Some New Man (The Eleventh Hour)
|In this scene, Clara is cleverly disguised as a hospital roof.|
It’s April 3rd, 2010. Lady Gaga and Beyonce are at number one with “Telephone,” while Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, and Boyzone also chart. I regret to inform my readership that we have also entered the dark days of the world: Justin Bieber is at number three. While we’ve been away Togo withdrew from the Africa Cup of Nations after an attack on their national football team, the Winter Olympics took place, and an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile. While in last week, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church as “petty gossip,” rescuers reached 153 trapped miners in Shanxi, China, the ROKS Cheonan was sunk by North Korea, and, on April 3rd itself, the iPad was first released.
Of the exact same age as the iPad, then, is the Matt Smith era, which kicks off with The Eleventh Hour. What jumps out the most about The Eleventh Hour with nearly four years of hindsight is how confident it is. This is the one of Moffat’s scripts for his own era that hardly anybody seems to have a bad word for. Even the fiercest critics of the Moffat era tend to make some comment about the squandered promise of this episode. This is one of the rare episodes of Doctor Who that seems to basically please everybody.
Its major challenge is that this was, in practice, a bare minimum. Moffat, Wegner, and Willis have essentially nothing to rest on save for their own talent. This was a moment where every critic was sharpening the knife. The resulting episode had to be absolutely critic-proof. It could get people to tune in based on the accumulated good will the series had from the Russell T Davies era, but equally, more than any other moment in the series’ history, this was a point where everybody had a ready-made excuse to stop watching. Even a whiff of “not as good as it used to be” would be devastating to the series right now, and so this has to be the episode of Doctor Who that anybody who is ever going to like an episode of Doctor Who will like.
The easy way to do this, by which I mean the way that would have gotten the series cancelled, would have been to do something that could more or less be described as Doctor Who by numbers – a story that was functionally indistinguishable from the Russell T Davies season openers. Admittedly, those expecting a decisive break from the Russell T Davies era are ultimately frustrated by The Eleventh Hour, which is still grounded in the structure of the Davies era. Indeed, the entirety of Series Five is, on a superficial level, structured like a Davies series. The first three episodes almost perfectly track those of Series One – a present day alien invasion story introducing the new Doctor and companion, a kind of weird future story, and a celebrity historical. Many of the later stories play familiar roles as well – the two-parter featuring a returning monster comes in episodes four and five, the big season finale in twelve and thirteen, the cheap one in eleven. This oversimplifies things – in almost every case this season Moffat takes the usual Davies approach and does something slightly but tellingly different.
And for all its basic familiarity, The Eleventh Hour does a lot that feels like a breath of fresh air without actually rocking the boat. Yes, the Atraxi and Prisoner Zero are firmly “silly” monsters, and there’s a healthy dose of comedy in the story that resembles the standard Russell T Davies season-opening playbook, and you’ve got various Davies-style innovations like big celebrity cameo, but those are only fleeting points of familiarity in a script that’s much stranger than it lets on. So much of this is stuff that the Davies era didn’t do and that it is difficult to imagine the Davies era ever attempting.
To take a subtler example that isn’t often commented on before we get to the obvious: Leadworth. This may be a fairly standard silly alien invasion, but we’ve never seen this sort of thing from the perspective of Leadworth before. This isn’t an innovation in the broadest sense – Leadworth is exactly the sort of location that the UNIT era frequented. But it’s an unusual route in for the new series – one that moves the emphasis of the story subtly. The Davies era was always defined in terms of the ordinary, but its sense of the ordinary was always defined primarily in terms of television. Leadworth, however, doesn’t come from television. (It doesn’t particularly come from the real world either, but we’ll get to that.)
It is in many ways productive to contrast this with its Davies-era equivalent. Much like Rose, The Eleventh Hour does have to introduce a new Doctor, a new companion, and an entire style of Doctor Who. Like Rose it’s structured around the anticipation for the moment when Amy steps on board the TARDIS. But there’s an entire secondary structure based on stripping away the iconography of the Davies era. It’s not just that Smith starts in the raggedy remnants of David Tennant’s clothes, but the way in which, over the course of the story, he loses Tennant’s TARDIS and screwdriver. He doesn’t get to have his clothes, his TARDIS, and his screwdriver until he’s accomplished his hero moment and steps through to complete the montage of Doctors. (Speaking of which, pay attention to where in the montage the camera flips from looking at the Atraxi to looking the other direction so that Smith can step through it. It’s not arbitrarily chosen at all, and emphasizes once again just how semiotically dense Doctor Who is.) In this regard the decision to open the episode with a comedy bit of the Doctor flying the crashing TARDIS over London makes sense – we have to see Tennant’s console room at the outset of the episode for the reveal of the early Smith console room to have the impact it does.
In other words, The Eleventh Hour gets to start from the premise “this is the show you’ve loved since 2005” and then to repeatedly say “but not quite how you expect it.” And yet nowhere in the course of watching The Eleventh Hour is there any sort of moment of estrangement. The great accomplishment of The Eleventh Hour is that at no point in watching it does anyone notice just how much is changing. Moffat quietly pulls an absolutely brazen bait and switch here – a story that reassures everybody that they still like Doctor Who while changing nearly everything about it. And he’s doing it at astonishingly high stakes.
Given how well it all works, it’s easy to overlook how easily it could have failed. There are several huge risks and strokes of luck here that all pay off. Nobody could have known going in, for instance, that Murray Gold was going to produce two of his career-best musical cues for this episode: the Amelia Pond theme used for the post-credits pan across her yard and the entry to the TARDIS, and, of course, the giddily pounding hero theme for the Eleventh Doctor, one of only a few bits of Doctor Who music to practically compel a singalong. The episode would have worked just fine if Gold had turned in an average or even slightly above average performance. But instead Gold turns out two musical cues as good as “Doomsday,” and in doing so makes the episode stand out.
Similarly, director Adam Smith does wonders. It’s not just the obvious things that clearly stem from a series-wide mandate: the decision, for instance, to swap out the orange-dominated color palette of the Davies era for the cool blues and greens that will define the Moffat era. It’s also things like the slow pan up Amy’s garden to her door under the “Dear Santa, I know it’s Easter now” monologue, or the way in which the Doctor searches his memories for the detail of Rory filming Prisoner Zero. Not all of it quite works – the series will never go quite that far with “Doctor vision” again, for instance. But more things work than not – the “corner of your eye” stuff is marvelous, and the scene of Amy entering the TARDIS, with the worm, golden glow of it pouring out onto her face in the rich night are absolutely immaculately shot. Similarly, for all that the TARDIS set proved infuriating to film on (the number of shiny surfaces made it nearly impossible to get camera angles that didn’t inadvertently show a reflection of a camera or a microphone), visually speaking it’s the best set they’ve ever had, and the long pan over a TARDIS console made up of ordinary objects like a typewriter and bits of a coffee maker is majestic.
None of this is enough to seal the deal, and it’s not like a more pedestrian TARDIS set would have ruined the episode, but it helps a lot that the things you have to reach for to criticize the episode are all terribly small and pedantic. But in addition to having various things go as well as they could, The Eleventh Hour takes a couple of absolutely massive risks that pay off tremendously.
Chief among them is Amelia. The decision to introduce the Doctor opposite a child actor could have been a series-killing debacle if we’d gotten the caliber of child actor we got in, say, Fear Her. Instead we get the definitive child actor performance in Doctor Who. Matt Smith has an impressive track record of getting absolutely killer performances out of child actors, but this is the high point. Caitlin Blackwood has to carry the entire load of introducing the new Doctor to us, and completely nails it. Even if the entire “fish fingers and custard” bit doesn’t sell you on the Doctor, the exchange about how grownups say “everything’s going to be fine” and you know they’re lying is absolutely phenomenal, and it’s phenomenal in a large part because of Blackwood’s knowing and frustrated sigh when she says “yes.” While I am not among those inclined to criticize Karen Gillan’s acting particularly, it speaks volumes that the emotional weight of how upsetting it is that the Doctor was twelve years late is carried not by anything Gillan does in this or any other episode, but by how brutally sad the image of Blackwood excitedly packing her bag (and the detail that what she packs is utterly useless and exactly what a seven-year-old would pack to run away in time and space is just so wonderful) and sitting fruitlessly in the yard is.
Related to this risk is the decision to ground the episode so heavily in Matt Smith. There are hardly any scenes in the entire thing that he’s not in – even when Amy and Rory split off to go to the hospital alone, the Doctor is texting and calling them to remain present in those scenes. The episode consciously sets itself up to live or die by the caliber of Smith’s performance. It’s not quite fair to call this a risk – if the casting for the new Doctor were botched the series would have been doomed no matter how they structured the episode. But the decision to have the new Doctor’s debut be based primarily on the hook “look how fun it is to watch the new Doctor” brims with an easy confidence. Once again, this is a product in part of sound decisions in production. The decision to hold this back to be the fifth episode in production was spot on. Smith’s performance actually has some real rough spots in its early days that we’ll see over the next four episodes, but working them out in stories where celebrity cameos and returning monsters draw the attention off of the Doctor makes it so that here, where we need to be completely on board with him, he’s impeccable. The Eleventh Hour is, in many ways, an extended argument for the claim that watching Matt Smith being the Doctor is fun in its own right.
And unlike The Christmas Invasion, and indeed the Tennant era at large, the script approaches this with an eye towards earning it. Tennant’s debut was all grandstanding moments left for him to nail. But Smith’s Doctor earns the audience’s love much more carefully. We’ve already mentioned it, but the “everything’s going to be fine” scene where he takes Amelia’s hand and opens up the crack in her wall is absolutely phenomenal. Smith gets the big moments right, but it’s in the little moments that he meticulously earns the audience’s trust that he’s going to work in the part. Things like the way in which he takes his sideways glance at the reappearance of the crack on the scanner, or his response to Prisoner Zero-as-Amelia’s “what a disappointment you’ve been,” are incredibly important. The usual line on Smith – indeed, the official line inasmuch as it’s what Moffat traditionally praises about him – is that he does a particularly good job of selling the Doctor’s age. And it’s in those little moments that this becomes clear. The manic and comedic Doctor who can’t settle on what it is he wants to eat is marvelous, but it’s the chill in his voice when he says how scary the crack must be if none of this scares Amelia that makes the part.
So we have a story that largely consists of comforting reassurances that this is still the show we all know and love. But under the surface there’s something far stranger going on. It’s not just the little details of The Eleventh Hour that hint at the strangeness to come: Amelia’s line about how people are always saying they’ll be right back is easy to miss within the context of the episode, but quietly sets up the entire “the crack ate her family” concept, for instance. And there’s the absolutely note perfect moment of the Doctor snapping his fingers to open the TARDIS, a callback to Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead that quietly flags everything the Moffat era intends to do. These, however, are mere flashes of strangeness.
No, what’s strange is the transition towards a Doctor Who based on a child’s perspective. Moffat does not quite go all the way towards Doctor Who with a child companion, an idea that, while broadly lovely, would be absolutely nightmarish from a filming perspective. But much of The Eleventh Hour is centered on the basic idea of a child looking at and engaging with the story of Doctor Who, and, more broadly, wanting to go on adventures. Amelia’s narrative is visibly a stand-in for engagement with Doctor Who in general. It drops into your life as a child, you completely fall in love with it and make stories about it and play Doctor with your friends, and eventually you grow up out of it. Except that The Eleventh Hour is, on every level, seeking to reject the idea of growing out of Doctor Who, and so it continues the narrative by having the Doctor drop back into Amy’s life and sweeping her off on adventures once again.
But this involves an explicit interaction with the tradition of children’s literature of the sort that Doctor Who hasn’t really done since The Mind Robber. The TARDIS/wardrobe to Narnia connection has always been an obvious one, but it’s never been one the series has been particularly eager to explore, and certainly not one the series has ever just decided to ground itself in. And it’s a huge shift from the Davies era. Under Davies, the TARDIS is the vehicle that gets you out of a humdrum working or lower middle class existence. Now, suddenly, the TARDIS is the Hogwarts Express.
There is a sense in which this is a clear improvement. The TARDIS, being in fact a wooden prop used in the production of a sci-fi show, is not, in fact, going to rescue you or anybody else from a tedious and soul-draining existence as a shopgirl. Reconceptualizing the fundamental tropes of Doctor Who as, in effect, pieces of a story has the appreciable advantage of being honest. The TARDIS is a narrative trope. Accepting that it is not actually a magical capitalist liberation machine at least frees us up to start paying attention to what it can do. The Moffat era still hasn’t tipped its hand as to what it thinks that is, but it feels like the right question.
And it’s clear from the start that this is an approach that has been thoroughly thought through. Leadworth itself harkens back to this as well. For all that the Davies era positioned the TARDIS as the escape from menial drudgery, it was in practice always assembled out of other bits of television. It’s not that Leadworth is something that has never been seen before on television, but rather that it’s difficult to read Amy as a character from some other television show who has unexpectedly been mashed into Doctor Who. Instead Amy, along with Leadworth, are visibly storybook characters. They exist not in a primarily televisual tradition, but in an essentially literary one.
The usual tagline for this is “fairy tale,” and it’s a reasonable term, but its use as a slogan for the era obscures much of what is actually going on in these stories. “Children’s adventure fiction” would be a more honest description, but it’s not as good a brand. The point, however, is more the contents than the label: the familiar and august body of stories in which someone, often a child, finds some eccentric space that allows access to another world: a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, the portal to Annwn, or whatnot, and crosses over to have adventures. This is not new ground for Doctor Who by any measure, but the decision to situate the show within one of its oldest and most iconic influences feels strangely fresh. The initial stakes of the era are sensible and, perhaps more to the point, compelling: the Doctor failed to take a child with him, and now must make it up to her adult self, changing Amy Pond back to Amelia. It’s too early to say with any certainty how this will play out, or how it will respond to the unfinished business of the Davies era. But it is, at least, interesting and, in its first big statement, compelling and entertaining.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:18 am
That was a great treatise, Bennett, thank you.
As Doctor Sandifer says in his essay above, and you reiterate in your video comment, Moffat has a far more literary approach to Doctor Who than Davies. Possibly the most literary approach since Williams. He uses story telling in all its forms. Possibly the best example of this is in The Angels Take Manhattan, where he finally cements Doctor Who's approach to time travel, and fixed points in time. In the story, Time is a book, and you can traverse traditionally by following the pages in order, or as the Doctor, by visiting pages at random. But you can only control the outcome by being the author, and the worst thing that can happen to you is to be mentioned in the book and for you to read the end of it. For then you are doomed to follow someone else's narrative and not create your own.
