I Owe it To My Friend To Try, Because I Got Her Into This (The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe)

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In this image, Clara is cleverly disguised as a cardboard box.
It’s December 25th, 2011. A group assembled under the name “Military Wives” are at number one with “Wherever You Are,” which is more or less the song you’d expect, with Coldplay, Flo Rida, and Little Mix also charting. In news, since The Sarah Jane Adventures took its bow Muammar Gaddaffi was killed in Libya, the Curiosity rover was launched by NASA, and the global population hit seven billion. 

While on television is The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe, which is, apparently, the worst thing Moffat has ever done, the second-worst story of the Moffat era, the third-worst of the new series as a whole, and the thirteenth-worst story of all time, coming in just ahead of Paradise Towers and just behind The King’s Demons, but notably beaten by Warriors of the Deep, The Time Monster, and The Horns of Nimon. Or at least, that’s the word from the Doctor Who Magazine 50th Anniversary survey, which also thinks that Day of the Doctor is the best story ever and that Frontios is inferior to The Android Invasion, and that The Celestial Toymaker is superior to stories that aren’t The Twin Dilemma, so is perhaps… inclined towards error. 

But this gets at an issue worth exploring at least a little, which is that there are two mutually contradictory narratives of the Moffat era. In one, the initial promise of the great writer of Blink and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances was steadily squandered on a stream of mediocrity and repetition that has steadily driven people away from the show. In the other, the show remains stubbornly popular without any real evidence of people being driven away, especially when you consider that a statistically significant number of people have migrated to watching on iPlayer, which still isn’t counted in ratings figures. That one of these is based on personal preference while the other is based on the actual metric of success in the television industry is, of course, basically irrelevant. These are, it seems, the two options.

Still, it’s worth entertaining the myriad of criticisms frequently made of The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe, if only to see if any of them have any substance to them. Let’s start with the most idiosyncratic, if only because they are the ones it is possible to mount the biggest case against the story over. For instance, the observation that the “women are strong because they can be mothers” twist is transphobic. Which… well, it’s not. It’s cisnormative, certainly, but just as heteronormative and homophobic are not actually synonyms, neither are cisnormative and transphobic, and while I am well aware that, as a cis person, I don’t get a vote in this, I would nevertheless, in a purely advisory capacity, strongly suggest that the trans activist community start realizing that a more nuanced vocabulary for discussing trans oppression might be useful.

Which is to say that while it’s certainly the case that there are many ways the story could have been more trans-inclusive, this is an accurate but fairly minor complaint, not least because any way to make the story more trans-inclusive would have involved being a very different story. I was talking to Anna about this, and she suggested a plot based around Madge not being the children’s biological mother, which would have been great, yes. You can imagine the scene in which Madge tearfully explains that she can’t possibly fly the ship because she’s not really a mother, and the Doctor looking at her like she’s got two heads and saying some version of “of course you are, don’t be ridiculous,” and it’s a lovely scene, except that it moves the emphasis away from saving Reg. You could have that be an incidental detail, but that doesn’t keep with the theme-explicit-in-dialogue aesthetic that dominates not just Doctor Who but popular fiction right now. 

Moving down the list, there’s the “he followed me home and wouldn’t stop unless I married him” bit in Madge and Reg’s dating history, which, yes, again, a valid objection, but strangely nobody gets furious at Say Anything, the cultural touchstone for the “following her is romantic” image. I wish the line weren’t there, but one line in one scene that’s sexist in a way that’s gobsmackingly common in popular culture does not constitute a particularly effective critique of an entire episode. If it did, The God Complex wouldn’t come anywhere close to surviving that appalling “Amy Williams” line. And anyway, given that the major critics of this episode are the people who persist in putting The Talons of Weng-Chiang in the top ten, I think it’s pretty clear that the objections to this story are not actually well-reasoned social justice critiques.

To be honest, given the tedious myopia of large swaths of Doctor Who fandom, it’s more likely that the objection is the story’s “men are weak/women are strong” bit. The objection here is, in its dumbest form, one that uses phrases like “misandry” and “reverse sexism,” but there’s at least a sane and sympathetic version that says that the goal should be equality, and that saying things like “men are weak and women are strong” is just as harmful as the reverse. For my part, though… it doesn’t feel like enough to simply have there be things that don’t say that women are inferior to men, given how many things there are in the world that say that they are. I wish we didn’t live in a world where it was necessary to provide counter-programming to systemic cultural sexism, but ultimately, I think we do, and that stories about how women are strong and mothers are awesome and powerful are actually important. When there is a massive power imbalance in the world, it generally cannot be rectified simply by giving power to the disenfranchised side - power must also be taken away from the more privileged. There are, of course, arguments to the contrary, and you are welcome to remind me what they are in comments, but the truth is, I’ve heard them and am unpersuaded, so, you know, I’m not really sure what else to say there.

Which leaves one major line of attack on this story, which is that it’s silly.

As you can imagine, this is not a line of attack I find particularly persuasive. Certainly this seems to me an episode that is perfectly aware of how silly it’s being. Which means that the argument that it’s flawed because it’s silly amounts to an argument that silliness is inherently a bad thing for Doctor Who, which is, I think, a completely untenable position. Yes, this episode pushes the “Matt Smith as goofy comedy Doctor” idea about as far as it can be pushed. I’d say that Smith’s Doctor veers uncomfortably close to self-parody here, but that’s frankly understating the case. His Doctor sails merrily into self-parody here. If you hate that sort of thing, you’ll hate this. But for my money, nothing captures the way Smith’s Doctor works quite like his mask of lemonade taps and spinning chairs dropping when he’s alone with Madge, and his calm, polite, and piercing explanation of why she keeps yelling at her children. “Because they’re going to be sad later” is a line that sums up so much of what there is to love about Smith’s take on the character.

But perhaps more to the point, and it seems slightly incredible that this should need to be pointed out, but The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe is unabashedly Doctor Who aimed at the young end of its audience. Which… is a tough thing to get bent out of shape about. Ultimately, this is Doctor Who doing Box of Delights, inasmuch as Box of Delights isn’t just the best story of Season 6B. (Really, I should add it as an Outside the Government if I redo the Troughton book.) And so everything is played simply, with an eye towards broad iconography. World War II finally completes its strange gradual descent from being an unspeakable but omnipresent moment of historical context in The Daleks to finally being actually representable in The Curse of Fenric to, nearly another quarter-century later, simply being one of the heritage theme parks that Doctor Who can pop into. (Indeed, this is another reason why the Reg following Madge business only bothers me a middling amount - because that “I didn’t want to make a fuss” seems to me to be more of a “keep calm and carry on” joke than one about gender relations. Still bad though.) The forest is self-evidently Ancient Celtic Britain redressed as an alien planet, and if you think anything that happens after the first giant tree person shows up needs more explanation than it got then you’re coming at it the wrong way. Everything you need to know is there in the basic image of a monolithic tree queen in a tower standing over the throne, waiting to crown whomever sits in it. 

So what we have is a story that uses the narrative structure and iconography of The Lion, The Widow, and the Wardrobe (and Lewis has always been a sort of secret ghost for Doctor Who, dying the same day it premiered) to do a story about how women are awesome with strong ecological themes. It’s not what you’d call subtle, but again, it’s not trying to be - and it seems to me tough to argue that this isn’t a story that knows what it’s doing and is  It’s trying to be a seven-year-old’s favorite Christmas DVD, and one suspects that there are few polls around that are going to give any real clue how good a job it did at that. 

So why is it hated? Certainly the other moments in the new series where Doctor Who has overtly and consciously done children’s television are panned as well, though casting this down with the worst of the lot, Fear Her, really does seem harsh. As, really, does putting Fear Her in the second to last slot, suggesting that there really is a fandom bias against treating Doctor Who as children’s television, which does seem a bit pathological. But even that doesn’t quite explain the reputation of this one.

One suspects, then, that the answer is that it came at an awkward moment in the transmission schedule. It’s notable that The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe ended without even a hint as to when the series would return, or what with. There was no trailer and no gesture towards the future. This is largely because production was still a good few months from starting on Season Seven, and Doctor Who wasn’t going to be appearing for about eight months due to a clear delay in production that appears to have been caused by the discovery that Moffat couldn’t actually produce a season each of Doctor Who and Sherlock in a year without killing himself. 


This went over predictably poorly in some circles. I’m pretty sure Ian Levine called it evil, like he does. I mean, this must come as a shock to nobody - the sorts of people who believe they have some sort of inherent right to fourteen episodes of Doctor Who a year are also the sorts of people who hate the idea that Doctor Who might sometimes mainly be for seven-year-olds and not them. As I said, pathological. And it explains the thumping this took in the polls and among fandom. And sure, as “the last piece of Doctor Who you’re getting for lord knows how long,” this isn’t any fan’s desired sendoff. But it’s worth noting that this was, generally speaking, a quite well-reviewed episode that seems to have gone down quite well with the public. And while it’s easy to list quibbles with it, at the end of the day, it does feel rather like shouting “bah humbug” at a bunch of kids unwrapping a present. That so much of what constitutes Doctor Who fandom is willing to do just that says, frankly, very little about us that’s good.

Comments

jonathan inge 2 years, 7 months ago

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jonathan inge 2 years, 7 months ago

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iWill 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't understand the silliness complaint for this, or indeed for any other, episode of Doctor Who. My problem was that it was just...rather dull. But this is a problem I have with almost every Christmas special, so the problem is likely with me, not the specials themselves.
Like Phil says, this may not appeal to me particularly, but hey, it's not for me, and if there are people out there, especially kids, who enjoyed it, then good for them. Merry Christmas.
Oh, and by the way, I think you accidentally wrote "The Lion, The Widow, and the Wardrobe" when you meant "The Lion, the WITCH, and the Wardrobe". Sorry to be pedantic.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 7 months ago

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Jack Graham 2 years, 7 months ago

It's grown on me, this one. I does lots of stuff that I think Doctor Who really *should* do (alongside a hefty dose of stuff I think Doctor Who shouldn't touch with a bargepole)... just not particularly well (probably owing to the outright debt to CS Lewis, someone best stolen from in moderation). But its certainly a vast improvement on 'A Christmas Carol'. Not that that's saying much. Outside of the wider pattern, the social justice fails in this would be minor (which could be said of a lot of individual episodes). Matt Smith seems vaguely more tolerable when in outright zany mode, having seemingly abandoned any attempt to pretend that he's doing anything more than just being a magic version of the wacky neighbour sitcom character. Then there's the blessed absence of any of Moffat's wonderfully well-drawn female companions. That's a relief too.

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Kit Power 2 years, 7 months ago

"You could have that be an incidental detail, but that doesn't keep with the theme-explicit-in-dialogue aesthetic that dominates not just Doctor Who but popular fiction right now. " - it's apparently throwaway lines like this that keep me coming back to this blog. I've been trying to figure out what's been increasingly irritating me about S8, to the point of actively not enjoying the Dalek story or Robin Hood, and even Listen leaving me a bit non-plussed, and here it is. The way I described it to a friend was that it was like the subtext was so close to the surface you could see the bones poking through, but as ever, you put it more elegantly and precisely. It really bothers me that the relatively subtle beauty of 'We're all stories in the end' has become Robin Hood all but yelling down the camera 'I'm as real as you are, Doctor BECAUSE WE'RE BOTH LEGENDS OF THE BIG BRITANNIA THEME PARK GET IT?!!?!? GET IT?!?!!?!?'. Why it annoys me so much is likely a matter for me to examine with my therapist, given the general consensus here that it's actually rather good, but I'm grateful to you for articulating the point, anyway.

