I hope, for Ross's sake, he's able to get some distance on the stuff he doesn't like at some point in the near future and remember that it's just 3 or 4 years of something that's lasted over 50 in various forms. There's a lot of Doctor Who still to love if you want to. But you don't have to.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Philip -- Doctor Sandifer (throughout the run of this blog I've never been quite sure which mode of address I feel more comfortable with, or more to the point which one you feel more comfortable with -- maybe now that it's over you can tell me if I guessed right) -- thank you for this essay, which all but takes my own narrative (that this was a depressing and mostly unsatisfying end to one of my favorite Doctors) and substitutes a much more beautiful and satisfying one. At the moment, I still see both in oscillation, like that Viewmaster slide I used to have where that superhero or supervillain was green in one eye and beige in the other, but I'm hopeful your version will be the one where I resolve. I like it an awful lot.

I didn't wish for more epic, but I did wish for more focus -- less of the minisode / montage approach, but more of the throughline, more of the characters, more of the people. You contrast people and stories above, but I think the Doctor would always put people above stories, would never feel "this was never about people." I think it was, wasn't it? You can still have a story if you let a person die, but you can't have that person. My memory's hazy now regarding what I said about all the other Smith episodes, but if I didn't mention that one of my misgivings about Moffat is that the people, even just the characters, sometimes seemed subordinate to the stories they were in, I'm mentioning it now. I agree, I loved the Christmas couple, and would have scrapped every single Tasha Lem scene to have more of them, more of Barnable, more of Clara's grandmother, maybe even more of Clara. Maybe that wouldn't have helped the story. Maybe that's my point.

Still, this is really lovely, and that short speech by Moffat is too. Though I'm not sure I agree with the arguments you've put forth that his stories are proposing that view and undermining the opposing view even as they bombard us with it (it = the guns, the battles, the bravado, the "epic"), I see where you're coming from. And even though I know you're not as into the smaller Moffat-era stories as I am, I appreciate all the nice things you said about "The Lodger" and "Hide" when we finally got around to them.

Oh, and I'm also glad you obtained permission from your Kickstarter backer to share your reenactment of Soldeed's death with the rest of us as a special bonus at the end of the essay on "The God Complex." That was a fabulous essay and the video was the cherry on top.

In closing: you can never have enough hats, gloves, or shoes. Cheers, thanks a lot.

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Toby Brown 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm not the biggest fan of these out of order essays because I feel oddly like I've missed out in some way but they make sense. Phillip has mentioned before that as we get closer to the present day, the idea of 'historical context' becomes irrelevant because it just doesn't exist yet. The idea that we can reevaluate the Smith era in terms of it's place in history when we haven't even started the Capaldi era yet is silly.

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you all for your responses. I was expecting silliness, but you've supplied reasonable explanations. So points off for lack of riotous entertainment value, but you earn a passing grade nonetheless for answering my query.

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

Did Ross just give us a crummy commercial?

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Richard Pugree 3 years, 7 months ago

Well I can certainly be happy with some combination of all of the above.

I'm not sure I'd agree with:

"It's easy to go "ooh, a future Doctor" when you know the production reality of the show is that there will be as many Doctors as the public wants. There's no reason why the character should be aware of that paratext, however. And more to the point, I think assuming the character would notice and piece together clues and theories based on that is exactly the sort of logic Moffat is rejecting when he has the Doctor become an old toymaker who saves people."

though. The-Curator-as-future-doctor idea isn't only in the paratext - it's something that's fairly explicitly there in the text itself. Sure it's not quite to the point of saying exactly outright but near as damn it.

So I don't think the idea that the Smith Doctor of Day would have read it that way is anything other than strongly implied. Now, the fact that he chooses to do nothing with this knowledge is interesting because it's very different to how the manipulative, planning, lying Smith doctor of earlier arcs, who fakes his own death and tries to unravel the mystery of Clara would have behaved.

This change is fascinating and shows a growing old in quite striking ways, and how his being wrong about Clara has affected him deeply. But that means his not acting on the fact of his extra regenerations (or indeed the 'quest for Gallifrey' that that episode sets up), reads to me as something a little different from an acceptance of death in this way, or even a rejection of piecing together of those theories. It seems more that he's tired of them: tired of story arcs, tired of chasing mysteries, tired of chasing around erasing himself from history, tired of setting up elaborate schemes. So this time, he's just going to wait it out and let what ever happens happens. Which it then duly does. Which might be acceptance, or it might be resignation, or it might be stubborness.

This all may well be Moffat rejecting that sort of logic you describe, but it's the logic that he has spent the previous seasons having the Doctor follow. So yes, this story rejects the assumption that the Doctor would behave like that, but the assumption is only there because it's what we've been asked to assume up til now.

Which is great, and I have no objections to the story being changed like this, but it does affect what we may want to read into the motivations for waiting it out.

So...yeah, that got a bit rambling.

Luckily for you all I waited until the final Eruditorium post to make my first comments, so there wont be any chances for further ones.

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HarlequiNQB 3 years, 7 months ago

The correct form of address is Doctor Phil, naturally.

I think I'll go and hide now.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 7 months ago

Let's consider this a cycle. Moffat's first televised writing for Doctor Who was (I believe) "The Curse of Fatal Death". In this it is proposed that The Doctor is so wonderful that even the universe doesn't want him to die.

And so we get a story in which the idea that The Doctor might die is put in its proper place: as a story that never ends as long as people don't want it to end. Not today. Maybe some day. But not today.

I think it is not a coincidence that Clara's pleading to the timelords almost sounds like Peter's pleading to the audience when Tinkerbell is poisoned. The fairy will live if we want it to live.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

As I think I mentioned in the entry on "The Snowmen," if I'd married a woman who had been raised to be my assassin, I might be a little hypervigilant too about meeting Clara multiple times. I suppose there's a sense in which we're supposed to regard "seeing Clara as a puzzle" as the wrong end of the stick, but it doesn't strike me as a moral failing on the Doctor's part, just a bit of a false alarm. Maybe this is one of those places, like the end of "The Beast Below," where the representative elements used to illustrate a theme are a bit too complicated to represent the theme cleanly.

Luckily for you all I waited until the final Eruditorium post to make my first comments, so there wont be any chances for further ones.

Time can be rewritten. Already I find myself starting to remember all sorts of awesome comments you made leading up to this one. I won't say what they were, though. Spoilers!

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 7 months ago

We find out at the End of Time that the Doctor destroyed the Time Lords and Daleks with the Moment, which put Gallifrey/the Daleks in a Time Lock. We find out at the end of Day that the Eleventh Doctor undid this before it happened. What happens in Time of the Doctor, then, is that the Doctor can't bring back the Time Lords because all of their enemies are in the sky right above the planet, and if Gallifrey just suddenly appeared there they would resume attacking it furiously - that's what's meant by bringing the Time War back as far as Time goes.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

@Carey + Scott:

I quite like "Celery Doctor" and "Kaleidoscope Doctor" for 5 and 6 respectively, although here's a list going for personality attributes:

The Proto-Doctor
The Mercurial Doctor
The Dashing Doctor
The Unpredictable Doctor
The Oppressed Doctor
The Bipolar Doctor
The Devious Doctor
The Poet Doctor
The War Doctor
The Post Traumatic Stress Doctor
The Regretful Doctor
The Forgetful Doctor

Those last two obviously from DOTD, but very fitting: Tennant is often "sorry, so so sorry" and Smith is pretty scatterbrained

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

I disagree that Clara is "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" in this episode. She's very much a mature and grounded woman.

She has her own home, and is preparing dinner for guests. She's not experienced enough to get it perfect, but she's doing a tolerably good job. The table is set, the side-dishes done, the house decorated, and she even has a backup plan for the turkey when it doesn't turn out right - she's not afraid to ask for help.

She's upset the first time the Doctor sends her away, but she quickly recognizes the logic of the situation - he's planing on staying, and she'd age and die quickly, away from her home and ordinary life, and their agreement has been that he returns her home. Her anger is short-lived when they reunite, and she comes to respect the Doctor's decision to stay.

