Without It, I Couldn't Survive (The Doctor's Wife)

(93 comments)

Cleavage is magic
It’s May 14th, 2011. LMFAO remain at number one with “Party Rock Anthem,” with Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars also charting. In news, Queen Elizabeth II becomes the second-longest reigning British monarch, Manchester United beat Liverpool’s record of eighteen top flight victories, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is charged with rape, and for only the second time ever the Morganza Spillway is opened. 

While on television, The Doctor’s Wife. To steal a phrase from Lawrence Miles’s review of City of Death in About Time, it is, of course, one of the best things ever. It’s also something I’m going to get to come back to, admittedly in a few years, since it’s by Neil Gaiman, one of the protagonists of The Last War in Albion. So the interesting question of how this fits into Gaiman’s larger career mostly belongs to that project. Still, a preview of the argument: after American Gods, Gaiman’s career kind of loses momentum, consisting mainly of things that feel safe and like what one would expect from Gaiman. It’s not that Gaiman is writing bad stuff in any meaningful sense, but it felt in many ways like he had become a predictable writer who was going to turn out subtle variations of the same basic thing. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, this changed and he entered a new and largely more interesting phase of his career, and while The Doctor’s Wife can’t reasonably be said to be singlehandedly responsible for that, it is nevertheless a significant transitional moment.

Much of this, one suspects, comes down to the fact that Neil Gaiman found himself with something he’d not really had to deal with since American Gods: someone who could edit him with real authority. This doesn’t happen to major writers late in their careers very often, but in this case Gaiman is working under someone who is every bit as good a writer as he is. There’s a palpable sense of Gaiman having to up his game here and push himself, and it pays off with an episode that’s not just one of the absolute best Doctor Who stories of all time, but a high point of Gaiman’s career.

It’s worth talking a bit about Moffat and writers. Moffat has generally avoided being terribly open about how he works with the writers he commissions, rejecting Davies’s approach of actively and openly rewriting people. This is, broadly speaking, a good thing, at least in terms of being fair to creators. But equally, it doesn’t mean that there’s no editorial oversight. Gaiman has talked about The Doctor’s Wife going through loads of drafts, including some very specific comments from Moffat. That doesn’t mean that Moffat wrote all or most of The Doctor’s Wife, but it does mean that he shaped it heavily. Many of these edits were matters of budget - Gaiman had a not entirely realistic sense of what could be accomplished on Doctor Who’s budget, and had to be revised downwards several times. (This is actually understandable for Gaiman - he’d previously done the on-a-shoestring film Mirrormask with Dave McKean directing, and in that film it was the human actors that added all the expense, whereas McKean was perfectly happy to computer-animate any number of bizarre concepts. So the fact that the CGI shots of the TARDISes flying around were going to nearly break the bank for the episode is legitimately something Gaiman didn’t realize, since that was exactly what he was encouraged to do the last time he wrote something cheap for the screen.) 

Specifically, we know that the script as first submitted was squarely in the “Gaiman spinning his wheels” category, focusing mainly on House, who is the single most Gaimany aspect of the script, and that Moffat pushed Gaiman to move the “Idris becomes the TARDIS” moment earlier in the script and to focus on it more. In hindsight, this seems self-evidently the right decision, and it’s difficult to imagine the story weighted the way Gaiman originally intended. Certainly that story would have had little chance of being the insta-classic that this was. 

It’s not that House is a bad villain. Actually, he’s quite good. The casting of Michael Sheen for his voice helps a lot, giving him a wonderfully silky menace. But the scenes of him chasing Amy and Rory through the newly built TARDIS corridor set are largely there for pacing - because the story needs some chasey action sequences to break up the very talky bits of the Doctor and Idris building a TARDIS. The bits of the story that aren’t the Doctor and Idris interacting all work. But they’re a frame in which the real key sequences sit, and those sequences are absolute gold. And this, in turn, does have to be credited to Gaiman. It is, after all, still his basic idea to have the TARDIS gain the ability to speak for a story. And even if it was Moffat who pushed him towards clarifying the idea until the episode became a vehicle for expressing its own best idea, it is still Gaiman’s idea and execution of that idea that sings. 

And yet this might fairly be called surprising. One can reasonably ask when in the series’ past a conscious attempt to tinker with the mythos has worked. The War Games, perhaps, but that worked because there was no mythos to tinker with. Past that? The Deadly Assassin… but the list dries up pretty quickly at that point. Self-conscious, overt efforts to do “mythos” rarely work in Doctor Who. It is, then, worth spending at least a bit of time establishing why this is a good idea in the first place. 

First and foremost, it is a good idea because it hits that marvelous sweet spot of feeling like something that Doctor Who would be incomplete if it never got around to doing and feeling like something you can only actually do once. The TARDIS is as integral to the premise of Doctor Who as any character - indeed, given that the Doctor and the Companion(s) can be heavily reworked at will, it is in many ways the most integral part of it. Even when the TARDIS was nominally removed from the series, it kept coming back in a vestigial form until the series gave in and returned to using adventures in space and time as a regular element. And yet the TARDIS is generally a prop, not a character. However much lip service might be paid to the idea that the TARDIS is sentient, the series still defaults to treating the TARDIS as an object. It doesn’t have any agency beyond its ability to malfunction and take the Doctor to the wrong place. And so giving the TARDIS the ability, after nearly fifty years, to speak for itself and comment on proceedings is terribly significant and appealing. 

But equally, it really only works once. The TARDIS-as-character model ultimately consumes everything around it. The story’s title is accurate - the TARDIS is the Doctor’s true love, and when they can interact there stops needing to be anyone else in the room. This is why the story has to shove Amy and Rory into a chase sequence, and why the Idris drops out of the story once the Doctor gets back to the TARDIS. If the Doctor has the TARDIS to relate to, his connection to humanity necessarily becomes strained. You can get around this by making the TARDIS more human, but what’s interesting about the TARDIS is precisely that she’s still effectively a force of nature. So it’s a toy that needs to be put back in the box at the end of the story, which is to the story’s benefit because it gets to have all the cleverness of the idea to itself. 

