Time Can Be Rewritten 40 (Lucie Miller/To the Death)
But equally, now they were back to being aimed at the same fan audience of virtually everything else from Big Finish. And in the big conclusion to the Lucie Miller run, the two-part Lucie Miller/To the Death (another convention absorbed from the new series) we can see very clearly what the implications of this are. We’ve got Susan, her son Alex, Daleks, the plot of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Meddling Monk, and, for good measure, a plot thread picked up from one of the Sixth Doctor/Charley audios. This is as hardcore as continuity porn gets without namechecking the Borad.
But what’s interesting is that Big Finish have, by this point, figured out how to do both at once. They’ve got a character-based story – this is the old standard “the companion has to function without the Doctor” story that every Davies companion got at least one of. (The Christmas Invasion, Last of the Time Lords, Turn Left) It’s They’ve got payoff to things set up in previous stories. They’ve got a big tragedy for the Doctor that sends him off sulking. It’s all very successful season finale stuff of the sort nobody once got to work in the wilderness years. And it’s also absolutely swimming in Doctor Who continuity.
And as this is the last thing we’re going to look at that Paul McGann was actually involved with in some fashion, this is worth pausing and celebrating actively. I’ve argued previously that there’s a reasonable lens by which Doctor Who steadily improves in a technical sense. But one of the biggest holes in that is the Paul McGann era, which, if we’re being honest, never really managed the consistent quality of the New Adventures or the Cartmel iterations of the Sylvester McCoy era. And with this he finally gets something that feels like a precursor to the new series. It’s not, of course – it’s a post-new series attempt to do McGann adventures in that style. But it is the most successful fusion of the McGann era as it existed – dense continuity references for fans – and what the McGann era in practice led into.
And this does matter. It’s strange that it does, but it does. The standard configuration of Doctor Who eras is, after all, based on the lead actor. But this is frequently misleading: Robot has far more in common with the stories starring Jon Pertwee than it does with anything else Tom Baker appeared in. Logopolis and Castrovalva have far more in common with each other than with any other stories in Doctor Who. And the division between The Horns of Nimon and The Leisure Hive is as stark as any regeneration sequence in terms of its significance in the series’ history. All of which is to say that the creative teams behind the camera are generally the bigger arbiters of the direction and tone of the program than the lead actor.
But lead actor is the default division. About Time made a bit of a heroic tilt at changing this, using strict season divisions and breaking the Tom Baker era into two books so as to create two John Nathan-Turner volumes. But season breaks are imperfect as well. Really, any attempt at dividing Doctor Who strictly into eras is flawed save perhaps the classic series/new series divide, with the TV Movie suspended strangely in the middle of it. Which is, of course, the status of the McGann era. The era that’s not part of either of the two segments that really do meaningfully divide Doctor Who in the popular consciousness. In reality, of course, there is no McGann era. There’s a deeply flawed TV Movie, a novel series with its own whacking big divide in the middle of it, the Big Finish audios, and let’s not forget, the comics, which we’ll deal with on Monday. There was never any sort of unified vision of the era.
And yet the popular consciousness is such that there is a McGann era. And there’s no real fighting against it. I can complain all I like about the foolishness of Doctor-defined eras, and I may even be right about it, but I still divide my books by Doctor because that’s how the public sees it. And so given this, it’s nice to see McGann get some good material. It really is. Because he is the person his era is referred to in terms of, despite having nothing to do with the bulk of it. And his era is so problematic that it’s welcome to see him prove that he could have done it. Not that anyone really doubted it, given how good an actor he is, but simply as something that allowed McGann to be rescued from his own era. It’s a small thing – nobody ever really suggested that the failures of his era were his fault. But much like Big Finish in general quietly redeemed Colin Baker from his own era, the audio adventures quietly redeemed McGann, albeit, in this case, in part from Big Finish itself. So, you know. Bravo to the only actor to give Peter Davison a run for his money in the “most tragically wasted on Doctor Who” sweepstakes.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the use of Doctor Who’s past to build a story like this. Because as we transition out of the wilderness years and their fundamental commitment to the past of Doctor Who it’s worth talking about the nature of that past. And, in particular, about the Problem of Susan.
The Problem of Susan is one of the longest-standing and most ill-defined concepts on this blog. That is, for the most part, because the problem itself is hazily defined. On the one hand, Susan clearly constitutes an active wound in the history of Doctor Who. She is at once irreducible from the history of Doctor Who and impossible to reconcile with it, being as she’s an artifact from a period before Doctor Who’s mythology and continuity actually formed. So the Problem of Susan, in that regard, describes an odd haunting of the narrative that occurs – the sort of thing that Avengers fandom would have to grapple with if it had a fandom obsessed enough to care about David Keel.
