People Made of Smoke and Cities Made of Song (Rose)
Musing on From Hell and its connections to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Alan Moore posited that in holistic detection “you wouldn’t just have to solve the crime, you’d have to solve the entire world that the crime happened in.” Brilliant. Slap out some business cards. El Sandifer: Holistic media critic. Get to work. Except this terrain is slippery. The distinction between world and crime becomes vague,until everything becomes a crime scene, ready for its evidence bag giftwrap and careful analysis. Still, in a world of crime scenes there must be kings. The random acts of vandalism, wall scrawl fiction for the anoraks huddling under the bridge, must in time add up to something. To the big one. The shocking crime in an otherwise nice neighborhood. “These things don’t happen here.” Of course they don’t. Ropey sci-fi programs that haven’t been popular since the 1970s don’t come back to be the biggest thing on television. That’s not how this works. And yet here’s the crime scene, splatters of anti-plastic everywhere. No point in getting all holistic now. This time we keep it simple. We just solve the crime. Tape off the scene, form a perimeter. Perform whatever banishings you feel appropriate. And then let’s get to work. Forty-four minutes and ten seconds of history, rounded by yellow caution tape. Go slow, be meticulous. What the hell happened here?
A brief stab at showing the world – a perfectly ordinary thing for what we might charitably call “this sort of show.” The music swells, the camera accelerates, and we plunge breathless. (Already we are invoking old things – Doctor Who has begun an episode like this before.) We fall into the world, towards Britain, towards London, and then… into an alarm clock.
This is not where we’re supposed to be; drum and bass montage of Billie Piper, eponymous Rose, in a high speed run of fast cuts, going about her day. A banal shop-girl’s existence in the buzzing heart of London. Trafalgar Square, in amongst the swirl of double decker busses, what stands out is the aggressive willingness of the episode to date itself, from Rose’s trendy-almost-to-the-week overly pink bedroom to a Starbucks and an advertisement for The Lion King appearing in shot. It takes all of a minute for us to know Rose, to know her living situation, her well-meaning but slightly oafish boyfriend, her uninspiring job. We all know her. There’s not a viewer in Britain who does not know her after this sequence. Ten point eight million of them. More than anything else on television that week save four Corries and a pair of EastEnders. Eighteen percent of the country. In unison run smack into Rose Tyler, Sun-child of the popular culture.
And yet haunting this montage is a series of odd cuts and shot framings. A camera staying on for a second after Rose has left the shot, focusing on a lone mannequin, or a shot inexplicably framed so that a trio of mannequins are the focal point instead of Billie Piper. There’s something ever so slightly wrong about this – an oddness from outside this sphere of television that haunts proceedings. And by the time she arrives in the basement the nature of the scene has shifted.
Still, we’re in the realm of the firmly understandable. Show this to someone who has no idea what they’re watching and they’ll make perfect sense out of it. It’s self-evidently a horror movie. Billie Piper is playing the first reel sacrificial lamb – the one who’s about to get horribly butchered by some slathering beast. Or it’s a detective show, and she’s going to find Wilson’s body, leading to the real plot. One or the other. But it’s completely straightforward. That’s what happens on television when attractive blonde things wander around in the dark.
Two things, however, interrupt this scene. The first is the haunting we’ve already spoken of – these strange mannequins. Yes, the viewer has a pretty solid idea of what sort of story this is, and once the scene of Rose calling out for Wilson stretches beyond a few seconds any possibility that this is going to resolve into a “find the body” plot evaporates. Instead we’re firmly in the reach of horror. We ought contrast these first two stretches of the program. In the first minute or so we get a swift montage of who Rose Tyler is – an extremely deft and efficient bit of characterization. In the second, we get over two minutes of luxuriation in content-free shadow lurking. Over a minute of air time is spent with Rose walking around in the basement of the shop, over which hangs the knowledge that something bad is going to happen.
But let’s pause here and look at our overall televisual literacy and what it’s telling us. On some level we know Billie Piper is going to be OK. (And we should note that she is still Billie Piper – nobody has called her “Rose” yet.) A brief glimpse at the paratext reveals that the episode is named after her character, which is as good insurance as anyone gets (though I suppose she could still end up Laura Palmering some murder mystery from this setup). But more to the point, we spent a minute getting to know her character. The montage was curiously too much and too little. We know her too well for her to be cannon fodder. But it’s a slender reed – less something that drains the suspense out of the scene and more something that nags at us, haunting what we see.
And then there are the mannequins, which are clearly still important to this – and important even within the context of this basement scene. Watch the scene where she flicks the lights on, ostensibly ratcheting the danger back down by removing the darkness. But the lights are positioned so that all they illuminate are previously unseen mannequins. The mannequins have been haunting this show for its entire (three minute) run-time, lurking Chekovianly over its mantlepiece, aching to fire. But, of course, it doesn’t make sense how or why they would. Not within the logic of what we have here. There’s a coherent litany of things that could be waiting in that basement to butcher Billie Piper, and evil mannequins are decisively not on that list. And yet after two minutes of teasing, that is exactly what we get. Evil mannequins.
But there is a second interruption; to the caution-tape perimeter we’ve set up. It is about to be breached. The perimeter demarcates forty-four minutes and ten seconds of televisual space. But it does not merely encompass a set of filmized video frames and an audio soundtrack that have been captured on our DVD sets, or digital format of choice. We’re tracking a live transmission here – a signal that was actually beamed out at a specific time, into people’s houses and lives. Rose is not a text. It is an event. It happened. And as it happened, in the course of that transmission there were what are conventionally described as “technical difficulties.” Twice through the cellar sequence – once about a minute into Rose’s Wilson-calling, and once as the Autons are menacing Rose, audio broke through from a set on which Graham Norton was preparing for the next broadcast of Strictly Dance Fever. And so as Rose wanders around calling for Wilson there is a round of applause, and then, as she cowers from the onrushing mannequins, Graham Norton inquires as to where he should be sitting.
Let us pause to consider this piece of evidence for a moment. It is immediately recognizable to anyone even remotely familiar with occult technique as an inadvertent execution of the cut-up method. Originated by William S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin, the cut-up method involves taking fragments of one or more existing texts that are physically cut up and reassembled to form a new text. Where Burroughs mainly used the approach textually, Gysin became interested in it as an auditory technique, crafting pieces like “Pistol Poem,” a 1960 cut-up of gunfire and disordered counting, for the BBC. The premise of the cut-up is early postmodernism: the technique of transporting something out of its natural context so as to inject that context into some new context. By reordering the conceptual space of a soundtrack we reorder the ideas, changing the symbols themselves. It’s as old an alchemic process as has ever existed: by manipulating the symbol, you manipulate the thing.
(The cut-up technique was also influential in the creation of early electronic music, which had a similar approach of physically dismantling and reassembling media. “Pistol Poem” was recorded the same year Delia Derbyshire started work at the BBC. Derbyshire would go on to use electronic cut-up techniques to produce the theme to…)
And so Graham Norton is cut-up into this broadcast, right along with the ill-fitting mannequins. The result is a strange miasma of television and culture, only jumbled together wrong and turned into a nightmare that closes in, ready to swallow Billie Piper. It’s exactly the scene we expected – Billie Piper’s butchery, her grisly and spectacular death at the hands of some lurking horror. But it’s not just shop mannequins now – it’s expanded to be an attack from the entire culture, from the very fabric of TV. From Graham Sodding Norton.
Joss Whedon has said that the original image for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was him imagining an inversion of the standard horror opening of the blonde girl getting butchered. He imagined it playing out exactly like you’d expect – the character who the audience knows is a vampire luring the dumb blonde down an alley, getting ready to kill her, and then, right where we expect the money shot, she fights back and kills the vampire. But when he actually did the first episode of Buffy he ended up inverting his own first image, instead having it be that the dumb blonde is the vampire and the boy is the helpless victim who gets eaten. And so his original opening, his brilliant invocation and inversion of the horror movie trope, remains slightly erased, lurking in the background of Buffy. Waiting to get nicked by Russell T Davies, who here sets up the exact same thing. Rose, the blonde pop star, is in the basement, ready to get butchered. Only instead of revealing that she’s secretly the vampire slayer, Davies makes a very different revelation: she’s secretly a Doctor Who companion.
It’s a perfect invocation of strangeness. The utterly pointless (save for making a nice visual) shot of the Autons karate-chopping a steam pipe open. The way in which the Doctor enters the narrative, a hand from off-screen grasping Rose’s. (Note that the Autons are also threatening her with hands.) This is old magic – an invocation of a deep-lying tradition otherwise forgotten. It is worth noting that there is no reason for the Doctor to take Rose’s hand here, and less of one for them to continue holding hands as they begin running through corridors. It’s pointless. It’s silly. It is, in its own way, a conceptual cut-up – a random detail from an older legacy, specifically the tendency in Doctor Who’s eighth through tenth seasons of having Jon Pertwee hold Katy Manning’s hand while they ran, which he, in reality, did mainly because Manning was blind as a bat without her glasses and when she attempted running for the first time on-set ran smack into a tree. Here the act is shorn of its context, injected into Rose’s little horror story, and we’re off to the races, Rose’s story intruded upon by this mysterious Other.
We should observe how the act is not entirely faithful to the original either. The Auton hand attack is not actually from the same set of iconography as the Doctor and Jo holding hands and running. It’s from the same era, but these are things that are linked in ideaspace, not in any real temporal sense. The bulk of the Auton hand imagery comes from Spearhead From Space, Jon Pertwee’s first story, whereas Katy Manning and the hand-holding are very much from Pertwee’s fifth story, Terror of the Autons, which Rose also invokes, but completely separately. Terror of the Autons isn’t the mannequin one. It’s a small point – I mean, they’re both Auton stories – but it’s a significant one, in that Doctor Who is also being cut up and reassembled, creating a sort of summary of itself – the key points of Doctor Who distilled and rearranged.
Notably, once the Doctor shows up all notion of the horror plot is banished. Billie Piper is fine. This strange man in the leather jacket has control of this narrative, and Billie Piper has fallen out of her world and into his, at least momentarily. Because it is momentary. The scene of the Doctor and Rose together and in the same show lasts all of ninety seconds before Rose is bounced out of this new show she’s found herself in and is given leave to return to her own show. But in these ninety seconds several things of note are established.
First, there is the banishing of Graham Norton. “Am I here,” he asks, and mere moments later the Doctor tacitly answers: no, you’re not. I am. In doing so he immediately restores our sense of a perimeter, even as he intrudes upon the scene from outside. He has absolute control of this narrative space; it extends around him. And it is tangibly huge. The ninety seconds are full of strange dissonances – the caged mannequins in the hallway struggling to get out, for instance. Now that we have, broadly speaking, identified the mannequins as his the general strangeness of them stands out. They are, after all, occupying their space strangely; there are far too many of them, the camera hangs on them oddly, there’s the business of turning on the lights only to reveal them. And, you know, they’re moving around and homicidal, so that’s a bit strange too. But stranger still is the sense that there exists some explanation buried beneath all of this. It’s not just that there’s this shop full of evil mannequins – it’s that there’s evidently some sort of plan going on behind the scenes. The way in which the Doctor makes the jump from “Wilson’s the electrician” to “Wilson’s dead” points towards a logic we never see, a bare sketch of some hopelessly elaborate scheme on the part of the Autons to take over the world that self-evidently requires the electrician of this particular department store to die. (Watch how the rapid speed of this implies heavily the sheer size of this. Everything in this story is buzzing and moving about. There’s too much here. It’s joyfully excessive.)
Second is the fact that Billie Piper is able to function in this world. She falls out of her show (twice over – once into the horror movie, and then again into Doctor Who) and, upon landing in Doctor Who, is perfectly capable. That’s the entire point of the “is it students” conversation – and Eccleston plays it well, meticulously conveying the information. This stretch of television is his home turf, and he knows what’s going on. He has to – his confidence that the plot makes sense is what dictates that it does make sense. (The image of sense becomes sense.) But he hadn’t considered Rose’s theory. It’s wrong, obviously, but what’s crucial is that when she first expresses it he can’t figure out how she came to it. And when he asks her, idly testing her, playing, for a second (since he’s in an elevator anyway), with this strange woman who’s wandered into her show, she impresses him. It’s a barest hint, but she can hold her own in this show.
Third is the fact that Rose is named here. For the first time in the show, she is addressed by name. Naming a thing is, ritualistically, an important step. Names have power. Rose can be invoked now, and, crucially, she only gains that ability when she’s inside the same show as the Doctor. She gains identity by the proximity to his show. And yet after ninety seconds it shatters – Rose is left in her own show. She may have briefly fallen out of the world, but she’s quickly shooed back in.
Structurally, this is inevitable. The malign influence of Joseph Campbell plays out irritatingly over the entirety of this scene. A key step in the hero’s journey is the refusal of the call. The adventure must be rejected first before it can be truly accepted. This practice has great spiritual import – consider the practice of rejecting a convert to Judaism three times before accepting their conversion. Rejection and abandonment are a standard part of many occult initiations – magical societies will claim to reject a candidate just to see what they do, then accept them later with the revelation that it has all been a test. Or, if you want a more pop culture version of it, given the subsequent explosion of the department store, consider V’s false rejection of Evie in V For Vendetta, where it turns out that an entire middle section in which Evie is seemingly arrested is an elaborate mind game.
Already a theory is shaping up: this is Rose’s initiation. That’s what this whole scene is – an initiation ritual for Rose Tyler. It’s a familiar structure – the way you do these things. We’ve got it now, surely. The scene described. The perimeter made meaningful. We know what this is. Except… there’s still something off. Not the blue box that haunts Rose as she runs – that we expect, her world having been infiltrated by the Doctor and his show. Even if we don’t know what it is, we’ve been primed by the mannequins to get how these uncanny objects play out. (The TARDIS as an inexplicable conspicuity, of course, dates back to An Unearthly Child and the first shot of the series – more cutting up.) No, what is stranger are the thirty seconds of her running, afraid from the shop. It’s shot horror-movie again – lots of time for anticipation and dread of what might be about to happen. But we’re out on a London street now, right by Trafalgar Square. This is firmly Rose’s space – where we began in her minute montage. And while thirty seconds isn’t a lot, let’s remember, this show did her characterization in a minute. When it slows down like this, forcing us to drink in the moment, we must take note of it.
The incongruity here is, of course, that the terror of Rose’s world should be irrelevant. After all, the point of her initiation is to move her from this world to the Doctor’s. That the Doctor’s world haunts hers is necessary, but there’s no reason to linger within the terror of her world that follows from the Doctor’s intrusion. That’s irrelevant if she’s going to be taking up a permanent residence on the other side of the portal. So no. This is an initiation, yes. And a ritual, clearly. But it’s not Rose’s initiation. It’s someone else’s.
Keep surveying the scene. We move to watching telly on telly – a BBC News broadcast about the department store. So we’ve switched shows again. But the switching lags – we go from that to a single shot of the mannequin arm on an armchair, quietly reminding us that the barriers between shows are porous. (How else would Graham Norton have gotten through?) But now we’re firmly in her show – a working class soap opera. Note how her mother’s immediate concern is getting her back to work, the night shots of the council estate, Mickey’s utterly pedestrian interest in getting to the pub to watch the tail end of the match. This is a perfectly familiar setting. We know this show, just like we knew Billie Piper at first.
Still, to hammer home the point, we get a redo of the alarm clock. But instead of launching Rose into a dizzying characterization montage it launches her into the drear of day-to-day existence. Still, this sequence is all about characterization, and wonderfully deft characterization. Jackie Tyler reveals more about her fears and desires with her complaint that Rose’s job at a high-end shop was “giving her airs and graces” than any amount of exposition could ever tell us. But also observe the tight angles and close-ups. The camerawork changes as we shift among shows. But quickly we’re back to changing things up as we get the second encounter between Rose and the Doctor. Notably, it’s only been a few minutes, but the trip through an entire new show – EastEnders, basically – makes it feel like a larger gap than it is.
What happens next, however, is revealing in several ways. Clearly the meat and matter of this ritual is the crossing of the boundaries among television programs and genres. But again, all evidence is that the end goal is crossing Rose into Doctor Who. Given that, what happens in the next scene is bizarre: the Doctor strolls into Rose’s show. Or, more accurately, Rose grabs hold of him and yanks him in. There’s a cheek here – the threshold of her apartment marks the physical line between the two shows. While he’s outside the door he’s in charge of the narrative space. But once Rose pulls him in he’s distinctly not in his show anymore. This further rubbishes our briefly held notion that this is Rose’s initiation. In fact, it’s possible that it’s the Doctor’s – that this show is some sort of Mork and Mindy/Dark Shadows mash-up about the alien living on the council estate saving the world periodically.
It would be easy to play this as the fish out of water approach, where the joke is that the Doctor is utterly out of place here and doesn’t know what to do. Indeed, that’s what’s expected. But that expectation is trivially subverted from the first moment. It’s not that the Doctor slots straightforwardly into the soap opera; he doesn’t. But all of this is exposed in the brief scene where he talks to Jackie. At first he plays along, giving the exact right responses to Jackie’s flirtations. But once she comments that “anything could happen” (in the next half hour) and he realizes what game he’s playing he demurs and wanders off. It’s key that this is done with Jackie as well. Already we can see that she is the most soap opera of the soap opera characters here – cut from the Hilda Ogden cloth. So making the Doctor able to both fit into a scene with her and, crucially, trump her and wander out when he wants to quickly establishes that the Doctor is capable of functioning inside a soap opera.
Having established the point, the show presses it. Rose carries on her business, trying to talk to him, but the camera frequently wanders back to the Doctor as he looks about Rose’s flat. This is the closest the show comes to the fish out of water joke, but the real joke is that he’s not a fish out of water. Instead he’s more than capable of flipping through celebrity magazines and weighing in on the latest gossip. It’s worth remarking in particular on this bit, since it’s one of the things glommed onto by a certain segment of the audience as a complaint. The issue, apparently, is that the Doctor is enough of a reader of celebrity magazines to be up to date on the gossip (and indeed, an expert on the gossip – he knows secrets the tabloids don’t), which seems unlike him. But what this complaint misses is that this is the only scene where he displays knowledge of this sort. It is, in other words, because he’s basically in EastEnders at the moment that he knows about celebrity gossip, and as soon as he goes back into his own show, or to some other show, that knowledge dissipates. What it establishes, in other words, is not that the Doctor keeps up on celebrity gossip, but that the Doctor can seamlessly enter EastEnders if he wants to.
There is a second aspect of engagement with what we might call “old school fans” involved here. The act of dropping the Doctor into a soap opera is, of course, impish. But it’s impish because of the very underlying problem we’re trying to solve here: old sci-fi shows like Doctor Who don’t fit with populist things like soap operas. Part of what’s going on in this scene is a blatant and noisy rejection of the usual logic of these things – a recognition that the border between these two things is existent, but that it is permeable. But there’s a larger issue, which is that Doctor Who, historically, has a bit of a poor relationship with soap operas. First there’s its failed effort in 1982 to work like one, ratcheting up its cast size and playing with story arcs and twice-weekly airings. Then came its disastrous period of airing opposite Coronation Street in the late 1980s. But the crowning agony was 1993’s Dimensions in Time, a Children in Need sketch that mashed up Doctor Who with EastEnders in a deeply painful and embarrassing fashion. Putting the Doctor inside a soap opera, in other words, isn’t just a cheeky bit of populism designed to piss off all the right people. It’s playing with fire, allowing the series to come in contact with the iconography that eventually did it in.
The problem with the Doctor walking into a soap opera, of course, is that Doctor Who is likely to follow him. And so, of course, the arm attacks. But let’s pause and look at how utterly different this attack is from the basement attack of the mannequins. There the mannequins were built to as objects of horror, and their attack was played like something scary (ludicrous as it was). But here the mannequin arm attacks in the context of a quick bit of farce in which Rose and the Doctor are in different rooms carrying on parallel monologues instead of communicating. There’s a big set piece in which Rose thinks the Doctor is just messing around with the arm in the same way Mickey was earlier, at which point the arm hangs in the air and does a very silly looking swivel before it flies to attack Rose.
The physics of this are one thing – what, exactly, propels the plastic hand through the air? It’s just about intelligible that the Autons can control anything plastic, and if you really scrunch up your face and put your mind to it you can figure out why the mannequins have hand guns, but there’s nothing that explains why the plastic arm can fly through the air. It’s deeply, deeply silly, and it’s there only to provide a deeply silly fight scene. But in doing so it reiterates a key truth about how this divide works in the first place. Simply put, the Autons are also transformed by crossing over the doorstep and entering the soap opera. They go from horror movie threats to comedic threats, switching from something out of Dawn of the Dead into something a bit more Shaun of the Dead. Even still, however, there’s a carefully policed set of rules here. There’s a shot of Jackie Tyler starting up the hairdryer so as to answer the question of why she doesn’t come out and get involved in the arm wrestling, which is important given that she really can’t be in that. Rose can cross the line between these two shows and function, but Jackie does not belong in the same shot as an Auton in a very different way to the way in which Rose is jarring.