It also happens to be a very good idea for 2011. It has to be said, a story called The Doctor’s Wife that falls squarely in the midst of an arc that will culminate in a story called The Wedding of River Song carries a certain amount of thematic weight. In one sense it’s a little bit jarring to have another wife in the mix, but in another it’s oddly clarifying. The Doctor’s wife is shown to be a tremendous figure in her own right - one who is not merely a female mirror of the Doctor. It’s self-evident that the Doctor’s wife must be his equal, but it’s not quite as evident that she can’t be a distaff clone. And yet that is what we get here - the Doctor’s wife considered not as the female Doctor, but as a proper opposite number. There’s a significant reflection back on River here - a necessary sketching out of the territory she occupies in terms other than her own.

(Not to tip my hand on what I’ll say about A Good Man Goes to War too much, but it is also worth noting that the later-season plot in which Amy and River are both, in their own way, raped is repeated here - the TARDIS is invaded and violated by a male figure. And just as Moffat ultimately responds to this by having the Doctor enable an act of healing that is driven and defined by the female characters, ultimately restitution comes entirely from the TARDIS, with the Doctor’s role being to shepherd her back into herself.)

There are also good ideas in the specific execution. The idea that the TARDIS experiences time non-chronologically and thus gets quotes out of order is charming, and comes straight out of the structure in which Moffat has been working, setting up phrases and paying them off later in a very puzzle boxy way. Using it to build to “hello Doctor” as a climactic line is marvelous. And the TARDIS calling the Doctor “thief” is a breathtakingly beautiful little detail.

But the real heart of the episode comes when Gaiman casually rewrites the series’ lore. Some bits of it are obvious - the idea that the TARDIS’s unreliability has always in fact been taking the Doctor where he “needed to go” has been around for decades at this point. But others aren’t - the reminiscing over what the Doctor first said when he saw the TARDIS, for instance, is a beautiful bit of detail for the Doctor’s initial flight from Gallifrey that dispels none of the mystery. For my money, however, the story’s best line is when Idris proclaims that she chose the Doctor, as opposed to the other way around, because “I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away.” 

It is, to be perfectly frank, the sort of line you hire Neil Gaiman for. Gaiman, of course, belongs to the Alan Moore school of writers where step one in taking any writing job on an established property is to completely dismantle and reassemble the underlying mythology to reveal some terribly clever trick about it. The difference is that where Moore plays this trick to do what is popularly and largely inaccurately described as deconstructing characters, Gaiman usually does it to whittle them to a sort of purest expression of the original concept. Which is what we have here. Gaiman, with a single line, suggests that this has been the TARDIS’s show all along - that it was her decision that got everything started, and she’s the original wanderer through space and time, with the Doctor’s role being to push buttons. 

It’s important to recognize this in terms of gender balance. Since 1971, the “standard” model for Doctor Who has been a male Doctor and a female companion, and while this episode does explicitly note that it is possible to regenerate into a different gender, at this point in the show the Doctor remains a firmly male character, with female characters delegated to the “secondary” role. But The Doctor’s Wife consciously alters this, declaring that the series’ implicit hierarchy is in fact topped by a woman, and making female spaces a vital concept in the show’s mythology, in an entertainingly literal manner. And, because it’s worth saying, the fact that this is what the script emphasizes and not “spooky alien planet with a personality” can be credited to Moffat.


All of this is then wrapped in a pleasantly efficient production. The script’s frequent revision has smoothed away all the rough edges, leading to an episode you can just sit someone down and say “here, this is really good.” It effectively ended all discussion of the 2012 Hugo Awards before the 2011 ones had even been given out - everybody knew this would win, partially because the combination of Gaiman and Doctor Who seemed unstoppable, but mostly because it was just a really phenomenal forty-five minutes of television. There are cases where one suspects that Doctor Who won Hugos out of momentum, and where the fact that it routinely occupied 60% of the nominations looked like the product of slightly overzealous fans. Then there’s The Doctor’s Wife - a perfect little adjustment to a half-century of mythology that was, upon transmission, visibly something that would have been one of the absolute best pieces of science fiction television in any year. 

Comments

Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

A lovely overview Phil and although this standard is only what we've come to expect from your posts - thanks.
I found particularly thought provoking your delineation of the 'female spaces' aspect of this story. Once again the rape metaphor accusation appears but this time, I feel it to be inarguably justified. The imagery of the abuse and invasion of personal space both physical and mental is there front and centre stage in the way Idris's body is used (I think it's often forgotten that Surrane Jones plays a double role here. Idris and the TARDIS and is stunningly good in both) and the TARDIS' s 'body' is violated. Particularly after the throwaway lines regarding the Corsair at the beginning have already seeded themes of transgender issues and body modification and marking. (The Corsair's tattoo, his gender mutable regenerations etc.) It's interesting in light of your 'Albion' comparison of Gaiman with Alan Moore to speculate how the Northampton Wizard, who's suffered from accusations of 'rape obsession' in his own work which often deals with issues of body modification and gender stereotyping (I'm thinking of Promethea and Miracleman here) might have approached writing a similar 'Mythos tinkering' Doctor Who story and being edited by Moffat. Grant Morrison has also expressed an interest in writing a story. I'd love to see him write for Capaldi.

I'd also be interested in whether you or any other commenter thinks the subsequent bit of 'myth tinkering' that Moffatt himself indulged in (Clara on Gallifrey helping the first Doctor choose the 'right' Tardis) enhances or spoils Gaiman' s story.

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evilsoup 2 years, 11 months ago

It's always a strange feeling to see people who are more intelligent than me saying something that I find utterly ridiculous. I always feel like I must be missing something.

