I Couldn't Save Any Of Them (The Waters of Mars)

(69 comments)

Drip with me.
It’s November 15th, 2009. The charts have changed, but little else has. The Black Eyed Peas are at number one now with “Meet Me Halfway,” with Cheryl Cole, Ke$ha, and Britney Spears also charting. In the meager two days of news, New Zealand qualified for the 2010 World Cup, Belle de Jour, writer of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, upon which the Billie Piper vehicle Secret Diary of a Call Girl was based, revealed her real life identity as Dr. Brooke Magnanti, largely in order to scoop journalists from the Daily Mail who were working to out her, and Barack Obama met with the government of Burma/Myanmar, becoming the first US President to do so.

While on television, The Waters of Mars. If there is one thing about The Waters of Mars that remains curiously unfocused on, it is, of course, the ending. I do not, of course, mean the Time Lord Victorious stuff and Adelaide’s suicide, a sequence that has practically blotted out the remainder of the episode, but rather the final title card, dedicating the episode to the recently deceased Barry Letts, producer of Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee era. 

Letts is easy to overlook in the list of great Doctor Who visionaries, which is odd given that he presided over one of the program’s populist high points. It’s true that in many ways the program he made is the least like any other era of Doctor Who, but for a program defined by an aesthetic of strangeness it seems as though being the odd era out should be a badge of honor. And yet Letts and the Pertwee era retain their “problem era” status in spite of their historical and for that matter continual popularity. 

Much of this, as the several months and book dedicated to the Pertwee era will demonstrate, is a consequence of the fact that Letts’s version of the show was consciously good at doing a couple of things, and rarely was inclined to stray outside of its comfort zone. That these things were unique to the era doesn’t get around a sense that there is a certain lack of adventurousness in the era. Which, to be honest, is a criticism that it’s fairly easy to level at the Davies era as well, with its relatively formulaic season structure that meant that even the adventurous stories slotted into pre-ordained positions in the running order clearly marked out as “here things get a bit weird.” That Davies was doing things that nobody had done with Doctor Who before masked this to an extent, but ultimately no more than UNIT masked the repetitiveness of the Letts era. 

Central to Davies’s approach is what we noticed back when we started the Davies era all those months ago, with Rose: a mode of storytelling that is about the act of switching among differing narrative codes. A Davies story is often a shell game - a case of moving rapidly among different types of stories, trying to get the reader to forget a key component just in time for Davies to reintroduce it and interrupt an expected progression.

The Waters of Mars is not a story that is usually thought of in these terms. Indeed, it’s usually seen as the height of traditionalism - a good old fashioned base under siege in which characters are picked off one by one. It’s even actually set on a base! That it won the Hugo award for its year is an interesting feat, but one based on an almost blinding inertia. The Waters of Mars and the two preceding specials were nominated, along with an episode of FlashForward and the unaired episode of Dollhouse, neither of which were going to win (Dollhouse having been, by consensus, anointed as the project where Whedon would be deemed to have gone wrong). So it had to be an episode of Doctor Who, and of course it was going to be The Waters of Mars, because obviously The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead weren’t going to win among the couple thousand people to attend Aussiecon Four. The Waters of Mars was almost perfectly tailored to finally actually win one for Davies - Moffat wasn’t eligible, and Davies wrote something that looked like traditional science fiction, complete with an overwrought epic ending. 

And it’s true that those looking for a traditional base under siege will find it. It’s just that they’re only going to find it in a couple of narrow strata within the episode. It’s worth looking at precisely when all of the deaths take place. In the course of an episode with a 1:02:21 runtime, characters die at (roughly speaking, since with a possession moment of death is ambiguous) 5:25, 6:05, 16:06, 44:45, 45:54, 46:34, and 58:48, with that last one rather pointedly not being a base under siege death. In other words, you’ve got deaths in essentially two bands - three over the course of about ten minutes at the start, and three in under two minutes at the end. This isn’t a slow picking off of characters who are trapped - it’s two massacres separated by half an hour of screen time. It’s using the abstract form of the base under siege and its iconography, but completely abandoning its structure, much as Davies did with the disaster movie in Voyage of the Damned, where he got all of the character deaths out of the way in the course of seven minutes and a single scene.

Nor does the common suggestion that the Doctor spends most of the episode not involving himself quite wash. Care is taken to prevent him from having any ability to leave until twenty-seven minutes in, and he spends those twenty-seven minutes doing what you’d expect the Doctor-as-prisoner to do. At that point he makes the decision to investigate the ice field with Adelaide instead of fleeing, and proceeds to be Doctorish again for another ten minutes. It’s only at about thirty-eight minutes in that he makes the decision to walk away instead of helping, a decision that lasts until the forty-eight minute mark, at which point he’s firmly back being the Doctor (for better or for worse). So yes, it’s true that the Doctor spends a significant portion of the story not acting like the Doctor, but once again we’re talking about one substantial beat in a larger story, not the status quo.

And any other attempt to define The Waters of Mars runs similarly aground. This is a story that moves around a lot, covering as much ground as any other Davies-era story. And this gets at a key feature of Davies-era stories that I’m not sure we’ve talked about, which is the nature of what constitutes drama in them. Any given component of a Davies story is, after all, relatively straightforward. Indeed, they’re often somewhat excessively straightforward. When David Tennant re-enters Bowie Base One backlit by a tremendous halo of light as the music kicks into the hero theme there is nothing whatsoever left in the realm of ambiguity. There is only one set of responses the shot allows, just as there can be no uncertainty as to what’s about to happen as the camera slowly pulls up on Andy’s back as unsettling music plays early on.

