Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea: The Game

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It’s been a while since Toby Whithouse has entered our tale, and things have changed a lot since then. In the leadup to Twice Upon a Time Moffat joked that he’d had Whithouse write for every season, and the one time he didn’t he made him write two the next season. This is true, but obscures the fact that Whithouse contributed to the first half of the split Series Seven such that there were three full years between A Town Called Mercy and his next contribution. When A Town Called Mercy aired he still seemed like one of the most likely heirs apparent. There remain rumors that in the fuss about Moffat’s slower pace of production than Davies Whithouse had been offered the opportunity of stepping in as some sort of co-showrunner or to helm a single season, which he supposedly declined as the obviously poisoned chalice it was. And my past treatment of his work, going back to covering No Angels as a Pop Between Realities prior to School Reunion, has been rooted in the assumption that he’d probably get the job. Obviously that’s not what happened, though. 

So what’s Whithouse been doing for two years? Well, that’s basically the problem. After a shortened fifth season of Being Human with none of the original cast in early 2013, Whithouse basically disappeared. His next project had been announced in November 2012 as a 1970s spy series to be called The Game, and it started shooting in August of 2013. At the time, this sounded like his big audition piece—the big BBC One drama with which he’d prove that he he could hack it in the big leagues. Instead, however, it got shuffled down the schedule, eventually making its debut on BBC America in Fall 2014, where it got next to no coverage and largely sunk like a stone. When it finally got a UK airing it was Spring 2015, and it had been demoted to BBC Two. Clearly it was a turkey, and Whithouse basically exited the conversation around possible next showrunners, not least because Chris Chibnall had made exactly the sort of splash with Broadchurch that Whithouse didn’t.

Let’s look at the show where Whithouse blew the mandate of heaven, then. The Game follows an elite MI-5 team as they investigate a seemingly massive Russian operation involving sleeper agents in the UK. You've got a pretty standard set of stock characters: Brian Cox is charming as MI-5 head "Daddy," Paul Ritter is the poorly closeted gay high society type, Chloe Pirrie is the secretary who proves terribly competent and eventually becomes an agent in her own right, Victoria Hamilton is what in a more contemporary setting would be the profiler, Jonathan Aris is her autism-spectrum husband/audio specialist, Shaun Dooley is a cop assigned to MI-5, and Tom Hughes is the protagonist, Joe Lambe, who was blatantly cast on the principle of "cast me somebody who looks like Benedict Cumberbatch only a decade younger." 

The plot of the six episode series concerns the fact that there’s obviously a mole in the division. Is it our dashing hero, whose loyalties have been questioned since a botched operation a year ago that resulted in the death of his lover, and who has old scores to settle now? No, it's totally Sarah, Victoria Hamilton's character, the only character who hadn’t been a blatant cliche, which apparently meant she had to turn into one in the final act.

This borders on cruelty, but the fact of the matter is that The Game is desperately easy to mock. The 1970s espionage setting means that it's unabashedly competing with two of the great heavyweights of British television drama: the Alec Guinness-led BBC adaptations John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People, and The Sandbaggers, an ITV number that famously only ran for three seasons when its creator Ian Mackintosh, a former Royal Navy officer, mysteriously disappeared, prompting endless conspiracy theories suggesting that he had revealed something he shouldn't have on the show. Both shows crackle with 1970s authenticity, what with having been made in the 1970s (well, Smiley's People was early 80s, but never mind), and are nuanced character pieces about flawed geniuses in worlds full of flawed incompetents who do terrible things in pursuit of noble goals. In short, they’re exemplars of that classic British television trick of replacing all the action sequences in something with tense conversations between great and good British actors like Alec Guinness, Roy Marsden, Richard Vernon, and Michael Jayston. You cannot step into this genre and be anything less than absolutely great. Given this, the blatant mediocrity of The Game is an obvious failing.

Except that's not quite fair. The Game isn't so much blatantly mediocre as it is a show that constantly threatens to resolve into something brilliant before turning out to be perfectly content with being derivative. Even well into the final episode, there's an electrifying tension based on the ambiguity over who does and doesn't still have secret plans that haven't been revealed. But in every case, the answer is the most blandly obvious thing. At the heart of that question, at least in the context of The Game, is the question of what sort of show this is going to be. If Joe Lambe is a traitor, it’s one where we’ve been following the villain as our viewpoint character for six hours. If he’s not, it’s any number of other things. This is something a lot of good shows were doing in 2014. And Moffat, of course, is a master of it, most obviously in His Last Vow, but really throughout his work—consider the teaser for Last Christmas, which involves explicitly discussing whether the ending of the episode is an acceptable resolution or if the story ought be defined differently. 