I found this episode utterly smug and alienating and... artificial, for lack of a better word. Regulars excepted, none of the characters felt like anything approaching real -- I didn't care about them, they were just so damn cutesy and self-consciously quirky. Typical nerd-pandering Steampunk-esque stuff, all sound and fury signifying not very much. I don't think it explored any of the potentially interesting details, really: oh thnking non-linearly makes you act like Lady Gaga. Great. Give this man a Hugo Award.

Then again, I haven't liked a single thing Neil Gaiman has written since Sandman, except for some of his short stories. To me, he comes across as a twerp jumping up and down and shouting 'look, look how clever I am'. I get the same feeling from Moffat's writing a lot of the time.

I also think that making the TARDIS into a character is an inherently and obviously bad idea, one that can only ever end in disappointment. And I don't think it is something that can only be done once: certainly, since this episode the TARDIS has been acting cattily towards Clara a few times. it's been much more human -- much less mysterious, much less interesting.

Overall, I never hated this episode, but: it's a bit of fluff on the same level as the pirates episode, and I'm baffled that so many people seem to love it.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for that assessment, particularly on the Gaiman side with which I’m much less familiar… And cheering to see you so positive on one of the three Matt stories that vaguely clutter my head as possibly his best (though the only one of the three for which I didn’t give an anomalously much higher position than the big DWM poll’s average fan).

On the other hand… “One can reasonably ask when in the series’ past a conscious attempt to tinker with the mythos has worked. The War Games, perhaps, but that worked because there was no mythos to tinker with. Past that? The Deadly Assassin… but the list dries up pretty quickly at that point.” Well, there was a pretty big go at it in 2005, and to my mind a much bigger change than the one of emphasis between Games and Assassin. For me, a massively successful change, too (so the recent decision to retcon it was a story for which I gave an anomalously way lower position than the big DWM poll’s average fan).

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John Anderson 2 years, 11 months ago

"It's so very, very nice to meet you."

Beautiful. Just... beautiful.

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Frezno 2 years, 11 months ago

This is it, right here. My absolute favorite piece of Doctor Who, classic or otherwise. I know you said it had been done before, but when I heard the exchange about the TARDIS always taking the Doctor where he needed to go, I was sold. In two sentences, Neil Gaiman somehow distilled 50 years of Doctor Who into its base essence. The Doctor goes where he needs to go, and tries to make things better.

God, I love this show.

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Allyn Gibson 2 years, 11 months ago

The retcon in "The Name of the Doctor" adds an interesting layer. It doesn't "enhance" Idris' revelation here, and the implications may spoil it somewhat because they're not exactly compatible.

I say "not exactly" because there is a way to get from one to the other -- the minisode in which the TARDIS, for want of a better term, psychologically tortures Clara.

"The Doctor's Wife" tells us that the TARDIS knows the future, even if the Doctor doesn't. Did the TARDIS know that was going to be the Impossible Girl, fragment herself through time, and ultimately pick the TARDIS the Doctor stole back in his first incarnation? If so, the TARDIS may have engaged in its abusive relationship with Clara to mold her into becoming the person that would pick the TARDIS.

In other words, the TARDIS chose the Doctor, then made Clara into someone who would choose the TARDIS for the Doctor so that the Doctor and the TARDIS would be together.

This interpretation has some obvious problems -- namely, it doesn't paint anyone in a particularly good light, from the writer (Moffat) on down to the characters themselves. I realize the minisode is supposed to be a moment of light frivolity, but its content is a bit icky when you stop to think about it.

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 11 months ago

You're not alone. My mum thought this one was silly, like Vincent and the Doctor, and much preferred Night Terrors.

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Nick Smale 2 years, 11 months ago

Interesting to think that this story was originally intended to air in series 5. How more powerfully would we have felt the destruction of the TARDIS in "The Pandorica Opens" if it had followed immediately after this?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

silly, like Vincent and the Doctor

Now there's a baffling description.

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Froborr 2 years, 11 months ago

Surely if this had been in Series 5 it would have had to be earlier than that? Before the Silurian two-parter at least?

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 11 months ago

Good stuff.

The bits of the story that aren’t the Doctor and Idris interacting all work.

I think this is worth emphasising. It may be a side-effect, as you suggest, of their originally having greater emphasis, but no one would blame Gaiman if Auntie and Uncle had no personality or got any good lines, but they do. I feel just about every Who writer who isn't Ben A or Moffat himself could learn a lesson from that.

But equally, it really only works once.

I suspect part of the motivation for the "this was when we talked" line was to inoculate the episode again bad sequels (oh man, if only Blink had one like it), but I don't think you couldn't play around with the idea some more. For a while I've been toying with a fic that is essentially Edge of Destruction, but entirely from the TARDIS's perspective as she tries everything she can think of to communicate danger to the Doctor, with wildly varying results. If you did it as a 45 minute telly episode (a double-banker, perhaps?) you can get Suranne Jones back and she could easily carry the episode, with or without the help of her cleavage...

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

Not to tip my hand on what I’ll say about A Good Man Goes to War too much,

Oh, for God's sake.

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John 2 years, 11 months ago

I don't think so - iirc Rory wasn't in the early drafts.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 11 months ago

No, I believe it was meant to go write before The Pandorica Opens and was replaced with The Lodger for budgetary reasons. Rory would already have died & been erased by that point - Gaiman had to add him to later drafts.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 11 months ago

Actually you can see an echo of what would have been when the Doctor sends Rory and Amy back to the TARDIS for his sonic screwdriver. In the earlier draft that's where Amy would have found the wedding ring in the Doctor's jacket pocket.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 11 months ago

For those of you who want confirmation: http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2011/19/doctor-who-season-6-episode-4-the-doctors-wife. Gaiman stated it in the Confidential for this story.