A major factor in all of this is, of course, Murray Gold’s music. Gold gets a lot of stick for the degree to which his music holds the viewer hostage, dictating in no uncertain terms precisely what the viewer is going to feel at any given moment. This is true, and yet it’s fair to ask what else we might reasonably expect the music to do. The point of Davies-era Doctor Who is, after all, a sense of tremendous certainty regarding the nature of things at any point. Gold’s music is an integral part of this - a shorthand that allows Davies tremendous control over any given moment in his progression of moods and narratives.

A Davies-era story is not about the components, in other words, but about their intersections. What matters is not specifically what happens at any given moment, but what moments transition into. So what matters is not the sequence fairly early on when the horror of discovering that Tarak has been possessed, nor the chase sequence, nor the comedy bit involving the funny robot, but rather that these three things come in sequence, with horror turning to corridor run turning to comedy. What matters are the juxtapositions and transitions - a fact that Graham Harper is aware of, structuring his cuts and transitions with carefully laden juxtapositions. (There’s a lovely one around the halfway point, for instance, where a shot of Andy and Tarak from above cuts to a floor-level shot of the Doctor and Adelaide)

And in most regards The Waters of Mars is a calm and unambitious execution of these stylistic inclinations - a story that switches narrative codes with precision, building to its climax, in which the Doctor’s heroic intervention is played against the repeated narrative of “this is a fixed point in time” to show the Doctor becoming monstrous. Except that this doesn’t tell the whole story; a key aspect of the story is based on the nature of Bowie Base One and how it’s presented to us.

I do not just mean, or really at all mean the “fixed point in time” thing that’s hammered home throughout the episode. Rather, I mean the relationship between Bowie Base One and the present day. The fact that The Waters of Mars is set precisely fifty years in the future is telling. This is a shot at the near future done with a precision not seen since The Enemy of the World, which went out of its way to be set more or less exactly fifty years after transmission. And as we converge on 2017, the ways in which The Enemy of the World looks more like 1967 than the present day are, on the whole, all quite obvious.

But what’s perhaps more remarkable is that The Enemy of the World is an outlier - the only previous time that Doctor Who attempted to augur a near-future at this distance. The Tenth Planet tried, but the twenty year horizon got away with a closer fealty to the present day. Even still, there’s something funny about watching it in a world where the Mondas encounter never happened, just as there is in watching The Enemy of the World, and just as, in fifty years, there will be in watching The Waters of Mars

But what’s really important to note here is that the time in which this sort of near-future story was plausible coincides with the time at which the base under siege format that The Waters of Mars invokes was the default mode. A deadly menace stalking a Mars base is a very 1960s story, just as near-future space sci-fi is a very 1960s concept. The degree to which this story is a throwback, in other words, is tremendous.

And yet The Waters of Mars is absolutely drenched (sorry) in the present day. Its first image is self-consciously present day, with some at times ludicrous contrivances. It’s not just that home decor has apparently not changed in fifty years - it’s the little details like the presence of a paper newspaper or the fact that an LP is still a sensible wall decoration that take odd care to root the episode in a future that is too present-day to ever come true. This is taken even further when we see the obituaries of all of the Bowie Base staff, displayed on a present-day version of what is fairly obviously the BBC website, with things like the “Printable Version” icons and the general graphic design unchanged. As we zoom in on the death dates we even get the pixelation of a 2009-era computer monitor. This goes beyond the sort of periodness of The Tenth Planet or The Enemy of the World, where the stories are clearly rooted in their own time’s sense of what the future would look like, and even beyond the periodness of the UNIT era and its resultant screwing with dating the stories. This is a conscious decision to make 2059 look like 2009.

All of this is setup for the unexpected move of giving Adelaide Brooks an origin story based in the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. The moment is oddly jarring, rooting the future in the present day in a way that we don’t usually see. The fact that 2059 is conceivably within the lifespan of a fair portion of the audience (I’d only be 76, personally) is always a factor in the story, but it’s one that’s been carefully nestled between things other than a discussion of what happens to Bowie Base One. When Adelaide gives her little speech about how the last forty years of Earth history have been hell (“The climate, the ozone, the oil apocalypse. We almost reached extinction.”), it’s nestled between some jokes about Gadget and the discovery of Maggie, far from the contemporary-looking screenshots. We don’t realize the way in which The Waters of Mars is being positioned as a causal next step - as the reason we’re not killed by eggs or beef or global warming. We don’t realize that until we see Adelaide get “caused” by a Dalek from the end of Season Four. 

And yet this origin sets up the strange problem of the end as well. We’ve discussed several times before the way that “you can’t change history” is an empty ethical dilemma. But never has it been so empty as The Waters of Mars. Go back to The Aztecs or The Fires of Pompeii and you at least get stories where it would be difficult to get away with drastically changing history, in that you’d effectively move the series to a drastically altered history. Look at Father’s Day and you have a story where the change in history is so rooted in character moments that its tragic reversion becomes inevitable. But here we have some people on a fictional Mars base. The only reason this is fixed history is that the story tells us it is. 

And this is key. We know that when we get to 2059, there will not be a Bowie Base One captained by Adelaide Brooke that is destroyed in a tragic and mysterious nuclear explosion. This is not actually going to happen any more than the encounter with Mondas happened in 1986 or the rise of Salamander is going to happen in three years. The reality is that this “fixed history” is not only mutable, it is necessary to change it. This is not a fixed point in time in the same way that Pompeii is, and it cannot possibly be. And even as the story tries to suture it inexorably into the present day by having everything be a consequence of events of 2008, it can’t. Because, of course, the events of 2008 it turns to are the Dalek invasion on the day the Earth was dragged across the universe. Which are also events that didn’t actually happen. (And this is all before Victory of the Daleks presumably retcons The Waters of Mars out of existence entirely by having the crack eat the 2008 Dalek attack).