This is a tricky business in some ways, because it really screws with a lot of models of narrative based on some notion of "playing fair" with the audience. Generally, there's two approaches to doing a suspense-based narrative. In one, the audience's knowledge is kept basically in line with the protagonist's knowledge, so that we get information at the same time they do. The tension comes out of trying to figure out the gaps - it's the tension of a mystery. In the other, the audience knows more than the protagonist, and watches the protagonist catch up to them. In this approach, the tension comes out of the question of whether the protagonist will catch up. It's the tension of a countdown, the archetypal example being one from Alfred Hitchcock about a bomb under a table.

But the "what sort of story is this" approach requires a third variation, in which the audience knows considerably less than the protagonists. The Game, for instance, is constantly giving strong evidence both that Joe is and is not a traitor, never allowing us to actually get solid confirmation until the climax of the final episode. More to the point, it relies on a narrative structure in which revelations to the audience dramatically alter the way in which we watch scenes. The reveal that Sarah is the mole, for instance, takes place in the final scene of the fifth episode, in a scene that deliberately comes out of almost nowhere, and in an episode where a key plot beat is a red herring reveal that Alan, her husband, is the mole, which is built to with a montage of various characters going about their morning routines while we wait to see which one is going to check a dead drop. (Alan, it turns out, is innocent, but has already figured out that Sarah is the mole and has decided to protect her, although why checking her dead drop contributes to this is inscrutable.)

More broadly, the entire Russian operation is an endlessly shifting thing, the contours of which change episode-by-episode. By the end, it's an entirely incoherent shamble - a series of deliberate red herrings and decoys that turns out to hinge on the assumption that Joe will figure out that Sarah is the mole on a precise day chosen a year in advance, that he'll confront her privately, and that he'll respond to the information she gives him in a precise and predictable way. The climax involves a montage of events that, in order for the resolution to work, either can’t have been taking place concurrently or involved Brian Cox teleporting from a confrontation with a treasonous deputy Prime Minister (my aren't we subtle, Toby) to the ops room in a matter of minutes.

It would, of course, be a mistake to complain that these are plot holes. This is the sort of thing Doctor Who and Sherlock get away with as a matter of course. And the fact that the show can work like this is telegraphed repeatedly; it’s called The Game, after all. The idea that everything is just a charade is there in the title, and withholding key information from the audience is explicitly one of its basic tricks. It's not a problem in the least that the resolution not only can't be guessed from the setup (that being an essential part of how the "what kind of story is this" show works), nor that the Big Elaborate Russian Conspiracy doesn't actually make sense (what evil mastermind's plan does?). Not even Brian Cox's teleporting routine is a problem as such. Enough information is conveyed with pacing, camera angles, editing, and music to keep the dramatic arc running, and by the end the audience is so used to the structure of "and now here's a reveal that changes our understanding of the basic structure" that we can be trusted to put aside our previous knowledge without protest.

No, the problem is that the end configuration just isn't very interesting. The big twist is that Joe's fridged lover is secretly alive, and the Russians plan to use that to blackmail him into complicity with their operation at the last second. The resolution is that Joe was not actually stupid enough to walk into their trap without backup, and there's a sniper positioned to take out the Russian sniper. The final confrontation between Joe and the Russian mastermind has the dying Russian gloat that he's beaten Joe anyway, because he can never truly trust his lover. Only the subverted fridging is even remotely clever here, and it's not actually allowed to have any impact because everything else is such a calamitously obvious genre trope.

Which is the crux of the problem. The "what kind of story is this" structure relies on the answer being "something new and innovative." Certainly this is the implicit logic of the show that The Game tacitly invokes, Game of Thrones, which takes this structure to its most all-encompassing and bombastic end. That show is electrified by the way in which it uses psuedo-historically accurate materialism to engineer surprise disruptions of the mythic fantasy logic that underpins the world. But given actual historical materialism to work with and a similar central metaphor, Whithouse is ultimately unable to conjure anything more interesting than a story about a brooding white male protagonist indistinguishable from every other brooding white male protagonist in contemporary television. (It's in this regard both revealing and damning that Whithouse is on record as being opposed to a female Doctor, citing what he describes as his daughter’s opinion that “they shouldn't because it is a male character. Instead, what they should do, is go and create a fantastic female lead in a fantastic new sci-fi show.”) 

