It Could Be The End of the World, But One Thing At a Time (The Return of Doctor Mysterio)

(44 comments)

 
Sure, yes, you feel pain, but tell me... do you bleed? 

It’s December 25th, 2016. Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye” remains at number one, while Rag ‘n Bone Man, Little Mix, Zara Larsson, and the annual re-charting of Mariah Carey also chart. In news since Class got lost, the CIA reported to Congress that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, which President-elect Trump described as “ridiculous,” the Obama administration allowed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory to pass, and a riot broke out in a Birmingham prison, the worst British prison riot since the Thatcher era. 

On television, meanwhile, for the first time in a year, Doctor Who. When this aired at the brutal end of 2016, suspended between Carrie Fisher’s heart attack and her death and in the immediate wake of George Michael’s, it felt like a baffling way to bring the show back after its longest gap between episodes since Rose. Two years and change later, it feels like a baffling artifact from another world. At its heart, it features Moffat making a well-earned return to autopilot. He will not phone it in for the entirety of Series 10, mercifully, but he is manifestly out of the weird, frenzied renaissance that launched with The Day of the Doctor. The ambitions of The Return of Doctor Mysterio are set firmly at “be an entertaining piece of fluff for an hour and then air a trailer for the upcoming series.” This is accomplished, inasmuch as that matters to us.

What is interesting is the utter batshit craziness of the method by which this relatively banal task is accomplished. On paper, the underlying concept of “Doctor Who does superheroes” is straightforward. They’d been the dominant genre of filmmaking for years, and were a genre Doctor Who had not meaningfully engaged with on television in forty-eight years. What that description of the concept fails to account for, however, is that Steven Moffat does not actually have the slightest interest in just dropping the Doctor into a superhero film. 

There is a standard plot structure that animates most superhero films (and indeed most contemporary films in general, in the same way that Campbell provided a satisfying straitjacket to another generation) derived from Blake Snyder’s screenwriting guide Save the Cat. Extensive breakdowns of it are easy enough to find, but the basic idea is a three act structure where act one consists of a statement of theme and a main character whose life undergoes some upheaval. Act two is the main character living through this upheaval and the story relishing in its premise, ending in things going wrong for the main character. Act three is the main character successfully integrating the theme into their psyche and triumphing against the odds. 

Here is what the Save the Cat beats are not. Act one: Flashback setup of one main character’s origin at the hands of the other, followed up by their reuniting later in life to face a common enemy. Act two: Extended farce about secret identities and child rearing. Act three: Split the main characters up again only to have their plots reconverge at the climax as they collaborate to stop the threat. Indeed, this plot structure can be found in exactly no superhero stories ever. It is, of course, entirely recognizable as a Steven Moffat plot (the clue, if you missed it, is the fact that the middle section is a massive farce), but we’ll get back to that point.

For now, let’s focus on what these that weird middle act means. After all, the first and third acts, if not straightforward superhero story beats, are at least basically what you’d expect crashing Doctor Who into the genre. It’s that middle section, where you’re supposed to get “the promise of the premise” and instead get “farce and babies,” neither of which are typically considered the premise of superhero stories. And yet the episode holds together with recognizable coherence. Part of this is the context of transmission: it makes for a perfectly coherent bit of dumb Christmas fun.

But a bigger piece is that, by dint of approaching it from a position of relative disinterest as to how superheroes work, Moffat has managed to come up with something that actually feels like a relatively fresh take on what was, by 2016, a deeply tired genre. It’s easy enough to see how he got there: with no particular investment in superheroes as a concept, Moffat gravitated towards the most iconic option in Superman. This already made things weird: Superman is of towering historical importance, but has been an utterly minor part of the current wave of superhero films. Moreover, Moffat’s sense of how Superman works as a character is idiosyncratic. He makes the “teenage x-ray vision” jokes you’d expect him to, and they’re as lame as you’d expect them to be, but past that the detail he really latches on to is the oft-expressed canard that Clark Kent is the real heroic figure. 