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David Anderson 2 years, 11 months ago

I have mixed feelings about the 'I've always taken you where you needed to go' line. On the one hand, obviously during a story the TARDIS can only go where there's a story happening. (Part of the metafictionality of the Moffat-era.) On the other hand, I like the idea that the Doctor doesn't quite know how to fly the TARDIS, and the TARDIS is an old model that has seen better days anyway. And I'd like to think that the TARDIS crew only spend one day out of seven having adventures, and the other six days out of seven they end up somewhere quiet where nothing worthy of depiction happens.
Still, it's a great exchange. (Not the TARDIS' best line in the episode though, which is 'are all people like this?' which is the sort of line that appears much more obvious to write than it is.)

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

I liked this episode, I really did. I found it genuinely clever and enjoyable, and tweaking the perspective of the show to make it "all about the TARDIS all along" is just genuis. But...

"the reminiscing over what the Doctor first said when he saw the TARDIS, for instance, is a beautiful bit of detail for the Doctor’s initial flight from Gallifrey that dispels none of the mystery."

Actually it adds a great deal of mystery - said mystery being how anybody in their right mind could imagine William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton's or really any of the classic Doctors referring to the time machine as "sexy." It's just ridiculously out of character.

And can I pipe up and complain once more at the RUTHLESS and RELENTLESS heterosexualization of the Doctor, to the absurd point when even his relationship with his frickin' TIME MACHINE is now conceptualized as a binary-gendered straight romance? Honestly RTD and Moffat have done more to shut gay fans out of the narrative space than any other producers, ever. Before you could read anything you want into the vast and sprawling canvas of Doctor Who, even if there were no openly gay charcters on-screen. Now there are a token few, mostly there to get killed or be otherwise tragic, while the center of gravity of the narrative has gone from this ambiguously-libidoed wizard figure to a mopey straight nerd. Give me a break.

/rant.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

Best to skip that whole paragraph.

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Callum Leemkuil 2 years, 11 months ago

I just assumed in the case of NotD that Clara was righting something the Great Intelligence had done which would have caused the Doctor and the TARDIS to be seperated, thereby changing the course of his adventures and causing him to not save people or something along those lines.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Spacewarp, a nice little article - though it does fail to give David Whitaker due credit (once again!) in assigning the idea of a living TARDIS to the Letts/Dicks era rather than to serial C. I'd forgotten the temporary console was a result of a Blue Peter competition - it's something that I only tend to remember when actually watching the episode - and I do that this was a better way to handle the process than was the Absorbaloff (regardless of what you think of Love & Monsters as a whole). Thanks for the pointer.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Um, it was never implied that any Doctor other than Matt's ever called the TARDIS 'sexy'. The Hartnell Doctor described it as beautiful, which is not necessarily a sexual description at all. Sunsets can be beautiful, but I wouldn't want to marry one.

Having said that, I do have partial sympathy for other aspects of your rant.

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Allyn Gibson 2 years, 11 months ago

I found this episode utterly smug and alienating and... artificial, for lack of a better word.

I admire "The Doctor's Wife" more than I like it. It sometimes feels to me like a cynically crafted piece of awards bait, not unlike a Harvey Weinstein production. I think that if the title card had read "The Doctor's Wife by Chris Chibnall," but everything else was exactly the same, it wouldn't have been received as warmly.

I sometimes wonder why the Doctor doesn't use the Ganger technology to create an Idris avatar controlled by the TARDIS that he can interact with. Seems like an obvious solution to me. Maybe a bit Star Trek.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

Different strokes, and all that. I had a conversation recently in which someone declared that his least-loved stories of the 80s were Warriors' Gate, Castrovalva, Kinda, and Ghost Light; half of which are in my top 15 stories of all time and not one of which would be in my bottom half.

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Alan 2 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, I had always had the impression that Clara's role in the Doctor's past was to undo the alterations imposed by the GI, so presumably there was a moment at which the GI had steered the Doctor away from his original choice of TARDISes and so she got him back on course. Although it is interesting knowing that (a) the TARDIS can see the future and yet (b) the TARDIS had such an antipathy to Clara early on even though Clara helped ensure that the Doctor would choose it/her.

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Alan 2 years, 11 months ago

Honestly RTD and Moffat have done more to shut gay fans out of the narrative space than any other producers, ever.

I'm fairly certain that no classic era producers except possibly JNT ever considered the possibility that gay fans existed.

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tom jones 2 years, 11 months ago

The thing about that line of Idris' about her stealing a Time Lord is: is that what actually happened, or is it how Idris chooses to remember it now after having to spend a very long time travelling with a guy with more character quirks than the combined works of Charles Dickens?

Having said that, it's a nice idea about the gender rebalancing. My objection to the idea of the Tardis taking the Doctor where he needed to go was always that it was a bit too Quantum Leap-y for me.

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reservoirdogs 2 years, 11 months ago

I just figured the Galifrey!Clara was a hologram projected by the TARDIS to get the Doctor to steal her.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

"I'm fairly certain that no classic era producers except possibly JNT ever considered the possibility that gay fans existed."

That's part of what makes it so distressing. The gay fans are now recognized and somewhat pandered to but their room in the narrative is actually less now than when they were given no thought at all. Any queerness inherent in the Doctor is now thoroughly disavowed, and any ambient background camp cordoned off into easily patrolled zones of Captain Jackness or sexy lesbian lizardness.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

You're not going to find a Doctor Who story that someone doesn't love and someone doesn't hate. I can't stand "Ghost Light" (talk about smug, alienating, and artificial) or "Vincent and the Doctor", and I admire "Warriors' Gate" more than I actually enjoy it. But I adore "Castrovalva," "Kinda," and yes, "The Doctor's Wife." Go figure.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

I strongly suspect all Warriors of the Deep defenders of just being trolls. People who defend Twin Dilemma are at least making a statement, even if that statement is "I am a horrible person," but I can't even start to formulate what a sincere defense of Warriors of the Deep would look like.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, it's full of spoilers for future entries.

