One Day, I Shall Come Back (The Girl in the Fireplace)

(104 comments)

In this image, Clara is cleverly disguised as a candle.

It’s May 6th, 2006. Gnarls Barkley remains at number one, with Dirty Pretty Things, Snow Patrol, and Rihanna also charting. And that Mary J Blige/U2 thing is still about too. Albums include Bruce Springsteen’s album of Pete Seeger covers and a Massive Attack greatest hits. In the last week one of those remarkably half-assed steps to maybe sort of do something about the genocide in Darfur took place, accomplishing, as you’d expect, nothing. The government of China claimed to have perfected weather control and got into a row with the Catholic Church, though not about the weather. And the Labour Party under Tony Blair lost more than 200 council seats, coming in behind both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in local elections, resulting in a heavy cabinet reshuffle.

This latter thing is actually seemingly just a thing that happens when Moffat is around, as four years later he’ll see Gordon Brown brought down in the 2010 elections just weeks after his run on Doctor Who starts. So there’s a proper reason for everyone to hate Moffat: he makes Tories win things. Actually, hating Moffat for the future is a bit of an issue with this story, as so many tropes familiar from his later Doctor Who career make their first appearances here. What’s interesting, then, is that this once again doesn’t seem to have originally been conceived as a Moffat story in the sense that we now understand that phrase.

The brief given to Moffat was apparently one of Davies’s kitchen sink ones - he wanted clockwork aliens after reading about the mechanical Turk, and he wanted the Madame du Pompadour after encountering the character researching Casanova. So it went to Moffat. This makes sense - he’d had good luck with gas masks last time, so clocks seemed up his alley. And Madame du Pompadour was set up for more sex comedy, which was, after all, the brief he’d originally been given with The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.

For the second time, however, Moffat defied expectations. Impressed with what Davies had done in the first season, Moffat apparently decided he wanted to do something like that and, instead of writing a sex comedy, wrote a fairy tale romance. Note how outside of the cold open the story is framed by the shot of the spaceship, winding silently in the night, the chimes of the music box whose key it physically resembles echoing through the silence as the final bit of the story’s riddle is revealed. Even the cold open starts with a variation of this shot - a matching shot of stars accompanied by a jaunty harpsichord  that pans down to Versailles instead of up to the space station, making the boxy palace of Versailles just another magic box in a story jam-packed with them.

This is in many ways the story’s most vaultedly ambitious aspect: the way in which the story is structured like a puzzle box and contains so many such structures within it, but how all of this puzzle box contains what is, at its heart, a fairy story. I use that term in a fairly precise sense as well - the interplay between Reinette’s life and the space ship is that of the human world and the world of faerie, such that travel into one causes years to pass in the other. This is a very good way of handling the Doctor, and Moffat tips his head fittingly to Paul Cornell, who originated it, in proper Doctor Who style, namely by nicking the “I’m what monsters have nightmares about” bit from Love and War.

But underlying this is the idea that the Doctor is larger than we can get a handle on - which is what Moffat is getting at with his “there’s a secret in the Doctor’s name” idea, but is perhaps more importantly what he’s getting at by showing us this fleeting but epic love affair for the Doctor that plays out in the middle of the extended Rose plot. A case can be made that The Girl in the Fireplace somehow cheapens Rose, but that case requires a commitment to monogamy that we’ve already seen rejected by the polymorphous sexuality of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The Doctor’s romance with Madame du Pompadour is nowhere presented as conflicting with his feelings towards Rose - they are allowed to exist in juxtaposed parallel, an easy enough concept in a show where pre-revolutionary France can abut a 51st century space ship. The possibility is opened, especially when this episode is put next to School Reunion, that the Doctor has countless loves and heartbreaks scattered throughout the history of the program.

The result, which is not entirely to its benefit, is that the Moffat era arrives fully formed here, all of its tropes and techniques in place and reasonably developed. Moffat will come back to most of these ideas over and over again. This is not a problem as such - “I really wish Robert Holmes hadn’t written so many stories about evil bureaucrats,” said no one ever. But it does mean that there are many things within this story better picked up later. For now it’s sufficient to say that all of these ideas worked quite well at the time, resulting in an episode widely regarded as a classic. Certainly for my part it struck impressively when I came upon it - the first two episodes of Series Two were adequate, the third quite good, but it was the fourth that cemented the series for me, and perhaps more to the point cemented the entire comeback. I watched Series One, but a rough breakup resulting in an unexpected move got me distracted after Dalek, and I didn’t finish the series until late fall, and Series Two was the first one that I watched faithfully as it came out. And this one blew me away. It blew me away in an enduring way that softened the relative disappointment of everything from here to Army of Ghosts, although this should not be taken to say that I’m going to take a negative tone for the next few episodes. This was the episode where “Steven Moffat episode” became a big deal.

We should also probably talk at some point about the Hugos. These are orthodox science fiction awards - ones whose history stretch back to the golden age. Their taste has evolved - it’s not like they’re a bunch of nutcases who think literature died with Isaac Asimov, but they’re terribly, terribly establishment within the sci-fi community. And Doctor Who has been cleaning up there, largely on the strength of Steven Moffat, who has won four of the series’ six Hugos, and was the executive producer for another one. (Davies, of course, can claim the inverse). The first one, awarded in August of 2006 after Series Two had wrapped, was the only really surprising one.

That said, from the point where the nominations were announced it looked weird - and that was back in March. Doctor Who had three of seven slots, with two more taken up by dead-in-the-water presentations from the previous year’s WorldCon - a phenomenon that seems to have been the bizarre consequence of the equally bizarre 2004 victory of Gollum’s acceptance speech at the MTV Movie Awards over the series finale of Buffy and two Firefly episodes. The remainder were an episode of 2005 winner Battlestar Galactica and a Pixar short. Lost, nominated last year, was out. No Stargate, which was nominated last year. Angel was over and Joss Whedon was suddenly off the air and making movies. But Star Trek: Enterprise was snubbed, admittedly in part because it was crap and had caused Star Trek to go off the air again, and suddenly the new king and frontrunner was obviously Doctor Who, which wasn’t even on in the US yet when it swept the nominations. This was a very different sort of arrival and success - Doctor Who was suddenly the top dog in geek culture, and with a new generation of geeks.

And so once they’d settled on Steven Moffat as their favorite writer in August of 2006 it was dead obvious that The Girl in the Fireplace was going to make it two for two. Having beaten Battlestar Galactica once already, there was nothing else on television that looked prone to taking down the new king, and if they’d liked The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances then this was a shoo-in. But there’s an odd divide implied here as well. Yes, Doctor Who was the darling of the sci-fi establishment, but Russell T Davies wasn’t. He was shut out on his own program, and not for the last time. In Britain it was Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, but in fandom it was already Steven Moffat’s.

Instead of tracing the consequences of that now, though, let’s instead look back and remember that this episode was consciously given to the sex comedy writer. Which is to say, how is it that Steven Moffat became the hit Doctor Who writer in the first place? What about the career of a sitcom writer made him capable of this?

What’s interesting is that once you take out the thing that’s Russell T Davies’s idea - pre-Revolutionary France - all of this is actually the most predictable story possible from Steven Moffat. It’s the Doctor discovering girls. What Moffat’s done is written a story that is in part sex comedy, but framed it in the fairy tale structure that Moffat’s clockwork robots and period setting seem to evoke. Moffatt clearly prefers history’s iconography to its content, and thus writes for the movie version of history. Given a terribly idiosyncratic moment of history with no obvious movie version, Moffat improvised his tone, or, rather, nicked it from Paul Cornell, who, it should be reiterated, is a good friend of Moffat’s. And he gave it a really sad ending because it’s not a sitcom and people love tragedy - note that the three most beloved episodes of the season are the ones that are written in part as tragedies, though School Reunion obviously averts it at the last second.