I loved the Davies era, although before broadcast I was expecting to hate it. Not because I had heard anything bad about the production, but my belief that for the series to survive the worst thing it could do would be to appeal to those like myself: long term fans who knew far too much about both Doctor Who and the mechanics of making tv. Davies pulled off the seeming impossible, and appealed to both the new and old audience alike. As I said to a friend after watching Rose, it wasn't how I would have brought back Doctor Who, but it was what was needed at the time and, crucially, made me feel as though I was eight again.
I approached Moffat's debut with similar trepidation: this time, because I couldn't see how the programme could catch lightning in a bottle twice and successfully relauch itself as something new while appealing to three sets of viewers: the new, the recent, and the old. And he did. While never quite reaching the phenomena status that series four and the specials had, the Smith era was still extraordinary in its ability to retain the public's affection, and no small a part of this was, as Doctor Sandifer says above, down to the canny decisions made in The Eleventh Hour.
Seth Aaron Hershman
March 26, 2014 @ 4:20 am
It mirrors nicely with the Series 5 finale, too, where he tells off a bunch of aliens and basically reenforces the entire reason they showed up.
There's a nice cops/robbers dichotomy, too, where this episode makes a big deal out of him being a policeman locking up a prisoner and the finale makes him the prisoner himself.
One of the big things about 11 is scaling back the hubris and egotism the Davies era imbued him with and pretty much never kept in check, and it's all set up pretty perfectly here.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:40 am
Wow, yes I can really hear the similarity. Shockingly so, actually. This is, of course, the Keff McCulloch version.
I also have to say, the theme tune version that debuted here was Gold's absolute worst. I was a fan of his original version, even though he didn't get the bass line right, and I liked the "guitar" version alright even though it seemed a lesser effort, but this was just awful. The opening fanfare is blaring and intrusive, the melody line is weedy, and the bass line is utterly effaced.
Gold has produced some excellent music for the series, but I really sincerely hope that we'll have a new house composer for Series 8.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:40 am
Yeah that is an awesome detail.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:44 am
And, of course, one of the functions of the original police boxes was to serve as a place to lock up prisoners. So how perfect is it that Prisoner Zero's escape was actually facilitated by a "police box" blowing up?
March 26, 2014 @ 4:46 am
I'm sure it's no coincidence this – the start of Eleven's era – appears exactly nine years after the start of Nine's era, very clever.
Yes "The Eleventh Hour" has many traditions of “children’s adventure fiction”, notably an "orphan" hero, though actually, as the last scene shows, Amy running away isn't that radically different from Rose running away from Mickey.
In each story, the TARDIS is a magical mystery tour away from what the companion considers the humdrum.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:46 am
Just as good is Blackwood's face when the Doctor convinces her that he's "not people" and that he'll be right back. She smiles so broadly, so joyfully, so innocently. That smile is the essence of complete and unadulterated trust.
Which makes her mad dash for the suitcase all the more devastating.
March 26, 2014 @ 4:47 am
"Time is a book, and you can traverse traditionally by following the pages in order, or as the Doctor, by visiting pages at random. But you can only control the outcome by being the author, and the worst thing that can happen to you is to be mentioned in the book and for you to read the end of it. For then you are doomed to follow someone else's narrative and not create your own."
Very "Mind Robber"!
March 26, 2014 @ 5:04 am
Amy isn't completely disenfranchised once she and the Doctor start running. She gets two important moments — first, the one where she traps the Doctor (by virtue of his tie) and declares that she doesn't quite believe all this. However, she's slipped into the role of an antagonist, which is also unexpected for an introductory episode, and which will also turn out to be a feature of Moffat's era (all the Doctor's companions partake of antagonism.) What's interesting here is that Amy isn't doing this to "be" an antagonist, but for her own personal reasons — it's a choice based entirely on her own needs.
The second moment is when she and Rory are at the hospital, but they can't get through. She calls the Doctor for help, and he gives her what amounts to a riddle: "Look in the mirror." She solves the riddle: she's dressed as a policewoman, she'd earlier fooled the Doctor into thinking she was a real one, and she can do so again. We don't see her actually pulling this off, only the aftereffect — she and Rory have gotten into the hospital, and end up confronted by Prisoner Zero. Again, we get a story-beat that shows off Amy's cleverness (solving the riddle) but also her own "mercury" — being able to transform herself from kissogram to officer.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:05 am
I hope to see more content like this! Perhaps, when the Eruditorum regenerates after the Capaldi era, an entire "chapter" will be devoted to video commentaries produced by fans.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:08 am
I particularly like the bit near the end — "that was two years ago!"
I like to think that line is an offbeat nod to the TV Movie or the Davies era – how they were quite some time ago now, and Matt Smith is /now/ definitely here to stay.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:09 am
Except for Amy, she isn't running away from her life because it's "humdrum." It's rather explicit that she's running away from "growing up."
March 26, 2014 @ 5:11 am
To be fair, Amy does spend time running after him complaining about how he left her. I mean, she has issues about Raggedy Man and has a lot of catching up to do (literally and metaphorically).
March 26, 2014 @ 5:13 am
"the kissogram thing is problematic"
It didn't quite work, but I think the idea was that it allowed Amy to spend the majority of the episode "playing dress-up" – as another nod towards the theme of childhood, and perhaps to emphasize that she never quite grew up that she supposedly picked a job that still allowed her to be a child.
The fact that a job as a Kissogram is, in no other respect, remotely child-like is where it all falls down of course.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:18 am
I see that and raise you this: http://youtu.be/VTsD2FjmLsw?t=1m10s
(Compare to the 50th's version especially)
March 26, 2014 @ 5:20 am
Great essay. I really liked this episode and was excited by the relaunch and its new tone. I was utterly taken with Matt Smith from the moment he twiddled his fingers in the "Eleventh Doctor" special, and his magnetic charm was only confirmed here. I think his Doctor is one of the greats.
I wonder how this episode would have played if, as hinted, Tennant had had second thoughts and stayed on for another season? And how would the Big Bang storyline have played into it? Would that have resulted in his regeneration?
They cleverly took a page from the Fifth Doctor playbook in filming Matt's debut later – they did the same thing with Castrovalva, for the same reason.
I loved the grandstanding finale for the adrenaline rush it provided (plus I am a sucker for clip montages), but I disliked the continuation of the "look me up" plot resolution from "Forest of the Dead." It's just such a lazy, cheap way to trade on the Doctor's mythos without having to actually plot an ending (though it worked better here, since it took place after the plot resolution). However, the Pandorica plot existed specifically to undermine this, so I'll give it a pass.
What I can't give a pass to are the theme music, title sequence and the TARDIS interior. For all the aesthetic sophistication of the new color palate and cinematography style on display here, these elements just failed utterly for me. Murray Gold's music, overall, actually takes a step up in quality from the bombast of S4, and I quite like a lot of what he does here with a more spare, minimalist sound. But that theme tune arrangement is the absolute pits. It's tinny, weedy, and lacking in drama or power. It's trying for spooky and ethereal and hits limp and enervated instead. The bass line is totally effaced and the new opening fanfare is utterly pointless. Likewise, the cloud and fire tunnel, while not a disaster visually, are pretty bland and unexciting. For the first time since the McCoy era,I found myself fast forwarding through the opening sequence.
As for the TARDIS, I like the overall idea of the copper color and the almost Escher-like quality of it, but I think the finished set was an utter mess. The angles just look jumbled and confused, the railing (added at a late date for Health & Safety reasons) looks cheap and at odds with the rest of it. There's no clear sightline from the console to the doorway, and the console itself looks tacky. It's Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. It's whimsy curdled into utter twee. I was very, very glad to see the back of it.
And come on – how to TV professionals design something which can hardly be filmed in? This just baffles me. It's not like having a million reflective facets all over your set should UNEXPECTEDLY show the camera and microphones. It's the same clumsy design aesthetic that gave us the Paradigm Daleks and the Star Trek-ified Silurians, and it drives me nuts.
OK, glad I got that off my chest. I did like this episode overall, really.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:24 am
"… play Doctor with your friends…"
Naughtiness aside, my next door neighbor/friend and I absolutely did play "Doctor Who" together… using a Tom Baker doll I cobbled together from wadded masking tape with bits of paper and fabric for clothes. (K9 was built from a cut-up manila folder.) So this story, with the revelation that Amelia did the same thing, had a special meaning for me… beyond being, as noted, an excellent piece of "Who" and TV in general.
Criminey, how I wish my parents had saved those dolls I made…
March 26, 2014 @ 5:31 am
And the Nobou Uematsu (let's assume) version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhPRByQPbzE
Fun fact, Final Fantasy 13-2 could broadly be described as the result of series 5 and a JRPG colliding. There were no survivors, least of all quality.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:42 am
I recall a rumor, and since this is the internet it could be a rumor sourced from someone's sigmoid, that the Tenth Doctor version of this was intended to start with Tennant in the raggedy Doctor look meeting little Amelia, and her growing up to meet clean cut healthy Doctor who doesn't know her. The finale would then be his regeneration story, and the raggedy Doctor was Ten at the end of his life. It would be like getting the Reward segment spread non-chronologically over the course of the entire series. That would have been interesting, I feel, since the non-chronological Doctor bit in the Angels two-parter (that, if I'm reading the blog correctly, we won't see an entry on for a good long while) has become one of my favorite parts of that episode.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:57 am
I couldn't begin to guess what this version of the theme is aiming for, it's just the result of Gold piling more and more crap on top without taking anything away. That ascending horn intro is bad but that weird background choir that comes in towards the end is the absolute worst. I can never tell if it's a real choir or some kind of 'O Fortuna' effect from a Casio keyboard.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:01 am
Nor Clara – she keeps going back to her life, and in relative time never really vanishes from it.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:05 am
More to the point, she is dressed as a police officer, but isn't. She pretends to be one, then doesn't, then does again. There's some really interesting work to be done with that in conjunction with Eleven's "arming of the hero" scene at the end as he selects his new costume. To what degree is the Doctor a facade, a construct, a fiction he helps to generate himself, and to what extent is he a person?
Mapping that set of questions onto the same questions, applied to Amy as companion/fiance and wife and mother/woman/kissogram or officer, could yield some very interesting results.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:11 am
In terms of the "Madman with a box," I'd say Pertwee is the one who obviously fails to be this for much of his time as Doctor. Obviously, he doesn't really have the box for a large part of his time, and less obviously, he's much less of a madman. He's "eccentric," at best, most of the time. There's only a few good moments of Doctorish insanity in his run – the main one I can recall is his broad smile getting his mugshot taken by the military police in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", and maybe his seducing Sarah Jane to take a trip in the TARDIS at the end of that story. This is probably why Pertwee's Doctor so frequently feels "undoctorish."
March 26, 2014 @ 6:11 am
David Tennant in Series 5, according to Moff:
"I only had the roughest idea. Had David stayed for one final year, it would certainly have been his last, so my pitch was that it would start with the Tardis crashing in Amelia’s back garden—as now—and a terribly battered and bruised Tenth Doctor staggering out.
Amelia finds him, feeds him fish custard (no that was for Matt, it would have been something more Davidy) and generally helps him. But we, the audience, can see he’s in a truly bad way. Dying maybe. Eventually he heads back to his TARDIS, and flies off.
But when he returns—many years later for Amy—he seems perfectly fine, and indeed doesn’t remember any of those events…And of course over time, we realise what we saw was the Tenth Doctor at the end of his life, about to regenerate. Events that we return to in Episode 13…"
The same sort of timey wimey idea is then reused by Moff for Series 6.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:12 am
(Source: Doctor Who Magazine, from a while back. Can't recall the issue number.)
March 26, 2014 @ 6:13 am
As regards the TARDIS set, I liked the idea that the console would contain alarm clocks and the distributor cap from a Ford Mondeo hastily welded on by the Doctor during an emergency, but the idea that the TARDIS would grow itself a brand new console covered in that stuff doesn't quite sit right. Then again I think Eccleston/Tennant console room was so perfect that if I was the new showrunner I probably would've just kept it in the "that's just what it looks like now" way they've done with the standing regeneration effect.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:15 am
Also, Phil: Will you be covering Meanwhile in the TARDIS here on the blog, or are you planning to keep some minisodes and bonus content (the sheer amount of them!) for the books?
March 26, 2014 @ 6:23 am
Why is the idea that an attractive young woman being a kissogram (or stripper) problematic exactly? If a young woman wants to make a living using her looks that's her choice.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 6:26 am
@Ainsworth That is…amazing
@Dave Or the opposite: she tries to get as far away from childhood as possible (in a family-friendly show), absolutely abandoning it because it's time to just move on. Throughout the show she gradually softens too, as she reconciles both stages of her life.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:37 am
"The usual tagline for this is 'fairy tale'… but its use as a slogan for the era obscures much of what is actually going on in these stories…. The point, however, is… stories in which someone, often a child, finds some eccentric space that allows access to another world: a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, the portal to Annwn, or whatnot, and crosses over to have adventures. "
This is actually pretty close to Tolkien's definition of fairy tales (or, as he would have it, Faërie stories, where "Faërie" is the name for the "other world" in question), so I think that descriptor is in fact perfect. (His essay on the subject is one of the best things I've ever read, period. I highly recommend it.)
March 26, 2014 @ 6:51 am
I genuinely hate being the grouch here, but I feel like this post elides potential problems, difficulties and points of interest as we enter the Moffat era, primarily through assertion and not evidence. It may partly be a matter of the tone of the second paragraph, which seems to state outright that certain opinions simply don't exist. Apart from the kissogram thing, or the "Doctor picks up women by starting when they're kids" objection (a bit silly, but certainly something I recall reading at the time as a complaint about this episode), or the "Doctor solves the problem by saying 'I am the Doctor,'" or the impressively-shot but mostly pointless faffing about in the middle of the episode, there's the larger (potential) problem that this episode represents. The season arc problem.
That's not necessarily a problem, but it's clearly and definitely a problem for some viewers, especially those who dislike the Moffat era thus far. Eleventh Hour relies so heavily upon the entire season arc that much of the work it does is work for the remainder of the series, not work for itself as an individual episode. The degree to which this is a deep-seated design issue is reflected both by the content of today's post here and by many of the comments-engaging with this episode on its own is nearly impossible. One can praise, say, The Ribos Operation as a story apart from its place in the Key to Time arc, but The Eleventh Hour relies so heavily on being part of the larger arc that engaging it purely on its own merits just isn't on.