She accepts the Doctor aging, and his impending death. She mourns when he sends her away the second time, knowing he will age to death, without a companion. She is not angry at being sent away, this time, she's heartbroken that the Doctor is dying alone. When brought to his deathbed, she knows what to do, to be comforting and supportive. It isn't just that the narrative understands age and infirmity. Clara understands age and infirmity. She goes to the Doctor's side, helps him with the Christmas cracker, honors his dying wish that she let him face the Daleks alone to protect her. That's very adult and intimate, almost the role of a wife.

Which is very much the solid characterization Modern-Clara was given, that the audience (and the Doctor) was distracted from seeing by her "mystery."

Clara's an adult. She has a career, which required the maturity and dedication of completing advanced education. She has a home of her own. She's someone that other adults will trust with care of their teenage children during a time of extreme emotional vulnerability. When she has responsibility (which is always) she sticks with it, and the Doctor has to learn to respect that. She's lived through the death of her mother, and knows how to face the death of a loved one with dignity, and to care for them not only lovingly, but competently.

I don't think there has been a new-Who companion who has been mature in this way. (Well, Wilf, if you count him as a companion.) Rose and Donna both still lived with their mothers, and were emotionally immature when they met the Doctor, Martha was still studying, and gave up her plans to be a practicing doctor. Amy and Rory eventually reached this level of maturity, but their story was about them growing up, not starting with them there.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 7 months ago

I like the idea that Clara is the mature companion. Recall how confused The Doctor was when he told her not to follow her in "Cold War" and she didn't. He wasn't used to companions who actually trusted him enough to actually know what he was doing.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

So Phil, will these essays be kept in this order in the books? With Smith and Tenant popping into each other's volumes?

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

This is a much better defence of Clara than I've been able to muster to myself. As a character and an actress, I consider Clara and Jenna Coleman to be one of the best of the show, and I hadn't quite been able to put my finger on the real difference between her and most of the rest of the televised companions. I vehemently disagreed with Jack's interpretation of her as a pure MPDG in his prosecution post, but this articulates the nature of her character very well. There's more confidence to her, more roundedness, and she's more emotionally grounded than so many other companions.

Frankly, I've begun over the last few years to be very suspicious of accusations of MPDG characterization. A few months ago at Vaka Rangi, Josh Marsfelder described the inherently sexist nature of Mary Sue accusations: it's become an easy way for men to dismiss any display of competence or heroism by a female character written by a female author, "That idiot bitch writes nothing but Mary Sues." And I see the same quality in accusations of MDPG. Any attractive straight female character with a generally sunny disposition is automatically an MPDG and marginalized. The worst part about MPDG accusations is that they're made in the name of standing against sexism, even though they've often become expressions of sexism itself.

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Kit 3 years, 7 months ago

It won't work for me in Firefox either, at home or at work.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I think MPDG is very much the base state for Clara - certainly it's how she was introduced in Bells of St. John. It's who her character is, and I think Coleman plays her very straight down the line that way, albeit less so than she played Oswin. (And Victorian Clara, meanwhile, wasn't really MPDG at all.)

I think that, as with most of Moffat's characters, this gets expanded on and subverted, but I think Clara consciously starts from MPDG.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

Clara doesn't start out as MPDG.

She starts out as a mature young woman acting with responsibility. She's caring for two teenagers, supervising homework, giving book recommendations, and successfully negotiating the difficult role of being a substitute caregiver for children who have just lost their mother, respecting the difficulty that Angie has with the idea of there being a "replacement" for her mother. Clara is clearly an adult woman, her maturity directly contrasted with Angie's adolescent angst.

And all of that is established, not merely by Jenna's acting, but by the very first screen Moffat writes for Clara.

She isn't manic. She's calm and directed.

She isn't a pixie. She's mature and controlled.

She isn't dreamy. She's sensible and competent.

She isn't a girl. She's a woman.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

She's also an effervescent young woman who serves as a "mystery to be solved," whose cheery disposition rouses the Doctor from torpor. She's got that classic MPDG trait of being befuddled by her laptop, she's got buckets of quirks, and she's a little too precious for the real world (hence her staying indefinitely as a caregiver for the children).

Yes, this all gets subverted and in a huge way - I'm obviously not going to argue that Clara is a problematic execution of a trope or a straightforward one, because that's just not how I view Moffat as working. I agree, she is in practice a mature and nuanced woman.

But I think she absolutely engages with and plays with those tropes.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I honestly don't know yet.

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 7 months ago

Okay,here's my two cents, or pesos, in my country.
I found this episode to be really interesting, not just because of it being Matt's regeneration story.
He's the Doctor that detested to stand still in one place, talking with his hands, the one that the phrase 'The Doctor Lies' came from and the one who's death has been a sort of theme for most of his era. (Ten may have had the 'Four knock' Prophesy, but a whole series was partly about Eleven's 'Death'.)
And He's the Doctor (next to Hartnell and Hurt) that dies of old age, taking care of Christmas Town for centuries when he could have left, became their version of Father Christmas ("Red bicycle when you were twelve!")
Yes, we only get to see the glimps of this, but, to be a Doylist for a second, that's for practical reasons than anything. As it was with seeing the Time War in all it's glory, aside from the last which, to me, were using sticks and stones as weapons, it's very much improbable without using our imagination.

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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, it's interesting how far he's come. In Vincent and the Doctor, he got bored while waiting for a painting to be finished. "Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly, and in the right order."

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree whole-heartedly with everything Ursulal has said - a finely reasoned, and well-evidenced, analysis of Clara's character. But I'm going to have to go one step further and say that I reject the TV Tropes phenomenon as a whole and am always disappointed when it crops up in the Eruditorum.

To me, the whole 'tropes' movement leads to a critical pareidolia - where elements of a text are pigeon-holed into a pattern simply because that pattern is known. Forget holistic and emergent properties, forget engaging with the story as it is told - if a character does X then that character is Y. If they do !X, then they are !Y.

It constrains the art of storytelling into a series of subjective binaries - a list of things that you can either exemplify or subvert, with gimmicky catchphrases that can be used to mask more interesting aspects of the text. Boring-ers, to use the Doctor's word.

Her name is Clara. That's all the name she needs.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

so *that* is why Dr Sandifer is doing these posts out of order:

When the stars go out and the universe freezes, around the last fire on the last world, there will still be Doctor Who stories to tell. And when we are done telling them, at long and final last, in the distance will be a strange wheezing, groaning sound. And out will step Dr Sandifer, and he will finally publish "The God Complex" entry on this blog.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I share your unease with TV Tropes as a mode of literary engagement. I think too often being able to identify a pattern is confused with having something interesting to say about it.

I think the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in her original codification, was useful, in that she described a new type of stock female character and type of romantic comedy. Understood within the context of the genre she emerged out of, she usefully describes a particular style of comedy that was trendy for a while and is still made with nonzero frequency.

But crucially, that romantic comedy tradition is a huge influence on Moffat's Doctor Who and has been since at least Blink. He's a writer who comes out of sitcoms, and he still writes sitcom family relationships.

And more to the point, whatever I may think about TV Tropes as a style of analysis, it is influential. I take very little convincing that Moffat is conscious of tropes as a concept, or that he has spent time browsing TV Tropes. One need not like TV Tropes to be able to accept that it has an influence on how television is made.

And in this case, the MPDG is not a TV Tropes invention anyway. It originates in this article: http://www.avclub.com/article/the-bataan-death-march-of-whimsy-case-file-1-emeli-15577 . So this is a matter of engaging relatively contemporary media culture, and not at all a stretch for what the series does. I would bet money that the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl was talked about and engaged with in Clara's creation, both as a concept and as something to push back against.

And I think a defense like "Her name is Clara. That's all the name she needs" strays into "gossip about imaginary people" territory. She's not a real person - she's a character created by people who are well aware of cliches and norms in television. It is unfeasible to imagine that she was not conceptualized in terms of other trends in contemporary media.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

And in "The Power of Three" he could barely sit still long enough for a cube to hatch. So clearly, yeah, he's changed over time -- perhaps as early as "The Snowmen," actually -- but that was kind of a charming aspect of his character for me, his impatience and restless activity, and while I don't think we needed to belabor the change here, it would have been interesting to see even a passing indication that someone remembered that one had taken place.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

My closing line was not meant to stray into 'gossip about imaginary people' territory, but rather 'facetiously manipulating a quote from the episode in question to support an argument' territory. What I meant to convey was that Clara doesn't need to be labelled to be communicated about meaningfully - not because she is "real", but because she is a unique textual phenomenon. Obviously this phenomenon incorporates its contemporary media culture, as should any critical discussion of it. But when you're more invested in labelling a character as a cultural artefact than building an understanding of that character from the ground up (as Ursulal did), some elements of that phenomenon get erased.