Perhaps most frustratingly, the show comes close to a much more interesting approach. A subplot about Sarah secretly taking contraceptive pills comes to a head in the same episode that she's revealed as the mole, and she's got a fantastic monologue about how she's not willing to bring a child into the world she sees every day at work, and not willing to stop working her job in such a dangerous world. It seems for all the world like we're going to get an explanation whereby she's turned traitor because she views any end to the Cold War, even a British defeat, as preferable to the game's continuation - a sort of maternal Ozymandias motivation that, given Whithouse's avowed love of (and past track record of plagiarizing) Alan Moore, seemed entirely plausible.  Instead she's a traitor because... erm... well, actually, they never get around to explaining that.

The result is a show that isn't awful, but that is depressing in its flaws. Or, at least, a show whose flaws are such that they cast Whithouse's previous successes in a new light. Even with A Town Called Mercy, there was an increasing sense of Whithouse as a writer who was basically in step with the television of 2008 or so, but who had spent four years failing to evolve. It's not that he's not learning new tricks - The Game is blatantly a response to Sherlock, and tries to make a go at that show's mesmerizing shell game of ambiguity over who's figured out what. Rather, it's that he's not really taken on board anything about why these tricks work. He's not interested in telling new sorts of stories.

To be blunter, Whithouse belongs to the very 00s era of television where it is all about, as I said, brooding male protagonists. In this regard it's unsurprising that he was drawn to the 70s spy setting, which was in many ways ahead of its time in its choices of protagonists. But it's nevertheless slightly shocking how, in just a few years, Whithouse has managed to go from looking like a talented up and comer to looking like someone who's on the wrong side of an aesthetic revolution. Frankly, if you want a writer who’s stuck in the past, look to Mark Gatiss, whose nostalgia is at least idiosyncratic and weird. Whithouse, on the other hand, is nostalgic in a reactionary way, reaching back into the past because he doesn’t like how the present is moving beyond the fetishization of white male angst. Maybe the Chibnall era will be a disaster; we’ll look at that question when the time comes. But at least he’s offering a clear and sincere attempt to write for the present day. Whereas by the end of 2014 it was clear that Whithouse was fundamentally incompatible with a show that thrives on a sense of the new.

Comments

Yossarian, Duck! 3 months ago

Been waiting for a while, if only because I never get tired of dunks on Whithouse's writing, which somehow manages to get worse with each successive Who script.

It's honestly hard to square things like this, Lake/Flood and The Lie of the Land with the nostalgic joy of School Reunion or the regency camp of Vampires in Venice. I keep looking for clues in those early eps but a major cultural shift happening under his feet seems accurate, and feels like a cautionary tale for other writers.

"I used to be with it, then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me."

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Sean Dillon 3 months ago

I'm not sure about Vampires of Venice, but I'm pretty sure School Reunion was just a rewrite by Davies.

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Anthony Strand 3 months ago

To knock Whithouse just a little bit, both of those first two scripts have exactly the same problem - an alien race on its last legs (stranded on Earth disguised in human form) is running a school and secretly using the students as fodder to keep itself a life. The alien leader - posing as the headmaster/headmistress - has a dramatic one-on-one argument with the Doctor about how he would do the same thing in that situation.

The trappings are different (and I’m sure you’re right that RTD wrote all of the Sarah Jane material) but hired to write a second Doctor Who script three years after his first one, he couldn’t think of a second story to tell.

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Przemek 3 months ago

Weeeell, to be fair, the trappings are at least very different. In School Reunion the school is the main setting and it's arguably crucial to the villains' plan (children generally trust their teachers and can easily be ordered around). In Vampires of Venice the teacher/student dynamic is barely there, the pupils are adults and the school itself is played more like a haunted mansion/castle.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Regarding protagonists, I take it that you mean that Smiley etc were ahead of their time in terms of their unresolved moral unease about what they do and for what, that being the aspect that most obviously ties in with Whithouse's fixations. From that point of view, and coming off the back of season 8, there must be more to say about how that tradition, and Whithouse's attachment to it, relates to the angst on the Doctor's part which forms such a central part of this season, though not one you have particularly put in the foreground. I suppose what I'm pondering is, if such brooding was behind the times in 2014, how was Doctor Who in 2014 brilliantly cutting-edge despite being steeped in it?