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Jack Graham 2 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, this is endemic now. Every bit of pop culture is crafted by people with increased literacy regarding texts... having grown up with texts they themselves wanted to pick over AND lots of media studies in education (hark at who's talking) so, when they get to write stuff for telly or cinema, they self-consciously want to write stuff that can be analysed, read, parsed, understood. They deliberately put Themes in for other people to Read. Trouble is, some have a kind of anxiety about being misunderstood, or taken at face value. So the Themes get explained to us in the dialogue. This is everywhere now, as I say, but perhaps the most quintessential example is The Dark Knight, which has characters actually explaining the film's consciously-chosen Themes to each other in portentous language. The irony here is that we 'read' texts because they simply DO NOT read themselves for us... even if they think they do. So all the dialogue does when it contains overt, authorially-inserted clues as to What The Writer Is Saying, is engage in yet another degree of cover-up. The explanations become yet another layer between the reader and the actual reading.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 7 months ago

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 7 months ago

My problem was that it was just...rather dull.

Indeed. Rather than "silly", I think the main line of criticism about this story is just that it's dull. It just wanders about for ages before actually doing anything. There's no real menace, there's no big chase, it's just Faffing About For A Bit At Christmas. And it's tedious.

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curlyjimsam750 2 years, 7 months ago

For me this is the one story where Moffat genuinely doesn't get it right. I don't mean that as an anti-Moffat thing generally: I think he's written great stories both before *and* after, and he has had fewer backfires than RTD or Robert Holmes (both also favourites of mine) or anyone else whose written a broadly comparable number of stories. But the thing I didn't like isn't one of the things you mention - it was actually, quite simply, that it was boring in the middle.

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storiteller 2 years, 7 months ago

Okay, here's where I say "Nope," to you totally ignoring sexism. Because I didn't think either of the arguments that you put forth - that's it's transphobic or the "follow you home" line - were nearly the biggest problems at all. The biggest problem to me is not that women are portrayed at stronger but exactly why they are portrayed as stronger - strictly because they are or have the potential to be mothers. It ties women's strength strictly to their biological capacity. After all, women/girls could control the tree but boys couldn't precisely because of "motherhood," not "parenthood" in general. As someone who is the mom of a 15 month old but is also married to a stay-at-home dad who does an amazing job, the idea of women's strength being tied to motherhood specifically I find insulting both as a female and to my husband's ability as a parent. It's totally bullshit essentialism.

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

This is my memory of it, as well. It's not awful, and had some good bits, but not much really happened.

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd imagine that preferring this to A Christmas Carol is...er...not a widely shared opinion?

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storiteller 2 years, 7 months ago

Actually, it would have been really fascinating to have it tied not to "motherhood" as a vague and annoyingly sexist concept, but specifically to "good parenthood." That way, the mom - who does appear to be a really good mom - would be in contrast to The Doctor, who is it implied was never a very good parent. After all, he kidnaps his granddaughter and then leaves her on a foreign planet. It would be a good tip of the hat to the Problem of Susan without getting into the details.

It would still be kind of insulting to people without kids (whether by choice or not) and you'd have to take out the bit about the little girl controlling the tree, but I think it would work a lot better and give a bit more emotional depth to the episode rather than the easy "win" it has now.

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

Jonathan Inge - when people say that viewers are more sophisticated, they're generally talking about adult viewers in the anglophone world, who are, frankly, not the target audience for Hollywood blockbusters. The movies you list, along with practically all mass-market Hollywood movies, are made for teenagers and the worldwide (especially Asian) market. They're explicitly aiming for the least common denominator. This is completely different from how Hollywood operated pre-Jaws, when it was aiming largely at American adults, and still quite different even from how things were 20 years ago. Normal medium-budget movies of the kind Hollywood used to make still exist, but primarily from independent distributors rather than the bigs.

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Jack Graham 2 years, 7 months ago

I have a few of those.

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Tallifer 2 years, 7 months ago

Most Doctor Who I enjoy as escapist fantasy: there is very little of it which has any meaning which resonates for me. However mothers as symbols of strength is a timeless and good truth.

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Wm Keith 2 years, 7 months ago

Had not Doctor Who and the Woman in the Wardrobe successfully inoculated me against watching Christmas Specials, I might well have preferred this one.

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macrogers 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm a little baffled at this phenomenon being discussed as a new thing, or as a form of degeneration. I'm sitting here at my desk trying to think of a single stage play (my field) that's broadly considered great that *doesn't* have theme-explicit-in-dialogue. When dialogue is one of your foremost tools (something that I'd argue is - while somewhat less the case - still totally the case with television and film), that's one of the ways you get the theme out there. It seems to me that The Dark Knight's sin is doing this clumsily, with no finesse or integration into character, rather than attempting it at all.

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David Anderson 2 years, 7 months ago

I just rewatched it, it made me giggle at the fun parts and go sniffly at the bits where we're meant to go sniffly.

One bad reason for disliking it: it starts out with that iconic shot from Star Wars. So if you're the sort of person who thinks Doctor Who does Star Wars would be a really good idea, the implication that the best thing Doctor Who can do with Star Wars is blow it up and replace it with a piece of inconsequential children's television is probably rather annoying. (For that matter, the opening sequence also sends up James Bond, which is another Christmas television staple.)

Better reason for disliking it: nobody much has any agency. I think it would be immensely improved if Madge explicitly knew what she's doing when she puts the crown on: as it is, it looks as if she's being hypnotised, which is a problem. Especially if we're to see this as empowering women - the women need to be less passive.
For that matter, the Doctor is at his most irresponsible here. It's not obvious that he does anything apart from put everybody in unnecessary horrible danger. (An alternative reading of the Eleventh Doctor's character would in fact have it that he planned the entire thing. I'm not sure that wouldn't be morally preferable.)

I think in context the women are strong, men are weak thing is ok. As a general rule, I don't think it is pro-feminist at all. It's usually taken up into lad culture or Men are from Mars territory - the idea that men are big children and are therefore entitled to be looked after and have women pick up the pieces for them. If the other option is a morally irresponsible masculinity, then a masculinity that is responsible within an immoral system begins to look attractive.

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Bennett 2 years, 7 months ago

This story was the first (and to date, only) story written by Moffat that I came away disliking on first viewing. So I kind of feel obliged to really stick the boot in, especially after I've posted comment after comment of tiresome praise. Because I don't truly believe his writing to be perfect or consistent (I would be much less interested in it if it was), and if there was ever an opportunity to get that point across this would be it.

But on both subsequent viewings I have come away feeling satisfied each time, so there is something here that catches my tongue. I do still find this story a disappointment. I'm an unashamed adorer of the other Moffat Christmas specials, and consider all three to be dizzying ballets of heart and humour. But swaths of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe leave me cold. Sometimes bored. There's nothing wrong with silliness, but I do take issue with barrenness.

It's doggedly mediocre. It's tired in much the same way that The Next Doctor was. But then Madge and the Doctor share a chat, or the Doctor arrives at the Ponds' door, and I'm instantly wary of shouting it down.

There's things to like here. There's things to dislike here. But I don't find anything to hate here. And as cold as I am to much of this episode, I still broke a smile when I found out that the Doctor will be assuming the name of Caretaker once again.

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Ombund 2 years, 7 months ago

I rather enjoyed this one. It does seem as if it had an impossible weight of expectation placed upon it by its status as an event episode, coupled with the anticipated drought of episodes in the near-future. It is probably Moffat’s worst script but even that’s a lot better than many other people’s best work. I’ve often thought that a lot of problems could have been solved if they’d taken 15 minutes off this one and given them to The Wedding of River Song instead. But it largely achieves what it sets out to do, the “because they’re going to be sad later” line is one of my favourites, and the sentimentalist in me loved the reunion with the Ponds.

The ‘followed her home’ complaint still seems ridiculous to me. It’s not meant to be taken as anything other than what it clearly is: a “funny” story about how a couple met, most couples have them. These stories aren’t meant to be taken literally: they often didn’t happen, or if they did not in the way they’re remembered – they’re simply a part of a couple’s own personal mythology, used to retrospectively explain to themselves how one of the most significant events in their lives came about. Yes, if you really want to you can frame it differently and choose to turn it into something sinister, but to do so is to wilfully ignore every other supporting element within the surrounding text. It would be like taking one of those fake trailers that reimagines Mary Poppins or whatever as a horror movie, and using that to mount a sustained criticism on the original film.

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Unlikely Lass 2 years, 7 months ago

Personally, The 'motherhood' bit didn't bother me because it wasn't trans-inclusive, it bothered me because of how it ties into patriarchal views of women and their 'worth'. It's sexist.

But the way it's not trans-inclusive does help illustrate some of how Moffat crafts things that annoys me. Making it trans-inclusive would, as you say, require the story to be different. To engage with different ideas. What exactly is motherhood? Why couldn't the boy have been nurturing? Or are we tying the idea to wombs?

A similar thing happens with the 'his name is Susan, and he'd like you to accept his life choices'. This appears both funny and trans-inclusive. But wouldn't it have been nice if the Doctor accepted Susan's life choices (a phrase I have come to loathe, personally) and gendered her correctly? Especially if he's going to then be all holier than thou about it? The 'answer' is no, because then you might have to explain the Doctor's quip more. It has to become a completely different scene, instead of a scene where the Doctor is off-handedly presented as inclusive and funny and able to sp am horse.

If you accept that misgendering a trans-person is a kind of violence, then this scene involves the Doctor doing violence to a trans-person/horse in the name of a) acceptance & tolerance and b) to be funny.

To be fair, this is a nuanced criticism, requiring a certain reading of actual trans people's experiences.

Much like the whole 'motherhood' aspect of this episode is on the one hand gifting women with a privileged position and on another failing to understand all the ways that privilege is problematic because acknowledging or exploring that would make the story something else, something other than what the author wants it to be.

It is a 'shorthand' for an enormous pile of social violence around childcare, women's personhood, abortion, and a host of other complex issues. Because they would get in the way of Moffat's story.

Maybe this is just me being overly sensitive, but it feels dismissive, and like Moffat's underlying sexist worldview is something he just can't seem to rise above when he builds scenes and episodes around ideas that would be changed into something 'bad' if they actually engaged more fully with some of the topics they are about.

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Neo Tuxedo 2 years, 7 months ago

Ultimately, this is Doctor Who doing Box of Delights, inasmuch as Box of Delights isn’t just the best story of Season 6B. (Really, I should add it as an Outside the Government if I redo the Troughton book.)

Rather than go that far, you can add it as a Pop Between Realities in the Colin Baker book (in between "The Twin Dilemma" and "Attack of the Cybermen").