(Though I was not aware of its origin, Manic Pixie Dream Girl follows the TV Tropes trope of the Capitalised Gimmicky Catchcry. I think it's safer money to bet that the author of an Internet-published media opinion piece had an eye on TV Tropes when inventing that phrase, than that a well-established television writer would couch their work in the vernacular of an Internet echo-chamber.)

Did I mention that I still enjoyed your essay?

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

The Eleventh Doctor is attempting to change the details of the war on Trenzalore and, by association the fate of the universe, by becoming part of it. He has heard rumours (all those prophecies and nursery rhymes) but the details of his 'final stand' are hazy enough to him that he can do a 'Lake Silencio'and fool time to rewrite future history here, in a way that he can't with, say, Amy, Rory or River Song's story. But...because he is a part of these events and his own death is the tipping point he also knows that the time lines of probability are at their most wibbly wobbly going forward from this point. Therefore the existence of potential future Doctors is something that he must accept as equally possible with his current incarnation being the last. His sacrifices here are noble because he cannot be certain whether the unwritten future he is creating will contain more Doctors or his death. He's seen both a future Doctor and his own tomb. Both at this point are equally probable.

As to the Time Lords saying 'All thirteen!' He probably assumed the tenth Doctor had turned up twice.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 7 months ago

I suppose in murder mysteries and so on, the kinds where it's possible for the reader to put together the clues and solve the puzzle, then that might be the case. But Doctor Who has never been in that genre.

And yet the main criticism of Mottat's resolutions seems to be that they fail in doing so. "How were we supposed to work out what the deal with Clara was?" people ask, to which the only reply is "Who told you you were?"

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

What about the More Than Seven Dwarfs?

Tetchy
Goofy
Haughty
Zany
Angsty
Nasty
Sneaky
Whimsy (yes I know)
Grumpy
Sarky
Gurny
Gawky

Or, alternatively,

Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc
Doc

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

I understand the decision to end the TARDIS Eruditorum with the fiftieth anniversary and the end of the Eleventh but I'm amazed and impressed at everyone's strength of will in not mentioning that game -changing bombshell in the second episode of Series Eight and how it necessarily alters how we now view not only the Capaldi Doctor but all previous and future stories. I don't think anyone would have predicted even as recently as last April that Moffat would go there. Of course there were clues. (That BAFTA speech) but I know I wasn't alone in being completely wrong-footed.

Oh and congratulations to you know who! and let me wish you all a merry Xmas episode (could be interesting) and a happy New Year

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

On second thoughts, Tennant could be Prideful.

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Ombund 3 years, 7 months ago

Long-time lurker (well, I only discovered your fantastic blog about a month ago but I've read a *lot* of it since then so it feels like a long time), first-time commenter. I was imagining something like Chris Ware's Building Stories for the River Song entries. Lots of little books of different shapes and sizes placed in a box and to be read in any order. Just an idea. Would go nicely with the special The Three Doctors and Logopolis editions you have planned (by the way, I do hope there will be a way for newer readers who weren't part of the original Kickstarter to get hold of these - they sound lovely).

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5tephe 3 years, 7 months ago

Even more alarmingly: Clara's pleading sounds almost identical to Emma's (Julia Sawalah's) pleading to the deceased Doctor at the end of Curse of the Fatal Death.

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5tephe 3 years, 7 months ago

No, I'm sorry but "It's just about characters, and the story and plot elements don't matter and you shouldn't have been so obsessed about them" doesn't work for me.

I am not a continuity whore. I'm not even a very good Classic Who fan: I have never found the time to finish watching the second series of Colin Baker or very much McCoy at all. I hadn't read any of the books (till Phil started reviewing them. Then I read one.)

Whe I fantasised about how I would end the thirteenth Doctor's run, I fantasised exactly that I wouldn't make it a Giant Epic, with the Doctor As A Hero - that it should be quiet, and about the fact that him knowing he was dying didn't affect his decisions.

But here's the thing: I would have let the Doctor have a "natural" thirteenth era. I wouldn't have gazumped it. I would have let the fans whitter and wail, and speculate, and NEVER have mentioned the elephant in the room - that we all knew he was No. 13, and thus at the end of his time. And I would have had the companions not knowing this at all.

So when the time did come, and he told them, they would have been shocked, and asked why he stayed, and gave up his life for such a scant handful of people, and let him answer that he couldn't judge their lives as less important than his.

And then die.

And sure - maybe he would have come back after that anyway. But simply to flail around and almost petulantly say "None of that Plot stuff, none of that History was important, and you were stupid for thinking it was AT ALL!" is to fall on one very blinkered side of the debate Aristotle started back in his Poetics: character over structure.

Which misses the fact that structure is what allows characters to shine, and characters are what makes structure more than an empty scaffold.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

It's working for me in Firefox (v 16).

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brownstudy 3 years, 7 months ago

So the bits at the beginning where she is frantically cooking and telling the Doctor she "made up a boyfriend" for the benefit of her parents -- how does that fit into this MPDG conversation? That, and the gimmick of cooking the turkey, are pretty standard sitcom/romcom devices. And the truth field kind of lays bare her character as bossy, controlling, and fancying the Doctor. (But then, that may be her truth, not the truth truth.)

In this episode, which is a mashup of genres and moods -- with the Doctor growing older throughout and Clara going from giddy at the start to sad and pensive at the finish -- it's like Moffat wants this composition to hit every key on the piano from top to bottom.

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evilsoup 3 years, 7 months ago

Daibhid, it's possibly just because we hang out in different places (I'm not a member of any dedicated Doctor Who fan-forums, for example), but that's not a criticism I've ever heard about Moffat's run.

I've heard some superficially similar complaints, but those tend to amount to 'oh dear, the solution to this dreary Clara mystery is going to amount to some pointless timey-wimey nonsense, isn't it?' Which isn't really the same thing.

The revelation at the end of Citizen Kane turns our entire understanding of the character on its head. The revelation near the end of Madoka Magica turns our entire understanding of the plot (and the character concerned) on its head. Both of these have emotional impact. The revelation of who Clara is didn't add anything to our understanding of the character, didn't really alter our understanding of the world around her, and had (in my opinion) no emotional impact.

It's wrong to say that 'Resolved plots necessarily are less interesting that establishing plots.' -- I would say that it's more the case that Moffat's resolved plots are less interesting than him establishing them, and even that isn't entirely true. The Pandorica thing was a mostly-satisfying resolution. The end of the gas-mask-zombie two-parter is an even better example -- the information that she's his mummy changes how we look at the episode. It doesn't make things less interesting; it makes them differently interesting.

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Daniel Tessier 3 years, 7 months ago

Maybe he thought they were confused by the McCoy Doctor appearing wearing two different outfits at different ages.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

The revelation at the end of Citizen Kane turns our entire understanding of the character on its head.

Hmm. While I wouldn't go far as to call Rosebud's identity a mere MacGuffin, I think it's fair to say that it's more important as a motive for Joseph Cotten's quest than as the key to understanding Kane. I might even suggest the most important thing about the film's final shot isn't where the word "Rosebud" appears, but the fact that it's burning away without witnesses.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

The allusions to MPDG are more apt, I think, in the Asylum and Victorian London than they are to Bells of St Johns -- and in both Asylum and Victorian London, Clara's not her true self, but a copy.

One of the functions of the Pixie is to teach a brooding and soulful young person to embrace life and its mysteries. But in Bells, it's Clara who's more the brooding and soulful one, who's kind of missing out on adventure because she's so damn responsible. This is the Clara who's first introduced in a graveyard. She admires the book chapter that makes you cry your eyes out.