(More seriously, I know that I have readers who are, when the whole thing wraps, going to delight in putting the River Song entries in their "correct" order and seeing how the era reads, and I feel obliged to make sure they have fun doing so.)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

It is also worth noting that the means by which Clara is there to provide advice on which TARDIS to take is intimately linked to the TARDIS itself, within which the Doctor's biodata is suspended. And, notably, the character who ultimately pushes Clara to jump into the Doctor's timestream is the child of the TARDIS.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

I wouldn't consider House the most "Gaiman-y" aspect of the story. I realize that goes along with your idea that Moffat deserves more credit for this story than he gets, but honestly the most Gaiman-y aspect of this story that I see is the personification of something we typically think of as not being a someone.

Instead of Death, Despair, or Desire, or a forgotten god walking the earth as a human being; or a demon made of cloth and timber named Ursula Monkton; or an afterlife with the face of G.K. Chesterton; or a fallen star who looks like Claire Danes; we have a nigh-invulnerable and nigh-omnipotent and nigh-omniscient time machine given a human form and face and voice. It is possibly the most Gaiman-y idea there is.

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Alan 2 years, 11 months ago

But that's only because you count gay subtext in classic stories where it couldn't possibly have been intentional. I am quite certain that when JNT decreed that Peter Davison was not allowed to physically touch either Janet Fielding or Sarah Sutton, it was not because he wanted to leave the impression that the Fifth Doctor was gay. Of course, I'm probably the last person to talk about gay subtext since I never considered until I read the blog entry for "Enlightenment" and was informed that Turlough's arc was a metaphor for coming out of the closet and not three episodes of incoherent nonsense about an obnoxious and unlikeable character.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

I quite liked "Warriors" when I was probably 11 or 12. I even liked "The Twin Dilemma" when I was 11 or 12. I wasn't keen on the Doctor being a homicidal maniac, but I wasn't keen on Peri, either, so maybe I was subconsciously hoping she would leave and he would relax. Nostalgia's so important -- I think it even gave you a kind word or two to say for "Time-Flight," didn't it?

Let's remember too that we're talking "love" and "hate" here. I love many things I can't defend, and hate many things I can, if I must, intellectually appreciate.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

No, of course not. It was all entirely unintentional. The intention was to keep it "family friendly" and to make him easier to for kids to relate to - a wizard-type (Gandalf, Wonka etc) is always going to be more fascinating to young children than a lovelorn romantic hero.

But regardless, the Doctor's lack of romantic conquests or prurient interest in his companions also made him much easier for gay fans to relate to than, say, Captain Kirk ever was.

Ironically now it's more acceptable to imply that a kids' hero is having sexytimes, but any implication of queerness that might accrue to this flamboyantly dressed, rather camp figure with hitherto little interest in romance is firmly disavowed.

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Alex Wilcock 2 years, 11 months ago

I may not have quite got the same point as Seeing_I, but for me it's far from "only because you count gay subtext" (though saying "it couldn't possibly have been intentional" is utterly absurd - no-one in theatrical circles had ever heard of Teh Gay? Really? Really?). A lot of it's got nothing to do with any gay subtext at all. It's old Who's almost unique near-absence of heterosexual text.

Growing up, it wasn't that the series specifically included me but that it was almost the only one that didn't exclude me and lots of others who didn't fit in. Since 2005 there have been a lot of ups and a lot of down, but it's very difficult to argue that the Doctor is as uncategorised and easy for everyone to identify with as he was. But this seems to be the very definition of YMMV.

Unsurprisingly, I've written on this before both in comments here and at my own place, and it always explodes, so I've said my piece and will now step away before the inevitable complaints that not excluding people means a loss of entitlements.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

So I am not saying there was really that much IN Doctor Who that was explicitly or intentionally gay (though there was a bit), it's more that the lack of overt heterosexuality on the Doctor's part left a negative space that was very gay-friendly. Old-school gays like me (and RTD), who had few cultural outlets of their own, were very good at colonizing cultural texts.

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Matthew Celestis 2 years, 11 months ago

Warriors of the Deep has a big sea monster. I like big sea monsters. It just ends up looking a bit rubbish due to poor filming and direction. The Myrka could have been fantastic if it had been done right.

It also has an interesting exploration of cyberpunk technology and atomic warfare, a great performance from Peter Davison and a downbeat ending that paved the way for the Virgin New Adventures.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

"It could have been good" does not strike me as a defense per se, in this case.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

Oh yeah - Alex has said it better than me already!

DOCTOR: "I said you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever known."

I still honestly find it a hard to picture Hartnell saying this, especially in his original, entirely unsentimental characterization, but I'll let it slide.

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Matthew Celestis 2 years, 11 months ago

Well I suppose that means I'm not a troll then. That's a relief.

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Nyq Only 2 years, 11 months ago

Fair point but House is Coraline's Other Mother and Ursula Monkton :)

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

In the sense of being a malevolent entity who invades your safest spaces and renders them unheimlich? I can see that, though with those examples (and the Cuckoo; are there other examples I'm forgetting?), he's still generally moving toward making something more concrete rather than less. One of the reasons I find House less than compelling is that, Michael Sheen's best efforts notwithstanding, he's still just a disembodied voice. I don't know if he had more presence in the early pitches and drafts (sounds like more of a sequel to "Edge of Destruction," which is maybe what "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" really should have been), but if not, all the more reason why Moffat would have pounced on Idris as the right focal point of the story.

