You Were Expecting Someone Else 15 (The Curse of Fatal Death)

(156 comments)

The Curse of Fatal Death is a 1998 comedy spoof of Doctor Who written by Steven Moffat. It's also embedded below this paragraph. If we want to get accusatory, of course, it's also a work of cynicism by somebody who doesn’t really like Doctor Who and only wants to mock what’s wrong with it. There is, puzzlingly, an entire line of thought about Moffat that works on this logic, insisting as it does that he does not actually like Doctor Who very much, and how he’s only interested in writing for it in order to show how smugly superior he is to it. Not that I think any of my quite respectable and sharp readers would actually go with this line of argument, even the camp that doesn’t like Moffat. But this is still a surprisingly persistent line of argument. 

Though for the sake of honesty, at least, we should probably admit that there are less adamant versions of the argument that we could make if we were so inclined, and that these versions are perhaps more compelling. Most of them would focus on the infamous tipsy ranting session he had with Paul Cornell, David Bishop, Andy Lane that got transcribed by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club for their fanzine Time Space Visualizer, in which he made several of his most trotted out quotes like, “If you look at the first episode of Doctor Who, that betrays the lie that it’s just the 60?s, because that first episode’s really good. The rest of it’s shit,” “some old actor like Tom Baker would come to a shuddering halt in the middle of the set and stare at the camera, because he can’t bear the idea that someone else is in the show,” and “You’ve got Patrick Troughton, who was a good actor, but his companions – how did they get their Equity card? They’re unimaginably bad.” These quotes do not endear Moffat to some people.

There are two defenses to mount here. The first is that the easier to find version of this ranting session is the one at the Doctor Who Interview Archive, which reformats it to look like an interview. It wasn’t - it was four fans drinking and bitching on tape. The DWIA version cuts out all the stuff that isn’t Moffat, and a fair amount of the stuff that is, completely losing the sense of tone and giving a terribly misleading sense of what was going on, making it sound like an interview where he was the center of attention. The full interview makes him come off much better, in part because it sets up the sort of conversation that was actually being had - one that Moffat is quiet for long stretches of. And he comes off much better in it.

But why reach for the weak defense. Let’s go for the strong one: he’s right. I mean, I love 1960s Doctor Who - and, crucially, so does Steven Moffat. But the Hartnell era is a mess. The only three writers with any sense of how to structure drama are Whitaker, Spooner, and Cotton. Maybe Lucarotti if you want. Virtually nothing not written by one of them holds together as drama, instead appearing arbitrarily stretched and compressed. How good Hartnell was varies by episode and his health. Several companions are extraordinary - Jacqueline Hill and Maureen O’Brien are fantastic with almost no dud moments across their time. Others, Carole Ann Ford and Jackie Lane in particular, are almost unwatchably awful. It doesn’t hold together well at all, and functions only on the fact that it wasn’t meant to be watched closely (or twice) and had a sort of mad, cackling ambition, or, at least, it did under Verity Lambert. Similarly, Tom Baker was a scene-hogging git at times, and Patrick Troughton’s companions were at times awful. We, as fans, have managed to retcon this into a virtue, describing Jamie as noble and loyal, but let’s be honest, what we really mean is that the writers and Frazer Hines never gave the character a single trait that wasn’t “he trusts the Doctor.”

But the thing is, and crucially, this is something Moffat says as well, but nobody pays attention to that bit of the interview, I adore it anyway. Not just the genuine, proper brilliant bits like Power of the Daleks, which you watch and realize that it’s so good that when Rob Shearman nicked bits for Dalek in 2005 it still looked fresh and original. I love almost all of it. The Web Planet is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories not because everyone is wrong about the laundry list of massive flaws but because the thing is so screamingly weird that I love it in spite of its flaws. Or, as Moffat put it in the conversation, “I dearly loved Doctor Who but I don't think my love of it translated into it being a tremendously good series.”

The Curse of Fatal Death is a celebration of exactly that: the love of something in spite of its flaws. But that’s not quite correct either. Yes, Moffat includes a lovely prototype of every speech about how wonderful the Doctor is that he ever writes in the remainder of his career, but this isn’t a story about what works in Doctor Who. It’s a story about how its flaws are part of the charming fun too. Which is something that is important to get out of both the interview and this: Moffat adores all of Doctor Who. And The Curse of Fatal Death is, every bit as much as The Scarlet Empress, a celebration of the sort of unreconstructed and hedonistic sense of wonder that constitutes Doctor Who.

For the most part The Curse of Fatal Death works by indulging in things that would have broken the series if it had to actually function as one long-term. So, for instance, it fully embraces a ludicrous series of plots and counter-plots as the Doctor and the Master successively rewrite history to provide a suitably long sequence of dei ex machinis. Gratuitously chained regeneration sequences are cheerly explored. Everyone, basically including the Master himself, admits that he’s camp and rubbish. None of this is possible within the context of the series itself, even though it all captures fairly essential truths about the series. Also telling are the sorts of criticisms that are issued of the series. It’s not stuff like Daleks climbing stairs (which is just refrigerator logic) or even of cheapness as such (though there is a bit of snark about how all the corridors look the same, it’s the lead-in to a joke in which CGI is used to have what, by the production logic of the series, is an impossibly large set of Daleks behind a door, not an extensively milked joke about corridor-running). This isn’t a case of mocking the program for it’s faults - it’s a case of loving its faults and recognizing that there’s tremendous fun to be had in what Doctor Who is, as opposed to in some vision of what it might have been instead. In this regard it’s a close cousin of The Scarlet Empress.

But there’s a difference, and it’s one that gets at another one of the standard debates about Moffat, which I’m apparently trying strenuously to knock down and sort out before we actually get to the Moffat era. There’s a basic similarity between The Scarlet Empress and The Curse of Fatal Death, but there’s also a massive difference, which is that The Scarlet Empress is rooted in gay fandom and gay culture while The Curse of Fatal Death is fundamentally and at its heart the work of a straight bloke. There are very different fan traditions at play here, and those differences matter.


Let’s start by scrubbing some of the obvious objections in one paragraph that I know is going to be the main bit of catnip for at least some of my commentators. One of the standard lines of objection against Moffat, pushed by some critics I normally strongly agree with, is that his vision of Doctor Who is heteronormative. There’s something that needs to be distinguished here, though: Moffat is, in point of fact, a heterosexual man. As with any writer, he draws on his own life when writing. Of course his Doctor Who is going to appear straighter than Russell T Davies’s - he is, after all, considerably straighter. Equally, however, Moffat is tenaciously an ally. When it was pointed out to him that he’d included no queer content whatsoever in Series Five he made an active point of fixing it in Series Six. He’s been vocal in support of same sex marriage. He’s solidly on the right side of these issues. No, he doesn’t share the depth of Russell T Davies’s overt focus on diversity, and so they aren’t as often the animating force behind an episode, but his record is solid. The criticism that his vision of Doctor Who is straighter than Davies’s comes perilously close to saying that heterosexual men can’t write autobiographically. I am among the first to call foul when accusations of reverse discrimination are raised against social justice movements, but in this case I’m depressed to admit that it’s a fair cop. Moffat gets stick for no reason other than that he’s a straight man writing from his own perspective. Yes, there’s too many of those, but why on Earth would we go after a straight white dude who’s actually a good writer when we could be chasing Judd Apatow from the cinemas or something? I mean, yes, death to heteronormativity, but if we’re culling straight writers from television let’s at least start with the shitty ones. Instead of one who’s less heteronormative than average, a good writer, and largely on the right side of these issues.

The larger problem with this criticism of Moffat, however, is that it erases what many of his stories, including The Curse of Fatal Death,  actually are: redemption narratives for arsehole fans. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the moment where fandom sacked the anoraks and War of the Daleks marked the point where a particular sort of fandom finally suffered a crippling blow within Doctor Who, The Curse of Fatal Death is the moment where the heirs of those approaches start making good on themselves. In many ways this harkens back to Joking Apart, where we observed that the centerpiece of the narrative was the fact that despite being clever and funny and witty, Moffat’s surrogate character was a complete jerk whose wife was absolutely right to leave him. This is one of the dominant themes in Moffat’s writing: the way in which smart, clever, and witty men are oppressive jerks. Starting with Joking Apart and continuing through to ““when one is in love with an ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve year old one learns to hide the damage,” Moffat is acutely aware that people like him are assholes who hurt and diminish the people around him even though they’re charming.

Or, to put it bluntly, Moffat writes about overgrown man children and the fact that they need to grow the up. This is even the dominant theme in the four-way conversation. It’s not that he didn’t love Doctor Who - it’s that as a reasonably professional television writer and producer who knows what he’s doing he recognizes its flaws and isn’t going to childishly delude himself into thinking that The Mark of the Rani was even remotely fit for transmission. Or, for that matter, that someone along the way shouldn’t have pulled Robert Holmes aside and said, “Robert, the script’s great, absolutely brilliant, but what in God’s name makes you think that we can do a giant rat?” Because, you know, he’s grown up, gotten a job, and learned about the world. (Moffat is, of course, ambivalent about growing up. That’s part of the tension implicit in his work that makes it good - he on the one hand recognizes that childishness is destructive, and on the other recognizes that growing up is tragic.)

And yes, writing as a heterosexual fanboy who eventually grew up and stopped being quite so much of a jerk, Moffat focuses on the sorts of things that got him to grow up. Which, based on an even cursory examination of his life and autobiographical works, is pretty clearly “girls.” Both in the sense of developing the wisecracking bastard persona to overcome a sense of shyness and awkwardness that is, let’s face it, not unfamiliar to a lot of geeks, and in the sense of growing up, getting married, having kids, and learning from that to be a bit more restrained and empathetic. And so Moffat writes, here and in the series itself, a Doctor that grows up when he meets a girl.

But what is largely more important than what prompts the growing up (although there are some interesting things to say there, and we will eventually get to Sherlock, which I’m currently leaning towards covering episode-by-episode as the spin-off it frankly is) is the fact that Moffat’s work is in part about that segment of fandom and its growing up. And Curse of Fatal Death marks the moment where that process finally jumps over from the gay and feminist corners of fandom and starts converting the more classically stereotypical fans. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of standard issue straight male geek fans with earlier redemption narratives: Paul Cornell seems to have had a personal journey to this effect, having talked about incidents early in his life and fandom where he was, in his view rightly, ostracized for being a bit of a creeper. But it’s not surprising that there are a lot of these. For the better part of a year one of the dominant themes in this blog has been how Doctor Who got marginalized as “cult” television. It’s not that this approach to Doctor Who was unanimously heterosexual (I mean, Ian Levine, to pick the most blatant counter-example), but equally, John Nathan-Turner wasn’t putting Nicola Bryant in that bikini for his own sake. The cult television audience isn’t just white men 18-34, it’s tacitly straight white men. And in that regard the basic story Moffat tells - of clever but socially maladapted boys discovering girls and being less dickish as a result - is an important one, if only because the alternative solution would have gone down even worse than the badger cull, and probably prevented this blog from ever being written to boot.

Nevertheless, the fact that The Curse of Fatal Death does on the one hand hew to a heterosexual male sort of fandom that is recognizably from the standard “cult television” audience while on the other hand demonstrating the sort of wittier, more clever love characterized by post-Buffy fandom is telling. Not surprising, of course - Buffy, after all, was also written by a straight male who also has a profound commitment to feminism and gay rights. (And also botches both occasionally.) But significant. It’s not that The Curse of Fatal Death is some vital turning point - very little of the latter Wilderness Years can be described as a turning point for Doctor Who. But it’s a vital marker that shows that the series’ recovery continues apace and that the right things are happening within it.

And it is quite funny and charming. “It has three settings!” is particularly glorious.

Comments

John Toon 4 years, 7 months ago

An outrageously pedantic point: the plural of "deus ex machina" is "di ex machina". Or, if you insist on plural machines as well, "di ex machinis". Di immortales, Phil!

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 7 months ago

Why? I mean, the plural of the Latin "deus" is "dei" in every Latin dictionary I can find, which makes sense as it's a standard second declension noun. And machina is, it seems, a first declension, so the plural... ah, ex takes ablative, doesn't it. But I don't see the logic on di versus dei.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 7 months ago

I don't think Moffatt is utterly heteronormative. But I do think he sees the default, perfectly balanced state of human existence as being part of a loving couple. Conjugonormative, since we're working hard on our dog latin today.

Moffatt's take on the male/female couple is that women and men are very different, but very compatible. And his dialogue for straight men and women works because there is a truth in this. It is one way - for Moffatt, the primary way - that straight couples work.

I think he has more difficulty comprehending how gay couples can operate successfully, and although he believes that they, as couples, are a Good Thing, he's not good at writing them.

Equally, I think his writing for women suffers because he believes he, as a man, cannot truly understand women.

I look forward to watching "The Curse of Fatal Death" and being proved completely wrong.

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John Callaghan 4 years, 7 months ago

I watched Curse Of Fatal Death while taking part in another part of Comic Relief - the Most Naked People On TV In One Shot. It was great for me to be surrounded by a crowd watching it as it went out (who were all in dressing gowns, of course). I felt like Who was something the general public was actually watching, rather than just me and my mates. Funny how I want Who to be something for everyone rather than just my cool little secret (which sometimes happens with my hipster music, say).