In Moffat’s take, this is hedged a little from the quasi-messianistic “and so he decided to retain his life as an ordinary human” quality involved in Superman; Grant offers the prosaic explanation of his day job that being a superhero doesn’t pay the bills. And this makes sense for a one-off superhero in Doctor Who—messianistic tendencies belong to a different character here. Nevertheless, Grant is, like Clark/Superman, presented as an image of ideal and perfected masculinity. Of course, being a Steven Moffat script, what this means is that he’s a nanny.

This brings us to the farce. Obviously another thing Moffat was going to zero in on within the Superman narrative is the secret identity. Particularly given that Superman has the famously ridiculous disguise of just putting on a pair of glasses, this was self-evidently going to be catnip for Moffat’s style. And so, given a superhero nanny and his crack journalist not-girlfriend, obviously the thing Moffat is going to do is play with a love triangle between two people. 

But obvious is not a criticism, especially when the obviousness exists within the context of a single creative mind as opposed to in the larger cultural context, where a superhero story reducing to this sort of farce is anything but expected. It’s at once a perfectly coherent story about being a good man and a totally unexpected one—the sort of out of left field barminess that Doctor Who, when it’s functioning, should do. And it really is viscerally, intensely strange. I mean, the villains are just the Slitheen with the access flap turned 90 degrees and no farting, but they’re just an excuse to have a plot, and anyway the gag of the guy opening his head to get his gun out is always good. But the brains with eyes are a nice visual. Matt Lucas wandering around the background the story with no explanation is bizarre. And the extended Mister Huffle interrogation gag is incongruously, titanically weird in a lot of the ways we just got done praising Mr. Robot for being. 

That’s not to say that one can’t articulate some complaints. Most obviously, although the story is unusual and not something any show besides Doctor Who could really do, nothing about its oddness stems from the fact that it’s Doctor Who per se. This is Moffat doing an hourlong superhero riff with the Doctor larking about in it. That works well enough to pass the time, but it’s a deeply unsatisfying way to bring the show back after a year, a fact that grated on first transmission. The ending monologue, in which Nardole stresses that the Doctor is still upset about River’s inevitable death, is a puzzlingly unsatisfying choice that picks up on an issue nobody actually thought was in need of resolution, weirdly choosing to look back at the precise moment the show should be looking forward

But much of this is baked into the premise of Moffat continuing. Having brought his tenure full circle in The Husbands of River Song by neatly calling back to the story that came right after he landed the job and that hung over and structured the first four years of his run, he didn’t have a forward direction. He was done with Doctor Who, and this is the exact problem you have when you keep going after that point. More to the point, if River was the correct choice to frame the Moffat era, and I think she was, then its extension over the final season so it can still work as a framing makes sense. More to the point, as we’ll see next month when we finally get to The Pilot, this invocation of River is the exception and not the rule; with the exception of bringing back Missy, Series 10 is largely not backwards looking, and really does go as far as it’s possible to go in a new direction given a showrunner on his postultimate season and an actual new direction already announced for the year after.

In light of this, and for that matter in light of what the new direction would turn out to be, what stands out most about The Return of Doctor Mysterio is simply how dense it feels. The episode is always doing things, constantly throwing new concepts at the wall and making sure stuff is going on. It may be Moffat past the point where he has new ideas for Doctor Who, but this expresses with restlessness instead of apathy. He’s not going out with the deflated wheeze of Letts and Dicks’s final season, or the fraying “ah fuck it” of Season Twenty-One, or even the self-satisfied victory lap of the late Davies era. Instead he’s panicking, desperate to come up with ideas after he knows he’s already used his best ones. 

As failure modes go, it’s a good one. It’s not even remotely sustainable; keeping Moffat on after this point would go like any longrunning show that’s vastly past its prime, drooping into bland competence that only sporadically rose to the level of “almost as good as the stuff it used to do routinely.” But it keeps the show only a step or two below its peak. It works to stretch out one more season. 