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Unlikely Lass 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh, also, the bit with 'the boy following the girl until she married him' is a repeated motif -- it shows up in Blink as well, where it also bugged me. I can only assume this is something that actually happened to Moffat and he's using it as shorthand for something. Unfortunately, all I get from it is that he's a bit of a jerk who thinks no is sometimes yes. :/

(The bit in my previous post where it says 'the Doctor sp am horse' is a side effect of trying to type all this on a phone -- should be 'speaks horse'. )

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Kit Power 2 years, 7 months ago

Thanks so much for the responses.

Jack - Right, and it's not the technique I necessarily object to - I mean, 'we're all stories in the end' is pretty on-the-nose, but it still chokes me up (in a good way). And I can pretty much forgive The Dark Knight anything, because My Joker finally made it to the screen. But I completely agree with your point, which is that the point at which the dialogue feels to be explicitly expressing themes, as opposed to something the character might actually say in a given situation, it becomes a barrier to enjoyment, at least for me.

And I know ort host doesn't have a lot of time for the whole 'suspension-of-disbelief' commentary, but for me as a viewer, it is a factor. Once characters start delivering lines that don't feel like anything a real person would actually say, that seem to exist only to reach through the fourth wall and punch me in the head, I begin to actively not enjoy myself.

Again, I'm broadly tolerant of this stuff - 'We're all stories' was brilliant for me because while it was obviously an expression of theme, it also made sense at that moment for the Doctor to say it and believe it. Does it make me feel sad and happy at the same time because it reminds me of the cancellation of the show and subsequent revival, or because in the terms of the story at that moment, it's the Doctor's attempt to self-eulogise and it feels heartbreakingly apt? Yes, obviously.

I think for me though, I need both readings to be possible. It feels to me like once the second, 'in universe' reading doesn't make sense, in the context of the internal fiction - once that line exists purely to speak to theme - I lose interest. Worse, actually feel kind of upset and annoyed. And of course that line doesn't exist for everyone, and of course for people for whom the line exists, we will draw it in different places. I'm just glumly realising that if S8 is anything to go by, Moffat is moving further in this direction of subtext-as-text, and that means I'm likely to find this season less enjoyable. Which is a shame, because I was really excited about Capaldi. Unless Moffat is actually playing with these themes intentionally to subvert them at some point later in the run - which I give him enough credit to suspect is possible, but I don't currently have a lot of faith will prove to be the case. Either way, it's telling that I'm finding this stuff blatant enough to even suspect that.

Jonathan - I have not seen any of the 3 films you name, which makes me feel unaccountably old and out of touch...

macrogers - I agree with your point - I think as I've tried to articulate (hopefully more clearly this time) my issue is not with the practice per-se so much as the sledgehammer application of it so far in S8. I feel like it betrays an odd lack of confidence, in some ways, but I'm really old fashioned when it comes to stories - I happen to think that if smart, imaginative people put all their energy into crafting engaging stories containing characters they really care about, stuff like 'theme' and even 'symbolism' will kind of take care of themselves.

I will clearly never get a job in TV with that attitude, but there it is.

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You Know Who... 2 years, 7 months ago

You don't like 'A Christmas Carol'? Really?

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jane 2 years, 7 months ago

It's entirely possible, though, that Susan's "life choice" is more wrapped up in a change of name than of gender. Surely we wouldn't want to be so gender-essentialist as to assume that "Susan" must automatically denote female gendering?

The conversation between the Doctor and the Preacher is actually oriented around naming conventions, of particular interest considering that "the name" is a long-running theme for the Doctor, and what names mean. "Joshua" is said to mean "the deliverer" -- but it's really a specifically Judaic name, "Yahweh is Salvation." "Susan" on the other hand derives from the Middle Egyptian for "lotus flower" and as such carries rather different mythological associations.

Also... a peculiar coincidence that Susan shares a name with the Doctor's granddaughter.

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GilPage 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't think you'd fair with the fandom.
For one thing, those who complain about this episode clearly arent the same people who defend Talons of Weng-Chiang.
You can't shove all critics of Moffat in the same category; yes, some of them disliked the "women are stronger" line because they thought it was missandry, true, but others (such a myself) disliked it because it's misoginy (because women are reduced to their ability to give birth, which excludes transwomen, but also ciswomen who do not have children for whatever reason).
The DW fandom isnt simply divided into "pro-Moffat" and "Moffat haters". Gives us a little more credit.

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HarlequiNQB 2 years, 7 months ago

Could it not just be that Moffat is retelling the story of how his parents or Grandparents met? Given that both occasions occurred in the first half of the 20th century I would guess grandparents (there's also the different tale in the last special, explicitly from a grandparent, which would make it almost a theme).

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David Ainsworth 2 years, 7 months ago

The telling thing for me about this episode is that it doesn't deserve all the hatred it's received, but that there's not that much of a positive reading to be made, either, beyond saying "the kids enjoyed it" (which, to be fair, is important, but the kids typically enjoy the really good episodes, too and most of the best children's entertainment works on multiple levels). When the redemptive reading is actually a defensive one as much about analyzing how someone could hate something this unhatable instead of explaining why they missed what makes it wonderful, that to me underlines the degree to which this episode takes a premise and does things not very memorable with it. As much as some people say they hate all the Moffat memes, they're always memorable.

Couple that "not brilliant" attack to the context, and I could see a reason to fear that Moffat couldn't handle two shows without at least one becoming mediocre.

It's disappointing to see the first real exploitation of the Narnia/Doctor Who links be a story as limp as this one, too. The TARDIS is obviously the box that leads to another world, and the Doctor could just be the magician's nephew, but these and other resonances simply aren't picked up or run with here.

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Froborr 2 years, 7 months ago

This is precisely what I was about to comment, but better worded.

The transphobia is ultimately incidental, in that it emanates from the biological essentialism on display. Women are "stronger" here only in the sense that they can be reduced to a womb and caregiver--basically the episode is trying to make "stay in the kitchen and make babies" seem like an empowering feminist message, which is just straight-up disgusting.

Which is enough, in my book, to make it the worst of the Christmas specials, and IMO a serious challenger to "Fear Her" for worst episode of New Who. Add in the fact that it's a Christmas special and heavily references one of the most vile children's series ever written, and it plunges right down to the bottom.

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Froborr 2 years, 7 months ago

It's usually taken up into lad culture or Men are from Mars territory - the idea that men are big children and are therefore entitled to be looked after and have women pick up the pieces for them.

See, and that's part of why I have a serious issue with this issue and think that the Moffat-haters have (with this episode, not in general) a point. Because "men are big babies and can't function without women to look after them" is a point Moffat hammers again and again with Steve and Susan's relationship.

And, as you say, the function of that concept is to reinforce patriarchal social structures that define women as caretakers for men.

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Unlikely Lass 2 years, 7 months ago

The question of whether Susan the horse is male or female gendered is exactly the kind of more complicated conversation that the scene could have had.

Regardless, the name Susan is 'feminine' by connotation. And by using a female connoted name but male pronouns there is a direct implied connection to transgender identity. The 'joke' uses the language of queerness, and the concept of self identity trumping assigned identity, and then proceeds to use a female- assumed identifier with male pronouns.

I can assure you, this is explicitly the kind of language challenge that trans people experience on a daily basis. Having the Doctor appear to get it wrong with no further context -- even if the imaginary horse has a more complicated gender identity -- I can guarantee you that the vast majority of the audience has no mental conception of that kind of nuanced gender identity and it would only really come up in the kind of conversation you and I are having now.

Encouraging people to assume the female named horse has a complex male or queer gender identity without further discussion is precisely the kind of thing that would only come up if you either assume that everybody is operating on a level where that is an obvious possibility, or where someone who is defending the narrative might use to argue against criticism.

On the other hand, by having the Doctor be both good with the name, but bad on the pronouns results in me wincing and realizing I'm going to have to defend my own pronoun choices with more people precisely because of examples like this one. That is a real world effect of this kind of lazy, off-the-cuff 'inclusiveness'. Even if it's intended in a good way, it can still cause harm, and we shouldn't ignore that just because we like the show or the writer.

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Unlikely Lass 2 years, 7 months ago

Exactly.

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Unlikely Lass 2 years, 7 months ago

Really, whether it happened to Moffat or his grandparents is less important than that he seems to think it's cute and he likes it, so he keeps using it.

And while it may be cute, it also, to me, seems rather tone-deaf on the whole 'no means no'/casual sexism topic.

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liminal fruitbat 2 years, 7 months ago

This. Regardless of however good Moffat's intentions are, he does tend to display a streak of essentialism through a lot of his stuff. (Which may be one of the reasons Sherlock irritates me - Holmesian deductions in general are almost always treated as "this detail/characteristic proves irrevocably that you are X" rather than "this detail/characteristic suggests X", and it just feels like the Benedict Cumberbatch Essentialism Show [/thematic tangent])

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Froborr 2 years, 7 months ago

Dammit, I rewrote that first paragraph too many times and edited it into nigh-incomprehensibility. First sentence should read "serious issue with this EPISODE," not "issue." Last sentence should have "in Coupling" added at the end.

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Theonlyspiral 2 years, 7 months ago

"Not All Fans"?

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Theonlyspiral 2 years, 7 months ago

Anything less than the Doctor tearing down the entirety of the Sardak machine and giving the government over to the people would fail to make Jack happy.

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Jesse 2 years, 7 months ago

You could have that be an incidental detail, but that doesn’t keep with the theme-explicit-in-dialogue aesthetic that dominates not just Doctor Who but popular fiction right now.

You say that as though it would be a bad thing. (And I say that even though I think this is a decent episode.)

the sorts of people who believe they have some sort of inherent right to fourteen episodes of Doctor Who a year are also the sorts of people who hate the idea that Doctor Who might sometimes mainly be for seven-year-olds

People who act like spoiled children dislike the idea that children watch their favorite TV show. Hmm.

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm highly dubious that the hardcore classic Who fans who love Talons of Weng-Chiang were not also highly critical of this episode. It's more that that wasn't the only kind of criticism of it.

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John Seavey 2 years, 7 months ago

I'll be honest, here; I feel like we might be reaching a point in 'Doctor Who' where it's too recent for Phil to be able to provide an opinion that's not entangled with his emotional reaction to watching the series for the first time. It feels like defending Moffat is a primary goal of the more recent Eruditorum posts--and I'm not going to say that there's not a defense of Moffat to be made, but this feels awfully reflexive. For example:

"Moving down the list, there’s the “he followed me home and wouldn’t stop unless I married him” bit in Madge and Reg’s dating history, which, yes, again, a valid objection, but strangely nobody gets furious at Say Anything, the cultural touchstone for the “following her is romantic” image. I wish the line weren’t there, but one line in one scene that’s sexist in a way that’s gobsmackingly common in popular culture does not constitute a particularly effective critique of an entire episode. If it did, The God Complex wouldn’t come anywhere close to surviving that appalling “Amy Williams” line. And anyway, given that the major critics of this episode are the people who persist in putting The Talons of Weng-Chiang in the top ten, I think it’s pretty clear that the objections to this story are not actually well-reasoned social justice critiques."