This also leads us to what we might call the Problem of Jackie Tyler’s Coffee Table. The coffee table, you see, is shattered in the fight with the arm. But it’s never mentioned again. This is, of course, fine within the rules of Doctor Who, which we’ve already seen is the sort of show where aliens have elaborate plots that involve murdering electricians. But it’s not at all fine within the rules of Jackie’s show. The character who mere minutes earlier was complaining about how the shop gave Rose airs and graces is not one who could have a coffee table completely shattered and never complain about it. On a basic and practical level, replacing the coffee table would be a non-trivial expense for her, especially after losing her daughter’s income. Beyond that, she’s just not the sort of person to let that go. Obviously the rules of Doctor Who trump the rules of Jackie’s show here, but it’s still shocking how quickly that happens. Ostensibly the Tylers’ flat should be much more durable than this. The Doctor is the one out of his element here. And yet his plot logic quickly reasserts itself, revealing just how fast and thoroughly he deforms the narrative space around him, leaving it almost unrecognizable to itself.
Following this, the Doctor attempts to leave Rose behind again. Again, there are some rules quietly being broken here. The format of an initiation – refused calls to adventure and the like – is still there. But there’s no reason for Rose or the Doctor to refuse the call twice like this. Tellingly, the refusal is itself delayed. The Doctor tries to leave Rose almost immediately after, but instead finds himself caught in a ninety-second tracking shot as he walks from Rose’s flat to his blue box. The tracking shot is firmly within Rose’s visual grammar. The extended shot makes it feel like it comes out of a documentary – the sort of kitchen sink social realist approach that’s usually used to depict the working class. Note that while it’s not a jittery hand-held camera, the tracking shot is allowed to bob and jerk around a little, making the presence of someone holding it tangible. The entire sequence clearly comes out of our soap opera and not out of Doctor Who. And throughout it the Doctor is trying to get rid of Rose while she persistently refuses to leave. It is, in other words, an extended demonstration of Rose’s narrative power over the Doctor.
So Jackie both can’t get brought into the Doctor Who narrative – c.f. the hairdryer – and can’t maintain the purity of her narrative in the face of it – c.f. the coffee table. Rose, on the other hand, can get brought into Doctor Who and encounter the Autons, but can also impose her narrative on Doctor Who. The ability to have your perimeter breached by the outside world is, in other words, strangely central to the ability to maintain a firm definition of the border itself. Only by falling in and out of worlds do we define what those worlds are. Observe also that when Rose decides to engage with the Doctor and listen to his story – i.e. when the Doctor allows his world to be breached by Rose – the long take ends and we go back to telling the story through editing.
(A nervous glance at our caution tape, standing ominously strong in the wind as we continue our investigation.)
So Rose is brought back into the Doctor’s world. But this time as a transaction – as a deal. She’ll give up her control over the camera if he explains who he is. And so he does in the “we’re falling through space” monologue. We started in space, remember, and then fell into the world. So this, on one level, briefly restores the initial scale of things that we sacrificed to get to Rose. But the effect is rather more striking than just that. The monologue is well-crafted to produce an immediate sense of scale: we’re genuinely taken aback by just how massive the Doctor’s sense of scale and perception is. It’s not just the description of the Earth’s astronomy, but his plaintive exclamation, “I can feel it.” Also, the symbolism of hands is back – the Doctor grasps Rose’s again as he says he can feel it, playing off the hand’s role as a sensory organ. And then, at the end of the monologue, as he rejects Rose a second time, he lets go again, breaking the connection. He goes back to his blue box, and it vanishes, falling right out of the world.
And so we acquire another key dimension of things: the eccentric and excessive spaces that can be carved within the world. What is so compelling is not merely the scope of the Doctor’s perceptions and his world, but the fact that the sense of space widens so quickly once Rose steps into his world. The threshold of his world is not just a genre switch – it’s a switch into a whole new sense of scale. His world is big in a way that the world around it isn’t.
There’s a phrase that describes that…
(This also marks the first appearance, musically, of what Russell T Davies and Phil Collinson cheekily refer to as “Flavia’s Theme.” It’s the musical cue with the single female vocalist oohing around on it that they use whenever Time Lord stuff comes up – that is, when the show gets a bit poncey in its sense of mysticism. Embedded in this is a fascinating double-edged joke: on the one hand the mysticism is named via a reference to a dense and fannish continuity point – Chancellor Flavia is in fact most notable for becoming Lord President of Gallifrey in The Five Doctors and then never appearing or being mentioned ever again. But there’s also an embrace of the camp here – Flavia is given an exceedingly stoic performance by Dinah Sheridan that makes her an immediate camp sensation destined to be loved by the sizable contingent of gay Doctor Who fans. It’s not just that mysticism and fannishness are twinned here, but that the slightly cheesy music trotted out when the mysticism gets a bit excessive is itself a self-conscious celebration of camp excess within the program.)
But what is the role of this deferral? If it is inscrutable in terms of the initiation ritual that this scene is rapidly turning out to be, it is at least straightforward in terms of the basic grammar of television. This is a return to the old model of television as a system of anticipation. This was, for a long time, how television worked – a constant game of anticipation and payoff, where much of the pleasure was the approach of the inevitable. “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” And so part of the structure of Rose is the deferral of the inevitable. We know as soon as the Doctor grabs Rose’s hand and says “run” that she’s a Doctor Who companion. But again, the initiation isn’t hers. She’s initiated then and there. The point is instead the extended lingering – the anticipation as the inevitable wedding approaches. This is foreshadowed in the program’s earliest trailers, which proclaim that it’s almost time for Doctor Who… but not yet. The point isn’t the events that unfold, in other words, but the act of watching the events.
And so Rose, having been kicked out of the program twice, starts to try to figure out about this whole Doctor Who thing. Here we run into an interesting problem with this entire structure and theory. On the one hand, the evidence for the claim that Rose is an initiation ritual seems watertight. Everything is pointing to it. But there’s no opportunity. A key step is absent. Already we’ve had to take as evidence the cut-up presence of Graham Norton, a broadcast phenomenon without author. We’re far from the realm of plausible authorial intent. Simply put, Russell T Davies isn’t the type to execute the sort of ritual that’s shaping up here. The crime is intelligible, the suspect isn’t.
But does a ritual need a ritualist? Here we are, playing in the detritus of ideas and culture, the seeming payoff to Lawrence Miles’s hypothetical ritual the month this series was announced. (Such a masterful build and use of anticipation, that.) Do we need to have someone consciously pulling the strings? At some point these things move on their own momentum. I say all of this mostly because the logo of the fake search engine Rose uses looks shockingly like some sort of Lovecraftian horror of the sort that might be lurking under the surface of the world. Then again, it could also just be made to look like the Nestene Consciousness on the cover of Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion. (Of course, in the Virgin books it was established that the Nestene Consciousness was the offspring of H.P. Lovecraft’s Shub-Niggurath…)
So Rose goes on the Internet and meets herself a Doctor Who fan. That is, after all, clearly what Clive is. He is us. Caught dead to rights, he is us, the fat, sweaty bastards of us. Nutter anoraks buying memorabilia from a washed-up sci-fi show. That’s who we are. We who paw about the edges of this thing, discontent to just let it be a fun television show. We who are dragging the holy and sacred (or at least reasonably popular for a few weeks) Billie Piper through the filth of our childish obsessions. We who (sob) blog. Paranoid conspiracy theorist out in the shed stitching up his little obsession. Unfit for human consumption. Ashamed.
Actually, he’s got a wife and kids; seems a perfectly pleasant bloke. So maybe we’re not so bad after all.
[Watch Mickey play at being a chav. The class tone has changed again. Think whose neighborhood this is, then look at the black kid from the council estate. Who do you think bought Match of the Day last month? Who do you think watched it? Who do you think bought Dreamtime? Whose computer was new enough to watch Shalka? And Mickey larks in it, pretending he’s bad news and come to open up a can of ASBO on their ass. He’s not – he’s an oafish sweetie. But he can play the part.
But note the gulf in sincerity as well. Clive’s wife jokes, “she?” as Rose arrives, because none of Clive’s nutter friends are girls. But watch, Elli Garnett then plays it a bit too much like a TV ad, doing this self-aware little hip shake as she descends closes the door on Mickey Smith, carrying the basket of laundry. Meanwhile, Mickey is scowling it up in the car, looking absolutely ridiculous in this middle class neighborhood, without a care in the world.]
The lighting goes blue, nervously tracing the outlines of a paranoid conspiracy theory. A little claustrophobic and nervous – designed to put us on edge. We want to get out of this place. Again, the anticipation crackles. We know what we’re in the midst of – some glorious popular culture obscenity. Strictly Plastic Fever And How To Cure It or something. (Mickey’s in a yellow car.) What is this Doctor Who fan doing in the middle of it?
Actually, in ironic fact, a fair number weren’t. The show launched without a US distributor. Nobody picked it up. This didn’t air in the US until nearly a year later. And they didn’t even give us the DVD set. You wanted Doctor Who, you had to know how to BitTorrent. And we bloody well did. We got onto Mininova and we downloaded this thing.
So actually, in all likelihood Clive isn’t actually here, or is here for purely sentimental reasons. He probably watched it back around March 8th when it became one of the earliest and most high-profile pieces of video to leak on the Internet prior to its correct release date. Albums and songs were being leaked all over, but television? Global Frequency didn’t leak until July, and so infuriated Warner Brothers that they killed a promising pilot. And here was the BBC’s new flagship, their secret weapon to take back Saturdays, and everyone could see it a month early, decide whether to cut its throat with Ant and Dec or get out of its way and watch it sink.
In the end it appeared a blessing this time. The fans were always going to do what the fans were going to do. Some were going to adore it because it was new Doctor Who and actually pretty well made, and some were going to hate it because hating Doctor Who is what a Doctor Who fan does. And we yaffled on with all our nonsense early. And, you know, it wasn’t so bad we all hated it. It was better than the McGann movie, or so would readily admit virtually all of us. (Just scale the McGann movie down a bit in judgment to make room for Rose above it. Plenty of us did.)
So, you know. Tabloid story defused. The Sun couldn’t run Ian Levine smashing his telly in rage. These things matter when you’re playing in the arena Rose is. This is a high stakes game. You cannot lose control of the story. If you do, you’re gutted.
(They immediately lost control of the story when the fact that Eccleston had quit leaked. It was lost before The End of the World. Oh God, this is going to be a disaster.)
Meanwhile, observe that the Doctor is spotted on November 22nd, 1963. This is not an accident. The levels of in-joke here are, for a brief moment, slathered so thickly you cannot breathe. They use the same bloody frame of JFK as Who Killed Kennedy, for Christ’s sake. But look at the bigger picture. Look at the metaphor that’s inflating here. The Doctor isn’t even in this bit of the story, but he’s gone and circled his own history. Now think about the question of the McGann regeneration – is this or is this not Eccleston’s first adventure? Did this man who has gone back to the day before he was born fight in the Time War? What is he doing there?
[But look, Clive is having so much fun here. He’s loving this delivery. He’s done this a dozen times before, but now he gets to do it for a pretty girl. “The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history.” It’s his own version of Mickey’s “glare at everybody because he’s protecting Rose” look.
Mickey, meanwhile, has gotten bored of this television program. This is not for him. This is not his milieu. He wants out. “What’s that Mickey Smith,” Doctor Who says from within his magical box of wonders. “You want to fall out of the world?” And so out springs the evil wheelie bin!]
So Clive’s hilarious mistaking of eschatological fandom for how you impress pretty girls gets paralleled with Mickey’s descent into danger. There’s a lovely flipping here, the two worlds of television intermingling and performing each other’s functions. The very silly Mickey scene debuts Doctor Who’s awful CGI in the most gratuitous and over-the-top way, while Clive’s in the basement being a complete nutter. Nothing about Mickey’s scene looks intimidating, though the music says it is, but Clive’s depiction of the horrors of Doctor Who provide the tension.
[But let’s not forget that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to Mickey. This is a serious psychological trauma for which he will undoubtedly require extensive therapy that will be difficult to procure even under New Labour’s generous expansion of NHS funding as afforded through policies to create a business-friendly economy and, on occasion, a teensy-weensy smidgen of debt.
And that ultimately manifests as Mickey’s getting pulled into the garbage can. Watch how Noel Clarke maintains his slight overacting. He’s doing something hilariously savvy throughout this episode; he’s playing a bad actor. He looks like an embarrassment of a character. And by shoving him into this overwrought joke of a scene Davies instantly secures a vocal segment of the audience’s dislike for this character.]
And then, to make it all worse, the trash can burps – a seeming example of the absolute worst excesses of Davies’s style. It’s astonishingly puerile and stupid. But let’s be honest about what it feels like, given the context. It’s not that it’s an incredibly immature and lame joke. It is, but nobody hates a series for one or two horribly cornball moments, no matter how much some of us may fear that they do. No, it’s that it’s so avoidably lame. And so it immediately puts us in mind, say, building high for happiness, or the Bandrils, or the Magma Beast, or Kroll, or the Axons, or the Quarks, or the Zarbi. All the things we apologize for.
This coincides with Clive’s failure to convince Rose. Because, of course, the joke here is that everything Clive says is completely true: he’s an immortal alien, and all of these historical appearances of him are, in fact, the same man. Hit the nail on the head. (Actually, missed a key part of it, but, hey, it’s the thought that counts.) And Rose, quite sensibly, decides he’s a complete nutter because he is a fat man in the shed talking about aliens.
[Never mind that the Doctor was talking about aliens before and that this is obviously the best explanation for him. Rose isn’t in Doctor Who right now, and she doesn’t have those powers. She’s Billie Piper in the shop again, able to get along with this middle class man out of her own charm, but manifestly not going to fall for a story like that. Fandom’s account of the show is inadequate. It will have to be left behind.
But not before it does some damage. Mickey is, in effect, destroyed here. He gets swallowed up, in part because he can’t cross genre lines skillfully enough, but also, crucially, by fandom. The same people carefully primed to reject him for his overacting and the stupidity of his plotline are the ones who, by exposure, kill him.
(We should remember here the way in which the First Doctor dies: from exposure to the qlippothic energies of Mondas. The parallels here continue to echo ominously, threatening to completely break through our perimeter. Looking up from the crowd scene, the problem is obvious. Ten point eight million people clustered around the caution tape, peering in, trying to see what’s going on. Is the suspect in the boat or not? How long can this perimeter hold them? And who within this place is working against us? This, our base under siege.)
And, of course, we also assume he’s dead. I mean, this is a Robert Holmes pastiche. Of course the useless supporting character bites it the moment it’s useful to the plot. And a possession too. The original of the Auton Duplicate is always dead. Who cares? He was a prat. We’re disappointed to see him live at the end, frankly. Feels like a cop-out.
We now, of course, begin Mickey’s plotline over the course of the next two seasons.]
So Rose fails to heed the warning, and returns to her car. But something is wrong. These two universes were never supposed to touch. And here we’re in the boundary between existence as she knows it and the other universe that she doesn’t understand. And so the relationships between the different molecular bonds and the actual shapes form a crystalline structure of ratios. Without the web to support it, the local space will fold up into itself, leaving scar tissue, cracks in the skin of the universe. And in those corners of the universe breed the most terrible things. Evils from the dawn of time.
Also, her boyfriend looks like a rubbish plastic version. (Which is arguably literally true – there’s no reason the plastic bin should hold its shape. It’s the most obvious thing to sculpt into Mickey on the fly.) And its played for stupid laughs again – the obnoxious inheritance of the burping trash bin. It’s all over. This is horrible. Nobody is going to like this, and we’re all going to be humiliated again. Time for Plan B. Operation “This Is Worse Than McGann.” We can go sob into The Gallifrey Chronicles in a few months.
And then, oh God, the bloody restaurant scene, with the stupid Northern Doctor with his stupid grin and stupid ears does that stupid stupid thing with the stupid cork, and then bad CGI Mickey smashes everything up. Though actually, Sylvester McCoy said that was the best bit, and it is kinda fun. The kids probably loved it.
And my God, doesn’t the Doctor look at home. This is what the man belongs doing. He’s got total control of this. And look what sort of “this” it is – in particular the way in which Mickey’s visual tick that Rose picks up on looks like a video glitch. He’s at home in the complete breakdown of the narrative. Which is good, because Rose is going the wrong way, abandoning Doctor Who in favor of the mundane concerns of getting another job, deciding that this whole Doctor Who thing is far too dangerous.
It is easy to miss the fact that the Clive/Mickey section of the episode is an eight-and-a-half minute stretch of the episode in which the Doctor does not appear. Well, actually, that’s hard to miss. It’s designed to be the rubbish slow bit in the midst of the episode. You can, of course, get away with these if you need to. You just need to build a structure of anticipation. We know the Doctor and Rose are going to reunite, so that means we know we have to get through the awkward middle bit. It’s a part of the episode we’re designed to like less. And it’s allowed to mulch out of the worst instincts of fandom, and then the Doctor swoops in and rescues us from them, and we’re off on another corridor run!
Then the Doctor disappears into his strange blue box, leaving Rose in a suspense scene as she runs around the locked yard trying to find an escape. It’s another scene in which a lot of time is spent on the same note, much like the shop cellar, devoted to putting her in immediate, present danger until, finally, out of pure desperation, she runs into the blue box.
And suddenly everything changes. It’s another portal. She switches shows again. The lighting changes, the music changes, the shots change – we were cutting around the outside of the box a bunch, and now we’re inside it and on a still shot. Then, to highlight it in the language of the preceding scene, a visual joke. Whatever is inside the box is more terrifying than what was outside it, and so she runs back to her previous show and, of course, the previous music starts up again.
But now her phobia has changed: she circles the box. Last time she was in this running around scene she looked at the outer perimeter. Now she looks at the inner one – this emboited space she recoiled from. She’s ignoring plastic monster boyfriend entirely until he finally bursts through the door and she remembers her original problem and nips back into the box, urgently bringing her chase scene in with her.
The Doctor shoos the chase away, and we get to see this space again. And we’re back. We’re back in the space we were in when last we saw the Doctor, clinging to the skin of our tiny little world, falling through space, out of stories, out of time. The camera pulls up in a long, languid pan, revealing the secret of this blue box:
It’s bigger on the inside.
The Doctor calmly gets on with the plot. As calm as we’ve ever seen him, in fact. Casually moving about, solving the problem, getting ready for episode three. But note the fleeting moment of embarrassment that he’s an alien – all but asks Rose’s permission to bring his wacky sci-fi concepts into her show. Even in his space, he’s meeting her halfway. In fact, she still asserts considerable authority over the narrative space, lighting into the Doctor on a point he’d not considered, namely whether or not Mickey was alive. (Why would the Doctor care? I mean, the bodycount of the story is hardly the interesting thing, now is it?)
But she can’t actually disrupt the scene. The Doctor gets back to solving the plot, smashing some buttons and levers and then running outside. Rose, silly girl, stays behind, pointing out that it’s not safe, but he tears out, ready to keep solving the plot. And for a moment we don’t even realize what’s wrong. Of course the Doctor goes on solving the plot. That’s how this works. Why is she mucking about inside the TARDIS? Because that’s how Doctor Who is put together; you can jump across narrative spaces like that. But it’s not how Rose Tyler is put together, and so she lags behind.
(This happens as we transition from inside the TARDIS to outside. Again, the concern here is that of narrative thresholds and borders – the lines between worlds. The Doctor and Rose cross them differently, and in that slight tension is a gap – we stay with Rose as the Doctor’s show plows on. This seems to be the focus of the ritual: this act of crossing the threshold. An initiation ritual about initiations. But again, that nagging problem: who is being initiated? Who is doing the initiation? What’s going on here?)
The dialogue gets back on track a few seconds later, and their earlier disagreement persists. He is trying to run around in a Doctor Who story and save the world, and she’s obsessed with whether one of the supporting cast is dead or not when he obviously is. This is, as it turns out, a really significant point of disagreement between them, and they almost storm off again as the Doctor defends his larger perspective.
But then they gel again. There is no particular reason for this. The scene just turns, becoming easy double-act banter about lampshading the series’ conventions: lots of planets have a north. The tension fades out, we joke about the silly way the TARDIS looks, and she asks for the plot to be explained for her. And he’s happy to play along because, actually, secretly, he doesn’t know the next step of the plot. He’s ready for the conclusion, but nobody’s told him where the monster’s lair is. And so he sits around waiting for an answer, and we slow down for a moment to catch our breath.
Then, slowly, we snap back to the elevator scene, where Rose thinks something through in a way he doesn’t. Except this time she’s not wrong. See how the camerawork allies itself to Rose, even in the Doctor’s story – it frames the Doctor with the very thing he’s talking about so that the audience figure it out at the same time Rose does, leaving the Doctor in a comedic turn, the silly one in his own show.
The plot twist settled, it’s time for another corridor run, this time over Westminster Bridge, slated for a good Dalek menacing in 2150. The hand symbolism’s back again, but in a new way – they start running separately, then the Doctor looks, notices he doesn’t have her hand, and reaches for it. Not to save her. Not to teach her. Just for the sheer joy of it. The musical cue resolves to the theme that played for Rose’s montage, slightly off-kilter variations on it having been used for the last two corridor runs, thus symbolically connecting these stretches across the episode. They keep larking about (“the breast implants,” Rose asks, and the Doctor looks rather concerned at the prospect of his show taking that plot twist), and then the Doctor pries open the door to the glowing red lair of Shub-Niggurath, the music withers, and we cross into yet another narrative space.