But the underlying story is the story Moffat has been telling since Press Gang - the story of how the not entirely good guy learns to be one. In Press Gang it was the story of Linda taming Spike, but in both Joking Apart and Coupling it’s an obvious stand-in for Moffat himself engaging in self-redemption. Joking Apart is him learning that he’s been a bad husband, Coupling is him learning to be a good one. And in both cases he writes himself, in a real stretch, as a wisecracking comedy writer. Which is basically what he writes the Doctor as - and, for that matter, Sherlock Holmes: terribly clever people who can be kind of dicks to the people around them. This is Moffat’s default story over the bulk of his career, and it’s one that he’s developed in new ways each time he tells it.

But notably, the clever person is not usually the hero of the story, at least not straightforwardly. Joking Apart is the story of a man losing his marriage. Coupling is the story of a man learning to be responsible enough to have kids. Why we should suddenly expect “the clever person learns to deal with girls” to be a celebration of the clever person because it’s being done in Doctor Who isn’t clear. And sure enough, this is a tragedy caused by the Doctor in the end - his giddy enthusiasm at the possibility of getting back to the TARDIS leads him to fail to actually take Reinette with him. Within Moffat’s career, this is clearly the point. Let’s take for granted, in fact, that Moffat’s quoting Love and War means that this is the exact point he’s making - that the Doctor’s vastness makes him terrible as well as wonderful.

But that’s not really how Tennant plays it. Tennant is more interested in acting the consequences of the tragic fall than he is in the tragic flaw itself. Which is fine, as he’s terribly good at acting the consequences. But Moffat writes the inadequacies better, and he just doesn’t have the Doctor for what he wants to do here. He wrote for Eccleston, who would play this sort of material with an alienating blankness, clearly not understanding the consequences of what he’s doing. He’ll eventually rewrite it all for Smith, who plays this stuff with a manic bumbling that similarly communicates its alienness. But Tennant doesn’t give him that. Moffat writes the Doctor discovering girls, but Tennant plays the Doctor getting laid.

Crucial and rarely mentioned in discussions of why this works are Rose and Mickey, who anchor it with some phenomenal moments, most notably Noel Clarke’s brilliant handling of escorting Rose out of the console room, which he plays as Mickey realizing what’s happened to the Doctor better than the Doctor does. (Tennant’s shaky “I’m always OK” is also brilliant in this regard.) And the scene that Moffat and Clarke describe on the commentary track as “Madame du Pompadour with a couple of chavs on a spaceship” is similarly gorgeous - putting Rose in the plot and highlighting what the Doctor can’t do within it.

But the result is still a story that’s told at a distance. It’s not so big a miss as to make the episode not work, but the effect is odd. You’ve got a lackluster setting (Madame du Pompadour didn’t even make anyone but Russell T Davies’s list of the top ten historical figures they’d like the Doctor to meet) and a lackluster central conflict (Tennant’s Doctor discovering girls), but everything around them is so completely spot-on that it can step in. So instead you get a story that’s about the consequences of romance with a man such as the Doctor and about the basic surface glamour of its world, wrapped in a gorgeous puzzle box/fairy tale structure that makes the whole thing come off gorgeously. But it’s clear that the idea is in no way finished. Even at the time, this felt like the beginning of a line of thought about Doctor Who.

Comments

David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Reinette: 'I should have enjoyed the slow path'. Carries all the emotional weight of the temptation scene in School Reunion in just one line that almost gets thrown away.
Sophia Myles' performance in that sequence is brilliant.

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Nick Smale 3 years, 9 months ago

Madame du Pompadour didn’t even make anyone but Russell T Davies’s list of the top ten historical figures they’d like the Doctor to meet

It seems like an odd choice, doesn't it? Doctor Who started to be broadcast in France around this time, and I've always wondered if this influenced Davies decision. Did he choose to make a story about Madame du Pompadour as a gift to the show's new French audience?

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Froborr 3 years, 9 months ago

The possibility is opened, especially when this episode is put next to School Reunion, that the Doctor has countless loves and heartbreaks scattered throughout the history of the program.

It has been said that Davies wants to be a companion and fall in love with the Doctor; Moffat wants to be the Doctor and have the companions fall in love with him.

Is there anything more arrogant than writing the Doctor as self-insert? Okay, I guess you could argue that Hesse tops it with Siddhartha, but it's debatable whether that's a self-insert and Moffat ain't Hesse.

Madame du Pompadour didn’t even make anyone but Russell T Davies’s list of the top ten historical figures they’d like the Doctor to meet

Did the production staff or writers actually make lists? I'd be curious to see them. I'm especially curious how many of them had any women at all.

Personally, I'd like the Doctor to meet Emmy Noether. That would basically make me squee for a month.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 9 months ago

Interesting thought. I don't know how the French view Madame du Pompadour, though.

(If a French time travel series was about to be broadcast in Britain, I wouldn't expect them to say "Okay, now we've got a British audience, we really need to do a story where our lead character has an affair with Nell Gwynn!")

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

'It has been said that Davies wants to be a companion and fall in love with the Doctor; Moffat wants to be the Doctor and have the companions fall in love with him...Is there anything more arrogant than writing the Doctor as self-insert?'

It's a neat observation but I can see little evidence for it. How exactly do Rose, Martha or Donna reflect Russel T Davies? In what way, other than being prone to cracking wise, does the Eleventh Doctor represent an avatar of Moffat? The joking and gawkiness are as much an aspect of Matt Smith's acting style as Moffat's writing himself into the show. Actually I'd be very surprised if any writer of a 'fantasy' character did not at some point 'self insert' It's not arrogance, that's how writing works. One could equally argue that James Bond and Sherlock Holmes are exaggerated wish fulfillment projections of Fleming and Conan Doyle. Without knowing the writers personally and without making huge assumptions about them I don't see how that analysis as anything other than a suggestion that the writers are imposing their own agenda on the character, which I see as their job.

The Doctor 'discovering girls' has so far made for some intriguing narrative devices as this episode demonstrates. As long as the Doctor's reaction to the discovery is in character for that particular incarnation I celebrate it. Ten and Eleven seem perhaps more suited to falling in love as they are played as 'young' regenerations but we saw the first Doctor experience a romantic yearning in The Aztecs; imagine how writers might have handled similar affairs of the heart (in character) for other incarnations.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Why not? It seems a perfectly reasonable creative decision. Didn't Doctor Who do a story about Richard Nixon as soon as it's popularity in the US was established?

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Froborr 3 years, 9 months ago

How exactly do Rose, Martha or Donna reflect Russel T Davies?

Oh, they don't really. Davies is good at writing characters, so they vary greatly from both him and one another.

Moffat, on the other hand, while great at dialogue, comedy, horror, and twisty timey-wimey plots, has only written four characters in his entire career: Moffat (Rory, the men on Coupling), Person-Moffat-Wishes-He-Was (the Doctor), Moffat's Ex-Wife (the women on Coupling), and Moffat's Fantasy Woman (M. de Pompadour, River, Amy).

I have no problem, for the record, with the Doctor "discovering girls." My problem is that Moffat's views on gender and romance are horrifying, and he's infecting the Doctor with them.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

Wow, you must know him really well. I only met him once in the pub.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

The fact that Moffat clearly thought it was a cute and funny joke to have the Doctor kiss another woman's wife against her will because ha ha isn't he puckish and silly does speak volumes for me

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Or, at least, thought it not so blatantly offensive as to insist on its removal from Mark Gatiss's script. Which, apparently, so did Matt Smith, Catrin Stewart, Saul Metzstein, Marcus Wilson, and Caroline Skinner, all of whom similarly did not insist on the scene's alteration. Treating Moffat as the primary authorial intent behind that scene feels like stacking the deck recklessly.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Doing it badly? I mean, at the end of the day Moffat writes a broadly serviceable Doctor. He's been writing the Doctor as an authorial stand-in since at least The Doctor Dances ("Rose, do you mind, I'm trying to resonate concrete.") and it's generally speaking worked as a character. I'm not so loyal to authorial intent to find how he gets there to be a potential dealbreaker unless it's, like, eat babies to summon the dark energies of Xoanon to guide his pen.