By contrast, it's the Doctor's who's truly manic here, and truly a pixie. As soon as he gets the phone call, he's cracking jokes and excitedly rushing off to find Clara. He makes her repeat the "Doctor Who" bit three times before she shuts the door in his face; she has no time for whimsy. The Doctor's the one who manically invents the quadricycle after taking care of all of Clara's other chores. It's only because of an imminent plane crash that he even gets her to enter the TARDIS, where he frantically pushes button and pulls levers. The Doctor's the one who has to cajole Clara into traveling.

The one time Clara displays any kind of "mania" -- hacking The Shard with a laptop -- it's because she's already had an encounter with the Doctor's world. (Her earlier computer illiteracy is more a stereotype of a very old person who doesn't understand technology, not a young pixie.) Most importantly, and in great contrast, The Bells of Saint John's has Clara pursuing her own happiness -- she really isn't concerned with fulfilling the Doctor. She has her own agenda, and she enacts it with aplomb.

I don't disagree that Moffat's playing with MPDG tropes, but I do rather object to slapping the MPDG label upon Clara in The Bells of Saint John, when really it's more apt to apply it to the Doctor, the Manic Pixie Dream Boy who's more interested in solving a mystery than getting to know a person.

And, I dunno, as others have said, it's such a deeply pernicious and misogynistic trope that to casually apply it to a character who's been carefully crafted in opposition to it risks erasing Clara's very characterization, and suggests (unfairly) a misogynistic take on the character. It's important to note that the coining of the MPDG trope was originally very critical -- not just a stock comedic character, but one worthy only of derision as a "bubbly, shallow, cinematic creature."

Again, this is a concern when looking at Time of the Doctor. To say that Coleman's unabashedly playing to the trope, without deconstructing that trope or showing the extent to which she plays against it, as Ursula described above, carries the danger of perpetuating the misogyny implicit in that trope's construction -- remember, the trope doesn't just point to bubbly quirkiness, but a tremendous lack of depth in characterization that's indicative of deep-seated cultural sexism. Not that I think this latent misogyny was intentional (more due to carelessness) but it was the one thing in the essay that really struck a discordant note.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

Can you please tell me where in "Time of the Doctor" the 50 years of history is made out to be unimportant? I've seen this several times and I've yet to see one clear point that it's true.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't really see the "mystery" as part of Clara's characterization. She's just herself.

It's part of the Doctor's characterization. He's got this rather creepy obsession with Modern-Clara's similarity to two other young women he previously met.

Clara's characterization is in reaction to this. When the Doctor says she reminds him of someone he lost, she's sympathetic to the loss (she's experienced loss, too) but she insists that she can't be a replacement. Just as she is clear to Angie that she's not trying to be a replacement mother.

Later, in "Journey" when the Doctor tries to confront Clara and demand answers, she again resists being treated as a mystery to be solved. The Doctor's behavior is frightening, and inappropriate, and Clara calls him on it.

The Doctor's obsession with the "mystery" of Clara doesn't tell us much about Clara. It tells us a lot about the Doctor. And it tells us about ourselves, as an audience, sharing the Doctor's mistake of not seeing Clara for herself.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

Even Amanda de Cadenet would remember the word "accessories."

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

As Jane pointed out, the only time Clara takes on a touch of mania is when she takes over the task of tracking down the office building.

And not only has she been touched by the Doctor's world, she's also reacting to the Doctor's mania. He's been bouncing around like a maniac, and she essentially give him a time-out to calm down (go fetch coffee) while she uses her people skills to sort the problem out. The computer skills she picked up while uploaded are a new tool for her, but the critical insight is one about people - that they will share information about where they work with their friends.

Clara is certainly excited to have figured out the problem faster than the Doctor, and to have a chance to try out her new skills.

But she really isn't manic abut it. She's task and goal oriented, getting a necessary job done with great efficiency, even while excited.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

"And kindly refrain from addressing me as Doc!"

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

You know, after several weeks of seeing Ross' angry, resentful replies and comments in this blog, I can't understand how he's anything other than an idiotic troll trying to drag us all down with his counter-productive negativity. He's never been able to explain precisely what it is that he expects the storylines of the Moffat era to "amount to." Does he think the gravity of the Time War should irreparably taint the Doctor's character? Does he want to see the big epic storyline of the Doctor's 'final' regeneration wrap up in an enormous violent battle with lots of cool special effects? Does he want the show to resolve all its plot threads and stop? Does he think he's watching Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 instead? I don't really know.

The most I can figure out is that he thinks Moffat doesn't tell stories anymore, but just strings moments together that look cool and will sell merchandise and create fanboys who'll create youtube cuts over mediocre music. Well, if you read the post we're commenting on right now, you have a very tightly-reasoned, comprehensive account of precisely what experimental narrative techniques are going on in the Moffat era of Doctor Who.

Between Phil's essays, the responses to his rants in this comment board, and a bunch of our own blogs, essays, and posts about the different approaches Moffat takes to the show's narrative, he has plenty of alternatives to consider. After all this, coming back to the Eruditorum just to shit on Phil and all of us for believing that there is more to think about in contemporary Doctor Who than "Get fucked, Steven!" is just a petty, disrespectful attempt at bullying.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

He's got this rather creepy obsession with Modern-Clara's similarity to two other young women he previously met.

Yeah, it's creepy from her point of view, but even from the Doctor's point of view she is undeniably identical to one of them, and from our point of view, both. And as it turns out, of course, both of those women ARE Clara. To see Clara for herself, if we take the long view, is to see Oswin as Clara and Clara Oswin as Clara. I'm not sure I can really buy into this idea that there's actually anything wrong -- morally, socially, or even factually -- with seeing Clara as a mystery. She -- the plural she -- IS, literally, an impossible girl in every context except for the Doctor's TARDIS on Trenzalore in "The Name of the Doctor."

This sort of finger-wagging just doesn't wash. Metaphorically it's okay -- "women aren't puzzles, they're people" --but within the story it is absolutely not a mistake to regard Clara as a puzzle. There aren't even any consequences that I've noticed, except insofar as the Doctor seeking Clara out (after she calls him, of course -- and did we ever find out who the woman in the shop was?) eventually causes her to splinter through time to help him, when otherwise they'd never have met. But of course there are no consequences to that, since they just walk out of his timestream unscathed, and of course she helps him resolve numerous situations that he might otherwise never have left his cloud to intervene in (the Shard, Akhaten, the Ice Warrior, Hila, the Crimson Horror, Hedgewick's World), so ultimately it's a net positive that he was obsessed enough with her to take her with him. Maybe she's a little traumatized in "Journey," but hey, that all gets reset too. The subtext may be "don't treat women as puzzles" but the text says "solve that woman posthaste because the universe depends on it."

I agree with all of the compliments everyone has paid to Clara's maturity and competence. I still find her extremely difficult to connect with as a character -- it's hard to get past that idea that she was cast primarily, as the quip went, because she talked even faster than Matt Smith -- but maybe now that the mystery part is over we'll see some different sides of her in season 8.

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Strigoi 3 years, 7 months ago

The Elder Statesman
The Hobo
The Man of Action
The Trickster
The Explorer
The Broken Man
The Chess Master
The Dreamer
The Warrior
The Survivor
The Hero
The Legend

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

Sorry but I thought the episode was a mess, too.

To Phil's credit I am pretty well persuaded that he IS right about the point Moffat was trying to make, and I look forward to re-watching this at some point with Phil's reading in mind. It's a big improvement on my previous estimation, which was that he either got bored with the stories he'd set up or else he just couldn't think of a good way to tie it all together & decided to say "look over there!" But it would have been far more satisfying if not wrapped up in toxic levels of whimsy, sitcom shenanigans, and tons of blaring, 'splodey set-pieces and monster cameos that the text explicitly tells you are just pointless diversions adding up to nothing. Indeed, the point of a lot of this story was that the plots of the last few seasons really add up to nothing. Surely I can't be the only one who finds that less than satisfying, without being accused of reactionary fanboyism?

I love Matt Smith's performance, and the idea of him finally settling down to become a gentle old man is a good one, but I wish Moffat had found a way to tell that without wrapping it up in such obnoxiously garish Christmas wrapping. Indeed maybe the "Christmas cracker" metaphor used in the script is the right one. This one contained both jokes AND poems, but they didn't sit well together for me, and the shiny tinsel packaging just seemed cheap.