This is a combination of two well-worn falllacies, "tu quoque" and the "slippery slope". By invoking another romantic comedy and stating, "Well, nobody complained when they did it," Phil is suggesting that as long as another story can be found with moral equivalence to 'Widow', it's unfair to criticize it. This is flawed for two reasons; first, it implies that "nobody" complained about 'Say Anything', which is probably not true, and second, because you can't dismiss a standard simply because not everything is held to that standard. OJ Simpson almost certainly got away with a double homicide, but that doesn't mean I can go into court and explain that if he killed two people and didn't go to jail, I should be set free too. :)

As for the "slippery slope", this particular variation on it is also known sometimes as the "oppression Olympics". Put simply, it's the idea that if you don't complain about every possible injustice, then you can't complain about any injustice. By suggesting that the people who found 'Widow' problematic are the same people who found 'Talons' unproblematic (which is an unproven assertion, much like his assertion about 'Say Anything' above), Phil implies that only after all of the "worse" injustices have been stamped out can we take on the relatively mild problems this episode has. Which is basically what Richard Dawkins said about sexism in Britain compared to sexism in Saudi Arabia, only with Doctor Who episodes subbed in for women. :)

Again, I don't think that this particular story was a tremendously bad example of sexism in media, or even Doctor Who. But it had issues. And I really feel like this essay simply attempted to shout them down, and that it seems to be related to the fact that Moffat wrote these stories and has been getting a lot of flack from fandom lately. And while I understand the urge to defend a talented writer who's been getting a lot of flack from fandom lately, I think this is threatening to become a blind spot.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 7 months ago

In Blink I've always seen that as a far too narrow way of looking at the scene. I'd be more concerned if he didn't follow her, because from his perspective, she's talking nonsense, she could have hit her head for all he knew. That, and she doesn't know where she is (well, doesn't believe it). I just find the idea that just because this is the last scene in which we see them that she married him just because he followed her somewhat of a stretch.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 7 months ago

a very gentle critique, completely avoiding a story that has an idea of something that it wants to say, but has wrapped it in utter twaddle stolen from a terrible children's series in its own right.

I find that doing a "The Lion Witch Wardrobe" pastiche in Doctor Who to be a bad idea, unless you're going to have the Doctor land in the story and totally deform it into something less sexist. This story, as screened, is not that.

This is a story that insults even children, but expecting them to know little or nothing of physics and to just, and god do i hate this term, let the "comic book logic" just sort of move the story along. (which by the way, is totally different from fairy tale logic). Its terrible. The ideas it wants to put out there are terrible and if i'm going to champion my racism and sexism in one enjoyment rolled swoop, then I'd rather watch Talons anyday. This was just a huge misstep.

Smith's Doctor really doesn't fall into self parody until the writers decided to "write" for his character, then it went over the top. he was better when they wrote a "Doctor" character and then he did his spin on it.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

The flipside, as jonathan inge points out elsewhere in comments, is that the role of the mother in this sort of children's fantasy story is usually that of the skeptic opposed to adventures, whereas this story steadily moves her to the absolute center of the adventure.

That seems to me significant, and not to diminish meaningfully from fatherhood's importance. I mean, clearly Reg is incredibly important to the children as well. And we had a story about fatherhood earlier this year, albeit one of my least favorites. If the show were hitting these themes week in and week out it would be one thing. As one message presented in one episode, it seems to me relatively mild, and, perhaps more to the point, probably something children should be told a couple of times in life, if only because they're going to be told that men are superior to women so many more.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 7 months ago

I think you'll find 'his name is Susan' was Whithouse. And I'm absolutely uninterested in defending it, because for me, it was explicitly not trans-inclusive. It matches up almost exactly with a comment Jack Harkness makes in the Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts, which he also wrote. It's the same joke, only less explicitly hinting at what it's implying.

'I can assure you, this is explicitly the kind of language challenge that trans people experience on a daily basis. Having the Doctor appear to get it wrong with no further context -- even if the imaginary horse has a more complicated gender identity -- I can guarantee you that the vast majority of the audience has no mental conception of that kind of nuanced gender identity and it would only really come up in the kind of conversation you and I are having now.'

This is exactly why I didn't get the joke until about my 3rd viewing of A Town Called Mercy (although in fairness, the fact I find it as dull as ditchwater probably didn't help) when I started to have a nuanced idea about trans issues because of my friend who thought she (her choice of pronoun) was a trans man, but now identifies as genderfluid. I was offended and angry, and realising I was trans last month hasn't helped. And then when I found out he wrote Greeks Bearing Gifts, it made sense.

Twice Whithouse has now implied our identities are at best ridiculous, and at worst are not real. And twice has used satire to do so, and when you repeatedly use satire to punch downwards at those who are marginalised, it suggests something not entirely savoury about the kind of person you are. Especially if you use one of the most accepting and most visibly queer characters in the Whoniverse as your mouthpiece to do so.

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jane 2 years, 7 months ago

You are, of course, right.

Not to say that I *believe* the more complicated queer identity posited above was actually intended, just that it's the most gracious way I can read the scene. Mostly for Susan's benefit, hopefully not having to suffer gender dysphoria. And also just to remind myself to check my own assumptions at the door.

Likewise, there's a part of me that wants to rewrite the Doctor's understanding of what the Androzani Forest needs. He's thinking in terms of gender, and the discourse certainly supports his reading, but I personally think they've all got it wrong.

To be able to keep the Androzani Forest in one's head takes a tremendous amount of empathy, of openness to relationship. The Doctor, who actually screams in pain when taking the crown, has closed himself off to such emotional possibility; indeed, that's largely the whole point of Madge's admonition to him at the end, regarding his plan to actively distance himself from the Ponds (and, presumably, River).

Cyril is weak because he's the youngest, and still quite self-centered. The boy who can't wait to open the present, who believes he should be the one to open it. Lily is "strong" because she's actually developed concern for and interest in other people. But Madge is the most empathic of them all, because of her experience of motherhood -- of parenting, actually. She can do anything for other people.

Not to sound essentialist about it, but I do think this is largely something that squares around gender lines. Not necessarily for reasons of biology, though perhaps that's possible, given certain theories regarding the effect of estrogen on the brain (which is particularly acute during the final stages of pregnancy, when massive doses of the hormone are released), but it could very well be a matter of enculturation. Regardless, generally speaking (not universally speaking) I find women to be much more empathetic than men, though there are certainly individual men who are much more so than other particular women, or even people in general, and vice-versa.

Actually, I think the real reason it has to be Madge sitting in that Chair is that this whole scene is a recapitulation of the Doctor's dread, of seeing River Song sitting in a similar chair taking in the minds of all the people who were saved in the Library, a forest of the dead. It can't be the children (who would be likened to the Little Girl, Charlotte) and it can't be the Doctor, who was prevented from doing so thanks to those handcuffs. River's even wearing a "crown" of sorts when it happens. The Doctor doesn't want to face the pain of losing her, and the whole bit with Madge helps to ameliorate that fear.

But anyways, yeah, the whole bit with Susan certainly qualifies as a lazy off-the-cuff attempt at inclusiveness with a serious backfire to it. Kind of like The Unquiet Dead.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

I think it's tough to get the Susan line to read well, but notably, that's another episode.

That said, I'm not entirely convinced it's reasonable to expect a story that's about packaging an ultra-straight forward feminist message for seven year olds to go too deep into the "enormous pile of social violence around childcare, women's personhood, abortion, and a host of other complex issues." I mean, it's there and worth engaging, but this is an adventure story for seven-year-olds in which the cool parts explicitly go to the girls. (And one that, perhaps more significantly, addresses the Problem of Susan by explicitly having female sexuality not be a problem within Narnia but a strength.)

I feel like there are different standards of nuance required for that context.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

I could. Might even be useful to clarify the second take on The Two Doctors. But the Troughton book feels somehow like the better, or at least funnier option.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't think one needs to go particularly autobiographical in imagining how Moffat could have twice used what's frankly a cliche of screwball romantic comedies when he needed to set up a courtship in a hurry.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 7 months ago

I've always been interested in the Problem of Susan and it being about female sexuality...because I've never had the impression it is, largely because of this quote from Lewis:

'When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.'

It's been a little while since I read them, admittedly, but I always had the impression that Susan's problem was her dismissiveness of Narnia as a game and being so fixated on the desire to be 'grown up' that she hasn't understood what growing up actually entails. The quote gives a little extra backing up of that reading.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

Strange, given that my reaction when the episode aired was "well, that was far from my favorite thing" and it's one of... four Moffat-era episodes I'd never gotten around to rewatching, simply because it never felt particularly exciting or compelling to me. I appear to have given it a 4/10 in my big episode ranking thing, sandwiching it evenly between The Wedding of River Song and Let's Kill Hitler, along with The Abominable Snowmen and Fury From the Deep. Which actually still sounds about right, but is notably miles ahead of "thirteenth-worst ever," which I apparently think is The Lazarus Experiment.

But I will point out that in terms of the criticism I'm primarily engaging with, the 50th anniversary poll, the people who lambasted this story literally are the people who put Talons in the top ten, at least on aggregate. Sure, it's possible that there weren't a bunch of surveys giving Talons a 10 and this a 1, but it seems more probable to me that the people responsible for this story getting its reputation as the thirteenth-worst Doctor Who story of all time were not, in fact, making a social justice critique.

Indeed, I'd go one further and guess that if you poll the moffat hate crowd on Tumblr, this won't actually make many of their bottom fives regardless of the oft-articulated complaints about it.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

Well, I am notably talking about a poll that did put Talons in the top ten and this thirteenth from bottom, so I think I'm at least reasonably justified in suggesting that we're talking about a semi-coherent view. Sure, of the people who responded there are probably people who don't fall into that split, but clearly lots of people did if these are at virtual antipodes of the chart.

I also think you're on a limb saying that this episode reduces women to their biological capacity. The existence of an alien forest that can only be piloted through the time vortex via motherhood does not seem to me particularly exclusive, especially in a story that stresses that the universe is big and everything happens somewhere. Doctor Who is not a show that really supports an ethos of "this is what we're looking at this week" being equivalent to "this is the only thing worth looking at."

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storiteller 2 years, 7 months ago

It's the reduction of women's strength tied specifically to motherhood that I have the problem with, not particularly the downplaying of fatherhood. (That's very much secondary to me, for the reasons you point out.) It's saying that women are only strong because they are capable of being mothers, which is really insulting to women who can't or don't want to be mothers.

As someone who wants to be an "adventurous mom," I appreciate Madge's overall role in the story, but don't like the "why" of it.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

When I was a child, I watched Doctor Who. To the extent that "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" is more "for children" than "The Horns of Nimon," "Robot," "The Mind Robber," "Four to Doomsday," "The Five Doctors," "Paradise Towers," "The Happiness Patrol," or indeed "The Caves of Androzani," I would say that marks it out as a failure.

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Matthew Celestis 2 years, 7 months ago

Thinking that the problem of Susan in Narnia is to do with sexuality is a gross mis-reading of C.S. Lewis. Those who make that claim have not engaged with his very sexual adult work. That Hideous Strength.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't see the reductivism in this. It's not that women are only strong because they are capable of being mothers - it's that the nearest English language word these particular trees can find for their concept of motherhood is "strength."

I don't think there's any erasure going on, except inasmuch as focus is a form of erasure. And I think that treating "focusing on motherhood" as anti-feminist is troublesome.