And anyway, Moffat's Doctor Who didn't just emerge sui generis. It came from his past writing career, where, as I noted, on two separate shows the terribly clever and funny male lead has in fact been an authorial stand-in, to the point of taking his name in Coupling. To expect him to write a third character with similar traits without an autobiographical element because it might be arrogant seems unfair.

I mean, is Matt Smith similarly arrogant for using method acting techniques in performing the Doctor?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Sadly now that we are well into the new series, something is beginning to happen that I always suspected would. The comments section of the blog is turning into Gallifrey Base.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Well. A particularly intelligent and well-spoken version of Gallifrey Base.

Which is kind of wonderful, actually.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Ever the optimist. Well let's hope so then!

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

And of of course, as we we all know, Jenny Flint is the Doctor's daughter regenerated which makes it even more icky. Oh wait...is that not canon yet?

Oh yeah there's been some well dodgy attituding since the Doctor got sexy. BTW am I the only one to find the Doctor's pet name for his TARDIS if not exactly offensive but totally unbelievable and the only bum note in 'The Doctor's Wife'? Anyone know if that was Gaiman or Moffat's idea?

I think though that I'd rather have the Doctor be flirty with other people's wives (which in that scene was I believe meant as an example of his 'alien not quite getting the rules of whatever era or society he's in because he's actually a bit busy fighting monsters and kissing is a recent discovery that he thinks is fun') than the downright sexist and condescending attitude of Doctors three through seven.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm Sparacus!

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 9 months ago

The Doctor "discovering girls" has always struck me as a strange idea to base a story on, one that relies more than a little on not paying attention to the history of the show at all.

Hartnell and Troughton are your cool Grandfather and Father, respectively, and don't have time for the ladies anymore (save for that wonderful Aztec woman he met at the senior center). Pertwee is far too cool for any of that, not that it keeps him from getting jealous when the lady he spends most of his time with runs off with that hippy chemist. Baker and Ward writes itself (ref. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGlMTMV_CJo ). Ditto for Davison and Strickson. Baker II hates everyone, and McCoy is simply too busy playing god. McGann "discovers" girls right there on screen, after he discovers shoes that fit.

Now, I'll fully grant that it's bad writing to expect a complete knowledge and history of a long running program (this isn't a cult sci fi show or a comic book, after all), but it's not as if Eccleston and Tennant weren't knee deep into romance plots of their own. Which is where I think Tennant shines, because, as Phil remarks, he plays it as the Doctor getting some. This isn't some new experience he's discovering like a pubescent boy; it's something he's done before and will do again, but that doesn't mean that each time isn't special and unique and worth remembering.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

Somebody not a Flanders & Swann fan?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

And yet the Doctor discovering girls *works* because, possible as it may have been to fit girl-discovering into several previous eras, because we've never seen it. And, I think, because one never really discovers girls. One just discovers particular girls.

We notably never get the Doctor discovering girls like a pubescent boy - dirty socks all over the console room and nudie mags stashed under the time rotor. We do get him being flustered and anxious and not sure within the context of specific relationships. Which happens at any age.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

'We notably never get the Doctor discovering girls like a pubescent boy - dirty socks all over the console room and nudie mags stashed under the time rotor.'

You've outdone yourself! If we don't get exactly that with the twelfth Doctor I'll want to know why.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm Spartacus. I don't know who Sparacus is, but he's not me.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

He's Spartacus.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't find it a bum note at all. I think it's...well not nice but fitting. Sometime he calls her old girl, sometimes she's sexy...pet names for things just kind of develop.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 9 months ago

I remember when I first saw this episode...I thought it was so much fun, especially with its dual setting. I did watch it and "School Reunion" as if I was introducing someone to the show, and I realized that those two back-to-back really do give off the impression of the Doctor going around having romances. To a casual viewer, or one just looking at the concept, I think that's what people see, but I feel like there's a whole other layer if you are familiar with the show. To me, no relationship with the Doctor is that simple. I've argued so much against interpreting Amy and Clara as romantic.

I think it's fair to say I grew up with the Moffat/Smith era (oh I am going to be in tears at Christmas) - I'm not that young, but it's been here at key points in my life. I've never even picked up on this aspect before. To me, it was more about growing up, having less power in/being controlled by the universe, and having an offbeat and caring father figure that might just drop out of the sky.

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Bennett 3 years, 9 months ago

In two series' time this show is going to define "the most important woman in the whole of creation" as one who happens to grab the right man's hand and allows her thoughts to be overridden with his.

That moment in The Crimson Horror is awful, and I wish I could remove it from that otherwise great episode, but with this in mind....for me it just pales in comparison (and there's also no room for buck-passing in that case).

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Chris 3 years, 9 months ago

I have noticed a difference between the most vociferous critics of RTD and Moffat.

RTD's critics tend to focus on the perceived failings of the episodes he actually wrote and don't give him credit for the more acclaimed ones he didn't write during his tenure (even though he claims to have substantially rewritten everybody else's scripts except Moffat's).

Moffat's critics take him to task for every episode in his tenure whether written by him or not. As well as the Crimson Horror incident above, I've seen Moffat taken to task for supposed sexism in conversations in Neil Cross's Hide, the short skirt remark in Gaiman's Nightmare in Silver, the "Mrs Williams" in the God Complex etc.

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Matter-Eater Lad 3 years, 9 months ago

Rory Williams and Mark from "Joking Apart" are the same character? I must be watching wrong.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 9 months ago

I think it might be less of the Doctor discovering girls but stumbling upon and not understanding that part of human life. Key point: "The Lodger". And in "Closing Time" he doesn't understand that he and Craig were mistaken as a gay couple.

It's just kind of something he never bothered with. "Either you kiss her or you go to your room and invent a new kind of screwdriver. Don't make my mistakes."

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Scaedura 3 years, 9 months ago

About The Doctor kissing Jenny, I got the idea from watching the behind the scenes clip that it was actually Matt Smith's idea. When they were filming that scene he says "We should definitely kiss.", which to me implies that it wasn't in the script at all. If I remember correctly Matt also improvised The Doctor's kiss with Rory in Dinosaurs in a Spaceship.

Basically, I don't think Steven Moffat had anything to do with it.

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Nightsky 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm Sparacus, and so's my wife!

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Seeing_I 3 years, 9 months ago

Is no one else bothered by the idea that the Doctor recklessly abandoned Rose and Mickey on a spaceship in the future, and the idea that anybody would have a fireplace transported intact (what does that even mean?) is just ridiculous?

Maybe he was planning on waiting till he could sneak aboard the TARDIS during "The Reign of Terror" and hide out until he caught back up with them?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I always imagined that he'd just live a fairly normal life for 3000 years or so, eventually acquire a spaceship, and pull alongside Mickey and Rose late in his 18th incarnation to carry on.

But I think if you look at how Billie Piper plays the scene, it's pretty clear she's bothered by it and makes the conscious choice to have the Doctor look reckless there. It's quite well done, actually. (Especially because it's believably reckless - that the Doctor was so fixated on rushing in to save the day that he didn't think through the consequences, figuring he'd sort those out later. Like he does.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 9 months ago

Far worse than the scene in "Crimson Horror" is the scene at the end of "Nightmare in Silver" when the Doctor talks about Clara in her red dress.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Moffat and RTD have always been of the school of thought that each regeneration is a "new man", and in fact this is demonstrated quite well in (of all things) "Curse of Fatal Death". The first two Doctors display an assured confidence with women, but then the Jim Broadbent Doctor appears, and has obviously no idea how to treat them, despite less than a minute earlier being Richard E. Grant.