Let's ring up some of the ways in which this story falls apart in the absence of the larger arc: young Amelia lives in a big house with no adult supervision; the Doctor waits to pull his "I'm the Doctor, run" line on the Atraxi until the crisis is over (surely the time to threaten them is when doing so could save the planet); the "human residence" joke doesn't serve any deeper point in the story beyond upping the stakes in the way that the new series always does, unnecessarily (seeing one character we care about threatened means a lot more than threatening the planet AGAIN); Prisoner Zero's actions after escaping make absolutely no logical sense, nor is it ever explained why it would mock the Doctor ("the Doctor in the TARDIS doesn't know") about the arc-thing or even know about it; Rory's initial characterization is dire, saved mainly by a combination of Arthur Darvill's performance and our knowledge of where the character is going. And there's Amy's characterization, from the kissogram thing to the idea that, once abandoned by the Doctor, she elects to stay exactly where she was, waiting for him. That isn't actually arrested development, but within the confines of this single episode there's no other way to read it.
That's not even an attempt to be comprehensive.
There's lots of interesting work to be done thinking about how Moffat's concentration on larger stories relates to the smaller stories he tells, or the ways in which the cracks in any story, the gaps in its reality, are the POINT of fiction. Where is the alchemy in this episode? Is The Eleventh Hour an expansion of the initial series' exploration of the power of television and stories, as Moffat both exploits the possibilities of season arcs and the metafictional avenues available to him but not to most earlier showrunners, including the Internet and Internet culture, direct engagement with fan culture from the inside, evocation of the show's own history as innately of value?
March 26, 2014 @ 6:51 am
Perhaps partly, the issue is that prior criticism of the classic series cleared the ground for the fascinating and vibrant work this blog has done, while more ground-clearing is required as the blog moves closer to the present day. But as with the show itself, the more this blog structures individual entries around broad narratives at the expense of the single episode, the more it affirms uncritically Moffat's decision to do the same in his series of Doctor Who.
I'm not even necessarily unhappy at that structural choice; it's up to Dr. Sandifer to make it. It's the uncritical part that makes me uneasy. Because the strength of a good arc is that it signals direction clearly; the mark of a bad arc is the same as the mark of a bad prophecy, a vagueness that permits one to believe that the showrunner has no idea where he or she is going even if that isn't true. Prophecy, knowing the future and where one is going, seeing the narrative arc and twisting out of it: all these things have been central to the blog and will be central to the Moffat years. But the deeper problem with the Key to Time series emerges again here: the Doctor is, fundamentally, not an agent of Order and Law and Stasis, but the structures of an arc can affirm these things despite him. And the ending of an arc precludes possibilities and locks down the mercurial, or at least threatens to do so.
For Eleven, the greatest threat may not be the narrative collapse of the Daleks, but the narrative determinism of the series' own history and continuity alongside the cumulative weight of its series-arcs.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:58 am
Mapping that set of questions onto the same questions, applied to Amy as companion/fiance and wife and mother/woman/kissogram or officer, could yield some very interesting results.
It's even more interesting once you look at her later career choices – as a model, a travel writer, and a children's author. She moves from being someone's else's fantasy, to be used as they want (a kissogram), to being society's fantasy (a model), to creating the fantasy for other adults (a travel writer), to finally, coming full circle and being the one who writes the story for children. However, she only does this after she's separated from the Doctor – she's all grown up, and finally in control of her own story and perhaps more importantly, telling the story to others. Unfortunately, the kissogram and model aspects are far more obvious and emphasized than the subtle writer ones, making the thematic beats much harder to see and undermining her arc as a character. (Also, I have to credit my husband for connecting the dots here. It's not something I put together on my own or have seen elsewhere.)
I think that the children's adventure story framework also helps us understand Rory quite a bit better. In fairy tales, the prince is there to rescue the princess or otherwise bring about closure. In children's adventure stories, the girl is usually happy to leave (Amy, Lucy in Narnia, Wendy in Peter Pan, Alice) and invited or carried off by a ridiculous, character that promises adventure (The Doctor, Peter Pan, the White Rabbit, etc.). In contrast, some of these stories have a character, often male, who is less than enthused about going, but gets dragged along anyway. They wish they were at home, going about their daily business. Edmund serves this role in the first Narnia book and Eustace in later ones, and I know there are other characters in similar stories, although I can't think of them now. Rory serves this same role in Doctor Who – not exactly an antagonist, but someone who anchors the protagonist to the real world, never quite lets them escape into the fantasy. If you take children's fantasy stories to symbolize adulthood, I think the split in character is quite helpful, revealing children's conflicted feelings. On one hand, adulthood sounds like a fabulous adventure; on the other, it's pretty scary.
As a result, Rory works on two levels completely apart from any Nice Guy stereotype. So rather than just sticking around with Amy because she's pretty, Rory is the side of all of us who thinks in the middle of the adventure that maybe they should have just stayed at home with a nice cup of tea. On the symbolic level, Amy and Rory are two sides of the same coin when it comes to approaching adulthood. Amy doesn't need Rory to grow up – they need each other. She needs the grounding, he needs the adventure, and they both grow as a result. My husband and I have a similar dynamic and actually did grow up together, so I get a little frustrated when people totally write off Rory for being boring.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:59 am
Prisoner Zero's actions after escaping make absolutely no logical sense, nor is it ever explained why it would mock the Doctor ("the Doctor in the TARDIS doesn't know") about the arc-thing or even know about it;
While I agree with the bulk of what you said, because the Moffat era is fucking terrible, this bit here I do take issue with; Prisoner Zero's actions make total sense if you assume that he's not a prisoner at all but an actor hired by the Attraxi to set the Doctor up, so he'll fly off with Amy and get himself tangled in the events that eventually lead him to the Pandorica. That is also why they react to his "I'm the Doctor, Run" speech by running away instead of squishing him.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:00 am
Adoring Matt and generally disliking David's Doctor, this will be the first and only time that I want to see what series 5 would have been like if he'd stayed for another year. The timey-wimey bits sound great and Amy spending the season being confused (and suspicious?) as to why the Doctor doesn't remember anything would have been so interesting.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:05 am
That essay is brilliant. It can be found online, or in the Tolkien Reader.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:21 am
I have a special place in my heart for this episode, the first I ever watched. At the time, I knew that the Doctor traveled in space and time and changed his face, but not much more than that.
From the words "Can I have an apple?" I was totally sold on this. I didn't know anything about the Daleks or the Time Lords, but this madman, who had been tumbling across the London skyline and crash-landed in Amelia's garden, was someone I would follow anywhere.
And throughout the season, I would continually identify with Amy's perspective on the Doctor (the 'bad day' comment in Beast Below, confusion over the Daleks, guessing River's identity in Time of Angels), which really made season six extra-emotional.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 7:29 am
Instead, they attempt to make the Doctor a part of their everyday life.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 7:37 am
Rory is the Arthur Dent of the Doctor Who universe.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:38 am
Couple quick things. Firstly the arc based television thing. Complaining that the episode does heavy lifting for the arc is like complaining about a dog because it's rubbish at being a particle accelerator. Doctor Who (and a lot of television) has a series arc these days. It has for 9 years now. I can see that being a problem but I see that more as a problem with the fact that people keep showing up to a pet store looking for the higgs, rather than with any actual functions of the dog in question.
Little quibble: Amelia says that she lives with her Aunt and her aunt is out for the evening. That is a big house for the two of them but if there wasn't a missing people arc it still stands just fine.
Doctor Sandier's entry is almost entirely about the episode itself on it's own terms and in fact doesn't make a great deal of the arc. You may be reading into it a bit.
The Doctor can't pull his big dramatic speech until he's reassembled the pieces of his identity and made himself the Doctor again. From an extradiagetic level he simply doesn't have the ability to until he's sent the invasion packing and managed to deal with prisoner zero. It simply isn't an earned narrative beat.
In terms of Rory, I'm not really sure what you're complaining about here. Is it that he doesn't stand up for himself? That he's kind of a sad sack? I'm really not sure how (given the limited time allotted to him) he does any worse than any of our other secondary characters.
The other point worth bringing up is Ross': The Moffat era is the pinnacle of Doctor Who so far. It leaves Hinchcliffe, JNT, Cartmel, and Davies in the dust.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 7:41 am
Amy does live with supervision, she just has a really bad aunt who doesn't want her (as evidenced later with the stories about the psychiatrists), which is why she reaches out to the Doctor.
As for everything else, I think it depends how much you like mysticism/things that aren't necessarily meant to be answered.
March 26, 2014 @ 8:00 am
..upping the stakes in the way that the new series always does, unnecessarily
There are loads of classic Dr Who stories in which the entire earth / humanity / the universe is threatened. It's not something the new series just made up. There's a planet / civilisation destroying threat in every single one of Pertwee's first season, for example. Although the new series does have a tendency to turn the bombast up for its season finales, granted.
the Moffat era is fucking terrible
No it isn't.
March 26, 2014 @ 8:02 am
The other thing to consider about the "kissogram" is the function of kissing in Doctor Who. Take a look at the kisses up to this point in the Revival:
— Nine kisses Rose, saving her life and triggering his regeneration
— Ten kisses Martha, to buy himself some time with the Judoon.
— Martha gives Ten the "kiss of life" and saves his life.
— Donna kisses the Doctor, shocking him out of cyanide poisoning.
In the Revival, at this point, kissing is more than just affection, and is rarely sexual. Kissing is a metaphor for Revival itself. The fact that Amy works as a kissogram should be read, I think, in this context. She's a message of eucatastrophe. When she kisses him at the end of Crash of the Byzantium, it's after a near-death experience. She actually does bring the Doctor back to life at the end of the series — and when she lines up to kiss him, he puts his finger on her lips, another nod to the function of kissing (he's already been resurrected at this point.)
March 26, 2014 @ 8:05 am
Indeed, Clara isn't "childlike" at all — she's fully into adulthood, what with raising kids that aren't even hers, and setting boundaries in a mature, responsible fashion. (Which means she's not the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, as that trope can never grow up; likewise, those who accuse Clara of that trope are exercising their own special brand of sexism.)
March 26, 2014 @ 8:24 am
the Moffat era is fucking terrible
March 26, 2014 @ 8:50 am
I hate that version of the theme music, except a funny thing happens when you hear it in mega-dolby surround-o-DTS audi-vision or what have you (I'm no audiophile). Under those circumstances it sounds amazing, almost unrecognizable as the same arrangement.
I have to wonder if Gold mixed it in a really good studio, and just forgot that most people have fairly crappy speakers at home that clip the high and low ends. It doesn't help the score feel any better at home, but the one time I heard it in such a setup I thought "Well hell, that would have been nice to hear when I was supposed to."
March 26, 2014 @ 9:02 am
But the main thing is, nobody voiced those criticisms at the time. Nobody. This episode went over phenomenally well with fandom, is still very well liked, and even today the "I hate the Moffat era except for The Eleventh Hour" position is commonly found. This is an enormously popular piece of television, and was even popular among people who went on to dislike the Moffat era.
So talking about the season arcs seems to me misguided at best here. I mean, for one thing, there are nine more stories in this season, so this seems like a really strange place to talk about the arc. Arcs surely need to be addressed, but I'd expect to see a serious analysis of the Series Five arc somewhere around The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and of arcs in general somewhere around Time of the Doctor.
More broadly, I'm very much puzzled by the criticism that the first entry of the Moffat era – an era I've said repeatedly that I am extremely well-disposed towards – does not set up huge amounts of critique of the era. Critique will happen, but really, you were expecting it here?
March 26, 2014 @ 9:03 am
At a tangent, has the Leadworth dating controversy been resolved?
March 26, 2014 @ 9:08 am
The series five theme tune starts off pretty rubbish. But I'm not sure any arrangement can completely wreck the moment when the tune comes in over the beat. (Of course I grew up with the JNT-era theme tunes, so I freely confess I may have no taste here. It's not a proper Doctor Who title sequence unless it has a star field turn into the Doctor's face.)
March 26, 2014 @ 9:09 am
Ermagerd, not being a videogamer I was unaware of these tracks. That's just criminal.
March 26, 2014 @ 9:10 am
Not only is the essay brilliant, it seems to be rather influential in terms of Moffat's approach.
March 26, 2014 @ 9:13 am
That's adorable, Robert! I wish I still had the little cushions and pillows my grandmother helped me make for my Kenner Jabba the Hutt to rest on! 🙂
March 26, 2014 @ 9:28 am
"…the scene of Amy entering the TARDIS, with the worm, golden glow of it pouring out onto her face in the rich night are absolutely immaculately shot."
This was particularly interesting to me. The color of the TARDIS interior light had previously been very yellow, but when the Doctor snaps his fingers and the light splashes across Amy's face, it's got a much more reddish tint, like copper. Now, Amy's been portrayed in lots of reds this episode — the red hair and as Amelia wearing the red sweater and red wellies. Her apple is red, too. It's almost like Amy's impact on the Doctor's psychology is so deep it changes the nature of the TARDIS itself — not only is the console very childlike, its very color reflects how much Amy's seared onto the Doctor's heart.
March 26, 2014 @ 9:33 am
To this day, my mother never tires of reminding me that I did a Calvinesque "I'm running away to the Yukon" strop aged about 6 or 7 (although as this was Hampshire, I was probably thinking more of Guildford than the Yukon).
I stomped out of the house carrying a little suitcase which, when my
parents looked inside it after I came back 10 minutes later, was found to contain nothing but lego bricks, marbles and my collection of rubber insects.
So yeah, I love this scene too.
Corpus Christi Music Scene
March 26, 2014 @ 10:37 am
Wow. I guess Im alone in enjoying this version of the theme, particularly the fanfare. My only regret is they never use the middle 8 section.
March 26, 2014 @ 10:42 am
Statistically speaking, the Moffat Era is certainly not terrible, but it is more generally average than the Davies era. That is, fewer highs, but also fewer rock bottom lows. Observe:
(2005 and on, not including the specials year or Day of the Doctor)
Series 7 is certainly the lowest overall one, but it's worst episodes barely even register as such compared to the lowest of all the other series. I suspect if Day of the Doctor were included it would have yanked that series up higher than series 2. Certainly the overall series trend line is heading upwards (and for the record, I did not much enjoy series 7 overall).
Oh, I know what you're saying though – this is just a general consensus, it's not a great guide of anything in particular. Except yeah, actually it is – looking at the locations of the episodes, with only a couple of exceptions* they all fall more or less where they should be on the sliding scale of my personal enjoyment, but also on most other peoples scales based on talking to them (I work for a game company – you will not, outside the UK, find a place with a more concentrated and dedicated Who fanbase, so we talk Who a lot).
So it's odd. "everyone" says "Moffat's is fucking crap compared to RTD's!", or "Moffat's era is fucking terrible!" (apparently the fucking is needed to really emphasize how low things have become), and yet consistently that's not the case.
Oddly, the only place it really falls down is he seems to be lacking a Steven Moffat to write stories to really dominate the rest (the exception being series 2). His era still has his stories pretty much on top, but not by as big a margin, and of course he has a lot more stories now.