We’ve talked a lot about late style, and indeed opened this discusson of the final Moffat years with a post on David Bowie’s Blackstar. I find late style fascinating—the way varous artists respond to the fading of the frenzied hunger of their early careers. A handful, like Bowie (or indeed Blake), retain a personal hunger that serves them as well, if not better, than their commercial and popular one. Unable to rest for their own sakes, they keep looking for the new, raging frenziedly at the idea that the scope of their abilities might be largely clear. Others, like Neil Gaiman, fall into comfortable loops, spinning out familiar tales for dedicated audiences, in Gaiman’s case literally, as he appears to have largely taken up adapting his own hits for television. Still others take the Alan Moore (or indeed also Blake)  route, crafting increasingly niche works, honing the fine details of their skills, showcasing deeper and deeper technical mastery even as the execute the same familiar themes. 

But in none of these cases are the artist’s late works their best. They are in a few cases my favorites—though even with Moore, I prefer his middle period. But they are not the works reputations are built off of. They’re fine, servicable second tier works. Alex has described the pleasure of a past-their-peak band releasing a new album in terms of the pleasant discovery of a few extras—the addition of one or two good new songs to the canon. And yeah, that’s basically how it works.

And with The Return of Doctor Mysterio we enter that period for Moffat—a collection of footnotes and bonus materials that neither enhance nor degrade the reputation of the larger whole. Some will offer intriguing pathologies as vibrant as any others to spring from his work. Others will be opportunities to reiterate vital themes. And a few will be appalling turkeys, as is the case for basically any season of Doctor Who. But it’s all still Moffat—still the work of one of the greatest minds ever to tackle Doctor Who. Better that than so many alternatives.

Comments

Przemek 5 months, 1 week ago

Thank you for this brilliant essay. It was immensely satisfying to read. I never really noticed how weird Moffat's take on superhero films was... Perhaps working with the folk memory of something (instead of the actual memory) is an effective way to reinvent long-running genres and franchises?

It's incredible how much Series 11 has shaped the way we read Series 10. The future rewrites the past once more. I have a strong feeling that had this essay been written before S11 debuted, its tone wouldn't have been nearly as positive as it is.

"The ending monologue, in which Nardole stresses that the Doctor is still upset about River’s inevitable death, is a puzzlingly unsatisfying choice that picks up on an issue nobody actually thought was in need of resolution (...)."

I agree about unsatisfying, but at least among my friends, there absolutely was an expectation that the Doctor's final goodbye to River would be addressed somehow. It was just too big an event to leave completely in the past. If we got a whole episode of the Doctor sulking in the TARDIS after he lost Amy and Rory, surely losing River deserves a mention as well?

Come to think of it, this final monologue is reminiscent of the scene at the end of "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" where the Doctor goes to spend Christmas with Amy and Rory. That one was similarly out of place, tacked onto the episode that was about something else. Perhaps that's the price of having a Christmas Special sandwiched between two seasons. Without it you could do a time jump and start off with a new status quo (like in "The Asylum of the Daleks" or "The Pilot"), but a Christmas Special doesn't allow you to truly move forward and so you're stuck in this weird space between the resolved past and the unrealized future. (That's actually a pretty good description of "Twice Upon a Time" as well...).

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TomeDeaf 5 months, 1 week ago

I think part of it is that Moffat just realised when he wrote "The Husbands of River Song" that he'd really been missing how much fun River was to write (he talks about how it was specifically bringing her back, at Davies' suggestion, which reinvigorated him after burnout working on S9) -- and that fact is really why the shadow of River hangs so much over S10. It's really, really noticeable IMO. She gets barely a nod in S8 and S9 - off hand I can only think of the living with otters reference in "The Caretaker" and that's it? as though the Capaldi years have to distance themselves from that Smith-era stuff... and then the moment she's back in "Husbands" she's suddenly all over the show. From the presence of Nardole itself (and he's in every episode from Xmas 2015 to Xmas 2017, let's not forget, in one way or another) to the photo of her on the desk to the reference to her in "Thin Ice" (cut in the final edit, admittedly) to the way her diary and words and motto haunt "Extremis" and then go onto haunt the finale...

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Przemek 5 months, 1 week ago

Interesting, I didn't know that! And you're right, the difference between the lack of River in S8 and S9 and her ghost haunting the whole of S10 is very noticeable. I also never thought about the presence of Nardole as being connected to River, but now it seems obvious. He's haunting the narrative in her place because she personally can't.