In a breath, it’s all changed – from the enthusiastic long shots and energetic music to a sense of claustrophobic space. Tellingly, both the Doctor and Rose are nervous here. This isn’t someone’s television show. Not anymore. It’s not even the horror space beneath the department store, but rather the horror that space represented. This is the land of monsters.
(And suddenly we know we’ve found it. The buried monster this ritual was always seeking to awaken. The horned god to whom we are initiated.)
Note the interplay between claustrophobia and vastness – the vast maze of scaffolding that lines the edge. Also, observe how Rose is properly afraid here, not in the sense of jumping at shadows, but in the sense of wanting to not be here, telling the Doctor to get it over with. Whereas the Doctor is at home here as well. This cannot be described as surprising as such; the Doctor is at home in any narrative space. That was the point of putting him in Jackie’s flat earlier and watching him suddenly become hyper-aware of celebrity gossip.
And yet there’s something wrong with being at home in this narrative space. If it is a necessary consequence of the Doctor’s status as the master of all fiction that he be at home in any narrative space, including this one, then it is in no way a desirable consequence. Observe how even the most dedicated of fans are pushed out of the narrative by this scene. The Nestene Consciousness is conspicuously not a giant octopus like it used to be. (Although it is voiced by Nicholas Briggs now in a nod to the wilderness) And when the Doctor addresses the Nestene Consciousness he makes what sounds like it should be a continuity reference to “Convention Fifteen of the Shadow Proclamation.” But it’s not a reference to anything – it’s something Davies made up, like Zogs of the Planet Zog. The result is unsettling – the Nestene Consciousness is something fans expect to understand, and we’re not allowed to.
But, of course, that impact only works for fans. So there’s a second disturbance of the order of things for people coming at the show from another direction. Rose finds Mickey, to the Doctor’s obvious disgust. There’s a degree to which this is subtly pushed too far for logic. That the Doctor doesn’t think much about whether a supporting character is killed off is one thing, but this reveals it to be a slightly more disturbing and radical formulation of that approach: the Doctor simply doesn’t care about questions like that. In fact, he’s aware that Rose’s entire approach of “caring about other people” doesn’t fit in with this genre, suggesting they “leave the domestics outside” where outside, of course, means “in an entirely different television program.” (Also crucial, of course, is that Mickey is completely useless in this scene.)
There is also, of course, another bit of initiation, or, at least, of the form of initiation. The Doctor descends into the underworld, but, more to the point, Christopher Eccleston earns his wings by doing one of the fundamental things actors playing the Doctor have to do in the course of the job is attempting serious acting opposite something completely ludicrous. In this case, he has to talk to a churning mass of CGI. (In fact, Jon Pertwee was also blooded by the Nestene Consciousness as he attempted to convincingly wrestle around with a foam octopus arm while steadily realizing he had a really weird job now.) And the Doctor, accordingly, does a big “the human race is wonderful” speech, and Eccleston basically nails it.
But this isn’t the place for that. This is the land of monsters, and while the Doctor may be comfortable here, he is not safe here and he does not control this space. And immediately it gets away from him: the mannequins are back, and the beast in the pit howls with rage. It’s the end of all things.
And then the blue box enters the land of the monsters. And the entire narrative slips away. Suddenly we’re talking about some unknown war, and the Doctor is begging, saying he fought in the war, pleading that he “couldn’t save any of them” as the Nestene recoils, terrified.
What do we make of this blue box, then? It’s made two substantial appearances before, both as a source of wonder. But the nature of its wonder is sublime – a sort of righteous fear. Remember, the blue box is inexorably linked to the vast interior space emboited by the Doctor’s description of feeling the turn of the Earth and of clinging to the skin of the world. The blue box is a source of awe, but that can so easily turn into fear. And brought into the land of the monsters that’s what it becomes: the thing monsters have nightmares about. What is this thing, and just how big on the inside must it be to scare even the devil himself?
Clearly, then, it’s time for more Jackie Tyler. This sounds facetious, but there is, by this point, real power coursing through this space, and a move like this, cheeky as it sounds, must be taken seriously. From the land of the monsters we cut to the single most normal character of the series – the one who has been so systematically set up as outside the narrative that she can’t even play with the evil arm or notice that her coffee table was smashed to pieces.
And yet we find Jackie at the police station, the words “Police” written out in font and color to match the Doctor’s box. Her space quietly, and without her realizing it, mirrors the space of the monsters. The fear of monsters is about to bring this whole thing crashing down. Jackie, of course, doesn’t know it, staying firmly within her own narrative space. Look at the lovely detail of her “late night shopping.” Inexplicably it’s at the Queen’s Arcade, which is in Cardiff, not London, but in terms of appearances and tone it’s obviously a posh and tourist-centered shopping mall. This is not, in other words, a place where Jackie Tyler is going to spend any money. She can’t afford anything here. She’s just going to look.
Meanwhile, hell itself is being torn apart by the Doctor’s error. The beast below London awakens, opening its Eye to look upon the city. It is, as Rose puts it, the end of the world. (Actually, that’s next week) The eschaton we thought we’d deferred is unleashed – the very city itself turned against us, deciding that it will take its tribute in blood.
We cut to another thing we did not expect – though for the second time in a row it is a case of cutting from something completely mad to something altogether mundane. There is no reason why Clive should reappear at this point, after all. But here he is, dragged out shopping with the family, complaining bitterly about spending “summer money in winter months,” and he’s just in time to witness the end of the world.
Which, of course, he recognizes immediately. Even as his wife looks excitedly at the dancing mannequins, albeit having initially been frightened, Clive knows something’s wrong. Of course he does. He’s a Doctor Who fan, after all. He’s seen Spearhead From Space a dozen times, and knows the mannequin attack scene perfectly. He knows exactly what this is, and mouths the paranoid’s most dreaded conclusion: “It’s true. Everything I read, all the stories, it’s true.”
But this isn’t just his nightmare or his experience anymore. This isn’t just any alien attack. (There’s a pattern here – something that doesn’t fit inside this forty-four minute perimeter.) This is, as mentioned, a remake of a scene from Spearhead From Space. Actually, though, it’s showing off a bit. Spearhead From Space meticulously cut around the Autons actually breaking through the windows because it couldn’t afford the glass-break effect, and so this time we revel in that exact effect. It’s self-consciously Doctor Who only better done.
It’s also, however, self-consciously a very specific bit of Doctor Who. The Autons, as a whole, are a bit hyper-specific – a returning monster for the die-hards. But the mannequins? They’re part of television lore. Watched by fifteen percent of the country in 1970 and remembered with a vividness that few other pieces of Doctor Who come close to mustering, the mannequins are a long-buried part of British popular consciousness. Suddenly we cut through all the crap and get to the part of Doctor Who that everybody always liked.
And at the moment this beast awakens two things happen. First, Jackie Tyler arrives on the scene, momentarily finding herself in the same place as Clive. Again, keep in mind the class difference here. It’s not just that Jackie Tyler, soap character, does not belong in the same program as Clive’s anorak conspiracy theorist. It’s that Jackie shouldn’t be shopping at those kinds of malls. But in the face of Doctor Who those differences are erased.
Second, and more importantly, Clive bites it, becoming the sacrificial supporting character. Note that he’s the only character who both gets a line and dies in the entire story. He plays the role we thought Mickey was supposed to play – the character who gets gratuitously killed when his role in the plot is up. Only its even more gratuitous – he’s actually brought back for the sole reason of killing him off. On the one hand, this is a rather grim joke about the necessity of killing off a particular sort of fandom. (Observe Clive’s resigned expression before he gets shot. “Bollocks,” he’s thinking.)
But it’s also, symbolically, the sacrifice to the beast. Some blood had to be spilled to release the monster, and now it is loosed upon the world, loosed so thoroughly that not even Jackie can hide from it. Whatever this ritual was, it is completed now. The thing it sought to unleash has come out, is free, is feasting upon the world. Not just the mannequins, but the idea of them – everything they symbolize, their role as critiques of television and capitalism, but also the sheer, barmy, wonderful madness of them. It has arrived.
(What is it, though? Slowly we realize, that’s what all of the eleven million people pressed against our caution tape perimeter want to know. Not who did it, or why, or how. Just what happened. What is this crime scene? Whose blood is all over the ground?)
Tellingly, the Doctor is useless here. As is the TARDIS. Rose and Mickey shelter in its light (the lone source of cool light in the land of the monsters), but it cannot protect them. The Doctor doesn’t have a solution. All is lost. It must be – it is, after all, his TARDIS and his comfort within the land of the monsters that has awoken the beast, caused it to gaze out of its sleepy Merlin Entertainment-owned eye. The most transgressive force within the narrative has led us down a blind alley, and now we are all damned for it. To seal the deal, the devil even names the Doctor: Time Lord, it says, and with that our fate is written.
Except, of course, the Doctor isn’t the only transgressive force in the narrative. He’s not the only one who has calmly stepped into genre after genre over the past thirty-eight minutes. And so, as the world crumbles and her mother is about to be shot by a roving mob of plastic brides, Rose Tyler steps up to the plate. Masterfully, crucially, she does not step up with any skills outside her own narrative. She is the working class London shopgirl, estuary accent and no prospects. The thing she draws on to defeat the Nestene is thus sheer brilliance: Jericho Street Junior School Under Sevens Gymnastics Team. An utterly small scale, ordinary, unimportant athletics competition. Which she didn’t even win.
What matters, in other words, is not what Rose Tyler brings, but merely that she brings something – that she is willing to assert her narrative nature even here, in the land of the monsters, where all hope has fled. She is willing to emboit herself, to insist on her interior dimensions, to insist on being the council housed shopgirl with no A levels and no prospects even in the face of the end of all things, and to throw that fact into the story, to insist, in one supreme magic act of will, that she is Rose Tyler.
It is in this regard telling that the mere fact of her deciding to grab a chain and swing madly into action is sufficient to save the day. The Doctor throws his Auton guard into the pit without Rose actually hitting him or doing anything, and the other guard stands dumbly around and lets Rose kick the anti-plastic out of its hand. It is, in other words, the fact of Rose’s transgression against the narrative laws of the land of monsters, which say that she is small and nothing, is in and of itself enough to empower the Doctor again. It is not what she does, but that she does.
Tellingly, the scene is chaos. The Doctor and Rose running to the TARDIS and escaping, that’s sensible enough, all makes sense. (And look at Rose’s cheeky little grin at the exploding basement before she ducks into the TARDIS. She’s loving this.) But there’s something wrong here. The winding down calliope music as the Autons malfunction, moving from onrushing horrors to jerky, silly mannequins again reveals the extent to which Rose’s victory involves a defiance of narrative conventions. The Autons weren’t made to function in a world of Rose Tyler.
So there we have it. It was her initiation all along – her ascent to being a Mistress of the Land of Fiction, to assert her will over genres. It is the story of Rose Tyler becoming a magus, and all those red herrings where we thought otherwise were just that. The scene’s identified, we can all go home now.
(And yet they’re still there. Eleven million people, ringing our yellow tape, looking in. Staring. What are they looking at? What do they see?)
Except… a stray detail. The anti-plastic is blue, and as it pours out over the Nestine it arcs with the same blue-white light the TARDIS casts. Actually, if you want to be technical about it, that was the color of the Nestene’s control ray that woke up the mannequins too. It was, as we observed, very much the TARDIS that set the Nestene off – its presence in the land of monsters that unleashed this strange hell from Britain’s medial past across the land. Something is still unresolved here. Something’s not right.
Indeed, the comedy of the winding down Autons gives way to Jackie nervously surveying the rubble and the dead. Something has gone wrong with the world. Jackie and Mickey understand this, cowering, as one would, from this terror. Only Rose seems unmoved, chiding Mickey for his uselesness. Why couldn’t he defy his narrative conventions and kick some ass? What’s wrong with him? He’s even scared of the TARDIS, for God’s sake.
And the Doctor is calm. Even as he admits that Rose saved his life and the planet, and that he needed her there, he’s calm. This is, in fact, his show they’re all in. It’s just that it’s been incomplete. There’s been something missing. Some key component of its premise that he hasn’t had. The Doctor needs a companion. That’s how this works. The companion is why the Doctor can go to the land of monsters and simultaneously fit in as a part of the land of monsters and be OK. Yes, of course Rose saved his life. That’s how it works. He knows that. And so he asks Rose to come with him – to travel across the universe.
And she refuses again. Decides to stay in her world of work and food and sleep; to forego the danger and look after her stupid lump of a boyfriend. And so the Doctor leaves, his show incomplete, the initiation incomplete. Whatever we awoke goes back to sleep. We linger there for a moment – Rose and Mickey, in the alley, shocked and beginning their walk home. And it’s all over. The town never lets us go.
(“One day he dropped me off at a rally, and when I got back he told me he’d just popped off in the TARDIS for a while. A pretty long while, actually – like a year.”)
Or not. One more stroke of the pen. One more little detail. The TARDIS comes back, the Doctor pops his head out, and he makes his final pitch. The one bit we’d managed to miss all this time.
It also travels in time.
And Rose takes off. At long last, she falls out of the world completely, unmoors herself into this bold new premise. That is, after all, what that final revelation promises. After all this, all of these genre mash-ups and pile-ups, it calmly adds one line to its pitch. “And then we can do other stuff too.” It’s done more varied stuff than anything else on television, and then it calmly, casually lets slip that it’s just getting started. That this wasn’t setting up all the tenets of the series, but just showing us one set of tricks it can do. And Rose runs towards the TARDIS to see what else there is, the final shot the door closing behind her. (It is perhaps important to note that the “next time” preview is, in fact, a part of our forty-four minutes and ten seconds. Rose is, in fact, initiated into the future of Doctor Who, a self-conscious parade of bizarre aliens. The show doesn’t just hint at its future promise – it promises us that next episode is completely insane.)
And that’s it. That’s our perimeter explored. Forty-four minutes and ten seconds. But the mystery stands. What happened here? A television show launched, yes. A pair of decent characters. A pretty cool premise, though, somewhat puzzlingly, a premise that is not actually explored in the course of this episode. But somehow this does not add up to the experience of the moment. We’ve inventoried the contents, bagged and tagged every detail, but we somehow do not have the whole of it. Not yet. Not quite yet.
We have forgotten something. At the very beginning. Before the shot of the Earth and the zoom to Rose Tyler’s alarm clock. Before Graham Norton and Billie Piper. Before any of it. Forty seconds of music. Rose is the lone episode of the new series to begin without a cold open – to go straight into its theme song. In the March 8th leak, in fact, the music is a remix of the original Delia Derbyshire cut-up electronic soundtrack, but by the 26th it had been replaced by Murray Gold’s complete re-score of it, adding the so-called “chase” to it (the set of strings that run alongside the main melody).
Observe that the theme music begins with the sting – the high-pitched crash that kicks it off. The Derbyshire remix (which really doesn’t belong over these credits) does not, starting straight with the ethereal weirdness of the tune. But the broadcast version uses the sting, originally developed for the end of episodes to segue smoothly from the cliffhanger to the music. (Its apex, of course, is in Terror of the Vervoids Part One, in which Bonnie Langford obligingly screams at the right pitch to tonally lead into the sting.) In other words, the music and the opening credits, the thing that names what we are watching, that symbolically sets the tone for this entire ritual, begins with a bit of sound designed to create a sharp, screaming demarcation between narrative spaces.
And suddenly it becomes clear. Suddenly we can make sense of everything we’ve seen. It hasn’t been Rose’s initiation, or the Doctor’s, or anyone else’s. It’s been ours. From the moment we turned on BBC One, from the moment this program began, it has been us being initiated. All of us. Fans and viewers alike, eleven million of us pressed up to the glass, staring at this thing. This ritual to awaken a dead god from within the national consciousness, to release it out into our cities and our world. It has been our initiation all all along. Eleven million of us, brought into Doctor Who.
An initiation is, of course, the imparting of a secret. A piece of knowledge – an idea that changes who we are. We gaze into the depths of this vast thing that slept within the popular culture, and we know ourselves anew. We become different people, with new faces, new selves. That’s it. We’ve been renewed.
Shall I tell you the ultimate secret, then? Yes? Are you seated comfortably? Then I’ll begin. The ultimate secret; how it’s bigger on the inside.
Look up again, at our perimeter. Our caution tape ring-road of these forty-four minutes and ten seconds that are Rose. It defines the space of our inquiry. The whole of what we talk about here. And on the outside are the eleven million, all of them, all of us, watching, being initiated into its secrets.
But wait. What, exactly, is encircled. The border of Rose and the border of everything that is not Rose are, after all, the same thing. A ring of caution tape encircling these forty-four minutes and ten seconds and a ring of caution tape encircling the rest of the world are, in the end, indistinguishable. And so this brief stretch of time rings the world like an ouroborous, ensnares eleven million people in its web, takes hold of decades of history, of everything else on television. Forty-four minutes and ten seconds of television in which sit, emboited, the whole of the world. Everything that’s ever happened. Everything that ever will.
It’s March 26th, 2005. Tony Christie is at number one with “(Is This the Way to Amarillo)”, featuring Peter Kay. Gwen Stefani and Eve’s “Rich Girl,” Nelly and Tim McGraw’s “Over and Over,” and Jem’s (actually quite good) “They” also chart, as does Elvis Presley with “Return to Sender,” a strange but, for the circumstances, fitting throwback to the past.
In recent news, James Callaghan, Prime Minister who oversaw the Winter of Discontent and whose defeat led to the rise of Margaret Thatcher, died, his death announced on BBC One at approximately 7:45 this evening. A revolution in Kyrgyzstan has resulted in the overthrow of Askar Akayev. An explosion took place at a BP-owned oil refinery in Texas City, killing fifteen. The Constitutional Reform Act, creating a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and enshrining a more thorough separation of powers, received its Royal Assent and became law.
Doctor Who has returned to television.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:39 am
Thoroughly enjoyable as always. You captured the tension of "will it be good or will it be awful?" perfectly.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:44 am
When I finally saw the title you picked, it immediately became obvious it was the only title you could have used, and I teared up.
Also, I hate you because your third paragraph about "Rose" is uncannily similar to (but better than) my first paragraph about "Return of Harmony," which I wrote weeks ago but isn't going online until Sunday.
"Twice through the cellar sequence – once about a minute into Rose’s Wilson-calling, and once as the Autons are menacing Rose, audio broke through from a set on which Graham Norton was preparing for the next broadcast of Strictly Dance Fever. And so as Rose wanders around calling for Wilson there is a round of applause, and then, as she cowers from the onrushing mannequins, Graham Norton inquires as to where he should be sitting."
THAT'S what those weird voices were! I always assumed it was the fault of whoever made the BitTorrent files.
I love that the ultimate secret of "Rose" is the same as the nutter from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish with the inside-out house.
This article makes me almost like Rose. Almost. But nope, still despise her, though none of the reasons why are particularly on display here.
And yes, I stayed up until 5 a.m. so I could read this, knowing I have to be at work at 9:30. It was worth it.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:07 am
I received this a few days ago as a kickstarter donation reward, for which – much thanks. Now I have the agony of celebrating the (finally!) appearance of 'Rose' on the Eruditorum and not being able to read it for the first time here as I've already read it elsewhere.
How appropriately Timey Wimey.
Anyway I just want to say thanks for all the work you've put into this blog so far Dr. S and I hope you find many more new readers as we enter the qlippothic realms of NuWho. To which end I will be linking and recommending on facebook and elsewhere.
Seth Aaron Hershman
May 1, 2013 @ 1:09 am
Her abandoning Mickey after his traumatic near-death experience isn't enough?
May 1, 2013 @ 1:18 am
I ask this as someone who watches neither of the two programs in question: isn't Jackie Tyler rather more off Shameless than Eastenders?
Just as Shameless gets wheeled out in discussions of the benefits system by right-wingers, though written by a left-winger and so I presume without that intent. Jackie seems also written as one of the feckless beloved of right-wing propaganda: disapproving of Rose getting a job, telling her to get compensation by sueing people, and so on. One of her narrative tasks is to be the place that Rose is escaping out of, and I fear she does that a little too well.
Or is that just me?
May 1, 2013 @ 1:36 am
"Rose is the lone episode of the new series to begin without a cold open – to go straight into its theme song."
A small correction – Smith and Jones and Partners in Crime also begin without cold open.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:41 am
I have to pick up on one point, which you only put in as an aside…
" This is a serious psychological trauma for which he will undoubtedly require extensive therapy that will be difficult to procure even under New Labour’s generous expansion of NHS funding as afforded through policies to create a business-friendly economy and, on occasion, a teensy-weensy smidgen of debt."
While New Labour did, supposedly, increase NHS spending (though not funding — most of the spending was through PFI, which is a fancy way of saying through crossing their fingers and hoping the money would magically turn up eventually) one thing they definitely didn't do is increase spending on mental health services. On the contrary, for the entire thirteen-year period they were in power, an average of two beds on psychiatric wards were closed per day, every day.
As someone who has both worked in mental health during the New Labour period (working on a ward where having twenty-one patients for eighteen beds was the norm) and accessed the gutted remains of mental health services, I can say that Labour's destruction of mental health services is, along with their dismal record on civil liberties and their collusion in the worst excesses of the "war on terror", among the most evil things they ever did, and the current government's increase in mental health funding is one of the few things they've done I can wholeheartedly support.