So the show now has an excellent Doctor (I hesitate to say a better Doctor, but certainly no worse), better cinematography, better music, better picture quality, better special effects (mostly), and seemingly stories that resonate just as well as the majority of RTD era ones, yet far more people seem to be vocal about hating it. Doesn't add up, doesn't add up at all.
Anyway, this should probably have gone in the "Moffat sucks" post from last week, but I didn't find the handy graphing tool until yesterday.
*The Eleventh Hour is one of those exceptions because I think it's a brilliant episode, though 8.8 certainly doesn't make it bad.
March 26, 2014 @ 10:49 am
"The Eleventh Hour relies so heavily on being part of the larger arc that engaging it purely on its own merits just isn't on."
I don't agree. There's very little time devoted to the "arc" — most of the time, the story is taking care of the business of a series opening episode: introducing a new Doctor and a new companion, figuring out how to capture Prisoner Zero and the concurrent escalation of stakes, and then making a statement against the Atraxi. This is the large bulk of the story.
The "arc" stuff is actually pretty minor. There's the fact that PZ didn't open the Crack, its amusement over the fact that the Doctor doesn't know, and its final opaque riddle. This is all captured in one short scene!
We don't need to know how the Crack formed when it comes to the drama between the Doctor and Amelia, for Prisoner Zero's escape through it, and the Doctor's admonishment of the Atraxi. Nor is anything lost by not knowing what the reference to "Silence will fall" means, or "the Pandorica will open" (though there's certainly a lot added with understanding that context).
March 26, 2014 @ 10:58 am
You're not alone. I like it, too, though my favorite is still the version for Series Four. (I also really like the Howell version!)
March 26, 2014 @ 11:25 am
More than that, it's a season opener and a de facto series opener. It's the one episode of the Moffat era that ever stood completely on its own merits, even if only for seven days – the one that you can absolutely say was engaged purely on its own merits.
March 26, 2014 @ 11:33 am
Okay, long time time reader, first time commenter.
This was my first complete Doctor Who episode. I've heard of series 4 and parts of the latter half of series four. But those didn't hook me in.
This one, of course, did. And doing it so with confidence.
The one thing that I think should have been seen, in this episode, was Amy's relationship with her aunt. Yet, we only have mentions of her. The Amy scenes with the Doctor parading around were great in establishing Amy's embarrisment of her childhood hero. But, in hindsight, having few scenes of Amy's family, just at least one scene of the aunt would have been nice. Instead of leaving her as the ghost.
March 26, 2014 @ 11:53 am
There's a good reason for not showing the aunt. Her absence adds to the isolation and abandonment that's at the center of Amelia's childhood experience — that is, it adds to our appreciation of that experience. Likewise, her absence from Amy's adulthood makes sense, too, because Amy's, like, an adult now.
And, I dunno, introducing the aunt would put undo importance on her as a character, both in terms of Amelia's development and characterization, and in terms of how the season will play out.
Besides, so much of the Davies era defined the companions in terms of their families. Making Amy pretty much an orphan signals a very different approach.
March 26, 2014 @ 12:01 pm
Very nice Bennet! Thanks for taking the effort to make this. You've managed to clarify some of Moffat's approach to me, at least.
March 26, 2014 @ 12:25 pm
Do policemen come in boxes?
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 12:27 pm
The other thing about Clara is that the Doctor thinks she's a mystery, but the reveal is that she's just an ordinary girl with a life that the Doctor stumbled upon. It's almost an inverse of the MPDG.
Of course Clara is mostly made up of symbols, but we'll get to that when the blog does 🙂
March 26, 2014 @ 12:27 pm
Really nicely done! I love to see a gauntlet taken up and with such style.
It seems Doctor Sandifer is going to run with 'We're all stories in the end' as his theme and your analysis of Moffat's use of visual meta-narrative techniques to inset the medium into the message makes a useful companion piece.
March 26, 2014 @ 12:42 pm
More importantly not showing the aunt begins the seeding of the uncanny 'not quite rightness' of Amelia' s world. More specifically Leadworth. There are no ducks in the duck pond and no aunt in the aunt's house. When the Doctor reboots the Universe at the end of the season Amy's parents are returned but there is still no aunt.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 12:45 pm
@HarliquiNQB That graph just showed up on tumblr and someone said it made their dislike for recent seasons "statistically justified".
Honestly, they're so up and down, I can't figure out how the trends work. There isn't that much of a difference. Not to mention that they're all in a very good range of numbers and really, the difference between the "below" and "average" lines is one point. (And episodes have different goals, which is why the arc ones are towards the top and the more stand-alone ones farther down, and Series 7 had much less arc, and the stand-alone episodes coming toward the end of Series 6 causes that one to drop I guess, since I can't see why it would otherwise compared to some of the RTD ones.) Oh, and nostalgia typically allows things to be rated higher (or lower), and it could be possible that more people are on IMDB and watching Doctor Who now then before, so a greater number of ratings causes it to flatten out more.
Long story short, from all my reading of responses to Doctor Who, there is a good, bad, and middling reading for just about every single episode. Some more than others, but especially where the new series is concerned, it's just personal preference for a type of storytelling, etc.
Pen Name Pending
March 26, 2014 @ 12:53 pm
Actually I just realized that the primary difference in enthusiasm between the two eras is that, in addition to Moffat being the follower of RTD so he was subject to extra scrutiny, his greater involvement with story arcs led many in the Age of the Internet to overcomplicate it and expect more and then feel cheated, wheras RTD just dropped a word without any clues for anyone to figure out in the meantime, and ended it with a lot of spectacle and played on the audience's affects for Tennant, Rose, etc, despite the stories being more simplistic. (This isn't a criticism either way, it just led to higher audience appreciation and less scrutiny because the audience hadn't already formed an idea of what they would see. So, it will be interesting how it is viewed in the future.)
March 26, 2014 @ 1:02 pm
The aunt returns too — not at the house, but the wedding. She's wearing a blue and white striped blouse, a red corsage, and an awful black feathery thing on her head. The same woman that plays her aunt in the beginning of The Big Bang, when there's no stars.
March 26, 2014 @ 1:35 pm
I agree about Amy putting the Doctor's tie in the car door. (It's not a bow tie yet. Those unfortunate people who don't like Amy can give that a Freudian reading.) I don't agree that the mirror scene establishes her character. Any modern generic companion, if dressed as a police officer, would be able to take the Doctor's hint. It's the bits where the companion functions otherwise than generically that establish them as characters.
That a woman chooses to make a living out of her looks is her right. Nevertheless there are a whole lot of problems in our society about depictions of women as primarily sexual objects. It leads to both internalised and externalised expectations about the public standards a woman ought to live up to (making an effort about her appearance) and those she oughtn't to bother with (any kind of publically claimed expertise).
March 26, 2014 @ 2:35 pm
My favorite Murray Gold musical cue is probably Clara's theme. I hope I don't find out that one was a ripoff too.
March 26, 2014 @ 2:42 pm
What I can't give a pass to are the theme music, title sequence and the TARDIS interior.
I felt exactly the same way when I reviewed this in 2010. The interior has grown on me a bit — while I like the new one OK, I'm not sure it really needed to go back to being as antiseptic as the old one was — but the titles and theme never did, and I was so relieved when they changed for "The Snowmen."
March 26, 2014 @ 2:43 pm
I had a very small TARDIS console made out of a Girl Scout cookie box.
Unless that was my Orac. I can't remember now.
March 26, 2014 @ 3:02 pm
But the main thing is, nobody voiced those criticisms at the time. Nobody.
Well. I voiced some of them at the time. http://encyclops.com/the-eleventh-hour/
Perhaps I'm nobody. That's probably a fair pronouncement.
That said, in accord with your larger point, I did quite enjoy it, even at the time, particularly since stuff that makes it seem clunkier now ("Doctor vision," which you mentioned, and also the ersatz "extended family" who as far as I know are never seen again) only sticks out as one-off shtick in hindsight. And I don't think the Moffat era is "fucking terrible," nor is it "the pinnacle of Doctor Who so far," though I can't deny I get a little thrill out of seeing that we're going to have some entertaining debates about it going forward.
I'm down with the bow tie now, by the way. I don't even remember why I didn't like it to start with.
March 26, 2014 @ 3:22 pm
"he puts his finger on her lips, another nod to the function of kissing (he's already been resurrected at this point.)"
There's a mild parallel with "noli me tangere" … "Noli me osculare" ?
March 26, 2014 @ 3:24 pm
I love the section that goes to 11 beats in the bar. Just sayin
March 26, 2014 @ 4:07 pm
David Ainsworth says: "… something I recall reading at the time as a complaint about this episode), or the "Doctor solves the problem by saying 'I am the Doctor,' …"
Philip Sandifer says: "… nobody voiced those criticisms at the time. Nobody."
Well, I hate to differ, but on August 11, 2010, I marathoned Series 5, watching it for the first time after returning from a lengthy stay abroad. I published my thoughts on each episode to Facebook, and this is among the things I said about The Eleventh Hour:
"The monster of the week is decent enough (though, all Prisoner Zero ever seems to do is pop the fangs; it's spooky the first time, but he never does much with 'em), as is the Doctor's crisis-resolving gambit. However, something rings just a bit hollow about the scene at the end where the Doctor scares off the Atraxi. While he's getting into costume and running up to the final confrontation there's a definite sense of tension bulding, but somehow the climax just doesn't clinch it. Partially because the "I'm the Doctor you should be scared" business was never very convincing, and partially because Moffat did it already in "Forest of the Dead" in 2008. (It made even less sense then; why on Earth would the Vashta Nerada be able to use the library computers, remotely, from inside a spacesuit no less? THEY'RE A SWARM FOR GOD'S SAKE. I digress.)"
March 26, 2014 @ 4:10 pm
One more for good measure…
March 26, 2014 @ 4:33 pm
Brilliant video Bennett!
March 26, 2014 @ 4:39 pm
I'm not entirely sure what "Doctor Vision" refers to — do you mean the really awesome thing that I thought was meant to represent the Doctor seeing the world through his strange and alien perceptions, but which when it was never used again, I realized was actually meant to be a blipvert montage of cellphone pictures meant to reinforce the fact that the Doctor was being tipped off by the way that Rory's the only person who pulled out his cell phone to take a picture of something other than the alien space ship?
March 26, 2014 @ 4:57 pm
Fantastically done video — not just a good compilation of the relevant evidence, but insightful, too. Thanks so much for making and sharing it!
March 26, 2014 @ 5:01 pm
The Eleventh Hour is, in many ways, an extended argument for the claim that watching Matt Smith being the Doctor is fun in its own right.
I don't comment to agree as often as I comment to disagree — I feel as though a comment that amounts to pressing the "Like" button would just annoy you. But I want to call this sentence out in particular as the thing we're probably going to agree about the most for this whole era. There are only two episodes in the entire Matt Smith era I wouldn't cheerfully watch again just to see Matt Smith play the Doctor (and, amazingly, neither is "Victory of the Daleks"!).
March 26, 2014 @ 5:02 pm
The Kissogram bit was annoying for me simply because I wasn't expecting it. I'd seen pics of Amy in the police outfit and had actually assumed she really was a police officer until she took the hat off and yelled "I'm a kissogram!" The prior companions had been a shop girl, a med student, and a temp (with a waitress, an old age pensioner, and whatever the hell Mickey did for a living as short term companions), and I was looking forward to the dynamic changing when the companion was actually trained in investigation, crisis management and self-defense for the first time in the series history (with the possible exception of Jack). I was even ready to praise Moffatt for how feminist he was in adding such a character to the TARDIS. Little did I know.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:03 pm
That's what I meant, yes. I thought of it as a Sherlockesque mind-palace sort of move; I never thought of it as a montage of cellphone pictures. I'll have to watch the episode again now (twist my arm!).
March 26, 2014 @ 5:16 pm
To bring us ever closer to triple-digit comments:
"Get a girlfriend, Jeff!"
What do we think of that line? At the time, I vividly remember thinking that whatever was on the laptop would reveal that Jeff was gay. Then, when it apparently didn't, I thought, "wow, this new Doctor is a bit of a prude, isn't he?"
It turned out that he was and he wasn't. He's both less of a ladies' man than Tennant's Doctor was — awkward at various times with both Amy and River, and witness all the Zygon jokes in "Day" — and somehow more, apparently hooking up with Marilyn Monroe and various other historical figures in throwaway lines and quick cuts. I don't know which parts of that I like and which parts I don't, but given how much I love Smith's Doctor I'm perhaps overly inclined to forgive the latter.
And what do we reckon Jeff was browsing? It had to be something porny, but also particularly embarrassing. Hentai?
March 26, 2014 @ 5:21 pm
Hentai was my first thought too. I mean, when I saw the scene. It was the first thing I thought was on the screen, that is.
I'm not a pervert >_>
March 26, 2014 @ 5:25 pm
Rory's initial characterization is dire, saved mainly by a combination of Arthur Darvill's performance and our knowledge of where the character is going.
I'd take issue with that – until Flesh and Stone's trailer for "Vampires of Venice", I hadn't a clue he was coming back on the show at all.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:27 pm
Yeah, that. The "Doctor Vision" was one of the few things I actively disliked about Eleventh Hour. It felt more appropriate to Sherlock than DW, and my immediate thought was "man, that's gonna get old in a hurry if they do that every episode." Which they didn't, so crisis averted.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:31 pm
Noting that I am not the person to talk to for a detailed musical analysis, I would point out that the underlying element that all of these share is really just a walk-up/walk-down in which every note is stressed as a fanfare.
What strikes me as so successful about "I Am the Doctor" is the number of different variations Gold builds up around that basic motif, however, and thus the number of different ways and, more to the point, levels that the theme gets. He spends the whole episode not quite resolving it or leaving bits of the orchestration out, or sidling up to the theme and not quite using it. It's the larger structure he builds out of the theme that strikes me as an impressive composition. The motif is easy enough – it's an incredibly obvious set of five notes (Looking at some fan sheet musics, it's just going from C to G and back in the key of C). It's the fact that Gold builds such a thorough set of ways to use the theme, building up a whole system of different approaches to the theme. Gold, I think, recognizes the theme's flexibility in a genuinely impressive and creative way.
(Interestingly, I don't think I Am The Doctor gets used anywhere in Time of the Doctor, does it?)
March 26, 2014 @ 5:39 pm
I'll freely admit to really enjoying this episode, for a lot of the reasons stated. But quite possibly most of all for the performances of Matt Smith and Caitlin Blackwood, who I would happily have watched an entire series of.
However, what stuck out for me were not the (admittedly quite wonderful) cues to the changed perspective of the show to being really good children's fiction, but rather the worrying signs that Moffat was off his leash here.
The forced energy of Murray Gold's "crashing" music
The gaudy insertions of the lightning strikes into the credit sequence
The new console set desperately screaming "Look at how Wacky I am!"