I don't find it surprising that Moffat would remove certain elements of emotional maturity from the 11th Doctor that the 10th Doctor had in spades.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Well this has weeded out the non-Gallifrey-Base members (or at least those unlucky enough to have encountered our fish-faced friend).

Verification code: Asyell Regis. Where I will spend my retirement.

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Triturus 3 years, 9 months ago

Froborr
"My problem is that Moffat's views on gender and romance are horrifying"

Horrifying? Really? What exactly does Moffat do with his writing on gender and romance that is a) 'horrifying' and b) horrifying in a way that other writers are not? Massacres are horrifying. Writing 'feisty' female characters is not.

(I hate the word 'feisty' by the way, but it will do as a shorthand for now.)

I've read a few criticisms of Moffat's 'gender issues' that make him out to be some kind of one-off twisted misogynist, and I really don't see the evidence for this.

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Alexander J Bateman 3 years, 9 months ago

There was a line cut about the 'Automated Tardis dump Rose back at her House' from /The Parting of the Ways/ that was cut from the script that explained the former.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Davies rewrote everyone except Moffat? What about Cornell? Father's Day seems fairly free of what I think of as Davies-isms.

I agree that Moffat isn't free from sexism. But I sometimes feel part of the reason why the charge is so repetitive in criticism of Moffat is that people project their dislike of assertive women who disagree with the Doctor onto Moffat himself.

I can just about see the claim that River is the same character as Clara. But Amy is a different character. And Reinette and Sally Sparrow and Madame Vastra are each different again.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not willing to jump on board to the idea that Moffat's characters are inserts of himself. With concepts like auteur theory and "art reflects life," we psychoanalyze too much.

Sure, Moffat discussed how DW has been a major impact on his life and how he's fulfilling a childhood dream working on the series. But that doesn't mean he's the only author. As others here have noted, others in the cast and crew made significant contributions to the series. And let's not forget BBC has ultimate control.

You say, in both "Joking Apart" and "Coupling," Moffat writes himself as a wisecracking comedy writer. Technically, this isn't true. We never learn about Steve's job. Sure, in an audio commentary, Moffat says he's a writer. But that doesn't concretize in the series proper.

And even if Moffat based some characters wholly or partially on himself, that doesn't mean you can deduce Moffat's psyche from those characters behaviors. Take "Jekyll" for extreme example.

(This sounds more serious than I intended.)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, I certainly wouldn't go as far as Froborr's "horrifying", just that Moffat has a big old backpack of unexamined privilege and a penchant for projection, and that's really uncomfortable when he's given control of one of the few shows on TV that wasn't already dripping in heteronormative privilege. He's perfectly happy to unquestioningly reinforce age-old stereotypes (Like the idea that okay, girls can have fun adventures and all, but deep down a person without a Y chromosome is incomplete until she settles down, gives up adventuring, marries a man and makes babies).

What bothers me more is that Moffat's defenders always seem to take this "WHAT!!!! How DARE you call him a misogynist when he didn't even -- (what's the sexism equivalent of killing Medgar Evers); he's way less sexist than (insert notable misogynist here), so STFU. And besides, even if all of Moffat's female characters follow the same arc, that doesn't mean that other women who are not his characters don't, so there's absolutely nothing wrong with him depicting there as being X women in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE who want to settle down with a good man and have nice normal babymaking heteronormative lives because there really are some women who are like that." I even had a Moffat defender insist that I was the "real" sexist because I "so clearly" disapproved of women choosing to be wives and mothers.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

deep down a person without a Y chromosome is incomplete until she settles down, gives up adventuring, marries a man and makes babies

Moffatt is on record as saying that any married couple who don't have children is, in some sense, still 'just dating'.

This rather suggests to me that it isn't that he thinks that a person without a Y chromosome is incomplete until babies, but that any person, with or without a Y chromosome, is incomplete unless they have a family.

Which certainly isn't sexist, where sexist is defined as 'treating men and women differently' because it applies the exact same principle to men and women.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think anybody who tells other posters to shut up should be allowed in this discussion.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

You don't think that anyone claiming characters are 'the same' or 'different' should (a) define what they mean by that and (b) provide examples?

How can you have academic rigour without?

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

All writers base all their characters partially on themselves.

What else could they do?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

My objection had nothing to do with the point you were making.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

SK I'm going to chip in here as someone who has never had a major disagreement with you and who often agrees with your comments. Bloody hell what is your problem here? When you have your own blog and we comment there THEN you can issue orders about what people can or cannot say. As it stands this is Phillip Sandifer's blog and he has already asked you to tone it down. If your defence is going to be the same as last time, that you find it fun to rant and pick arguments with other commenters, (who are never anything but polite in their responses to your goading by the way) then you you must know there is a name for that kind of 'fun' and it is called Trolling. I enjoy chatting with folks on these threads but I do not expect to see anyone told to 'shut up' if they don't happen to agree with you or provide enough 'evidence' to satisfy your rigid academic standards. Please try to be a little more chilled.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

This is very odd. It's not like I have any actual ability or authority to shut anybody up, and everybody knows it. And surely, anyone on the internet has seen far worse language than 'shut up'.

You'd think 'defend that assertion or shut up' was some horribly offensive insult rather than something people having discussions say to each other all the time. The idea isn't that the other person shuts up, it's that they defend their assertion.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm going to pipe in here because this place is usually the first place I go on the net in the morning, and the last place I go on the net at night. SK you have a great investment in Doctor Who...but it manifests as being one of the most unapproachable and inconsistent people I've seen on the internet. It's like dealing with an abusive family member. Sometimes you're just fine and others you are belligerent, rude and abusive. If you walked into my office, or into a store I was frequenting and acted like that I'd ask you to leave. You wouldn't act like this in Doctor Sandifier's living room, would you?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Anton and theonlyspiral- I appreciate the support. But the last thing I want is for threads to get derailed by the ugly business of moderation. At that point we're trending into deeply sad territory like me having to think about making a comments policy or upgrading the comments system to something I can ban people from within. And that's just a bleak nightmare I'd rather not get to.

So let's let this be the last comment on this little side-thread, and then we can get back to the fun topic of sexism, autobiography, and the Moffat era.

SK - express almost any viewpoint you want on my blog. Seriously. Have fun. Goes for everyone. I mean, there are some political things I'll step in on because I'm just not OK with having those views expressed on my blog, but in terms of talking about Doctor Who, have a ball.

But be polite about it. It's that simple. Be nice, polite, and friendly. The goal here is not to win arguments. It is to enjoy the company of other people and for them to enjoy your company.

Think LINDA before Victor Kennedy shows up.

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 9 months ago

Enterprise wasn't crap. Well, at least not entirely. It's abjectly brilliant ideas just about save it. Just about. The fact it's snubbed by not just the Hugoes, but also Star Trek fandom and, well, genre fandom at large is primarily because there's a nasty stigma about it IMO.

There. I said it.

That said, I do wonder what prompted the snubbing of other shows of this period: Stargate SG-1 was still on the air at this point and was in the middle of one of it's best seasons ever as far as I'm concerned. I have a feeling I know why Battlestar Galactica was passed over, though.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't like getting into discussion about discussions or talks about talks. So I'll just say one thing off-topic:

The point about arguments isn't to win. The point about arguments is that after a no-holds barred, throw-everything-you've-got, take-no-prisoners offensive from both sides, the one thing left standing just might be the truth.

Arguments are about challenging someone to prove you are wrong and, if they do, accepting that you are wrong.

That's why we argue. Not to win: to find out what is true. And if you put on kid gloves, or accept your opponent doing anything less than trying to win by any means necessary, you lessen the chance of beating away and breaking down and smashing up anything but the truth.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

(Or to put it another way: I don't start an argument to win. I start an argument to find out whether I'm right.)