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mx_mond 5 months, 1 week ago

Not sure about “folk memory”, as then it would just become this bland depiction of what everyone is thinking (i.e. something like the Boy Scout Superman), which we only have to look at the received wisdom about the Moffat era to see why it might not be the best approach. But it definitely seems worthwhile to rely on individual memory (instead of going back to the source material), which will be much more idiosyncratic, particularly in case of someone like Moffat, whose aesthetic sensibilities are not a natural fit for superhero stuff.

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Przemek 5 months, 1 week ago

You're right, idiosyncratic individual memory seems like a much better fit than folk memory. Thank you.

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Tom B 5 months ago

It didn't seem like a folk memory so much as Moffat drawing upon the first two Richard Donner Superman movies, which would seem different when compared to how superhero movies are now. (Just compare the first Superman movies to Man of Steel). It wouldn't be surprising if Moffat had sat down and watched these for inspiration rather than just relying on his memories. Those would seem a better fit with a Doctor Who format than trying to do something like Batman vs Superman with the Doctor having to take Batman's place.

Just imagine though, if he hadn't gone with the Richard Donner Superman movies he might have gone back to the 1966 Batman movie for inspiration...

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mattM 5 months, 1 week ago

This was a frustrating story to me. Partly I'm not sure why it existed, partly it feels like Moffat is grappling with reacting to The New Adventures of Superman rather than any of the superhero stories that have impacted the national consciousness recently.

The biggest issue to me is how tonally off it was. I seem to remember a lot of farce (Moffat is good at character comedy but I always found his farce to be really, really cringeworthy and grating) and at the same time villains who pull their heads apart in some horrible gungy body horror manner (much like the jolly special with Santa vs the horrible monsters, though ironically I feel that would have worked better if they leaned INTO Santa vs Aliens more)

Also very upset that the villains weren't the morphotron brain creatures! I mean come on!! ;)

It's the Moffat version of 'uh, let's fill up the time with something', but even a bad Moffat is an interesting one. Went down like a lead balloon at Christmas at my family's though, like most of the Moffat Christmas specials :(

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TomeDeaf 5 months, 1 week ago

Conversely, my wider family thought it was more fun and understandable than Moffat's usual Xmas specials (whereas I enjoyed it a fair bit less).

Brains of Morphoton would have been Moffat's most obscure deep cut, if he'd done it. As it is I think that remains the Movellans?

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Ombund 5 months, 1 week ago

There was a nice interview with Moffat in TV Years focusing on each of his Christmas specials, and in that he refers to the disconnect between the episodes fans and non-fans like. He said he gets the impression fans didn't really like Mysterio but he received far more nice words about it from his non-Who friends than for any of his other specials (funnily enough The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe had a similar reception).

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Nindokag 5 months ago

Yay, Doctor Who is back on Eruditorum!

Thank you for those paragraphs rightfully trashing the superhero glut and what the "Save the Cat" straightjacket has done to storytelling. It needs to be said.

As much as you're right that Husbands Of River Song would have been a perfect ending for the Moffat era, I'm glad Season 10 happened. It was the first season to come out after i started reading Eruditorum and became a fan, so it's actually the first season of Dr. Who that I ever watched in real-time, with no spoilers and no knowledge of whether an episode was "supposed" to be good or not.

I think there's actually quite a good philosophical arc to the season even if the middle is a mess. I can't think of it as a letdown or a "leftovers" season, not when it gave us Thin Ice, Oxygen, Extremis, Eaters of Light, and World Enough/Doctor Falls.

About Return of Dr. Mysterio, I skipped it first time watching the Capaldi era, eventually went back to it out of completionism, concluded that I hadn't missed anything. But it sure is interesting how it is very clearly "Doctor Who crashes into Lois & Clark" and not "Doctor Who crashes into the MCU".