The 'loose' element in the plotting, of who Prisoner Z and the Atraxi were, and how it all got resolved.
Skipping ahead, my wife and I decided in the end that what we didn't like about Moffat was that he can write a HELL of a script, but that we think he needs a good Script Producer standing over him, forcing a little discipline into his work. He's much more interested in making things stylish, cool, and exciting, than in the details of how his plots set up and resolve. Say what you like about RTD, his plotting was always tight, and consistent.
Still, perhaps that is revealing more about what my wife and I like in a script, than anything else.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:43 pm
Prisoner Zero's actions after escaping make absolutely no logical sense, nor is it ever explained why it would mock the Doctor ("the Doctor in the TARDIS doesn't know") about the arc-thing or even know about it
I agree that this was a problem never resolved, but I disagree that the problem is that you can't understand Prisoner Zero's motivations without knowledge of the arc. Quite the reverse actually. Prisoner Zero's taunts establish that there is an arc centered on the cracks and hints that "Pandorica" and "Silence" are arc words, much as "Bad Wolf" and "Torchwood" were in prior eras. The problem is that Prisoner Zero's actions don't make any sense once you've seen the entire arc play out (both through Big Bang and further through to Time of the Doctor), which leads me to suspect that Moffatt knows perfectly well now that Prisoner Zero didn't make any sense but it just wasn't a priority at the time.
In hindsight, we know that the Silence was a group of beings who wanted to prevent the Doctor from answering the First Question at Tranzalore, and to that end, they tried to blow up the TARDIS and then turned Melody Pond into a Doctor-killing assassin (not necessarily in that order). A coalition of aliens who learned of the TARDIS-initiated destruction of the universe created the Pandorica to trap the Doctor forever. However, I am utterly baffled as to what connection Prisoner Zero had to any of that, as well as what purpose it could have had in saying "The Pandorica will open. Silence will fall." But that is only because I am an anorak who has obsessed over Eleven's personal timeline for the last three years. To the casual fan who is schooled in how myth arcs work from shows like Lost and X-Files, the purpose of Prisoner Zero is to be a one-off villain who, right before its defeat, says "Cracks. Pandorica. Silence. Pay attention to these words."
March 26, 2014 @ 5:51 pm
By "these criticisms" I meant the suggestion that The Eleventh Hour is made problematic by the larger arc, to be clear.
Also, I think the intent (or at least what I always assumed) with Prisoner Zero was simply that the rumors of the cracks and the mantra "The Pandorica will open/Silence will fall" are simply well-known across the universe. Much like the Doctor keeps hearing rumors of Trenzalore, including from Dorian, despite Dorian's lack of any involvement with Trenzalore itself.
March 26, 2014 @ 5:59 pm
Amusingly, I just sat down to try and construct a time line for the Doctor's interactions with River, the Silence and the Pandorica and was surprised to realize that I couldn't figure out which came first — the Silence's scheme to blow up the TARDIS or the Silence's scheme to convert Melody Pond into an assassin to kill the Doctor.
Anyway, it seems kind of bizarre to me that Prisoner Zero would have heard rumors of the cracks and the mantra "The Pandorica will open/Silence will fall" but not the Doctor. YMMV.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:17 pm
"Anyway, it seems kind of bizarre to me that Prisoner Zero would have heard rumors of the cracks and the mantra "The Pandorica will open/Silence will fall" but not the Doctor. YMMV."
Prisoner Zero has heard of the Doctor — calling the Doctor "Time Lord" in the final confrontation.
March 26, 2014 @ 6:50 pm
Love these points about colour choice. It's also worth comparing the warm copper of The Eleventh Hour to the sickly yellow-and-green of the console room when it was first seen in Rose. Of course, the plot function was considerably different – Rose has to be rejected, Amy has to be enticed.
Oh, and I'd like to add that some time ago I gave all the different TARDIS console rooms nicknames* and called this one "Copper Pond" – which is how I think of it to this day.
*Can't remember why, but I think the gap between Series 6 and Series 7 had something to do with it.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:02 pm
problematic by the larger arc
Oh yes, that certainly wasn't a concern for me, at least (can't speak for anyone else, who might be precognitive). I didn't have a sense at the time that the arc would involve the Crack. I did have a sense that it might involve a "Pandorica" and "silence" (no capital yet implied), but as you say —
the rumors of the cracks and the mantra "The Pandorica will open/Silence will fall" are simply well-known across the universe
— that works well enough for me. I honestly have never had the patience to work out the timeline implied by "Time of the Doctor," so I'm looking forward to some help there — if you don't do it, a commenter (Alan?) will, and if a commenter doesn't, I'm sure Google will turn up someone who has. Point is, it had no effect on my appreciation of "The Eleventh Hour" any of the times I watched it.
March 26, 2014 @ 8:55 pm
@Pen Name Pending
My point was merely that for the amount of very vocal vitrol the era receives (and it receives a lot) the series under Moffat is clearly as well regarded as it ever was under Davies, and is perhaps generally better received.
I could see that graph proving that someone's current dislike was "statistically justified" too, if read a certain way,* but it seems that the vocal distaste of many (some of whom post here on a regular basis) seems to massively outweigh the actual amount by which the show has descended (which it hasn't, statistically, quite the opposite).
I would never go as far as to say that anyone disliking the current era more than the previous one was wrong (myself I like them equally, although 7 was for me the weakest), but I simply cannot fathom the extent to which people appear to despise it. Maybe it's just that people with a hate on are more vocal in their opinions (I know I used to be about my pet hates until I realised it just wasn't usually worth the effort), or maybe it's something else. To me though "Moffat has ruined Doctor Who!" is akin to "Lucas destroyed my childhood!" which is an equally fatuous claim. This from someone who despises 80% of the prequel films with his every fiber – clearly it destroyed nothing other than the time I wasted watching them, but I did gain some eye candy, some good music, and my Son likes The Clone Wars, so that's something. I would argue the Moffat era, at the very least, gives as much (though obviously not The Clone Wars, that would be odd) .
* Interestingly, if you set the scale from 1 to 10; the trend line for the entire series (if you turn it on at the bottom) appears to go down – it's an optical illusion, it very definitely goes up.
March 26, 2014 @ 8:59 pm
Scans of his stamp collection obviously – this is a family show!
Or, OK, probably not.
March 26, 2014 @ 9:39 pm
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March 26, 2014 @ 10:37 pm
It may be impossible to create a coherent timeline of the Eleven era, at least not without going 3D. Basically, Eleven's entire existence is a series of interlocking ontological paradoxes. Throughout his life, Eleven has been consistently engaged with River Song, with The Cracks, and with the Silence. And near the end of his life, Eleven inadvertently creates the Silence which in turn wants to stop him from answering the Question and which creates both River and the Cracks (the later accidentally) as part of failed assassination attempts. Within that overarching paradox, you have the subsidiary paradoxes of River creating her own existence by saving Ten back at the Library and then saving Amy and Rory so that they could get married and give birth to her and of Eleven choosing Clara as a companion because of the mystery surrounding her that never would have existed if he hadn't chosen her as a companion in the first place.
Finally, you have to consider the possibility that parts of the Eleven era were rewritten as the series progressed. Amy apparently had memories of both growing up an orphan and growing up with her parents. Rory has a 1000 years of memories of being a plastic Roman in a world without stars. And I am intrigued by the fan theory that Mel was NOT a part of Amy and Rory's lives originally but that she inserted herself retroactively into the time line, thereby changing both their histories and personalities. Finally, the conclusion of Time of the Doctor effectively undid the Name of the Doctor because the Doctor did not actually die on Tranzalore and certainly the TARDIS was not left there as the Doctor's tomb for the GI to find.
March 26, 2014 @ 10:43 pm
I think the idea of "a coherent timeline of the Eleven era" is suspect to begin with. Non-linear storytelling is not linear storytelling moved out of order. The order in which we learn things about characters and the world is in a very real sense the order in which they become true. Time of the Doctor doesn't change how we are supposed to read The Eleventh Hour – The Eleventh Hour is supposed to function as the piece of television that aired on April 3rd, 2010. Nothing of the Matt Smith era precedes it.
This is the heart of what non-linear storytelling is. It's narrative where the juxtapositions between pieces of information are what drives the narrative instead of causality. Plot causality takes on the role that theme often takes in a linear narrative – something that's there, but in a slightly etheric sense.
March 26, 2014 @ 11:00 pm
I a musician either, but it seems to me that the most obvious common element, the cycling chord sequence, must be a fairly obvious and straightforward chord progression. (Unless the Mass Effect composer was also listening to the Long Good Friday theme, that makes two people who've hit on it independently; Gold could well have done also.) It feels like it's a straightforward chord sequence: the sort of thing that you can't help writing from time to time if you follow basic rules of Western harmony.
What Happened To Robbie?
March 26, 2014 @ 11:25 pm
As a musician I can tell you that the melody I linked to from the long good friday is the exact same melody in "I am the Doctor" and both are in 7/8 which is not a hugely common time signature. It is identical. As others have pointed out it isn't a particularly unconventional melody as it just runs up the scale from the root and back down again, all diatonic and all stepwise. So I think it's probably coincidental. Knowing how widely his themes are heard, I doubt Gold would intentionally rip something off because somebody would notice and then there's possibility of being sued for plagiarism.
March 26, 2014 @ 11:33 pm
Now, how does the change from yellow to red relate to alchemy? Is the TARDIS becoming an agent of transformation?
March 26, 2014 @ 11:51 pm
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March 27, 2014 @ 1:26 am
I don't much care for Clara's theme; it's the first theme I connected with a character rather than a mood for myself. To me the 11th Doctor's theme says 'something exciting is happening' and Amy's theme says 'something thoughtful is happening'. To me Clara's theme says 'there is a pretty young woman on screen'.
March 27, 2014 @ 1:32 am
"The Leadworth era takes place when it is transmitted" is probably the most sane and coherent way to approach the situation. Sure that means a lot of strange things, but the main victim of this approach is that the Amy and Rory of 2020AD (a date I can write no other way, anticipation of which is the main thing keeping me alive at this point) don't exist and never could have waved to their past selves in the Silurian two-parter. Given that 2020AD Rory already ceased to exist in that episode, I'm fine with saying they're both gone.
March 27, 2014 @ 1:35 am
Hentai stamps. Actually, one second…
Quick google search suggests there's no such thing outside of DeviantArt, sadly.
March 27, 2014 @ 1:42 am
Plot causality takes on the role that theme often takes in a linear narrative – something that's there, but in a slightly etheric sense.
Yes. Trying to line up the elements in this kind of narrative either chronologically or in an attempt to form a through-line is a fruitless task. Imagine a sculpture made up of various sizes and weights of rough hewn rock artfully (and perhaps randomly) arranged to form a pleasing asymmetrical pattern in three dimensions. Then suppose someone came along and lined the rocks up in size order along the ground and attached notes to them describing their weight and composition. Now, both arrangements might give some pleasure but I know which one I would prefer to contemplate.
March 27, 2014 @ 1:48 am
Oh yes of course. Thanks Jane. She may not be the same aunt though. 😉
And while we're on the subject where was Rory' s dad at the wedding and why do Amy's parents not have Scottish accents?
March 27, 2014 @ 3:04 am
I'd certainly agree that there's nothing particularly melodically inventive about 'I Am The Doctor', and most of the similarities in those other pieces people have linked to are, while striking, not especially problematic – I've got no difficulty believing that they're just coincidence. The one that makes me somewhat uncomfortable is the track from Mass Effect 2, because in that one it's not just the "ba-ba-ba ba ba-ba-ba" bit that's the same, but the secondary melody (it starts to come in at about 2:15 in the ME2 piece) is similarly near-identical, which is a lot more bothersome.
I'm not outright accusing Gold of plagiarism – it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility that it's all just a terribly unfortunate massive, massive coincidence – but if I was the ME2 composer I'd certainly be thinking about getting a proper musicologist to take a look at the two pieces more closely, at the very least.
'I Am The Doctor' is an unequivocally superior piece of music, for all the reasons Phil mentions and more, but the two pieces are sufficiently similar in enough key regards to at least raise a few troubling questions.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:17 am
Mickey was an auto mechanic.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:24 am
@Alan: "Anyway, it seems kind of bizarre to me that Prisoner Zero would have heard rumors of the cracks and the mantra "The Pandorica will open/Silence will fall" but not the Doctor."
Well that's the point, isn't it? Prisoner Zero itself is incredulous and mocks the Doctor for not having heard of this before. "The Doctor in the TARDIS doesn't know!"
March 27, 2014 @ 3:27 am
@Anton B: "Where was Rory's dad at the wedding"
Not cast yet? 🙂
And why do Amy's parents never appear again? I thought that was odd, and a little sad, since they were adorable. It seemed, idk, strange that she'd get her parents back and then immediately leave again.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:29 am
Too bad handsome Jeff never returned. Wotcha.
He could even have had a girlfriend in tow, and the Doctor could mutter something like "I hope you're deleting your browsing history."
March 27, 2014 @ 3:40 am
@jane: Nobody accuses Clara of being a MPDG or anything else. They accuse Moffat of writing MPDGs, which is kind of different.
But whatever else she is, she's definitely under-characterized. I have never yet felt like I knew Clara or understood what draws her to the Doctor's world (especially since she seems to have no inclination towards leaving her everyday world behind). Moffat set her up as a big mystery, then declared "silly fandom, silly Doctor, treating poor Clara like a puzzle when she's just a regular person after all!" Not quite playing fair – especially as, in amongst all the mysterious goings-on, we never really got to know the "real" Clara at all.
Fortunately, they got the very charming Jenna-Louise Coleman to play her, which rather papers over the cracks. I just hope that her new relationship with Capaldi's Doctor gives us some chances for good character work.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:40 am
The main problem of 'The Leadworth era takes place when it is transmitted' is that it means at the end of The Eleventh Hour Amy is lying through her teeth when she says Prisoner Zero was two years ago – it was less than five minutes. Also, going by internal chronology she's twenty one at the end of Eleventh Hour, which makes her less then twenty five when she's using reading glasses in Angels Take Manhattan.
(Yes, what's actually going on is that the Moffat-era is using a double time scheme. But it's fun to ask.)
March 27, 2014 @ 4:39 am
The Great Work follows four stages — nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, and rubedo. They correspond to putrefaction, purification, awakening, and integration. Often, the last two stages are conflated.
"O Turba of Philosophers and disciples, now hast thou spoken about making into white, but it yet remains to treat concerning the reddening! Know, all ye seekers after this Art, that unless ye whiten, ye cannot make red, because the two natures are nothing other than red and white. Whiten, therefore, the red, and redden the white!"