[In terms of other qualities, I'm not sure the era of the aging, physically inactive and delicate, upper-middle-class cuckold as a ubiquitous type of screen protagonist has dawned even yet, has it? Or to look at those sort of tendencies from another angle, in a lot of ways Smiley's in a much older tradition from detective fiction, typified by Poirot and Miss Marple and continuing with the likes of Morse. (Significantly, the second of the not-very-good first two Smiley books was a weird detour into the traditional murder mystery.)]

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Aylwin 3 months ago

I suppose "by resolving it and concluding 'Nah, I'm fine'" would be one answer to that question, though I'm not sure it's quite that neat and tidy, especially when talking about where Whithouse was a year or two earlier, rather than later.

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Przemek 3 months ago

The Doctor not being a typical white male brooding protagonist might be one of the reasons. If not anything else then his age alone makes him distinct from those sorts of characters. His brooding mostly comes from being very, very old and very, very tired - so tired that he's not even sure who he is (or wants to be) anymore. But I'm sure there are other reasons as well.

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Jonixw 3 months ago

The focus on Clara as co-main character is probably the second half of the answer to that question.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

But the unusual status of Clara consists in her being like the Doctor, and her representation of what the Doctor is like during this season is one inclined to heighten his grimness about who he is and what he does (or which, supposing it actually has the contrary effect, can only do so through his rejecting her reading of him, thus undercutting the sense that she "gets" the Doctor, and hence the scope for replication of him on her part).

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Przemek 3 months ago

She "gets" the Doctor, but not this spiky, grumpy "am I a good man?" proto-Twelfth Doctor. She gets the Doctor's essence and that's who she's trying to become.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

I think it's hard to make general statements about Clara's understanding of the Doctor, because it changes over time and I think there are inconsistencies in it - in particular, the way that the insight she displays in The Day of the Doctor seems to have evaporated by the time we get to Deep Breath.

But in the latter part of season 8, I think if anything it's something like the reverse of what you describe. I mused on all this at length in the review comments here, and I won't try to replicate it all, but in Mummy and Flatline in particular, her view of the Doctor seems to be focused on a clinical, even cynical analysis of techniques and the achievement of effects, to the detriment of his underlying warmth. Having at first been perturbed by the brusque, practical, unsentimental and rather disdainful approach of this Doctor, she has come to embrace it. The Doctor finds her resulting representation of him disturbing and hurtful. If that's who he is, then he doesn't like himself much.

The alternative is that her representation of him is unfair, either because she has simply failed to understand or because she has actually been misled by the way he has represented himself since regeneration. I think the experience of those two episodes may help lead the Doctor towards a realisation that what he thought of as a brutally honest, warts-and-all baring of his "unveiled" self, ascetically shorn of all pretence and pandering to human sensibilities, as per Vastra in Deep Breath, is actually a distortion, that he is in fact being too hard on himself, and doing so in ways that set a bad example.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

"on himself and others", I should probably add.

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Przemek 3 months ago

I think you might be right. That does fit both Clara's and the Doctor's characters arcs this season.

"I think it's hard to make general statements about Clara's understanding of the Doctor, because it changes over time and I think there are inconsistencies in it - in particular, the way that the insight she displays in The Day of the Doctor seems to have evaporated by the time we get to Deep Breath."

I don't see it that way. I think it was the Doctor himself who - from her perspective - evaporated sometime during his last stand on Trenzalore. Her insight still applies but the Twelfth Doctor is (initially) doing a very good job of convincing her that the man this insight applies to is no longer there.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Doesn't age, or at least mileage, and certainly weariness, play a big part in that sort of angst though? As I see the concept (and maybe we have different models in mind here), it requires a pretty extensive track record, a lot of "the terrible things I've seen" and "the terrible losses I've suffered" and "the terrible things I've done" and "the terrible thing that I have had to become" weighing upon a character. It's not an aesthetic of youthful zest.