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storiteller 2 years, 7 months ago

Jane, I definitely wish the episode had gone with your reading of it! I think it would be stronger both in terms of thematically and characterization. Having it be about the ability to have relationships rather than explicitly about gender preserves Madge's being awesome and the little girl being kinder/more empathic than her brother without getting into weird and unnecessary essentialism. And it doesn't require going deep into any social violence whatsoever - it's just letting awesome females be awesome without necessarily pointing out, "Look, they're girls! Girls!!"

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

Not that I want to derail this into a "Talons" defense thread, but let's admit that the reason we're all conflicted about that story is that it's a fucking masterpiece on every level except one. It probably wouldn't be that hard for a determined hack to revise it to, you know, not include any Chinese characters or imagery and still leave most of the story intact. You'd lose the "exotic" resonance of that imagery, which is of course the goal of the exercise, and you might have a little trouble coming up with a plausible cult around Magnus Greel, which marks out the most racist aspect of the whole thing in my book (those credulous Chinese!). But between the elements safely borrowed from white people (Sherlock Holmes, The Phantom of the Opera), Holmes's dialogue, the performances, the set designs, the creepy (could have been Western) mannequin, the future-world allusions, you'd still have one hell of a story.

It's legitimate to argue whether we oughtn't still be burying this thing way down in our top episode lists -- because no doubt, the Fu Manchu-isms here are highly embarrassing -- but racism aside, "Talons" is fantastic, and sexism aside, "Widow" is a mess. No matter how many stories you ranked above them, you'd need to argue the virtues of "Widow" in a far more positive way than you have here in order to convince me it wouldn't still be far below "Talons," social justice or no social justice.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

I went back to my review to see what bothered me about this episode:
http://encyclops.com/the-doctor-the-widow-and-the-wardrobe/

Apparently I was mostly concerned about the fact that deforestation was presented as no big deal because the trees would just go up to heaven, and the fact that the Doctor's idea of a Christmas present is to take a couple of unsuspecting children away to a planet in a system where, the last time he visited, everyone except his companion died, including him. I don't know today whether my criticisms hold any water because I haven't bothered to watch this again since, but I would say that there's room for a few more strawmen between "this is sexist" and "this is silly."

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

One more thing: I'll raise my hand as an objector to Say Anything. When I think of why romantic comedies give me the creeps, that's one of the first examples I think of. That and Rushmore, which I think is being self-aware about it, but still.

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

Smith's Doctor really doesn't fall into self parody until the writers decided to "write" for his character, then it went over the top. he was better when they wrote a "Doctor" character and then he did his spin on it.
I was discussing this very effect today, funnily enough, with regard to Capaldi. I'm dreading the day the writers start writing 'Capaldi' rather than the Doctor. It's bad enough we're getting the Tuckerisms. "Shuttity up up up!" etc. (I know some people find this amusing. I don't ).

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

I really enjoyed The Doctor the Widow and the Wardrobe for what it was - a magical, slightly woozy, post Xmas dinner fall asleep on the sofa episode. As to the the sexism/transphobia etc. Has anyone here actually witnessed a traditional English Xmas panto? With it's Comedia del Arte derived balance of slapstick, transvestism (girl/boy as well as man/woman), ribald Xmas cracker level humour and equal measures of misogyny and misandry. If not, (I'm guessing that'll be the non -Brits) imagine Benny Hill or the 'Carry On' team doing a fairy tale. You got it.

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Jordan Murphy 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't have much to say about this episode, I merely found it dull and Smith a little too zany for me (and I don't say that often, he's probably my second-favorite Doctor ever).
But I did want to mention one teensy little factual niggle – C.S. Lewis died November 22, 1963, the day before Doctor Who premiered, not on the same day as its premiere as stated. I wrote a report on Lewis years ago in high school and found it interesting that he died the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley.

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Jack Graham 2 years, 7 months ago

I like loads of stories where that doesn't happen.

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Melissa Robertson 2 years, 7 months ago

"basically the episode is trying to make "stay in the kitchen and make babies" seem like an empowering feminist message, which is just straight-up disgusting." "

I don't understand how this is disgusting. Having and taking care of kids is, in my view, a wonderful opportunity for women. Of course, it doesn't mean women should be forced to stay at home and have babies. I just feel that all this "pro-feminist" stuff tends to promote that portraying women as strong for being good mothers is sexist, which bothers me because it is something many women are strong in, and it should be celebrated. Good, kind mothers are needed in this world. After all, few seem to have a problem with men being portrayed as strong because they are good fathers. Just because for centuries people have often erred on the side of thinking that all women are good for is having babies and caring for them doesn't mean that the only way to get rid of sexism is to decide that being a good mother can't be part of being a strong women.

Of course, the episode could use a more well-defined line between being a mother and being a woman, but because of ever-increasing negative view towards motherhood, I actually found this episode quite refreshing, at least in this sense.

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David Anderson 2 years, 7 months ago

That, and Leela gets shoehorned into the damsel in distress role at least once too often.

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Alan 2 years, 7 months ago

To be fair, it's easier to tolerate bigotry intruding in a story from 1976 than one from 2012. Yes, the racism against the Chinese on display in "Talons of Weng Chiang" is appalling, but it's also an artifact from an era when the BBC thought it perfectly appropriate to air "The Black and White Minstrel Show." Bigotry (to the extent one sees it) coming from the current production staff might reasonably be viewed as more serious than bigotry coming from a production staff that left the series before most of the current viewers were born.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

Also easily mended, if you're doing enough surgery to fix the other stuff. I mean, look at all the rest of what she does in the story. "Die, bent face" is perhaps her most memorable line ever.

I'm not gonna say it's perfect. It didn't make my top ten, either. But the only thing about it that's worse than the other stories in its class is not, I'd say, inextricable from what puts it in that class.

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Alan 2 years, 7 months ago

“he followed me home and wouldn’t stop unless I married him” bit in Madge and Reg’s dating history, which, yes, again, a valid objection,
I'm not even sure that's a valid objection as some insist it is. The objection to that line, as I understand it, rather depends on the assumption that Reg stalked Madge until she gave in to his unreasonable advances. There are, however, other possible readings, the most reasonable of which, IMO, is that Madge was exaggerating for comic effect.

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Alan 2 years, 7 months ago

That, and Leela gets shoehorned into the damsel in distress role at least once too often.

The damsel in distress nearly ended a 6-parter at the end of episode 4 by tracking the villain back to his lair, infiltrating said lair in disguise, and then coming close to stabbing him to death. Had she focused on killing Greel instead of getting distracted by trying to save the other girl (who was already dead), she would have been the first companion to single-handedly defeat the bad guy without any intervention from the Doctor.

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Alan 2 years, 7 months ago

Speaking of this episode (instead of meandering back to Talons of Weng Chiang for some reason), I didn't like it because it was crushingly dull and because everyone seemed to be a cliche and because several good actors were wasted. Bill Bailey had nothing to do. Alexander Armstrong had nothing to do. Arabella Weir (the first female Doctor) had nothing to do. Madge might as well have been Molly Weasley for as much subtlety as she brought to the part. The moment Madge said that Reg's plane had gone down and not been recovered, I knew the Doctor would go back and rescue him. Cyril should be listed on the TV Tropes page for "Carrying the Idiot Ball." And Lily made so little impression that keep forgetting her name and have to consult the wiki page. Boring. Boring. Boring. Say what you will about "A Christmas Carol," but it did have Michael Gambon and a flying shark. This one had trees that evolved to have their own Christmas decorations.

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David Anderson 2 years, 7 months ago

I am pretty sure that the most fundamental message I took from the Narnia series as a boy reading them was that female characters can be the leads in fantasy novels. And I think that is why there's a Problem of Susan, and not merely a Thing to Be Expected of Susan. If all that were to be said about Lewis' writing of women characters were that he was an old sexist, there wouldn't be a problem when he is an old sexist.
I'm inclined to think that the same goes for Moffat. It's because Amy as a character exists for herself rather than for the Doctor, in a way that even Rose doesn't, that the lapses from that stand out.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 7 months ago

There have been times where I struggled to remember the fourth Matt Smith Christmas episode, and it's always this. It really doesn't quite bridge anything and for me it wasn't terribly bad, so I forget it exists sometimes.

The Doctor's tour of the house is one of my favorite scenes, though.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm purely curious as to what subtexts you're picking up in S8, Kit.

I have seen people accuse those who, for instance, point out the subversion that Clara wasn't actually a mystery at all with inventing "head canon" and giving life to "poor" writing. No one is ever pleased.

I like to feel something when reading/watching a text, rather than being told. After spending this summer catching up on recent YA releases and becoming increasingly more frustrated with them (the popular they get, the more in-your-face or meaningless they are, typically), I looked back at Catcher in the Rye and was struck by how subtle it was...I mean, you know certain things are symbols, but not necessarily what they're for, and there are only a few subtle lines at the end that reveal that Holden is depressed. Wheras the biggest recent bestseller about depression involves the character list reasons why she committed suicide, which seems to be a mishandling of the situation at the very least (admittedly I haven't read it). That said, these storytelling preferences are also why 1960's To Kill a Mockingbird didn't quite work for me (...a draft I have written and should probably suck it up and publish...). And I do like characters talking about what they've learned and how they feel and give inspirational speeches...I just don't like it when the moral is flatly stated instead of truly felt, I suppose.

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John Seavey 2 years, 7 months ago

And again, I'm in agreement that a lot of the criticism Moffat gets is unwarranted. But he does also get warranted criticism, and the tone of this column felt to me like a pre-emptive "shot across the bow" suggesting that if you criticize this episode, it must be because you fall into one of these camps and are therefore wrong. (Emphasis on "to me", of course; I'm aware that the cumulative effect of GamerGate and Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice might very well just not have left me in the mood to appreciate a defense of anything problematic right now.)

Whereas I would say that there are a number of people who find 'Say Anything', 'Widow' and 'Talons' all problematic, and all for very similar reasons. (There are also probably a lot of people who are saying to themselves right now, "Wait a second...John Cusack is pretty creepy in that movie, isn't he?" Sometimes acceptance is just a matter of not looking too closely at things.)

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John 2 years, 7 months ago

This can be a problem with any Doctor, of course. Certainly it started to happen with Tom Baker in his later years on the show. I feel like we got it less with Tennant, perhaps because he's a different kind of actor than Smith.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 7 months ago

The Doctor's tour of the house is one of my favorite scenes, though.

The BBC uploaded that clip to their channel not long ago and I watched it. I find it awful. Matt Smith is seriously over the top, even for Christmas, and the direction... the way they've sped up some of the footage and edited it together, it's horribly bad.

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Triturus 2 years, 7 months ago

The thing about an article like this is I now feel that advancing criticism of this episode will result in someone jumping out and accusing me of being part of a 'tedious swathe of Dr Who fandom'.

Now, I may be tedious but I'm trying to stay away from swathes.

But. I don't like this episode. There *are* some good bits, yes; I like the pre-credits sequence, there's some lovely shots in the forest and when the wooden king is first shown, and the Pond bit at the end is well crafted.