This, I think, also applies to the naming conventions on Breaking Bad. Specifically for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman — Pinkman being the one who becomes reddened over the course of the story. (If so, this has interesting implications for the next Companion.)
March 27, 2014 @ 4:41 am
I didn't even know there was a dating controversy. I'm pretty sure, however, that Amy was not dating Jeff.
March 27, 2014 @ 4:44 am
This is probably why Pertwee's Doctor so frequently feels "undoctorish."
Now I feel that this the gaping hole in the middle of Who fandom that one has to constantly avoid falling into – the Default Doctor Mode hole. Aka "How the Doctor should be". Although there was an original Doctor characterisation (Hartnell) and one that stuck around for a long time (Baker), the idea that there is such a thing as "Doctorish" behaviour, other than in the very broadest sense, is specious. Plus one's idea of the "proper" way a Doctor should behave tends to be informed by the first Doctor that one saw ("Your" Doctor). This is especially the case in the UK where children have been growing up with "their" Doctor in a far more consistent manner than in the US.
Personaly speaking, "my" Doctor was the 3rd and I tend to gauge all other Doctors byJon Pertwee whose portrayal was the quintessential Doctor for me. He was authoratative, paternal, reassuring, brave, considerate, moral, and knowledgable. Traits which could equally be used to describe several other iterations of the Doctor. He also had a petulant childish streak, something which was accentuated in his successor.
Now I'm not saying that is how the Doctor should be, but that's how the Doctor was for me. Certainly as only the 3rd interpretation of the character it is difficult to say how he could be "less" Doctorish than 10 more that didn't even exist when he was on screen. Taken to its logical extreme, the original Doctor should be seen as the "most" Doctorish, since for all of his run he was the only one.
March 27, 2014 @ 4:48 am
@Seeing_I "Not cast yet? :)"
Or did he insert himself into the non-linear narrative a la Mels?
The speculation as to who Rory' s dad really is starts here.
My money's on the Meddling Monk.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:03 am
@Ross "..I'm not entirely sure what "Doctor Vision" refers to — do you mean the really awesome thing that I thought was meant to represent the Doctor seeing the world through his strange and alien perceptions, but which when it was never used again, I realized was actually meant to be a blipvert montage of cellphone pictures meant to reinforce the fact that the Doctor was being tipped off by the way that Rory's the only person who pulled out his cell phone to take a picture of something other than the alien space ship?"
Surely if it were 'a montage of cellphone pictures' it would be a series of images of the Atraxi ship? No I think this was Moffat's attempt to give the Doctor a Sherlock style 'mind palace' effect which was sensibly dropped after this episode.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:09 am
@Seeing_I: Accusing Moffat of writing MPDGs, and using Clara as an example (Jack's critique comes to mind) is pretty much accusing Clara of being an MPDG. It's a terrible reading, one that comes from trusting too much in the Doctor's perspective.
While I agree that Moffat's trying to implicate the audience by structuring Clara's story according to the Doctor's POV, I don't think we didn't get to know the "real" Clara at all. Much of the groundwork is set in Rings of Akhaten — young Clara's fear of being "lost" is realized, and then ameliorated by the relationship with her mother.
The loss of her mother, in turn, drives her need for boundaries, and propels her into adulthood. Now she's the one looking after kids, integrating the lessons she learned from her mother. Likewise, her inheritance of 101 Places to See is where she's learned the value of travel. This is already deeper characterization than any Classic companion.
Other scenes established her character traits. Scenes like the one at the swingset in the Bells prequel, the psychochronography of Hide, and the soufflé chat with Artie and Angie demonstrate Clara's thoughtfulness — that is, her propensity for developing philosophical outlooks. The scenes with Artie & Angie, Digby & Frannie, and Merry Gelelh show how she treats children, with complete respect — she's neither intimidated nor bullying when it comes to these relationships.
And, of course, there's her boundary-setting. She won't let the Doctor dictate the terms of their travel. She won't raise the shields in the Asylum until he comes to get her. She keeps the worlds of her bartending and governessing quite separate in The Snowmen. She insists on taking the laptop in Bells. And likewise, she respects the boundaries that the Doctor wants to establish, like not following him when he asks. All of this suggests the importance she places not just on control, but on having a sense of order — which makes her, in this respect, the antithesis of the Doctor's propensity towards the chaotic and mercurial. It's no wonder she's so good leading that platoon in Nightmare of Silver. And it precisely because of this aspect of her character that I found her sacrifice on Trenzalore so moving — because she had to give up one of her very deep-seated needs.
In short, if you never really got to know the "real" Clara, then you got tricked by a narrative structure oriented around the Doctor's problematic point-of-view.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:29 am
Re: the aunt, it amazes me how much some viewers notice. It flew right past me that she was meant to be the one mentioned earlier, or that she turns up again at the wedding.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:45 am
I never understood the homophobia shot at that scene. It's always seemed pretty clear Jeff was looking at pornography. Was it because of the pink curtains?
March 27, 2014 @ 5:46 am
Which two are they, out of curiosity?
March 27, 2014 @ 5:49 am
@Phil, my objection to this entry isn't that you're not addressing the arc. It's that you simultaneously assert that taken as its own episode, apart from the arc, everyone loved this episode, while refusing to read the episode from the position of someone unaware of the arc. How much of the content in this story is intelligible without knowing where the story is going? A good story arc can redeem a bad story, and a good story can help save a bad story arc. I don't expect you to be instantly critical of the arc, but going into a post on an individual episode where most or all of the positives you discuss are arc positives is the equivalent of saying "good arc proves this to be a good story."
I mean "critical" in a lit-crit sense, not "critique it" in the sense of being negative. I am not a Moffat-hater, but I recognize both that they exist and that what they object to has enough validity to be worthy of engagement.
And while I'd rate this episode fairly highly (7 or 8 out of 11, and probably third-best regeneration story), I had plenty of concerns on first viewing. Prisoner Zero was a cypher with magic powers (I don't object to magic, but if you can make people overlook you, why can't you get off-planet given ten years or so? Did Prisoner Zero not expect police pursuit?), the "little girl falls in obsessive love with the Doctor" theme was uncomfortable, especially if Moffat intended to pursue it, the "repeat a phrase over and over" trick was already showing its age, the whole scene with the laptop seemed shoehorned in to the episode, and the Doctor's decision to call the Atraxi back and announce himself seemed tonally close to the Time Lord Victorious, coupled with the "look me up" scene. The soaring music and the display of the first ten Doctors with Matt stepping through was brilliantly done, but it also suggested a need to insist on continuity which the early series (with its disregard for continuity) never needed. Earlier regeneration stories drew on settings and characters to create a sense that this new man was the Doctor; Eleventh Hour makes us the ones who provide the continuity.
@Tritirus, why would alien policemen want to destroy an entire planet of people unconnected with the criminal hiding there? The Judoon followed specific rules; why exempt the Atraxi? It would help if we had a sense of why Prisoner Zero had been locked up… if he was a political prisoner, or a Hitler-equivalent, or whatever. But this episode isn't about crime or criminality.
@Jane, you're forgetting all the missing elements that matter to the arc: the duck pond, the missing adults. Heck, the "missing people" element, along with "the Doctor is just a story Amy told" element are going to be key to the arc later on.
@Theonlyspiral, I have no objection to arcs, and like this season's arc very much. That doesn't mean I don't see work to be done with the tensions between the demands of arc versus the demands of an individual story. And even the claim that this regen story is extremely bold and confident involves a recognition that Moffat is starting an arc and Eleventh Hour is highly meaningful to it: for a new show-runner with a new Doctor, this is high-risk stuff. This is a show confident that people will stick with it. But this entry claims to work from the perspective of someone unaware of the arc. By not addressing the arc, the entry renders the arc absent to literary criticism; it cannot be questioned or interrogated. When in fact, some viewers were already picking up on its elements.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:51 am
I was just rooting for a gay reveal because he was cute.
Maybe there are some people out there who are angry because the Doctor didn't say "Get a romantic partner!"? I couldn't speculate.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:57 am
"Curse of the Black Spot" and "A Town Called Mercy." Pretty much every other episode of the era has something I like about it, even if it's as tiny and fleeting as using a jammie dodger to bluff a Dalek.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:01 am
It seemed, idk, strange that she'd get her parents back and then immediately leave again.
I thought we were meant to infer that she remembered losing them only dimly, if at all.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:03 am
Spacewarp, as an American fan who got to know Baker, Pertwee, and Davison at pretty much the same time, I totally agree and appreciate this. It's perplexing to me how much people want to sweep Pertwee under the rug nowadays.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:18 am
David Anderson: For me, Clara's theme is both hopeful and wistful at the same time — a life cut short and sacrificed — perhaps because I can't help connecting it with "Name of the Doctor" now. I haven't quite managed to like the character as much as I like the theme yet, but that's another story.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:38 am
I know I introduced the word "ripoff" to the conversation, but I'm not seriously accusing Gold of plagiarism. Melodies get into the subconscious, and I imagine this sort of thing happens to composers of soundtracks all the time (just look at all the examples in this thread). Or to pop songwriters — tying this to a previous post, there's "Express Yourself" and "Born This Way," just for a start.
To be pedantic, I have to wonder about those fan sheet musics you saw. It's a minor key, and it's not that many steps. If you did it in A minor (which is equivalent to C but starts in a different place) it would be A to D and then back down to G before it repeats.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:50 am
Alan, Philip: thanks for those comments. That way of looking at it makes much more sense in hindsight, and it makes me feel better for having been too lazy to try and work out the linear version I apparently could never have completed. 🙂 I'm not sure it helps me with the problem I had engaging emotionally with these plot elements, but it might if I went back and did another rewatch with this perspective in mind.
Are we going to talk about how Mels is the Dawn Summers of the Doctor Who universe? 🙂
March 27, 2014 @ 7:14 am
"He's much more interested in making things stylish, cool, and exciting, than in the details of how his plots set up and resolve."
I think Moffatt's huge downfall, if there is one, is that he sometimes values being clever far too much. And to quote John Scalzi, "The failure mode of clever is asshole." There's nothing wrong with being clever, but if you value it over everything else in storytelling, you end up with a mess that doesn't necessarily serve your viewers or characters well. I see this the most clearly in River's character – in the desire to make River all timey-whimy, Moffatt made her whole life reliant on a bunch of decisions out of her control all focused on the Doctor. As a result, her character seemed far more hollow than she was originally presented to us and turned her into more of a Generic Action Girl obsessed with the main male character.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:22 am
@David: Yes, Prisoner Zero is a shapeshifting cipher — but then, Prisoner Zero's name is Zero so it's not like the text isn't aware of it. The Doctor says that "multiforms can live for millenia, twelve years is a pit stop"; this puts to rest why PZ hasn't done much in the interval, not to mention the fact that there's very little opportunity to get off-world anyways. And while there's no exploration of PZ's crime, the fact that PZ is willing to let 7 billion people burn as the price for his own death, coupled with the fact that nothing that humanity has done constitutes a crime in the Atraxis' eye (sorry) is sufficient, I think, to establish that PZ is horrible (not to mention the Atraxi.)
Regardless, the point of the story is to establish our main characters, not the monsters-of-the-week. It stands on its own as the opening story of a new series, whether or not that series has a developing arc.
As to the Duck Pond and the "missing people," while these are indeed relevant to the ongoing arc, they work independently of the arc as well. As I point out in my video commentary, the duck pond is part of a visual joke, that pays off when the Doctor texts Pond to duck. And yes, Amy's parents are missing, but she has an aunt — this establishes Amy as more or less an orphan; we don't need further exploration of her missing parents to understand her psychology.
Where I agree, however, is that there's obviously an arc being laid into place. I'm not sure we need to cover that here, though, given that for a viewer unaware of what's to come, there's very little to hold on to, at least in terms of making sense of the arc itself. But for a series opener, we don't need to make that sense, we just need to know that there's going to be an arc for us to follow. "Silence will fall" and "the Pandorica will open" are unintelligible prophecy. The Crack, however, is referenced quite a bit — the inciting incident, the followup conversation with PZ, and its reappearance on the Doctor's monitor at the end.
There's another arc, of course — the impending arc of Amy's character development, which is brought home with the last tracking shot that leads to her wedding dress. Again, though, I'm not sure why that has to be covered in this entry, when there are far better episodes to get into that issue. I mean, it's not like Phil's entry has to stand on its own, especially since we all know he's going to be covering the whole 11th Doctor era, right?
March 27, 2014 @ 7:39 am
"I thought this was the best theme Gold ever wrote for the show, till I realised that it was actually written by Francis Monkman
Can't believe I never noticed that – one of my favourite films as well (as well as being the only Murray Gold piece I really like).
March 27, 2014 @ 7:46 am
the "repeat a phrase over and over" trick was already showing its age, the whole scene with the laptop seemed shoehorned in to the episode, and the Doctor's decision to call the Atraxi back and announce himself seemed tonally close to the Time Lord Victorious, coupled with the "look me up" scene.
The use of repetition is long-standing literary technique. It isn't just a "trick" — its use is highly significant. Especially because it's one of Moffat's main techniques. Repetition creates rhythm and uncovers themes — it establishes patterns which invite a closer look. Repetition can create unity.
The Eleventh Hour is filled with repetition. The kitchen scene, for example, uses repeated shots (food prep, closeups of Amelia and the Doctor) to establish the relationship between the two characters. It ends with fish custard — and not only are "fish" are one of the things Amelia thanks Santa for, "fish custard" is referenced again at the end of the episode. As we'll see, "fish" is a repeating meme of the era.
Other repetitions include Amelia/Amy running to the window, Prisoner Zero getting the mouths "wrong", the return of Amy's apple, the "duck pond" joke, the Crack, the Doctor coming back late, the "swimming pool in the library," "Do I look like people?" and even Amy's sojourn into Prisoner Zero's bedroom.
In this context, then, calling back to the Library with the Doctor's admonishment of the Atraxi needs to be examined more closely. Indeed, as it turns out, it's part of the larger arc of the Doctor's character development. (Funny how "the swimming pool in the library" rather plays on this, given that Melody Pond ends up in The Library. As does the Doctor's being handcuffed.)
Obviously, repetition itself is a theme. It's an excellent way to point to Cyclical Time, which will be another major point of Eleven's run. The fact that Prisoner Zero taunts the Doctor about the Cracks is actually a clue to this; the "Zero" is a Circle. There's also the red pinwheel, in closeup, at the beginning of that first tracking shot through Amelia's garden.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:50 am
I've cooled on Mercy quite a bit, despite my interest in the subversion of the Western genre, but I'll continue to defend Black Spot as a gravely overlooked gem of Series Six, simply by virtue of how it plays with and, indeed, extends the primary metaphors of the era. It's not nearly the trivial romp it's made out to be. (That said, Smith's performance isn't particularly memorable, though the bit of finding the TARDIS in the sick bay is divine.)