There is, in other words, a bizarre stacking of the deck that goes on here for anyone who isn’t so blinded by the explosion of stereotypical sci-fi tropes that they just go along with it. The story goes to considerable lengths to unground events. A fixed event in the fifty-first century, fine. That’s past the point where “aging poorly” is even a meaningful idea. But in 2059? The false nature of the “fixed point in time” is always going to stick out like a sore thumb, especially when such an obviously symbolic relationship with the present day is put into place.

Which means that the moral failing that augurs the Doctor’s death is completely and utterly artificial. At least in a purely ethical sense, the Doctor didn’t do anything wrong. Indeed, for all that the idea here is in part “the Doctor needs companions to stop him,” it’s worth conducting the thought experiment of asking what would happen if Donna were present in The Waters of Mars. Surely nobody would seriously suggest that Donna would let the Doctor walk away from Bowie Base One without saving people. Or that Martha would, or that Rose would, or that Ace would. It is only the absence of the companions that allows the Doctor to make the supposedly “right” choice here. And for all that Adelaide reacts with horror to the idea that the Doctor might rewrite human destiny, the fact that this destiny is a fictional one blunts even the vaguest sense of impropriety here. As the Doctor points out, it’s hardly like Adelaide can’t inspire her granddaughter in person. (A telling and interesting parallel here - observe the granddaughter’s name.) 

Indeed, if you look at the start of the episode, it’s the Doctor who causes the crew to realize that something is up by asking about Maggie and Andy, causing Ed to call them and learn that something’s gone wrong. This moves the moment at which the crew can start reacting to the crisis up substantially, and could surely have plausibly changed history. So does every bit of warning and advice the Doctor gives. Nothing substantive changes in his actions at the start of the story to the end. And so what moral failing can the Doctor reasonably be accused of? Why has he gone too far? Why must he die?

The answer is, of course, the one that is pre-ordained at the start of Tennant’s time as the Doctor: his arrogance. The Doctor has to die because he’s become mad with his own power. The music even makes it clear, taking a decisive turn in the wake of the Doctor’s key line: “tough,” and crescendoing again as he declares himself the Time Lord Victorious. Because to declare that he could ever be the “winner” of something like the Time War is obscene. Because he declares himself the ultimate law of the universe, unbound by narrative constraints and conventions. It is in many ways an astonishing sequence, as all the quasi-religious iconography of the Davies era is subverted and twisted into something unsettling and fundamentally wrong. So when the survivors step into the London street, it’s treated as uncanny and genuinely horrific - so much so that Mia’s recitation of standard premises of the series (“it’s bigger on the inside”) become terrifying, awful facts. 


And it is in this context that Ood Sigma makes his mysterious, silent visitation. This too is worth asking “why” about. The logic of the Ood is at least somewhat obvious - their debut in a base under siege story with strong traditionalist leanings (note even the space suit) makes them at least partially appropriate here. But they are an odd fit for the narrative, and, indeed, for any sense of causality. What is happening here seems an entirely symbolic act. Nothing in The End of Time is going to require The Waters of Mars as a cause. There is no sequence here. Merely a symbolic function. The Waters of Mars opts to resolve its story with an invocation of the Doctor’s arrogance. Given this, the only possible thing that Tennant’s Doctor can do from this point is die.

Comments

mengu 3 years, 2 months ago

"When David Tennant re-enters Bowie Base One backlit by a tremendous halo of light as the music kicks into the hero theme there is nothing whatsoever left in the realm of ambiguity."
Unless you mean that it's meant to look evil, no, not when an almost identical shot is used for the Master in the Infinity Gate an episode later, this entire comment is an excuse to segue into suggesting everyone watch Above and Below (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzoLSOkxjzc), an absolutely phenomenal vid about the Doctor and Jack and the Master and everything else that will make you laugh at your past self who thought that matching the lyric "time" to a clip where they said time was impressive. Also, Handlebars. http://flummery.livejournal.com/26300.html Because if you don't watch it for Waters of Mars...

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ferret 3 years, 2 months ago

I find the Dalek sequence pretty strange: the Daleks are about to wipe out reality, are about to rip the Earth out of orbit with no plans to put it back. Why not exterminate Adelaide? She's about to find herself well out of reach of Mars and then have her atoms fall apart anyway - the timeline is not an issue.

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Froborr 3 years, 2 months ago

Dollhouse having been, by consensus, anointed as the project where Whedon would be deemed to have gone wrong

Which is in itself interesting, because it's more *consistently* good than any other TV series he made; even if it never quite reaches the heights of Buffy and Angel at their best, it never gets anywhere near as low as their lows. Though admittedly a significant part of that is the spectacularity of the actors playing Victor and Sierra.

But that whole "consistently good, never great or terrible" approach is pretty Letts too, isn't it?

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Stuart Ian Burns 3 years, 2 months ago

Waters of Mars is a prime example of the kind of story which confirms my theory that the Doctor is only able to change history when he personally doesn't know the outcome or if his "mission" is to change history back to the outcome he knows after it's been tampered with by some other external force. So it's fine when turns up on some random planet or place in history that he doesn't know about, not fine when he's well aware of what happens in the future. On the occasions when he does know the history and when he changes something (here, Genesis) not everything happens well.

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J Mairs 3 years, 2 months ago

Because the timeline isn't independent from the narrative of Doctor Who. The Daleks operate within the constaints of the universe and observe things like fixed points, but doesn't stop them from attempting to wipe out those laws. See also, the Doctor giving his screwdriver to himself when the universe collapses...