On the other hand, I watched this episode with my wife, and she picked up on the 'he followed me home' line straight away and called it out as being wrong. And I do agree with her. I am emphatically on the 'not a misogynist' side in the Great Internet Moffat Debate, but is *is* a bad line. It's lazy, it should have been better; Moffat can and has done better, and I think is presence shows that the script just wasn't up to the usual standard.

There are other issues too: Bailey, Weir and the other one are just wasted. And the idealisation of strength = motherhood did not sit that well with us as a childless couple. Neither of us were bothered about it enough to take actual offence, mind, and in any case I don't for one second believe that anyone involved in this episode intended to do anything other than tell a story that they thought was fun.

I think Phil's defence of the treatment of motherhood is a reasonable one, although I think the episode could easily be better without diluting the 'mainly for the kids' aim of the story.

But overall, I just came away not liking it very much. I think it's Moffat's weakest Who script by some distance.

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BatmanAoD 2 years, 7 months ago

Are you saying that Day of the Doctor is clearly not the best Who story ever? I realize that there's no clear winner on that front, but surely it's not an unreasonable choice of personal favorites?

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Jarl 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm not convinced that excising all Chinese imagery and character from a story set in an era (and, by extension, a genre setting) defined by the clash of Chinese and British cultures is necessary or desirable in any way. Likewise, and this may be my own history of Watching While American butting in, I think the failure to cast the actual Chinese villain with a Chinese, or even east Asian, actor (while plenty were both available and actually on set) was the most self-evidently problematic part of the serial, rather than the idea that someone pretending to be a god and backing up their claims with seemingly supernatural powers from the future would be able to gather a cult around them. Had there been portions of the story featuring non-evil Chinese people reacting with the same horror and/or disbelief as the white authorities to the events unfolding and you might have a less awfully racist story right off the bat, a story where no writer would think to have Tom Baker say "this little man" about an assassin(?).

And if we could just do something about the rat...

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Jarl 2 years, 7 months ago

On the upside, the whole bit with the house was incredibly fun. Mistaking a police box for the TARDIS was adorable (that happens, right? Or am I misremembering). And, on a dark comedy angle, the cut from happy pastoral Christmas with Madge assuring her husband that the War will never affect them to "ONE YEAR LATER THE WAR HAD KINDA AFFECTED THEM" was delightfully brutal.

The natural ornaments were a neat touch, though I'm a bit foggy on how that progressed to giant wooden tree-man. Also, my favorite small reference to CS Lewis was how the portal includes its own small version of Narnia Time.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 7 months ago

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 7 months ago

I hate coming in late on these sort of things; never a TARDIS around when you need one. Or a spoon, for that matter.

However, I do wish the people who were anti-Lewis and anti-Narnia had been down in the comments at the same time as those defending Lewis and Narnia; I think that might've opened up the whole discussion to a point where people on either side might've been convinced into changing their opinions, at least somewhat.

For my own part, I remember enjoying this story, but in retrospect it's not Moffat's best -- though it IS better than every single RTD Christmas story, by at least a country mile. (Or, alternatively, a country churchyard.)

As an addendum... my fondest memories of reading the Narnia series, back when I was... oh, 8 through 11, or some such(?), was "The Magician's Nephew". Make of that, what you will.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 7 months ago

That does happen (although they just use the regular TARDIS prop, just with a blackboard affixed to the back wall).

I had the strangest sensation when, upon watching The Lavender Hill Mob (yes, the classic Ealing comedy) on TCM a week or so ago, I saw, about an hour in, a policeman patrolling the street at night in front of a double-doored scrapyard; an hour later into the film, I did a double take when the climactic car chase caught the notice of a police officer... who soon calls on a police box nearly identical to the TARDIS, St. John's Ambulance sticker and all. It was utterly bizarre; I half-expected the doors to open while the copper was on the phone, revealing the Master pulling him in.

I never realized those images were seemingly so archetypal in the British imagination; makes the "falling out of the world" that takes place in "An Unearthly Child" even more of a jolt, I guess, for that first audience in '63.

As an addendum, that is a weensy bit relevant to Dr. Sandifer's other project... you may be somewhat amused to note that, in The Lavender Hill Mob none other than Alec Guinness played a character by the name of Henry Holland.

So, you see, Alec... played Holland. See why it piqued my interest?

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Sean Bircher 2 years, 7 months ago

It just occurred to me that the Fox series "Sleepy Hollow" would never have occurred without the precedent of Moffat's fairy tale "Doctor Who," and so I will be eternally thankful to Moffat.

Just had to say that.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

I’d like to defend of this episode too, at least in relative terms, and from a very different but equally curmudgeonly starting point to yours, Phil – mine from not liking a lot of stories of the time and being surprised and delighted by this one, rather than by claiming it must be good because all other fans must be wrong. At the time, I enjoyed it hugely; when I voted in the DWM Mighty 50, it was the Moffat story I was most out of step with in an upwards direction to the general consensus. And, nearing the end of my first watch-through of the whole of Matt (delayed by hilarious severe illness and hospitalisation), I still enjoyed it.

I think the three main positive reasons for that are fairly simple: in reverse order, that it looks gorgeous, that the story appeals by feeling playful and its moral heart being in the right place, and, most of all, the Doctor (barring his bragging-straight-blokiness about the Forest of Cheam fancying him). Absolutely for his very silliness, and especially for his introduction to the children’s bedroom in the manner of The Cat In the Bow Tie, which immediately became one of my favourites.

On rewatching it recently, I can appreciate that I liked it for negative reasons, too. Now, I’ve generally been staying off commenting on this decade’s stories here, half because I like to sleep on things for a decade or two before I get round to writing anything interesting, and half because I’m really out of step with Phil and don’t want just to be contrary. Or, perhaps, it’s that it still feels like current Doctor Who and such tribal instincts as I have are to be positive or be silent (leavened by occasional explosions) while something’s still The Main Thing for irrational fear of hurting it in some way.

The main negative reason that I enjoyed it was a relative one: on first broadcast I’d enjoyed the 2011 season – with a few sparkling exceptions – less than any I could remember, and it was a relief to have an episode with a sense of fun, that told a coherent if thin story, and that wasn’t terminally up itself or ethically repulsive (YMMV). I also felt it was a more playful shameless rip-off (as well as less morally dubious) than the previous year’s Christmas special, so that too may have made me more prepared to accept it. Happily, as far as I’m concerned the series has been far more enjoyable since.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Phil, I think your invocation of the Mighty 50 is one of your stranger arguments. I’m aware that sometimes I’ve thought you were joking when you were deadly serious, and vice versa, but at the risk of my being exposed as falling for your hilarious trolling, ad-homineming the average of a set of 6,400 votes seems a little baroque. Especially as you published (I’ve had a quick look, but can’t remember when) your own list, from which I hazard a guess you were a voter, which would mean you’re attacking yourself (so I lean towards the reading of you laughing like a hyena as you type). As DWM haven’t published a full standard deviation for every story – honestly, I don’t know what they’re thinking, it would be a rip-roaring page-turner – conclusions about shoals of voters are a bit tricky. The average 55% score of the ‘haters’ you can’t understand also seems to be rather higher than your own 4/10 for this story.

I am one of those bent-faces who put The Talons of Weng-Chiang in my own top ten, not least because I think it’s absolutely hilarious (as is Leela, and also fabulously pro-active in a way that compares well not only with Madge but also with The Girl Who Only Gets Agency When It’s Preceded By ‘Model’). I also, checking my votes against the average results, put The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe ‘up’ by 80 places (after rewatching, probably more like 70, but still heftily more). That’s my biggest relative upward-rating for any Moffat story, though not quite of the Moffat era. True, there are about a dozen of his that I’m negatively out of tune with by more than that, but to show how useless a generalisation is about any individual, I’d say I generally prefer Russell T Davies to Mr Moffat… But not only did Russell write the story with my biggest up-tick, on +170, he also wrote the one I marked down most heavily against consensus, a remarkable -204 places lower. So I don’t think knee-jerk judgement by looking at the averages does much to explain actual, complicated individuals.

Having said all that, a lot of this story also makes me wince, much in the same sort of ways that storyteller, Froborr, Unlikely Lass and Encyclops have above. And, yes, of course we can criticise any story of any era, but it’s also reasonable to give a 1970s story more rope on equality than a 2010s story. I’m marrying Richard in a month’s time: of the two MPs I know relatively well in my own party who voted to stop me marrying him, I was far more understanding of the one first elected in 1972 than the one who wasn’t even born then (and it’s not as if Talons has been able to learn better since 1977, while today’s Who stories should).

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

The element that most jars for me is that it’s the most gender-essentialist piece of Doctor Who I can remember. A celebration of motherhood is fine: what makes me recoil is that a totally reductionist and determinist view of biological gender is not just one into which all humanity must fit, which would be soul-destroying enough, but is universally “The base code of nature itself”. I know this is going to open a much-discussed-here can of worms where I’m never going to see eye to eye with you, Phil, but I’m struggling to see that as a feminist reading, or even compatible with any sort of individual autonomy and freedom of choice.

Whether it’s deliberate or not, an awful lot of Moffat’s Doctor Who writing comes across as the very opposite of what I always got as Doctor Who’s central message. Instead of be yourself, choose your own thing, freedom from ignorance and conformity, it repeatedly comes across to me as preaching that there is only one way of life, and it’s the one that Steven Moffat’s discovered works for him, so everyone else is just foolish if they don’t live the same way. Now, it may be that I’m wrong in my inferences from his scripts, biography and large number of direct statements, but I feel that he’s well-meaning but… Actually, I’d rather choose my own life, thank you very much, and Doctor Who (for example) ramming it down my throat that all boys must grow up and discover girls, or that any hint of sex is there to be both titillating and shameful, or that because it’s women’s role to bring man-children to heel women-on-men violence or women-on-men sexual assaults not taking “No” for an answer (all the way up to Listen, in which that’s the word Clara never listens to) is healthy, necessary and hilarious – that’s all a long way off what the series used to tell me. In mitigation, Madge is at least a bit different, and is most of the time separated from her husband rather than slapping him.

Madge, in a nutshell (or acorn): ‘I am a woman. That means I can’t drive – thank you for making so many hilarious jokes about that, Mr Spaceman, this is the 1940s and so “women drivers” humour is frightfully modern – and I am a mother. That means I shall mostly be frowning and worrying after my son, who is an explorer because he is a boy. Have I missed anything? Oh! Pining wife. My husband is dead (though as it’s one of that nice Mr Moffat’s scripts he’ll inevitably get better – remember, children, that nobody ever really has to die, so if they do, it must be because your Mum doesn’t love you or trees enough), so I’m pining. Therefore I am compatible both because I am A Mother and because they are A Forest of Pine. Even the trees all manage to be in rigidly heterosexual couplings, because it’s the 1940s/that nice Mr Moffat, which is lovely. Yes, that’s all of it.’