Adam Riggio: "Does he want to see the big epic storyline of the Doctor's 'final' regeneration wrap up in an enormous violent battle with lots of cool special effects?"

Is that not what we got? Like, exactly? And then he blows the Daleks up with love, er, regeneration energy.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, what encyclops said. I don't really feel like the narrative played fair with us, in some ways. On the one hand, it's perfectly fine to set up a mystery that can only be understood backwards, and I really quite enjoyed how it all played it. But it's NOT fine to treat the intrigue surrounding the mystery as somehow suspect in and of itself. If Moffat is trying to auto-critique the way HE has written Doctor Who for the past few seasons, fine, but also critiquing your audience for playing along with the games you set up is churlish.

UrsulaL: "The Doctor's obsession with the "mystery" of Clara doesn't tell us much about Clara. It tells us a lot about the Doctor. And it tells us about ourselves, as an audience, sharing the Doctor's mistake of not seeing Clara for herself."

No, it tells us a lot about Moffat, which to me is that HE sees women as mysteries and puzzles, and is self-aware enough to be able to write about it, but not quite capable of escaping it.

There is no "herself" to Clara. There's only what was written, which was that she was a timey-wimey phenomenon first, a character second, and a real person with a "herself" never.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Seeing_I, I appreciate all of your latest round of comments, but this one perhaps most of all.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Kovarian and the question of who blew up the TARDIS are all answered and explained.

Answered in a way that is either hilarious or exasperating, depending on your POV. I spent most of the Matt Smith era wondering what diabolical force actually tried to destroy the whole universe (since the Daleks, for once, seemed opposed to the idea). And it turns out to be a bunch of idiot religious zealots too dumb to know that blowing up the TARDIS will destroy the universe. For that matter, we never even found out HOW the Kovarians blew up the TARDIS other than cracking a view screen by hissing at it.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Also, this will brand me as an anorak of the worst sort, but I am mildly annoyed to learn, just two stories after his name was mentioned for the first time in 25 years, that we will never see a Valyard origin. This is particularly annoying since it makes perfect sense for him to have been born out of the bitterness of the dying Time Lord Victorious.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Note that the Doctor can't regenerate in Let's Kill Hitler, even though he suggests it (and in Nightmare In Silver, too).

An idea I'm toying with was that the Doctor didn't actually realize that Ten had wasted a regeneration in Journey's End just to keep looking pretty until Eleven suggested regeneration in Let's Kill Hitler and the TARDIS told him flatly that regeneration was "offline."

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

To be honest, I'm not a fan of them either because it makes it difficult to discuss the effects of the misplaced stories (here the Angels 2-parter) on the overall story arc. Of course, it's Phil's blog, and I suppose it makes sense for his coverage of the Smith era to be riddled with non-linear events that will only make sense once viewed in their completion.

For example, I've been dying to discuss the "continuity error" in the forest -- the first clear moment when Moffat announces his intention to use the concept of time travel to play with the audience's perceptions -- but fear I'll have forgotten everything I wanted to say when that post finally hits sometime in 2015.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

Never say never. Remember that the Valeyard is described as "somewhere between [the Doctor's] twelfth and final incarnation" not twelfth and thirteenth.

And that brands me as an anorak of the worst sort.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

All the chiding of the Doctor (and by extension much of the audience) about seeing Clara as a puzzle first rather than a person seems to ignore the very real possibility that Clara might have turned out to be a Nestene duplicate created as part of an impossibly byzantine scheme of the Daleks et al to trap the Doctor. Because frankly, that's not any more byzantine than the scheme the Daleks actually did use to trap the Doctor. To me, Clara will always be a weird choice for a companion because the ONLY reason she is a companion is due something she does after she'd been a companion for a while that retroactively creates the reason she was chosen in the first place. And I just got a head ache writing that sentence.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Admittedly, the decision of Moffat to have Capaldi play the first female Doctor was as bold as it was controversial.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh wow. You win. :D

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John 3 years, 7 months ago

The revelation at the end of Citizen Kane is a culmination of everything that's gone before, not in any way a twist. It doesn't turn anything on its head. It confirms what we already know - that Charles Foster Kane is a man whose money and power never gave him happiness.

The reporter, Jerry Thompson (William Alland, not Joseph Cotten, who plays Kane's best friend) ultimately gives up, but by the end doesn't he understand Kane virtually as well as we do? Here's his final words in the film:

Female reporter: If you could've found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would've explained everything.

Thompson: No, I don't think so; no. Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece.


Thompson is exactly right - the sled is something he lost, and it doesn't really explain anything. Kane is a man who got everything he ever wanted and then lost it and died alone, and knowing about Rosebud doesn't really matter at all. Can anyone watch this movie and really think that Thompson would have been shocked to learn that Rosebud was the childhood sled he gave up when he got money? That's exactly the kind of thing he thought it probably was after essentially experiencing the same story we do!

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John 3 years, 7 months ago

To bring this back to Doctor Who, the whole point of the revelation of Rosebud is basically that Thompson is right, it never actually mattered. If Citizen Kane had been a 13 episode HBO series produced in 2014 with millions of people speculating on twitter every week about what Rosebud might be with tons of ridiculous theories, and then the story ended with Thompson giving up and us learning it's his stupid sled, people would have been exactly as pissed off and disappointed as they are about, well, pretty much every series ending ever, but certainly "Time of the Doctor."

The dirty little secret about the "surprise ending" of Citizen Kane is that pretty much everybody who's seen the movie in the past 50 years already knows that Rosebud is a sled going into it. There is no twist or surprise. Disappointment with a twist seems to be simply an inevitable result of people building it up too much, and the "Rosebud" reveal isn't criticized like that because it's not actually a reveal to anybody anymore.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

I think it was River, unbeknownst to herself. Brainwashing, you know. Or maybe a Silent got into the TARDIS and got her to do it.

But ultimately the "how" isn't nearly as interesting as the "why", and the attendant irony that goes along with it. The Kovarian Faction blows up the TARDIS to keep the Doctor from getting to Trenzalore and letting the Time Lords get through the Crack; this creates the Crack by which the Time Lords could get through in the first place. Like just about everything in Eleven's run, the causality runs in circles, with no fixed beginning or end.

Naturally, these exemplars of Eternal Return seem awfully Nietzshean to me, and seem to walk hand-in-hand with other recent Circular Myths, such as LOST and Battlestar Galactica. But what's interesting about it, I think, is that it pulls the rug out of the blame game, a game that assumes that establishing a first cause gives one the foundation for moralizing righteousness. Which, lo and behold, is right in the wheelhouse of religion, which gets pretty much creamed in the Moffat era.

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John 3 years, 7 months ago

Arguably true of Mel as well, no?

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

I remember reading a fascinating critique of Clara on a website I won't dare name for fear of darkening these hallowed halls. The summary that the person provided was basically "The Doctor doesn't bring Clara along because he finds her interesting, he brings her along because he found Asylum Clara and Victorian Clara interesting." They further complained that "Moffat", here being a polynym for the entire creative process of the series, was committing the same act by asking us to care about Clara because we cared about her echoes.

I'm honestly not that upset about the disconnect between how we're supposed to feel about Clara and how Clara's presented to us, if such a disconnect really exists. I have companions I like more than Clara, and companions I like less, but I don't equate "I don't much care for this character" with "this character is badly written/acted/conceived" so her continued presence doesn't really bother me like it does some people.

I feel like I typed a whole lot and ultimately said nothing. My life in a nutshell, I guess.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

Right up until "Kidneys!", I harbored a secret hope that halfway through the incredibly touching regeneration scene, Matt Smith would suddenly hork up a naked Toby Jones covered in petroleum jelly who would then scamper off in a tweed jacket and bowtie.

Luckily, I've been to the movies lately, so I got my surprise Toby Jones fix finally. I won't say any more, for fear of spoiling a great scene.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

she described a new type of stock female character and type of romantic comedy

Is Katharine Hepburn's character in Bringing Up Baby a manic pixie dream girl?

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Arguably true of Mel as well, no?