The parallels between New Labour and the Russel Davies years of Doctor Who, in which branding and a sheen of modernity covered up a rejection of a lot of things many people previously held dear, and anyone who expressed displeasure was told to shut up and remember how much worse things ostensibly used to be, are of course striking. Moffat, in this metaphor, would be Gordon Brown (there is as yet no coalition looking likely to take over). I suspect I'm going to disagree increasingly with you as this goes on, although I hope some of the essays here will help me reconsider some of the new series episodes in a more positive light. But much as New Labour was the point at which I parted company with the Labour party, so New Who is the point at which I stop being a Who fan…
May 1, 2013 @ 1:49 am
I was puzzled by this idea that the shopping centre was not the type of place one might expect to find Mrs Tyler, because I didn't get that at all out of it on my rewatch a couple of weeks ago. So, I looked up the shops in Queen's Arcade.
Yes, it says "Queens Arcade is home to some of Cardiff's most exciting and fashionable
boutiques, shops, jewellers and cafes and is situated on Queen Street" on the website.
Look at the floorplan though and you will discover an Argos Extra, a New Look, a Footlocker, and a Supercuts.
Maybe Jackie was buying a new coffee table from the Argos. They do them for a tenner.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:58 am
"Doctor Who has returned to television."
God help me, I actually felt myself tearing up for a second.
May 1, 2013 @ 2:01 am
"Originated by William S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin…"
Harrumph. Edgar A. Poe described cut-up technique in "How To Write A Blackwood Article" (and, debatably, "The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.").
May 1, 2013 @ 2:01 am
A fascinating view of how characters work or don't work in and out of their own form of narrative. I've now started to think about other programmes in this manner and it's illuminating to see it as an explanation why some TV works and some doesn't.
In particular this explains why some scenes with Rose in it just didn't work for me, but until now I didn't realise why.
In "The Idiot's Lantern" when Rose tries to interrogate Magpie and gets her face sucked off for her troubles, that scene makes me cringe because it feels like a child trying to behave like an adult. I now realise it's Rose trying to transcend the limitations of her character and failing. Similarly her boasting to the Cult of Skaro about how she offed the Emperor makes me squirm.
And yet when she tries to play Doctor to the Sycorax and she's quite obviously scared out of her wits and making a real hash of it, that works.
Fascinating as always!
May 1, 2013 @ 2:18 am
I think Shameless' Chatsworth estate would be a little too grim to encompass Jackie Tyler. Her remit is more cheery Londoner than skyving Manc lass. I don't recall her being discouraging of Rose's job search but rather more concerned about her daughter's lack of ambition and unrealistic (ironic in retrospect) aspirations, see the 'airs and graces' speech Phil quotes.
I did wonder though whether the 'Powell' Estate was a cheeky reference to old Enoch considering the multi-cultural nature of Rose's 'hood.
May 1, 2013 @ 2:37 am
This was my first episode. Watched it on the original air date in Australia. Can't remember the exact date, but it was a while after the UK. Watched it knowing nothing of the show. Even now, having gone back and watched all the classic series, I'm amazed at how much I missed in this episode. I noticed a lot of the things you mentioned, but I didn't know what they meant.
So this is how it's going to go for me. We're up to the point in the show I am very familiar with, but now I realise I know nothing. Although I don't expect all the episodes to be anywhere near this detailed, I am really looking forward to watching these episodes again with a new perspective. It'll be like watching them for the first time again.
Gonna have to rewatch Rose as soon as I get the chance, and then each episode after reading the post about it. Back when I was watching the classic series, I'd watch the episode and then come to the blog to read the post about it.
I've been anticipating this post since I finally caught up with the blog (back in October or so). Now I'm anticipating the rest of it just as much.
May 1, 2013 @ 2:48 am
I remember the anorak contingent flipping out about the cold open. Because "It's horrible and American! The purpose of the title sequence is to be how you find out what show you are watching! It's RUINED FOREVER if you already know what show you are watching from a cold open!"
May 1, 2013 @ 2:54 am
Jackie's arc is similar to Mickey's, so of course she has the start off as dislikable so she can be redeemed through her interaction with the Doctor.
May 1, 2013 @ 3:18 am
Eh, he wanted to go to the pub to watch a game on the night she was attacked and witnessed someone bombing her workplace. He deserves to be abandoned, and his near-death experience doesn't change that.
May 1, 2013 @ 3:54 am
It's RUINED FOREVER if you already know what show you are watching from a cold open!"
… Presumably the fact that most people sit down to watch an episode of Doctor Who knowing that are sitting down to watch an episode of Doctor Who doesn't give the game away either?
I happen to love most of the cold openings – we can go back and forth constantly about whether or not the Doctor, the role of the companion or the Tardis are appropriate to fetishise during the course of the show, but I think the one thing we can all agree on is that the theme tune deserves as much. The delay in the titles, by introducing us straight intot he story fulfils the same function as Sandifer identified the reveal of a Dalek in a Dalek-titled story – it's closure to an act of anticipation: Here is the plot – now it's time to start watching Doctor Who!
Frankly, a very simple way to generate an uneasy atmosphere in any future stories would be to deny us the closure that the title sequence provides.
Some of Big Finish's companion chronicles do a cold opening with the Derbyshire theme… it sends a shiver down my spine every time.
May 1, 2013 @ 4:18 am
There was also a lot of complaints about them putting Eccleston and Piper's names in the opening titles, since "The cast are supposed to go in the CREDITS at the END, the beginning is for the TITLES to tell you what show you are watching."
I think it pretty much boils down to "RAR CHANGE BAD!"
(That said, there's a weird trend with some american drama these days where the title sequence doesn't happen until the end of the first act, like 15 minutes in. Which frankly seems to be missing the point of having titles at all. I assume this is one of the new cheats to confuse and befuddle DVR users or something)
May 1, 2013 @ 4:25 am
Wonderful entry. Just one tiny nitpick: Rose names herself earlier in the show, before she meets the doctor. Just after hearing a noise and before going into the room-o-mannequins, she calls out, "Hello Wilson, it's Rose." It's at about 3.09.
May 1, 2013 @ 4:42 am
I love it when people say they hate Rose Tyler. It's the ultimate vindication of Davies' work on this girl that she inspires that level of engagement.
People who didn't get along with her successors say they 'hate the way Martha was written', or they 'hate Catherine Tate' (seemingly on principle). But when people say they hate that bold, clever, flawed young woman from 'round the estate, they really SAY they HATE Rose! She's ALIVE to them, and they hate her like they hate a flatmate whose noisy friends are always round, or a workmate who gets on better with the cute receptionist than them.
I mean, could there be any higher praise? 🙂
S. Alexander Reed
May 1, 2013 @ 4:44 am
A reboot on all levels. Nicely done and congrats.
May 1, 2013 @ 4:45 am
M A S T E R F U L .
I love the ending. Drawing a veil over the blog as it's existed to this point and forging ahead into the Now. Got a rush off that comparable to the end of 'Bad Wolf'!
You're a goddamned hero, Phil.
May 1, 2013 @ 5:14 am
That's not a tiny nitpick, it's quite a big one, as it buggers a huge chunk of the post.
May 1, 2013 @ 5:18 am
Dr. Sandifer, does being a bloody genius ever get tiring? How do you do it?
May 1, 2013 @ 5:22 am
Lovely article. Really catches the tension of Rose. It remains one of my favourite experiences of watching Dr. Who (on the illegal download as it happens) as I was trembling all the way through watching it, and it moved me a lot. It was like a much-loved old friend was back – a friend I thought I'd never ever see again.
As someone who lives in Cardiff, I can confirm that Queen's Arcade and the people who frequent it is exactly Jackie Tyler. RTD knew exactly what he was doing when he sent Jackie there. You go into town in Cardiff (OK, it's supposed to be London, but still …) to buy a cheap T-shirt, have a Costa Coffee with your friends, and whatever you need from Boots. If it's Louis Vuitton handbags and Gucci shoes you want, I'm afraid you have to leave Wales.
May 1, 2013 @ 5:48 am
He got me at "It's March 26th, 2005…"
May 1, 2013 @ 6:09 am
No, cos I'm pretty sure we're supposed to love Rose.. the Doctor keeps telling us he does, so presumably we should too. :p
Sadly, I am among the haters. But it's not just her! It's the whole bleedin' Tyler clan!
May 1, 2013 @ 6:10 am
Wonderful final line, indeed. 🙂
May 1, 2013 @ 6:17 am
This blog is perfect. He stands around doing something very clever and we're around to watch.
Really how does it get better than that?
May 1, 2013 @ 6:18 am
"Eh, he wanted to go to the pub to watch a game on the night she was attacked and witnessed someone bombing her workplace. He deserves to be abandoned, and his near-death experience doesn't change that."
Blogger needs a '+1' button on comments. Because I have nothing to add to this, but I want to Internet-approve of it.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:20 am
Assad, it's far more important to get a reaction than to get the particular reaction the writer was going for.
I've just sent the first draft of a novel out to beta readers, and there's a character in it who is (very) loosely based on a real public figure. One of my beta readers likes that public figure, while another doesn't (I don't believe either was aware that the character was modelled on a real person, though). The both came back saying how well the book's characterisation was handled, but one said "X is a wonderful, sympathetic character, incredibly likeable", while the other said "X is wonderfully annoying, irritating and slappable".
That tells me that I got the character right, in a way that both having the same opinion definitely wouldn't.
Rose is, if not a realistic character, one that is definitely based on a real type. Most of us have met people like Rose (at least as she appears in these early stories), and not all of us like those people. If the same people who would dislike Rose in real life dislike her on TV, which I think is largely the case, then that's a sign that Davies has captured the character successfully.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:21 am
I read this when it was released to backers, and then immediately watched the episode. I missed that. Good eye there Jason.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:29 am
Well one of the constants through Doctor Who is that the show does change. I mean one can hardly say that the Pertwee Era show is the same one as the series starring Hartnell. Of course I came to Doctor Who in the Wilderness years, Loved McGann and Eccelston, rapidly lost affection for Tennant and then fell in love all over again with Smith so to me the show rejecting pieces of itself and changing just seems natural.
As someone who has a completely different experience with Doctor Who your point of view fascinates me. What pieces of old Who do you feel have been rejected? And who is telling you to Shut Up about it?
May 1, 2013 @ 6:34 am
In the annals of alchemy, the Rose has a special place. It's a rich, complex symbol, sitting at the point of union on the Cross, the Western equivalent of the Lotus. It is the chalice of love, the signifier of the heart. It's also a symbol of regeneration, the sobriquet of "Rose" belonging to the Virgin Mary who gives birth to a savior.
Rose, of course, marks the rebirth of the show, and Rose herself stands for the heart of the show — she is the one who reminds the Doctor of the secret heart of compassion, noting how he twice forgets about Mickey. The Doctor's compassion here is abstract, idealistic, not actually rooted to that ultimate secret of alchemy: material social progress for the flesh-and-blood of real people here in the present. The Doctor's compassion is still quite worthy, though — look how he's framed against that Ferris Wheel, a halo of blue and white light around his head, another image that will recur throughout the Revival.
This new Doctor Who is laden with metaphor, metaphorical imagery, symbolism. Phil's right that the lair of the Nestene Consciousness is an "underworld" — it's more than underground, it's a step into the subconscious of the Doctor and his show. It's here we first get a glimpse of what's really going on in his noggin, the fact of the war, and his desire for the right choice to be taken — there's always a way out.
But it's the same for Rose when she ends up in the basement of the department store. (Look at what floor she's on — a red X says the elevator. What floor is that?) This is the subconscious fear of the Everywoman, the horror of capitalism, of being reduced to a dummy, a vehicle for wearing clothes. Of being plastic.
In Mythology the Underworld is only half the story — as below, so above. The World Tree connects Above and Below, past and future, to the Here and Now. But the Doctor's set off an explosion at the top of the department store; there is no connection to the Upperworld, to that heavenly place, to the Divine through simple material consumption.
The most basic alchemical act is the union of opposites, transcending duality. That's what the World Tree does, connects these polarities. Fitting, then, that the resolution to the story involves Rose knocking a Blue Liquid into that pit of seething Reds — anti-plastic mixes with plastic. The alchemical union is reflected outside with Jackie, who confronts a trinity of mannequins in Wedding dresses — the Wedding Dress, over and over again, is a symbol of this mystical alchemical union in Doctor Who. Of course the Doctor needs a Rose in his Blue Box, if he himself is not to be plastic.
And yes, this all means that Clive, the Who fan who paints his obsession in terms of celestial horror, must die. Doctor Who needs a heart, needs grounding to our material reality — no wonder Clive is on a basement level of the shopping mall (there's an Underground sign just outside) when the shop dummies break through the window glass and fire away. It's got to kill him that the show has come to this — but in true mythology, this doesn't have to be taken literally, it can be a metaphor for the death of ego, if only he'll stop complaining about that conjoining of polarities: spending summer money in the winter, indeed!
I love it! I love all of it, what this show has done and is doing. It's like I've died and gone to heaven, but heaven's right here.
by Ewan Spence
May 1, 2013 @ 6:37 am
(Putting aside the 'leak' and how every Brit who had flown over to San Diego for a conferences was making sure we all had a copy) … The interesting thing for me is that the meta-stuff around Graham Norton has one of those classy BBC phrases applied to it, namely "except for viewers in Scotland." Our technicians know their stuff, and there was no leak of audio from Norton into our broadcast. Oh the hilarity because we had clean 'off air' copies and the rest of the UK didn't… 🙂
May 1, 2013 @ 6:45 am
I got shivers. For a moment I could feel the world turn…
May 1, 2013 @ 6:50 am
Primarily, I think that post-Eccleston, the character of the Doctor is fundamentally different. I can see a line from the character played by Hartnell through the character played by McCoy, and I simply can't see the character played by Tennant as the same character. (Smith appears to be attempting to play that character, but with scripts that won't let him).
I also find many individual episodes of the post-2005 series morally repugnant, but we'll get to that when we get to those episodes, I'm sure.
The grammar of TV is, of course, completely different in 2005 from that of the 60s through 80s, and I prefer the latter to the former (roughly, televised theatre rather than televised cinema), because I'm more verbal than visual.
There are also differences with structure, weaknesses in plotting, and so on, but they're minor differences in comparison as far as I'm concerned (though not for other people).
People don't tell me to shut up now, much (and when they do it's just because I'm dull, not because they want to silence my opinions) but certainly during 2006 through 2008, almost every time I expressed the mildest negative opinion about the new series, I was told that I must hate drama with proper characters, that I must be homophobic, that I was just trying to be different, that I must be a 'sad nerd', or that I must agree that having Doctor Who back on TV (even with few of the things I like about the original intact) was better than not having it at all, and that I was being horribly ungrateful to Davies.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:52 am
The secret of alchemy is material social progress.
The secret of literary criticism is that you can usually nudge your wording slightly to preserve a point.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:01 am
Before this my experience was the TV movie and some spotty coverage of the EDA's. So watching Rose for the first time was…strange. I remember thinking "Who is this guy?" and then "Holy Crap, what happened to the TARDIS?" and then "How can it be over already? I need more!".
I saw the Doctor in a whole new light. The role of a Companion as well. It was like being reborn. The show is excellent television. It keeps moving, introduces us to the characters, and then resolves our problem. Many shows cannot consistently do that. Here it's incredible just how well made it is. As someone just starting to understand how to analyze and dissect narrative (I was 18 when I first saw Rose) it was revelatory. I could see all the pieces working and understood how they worked.
Which just boils down the fact that it touched me on a personal level. It changed me for the better. I knew shows like this didn't come around often and so I was hooked.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:01 am
Eh, he wanted to go to the pub to watch a game on the night she was attacked and witnessed someone bombing her workplace. He deserves to be abandoned, and his near-death experience doesn't change that.
When you put it that way, the fact that everyone seems to take the blowing up of Rose's workplace in stride (Even Jackie seems more concerned about the loss of her job than the fact that her daughter nearly got blown up) seems a little Logopolis-style pathological.
(Like, when Rose shows up at Clive's door, why isn't his first reaction something like "You saw him? Did it have something to do with that big explosion that has been all over the news today?)
May 1, 2013 @ 7:46 am
I don't know that that's particularly unrealistic though. My mothers boyfriend has had his workplace blown up (quite literally, by the IRA, the large one in central Manchester), once we knew he was alright and had a couple of "Wow, that's crazy, they blew up Manchester" we pretty much got on with things and he went back to work at temporary location. It's not that it wasn't terrible, it's just that life goes on and there are more immediate concerns.
There was a period of time in the UK where explosions happened so often they had become pedestrian. Rose would have been written, if not actually aired, at the very tail end of that sentiment. Certainly an apparent gas explosion with only one casualty (Wilson) would be unlikely to gain much attention.
Of course 4 months later the London transport system was bombed, a lot of people died or were maimed, and there were huge economic repercussions. That probably got a lot of talk for a week or two.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:52 am
Sparhawk knows what they're talking about.
Also, HarlequinNQB: SHEESH. I thought that was pretty much over by that point?
May 1, 2013 @ 7:54 am
I was going to say – RTD starts out Rose's world as somewhere you'd really want to escape from, and then keeps coming back and fleshing it out. Frankly, it might get fleshed out too much, such that part of the resistance to Martha may have been because we were leaving behind not just Rose but the whole group of people connected to her.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:57 am
Hmmmmmm. Yeah, that makes sense.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:59 am
May 1, 2013 @ 8:01 am
Fair points, Andrew.. Nevertheless, I will probably always maintain that my dislike of Rose's character was due to the writing of her and those around her, and not due to some underlying snobbery towards chavs. 🙂 Some of my annoyance might be my growing disbelief as time passed that so many people not only liked Rose, but did believe that of all the companions the Doctor has had over his centuries of travel, she was the bestest and definitely the most deserving of him to fall in love with. And maybe I felt protective of Martha, with all the dickery the Doctor did to her.
But then again, I didn't find Adric all that annoying, and only wished that Mel could scream a little less shrilly, so what do i know? 🙂
May 1, 2013 @ 8:10 am
I shall no doubt mention it in later posts as well, but I do agree with that experience. Especially on the forums of Outpost Gallifrey. Where any criticism of Rose as a character would be greeted with accusations of being emotionally crippled and unable to form relationships, and of course living in the basement of my parents house (admittedly, my collection of collectibles is in the basement, but I don't live there! Much.). Oh, the disagreements with Jon Blum, especially over Torchwood…
Despite numerous miststeps in my eyes, however, I remain a Big Fan. Including contributing to the coffers of the BBC and Underground Toys and Ripple Junction.
And hey, mental health? I'm in that here in the US, at a state hosopital. Another favourite victim of public budget cutting, though with the current gun dicsussion, funding may increase.. who knows.
And as I didn't say it above, good luck in that novel.. :).
May 1, 2013 @ 8:30 am
I too am a big fan of the Cold Opens, largely because of how they allow us, as fans, to sort of have our cake and eat it too, in the sense of having self-contained, 45-minute stories while also working in a classic-style "cliffhanger," complete with credit sting. And the "Previously" trailers in two-parters are a natural evolution of the old minute-long cliffhanger reprises. It's further evidence of how skilfully Davies and Gardner took every structural element of classic Who and "regenerated" it into a form recognizable to modern audiences.
One thing Steven Moffat has done that's really cool is sort of elevated the cold opens to an art form in and of themselves, continually challenging himself to see how far he can stretch the rubber band around the story's narrative space before it inevitably snaps into the opening titles.
May 1, 2013 @ 8:32 am
I remember watching Rose with anticipation and dread back in 2005. I remember feeling 'that was not too bad,' along with a vague sense of indifference. It all seemed a bit too brash and loud for my taste, like most things on television.
I felt that I had seen the new Doctor Who show and it was not too bad, so I didn't feel the need to watch any further episodes. The next episode I saw was Parting of the Ways when it happened to be on television when I somebody switched it on.
May 1, 2013 @ 9:06 am
Such a perfect start as we head into RTD Who. Love the new blog design, love the article. Cannot wait for more!
May 1, 2013 @ 9:11 am
The thing with Rose is… it's so understated. It actually feels quite underwhelming in some aspects / places.
But this was RTD's masterstroke.
You have the slightly alien adventure but keep the final 'key' until the end. Only when the Doctor returns to tell us this magic box travels in time do we kick into gear, ironically with a slow-mo shot. Consider now the show is more established how we kick off with an 'epic' adventure – The Impossible Astronaut, Asylum of the Daleks. There's no need for slow build-up. We have the ingredients. The entire world is privvy to the recipe and everyone has received a cut of their own key.
The issue, though, is that soon every key must rust. But then we all know Doctor Who's core concept is renewal, so that's no issue.
The endless, timeless show has truly returned.
May 1, 2013 @ 9:48 am
Outpost Gallifrey (or Gallifrey Base) or what have you seems to be in general a negative place full of miserable people on the whole. While there are no doubt exceptions to the rule, I've never seen the point in joining a board full of people like that.
In terms of the preference of an older style of television…if your preference is for an older style, do you find much of that these days? Sorkin might be right up your ally but I can't think of anyone else that defaults to that mode.