Also, the simpler explanation is that Adelaide isn't a Fixed Point until Waters of Mars - but this model of Fixed Points is incoherent.

However I'm going to write a fanfiction now where that Dalek actually shot Adelaide, leading to a Time Crash that was only resolved after the Dalek and Adelaide married each other....

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J Mairs 3 years, 2 months ago

I think that's only part of the story. It's not about what the Doctor knows, but what the audience knows - and if you know the ending, you can't change it...

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John 3 years, 2 months ago

This is a weird assessment of Dollhouse. Certainly Firefly is more consistent. Additionally, there are some serious conceptual problems going on here: in particular, the show wants to have its cake and eat it with the premise. On the one hand, the whole idea of the Dollhouse is horrifying and awful. On the other hand, isn't it fun how the Dolls become different characters? Don't we really like Topher and Adelle, even though they are, by any reasonable definition, utterly atrocious people?

Combine that with a lead who is desperately miscast, and a love interest (Ballard) who is incredibly boring, and I don't see how Dollhouse can be seen as anything but a misfire, even if it has a lot of interesting things going on.

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John 3 years, 2 months ago

But the audience knows nothing of the sort in Waters of Mars. In fact, as Phil points out the audience knows that this absolutely is *not* going to happen.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

This is my issue too. Davros is about the destroy the whole of reality (well, y'know the reality bomb concept doesn't hold water either if you really deconstruct the plot of the Series 4 finale, but let's go with it and assume it does work fine...) so why wouldn't a Dalek just blast her out of the sky?

Out-of-story, it creates quite a cheap "get out" clause too - put your character in an impossible-to-escape scenario with a Dalek advancing on him... and, oh, no, he's fine because the Dalek won't shoot him because, taa-daa, he's a fixed point in time for things we haven't yet seen or something.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

I love this story, and firmly believe it should've been Ten's farewell. Even with the dangerous Doctor (bordering on unlike-able) at the end. If I had my way and could retcon it, we'd have - for the first time - a Doctor actively forcing himself to regenerate due to the self-realisation and horror of what he's become. Cue Matt Smith, a fresh regeneration, and off we go. (Yes, that shakes off Ten's horrific acts as if it's nowt, but then so does The End of Time anyway really.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

An interesting point to note that, in the story, the Doctor tells Adelaide that "certain points in time are fixed", but he precedes this with "I have a theory that..."

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with your assessment that the Doctor's failing here is not any particular action he takes, least of all his desire/attempt to save people, but his *attitude* more than anything else. It's not wrong to try to save people. It is wrong to do so because he sees himself as the authority of life and death.

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EclecticDave 3 years, 2 months ago

"Indeed, for all that the idea here is in part “the Doctor needs companions to stop him ..."

I've often thought that one of the reasons that the Doctor needs companions to "stop him" is not just that the companions might actually object to his actions, but that by asking someone to travel with him, he is implicitly holding himself to the promise that he will return them to their lives at some point - difficult to do if he changes things in fundamental ways.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

It's true that the actions of this Dalek make no sense in the context of The Stolen Earth considered as an historical event in a science-fictional reality that is Doctor Who canon. But Doctor Who doesn't work in this context: the series and its events are always in flux, and any attempt to settle any matter of continuity permanently will constrain the creators of the show too much. So Doctor Who is a collision of stories that won't ever consistently fit together. Its present is the only continuity that really counts.

The Dalek functions in the story to show how important, narratively, Adelaide is. In the context of The Stolen Earth, this moment makes no sense. In the context of The Waters of Mars, it's a sign that Adelaide has a power in her very existence that can cause ontological tremors in the show itself. And we see it by the end of the episode: it's her accusation that makes the Doctor a villain, inescapably. Left to his own devices, he can justify that Time Lord Victorious model to himself. But Adelaide has a narrative power that can overcome that of the Doctor on his own show. She can break the myth.

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Unknown 3 years, 2 months ago

Dollhouse was a brilliant self-contained 13-part (or so) serial that someone (Whedon? It's not clear) tried to turn into an on-going series when it was painfully clear after those first few episodes that it didn't have the legs for a long-term future. The Doll premise simply isn't as good as, say, Quantum Leap, and the 1% conspiracy plot, whilst interesting, struggled to be engaging when it was so stretched out. (Having said that, I enjoyed the valiant attempt to give it a sort of ending no matter how flawed.)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 2 months ago

Well you see I always figured that was the Doctor's take on it, and that doesn't necessarily mean that was the reason. People often attach mystical signficance to ordinary events, and the Doctor's not all-knowing. Like a gunman fires six shots and kills six people, and then when he fires at you, the gun goes "click-click-click!" The universe smiled on you at that point...well,no, he just ran out of bullets.

For all we know the Dalek may have received a signal telling it to assist in the bombing of a nearby UNIT base, priority one. All we are told is that the Doctor muses that it was significant. RTD will often make people say one thing with conviction but either prove them wrong later on, or leave it ambiguous as to whether they are right or not. It makes them more interesting as characters.

The Doctor's actions here are initially informed by an almost reverent belief in the sanctity of Adelaide's destiny, and his explanation of why the Dalek spared her is completely in line with this. But it is only his opinion, he doesn't state it as fact, and his later events indicate that it probably isn't fact. What's more likely, that the Dalek somehow felt the power of Adelaide's destiny, despite the fact that it was about to participate in the Total Destruction of Everything (TM), or that it simply decided to go off and do something a bit more fun?

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jane 3 years, 2 months ago

"On the other hand, isn't it fun how the Dolls become different characters?"

Well, yes, but this is how the show implicates us in the problematic entailments of mass entertainment (obviously the Dollhouse itself is a metaphor for Hollywood at one level). In this respect, there's nothing nearly as subversive going on with the premise of Firefly. Nor would I say that Dushku is miscast -- if anything, the criticisms leveled at her performance are deeply ironic given the unique nature of Caroline.