Taking the excuse of it being an example of the moment to digress a little, an awful lot of the Smiley stuff, especially in the televised works, is very much to do with age. It's explicitly prominent in Smiley's People, while in Tinker, Tailor it's less directly conspicuous, but perhaps even more important. The stories are suffused with weariness, disappointment, disillusionment, decline and loss, with a late-middle-aged sadness and desperation drenching the characters and the culture they inhabit. I have an Opinion that the Tinker, Tailor adaptation is better than the book, in large part because it deepens this elegiac charge, even through something like the closing credits, intensifying the poignancy of the story and making it more universally human. (Also the book doesn't have Alec Guinness in it.)

Anyway, that's a digression. Whatever the commonalities, George Smiley is surely not really typical of the sort of protagonist under discussion, or a product of the period most at issue. But while few such characters are as old as the Doctor, and outside of the more fantastical genres have no chance to come close, in so far as possible, age surely plays its part. Who broods more blatantly than Angel-out-off-of-Buffy or the ensuing wave of sad romantic vampire hotties, who may look young but can have centuries on the clock? Going even further outside the range of things I have a clue about, in order to bring in a key foundational text of the Dark Brooding Male Protagonist trend, isn't one of the defining qualities of the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns the fact that he is significantly older than the character is usually represented as being? And no matter how old the Doctor may actually be, that's nothing compared with how old Kurt Wallander feels!

And while extreme old age is certainly fundamental to the Doctor's mood as of season 10, and perhaps with hindsight to that of the Twelfth Doctor overall, the angst particular to season 8 is basically moral. It's there in the explicit "am I good man?" reflections, the hard-to-refute challenge of Danny's denunciations, the cutting implications of the detached, pragmatic calculation reflected back to him by Clara's analysis and imitation of his modus operandi. The crisis the season plot builds to is an invitation to throw his lot in with his most briskly ruthless do-what-must-be-done tendencies. I still have trouble seeing all that as a clear case of incompatibility with Toby Whithouse, except in so far as it the resolution seeks to draw a line under it.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

By "hard-to-refute" I just mean that the Doctor finds them so at the time.

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Przemek 3 months ago

Perhaps you're right about age. In my understanding the brooding white male is not neccesarily young but he certainly feels much older than he actually is. A guy in his 30s or 40s all convinced that his life is basically over and that he has learned everything there was to learn about the world. Which I perceive as basically a teenage mindset. Angel, despite literally being hundreds of years old, always felt like a grumpy teenager to me.

I think what also separates the Doctor is his neverending curiosity and excitement. Even at his most brooding he can't resist a fun adventure - and so he constantly pulls himself away from those darker moods. He's his own Manic Pixie Dream Girl, if you will. Which, I think, connects to the moral angst you mentioned. The resolution of the "am I a good man?" arc reads to me like the Doctor's sudden realization that pondering that question was actually a pretty big waste of time. Like Clara said at the beginning of the 50th anniversary: ""Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one". As soon as he lets go of this idea that he needs to be cold and detached and ruthlessly effective like some kind of world-saving machine, he finds himself again. He starts following his heart more and focusing on individual compassion and kindness instead of effectiveness.

Also, mx_mond below is probably right, as they usually are.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

I agree it's a matter of feeling old rather than actually being old, I just don't think it's incompatible or incongruous with actually being old, or with actually being scarred by experience. The same sort of outward manifestations can overlay a range of realities from self-dramatising adolescent melancholia to genuine traumatised devastation. So, allowing for case-by-case variations, I think I'm inclined to be more sympathetic to such characters than you are, though I think that may be partly a matter of us drawing the line in different places in terms of which characters fall within the description. I'm certainly generally inclined to be more sympathetic to the characters than their writers or fans, at least in the decades since this became a fashionable trend. The latter, after all, do not generally have the kind of experience that makes such a state of mind reasonable, but rather fetishise the idea of it, meaning that they cluster very much at the adolescent-poser end of the spectrum, quite apart from the White Man's Burden-esque political subtext of that fetishism.

Very good points about the Doctor!

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Aylwin 3 months ago

For clarification, I mean "than to their writers or fans". Also, that point too is pretty case-specific - obviously such characters are often complete gits, I'm just less systematically inclined to be dismissive of them as "people" than as expressions of a trend in cultural production and consumption.

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Przemek 3 months ago

You're completely right, I didn't think about characters who actually do have a reason to be devastated, jaded and brooding. I certainly don't feel unsympathetic towards those - Gregory House is one of my favourite characters of all time . It's just the overdramatic adolescents that sometimes annoy me. Probably because I'm getting old...