Yes, Mel is also a weird choice for a companion. :)

"The Doctor doesn't bring Clara along because he finds her interesting, he brings her along because he found Asylum Clara and Victorian Clara interesting."

That's why he looks her up, but I'm not sure it's why he brings her along. I quite like Clara in "St. John," for many of the same reasons I liked her "echoes." And I hesitate to say "echoes" because I maintain they're all the same person in most if not all meaningful ways -- that is, to find Asylum Clara interesting is also to find Victorian Clara interesting is also to find Original Clara interesting. But even the most interesting person you know isn't interesting all the time, particularly when their dialogue is being written by people who aren't Steven Moffat, and therein lies the problem, and you're recognizing that with your "polynym" remark.

Like you, I find there are quite a few companions I like less than Clara, mostly from the classic series. I do think there's something most of the new series companions had that she seems to be lacking, but I'm not really sure who to blame for it, nor should anyone care who I'd blame for it. :)

And her continued presence doesn't bother me, but it doesn't excite me, either. I feel that I can easily imagine what any of the prior New Who companions would make of Capaldi, at least initially -- Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy...I'm not sure I know exactly what they would say but I can feel it, if that makes sense. With Clara I find it a lot harder to tell. Her relationship to him is so generic and yet so grand and specific, depending on which aspect of it you look at, that for her to react to him on a human level is tough for me to picture. Which, I stress, is just how I feel about her, and I'm glad other people feel differently.

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mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

"the text says "solve that woman posthaste because the universe depends on it.""
Except that the Doctor never solves the mystery. It's Clara: once she is told, she is the one who has to figure out "how can I be in Victorian London?"


"the ONLY reason she is a companion is due something she does after she'd been a companion for a while that retroactively creates the reason she was chosen in the first place."
Arguably true of Martha and Donna; Martha only becomes a companion after the Lazarus turn into a dinosaur, nd Lazarus was funded by Saxon to whom she pointed out the fobwatch. Donna's case is obvious.

"to find Asylum Clara interesting is also to find Victorian Clara interesting is also to find Original Clara interesting."
Not necessarily: Clara is less enthusiastic than her echoes, less flirty, more grounded, less willing to fall out of the world. Her echoes are her idea of the perfect heroine, not exact duplicates of herself.

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Galadriel 3 years, 7 months ago

Very interesting discussion on Clara. MPDG is a mistake, as other people have said, but I hadn't considered all the implications of this reading.

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Galadriel 3 years, 7 months ago

The absence of River is indeed very strong here--I'm surprised more people haven't brought it up. I wanted her there--especially in light of him growing old. It would have been so cool seeing them grow old together. But I never hoped for it. And the mention of River to Tasha was right--absolutely, completely right. Because he can't just let her go unmentioned.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Wasn't Clara cleverly disguised as the sled?

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

According to my 4-year-old niece, the new-series Doctors are the Jacket Doctor, the Funny Doctor, and the Bowtie Doctor. The only classic series she's seen is the Recorder Doctor.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

she described a new type of stock female character and type of romantic comedy

Is Katharine Hepburn's character in Bringing Up Baby a manic pixie dream girl?


Yes, but she's not a type at that point because writers aren't consciously imitating her. It's the same sense that an event isn't a tradition the first few times you do it.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh yes, that was a GREAT surprise Toby Jones.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

Am I the only one who cried? Not at the episode, at the post?

Also, are people talking about a "secret message" joking or did I miss something?

I like that you claim that this isn't going to play any structural games, and then emboit within it a lost fragment of Logopolis that claims not to be emboited.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

You're not alone.

The "When the stars go out and the universe freezes" paragraph always gets me, both here and in the very first post:
http://www.philipsandifer.com/2011/01/placeholder.html

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dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 7 months ago

Can you please tell me where in "Time of the Doctor" the 50 years of history is made out to be unimportant?

No Colin Baker cameo :(

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

I largely agree with jane on the modern Clara as not manic pixie dream girl (especially that her initial incompetence with computers signifies almost the opposite - that she's a half-generation older than her biological age). You can make a case that her invent a boyfriend for Christmas is a mpdg trait - but I think that's because she's had to alter character with the genre shift to comedy. (Moffat has to find a way to get Clara involved in Trenzalore in the first place; that means he has to have Clara pull the Doctor out of the Trenzalore adventure so he can bring her back in which means Clara has to alter character slightly; Moffat covers up the out of character bit by shifting genres. It's quite clever except that the comedy bits don't really work for me.)

I'm still not quite sure about Clara's characterisation - if we didn't have that first truth field scene would any scene about her suggest that she thinks of herself as bossy and a bit of a control freak? It may just be that she got off to a rough start (two of her first five episodes were by Gatiss. Gatiss wasn't interested in helping establish Amy's character in Victory of the Daleks either.)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

The feeling that Clara has "something lacking" is something I've noticed as well. On the surface she's fine, she has good chemistry with the Doctor, she's played by a good actor, and she's easy on the eye. Which are all, let's face it, ticked boxes as far as Doctor Who companions go (some thing haven't changed much in 50 years).

So what is it that missing? You know, I thnk it's flaws. Previous companions have all been partially defined by character flaws. I don't have enough space to really go into this in detail, but I think we'll agree that the most popular characters are the ones who actually have unpleasant traits that surface now nad then. Rose was at various times bigoted, small-minded, selfish, intolerant and jealous. Amy was also at times a fairly self-centred obnoxious human being. Both of these are arguably the most popular companions of the new series. What about Donna? Fundamentally a caring decent person, Donna is at times impatient and intolerant.

Then we get to Martha, who seems to be viewed roughly the same way as Clara if I read fan opinion correctly. What was Martha's character flaw? She doesn't really have one. She's competent, decent, moral. She does have unrequited love issues with the Doctor, but although that's an interesting trait, it's not a flaw. It's unfortunate, but it doesn't make her a bad person.

Now Clara. We had a moment in the Truth Field when she says she only hangs round with the Doctor because she fancies him, but that's not love. Clara is decent, honest, forthright, noble, moral. She has no unpleasant character flaws at all. Perhaps that's why we think there's something missing, becasue from our experience of companions in Doctor Who, there is. For all her time-splitting impossibleness, Clara is actually a dramatically dull character. We've not seen her making bad decisions due to her impatience, impulsiveness, selfishness or intolerance (how many times has Rose royally f***ed up?).

It's not that she's generic, it's that she's unrealistic for a TV drama.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, I was trying to avoid giving spoilers but it's too late now.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

@Froborr are people talking about a "secret message" joking or did I miss something?
I suggest that you be bold and re-read the post.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

The plot point that Smith’s Doctor is the final one may last only twenty minutes, but it’s cheekily retconned onto an entire era such that the Doctor has been unable to regenerate since The Eleventh Hour.
@John Callaghan Note that the Doctor can't regenerate in Let's Kill Hitler, even though he suggests it (and in Nightmare In Silver, too).

The first time the Doctor fails to regenerate and dies is when the stone Dalek shoots him in The Big Bang suggesting that, rather than retconning, Moffat has been seeding this from the beginning. In fact regeneration and its effects has been a running theme throughout The Eleventh Doctor's tenure. The Eleventh Hour's 'I'm still cooking' the surprise little girl/Mels/Melody Pond regenerations. Clara's multiple lives. Even Rory and Amy's various deaths and resurrections hinted at a lassez faire attitude to death. In Let's Kill Hitler River gifts the Doctor her remaining regeneration energy, the consequences of which are never explored.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

Dr. S, this is a late comment by now, but any plans to cover "An Adventure in Space and Time"?

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

5tephe: I thought so too, though I wasn't alarmed by it so much as pleased. Emma's line was more or less the voice of fandom willing the Doctor to hold onto his existence.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

David Anderson: "(Moffat has to find a way to get Clara involved in Trenzalore in the first place; that means he has to have Clara pull the Doctor out of the Trenzalore adventure so he can bring her back in which means Clara has to alter character slightly; Moffat covers up the out of character bit by shifting genres. It's quite clever except that the comedy bits don't really work for me.)"

All could have been avoided if they'd just opened with the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS already.

Spacewarp: "Now Clara. We had a moment in the Truth Field when she says she only hangs round with the Doctor because she fancies him, but that's not love."