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

It's my favorite Star Trek. I definitely don't own a jacket with a bunch of the patches though. That would be silly. Why was BSG passed over Josh? I'm just not very familiar with the Hugos or anything outside the first two and a half seasons of BSG. I don't really know any of the behind the scenes story there.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 9 months ago

Okay, here's what I don't get...where does all the wife and mother stuff come from? River and the Doctor are "married", but I'm pretty sure if you treated that seriously Moffat would just laugh at you. They have an open relationship. Amy keeps on adventuring with her husband, and Rory realizes how bad he sounded when it seemed like he just wanted children. They leave to be loyal to each other and to finally relax after all the stuff that happened when they were with the Doctor. Their child was manipulated and used because of the bad guys, and the Doctor and Rory or so mad that they blow up some Cybermen. Clara's got no love interest, nor does she need one. And Madame Vastra and Jenny? It's quite hard to complain about that one.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

"The first of these two ideologies is Enlightenment liberalism. In this model, the application of human reason leads towards truth. Diversity of viewpoints is valued because of the belief that when the ideas argue against each other the right one will rise to the top. Democracy works because it will produce the best solution - the aggregate power of human reason is viewed as the best decision-making process available. So long as every viewpoint gets a chance to be heard, the right one will, seemingly inevitably, win out.

Postmodern liberalism, on the other hand, rejects this idea. At its most basic level, it rejects the sort of hyper-sanitized purity of it. Democracy doesn't work because it picks the right option, it works because anything else is even crueler. (Which is, of course, basically the content of Churchill's famous line about democracy being the worst system of government. The transition from Enlightenment era to postmodernism was not a lightswitch event any more than the transition to science was. For one thing, you had to go through modernism.) Moral rightness does not inherently rise to the top, and it certainly doesn't with anything near the effectiveness that money and power do.

(...)

There is still an embrace of cosmopolitanism here, but there's a fundamental difference in goals. Enlightenment liberalism embraces cosmopolitanism because it believes that a single "best view" will bubble up to the top. Postmodern liberalism embraces it because it believes that given a sufficient critical mass of views the worst views will wither and die, and that this is about the best you can hope for in terms of social progress. It recognizes that progress is not about approaching a defined goal of the future but about cleaning up the reiterated fossils littering the present. That the march of history is not about the oncoming rush of the future but about the steady killing of the past. The production of new ideas and new perspectives is the material fuel that enables this, and is thus valuable. Postmodern liberalism values cosmopolitanism because cosmopolitanism breeds the conditions in which decaying ideologies are sped to their deaths."

From my own Mary Whitehouse entry. Which is to say, I don't care about the confrontation of viewpoints that much. I mean, sometimes you need to get into a no-holds barred fight because one viewpoint is so utterly vile that it needs to be stamped out as quickly as possible. Sure. I save that for political arguments where one side is killing the people I love, mainly.

Because for the most part, I value more. More arguments, more perspectives, more ideas. I want people to disagree, add to each other's statements, agree and disagree in part, and generally pile up the viewpoints. I want to be gloriously overwhelmed by the number of possibilities and perspectives.

That's why hostile argumentation displeases me. Because it silences voices who don't want to get insulted, and then I don't get to hear what those voices have to say. And it's why I put my foot down on this - because I hate the idea that someone's going to read a comment where somebody is being rude and hostile and decide that they don't want to play. And then I never get to hear what they have to say.

That makes me sad.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

More arguments, more perspectives, more ideas. I want people to disagree, add to each other's statements, agree and disagree in part, and generally pile up the viewpoints.

The value of which is that, maybe, eventually you get to the truth.

Otherwise, it's just a pointless cacophony. Macbeth's tale told by an idiot. Fun while it lasts but ultimately...

Nothing.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

If there is one thing that I am deeply confident in, it is that nothing short of extinction will cause a single, static concept of the truth to take root in humanity. Everything I know about history tells me that there are profound and fundamental shifts in human understanding, that these happen constantly, and that every aspect of our current social order will eventually crumble and be replaced by things we cannot imagine.

I don't care about finding the truth. I care about accelerating that process.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Sorry if I overstepped myself Doctor S.

On Topic: I think one of the things that get's overlooked about Moffat is he does try to change things. He added Jenny and Vastra in response to the note that he had no homo-sexual characters in his Doctor Who for example. No it's not perfect, but he has shown a willingness to try and change and work on things. He's never going to do the same job as RTD, just by virtue of the fact that a Straight White Bloke is just not going to be able to tap into the same experiences as a Gay or Transgendered person. But he added Jenny and Vastra anyways as an Overture, as well as Strax (who is Asexual) and Susan the Horse (Transexual). It's not perfect but it's a step in the right direction.

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Triturus 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross
Yeah, I certainly wouldn't go as far as Froborr's "horrifying", just that Moffat has a big old backpack of unexamined privilege and a penchant for projection, and that's really uncomfortable when he's given control of one of the few shows on TV that wasn't already dripping in heteronormative privilege.

But is his take on Who really that much different from RTD's, in terms of its treatment of the Dr and his companions? After all, you had Mickey and Rose; Jackie and Pete; Rose ending up with Doctor Lite; Martha fancying the Doctor and ending up with Mickey; and Donna starting off getting married to a man and ending up married to someone else. Take Captain Jack out of Series 1-4 and is it really signficantly less heteronormative than Moffat's seasons? I appreciate that Captain Jack is an important character, and RTD certainly went further in incorporating references to alternative sexualities than Moffat has done (although Moffat hasn't left them out altogether), but I'm not sure that Moffat is, overall, such a throwback as some people make him out to be.

I'm not saying he is beyond criticism, by the way, as he clearly isn't. Just that he seems to come in for quite severe criticism on the issues of sexism and heteronormativity (-tiveness?) which personally I don't see as entirely fair.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

If there is one thing that I am deeply confident in, it is that nothing short of extinction will cause a single, static concept of the truth to take root in humanity

Well, obviously. The truth exists outside of humanity, It has to, or it wouldn't be the truth.

I don't care about finding the truth. I care about accelerating that process.

That's brave. I'm not sure I would like whatever social order eventually replaces our current one, in the great cycle of empires. Are you sure you would?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Where angels fear to tread. Even now, standing on the edge. It's that feeling you get, eh? Right at the back of your head. That impulse. That strange little impulse. That mad little voice saying, go on. Go on. Go on. Go over. Go on.

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 9 months ago

As Phil said, the Hugo Awards are *extremely* establishment. Battlestar Galactica...uh, isn't. I think that's a large part of it right there: Just take a look at how many people view the show's mystical and fantastic threads to be a handicap and how many people threw a fit about the last season being "incoherent" and "nonsensical". Hard SF people do not take kindly to this sort of thing.

Also, the Hugoes have never seemed to quite see eye-to-eye with the Ron Moore school of science fictionXfantasy writing just in general. Star Trek didn't really get noticed by them all that much when it was run by him, Michael Piller, Ira Behr and Brannon Braga anyway.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

Wouldn't it be nice if, just once, one of those who'd listened to that voice came back to report their findings?

Yet they never do.

Must be nice, there.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

Davies rewrote everyone except Moffat? What about Cornell? Father's Day seems fairly free of what I think of as Davies-isms.

There's a line in The Writer's Tale, I don't remember it exactly, but it goes approximately like this:

"People call Paul Cornell a genius - and he is - but if only they knew how much of those scripts I wrote".

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jonathan inge 3 years, 9 months ago

Overgeneralization. :)

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

BSG has often had a single episode nominated in the Short Form category, only to lose out to Doctor Who. (The only time it won was the year before Doctor Who became eligible.) The voting system in use at the Hugos (alternative vote, or instant runoff) favours nominees with broad appeal. Doctor Who would typically have several nominations, and presumably most of the second and third preferences from Doctor Who episodes with fewer votes would transfer to other Who episodes, thus making it much more likely that a Who episode would win.

