Make Me a Warrior Now (A Good Man Goes to War)

(149 comments)

In this image, Clara is not cleverly disguised as a light, but
rather as a restoration field.
It’s June 4th, 2011. Pitbull and several other people are at number one with “Give Me Everything,” with Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, LMFAO, and Bruno Mars also charting. In news, the Arab Spring rolls on through its increasingly grim summer as civil war breaks out in Libya and grows progressively closer in Syria, with NATO forces helping out in Libya. Congressman Anthony Weiner finds himself embroiled in exactly the sort of scandal you should avoid with that surname. And World IPv6 day takes place. Rock on.

Meanwhile, on television, it’s Doctor Who’s first midseason finale. As we said, in his last season finale, Moffat took the structure of narrative collapse to its breaking point. Instead of averting the collapse, he let it happen in its entirety: the Doctor was locked in an inescapable prison, the TARDIS exploded, Amy was dead, and the universe ended. And then he built up a new story in its place. With A Good Man Goes to War, he fully realizes this approach, creating the definitive narrative technique of his tenure - what I will call narrative substitution. 

Where narrative collapse is based on threatening the basic functioning of a narrative structure so that further storytelling becomes impossible and then averting the collapse and reaffirming the structure, narrative substitution works by initially appearing to tell one type of story, and then rejecting that story, typically on ethical or ideological grounds, generally by revealing that the story was in fact an entirely different type of story all along. In hindsight The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang is an example of narrative substitution where the first narrative is rejected via an unaverted narrative collapse. But with A Good Man Goes to War we get a much more straightforward and pure example of narrative substitution - in many ways, in fact, the definitive one.

This is, in one sense, the big problem with it. In reality, A Good Man Goes to War is a savagely, furiously angry story. It indulges audience expectations for nearly its entire length before not only frustrating them, but damning them. Moffat will use the structure of narrative substitution again, but he will never again do it with quite this gusto. His future narrative substitutions are textual games that assume an audience who is on the lookout for the substitution and carefully watching the shells as they are cycled about the table. But this one is a trap - one that baldly tries to lure the audience into a specific misreading of the story just to turn around and punish them for doing so. It is angry and cynical in a way that not even Robert Holmes ever quite managed. Holmes could be masterfully petulant, yes, but when he wrote a story out of spite it was always a case of following the brief perfectly so as to expose the stupidity of it, audience be damned. But this is a story about satisfying supposed audience expectations, giving people exactly what they say they want, only to rip it away and condemn them for wanting it.

It is, in other words, not a story that should have gotten an AI of 88. Not because it isn’t good - it is, for my money, one of Moffat’s finest hours. But it is not populist. It is the one time in the whole of the Moffat era that he offers something that is truly abrasive and difficult. This is his Love and Monsters, only where that story was a well-meaning story that simply proved a bit too strange for people, this one is actually designed to be polarizing. And instead, cruelly, everybody loved it, completely missing the point. In most cases the claim that the Moffat era is too confusing is, in fact, easily refuted by the millions of people who clearly enjoy and understand it. But here we have a story that appears too smart for its audience.

It was, of course, always a risk. A Good Man Goes to War advertises itself as little more than a massively popular cliche. The hero who will “rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further,” the dark, final, apocalyptic conflict, ominous poetry, all that jazz. And, of course, at it’s heart, one of the most enduring cliches in popular culture: the hero driven to do vast and terrible things because someone has hurt his woman.

The body of criticism over this trope is vast. At its core, this is a trope about sexual violence. It is always male heroes defending or avenging terrible things that have happened to women. Often it is explicitly rape and murder, but other times, as in A Good Man Goes to War, it is a more symbolic sort of sexual violence. But there is, in the end, no mistaking what this story is. Amy’s bodily autonomy has been egregiously violated, and in a way that is consciously and adamantly sexual. Any hints of ambiguity here, and I cannot see where any such hints would come from in the first place, are surely thoroughly shattered by the time Amy’s baby is taken a second time, exploding into an all too suggestive milky whiteness. 

No, let’s not allow the mild sanitizing required to make the story child-appropriate is anything other than what it is. This is a story in which Amy is raped, and the Doctor does terrible things to avenge her. It is an old story in his regard - the man defending a woman’s honor. It is obvious to point out, but this is necessarily a story about the objectification of women. The woman in the story is simply a prop - an object to be abused by the villain, and acted on behalf of by the hero. She has no agency. In many stories of this ilk she’s not even alive for much of the story, serving only as a beautiful thing whose destruction serves as motivation for the hero’s tale. She is in every sense the hero’s woman - a piece of property. 

Instead the story is about men, and the angst of men. Their pain when their women are defiled, and the awful, cruel things that are their duty. Night will fall and drown the sun, when a good man goes to war. Friendship dies and true love lies, night will fall and the dark will rise, when a good man goes to war. These are old stories, harkening to an understanding of heroism and nobility as essentially hereditary traits. They are stories of kings and princesses. They hail from a vision of the world as something that can be owned and ruled, and of one that says that certain types of people deserve to do just that. Men, of course. Specifically white ones. They are not the entire western tradition of narrative, of course, but they are a substantial part of it. These stories run through our entire culture, appearing in our very oldest books. They are fairy tales, and myths, and legends.

They are loathsome, vile things.

And yet they are popular. Insidiously so. And everything about A Good Man Goes to War suggests that this is exactly the sort of story that Moffat means to tell - a vast and terrifying epic culminating in a major revelation regarding Moffat’s mythos: the true identity of River Song. The story is structured around anticipation - it’s telling that the Doctor doesn’t even appear until nineteen minutes into the episode. His triumphant arrival is withheld precisely to amp the audience up. Similarly, the story continually threatens to be something altogether bigger and more troubling - on three separate occasions it deliberately sets up the possibility that the Doctor, not Rory, is Melody’s father. This would be the most epic outcome - the one that most fits with the blood-soaked aesthetic that the story is playing at. But it’s an unrealizable threat - one that is flirted with by the story’s structure, but that is self-consciously ridiculous - indeed, it would constitute a narrative collapse. And yet the story is aware that there is a tacit desire for it to be exactly that. It does not threaten a narrative collapse so much as it seduces the audience towards one, playing on a destructive desire for a massive, violent epic - for the most gun story ever devised, to return to the old gun/frock dualism of the wilderness years.

And yet throughout all of it there are hints of the story’s true nature. The Doctor’s great moment of anger consists of renaming Colonel Manton as Colonel Run Away. But this is nothing more than a schoolchild’s insult, right down to the choice of wording. It is petty, even bullying and mean, but it is not the cruelty of a warrior. It is the cruelty of the giddy child who plays airplanes as the Spitfires attack the asteroid base. The Doctor does not belong in this sort of story, and that is obvious throughout. 

And so it is telling that when the story finally does kill a female character just to provide angst and motivation to the Doctor, the message is not “become a warrior” at all. Indeed, it is the opposite motivation - Lorna’s death serves as the point where the Doctor as a figure of war finally breaks down entirely. And, crucially, it breaks down not because of her death (Dorium and Strax are, after all, already dead by this point) but because of the cruel misunderstanding involved in her character: the belief that the Doctor is a warrior, and that this sort of story is where he belongs. 

There is, as with much of the Moffat era, a lot of repetition within this story. The question of what the Doctor’s name means is, of course, a major theme, but it’s also worth noting that Lorna’s primary memory of the Doctor - running - is also a key phrase from River’s debut back in the library. Forest of the Dead, in fact, was originally to be titled River’s Run, and one of River’s last lines is, of course, “You and me, time and space. You watch us run.” And now, of course, the one thing the Doctor can think of to reminisce over with Lorna, who he doesn’t even remember, is running: “Hey, we ran, you and me. Didn't we run, Lorna?” We ought, given that, stop and realize exactly who the demon of Demon’s Run is, and what that name means. And, of course, there are the larger, quieter mythic elements. Ever since The Pandorica Opens there’s been a hint of the Arthurian to this story line, and sure enough, River’s greeting to the Doctor in the end mirrors Morgaine’s greeting to the Brigadier in Battlefield, reinforcing that theme one more time.

But if River’s appearance five minutes from the end serves as the moment in which this narrative of war is rejected, we must also ask exactly why, and in what way. She frames the rejection, first and foremost in terms of its betrayal of the initial premise of the series. And fair enough - her point lands solidly. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to imagine Hartnell’s Doctor doing anything like this. Terrance Dicks wrote an entire book lampooning the absurdity of doing it with Davison’s Doctor. Even in the New Adventures era, where the dark and manipulative nature of the Doctor was foregrounded, nothing like this happened - the Doctor raising an army and explicitly choosing to fight a war. When he finally does, in the Time War, the event is defined by the impossibility of depicting it. Both Eccleston and Tennant’s Doctors die because of how impossible and wrong it is to turn them into this character. 

This much, of course, is obvious. Even the fiercest and most adamant critics of the Moffat era recognize this resolution. But it is also a terribly milquetoast resolution. All that is rejected is the blood and thunder of war. It is still a story about men avenging their women, just one that suggests that maybe they should be a little nicer about it. 

Except that it’s not. Before River even brings up the question of who the Doctor is and what all this war is about, after all, she addresses Amy. “ I know you're not all right. But hold tight,” she says, “because you're going to be.” It is the first time in the episode, in fact, that anyone meaningfully tries to comfort Amy. The Doctor tries, for a moment, but all he offers is that he’s sorry - he says nothing to her that isn’t ultimately still about himself. It’s only River that finally acknowledges the very basic fact that Amy is now, by any reasonable standard, a rape survivor, and that this fact means that there are real and genuine wounds for her.

And then, of course, the revelation of River’s identity. It takes place over Melody’s cradle, which is, of course, the Doctor’s. The camera lies to us, initially - stressing the point by focusing on the writing on the side, which is presumably the Doctor’s name, then cutting to Amy as she stares at the cot, trying to figure out what’s going on, giving the impression that the revelation of River’s identity in some way concerns the Doctor’s name. The trick, of course, is that it does.

If we are to do a Doctor Who story about the companion getting raped - and by this point in the narrative that ship has sailed - we must ask what it is we want the Doctor to do. It is not, clearly, to burn everything in his path in a furious attack on her abusers. It is not to salt the earth and to take awful vengeance upon the evildoers. But what, then, is it? This is not an incidental question, after all. As obscene as the typical cultural narrative that treats rape as primarily an occasion for men to angst and take vengeance is, this does not erase rape as a thing that happens in our world. It is perfectly reasonable to ask our stories to engage with that fact. So what, then, do we want a Doctor Who story about rape to be?

If the Doctor’s name means anything, it is that in a story about a woman who is raped he will be the figure who helps her to heal. If there is to be a Doctor Who story about rape then that story has to be one that is about the victim. It has to be one about her agency and her identity. One in which she is not an object, and more to the point one that rejects the entire ideology that would treat her as one. A Doctor Who story about rape isn’t about vengeance, but reparation. And that, of course, is what River offers. Amy is not all right, but she will be. The horrible things that have happened to her cannot be undone. Not with a magic wand, and not with an army. But she can heal. She can have her daughter, and love her. 

That is the message of A Good Man Goes to War. Not that the Doctor should not go to war, but rather that, in the face of the ugly and horrible cultural narrative of sexual violence, the Doctor’s place is as an entirely different sort of hero. And so the entire narrative of the epic season finale is looked at and rejected in favor of a story about a woman who suffers a trauma that the luckiest of us are unable to imagine, and that the rest of us can never forget, and who survives, and heals, and gets better.

It may be the single most important story that Moffat has ever written. For all that it is overlooked and misunderstood as being, in essence, the exact story it is critical of, it is the Moffat story that has the most potential to do real and material good in the world. It takes up a horribly real issue, and tells a story about it that is not told often enough, but that is the single most important story that can be told to survivors. And I genuinely believe that. I have zero doubt whatsoever that there are survivors of rape and assault who look at this storyline and draw strength from it. I genuinely believe that Moffat, with A Good Man Goes to War, has written a story that has reached out and actually, properly helped people heal and grieve and move on and live.