The character arc thing is interesting because I can see how Tennant came to be who he is from watching other Doctors (The Fourth and Sixth especially) while I can see lots of the Second and Seventh in Smith. Eccelston is the only one that seems a solid break from that arc…but the Time War will do that to you. Are there specific parts of the new Doctor that breaks for you? I'm not trolling I'm genuinely interested.
May 1, 2013 @ 10:16 am
Just one gripe about the new design: are the words "TARDIS Eruditorum: A Psychochronography in Blue" not going to appear anywhere any more?
May 1, 2013 @ 10:22 am
'X Arcade is home to some of Y's most fashionable shops,' is one of those assertions that's never made unless it's untrue.
May 1, 2013 @ 10:32 am
Rose's 'lack of ambition'? Rather the reverse, surely? The job Jackie does suggest is the local butcher's. But it's not given the space in the dialogue or the humour of the plans for dubiously justifiable compensation.
(Also, the subtext seems to be, 'now you're out of work like the rest of us.' Except on the compensation topic, she's being defeatist at Rose. Or so I think we're meant to read it.)
May 1, 2013 @ 10:49 am
I quite like Phil's defence/ account of the gymnastics bit. I'm still not sure it quite works.
Robert Holmes, given the job of introducing Jo Grant as someone to be rescued and explained to, goes for the big book of standard story arcs and picks, New Guy Initially Appears Incompetent and then Saves the Day. And he does it by having the Doctor ask Jo if she knows escapology and she responds by holding up her unbound hand. This is firstly in keeping with the narrative logic up to that point – the Doctor thinks it's possible she's trained in it given her background – and at the same time a subversion – she's got to work on solving the problem before the Doctor thinks of it, and it's also allows her to escape from the narrative logic of the damsel in distress role.
By contrast, the gymnastics competition isn't really part of Rose's preestablished character either dramatically or narratively. It neither fits her previous dramatic logic (a junior school gymnastics competion? I'm not sure I'd believe it of somewhere much posher) nor does it quite symbolise how she's going to work. It's a much more conventionally action skill than anything Rose does later on. It's also unfortunately reminiscent of a scene in Jurassic Park 2.
May 1, 2013 @ 11:00 am
I have a few major problems with Rose. One is that, starting with "Father's Day," she becomes increasingly self-centered and insufferable. Another big one is that she is a profoundly ordinary person of the sort who would be insufferably boring in real life, and yet for some reason everything in every story is constantly bending over backwards to tell us how great she is. Not in the humanist "ordinary people matter" sense like Donna, but in the Mary Sue sense.
May 1, 2013 @ 11:43 am
Ununnilium: Yes, the physical aspects of the IRA bombings were done long before Rose aired (The last were by a splinter group in 2001 I believe, right before a trio of jets made them feel small and inadequate), but after just shy of 45 bombs over thirty years (in London alone) you tend to get hardened to things as the nation; not something that's going to fade in just 4 years.
Phil even wrote an essay about how the British have a tendency to endure back in the Pertwee posts. It's a stereotype, but a surprisingly accurate one by and large. Unless there's no tea. Cannot endure without tea.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:24 pm
This isn't an entirely serious reply, but here goes. When first watching Rose, I couldn't help but think that the characters are configured as potential audiences for the new series, with the narrative itself constantly communicating based upon audience expectations. If that's the case, then Clive is the contrarian old-school Whovian (as Philip suggests), which Mickey is that self-hating nerd type who could be interested in the show if he weren't trying so hard to convince everyone of how "with it" he is. As a result, he talks loudly about doing "normal guy" things, and the show preempts his accusation that it is rubbish by trashing him first. Jackie is the oblivious, soap and reality TV loving mother who may warm to the show later but hasn't a clue. While Rose is the new fan.
How does all that account for the sudden appearance of Rose's gymnastic skills? Simple. They demonstrate that to be a fan of the new Who, you have to be willing to throw yourself into it and enjoy it for what it is; in short, kicks.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:38 pm
I really don't think Rose gets that bad until the Doctor regenerates. Throughout the first series I think she is consistently bearable and fun. She might be a bit boring in real life, but to be honest, I wouldn't want Martha or Donna as friends either.
I can't really argue about stories giving her moments to shine…but at least in the first season there doesn't seem to by that much trouble to it.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
How does it get better? With us, making pithy comments.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:53 pm
Things I love, in no particular order:
1. Mickey Smith. Pretty much every time he shows up. Even when he's being an oaf. And that's mostly down to Noel Clarke; Mickey's worst qualities still come off as youth, a good-hearted kid who's selfish in all the ways that good-hearted kids can still be. He and Rose feel like they really are the age they're supposed to be, and, I'm sorry, blow Ace right out of the water in that respect.
2. Rose Tyler. Certainly throughout Season 1, and at least occasionally in Season 2. And perhaps never more than in this episode.
3. The whole Tyler clan. The collision with Doctor Who of the world you're identifying with soap opera. A companion with a family who are proper characters, who aren't flat or perfect but feel real in all the important ways. My complaints about New Who are almost invariably with the old-school stuff it usually can't quite do. When it focuses on the new stuff, family, relationships, backgrounds with some emotional reality, it looks revelatory.
4. This entry. I love that you did such a close reading, went moment by moment, didn't just situate it in time and evolution but also got intimate with what actually happens and what it means to us as viewers. I know you won't be working on this scale every time, maybe not ever again for this show, but I couldn't be happier that you gave us this.
5. The redesign. Except possibly for the comment system. I'm about to find out.
May 1, 2013 @ 12:53 pm
Me, I'm on the other side of that line — intensely visual, and especially keen on metaphor and symbolism. And maybe less verbally oriented than I used to be, on account of some hearing loss. So, yeah, if you prefer televised theatre to the cinematic approach, then the current show (and most of the better shows these days) wouldn't appeal, because it's very informed by its visual aesthetics.
I'll be interested see where the blog (and the commentary) goes as we move the Doctor's character arc… especially considering how it's informed by Rose herself.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:25 pm
Well, maybe 'lack of ambition' is a misreading but note that Jackie is at least suggesting job vacancies to Rose not that she should go and register for Jobseekers allowance. The 'compensation' suggestion is a swipe at the 'I know my entitlements' attitude that is as prevalent in middle class as much as working class households.
I'm frankly amazed at the amount of Rose-hate and subsequent anti-chav snobbery displayed here. Rose isn't even particularly Chavvy. More aspirant working class. She worked in a posh dept. store in the West End fer Gawds sake! I always thought she was pretty well regarded overall, particularly amongst younger viewers. Does it ultimately clarify as a Nu-Who versus Classic series divide?
Pen Name Pending
May 1, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
I have a strange love/hate relationship with Rose. Being American, I didn't know what class she represented. To me, she just looked like the stereotypical popular girl: love interest, hip clothes, pink bedroom, blond hair, not concerned with school…it just all seemed like something I couldn't relate to. And when I began watching I didn't, not until series 2, when she seemed to really be more likable. But then series 3 had Martha, a character whom I could relate to much more, and that was overshadowed by the mention of Rose every episode. This made me really dislike her. And then in series 4 she came back, and that series was all overshadowed by the finale. So I still have no idea what to think about Rose. Eccleston, on the other hand, I love. And I adore the quiet, vibrant but dark aesthetic of the first series. It's my favorite out of the Davies run.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
Oh nicely done jane! That 'Ferris Wheel' is of course the'London Eye. London's permanant architectural symbol of the Millenium and so as well as a halo it also stands for the mandala, the eternal wheel of life, of renewal and regeneration. The Nestene is lurking beneath its foundations, A Lovecraftian Old God in a veritable underworld. Is there also some Orpheus metaphor to be had in the Doctor leading Rose (I never made the Rosicrucian connection before)out from the underworld?
Pen Name Pending
May 1, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
I really like what you wrote concerning how the episode presents Rose in the Doctor, and how it's from her point of view. This is one of those distinctions between Davies and Moffat: Davies' Who is about the lives of the companions being invaded by the Doctor, and Moffat's Who is about the Doctor invading the lives of his companions. It's a subtle difference, but it's there. Amy, Rory, and River had their lives totally screwed up by the Doctor (heck, he's the reason River exists). He was also the cause of their deaths, so to speak.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:53 pm
That's a good point about Mickey and Rose actually feeling like the 19-year-olds they're supposed to be, which is probably a big factor in why I hate Rose that I never thought about before. I've frequently complained about her childishness, but of course that makes sense if she's playing an overgrown child.
Which doesn't make me hate her any less, but does give me more insight into what they were going for.
May 1, 2013 @ 1:56 pm
Somebody, I think Flickfilosopher, has put forth the theory that it's because both of them are playing out their adolescent Doctor Who-themed sexual fantasies through the show. The difference is that Davies wanted to have sex with the Doctor, and therefore identifies with the companions, while Moffat wanted to have sex with the companions, and therefore identifies with the Doctor.
I like your suggestion that causing someone to exist is a form of screwing their life up. It's true, of course, but still pretty funny when put that way.
Pen Name Pending
May 1, 2013 @ 3:25 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pen Name Pending
May 1, 2013 @ 3:26 pm
It's a bit more disturbing when you put it that way 😉
Well, I am a rather cynical person sometimes, but I didn't quite mean that the Doctor screwed up River's life simply because he caused her to exist. Rather, it's how she was always intended as a Silence tool, and how her life is so intertwined with the Doctor's that it becomes impossible to escape from it. She gets herself locked in prison and proceeds to escape at her leisure, but ultimately she has to sacrifice herself so he can survive and meet Amy and Rory and cause her to exist. She's bound by time–or, from our perspective, our story arc.
Some critics see this as the problem of River's character, but to someone who feels the pressure of the block universe (where every point in time is fixed, which is basically how Moffat's Who works, despite the Doctor trying to reassure everyone that "time can be rewritten"), it's a relatable anxiety.
May 1, 2013 @ 3:41 pm
Something occurred to me as I was going over this post again. (I've had a couple of extra days to think about it, as I'm one of Phil's Kickstarter backers, and you should all be too, especially if you have enough money to slap down that $1000 single-pledge.)
I have now seen Rose so many times over the eight years since Doctor Who returned to the air that I have completely forgotten every detail of my first viewing experience. It occurred to me as I re-read your take on the wheelie bin scene, where you make the apparently obvious conclusion that Mickey was dead, based on that scene alone. But I can't remember if I thought this. I don't know if I was just so happy to see new Doctor Who television again that I never had my critical faculties turned on, or whether I knew from looking at the press materials and initial reviews and seeing that Noel Clarke was a recurring character that he'd be back. But I've watched the Eccleston year so many times that I can't really remember my first reactions to it.
I should also let you know, there's the weirdness of the Canadian experience with new Doctor Who to consider. While the Eccleston year didn't debut on television for a year in the United States, it debuted with only a week's delay in Canada, on our public broadcasting network, the CBC. However, far from a cultural event, this was just a show that debuted on a network that typically ran a fair number of British drama imports. Two of the habitually highest rated shows on CBC are Hockey Night in Canada and Coronation Street. And for the first four years of RTD's tenure as producer, the third highest rated show was Doctor Who.
However, CBC were terrible promoters of the show. They ran a few commercials on their own network, but for them it was just another UK import to fill their airwaves so they could get away with producing fewer original dramas. In many ways, the CBC is to Canada what Thatcher would have liked the BBC to be to Britain: a permanently underfunded joke of a public broadcaster with decent news, but whose public profile is of a mentally delayed step-child of Canadian broadcasting. (except in Quebec, where its french-language division, Radio-Canada, is treated as an essential bedrock of the culture). And they were terrible with the show's scheduling. The Eccleston year was transmitted with only a week's delay, but Tennant's first year was delayed by nearly three weeks, they went back to about a week's delay for Martha's year, but Donna's year was delayed past UK transmission by over four months and barely promoted at all.
Only in the Specials season did the Space Channel, our cable equivalent to Sci-Fi/Syfy, pick up the show and treat it like the treasure it was. Just in time for the worldwide promotional blitz of the Moffat/Smith era. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
Looking forward to a Pop Between Realities entry on San Diego Comic-Con 2010.
May 1, 2013 @ 4:17 pm
Hatred of Rose isn't anti-chav; it's anti-Rose. Can't you see that? It's not classicist in the slightist; it's the fact that her Mary-Sue-ism rubs entirely the wrong way.
May 1, 2013 @ 4:19 pm
Theonlyspiral, the fact that she gleefully abandons Mickey at the end makes it seem that she's joining the Doctor to spite him more than part of any learning process.
That just irks. Considerably. And it's only the start…
May 1, 2013 @ 5:36 pm
Fair enough, but the whole concept of a "Mary Sue" is anti-women:
See this article for more details:
Though the gist of the argument can be found in the first paragraph:
"So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly. They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.
God, what a Mary Sue.
I just described Batman."
Or if you prefer, this is Dr. Sandifer's take from Gallifreybase:
"In its actual, you know, having a meaning sense the concept is straightforward – a Mary-Sue is a character inserted by the author who exists purely as wish fulfillment. It's a term primarily describing a particularly sloppy relationship of authorial id and narrative that made sense internally in discussions of fan fiction. Most fanfic is in fact about authorial id to some extent. That's fine. And the term has use therefore within fan fiction communities – it's a useful shorthand for "this story is so far up its own ass that nobody but the author is ever going to enjoy it."
Ported outside of fan fiction the term stops having much use because frankly there's very, very little published fiction that is actually about the authorial id in the same way that fanfic is. It's one of the big differences between fanfic and published fiction. There are a few counter-examples – Twilight is an authorial id vortex. But mostly it becomes code for "a female character who gets to do things only boys are supposed to do." And that's what this supposed "broadening" of the definition is – now instead of describing a relationship with the authorial id it's just any time an author makes a female character who's "too good." Never mind that Doctor Who is, as a show, primarily about a male character who demonstrates all of the same "too perfect" traits in question. And who, given that every show runner since 1965 has been a man, can actually be read as a stand-in for authorial desires. But no, let's skip that and bitch about women who don't know their place. Pathetic.
You want an example of a Mary Sue in Doctor Who? Jon Pertwee's portrayal of the Doctor. Or Tom Baker's under Graham Williams. Or Colin Baker vis a vis John Nathan-Turner. Three flagrant Mary-Sues in Doctor Who.
May 1, 2013 @ 5:48 pm
I was cheering wildly when she abandoned Mickey. After all, it was Mickey who says,"He's an alien — he's a thing," and at that point I have no sympathy left for Mickey at all, at all. It isn't until School Reunion that his character's redeemed, when he finally tones down the passive-aggressive guilt-trip shit.
Pen Name Pending
May 1, 2013 @ 6:05 pm
Quick question: so what's the difference between a Mary Sue and a character who is based on the author (in the sense of a fictional memoir)? Is it that a Mary Sue is fundamentally a perfect person who the author wants to be, rather than someone the author is writing to project his or her own worldview/story/whatever?
May 1, 2013 @ 6:11 pm
As Phil says, "It hasn’t been Rose’s initiation, or the Doctor’s, or anyone else’s. It’s been ours." Which means that shot of the Doctor juxtaposed with the London Eye also functions as meta-commentary: it's the programme itself that's broadcasting the signal. Which means the 11 million people watching are the plastic people come to life — hence the importance of showing a family of mannequins, men, women, and children, their monstrosity revealed.
WE are the monsters.
The opening shot, lingering on the Moon — that's alchemical as well. The Moon is a symbol of the subconscious mind, but juxtaposed with the shot over the Earth, over London, it's the collective subconscious I think that's indicated, before zooming in on Rose… perhaps the Divine Feminine, which is worth bearing in mind considering the series finale.
Look at that shot in the climax again, Rose bathed in TARDIS-blue light as the Doctor is rendered helpless by the monsters. That's prophetic.
So, to spin the Heroic Journey on its head — isn't the Doctor the "reluctant hero" in this tale? Reluctant in terms of making an emotional journey. Rose is his mentor, helping him to rediscover the Special Place of relationship. Rose is the mentor, not the Doctor.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
…forgive me for saying such, but I was hoping for more dissection, and less of one giant recap garnished with such well-trodden phrases as "occult" and "qlippothic". Just sayin'. 🙁
May 1, 2013 @ 6:24 pm
Read that tumblr post, and the extract from Dr Sandifer and… I don't really feel as if I agree. The very fact that the existence of Marty Stu is acknowledged indicates that calling Mary Sue as anti-women seems a little bit oversensitive. It's not 'women doing man's work' that is objected to. It's that we're here to read a story about Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Dr McCoy and company, not the sudden appearance of Ensign Mary Sue who manages to entice Kirk and Spock and then also resolves the situation at the Neutral Zone. While the actual Star Trek characters remain in awe at her abilities. It's just a fact that most franchises have male characters as their leads. It would be just as egregious to read a Xena story and have Xena & Gabrielle usurped by some new warrior/warrior woman. None of this is, of course, to object to new characters being introduced (and indeed, any officer on the Enterprise would be expected to be intelligent and highly competent) or for, say Yeoman Rand to get a starring role in the story. It's a little late so hopefully you won't take this as meaning that I think women in genre fiction only need to open hailing frequencies or make plomeek soup.
The analogy of Doctor-as-Mary-Sue doesn't work so well because really, we are talking about the showrunner putting his imprimatur on the Doctor (and hey, regeneration allows any producer to be able to do that!). But the Doctor does not become second banana in his own show.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:26 pm
Oh, we so disagree on them Tylers. 🙂
May 1, 2013 @ 6:35 pm
"Is there also some Orpheus metaphor to be had in the Doctor leading Rose out from the underworld?"
I think the Orpheus myth is more in play for The Unquiet Dead. The Doctor, who sees in the Gelth his own lost people, wants to lead these shades out of the land of the dead. But he has to look back, has to leave them behind — that is the most important thing to accept about Death. Hence the story being set in the past, and ending in an Underworld setting.
May 1, 2013 @ 6:41 pm
Why this antipathy for childishness in the first place?
May 1, 2013 @ 7:08 pm
It will probably become "A Psychochronography in Paisley", now… 😀
May 1, 2013 @ 7:25 pm
There's no use in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:33 pm
Jane beat me to it. Mickey grows impressively over his arc, eventually making the ultimate sacrifice for humanity by getting Martha "Osterhagen" Jones away from a place where she can blow up the planet.
Micky is an ass. He'd rather go catch the later half of a football match than check in on his girlfriend. He's self centred and while Rosé treats him badly, let's not make it out that he deserves anything more. He gets a chance to redeem himself for his backwards opinions (not like me, then it's no good) and he's lucky to get that much.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:41 pm
See, I will admit – I hated Rose-the-episode. Or at least found it a crushing disappointment, though with a few good bits mixed in, and at least more hope for the future than with the TVM.
That opening montage, that some people praise to the heavens? To me, it's that annoyingly precocious arts student saying, "Hey, look at me, look at me, see how clever I'm being? No, really, see how clever I'm being! Look, goddamn you!!" The kind of person who's so proud of all these tricks they've mastered that they insist on shoving your face in them. Repeatedly. Which kind of leads in to the next point…
"Rose is, if not a realistic character, one that is definitely based on a real type. Most of us have met people like Rose (at least as she appears in these early stories), and not all of us like those people. If the same people who would dislike Rose in real life dislike her on TV, which I think is largely the case, then that's a sign that Davies has captured the character successfully."
This is a school of criticism that I find intensely annoying. I couldn't care less about whether the character is captured successfully; I care about them being someone I enjoy spending time with, not about how 'realistic' they are. I'm reminded of something I got into more than once in roleplaying campaigns, where a player came up with a character that was all deep backstory and bad experiences that turned them into an asshole and how much fun we'd have developing and redeeming the character through play. To which I responded, "Look. I work with assholes every day. Several of my co-workers are casually racist, sexist, and do things like joking about the office assistant giving them a 'gum job' – because, of course, the funny bit is she's in her 60's and would have to take her dentures out. They said this to her face. I'm tired of working with assholes. It is not fun. Why do you think I'd enjoy roleplaying alongside one in a campaign?" Granted, Rose isn't an asshole, but her extended bouts of Marty Stu-ishness and privilege really do annoy me; and she doesn't even come close to how annoying I find Jackie Tyler. (Pete, OTOH… I actually get to like Pete. Especially alt-uni Pete. Of course, Pete is another reminder of how privileged Rose is…)
To note, I am American, so I'm sure there were a lot of subtleties that went right over my head; at the same time, I'd never heard the term 'chav' until Cassandra used it in New Earth, so I'd at least like to think there weren't any classist stereotypes tripping me up there. 🙂
The times I liked Rose best is when she was allowed to be thoughtful and insightful; the times I liked her least is when she was being self-indulgent and immature. Childish.
"Why this antipathy for childishness in the first place?"
I like to think of it as the distinction between 'childlike' and 'childish'.
'Childlike' is the sense of wonder, the innocence, the ability to find joy in almost anything you see and anything you do. Hope. The delight in wandering the universe in a magic box and finding new and wonderful things to see.
'Childish' is the selfishness, the impatience, the egotistic certainty that the world revolves around them and they deserve whatever it is they want, and right now, and their wishes are obviously the most important, 'me me me mine mine mine!' The cruelty in egging Queen Victoria on, trying to get her to say Those Words…
May 1, 2013 @ 7:46 pm
So a holistic deconstruction on the principles and philosophies of Doctor Who as identified by the blog so far isn't what you wanted?