March 27, 2014 @ 7:55 am
"I see this the most clearly in River's character – in the desire to make River all timey-whimy, Moffatt made her whole life reliant on a bunch of decisions out of her control all focused on the Doctor."
The early part of her life, yes, but River grows out of this mode; it's not her whole life. By the time she's left Stormcage, she's galavanting about all on her own, getting involved in her own adventures and following her own interests. In the process, she becomes critical of the Doctor, and prefers to keep her distance.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:59 am
I look forward to the discussion of "Black Spot," then. 🙂 I can already guess at some of the motifs we'll be talking about. Unlike "Mercy," it didn't make me angry; it just didn't have anything in it that I particularly enjoyed. I'd watch it again, just not cheerfully — though that might change once you and Philip are done with it.
March 27, 2014 @ 8:38 am
I do not get why people don't like Mercy. I love it. I do understand people disliking "COTBS" though. I just feel like it never hits the right beats.
March 27, 2014 @ 8:52 am
Well, the doctor saw what he was looking at, so he'd know if Jeff was into girls or boys, right? Or Stamps… but in the UK every stamp issued since 1953 has a woman on them somewhere, so that's not terribly helpful.
March 27, 2014 @ 9:02 am
'Prisoner Zero will leave the human residence' works rather differently from 'are you my mummy?' or 'Donna Noble has been saved.' It's clear what the Atraxi mean. They're not glitching. So it establishes them as inflexible, unimaginative, and not open to negotiation. Like the Judoon but without the anthropomorphic rhino people aspect.
I don't have a problem with the Doctor telling the Atraxi to run. They were leaving anyway. The Doctor is just giving them a flea in their ear to leave with. Extra-diegetically it's there to show off Matt Smith as the Doctor in the new outfit; it's been earned over the past twenty minutes or so. And also more subtly to establish the Davies-era not as the definitive statement of what Doctor Who is about but as one era of a series that was going on before Davies and therefore can go on after Davies. (Which needed doing; I remember seeing an early anti-Moffat commentator claiming that the classic series wasn't canon.)
March 27, 2014 @ 9:04 am
It's not that I don't like Mercy, it's just that there's so many other stories I really love so much more.
March 27, 2014 @ 9:06 am
As an (allegedly) creative person, I can attest that this occurs for visual art all the time – I've done sketches I thought were wholly original, only to discover it was shockingly similar to the cover to a magazine I saw growing up, among other things. I would be very surprised if the same didn't apply to composers just as much as artists.
Or maybe he just nicked it and hoped no-body would notice (seems legit).
Out of interest, is my memory playing tricks on me, or is I am the Doctor heavily foreshadowed in the score for Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead?
March 27, 2014 @ 10:49 am
Theonlyspiral: I hate "Mercy." Keep in mind, though, that my feelings about a given story tend to be heavily influenced by my personal preferences. For example, I'm rarely enthused about a western or a pirate story in any medium (there are exceptions, but these aren't among them).
Also, I'm mainly talking about how short the list is of stories that don't have at least one indelible Matt Smith moment for me. "Rebel Flesh"/"Almost People" has some very good moments, both from Smith and the rest of the cast, though as a whole I found that two-parter less appealing than "Black Spot" and, thinking about it, I dread rewatching it more than any other new series story I can think of.
RF/AP is…hmm…probably tied with "Mercy" if you asked me right this minute. If you want to get why I don't like it, well, I don't think all my blog entries stand up that well these days, but that one still reflects my feelings pretty comprehensively. I'd link to it, but yet another link to my blog in this same comments section would start to feel like self-promotion. 🙂 Feel free to search encyclops.com. I hope you're not as easily depressed by people disliking your favorite episodes as I am. 🙁
March 27, 2014 @ 11:06 am
i'm really glad to see this post, because this is the viewpoint that the rest of us, mired in the history and minutea of Doctor Who, will never be able revisit. The 11th Hour, as Philip, points out, was the jumping off/rebirth point for the series and here is the confirmation of that.
For all the nit-picking, this truly is a case where we have an episode that has such charm that most everyone was won over by it, and it certainly is a great first episode to come in on. since we can't watch Evil of the Daleks, I would posit that this is the best new Doctor story, period.
Smith has been often compared to Tom Baker, in that, from the first moments on the screen, you really don't want to take your eyes off of him. Robot was a crap story, but Tom is a delight on the screen, just as Matt is here. I think that i envy you coming in on this one.
March 27, 2014 @ 11:56 am
@ jane: That's all very well-observed, and I appreciate having some of that brought to my attention in a way I didn't really think about before.
But like you said, the narrative structure is set up so that you don't notice the characterization – we are never (except in Snowmen) invited to view the narrative from her POV. For me, that was a mistake, as it made her feel like a cypher, and I didn't really appreciate then being chided by the narrative for wondering what her "puzzle" was.
If Moffat was trying to reverse his construction of the River / Amy plots, or to critique some putative masculinist tendency to seeing women as puzzles to solve or prizes to attain, I just don't think it really worked.
March 27, 2014 @ 12:06 pm
Checking Wikipedia, it says Mass Effect 2 came out at the end of January 2010. I'm not sure at what point in the TV making process you need to have a basic idea what the incidental music's going to be like, but I'm prepared to believe it's a bit more than a couple of months before broadcast.
March 27, 2014 @ 12:36 pm
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March 27, 2014 @ 2:53 pm
I had clothes, chocolate, and a few Target novelisations: probably The Abominable Snowman and The Three Doctors.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:23 pm
Someone who regularly comments here ran a rather good music blog, analyzing the last 50 stories of the classic era (so Leisure Hive onwards) as a sort of countdown to the anniversary. I've somehow lost the link 🙁 but would be great if they'd weigh into this discussion!
March 27, 2014 @ 3:32 pm
Count me as a fan of that theme – the fanfare for me was a real "call to adventure", always got a grin from me. Definitely a departure in vibe from the rest of the 'spooky' theme (well, it was spooky up until Dominic Glynn's arrangement for Trial of a Timelord).
Seems to me exactly what would get kids running into the room in time for the main theme and the show (although I guess that would mean they missed the cold open).
March 27, 2014 @ 3:34 pm
As I point out in my video commentary, the duck pond is part of a visual joke, that pays off when the Doctor texts Pond to duck.
Ah, but you see it's more than just a throwaway visual joke. To everyone's astonishment, it turns out to be a major plot point. The duck pond has no ducks because the Cracks have eaten them, but Amy can still identify it as a duck pond because she alone has the power to remember what the Cracks have taken. Taken on its own merits, I do think the season was a masterpiece of advance plotting. It's only when Moffatt starts adding even more spinning plates in the next two seasons that things start to get ungainly.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:35 pm
And I just reread your comment and realized you said the exact same thing. Never mind.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:37 pm
I thought the Leadworth dating controversy had something to do with the date on Rory's ID badge.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:41 pm
I didn't hate A Town Called Mercy. I just thought it was incredibly boring. After two aggressively arced seasons, ATCM was when I realized that Season 7a was pretty much going to be a bunch of filler episodes leading up to the Ponds' departure.
March 27, 2014 @ 3:49 pm
When the Doctor's POV zooms in on Rory's NHS ID badge, it shows it's date of issue as 30/11/1990.
If we guess Rory is in his early 20s and has worked at the hospital for 8 years at the most, this would place the final acts of "The Eleventh Hour" at 1998 at the very latest.
The presumption was this was "the modern day" (although with all the hopping around who can be sure if Young Amelia, the main action or the 2 years later finale is the modern day) however the period with Rory and his badge being 1998 clashes with the technology seen in those scenes: mobile phones with cameras as commonplace, ipods, Jeff's laptop streaming video from multiple sources at such high resolution… probably other bits as well that would flag the presumption this part was set in "the modern day".
It seems like a silly mistake on a minor prop, but considering the camera zooms right up into it it's a "hero prop" someone would have spent a small amount of time getting right – or wrong!
March 27, 2014 @ 3:51 pm
Maybe Rory's Dad got sucked into one of the cracks too, and it took Amy a while into the wedding reception to remember him 😉
March 27, 2014 @ 3:55 pm
The forced energy of Murray Gold's "crashing" music
The gaudy insertions of the lightning strikes into the credit sequence
The new console set desperately screaming "Look at how Wacky I am!"
The madcap vehicle, the cockamamie hair, the clothes designed by a first-year fashion student. I'm surprised he hasn't got a little purple space dog just to ram home what an intergalactic wag he is.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:26 pm
@seeing_i actually this is the keff mcculloch version:
(I made it.)
March 27, 2014 @ 5:30 pm
Well, we assume the duck pond has no ducks because of the crack. As they never follow up on it or mention it again, it may just as well be just a quirky little foible of the town to have a duckless duck pond.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:31 pm
"This has to be the episode of Doctor Who that anybody who is ever going to like an episode of Doctor Who will like." My dad has dealt with my crazed Who fandom for 30 years now. He was visiting a few years ago and I said, Dad, you REALLY need to watch this. "Oh, come on, I don't like Doctor Who, you know I don't, stupid silly blah blah…" 20 minutes in (or whenever the big "you said five minutes!" reveal was) he finally broke his silence by saying "you know, this is really quite clever." Afterwards he admitted that he completely enjoyed it.
I can't be critical about The 11th Hour. I personally love it to death, but the fact that it finally got my dad to see things my way just sealed the deal. It's beyond reproach.
"You said five minutes!!" still gives me chills…
March 27, 2014 @ 5:38 pm
It's also kind of an utterly bizarre mistake on a minor prop. It's not like there's some kind of "default year" when you are making a prop like that; someone actually had to say "What date shall we put on this?" and answer "1990". The only way I can see it being an accident is if they'd been thinking date of birth.
March 27, 2014 @ 5:58 pm
"The early part of her life, yes, but River grows out of this mode; it's not her whole life."
True, but we see most of that part of her life at the beginning. When we see her last (excepting her ghost) is when she is the most dependent on the Doctor. So although she grows out of it, that's not the emotional impression we're left with when reviewing her whole arc because the maturity is the beginning, not the climax of her story.
March 27, 2014 @ 6:30 pm
storyteller – " When we see her last (excepting her ghost) is when she is the most dependent on the Doctor."
Actually, that would be in The Angels Take Manhattan which is all about the moment when, as jane put it "she becomes critical of the Doctor, and prefers to keep her distance".
At this stage, she is off having independent angel-chasing adventures as Melody Malone; she's pursuing her academic career ("it's Professor Song to you"); she's been pardoned after the Doctor's recent quietening down ("Didn't you used to be somebody?"); and she regularly puts forward opposing views than the Doctors (encouraging both the paradox and Amy's departure). In fact, in that story she has more control over the narrative than the Doctor. She is even flying the TARDIS at the end, giving her control over their next narrative as well (and essentially making the Doctor her companion).
Basically, I think Moffat made a very clear effort to ensure that River Song's maturity was both her beginning and her climax (even when you nonsensically discount The Name of the Doctor as part of that story).
March 27, 2014 @ 6:53 pm
Anton B – "Where was Rory' s dad at the wedding?"
Someone has to water the plants.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:07 pm
@Seeing_I: I can see how the narrative structure failed to have the effect it was going for — or rather, that what it was going for would be highly unlikely to be "appreciated." It's a critique designed to implicate the audience, but it's not really "fair" because it's not like the narrative goes to much length to let us in on it, other than to point out on a couple of occasions that the Doctor's approach is wrong. Perhaps it's better to say that it's not "fun" — because the narrative is ultimately making "fun" of us.
And yes, it's a reversal of a sort; in particular, it's a reversal of the Doctor / Companion dynamic that we got with Rose. With Rose, she's immediately identifiable, while the Doctor is the enigma. Here, the Doctor is well known, and the Companion is the enigma. Furthermore, at least so far, Rose (and other companions, including Amy and Rory) are greatly changed by their encounters with the Doctor, while he remains rather static. Now we have a Companion who's relatively static, whose sense of order resists the chaos of the Doctor, while the Doctor himself undergoes some of his greatest development during her tenure.
And it's all terribly ironic by the time we get to Name of the Doctor, when Clara's identity is lost as she becomes the Universal Companion.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:07 pm
Moffatt said on Twitter that it was a production error. OBVIOUSLY they should CGI it for the DVD though. Or, fragment!Clara got a temp job at the badge desk and was distracted.
March 27, 2014 @ 7:10 pm
"Well, we assume the duck pond has no ducks because of the crack. As they never follow up on it or mention it again, it may just as well be just a quirky little foible of the town to have a duckless duck pond."
It's not an assumption — the Doctor reasons it out, explicitly mentioning the duck pond, when he encounters the Crack at the Byzantium.
March 28, 2014 @ 3:44 am
@ Ralph Snart: Haha, well done.
March 28, 2014 @ 6:06 am
Re the earlier comment (to which the web won't let me reply for some reason) about the Doctor being away from Amelia for roughly the same length of time as Doctor Who was away, I think I'm right in saying that the chronology is actually even better than that: Amelia is born in 1989 (the start of the wilderness years), meets the Doctor but only for one night in 1996 (McGann), then again (for The Eleventh Hour) in 2008 (er, Matt Smith cast?) before finally boarding the TARDIS in 2010. So the message to those of us who similarly obsessed about the Doctor and awaited his return from 1996 until 2005 (and had made do with substitutes – therapists, Rory/Eccleston, Tennant – until 2010?), is triumphantly this: He's back! And he's still got your apple.
March 28, 2014 @ 6:23 am
Ralph that was awesome.
March 28, 2014 @ 7:26 am
Ack, you're right that I forgot about Time of the Angels. It's so easy to focus on it being Amy and Rory's last episode that it being River's climax as well gets a little lost. I still think that the majority of her emotional beats came about when they were emphasizing her life revolving around the Doctor, with the height of it being The Wedding of River Song. (I really did not understand the emotional weight of the character motivations there, although I enjoyed the episode.) That's the problem with non-narrative storytelling – tracking how a character's motivations change over time when you hop from place to place in their life is very difficult, undermining the audience's emotional investment in her as a character.
I discounted the Name of the Doctor because it seemed like an epilogue to her story, something to consider but not a major part of the arc. By that point, I personally felt like her arc was concluded.
But then, who knows – there's no saying that she won't show back up again somewhere in history interacting with this new Doctor. As a time traveler, there's no reason she couldn't. I don't think Moffat will for those emotional story-arc reasons, but there's nothing preventing it.
March 28, 2014 @ 8:03 am
@storiteller: "That's the problem with non-narrative storytelling – tracking how a character's motivations change over time when you hop from place to place in their life is very difficult, undermining the audience's emotional investment in her as a character."