My headcanon is that the device the Doctor is futzing with on top of the New York skyscraper is his attempt to probe the time clusterfuck that's locking off 1938 New York, so he can find a way to visit Amy & Rory. This affects absolutely nothing but it's fun to think about :-)

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Przemek 5 months ago

Out of curiosity, why did you skip it? Because of its reputation? I can't really imagine willingly skipping a DW episode... well, before S11 I couldn't.

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Nindokag 5 months ago

hi Przemek,
Well, I never watched DW in order before S10. I always kinda jumped around to whatever I hadn't seen that sounded interesting. I might have watched a few eps of Season 8 one week, then watch the Curse of Peladon the next week, then part of Key to Time, then the God Complex, then more of Season 8, then re-watch Father's Day...

So it's really not so much "skipping" Dr. Mysterio, because that implies I was going in order; it was more like "I didn't get around to it until after I had seen every other Capaldi episode".

There's still David Tennant episodes I haven't seen...

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Przemek 5 months ago

You live a wild life, my friend. Thanks for answering.

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Ike 5 months ago

If memory serves, that what he explicitly stated he was trying to do. If memory doesn't serve, we have the same head canon.

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Przemek 5 months ago

He didn't mention visiting Amy and Rory, but he was indeed trying to solve the time kerfuffle in New York. Which ties very nicely to him mourning River.

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Roderick T. Long 5 months ago

"in Gaiman’s case literally, as he appears to have largely taken up adapting his own hits for television"

In fairness, Gaiman has pretty strongly implied -- as strongly as he can without being churlish toward good friends living and dead, which he is much too polite to do -- that being showrunner on "Good Omens" is something he did solely to fulfill a dying request from Pratchett, that he pretty much hates doing it (despite having positive experiences with the people involved), that it's eaten up a huge chunk of his life he'll never get back, that it has kept him away from both writing and his family for far too long, and that he's desperate to get back to both as soon as he possibly can. (By contrast, his involvement with "American Gods" is more of an advisory role and so presumably less time-consuming.)

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Roderick T. Long 5 months ago

For example, here are three recent Gaiman quotes:

“I didn’t in any real sense of the word have two years of my life to give up to make this, so I wouldn’t have done it if Terry hadn’t died and given me this as his last request .... Terry’s wish trumped everything, so we were making it for him ...”

“There’s about a month to go before it’s all wrapped up. We were hoping to have been done earlier, which is why my wife and small son and retiring nanny are off on our ‘Hurrah! Neil has finished Good Omens!’ holiday in the Caribbean and I am rather obviously not on that holiday. ... It will be the first night in a long time that I haven't kissed my wife at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The first year we won't get to celebrate our wedding anniversary together. I will miss them so very much. My goals for 2019 are to get Good Omens finished, to send it out into the world, and then to retire from full-time showrunning and, in my retirement, to start writing again. I miss it.”

“I woke up about four days ago and there was a short story in my head .... And I thought that actually hasn’t happened for two years, just because all of my attention has been on budget, and the VFX, and the edit and the sound mix. So, it was like, ‘Great, apparently I can still do that. That’s nice.’”

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David Anderson 5 months ago

Are you reading The Enemy of the World as a meaningful engagement with the superhero genre?

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David Anderson 5 months ago

(That sounded more intrigued and less skeptical in my head than it looks to me on the screen.)

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Tom B 5 months ago

I think he meant The Mind Robber, as that had Zoe's favorite superhero character show up.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 5 months ago

*coughs politely*

"He"?

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Tom B 5 months ago

Profuse apologies, I wasn't thinking who David was referring back to.

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Michael L 5 months ago

I’m curious about this:

‘and indeed most contemporary films in general, in the same way that Campbell provided a satisfying straitjacket to another generation.’

I’ve noticed a dislike of Joseph Campbell in a few pieces in the Eruditorum and I’m not entirely sure why or what it’s about. I’m reasonably well read up on Joseph Campbell and the idea of ‘The Heroes Journey’ which I believe this refers to - and which actually forms only a small piece of his work which is oversignified, mostly as something it actually isn’t. ‘The Heroes Journey’ isn’t Joseph Campbell saying that it’s his considered opinion that all stories have to follow the same set of motifs. It’s simply Joseph Campbell talking about a recurring set of motifs that appear widely across world literature and mythology and saying that a hell of a lot of stories in world mythology *do* tend to follow similar, if not the exact same motifs. Unless I’ve missed something, Campbell isn’t passing judgement and saying that all stories have to follow the same beats, it’s just that they often do. Of course, after this was outlined by Campbell as a piece of comparitive mythology, people like George Lucas took this to the extreme, as something of a box ticking exercise with regards to plotting a story. But nonetheless, it seems patently absurd to hold Joseph Campbell accountable for recurring motifs that have existed in stories for centuries.