I felt like this is the ultimate is dissection: a moment by moment (post?)mortem.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:53 pm
Of course Rose becomes insufferable over the course of her second season. She's following Tennant's narrative arc. The Tennant Doctor is a deliberate reaction to Eccleston's survivor-guilt ridden, ineffectual coward (and I don't say any of those things in the pejorative sense; that's his narrative arc, learning how to accept that he did terrible things in the Time War and that it doesn't make him a terrible person. Key to his character is that he almost never saves the day himself; he inspires others to save the day when he can't.)
And Tennant is a counter to that arc. He is the Doctor shorn of all his survivor's guilt, but more than just that, he's the Doctor shorn of all self-doubt entirely. This is a Doctor who knows he has the right, to paraphrase Tom Baker in 'Genesis of the Daleks'. And Rose, in emulating him, becomes an insufferable monster. Her departure is a warning sign, but it's one that Tennant ignores.
In other words, if you ended Season Two really not liking Rose very much, that was what Davies was going for. 🙂
May 1, 2013 @ 7:54 pm
A mad man with a blog, and us as his faithful companions?
May 1, 2013 @ 8:03 pm
In all honesty and good faith: do you have a more effective way to quickly show us Rose and the world she lives in? The montage is fast and brutal…but efficient and effective. I can understand it not being to your taste…but you must admit it does it's job.
In terms of being a character you enjoy…well this as in all things is a case of YMMV. No one can make you like Rose…but everyone can identify her and how she'll act and respond. That is by any means an effective characterization. Just because you don't like so etching doesn't make it effective. That's the whole idea behind Brecht's play "Bhaal" and theatre of cruelty.
Getting the Queen to save those words was incredibly annoying.
May 1, 2013 @ 8:43 pm
@John Seavey: Some wise words on the narrative arcs of the leads — some good food to chew on.
I wonder, though — and this is in general, not about what you've said in particular — about this supposed "insufferability" of our heroes. It tends to be an overindulgent word, I think, for when we see those aspects of ourselves (i.e., the unchecked ego) that we'd just as soon not acknowledge within. When people start describing characters in this manner, I always imagine that ring of mirrors around the Mara — and it's fandom who's the Mara.
Davies is very clever — he develops characters who have a mixture of admirable and monstrous qualities, because that's the truth of who we are. Some will say Rose is the best evah; they can't see the monster within. Others say she's a monster; the angel can't be seen. But the truth is, to play the angel is to play the beast — both qualities coexist. This is again that alchemical union at play. A lot of fans can't stand that.
I get particularly concerned when it's the female characters who get singled out for Hate. A double bind occurs — either they're too "perfect" or too "flawed" — but I wonder how much of that is simply internalized sexism. And even in regards to Tennant's Doctor, who's obviously quite influenced by Rose herself; suddenly he's a punching bag for everything that's wrong with her.
Not to say that characters (and their writers) can't be criticized, but when they become a focal point for an intense hatred that's blind to their strengths then I think there's something much more wrong in the fandom itself than in the characters.
May 1, 2013 @ 8:45 pm
I suspect what Matthew was hoping for was something more cutting, given the sentiments he's expressed about the Revival to date.
May 1, 2013 @ 8:59 pm
The bit with the Queen, though, is deliberately playing with their over-inflated egos. That's part of the redemption arc of the characters. It's not the be-all end-all of Rose's characterization, it's not her defining moment, or Ten's for that matter.
And, importantly, they're called on their bullshit — at the same time that they're lauded for their heroism. They are angel and beast at the same time (again with the alchemy) and yet it's showing the beast that presses so many buttons, to the point where their good sides are completely unseen by the their critics. I find that fascinating, and it's very self-aware on the part of the show. Especially ironic is how a lacking of compassion on the part of the characters is met with such righteous fury — fandom is more than willing to throw its own compassion out the window.
What I love most about that episode is its commentary on the role of Hero itself, and the danger of stepping into that role for the sake of Ego… not to mention how Ego may be inadvertently stoked by the praise that comes from heroism.
May 1, 2013 @ 9:03 pm
It’s May 21st, 2005. Will Smith is at #1 with "Switch." Bodyrockers "The Way You Move," Ben Lee's "Catch My Disease," and P-Money & Scribe's "Stop The Music" also chart. As does one-off supergroup The Wrights' cover of "Evie (Parts I-III)," resurrecting a beloved cultural artifact from the past for startling popular success at the hands of current popular performers and creators, plus a few old pros in the background.
May 1, 2013 @ 10:00 pm
To quote Dr. Sandifer again:
"That the disparity in its use illustrates how much the term is really just used to criticize prominent female characters?"
No one actually uses "Marty Stu" or "Gary Stu". I'd never even heard the term before reading that blog post. And yet people moan about "Mary Sue" characters constantly. You can't possibly avoid hearing complaints about a "Mary Sue" if you go anywhere near geek culture.
Your argument that the term refers to guest characters who steal the spotlight for no discernible reason doesn't hold water, as evidenced by the fact that Mathew's objection to Rose was that she was supposedly a "Mary Sue", and he is far from the first to level that accusation. But Rose was one of the leads – she's McCoy or Gabrielle, not a random Ensign. So your definition doesn't match how the term is actually used – that is, to condemn female characters who get to do cool stuff.
May 1, 2013 @ 10:01 pm
"In other words, if you ended Season Two really not liking Rose very much, that was what Davies was going for. :)"
This I'm happy to concede, but it didn't help me find her and the Tenth Doctor any more fun to watch together. The problem with saying that the audience is supposed to find a character unlikable is that, well, the character's still unlikable; I don't start liking a character simply because I'm supposed to hate him or her.
John and Jane make some good points respectively, but I do honestly feel that something went out of alignment with the Tenth Doctor and Rose. I get that we were supposed to criticise them and their behaviour, and I'm not one of the Hate Brigade, but there were plenty of times throughout Season 2 when Davies seemed to want to have his cake and eat it as well — he wanted to give us the deconstruction of the Doctor-companion relationship as one increasingly alienated from 'normal' people, while still having us think of the Tenth Doctor and particularly Rose as the bestest people ever. From where I was sitting, he never seemed quite willing to commit to the deconstruction but didn't quite want to let it go either, so it increasingly seemed like we got the show constantly patting them on the back for becoming rather horrible and cliquey people.
He got the balance much better in Season 1; we still get Rose's angels and devils on her shoulder, like Jane suggests, but while Davies is definitely fond of Rose throughout the series he's also a lot more willing to call her out. When you watch "Boomtown" there's no question that when Mickey yells at Rose for the way she's treated him that, for all that Mickey's constantly been presented as a bit of a buffoon, he's absolutely right to feel the way he does and Rose, for all that she's brave and clever, has absolutely no right to treat him in such a fashion and absolutely deserves her rebuke. And he makes this clear not just because it's Mickey — who we've previously been encouraged to see as a bit of a joke — making this clear, but because Rose, for all that she's hurt and defensive about it, clearly sees that he has a point and feels abashed.
I never got the sense of anything near this kind of willingness to bluntly point out the devils on his characters' shoulders in Season 2 — yeah, he has Queen Victoria banish them and Elton point out that he's about to be eaten by a monster so maybe Rose's fury about him hurting her mum's feelings can be put on hold for a minute, but the flippant way she and Ten shrug off any these and any other kinds of criticism that they receive means that it never really has to stick (which, while this may be the point like John says, also enables Davies to conveniently wriggle out of having to put the boot in too hard), and while Torchwood ultimately causing them to split at the end can be read as a karmic punishment, Davies never seems really willing to commit to this either; Ten ignores the lesson this should give him because the show never really seems to bring it up.
May 1, 2013 @ 10:03 pm
Another thought: when the arm is attacking the Doctor, we see it through a window thingy between the kitchen and the living room, so it looks as if Rose has Doctor Who playing on TV behind her.
May 1, 2013 @ 11:15 pm
Theonlyspiral: "Outpost Gallifrey (or Gallifrey Base) or what have you seems to be in general a negative place full of miserable people on the whole. While there are no doubt exceptions to the rule, I've never seen the point in joining a board full of people like that."
People often say this, but in my experience it only happens in certain areas. I don't venture into any discussions of recently-broadcast episodes because there it really is like the stereotype; but a forum like The Long Game (for discussion of people's marathons), or the various timelashes, are pretty darn civilised. And the media based ones like The TARDIS Scanner or Whispers of Terror generally flag up the threads where things are going to get unpleasant with provocative titles, so they're pretty easy to avoid.
I used to live just down the road from Blackbird Leys, and all anyone knew about that was that it was the place full of wrecked cars where all the joyriding happened. Now I live in a place with a bit of a reputation for being "full of crackheads". Despite a grain of truth, both also have lots of lovely people and a decent community.
Just saying, don't write off the whole of Gallifrey Base because of the few.
May 2, 2013 @ 12:07 am
"Your argument that the term refers to guest characters who steal the spotlight for no discernible reason doesn't hold water"
While I'd agree that this is fair to suggest this of the term as it is currently used, to be fair to Assad this is an accurate description of what the term originally used to describe. It's only relatively recently that it's started to be applied to characters outside of the fanfiction sphere and in a sense that pretty much means "I hate this character but the author seems to like them"; originally, the term basically was used to describe a poorly-written minor character who was perfecter than perfect and who was poorly wedged into a story took over the story from all the characters the reader actually wanted to read about for no real reason whatsoever.
But what also tends to be forgotten — and what Phil suggests but, it has to be said, that blog post overlooks — is that the original Mary-Sues weren't just perfect, they were poorly-written on top; like Phil says in that quote, they weren't just wish-fulfilment fantasies, they were badly written ones. (In this sense, her/his defiance over the term being used on the grounds that she/he is 'broke out of a box a female character should be in' is perhaps misplaced, unless she takes pride in writing bad stories with bad characters.)
Rose, of course, is not a Mary-Sue in that, much as she's far from my favourite character, she's neither poorly written, nor wedged into a story that has no space for her (this clearly cannot be the case if she's the main character). She might be an annoying character, but even by the original definition of Mary-Sue I'd argue she comes nowhere near. But I think the term being applied to her stems, in part at least, from the process that Phil describes above; we're suddenly put into a situation where not only is the companion entering the Doctor's world, but for once the Doctor is also entering the companion's world; the Doctor never 'did domestic' before Rose came along. There's also the fact that, even after she left the series, she was still for a long time clearly treated as being central to it in a way that no other companion before or since really has been, which I suppose leads those so inclined to argue that she's taking over things.
The fact that the term is frequently used to criticise female characters rather than male characters is definitely problematic, but I would argue that this is also, at least in part, a result of the character being taken out of it's original context and applied to characters and situations she wasn't designed for. It's also often forgotten that the original Mary-Sue that the term comes from was actually a parody of badly Star Trek fanfiction that used this type of character (which was, for what little it might be worth, written by a woman, IIRC); she was meant to be a commentary on a specific type of character occurring in a very niche scenario, not a commentary on female characters as a whole. As well as a crude understanding of the type, people just latched onto the name and decided it only applied to women.
May 2, 2013 @ 12:14 am
An OLD episode of Doctor Who at that; one of the ones from the seventies where the special effects were so cheap the actors basically had to pretend that they were being 'strangled' by an animate plastic prop. It's only when Rose enters the room (and re-enters "Doctor Who") that it does anything more complicated.
The past intrudes on the present again…
May 2, 2013 @ 12:22 am
"Micky is an ass. He'd rather go catch the later half of a football match than check in on his girlfriend. "
That's unfair. Whether or not he should have gone to the pub to see the second half (Rose gives him permission), the reason he missed the first half was because he checked in on his girlfriend.
Sometimes one gets the impression that an author is biased against a character. It's odd that you can get that impression because the character has no independent existence. Micky's an example. As a result I find I simultaneously dislike Micky and feel sorry for him.
May 2, 2013 @ 1:31 am
Again, a fascinating interpretation. This is what I want to be reading about Rose, not a never ending argument about her chav status. At the rebirth of the show Rose provides the feminine principle to the Doctor's predominantly male energy. In Tarot terms the neophyte High Priestess to the Doctor's flawed Magician. Extending the metaphor (perhaps to breaking point) having already shown us The Moon and The World we get Mickey as The Fool not quite ready to start the journey, Jackie as the Empress, representing both motherhood and sexuality, The Nestene as The Devil bringing false consciousness and artificial life and the Tardis as The Chariot, bringing order from chaos and material social progress to the narrative.
May 2, 2013 @ 3:30 am
Those weren't actually the worse moments of characterization from the episode that I found.. I was rather more shocked at the Doctor legging it and leaving the footmen behind to be killed (I am sure someone can point out an equivalent scene from OldWho.. 🙂 ) and the moment where, after that Army feller has been killed trying to slow down the werewolf, Rose and Ten are all giggly over 'Gosh! Werewolf! Cool beans!'.
Don't get too hard on fandom in general, though. Obviously those of us who are critical of Rose find the negatives outweighing the positives. But I think Rose generally comes out as #1 companion in any polls, even in DWM.
May 2, 2013 @ 4:14 am
Rose is the Ron Granger to the Doctor's Hermione… yes, Harry Potter is quite alchemical. That shot of the Doctor in the kitchen mirror, very mercurial, especially when he plays with his ears as if he's just changed, or just noticed he's changed. Maybe it's just the first time he could bear to look himself in the mirror.
Oooh, and I love the Tarot game! Pete will be the Hanged Man I think, on the perpetual verge of Death. Mickey and Rose together, the Lovers — with the angel of the Doctor looming in the sky. Jackie is most definitely the Empress, going to the Queen's Arcade.
The Hand is a recurring motif, even to this day. The Doctor takes Rose's hand three times (and refuses her three times, three being a fairy-tale number.) Hand-holding is an easy way of showing connection, relationship, even union; a hand is given in marriage. It's juxtaposed with the Auton hands — loaded with guns, the hand on Rose's face and around the Doctor's throat, the hand of power and dominion.
Rose had the Bronze in her gymnastics — bronze is an alchemical alloy, a fusion of copper (rubedo) and tin (albedo). And this what she puts in the "negative space" of all the things she doesn't have, which function almost like she's invoking a void or vortex into herself.
May 2, 2013 @ 4:19 am
It's so important to rewatch the episodes — they are densely packed, loaded with imagery and symbols and metaphors. Code-words in the dialogue. Recurring motifs. It's a very cinematic approach to storytelling. There's so much more going on than the bare bones of "plot."
May 2, 2013 @ 4:54 am
There's a tendency for blame on the way characters are in a series to be laid at the feet of RTD or Moffat, but I think that's unfair. The showrunner/Head writer tends to control the overall tone of the series, but the devil is in the details, and those details are in the story…which is often written by someone other than the showrunner.
How a character grows is solely down to the dialogue they say and the actions they take, no matter how much the Head Writer steers the writers in the direction he wants.
Take Series 2. You can see that RTD is writing hubris into both the Doctor & Rose's character. He said as much in an interview at the time, and that comes out very well in "New Earth" and "Tooth & Claw", where they are both insufferable at times.
But this hubris is absent in "School Reunion", which was written by Whithouse, and all about the companions left behind. Sure you get a bit of Mickey's resentment at missing out on TARDIS travel at the end, and a flash of Rose's jealousy when the Doctor invites him along, but then by the time "Girl in the Fireplace" comes along, all those strands are dropped in favour of exploring the Doctor's romantic side…because it's written by Moffat.
Yes I know RTD rewrites a lot of stuff, but he can only bend a story a little, he can't shove character motivation in where it doesn't exist. He might put a snide comment from Rose in to remind you of her bitchiness, but more often than not he doesn't even do that.
The percieved fan wisdom about Series 2 is that the Doctor and Rose are too smug, getting too big for their boots, and will be brought down to earth with a bang, but after the first two stories…not much. There were hints of foreshadowing, like the Beast saying she was going to die, and you got a fair bit of foreshadowing in the "Ghosts/Doomsday" finale..but then that was written by RTD again.
The supposed arc of character's development is very often a fan fiction based on a couple of episodes, because like so many things we humans like to see an overall pattern when often there isn't quite one there. This applies very much to Doctor Who.
The only time it's been done quite consistently is with Martha's "I love the Doctor but he doesn't love me back" arc, but then that's an easy arc to create, you just give the character a couple of lines about how the Doctor never notices her each week and you're sorted.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:06 am
Thank-you for posting that link. There should be an equivalent to Godwins Law for mentions of the phrase "Mary Sue" on the internet. It's been applied to almost every female character in Doctor Who since 2005 (yet none prior to that, funnily enough). Jenny and River Song in particular, and it annoys the hell out of me because it's such a lazy mindless judgement.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:23 am
@elvwood. I agree. I think of Gallifrey Base as being a huge room where groups of people are having Doctor Who conversations, some about the classic series, some about their own fanfic, and some about the new episode that was on last night. You walk into that room, fresh from watching yesterday's story which you hated and despised/loved to bits, and you want to talk with people about it. Where you gonna go? Sure enough, the Rate This Ep discussion. And you want to tell everyone how you felt, you want everyone to know how awful/fantastic it was. So you launch into the discussion, and immediately someone else who feels the polar opposite counterattacks you. All arguments have two sides, and in a Doctor Who forum this eventually degenerates to people being labelled Lovers or Haters. Although it's obvious why the Lovers are there, it's not immediately apparent why the Haters are. Why be on a Doctor Who forum if you hate Doctor Who? And so the dissenting comments tend to "jar" and stand out far more than the enthusiastic ones. If you come away from the forum having had a blazing row with someone who thinks Moffat's out to ruin Who forever, it scars you far more than some bouncy bubblehead who gives everything 10 out of 10. And so the impression that forums are full of negativity continues.
Blackbird Leys eh? I live near Nottingham, and a couple of years ago we had some friends who were wary of coming up to visit in case they got shot, so I know where you're coming from.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:37 am
That line of the Doctor's refers to curiosity, wonder, innocence, and playfulness, all the things the Victorians liked to imagine children were. Those are certainly good traits to have at any age.
When I refer to Rose as being childish, I refer to actual children: Immensely selfish and self-centered, utterly uninterested in taking any responsibility for their actions, and capable of immense, gleeful sadism to anyone weaker than them.
Not that adults aren't fully capable of being all those things, of course, but most adults have learned not to by the time they're adults. Children haven't had a chance to yet.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:41 am
"In all honesty and good faith: do you have a more effective way to quickly show us Rose and the world she lives in?"
"Quickly"? Perhaps not. "Effective"? I think it would have been a lot more effective if they'd taken more time and shown us some of her personality as she interacted with her world, instead of just a kaleidoscope of images without context. Which gets to another major criticism I have of the new series; while I certainly can't argue against the old series being overly-padded at times, the new series goes much too far in the other direction. I'll have more to say on this when we get to "Dalek", but in brief – while Dalek is a tour-de-force in presenting its basic story, the story itself is very limited and simplistic compared with the best Dalek stories like Genesis or Remembrance.
"No one can make you like Rose…but everyone can identify her and how she'll act and respond. That is by any means an effective characterization. Just because you don't like so etching doesn't make it effective. That's the whole idea behind Brecht's play "Bhaal" and theatre of cruelty."
I think you completely missed my point. Saying the characterization is "effective" is not an argument in its favor, if I dislike the basic character concept. It may be interesting in an abstract critical sense, but it's not going to make me enjoy watching them. In fact, if I dislike the basic character, the more 'effective' the characterization is, the less I'm likely to enjoy watching it. (And for the record, I pretty much reject theater of cruelty, at least as it applies to a protagonist in an ongoing program.)
"The bit with the Queen, though, is deliberately playing with their over-inflated egos. That's part of the redemption arc of the characters. It's not the be-all end-all of Rose's characterization, it's not her defining moment, or Ten's for that matter."
Oh, I certainly agree it was deliberate, and could even buy that it was part of a 'redemption arc'. I can agree that it wasn't the totality of the characters, or even the straw that broke the camel's back – I kept watching, after all. But I can argue vehemently that as a trait of the main characters, it doesn't fit any concept of Doctor Who that I want to watch. There's a reason why Ten is pretty far from the top of my list of favorite Doctors, and this is a big part of it. If the Doctor is so bad that he needs to be 'redeemed', then he's perilously close to not being The Doctor at all. (See also the discussions around Six, particularly Our Host's dissection of Twin Dilemma.)
(And just to note in passing, the childish egoist moments are part of the reason why Four isn't my favorite Doctor either, though they bothered me a lot less with him; there's an innocence, for lack of a better word, with him that's missing in Ten.)
The times I could enjoy Rose were when she was able to rise above this and be heroic; I couldn't enjoy her when she was being childish and self-indulgent, and I most disliked her when she dragged the Doctor down to that level, Tooth and Claw being a classic example.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:53 am
"Especially ironic is how a lacking of compassion on the part of the characters is met with such righteous fury — fandom is more than willing to throw its own compassion out the window."
There is a difference between hating a person and hating a thing. I hate cilantro; is that a sign of "throwing compassion out the window"?
From a diegetic perspective, Queen Victoria and the werewolf victims are people, and Rose treats them as if they are things that exist for her entertainment. That's utterly vile on Rose's part.