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David Anderson 2 years, 11 months ago

As I said on an earlier comments thread, every time somebody talks about the Doctor on Gallifrey, the Doctor turns out to have had the character traits of his current incarnation.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 11 months ago

David, that's very true. I also find it hard to imagine Hartnell's Doctor squeaking through the Academy with 51%. However, in his more impish moments I can totally see Borusa's disdain for his flippancy and arrogance.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

This is as good a time as any to say that while I don't think any project involving "the young Doctor on Gallifrey" is ever going to be a good idea, if someone were to attempt it even in flashback, I can see Tom Hiddleston playing a young First Doctor pretty effectively.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

It is going to get tiresome, however, if you keep doing it.

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Iain Coleman 2 years, 11 months ago

Even if Warriors of the Deep had been shot by Ridley Scott with a ten million pound budget, it would still have had a fucking shit script.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 11 months ago

Gaiman expressed interest in writing a novelization if he ever got the chance, adding in all the bits that had to be cut out. So we'd have a new monster instead of an Ood; Rory fearing Amy is lurking around with a knife, waiting for him; something in the swimming pool that wasn't filmed because Karen Gillan can't swim...I really hope the BBC does this someday, but who knows. By the way, has anyone read Gaiman's Eleventh Doctor story for the 50th anniversary ebooks? (With all the ebooks that have been coming out lately from all the eras, I have developed a fantasy in which I raise Doctor Who-loving children and as they bounce from era to era, I read ebooks to them/they read the ebooks on their own.)

So, would Day of the Doctor follow The War Games, The Deadly Assassin, and this episode in playing with mythos (and yet not really retconning)?

And certainly one of the best quiet rewrites in this episode is the "pull to open" gag.

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, I'm finding it fun in a whimsy way.

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Callum Leemkuil 2 years, 11 months ago

I'm also enjoying it. Sort of like the "in this picture, Clara is cleverly disguised as _____" jokes.

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 11 months ago

First thing first, nice Photo gag. Also, are you a Brony?

Very coincidental that the song that you cited is playing on my radio at the moment.

This story, I saw during a Doctor Who Marathon on PBS, so I came into this without any facts about it or knowing that Neil Gaimen was the 'Writer'.

And this story made me decide to go see the Classic stuff, even making me download an Audio Play.

The one thing I wish was different about it is to extend the episode so that it would be 60 minutes. As it is, it was a fantastic piece of the 'Mythos' of Doctor Who and made me get into Classic Who, especially the Fourth Doctor.

One last thing, it took me aback that they did not cast Helena Bothem Carter, seeing as Miss Jones was made to look like the HBC archtype.



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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

In the nearest possible world where Warriors of the Deep was shot by Ridley Scott with a ten million pound budget, it has a different script.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

a wizard-type (Gandalf, Wonka etc) is always going to be more fascinating to young children than a lovelorn romantic hero

That was never true of me.

I can see Tom Hiddleston playing a young First Doctor pretty effectively.

Yes!

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 11 months ago

Does that make Paul Cornell a troll, then?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 11 months ago

"'I've always taken you where you needed to go" would be scant comfort to Seven as he steps out the door and gunfire rips through him. (Though admittedly it was true in that case too.)

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 11 months ago

@encyclops

Don't say that! You'll get the fangirls excited.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

Let's not forget it's in the same season with "Planet of Fire" and, of course, "The Twin Dilemma." So yeah, it's lousy, but at least it vaguely resembles a story that someone might conceivably have thought might be worth filming. It's not even the worst of the YEAR.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

"Nothing O'Clock"? I've read it. I really liked it, even though it gives me a Dukes of Stratosphear earworm every time I see the title.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

I know, I hate to hop on the Hiddleston train, but he just seems perfect for it. He ::gritting teeth:: should probably even play the present-day Doctor sometime in the next 10-15 years. Damn it.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

You can take the Time Lord to the right place, but you can't make him look at the scanner before he goes outside!

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Ben 2 years, 11 months ago

I read that Gaiman said that he knew he'd written a good Doctor line when he could imagine all the other Doctors saying it as well, and that "Fear me, I killed all of them" was one such line. Got a kick out of imagining, say, Peter Davison saying the same thing.

Also I enjoy the parallels to "The Brain of Morbius" in this story. You've got the disembodied, voice-over villain, the mass of trashed spaceships/TARDISes, Amy's nightmare visions as a parallel to Sarah Jane's blindness... I can't see this being an accident.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 11 months ago

I was going to say, as I read through the end of this thread, that perhaps one could talk Tom Hiddleston into playing the 13th Doctor. I could see such interesting body language emerging from his long, spindly fingers. The aloof intensity he brought to Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive would be excellent for it.

But I can definitely understand the frustration with the modern form of Doctor Who shutting out gay interpretation and inclusion in the show, ironically, through their explicit inclusion. It used to be the having an explicitly gay character on screen was a horrible, horrible, thing, and dear Lord, call Mrs Whitehouse, isn't someone thinking of the children. So you could have all this subtext appearing through Doctor Who's relationship with people who were able to interpret it that way.

Now, with homosexuality coming to be more broadly accepted in society (though there are considerable battles for acceptability and against discrimination and violence still to work through, of course), it is no problem to include gay content explicitly on the BBC's flagship program. Indeed, the inclusion of characters with non-straight sexualities like Jack and Mme Vastra is celebrated in mainstream thinking as a progressive leap forward. But saying explicitly what is the gay content simultaneously delineates what is not. When gay content is explicitly identified as such, the gay implications of the whole disappear.

So I don't know if I'd blame RTD or Moffat themselves for this position; it's a matter of the social situations where we live, and the ironies of how acceptability for the previously oppressed can easily become a new ghetto, except you can sometimes find yourself liking the decor.

It can still have its power as an explicit signifier, though not the same type of power as when it was an indication. You just have to wait for it to float. Eccleston's Doctor was a more sexually ambiguous character, and I think in the future, we'll get a Doctor that's not so explicitly coded as conventionally straight. And I think the same will occur with other characters in time.