This is not the best Doctor Who story ever made. But it is, I think, the one that most embodies what the program is for: looking at the stories we tell, and turning their base and leaden nature into radiant gold.

Comments

Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm sorry but you've done it again. I know I'm going to get shouted at for this, but please indulge me. "This is a story in which Amy is raped."

Can somebody please answer me this one question and I'll go away.

Who was Amy raped by?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh and it's Dorium not Dorian.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Don't go away - I was about to post the same thing, I was just trying to think of the best way to say it. And perhaps just doing it bluntly is the best way. "Rape" gets used too freely on this blog as a stand-in for the wider topic of violence against women - an example that springs to mind is, Charley does actually get raped in Creed of the Kromon whereas she doesn't in Neverland, yet they are both referred to as sci-fi rape.

The odd thing here is that I agree with almost everything regarding the consequences. Amy does have her bodily autonomy taken away from her. It's just it happens after she has happy, wholly consensual sex with the man she loves and conceives a child. Calling it "rape" is inaccurate, and distracts from the real, meaningful point about the message.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

Wow. It's hard to think up a worthy follow-up to that essay that isn't simply to stand and applaud.

But I'll try. And the only way I can think to do it is to touch on another, less important, aspect of A Good Man Goes to War. The way I see it, there's another problem that Steven Moffat is using this story to remediate - a concern he seems to have had since his very first piece of published Doctor Who.

In Continuity Errors Moffat includes a joke about how there was some debate over the translation of the Daleks' name for the Doctor - that it was either 'bringer of darkness' or 'nice guy, if you're a biped'. Now it doesn't take a work of genius to point out that the Doctor's televised allies are almost entirely human or human-in-appearance (or to recognise that this problem is an inherent part of the production realities of the series). The genius, for me, in the way Moffat chose to solve this problem: you simply start your story at a point where it has already been solved. Brazenly act like it has always been that way and hope everyone goes along with it because everyone wants the show to be like that.

In one fell swoop the Doctor's circle of friends expands to include a Silurian, a Sontaran and an old, fat and blue space merchant. Yes, we have seen many friendly aliens in the past - but rarely any alien friends. Aliens who function as protagonists. Aliens who play a significant role in the Doctor's life, and who lead significant lives of their own. Aliens who can delight children as hosts of the Doctor Who Proms rather than scare them as props.

A Good Man Goes to War introduces these characters so matter-of-factly and economically, it almost tricks you into believing they were already part of the Doctor Who mythos and you just missed the episodes where they were introduced. And significantly each of the three had appeared before, but in antagonistic roles - further hammering the point home that the Doctor's enemies and the Doctor's friends cannot be distinguished by appearance alone.* A point I was so happy to see the show finally embrace.

Now if only there was a way to have the Doctor befriend a Dalek or Cyberman....


*(Yes, okay, they're all still bipeds...but when the day comes where the production team can realise a formless amoeba as a recurring character the groundwork has been laid.)

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Multiple Ducks 3 years, 7 months ago

She was interfered with against her will by Madame Kovarian, the eye-patch lady.

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Daniel Tessier 3 years, 7 months ago

I disagree. While what happens to Amy isn't literally, physically rape, she is violated in a comparable, sexualised way. It is not rape, per se, but an equivalent that can be portrayed (in its aftermath, at least) on primetime family television.

As for who rapes her: perhaps that is taking the equivalence too far. Arguably it is Madame Kovarian who is the perpetrator, and having a woman be the 'rapist' is an unusual take. However, it is more the entire organisation of the church army (another controversial element in that is depicted, later at least, as a faction of the church that is capable of perpetrating these crimes) that is the symbolic rapist.

I'd add that I see nothing wrong at all with the notion of a man being enraged by the violation of a female friend (I'd hesitate to use the term 'his woman' in this context). However, how he acts on that, and responds to it, is indeed more questionable.

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Daniel Tessier 3 years, 7 months ago

"when the day comes where the production team can realise a formless amoeba as a recurring character the groundwork has been laid."

I already have my favourite sentence for the day.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I think this is what I have issue with. This story is a complicated one. Yes a crime has been committed, but one needs to ensure that the crime has been correctly assessed and blame apportioned. Blithely calling it "rape" (or even "a form of rape") appears to simply shoehorn it into a well-worn and well-meaning (but possibly dangerously inappropriate) area where we all know the procedure and we know how to behave.

Except we don't. Amy's treatement, while horrific, is unusual and unique, and her feelings about this are also going to be unusual and unique. For a start in standard rape cases the mother's ambiguous feelings towards the resultant child need to be addressed. This does not apply in this case. Melody is the product of the union of two loving parents. Treating her as the result of a violation is wrong, and risks Amy seeing her that way. Secondly the sexual act itself was also consensual and loving, and between Amy and her husband. Tying that in with the concept of rape risks colouring Amy's attitude towards future relations with Rory.

I wll agree that this is a terrible crime, but calling it Rape is almost lazy, as it doesn't address the uniqueness of the crime and therefore the uniqueness of Amy's feelings towards what happened to her.

The Doctor and Rory (and possibly everyone else in this story, with the noteable exception of River) do appear to make this mistake, and in some ways treat this as a Rape. - although in their defence at other times they do also treat it as a Rescue, which it definitely is. They can be forgiven, as in the terms of the story they have an emotional involvement.

However we as commentators and reviewers don't have this involvement and so should view the story a bit more dispassionately. Much as we want to jump in and shout "Rape!" perhaps we should simply say "Violation" in a firmer but not so hystrionic tone.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

And the very next season gives us Handles and Clara! Brilliant!

There's a terrible part of me that always wanted to see a, for lack of a better term, "good" dalek as a side character. Not a companion, by any measure, but as part of some side-story featuring a rag-tag bunch of misfits where one of them happens to be a Dalek with no particular drive to EX-TER-MIN-ATE. Maybe a defective one that didn't get exterminated at the plant due to a paperwork mix-up, or one of the experimental first generation Daleks Davros was tinkering with, I dunno.

As I write this, I become more and more aware I'm describing R2-D2. So, yeah. I just want R2-D2 as a Dalek, I guess.

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Jarl 2 years ago

Reaching back through time and space and blogging platforms to add that the refugee street in Sleep No More would have been an ideal venue for this idea. Grumpy, slightly racist pub owner or stereotypical shouting police lieutenant demanding the judoon detective turn in his badge, then the screen flickers and reveals it's a Dalek under the disguise.

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Jarl 2 years ago

*in Face the Raven.

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Verblet 3 years, 7 months ago

It's been an interesting journey, reading this blog.

I've nodded, agreed, cheered, laughed, and (almost) cried. I've dismissed, re-evaluated, demystified, enjoyed, and disliked episodes more because of your analysis.

However as you journey further into the Moffat era, and for the first time, I feel as if we are watching different shows. Entirely different shows that share a series of colourful shapes and sounds in the same order, and nothing more.

I've been mulling over this post for a while, but I'm no a writer, so I may resort to some cheap bullet points to help me communicate.

First of all, as a concession (and needed insulation for my wonky arguments) let me reject one of the primary anti-Moffat moans:

"The show is too complicated", "None of the resolutions make sense". The first one is patronising bullshit that flies in the face of quantifiable evidence that show is still popular. As for the second, well as a show seemingly designed to confound and annoy the kind of cult TV viewer who enjoys Lost-influenced narratives, I can almost admire Moffat's take on Who because f*ck those people.

The problem is… Well for a start Narrative Substitution seems to rely on the idea that you can tell Nasty Story Type A, a horribly misogynistic, blood soaked, revelation-driven, characterless arc for 95% of your time on screen, and then switch to Nice Story Type B (positive, peaceful, character-driven, and laced with themes on social justice), for the last 5% and reverse/reveal the true nature of your story.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that most of the audience have taken in Nice Story Type B in the same way I don’t think a majority of the millions of viewers of torture-apologist machothriller 24 see it as a harsh critique of the intelligence operations. There is a big part of this that relies on the authorial intent of Moffat as well. I think arguing intent is close to meaningless, because putting Nasty Story Type A into a culture where Nasty Story Types are transparently absorbed without criticism (that being rape culture) will always overshadow any attempt to undermine it at the *ahem* eleventh hour. It sounds very much like having your meatloaf and claiming vegetarianism because you secretly ate a nut roast. Nobody saw the nut roast mate, they saw you under a huge sign reading ‘MEAT LOAF IS GOOD FOR YOU”.

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Verblet 3 years, 7 months ago

Now that you’re thinking about meat loaf, let me segue amateurishly towards thoughts and questions about AGMGTW. And those aforementioned bullet-points:

* Like all Marxist writers I will defer responsibility for my thoughts with a quote (meaning if you have a problem with it, go to Jack Graham).
“Yes, it might be an admirable thing to show a woman who, having been violated with an unwanted pregnancy and birth, only to have her baby stolen from her, were shown as living past such trauma and refusing to allow it to define her… if we were ever given any real sense that the experience had been traumatic for her” ~ Jack Graeme on this very blog.
This is a crux of my problem with Moffat’s implementation of Narrative Substitution. Precisely because this episode, like so many others, gets tied up in the first part of the substitution we’re left with no time (or Moffat has no inclination) to show much of this ‘better story’. Amy doesn’t react to any of these events, not in the way we are asked to gawk and fuss over every one of the Doctor’s incomprehensible mood changes. This is simply the sketchy nature of Amy’s characterisation post Amy’s Choice being used as ‘evidence’. She does nothing, so that’s better that doing something woefully cliched and sexist. No.

* This entire episode was trailed and built around the reveal of River’s identity. The main discussion and fallout from it was that reveal, its meaning, and how it was handled. Was the substitution a success if nobody noticed it? You mention this yourself but say that means ‘this episode was smarter than the people who watched it’. No it means the episode was a colossal failure.

* You’ve brought up a single line between River and Amy as evidence of the narrative switch. That is wholly unconvincing to me. What makes this line more prominent than the dozens that re-enforce that this is about the Doctor and Rory’s avengening?

* How do you balance your belief in this and other Moffat story lines as being positive, broadly pro-Women, even ‘feminist’ (although I don’t think you’ve never claimed this word specifically), with what I see as a broadly negative reception from actual feminists? Is there a split within feminist fans that I’m not aware of (see above about arms, sticks, fandom)?

I’m done. If this post does nothing I hope it at least brings the word ‘avengening’ to a wider audience.

(tldr: cool blog bro but seriously wtf #smh)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

In fact the "violation" consisted mainly of three things:
1. Keeping her unconscious
2. Keeping her imprisoned
3. Taking her baby away once it was born

Each of these on their own involved no bodily violation whatsoever. Amy was not interfered with sexually in any way. But when we put the three together somehow the sum becomes greater than the parts, and a sexually-oriented violation appears to have taken place. It's interesting how this flags up in our collective conscious as a sexually-motivated act, removing Amy's autonomy, even though the main result of the whole business (pregnancy and birth of a child) is completely independent and would have happened anyway.

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arcbeatle 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you so much for this. This is everything I have been trying to explain at and failing, shaking and angry often, when trying to explain why I see the Moffat era as not only feminist, but life saving.

Because I can guarantee you 100% that this storyline helped a rape survivor gain strength and survive.

This is something I hope you'll touch on again in Asylum of the Daleks when you get there... As that episode's compassion towards the continuing bodily and mental problems for a survivor after an assault is not only important, but too often not found in reality and media...

So seriously, thank you. I love this story. It was necessary.

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Burk Diggler 3 years, 7 months ago

"While what happens to Amy isn't literally, physically rape, she is violated in a comparable, sexualised way. It is not rape, per se, but an equivalent that can be portrayed (in its aftermath, at least) on primetime family television."

And histrionic's a pretty sexist term, isn't it?

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

Agreed - being fooled into thinking you're not pregnant and the resulting baby being kidnapped is not rape. It's horrific, but it's not rape.