From a non-diegetic perspective, Queen Victoria, the werewolf victim, and Rose actually are things that exist for our entertainment, not people, and there's nothing wrong in treating them as such.
Hating Billie Piper for playing Rose? Compassion failure, because Billie Piper's a person. Hating Rose? Not so much.
May 2, 2013 @ 5:56 am
But Rose in Rose isn't particularly childish. She's taking responsibility from the get go, whether it's seeking out the Doctor, pointing out how he keeps forgetting Mickey, and grabbing a hold of that chain and swinging into action. Hell, she's out there working a job and looking for Wilson in that very first sequence!
If there's anyone who's childish, it's Clive, obsessing over his mysterious Stranger. Or Mickey himself, churlishly reacting against that strangeness, wanting to go to the pub, being possessive and suspicious. Or Jackie, off for a bit of indulgent shopping, or imagining herself the object of the Doctor's sexual affections.
But no, it's Rose who's unpleasantly childish? I think there's something off in that reading. Her cold shoulder at the end is but a single flaw revealed, and it's perfectly understandable in context of the situation — even here, her first instinct is to be responsible (she calls her mother to make sure Jackie's alright) and has to be tempted twice to let go.
To call Rose immensely selfish and utterly uninterested in taking responsibility for her actions is to blatantly ignore the vast majority of her characterization.
May 2, 2013 @ 6:07 am
On "Mary Sue": I had always heard (and used) the term to mean "A character whom everyone in the narrative loves for no reason visible to the audience, and on whose behalf the universe bends over backwards to make everything work out," with the implication that this is because they are a self-insert. Using that definition, I'd stand by my assertion that Rose is one. However, reading that article it sounds like the term has acquired a lot of baggage, and I don't want to be misunderstood, so I apologize for using it in a couple of previous comments.
On being "anti-chav": I'll be honest, Rose doesn't read as lower-class to me at all. I now know she is, but I have trouble remembering it. This is probably because I'm an American, and therefore missed whatever it is that codes her as a "chav." (A term I had never heard until Cassandra used it in "New Earth.") In the first episode she has fashionable clothes and a spacious apartment and a bedroom full of Stuff and everyone she knows is physically fit, so I read her as being fairly well-off. (Also, I can't remember when they first mentioned her address, but to American ears "an apartment in the Powell Estates" sounds like the sort of place upwardly mobile young professionals live.) It's not until "Bad Wolf" that I really twigged to the fact that her neighborhood was a bit rough and my initial reading was wrong.
May 2, 2013 @ 6:18 am
"'You want an example of a Mary Sue in Doctor Who? Jon Pertwee's portrayal of the Doctor. Or Tom Baker's under Graham Williams. Or Colin Baker vis a vis John Nathan-Turner. Three flagrant Mary-Sues in Doctor Who.'"
Well, I don't particularly agree on Pertwee… but I think it's worth noting that Tom Baker under Graham Williams and Colin Baker under JNT are two of my least favorite stretches of the program. 🙂
I'm honestly not sure the Marty Stu is best defined by 'perfection', though; I think a better way might be in terms of 'privilege' and 'indulgence'. The Marty Stu character is privileged above the other characters in the story; Scalzi's metaphor of 'playing on the easiest difficulty level' works very well here. They get more advantages and face easier challenges than comparable characters, they have better opportunities, they get forgiven more easily for their transgressions, etc. etc. And the Marty Stu is a very indulgent character; one gets the impression that it was specifically designed so that the author, the character, and even the reader can wallow in the success, praise and adulation the character receives.
Or to put it another way: you could say the 'inspirational/aspirational' perfect character is the author going 'you can become a better person if you try to be like that.' (See, for example, Aragorn and Faramir in the original books.) The Marty Stu perfect character is the author going 'wow, isn't it cool to be that great?'
May 2, 2013 @ 6:21 am
I like the idea that in an alternative dimension, the Seventh Doctor regenerates into the Sandifer Doctor.
May 2, 2013 @ 6:29 am
She's not coded as a "chav" (although the term itself is a horribly, horribly classist one) at all. The UK's class system is a fairly nuanced one, and Rose is very clearly respectable working class (though it doesn't help that Piper found it difficult to keep a consistent accent for the part in the first series).
Those who dislike the character for being "a chav", though, just mean that she speaks with (an approximation of) a working-class accent — which you as an American wouldn't be expected to pick up on.
There's a lot I dislike about the post-2005 series, but that it (at least under Davies) increased representation of working-class, black and LGB people seems to have been a huge complaint of a lot of those who dislike the programme now, while I think those are the best things about the 2005-2009 period.
May 2, 2013 @ 6:59 am
Rose, for me, came across as a Mary Sue figure for RTD. I never hated her, because I think she's not a hateful figure, but the all time best companion? Seriously? There is an element of the show trying too hard to make the audience like her: There was a lot of hype in the press about Billie Piper's casting and a lot of supporting material and merchandising went out of its way to make the companion, embodied by Rose, the Doctor's equal and at the end of the day, the companion can never be an equal. Well written, well played and interesting yes…an equal, no. RTD and his writing team tried telling the story from her point of view too many times which could detract from the Doctor.
May 2, 2013 @ 7:07 am
It's a sad manoever on the part of a certain strand of literary criticism to label the term "Mary Sue" as sexist. It has its male versions in "Marty Stu" or "Gary Stu" and the reason Mary Sue has achieved ubiquity isn't sexism, it's that it's a catch-all term that can be applied to characters of both genders. Lambasting the term risks nullifying the concept and the concept is very valid. So let's not get bent out of shape over the precise wording of Mary Sue…instead, lets use the concept to see if it applies to certain Dr. Who companions.
May 2, 2013 @ 7:11 am
My biggest problem with Rose Tyler, compared with other companions, is that I never felt she was in any real danger. I felt that RTD had ringfenced her and that she was always going to pull through and end up fulfilled.
May 2, 2013 @ 7:18 am
Oh no, Rose as depicted in "Rose" is fine. Quite promising as a companion, actually.
The problem is Rose as depicted in "Father's Day" and thereafter, when her negative traits start dominating the character.
May 2, 2013 @ 7:33 am
I think hating a fictional character is a waste of time. Actually, hating real people is a waste of time too. I'm reminded of Quentin Tarantino's injunction to "never hate a movie":
"You're not getting me. There's plenty of reasons to not to like a movie. But if you hate them? Meaning if let them bother you? Then they'll do nothing but bother you. Who wants to be bothered? There's so many better things to do with movies. It's like my fucking Top Gun rant, okay? Bad things can be so much more interesting than just bad."
To me, there are a lot of things about Rose's characterization and arc that really worked and a lot that really didn't, and I think it's worth thinking about which are which.
Also, I don't like hating any companions, because I know that the Doctor wouldn't. If the Doctor were real, every one of them would matter to him, no matter how irritating they could be, just like us.
May 2, 2013 @ 7:57 am
The point is, it is NOT applied equally to male and female characters. Though the term "Marty Stu" and "Gary Stu" exist on TVTropes, they are seldom ever used in fan discussions (except to point to their existence to defend the concept of a "Mary Sue") and it is always female characters who are criticized for being wish fulfillment.
Much fantasy, sf, and adventure features wish fulfillment characters. Hell, Doctor Who's cult popularity (as opposed to popular acclaim) is largely down to the fact that the Doctor is a hero for misfits, outcasts, and socially awkward intellectuals – someone who gets to be the smartest one in the room at all times, revel in it, and not be thought of as obnoxious for it, but instead gets to save the universe.
If you don't like wish-fullfilment characters and that is not why you watch Doctor Who, that is fine.
But it is deeply suspicious that it is 99% of the time women to whom the accusation is leveled.
I've never heard anyone refer to the Doctor as a Marty Stu (other than Dr. Sandifer, in critiquing the concept), or Jack or Mickey or Rory. But Rose, River, and Amy? ALL THE TIME. It's a BS double standard.
May 2, 2013 @ 8:13 am
I greatly enjoy stories where I don't have to sit around waiting for the actual plot to start. If you've only got 24 hours to tell a story, then I don't need to spend 10 of them getting pieces in place to start. I like that stories like "Hide" and "A Town Called Mercy" throw us right in and actually give us some meat and potatoes. Dalek gives us exactly what we need before it gets the ball rolling on clashing Rose and The Doctor back into the Daleks.
It's only a failure of characterization if you are supposed to like them. And is there any media where you like all the characters? Taking Doctor Who as a whole, the only character I dislike enough for it to interfere with my enjoyment of the program is Ambrose from the series 5 Silurian two-parter. Inevitably even if you don't like a character it doesn't make that character poorly done, just not to your taste.
In terms of rejecting theater of cruelty…how do you mean you reject it? Like you don't acknowledge it exists? Or you don't see it as a viable form of narrative?
May 2, 2013 @ 8:16 am
First, I think "Mary Sue" is essentially a useless term – meaningful in the context it was created for, but broadened to the point of pointlessness.
Second, I'm going to agree that the closest thing to a Mary Sue the series ever had was the Fourth Doctor. And he's great, so.
May 2, 2013 @ 8:28 am
Of course the ninth card of the major arcana is The Hermit which would certainly fit Ecclestone's war weary survivor, the tenth is The Wheel of Fortune, an apt metaphor for the manic energy of Tennant, while the eleventh is Justice, whose scales symbolise Matt Smith's attempt to balance past and future action, twelve is The Hanged Man and thirteen is Death. Read into that what you will.
Yes hands are important, Ten's severed hand, making him the wounded god, The Handbots of the Girl Who Waited, the recurring image of the Doctor extending his hand to us from the TARDIS doorway, 'come with me' and most recently Clara's burnt hand holding the reset clue.
May 2, 2013 @ 8:30 am
May 2, 2013 @ 8:37 am
…yeah, that's great.
May 2, 2013 @ 8:42 am
My experience on Gallifrey (which I will admit was limited by my own choice) was that even on threads where people were discussing old episodes or marathons, they were still on the balance fairly negative and surly. So much so that it was impacting my ability to enjoy new Doctor Who. So I stopped. I was on there for about 6 months and I absolutely would not recommend it to anyone.
May 2, 2013 @ 8:55 am
First time this American ever heard 'chav' was just slightly ahead of Cassandra using it, because occasionally the folks on rec.arts.drwho would take a few hours off from slamming RTD for being "a poof" to slam Rose for being "a chav".
But I always assumed that we weren't meant to take Cassandra's word for it when she used the term, because of the sort of person Cassandra is.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:05 am
99%…can those figures be verified? You're ignoring a huge other section of Mary-Marty Sue-Stuism which is young precocious males. I don't buy into the sexism argument and I certainly don't trust 99% as a figure. That's because it puts the cart before the horse: It figures that in perception, most of these wish-fulfillment characters are female so most critics must be, natch, sexist. The questions that scream out are just how many of these characters are indeed female (an accurate figure not just a made up statistic) and if they are in the majority by a long way, why is that so? Just denouncing anyone who uses the term "Mary Sue" as sexist is the kind of student union logic employed to muzzle people who have a contrary view.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:06 am
@Chadwick: "At the end of the day, the companion can never be an equal."
Thus making the Doctor the fetish-object of hero-worship. Sorry, no, not buying this line.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:09 am
And GB is by no means the surliest of sites…
May 2, 2013 @ 9:10 am
It's not perfect, and goodness knows Dr. S goes off on a point every now and again that makes me want to throw my computer through a window in anger, but he's alright…and I forgive him a lot of things because of the Dalek's Master Plan and Evil of the Daleks posts.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:21 am
Any specific points in mind that are Computer-Killers?
May 2, 2013 @ 9:24 am
I think you're just making stuff up, jane; there comes a point where there are no more layers to be peeled back, you know.
When that happens, you'll have lost your livelihood, I think.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:27 am
The term 'Wesley' is available for the type of character. So that Mary Sue has more take-up as the term to use may be telling. Tvtropes also has the term Shilling the Wesley, i.e other characters telling the audience how wonderful the Wesley is. That's one of the things that makes the character objectionable. Rose does get shilled from time to time.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:31 am
No, the vast majority of wish fulfillment characters are Male. They just don't get characterized as "Mary Sues" or even "Marty Stus".
They are just called "Heroes".
Obviously there is no way to quantify this (unless Google adapts the tool they have to measure how often a term is used in published works and applies it to private, password protected discussion forums which isn't going to happen) but like I said, I've never, ever heard the term "Marty Stu" used except when people are challenged for adhering to the concept of a "Mary Sue". And certainly it isn't widely used in Doctor Who fandom to apply to the Doctor or the male companions, as the experience of anyone reading this blog can surely attest.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:33 am
Eh? No, not at all; I just wanted something less of a recap, more of an overall analysis of themes, perhaps achronistically. It just seemed too "blow-by-blow"-ish, to me. :-S
May 2, 2013 @ 9:37 am
"Just denouncing anyone who uses the term "Mary Sue" as sexist is the kind of student union logic employed to muzzle people who have a contrary view."
It sound like you are taking this discussion personally, when it wasn't intended as such. No one is accusing you of being a misogynist. This problem often comes up in discussions around sexism / racism / classism etc in media. People assume, when it is pointed out to them that they have used sexist terminology or a show they enjoy plays into racist narratives, that some sort of character judgement is being made on them as individuals. That is not what the terms mean in this context.
To say that the concept of Mary Sue is sexist is to point out the effect it has (to marginalize female characters, to make male the "norm" and the ideal) and the unconscious assumptions which seem to underlie its "expanded" definition. It is a sexist concept. But it is entirely possible to use a sexist concept without realizing it is sexist or intending it to be. It is an innocent mistake, a result of reflexively absorbing a sexist construct from the culture (in this case, geek culture) without taking the time to think about its implications, not necessarily a sign of any deep-seated hatred of women.
It is only when sexist and racist constructs are used in full knowledge that they are potentially destructive (like, say, the use of the N word in Celestial Toymaker, contemporaneously with the Civil Rights movement, as Phil has pointed out) that malice should be assumed. Of course, now you have been exposed to the problematic nature of the concept of a Mary Sue, so . . . .
May 2, 2013 @ 9:38 am
May 2, 2013 @ 9:40 am
If, in thirty-four years time the series has its second revival, it will feature a Time Lord on his seventeenth regeneration and the TARDIS. And, almost certainly it will introduce a new companion.
The Doctor has his name on the program title. And he can become a different actor when the actor playing him moves on, which companions can't. This gives the Doctor an unfair advantage over any other character.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:48 am
And if the Doctor's advantage is so inherent to the nature of the show, then no matter what bonuses the show chooses to give to the companions, no matter how important the show makes them, no matter how competent, the Doctor still comes out on top. So there's no point in complaining about them making the companion too important/not second-fiddle enough.
I recall lots of people complaining in season 2 that "RTD is really making The Rose Tyler Show Guest Starring The Doctor and that is why Rose must DIE DIE DIE."
But that's silly on its face. Because there was no point EVER where ANYONE had ANY doubt that there would come a day when Rose Tyler would be gone and The Doctor would still be there.
There's never going to be any reason to be threatened by the weight the show gives to the companions.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:53 am
You're conflating two of my arguments a bit, although I wasn't that clear in separating them myself, so mea culpa. My overall argument is that the new series is far too time-constrained, to its detriment; this works out two different ways in the Rose montage and in Dalek.
In Rose, the problem is that her 'introduction' is a stream of images without context; we're shoved into image after image that purport to show us who she is – but none of them are expanded into actual incidents, that show us what she thinks or how she reacts in anything more than a superficial way. Here is a person that walks through the streets of London, works in a store, and eats lunch with someone who could be a boyfriend. Whoopee. We never get more than the vaguest hint about how she feels about these things below the surface. It's all shallow and perfunctory. Even 30 seconds on some of those incidents would have told us much more than what we got.
"Shallow" is also the problem I have with the plot in Dalek, though it plays out in a completely different way. In terms of execution, it does right all the things I thought were done wrong in the Rose montage; it develops each incident and draws out a huge amount of nuance from them. The problem is that the core plot it's developing can be distilled – easily! – into a simple sentence: "The Doctor finds a Dalek who wakes up, escapes, slaughters its way through the building, until it has an epiphany and destroys itself." The episode gets a lot of mileage out of it, but it's still a very shallow plot. Compare that to Genesis: "Two warring civilizations are at the last gasp. One is about to try and genocide the other with a giant rocket; the second is about to birth the most evil and dangerous race in the universe, led by a mad, crippled, charismatic genius who betrays his own people. The Doctor is sent there by the Time Lords to try and prevent this from happening." Or Remembrance: "Two Dalek factions go to war over an ancient Time Lord artifact, which the Doctor has – in a stunning change for him – proactively used to set a trap for one of the factions." Either one lends itself to far more development than the new series can manage in a single 45 minute episode. True, the new series does have its dual-episode stories like Empty Child/Doctor Dances, and in general I like them much better than the single-ep stories; but the fact that so much of the new series is single-ep stories skews it towards the simpler plots.
"It's only a failure of characterization if you are supposed to like them. And is there any media where you like all the characters?"
Not all the characters, certainly, or all the time; but for me to enjoy an ongoing series, yes, I generally do need to like the ongoing leads, at the very least. I don't have to like all of the regulars, but if the ones I can't stand take over too much of the spotlight, it really hurts my enjoyment of the show. I know this isn't a universal preference, as witness the success of some shows I find vile, like Beavis and Butthead or South Park; but that doesn't stop me from fighting for a show I want to watch.
I admit, I don't know anything about 'theater of cruelty' beyond the Wikipedia summary. But as described… this is not a form of storytelling that I enjoy watching in general, so I reject it on a personal level. And in a broader context, no, I don't think it's a particularly viable form of narrative in an ongoing series; any narrative needs to engage with its audience to be successful, so deliberately setting out to show the audience 'things they don't want to see' as a primary narrative is rather antithetical to attracting that audience back, week after week.
May 2, 2013 @ 10:01 am
There's an argument that this was the case from Unearthly Child onwards. Who was the protagonist in season one? Ian? Barbara? Susan? His 'name' might be in the title but the Doctor was no more the 'hero' than the Wizard of Oz. I think we were meant to be following Dorothy.
May 2, 2013 @ 10:03 am
Personally, I think the difference in "complexity" you claim in the plot summaries is 100% an artefact of you having decided what you wanted the answer to be, and composed your plot summaries accordingly. For instance:
Dalek: A wealthy genius finds a Dalek and tortures it in the hope of profiting from its alien technology, but the Doctor wakes it up, then, in a stunning change for him, displays profound cruelty bordering on sadism while the Dalek is singularly focused on escape, until it ultimately realizes that true escape is impossible and its own Dalek nature forces it to commit suicide in dispair.
Genesis of the Daleks: A madman creates mutated super-soldiers, then betrays his own people in order to play god by installing his creations as the dominant species.
Remembrance of the Daleks: Two Dalek factions try to acquire an ancient Time Lord superweapon, but the Doctor tricks them into destroying themselves with it.
May 2, 2013 @ 10:31 am
I think that it was the right choice for this story, though – diving into the nitty-gritty details of the experience, reflecting on how the New Series takes the storytelling down to the individual shot level.
May 2, 2013 @ 10:37 am
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May 2, 2013 @ 10:38 am
While I don't care for Rose, I think that's not a good reason. The companions have always been ringfenced. There was never any real danger that Ian and Barbara would die without getting back to 1960s England. (Earthshock succeeds on a superficial level and fails on a deeper level because it gets a cheap shock by breaking the contract that ringfences the companions without going to any effort to lift the contract.)
And as Phil has pointed out, there is no situation that the Doctor cannot get out of using his special power of Being in the Next Episode.
I don't think Rose is any more ringfenced than any other companion.
May 2, 2013 @ 10:59 am
Whereas for me, Rose is the only companion I ever thought might die, in terrifying split-second moments as she fell into the Void in Doomsday, and the Dalek approached in The Stolen Earth.
May 2, 2013 @ 11:32 am
Romana was the Doctor's equal, yes (more Romana I than II, at least in feel). I have real trouble painting any other companion as the Doctor's equal. Maaaybe Sarah Jane, Leela and Donna; maaaaybe the Brigadier. It all depends on what you mean by 'equal'.
The Doctor has more knowledge, experience and power than just about anyone else on the show; in that sense, it's just about impossible to equal him. Even Romana is problematic in that sense; she's also a powerful Time Lord, and the show even lampshades her superiority in technical skill on occasion, but it also lampshades her lack of real-world experience on many occasions. (This is another reason, as I meant to say in the post I never got around to writing, that shipping the Doctor squicks me; there's a huge disparity in power and experience. Much like an older adult going in with a teenager. Squick.)
Another way to look at equality is the companion's role in the plot; can they take independent action and help resolve the plot, on a level that's at least within shouting distance of the Doctor? Are they, in other words, a full partner? This is where I'd put Sarah Jane, Leela, and the Brigadier; I'd also put Ace here, if it weren't for the clear paternal role the Doctor plays in her life. I'd have trouble putting anyone else here, off the top of my head; there are other companions that have been full partners on occasion, but not consistently or continuously. Rose I'd count as one of the latter; she does take independent, useful action in Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, and that's probably my favorite appearance of hers, but in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday she's mostly a spectator or being rescued by the Doctor. (Mind you, she does get a few good lines in there-'One Doctor? Now you're scared.')