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 7 months ago

It's interesting that Curse acts now as a blueprint for Moffat's actual era:

The Doctor retiring, getting into a romantic relationship, stupidly complex 'timey-wimey' plots and situations, emphasis on comedy, people being trapped for years in a certain time period.

It's quite a vague set of ideas, but he's used them again nonetheless. This is my issue with Moffat: he just keeps reusing ideas and tries to hide them, when they all started back here, in 1999.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 7 months ago

In what way does he try to hide them?

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Wm Keith 4 years, 7 months ago

In plain sight?

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Tom Watts 4 years, 7 months ago

Di is the more usual irregular plural (dii and dei are alternatives, and can't be called incorrect). Di magni!, Di boni!, pious Romans used to ejaculate.

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Roderick Thompson 4 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Tom Watts 4 years, 7 months ago

And of course, being Moffat, it could be a woman: Dea, Deae. Which is not to imply all Moffat's women roll off an identical production line.

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Justin A. Harwood 4 years, 7 months ago

Plus it's nice to see that even the hetero-normative take on Doctor Who reaches the exact same conclusion as the queer theory one: if some way or another the Doctor and the Master could just go ahead and @#$% already, we could all move on.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 7 months ago

He'll try and disguise elements if he can. Sometimes, he doesn't bother.

The Doctor meets Madame de Pompadour as a child and watches her grow up. The Doctor meets Amy as a child and watches her grow up (to a point). The first time the Doctor meets River, she's about to die. The first time he interacts with Clara, she's about to die (as Oswin). The latter example there being what I mean by 'hide/disguise'. It's effectively the same idea, except played out differently. (Of course, it's hard to comment fully as we don't yet know how the whole Oswin/Clara thing situation will play out.)

There's also the similarity between Cal and Oswin: A character who is trapped in a virtual reality/in her mind but is convinced they are in the real world and who communicates with the Doctor via a screen.

Of course, there's also the argument that most of Moffat's female characters are the same, too.

And before anyone says it - yep, every Who writer has 'tropes' or tired things. Terry Nation is a huge offender, and I dislike a lot of his writing for the same reason.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 7 months ago

ETA: He might not be thinking, 'yes, I'll disguise this and reuse it because it's a good idea', but it's the impression I get. RTD reused his old ideas after a while. I think we need some fresh blood in the showrunner spot.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 7 months ago

We've reached the point in history where I was on the internet. I mention this because radw reaction to COFD was when I first realised that some sections of fandom were completely mad.

I actually saw COFD be criticised as a cunning ploy by the BBC to say they can't bring back Doctor Who because the Doctor's used up all his incarnations. No, really.

It's hard to innumerate all the things that are wrong with this. Firstly, it assumes that, in 1998, the BBC particularly felt they needed an excuse not to bring Doctor Who back, beyond "Look what happened with the TVM". Secondly, even if they did, it's highly unlikely it would even occur to the BBC that they could say they weren't bringing Doctor Who back for diegetic reasons. "Doctor Who must stop because of an arbitary narrative point from the seventies" is a fan reason; it's not how BBC high-ups think.

Thirdly, it's an interpretation which requires one to wilfully ignore what actually happens in the story, which is that the universe won't let the Doctor die. And fourthly, and most importantly, it's a flippin' spoof!

Two years earlier, Comic Relief had Helen Mirren as DI Tennyson and Robbie Coltrane as Dr Fitz decide that now they had found True Love together they no longer cared who the murderer was. No-one thought this was a cunning ploy by ITV to stop making Prime Suspect and Cracker, because that wouldn't make any sense. It was a bit of nonsense for Comic Relief, and everyone understood that.

ISTR Moff was also on radw at the time, and commented that the consensus seemed to be "Continuity Errors" wasn't canon, but COTFD was, which was the exact opposite of his take on things.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 7 months ago

Er, *e*nnumerate, not *i*nnumerate, obviously.

(I should have just said "count"...)

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AndyRobot800 4 years, 7 months ago

I've been reading this blog voraciously for the past two or three years, and this might by my favorite article yet.

It's not just well written - I think you pinpointed *exactly* what the Moff's strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and - without dismissing the valid-but-probably-totally-wrong arguments that the man's a misogynistic jerk - managed to offer a strong defense of his style and point of view.

I completely agree, BTW - 1998 was high time us straight male fans loosened the hell up about things and went with the flow. Even before that, as a teenager reading the NAs, I was a heck of a lot more interested in the stuff Kate Orman and Paul Cornell were doing than just about anything else in that line.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

There is, puzzlingly, an entire line of thought about Moffat that works on this logic, insisting as it does that he does not actually like Doctor Who very much, and how he’s only interested in writing for it in order to show how smugly superior he is to it

You know, I've heard this argument used about various showrunners over the years, that they somehow seized control of the show in order to destroy it and ruin its good name because they secretly hated it -- Frank Mancuso Jr on 'War of the Worlds', Cop and Good on the 1997 'Knight Rider' revival, Moffat (even RTD, though that was mostly just thinly veilled homophobia). I don't really get how someone old enough to comprehend that TV shows are made by people could actually take that argument seriously. I mean, there's certainly evidence of folks getting tired of a show and half-assing it. But the claim here is that from day one, they hated the series -- and sometimes this is not a series they inherited but one they started -- and deliberately set out to make terrible television in order to hurt people.

How could someone believe that? How could someone imagine that no one in an industry full of twitchy executives would notice if a producer was deliberately trying to make them lose money? How could someone imagine that such a person would be able to get a job?

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Alphapenguin 4 years, 7 months ago

Am I the only one who thinks the weird spiky thing in the Master's TARDIS is some sort of evil coat-rack?

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 7 months ago

We, as fans, have managed to retcon this into a virtue, describing Jamie as noble and loyal, but let’s be honest, what we really mean is that the writers and Frazer Hines never gave the character a single trait that wasn’t “he trusts the Doctor.”

We don't really mean that at all, nor do we agree with your conclusion. We should also stop using the royal "we" but we're feeling very kingly this morning. It must be our purple shirt.

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aralias 4 years, 7 months ago

Because I'm a perverse individual, I thought it was quite OK for Moffat to say he hated and was embarrassed by the giant rat (I mean, even Toby Hadoke says the exact same thing, and you almost can't get an example of someone who loves Doctor Who more). Indeed I found the way he denied this viewpoint later (possibly just because he was now leading the operation/because people had been angry) quite disappointing. Because I agree with what you say in this article, even if you love Doctor Who, it's quite possible to admit that not all of it is as brilliant as the rest of it. The giant rat is a bit rubbish. That's OK. It's a BBC budget for Christ's sake.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure this was the right place to tackle the Moffat gender roles question... Emma is a nothing character/generic companion and therefore the fact that she's in this episode as the Doctor's true love... is just a joke about Grace and fannish outrage, and perhaps a general comment re - why wouldn't he want to sleep with hotties like Sarah Jane? The dads all watching certainly do! Am I right?

If you want to argue that he writes women completing men... Jekyll might have been a better place to do it.

As for the hetronormative thing (which you said would make people comment, and here it is) I agree that it's wrong to bash Moffat for not having the same agenda as RTD and therefore not to push it in such a way, but Curse of the Fatal Death uses the Doctor becoming a woman as a joke about how all the characters in the episode are straight - twice. Emma would be willing to stay with even the Jim Broadbent version, but now the Doctor's a woman? No thanks. Meanwhile the Master can only be sexually interested in the Doctor as a woman (which is not to say that the Joanna Lumley isn't very hot in this skit and that it's not therefore a good call on his behalf). This is a very harsh reading of two quick jokes, but the point is that being gay is laughable in Moff land - it's not just that he doesn't include LGBT people (so many shows don't - I would be so fine with it, though I know not everyone would be. I'd almost prefer it than for Moffat to write characters I feel are clearly designed as positive 'HEY MOFFAT INCLUDES LGBT' people, rather than because they necessarily work in the story, although equally: you can't get better without practice). It's that he continually makes jokes that are dependent in their humour on the idea of LGBT people being intrinsically other. Gay people aren't invisible: they (or the idea that anyone could think our heroes were gay) are the punch line.

RE-

why on Earth would we go after a straight white dude who’s actually a good writer when we could be chasing Judd Apatow from the cinemas or something?

...Because Judd Apatow isn't writing a show we've already committed to?

(Sorry just to show up and whinge. But you don't get to be a fandom bugbear without annoying a lot of people).

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Wm Keith 4 years, 7 months ago

"why wouldn't he want to sleep with hotties like Sarah Jane? The dads all watching certainly do! Am I right?"

Given that Sarah performed a semi-maternal role to some of us now-dads when we were aged 5, that's an interesting question, which I choose to sidestep.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

"Equally, I think his writing for women suffers because he believes he, as a man, cannot truly understand women."

To what extent is this true, though? Men and women have a lot in common, and much that isn't. Is it more honest to admit that as a straight white man with enormous privilege he isn't privy to most women's experiences?

If I'm being honest, there's a fair amount about men that I don't understand, at an empathic level -- I've had men explain certain things that make sense intellectually (sex drives, fighting, and especially the strange ability to cut off emotional response and to *not* be empathic) but I don't think I'll ever understand it in a way I can feel in my bones.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't call that "disguise," Lewis, which implies a host of motivations you can't possibly know. It's rather backhanded.

That said, yes, he definitely plays with the effect of repetition and variations on a theme. In fact, he employs this technique in just about every aspect of his writing -- themes, story ideas, characters, dialogue, symbols and imagery -- his work is hugely self-referential, building on what he's done before.

This isn't a matter of trotting out the same tropes, Terry Nation style. This is a systematic deployment, like bringing in more instruments for each round of the Bolero.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

It's obviously an evil coat rack! But the chair is obviously a device of reasonable comfort.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

Quite right. Jamie has many other traits -- he's strong, he's Scottish, he's thick, and oh my that's a big one.

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Scott 4 years, 7 months ago

Without wanting to sound like a "GAY AGENDA!!!!!!"-style ranting dickhead or to start crying reverse discrimination (which is frankly silly for numerous reasons), I do kind of have to wonder at times how much of flack Moffat receives for what many consider to be his more problematic issues is a result of him (read: his sexual orientation) being more 'mainstream' compared to RTD. While Moffat does have genuinely problematic issues to his work that can and should be critiqued and addressed, any reasonably fair reading of the new series would (to me, at least) indicate that his work, warts and all, is not really THAT different from what RTD produced in many ways, and several of the issues they both share arise more out of the fundamental cloth of Doctor Who rather than being issues with the writers per say, yet people seem (to me, at least) to zero in on these issues when attacking Moffat that RTD by and large seemed to get away with.

I mean, to take one example, people seem to love to give Moffat a kicking for being anti-feminist, yet the way he treats his female characters doesn't seem THAT much worse than Rose's "I love being with the Doctor so much I'm going to give up every single other aspect of my identity just so that I can be with him for ever and EVAH" to me; at least when all was said and done, Amy seemed to have more of a separate identity that WASN'T bound up in her association with the Doctor than many of RTD's companions.

(Although that said, it might be fairer to frame this as being a result of fandom rivalries and over-eager RTD fans / Moffat haters ignoring the plank in their favourite era's eyes while they beat Moffat with sticks more than the interpretation I've suggested above.)

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Wm Keith 4 years, 7 months ago

Amended to add "to the extent that it is difficult to go beyond the superficial".

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

Curse of the Fatal Death uses the Doctor becoming a woman as a joke about how all the characters in the episode are straight - twice...

...the point is that being gay is laughable in Moff land - it's not just that he doesn't include LGBT people... It's that he continually makes jokes that are dependent in their humour on the idea of LGBT people being intrinsically other.


I don't see COFD making fun of LGBT people, here, and I say that as someone's who's madly queer. It's making fun of straight people.

Emma's interest in the Doctor is entirely based on her sexuality -- a heterosexual sexuality -- which varies according to the "manliness" of the Doctor in front of her. And likewise, the Master is only interested in the Doctor sexually when the Doctor becomes female, not because he's anti-gay, but because he's (mostly) straight.

But look at how the Doctor reacts when Joanna emerges. She's not reacting against Emma -- she's still planning a wedding, still thinks there's a relationship there! And when her romantic inclinations are rebuffed, she's still more than happy to travel with Emma as friends.

Now, when Emma knocks away the Sonic (a symbolic rejection of the Doctor's queer sexuality) she moves out of the frame, and we never see her again; Emma, the straight girl who can't look beyond the Doctor's embodiment to the spirit inside, isn't good enough for the Doctor, or our time. Emma can't conceive of being sexual outside her heteronormativity; she can't conceive of herself changing.

The Master is more complicated. The thing about the Master is that he has changed here, on the inside. He's renounced his ways, turned over a new leaf, made a fresh start. He's now devoted to upholding the Doctor's values. So when The Doctor finds him attractive, it's not just the body that appeals to her, it's the man inside.

The Master's transformation is symbolized by his Dalek bumps -- here is a fusion of opposites, a reversal of polarity; the Master understands in a way that Emma does not, and as was pointed out earlier in the text, the Master is camp -- that is, possessing a gay sensibility.