Could the story be used as a parallel, a metaphor for rape? Yes, but a flawed one as Spacewarp points out immediately above me - and doubtless there are many more flaws and issues with using it as such.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

A 'good' Dalek could be manages in the same way the Shalka Master was: contained, outwardly amiable and even helpful, but scheming and patient nevertheless - with a nice dollop of conflicted loyalty developing over time as a result.

Would love to know where Paul Cornell was planning on taking that character eventually.

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Burk Diggler 3 years, 7 months ago

It's sexualised violence occurring in a narrative structure which, throughout its history, has most commonly involved rape. It's the closest thing Moffat could get to depicting such an awful thing on family television. It's not a far cry to call it rape.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

@ Burk Diggler

And histrionic's a pretty sexist term, isn't it?

You appear to have taken it that way (which is pretty sexist of you, lol), but I meant it in the sense of excessively theatrical or dramatic. No mention of gender there.

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Burk Diggler 3 years, 7 months ago

The word's got a history of being used to oppress women - it's sexist. Calling out sexism isn't sexist, nor will it ever be.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes but I have never used it that way, and I didn't mean it that way here. You are making an assumption that because a word has been used historically (and incorrectly) that that is the way any use of it automatically means (and that I specifically meant it that way). It doesn't, and by asserting this, you are perpetuating this very misuse of the word, as well as oppressing my right to use the word in the correct way as I see fit.

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John Binns 3 years, 7 months ago

On a lighter note. I spent some time after the first broadcast pondering what River meant by (I thought) indicating the writing on the Doctor's cot, and implying it was her name. The answer, surely (in the light of the revelation that the word 'Doctor' comes from the Doctor, and not the other way around) is that this is the word on the cot: 'Doctor'. Why is it River's name? Because they're married; it's her married name. Taking the surname first, she is Doctor Song (as we've often known her, but it's her name, not her title), and he is Doctor Who (obv). Together, they are the Doctors.

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John Binns 3 years, 7 months ago

I think perhaps the reason what happens to Amy seems like sexual violence is that there's a long spell in which the viewer is told she is (in some way) carrying a child but unaware of the fact. The revelation that in fact the problem is not how the child was conceived, but what has happened since (her kidnap and imprisonment, the control of her labour and childbirth, and then the kidnap of Melody) is comparatively rushed, so the feeling of sexual violence about the conception lingers in the viewer's mind. Then of course there's the fact that the control of her labour and childbirth is a horrible violation that could reasonably be classed as sexual (it must, one way or another, involve what in law would be a sexual assault), and this are related briefly but viscerally, with some images that also stick in the mind (in part, I think, because they seem so out of place in Doctor Who).

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

IIRC (it's been a while) the first Amy realizes she's pregnant is when she goes into labor. She thus at no point consented to be pregnant, meaning that her body was deliberately used by the Kovarian faction for a sexual/reproductive purpose without her consent. That's close enough to rape to fall into the same moral category as far as I'm concerned.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

It's a good thing that I don't agree with this reading (at any rate as What It Means rather than as one construction that can be put on the story), because if I did it would make me very angry. Losing a child, in any of the forms that "losing" can take, is just not the kind of event you reduce to a rhetorical instrument. It is, and I quote, a trauma that the luckiest of us are unable to imagine, and that the rest of us can never forget. It is not an image you can exploit as just a metaphor for something else and retain any decency. Sure, the blow is cushioned when it comes by our knowledge that what is going on is not quite as utterly appalling as the image suggests, and only that makes its inclusion in teatime family entertainment feasible - just. But the image is there, and it is gut-wrenching. The suggestion that the truly meaningful thing about seeing a baby snatched from her mother into absence is that the lifeless matter left behind can be said to resemble semen...well, words fail me, or at least words that are not ad hominem. It's white because if Flesh were the obvious colour then that really would be beyond what you could put on screen in such a context. That image is not a metaphor, it is not a symbol, it is a glimpse, screened and softened by its context in the story but still horribly raw, of something truly terrible that is not to be trifled with. If I thought Moffat meant it as a proxy for something else entirely I would lose all patience with him, though I love so much of his work in so many ways, and this episode in particular. I'm uneasy enough about the way that this storyline and its representation from Let's Kill Hitler onwards is sculpted by the functional logic of Doctor Who storytelling as it is.

If you think that Something Utterly Awful Happens To A Woman=Rape then there is a whole ocean of pain out there that you have never seen or smelt.

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Daniel Tessier 3 years, 7 months ago

I think the closest we got to that was Kroton the Cyberman in the eighth Doctor DWM comics.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

histrionic's a pretty sexist term, isn't it?

Are you confusing "histrionic" with "hysteric"? They're not etymologically related.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

Okay this is really going to be a vacuous contribution to the discussion, but something I just noticed is bugging me...

To date, the thumbnails from your out-of-sequence posts have always been from the episode whose position was subsumed. That is not an image from The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang . My mind is already shuffling through the implications, but I'm wary of this being another Victory of the Daleks - where an honest mistake is read as having some deep and significant meaning.

I can't stand the confusion in my mind. Please help.

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Monicker 3 years, 7 months ago

Doesn't she tell the Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut that she's pregnant?

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

It's true that the Doctor and Rory get lots of lines about rescuing Amy (and the Doctor making sure it never happens again), but River gets the summary. Also, the bad guys get what they want.
I presume Phil's argument is not merely based on one line to Amy, but rather that the positioning of the one line to Amy puts River's summary in the right context.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

On a similar note, is this the only essay title taken from something that isn't an episode transmitted on television?
(At some point I'm going to ask somebody to produce a list of where all the episode titles are taken from.)

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

Can I point out explicitly how sexist this entire thread has actually become? Instead of having a genuine conversation about how sexual violence is often depicted in contemporary culture, you're ignoring that broader ethical topic in favour of a technical discussion over whether what happened to Amy was, in a literal sense, rape, or some other form of bodily violation that is kind-of-sort-of bad but not rape.

This misses the entire point about the depiction of rape in the context of a family-oriented sci-fi franchise, and especially a flagship BBC1 television show specifically oriented to a general family viewing audience. Back in the Neverland entry, Phil described what happened to Charley as "sci-fi rape" because her bodily violation is a metaphorical depiction of rape. I think I'm stating the obvious when I say you can't literally depict a rape in the literal sense of all its violent brutality as in films like Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left or Gaspar Noë's Irréversible. (These are the two films with the most brutal rape scenes I can think of from the top of my head, and are also narrative culprits in making the rape a motive for hyper-masculine acts of revenge that are equally brutal.)

So depicting rape in its brutality has to be metaphorical, which is what happens to Amy. When she finally regains consciousness in the Silence's cell, she's absolutely horrified. The last image of The Almost People is Amy screaming in utter fear. She has been held against her will for several months unconscious in a cell no bigger than a coffin where disgustingly invasive medical experiments have been done on her womb. In Asylum of the Daleks, we learn just how physically violent and destructive the Silence was to her, because they completely destroyed her reproductive system. I don't think I need to explain how non-consensual all this was.

In this context, a discussion about how these exact ways of violating a woman's body and spirit deviates from a literal technical definition of what acts precisely constitute rape is morally disgusting and a bunch of you should be ashamed of yourselves.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and while I'm in this mood, the suggestion that anyone who loves this episode without subscribing to The Sandifer Version does so because they receive it as the "massively popular cliché" of "dark, final, apocalyptic conflict, ominous poetry, all that jazz" is toweringly arrogant, grossly insulting and wildly, blitheringly wrong.

The idea the Moffat was making a concerted effort to trick the audience into thinking that that was precisely what they were getting also seems clearly mistaken. Even to someone like me, who tends to just let a story flow over them in the first instance rather than trying to analyse as it goes along, it was made clear throughout that this was a story in which the Doctor was going to end up having the rug pulled out from under him and receiving a stern talking-to (literally, as it turned out) about his behaviour. Starting from the title and going on through the early part of the episode with things like "finally calling in his debts" (cf. "Isn't anyone going to thank me?"), "you can't want me!", "just to make a point!", and with utter deafening unmissability to demolish any lingering uncertainty "then why do they call him the Doctor?" - Moffat was scarcely trying to hide the fact that this was not going to shake out as a story of exultation in great vengeance and furious anger.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

To clarify, that's "literally" about the talking-to. Not about the rug.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

The title for The Time of the Doctor's essay is something that hasn't been transmitted on television ... yet ;)

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

By that logic, when she becomes Professor Song she must have got divorced and then got married again, Burton-Taylor style, to McCoy.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

She tells the Doctor she's pregnant in TIA, but then recants in DotM -- where she seems visibly relieved that she's not pregnant. Regardless, at that point she believes she's not pregnant, so Froborr's point stands: Amy's body is being used for a sexual/reproductive purpose without her consent.

I would call this rape, too. Admittedly it's a more expansive definition than our culture typically admits, but, to be frank, rape culture is always looking to narrow the definition of sexual assault. Amy's been assaulted, treated as nothing more than a vehicle for reproduction, and from her experience forced into pregnancy and childbirth without her consent, all of which is concerned with her sexuality. "Rape" is the perfect word to describe this dynamic, even if she wasn't, technically speaking, fucked against her will.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

And what Adam said.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Ditto.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, it's pretty certain that the decision to make the Flesh white was to give the Gangers in the preceding two-parter that alien look. If the Flesh were pink that would negate a major horror aspect of that story. So both Amy-Ganger and Melody-Ganger deliquesce in an alien and a bloodless pre-watershed way.

The similarity to semen is, I'm sure, entirely coincidental and not something Moffat would consciously do (though I bet it was pointed out to him along the way). Phil's mention of it is I believe a step too far (especially since there is no indication of authorial intent).

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Galadriel 3 years, 7 months ago

I've seen this episode connected with rape before (on Tumblr, actually), but I'm not sure if I agree with the narrative subversion reading of the episode. Even the line "fall so much further" implies that this will not end well, no matter what the Doctor believes.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

The suggestion that the truly meaningful thing about seeing a baby snatched from her mother into absence is that the lifeless matter left behind can be said to resemble semen...well, words fail me, or at least words that are not ad hominem. It's white because if Flesh were the obvious colour then that really would be beyond what you could put on screen in such a context. That image is not a metaphor, it is not a symbol, it is a glimpse, screened and softened by its context in the story but still horribly raw, of something truly terrible that is not to be trifled with.

The image is both "what it is" and a metaphor. Which is true of all images, I think, but especially the images of mythological sources like Doctor Who.

Honestly, I never read it as "semen" but rather as "milk" -- for it's Milk that's been referenced throughout the story, from the Doctor correcting Melody that Amy isn't to be called Big Milk Thing to the Sontaran nurse's claim that he can produce copious amounts of lactic fluid.

For me, "milk" works on a couple levels. First, it suggests that Amy's already lactating, and that's something that won't stop just because her baby is gone. She'll continue to leak milk for a while, and that will be a constant reminder of her loss.

Secondly, though, there's a mythological analogy to be made, specifically that milk symbolizes the Elixir of Life, the "boon" of the Heroic Journey. Melody has been explicitly rendered as "milk" here, and her return at the end of the story is as a boon to our heroes, providing a moment of hope and grace in the hour of their darkest tragedy. She returns as the Survivor who provides proof that healing is possible, blowing into the world on a Leaf, a token of the World Tree that connects Above and Below, Past and Future, into the Here and Now. River is the woman who implores the man who could rewrite any part of her life not to change a single line of her story, which is really the only kind of Acceptance that we who are destined to walk the Slow Path can ever really achieve.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

And where exactly does this leave Rory? Her body was used for a sexual/reproductive purpose without her consent and was he nothing more than the unwitting tool of Kovarian's fiendish plan? No. She took part in a consensual sexual act with her husband, with a perfectly normal (though unexpected) outcome - conception. With her consent.

She was then abducted and subjected to confinement for the purposes of having her child stolen. Not for the purpose of being impregnated. This had already been done. Consensually.