Which really kind of diminishes her character, doesn't it? She's not out for adventure or thrilled at the prospect of exploring alien planets or other times, but just kind of fancies him? Sheesh.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

Maybe these revelations would have been more dramatically compelling if the Doctor had discovered them for himself, rather than have a River manqué deliver exposition at him.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 7 months ago

encyclops, cheers, thanks a lot. :)

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

Since the plot required Clara to come and go through the Doctor's centuries at Trenzalore, they needed to give her something to return to.

A family holiday meal provided an emotional setting for Clara. This episode was, in a way, a deathbed scene for the Doctor. And deathbeds are places where families gather.

Clara is facing the loss of her pseudo-boyfriend. Her relationship with the Doctor is ambiguous, but it is also clearly intensely emotional. So to have her first invite the Doctor into her family, and then be with her family as she contemplates the Doctor's impending death makes sense.

The family holiday allowed her to to to observe both the process of moving on after loss, via her father. To contemplate the idea of relationships with other men, via Linda's suggestions of other boyfriends. And to see the way one remembers the love of long past, via her grandmother's story.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

...apparently random letters are bolded? Is it an anagram or something? I'm just getting gibberish. Or is that the point, that the hidden message is no message, an looking for it is futile?

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

The letters in bold are in the right order. Your Mileage May Vary on how entertained you are by the resulting message.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

It's in the latest edition of the Hartnell book. I'm quite proud that it was my request when Doctor Phil asked for suggestions some time ago.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

After reading this surprising exchange, I went back to the post to see if I could find this hidden message. The results:

g

One boldfaced g, that's all I see. Evidently this message is for people with better eyesight than I.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

The bold is quite hard to read. I managed to get about half the letters and just worked it out.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

There are more than that Jesse. What are you reading the blog on? Try another device. I'm trying not to build it up to much. The message is... what it is.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

There are more than that Jesse.

I'm sure there are, but whether the flaw lies in my laptop or my eyes, I only see one. Oh, well.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

They further complained that "Moffat", here being a polynym for the entire creative process of the series, was committing the same act by asking us to care about Clara because we cared about her echoes.

In a sense that's true, because everything that happened to Clara in Season 7b that should have made me like the character was undermined by the suspicion engendered by The Mystery of Clara that I was only being manipulated into liking her. Or to put it another way, all that leaf business in Rings of Akhaten was undermined by my subconscious fear that the leaf itself was a Nestene duplicate pretending to be a leaf.

Arguably true of Martha and Donna; Martha only becomes a companion after the Lazarus turn into a dinosaur, nd Lazarus was funded by Saxon to whom she pointed out the fobwatch. Donna's case is obvious.

The standard procedure by which one becomes a companion is as follows: The Doctor has random encounter with Person X. Person X demonstrates the qualities that the Doctor likes in a traveling companion. The Doctor either invites Person X to travel with him or else doesn't complain overly long when he or she stows away on the TARDIS.

With Martha, she was obviously companion material, but Ten was wishy-washy because he was still mooning over Rose. The invitation after The Lazarus Effect was really Ten recognizing that she'd already been a companion the whole time. Ten did invite Donna to join him; she just delayed accepting for a year. Eleven, OTOH, had random encounters with Clara 1 and Clara 2, each of which established them as potential companions before killing them off. That was what made Eleven actively seek out Clara Prime in part to make her a companion (whether she particularly wanted it or not -- she did tell him to come back later at the end of Bells of St. John) and in part to figure out her "mystery." This was why Season 7b bugged me so much. It worked very hard to make me like Clara while simultaneously causing me to distrust her and be suspicious of the very things I liked about her. As a result, most of Season 7b was very unsettling to watch. YMMV.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Hope this helps

Y ou have to to end somewhere, Which perhaps gets at another nagging question I sh O uld answer before walking off the stage, - the logic of narrative substit U tion. Rejecting death thus runs the real risk o F crossing a line into just being ridicule OU s. all of them ones I N which the audience knows that Peter Capaldi’s coming at the end of the episode.
And yet the effect of the retcon is o D dly perfect. Instead T he entire point becomes that the Doctor would never have done a thing differently just because he was going to die someday. T H e ominous crack becomes a source of hope.The same logic applies to the episode on th E level of individual shots. When Matt Smith finally appears without prosthetics again, in his regeneration scene proper, he plays the part S lightly wrong. Because he E nds with the most unsettling decision of them. all - just as Matt Smith is unabashedly doing a physi C al comedy routine about old people. There’s a very strange and wonderful moment R ight as Moffat reached Let’s Kill Hitler, “The story makes sens E within its own terms,” And then one in which Pe T er Capaldi flails about.
Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a M illion days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call.
It has always been about stori E s. Even when they do die, the world goes on, still tied to the pa S t through memory and reaching to the future through imagination. History book S tell us who we used to be, A hero for whom death is irrelev A nt to why he is a hero. When the stars G o out and the universe freezes, Because that’s a bett E r story.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks. If I squint hard at the original I can see a couple of those.

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John 3 years, 7 months ago

In terms of "people don't like Clara because she has no flaws," it seems to me that the companion this is most reminiscent of is, well, kind of the one that seems to be most people's favorite. Clara seems a lot like Sarah Jane Smith to me - at least, the version of Sarah we get after Philip Hinchcliffe takes over and they pretty much abandon the idea of her as a "feminist" stereotype. Sarah is game for adventure, she has great chemistry with the Doctor, she's played by a good actress, and she's easy on the eyes. And, well, other than that she's actually a bit generic and under-written.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I think the "no flaws" suggestion is interesting, but I don't think it applies for me personally. My favorite companion is Romana (either version, take your pick) and in my opinion she is flawless. :)

I'd agree that Clara is a lot like Sarah (even their names rhyme, at least if you're American) and I wouldn't be shocked to learn that it was by design. Which is perhaps why, though I like Sarah and I like Clara, they're never going to make the top of my favorite companion list. It's true that Clara is more like a classic series companion than she is like the rest of the new series companions, complete with seeming just a little different from story to story as different people write her, and that might be why she throws people off. Our expectations have been changed.

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Richard Pugree 3 years, 7 months ago

And in Angels take Manhattan doesn't he fix her arm with some of his regeneration energy? And that's not even in the throes of a regeneration, that's just some general everyday 'here, have some of my future life' transaction. I had assumed that if Moffat was gonna do the whole 13th doctor thing then the River gifting/gifted back regens would play in somewhere. Or rather that, since River had given him all of her remaining regenerations he wouldn't need to get the Timelords to give him any. Which suggests that Moffat has been seeding 'regeneration and it's effects is important' right from the beginning, but that he hadn't decided quite how/why or which bits he was gonna use until the end. Which is, you know, fine.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

They're a lot easier to find if you examine the source.

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 7 months ago

...Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of The Funny Farm, Chalfont.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

jane - They're a lot easier to find if you examine the source.

It's even easier if you write a regex to extract them from the source. Something like /<b>(.+?)<\/b>/g should do the trick.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I'd disagree that Romana is flawless. Romana I's flaws are her lack of Real Universe experience,j and her tendency (at least at the beginning) to feel superior to the Doctor. Romana II...well I always found her a bit emotionless, somewhat Data-esque, but then her time with the Doctor was mostly a double-act, with the roles pretty interchangeable. They could almost have renamed the programme "Doctors Who".

Point taken about Sarah as generic companion. Although Liz Sladen pulled off something pretty rare there, playing a character who was so well acted and realised as to be pretty much writer-proof. Clara on the surface may be similar, but she is no Sarah-Jane, and I don't think she will ever be.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

You can disagree all you like. My opinion on the matter of Romana is beyond the reach of logic. :)

On Sarah and Clara, I think we agree.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

@Nicholas Tosoni.

You are Publius and I claim my £5.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

The bolded words are clearer on my Kindle Fire HD than on my laptop. Also I think it's a tribute to Phil Sandifer' s writing that my almost Burroughsian cut-up version still makes sense.


@Bennett. 'It's even easier if you write a regex to extract them from the source.'
That's a neat trick.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

As far as flaws go, Clara does have some.

She's a self-admitted control freak.