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daniel-saunders 4 years, 7 months ago

Was Curse really so innovative, though, even for heterosexual male fandom? The Dis-Continuity Guide, which had one foot in the 'anorak' camp and another in the 'laughing with/at it' camp came out in 1995. The Completely Useless Encyclopedia, which was purely 'laughing with/at it' came out in 1996 and its authors had been writing things in a similarly mocking vein in DWM for a while. I don't know about the sexuality of the authors, but certainly the fans reading these books weren't all gay.

Also noteworthy are the DWM comics Happy Deathday (which came out more or less at the same time as Curse and is technically part of the ongoing eighth Doctor continuity, but was noteworthy for parodying the programme quite mercilessly in a multi-Doctor anniversary special, rather than being extra-reverent) and especially Doctor Who and the Fangs of Time, a meta-fictional comic strip about a fan writing a New Adventure (with help from the fourth Doctor) taking the reader through pretty much the journey you describe here (unquestioning childhood love of the programme; growing away from it as a teenager partly as a result of discovering girls; coming to terms with it warts-and-all as an adult). That was published in 1996, mere months after the TV Movie (and on the very next page after an interview with Philip Segal). The letters page in subsequent issues showed it resonated strongly with a lot of readers.

So I query just how groundbreaking Moffat's attitude here was - it's hard for me to remember, but at the time I think Curse seemed to have an attitude I recognised as having been DWM for years, the only difference was that now we fanboys could say this stuff in public rather than in the privacy of DWM and fanzines.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

The giant rat is a bit rubbish. That's OK. It's a BBC budget for Christ's sake.


You know, this hits on something with me. So often we say "Yeah, the budget" to justify giant rats and bubble wrap and the fact that Nerva is a syringe wearing a donut.

But you know what a remotely sane production would have done when they saw "Giant rat" in the script and then looked at their budget?

They'd have gotten out a red pen and struck through the giant rat and said "Well the giant rat's right out. It would look ridiculous." Heck, the history of fantastical television is FULL of really interesting ideas that were scrapped at the design stage because someone realized that there was no way they could afford to do it convincingly (The original idea of the Borg as CGI insectioids; half the original ideas for Captain Power; Pretty much anything remotely cool in the Knight Rider revivals of the 1990s).

A big part of me coming to terms with Doctor Who in the early part of this century was the realization that the sort of people who were making TV for the BBC in the sixties were just about as alien to me and my forged-in-the-90s TV sensibilities as if they'd been the ones from Raxicoricalfalopratoreus, because they were making TV in a world where the idea that there was no way you could do a story like The Web Planet and have it look even remotely believable didn't make anyone stop and think that maybe they should do something else instead (Something I largely attribute to the fact that most of them were still working from sensibilities developed from theatre and radio).

(This blog has done a lot to get me to reconcile all of this, from just "The past is a foreign country which I can sort of visit and take an interest in in a touristy sort of way, but I can't really enjoy this as television because it bears only the most casual resemblance to what I think of television as being like" to "Wow. This is all quite mad and that's a lot of fun, isn't it?")

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Tommy 4 years, 7 months ago

"Paul Cornell seems to have had a personal journey to this effect, having talked about incidents early in his life and fandom where he was, in his view rightly, ostracized for being a bit of a creeper. But it’s not surprising that there are a lot of these."

I did not know this. I know Lawrence Miles always described Cornell as a cad who plays the male feminist just to get laid, and even suggested he had a nickname at the Tavern of 'shagger Cornell'. But, well I always thought that was a dirty smear tactic that reflected far more badly on Miles than on Cornell.

My understanding, not that I know what Cornell was like at this stage in his life, is that if an awkward, geeky guy with shall we say limited topics of conversation, enters a rather cliquey environment of tightly knit and very gregarious and confident socialites that he isn't so familiar with or can't quite keep up with, then well it's probably going to make him feel a bit stifled and overwhelmed, more likely to have an inferiority complex, and as such feel a bit more needy and hungering for contact, and yes, more clingy, and possibly even voyeuristic- wanting to vicariously absorb a life of the socially successful that he doesn't think he's capable of living up to, or to closely see how it's done. Which would of course make others wary of him, and continue the cycle. I suppose it's good that he learned to break it and to have the humility to say he had to go through a transformation because not even he liked who he was back then.

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Tommy 4 years, 7 months ago

I think Moffat bears the brunt of criticism even from fans who were brownnosing RTD because, well, RTD just had several things in his favour over Moffat. RTD was seen as the one who brought the show back, and so many who would consider it the height of ingratitude to knock his writing would have no such scruples about dragging his successor through the mud.

I do think to a degree that much of fandom seemed almost brainwashed by years of self-loathing (and by the fact that RTD's run, much like JNT's was almost entirely based around self-propagandizing the brand and the characters), in their frighteningly hysterical adulation of RTD, and that they still are today, and are thus psychologically programmed to hate on his successor on principle, and to basically reverse or inverse everything they ever said in RTD's praise. So all the rhetoric about the fast-paced, fun, emotionally heartfelt RTD era, becomes about the dull, gloomy, lacking in character Moffat era.

Not only was bashing Moffat fair game, but it allowed many of the party-line toers to relax and come out with some complaints or dissatisfactions they had with the new era. Not that there aren't some equally unpleasant Moffat sycophants, but the tide did turn.

My own feelings are I never liked RTD's era, barring some of the better efforts of his guest writers. I really liked Moffat's era and was behind it, until we got to the midpoint of Series 6 and I began to feel he'd lost it. But I put that down to struggling with the workload and rushed productions. And yet I also feel Moffat does have a bit of a problem with the emotional aspects of his characters, and resorts to flippancy and insufferable sassiness to cover it when he doesn't know how else to deal with it.

I am willing and hoping that Series 7 and the Clara arc will see him get a fresh new approach and fresh new start. He's still got it in him to be as good as he was.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 7 months ago

I always read the Joanna Lumley regeneration as an endorsement of how wonderful transgenderism can be when you finally find the right person. The Master is half-way there with his "Dalek Bumps," then the Doctor seals the deal by overcoming even the most horrible energy beam he's ever been hit with, and ending on two transwomen going off arm-in-arm is hardly the straightest ending. Sure, we laugh on the "Why do they call you the Master?" line, but we're happy for them, and there's no indication that this is wrong or bad.

Now, granted, we could go down the huge rabbit hole of "Does a transgender person wanting to be in a heterosexual relationship post coming out still count as privileging heteronormative relationships over homosexual ones because they are actively changing their sex rather than remaining homosexual, if their true gender identity is heterosexual, or does this give too much privilege to biological sex over gender when it comes to people doing what feels right to them regardless of social pressure from either side of the divide?" (I hope I phrased that correctly) but yeesh, you could write an entire book on that question and not come to an answer that would satisfy everyone.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

"Or, to put it bluntly, Moffat writes about overgrown man children and the fact that they need to grow the up."

Hmmmmmm.

Interesting point, but I'm-- well, I'm maybe anticipating an entry that's going to be made when we get there, which notes that a.) "man-children needing to grow up" became the default mode for romantic comedy films at some point, and b.) the majority of said films are unwatchable shit.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Indeed, and in the right way: science fiction parody was really getting mainstream at about that time.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 7 months ago

I remember this being on TV first time around and eagerly awaiting it (at the tender age of 37). It really did feel like the Doctor was back, Radio Times cover and all. I also remember lots of half-serious discussion afterwards of how Rowan Atkinson actually did make quite a good Doctor, even though (or perhaps because) he played it more or less as Blackadder. The Behind The Scenes documentary is almost better, with Jonathan Pryce hamming it up off-screen as much as on.

But these really were the wilderness years, especially for someone like myself who never read the books, and any new Doctor Who, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, was an event.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, I don't think he's trying to hide them at all. He likes playing with the same elements in different situations, as many writers do, Doctor Who or not.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh, right, meant to object to this. I think Frazer Hines does an excellent job, being funny and relaxed, often getting frustrated at the Doctor's silliness but being willing to go along with it anyway (because he trusts him, as you say)... I mean, to be fair, I've only seen two serials with him. But he definitely seemed better than the material he was given, and considering one of the two was The Mind Robber...

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Jane: Wow. That's an excellent point.

spoilersbelow: That is an even better one.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

And note that during the RTD era he got plenty of bashing - on Rose-worship, on the sappiness of his season-enders, etc. - and Moffat was often seen as the perfect wonderful writer who had brought us the biggest classics of the new series. I remember hearing Moffat announced as the next showrunner and thinking, "Hmmmm, I bet that's going to flip around." Naturally it did.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, the "in public" part, I think, is the groundbreaking part; it set this sort of thing up as not just an oppositional reading, but a mainstream one. Doctor Who, on television, was - this!

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Also, wasn't this in 1999, not 1998? That's what Wikipedia says, anyway.

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Doctor Memory 4 years, 7 months ago

That's the generous interpretation. The less generous one is that he's a man with three plot ideas, who's going to trot them out over and over again until people get tired of them and stop watching: a latter-day Joe Straczynski. It's fair to ask: what has the effect of the constant repetition been? If the answer is "boredom", then intentionality is no defense.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, seeing as how I've been one of the staunchest critics of Steven Moffat on this blog and elsewhere, I suppose it behooves me to say something. I don't want to go too overboard here as I've spilled far too much digital ink on this topic already, I'm frankly tired of it and Phil's right: He's not even into Moffat's tenure on the show yet. That said there are a few points made here with which I do strongly disagree, so I might as well elaborate.

“Moffat gets stick for no reason other than that he’s a straight man writing from his own perspective. Yes, there’s too many of those, but why on Earth would we go after a straight white dude who’s actually a good writer when we could be chasing Judd Apatow from the cinemas or something?”

No, he gets stick because he doesn't just write from his own perspective, he *glorifies* it. Or, at the very least he fixates on it to the point of drowning out all others. The consequence of telling the same basic story about how fanboys and fangirls need to grow up, settle down and get married over and over again (I'll get to that in a minute) is that it completely effaces the experiences of people who, say, grow up in a different way. It comes perilously close to saying heterosexual marriage is a natural law and the norm for all humans, which is *exactly* hetronormative and hegemonic. Moffat could have, at any time, given us a lesbian or asexual lady to contrast with his heterosexual fangirl leads and used her to point out how heteronormativity is not the only valid path in life, but he never does.

“Moffat is, in point of fact, a heterosexual man. As with any writer, he draws on his own life when writing. Of course his Doctor Who is going to appear straighter than Russell T Davies’s - he is, after all, considerably straighter. Equally, however, Moffat is tenaciously an ally.”

While true, this doesn't mean he's an incredible writer of things outside his experience. Whenever he does attempt to pay lip service to feminism and GLB issues, he tends to screw it up royally. He seems to think characters like Amy and his Irene Adler are examples of wonderful feminism which is a...problematic...claim I don't want to get into right now. Suffice to say all of his female characters seem stock and their lives all revolve around men. And whenever GLBTQ characters show up it's usually to be saucy and sensationalistic bit players who spice up the background instead of as actual people. He can be fully in support of feminism/GLB issues/whatever, but that doesn't mean he gets it. Good writers are able to recognise the existence of positionalities outside their own and can portray them reasonably even-handedly even if they don't quite buy into them because they are skilled observers of human nature. Moffat doesn't seem to be able to do that.

“I mean, yes, death to heteronormativity, but if we’re culling straight writers from television let’s at least start with the shitty ones. Instead of one who’s less heteronormative than average, a good writer, and largely on the right side of these issues.”

I would pretty much reject this entire claim outright, to be honest. I think Moffat is considerably worse on these issues than some of his peers, even if he is on paper in support of them. Also, I don't see why we shouldn't point out hegemony and privilege whenever it shows up, especially if it's in the two biggest dramas on television.

(cont'd)

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

“Or, to put it bluntly, Moffat writes about overgrown man children and the fact that they need to grow the (sic. fuck?) up.”

Yes, and this is another problem I have with him as a writer which isn't strictly relevant now, but I'm sure will come up when we get to his run. In deliberately framing Amy's story arc as a Peter Pan story, Moffat is essentially saying that Doctor Who is a children's show that people need to grow out of and pass onto their own children. Tabling for the moment the rampant heteronormativity and sexism of Amy Pond and her character arc, as well as the (also heteronormative) implicit assumption that everyone watching is going to get married and have children of their own, this is rather offensive and alienating to the adults who like and respect Doctor Who as a work of fiction and who don't fit the narrative of anorak-wearing straight male geeks and nerds Moffat is criticizing. Or at least it offended *this* adult (potentially now former) fan who doesn't fit that narrative. OK Mr. Moffat, I'm too old to enjoy and appreciate your show? Fine. I'll stop watching it then. And so I did.

“Moffat focuses on the sorts of things that got him to grow up. Which, based on an even cursory examination of his life and autobiographical works, is pretty clearly “girls.” Both in the sense of developing the wisecracking bastard persona to overcome a sense of shyness and awkwardness that is, let’s face it, not unfamiliar to a lot of geeks, and in the sense of growing up, getting married, having kids, and learning from that to be a bit more restrained and empathetic.”

Because this is, of course, absolutely the only path a person is allowed to take in growing up and discovering themselves ever.

“But what is largely more important than what prompts the growing up (although there are some interesting things to say there, and we will eventually get to Sherlock, which I’m currently leaning towards covering episode-by-episode as the spin-off it frankly is)..”