The term "rape" may be the only thing we've got, but in some ways it is inadquate. Not wrong. But inadequate. The trauma Amy goes through is something that has no parallel in our understanding. The closest I can come to it is someone rushed into hospital with stomach pains who then gives birth, completely unsuspecting they were ever pregnant. If that child was then taken away by a totalitarian regime we might have some inkling of how Amy might feel.

My wariness of the "Rape" tag is for Amy's status as a victim and that status overflowing to encompass the father (who was not the perpetrator) and the child (who unusually for this situation was not the result of the violation, but another victiom) You could argue that Melody is more of a victim since Amy loses her child but Melody loses both her parents. This is where I see "rape" as too simplistic. If Amy were a real person in a real situation, she would need a unique level of help for a unique kind of trauma.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 7 months ago

When she finally regains consciousness in the Silence's cell, she's absolutely horrified. The last image of The Almost People is Amy screaming in utter fear. She has been held against her will for several months unconscious in a cell no bigger than a coffin where disgustingly invasive medical experiments have been done on her womb.

Amy is not merely screaming in fear in that scene. She is restrained with her legs spread, naked from the waist down, as an enemy approaches between her legs.

I don't think that leaves any ambiguity as to who, exactly is responsible for violating Amy, and it certainly isn't Rory. It also contrasts sharply with the physical intimacy we routinely see between Amy and Rory, where it is clear that their sexual relationship is mutual and enjoyed by both.

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Tallifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Amy was not raped by Rory. Amy's baby was kidnapped by the Silence. Most people are sufficiently horrified when a child is stolen not to confuse the two abominable crimes. The Doctor is honour bound to rescue Amy and her child, and he continues to strive to do so and to avenge her as well after this story. Lorna died bravely giving her life to help the Doctor in his noble cause. Whenever the Doctor runs, it is not as a coward but as a symbolic part of his alternative way of fighting against the monsters of the universe. He mobilized the Thals against the Daleks, UNIT against Earth's invaders, the Shobogans and Timelords against the Vardans and Sontarans and the populace against the Sunmakers.

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Shining Blitz 3 years, 7 months ago

Night of the Doctor was aired on BBC America on Christmas 2013 as an "extended cut" of Day of the Doctor.

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Marionette 3 years, 7 months ago

The real jarring note for me in Asylum of the Daleks is that the Doctor just leaves Oswin to her fate once he realises that she is a Dalek. Which made me think how much I'd love to see the story where the Doctor goes back for her and she then becomes his companion for a while; the traditional cute girl sidekick, only she's a Dalek.

I was almost tempted to commit fanfiction.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 7 months ago

The trauma Amy goes through is something that has no parallel in our understanding.

No parallel? I'm reminded of the notorious Magdalene Laundries, in which a strict religious order enslaved and abused so-called "fallen women".

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Wm Keith 3 years, 7 months ago

John, I like this. I M Forman becomes a delightfully Seussian mission statement: "For man am I". (NB - it's not a question. There is no question mark in Doctor Who.)

And River Song, being the Doctor and also very much between the Doctor's twelfth and vinyl regenerations", is clearly also the Valeyard.

Now I'm glad you asked me why the Smith-Capaldi regeneration is the "vinyl" regeneration. It's because 14 regenerations is a record.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Suddenly, I'm having flashbacks to the Buffy episode where Faith switched bodies with Buffy and then had consensual sex with Riley (who was unaware of the switch). The Usenet group went completely aflame over hair-splitting arguments as to whether anyone involved had been raped and if so who had raped whom.

Also, as BerserkRL indicated, "hysterical" is a sexist term as it derives from archaic (and debunked) beliefs about female sexual dysfunctions. "Histrionic" is a gender neutral term referring to one who is overacting relative to the situation.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Well in his defense, the plot only gave them a very limited time to escape the planet, and Oswin, who was the only one who could lower the forcefield to help them escape, was barely holding on to her humanity and resisting the urge to Exterminate.

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Verblet 3 years, 7 months ago

River also gets a lot of the "And lo, it was a really important day for the Doctor" lines as well. It is still one comment, and not even the final comment, which of course get's given to plot revelation. I didn't even remember it until reading this post. It does not redeem or reverse episode after episode where Amy's body is a 'problem' for men to solve.

It would be arrogant to try and re-write this episode in a blog comment, but I would be open to Phil's reasoning here if any of the following had happened in AGMGTW:

* Amy had shown any agency in saving herself or her child.
* River had shown any agency is rescuing her child self, or her mother (but she is of course unable to interfere because 'destiny/causality')
* The Doctor had truly, totally failed to save or avenge Amy, or the idea of 'avenging' was shown to be an antithesis to the show.

As it stands AGMGTW shows the Doctor getting his revenge fantasy lived out, succeeds partially, buggers off to continue it, while having unexplored thoughts/concerns about his nature as a warrior. Amy, her child, and her body, are tools to this end from start to finish.

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D. N. Tostenson 3 years, 7 months ago

I just would point out that there may be a contentious understanding of rape or violation/revenge stories: We are told that in such stories, "(the woman) has no agency. In many stories of this ilk she’s not even alive for much of the story, serving only as a beautiful thing whose destruction serves as motivation for the hero’s tale. She is in every sense the hero’s woman - a piece of property." Now, consider any standard story of this type. Now, imagine that *instead of* a woman being raped or killed, a literal piece of the hero's property is desecrated or destroyed. Imagine, for instance, that the hero goes on a violent, vengeful rampage in response to the shattering of his favorite Faberge egg, or the destruction of his beloved car. There *are* such stories, of course. And the audience is expected to view the protagonist's actions in a very, very different light than in a standard rape-revenge story-- right? We are invited to see that the protagonist in those types of story is clearly bonkers, that *things,* *property,* cannot possibly justify that kind of retaliation. Violating a woman is supposed to be seen as something much, much more horrible, something that would on some intuitive level justify horrific retaliation. Now, point taken that such stories are written from a male perspective (aside from some interesting inversions, such as "I Spit on Your Grave," or "Ms. 45"), but even so, as narratives they only read the way they do because the audience is expected to recognize that the violation of the hero's wife/daughter/lover is an act of moral depravity much more serious than damaging his property.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I think Adam said everything that needs saying about this thread of conversation, and would politely ask that it not carry on further.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Honest mistake - was knackered last night when I queued this up.

And no, it's not the only essay title taken from something that isn't an episode transmitted on television - I can think of at least one more. Though I don't remember everything, and I may well have done it elsewhere as well.

In other news, I accidentally recycled a post title a while back. Nobody noticed. Amusingly, I can't remember what, nor can I find the error again myself. Wonder if I quietly fixed it.

Also, I'd like to thank Lewis for being the first person to comment on that. I hope you also appreciated the bit in the commentary that makes reference to the same thing.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, but I think that fall is part of the usual logic. The fall isn't "you shouldn't have been so violent" - as I said, the dark and terrible things men do in stories like this are a common trope. "Fall so much further" sounds like we're headed into The Dark Knight.

We actually end up somewhere very different instead.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Could someone explain the Time of the Doctor title then please?

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

But this one is a trap - one that baldly tries to lure the audience into a specific misreading of the story just to turn around and punish them for doing so.

Doesn't this seem even slightly unfair?

I mean, I for one really never expect the Doctor to strap on a couple of holsters and step out into the noonday sun for a shootout. That's not my Doctor and never has been. Yet Moffat's vision of the Doctor is a guy we're all supposed to assume is a capital-B Badass -- see "Silence/Forest," "Waters of Mars" (arguably), "Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone," "Pandorica/Bang," and now this -- and we're promised that this is hubris and we'll see it punctured. I have to agree with Verblet that we spend a lot of time seeing the hubris and not a lot of time seeing it punctured. Meanwhile I'm over here going "no, man, I watched the classic series, let me know when you're ready to write that guy again," and I feel like he's instead talking to someone else. That either this arc isn't for me, or it isn't about what it says it's about.

The gesturing toward a fall -- and I know you've said in the comments it's not what we think it is, but I'm not smart enough to guess what you mean -- always struck me as just a gesture. The scene where the Doctor and River were back to back shooting Silents seemed to be where Moffat's heart really was; he talked a good game (that "he carries a screwdriver and has two hearts" speech) but in the end he was mostly falling victim to the same violent fantasies you're giving him credit for undermining. I'd like to think you're right but I'm not sure I see it yet.

I also find myself wondering what would happen if we'd taken one complication out of the story. Suppose Rory had been kidnapped instead, and the Doctor had raised an army to rescue him. Would we be able to make moral judgments about male revenge fantasies if it had just been a story about a man sparing no expense to rescue his friend? Would we reach the same conclusions? If it's less okay to tell a story about a man aggressively rescuing a woman than about a man aggressively rescuing his platonic male friend, what does that tell us?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

That we live in a culture of entrenched and systemic sexism such that one feeds into an established and destructive trope and the other is actually kind of novel, mainly.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I'll also seed any discussion we might want to have about some of the other things that happened in this episode, quite a big one for the C-word*:

- The "Thin Fat Gay Anglican Married Marines." To this day I can't decide if I love that or hate it.

- Three new companions: Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.

- Two Doctors spent River's birthday with her. Which ones? And the question we all need an answer to: did the Doctor have a threesome with himself?

- Apparently you can become a (partial?) Time Lord by gestating in the TARDIS. This is a pretty momentous and fascinating revelation all on its own. I would love to see that one mined for symbolism/myth.


* Continuity. Or canon, if you like.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Sure. The basic rule for titles is that they're quotes from the Doctor, but not from the Doctor of the story in question, although I occasionally get cheeky. For the first and last stories of a given Doctor, the quote further comes from the eligible story that's immediately adjacent to it. So The Tenth Planet is titled with a quote from Power of the Daleks, and Power of the Daleks is titled with a quote from The Tenth Planet.

So Time of the Doctor has a similar constraint: there's only one story it can draw its title from. Unfortunately...

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I suppose we get a taste of both in The Iliad, depending on how you read Achilles' relationship with Patroklus.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

* Amy shows agency in saving herself: she asks Lorna for her gun, and she arms herself in self-defense when someone bangs loudly on the door during the siege. She tells Rory to let the others die first, affirming her relationship priorities. She actually takes up a gun to get River to explain what the hell is going on with some clarity.

* River's agency is demonstrated in her acceptance of the life she's led, that despite all the horror she's experienced she's still come out as someone who's strong, self-assured, and powerful. This, I'd argue, is quite feminist and quite empowering as in the real world survivors don't have the opportunity to go back in time and stop it from happening. To go beyond survivorship into a place that's no longer defined by victimhood not only rocks, it's beautiful.

* The Doctor fails utterly here. He doesn't prevent Amy from being abducted, experimented on, forced through childbirth, or having her child stolen from her. After the trap is sprung and all is lost, when the Doctor approaches Amy to comfort her, she rejects him. Furthermore, the idea of "avenging" Amy is shown to be flawed, as it's this impulse that Kovarian exploits to spring her trap.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

I got the impression that gestating in the TARDIS just gave river the potential to be a Time Lord...that the modifications and experiments implied to have taken place on Demon's Run were what ascended her into true Time Ladyship.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I just checked the transcripts and you're quite right -- good call! There were some other very interesting lines in there I'd forgotten. I may have to watch this again soon, and probably shut up about it in the meantime (when has that ever happened?!). :)

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Dave 3 years, 7 months ago

Hate it, probably. Vastra and Jenny won the likeable couple award in this one, and managed the normalization of queerness thing far more deftly than the TFGAMM (far more deftly than several later instances of themselves as well--here they're written in a vibrantly understated way, later episodes/minisodes started to do that "IT'S A BIG DEAL THAT THIS ISN'T A BIG DEAL, WHERE'S MY COOKIE" thing).