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Annie 5 months ago

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else on the blog but for me, the biggest problem with Campbells heroes journey is The sheer arrogance of suggesting that all of human myths and architypes can be boiled down into a simple, almost trite, journey which just happens to conform to the 20th century prejudices of Americans. http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/one-is-all-the-last-war-in-albion-part-23-joseph-campbell-alan-moores-star-wars-comics/http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/one-is-all-the-last-war-in-albion-part-23-joseph-campbell-alan-moores-star-wars-comics/http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/one-is-all-the-last-war-in-albion-part-23-joseph-campbell-alan-moores-star-wars-comics/
Not only that, but that other generations of filmmakers will believe the same.
See here: http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/one-is-all-the-last-war-in-albion-part-23-joseph-campbell-alan-moores-star-wars-comics/
I just see it as another form of Western hegemony over The stories of people of colour.

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Michael L 5 months ago

This doesn’t reconcile with my reading of any of Campbell’s work. I don’t say any of this as a ‘Campbell fan boy’ and I’m fairly dubious of quite a bit of his work. I’m just genuinely curious. I first came into contact his work some years ago while doing a dissertation on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. And I own the book - The Hero With a Thousand Faces - which the idea of ‘the heroes journey’ stems from. I think the idea of calling it a ‘heroes journey’ as it has latterly come to be known, actually signifies something that Campbell in the book itself isn’t really doing. Like much of Campbell’s work, it’s a piece of comparative mythology which looks at various commons motifs or themes from myths and stories around the world and looks at the commonalities. The idea itself on Joseph Campbell’s part is more in line with Carl Jung’s idea of a ‘collective unconscious’ than it is to do with perpetuating or imposing some idea of ‘Western hegemony,’ or attempting to pander to prejudices. Ultimately, I think criticising Campbell for an idea which is actually more to do with a certain reading and interpretation of Campbell’s work which has been perpetuated through people like George Lucas, than it is to do with what Campbell himself was actually saying in his work, is slightly disingenuous. That’s not to say that Campbell himself wasn’t on some level happy to cash in on the popularity some of these ideas subsequently attained through people like Lucas (see: The Power of Myth on Netflix). But regardless, the ‘Lucas reading’ of Joseph Campbell, which is now the popular perception of ‘heroes journey,’ and the ideas Campbell actually spent most of his career working on, lecturing and writing about in terms of competitive mythology aren’t actually the same thing. Again, my own reading of his work certainly isn’t a ‘straitjacket’ where he’s saying ‘stories *have* to happen this way.’ It’s more ‘I’ve looked at stories from various cultures around the world and actually they share more than a few common motifs.’

Thanks for the links though, I’ll have a read through them.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 5 months ago

I mean, to my mind there's no way around the fact that Campbell postulates the experience of men, and frankly specifically men from Europe and adjacent regions, with the mythologies of cultures further afield being awkwardly hammered into the western-derived template he created.

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tachyonspiral 5 months ago

Mostly, invocations of Campbell are synonymous with the Hero's Journey, which is obviously his most popular idea. They don't engage with his wider project and probably shouldn't be taken as a judgement upon it?

I haven't yet read The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I have read Save the Cat, which is at least pretty explicit (and unapologetic) about its aims, which are simply to provide beginner screenwriters with a formula intended to maximize the likelihood of commercial success. That many writers never move beyond these beginners' guides is hardly Campbell or Snyder's fault.

Recently Dan Harmon (of Community and Rick and Morty) has been promoting the Hero's Journey as a model, which imo is kind of interesting because on face value his stories aren't particularly formulaic, and they certainly don't look like Star Wars.