Not that these don't qualify as "misfires" -- but I'd say the misfire is as much on the part of an audience that doesn't want to be implicated in such a way, nor one that had the patience to understand Dushku's performance vis-a-vis her character (a performance I'd argue becomes much more clear and compelling in Season Two.)

As to Paul Ballard, this is surely a much more subjective experience -- I, for one, love watching Tahmoh Penikett doing just about anything -- but again we have a character whose journey becomes deeply ironic and, yes, problematic. Even for the righteous there's no escaping implication. He isn't so much the Love Interest (though he's certainly that, but only secondarily) as he is the Tarnished Knight, a man who becomes as mercurial as an Active and whose reflectivity mirrors our own.

Topher and Adelle are opposites of Ballard; whereas Ballard sinks into the implications of the Dollhouse, Topher and Adelle rise above their callousness as their underlying empathy for others becomes exposed. In the world of the Dollhouse, everyone is tarnished, horribly tarnished, but that doesn't preclude redemption (though by no means is redemption guaranteed). Again, this is a conscious attempt to challenge the audience into overcoming their initial prejudices and withhold judgment, as nothing is ever what it seems at first glance, let alone second or third.

If anything, Dollhouse is yet another Whedon property that was horribly mishandled by the Fox network and their executive interference. Their early insistence on making the show episodic (against its natural grain of being deeply serialized) led to the early unevenness of the enterprise; the short seasons and early curtailment of the series led to the rushed narrative compression of the last quarter of the show.

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John 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with you that FOX was a big part of the problem; but of course what shows up on screen has many parents, one of which is Fox.

At any rate, I don't necessarily disagree with you that there are some interesting implications there, but I think it takes quite a while before the show really owns them. The first half of the first season, at least, I think is genuinely kind of schizophrenic, rather than trying to morally implicate the viewer.

And I just completely disagree with you about Dushku. Maybe, by the end, they made a virtue out of necessity, but casting her as a chameleon was just a terrible decision. Can anyone really deny that the show would have been much better with Amy Acker, say, as the lead?

At any rate, I'm not really trying to say that Dollhouse is a bad show. I found it interesting, at least, with lots of good stuff. But the idea that it is Whedon's most *consistent* show is patently ridiculous. Buffy obviously has a lot of episodes that just aren't very good, but there's several seasons that are of pretty consistently high quality (Season 3, in particular, has very few stinkers, I think). Angel took a while to get going, but I'd say it was at least as consistent as Dollhouse after the first season and change or so. And Firefly, while obviously having less time to give us bad episodes, and certainly, as you say, less ambitious, is far, far more consistent.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 2 months ago

Fixed points make a lot more sense if you map them onto narrative continuity, not past or future history. These are the moments in the broader story without which the narrative collapses. For fixed moments in our real past, the association between the Doctor Who universe and our own relies upon no major changes; for fixed moments in the conjectural future, the show's narrative alone demands them. Losing Lake Silencio renders a whole season pointless, for example.

The Dalek, then, can't kill the character around whom this narrative is built. That's entirely coherent. That the Doctor can save a character whose death is demanded by the narrative... well, that proves true in the sense that she ends up dead regardless of what he wishes. But the narrative sense, the appropriateness of her death within this episode's larger narrative of space exploration, that gets run through the wringer by the change. Ironically, if the Doctor had quietly saved Adelaide without telling her she was meant to die and without harping on his cosmic power, she would have no reason in-character to kill herself and the narrative impetus for her death would also be removed.

As it is, she dies not to inspire the future, but to reprimand the Doctor for stealing that future from her in the name of saving her. Exploration means risk, it means tragic loss, and she knew that. By denying her that risk, the Doctor threatens to steal humanity's ability to become what it might.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 2 months ago

It seems to me that this is firmly the Moffatt take on what "fixed points" actually mean, made most explicit in The Angels Take Manhattan. A point is fixed because time travellers know it happened. And crucially, the bit they know is the *only* bit that's fixed.

Which is how the Doctor could cheat death with a Tesselacta. The universe didn't care if he died or not, just that *something* happened that fitted what Rory, Amy and River saw.

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John 3 years, 2 months ago

Returned to their lives: Ian, Barbara, Dodo, Ben, Polly, Jamie, Zoe, Jo, Sarah, Harry, Tegan, Martha, Donna

Never returned to their lives: Susan, Vicki, Steven, Katarina, Sara, Victoria, Leela, Romana, Adric, Nyssa, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Rose, Jack, Amy, Rory

Unclear: Ace, Clara

He's not very good at it, especially given that three of the people he does manage to return to their previous lives also get their memories fucked with, and one of them goes from being a doctor to an alien-hunting mercenary.

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Ross 3 years, 2 months ago

This is not actually going to happen any more than the encounter with Mondas happened in 1986 or the rise of Salamander is going to happen in three years

Hence my great secret "This will never happen" hope that it would turn out John Hurt was playing the Season 6B Doctor, who broke the laws of time by changing earth history in 1970 so that the shiny YEAR TWO THOUSAND space age never happened and the information age happened instead

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Ross 3 years, 2 months ago

Because that Dalek was a low-ranking soldier, and mucking about with the timeline is above its pay grade.

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Alan 3 years, 2 months ago

Fixed points make a lot more sense if you map them onto narrative continuity, not past or future history.

That's an interesting point given prior discussions about the Doctor as truly being the Master of the Land of Fiction. Fixed points in time actually make a lot more sense if viewed as narrative plot points that must happen in order for the rest of the plot to unfold as it should.