The Marines go for the hamfisted liberal political statement right off the bat, where "liberal" is as usual a term of abuse from me. The point is very much that they're members of the church and the military (we can get into the idea of a military church at Time of Angels, but for now note that their aesthetics are specifically those of a professional Western military in a Middle Eastern imperial war), and also, gay. All of the tropes of contemporary respectability politics are present--gay people too can be part of these two particular repressive organizations, and live as a proper bourgeois monogamous couple, and they're identifiably middle-class white men to boot. This is everything we'd like to critique about the reduction of queer liberation to "gay marriage" in the public discourse, in one place. Instead of the Doctor dancing, we have the Thin Fat Gay Anglican Married Marines dying pointlessly for exposition purposes. This is the Macklemore of Doctor Who's queer politics.

The presence of Vastra and Jenny save the episode from complete erasure of non-Marine queerness, and when this aired I was as keen on a spinoff as tumblr, almost, but the increasingly normative way Doctor Who engages with queerness in this period is a little bit discomfiting. I hope, following the analysis of Davies' attachment to British gay culture, that Phil hashes out these dynamics a little at some point.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

"I don’t buy it."

To be fair, not everyone does. Are you familiar with Dave Chappelle, who had a comedy show on cable for a couple years a while back? Almost all of his skits played with egregiously racist stereotypes, but with the intent of subverting them, primarily through irony. At this he was quite successful, both popularly and critically, but it eventually came to his attention that real, actual racists were eating this schtick up because they were immune to irony, allowing them to read the material in a way that confirmed their bigoted worldview. Chappelle abandoned the show (and a good deal of money) because he found this so discomforting.

A lot of modern television has been playing with the notion of implicating an audience by invoking problematic tropes and subsequently subverting them. This depends necessarily on irony, but it also depends on self-reflection. In terms of AGMGTW, there were some who reveled in the "nasty" tropes and completely missed the irony, and others who found those tropes repulsive and also missed the irony. Me, I found the irony perfectly clear, but the fact that so many people didn't find it so puts into question just how valuable this form of subversion actually is. Hell, look just how well Dollhouse went over.

If there's a problem with such an ironic approach, it's that it's necessarily "negative." What I mean by that is that it isn't "positive" in the sense of providing a clear alternative set of tropes, which I think has been a hallmark for much of Doctor Who, which has more or less consistently employed irreverence, romance, intellect, and humor to overcome, as opposed to brute force and cynicism.

In the process of trying to poison what should be obviously poisonous tropes, I wonder if the show has inadvertently tainted itself in the process.

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Jordan Murphy 3 years, 7 months ago

I always kind of thought the "Good man" of the title was intended to refer to Rory, not the Doctor. And that the mission was to rescue his wife and child, not wreak vengeance (well, that too I suppose).

Consider, the opening cuts between Amy reassuring Melody that their rescuer is coming, and the chaos on the Cybermen ship caused by said rescuer. You're supposed to think Amy is referring to the Doctor, and I remember practically punching the air when it's revealed that the figure on the ship is Centurion Rory demanding to know where his wife is.

That moment to me was the culmination of his journey from clingy nebbish to hero and it cemented him as probably my favorite companion of the new series.

(I actually wondered for a while if "the best man I ever knew" that River had killed was going to turn out to be Rory in some tragic way as well. It would not be out of place for a child to feel that way about their parent, this particular parent especially).

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Instead, ironically, she's nearly the only character who hasn't killed Rory at one point or another.

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Shining Blitz 3 years, 7 months ago

Phil, I don't totally buy that the last 5 minutes can magically invert the preceding 40 minutes of standard rape-vengeance narrative. Convince me, please, I'd love to be able to look at the Moffat era, and S6 in particular, in a positive light - but as it stands, I can't quite. Prove me wrong. Please.

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dm 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree very strongly, almost violently, with Verblet here and would like to add that no matter how redemptive that 5% is, and no matter what (admittedly very good and plausible) rebuttals Jane comes up with, this reading just isn't followed up in the show at all.

Series 6 is the most serialised, arc-heavy season of Doctor Who ever (even going so far as to include inserts of arc scenes appending otherwise unrelated stories), but it somehow doesn't find time to deal with the implications of this story for Amy as a character. From memory, this horrific experience she has had is brought up proper, in terms of how it has affected her as a person, twice in future stories- once in the Giles/Ben scene in Wedding, then again in Asylum of the Daleks, where it is only brought up in terms of the affect it has had on Amy as A Womb.

I agree with Phil that it is good and right for Doctor Who to deal with rape. It didn't. It brought rape up, used it as a plot point, then steadfastly refused to deal with it. That's pretty despicable. Essentially, Moffatt's thinking appeared to have been "If I do this rape plot, everyone's probably going to be worried about the child, so I'd better make sure that I make it clear that she made it out OK" and was entirely unable to conceive of it in terms of Amy's experience (beyond a small exchange between Amy and River)

I am, broadly speaking, a fan of a lot of the changes Moffatt has brought to the show, and a fan of his writing since Press Gang, but I see no point in defending him against accusations of misogyny and sexism- he has proven time and time again, in his writing and in his flailing responses to criticism, that he genuinely doesn't understand issues of gender, sex and feminism. Because of this ignorance and unwillingness to self educate, he repeats the same mistakes over and over again, throughout his entire career in television. It really is as simple as that, however you choose to slice it.

I'm especially riled up here because I've been rewatching Buffy from the beginning and it's so disappointing how much more progressive and feminist a late 90s show about an ex cheerleader turned vampire slayer is than an early 2010s show about a runaway eccentric who can do anything, anywhere, ever.

I'm not always on board with this line of though but right now, I just wanna say, STFU Moffatt.

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Wm Keith 3 years, 7 months ago

vide Rambo III

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Shining Blitz 3 years, 7 months ago

Well said. Phil's continuous defense of Moffat reflects poorly on him.

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xen trilus 3 years, 7 months ago

River has a bit of a go at the Doctor for having become too epic, and implies that the fear he creates is the root cause of everything hideous that has been done to his friends in the episode. (It's certainly the lead motivation behind the soldiers helping Kovarian.) After series 6 the Doctor makes the conscious decision to go smaller and low-profile, rejecting the epic legend at every turn.

But hang on. What to make of the later revelation that this branch of the Silence are orchestrating all of this to stop the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore, where all he will ultimately attempt to do is protect one small town? If the actual root cause is his future act of pure un-epic heroism in The Time of the Doctor, rather than how cavalierly he's acted up until AGMGTW, then what does it all really mean?

Are the Silence in fact doing all of this because they mistakenly treat the TTotD Doctor as a dark legend threatening their very existence, when the reality on the planet below is a Doctor who has already rejected the epic in favour of the individual life?
To take this to its maximum insanity...are Kovarian and co. in fact the epic-hungry viewers of Doctor Who, those of us who bought into the hyper-inflated promise of a darkest hour and a bitter war, unreceptive to the core truth of the television show they were witnessing? And if these people are who the inhuman epics exist to appease, do they in fact share culpability for the plight of every other Amy Pond whose unimaginable suffering is callously invoked for the sake of the epic, 'gritty', masculine revenge drama that isn't actually interested in them? Does that make the Kovarian Chapter equally the writers of such stories, violating Amy and tossing her aside so that their fictional war can enter the next phase?

Phew, that's enough question marks. Well, if they ARE the epic urge manifested, it's certainly consistent with their actions in The Wedding, wherein they start killing people just to make a life-threatening battle out of what would otherwise be a self-contained dispute between one Doctor and three Ponds. My two pence.

This got out of hand again.

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Triturus 3 years, 7 months ago

What to make of the later revelation that this branch of the Silence are orchestrating all of this to stop the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore, where all he will ultimately attempt to do is protect one small town?

Aren't they worried that if he reaches Trenzalore unopposed, he'll let Gallifrey out of the crack and start the Time War off all over again? That *would* be epic, and very undoctorly.

(We the viewers would assume that he would find a way of restoring Gallifrey without causing Time War II, but the Silence are less trusting.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

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dm 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't know about that, but my repeated misspelling of his name doesn't reflect well on me.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

It struck me last night, sitting in bed: Should we be expecting a Pop Between Realities on Marble Hornets at some time in the future/in the past? I ask because I've got no idea when we can expect the posts on The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, so I'm not sure if they would be relevant immediately, or in the relative future.
The link between the Silence and the Slender Man is probably 90% just drawing on similar cultural concepts, the Men in Black most clearly. But the entire slender man mythos was becoming extremely popular around the time TIA was being written, they both feature alien entities disguised as disproportionate humanoids in suits who can steal memories and implant thoughts, the initial teasers of the Silence were clearly shot in such a way as to mimic early episodes of Marble Hornets, and when they were first revealed, the overwhelming response was "Doctor Who meets the Slender Man".

Perhaps we're getting Let's Kill Hitler next, I don't know.

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

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Aylwin 3 years, 7 months ago

I've thought about this and I still don't get the narrative substitution idea.

The designation of what happens before the twist in the tale as a revenge story seems to overlook the near-total absence of actual revenge. The Doctor certainly has the urge to vengeance but he basically subdues it, with a little help from his friends. There's the petty outburst of Colonel Runaway and that's it. He rescues the prisoners and then lets his enemies go. Talk about tropes all you like, rescue-by-violence and revenge are not the same thing.

One can certainly critique the way he goes about achieving his goal in all sorts of ways (and Moffat does critique that, and more besides), but we have been told that all that is beside the point. Yet as far as I can see, the only ways the Doctor could more systematically change the nature of the story he is initially involved in would be by deciding to leave Amy and her baby in captivity in an unknown location and subject to the continuing machinations of their captors indefinitely, or giving himself up in exchange and dying. Either would make providing any putative healing attention rather difficult.

As for what happens after the twist, far from learning some kind of lesson about the futility of what he has attempted and settling down to tend to Amy, the Doctor leaves her and Rory with hardly a by-your-leave (and, as it later turns out, without so much as a word of news for months, hardly care and attention), to launch Stage Two of his continuing rescue mission. No sign of his proclaimed role in the substituted Good Story there.

Of course, one can interpret "the message of A Good Man Goes To War" more loosely, and take the process described as referring to the season as a whole. Perhaps, then, the Doctor switches over to Good Story healing behaviour later on, once he has given up on the rescue effort, and perhaps someone can refresh my memory with examples, but I can't remember anything much. Of course, it doesn't help (without wanting to revive an old argument) that Amy shows so little sign of needing any healing for him to respond to. (Also Rory, but since in the context of this argument it has been decreed by fiat that this is a story about rape and not, despite all appearances to the contrary, a story about the abduction of a child, any suggestion that Rory might have healing needs of his own can cheerfully be consigned to the same oblivion as the idea that stories are improved by making sense.)

I'm stuck. Anyone care to explain?

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5tephe 3 years, 7 months ago

Marionette: Yes, please!

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John Seavey 3 years, 7 months ago

Sorry, but I can't help seeing narrative incoherence where you see narrative substitution. I can understand confusing the two--the story flails at so many different narratives that you're bound to find a point at which it switches from one to the other--but it never really connects with any of them. It starts, as you point out, as a revenge story...except that as Aylwin points out, no actual revenge is taken apart from a token bit of tsk-tsking at the people who kidnapped an actual baby. These are people who really quite frankly deserve far worse than they get, and it is seen as somehow a moral failure on the Doctor's part that he's willing to do bad things to them...except that he's not, so all of the "fall" seems like an unearned punishment rather than the result of hubris.

The Doctor, meanwhile, gets narratively slapped on the wrist for somehow being responsible for the acts of the baby-kidnappers because it's a common narrative trope of postmodern adventure fiction that the heroes create their villains as an inevitable reaction to being good at their job...which is more or less nonsense on any level beyond a simple breaking of the fourth wall and admitting that a story without a villain is kind of boring, and blaming the protagonist instead of the writer. Let's face it, ten out of eleven Doctors would be perfectly happy if they never bumped into a killer alien monster, and the eleventh (well, actually the Seventh) only goes looking for them because he found out about so many that his predecessor ignored. The idea that the universe would be a better place if the Doctor didn't act like he did is insultingly absurd.