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Kit 2 years, 11 months ago

Gaiman expressed interest in writing a novelization if he ever got the chance

More if the BBC would allow him to do so on terms he found reasonable; his agent was unable to secure these terms, though she tried.

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Anton B 2 years, 11 months ago

All of the above comments are of course correct and provide ample diegetic reasons for how the myth-tinkering TARDIS directing Clara fits into continuity. Of course the whole scene is just cheeky fan-bait,. I can imagine Moffat chuckling to himself as he wrote it. I actually enjoy the scene but, in my opinion, it adds an unnecessary gloss to Gaiman's original elegant poetry.

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elvwood 2 years, 11 months ago

My son loves Warriors of the Deep - it's one of his favourite fifth Doctor stories. Mind you, he hasn't seen it since he was nine or ten, so there's probably a bit of a nostalgia factor there. I quite like that he can have unpopular opinions (he does know its reputation) - he's also a fan of both Paradise Towers and The Chase, and dislikes Remembrance of the Daleks. It's not that he's just contrary, either - Robots of Death is his joint-favourite fourth Doctor story.

And getting back to the topic at hand, everyone in our family loved The Doctor's Wife. There's one embarrassingly fannish punch-the-air moment, though: at the point where the Ponds leave the console room and we see further inside the TARDIS, me and my children all shouted "YES!" - much to the bemusement of my Not-We wife. It's a bit like getting excited because Doctor # finally gets a chance to meet the Brig/Cybermen/Daleks/whatever, and so not something a mature and intelligent fan should do. But by golly it was a great moment nonetheless.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 11 months ago

I laughed out loud at that point.

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jane 2 years, 11 months ago

A day late and a dollar short, but what the hell. There's some interesting esoteric symbolism in this story, all part of the era's recurring motifs, but it's pretty much on the visual level, and the written word isn't exactly the best way to describe this (and no, I don't have time just yet to make another video). Regardless, I'll give it a go.

"The boxes will make you angry."

So we've got disembodied voices chanting their pleas over and over again, in some sort of eternal return, all stuffed into a cupboard -- a metaphor which is played with several times this season (hi, Dorium). In Night Terrors there's George putting his monsters in the cupboard. Rory puts Hitler in the cupboard. The Doctor and Kazran Sardick wait in a cupboard until they're attacked by a shark. Obviously, being "in the closet" is pretty well known at this point, but with Doctor Who the metaphor is extended beyond the confines of the gay community -- it can apply to whatever our own personal monsters or demons might be. In the Doctor's case, it's his perceived monstrosity over the Time War.

It's interesting that the first Box arrives with an Ouroboros inscribed on it. The sign of the Corsair (interesting etymology, it derives from "running") is a snake eating its own tail, the sign of eternal return. But for our purposes, it's simply a Circle in the Square. As I've noted before, it carries a particular esoteric meaning, as described by W.L. Wilmshurst in his 1922 book on Masonry: "Deity, symbolized by the all-containing circle, has attained form and manifestation in a 'square' or human soul. It expresses the mystery of the Incarnation, accomplished within the personal soul."

So I find it very interesting that the disembodied TARDIS actually becomes disembodied through being placed in a human body. When she and the Doctor fly off to rescue the blue box, their ramshackle time machine is depicted as a Sphere. (And, of course, just before she makes the thing fly, we see her presented in a mirror.) The Circle enters the Square, and the divinity is restored to her vehicle. As a backdrop, the rift between the worlds is shaped like a galactic yoni, as if the entire universe was equivalent to the Divine Feminine.

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David Anderson 2 years, 11 months ago

It should be noticed that the Doctor needs a key for the TARDIS he's trying to steal before Clara intervenes. Sexy explicitly says that she stole the Doctor by leaving herself unlocked.
(Clara says that the Doctor never notices her. Still, you would think he would definitely remember her from that occasion. Further explanation in future tie-in fiction called out for.)

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 11 months ago

I guess she could've tried to warn him better, tolling the cloister bell or something, but I put it down to: "I *try* to take you where you need to go, but I'm faulty so sometimes I'm a bit out or can only do my best."

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

I've always thought Remembrance got a lot of extra steam from coming after a season that left a lot of people aghast. I find almost all Dalek stories make my eyes glaze over at least a little, and this was no exception. I don't hate it, but it's definitely overrated.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 11 months ago

I've always thought Remembrance got a lot of extra steam from coming after a season that left a lot of people aghast.

Undoubtedly, though that wouldn't account for why DWM's under-18 voters have it at third best story of all time.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 2 years, 11 months ago

It already has . In the Big Finish Companion Chronicles "The Beginning" , Susan recalls stepping into one Tardis while her Grandfather stays behind a moment . She hears him speaking with someone. He pulls her out of that Tardis and they leave with a different one.

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Mattyoung! 2 years, 11 months ago

I did a double take at that line, like most of us poor, single-time-stream entombed viewers, who are confused by the disordering of events that comes with time travel (and I think it's really terrific how this series, as it comes into its final chapters, gets to indulge in a little of the time travel its spent so many volumes discussing).

I also enjoy the Clara callouts.

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encyclops 2 years, 11 months ago

No, it wouldn't account for that. I know I liked Dalek stories better when I was younger, so that might be some of it. Also, I probably have no taste.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 2 years, 11 months ago

Alex nailed it above really: there was such a lack of heterosexual text that it was an easy vacuum to fill, either hetero or homo, with your own personal agenda. Dr. Who always had a much larger proportion of gay fans in sci fi, but i would take issue with anyone wanting to call it on having any sort of anti gay agenda. The fact that the Doctor has a heterosexual bent right now, could easily be twisted now that we have it as canon that time lords can gender switch. some must already be producing reams of fan fic off of that idea.