But there’s a larger problem implicit in Susan, which is the nature of the tension she introduces. She isn’t just a character that’s difficult to reconcile with the series’ later mythology, she’s a character that it would never have made any sense to introduce in a series not designed to run for, in William Hartnell’s overly optimistic estimate, five years. In a series about running forever she’s the character who was always designed to anchor the Doctor. In To the Death this gets rendered explicitly: she admits that she never really believed the Doctor would come back for her, which is all well and good, except that this admission makes the Doctor look bad in a way that his eventual permanent abandonment of Sarah Jane, Peri, or Amy never does. It’s one thing that the Doctor doesn’t nip off to New Jersey to pick Amy and Rory up. It’s quite another that he just casually abandons his own granddaughter on Earth without her consent and never returns for her ever. She is, in other words, a fundamental part of the show’s mythology that undermines the entire premise of the show.
But this still isn’t the entire Problem of Susan. There’s also the way in which she is a character who cannot be actualized. She’s a teenage girl whose role is that she can never become an adult woman. The is the eternally unearthly child. Again, this is an artifact of the series’ initial premise, which did not factor in the idea that Carole Ann Ford might still be playing the part at the age of seventy. (It is also, arguably, a factor of the series’ initial casting, which did not factor in the idea that the actress playing Susan should be good at something beyond shouting “grandfather!” in a particularly panicky voice.) And this is the problem all companions have. The Doctor is the series’ indispensable character, allowed to eternally change. But if companions change it is to be written out of the show. And so they are all, like Susan, stuck, unable to mature or develop. Which has added problems given that the companion is typically a gendered role.
All of these problems apply to Lucie Miller/To the Death. On the one hand, as noted, it tries to tackle the Problem of Susan. But on the other hand it can’t. And the extent to which it can’t is painfully obvious. Nowhere in the entire story are the Doctor and Susan able to reminisce. They can’t talk about Susan’s mother. They can’t talk about Gallifrey. The past that Susan represents has to remain a closed book save for Susan, making her a strange and arbitrary constraint on the present of the series. Susan is still stuck being Susan – plaintively yelping “grandfather” and being wetter than a Sea Devil. She has a son now, but that mostly consists of giving her another name to yelp occasionally.
All of this means that the final resolution of the story rings with weird hollowness. Lucie heroically sacrifices herself to stop the Daleks, pushing the Doctor dangerously over the edge. But Alex, his great-grandson, also ends up sacrificing himself. This, however, doesn’t seem to affect the Doctor at all. It barely seems to affect Susan, who, in the final scene in which the Doctor rants and contemplates going back to save Lucie, doesn’t really bring him up. It’s an incidental death, oddly muted. As it has to be, because to unmute it would be to allow Susan to function as her actual concept instead of as an odd artifact of the series’ history. And that’s unspeakable within the series. It’s not just that Lucie Miller has four seasons of audios and so her death has to be a spectacular moment of trauma. It’s that the entire structure in which Alex exists is one that is foreclosed on within Doctor Who.
But this gets at a larger and more fundamental problem with the classic series: it’s really kind of crap at doing any sort of character-based storytelling. It always has been. There’s no classic series era where character arcs worked. The closest is Ace, and the fact that nobody can agree on what the right order for Ace’s storyline is reveals how tentative the steps towards characterization were there. After a quarter-century the series took its first tentative steps towards characterization. And this presents anyone trying to mine the series’ past these days with real problems, because that past simply isn’t meant for that sort of mining. Doctor Who’s legacy is profoundly hostile to characterization. It doesn’t work. It can’t work.
In many ways this is visible in the way in which Lucie Miller/To the Death creates drama, which is through the wholesale slaughter of its supporting cast. Lucie, Alex, and Tamsin Drew, a brief companion of the Doctor’s in the fourth season of Eighth Doctor Adventures, all get killed. It’s a staggeringly high body count of major characters, and one that really does suggest a certain lack of imagination. And it’s notable that, despite flirting with it constantly, the new series has yet to kill a companion. (Even River Song survives, in her way) But here in the past of the series that’s not an option. The past is too simple for that. All it can do to ratchet up drama is kill people.
That’s not a condemnation of the past, or a suggestion that Doctor Who’s historical legacy has no value. It obviously does, or I wouldn’t have spent the past twenty-eight months chronicling it. But it’s limited. There are things it can’t do. And some of those things are essential to modern conceptions of serious drama. Lucie Miller/To the Death is lovely. It has some fantastic moments. But there’s only so much you can do with Doctor Who’s past. And in the end all the modern storytelling in the world can’t quite paper over the fact that, more than anything, at the end of the wilderness years, what Doctor Who needed was a present.
April 12, 2013 @ 3:18 am
Perhaps the Problem of Susan should be retitled the "Mythology" of Susan. Because she's turned into a great mythic event that no writer can go near, somewhat like the Time War. The circumstances of her parentage must always remain a mystery, as should the question of whether she is human, Gallifreyan, or Time Lord; since to explain any of it away would demystify a huge chunk of Doctor Who lore. Sadly as Phil points out, this is something that was never designed to be a huge and mythic chunk of Who lore, unlike the Time War which kind of came ready packaged with "Mythical Legendary Event – Do Not Open…Ever" on the side of the tin.