Because, like his Doctor Who, Sherlock is also an explicit anti-myth about how stories are wrongheaded and dangerous and need to be shelved and moved beyond in order to live in the Real World, whatever that is? And is also unbelievably sexist?


OK, that got a bit out of hand and bitter at the end, but what can you do? I do want to make it very clear I have no animosity towards Phil: This is the best, most even-handed and fair defenses of Steven Moffat and his oeuvre I've ever read and I want to praise him up and down for penning it, even if I do disagree almost entirely.

Maybe my big issue with Moffat is how his positionality and experience is so different from mine I frankly can't relate to him. Nothing about any of his shows has ever worked for me or struck a chord with me on any level. But I still maintain there is a sense, with every work of heteronormative mass-market fiction, that this is the expected and correct norm and default for people to the point of erasing other lives, stories and worldviews.

But really none of this is strictly relevant to “Curse of the Fatal Death”, so I guess I'll set these points aside and maybe return to them once this blog actually does reach the New Series. Maybe.

If anyone wants to see a sterling critique of Steven Moffat and his work, I highly recommend checking out this blog: http://stfu-moffat.tumblr.com/ It says pretty much all the things I'm trying to say, but with far more space and detail. Please disregard the inflammatory title; it's as fair and justified a critique of Moffat as this post is a defense of him.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

@spoilersbelow

Regarding "the rabbit hole" as you've described, there's a lot of assumptions in there I'd like to address.

First, transgenderism isn't about finding the right person, it's about being the right person, whether that's stepping all the way across the gender divide, like the Doctor, or outside it altogether -- though the latter often depends on a fusion of both sides (like the Master, who is visibly transgendered) as well as finding those rare "neutral" places untouched by the dichotomy of our gendered conceptions.

Next is the idea that any singular relationship should be generalized as a broad political statement. Being in a heterosexual relationship is privileged, but that doesn't mean that avoiding this kind of relationship (in life or in fiction) is the answer to breaking that privilege -- the problem isn't with heterosexuality (or any sexuality for that matter) but privilege itself.

This gets to the second point, which is about the regulation of sexuality. Desire comes unbidden. It is not subject to the conscious mind, nor the objective considerations of politics.

Sexuality isn't strictly "fixed." Getting back to the aforementioned misconception of transgenderism, someone can change sex and go from being "straight" to being "gay," because the object of their desire remains the same -- for example, a woman who used to be a man, but still loves women. Another can change sides and remain "straight" or "gay" because that's the mode of sexuality they prefer -- it's rooted in the dynamic, rather than the "object" and so the object of desire changes: a man who loves men, but who was lesbian before transition. Some people discover they like sex with anyone, only to restrict themselves to a single person out of respect for the relationship, or because all other interests fall away.

Of course, most people don't experience any change in sexuality or gender, and often conflate the two, which accounts for the confusion in such matters.

Which brings me to the question of "identity" and whether it's fixed or fluid, not to mention who gets to decide what "counts" and what doesn't. Is the Master still a villain now that he's renounced his ways? Is Emma still the perfect companion now that she no longer fancies the Doctor? Is the identity of the Doctor rooted in gender, or is there something more "essential" (ack how I hate that concept) to the character?

The beginning of the story threatens narrative collapse because the Doctor has found the perfect companion and no longer desires to travel, preferring domesticity to adventure. The resolution to this narrative collapse hinges on an incarnation of the Doctor who won't be fancied in this way -- who won't accept the Doctor in even a homosexual version of heteronormative domesticity. As soon as it's established the wedding is off, we get this line:

DOCTOR: Well, never mind. We can still rattle around the Universe, fighting monsters and saving planets!

And she says this with great relish -- the Doctor is back! Or at least, the show is back; the Doctor is free to choose domesticity, and may flit back and forth, but it's the adventures that get us to watch. In the meantime, the character of the Doctor is fleshed out, more whole, because now we see that both domesticity and adventure are a part of who she is.

In typical Doctor Who fashion, the two sides of a false dichotomy are smashed together, and the energy released is erotic laughter.

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theonlyspiral 4 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't normally do this, but I feel very strongly about some of the things you've written and feel they deserve a response.

Firstly in terms of depicting non-heteronormative relationships we DO see a great variety. They're not front and center all the time, but there you are. Amy was raised by her aunt. Now this does get changed but when we meet her and form our connection she is the child of a single caregiver who is not a birth parent. We have the lesbian marriage of Jenny and Vastra. You might think of it as a stunt or a ploy for ratings, but as I sat there I just saw them the same as any other couple of adventurers. He's given us single mother Nancy in the empty child, and people who are devoted to a career or calling (The Clerics come to mind). He presents Sherlock as someone I would call A-sexual. Even River and the Doctor aren't really a standard couple. They have their own lives and adventures. They are romantic when they happen to be at home at the same time, but really they would much rather get along with their own business. This might not be 100% of what you're looking for, it might be he doesn't portray it perfectly, but to say he glorifies his lifestyle and drowns out all others is to look at it with blinkers on.

I found the Tumbler you posted to...mixed. There were some good points raised but several of the posts were very much going out of their way to make the episode fit their version of events.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 7 months ago

Has anyone else noticed that as we approach The New Series, the Comments section of this blog sounds more and more like Gallifrey Base? Moffat this, RTD that. If you don't believe me, take a look at the comments for, ooo, say the Hartnell years. Mind you, I personally think the rot set in around about Logopolis. JNT this. Hinchcliffe that...

Just trying to get a sense of perspective. :)

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

I appreciate the response, but I frankly feel the examples you provide require too many qualifiers for my personal taste.

1. Yes, Amy was raised by her aunt, but as you yourself say this gets *corrected* once The Doctor reboots the universe. It's a tragedy Amy didn't know her parents, so the "better" universe gives her a nice nuclear family.

2. I appreciate Jenny and Vastra, but while I don't see them (or, I stress, any other Moffat-penned GLBTQ characters) to be ploys for ratings I do find them significantly less developed then other characters. Not to mention the fact his staff have penned characters even more troubling to me (read Toby Whithouse and Susan in "A Town Called Mercy"). They still feel like Moffat is paying lip-service to me, not writing three-dimensional characters.

3. Nancy's entire character arc is learning to accept being a teen mother. It seemed to me as if her initial rejection of her child was being portrayed as a failing on her part, nevermind the numerous sociopoltical reasons a young single teen mother in the 1940s might be pressured into feeling ashamed by this fact about herself.

4. There are indeed many characters devoted to a career, and they're all heavily problematized. Sherlock is both asexual and career-driven, but he's also pretty clearly an enormous asshole and this gets him into a lot of problems.

5. I would argue River and The Doctor are very much a standard couple, just one that does a lot of time travelling. Especially as of "Angels Take Manhattan", the last episode I've seen, River is quite obviously depicted as the mature-yet-devoted wife who has to force her childish husband to grow up and put the past behind him. That's about as old and heteronormative a female stereotype as exists. And, once again, River is defined primarily by what she offers The Doctor and how she helps him, not by her own motivations and interests.

While I don't always agree with the authors of that Tumblr (I find their occasional fixation on canon and consistency to be more of a distraction than a help for one)I do think their critiques of Steven Moffat on feminist/GLBTQ issues are generally valid and deserved.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 7 months ago

To be fair, the entire month the Hartnell years ended the blog got as many viewers as it gets in 3-4 days now, and the entire four months of the Hartnell years got fewer views than I get in a week.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

Can't speak for anyone else, but for me personally I seem to recall spending the early JNT era talking about Graham Williams, Romana and how much of a problem I thought Adric was. I also went out of my way to praise the Andrew Cartmel era and Sylvester McCoy. I naturally had more to say about the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years because those are the eras of the show I'm most familiar with.

I sat out the majority of the Virgin and BBC Books era because I didn't have anything to contribute; I freely admit I'm not a hardcore Whovian and am not intimately knowledgeable about every single period of the show's history. I'm here now because I actually do have something to add to the discussion this time (or at least I hope I do), as it's about a topic I've written extensively on in the past.

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

fighting, and especially the strange ability to cut off emotional response and to *not* be empathic

Some of us don't have those two. :(

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of stereotypical male attributes, but I'm really not good at attacking or especially killing anything easier to anthropomorphize than a housefly or a chicken sandwich.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

Beautifully put, Jane.

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

I've now watched The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death, and 30% of The War Games, not to mention The Two Doctors, and I've become a staunch Jamie fan. He's a touch underused, but not THAT underused, and what other companion couldn't you say that about anyway?

And I absolutely adore Zoe. Not just because she's absolutely adorable.

Moffat is right about the other stuff, though.

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, except the giant rat. I honestly and truly can't think of a time when the QUALITY of the effects mattered to me. I took it as read that I was watching a TV show and had no trouble suspending disbelief about stuff like that. If the CONCEPTION of the effects was misguided, however, that became a problem.

For example, the concept that there's a giant rat in the sewers or that a man's hand can be infected by a giant insect's secretions...fine. No problem.

The concept that someone could actually want everyone on Earth to wear his face as a power move...doesn't quite fly for me, even though it looks reasonably convincing.

So I dunno, maybe Moffat ISN'T right about the other stuff.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

It'd be bad enough if they were "man-children needing to grow up." Most of them are "It's perfectly fine for man-children to not grow up; they can still live comfortably and have sex with attractive women so long as they make a token stab at pretending to have grown up about an hour and forty minutes in."

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

I'd love it if my biggest issue with Moffat were his alleged heteronormativity, but I'll save those complaints until later.

Since you bring it up, though...I have no problem with (even straight male) autobiographical elements in writing, but I'd ask the question: is Doctor Who really the best place to work those out? Couldn't this be the one show he could maybe reach outside of that a little more?

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, that's the part of Doctor Who that was in living memory for a significant portion of the readership. You relate completely differently to the parts of the show you lived through. The JNT era was a part of history for me, I experienced the JNT stories in isolation and most of the time I don't even remember he exists, whereas for the RTD era it'll take forever to disentangle my original disorientation with the change of format and the nature of fandom and the frustration of fandom arguments and irrelevant crap that was going on in my personal life from the stories themselves.

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theonlyspiral 4 years, 7 months ago

Excellent! A reasonable person on the internet. I'm glad we can have a frank exchange of ideas.

1. I did note that it gets reset. We never see her parents again, and Amy does remember both lives. She is very much a product of growing up without parents and being abandoned by the Doctor. From her trust issues, to her very poor social skills (see how she treats Rory)

2. We may have to agree to disagree here. I don't think either of us has an argument to bridge the middle ground.

3. I think part of it is also learning to be honest with Jaimie. Jaimie KNOWS that Nancy is his mother. How painful is that, for a 4 year old child in the middle of the blitz, to know that your older sister is your mother and have her not come clean about it? Her arc is about learning to accept being a Teen Mother...which seems to be exactly what we want?

4. The Clerics from Flesh and Stone? Liz 10 in Beast Below? They seem just fine. I honestly have no conception of why their problematic.

5. I haven't seen Angels since transmission but my recollection was more about the Doctor not being anywhere close to his best. He's scared that he's going to loose his best friends. He scared that time is being set by the blasted book, and he can't change it fast enough to save everyone. In that episode he doesn't treat her very well it's true. On the other hand, he gets to sit through River making a travesty of what he believes in through the length of "The Wedding of River Song". Neither of them are always at their best. They work together excellently in the two Series 5 visits they have. It grows and changes each time we see River, but that's the nature of any long term social connection. Then they go off and have their own lives away from each other. I can't name a couple that considers themselves married but spends so much time entirely apart.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 7 months ago

@Jane,

Wonderfully put! I knew there was even more to the question than I was able to articulate (hence the "I hope I phrased that correctly"), but you've summed it up just right!

I didn't mean to imply that being transgender had anything to do with who you were with. I was merely questioning the consequences of who you're with and who you like after the change. I've experienced something similar as a bi-sexual male, as folks on either side of the aisle found if quite difficult to understand why I didn't like them exclusively. I'll argue 100% against essentialism! I've met people who are "gay for just this one person" and folks who tried it once and found it changed their entire world view, alongside folks who've tried all manner of things and found that it wasn't to their taste. It's "fixed" for a certain person at a certain time until something changes.

I suppose my cautious tone comes from too often being shouted down by folks who are bothered by "improper" use of "specific" terms that they didn't bother to tell me their definition of. Someone who is transgender but not gay (a man-to-woman who likes men, for example) isn't "betraying" their sexuality by forcing themselves to conform to society's heteronormative values, for example, no matter how vigorously this one fellow in a college class argued that they were.

You are who you are, and you love who you love. That's enough for me :)

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

Hi Josh,

I love the passion of your criticism, and the values motivating it, but I can't help but notice how assumptive your readings are, and how selective the observations.

Moffat could have, at any time, given us a lesbian or asexual lady to contrast with his heterosexual fangirl leads and used her to point out how heteronormativity is not the only valid path in life, but he never does.

Moffat has given us a lesbian couple -- Vastra and Jenny. Their relationship is cast as perfectly acceptable, and it's recurring.