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Alan 3 years, 2 months ago

The problem with "fixed points in time" in the Moffat era is that he kept the concept while destroying its definition. Apparently, what appears to be a fixed event can be altered but only if belief in the fixed event can be preserved through a carefully staged hoax. Based on "The Wedding of River Song," it appears that Ten could have saved Adelaide if he, for example, had taken her to another era and set her up with a false identity so as to preserve the myth of her heroic death. Similarly, it is possible that, in the future, the Doctor will rescue Amy and Rory from 1930's Manhattan while preserving his younger self's belief that they died there by the simple trick of publishing a book and buying a fake tombstone.

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Alan 3 years, 2 months ago

True. The horror lies not in what he does but why he does it. Because the next step after saving a life that should not have been saved is actively deciding who lives and who dies. Morally, that's no different than the Rani scheming to wipe out the human race because she's curious as to the untapped potential of the dinosaurs if they'd continued their evolution.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 2 months ago

The fake tombstone wouldn't work because you actually see Amy's name appear on it, if I remember correctly.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 2 months ago

For the longest time, about 50 minutes or so, I thought that Waters of Mars was both trad and brave. It was one of the best "Base Under Siege" we'd ever seen, beautifully shot and the characters sketched quickly but with more care that usually seen in this type of story. There was nothing wrong with using the occasional typical story format if its done well, the same arguement i used with the Almost People: it was fun, it scratched a certain itch for that type of story for us fans. not everything has to be novel and different. this was a good spin for this story. genuinely frightening in places for my kids.

and then it lost it at the end. was it brave to move tennant's Doctor to scary god like status? He'd be trending that was all along, so nothing out of bounds with that development. but i wished that he'd been brave enough to have Tennant's Doctor walk away, and have to deal with that emotionally, a different bittersweet ending to deal with.

As it stands, coming from the utter horror at the end of Waters of Mars to the opeing of the next special was an utter betrayal of the audience's faith in the series.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 2 months ago

yes, this would have been a great segue into "The 11th hour" wouldn't it? Selective fan editing. I've already do that for Smith's era. There is the 50 anniversary special, then he has to regenerate into Capaldi.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 2 months ago

well, we do see that they eventually end up on a spaceship...

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jonathan inge 3 years, 2 months ago

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encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

it’s fair to ask what else we might reasonably expect the music to do

Back off, even juuuuuuuust a tad, and let the actors and the staging and the lighting and the script carry a few more moments? That seems reasonable to me.

That said, not every moment can be carried that way. I've never been a fan of the post-regeneration "cliffhanger" at the end of "The End of Time" (and unfortunately Moffat wrote even more underwhelming rewrite of that scene for Capaldi), but without music that scene is SO much weaker. So yeah, just a little more restraint. That's what I'd ask (though not, obviously, expect).

Graham Harper

Graeme, right?

the only previous time that Doctor Who attempted to augur a near-future at this distance

I assume you didn't mention "Warriors of the Deep" because (a) it's 100 years, so outside the "within our lifetime" threshold you're talking about, and (b) it's "Warriors of the Deep." :)

Pedantry aside, although I love "Waters of Mars" I'd agree with you that the ending, and the dilemma it attempts to pose, are hard to connect with logically, and I'd agree with your reasons why. Even accepting all that, I have a VERY hard time with the idea that Adelaide Brooke steps into her house and kills herself. The only way I can buy it is if we're condensing several years of survivors' guilt for dramatic license.

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encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

Fixed points in time actually make a lot more sense if viewed as narrative plot points that must happen in order for the rest of the plot to unfold as it should.

Do they? I'm struggling to understand how this doesn't just surrender any attempt at a diegetic explanation. That is, maybe this allows them to make more sense (I'm not even sure about that), but I don't think it makes them more interesting.

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Jesse 3 years, 2 months ago

Dollhouse having been, by consensus, anointed as the project where Whedon would be deemed to have gone wrong

Are we not going to get a Pop Between Realities for Dollhouse? Saving it for the book?

it’s fair to ask what else we might reasonably expect the music to do

Well, it could always back off...

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 2 months ago

Probably not. I don't feel a titanic amount to say about it in terms of Doctor Who. It's terribly interesting and I may well write about it someday, but I don't think it's an Eruditorum entry.

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ferret 3 years, 2 months ago

Lots of good points, Spacewarp's incredibly so. However, Ross's Dalek I want to see: "MORE-THAN-MY-JOBS-WORTH! MORE-THAN-MY JOBS-WORTH!" as it backs away giddily from K9

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jane 3 years, 2 months ago

"And I just completely disagree with you about Dushku. Maybe, by the end, they made a virtue out of necessity, but casting her as a chameleon was just a terrible decision. Can anyone really deny that the show would have been much better with Amy Acker, say, as the lead?"

No, Acker wouldn't be the appropriate choice to play Echo/Caroline. The thing about Echo is that whatever imprint she's beeb given, there's always an element of herself that never goes away. Which, as it turns out, is the criticism against Dushku. Acker, on the other hand, is too adept at completely disappearing into her role; Whiskey, of course, is considered the "best" Active, not Echo.

Echo isn't a perfect chameleon, not by any stretch, but this is precisely what Rossum finds so intriguing about her, her ability to resist imprinting. And no, I don't think this was a late adaptation after seeing how Dushku was playing the role -- the unaired pilot episode makes it very clear that Echo was always going to have this kind of resistance as part of her character arc, something that's also affirmed by the second episode of the series. Indeed, according to Whedon, he conceived of the character with Dushku in mind from the get-go.