Of course, we shouldn't rule out the possibility than Doctor Who keeps beating BSG because it's better.

What's surprising is that BSG was never nominated in the Long Form category, which would seem a much better match for it.

It's true that hard SF people don't take kindly to some aspects of BSG, but then they don't take at all kindly to Doctor Who either. I don't think there's any sign that the voting in the Best Drama awards is dominated by such people, who are in any case a shrinking and greying subset of fandom. (My personal shorthand for referring to them is "people who take Heinlein seriously".)

The Ron Moore et al Treks did manage one win, but were more often beaten by Babylon 5. The nominations were for individual episodes, and again it's quite reasonable to say that the best episodes of B5 were better than the best episodes of Trek at the time.

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 9 months ago

"The Ron Moore et al Treks did manage one win, but were more often beaten by Babylon 5. The nominations were for individual episodes, and again it's quite reasonable to say that the best episodes of B5 were better than the best episodes of Trek at the time."

I would, of course, disagree. Or actually, I'd at least say it's like comparing apples and oranges.

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SK 3 years, 9 months ago

Comparing apples and oranges is what literary prizes are for, isn't it?

(personally, I use 'won a Hugo award!' as a nice easy 'avoid this!' marker)

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

The commentary on the issue of what's really inside Steven Moffat's mind is fascinating to me, especially as I never really considered it all that sexist to have as your main cast for 2.5 years two straight couples. And I'm looking forward to the enlightened perspective of Phil and various of the regular commenters trying to figure out how Doctor Who has been effected by the sexism controversy over the next year.

For anyone interested in more discussions of the secret motivations of historically significant showrunners in science-fiction, you should check out Josh Marsfelder's Vaka Rangi blog (shameless plug!).

Vaka Rangi takes a similar psychochronography method as Phil has done with Doctor Who and applied it to Star Trek. Josh has gone to some fascinating places already, and is laying down some amazing ideas. Instead of Moffat's sexism, we have Roddenberry's militarism (for which there seems to be WAY more evidence in the actual show), and some very weird interpretations, frameworks, and techniques. He's also just written a brilliant post on one of my favourite classic Star Trek episodes, "The Alternative Factor."

And the project is still young enough that you can easily catch up to where he is now without having to spend an entire day holed up in your apartment ignoring everything else to read, enraptured, the back entries.

Not that I did that when I first discovered the TARDIS Eruditorum. Not at all.

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Galadriel 3 years, 9 months ago

As you go through season two, you keep tossing out statements that clarify so much of my opinion about the Tenth Doctor. The "human-ness" of Ten is one of the factors that lowers him in my opinion--not that he's horrible, but he's too human sometimes. And this episode is one of those that shows it.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

@Triturus: I think the thing that troubles me comes in with the fairytale aspect (Not that I dislike the fairytale aspect per se, quite the opposite): there are times where it feels very much like there is an undercurrent of "Yes, it is fine for a girl to go and have adventures (In this, Moffat elevates himself for me above accusations of simple outright misogyny), but some day the fairy tale has to end, and you have to grow up and be a productive member of society; Alice goes home and does her lessons; Christopher Robin goes off to school and doesn't have time to spend doing nothing any more; Wendy leaves Never-Neverland (Though Peter does come back years later and marries her daughter); The Pevensie children stumble across a lamp post and turn back into children (Such a shame Lewis never wrote a sequel to that. He could have made up for the unfortunate gender essentialism that was still fairly mild, and maybe told us of all the wonderful things that happened to Susan as she grew up); Dorothy comes home from Oz. (It occurs to me that these are all Modernist-Era children's literature, and not technically fairy tales, but technically, Moffat's approach to Doctor Who is more Modernist-Era Children's Literature than Fairy Tale).

And -- admittedly, I might be just focusing on certain things over others -- it feels like all of the non-heteronormative stuff is lumped in with the "acceptable frivolities of an adventureous youth" while the heteronormative stuff is characterized as part of the "but then you have to grow up and get a job and a life and suchlike." So even the fantastic and not-at-all heteronormative couple of Vastra and Jenny (who I still have one big unrelated issue with) are part of the not-quite-real world of the Paternoster Gang's Pastiche Victorian England: the fact that they're lesbians is treated as part of "And Vastra's a lizard-woman, and Jenny is a catsuited victorian-Ninja, and their butler is a campy potato-headed space-warrior-nurse. They also have a pet human boy who is a joke about satnav. In Victorian England!": people who aren't straight are firmly part of the Childhood Fantasy World To Be Left Behind When You Grow Up.

Even River. River's "reward" for the bizarre disfunctional life she lived is that she gets to go sorta-live in the Library's computer where she gets to settle down and have kids.

To rephrase, the reason I'm bothered is that Moffat seems very clearly to be working in a world that revolves around the dichotomy between the "real world" and the fantasy world of the Doctor. And while Moffat isn't a total bastard to people who aren't straight or don't want to have children, or women who don't want to "settle down", those people only ever seem to appear on the "fantasy world" side of things: the "real" world is reserved for the straights.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

It would be rad if we could get all of the Misogynist Moffat arguments out of the way before we actually reach his era, but I'm not holding my breath. Speaking only for myself, and not expecting it to matter much to anyone, I must say that as a non-heterosexual guy in a non-traditional non-marriage with non-human kids (cats, obviously) I'm really hoping we can find something additional to talk about by that point than just whether or not I or indeed my female analogue should feel insulted.

On the "fantasy world" side of things: whither Sherlock and Watson?

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

The Fifth Doctor / Turlough thing just baffles me. I don't see it, even between the lines. Adric, maybe, with all the quarreling, but surely Nyssa more than anyone?

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

"The Bells of St. John" couldn't have been plainer with its Doctor/Clara romance. I would have bet money that's where things were headed.

And then after that, almost nothing apart from that tight skirt line (and if there's a male on this page under Kinsey 6 who's never had a ruder thought than that about a woman, I'll eat my bow tie) and a few flustery moments.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

The only reason I know about Sparacus, having never been to Gallifrey Base, is due to the enormously entertaining and informative YOA blog, which I believe is still going. :-)

Your weed-whacker dinn'ae work, Spacewarp! ;-)

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

...you have strange taste in classic Star Trek episodes if a turkey like "The Alternative Factor" is one of your favorites. :-/

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I found the most contemptible bit of heteronormativity so far in Doctor Who to be pairing Martha off with Mickey in my opinion.

Neither Amy nor River get married, settle down, and have children. (The companion it best describes is Rose.) They're both unable to have children after they settle down. I take Ross' point about real-life / fantasy but I think mid-century New York is more fantasy than real-life and Amy only adopts once she's stuck there.

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DN 3 years, 9 months ago

I certainly think Moffat's gender politics leave much to be desired. For instance, the Bechdel test. Something like 20% of RTD-era episodes fail (the relationship between the companions and their mothers being a key reason for that, I expect). 70% of Moffat-era episodes fail. Seriously--just think about it. How many Moffat episodes have actual conversations between women at all, or conversations between them that aren't about the Doctor or some other male character? I can remember two in Girl in the Fireplace--one between Reinette and her friend--which is exclusively about how the former's planning on seducing the king, and the other between Rose and Reinette--which is primarily about how the Doctor's going to save her. This lack of conversations between women is why I loved that moment in the Rings of Akhaten when Merry and Clara actually have a whole conversation that has nothing to do with any male character. It had been such a long time since something like that had happened. And Moffat didn't write it. And just the general attitude since Moffat took over has felt much more androcentric to me. In a way it wasn't when RTD was in charge.