We got Nancy in The Empty Child, a single mother ostracized by a repressive society. King Louis and Reinette Poisson in a polyamorous relationship -- an arrangement that's explicitly championed by the Doctor (it's the class relationships that get swept aside, which is the real problem of Moffat's writing in my view.) In the Library, on the other hand, Donna's relationship with Lee McAvoy is a setup, a lie designed to keep her from seeing the truth.

River Song may be married to the Doctor, but their relationship is anything but normative, as she strikes out on her own, refusing to be his live-in companion. Canton Everett Delaware is a hero; it's 1969 that doesn't condone him. And the relationship between Amy and Rory is certainly not heteronormative -- in contrast to the stereotypical depiction, she's more dominant and proactive than he is.

Because [getting married, having kids, and learning from that to be a bit more restrained and empathetic] is, of course, absolutely the only path a person is allowed to take in growing up and discovering themselves ever.

It's certainly the path that dominates Russell Davies' work on Who. Rose gets her Doctor. Martha marries Mickey. Donna marries some guy, and gets a bunch of money. Gwen marries Rhys, has a kid. Jackie ends up with Pete. Martha's parents reunite. Donna's mother doesn't seem to remarry, and she's portrayed as the bitterest woman on the show. Sarah Jane is saddled with raising kids.

Even Jack is shown at his most mature and happiest when he's in a long-term emotionally-committed relationship with Ianto, rather than larking about, but this one is doomed.

The vast heteronormativity of Davies' work doesn't receive as much of your ire as Moffat's?


He can be fully in support of feminism/GLB issues/whatever, but that doesn't mean he gets it.

So, if he avoids writing GLBT characters, he's supporting normativity by erasing them, and if he writes them without ever really being able to understand them on account of being straight, he can never do them service (which means he's a pulp writer, not a literary genius, which is a fair criticism but not one deserving of ire.)

It's a bit of a double bind you've got established here.



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Wm Keith 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm probably wrong, but it feels to me as though there's much more engagement from the blog's readership with the BBC Book entries than there was with the New Adventures; I've found this something of a surprise; though possibly it is because I knew a fair bit about the NAs and virtually nothing about the BBC books.

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 7 months ago

I highly recommend checking out this blog: http://stfu-moffat.tumblr.com/

I just now started following it. :-)

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Peter McDonald 4 years, 7 months ago

It's a it like how they say in politics it's always easier being in opposition, isn't it? Anyone running a show like Doctor Who is going to get flak for one reason or another; I reckon you would want to do the job as best as you could without going mad. With such a sprawling fanbase, there is always going to be vicious criticism out there no matter what you do.

For what it's worth, I don't think Moffat's past his sell by date just yet...

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Jamie/Zoe/Two is easily one of my favorite TARDIS teams. My goodness.

The thing is, I could totally see the Master turning everyone into a clone of himself. Hell, I could see the Simm version doing it just to make the terrible pun. But the problem is, after that point, it didn't matter to the plot. Not one line would have to be changed if he had just brainwashed the world's population or something like that.

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Tommy 4 years, 7 months ago

"the writers and Frazer Hines never gave the character a single trait that wasn’t “he trusts the Doctor.”"

Wow, it's like Evil of the Daleks never happened....

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@theonlyspiral

Agreed! Whenever reasonable discourse shows up online everybody wins.

1. Amy's relationship with Rory is one of the things about Moffat's tenure I have the biggest objections towards. To me Amy is very clearly a tsundere, which, while not a widespread sexist stereotype in Western fiction is very much one in Japanese fiction. She grows up by learning to be, essentially, subservient to Rory, or rather Rory asserts himself by “manning up” to his tsundere girlfriend and shouting her down (Mrs. Williams). Also note probably the two biggest influences on Amy's life are The Doctor and Rory: Her life revolves around one of them at any given point in the arc.

2. Most likely not. The only other thing I'll add is that characters like Jenny and Vastra seem hamstrung to me by being, essentially, cameos. They're not main characters or even reoccurring guest stars, they're just...there to be lesbian. Tokens. That bothers me.

3. This is all very true I feel, but what still sticks out to me is the treatment (or rather lack thereof) of the 1940s setting. Yes, it's portrayed as tragic for Jamie, but once The Doctor finds out the truth it becomes Nancy's responsibility...and hers alone. She's in the wrong, in other words, and it falls to her to grow up and save the world The Doctor completely ignores the larger cultural context of the pressures placed on women, especially young, unattached women, of the time and places the entire burden on her to make things right. Ignoring larger cultural issues and guilting women, especially mothers, into taking more than their share of responsibility just because they're women is a very old patriarchal staple. Now I freely admit it's been awhile since I've seen that two-parter and I may very well be misrememebring it, but that's how I recall it playing out.

4. I'll grant you the Clerics, but Liz 10 is a pretty reprehensible character, isn't she? She covers up a massive state secret that would topple her administration with state-mandated mind probing. She also, if I recall, spends a great deal of time flirting with The Doctor.

5. It was my take that River considers herself married, but The Doctor doesn't (especially given that their wedding was not strictly legally binding). When River comes back in “Angels Take Manhattan” and makes a bunch of speeches about what wives do for husbands it seemed to give the entire story an extremely normalizing and domesticating tone, like she has to remind him of this and reel him in. I really like your reading that posits it as an example of how people in relationships grow together and help each other (although the fixation on monogamous heterosexuality still irks me). I just wish I could see it too.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@Jane

Thanks for the eloquent response! A few things:

1. I've acknowledged Vastra and Jenny a number of times. I just don't think they went far enough (indeed I get the sense they were brought back mostly due to fan demand, not because Moffat thought they were interesting or compelling characters). The mere fact they're not regulars means they're not given the same focus as Amy and Rory or the other heterosexual couples. There's less a feeling of “here's a healthy lesbian couple who are just as much people and in just as strong and important a relationship as our leads” for me and more one of “Hey look over there! Space lesbians! Cool! Next.”. Bear in mind in my original comment I also included the qualifier “usually”. Moffat also has the good sense to have Gareth Roberts on staff (his own Power of Love tendencies aside).

2. I've outlined my concerns with Nancy in my response to theonlyspiral above. My recollection of that episode is that Nancy is blamed for trying to hide her child, not sympathized with due to the oppression of her circumstances. Mme. Du Pompadour is a very problematic choice for a counter-example I feel because she's firstly an actual historical figure (which is a separate issue I have) and also spends the entirety of “The Girl in the Fireplace” yearning for The Doctor, who becomes arguably the most important figure in her life (again rather a troubling reoccurring theme in Moffat's work. I know it's supposed to symbolize the show and fandom, but as all of the characters like this are wistful young straight white girls that doesn't quite sit well with me). I'm actually uncomfortable trying to come up with a satisfying reading of Donna in general because there are a lot of things about her character going back to her basic conception that bother me, despite how brilliant Catherine Tate is.

As for River, I'm just going to have to to fundamentally disagree with you: I don't think she's a progressive character at all. Her entire character is defined by The Doctor in some way: She was literally created to kill him and went through life completely obsessed with him. Every choice she ever made was because of him. She adventures in time and space, sure, but only because he inspired her to. Her whole life revolves around him and she has no autonomy. No, The Doctor doesn't order her around but she does willingly follow and dote on him, or at least live her life as a mould of his. The same goes for her daughter: Yes, Amy is more proactive than Rory but this is constantly problematized (see again Mrs. Williams) and ultimately she ends up as the happy, doting, subservient wife in alternate universe 1930s New York or wherever.

3. You are absolutely correct. Russel T. Davies has seriously heteronormative tendencies of his own and they are not addressed in my first comment This does not, however, mean I do not recognise them or that I don't have problems with them. What it does mean is my comment was specifically about Steven Moffat and my concerns with him as a writer and him alone, as Steven Moffat is the topic of Phil's blog post today and criticizing Russel T. Davies in the comments of that selfsame post would be off-topic and irrelevant. Critique is not a zero-sum game: I can have issues with Steven Moffat while at the same time having similar issues with Russel T. Davies. I never intended to spark a RTD vs. Moffat fight; this isn't a fandom cage match. Both are talented writers with visible strengths and weaknesses and both ought to be critiqued on their own merits. Similarly, this isn't entirely about just them and deals with issues that are bigger than both.

(cont'd)

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

4. I don't think it's a double-blind at all. Ideally, I'd like Steven Moffat to both include more GLBTQ characters (or at least some who aren't heterosexual and monogamous) and handle them a bit more deftly. I never said straight people were incapable of understanding GLBTQ/nonmonogamous people, just that they come from significantly different positionalities and people who come from significantly different positionalities often have to make more of an effort to understand one another.

Look, I don't think Steven Moffat is a raging misogynist or a gay basher, nor am I calling for his head on a silver platter. I think he's a talented writer who means very well but frequently suffers from a particularly bad case of privilege blindness. If I did have one serious criticism of the man it's that he doesn't seem to be willing or able to see where his own weaknesses are and tends to respond to any critique, positive, negative or otherwise, by getting indignant, shutting down discussion and calling everyone trolls. I think just getting past that and becoming willing to listen to other perspectives and opinions more would solve the majority of his problems as a writer.

@Chris Haynes

Glad to be of service-Hope you find something worthwhile!

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

Not sure where you were planning to go with this, but for me at any rate his anti-mythologizing has become almost even more of a bone of contention for me of late than his sloppy heteronormativity.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

And it's also interesting that the tensions the Doctor faces in this story--struggling with the pull towards domesticity and conventional romance--anticipates the RTD era. Just as Buffy reads like a critique of Twilight before there was a Twilight, the CFD Doctor's desire to leave behind his adventures for Emma, a woman "more interesting than all my travels," is like a parody of Ten/Rose before there was a Ten/Rose.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Jane--that's a wonderful reading of CFD, and again, it's interesting how it anticipates the characteristic tensions of the RTD era. A narrow narrative of domesticity can be just as oppressive as the epic if it's the only story. It's the tension between the domestic and the epic that makes Doctor Who what it is.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm curious what you mean by "anti-mythologizing" here.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, we're exploring uncharted territory, as far as Doctor Who goes. Most of the the rest of it has been argued to death by now, whereas the 8DAs have been relatively ignored. I honestly thing some of the comment threads have been more interesting then the entries; Dr. Sandifer has mainly been exploring them in relation to a master narrative of Doctor Who fandom history, but there's quite a lot interesting to look at with the books we've been discussing in and of themselves. It would probably take a full month to do justice to some of Lawrence Miles's or The Scarlet Empress.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

A topic for another day, surely, but in brief I get the sense from Series 6/7 of the New Series and Sherlock that Moffat, while having a very Gaimanesque concept of the magic of stories, is also quite hostile to the concept. Turning Doctor Who into Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes into, arguably, The Dark Knight (or his best approximation) says to me Moffat thinks stories are dangerous temptations that can evoke childlike wonder and glee, but will ultimately hold us back from living healthy, well-adjusted, normal lives if we don't leave them behind with childhood.

Moffat's Doctor Who and Sherlock play out like big epics, but are fundamentally about showing the sham of an epic and collapsing the concept of the heroic figure onto itself to show it for the dangerous fraud it is. Hence my use of the term anti-myth, or anti-mythologizing: A myth about how wrong myths are.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

I'll have to think in more depth about this, but it's worth noting that Gaiman's own Prince of Stories is a far from uncomplicated figure. Stories can be dangerous things--we'd hardly be having arguments about feminism here if they weren't. The whole of Sandman is about deconstructing Dream, not to diminish and destroy him, but rather to allow the concept to be transformed into something new. Much like the Doctor in Curse of Fatal Death, as Jane discusses above. And given that Moffat tends to revisit and refine certain ideas throughout his career, I suspect the arc for his Doctor will end with a similar transformation, if not perhaps a literal regeneration (though Moffat and Smith are closely tied enough that I wouldn't want one without the other).

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

It's also worth thinking about the concept of a female Doctor. Outside of fanfic, it's only been explored in very peripehral stories that are explicitly comedic--here and in the Unbound story Exile (which I haven't listened to). CFD story explores some of the ways the concept of a female Doctor could be resonant even as it's playing it for laughs (as with everything else in CFD). There's the whole exploration of queerness Jane gets into upthread, and the exploration in general as to how it changes the other peoples' percepctions of and relationships with the Doctor. It's a natural outgrowth of the concept of regeneration, really, and it would be nice if I lived to see someone explore it properly.

Another way that could happen is if the Doctor himself passed away, and his role was taken by a succession of women inspired by his companions. This was an idea that was raised in one of the charity anthology stories, if I recall rightly, and there's a similar concept in this fantastic Big Bang-based AU scenario about a world where the Doctor had never existed and his companions had played his role throughout history.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, I don't think that's a "men" thing as much as a "thing of some people that society categorizes as masculine".

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Tommy 4 years, 7 months ago

"If I did have one serious criticism of the man it's that he doesn't seem to be willing or able to see where his own weaknesses are and tends to respond to any critique, positive, negative or otherwise, by getting indignant, shutting down discussion and calling everyone trolls. I think just getting past that and becoming willing to listen to other perspectives and opinions more would solve the majority of his problems as a writer."

Despite Moffat's stonewalling attitude to his critics, there is a part of me that suspects Moffat knows he's not quite been on the mark lately, but has been so wrapped up in production deadlines that well he's had little choice but to go with what he's come up with.