While I agree that it isn't until Man on the Street when the show starts actively trying to implicate its audience, just the nature of the Dollhouse as a metaphor for the entertainment industry implicates the audience from the very beginning; that implication is built into the metaphor. (Of course the titular Dollhouse is in Los Angeles.) As for the show's consistency, well, the only episode in the entire run that I found wanting was Stage Fright, and even that's redeemed by its thematic coherence with the rest of the series.

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jane 3 years, 2 months ago

"Even though her memory/personality is wiped, Echo remembers. I think most people get caught up in Ballard-saving-Caroline subplot but miss the obvious point of the first five episodes. That is, Echo doesn’t need saving; she saves others."

Yes! And not only does she save the people around her, she saves the people within her -- even a horrible serial killer. She's a "perfect savior" in this respect, not unlike Charlotte in the Library, and of course this manifests in Caroline's predilections as well. How perfect was it that Echo's need to lead everyone "into the light" ends up being fulfilled by Adelle?

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jane 3 years, 2 months ago

I am required, by the way, to point out that the Year of Specials continues to function as prophecy. Here we get a character named for a body of water -- Adelaide Brooke -- and a monster named for water (and indeed enacted through water) as well. This is, of course, a huge motif in the Moffat era, what with the Ponds and River and "water is a reflective surface" and all that. There's also a character named Roman Groom, which, well, presages The Last Centurion. Heh.

We also get a sneak preview of the upcoming production design, namely the juxtaposition of Red and Blue, which appears in just about every episode of Eleven's run. In Water of Mars we get it right off the bat with the TARDIS landing on the Red Planet. Not to mention the most elemental of alchemical mixtures: Fire and Water! The future is coming, and there's no stopping it.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

I'd say part of what this blog (and the way Moffat tends to write when he's in charge of season arcs) is setting out to demonstrate is that the extra-diegetic reason for events or rules in Doctor Who's narrative and canon is itself diegetic. Or maybe it's the other way around.

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encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

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jonathan inge 3 years, 2 months ago

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jonathan inge 3 years, 2 months ago

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jonathan inge 3 years, 2 months ago

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Mark Patterson 3 years, 2 months ago

That was very much my take on the story, too - I remember a common criticism at the time being the not-unreasonable "why didn't he just save them all and quietly deposit them somewhere other than their home time/place to live out their lives while the course of perceived history continued undisturbed?" Which, yeah, he could have done. But the point of the end of the story isn't what he actually does, it's how he does it. He's not just saving them and returning them to Earth because he can and because it's the moral thing to do, he's doing so in as dramatic way as possible, throwing them in the face of Time itself.

It's an interesting turn - and in many ways a very logical end-point for Tennant's Doctor, who has always flirted with hubris - and I'd have been interested in seeing it explored further. That said, I understand why it wasn't - there really isn't a lot further you can take that idea than it's taken here, at least within the confines of Doctor Who as it was under Davies. It might actually have worked under Moffat, given his preoccupation with the fluidity of time itself, but it doesn't strike me as the sort of story he's be interested in telling from a character standpoint.

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dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 2 months ago

I don't mind the given explanation at all. The reality bomb hasn't done its business yet so they don't want to be dealing with time cracks/an infestation of Reapers/the ice cream cone of Rassilon or whatever destroying a fixed point is going to result in. Like if you've hijacked a nuclear vessel and plan to wipe out all life on Earth, you don't want to be dealing with a leaky submarine while you're still targeting.

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dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 2 months ago

Totally agreed. I've described WoM as "the best regeneration story (that doesn't have a regeneration at the end of it". The biggest letdown is that The End of Time doesn't pick up on anything that happens in this story in any significant way. OK, it's got the actual regeneration in it that's foreshadowed here in several ways but (a) it functionally kind of had to have that, and (b) it takes the Doctor whose arc has been "pride before the fall" and gives him a big bloody reward for it.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 2 months ago

Based on "The Wedding of River Song," it appears that Ten could have saved Adelaide if he, for example, had taken her to another era and set her up with a false identity so as to preserve the myth of her heroic death

In the DWM strip he does precisely this for Amy Johnson once Clara tells him they never found her body, so yeah.

The situation at the end of Angels Take Manhattan is presented as a bit different; it's not a fixed point, it's a messy tangle of fixed points, paradoxes and loops, such that any attempt to mess with it further would be A Very Bad Idea. The Doctor can't even visit them, let alone take them back home.

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ferret 3 years, 2 months ago

The Doctor didn't even check! For all we know the fridge door was stuck, and she shot it in frustration - then nipped pit the back door and went on a hermitage in the Himalayas.

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

I'd say part of what this blog (and the way Moffat tends to write when he's in charge of season arcs) is setting out to demonstrate is that the extra-diegetic reason for events or rules in Doctor Who's narrative and canon is itself diegetic. Or maybe it's the other way around.

As this blog regularly proves the narrative is bigger on the inside.
Doctor Who is clearly diegetically transcendental.

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

The Doctor didn't even check! For all we know the fridge door was stuck, and she shot it in frustration
Well this is a good point. Of course we aren't actually shown Adelaide's body for reasons of taste, the tea time fun for all the family remit of the show precluding graphically depicted suicide. But this does give us the option that the Tenth Doctor, perhaps as part of his final grand tour of the companions and in the spirit of contrition which allows him another go, went back and spirited Adelaide away to live out her life on some distant planet.

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

Also see series 'Specials B' where the Tenth Doctor and Adelaide have adventures in space and time, picking up Ood Sigma on the way, before he returns her to Earth.

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

the only previous time that Doctor Who attempted to augur a near-future at this distance

Doesn't The War Machines count? I thought the Doctor mentioning the 'finished' Post Office Tower was meant to place it in the near future not the 1966 of it's broadcast. Also I don't want to be the one to dredge up the UNIT dating controversy but isn't the entirety of Pertwee's run set in, if not the 1980s then certainly a 'within our lifetimes' near future?