The final kind of equality I can think of is having a personality that can stand up to the Doctor, and force him to re-assess and change position. Rose absolutely doesn't fit here; as others have noted, I think she encourages and enables his bad behavior. This is where I'd put Donna. Maaaaybe Tegan, in the classic series, although it's hard to say given how 'agreeable' Five was. (I agree with the people who are disappointed she didn't get paired with Six, beyond that one brief special.)
May 2, 2013 @ 11:39 am
I don't agree, but let's save the discussion for Dalek instead of hijacking this post further. 🙂
May 2, 2013 @ 12:24 pm
That's an oversimplification. There's always another lens to look through, a new interpretation a new context. We only run out of ways to look at things when human beings run out of ideas and stop evolving.
May 2, 2013 @ 12:41 pm
Travis Butler's analysis persuades me, though I might quibble about examples. (E.g. I think Ace's relationship is closer to Leela's: both Leela and Ace have an apprentice role but very much on their own terms.)
I don't think it's quite silly to be threatened by Rose taking over the program: there's a version of narrative collapse there. If the 'the show's rubbish without Rose' faction become vocal enough that can affect the general reputation and therefore the show's future prospects. Much as 'the show's been rubbish since Tom left' brigade did nothing to help it stay on air once it recovered under Cartmel.
But I think the reason for not liking the focus on the companion is more that the show is asking us to invest emotional energy in a character who we know isn't going to stick around.
May 2, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
Not even "An Unearthly Child" was made to be so drawn out.
May 2, 2013 @ 12:54 pm
It was a different blog back then. It's regenerated…oh a half dozen times since then.
May 2, 2013 @ 1:03 pm
Though ironically, the model for this post was in many ways The Daleks' Masterplan. It's just that Rose is made that much more densely than the Hartnell era, such that 45 minutes of it is about twice as long as 300 minutes of The Daleks' Masterplan.
May 2, 2013 @ 1:11 pm
Great post, Dr S! Since I haven't anything particularly clever to add I'm going to channel my inner Clive and point out one more Rose-related item:
In The Five Doctors, the first Doctor is in a rose garden when he is scooped. (The rose is a symbol of resurrection and new beginnings, so the fact that he has a different face makes this doubly relevant!)
Long before the revival, Robert Mammone wrote a Brief Encounter for DWM set here. (He's discussed and posted it here.) In it, the Doctor is thinking about Susan – and about how her Gallifreyan name means "Rose". If RTD knew of this (and it seems distinctly possible), it's quite cheeky of him to use the name. He's tying the first companion of the revival to the first companion ever…
May 2, 2013 @ 1:32 pm
I just want to but in and say this to Travis;
I disagree with you, but you put your arguments across very well and it's been very entertaining to read them. For purely selfish reasons I hope you keep it up, then I get to read the equivelant of a second blog post about the episode every post that gets me thinking about it on 'a deeper level', so to say!
May 2, 2013 @ 3:13 pm
I don't think this episode of the RTD era could be THAT dense. "Midnight", certainly, but not "Rose"… and I'm afraid it shows in the post.
Moffat era, on the other hand? Wealth of opportunities, there! 🙂
May 2, 2013 @ 8:23 pm
I'm looking forward to this era of the blog eagerly; like Andrew Hickey, I find the new series very difficult to enjoy or even to appreciate as a craft. A big part of my relationship to it is based on trying to figure out WHY. This blog's ideas, such as the notion that its purpose parallels New Labour's, help me make sense of the knee-jerk reaction I have to the revival. To me, Doctor Who lost its essential intellectuality in 2005 and became a manic, opportunistic action adventure less concerned with disseminating ideas than consuming them. For this reason, I found Graham Norton's interruption of "Rose," and Sandifer's explanation of it, to be the most interesting part of its incipit episode.
I like the notion of Doctor Who being brought into the soap opera, and how the rules of their different media take over the characters in the introductory scenes, so I have high hopes for Sandifer's forthcoming insights, but I still wonder WHY the show felt it had to egress to this place. To what purpose? Was it, as the article mentions, to finally turn into mercury a frontier it had never managed to transcend before, leaving JNT's failure a distant memory? Or was it, as my instincts make me fear, a form of ideological plastic surgery (har)? Forgive me for being lurid, but I have this nightmarish impression of the 2005 series as RTD's love-object, not like Semele to Zeus, but like a sex doll manufactured to hold his lust.
May 2, 2013 @ 9:19 pm
Super as always, Dr Sandifer. Well, more than usual, obviously.
You have mentioned before that you would be blogging up till the most recently aired episode from this point on, but I had always assumed that you would draw a line at current Doctors: so you would not blog about a currently serving Doctor.
That way you would retain some sense of historicity, as you have to this point. You'd also be able to talk about the arc of a Doctor in a proper way.
So as of today your last blog post would be "The End of Time", and if Matt Smith managed to regenerate at the end of the 50 year anniversary special, then on the 30th of November or so you would re-start the Eruditorum project with a post on "The Eleventh Hour".
May 3, 2013 @ 12:10 am
"To me, Doctor Who lost its essential intellectuality in 2005 and became a manic, opportunistic action adventure less concerned with disseminating ideas than consuming them."
Looking from the perspective of a large amount of it's audience, the under-10s, surely this is exactly how Doctor Who should be. A manic opportunistic action adventure.
That's how it was when damn near most of us (at least in the UK) started watching it. I was 5 or 6, and the first Doctor I watched was Patrick Troughton.
Doctor Who can be both intelligent and action-oriented, thought-provoking and fun. It's at it's best when it does both at the same time, but if it only manages one then it tends to alienate the other side of it's viewership. But if it's going to manage one, then I'd rather it was the simplistic mindless scary runaround, because then it'll continue to get new viewers from the very young.
Because Doctor Who is like Santa Claus. Yes adults can appreciate it, and even enjoy it, but first and foremost it's there for the kids. To scare them, thrill them, and make them hide behind sofas, or their Daddy and Mummy's arm. If Doctor Who ever changed in such a way as to alienate any fans over the age of 14, I would prefer that to a TV version of the wilderness years, which was effectively inaccessible to anyone younger than 14.
May 3, 2013 @ 1:52 am
"I think hating a fictional character is a waste of time."
I think you've nailed it, Arkadin. Sure, you CAN hate Rose, but what's the point? She's not real. You might as well hate your living room wall for all the good it's going to do; neither of them are ultimately going to care.
May 3, 2013 @ 1:55 am
Thing about "An Unearthly Child" and "Rose", though, is that the viewing experiences are completely different for the purposes of this blog.
With "An Unearthly Child", you're essentially watching something completely new form from an entirely blank slate. With "Rose", you're watching something new which simultaneously has all the baggage of forty-odd years of "Doctor Who" behind it as well. Without wanting to diminish the importance or quality of "An Unearthly Child" the viewing experience of "Rose" is so much denser in that sense alone.
May 3, 2013 @ 3:28 am
To me, when people talk about the modern Doctor Who having lost its "intellectuality", I sort of search back in my head, but all I can come up with is "They've stopped pretending that having Jon Pertwee babble some incoherent nonsense about neutron flows makes this a show about Science." If anything, I'd say that the show is generally more thought-provoking in the modern era (Not sure about the very recent past; Moffat seems like he's in such a damned hurry these days), but it cares little for doing any sort of overt signalling that you are meant to be thinking about things.
May 3, 2013 @ 11:53 am
Perhaps you're right, @Spacewarp. I may very well have lost touch with my inner child and have a rose-tinted view of the series that I grew up watching, compared to the unctuous stepfather of a show that returned while I was at uni. It's a dour thought, because my gut tells me that there is a textural difference between the scares and thrills of the two; but so does my intellect – and one can't but trust when those faculties coincide. Can I try and figure it out for a second?
I guess I was a serious child, because I loved how much respect Doctor Who gave its subject: daleks didn't need to swoop about like aircraft, because they were treated as menacing. Ideas existed because the Doctor and his companions believed in them whole-heartedly. I feel like that's a big difference between the two. In the New Series, we have Queen Victoria, Hitler, Churchill, etc, played as the broadest of cartoons, dismissed, mocked, and discarded in service of a weird self-satisfaction. Our heroes only believe in themselves. This isn't just the infamous second-series hubris, but a general need for instant punchline and immediate payoff. But the New Series also underestimates the present. In this season / series, Rose is its representative, and RTD couldn't have chosen a shallower one. She is self-gratifying and petty, and even after entering the Doctor Who universe, she becomes that stereotypical British tourist who can think of nothing but herself. Even when given the chance to expand her mind against the frame of all time and space, to redefine everything she has taken for granted, she, Mickey, Jackie, Martha, and Donna are all closed to it. The show feels trivial, and perhaps it's more accessible for it, but to me its pettiness gives me a sick feeling, like I've eaten too many sweets.
Nonetheless, if I am blinkered, I am blinkered in a very odd way. I still feel like there are shows for children that, despite modern expectations, have great action and still explore great ideas, like The Last Airbender and its sequel, Adventure Time, Puella Madoka Magica, and more.
Maybe I'm just missing the thought-provocation of the New Series because it isn't being signaled to me. However, although I feel like technobabble can actually be useful for a dramatist, I don't think this is what I mean by "intellectuality." I mean an interest in exploring ideas for their own sake, like "does chivalry belong in our society?" (Battlefield), "can the innocent survive in a world that, like ours, seems filled with greed and lust?" (Androzani), "how does one submit to age?" (Logopolis), "what happens when entertainment becomes a business?" (Greatest Show), or even "were the Aztecs as barbaric as we think?"
The New Series does dip into this, but only exceptionally (like with Blink). The running time makes it difficult to explore the ideas very fully, but so many of the two-parters, in RTD's era especially, waste their opportunity with ejaculatory (!) spectacle and self-mythologizing pontification.
May 3, 2013 @ 2:43 pm
Coming back to this:
"Another way to look at equality is the companion's role in the plot; can they take independent action and help resolve the plot, on a level that's at least within shouting distance of the Doctor?"
I'd definitely put Benny on that level, and also the final kind you mention.
May 3, 2013 @ 3:47 pm
Honestly, this blog is the first time I've looked at the Wilderness Years in any kind of detail. The books were not particularly available locally, and the start corresponded with my college and just-post-college poverty years, so I never got started with them; by the time I could afford to look, they were already apparently such an involved Thing that I didn't feel like starting. (My interest in Doctor Who had also waned considerably by that point.)
May 3, 2013 @ 4:52 pm
I think there's a certain amount of wishful thinking in your assessment. I didn't see any of the "interest in exploring ideas" you talk about in the old series. If you saw Battlefield as an exploration of the question of the role of chivalry, I think it's because you brought that to it, not because it was especially in there.
Contrariwise, pretty much every episode of the new series very intentionally tries to address some larger concept, whether it's Dalek asking us what it is that makes the Doctor the good guy and the Dalek the bad guy (by having the Doctor literally shout EXTERMINATE while the Dalek is just wants its freedom), or Tooth and Claw's implied accusation that maybe the audience, like the Doctor and Rose, have given in to something sinister when we take joy in watching people threatened with otherworldly horror, or season 3's whole-season-long theme of having something horrific hidden in plain sight as something mundane.
May 3, 2013 @ 7:24 pm
"Nonetheless, if I am blinkered, I am blinkered in a very odd way. I still feel like there are shows for children that, despite modern expectations, have great action and still explore great ideas, like The Last Airbender and its sequel, Adventure Time, Puella Madoka Magica, and more."
While I agree with most of your examples, I would put Doctor Who in that list and remove Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Not because it's not thought-provoking, but because it is so very, very, VERY not for children.
May 3, 2013 @ 8:03 pm
Good point about wishful thinking, @Ross. My self-construction of the original series is very suspect because I love it completely, and I am far more eager to redeem its flaws than those of the New, and I just don't know why. It would be so embarrassing (critically) if that were just because I grew up with it.
You wouldn't disagree, however, that there are significant differences between the two shows, though, would you? I can't wait, in the coming months, to chronograph what they are, so that, even though I feel differently about the show than most, I can come up with more persuasive explanation than "it lost its thoughtfulness." I can see how Dalek raises the question you describe, for example, but I, in my wishful thinking, can't believe its genuine. A handful of minutes in and the dalek is clearly the bad guy, killing people left and right, and being asked by Rose and Murray Gold's simpering choir to sympathize with it is hypocritical at best. Perhaps that describes me too, though, since I really like Jubilee. But again, wouldn't you agree that there significant, potentially definitive differences between them?
Maybe it's beyond the purview of this board, and even this discussion, but I am curious why not? You make me feel like I would be very, very, VERY bad at raising children! : )
May 4, 2013 @ 8:13 am
That is, indeed, my major issue with Dalek as well, and it bugs me enough to wonder about all the fuss over it. All very well that it wants its freedom, but I'm sure any of the most hideous criminals currently locked up do as well. Jubilee is different in that the Dalek protaganist doesn't really kill a whole bunch of people – he just has one character killed by another (and not a very nice guy either). Here, though, the Dalek has just killed hundreds of people, including the slightly more 3 dimensional female guard who confronts it on the stairs. And yet, Rose is all 'You're the one holding the gun.' Sorry, but that is really slap-her-across-her-face time.
Maybe I should save the rest of my thoughts for.. Dalek. that should just be in a week or two. 🙂
May 5, 2013 @ 11:31 pm
@ Jane – Catching up on points raised by you above about Rose's dual nature: "Others say she's a monster; the angel can't be seen. But the truth is, to play the angel is to play the beast — both qualities coexist. This is again that alchemical union at play."
I love Rose myself, not as an extremist one way or the other, but more in the dual or even triple initiation story woven around her. Within fandom this dual nature is shown by the polarised reactions. Underneath her apparent beauty there is a darkness. William Blake's poem 'The Sick Rose' made me think of this as it speaks of the howling storm that conceals the rot or the poison within. Rose herself later on becomes and embodies the 'howling storm' (which is the Rose according to Blake) and she takes on the powers over life and even death…
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
May 5, 2013 @ 11:35 pm
Hello Philip – Very late to this party – laptop bother! But love the post – a truly masterful achievement!
May 6, 2013 @ 6:48 pm
Delurking to applaud, especially this bit:
It hasn’t been Rose’s initiation, or the Doctor’s, or anyone else’s. It’s been ours.
(Which I think is mirrored in The End of Time, for all its many flaws and annoyances.)
On a puzzled and pedantic note: what did you mean by Who do you think bought Match of the Day last month? Who do you think watched it?
Given that no one else has raised this, I could well be just missing the obvious. (I assume you meant the TV show and not the book.)
May 6, 2013 @ 6:50 pm
Both, in fact. My suggestion was that Clive, as a stand-in for anoraks, was the fandom audience, and bought the Doctor Who book. Whereas Mickey, as a football fan, surely watched Match of the Day, which geeky Clive would have no interest in.
May 9, 2013 @ 4:08 pm
You need to brush up on cut-ups. Burroughs experimented extensively with audio cut-ups right along with and long after Gysin, seeing the potential immediately and applying it to sound, film, and collage… introducing additional tape recorders with Ian Sommerville and recording many dozens of reels and cassettes over the years. It was also a far more occult process than you indicate: "cut into the present and the future leaks out."
December 14, 2013 @ 10:16 am
"Rose, for me, came across as a Mary Sue figure for RTD. "
Yeah, me too. It wasn't so obvious at first, because in Doctor Who all the companions are supposed to be Mary Sues to some extent (credit Kate Orman for this insight). But they're supposed to be Mary Sues you can all can identify with.
Unfortunately, later on Rose starts having some of RTD's personal quirks, such as falling in love with the Doctor, which is really more than a little bit unusual and not so easy to identify with, because the Doctor's always been a dangerous, astringent, scary character. The RTD-specific quirks start to mount up — the lack of self-awareness, the egotism, the tendency towards depression — and so the Mary Sue aspect starts becoming far too clear and comes across rather badly.
December 14, 2013 @ 10:20 am
Ooh, that's a stretch for me. I mean, Rose is a teenage working class shopgirl. Davies is a middle class, middle-aged gay man whose entire adult career was spent in television. They're really not similar characters on any level.
December 14, 2013 @ 10:49 am
"Ported outside of fan fiction the term stops having much use because frankly there's very, very little published fiction that is actually about the authorial id in the same way that fanfic is."
Russell T. Davies, however, manages to do exactly that when he gives Rose her own Doctor sex toy and has the Doctor declare his eternal undying love for her. Pure, undiluted authorial id, and takes me RIGHT out of the story.
It's not appropriate. It's a complete disconnect from the Doctor's character(s) as it's been presented since 1963, and it's a piece of wish-fulfillment that is much too explicitly sexual to seem entirely generic. And it doesn't really fit with the story so far. It's squicky, frankly, because it gives me a little too much insight into Russell's sex fantasies.
Doctor Who frankly encourages wish-fulfillment characters as companions, but there's some limits on how much you can do it. As far as I am concerned, Russell broke the limits in second series Rose. In first series, and in the episodes not written by Russell in second series, she's written better.
The term and the concept "Mary Sue" are not inherently sexist — you've misread the very essays you're working from. The term has been repeatedly abused and misused, and this has been routinely done in a sexist manner. People call female characters "Mary Sues" when they really, really aren't, particularly when the stories are by female writers, and people don't call male characters "Mary Sues" when they really, really are, especially when they're by male writers, and finally, people condemn Mary Sues all the time — this is why it has a sexist effect. Philip, by contrast, gets the analysis right. The term is useful, and most of the time Mary-Sueing is fine, at least if your format isn't as restrictive as Star Trek.
(In original Star Trek, guest characters Shall Not Be Heroes. That is reserved for the regulars. Very colonialist really.)
In Doctor Who's format, by contrast, Mary Sues are appropriate and necessary most of the time; part of the conceit is that the companion is YOU! The AUDIENCE MEMBER!, as they are pretended to be in the stage play of Seven Keys to Doomsday. If the companion character isn't enough of an audience-identification wish-fulfillment, you've probably screwed up. In retrospect, it's amazing that Leela, probably the most unusual of the companions, pulls it off — there must have been a lot of us who identified with her. (Even more identified with K9, believe it or not.)
Where RTD messed up in series 2, IMO, is by making Rose too idiosyncratically his personal wish-fulfillment character (rather than a larger-audience-segment wish-fulfillment such as with Liz Shaw or K9 or Martha or Mickey, or like the very specifically audience-targeted four members of the original crew), and I think that is what starts to break suspension of disbelief. At least for me.
It's kind of surprising that RTD's self-image is Billie Piper, but I basically think it's correct. I've seen enough of his other work, and he's very unselfaware, he often writes straight from id.
December 14, 2013 @ 11:01 am
Aargh, lost a long eloquent comment about this…
Anyway, the point is that back in the day, when TV channels would mess with the broadcast times without telling you, when syndication changes would move a show from one channel to another without notice, when preemptions would cause you to tune into the wrong show, you NEED the story to open with the title sequence. It is your cue that this is in fact the Doctor Who you came to watch.
The theme comes on and you run into the room (and, later, hit the record button — the show has finally started, after whatever sports event was delaying it.
Original Star Trek had pre-credit sequences. Most bootleg VCR copies did not. Think about this for a minute. Pre-credit sequences had to be disposable. Half your audience was going to not see them at all.
This has changed, of course, now that we download everything on-demand and aren't slaves to the TV channel's schedules. But back before on-demand and Internet downloads, pre-credit sequences ("cold opens") were a bad thing, as they failed the functional purpose of the title sequence.
December 14, 2013 @ 11:03 am
In terms of the preference of an older style of television…if your preference is for an older style, do you find much of that these days?"
Speaking of this, I watched the new (really bizarre) Dracula series. (Which is about, um, fighting against oil barons.) Anyway, it has a very old style. The pacing is uses stopped being used in Doctor Who in 1965 and I haven't seen it in decades.
December 14, 2013 @ 11:09 am
"The difference is that Davies wanted to have sex with the Doctor, and therefore identifies with the companions, while Moffat wanted to have sex with the companions, and therefore identifies with the Doctor."
Moffat does better only because he proposed, at a convention, that the Doctor was having sex with every one of the companions in the TARDIS, and the reaction he got meant he knew damn well he couldn't write that into the show.
Russell actually wrote himself, as Rose, getting to "have" Metacrisis Doctor, into the show.
A lot of good writing is about filing off the serial numbers — about hiding your roots. Everything is derivative and everything is inspired by your own desires, but the art is to mix it up and mystify it enough that it isn't bloody obvious.
December 14, 2013 @ 11:14 am
" My overall argument is that the new series is far too time-constrained, to its detriment"
No doubt about that. We have fans who grew up on four-parters and six-parters (with a few three-parters), and later on full-length novels, writing for the show — and they're expected to write 45-minute episodes. About half the time they don't pull it off. There are, over and over, moments of "This needed to be longer" in the post-2005 series. This is actually worst with Steven Moffat's big "arc" episodes, some of which are missing the bits which make them make sense.
December 14, 2013 @ 11:16 am
"The companions have always been ringfenced."
Script protection is the standard term for this.
And there's one exception. The second producer, John Wiles, didn't script-protect ANYONE. Of course, he also disliked the show, by his own description.
What got weird about Rose is that most companions are script-protected against death, but not against being written out. Rose kept coming back like a bad penny. That felt way off.