I think the fact that the Series 6 arc had gotten so convoluted was a big influence behind his decision to do away with arcs altogether for Series 7, and swiftly write out Amy and Rory to try and get rid of the elephant in the room of River's parentage with no apparent emotional repercussions.

I suspect that he started Series 6 with the idea that his big arc would be brilliant and epic, and then when the cracks began to show in whether it could hold together, he was already too far into production to turn back. I think that's why Let's Kill Hitler feels like a huge, desperate emotional reset button, and the second half of the season feels so half-hearted.

I feel like Moffat's at a stage now where he's so wrapped up in the job that he just has to blot out and refuse to acknowledge personal mistakes or story problems and keep going like a juggernaut.

As for the sexism angle, well I'm yet to be convinced the JNT era can be topped for sexism, which as Phil highlighted, was a strange situation of the show having a gay producer, but one whose sensibilities seemed more like those of a particularly sleazy heterosexual one, which was only made worse by Eric Saward's pornographic approach to violence.

Where I do worry however, is in a lot of Series 6's early stories which consisted too often for comfort of bloodcurdling scenes of Amy being tortured, whether by the Silents, or by House's hallucinations, or by the Doctor himself in the ganger two-parter... and in the treatment of River Song. She's someone who's been abducted and brainwashed as a child, and presumably psychologically abused. Yet in Let's Kill Hitler, this fact is treated trivially, and infact the story plays up how 'cool' this brainwashing has made her as a person.

Also I was quite troubled by the scene in Angels Take Manhattan where the Doctor storms out and leaves River with no choice but to break her own wrist to escape the Angel by herself.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

"Stories can be dangerous things--we'd hardly be having arguments about feminism here if they weren't."

Very well said, and I agree completely. Indeed, this is exactly one reason why I'm so adamant and push so hard about this topic.

The anti-myth, or at least the thing I've taken to calling that, is something I'm sure we'll return to at some point in the future and I'm looking forward to it. I guess my big concern is that Moffat seems to think the story as an entity unto itself is by *definition* dangerous, or is at least severely conflicted in his feelings toward stories. Surely fiction has the potential to do good as well as harm?

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

I generally find the narrative this post presents unconvincing. For one thing, it's too dependent on the use of a demonized Other of "anorak" fans to deflect discussions of more subtle forms of sexism. (Not that I find most of the critiques of Moffat on that score convincing, but they still deserve a more nuanced answer.)

For another thing, the idea that Moffat is primarily writing about dangeorusly clever men erases Amy's narrative--she's also someone whose cleverness is a double-edged sword and who matures over the course of the series. Same with River, who is a self-described "psychopath," just as Sherlock identifies as a "high-functioning sociopath." At least in Doctor Who, his men and his women are not so different.

Thankfully, as the comments here have established, this is not the only possible way of looking at CFD.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Also, "which I’m currently leaning towards covering episode-by-episode as the spin-off it frankly is"--does this mean we're doing every episode of Torchwood and SJA? How long is the Tennant book going to be? (I would enjoy getting into SJA, though, from what I've heard it's actually the most consistent of the RTDverse shows.)

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

(I mean with respect to sexism. The stuff about celebrating the show's ridiculous qualities is absolutely on point.)

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Wasn't this around the same time as Galaxy Quest? It took a similar approach to "loving its faults and recognizing that there’s tremendous fun to be had in what [Star Trek] is" while at the same time celebrating its resonance and transformative power.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

1998 was the time I entered fandom, in a relatively young part of fandom that was basically shaped by the attitude you describe (a Yahoo group; even as a teenager I was sensible enough to stay well away from Gallifrey Base) so it's strange for me to hear about the epic struggles between the Frocks and the Anoraks, like the Time Lords' wars with the Vampires in long-forgotten aeons. (Though like the Vampires, the Anoraks still survive in small hidden enclaves and strange pocket dimensions.)

Though we all have a little bit of Anorak in us--we wouldn't be commenting here if we weren't an obsessive and frequently socially awkward bunch. (Just as, I believe, Cornell established that the Time Lords share 90% of DNA with the Vampires.)

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@Tommy

Oh sure, nothing can top the Nathan-Turner era for blatant sleaze and outright misogyny (although there are a few moments from the 60s and 70s that get scarily close). Or rather, at least the Saward era and perhaps bits of the Bidmead one: I think the Cartmel era was pretty fantastic and I have essentially no complaints there. I never meant to insinuate Steven Moffat was at that level or worse; as I tried to make clear I think his problematic heteronormativity fixation comes from privilege blindness, not built-in prejudice or a desire to cynically sensationalize and manipulate the anorak manchild demographic (the latter of which is probably the explanation for JNT). If anything, Moffat's intention is the exact opposite.

I think your overall critique is excellent, by the way. That could explain a lot.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

That's a good point - I'd really love to see a female regeneration sometime soon. I mentioned this thread to my girlfriend and she wondered out loud why there hadn't been one yet.

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Jesse 4 years, 7 months ago

the second half of the season feels so half-hearted

This would be the period that includes "The God Complex" and "Closing Time," which I'd rate as two of the finest stories in the history of the series.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

And which I would rate as two of the most ill-conceived. Suffice to say I think there's room for differences of opinion on this.

...


I should just go away now.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm going to do a Torchwood/Sarah Jane/Sherlock book.

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

Oooh. Interesting. Will Wizards vs Aliens be in it too, or is that going too far?

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

And you're both right, those are categorized as masculine, and a lot of men don't share those characteristics, and some women do -- though I find them much more often in men than I do in women. That's part of what makes talking about gender so difficult.

However, even though these aspects aren't shared by all men, they are still part of the social conditioning aimed at men -- there's more pressure on men to deal with fighting and presenting stoically than there is on women, and more pressure to deal with looks (especially thinness) and childbearing on women.

That's changing, thank goodness. And a lot of it depends on social context -- the rules in academia are different than in a corporate office, at a church, in the city or out in the Ozarks, what have you.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

If you watch The Impossible Planet very carefully, you'll see this is not where Ten is coming from at all, at all. He is *not* interested in the domestic life -- that's Rose's fantasy.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

Moffat runs into the problem in that Amy, River, Oswald, etc. are all very clearly objects of male desire. I don't mean this in a negative objectifying way, just that we tend to see these women through the eyes of the men who love them in all their maddening glory.

RTD's portrayal of women is actually quite a bit more negative, especially mothers who get more and more monstrous as the series progressed. But at no point in his run did he ever gaze upon a woman with anything approaching desire. Despite all the romance in the air, his treatment of them is virtually sexless. They may have sex with men, but he's not in the slightest bit interested in that aspect of their lives beyond grist for the soap opera.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

"Moffat is essentially saying that Doctor Who is a children's show that people need to grow out of and pass onto their own children."

Literally, no, but I'd agree with this on a metaphorical level, as in adults need to let go of kid-oriented franchises instead of forcing it to grow up with them.

This is a fairly sizable problem in comics where decades of more adult takes on super-heroes have left the medium largely devoid of young readers. Arms get ripped off, eyes get gouged out, and tiny heroes seemingly climb into their lover's vaginas.

In the rush to be taken seriously by adults in the 80s, they mostly killed off the thing which made these characters magical in the first place.

Thankfully, they still have cartoons, movies, and TV shows to remind the kids why this stuff is cool, but you're left with a lot of adult-oriented material of frankly dubious worth.

I'd rather see Doctor Who passed on to another generation of kids even if it means leaving me behind.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

No Josh, you shouldn't go away! You're very polite and well-reasoned, and what you have to say has great value to me, seeing a different perspective and a very different interpretation of how I'm reading the same material.

Okay, Nancy. I thought Nancy was portrayed sympathetically, that it was clear she was avoiding her motherhood because of the social pressure of being unwed in 1941. But it's clear she loves her child! She's the first to point out that the child isn't "The Child" but that he has a name, Jamie, and that's when she realizes how much it hurts to deny the truth, that she loves him. She's made a mistake, but that doesn't automatically mean "she's in the wrong."

The Doctor doesn't shame her for her choice -- no, he points out the context ("a teenaged mother in 1941") in a soft voice -- well, as soft as Nine ever gets -- then spells out the consequences of the current situation, encouraging her to do what she really wants to do anyways, which is to embrace the relationship.

It's clearer where the text stands on this when we look at how the Doctor reacts to Jack. The Doctor is very harsh with Jack, deconstructing his identity -- he's not a Captain, he's "defrocked" -- and taunting him ("What's the matter, Captain? Bit close to the volcano for you?") -- all oriented towards getting Jack to accept responsibility for the tragedy about to occur.

It's an interesting study, because one of Moffat's big themes is the problem of repression, of how people refuse to look at and acknowledge the issues they have with themselves and society at large. Nancy is repressed because of the social pressures around her. Jack (a 51st Century guy) is differently repressed -- not only because of two years' worth of wiped memories, but also because he doesn't want to acknowledge that the unforeseen consequences of his actions are still his responsibility -- he resists even considering that his actions might entail unforeseen consequences.

~~~

There's less a feeling of “here's a healthy lesbian couple who are just as much people and in just as strong and important a relationship as our leads” for me and more one of “Hey look over there! Space lesbians! Cool! Next.”

I'm kind of in-between on this one. I mean, on the one hand, there's only so much you can do with supporting characters per se -- who generally exist to provide reflection on and counterpoint to the leads.

That said, Vastra and Jenny get more screen time than Strax or Dorium in AGMGTW, and their roles are expanded for The Snowmen; they are featured in the two prequels to that episode.

Their relationship is presented respectfully: they don't exist to satisfy anyone's voyeurism, and they have their own distinct personalities, Vastra being formal and clinical, Jenny being more empathic and warm, a natural reflection of being Silurian and human, respectively.

In AGMGTW they talk about their relationship, and the dynamics affecting it, which have nothing to do with the Doctor. In Snowmen, the One-Word game is particularly revealing, as the normally dominant Vastra keeps looking over to Jenny to confirm that Clara's passing the test with flying colors; they aren't strictly defined by "butch/femme" notions.

That they are now recurring characters and due to reappear demonstrates Moffat's openness to feedback. Sure, a more radical response would be great, but it's unlikely given the current positioning of the show at the BBC and within the larger culture.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

cont...

~~~

How often do you rewatch the episodes? I find there's a lot I miss the first couple of viewings, and that my initial interpretations were off base, either due to just trying to work out the basics of what's happening, not seeing the parallels and visual cues, missing nuance of performance, and just the general shabbiness of my memory.

When critiquing an episode, I tend to cue it up while writing, and open a transcript as well. Sometimes I discover more depth after a close reading than I'd previously realized (Daleks in Manhattan has gone up considerably in my opinion) and sometimes I'm still unimpressed (The Lazarus Experiment.) I say this only because I noticed you've qualified some of your comments with "as I recall" and the like.

And, this is just me, I don't read what Moffat has to say about his work, or about his critics, so there's context I'm missing. OTOH, Moffat's obligated to be professional about his work, which means presenting it in the best possible light -- this is true for every showrunner.

But aside from that, I don't trust what artists have to say about their own stuff anyways! I don't believe we should appeal to authority for interpretation, and I encourage authors who are put in that situation to lie through their teeth. Even those who try to be truthful will necessarily provide only a slice of the thought that actually went into making the work.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

More than anything, I think the show embraces contradiction when it comes to Stories Themselves.

It's a self-aware myth. It's aware that myths aren't inherently good or bad. They're powerful -- so they're dangerous, as is everything powerful in this world. The myth is behooved to explore the entailments of that power in both directions.

Where the current run explores its greatest concern about the power of myth is through The Silence. The Silence are the baddest baddies now, and they are a religious movement. This is the great concern of the show, that its mythology becomes co-opted into some kind of religion, or that faith in the Doctor replaces faith in one's self. I think it's a very fair point to address, given the problem of religion in the real world.

There are other places in the text where Story itself is upheld -- River and Amy place great value on stories, are storytellers themselves, and insisting that the Doctor not "rewrite" them. The Doctor himself is revived through the power of story at the end of The Big Bang, which also explicitly states that "we're all stories in the end, make sure it's a good one."




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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

We've already see how companions become Doctorish in the series itself. Romana was the first -- but also Rose, Donna, Amy and River. These are very deliberate story beats. "You too can be the Doctor," Harlan Ellison once said.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 7 months ago

I think that one of the ways that fandom lets itself down is in the concept of ascribing the tone (and success) of a story (or season) to either the writer, the showrunner, or the director. Thus we get the faults of a particular season laid squarely at the door of RTD or Williams, or Moffat. However what appears on the screen is very much the result of a joint effort, and if it's appalling, no one person is to blame, or conversely if it's an acknowledged classic, no one person should get the plaudits. Moffat's individual stories are often cited as the high points in RTD's seasons, yet the same fans that clamoured for Moffat as showrunner may also cite their dislike of these seasons due to RTD being "in charge". It's generally accepted that the "Daleks in Manhattan" 2-parter did not live up to expectations, but was this the fault of the writer? Surely if the script was that bad the head writer (RTD) wouldn't have allowed it through the door. Yet there it is on-screen, and it just doesn't quite work. One fan will blame Helen Raynor for this, whereas another will hold it up as an example of RTD's failures. Since the writer's input effectively ends once the production team get hold of it, arguably Helen is least to blame for the poor reception of this story.