She's very responsible, but she'll sometimes take responsibility when she shouldn't, such as negotiating with the Ice Warrior (she has no military negotiating experience or training) or leading the soldiers against the Cybermen (again, she has no military experience or training, and her ignorance could get people killed.)

She's easily frightened, in a way that other companions usually aren't. She doesn't run towards trouble. She'll suggest running away, holding back. If she's told to stay where it is safe, she will. She wants to be braver (she pushes the Doctor to "dare me" in "Hide.")

But she's really in the TARDIS for travel, not adventure or escape. Which is something of a flaw for a companion, to be holding back from fully committing to travel with the Doctor.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

They're dramatically compelling because a mirror has been held up to him, showing him what he wouldn't have been able to see otherwise -- what he doesn't, in fact, want to see or accept. He was becoming a "mighty warrior" yet again, acting out the part of his subconscious that was completely repressed -- of course it's going to take River to show him that, more or less.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

She thinks of herself as a control freak. I don't think I would have known that from her behaviour. In both of the cases you cite where she takes responsibility, the Doctor concurs that she's the best available option to do so. I agree that she is meant to be (depending on the writer a bit) more easily frightened than the average companion. But the writers can't make that a serious flaw without either making the character irrelevant to the plot or else going back to the bad old days of companion as peril monkey, and largely the writers don't. And I don't think one can simultaneously praise her for not making the Doctor the whole of her life and consider it a flaw that she doesn't commit to the Doctor as the whole of her life.
Not to say that Coleman isn't doing an excellent job in selling Clara as a character.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 7 months ago

As Spacewarp says, Romana I's flaw is that she is all book-learning, no experience. Romana II's flaw is that she is held back by continuing to hang around with this ridiculous man who has attached himself to her. Both Romanas overcome their flaws as their stories progress.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, let me entertain for a moment this completely insane idea that either Romana isn't utterly perfect. :) Are these flaws, as we've discussed, what makes them appealing as companions?

I suppose I could see it for Romana I, though for me it's not "oh, she's so naïve out in the real world, how charming!" so much as that she doesn't hesitate for an instant in engaging with that real world. She doesn't necessarily know what's going on, but she wades right in with great enthusiasm and is as willing as the Doctor to get involved immediately. If they'd been portrayed as bickering even a little bit more, with Romana quoting textbooks at him constantly and getting sulky when he ignores her, she would have been deeply irritating. So for Romana I, for me personally it's her flaws that give her dimension but her virtues that make her rewarding and worth watching.

For Romana II, I dunno...that sounds more like a problem Lalla Ward has, and it gets worse as time goes on, not better, until she instead chooses to involve herself with a man who has a luxurious mane, a mind for solving difficult scientific problems, and a fondness for smashing traditions. For me Romana II's appealing quality is that she adapts very quickly to unfamiliar situations (something she always did, just more so over time), though she does seem a bit more flappable in this incarnation, and her main flaw is that she doesn't have a TARDIS of her own. I blame the White Guardian for that one.

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liminalD 3 years, 7 months ago

I have NEVER laughed so hard reading this blog as I just did at Alan's comment. It's the middle of the night here in New Zealand and I think I just woke my neighbours. Well done, sir ;)

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

@colin malone - I thought that was a pretty left-field comment you made there, now I know better :-)

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Shame that it had to be cut down Phil as I really do appreciate and enjoy your video commentaries - could you release somehow the other sections of the video separately? And how about more videos generally?

(sad I got here late to the show, but have been away for 5 days running an Outdoor camp)

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah I believe that Phil is using the experimental narrative techniques that he describes Moffat using as a model for the rest of the blog entries. Recursive Occlusion.

I had a very exciting moment yesterday when running an outdoor shared storytelling session round a campfire with kids - I managed to fit the term Recursive Occlusion into the end of the tale and the kids got it!

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Y'know I thought it was just my eyes! I am pretty ill right now and feeling a bit weird, so when I was reading the post and seeing some letters that appeared bold here and there, I thought it was me!

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Missed the party (been away working) - but amazing essay, thanks Phil!

(sorry not much to add as VERY ill too)

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Actually I do have something to add. The music, I love the way the music is used in the this episode. We have repeats and re-workings and hints of themes from other moments in the series - some from the Tennant era for example. And my absolute favourite is the orchestral rendition of the song from the Rings of Akhaten, which is quite appropriate during this regeneration as we have the actor who is younger (playing old) turning into one of a similar age to Hartnell and the song that said "wake up, wake up" was Rings was about the god, the Grandfather, being awakened. The one who may consume the entire universe.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

Actually, I think that Clara’s tendency to be a “control freak” is quite important to understanding just who she is. The Doctor is chaotic force, and Clara pushes back, demanding order. And, for the most part, Clara wins.

Starting in “Bells” there is a tension between Clara and the Doctor. The Doctor’s enthusiasm and curiosity mean that he’s drawn towards Clara as a mystery. But Clara’s need for control leads to her pushing back against being objectified and used in that way.

When Amy was a mystery, in “The Eleventh Hour” the Doctor invited her along to travel so that he could keep an eye on her and figure out what was going on, and Amy accepted, not knowing that the Doctor was driven in large part by the need to figure out the reasons behind the crack in her bedroom wall and her missing parents, rather than a personal interest in her.

When the Doctor finds Clara, he’s driven by his curiosity and the mystery of his experience with two of the Clara-fragments in his past and her future.

But Clara is not so driven by her desire to travel that she’ll just run off with a stranger. She wants to know his motives and interests. She tests him – will he respect her “no” now, and also her leaving the door open to ask again tomorrow, with no promise of a “yes”? Consent and control of oneself are closely related. Clara holds herself back from fully committing to travel with the Doctor, and the Doctor keeps trying to explore the “mystery” of Clara despite her insistence that she not be treated like a substitute for friends he’s lost in the past (unbeknownst to both of them, Clara-fragments.)

This tension gradually builds, with the penultimate crisis being the Doctor directly questioning Emma and being told that Clara is an “ordinary girl” and the final crisis happening in “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” when Clara demands that the Doctor explain what is going on, with him insisting that “secrets keep us safe” and her insisting that they aren’t safe, so she might as well know, and then the Doctor demanding that she tell him who she is, and finally accepting her saying that she’s just herself, and him accepting her as “Clara, my Clara.”

There is a sharp turn in their relationship after this. In “The Crimson Horror” they are much more of a team than they have been in the past. At the end, the Doctor says “you’re the boss”, accepting that Clara is someone who is a control freak, and who needs to feel in control in order to be happy as his companion. They’re also much more physically intimate than before, such as the Doctor not pulling back when he drapes his arm over Clara’s shoulder while they walk, as he pulled back in “Hide.” Clara, in turn, ends the adventure (if not the episode) looking in the mirror and saying “I’m the boss.”

Only to discover that the kids are onto their secret and demanding a trip.

Which Clara promptly arranges for them. Maintaining order in her “real” life means the Doctor accommodating the kids desire for a time-traveling trip so that they will keep the secret. Clara asks, the Doctor grants. She’s the boss.

Which in turn sets things up for “Name of the Doctor.” Clara started out willing to follow the Doctor’s lead, to the point of letting him literally put words in her mouth in “Cold War.” Now, while the Doctor insists that she let him die and save herself, she takes control. She uses what she’s learned traveling with the Doctor to recognize that he must be saved, in order to preserve the universe, and to ensure that her life could reach this point. And she walks into his time-stream despite his protests, because she’s decided it is the right thing to do.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

Only just realised where "Here Standing in Front of You" comes from. Cheeky Dr Sandifer ;)

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Author 3 years, 7 months ago

Which Number 2 is Clara?

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Shining Blitz 3 years, 6 months ago

You can read it that way, or you can be less charitable to Moffat and read it as him shamelessly self-plagiarizing the same 30-minute comedy short that he's been cannibalizing throughout his tenure.

I, for one, have long since stopped treating Moffat so charitably.

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Shining Blitz 3 years, 6 months ago

>No Colin Baker cameo :(

This, but with all seriousness.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 6 months ago

How does that make it out to be unimportant?

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Andrew Bowman 3 years, 3 months ago

The second one, obviously ;)

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