This week I’m joined by James Murphy of Pex Lives to discuss Under the Lake and, in typical Eruditorum Press style, a myriad of other topics, some of which actually have an obvious relationship to Under the Lake. Perversely, we manage to go on half an hour longer than Jane and I did about an actually good story. I have no explanation. You can get it here, in any case.…
It’s tempting to call it ruthlessly traditional Doctor Who. I don’t think it is, mind you, but it’s certainly tempting to call it that. What it definitely is, however, is oddly procedural Doctor Who. There’s very little time spent on theme-building; even the big Doctor/Clara scene that the episode contrives to have them nip back to the TARDIS for is more just a character piece than something that feels like a heavily built thematic piece. And there’s not a heck of a lot of time spent building characters – the base crew are pretty underdeveloped compared to, say, Last Christmas, The Rebel Flesh, or The Impossible Planet, to the point where the Doctor rallying them to stay and explore the church feels slightly unearned as a scene. There’s not even a ton of plot. I mean, lots of things happen, but it’s no The Magician’s Apprentice or Dark Water, nor even The Rebel Flesh. Actually, one really has to rack one’s brain to think of the last time a whole episode was used to set up a premise this straightforward. The Sontaran Stratagem?
No, even that has more moving parts than this, an episode that is more interested in lengthy scenes in which characters watch grainy green-tinged footage on a computer monitor or an extended corridor relay race than in what we normally describe as “doing anything” in television. I don’t think I’ve ever wondered so much what the Tumblr gifset crowd is going to make of an episode.
The real answer to the question, then, is probably… ooh, Curse of Fenric 1? (Survival has a pretty complex premise.) Or hell, the last actual proper base under siege, Warriors of the Deep 1? Certainly you have to look to the classic series to find anything as willing to spend quite this long on people fiddling with machines on a BBC soundstage. It’s just not something Doctor Who does much, as television. For the most part this has generally struck me as a good thing, although there’s certainly a brand of traditionalism that would say otherwise.
And yet there’s no obvious reference point for this in the classic series. It doesn’t feel like a McCoy story or a Davison story. It’s tempting to call anything that’s a base under siege a Troughton story, but no, this isn’t how one of those works or feels either. Indeed, its basic formula is unmistakably a new series standard – the action-heavy setup to a premise-changing cliffhanger.
The result makes a credible claim to being Whithouse’s best work in years, and I think actually shows a really interesting perspective on the series. Recall that Whithouse, when he debuted on the series nearly a decade ago, noted that he’d not been a classic series fan. Indeed, and this is a fact that I don’t think has been remarked upon much, he was the first new series writer for whom their episode was the first Doctor Who they’d ever done; the literal first of the new school.…
Phil here atop Jack’s post to announce the release of the first episode of our brand new Eruditorum Press Doctor Who Series 9 Podcast. Basically, each week I’m sitting down with someone on the Eruditorum Press team or with a cool guest and talking about the latest episode of Doctor Who. And to start, well, who else would it be but Jack? (I mean, you’ve only had three hours of us talking so far this week. Clearly you need another two. Just be glad I’m holding the Vengeance on Varos commentary back for a week or two.)
Jack also ended up marathoning the bulk of Series 8 in preparation for the podcast, so we open by making him play the “rank the episodes” game and getting his views on Capaldi’s first season, then talk about the new episode.
Meanwhile, Jack also has a blogpost on some of his thoughts, which runs below the line.
1. I’m So Damn Reasonable, it’s Untrue
I’ll be honest: there’s a big part of me that resents Steven Moffat when he rummages around in the history of Doctor Who and changes stuff, or adds stuff. It seems to be something he likes doing. In his worst and most excessive moments, he seems determined to overwrite his own ideas and personality on top of every last bit of the classic series, a bit like the Cat from Red Dwarf wandering around any new environment spraying his scent everywhere out of an aerosol and declaring “That’s mine… this is mine…” I particularly dislike it when he insists upon intruding upon aspects of the backstory of the classic series which were always left unspoken, mysterious, unknown.
Now, there are several things to be said about this.
Firstly, he’s the guy currently in charge. He’s the head writer and showrunner. It’s his job and his prerogative to do this.
Secondly, the fact that it bothers me is evidence of the itching presence of the fan reptile brain in me, sending me error messages about things that aren’t really worthwhile concerns. It’s not as if the very fact of going back to add or change stuff has any real effect (at least not in itself) on whether what I’m watching constitutes good drama. Nor does it have any inherent effect upon the politics of the show, its representations or ideology, or any of that other more interesting stuff that I like to think and write and talk about.
Thirdly, Doctor Who writers have always done this. Somebody decided to overwrite the Time Lords upon the blank space that had once been the Doctor’s origins. The Time Lords having been established, somebody decided to reformat them so that they became corrupt, senile old dodderers rather than godlike trans-temporal moral judges. And so on.
Finally, it’s really quite unreasonable of me to object, since I’d probably do the same thing given the chance.
Look, when the kid at the start of ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ turned out to be Davros, it annoyed me.…