And for all that this is supposedly a piece of narrative substitution, it never really provides anything to substitute. Instead of healing Amy, as you suggest, the Doctor really provides a token "there, there" pat on the shoulder and runs away, leaving Rory and River to pick up the pieces while he goes to rescue Amy's baby...something that by definition, he can only fail at. There's no redemption for the Doctor's crime of not getting vengeance on people who are created by a misunderstanding of his potential future actions, or whatever the hell is supposed to be the Doctor's hubris here. It's a tragedy without hubris, a redemption story without redemption, a rescue without rescuing and a revenge story without a comeuppance.

It also bears similarity to another story, 'Interference', which also suggests that the Doctor can only function in specific narrative environments and punishes the Doctor for being in the wrong story. In this, Moffat hammers home again and again that the Doctor doesn't belong in a revenge narrative and is ultimately helpless to "win" here. Which again is blaming the wrong party--writing a story that patently doesn't work as Doctor Who and then blaming the Doctor for it isn't postmodern, it's a Message From Fred that you're writing a bad Doctor Who story. Even worse, the narrative message (that the Doctor creates the bad guys through his actions) is proven false in the end, as the Silence isn't created by the Doctor's actions but by his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Doctor's lives end at Trenzalore, and everything the Kovarian Heresy did was an attempt to prevent him from going there. They were misguided religious lunatics who hated the Doctor for no sane reason. And Moffat attempts to suggest that's the Doctor's fault for...not being dead like they want him to be? Ultimately, all I can really say about this one is that it tries to be everything and fails at all of it.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

I should have been here earlier. Massive entry. No time to read all the posts. So my response may echo others’ thoughts.

“[I]n a story about a woman who is raped he [The Doctor] will be the figure who helps her to heal. [...] The horrible things that have happened to her cannot be undone. Not with a magic wand, and not with an army. But she can heal.”

Sadly, Series 6b delves neither into therapy nor this kind of characterization for Amy. Moffat needed to be able/willing/ready to tackle heavy, dark, human subjects. I know the BBC remit is to be family friendly most if not all the time but there needed to be more onscreen healing and discussion. Going from “A Good Man Goes to War” to “Let’s Kill Hitler,” whether or not they were intended to be a two-parter, is indeed narrative substitution.

This is part of why Series 6b has an ominous cloud hanging over it but there is little to no discussion of the violation. “Asylum of the Daleks” brings it up and then abruptly sweeps it back under the rug. Arg. Rape culture.

“Who raped Amy?” asked one commenter.

The Doctor.

Not physically of course.

The Doctor asks Kovarian why he did this to Amy and River. She says it’s his fault. And we later learn The Doctor influenced various religions, organizations, sects, movements, whatever to do various things even things which seem to us impious towards their god/deity/founder/creator.

Reminds of the folks who stop short in their analyses of Man of Steel as a 9/11 allegory. Sure, the destruction of Metropolis and Smallville is akin to certain historical terrorist acts. But Kal-El is the one doing just as much devastation.

In “Vampires in Venice,” Rory told the Doctor he was dangerous. Very true. Even meeting him for just for one moment or being in his wake can be just as deadly. At least, being a full-on companion, one would have a chance at a longer lifespan.

Also, see how Amy recoils from the Doctor after her baby becomes goo. She doesn’t respond that way to anyone else.

In series 5, The Doctor is the source of Amy’s childhood trauma. In Series 6, he is the source of her adult trauma.

Also troubling:

So far in Series 6, the Doctor has been ahead of the game. “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon,” in my reading, has a Doctor who already knows what’s about to happen so he engineers events to achieve a desired end. “Curse of the Black Spot” makes no sense unless you think the Doctor already knows future events. And of course, the surprise end of “The Almost People” reveals the Doctor knew (for how long?) Amy was replaced by goo.

But it is here, in this episode, the Doctor somehow gets behind the game. Twice!

Western culture is awash in macho hero narratives and iconography. Of course, most people won’t think too deeply about Moffat’s deeper messages. It’s catharsis and reassurance of cultural expectations to see the male hero bonk the bad guy and save the girl. So, in my group of friends who watch the show, folks were greatly upset by the baby goo, River’s revelation, and the Doctor skipping out. Sure, they kinda got the ostensible ‘the Doctor is not a warrior’ message. But they still want him to be the Hero.

If Moffat really wants us to not think of the Doctor as a warrior, then he needs to stop putting the Doctor in the hero’s pose. Particularly, the one where the macho man is carrying a distressed damsel. This appears in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Name of the Doctor.”

Again, the absurd/absurdity/absurdism on display in Moffat’s run. Space pirates from the 17th century. WWII fighter planes in space. Silurians from the 1800s. Silurian-human coupling. Monks with no heads. Fat thin gay married anglican marines. The word "doctor" means "mighty warrior" to some people. Sontaran nurse. Period human clothing on some farflung alien world. Rory dressed as Roman centurion. “I speak baby.”

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mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

Oswin told him to run. She didn't follow. It's not his decision to make.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

I have noticed a direct relationship between the amount of Moffat interviews people have read (especially online) and their unwillingness to listen to any argument about his writing which would be redemptive.

That makes me suspect that readings of his work are being inflected by people's understanding of him personally.

A misogynist can produce a work of fiction which is not misogynist, and a good thing too, because otherwise rape culture is not only self-perpetuating but inescapable.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

Arguably, their attempts to stop him could contribute to his refusal to become what everything suggests he must when he arrives at Trenzalore.

He's remarkably friendly to the other members of the church when he meets them in orbit at Trenzalore. Almost as though he's completely rejected the cycle of war and revenge in favor of love, delight and future generations...

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't think this was ever a problem the Doctor could solve. It's between Amy and River, really.

Hmm, religious lunatics willing to commit atrocities in the name of doing away with someone they hate for no sane reason? Lunatics who can best be defeated not by responding to them with violence or fanaticism but by refusing a "colonialist" policy of active intervention? Sounds pretty on-the-nose to me.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

I think Phil understates the degree of the criticism this episode is leveling. Set aside the inherent criticism of Doctor Who itself (and many of its fans). What we have here isn't merely Amy suffering sexual violence and having her child taken from her.

We have a woman's reproductive freedom being taken from her by a church-militant. And that church-militant extends its rights to sexual violation in the name of saving life. The story isn't about abortion, and that's handy, because abortion as an issue distracts from the related and more serious and reflexive violation of women in the name of "protecting" them and their unborn children. The ethics or morality of abortion are distinct from laws which require, for example, vaginal ultrasounds.

This episode is thus confronting the ugliness of a culture which repeatedly commits violence against women while claiming to be protecting them.

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Ben 3 years, 7 months ago

On a much lighter note than many of the comments here - which I want to specify are intelligent and thoughtful - is this the first Eruditorum entry to take its header from an Eighth Doctor quote? It seems like it, at least among the TV entries. If so, congratulations to Paul McGann. :)

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

So in lieu of finding sub-threads to post my observations.

1) I find the episode a general criticism of what the show had become since its return. The show has always tried to find a mix between the Doctor having to destroy alien invaders and finding peaceful solutions and the show had taken a decidedly militant standing since its return. Moffat had largely fixed that in Series 5, but even he was having a bit too much fun with the Doctor clearly reveling in his badass reputation by bluffing his way out of encounters (a cheat Moffat would take away at the end of Series 6). I'm not sure I agree with everything in this week's entry, but Moffat was very clearly calling an end to the Doctor as a militant figure with a clear declaration of living up to his name again.

2) I completely disagree with this being called a rape. It's a sci-fi kidnapping where not only the child was stolen but the pregnancy. It is a weird thing with no real world equivalent, but even before this story it had been established that the sex was consensual and Amy showed every indication of wanting the baby (her only concern being it might have a time-head or something).

And then she had her pregnancy and child stolen.

That it gets called a rape so frequently I chalked up to the rush to declare everything in Moffat's canon as misogynistic and if you squint at it, it does seem very much like the mystical rape pregnancy that the likes of Whedon and Davies have put their stamp of approval on.

Yet I think it's no more than an attempt to put a bit of a twist on a very old trope of science fiction where pregnancy and young children aren't around long enough to wear out their welcome. Get a bit of physical comedy out of your actress waddling about, pop out the kid, then after you get tired of admiring the cute baby put it next to a time rift or have some crazy kidnap it so we can age it to the point where we can hire an adult actor to pretend they're a teenager... or in this case, reveal it to be the middle age woman who has been hanging around the last year.

So, really, just way, way, way, way too much focus being paid to a story which is, quite honestly, a hell of a lot less rapey than the great bulk of mystic pregnancy stories. Moffat at least managed to run into the same old problems in a new and interesting way, if only because he told the story out of order and he's running through the same old set-ups and cliches in a different way.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

Although I do confess a disappointment that Moffat wasn't able to elevate the story above its basic tropes. While I think it's less problematic than just about any other story I can name in this particular category, it never can escape the simple fact that it's just a big ol' narrative cheat to magically age a baby into one of the recurring cast... and it, like every other story, treats everyone involved (and I mean everyone, not just the parents) as a means to this end.

In every last instance, the emotional ramifications are swept under the rug as soon as conveniently possible and you're left with a sequence of events which never feels remotely genuine.

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Gallifreyan_Immigrant 3 years, 7 months ago

I've read many of the comments up to now, and I'm noticing two general patterns of analysis emerging. One is Philip Sandifer's, which argues that this episode is a condemnation of the Doctor and "rape-and-revenge" stories in general. Another intepretation states that this is actually a validation of Rory and "woman, and in general parent, loses their child" story. Philip Sandifer seems to think that the kidnapping story is just the PG version of a rape survivor story, which threatens to invalidate the actual pain of parents from missing children. At the same time, arguing that this isn't a story about the trauma of rape threatens to trivialize the one story that deals with rape trauma and culture the best( irnic that one of the best treatments and critique of rape in stories doesn't even mention rape.) Both sides have a good point. What do I think?

As above, so below.

I think everyone's right. This story has a top layer of showing the trauma that parents ffeel from losing their child and showing that you're not worthless and still deserve a friend like the Doctor if you lose a child, and a bottom layer of showing the violation caused by a rape and aggressively condemning how even "the good guys" can feed into a narrative like "rape-and-revenge" that still doesn't help the victim in the end. Both levels are as valid and as important as each other. They are both important feminist messages to me, and I'm happy to be part of a show with that much depth.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Man-rescuing-his-brother is a fairly common trope. Prison Break is a relatively recent example.

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storiteller 3 years, 7 months ago

I think part of the problem is that Moffatt appears to want his cake and eat it too. I do think he's meaning to subvert these tropes, but revels in the violence and the typical meaning of them a little too much to take that subversion completely seriously. He benefits from the dramatic weight and emotional intensity of the cultural narrative and then gets to act self-righteous about "fooling the audience." I think Phil gives auteurs too much credit in the cultural subversion realm - for example, I find his reading of Man of Steel fascinating, but disagree with it.

As for AMGTW, I think if it was a little more obvious from the beginning about showing its hand and a little less enthusiastic about embracing the cultural narrative, the message would work a lot better. I think of all of the examples of substitution in Moffatt's era, Amy's Choice works the best because it so clearly rejects the cultural narrative, both within the specific story and for the rest of the show. Although I agree that it would be better altogether to offer that positive trope, which Doctor Who is so good at.

Also, Chappelle's show was much more obvious in its subversion of tropes. Anyone who didn't read that as ironic was because they were so blinded by their own prejudices that they lacked all narrative comprehension altogether. It was also an excellent show, funny, and angry and raw.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm cool with people referring to Moffat as sexist. There's very clearly a sexist streak running through him, but in the many interviews I've read with him, I find it equally clear that there's a lot he loves and respects about women... and being a comedy writer, he quite enjoys playing the various conflicts between the sexes for laughs.