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

I avoided Dollhouse having overdone Buffy a little. When I finally got round to watching it last year I was at first completely taken in by the false premise and nearly stopped watching. luckily I persevered and was mightily impressed by the constantly shifting morality and subtle questioning of the standard 'Hollywood' values of the adventure series that, it turned out, Whedon was exploring.

On the subject of Eliza Dushku. Yes, hers is a subtle performance, her unchanging nature is clearly part of the plot and fits the duplicitous nature of the narrative and Echo/Caroline's story arc. Whether this was down to her or the way the narrative was fed to her as the scripts progressed I don't know. To criticize her performance as inflexible is like criticizing an actor playing Hamlet for being moody.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

Honestly, you could skip from Planet to the Dead to The End of Time and not miss anything. (You can even keep the "named a galaxy Alison" arsehole bit in, and put it down to him having run away after Carmen told him the prophecy.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

"But if you could choose who lives and who dies, well, that would make you a monster."

- Mr Copper, to the Doctor (Voyage)

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Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

jane, your contractual obligation is fulfilled.

Also BOWIE BASE ONE! is no-one clocking the perfect post modern meta joke of combining Life on Mars, the series, interpreted literally (which of course the US version SPOILERS!! did with a rather dull denoument) with The Spiders From Mars mainman? Both predicting the thin white one's comeback with The Next Day (how perfect a title in which to consider a possible future that we know won't occur) and his subsequent canonisation as pope of pop culture. Also Tennant's skinny spiky haired mockney isn't a million miles away from Bowie's own affected London Boy shape throwing.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 2 months ago

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EclecticDave 3 years, 2 months ago

@John

I think you're being a little bit harsh on our poor old Doc there!

Vicky, Steven,Victoria, Leela, Romana, Nyssa and Peri do not return home by their own choice, Turlough returns home at the end of Planet of Fire and we don't know what happened to Mel

Susan was in exile from Gallifrey, and Jack is a time traveller anyway

I've give you Katarina, Sara, Adric, Rose, Amy and Rory though - mind you there is no suggestion that the Doctor did not intend on returning them to their lives even then, with the possible exception of Adric at least.

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Anglocat 3 years, 2 months ago

I've always thought that the WoM is an excellent lead in, flowing (sorry!) into the End of Time, as the distance between the Time Lord Victorious and the Master of All Matter is far less than that between the Pertwee Era's Holmes and Moriarity. And in EoT, that distance is going to get bridged even more, with the Master moving toward his counterpart, just as the Doctor has drawn dangerously close to the Master. And then, with the distance between them as thin as that between opposite faces of a coin, Letts's original ending for the Master can be achieved, a culmination leading to the rebirth of a new Doctor.

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Froborr 3 years, 2 months ago

On Dollhouse, yeah, basically what everyone else said. It is an uncomfortable series full of moral ambiguities. No one in it is completely evil and no one in it is completely good; it is acts, rather than people, that have a moral component, and past behavior does not determine the morality of any given character's next action. (That's Whedon's existentialism shining through, of course.) It is Whedon at his most thoughtful, while Firefly is Whedon at his most superficially clever. I suppose it is largely a matter of taste which you prefer; for myself, while I'll accept that Firefly was more consistent than Dollhouse, that's only because Firefly rarely to never got better than Dollhouse's first five episodes.

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 2 months ago

Exactly. And I think this story is about as far as you can have the Doctor go down that road and still be redeemable. He can be dark, and you can flirt with the idea of the Valeyard in some vague point in the future, but to go any further would would make the Doctor an outright villain. I actually don't agree that The End of Time doesn't continue or resolve these issues - the whole point is that the Doctor's regeneration stems from this hubris. His fear of death leads him to run away from Ood Sigma, delaying his ability to stop the Master & Time Lords from returning. Plus, after calling the people he saved "little people" he is given the opportunity to redeem himself by saving Wilf, the definition of a little person ("not remotely important") who has had his time. The Doctor doesn't save Wilf because he's important (like Adelaide) or a fixed point. He saves him because he should ("there's no such thing as an ordinary human"). His self-sacrifice is his opportunity at redemption, and the cost of redemption is his life (or this incarnation, anyway). Say what you like about the End of Time, but it's a logical conclusion to the story which follows directly on from the themes set up in the Waters of Mars (and, as Phil has pointed out, as far back as The Christmas Invasion).

Also, I'm not sure why people get hung up about the whole "Doctor's reward" thing as though it's a big pat on the back. Yes, it's luxuriantly (perhaps at times indulgently) paced, but that's understandable given that it's the end of the RTD era as well as the 10th Doctor. It's also a further humbling for the Doctor - his "reward" is to glimpse his loved ones, and help them. His role is one of love and service. That's my reading, anyway - I'll be interested to see what Phil has to say.

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 2 months ago

Yes! My comment above tried to say this, but much less eloquently, and I hadn't considered the Doctor and the Master moving closer together. That makes a lot of sense.

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encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

I quite like the coda to "The End of Time," actually, for the most part. Even the pacing isn't that big a deal when you remember that one time the Doctor spent almost four whole episodes dying.

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Anglocat 3 years, 2 months ago

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Anglocat 3 years, 2 months ago

It was your comment that crystallized what I wanted to say about WoM, so thanks!

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 2 months ago

Ha! That's why blogs like this are so great - the dialogue helps us all clarify our thinking.

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Kevin 8 months, 1 week ago

I like that story,its a unique story thanks for sharing.I gonna bookmark your site and i will be waiting for another story.
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