And yeah, the fetishism is the main problem with the whole stereotype. I love stories about people learning how to deal with their traumas, stories about growing and healing. And so when the ever-brooding characters who never outgrow this state of mind are presented as cool (or, even worse, as being right), it just feels like a wasted opportunity for a much better story. As for real-life people with such attitudes... meh, it's their life. But I don't find their company enjoyable.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Also you're right about Angel. At any rate, there's nothing more adolescent than the kind of pseudo-sophisticated, cynical-miserabilist, dark-and-edgy strop that he throws somewhere around season 2 or 3 of the spin-off - whenever it is that he does his prima-donna-frontman-quitting-the-band-to-pursue-a-solo-career thing. I imagine the same often applies to the denizens of that bookshop-hogging algal bloom of undead YA publishing, though I know it only by reputation. I was casting about in genre fiction for brooding types with extended longevity to compare with the Doctor, and consequently ended up with a less than ideal example (though a relevant one in that Whithouse made his own venture into that line of country with Mitchell in Being Human). But I think the wider point about age as a factor stands, if we don't demand superhuman life-spans, especially allowing for the fact that fictional protagonists past working age are pretty rare overall.

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mx_mond 3 months ago

Personally, I think the Doctor himself in series 8 is an obsolete figure - it's just that everything around him becomes radical and new (his best friend decides to become him; his other best friend becomes a woman; the moon becomes an egg). His "I am an idiot" monologue could be read as a rejection of the obsolete type of character (and masculinity) he previously felt tied to and basically going: "yeah, okay, I'm actually gonna go with the flow and become someone interesting and fresh as well".

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Kat 3 months ago

That's lovely, and gives plausible diagetic reasons for the character's evolution, apart from changes in the approach to the character from an acting & writing point of view.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Extremely minor random musing/quibble: did you single Michael Jayston out because of his Doctor Who role? In terms of Tinker, Tailor (his part was recast for Smiley's People) he seems a less obvious star turn than Beryl Reid, Ian Richardson or Bernard Hepton, to name only the most conspicuous. (Honestly, it's a flabbergasting cast. Even the more obscure actors are perfect for their roles, to the extent that you could pretty well count on the fingers of an unlucky yakuza's hand the number of cast members who aren't basically unimprovable-upon, and they're still very good. If they gave awards to casting directors...)

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Also Beryl Reid was in Doctor Who anyway of course. Tut tut, you can tell I'm not a true fan.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months ago

Probably? This is one of those posts that I revised from 2014, and that bit is from then, so I'm low on memory of what I was thinking.

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Aylwin 3 months ago

Fair enough - this one just seemed to have so much new content that I rather unreflectively treated it like a new composition and didn't compare the two. Actually thinking about it, of course that would be one of the old bits.

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Jayston 3 months ago

But Michael Jayston had also been Quiller in the 1970s BBC series and that was very angsty.

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jonixw 3 months ago

I had actually never heard of this show prior to reading this post so I had no expectations reading this and was surprised by how interesting this ended up being.

I have been on the edge in regards to whether Chibnall was the right choice for new showrunner. Obviously Whithouse was never brilliant but he had some episodes I enjoyed (School Reunion, Vampires of Venice mainly). I also reasonably like the episodes of Being Human I have seen so I thought, yeah this might be the guy to do it.

Lie of the Land shoved me in the direction that Chris might actually have been the wiser choice while I still struggle to remember an episode of his I thought was good all the way through. This convinced me that Moffat made the right decision when picking his successor. Even if all else fail, Chibnall will always have a place in Who-history for casting Jodie in the lead role.

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James V 3 months ago

I just think for once, Chibnall's past Who work is not actually the best place to look for clues as to what his Doctor Who will be like. His most recent Who script was 6 years ago, whereas in the meantime he's done Broadchurch and The Great Train Robbery. His old Doctor Who and Torchwood scripts are very much "young writer finding his feet" and not "exemplars of a coherent aesthetic vision." It's more like trying to predict Moffat's Who based on the first season of Press Gang and ignoring The Girl in the Fireplace.

Call me cautiously optimistic.

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mx_mond 3 months ago

I agree with James V, I think we should look to Broadchurch to try to divine what his Doctor Who might be like rather than his previous work in the DW universe.