Misogynistic... I just do not see it. Much is made about him diminishing Irene Adler in Sherlock, but that rather depends upon you having built the character up from the almost nothing character depicted in one book. Sure, she's the woman who beat the legendary Sherlock Holmes, but this is largely because Sherlock treated her as though she were a complete imbecile and then was shocked she saw through his rather obvious ploy of faking a fire with a smoke bomb (what person with a functioning IQ wouldn't put two and two together in regards to a strange man who had just gained entry into her house and disappeared immediately after). Even her standing as an opera singer in the original would be a great deal less dignified at the time of the original story (theater types were not always a step above prostitutes as many supplemented their income in exactly that manner), and the King's dalliance with her was considered a scandal. And, of course, she gave up her quest for revenge because she found a man.

While the case that Moffat transformer her into a Mistress makes it more sexist, it is pretty much the only way to maintain the scandal portion of the story in this day and age when virtually anything goes in the Royal Family. The alternative is to do something stupid like making her Moriarty and completely ignoring every single sentence ever written by Doyle.

And going through Moffat's "misogynistic" stories, I run into similar issues. There are very good narrative reasons for the choices he makes. In Doctor Who, he made a conscious effort to step away from the companions having their own supporting cast, so you end up with Amy & Rory who (random episodes aside) have no meaningful contact with their own lives. Rory's profession is built upon the joke that he tried to be the Doctor and only ended up being a nurse. I remember someone saying that in their childhood games, it was Rory who got to be The Doctor while (sexism alert) Amy was the companion. This rather misses the point that Amy was the one who got to be herself, while Rory was forced into the role of her imaginary friend.

So much of the discussion rather rests upon the assumptions being made by the audience. There's certainly some troubling aspects in Moffat's work (as there are in Davies' and Whedon's), but I've never got the feeling he hates women... maybe just annoyed by them from time to time.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

good insight, I can very much get behind this

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 7 months ago

Steven Moffat's take on the show is very much "Doctor Who Meets Creepypasta," isn't it? Not one of his creations--the Empty Child and its nanogenes; the Clockwork Robots; the Vashta Nerada; the Silence; Weeping Angels (I knew I had forgotten one!) Smilers; Whispermen--all of these could easily be at home on an Internet forum or in the SCP Foundation's menagerie.

Of course, Creepypasta has its roots in urban legend (e.g. The Hook) and conspiracy theory. In their natural habitat, all of these would be utterly horrifying, because you would either 1) die or 2) go utterly insane from paranoia. "But I just SAW IT MOVE!"

And then we have The Doctor. Here is where Moffat understands the character the best: he's a legendary hero because he's crazy enough to "take it apart" and figure out how it works; in so doing, he "defeats" the threat, whether by curing the afflicted (the Empty Child), hoisting the foe by its own petard (the Weeping Angels, who can't look at each other), or just befriending them (the creature from "Hide" is a good example--he hunts down a malevolent spirit and reveals it to be completely benign*).

(*Even if "Hide" isn't a Moffat-penned episode, it's still a good example of the narrative logic.)

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 7 months ago

"Not one of his creations..." I meant to follow that up with "would look out of place in...."

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 7 months ago

What you're hinting at, Xen, is persistence of memory. The Silence derive their power from forgetting; the Doctor, a Time Lord, is all about remembering. In figuring out how to remember seeing the Silence, he is also able to remember meeting them. In *that*, he remembers (or is allowed to think about) why they want him dead.

"Name," "Day," and "Time" are the culmination of memory. In the original, "Name" timeline without Clara, the events of "Time" take place, but with the Doctor dying and unleashing the War as a last-ditch effort.

However, Clara--herself a creature of memory, like the Doctor--implants herself into the Doctor's timestream and unlocks the memory of the War Doctor. This leads to a Doctor fueled by unbridled love and peace, not by guilt.

Finally, in "Time," he is able to remember the events of "Name," and he knows what not to do this time around now that all the clues are in place.

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Jordan Murphy 3 years, 7 months ago

As one who walked into this essay viewing this episode (or at least its beginning) purely as validation of Rory and still feels that way while also at least partially seeing it the way Philip (and others) do, bravo. Divergent readings of the story don't have to negate one another. For that matter, neither do divergent readers.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Doesn't this seem even slightly unfair?

Oh, I should be clear: I'm not suggesting, Philip, that your analysis is unfair. I'm suggesting that baldly trying to lure the audience etc. is unfair on the part of Moffat. I don't know whether he's intentionally trying to do that, but I know that I hope the next showrunner is not someone who gives me what I don't want and insists I do want it and that I'm a bad person for wanting it.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm here reminded of Auden's observation that it's impossible to parody something that you don't admire on some level. Phil couldn't parody The Celestial Toymaker because for him no parody of the Celestial Toymaker could make its flaws as obvious as the Celestial Toymaker itself does.

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Gallifreyan_Immigrant 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you, Mr. Murphy and ferret. I was trying to get across that divergent readings can be compatible, without being offensive about the topics involved.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

This is a heartening thread. Thank you both.

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5tephe 3 years, 7 months ago

I'd like to credit Moffat with as much aggressive political intention as Phil wants to give him, but I fear you are the most right here, Steven Clubb.

He just gets too excited about all the cool story ideas he can cram into an episode, but then finds he has to the them all up, and realises that he doesn't like all the nasty implications of the tropes he has so enjoyed playing with. So we get a wrap up that tries to do the right thing but can't overcome the weight of what has already been presented.

Although I do think it IS a rape allegory - as well as a story about losing a child. I like Gallifreyan_Immigrant's piece just below.

I gotta say, I don't like the lack of follow through next episode more than almost anything else he had done. My wife andi had gone through that appallingly common but unmentioned experience of a miscarriage (post 1st trimester, when you are meant to be able to relax a bit and tell everyone) not long before.

All we could do was cling to each other after that scene, and then 4 minutes later River was telling them that everything was alright because she was their daughter. And the Doctor ducked off to"rescue/find" her. And then next year...

That was the point when my wife became unable to like Doctor Who anymore.

Don't own the rape/abduction/medicalisation trauma/infertility grief box unless you are prepared to ACTUALLY DEAL WITH what is inside it.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Given various stated reactions (and adding in my own as a parent who regards himself as having lost a child, though in circumstances where some others wouldn't agree) I think this has to be the case. Well said.

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SK 3 years, 7 months ago

Man-rescuing-his-brother is a fairly common trope

Leaving aside misuse of the word 'trope', 'man avenges a close male relative (ie, brother or father)' is an incredibly common story element (and is sometimes expanded to avenging a male partner, comrade or friend).

So the claim that 'one feeds into an established and destructive trope and the other is actually kind of novel' is simply utterly factually inaccurate.

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dm 3 years, 7 months ago

That makes me suspect that readings of his work are being inflected by people's understanding of him personally.

I suppose I shouldn't confuse the man and his writing, and merely present these two facts separately- a) Moffat does not understand sexism, frequently reveals himself to be sexist in interviews (honestly, his rebuttal against accusations of sexism is "But I write women according to my lifelong dominatrix fetish, that makes them strong") b) Moffat's writing is frequently, repeatedly and aggressively sexist and misogynistic.

but I've never got the feeling he hates women... maybe just annoyed by them

Oh well, if he's just annoyed by women... I mean, who isn't, right?



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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

I recently watched "Top of the Lake" which is a largely feminist piece about the sexual abuse of women... and it seemed far more annoyed by women than just about anything else I've watched all year. One of the last words uttered by Holly Hunter is "crazy bitches" as she walks away from a group of abused women which the story had done little to portray as anything other than humorously damaged women no one in their right mind would spend time with.

Many moons ago, I said one of the big differences between the female characters of Moffat and Davies is Moffat desires his female characters. Davies writes BFFs. Their flaws don't drive him crazy, where even a single episode of Queer As Folk would demonstrate the emotional flaws of men drives him crazy in a profound way because he desires men. I don't care who you are or who you fancy, there's always going to be this sense of "why can't I get what I want without all this trouble?", which, hopefully, is expressed with a sense of humor rather than a sense of anger.

To me, misogyny is about anger. It's about saying that someone has no right to feel and act the way they do because it makes your life a bit more difficult. I don't see that anger in Moffat. He desires women, so they naturally drive him a bit crazy (which he plays for laughs), but he never denies them the right to act in whatever way makes sense to them and recognizes that men drive women just as crazy with their emotional baggage.

There's sexism him, but I don't see any of it rising to misogynistic levels. There's sexism in Davies work, which is apparent every time a middle age woman's sexual desires are dismissed as a joke, which we could easily spin as him saying only young attractive women have a right to sexual expression. There's sexism in Whedon's work, which even he can't deny saying "the breasts are a metaphor for breasts" on commentaries every time he catches himself framing a shot where the camera gazes down the shirt of a rather attractive woman. Paul Cornell has a reputation for both feminism and womanizing. Clearly Moffat has some sexism issues, but I think he's also just as clearly sympathetic to women and does his best to write strong, interesting, and dynamic female characters with a fair amount of emotional depth. Even better, he's crafted a couple of fairly unique characters.

River Song is practically a love letter to the desirability of a middle aged woman who looks like a middle aged woman, not a middle aged woman who can pass for a 27 year old. He's the only writer who has ever treated Donna's sexuality as anything other than a joke, while Davies and just about everyone else wrote her (even post-Bride) as marriage-obsessed... and the sexist guy shows up the feminist-friendly writers by a country mile.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

I do see Moffat attempting to create a space for them to deal with it, but it's a space away from the Doctor and not in front of the characters. After both "A Good Man Goes To War" and "Asylum of the Daleks", Amy & Rory are dropped off to deal with the emotional fall-out.

And this is an interesting idea that just never works as well as Moffat hopes it does.

In many ways, the profound disappointment of Moffat's Who work as show runner is there's a lot of really good ideas, executed in an entertaining manner, which fall well short of their potential in such obvious ways.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Isn't the cause of all this ultimately River Song herself? On the day the 10th Doctor visited The Library in response to River's request on the Psychic Paper, this whole timeline was initiated and set in stone. At the point the Doctor touched the end of River's life, he was inextricably bound to it, from End to Beginning.

It was River what done it.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I'd like to venture a guess here, that the two patterns of analysis noted by Gallifreyan_Immigrant are also largely (but not exclusively) on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Regulars of this column that I know to be American appear to be roughly in the "Rape metaphor" camp, while people I either know (or suspect) to be from the UK seem to be coming from the "sci-fi kidnapping" viewpoint.

I may be wrong, and if I'm wrong about you, I apologise...but I kind of don't think I am. For myself I feel I can view this story fairly dispassionately, because although I can kind of see it deals with "issues", first and foremost I think it's prime motivation is to tell a story (and tie up a lot of difficult loose ends), so any perceived lack of sensitivity on either Moffat or the Doctor's part is down to the restrictions of the story (making it work, making it fit 45 minutes, and making it kid-friendly) rather than Moffat's mysogyny or sexism.

That's my viewpoint, and I think it's a fundamentally British one - a viewpoint that can comfortably discuss whether a person was raped or not, because the person is fictitious and the situation they are in is non-realistic and fantastical. I'm also reminded of Darla and Connor from Angel, another traumatic situation but again a non-real-world fantastical one.

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Steven Clubb 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm an American in the sci-fi kidnapping camp... and I've almost mentioned Angel about three times so far :)

The Darla situation is another one of those stories which, if one were so inclined, twist out of context. The whole idea of Darla killing herself to give birth is completely out-of-character (acknowledged by the show as the baby's soul is affecting her) and runs into the "I must die for the happiness of the male hero" problem.

But the underlying intent of these mystical pregnancy stories is to be able to play with the ideas of pregnancy and parenthood without undermining the show's action-adventure mandate and wanting to cut out all the boring bits.

And it's impossible to do that without undermining the emotional truth of everyone involved. Angel, being the show that it was, made sure there was some consequences, but ultimately you knew everything would land butter side up before too long. Angel and Wesley will be best bros again before too long, because Thou Shall Not Disrupt The Status Quo For Too Long.

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rpundurs 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes please! When my friends and I first sat down to watch The Impossible Astronaut, we had an endless argument over whether Moffat was ripping off the Slenderman or just combining a particularly gross interpretation of Greys and the urban-legendary (not cinematic) Men in Black.