So we find Moffat getting the blame for the whole tone of Series 6, while Neil Gaiman gets plaudits for "The Doctor's Wife"...and then Moffat gets praise for "A Good Man Goes to War". Fandom, doncha luv it?

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, except the giant rat. I honestly and truly can't think of a time when the QUALITY of the effects mattered to me. I took it as read that I was watching a TV show and had no trouble suspending disbelief about stuff like that. If the CONCEPTION of the effects was misguided, however, that became a problem.

I'll never forget attending a local performance of "The Inspector General" where the town was obviously just a painted backdrop. What in God's name made the troupe think they could do an entire Russian town on a small budget? Why, I should have demanded my money back. Worst effects ever.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

"The thing is, I could totally see the Master turning everyone into a clone of himself. Hell, I could see the Simm version doing it just to make the terrible pun. But the problem is, after that point, it didn't matter to the plot. Not one line would have to be changed if he had just brainwashed the world's population or something like that."

One is a striking visual metaphor for the other.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

"we tend to see these women through the eyes of the men who love them in all their maddening glory...

...But at no point in [RTD's] run did he ever gaze upon a woman with anything approaching desire."

Do you have any scenes or shots in mind, some aspects of production, that lead you to this conclusion? I think I agree with you, just want some evidence first...

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 7 months ago

Maybe. Haven't really gotten around to looking at the show yet.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

It's generally accepted that the "Daleks in Manhattan" 2-parter did not live up to expectations, but was this the fault of the writer?

I'm one of the few people who champions this story. I really kind of like it, but that only happened once I looked past the surface to see what was going on under the hood. I think the story itself is sound, and I love the metaphors in play. Conceptually it makes sense to me.

The production's rough around the edges. James Strong gives us some interesting and telling visuals, but a lot of his other shots -- particularly when characters are interacting -- are flat, and I don't think he garnered very strong performances from his actors. There were questionable decisions made in design.

And... there's a collision between "science" and "metaphor" in this story, and metaphor wins out. This drove a lot of fans batty, who were so into the science that when the metaphor rolls in, it was like having the rug pulled out from under them.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

@Christopher Haynes: That's kinda the point. Television isn't Theater. You don't just aim a camera at a stageplay and call it a TV show. It's a different medium and it works by different rules. If you made a play by just having someone stand up and read a book at you, that would be a bad play (I mean, okay, it could be some kind of art thing. But it still wouldn't be a good play.)

Would you defend such a play by snarking "I'll never forget reading War and Peace where Russia was obviously just black squiggles on a white page. What in God's name made Tolstoy think that he could do an entire country just by making black squiggles on a sheet of paper?"

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm sorry Ross, but it shames me to admit I'm too unsophisticated to appreciate the vast difference between television and theater. When I'm engrossed enough in either I very seldom pay attention to how terrible the costumes, props, or bits of scenery may be. It's the story I'm interested in. Everything else is details.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step.

But seriously, if "it's the story I'm interested in. Everything else is details," then just go read a book.

(Back when the TVM came out, I recall one of the complainers saying that the "real" problem with it was the Big Budget Special Effects, saying "REAL Doctor Who fans don't need to see the TARDIS in the vortex! We can just use our imagination!" My response was "REAL Doctor Who fans don't need a show or movie or even books at all, you can just use your imagination.")

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 7 months ago

Guns N' Roses once suggested I use my illusion, but I regretted it.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Indeed! There were several other things popping up in the next few years about, essentially, how marvelous it is to be a cliche.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

jane: Well, yes, but I demand more from my visual metaphors, dammit!

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

It's true. I'd say CFD is, in part, about celebrating the anorakness in all of us!

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

One of my favorite stories on this point is Turn Left, where the people the Doctor has inspired manage to keep the wheels turning without him - for a while.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

Oooooh. I approve of this message.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

That part of "Turn Left" sort of reminded me of a pen-n-paper RPG I'd seen a demo of once. The idea was that it was set during some seasoned adventurer's Final Ill-Fated Adventure. The concept was that you started out with all the stats and loot and reputation you were ever going to get, and each challenge in the game required you to sacrifice something -- give up your treasure to escape the dragon; give up your good name by publically doing something underhanded to survive a close call; exhaust your magic ability burning out a force field, etc. If you ran out of applicable things to sacrifice, you died. I thought that was kind of similar here, where Earth had to "burn one" of their stockpile of companions for each disaster the Doctor would have averted.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@spacewarp

All I'm going to say here is that I made sure to single out Toby Whithouse and Gareth Roberts when I was criticizing them and otherwise focused squarely on Steve Moffat-penned stories in my main critique. The authors of the Tumblr I posted do similarly. I'm actually very much against the concept of singling one person out as a scapegoat for everything, even if Moffat is ultimately in charge of his staff and what goes out, and I know other critics of the New Series who feel the same way I do.

@Jane

Yes the concept of the role and responsibility of the story is one I'm very much interested in. I'm still a bit confused as to what Moffat's views on this subject are, especially as the Sherlock season 2 finale seems to be overtly about killing off the concept of a hero and a narrative. But maybe he's not sure either.

Can't agree with you on "Daleks in Manhattan" though. I just saw a half-baked retread of "Evil of the Daleks".

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Spacewarp 4 years, 7 months ago

@jane

I agree with you that there's a good story under there, if you look below the surface (something Who fans do a lot of!). In fact yes the whole thing makes sense but something about it on-screen doesn't work, and I think it's Direction and Production. I'm reminded of the recent "Aliens Vs Predator Requieum" movie that I could not figure out why it didn't work. It had an acceptable storyline, and the budget to cope, but on-screen it just failed. I finally decided it was the Direction. If you don't shoot thing right you can screw them right up, and I think somewhere along the line they let "Daleks..." get away from them. In fact I believe RTD has admitted as much in interviews, mainly in response to the unwarranted fan vitriol towards Helen Raynor.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@Steven Club

No, not literally: This is not something that's textually overt, but that's the very strong implication I take from something like "Angels Take Manhattan".

I would disagree with you in claiming Doctor Who is a child-oriented series. I think the show's been consistently at its best when it realises it can appeal to both children and adults in related but different ways. I've never liked the "kids' own show that adults adore" or "family show" (just a more polite way of saying children's show IMO) reading of the series. I can't see any five year old picking up on the nuances of something like "Warrior's Gate" or "Ghost Light", for example, even if they can still enjoy them for their own reasons.

I do agree with you on your reading of the comics industry and childrens' franchises in general and even, believe it or not, Steven Moffat's main point the that the anoraks need to let go of childrens' media and develop a more nuanced worldview, I guess I'm just puzzled as to where Doctor Who falls. Surely it's not in the same league as Transformers or Thundercats, to give two examples of unabashed childrens' TV that people have at various points tried to revive and reinterpret for adults with debatable levels of success? Surely it has a bit more to offer than that?

I personally would put Doctor Who on similar standing with Star Trek in terms of genre TV that has an incredibly wide breadth of appeal, but, then again, I didn't grow up in Britain with the series as a childhood staple either. While I did watch the show occasionally as child, the vast majority of my serious interaction with it has come as an adult with an adult media critic's perspective. Perhaps that's coloured how I look at it.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 7 months ago

@Jane

Well, thank you very much for the vote of confidence-It's much appreciated! I'm quite thankful for your perspective too :-)

Thanks for the clarification re "Empty Child": Like I said, it has been awhile since I've seen that one. I do rewatch episodes and have been known to change my tune on them, especially as my experience and positionality will naturally drift if there's a significant stretch of time between viewings.

Glad to hear Vastra and Jenny sound like they're getting their roles significantly expanded. I think the show badly needs characters like them, frankly, and if Moffat is going to be more willing to listen to feedback now then all the more power to him.

I think one area which I probably do differ from you is my approach to reading as I do include the creators' voice and what they have to say about what they wrote in my analysis. I don't consider it Word of God as fans are wont to do, but I do feel it's somewhat important. The text does stand alone and will lend itself to different interpretations yes, but I do want to respect the creator's intent to a point and I don't feel entirely comfortable ignoring their own reading of it. That's why I personally like the post-structralist method which attempts to balance the text, the reader's positionally and the author's positionality all at the same time to form a valid interpretation.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

@Josh

I was very interested in how Sherlock's Reichenbach intersected with DW's Wedding -- the similarity is just too huge to ignore! In both cases we have heroes whose work as heroes has been compromised by the stories around them. In both cases, we see that their stories have been manipulated by others. And at least in the case of Doctor Who (I haven't really *studied* Sherlock, so I don't quite remember) we see a hero using narrative and especially reputation to exercise power.

To me, and especially in this age of the incessant media apparatus, this begs the question of why people choose the hero path in the first place. There's the danger of doing it not for the betterment of others, but for one's own self-aggrandizement -- often both; they're not mutually exclusive, but the latter can easily compromise the former. (See "Doctor Horrible" for a case study.)

This is a running theme in many religious mythologies, no surprise. Much is made of Buddhism's orientation towards the "no-self" or "no-mind." In Christianity, we get the parable of "may the left hand no not what the right hand does," an admonition that public acts of charity are just as much an exercise in public relations; "true" altruism comes from giving privately and anonymously.

Anyways, we have these two myths almost back-to-back showing us heroes faking their deaths and ending their public narratives. However, their stories continue -- there's another season of Sherlock right around the corner, and a another season of Doctor Who in full swing; narrative is "reborn" out of this death. And both Sherlock and the Doctor continue to be heroes -- here too, the hero is "reborn."

I see it (and really, for any story of self-sacrifice) as a metaphor for the loss of ego, which is central to so many narratives of "mystical" or "religious" experience, which is almost always cast in terms of death and rebirth. You can cut off the
head of the ego, but it pops right back up. And for a hero, this confers a different attitude towards death, ameliorating (though not ceasing) that particular fear.