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Nindokag 5 months ago

There's a really good old Film Crit Hulk article about how the "Hero's Journey" has become an obstacle to original storytelling. It's about the popular understanding of Campbell's work and not about Campbell's work itself, but it may be of interest to people in this comment thread:

https://filmcrithulk.blog/2011/10/06/hulk-explains-why-we-should-stop-it-with-the-hero-journey-shit/

"A LOT LIKE HULK’S DISMISSAL OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE, THE PROBLEM WITH JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES IS NOT IT’S LACK OF ACCURACY, BUT INSTEAD WHAT WE DO WITH THE INFORMATION IT PROVIDES. CHIEFLY, THE FACT THAT OUR SOCIETY HAS OVERTLY ADOPTED THE BOOK’S BREAKDOWN OF THE HERO JOURNEY AS SOME KIND OF READY-MADE APP FOR “PAINT BY NUMBERS” STORYTELLING."

(this is from back when Film Crit Hulk still wrote in all-caps)

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Rodolfo Piskorski 5 months ago

My impatience with Campbell stems from the fact that his fans do not seem to know who Vladimir Propp is.

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Brian B. 5 months ago

As an essay on "Dr. Mysterio": excellent and insightful! Fun to read, too. I grate at, and object to, the broader late-style discussion and its bland assertion that "in none of these cases are the artist’s late works their best", though. I think it's a false generalization. The truer generalization, to me, is "in none of these cases is the audience receptive to the notion that their late works might be their best, since their late works have to compete with works people have been memorizing for decades".

'Blackstar' is, I think, clearly Bowie's masterpiece. After a lifetime of albums synthesizing musical trends and perhaps edging slightly ahead of them, he came out with a sublimely orchestrated classical-jazz-rock thing with weird tunings and strange percussion that sounds like nothing else ever, and it's mesmerizing.

And heck, although I don't have as straightforward an argument to make for it, I think Randy Newman recently released his best album ('Dark Matter') at age 73; letting a character in own first song call him out for the cheaper satirical tactics he's been prone to, he challenges himself to write richer satire and to integrate it with the side of him that can write songs for Disney musicals.

Stephen Patrick Morrissey has grown into an appalling right-wing public figure, and I don't blame anyone who boycotts him. But his songwriting, bizarrely, shows exactly none of that, putting him more in the territory of a somewhat subtle, empathetic, sensual, but utterly merciless and fiercely intelligent anti-war and anti-corporate-media protester. I think his latest record 'Low in High School' (released when he was 58) is his best, Smiths jangle-pop was never my favorite style, so his recent mastery of music-hall, klezmer, garish rock blare, and drum machines appeals to me. Either way, it's definitely an array of new tricks.

Am I right about any of these specifics? Perhaps not! I am right, though, that, by their very nature, I'm weighing "work that entered my life recently" against "work that I've known for the majority of my life", and that it's not the artists' fault if the latter has home-field advantage.

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tachyonspiral 5 months ago

Anyways, thank you for this; I really enjoyed this essay and I'm looking forward to reading your coverage of Moffat's late style.

I never introduced myself, and you don't know who i am. I think i made some *enormously* cringeworthy, possibly insulting responses to some posts of yours on a DW forum, some years back? If memory serves, which it may well not. I can't remember how i actually found this blog; i mostly remember being very confused by a lot of Jane posts concerning mirrors, and somehow winding up here.

Regardless, i wanted to let you know that it's been an absolutely fascinating read and that you have transformed how i look at Doctor Who and fiction in general, and been an inspiration to me, and i just wanted to say thank you for that.

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Daibhid C 5 months ago

I was going to make a comment about how a farce focussing on "Clark Kent"'s romantic life is basically Lois & Clark, but I see other people have already thought of that...

(Do I recall correctly that DWM had a mockup Lucy & Grant logo?)

He makes the “teenage x-ray vision” jokes you’d expect him to, and they’re as lame as you’d expect them to be.