The fact that Dr. Who has become a world wide phenomenon is a bit of an easier sell with a straight male hero with lots of daring do and action and special effects, and that's the commercial side. Moffatt and others have certainly had the chance to do some little things to tweak those sensibilities as well along the way.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

But when we say "et al," let's also remember that the person who introduced romantic plots to Doctor Who came out of the gay fandom tradition.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 11 months ago

I think she knew his time was up.

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Callum Leemkuil 2 years, 11 months ago

This actually fits pretty well with the later NAs' idea that the 7th Doctor was putting off his regeneration - this time the TARDIS knew he couldn't push it any further forward and caused him to die. In this interpretation, that makes the TARDIS just as manipulative as 7.

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ComMaxil 2 years, 11 months ago

Philip Segal? ;-)

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ferret 2 years, 11 months ago

The Doctor was enroute to Gallifrey with the Masters remains, can't see Earth being the better option. Didn't the snake-Master ooze into the TARDIS console, causing the crash landing on Earth? If so, then it was out of her control.

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David 2 years, 11 months ago

Maybe the TARDIS was trying to force a reboot to reverse the narrative collapse of the cancellation.

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 11 months ago

@Anton B
>Alan Moore to speculate how [he] might have approached writing a similar 'Mythos tinkering' Doctor Who story and being edited by Moffat.

>Alan Moore
>being edited by anyone

Man, I would love to see this happen!
(So who would be the new showrunner after Moore is done with Moffat?)

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heroesandrivals 2 years, 11 months ago

One of the reasons Moffat pounced on Idris as the focus was because Gaiman originally intended House to be the Great Intelligence, the return of a 45 year old Doctor Who foe from outside of the universe.
But Moffat had his own plans for the G.I. so he nix'd that. And without the weight of a cosmic returning foe the script was horribly out of balance so Idris became the focus.

Some might argue that this makes Moffat responsible for the story's greatest strength. I would counter that Moffat's version of the G.I. sucked and making a bad decision that happens to have a good outcome does not mean he should get 'credit' for its success.

(But again, I have an irrational dislike of Moffat as a showrunner because he is bad at it.)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 11 months ago

I can't find any sources supporting that story, heroesandrivals. I can find one source, TARDIS Wiki, that has an incompletely cited claim that the original script *hinted* that House might be the Great Intelligence, but nothing that suggests that this was the major payoff of the episode.

I'm also not sure I buy that Moffat, in 2010, when this was scripting and shooting, had his plans for late 2012/2013 worked out yet. I think it's more likely that Moffat decided to use the Great Intelligence upon finding out that Web of Fear was recovered.

But more to the point, perhaps, I don't think that Gaiman is a bad enough writer to think that you can hinge an entire story on a shock return of an obscure 60s villain, or that the script would have gotten to the draft stage with that being the major twist without Moffat objecting. Surely Gaiman sent an outline.

So yeah. Don't buy that story.

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John Binns 2 years, 11 months ago

Note though that RTD wrote the Doctor as incapable or unwilling of returning Rose's love in a meaningful way, or even expressing it to her (hence it was necessary for her to find happiness with the human Doctor of Doomsday instead). It was Moffat (writer of The Curse of the Fatal Death) who insisted that the Doctor dances (but who with?), had him fall in love with Madame de Pompadour and introduced his (other) wife before he even took over the show (though presumably with RTD's blessing), reacting *against* those elements of fandom who saw the Doctor's asexuality as sancrosanct (or even important).

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John Binns 2 years, 11 months ago

There may be more to say about the geometry of TARDISes (and Doctor Who generally). The natural shape of a TARDIS seems to be a cube (like Time Lord messages) or a sphere; the Rani's (in Time and the Rani) was a tetrahedron. The Doctor's has settled into a cuboid, like a television (note the Doctor's 'explanation' of its dimensions in An Unearthly Child in terms of television, and to Leela in The Robots of Death, using cube-shaped boxes I think). In Logopolis the Doctor's explanation to Adric of the chameleon circuit was accompanied by a scanner image of a pyramid, and the Master's TARDIS settled into the shape of a cylinder. I could mention the Mechonoids and the Dodecahedron, but won't in case you think I have gone nuts. Opening it out to think about dimensions, the idea that there's something significant about pushing the doors of the Doctor's TARDIS rather than pulling them is interesting; see also the fact that the Doctor and Adric exit the TARDIS in Logopolis by going *in* to one of the nested TARDISes, the dialogue in The Power of Three about the seventh side of the cube being the inside, Romana's line in Nightmare of Eden about Russian dolls being scale models of the universe, the idea (from Logopolis again) of our universe being held together first by words and then by the emboitment of other universes, the images in The Mind Robber of an apparently empty TARDIS blowing apart at the beginning and coming together again at the end, and the Eruditorum entry on Rose.

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5tephe 2 years, 11 months ago

I love you, Jane. We all do.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

DOCTOR: The Tardis?
IDRIS: Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Yes, that's it. Names are funny. It's me. I'm the Tardis.
DOCTOR: No, you're not. You're a bitey, mad lady. The Tardis is up and downy stuff in a big blue box.
IDRIS: Yes, that's me. A Type Forty Tardis. I was already a museum piece when you were young, and the first time you touched my console you said
DOCTOR: I said you were the most beautiful thing I had ever known.
IDRIS: And then you stole me. And I stole you.

That last bit - "And then you stole me. And I stole you" - explains it and totally allows for the way the story was told in the past and the future with Moffat's addition to it, with Clara getting drawn into the process. So the Tardis did not simply steal the Doctor, and the Doctor did not simply steal her but both of them did it to each other at the same time, and Clara helped it happen.

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Daru 2 years, 11 months ago

@ Phil - I agree completely, and conversely it was Moffat who introduced the most prominent bi/gay/pan-sexual characters into Doctor Who with Captain Jack/Jenny/Vastra.

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LC 2 years, 10 months ago

That was one of the bits I truly liked about this.

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