I've got a list as long as my arm of moments that bother me. I'll try to keep it to episodes Moffat actually wrote. Here are three--though I could easily keep going:

1. Let's Kill Hitler. This was the most jarring for me. Rory asks why River first wanted to marry the Doctor, and then tried to kill him. The Doctor's response? "Because she's a woman. And she's been brainwashed." It's such a condescending, sexist, and infuriating comment. I'm pretty sure I yelled, "WTF is that supposed to mean?!" at the screen when I saw it. Of course--because women--the little dears--are SO overly emotional and irrational, aren't they?

2. The End of Time, Part II. Should've been a warning sign, in retrospect. The Doctor thinks he may be a girl, and reacts by saying, "No. NO!" He can get excited about changing his hair color, but not gender?

3. The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. When Madge describes her first meeting with her husband. Apparently he, a man she'd never met before, would follow her home from work every day. Until one day he catches up to her and tells her, "If you don't marry me, I'll keep following you the rest of my life." That was...ugh. Romanticizing stalking? What if she'd said no? I don't care how good-looking the guy was, if a man I didn't know followed me home every day--through what looked like a fairly isolated forest--I'd feel threatened, not flattered.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I disagree with Phil about Enlightenment liberalism vs postmodern liberalism. Partly because I think an Enlightenment liberalism based on Milton and Mill is different to one based on Hobbes and Voltaire and Bentham. Also, I don't think it's possible to understand the concepts of 'disagreement' or 'argument' or 'perspective' without the idea of truth.
Also, I find it odd that Phil's defence of the postmodernist ideal is couched in negative (paranoid?) terms as a rejection and killing of the past. Meanwhile, the Milton-Mill view requires the idea that we are open to the other so as to be changed by debate and discussion. And because it requires an openness to the other, a starting assumption that we may have something to learn, it disallows rudeness.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 9 months ago

My impression of "Bells" - on Clara's side, she's commenting on what people would assume a Doctor/companion relationship would be like and points this out. Why would you let a stranger into your house? Why would you get with him into a box? On the Doctor's side, he's very much looking after her and making sure she doesn't die again.

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IG 3 years, 9 months ago

'Moffat and RTD have always been of the school of thought that each regeneration is a "new man"'

Hmm, I'm not sure about that, especially with regard to Moffat. From various comments over the years he's always seemed to be of the school that says 'The Doctor is - underneath physical changes and character quirks - fundamentally the same person' - ie, 'one man, eleven faces'. (As do Whitaker, Holmes, Dicks...) He may have changed his mind, of course (perhaps we'll find out in November... ;-))

It was 80s fandom, in its attempts to make sense of 'regeneration' and how it was supposed to work, that started the debate as to whether the Doctor was always fundamentally the same person, or whether each Doctor was a different aspect of the same personality, or whether each incarnation was in some way a fundamentally different person, or whatever.

And I love fannish theories about regeneration, and they gave rise to books as good as Timewyrm: Revelation and The Room with No Doors, so I'd never dismiss them out of hand... but there's very little to back up any of them in what's actually been shown on screen, where, generally speaking, the production team just want to cast a new actor in the leading role and get on with the show.

(The one time these sort of fan theories actually seemed to affect the production - in 20th century Who, at least - was under JNT and Saward, probably via Ian Levine. Which led to the disaster that was Colin Baker's portayal. 'Let's have a Doctor whose character is different to any Doctor we've ever had before - an unlikeable Doctor! Oh. Seems nobody likes him.')

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I think putting Whitaker in the "one man, eleven faces" pile is debatable, given the way the Doctor talks about his past self in Power of the Daleks.

I'd be more inclined to assign moffat (and Whitaker, and Holmes for that matter) to the category of "It's more complicated than 'one man eleven faces' or 'eleven different men'"

(Dicks, I agree, is straightforwardly "eleven faces". I might suppose RTD's position as being something like "The character arc of an incarnation of the Doctor is the trip from being a new face on the same man to being a different and unique man")

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IG 3 years, 9 months ago

Fair points - the Doctor's behaviour at the start of 'Power' is deliberately unsettling for the audience and seems designed to keep them (and Ben and Polly) guessing, yes. (And it may in fact have been written by Dennis Spooner.) I was basing my comment partly on the document about 'The New Dr Who' (http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/changingwho/10305.shtml) which I had thought was written by Whitaker, but looking at it now it's uncredited. May have been Innes Lloyd or Gerry Davies; at any rate it describes the 'metaphysical change' the Doctor has just been through as being like a bad LSD trip (!) in which he relives the most traumatic experiences of his long life, but also emphasises the need to 'keep faith with the essential Dr Who character'. I was also thinking of the fact that although Whitaker ended up writing more Troughton episodes than any other writer, he apparently never saw Troughton play the part. The only performance he could have drawn on directly would be Hartnell's.

Holmes... I was thinking particularly of his reply when asked how he approached writing for Davison's Doctor in Caves of Androzani, when by his own admission he'd never seen Davison play the part. He said he just wrote the Doctor the same way he always did, and everything else was down to the actor. (And it's quite interesting to watch Caves, or read the novelisation, and imagine Pertwee or Tom playing the same lines. It works, but it's very different!)

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Triturus 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross - thanks for such a detailed reply, and some very interesting points. I do see where you're coming from now, and I hadn't thought about it in that way before. I'm about to rewatch the Smith seasons, so I'll bear your argument in mind when I do!

DN -can't argue with 1) and 3) on your list, but 2) could be a "NO!" of amazed surprise and delight, rather than a "Oh God, NOOO!" It can be read both ways.

On the Bechdel test, Moffat has a) said something in the past along the lines of liking having two companions so that they can have conversations about the Doctor when he's not around, and b) clearly likes story arcs that revolve around the Doctor in one way or another. So it's perhaps not too surprising that so many episodes fail the test, and perhaps more an indication of Moffat's fixation on the Doctor as the story itself rather than the mechanism via which the story is told.


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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I find so many "romantic comedies" creepy as hell for just that "stalking = LUVVV" reason. Rushmore throws this into sharp relief, though I'm not entirely sure how intentionally it does so.

I'd agree the "NO!" is a bit equivocal, though not quite as much as the (to me, obviously disappointed) "still not ginger," which I've seen some people declare unironically is a slur against redheads.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

What clinched it for me was the "monks are not cool!" scene, which just didn't ring true for me any other way than "I really want to impress this girl." For a lot of the rest of it (especially with hindsight) I can go along with the idea that he's overprotective, maybe feeling a little guilty that he's had her die twice on his watch, but that business -- not to mention the paintings -- read to me, at the time, like nothing else. Again, though, with hindsight I think you're right.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I think the Doctor is clearly disappointed not to be a Red Head. Thinking it's a slur is deliberate misinterpretation on the part of those people.

I'd have to go back and look at RTD but a LOT of the episodes that come to mind have perhaps a single conversation about things other then men...but the vast majority are about the Doctor and how dangerous he is. Donna is the only one who I think has a relationship with her mother NOT defined by the Doctor. Which is why I HATE the Bechdel test. It's shallow and while it's useful to get undergrads thinking, that's really all it does.

In terms of Ross' fairytale vs real life...I think a more sensible reading might be that Moffat see's settling down to have kids as just as viable and fulfilling as traveling with the Doctor. I have NEVER gotten the impression that the so called "Faerie" world as something to be left behind when you grow up...I mean isn't the point of his later travels with Amy and Rory that you can have both? That both are valid and affirming? You can have a Sontaaran butler and be a Victorian Lizard woman married to a Ninja...but that's just as valid as living at home and having parties and going to weddings. Yes the non-heteronormative stuff is less covered...but at the same time Moffat is a straight bloke, and he is working on it. He's not perfect but he is trying.