Based on that, I think he is in quite a good position to win back some of the people who were dissatisfied with Moffat's run and how challenging it was at times. I expect Chibnall Who to be simpler, to be more explicit in communicating to the viewers what is happening/what the characters are feeling, and to contain lots of charming moments and good ideas that are executed in a reliably solid if not particularly brilliant or innovative way. A mixed bag, but maybe good for the show right now and with plenty to like anyway.

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Lambda 3 months ago

I almost detected this right from the beginning! The precise moment which put me off School Reunion was when the Doctor, (regarding all the endless partings,) goes "it's hard!" and the narrative just seemed so strangely _proud_ of the "revelation". (From 40 years ago.)

Funnily enough, "make new shows with new female characters" is one of the first things I think of too when the "female Doctor" question comes up, but (presumably) for almost exactly the opposite reason, I feel like Western sci-fi is crippled by its obsession with decades-old things, (of which the while male protagonist hegemony is only one of many symptoms,) and the only real way forward is to rediscover the ability to invent new things, tinkering with old things isn't something to hang your hopes on.

(Which, FAOD, means I'm not opposed to it, just not excited by it either.)

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Przemek 3 months ago

That's not neccesarily the genre's obsession with decades-old things, it's the money-making logic of the Hollywood nostalgia machine. And since they're so entrenched in their old ways, perhaps (radical) tinkering with old things can be the first step towards changing that logic a bit.

There's also the problem of complexity, as described by SF writer Jacek Dukaj. Movie/TV sci-fi is always decades behind sci-fi books in terms of new ideas and radicalness because complex new ideas are way harder to convey in an audiovisual medium than in the text. By the time moviegoers grasp the idea of, say, time travel the readers can intuitively understand time travel paradoxes. "The Arrival" is considered innovative and ambitious because it focuses on the difficulties of communicating with aliens... but Stanisław Lem wrote a book about it in 1986. There's not much Hollywood can do about that delay.

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Froborr 3 months ago

"The Game isn't so much blatantly mediocre as it is a show that constantly threatens to resolve into something brilliant before turning out to be perfectly content with being derivative."

So... it's by Toby Whithouse. ("Adjacent to the Water" being the example that stands out most strongly to me, but that may be because it's the one I've seen [bits of] most recently.)

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Alex Moreland 3 months ago

Wait, are you sure Whithouse is adapting Noughts and Crosses? I was reading about it the other day, and it said it was being adapted by Matthew Graham and Levi David Addai - some admittedly old news, though, so it's possible that changed.

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j. saunders 3 months ago

yep, as of April 2018 according to Deadline.

"Writer Levi David Addai (Youngers) and Life On Mars co-creator Matthew Graham have moved on from the project which is now being script-led by Being Human creator and Doctor Who director Whithouse with Lydia Adetunji and Nathaniel Price"

I'm not that fond of Whithouse's recent work, but IMHO he is a step up from recent Graham

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David Anderson 3 months ago

I think A Town Like Mercy left a bad taste in the mouth. I'd already thought that much as I liked The God Complex it was a throwback to the Davies-era; Elisabeth's Eruditorum entry pointed out how much the effective bits of the episode owed to the director rather than the script. Then the Under the Lake stories happened, and that just made it clear that Whithouse really had no interest in doing anything except imitate the Davies-era. For example, that every single one of his scripts ends with the villain making some sort of emotional equivalence between itself and the Doctor, which would be tedious and unimaginative anyway, and after the restoration of Gallifrey was pointless. There's also the fridging of the female character who has a bond with the Doctor, which is again a thing that works only as long as it isn't the thing you do; if it is the thing you do it's downright objectionable. So that all makes even the earlier scripts look unimaginative and cynical in hindsight.

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Przemek 3 months ago

To be honest, I never noticed Whithouse as an important writer and I couldn't even recall which episodes were his. But looking at the list now, A Town Called Mercy was just boring and The Line of the Land was spectacularly bad. His other contributions were at least interesting to me. I didn't hate Under the Lake/Before the Flood as much as most people did but it was a bit underwhelming and a weak point of the season.

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Kyle Strand 3 months ago

Since you've generally tried to cover showrunners' previous major work, will you be doing a writeup on Broadchurch at some point?

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mx_mond 3 months ago

It's present on the entry list for Capaldi Eruditorum (just before series 10, if I remember correctly).

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Kyle Strand 3 months ago

Oh, I didn't realize there was such a list; where's that?

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Kyle Strand 3 months ago

Never mind, found it! Thanks!

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