OK, so she’s not entirely a change for the better from the usual ‘All men should be like Steven Moffat and all women should be like the women Steven Moffat fancies’. But I’m still more willing to forgive all that, because I think Moffat is trying here to step outside his own comfort zone and write women differently to his usual stereotype – even if he’s much less successful in doing that than, to pick a random example, Bob Holmes trying and not really succeeding in satirising stereotypes in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s a shame that the celebration of motherhood turns into total binary gender determinism, and also undermines one of the few more equality-orientated touches in the year’s other stories: dads can be good parents too, rather than it only being ‘women’s work’, but now all dads are weak, and only mothers can do it properly. Again at the risk of crit-fic, perhaps Moffat realised that though much of the season had revolved around one specific motherhood but made a bit of a hash of it and overcompensated.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh, yeah, yeah, totally ordinary people, they have amazing powers that the Doctor doesn’t and doesn’t understand, yeah, yeah. Amazing we don’t all do amazing stuff all the time when motherhood, having leaves drop on us or being afraid are all completely unique and fascinating superpowers. And, unlike the 2011 story that I found more appalling than any other in the series’ history when watching it again the other week, this one is firmly against genocide, albeit with another outing for Moffat’s recurring good-enough-for-CS-Lewis-but-really-not-for-me ‘They haven’t really died, but gone to heaven’ reassurance.

‘Won’t it repair you back to front? Don’t scoff, Mr Spaceman. This is one of that nice Mr Moffat’s scripts, and in those that nearly always happens. Good job the War hasn’t actually started yet so I don’t have a gasmask to hand.’ OK, I’m being unfair now, because the exploding ship and the Doctor getting into the suit the wrong way made me laugh. It’s one of the pleasurably silly bits that made me like this more than many and remember why I liked Moffat’s comedy series, because his comedy scripts are so much more fun than his collapsing arc plots (and though his situation comedy scripts are always about heterosexual men-children and how ‘strong women’ are there to titillate and shame them too, I can enjoy them because in those it’s merely the situation and not a statement of Universal Natural Law).

It seems to be 5am and, unable to sleep because of a blazing headache, it would be very stupid of me to post a far too long piece without sleeping on it. …Oops.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 7 months ago

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BatmanAoD 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't think of Rushmore as a "romantic comedy," but yeah, if it *were* one it would be insanely creepy. (Which I suppose just means that I find the level of self-awareness sufficient.)

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

<3 <3 <3

I have to ask which 2011 story. I'm also curious about your two wildly variant RTD stories.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

My sense that it was actually a clever satire of the genre, sending up how obnoxious and repulsive the lead males in such movies often are. Unfortunately it was so effective at the job that I didn't want to watch it more than once, so I'm not sure if I was right or if we're actually supposed to root for Jason Schwartzman's character.

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BatmanAoD 2 years, 7 months ago

Given the genocide comment, it's got to be Day of the Moon, right?

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BatmanAoD 2 years, 7 months ago

I do sympathize with him. I would even go so far as to say that I "root for" him to grow up. But I certainly don't root for him (or Murray's character) to achieve their actual goals.

(Though I've only seen it once as well.)

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Encyclops: thank you (and hugs, should you be partial to hugging [see Listen, above])!

Guilt: you asked in part - and made a correct guess - about one of my wildly variant RTDs a while ago and I completely forgot to reply. Having looked back through likely suspects, it was on Victory of the Daleks, so I'll post a belated reply there as well as here.

Drum roll: at the top end of my divergence from what I will term mean fan opinion as measured in the Mighty 50, Love & Monsters should be 170 places higher (I put it at 50 to DWM's mean 220). Should you be interested, the other stories on which I was over a hundred places more favourable than the meanies were Boom Town, Paradise Towers, The Creature from the Pit, The Macra Terror, The Edge of Destruction, The Leisure Hive, Full Circle, Image of the Fendahl and Gridlock. Something to make everyone think I've lost it there, I fancy.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Sorry, clicked the wrong reply button, so it's Love & Monsters at +170 below!

At the other end, here is every story that I'd make fall by more than 200 points (and which you correctly identified a while back): The Stolen Earth / Journey's End. That is all. 35 for the mainstream, but 240 out of 241 for me. You'll note that I've changed the cut-off there so I don't have to be beastly enough to name more of those I like less (though, taking a secret peek, I was surprised at how many stories featuring Daleks were close to the bottom for me compared to other fans' votes. I suppose they're bound not to like deviation from the standard).

In the previous Mighty 204 poll, I placed four stories exactly in line with the general vote (including Carnival of Monsters and Rose right next to each other at 62 and 63), but the nearest I got this time was six stories only one place different (one of them Carnival of Monsters again, though Rose has fallen a bit for the average fan but not for me).

My Number 121 dead-centre story this time was State of Decay, 12 places lower than the poll put it, while the vote made it Castrovalva (46 places lower than I put it).

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Daru 2 years, 7 months ago

At the time of watching this when it was aired I fell into the "swathes of fandom" - as my partner and I had just watched immediately before it the Christmas Carol. It ended up that we loved the emotion of the previous episode so much more, and I guess my viewing of this one was tainted and I kind of disliked it from then, more as a snap judgement than having any coherent reason.

So I can see the episode from the fun point of view, and that I can in my fannishness get way to serious, so I determine now to go back and rewatch with fresh eyes. Thanks Phil - and everyone for the discussion I missed (lots of coursework on!)

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

And finally (for the moment – ugh, I sound like Alex Salmond): BatmanAoD, you were absolutely right. The 2011 story that most appalled me was The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, and it had my second biggest comparative drop, at -179. But I’ve just watched it again, so… Were I to fill out the Mighty 50 today, my relative vote would be -183 on the DWM score, and that only because it’s impossible for it to go any lower. While I found that my Matt rewatch was in general slightly softening my views on those stories of his I’d liked less, in this case: after thirty years, a new story has finally claimed the crown of my least favourite story. So that’s good news, relatively, for Journey’s End at only -203! I won’t say why in detail, because I’ve just looked at the notes I made when I rewatched it and just as stabbed-in abbreviated thoughts it’s over 500 words that take in the whole thing, but the Doctor getting Moffatitillated with the sexy lady over turning one of humanity’s most uplifting moments into genocidal brainwashing would be probably the worst part of it, yes.

Incidentally, I gave 12 stories a score of 1, and 24 stories a score of 10 (for the rest, mostly about 40 each in the 6-9 range and less than half that got 2-5s from me). Most of my big upwards differentials got a 9. I remember havering a bit over The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, because I probably thought it deserved about 6 ½, but I generally voted on the generous side and so awarded it 7/10 as opposed to the vicious DWM haters’ average of 5 ½ and Phil’s proudly Moffat-defending 4 ;)

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5tephe 2 years, 7 months ago

Yeah - Jack's not alone in that opinion.

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

As a dramaturge I actually find this phenomenon to be one of the most interesting things about Doctor Who. The character of the Doctor is a performative/creative construct. It is unique in that it could, potentially, be interpreted by any actor (with varying degrees of success of course) regardless of age, physicality or even gender. The character is the product of a kind of cumulative process by many different writers and actors over many years. I think the best interpretations of the Doctor have tended to be the ones that are closest to the actor/writer's own persona or concerns. (William Hartnell, David Whittaker, Tom Baker and Douglas Adams spring to mind). I can't think of another role whose actual narrative parameters has been so formed by the creative decisions of the various actors who have played it.

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 7 months ago

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! Hope you have a long and happy life together.

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

I might have mentioned this before so forgive me. I am old enough to have seen the first episode of Doctor Who on the night of its first transmission. I also lived in London as a child and I hope you can imagine the frisson of excitement my young self experienced every time I walked past one of those, ubiquitous at the time, police phone boxes. Particularly if it was a foggy night. The thoughts in my head going something like -
"I know it's only a TV programme but maybe. Just maybe, this one is the real TARDIS." Oh how I wished the door would open and the Doctor would poke his head out and say something cryptic.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 7 months ago

though it IS better than every single RTD Christmas story, by at least a country mile

You're joking?

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Ombund 2 years, 7 months ago

I have to say I agree. The Christmas Invasion isn't exactly awful and is probably objectively better than Widow..., but this still just about wins out because it's actually a Christmas story rather than a story that happens to be set at Christmas. But I find all the other RTD Christmas specials unwatchable.

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David Anderson 2 years, 7 months ago

Relative rank is more important than absolute rank I think.
Phil deliberately ranked evenly from 10 to 1, so a 4 from Phil puts it safely out of the bottom quartile.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Thank you, Andrew! It's on our twentieth anniversary, 26th October.

Congratulations and best wishes on your (recent?) marriage, too.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

Alex, I love the way you think -- your rankings make sense to me even if they're not the same I'd do if I completed the whole exercise (though we would probably have a huge overlap). And yes, hugs always welcome. :D

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

You're welcome and yes. :)

I like pretty much all of those stories better than most people seem to, and some of them are among my very favorites (Fendahl, Full Circle, Gridlock). I don't see anything in your list I'd commit you for.

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Alan 2 years, 7 months ago

True. I liked Runaway Bride much better than this, but that was only a Christmas episode by virtue of Donna ' s incredibly self-absorbed decision to have her wedding at Christmas. I'm amazed so many people even showed up for the reception. The only Christmas elements were the reused robot Santas and the vague resemblance of the Racnoss ship to a Christmas star.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Lovely! Let me know if ever you're on the Isle of Dogs :D

And splendid. I know several of them were very far down Phil's list...

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

Each to their own, David, but I don't agree; I'm no fan of rigid boxes and hierarchies, and I've always thought exams that sort results by student numbers rather than attainment were unfair. For me, although I mentioned a few of my relative scores and I do think they're itneresting, the absolute ones are more important because that's what I actually think of their quality. I wouldn't give a story that deserved a 7 a 3 just because there are a lot of other stories I happen to like, and I only gave my bottom quarter of stories less than a 6/10. It's only about 180 that I start to hit stories where I'd start to stutter if asked to justify how marvellous they were ;)

I've only seen two complete individual lists apart from mine, and while Phil's looks rather punishing (I found it!), the other a friend sent me is so loving that fewer than 30 stories get under 6 while nearly 70 hit 10/10, so I feel churlish. But without knowing what every fan's marking scheme was, we have to look at the percentages in the results and find joy that, on average, while the six most popular stories hit over 9/10, only seven stories were felt to deserve less than 5/10 and none below 4/10, which rather than making fandom 'haters' suggests that in general we're a positive lot .

And thanks again, encyclops (insert your own innuendo about a huge overlap here)!

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Kit Power 2 years, 7 months ago

Hey PNP,

Well as I said, they barely count as subtexts, to be honest. Let's see...

Deep Breath - the two moments that really jumped out were the extended veil speech, whereby Clara Oswald, who has ventured inside the Doctor's mind AND visited every point of history saving all incarnations (including fully telling William Hartnell which TARDIS to steal) is suddenly struck by a dose of the 'oh-noes-he's-regenerated', because Moffat's suddenly decided that we need an audience identification figure this week to deal with the new guy. Which, like, let me count the ways that sucks, but more pertinently to our conversation means we have to endure this super-heavy-handed veil conversation with Vastra all but yelling down the camera lens at us 'PETER CAPALDI IS TOTALLY THE DOCTOR NOW AND STOP BEING SHALLOW!' - which, why would you want to undermine your new lead that way? But again, more importantly, subtext as text - which is hammered home (just in case you missed it) with a bloody phone call from Matt Smith at the end of the episode.