DN...while there are problematic moments there are good bits too often in the same episode. Like in "Lets Kill Hitler" River is a threat of the level of very few of the antagonists faced by our hero...she manages to kill the Doctor dead. I mean the Cybermen, Time Lords, the entirety of the time vortex… these are the things that kill the Doctor. I’d say that’s pretty good company to keep. In “The Eleventh Hour” Amelia is competent as hell. She’s shown to be strong and resourceful, and continues that in the season finale, staying strong in her belief in stars when the whole world thinks she’s crazy. Clara is shown to be competent in her own right as well…I mean she’s smart enough that the Daleks wanted her. We’ve never seen that before. I’ll admit Moffat writes some things that aren’t flattering, but he’s an ally and working and improving. What more can we ask than someone work on acknowledging their privilege and continue to develop/grow?

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

That screams to me "I want to make a good impression on my Daughter that I haven't seen in sometime and just made myself look like an absolute ass". Not that I have seen that play out at several family reunions. My extended family is not THAT sketchy. Not at all.

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Ed Jolley 3 years, 9 months ago

In The Brilliant Book 2012, Moffat says it wasn't a deliberate decision to use Nixon - he wanted to feature the moon landing in the story, so he checked who was President when it happened, and found that it was 'the rubbish one'.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

.I mean isn't the point of his later travels with Amy and Rory that you can have both? That both are valid and affirming?

That may be a valid interpretation, but the feeling I got, particularly by 'The Power of Three', is that this whole "We can have our grown-up lives and our fairy tale lives too" thing was untenable, and the end of the story is Rory and Amy getting the blessing of Rory's dad to give up the real world and live fully in the Doctor's -- only to have the diabolus ex machina intervene in the next episode and scream "Oh no you don't," and force them to go live in New York as "ordinary people".

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Like in "Lets Kill Hitler" River is a threat of the level of very few of the antagonists faced by our hero...she manages to kill the Doctor dead. I mean the Cybermen, Time Lords, the entirety of the time vortex… these are the things that kill the Doctor. I’d say that’s pretty good company to keep. In “The Eleventh Hour” Amelia is competent as hell. She’s shown to be strong and resourceful, and continues that in the season finale, staying strong in her belief in stars when the whole world thinks she’s crazy. Clara is shown to be competent in her own right as well…I mean she’s smart enough that the Daleks wanted her. We’ve never seen that before.

But at the same time, these strong, competent women have their strenght and competence defined primarily in terms of men: Clara is so important because she's the one who saves The Doctor; Amy is competent and important, but the point of it is that it gives her the power to save the Doctor (and to give birth to the Doctor's wife); River is herself very deliberately defined in terms of the Doctor: she was literally created to be a foil for the Doctor, and her awesomeness is defined almost exclusively in terms of her relationship with The Doctor (When we first meet River, it's implied that she's got a substantial reputation in her own right, but by now, it appears that the arc of her life is "The day she gets her degree, she's framed for murdering the Doctor, spends decades in prison where pretty much all she does of note is to slip out whenever the Doctor needs her, then bugger off to her appointment with death".)

It seems like very much a patriarchy apologist's defence: No, we totally think women are awesome and important, it's just that a woman's awesome important role is to help, motivate, and civilize men.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross: When it comes down to the ending of the "Power of Three" I think you might be projecting a bit. I read Bryan's approval as saying that it's ok to have both, that there is no need to pick. You can have both. Of course maybe I'm projecting. Either or.

In terms of Clara and Amelia I think you might just be trying here. In the Episode with Oswin it's purely her brilliance that makes her attractive to the Daleks. We know that the various incarnations have different attributes. I can see your reading, but it seems like your going out of your way here to trivialize Clara. She spends 7 episodes being strong and competent in her own right. She's so strong that she can hold her own across time and space against the GI. I mean there is a point where your looking at the most narrow possible reading of a character. Amy is in the same position. River as well. River is cast as an equal counterpart of the Doctor. She saves him as he saves her. I think that your are bound and determined to view Moffat's women as terrible.

I mean they're all more capable and independent than Martha.

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Dr. Happypants 3 years, 9 months ago

I for one am eagerly awaiting Philip's "Outside the Government" essay on the (very smoothe) Ben Chatham Adventures.

...dear Lord.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/TheBenChathamAdventures?from=Main.TheBenChathamAdventures

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I just rewatched season 3 and I thought Martha was quite admirably capable and independent. She had an impossible crush, which just makes her human, but she's got medical training (and uses it) and she's the only companion in the entire new series who leaves the Doctor out of a sense that it's time to move on. So personally I really like her.

By contrast, I must agree with everything Ross said about River. When we didn't know much about the character she had supreme potential, and the image of her I had before season 6 was fabulous. I still try to keep that idea of her in my head -- brilliant archaeologist, master thief, adept TARDIS pilot, woman who committed murder for compelling human reasons -- but so much of what we learned about her has been a letdown.

The bummer, though, about all the criticism we do of these characters, justified though it might be, is that our disappointment at them not being perfect and above reproach has got to cut into any positive identification people, especially women and young girls, might find in the characters. As problematic as River might be, I still saw women dressed as her at Gallifrey One, and if they're capable of reading her redemptively, who am I to throw cold water on their interpretations? There are still quite a lot of cool things about the character that I think are still worth loving if you're inclined to.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

Insofar as one of these shows is a space opera set hundreds of years in the future, in which interstellar travel is routine and humanity coexists with several other intelligent spacefaring species, most of which are humanoid, involving a mixture of action-adventure and philosophy, where science and technology share the narrative with mysticism, in which the lead character and many of the supporting cast are officers in Earth's spacegoing military but problems are as likely to be resolved by diplomacy as by combat, whereas the other show is a space opera set hundreds of years in the future, in which interstellar travel is routine and humanity coexists with several other intelligent spacefaring species, most of which are humanoid, involving a mixture of action-adventure and philosophy, where science and technology share the narrative with mysticism, in which the lead character and many of the supporting cast are officers in Earth's spacegoing military but problems are as likely to be resolved by diplomacy as by combat, I'd say it was more comparing Braeburns with Pink Ladies.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

That doesn't negate the point. The specific president used is irrelevant.

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IG 3 years, 9 months ago

Heh :)

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sarahproudandtall.com 3 years, 9 months ago

"Hartnell and Troughton are your cool Grandfather and Father, respectively, and don't have time for the ladies anymore (save for that wonderful Aztec woman he met at the senior center)."

Two was definitely casting lustful eyes at Jamie's hairy man calves. You can't tell me there wasn't a little bit of zero darkroom action going on in the ol' TARDIS.

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IG 3 years, 9 months ago

Troughton's Doctor is quite flirty with women. Especially in David Whitaker stories.

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William Silvia 3 years, 8 months ago

So the reason this was a boring, forgettable episode was because of David Tennant, and not because the Doctor flitting off to have a romance right after an episode where Mickey and Rose express all of Rose's fears over putting her all into loving the Doctor, and neither have a problem, and this has something to do with Captain Jack being pansexual?

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Henry R. Kujawa 3 years, 7 months ago

"it's quite interesting to watch Caves, or read the novelisation, and imagine Pertwee or Tom playing the same lines. It works, but it's very different!"

Yes, I've noticed that. It just proves to me that Robert Holmes wrote ANYBODY on that show better than anyone else, and, that he may have been almost the only one who ever wrote the "real" Doctor during Peter Davison's entire 3 years on the show. (Although, there were moments in the 2nd half of "FRONTIOS" where I realized that Davison was suddenly "doing" Troughton. A pity he wasn't like that the whole time.)

"OPEN THAT DOOR! IF YOU DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU!!!"
"Sorry. Can't. Seems to be locked."
(That scene would be hilarious if it wasn't so horribly desperate!)

For me it similarly takes until "THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET" before Colin almost seems to be channeling Tom. He could have been SOOO good... except for... you know... the writing.

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