I would give him a little more credit here. The standard take on this joke is "teenage boys are all horny creepers, so obviously they'll use it to peek in the girls' changing room". I don't remember ever seeing a comedy about a teenage boy with x-ray vision before in which he was massively embarrassed by its very existence and trying to avoid looking at anyone, ever, even though that's exactly how I would have reacted.

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Przemek 5 months ago

Good point! "Smallville" was one of the shows that made the basic x-ray vision joke (as well as the "his laser eyes set things on fire when he's horny" one) and I always thought that it's a symptom of their biggest mistake: turning Clark Kent into a jock. The character is effortlessly confident by default - why would you lean into that when the whole fun of doing "teenage Superman" is obviously to contrast his godlike powers with teenage akwardness?

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David Moran 5 months ago

"With great power must come..."

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Citizen Alan 5 months ago

I was always struck by the Harmony Shoal thing, since it obviously hints at a River Song connection and it ends with them escaping and infiltrating UNIT. I wondered if Moffat was laying some sort of groundwork for a future arc just in case Chibnall got hit by a bus or something and the BBC somehow forced him to come back for another season.

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Przemek 5 months ago

I don't think so. It feels more like the classic "the end... or is it?" trope. It fits with the superhero genre where the defeated villains always eventually come back to wreak havoc again.

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Leslie L 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Maybe that's why they decided to defund Unit this year.

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Emily 5 months ago

I am both very excited and a little apprehensive to read your essays on S10. I'm new to this site, having been linked to it from some S11 reviews, and have since devoured almost all of the Eruditroum. I find your essays incredible informative and useful in bringing new perspectives to my attention.

I had a fractious relationship with Doctor Who for a few years - having become a fan when I sat down to watch "Rose" at 12 years old, I then became an active fandom member during S3, spending every evening on OutpostGallifrey, and my love for the show peaked with S5/early parts of S6. After that though, I started to feel a bit disillusioned. My dissatisfaction (at the time) with the later parts of S6, S7 and most of S8, made me fall out of love with the show a little bit, and though I thought S9 was a very good bit of television, it didn't pull me back in. I didn't even watch "Doctor Mysterio" when it aired.

This is an overly long way of saying that I love S10. I love Bill, I love her professor-student relationship with 12, I love Missy and her arc, I love Nardole, I love the in-your-face anti-authority, anti-capitalist edge to the season - I even kind of love the bloody Monk trilogy. It reignited my love for the show and brought me back into the fandom, got me to rewatch the Capaldi years and appreciate their brilliance, got me to watch more classic Who than ever before. To me, this is not just Moffat's late style, but Moffat's second peak. I get why S9 is recognised as Capaldi's best season, but for me it's S10.

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Daru 5 months ago

It’s an odd one for me this one. It has been ages since I watched it, and though it is quite slight, I do remember it being sort of fun. I think I enjoyed that they didn’t do the MCU comedy, and I guess I did like elements such as the Mr Huffle scenes, the babysitting fun and Capaldi and Nardole.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 5 months ago

Your characterisation of series 10 as a Moffat footnote would make sense if it didn't have the amazing World Enough and Time.

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Steven Mollmann 4 months, 3 weeks ago

The things I think is weird but fun about "Mysterio" is that it mostly seems to be riffing on the 1980s Superman films... and those WERE pretty farcical at times, especially Superman III. Why Moffat decided that this is the kind of superhero film that needed riffing in the 2010s, I don't know, but I enjoyed it anyway.

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Steven D. Hooper 1 month, 3 weeks ago

was going to make a comment about how a farce focussing on "Clark Kent"'s romantic life is basically Lois & Clark, but I see other people have already thought of that...

(Do I recall correctly that DWM had a mockup Lucy & Grant logo?)

He makes the “teenage x-ray vision” jokes you’d expect him to, and they’re as lame as you’d expect them to be.

I would give him a little more credit here. The standard take on this joke is "teenage boys are all horny creepers, so obviously they'll use it to peek in the girls' changing room". I don't remember ever seeing a comedy about a teenage boy with x-ray vision before in which he was massively embarrassed by its very existence and trying to avoid looking at anyone, ever, even though that's exactly how I would have reacted.

Link | Reply

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