And after all, we all gotta go sometime. Even the Universe.

~~~

Never saw Evil of the Daleks -- I've tried to sit through recons, and it's a real struggle for me -- but I've read Phil's essay on it. Yeah, they're both trading on the same alchemical principles. They're still good principles, and its that underlying structure that resonated for me.

However, it's only when I read Daleks in Manhattan through the lens of symbol and metaphor that the story worked -- it's a very layered narrative. My first viewing of it produced a very different reaction -- I thought it was one of the worst Who stories I'd ever seen. Today, I wouldn't expect someone who hasn't read the story closely to get much out of it.

BTW, I had the opposite experience with The Shakespeare Code -- a story I really liked until I studied it closely and found it wanting.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

Just the vibe of it. RTD loved the hell out of Rose and Martha and Donna, but it was in that fabulous BFF kind of way.

In the middle of the second series, when the 10/Rose relationship was at its peak, Moffat has the Doctor finding an object of desire in "The Girl In The Fireplace", a relationship which had real sexual tension.

Even when the Clone Doctor went off with Rose, there was never the sense that he wanted her sexually.

Whereas you see the 11th Doctor checking himself out in the mirror before meeting up with River, very obviously wanting to be desirable for his exciting wife.

And we have the mini-skirt gag from Space/Time where Amy causes a space-time event because of a mini-skirt and a glass floor.

Lot of little sexual flourishes all over Moffat's work, I can't think of any in RTD.

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jane 4 years, 7 months ago

@Spacewarp

"I agree with you that there's a good story under there, if you look below the surface (something Who fans do a lot of!). In fact yes the whole thing makes sense but something about it on-screen doesn't work, and I think it's Direction and Production."

Yup, it's the direction and production that let it down -- which says a lot about the power of "discourse," the "how" of telling a story.

But I disagree about this business of Who fans looking beneath the surface! That's a lie. Paradise Towers is truly brilliant at a conceptual level, but gets widely panned mostly for its camp aesthetics.

Looking at the stories that get the highest rankings in fandom, it's the ones with the slickest direction and sharpest humor that tend to top the lists, or the ones steeped in nostalgia, especially those stories that have been wiped and no longer have the power to contradict memory.

Not that this is a hard and fast rule, though. A great director can only do so much with a terrible story, and there are some kinds of stories the fans will resist regardless of the production finesse employed.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

"I would disagree with you in claiming Doctor Who is a child-oriented series. I think the show's been consistently at its best when it realises it can appeal to both children and adults in related but different ways."

To be its best, Who needs to appeal to adults, but at its core it's has a child's sensibilities. Tom Baker's famous line, "what's the point of growing up if you can't act childish" (or whatever it was) seems to capture the Who spirit for me.

As I adult, I can enjoy the wit, intelligence, and moral complexity of Doctor Who; but I think it should belong to the children. We can't cling to our childhood ideal of Doctor Who, it has to be allowed to mold itself to a new generation of children or risk a slow, lingering death... as was happening during the Wilderness Years and the more adult offerings of the novel lines.

We adults are expendable assets, the children are the life-blood.

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

One is a striking visual metaphor for the other.

I think your "striking" is my "stupid" in this case. :) Or at least "imprecise." "Semantically messy?" What I mean is that the visual metaphor creates all sorts of associations and connotations beyond mere "brainwashing" that muddy the water.

To invent just one example: if you're a sadistic tyrant, and you command one of your brainwashed minions to get on all fours and serve as your footstool while you use a cat-o-nine-tails on another of them, I have to assume that if they're wearing your face and speaking with your voice, the kind of satisfaction you'd derive would be at least a little different than if they obey your commands but still have their own faces, voices, and thresholds of pain.

If brainwashing were the point, it would be a lot more chilling (maybe less striking, but I doubt it) to dramatize it rather than visualizing it. In this case, it's the difference between frightening and visceral on the one hand, and comical and absurd on the other. Maybe the Master is _supposed_ to seem petty and silly in that story in order to make the Time Lords seem more sinister by comparison? If so, I don't think it worked, but I guess we've already seen the Master terrorizing a roomful of cowed subjects. In a previous episode that ALSO employed a comical-looking (but relatively convincingly CGIed, which is my point) literalization of subjugation (the Doctor's) that would have been much more effective (and cheaper!) to dramatize.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

Just to expand on this. In my attempt to watch RTD's "Queer As Folk", he was definitely looking upon men in all their maddeningly glory.

Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, we tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the objects of our desire. If someone is the thing which can make you happy, then they're also the thing which will make you miserable.

A weird example from RTD's run. Jackie was probably the most sexual woman of his run, but when she was reunited with her dead husband, the sexuality of her character down-shifted quite a bit. Which makes sense in context, but it's one of the few attractive men over the age of 40 which Jackie didn't go in predator mode for.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 7 months ago

I think what I really meant by "Who fans looking below the surface" was what Phil calls redemptive reading. Excusing an appalling story in the 80s by explaining what the writer meant, what the director meant, and what the story was trying to say but failed. Ironically something often applied to the Classic series, but rarely to the New series.

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

Josh, my initial remark wasn't about story or myth, at least not in my mind. I find I'm violently allergic to the flavor of meta that drives writers to write about stories (or filmmakers to make films about film, or songwriters to write songs about the music industry, etc.), though there are exceptions that are good enough and interesting enough to make it worth the itching (Sandman, for instance). So I'm only as interested in that thread of Moffat's Who as I have to be to come to grips with it, and I miss the days when the subject of a season might be something like "entropy," to pick the most prominent example.

It's cool that the thread's gone in another direction, though. I just wanted to answer your original question: my point was just Doctor Who is a show that can go anywhere and do anything, so maybe it's a show that might benefit from setting one's autobiographical concerns aside and aiming a little higher and farther out. At the very least, rather than imagining, "if the Doctor were just like me, how could I show him resolving his personal issues in the same way I would?" maybe he could...do ANYTHING else.

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Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

One of the things I'm looking forward to when this blog reaches the SJA era is the fact that SJA is in many ways similar to Doctor Who, but at the same time, it's unreservedly a children's show rather than a "family" show.

But at the same time, SJA is a show meant for children which is still designed with the assumption that adults should be able to enjoy it. Now, the Australian-made K-9 series is also a children's show, but even though it's got some similarities in style to Who, there's really not much in there to interest an adult audience.

(The difference between SJA and K-9 is a bit like the difference between 'The Tomorrow People' and 'The New Tomorrow People', but as our host didn't like TTP, I don't expect that analogy to work help much)

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Arkadin 4 years, 7 months ago

"Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, we tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the objects of our desire. If someone is the thing which can make you happy, then they're also the thing which will make you miserable." And that explains Moffat's (and every fan's) relationship with Doctor Who as much as his relationship with women.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

Hence spurned fanboys who go around the Internet complaining about how the TV show they once loved is now a horrid slut only interested in Big Ratings.

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David Anderson 4 years, 7 months ago

Fiction can be good as well as bad - and both at the same time. I think that's important. In a way, the better a story is the more dangerous. A postmodernism that is only about stories may be vacuous; a realism that isn't about stories at all is a master narrative. The more realistic the more it presents itself as being not merely one possible depiction but as a total depiction. The aim of literary modernism or postmodernism is to hold the double view: to say this is one account of reality, perhaps better than any others, but still an account.
(That was a way of putting it, not very satisfactory.)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

I figured "comical and absurd" was exactly what they were going for, but it was only visual. If they'd actually done something with the idea of a whole planet of megalomaniacal Time Lord clones...

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

"RTD loved the hell out of Rose and Martha and Donna, but it was in that fabulous BFF kind of way."

That is the best way to put it.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 7 months ago

Re AVP: Requiem, see this.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 7 months ago

"But I disagree about this business of Who fans looking beneath the surface! That's a lie."

Or maybe Who fans are a huge and diverse group with many different levels of critical fluency and media literacy among them. >.>

(Seriously, I find very little worse in this kind of discussion than just flat-out saying "The fandom is X.")

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BerserkRL 4 years, 7 months ago

I approve of this message.

Ditto.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 7 months ago

Are you sure you're reading it right? ;-)

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

Let's say we get a female regeneration -- or even one of color (but not American! can you imagine? eek!).

Do you acknowledge it, even obliquely? Do you just carry on as if nothing's different?

If I were writing it, I imagine I'd have to acknowledge the female regeneration and carry on with the other, but I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly why I feel those would be the right paths, nor can I decide if they would also be the best paths.

Maybe it's because this exchange:

KATE (LETHBRIDGE-)STEWART: But...you're a woman now!

THE DOCTOR: Yes, I know. Have the Ice Warriors reached the Thames?

seems tasteful enough, while this one:

KATE STEWART: But...you're black now!

THE DOCTOR: Yes, I know. Have the Ice Warriors reached the Thames?

makes me cringe.

Thinking about a female Doctor inevitably leads my mind to Orlando, and his "regeneration" into a woman. I don't know if Tilda Swinton would be an ideal Doctor, but wouldn't she be riveting?

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 7 months ago

Regarding "Sarah Jane Smith" (there's too many comments for me to scroll back up and find it)... I was 19 years old in May 1979 when I first saw Sarah in "ROBOT". She took a few stories to grow on me, but by the end of the summer, I probably viewed her, in a fantasy context, as the perfect girlfriend. and so she stayed, until (several years late, I admit), I found "Billie Young" in February 1991.

Meanwhile, it always seemed to me they should have just gotten Jonathan Pryce on the show and been done with it. And meanwhile again, Joanna Lumley might make a good Romana. Maybe. Or maybe, if enough years go by, they can just do the really right thing, and cast Emma Watson in the part. (heeheehee)

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 7 months ago

"Billie Young"
http://images.wikia.com/nightcourt/images/e/ee/Billie_Young.jpg

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encyclops 4 years, 7 months ago

We adults are expendable assets, the children are the life-blood.

I think that's exactly the mentality that led to the Star Wars prequels. The original films aren't "adult," exactly, but they weren't aimed overtly at a childish audience, either. I guess they probably did fine at the box office and in the toy stores, but I wonder if these kids who love them now will still love them enough as adults to take THEIR kids to see the new ones.

Shifting to more "adult" concerns in comics may not have been great for the industry, but I think it's indirectly helped to bring some artistic achievements into being. Of course you can trace stuff like Jimmy Corrigan and Dan Clowes' depressing but compelling books and the Persepolis books and so on back to R. Crumb and Maus and all that, but I think that keeping adult readers interested has helped to bring what was formerly "underground" into the "alternative" and then onto the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Meanwhile, I've tried going back to some of the old Jack Kirby stuff, even the Bob Kane stuff which I remembered as being so atmospheric, and I find it all but unreadable now. And even as a kid I was seeking out stuff like "In the White Room" (Swamp Thing) and "Night of the Reaper" (Batman), which I can read today and respect.

I really think it's possible, and classic Who tends to prove it, to create fiction both kids and adults can appreciate and love. Surely this dichotomy is false, and I think Ross's comments illustrate that.

And there are lots of shows adults watch and provide "lifeblood" for, aren't there? Where does this idea that only children can sustain a TV show come from?

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 7 months ago

"I think that's exactly the mentality that led to the Star Wars prequels."

Only if you ignore the vast majority of what I wrote, especially this: "To be its best, Who needs to appeal to adults, but at its core it's has a child's sensibilities."

The greying of an audience (any audience) is a major problem. The highest rated network in the U.S. is CBS, which is mostly because their programs appeal to older audiences which are less likely to stream content. They don't do particularly well among the key demographic, so everyone is much more likely to talk about Fox and NBC who command higher ad revenues.

If push comes to shove and you have to alienate someone, alienate the older audience. They're far more expendable than the younger audience.

Of course, as it stands, Nu Who isn't alienating much of anyone. Kids and adults enjoy it and most hardcore Who fans do, too. It may not be as "adult" as the New Adventures, but it never really pulled in the new fans like the TV show does.

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iank 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm afraid I couldn't get beyond any nonsensically warped statement like "the Hartnell era was a mess".

What barking crap.

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GarrettCRW 4 years, 2 months ago

In the case of War of the Worlds, Frank Mancuso, Jr. was the son of the man running Paramount, so his agenda was bound to go unquestioned. And based on Bakshi's experiences with Mancuso while making Coolworld, I'd find it highly believable that he intentionally tanked the show in an attempt to make Friday the 13th: The Series look better.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

What the I don't even...

So I do not even care about the particular merits of your argument; the fact that you have not only heard of War of the Worlds The Series, but you actually know the whole thing about Mancuso and Friday the 13th is a cause of great surprise and joy for me.

Two people who know the details about WOTWTS running into each other at random on the internet is a thing that just doesn't happen every day. Or every decade for that matter.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

"he just keeps reusing ideas and tries to hide them,"

Doesn't everyone? Heck, the award-winning novels of Ursula K. LeGuin have a *hell* of a lot of retreaded ground, and don't get me started on Isaac Asimov. This is called "recurring themes".

RTD does the same thing. Barry Letts does the same thing. David Whitaker and Verity Lambert don't during their run on Doctor Who, so I guess not *everyone* does *all* the time, but Verity starts running through recurring themes later in her career.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

It is due to excessive assumption of *cause*. Most people don't like to believe that stuff is random.

Your point is well made -- nobody would intentionally ruin the show they were running, if only for economic reasons.

John Wiles didn't like Doctor Who. He produced material that is honestly rather hostile to everything which Doctor Who was and should be. But he still tried to make exciting, good, popular, money-making television.

J. J. Abrams doesn't understand Star Trek and doesn't really give a damn about it, but he still tried to make a box office hit.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

"Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, we tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the objects of our desire. If someone is the thing which can make you happy, then they're also the thing which will make you miserable."
"And that explains Moffat's (and every fan's) relationship with Doctor Who as much as his relationship with women."

Half of Russell's scripts for Doctor who are arguably ABOUT the love-hate relationship he has with the show.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

Josh: "No, he gets stick because he doesn't just write from his own perspective, he *glorifies* it. Or, at the very least he fixates on it to the point of drowning out all others. "

You're referring to Russell T. Davies, right? And I'm not talking about any "gay agenda", I'm talking about the "being in love with the Doctor" agenda and the "Doctor thinks you're the best ever" agenda.

Having fans run things has its problems. They are mitigated by having *lots of different fans* writing episodes. Because Moffat is more hands-off on other writers' scripts than RTD, his period comes across a lot less self-indulgent than RTD's, even though his scripts are often just as self-indulgent.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

"
But at the same time, SJA is a show meant for children which is still designed with the assumption that adults should be able to enjoy it. Now, the Australian-made K-9 series is also a children's show, but even though it's got some similarities in style to Who, there's really not much in there to interest an adult audience."

Really? I find it freaking dystopic, which surprised me.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

" This is the great concern of the show, that its mythology becomes co-opted into some kind of religion, or that faith in the Doctor replaces faith in one's self."

And that's an explicit response to some very explicit themes by RTD. "Last of the Time Lords" anyone?

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

"At the very least, rather than imagining, "if the Doctor were just like me, how could I show him resolving his personal issues in the same way I would?" maybe he could...do ANYTHING else."

Moffat doesn't do that.

Maybe you haven't actually met him. The way Moffat resolves stuff is... not the way he writes the Doctor. At all.

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

Gah. Putting Torchwood and Sarah Jane in the same book seems so *wrong*. They're fighting each other as competing visions, basically. I suppose you could discuss that, but it's not interesting.

(I come down quite strictly on one side, though mostly because Children of Earth is simply bad. It's bad most fundamentally because the government villains don't behave the way government officials like that actually would, making the plot a nonsense from the getgo even if you can accept the premise with the aliens. I suspect the problem is that Russell's never met the sort of people who end up in those jobs -- they're much more *reckless* and *arrogant* than Russell writes them. Really. Malcolm Hulke got that sort of character right, generally -- must have met some of them

Children of Earth tops this fundamental error off with Russell's usual senseless magic garbage ending, *and* it trashes Captain Jack's character as previously presented, and gratuitously kills Ianto just as a chaser. It's strictly for melodrama junkies -- there's no meat there.)

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neroden@gmail 3 years, 8 months ago

"However, it's only when I read Daleks in Manhattan through the lens of symbol and metaphor that the story worked -- it's a very layered narrative. My first viewing of it produced a very different reaction -- I thought it was one of the worst Who stories I'd ever seen. Today, I wouldn't expect someone who hasn't read the story closely to get much out of it. "

Interesting. I liked Daleks in Manhattan *immediately*. Cleanest story structure in a long time, with a resolution which is actually compelled by the characters, namely the Daleks. It's an Aristotelean tragedy, in fact!

It does have additional layers to it. I wish Helen Raynor had been commissioned again.

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