This is a critique I wholeheartedly agree with. It takes time and effort, outside the narrative experience itself, to piece together a non-linear story like River's. It can pay off for those who do the work, but for most I suspect it isn't very satisfying, and can even give the opposite impression that's seemingly intended.
Unless, of course, it's an intention to create such divisiveness in the first place.
March 28, 2014 @ 8:04 am
The other thing to note, regarding Clara, is that the narrative structure that ends up implicating the audience works exactly like a Perception Filter.
March 28, 2014 @ 8:34 am
It can pay off for those who do the work, but for most I suspect it isn't very satisfying, and can even give the opposite impression that's seemingly intended
See, this is largely where Moffat falls apart for me. I don't think you actually are meant to spend the time and effort to "do the work": I think you're meant to say "Ah, this may not all hang together on the surface, but I bet if I go back later and do the work, it will all be amazing."
But I actually did go back and do all the work. And it wasn't. It wasn't clever, it didn't contain hidden revelations. It was just a mediocre and in places incoherent story which was told out-of-order to make it seem more interesting than it really was.
March 28, 2014 @ 9:08 am
@Ross: I think you're meant to say "Ah, this may not all hang together on the surface, but I bet if I go back later and do the work, it will all be amazing."
I don't think this is what's intended, either. River's story follows an arc, an arc that's told out-of-order. Her story might not make sense viewed this way — rather, it's meant to heighten the dramatic impact vis-a-vis the stories of the Doctor and her parents.
On its own, though, it certainly holds together. She's raised by the Silence with terrible stories of the Doctor. She escapes, and spends the rest of her childhood with Amy, and hears wonderful stories of the Doctor. This leaves her internally conflicted, a conflict which is only resolved at great personal sacrifice in Berlin.
She goes to university, and on her graduation day is taken to Lake Silencio and put in her "wedding dress" to kill the Doctor. But now, having studied the Doctor, she's learned that time can be rewritten. Her own attempt fails, but is amended when she gets the Doctor to stop backing away from their relationship. She understands that sometimes rewriting time requires creating an illusion that what happened still happened.
She lives at Stormcage and continues her adventures, and which culminates in her realization that fixed points in time can be just as valuable as mutable ones — especially if you yourself have come to accept yourself and your circumstances. She "fixes" her own life by returning to Demon's Run, creating a loop that seals her fate; her revelation to Amy and Rory establishes the emotional stakes that keeps them from rewriting her life.
As she gets older, though, she realizes that the Stormcage really is a prison, in so many ways — it requires maintaining a charade, which she's able to pull off (lying to her parents about Lake Silencio) but which comes at the cost of authenticity and true relationship. She starts studying Angels and working to earn herself a pardon. Then she discovers that the Doctor's been rewriting his own life again, and she's set free. This makes her wonder whether all that waiting was
really necessary; she decides to take her life into her own hands. All this wisdom informs her relations with Amy in Manhattan, who likewise "fixes" her own story and moves on without the Doctor.
River's career takes off. She still sees the Doctor on occasion, but on her own terms. She eventually dies in the Library, and makes the Doctor promise not to rewrite her — she fully accepts and embraces her life, the bad as well as the good. But she wants closure, one last proper goodbye, not the makeshift one she got from a man who'd only just met her. This too she accomplishes, albeit as a ghost.
Now, whether such a story actually works for someone will depend on what they want out of their stories — but it is coherent, insofar as an out-of-order story told over five years can maintain consistency given the real-world demands of television production. It's certainly been personally relevant to a lot of women (and men) — there's a whole contingent of River fans in Who fandom. You can say it didn't work for you, but to declare simply by fiat that it's "mediocre" and not interesting is an attempt to project your own personal experience as faux-objectivism.
Which is to say, just because something "can" work doesn't mean it "will" work for everyone.
March 28, 2014 @ 10:15 am
Is it to obvious to point out that Amy dressing as a police officer is another aspect of her childhood obsession with the Doctor? Amy is a pretend policewoman in the same way that the Doctor is a pretend policeman.
"Are you a policeman? Then why does your box say Police?"
March 28, 2014 @ 10:46 am
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March 28, 2014 @ 10:50 am
There's clearly a theme of repetition going on in S5, which starts with the Doctor settling the problem of an escaped prisoner and ends with him becoming one, but in many respects the theme gets developed in a fuzzy manner. Prisoner Zero has no direct significance. But Prisoner Zero is entirely an invention, and could have been written slightly differently to establish a direct connection to the larger theme. Perhaps he was imprisoned for trying to save the Doctor's life? Or stealing information related to the Pandorica? I'm not surprised more wasn't done here, but Moffat's story logic tends toward the evocative and the themes of this episode really rely on the arc to support them. Zero means much less within the confines of this story than he does in relation to the whole season.
I'd also argue that the main risk of repeated use of any trope (including repetition), coupled with the ease with which people can rewatch episodes now, is that the techniques lose their power. I'd add that in a world where an increasing number of people are unselfconsciously aware of "save/reload" gaming, repetition becomes increasingly fragile as a technique, especially if what's repeated is always the same kind of thing.
Again, all of these issues read one way when one approaches any episode as a separate thing (related, perhaps, to similar episodes or others by the same author) and another in relation to the larger story arcs. The repetition of the child's fairy tale poem (with prophetic or revelatory signification) works beautifully within the larger story arc, while sitting uneasy when confined to The Beast Below as a sinle episode.
Moffat's decision to do what he does with his season arcs makes for absolutely fantastic through-narrative, but that can sometimes come at a cost within individual stories. We can recognize the costs while appreciating what they afford us.
March 28, 2014 @ 11:16 am
Her story is also a part of the larger story about fate and free will, changing fixed points or "not one line." Her constant refrain of "spoilers" makes such sense in the context of Angels Take Manhattan, where we learn that knowing your future operates as a constraint on a time traveller. River's life is a never-ending series of constraints; she saves the Doctor's life when they first meet after learning about the future they will have together, and for the remainder of their mutual story, she's one step ahead of the Doctor. At the same time, that advantage generates tragedy, both in terms of losing the Doctor story by story and in terms of being bound by her own knowledge and the consequences of breaking continuity.
Not that River may not enjoy being bound, from time to time.
March 28, 2014 @ 11:57 am
Dr. Sandifer is not only inspiring in his work, but a source of inspiration to others!
March 28, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
It's not too obvious, Jesse, and really should be included much more often in the discussion. Not the least, it shows not just that she's obsessed, but that she's already integrated some of the mercurial aspects of the Trickster archetype that the Doctor embodies.
March 28, 2014 @ 1:12 pm
Moffat said in a Youtube interview somewhere that the challenge for this story was that he didn't have the usual prop of an existing companion to help ease the introduction of the new doctor and react to his new personality. In this regeneration story, Amy's the one who goes through the personality change by virtue of growing older.
March 28, 2014 @ 3:42 pm
The other end of it is the Power of Three seemingly taking place in the future (2020AD, if The Hungry Earth is to be believed, which it probably shouldn't), and Day of the Doctor is taking place in the present, probably no more than a year or so after The Bells of Saint John, meaning either Kate Stewart ages backwards and forgets she met the Doctor already, or Amy and Rory of 2020AD don't exist anymore.
Also, I recall a lot of consternation on the internet about how at the end of series six it looks like the Ponds are moving into the house they already live in at the beginning of series six, implying the series was a time loop for them as well as for the Doctor, but I'm not sure I buy that.
March 28, 2014 @ 3:47 pm
John Binns – " in 2008 (er, Matt Smith cast?) "
I'd say that this might work better as being the year where Doctor Who reached an explosion of popularity and interest with the Series 4 finale – right before a prolonged absence from our screens. As Amy declares "those amazing things, all that stuff….that was two years ago". She shares our frustration at having been left waiting during the gap year – but fortunately the Doctor promises that "there will be loads more".
Oh, and as jonathan inge said: Nice. I love your reading of The Eleventh Hour's chronology – whether it was intended by the author or not.
March 28, 2014 @ 7:12 pm
My own little contribution to the episode's imagery inventory: the pinwheel is a visual precursor of the Atraxi.
I enjoy the fizziness of the Moffat years over the literalness of the Davies years, and I love the trickiness of his stories and plots. He writes with a visual panache that Davies never exhibited (and Bennett in his video picked out the scene I'm picturing: where Amy is hallucinating the dancing people in "AsylumoftheDaleks"). I love those bonkers moments and "Wedding of River Song" is full of bonkers moments.
I love this blog and the discussion that attracts writers with the serious and focus of Talmudic scholars.The brooding and writing and arguing is our way of keeping the story going, participating in it, and (I hope) enjoying it with people who understand why it matters to us. Have fun.
March 29, 2014 @ 9:43 am
Spacewarp – I like the Pertwee era a lot (more than Philip, certainly), and I don't think he's wholly "Undoctorish." I'd say that his courage and his authoritativeness (sometimes spilling into arrogance) were certainly very important in how later Doctors have been characterized – certainly Tom Baker took at least as much from Pertwee as he did from Troughton, particularly in the Hinchcliffe years.
My point was a narrower one, which is that there's certainly a sense among a lot of people of the Third Doctor as "un-Doctorish," and I think the idea of defining the Doctor as a "madman with a box" is a good description of the viewpoint that finds him so. Pertwee's Doctor doesn't have a box (for a large part of his run, at least; even after he does get it, he's rather less inclined to run off than any other Doctor) and, less than almost any other Doctor, isn't a "madman."
March 29, 2014 @ 1:56 pm
To add a couple things to Jane's excellent recap of River's timeline.
The child Melody grew up with horrible stories of the Doctor, while the child Mels learned little Amelia's wonderful story of the Doctor.
The adolescent Mels is conflicted, not sure if the Doctor is good or evil, but driven to obsession by her training and brainwashing as the child Melody.
And the episode is about Mels testing the Doctor.
Why is it "Let's Kill Hitler"? Because it had to be. Is the Doctor the playful friend of Amelia's story, or is he the monster who let Hitler happen?
We see the adolescent Mels blaming the Doctor – why did Hitler rise to power? Because the Doctor didn't stop him.
And the first thing she says to the Doctor's face? "You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What the hell. Let's kill Hitler." It's a moral test, that the Doctor initially fails, inadvertently saving Hitler. He's redeemed by caring for her parents and friends, and for her – he can't stop Hitler, but he does care.
It's also worth noting that while the Stormcage, and her out-of-time existence in relation to her loved ones does sometimes pain River, she also has practical ways of dealing with the pain. After the Byzantium, after having to pretend she didn't know her own mother and childhood confidant, she goes to find an older Amy, who knows her, and deliberately reconnects as mother and daughter. River doesn't want her life rewritten – but she'll write it herself to deal with the confusion and pain that life can bring her.
The out of order way in which we see River's life, where things seem predestined from the outside, tends to distract from how much agency she has in her own life, whether it is escaping Kovarin's schismatic cult, or forcing the Doctor to prove himself, or maintaining a positive relationship with her mother under extraordinary circumstances.
March 29, 2014 @ 8:04 pm
Re cloud and fire tunnel: I always assumed that the lightning bolts buffeting the TARDIS represented the cracks in spacetime (since that's what they look like) and that the fire at the end of the tunnel represented the TARDIS explosion toward which the season was heading.
March 29, 2014 @ 8:21 pm
When I first saw "Eleventh Hour" it was with most of the arc-references deleted because it was a goddamn BBC America rerun.
March 30, 2014 @ 1:16 am
@jane, you say, 'Except for Amy, she isn't running away from her life because it's "humdrum." It's rather explicit that she's running away from "growing up." '
However I would say it's both those things.
As I say, for this story and Rose, when they choose the TARDIS it is a magical mystery tour away from what the companion considers the humdrum – but that doesn't mean the choice of the TARDIS isn't other things too.
The later story Amy's Choice emphasises the humdrumness that Amy imagines for one of the choices.
March 30, 2014 @ 4:02 am
Amy's Choice emphasises the humdrumness that the Doctor imagines for one of the choices. It's the Doctor who goes on and one about how boring it is, so much so that Amy fakes contractions to chide him:
AMY: This is my life now and it just turned you white as a sheet, so don't you call it dull again, ever. Okay?
Amy's Choice puts Amy in the position of having to choose between two needs. She wants to grow up, and stay a kid at the same time. She wants a domestic life, and an adventurous life. Her whole arc this season revolves around resolving these competing needs, and when they're finally resolved it's symbolized with a Wedding — a union of seeming opposites, for indeed, she can have both.
March 30, 2014 @ 8:27 pm
@ David Ainsworth
April 2, 2014 @ 5:25 am
brownstudy: now you have me trying to imagine Wilf or Donna or an RTD-era companion darting around Leadworth with Matt Smith.
April 2, 2014 @ 5:31 am
No I think this was Moffat's attempt to give the Doctor a Sherlock style 'mind palace' effect which was sensibly dropped after this episode.
Interestingly, there's a similar Sherlock-esque part in Night Terrors (Gatiss!) with the Doctor.
As I point out in my video commentary, the duck pond is part of a visual joke, that pays off when the Doctor texts Pond to duck.
Also, The Big Bang was originally meant to end (the last image of the series) with the duck pond, with ducks restored thanks to the Doctor sorting out the cracks.
The one thing I'm not too keen on is the fact we have "silence will fall" in Matt's first episode – that links, ultimately, to his finale/death in a roundabout fashion. Matt's not even an hour into the role, and his end is foreshadowed!!
Compare to, for example, David – we don't get "your song must end soon", the first real "your finale's on the way" until his third series.
April 5, 2014 @ 3:13 am
@Ralph Snart That was brilliant.
The next step, presumably, is to have it running behind Sylv's version of the Pandorica speech…
April 20, 2014 @ 11:10 am
Amelia's suitcase was actually remarkably practical for a seven-year-old. A sweater (it might get cold!), her toothbrush (you have to brush your teeth, even when traveling!), and her teddy bear (essential if you're sleeping in a strange place.)
This is a little girl who has thought about traveling.
August 11, 2017 @ 11:35 am
“There is a sense in which this is a clear improvement. The TARDIS, being in fact a wooden prop used in the production of a sci-fi show, is not, in fact, going to rescue you or anybody else from a tedious and soul-draining existence as a shopgirl. Reconceptualizing the fundamental tropes of Doctor Who as, in effect, pieces of a story has the appreciable advantage of being honest. The TARDIS is a narrative trope. Accepting that it is not actually a magical capitalist liberation machine at least frees us up to start paying attention to what it can do. The Moffat era still hasn’t tipped its hand as to what it thinks that is, but it feels like the right question.”
The Davies era was kind of the same thing phrased differently.
Escape from your boring life into a world of excitment was a similar and suitable metaphor for every viewer watching Dr Who.
It’s different in it’s own way to what Moffat did but it’s not inherently inferior.