And look, this is the third regeneration story of the new series. Surely that means we should be getting better at these, not worse? Surely that means we should have more confidence in the idea that our audience understands the concept by now? Yes, of course there's always a kid watching this happen for the first time, and yes, the show absolutely needs to be for them, but look at 'The Eleventh Hour' (or ‘The Christmas Invasion’), then look at this, and tell me you don't see not just a quality drop, but a lack of subtlety in engaging with the things the show needs to do that is kind of baffling.

Anyhow.

Into The Dalek - Well, I had a lot of issues with this one, not least the fact that The Doctor seemed like the dumbest person in the room rather than the smartest for most of the episode (because if you understand 'morality as malfunction', why on earth do you try to repair the malfunction?!!? IT. MAKES. NO. SENSE). But his whole speech about how he first met The Daleks, and how he became defined by them... I love this blog, and I love Doctor Who - I just don't like it when The Doctor ends up saying stuff that feels uncomfortably close to quoting this blog, because they should be doing different things. I want Doctor Who to tell Doctor Who stories, and then read brilliant people like our host rummage around under the bonnet and pull out all the parts and say 'See?'. What's to analyse in Into The Dalek? What's to interpret? It's all there, on screen, being spoken by Capaldi in words of one syllable just in case anyone at the back has fallen asleep. Subtext as text. Save me.

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Kit Power 2 years, 7 months ago

(cont...)

Exactly the same issue with RoS ('I'm as real as you, Doctor' may actually be the first time I've ever wanted to throw something at the screen in my Doctor Who viewing history). Also, it makes zero sense to have the 'real' Robin actually be Errol bloody Flynn. Unless this whole season is actually an extended riff on the Land of Fiction thing, which honestly I'm starting to hope for, because the alternative is that the writers are taking the piss and just don't care anymore. It's like the urge to subvert has become so total ('Hey? What if Robin Hood really WAS a tight wearing etc?') that it's overriding all other critical faculties.

The last two episodes I've had less issues with on this score (some with Listen, but none I'm yet able to articulate without making an even bigger arse out of myself than I already have). I hope the above will suffice as a kick off point, at least.

And really, you sum up my own position very well when you say 'I like to feel something when reading/watching a text, rather than being told.' For me, S8 has crossed the 'Telling' line more egregiously and consistently than any NuWho so far, and given this is also the direction of travel for Sherlock, I suspect I will be stuck with it at least until Moffat jumps ship (or more worryingly, if our host is correct that this is a cultural shift or trend, maybe not even then).

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 7 months ago

...The shorter version of that is that, while I'm capable of the mental gymnastics required to dismiss all criticism of this story as partisan, mean or illogical while giving it just 4/10 and at the same time saying how appalling an entire varied group is because they "lambasted" this same story by giving it on average only 5.5/10, that level of cognitive dissonance is why I wondered if this was one of Phil's more tongue-in-cheek posts ;)

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UrsulaL 2 years, 7 months ago

For that matter, the Doctor is at his most irresponsible here. It's not obvious that he does anything apart from put everybody in unnecessary horrible danger. (An alternative reading of the Eleventh Doctor's character would in fact have it that he planned the entire thing. I'm not sure that wouldn't be morally preferable.)

I actually thought that the Doctor was trying to be responsible. He thought the planet was safe, and Christmasy, and appropriate for a family trip. And he set up the box as a controlled means to get there, in order to avoid taking the family in the potentially unreliable TARDIS.

But since you have the TARDIS involved in getting the box to work, the TARDIS intervened. With its own ideas about taking people where they need to go, rather than where they want to go. So rather than directing the box/door to connect to the safe planet at a safe time, where the Doctor wanted to go, it connected to the planet at an unsafe time, but one that would allow for saving both the trees and Madge's husband, which was where, by the TARDIS's reckoning, they needed to go.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

What worries me the most about "Listen" is that it's part of a pattern whereby many of the best / most moving / most interesting Doctor Who episodes are shaping up lately to be the ones most trained on the Doctor himself as a character. This sounds like a good idea -- he's your protagonist, of course you're going to explore what makes him him, right? -- but in practice I fear it's bound to run up against limits right away.

The problem is that the Doctor isn't a character, past a certain point. He must necessarily be all things to all people in order for the show to work as it does. That's what makes it last; that's what allows the main actor to change and still be the same person; that's what lets us tell infinite stories. That's why there's periodically a demand to make the Doctor "more mysterious." We can explore the psyches of our companions, because we know they'll change every couple of years and be not just new actors but new people with new stories. (In practice we often don't explore them enough, because to some extent the companion must be all things to one person -- the Doctor.) But we can't learn too much about the Doctor himself, pin him down too much as a specific individual, because then he becomes finite, and so does the show.

It's a fine line to walk. For the sake of longevity, I think the show has to remember how to tell stories about the people and places it visits, and not doggedly try to make them all about the visitors. In any other kind of show, that would be exactly the right thing to do. But any other kind of show would have been over by now.

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J Mairs 2 years, 7 months ago

I would have thought Sherlock more than anything.

It seems you can't go through the skybox these days without stumbling upon at least one Adaptation-of-popular-literary-character series.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

The repetition of "I know" I found a bit precious.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

When this came out I wrote:

I’m sure some will see tonight’s episode as preaching female superiority. But if they do, they’re missing the point. The repeated message of tonight’s show was that women’s strength comes from motherhood. That line is one of the oldest arrows in patriarchy’s quiver.

In a long literary tradition, a female character is most likely to be allowed to express strength and resolve if her doing so is somehow connected to her “natural” role as familial nurturer. Think of examples from Greek tragedy: Antigone and Electra, whose heroism is triggered by their feeling for a slain relative, or even Medea, whose fairly extreme deviation from a nurturing role results from the disruption of her marriage. (Actually one can fit Lysistrata in there too.)

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

See my comment above; I really think this is a toxic trope.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

Incidentally, it would be painfully easy to rewrite the Fu Manchu stories "against the grain" -- enough almost to make me wonder what Rohmer's intentions were. Most of Fu Manchu's fiendish Oriental plot is simply to protect Asia from Western imperialism; and the racist crap spewed by the Holmes-character is conspicuously never endorsed by the Watson-character/narrator.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

"There are other things that are more sexist/transphobic etc." isn't much of a defense, is it?

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Alex 2 years, 7 months ago

A recent issue of Fortean Times had an article espousing just such a theory.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the reference! Just downloaded it.

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Melissa Robertson 2 years, 7 months ago

I suppose what I was trying to say up there is that I feel that in the rush to not solely portray women as being strong because of their role in the family, it has become "sexist" to portray women's familial role as contributing to their strength at all, which I think is a gross error. I think women's roles in the family should definitely be portrayed as a strength, just not their only strength. This episode doesn't quite succeed in that, but I appreciated the effort, as this is something that really bothers me about media today.

My apologies for the slightly rambling nature of the previous comment.

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

I have no objection to leaving in some of the Chinese imagery and characters -- you might need more than a hack author (or a slash author? never mind) to rehabilitate it, but there's no inherent reason it couldn't be done. I was just proposing the thought experiment where if you remove all possibility of being even a little bit racist (except insofar as you'd then have a fully Eurocentric script), what makes the story excellent could still remain intact.

I'm not convinced recasting Chang would have helped that much. Either the character himself is a racist caricature, or he is not. If he is, then he's damaging even if played by an actual Asian. If he is not, and the character is actually reasonably well-rounded (e.g. thickening his accent to play to his audience and interrogators, realizing he's followed a false god by the end), it makes the yellowface more about illusion than mockery. Still not okay, but I have to wonder why we always have this discussion about Chang but never about Cho-Je or Tlotoxl.

I'm not really familiar with the Fu Manchu stories, but they do sound worth checking out, if only to know what I'm talking about. Maybe "Fu-Manchuisms" is the wrong word, above.

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Jarl 2 years, 7 months ago

I like Tlotoxl because he looks like Charlie Sheen in his really bad drug phase, so it's like the show really did time travel.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

It's more that this story being 13th from bottom in the most recent DWM poll seemed to me the most interesting angle on it. It's not so much "shot across the bow" as "ooh, this episode took a pasting, let's poke that with a stick."

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Anton B 2 years, 7 months ago

I agree and if I was trying to defend it I'd probably use a different argument. Rather I was attempting to find a parallel with traditional English (possibly also northern European)traditions off winter solstice celebrations /entertainments which deliberately encourage transgressions of what we'd now describe as normative behaviours. the c14 century tradition of the Lord of Misrule (who has other resonances with our Doctor) for instance, the jester or lowest class servant made king for the day. The transvestism, slapstick violence (the 'slapstick' was the Lord of Misrule's pigs bladder on a stick with which he would belabour any who disobeyed his anarchic rulings) and role reversals which later became codified through the Comedia del Arte. Elements of this survive in contemporary English folk culture in Punch and Judy shows, Pantomimes, drag acts and circus clowns amongst other things.

Doctor Who as a 'family' entertainment for the long autumn/winter nights has also retained some echoes of this tradition. (It's interesting that one of the traditional transgressive characters of the Commedia del Arte was called 'Il Dottore' or the Doctor).

My 'argument' then, I suppose would be that if (in the specific context of liberating performance) we allow for bad taste, ribald humour and transgression of the 'norm' we must also allow for transgression of what we might recognise as acceptable. On the other hand throwing a 'bad taste party' is never a good idea. One person's 'hilariously transgressive' costume is always in danger of being another's upsetting insult.



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storiteller 2 years, 7 months ago

Congrats! I love when couples who have been together for a long time can finally get married.

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5tephe 2 years, 7 months ago

Good grief but I ENVY you those sensations! Wow!

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd forgotten my pic was a wedding photo! It's been 5 and half years (roughly). Small fry compared to the 20 years you and Richard have already shared, though x

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 7 months ago

@lewis I think this episode's main problem is one of badly mismanaged expectations. It was presented as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so the kids crawl throught he magic portal and encounter a magical creature.... In the books (and more recently the movie) this signals the start of a series of fantastic encounters with extraordinary creatures and the children having growth experiences.
In this is signals 40 minutes of Empty City Syndrome as the cast wanders around the set with just this one monster which they never actually interact with -- designed almost entirely to stand there without moving and a primary mystery of "Gee, why is everything so empty?"

That's not gripping television. And the plot ostensibly designed to fill it -- "Three sci-fi workers land in the forest" and the brief foray into their ultimately-not-very-relevant woodwalker machine -- is pretty empty too.
The woodwalker itself (or whatever it was supposed to be) also suffered from being mostly offscreen in a story ALREADY deprived of visuals in its middle-part. We needed something walking through and tearing up that forest to enliven the episode, not a sound effect and a musical

The plot was fine, but it set up a story about magical adventures for children and delivered an empty soundstage, populated by a sense that there used to be a fantastic adventure here but we missed it.
...and then it focuses on mum problems. The Narnia books have been a lot of things but "how do I tell my children that their father has died in the Blitz" wasn't one of them and WE WE PROMISED A NARNIA BOOK DARN IT!

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Whittso 2 years, 6 months ago

When I was a child I really enjoyed warriors of the deep and time and the rani. I would continue to say that those worked in some respects, even though they obviously failed in most. And I don't think this is any more for kids than the five doctors tbh.

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