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rpundurs 3 years, 7 months ago

You're not applying enough narrative substitutions - the trick is that Moffat immediately substitutes out the "redemption & healing" story for a "killing Hitler" story.

Narrative substitution can tie off any loose end, absolve any mischaracterization, and abrogate any forgotten storyline. It's the most sublime framework for redemptive reading yet devised; it has the power to handwave away literally anything. It's the postmodern panacea.

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John Seavey 3 years, 7 months ago

But my point is that they can't be defeated by "refusing a colonialist policy of active intervention". They can be defeated, apparently, by killing them all. In a parallel universe created by altering a fixed-point timeline which is then rewritten back, just to make sure that any emotional consequences can be neatly swept under the rug and cakes can be both had and eaten, but fundamentally, from a narrative standpoint, the situation was resolved when Amy gunned down Madame Kovarian in cold blood. If Moffat was trying to suggest that the cycle of violence needed to be broken, he didn't exactly stick the landing there.

The idea that the Doctor should be taking an alternative course to avoid this whole blood-soaked tragedy is brought up for about two minutes at the end of this episode, and never spoken of again. No actual alternative is ever suggested; it's simply presented by River as "YOU'RE DOCTORING WRONG, NOOB!" And in the end, the whole thing presented as a vast predestination paradox--the Silence themselves, not the Doctor, are responsible for his presence at Trenzalore. The claim that the Doctor is responsible for their existence turns out not simply to be wrong but filled with bitter irony. Nothing in the rest of the text supports the ending of 'A Good Man Goes to War', which I think means that it has to be considered as the failure rather than the entire rest of Moffat's run on the series.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 7 months ago

I always assumed that "Foreman" was another Timelordish pseudo name like "Master" and "Doctor"

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

No. IMHO. :)

In all her appearances, River works to ensure her own existence. This would make her the best antagonist for the Doctor since he has this need to "fix things for the better." River is actively against the Doctor changing things. She even manipulates him to achieve her own goals. However, the Doctor realizes her existence is the byproduct of his own actions/decisions.

The onus must be the Doctor's.

Point of comparison: "The Girl Who Waited." The Doctor effectively chooses to kill an aged Amy just so he can sort out a "paradox."

River is a mess of paradoxes. If the Doctor tried sorting her out, who knows what would be the result?

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Nyq Only 3 years, 7 months ago

Indeed - and the fault of the stories isn't people going to extraordinary lengths to rescue a friend/lover/relative but that such stories always result in portraying the wrong that has been done as a wrong that has been done to protagonist rather than the victim (and indeed that the stories make 'victim' a highly circumscribed role).
The Doctor's violence in the episode largely seems reasonable and proportionate and pragmatic . The exception is at the start when Rory (and presumably the Doctor) attack the Cybermen for no reason other than to extort information. The opening sequence is most overtly exploits the men on a mission of vengeance - Rory as a kind of John Wayne in The Searchers.

The Doctor's fall is multiple - firstly in that he is outwitted by the end of the episode by the main villain. Although that isn't wholly unknown as a cliffhanger for a two part episode, Moffat actually makes this stick. The Doctor's plan in the end doesn't work. He is unable to prevent Amy's child from being brought up by the Silence.
Secondly in that the battle becomes a defining legend about him.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

The First Doctor's original plan was to come to Earth and play professional golf. He brought along the Nine Iron of Omega and even went back in time to invent the game and make sure someone else got credit for it. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling schoolteachers.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, the Smith era is maddeningly recursive like that, with events continually causing themselves and action being taken in response to the reaction that has somehow already occurred. Based on Kovarian's comments in Good Man... about "this endless war," my impression is that her faction was simply tired of fighting an endless war against basically everyone in the universe who was at Tranzalore, all terrified that at any moment, the Doctor could say his own name and unless Hell.

I have a theory that Moffat is much more popular with casual viewers than with hard-core anoraks like us because a casual viewer takes each episode in order and on its own terms, relying on the absolute minimum of information from prior episodes necessary to understand the plot of the current episode. But to us anoraks, it's all maddening because the Doctor's interactions with River, with the Silence, and with the Cracks only make sense from his linear perspective. If viewed from the perspective of any of those other entities/things, causality breaks down completely and events are impossible to follow.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

I thought from the start that the Silence was some kind of homage to the Slenderman. And turnabout is fair play -- the top-rated SCP item is SCP-173, which is in almost every respect a rip-off of the Weeping Angels except that it is a rather disturbing piece of abstract, semi-humanoid sculpture rather than Victorian funerary sculpture. http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-173

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

I mostly agree, but it was a really long time before Angel and Wesley ended up "best bros." In point of fact, I don't think their relationship ever really got back to where it was before the Connor/Holtz fiasco. YMMV.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

the top-rated SCP item is SCP-173

I hate that despite the fact that I don't consciously believe in magic or ghosts or gods or any of that stuff, there's a primal part of me that is completely unable to withstand nonsense like this without it freaking me the fuck out. Thank goodness the Angels are statues. If they'd looked like this I'd probably still be (Colonel) running away.

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 7 months ago

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 7 months ago

It does get better in season 5. Granted, it's because of a deal Angel made to give Conner a family and erase Team Angel's memories of Conner in order to be the boss at Wolfram and Hart.

And when he breaks the jar that consealed his memories, its turns back to rocky, but not season 4 bad.

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Jarl 3 years, 7 months ago

Going back to the original course of events, the timing is close enough that SCP-173 might not have been a conscious riff on the Weeping Angels. This was the same month that Blink was released, and back then, America didn't get Doctor Who on any kind of timely schedule like they do now.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

I think this is the inevitable consequence of the "Moffat Era". The man can't resist world-shatteringly convoluted time-twisty storylines that (let's be honest) play absolutely fantastic on-screen (who doesn't love the paradox loops of The Big Bang?). The problem comes when you have to tie the whole lot up with, you know, continuity and stuff. Which is why we get our Good Man Going to War and Let's Kill Hitler, and Wedding of River Song. Awkward exposition and more timey-wimey jammed into the cracks to somehow make it all fit, and character motivation is the first thing to be sacrificed.

But I don't care. It's Doctor Who and I enjoy it.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't think one can accept any of the events in the alternate reality Wedding of River Song at face value. But I'd say that the key here is to see that the Doctor can't do anything alone to help Amy. This isn't a story about the Doctor. It's a story about Amy and River (and maybe Rory to some degree).

It's a little condescending to say that Amy should feel continuing angst about her baby being kidnapped when it turns out she's spent more of her life with her child than any human mother can, isn't it?

Also, did I miss the episode where the Doctor brutally exterminates every single member of this offshoot of the Church of the Mainframe? Because I'm pretty sure I'd remember that.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Also, did I miss the episode where the Doctor brutally exterminates every single member of this offshoot of the Church of the Mainframe? Because I'm pretty sure I'd remember that.

Probably not every single member, but I'd imagine John's talking about the "You should kill us all on sight" resolution in "Day of the Moon."

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

But that's the essential paradox of rape culture, that we as a culture simultaneously make a big show of deploring rape as the vilest of vile acts, while also perpetuating the social structures and cultural narratives within which committing and getting away with rape is made easier and rapists are able to believe that "anyone" would do what they do if they had the opportunity.

That women are depicted as extra-special super-valuable property in this sort of story doesn't change that they are depicted as property.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

The kind of people who write SCP entries are not, generally, the kind of people who would wait for an American broadcast to watch a show they liked. I remember that period of time quite well, as it's when my friends and I coined "Who" as a measure of torrent speed. (It's 1000 kB/sec, or the speed necessary to illegally download an episode of Doctor Who at the then-standard resolutions in ~5 minutes.)

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John Seavey 3 years, 7 months ago

Actually, I was referring to 'The Wedding of River Song'. Yes, Madame Kovarian and the Silence she commanded died in an alternate reality and may not have died in the real universe, but given the way that events played out afterwards, that was clearly meant to be the climax of that particular story. I think it's safe to say that they were killed the way they were in order to avoid having to face the emotional consequences of their mass-murder; since it all happened in a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey memory hole, they weren't "really" killed and nobody has to feel guilty. Except that they never showed up again and everyone acted like they were permanently defeated. Cake both had and eaten.

And I'm technically fine with that, just to clarify. The Kovarian Heresy was a bunch of crazed fanatics who had basically constructed a warped set of rationales for murdering the Doctor based on something he would (not, as it turned out) do in the future. They were not people who could be reasoned with, and their actions were not the Doctor's responsibility. What I'm saying is that for a few brief minutes at the end of 'A Good Man Goes to War', they were presented as being the Doctor's fault--not just his responsibility, but his fault--and he was taken to task for his hubris. Which, as the entire rest of Moffat's run showed, is a line of horse-crap a mile long, and one River presented without providing any constructive alternatives. It's just smug arrogance masquerading as insight.

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Whittso 3 years, 7 months ago

This is far too late too participate in this conversation, so I think I'll bring this up again, but I find myself linking the discussion of narrative substitution to levels of media literacy that Phil has bought up in the past. When discussing Deadly Assassin and Mary Whitehouse, Phil effectively ridiculed the idea that even young children might mistake fiction for reality, convincingly arguing that the level of literacy in how to watch TV had to be much higher than that.

I find myself feeling that the problem with Moffat era narrative substitutions is that I don't really have the right level of media literacy to watch them in those terms. Even after Phil & Jane and others explain it feels like a layer that you have to make some effort overlay and hold in your head. The primary effect of the story line is one that has a number of good elements stuffed in, but that fails to make them cohere. Obviously the argument is that that effect arises not because of a failure, but because of a specific choice to have two sets of narratives actively in conflict. But I end up feeling that this is television made for post-modern media critics to enjoy, and that the rest of us are always going to feel that we're slightly missing the point.

Nothing wrong with that mind, I'm glad there's some Doctor Who in that camp and it's been fun. However I'm not sold that this is quite the incredible innovation in writing, or contributor to material social progress that Phil pitches it as. I will no doubt be proved wrong.

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Whittso 3 years, 7 months ago

Seconding elvwood

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

arcbeatle thank you for posting. With you.

I'm a survivor myself - I've been away and missed being able to post in time. This story shows the strength possible, the strength that survivors can find - and yes Asylum of the Daleks is key in this narrative. And yes I explicitly agree that Moffat is feminist and his tories full of hope and heart that can help us.

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

And also to add - I too am touched by this thread and saddened that a larger thread appeared around debating what and was not rape/abuse.

Thanks to all above.

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

@ Spacewarp - I am British myself and of the view that the story is indeed tackling rape. I dislike the the idea of these two areas being described as 'camps' and I don't really see any point in exploring if the split in ideas is across the Atlantic. I do totally take your apology (thanks) and add finally that one of the things I love about discussions like this on the internet is that it is lot less easy to make geographical assumptions about people and their points of view.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

"there's a primal part of me that is completely unable to withstand nonsense like this without it freaking me the fuck out. " All of Moffatt's scariest stuff deals with primal, existential fears.

Empty Child = fear of disease and contamination
Weeping Angels = there's something sneaking up behind you
Vashta Nerada = there's something in the dark(bonus points for Donna in Forest of the Dead = fear of losing your children)
The Silence = there's something vitally important that you've forgotten.

Even the Pandorica cliffhanger deals with the Doctor being buried alive ... and unable to ever die.

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ritamaner 2 years, 4 months ago

God, just have finished this episode, it's awesome. Angry Doctor it's something new. I promised to help on writing a personal essays to the friend of mine, but instead of it i watched episodes of the Doctor:(

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David Faggiani 2 years, 2 months ago

An interesting Double Bill would be this and The Sopranos' "Employee of the Month".

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Phil Sandifer 11 months, 1 week ago

Nah, you're pretty much totally wrong here. I've got literally zero problems with Moffat's use of narrative devices or his manipulation of viewers.

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danny 4 days, 7 hours ago

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