In 1964 you could have got away with producing Susan's parents, even to the extent of having him drop her off with them instead of stranding her in 2164, but now after 50 years of the show (and hundreds of years of continuity within the show), Susan's parentage is too big to be addressed with any less grandeur (for want of a better word) than any other aspect of the Doctor's life.
If anyone were to tackle the Susan situation head-on, Moffat is probably the only person with the chops to attempt it (in the same way as he is currently slowly circling the whole "Doctor Who" Question), and even he would probably consider Susan too "forgotten" by most viewers to do anything other than drop the odd fan-pleasing comment from the Doctor about how he used to have kids.
April 12, 2013 @ 3:47 am
I have wondered, in a purely speculative manner, if the return of Susan is a plausible possibility for the 50th. The opinion that lots of people seemed to have last time, that bringing back old Doctors was almost inevitably a dull museum approach, made me think that Susan is perhaps a rare example of a classic series character for whom a substantial reinvention is possible, through regeneration if nothing else. One could perhaps bring back Carole Ann Ford early in the story, as a nice nod to AUC, then regenerate the character into some wildly new interpretation midway, thereby looking both backwards and forwards. Kinda like how the return of the Master in Season 3 was structured so that a more traditional interpretation (Jacobi) was rapidly subverted by a more new, unexpected one (Simm). Though I can't say I've given this vast amounts of thought in terms of addressing the issues that Phil points out…
Still, even if it's not been intended as actual foreshadowing, the repeated references to the Doctor's family show a real shift in enagement with this area when compared to the abrupt dropping of the issue in the classic series, which might be possible to build upon further. And I certainly don't think the fact that she's "forgotten" is an issue – she's the Doctor's granddaughter, that's inherently interesting regardless if you know her history! Much like Utopia works even if you don't know who the Master is, because by that point the mere return of another Time Lord has been signalled as hugely significant.
April 12, 2013 @ 4:08 am
My pet fan hypothesis the last few years has been that Susan is the granddaughter of Rose and the alternate 10th Doctor (this based largely on the meeting in Lungbarrow where the first Doctor doesn't recognize her, but accepts her anyway).
This post, in talking about the eighth Doctor, has now led me to the upsetting idea that, if we wanted to tie together the elements of the TV movie and be all timey-wimey, then what we have is the Doctor being the half-human son of Susan and David. So his shoving her out of the TARDIS was really a way for him to finally move out and live his own life.
I am so sorry my brain did that.
April 12, 2013 @ 5:07 am
So, I want to get this straight… there are really two Problems of Susan, right? Or is it three now? There's the problem of her being a stupid kid, a hacky plot function to set up peril. There's the problem that her being related to the Doctor posed for her being an adventuress. And now there's the problem of what her abandonment means for the Doctor's characterization.
Oh, Phil, I wish you'd scheduled An Earthly Child and Relative Dimensions into the blog, and you certainly have to revisit them for the book, because it's here, not in the Lucie Miller finale, that they really try to tackle the Problem of Susan. Head on. They have conversations about it. And even a story about it. They are, in part, redemptive… but they also go to show just how big and intractable the Problem really is.
April 12, 2013 @ 5:20 am
Don't be sorry. That's awesome.
April 12, 2013 @ 6:02 am
I could see a case for Romana getting a character arc, although it wasn't as planned as Ace's was and mainly develops from her introduction and the regeneration. But she also highlights the problem, because while her debut story has multiple characters with story arcs in it. The Doctor and his companions don't experience character arcs so much as they inspire them in others and then move on.
Turlough also has a bit of an arc, though that's mostly thanks to Enlightenment. The Brigadier, on the other hand, is defined by his stability as a character even though he makes enough appearance in the series to support an arc.
When we do arrive at companion arcs, I'll be interested to hear whether you think they work along with or against the Doctor's ability to move between stories and genres freely.
April 12, 2013 @ 6:05 am
That's what I get for commenting from my iPad. The last two sentences of the first paragraph of my comment should be one sentence with a comma…
April 12, 2013 @ 6:59 am
I'll wade in on the problem of Susan in a second. However as we're on our way out from my Doctor I feel like I need to discuss this piece. Because it is exceptional.
I loved Lucie. She was spunky but never got over the top obnoxious like Billie Piper did. Listening to the audio that bears her name, hearing her scream and be ravaged by the Dalek disease…is upsetting. We know it will run its course. We know it's going to ravage her body and spirit. And we know the Doctor isn't going to come. It's absolutely brutal. Sheridan Smith gives a performance that is absolutely gripping. I don't think I can do justice to it. It's like watching Amy waste away to Cancer as we watch. The only thing that comes close is Donna to this is what happens to Donna. But that is quick and she gets a happy ending out of it eventually. But not for Lucie. She gets crippled, PTSD, looses the sight in one eye, fights a failed guerrilla war and then sacrifices herself when the Doctor is unable to find a way out. It's excruciating. And it's brilliant. It's brutal. In a way that the new series has never been to a Companion.
I think what I’m trying to say that there is more than just bulking up the body count at work here. They are actively deconstructing a character we have spent more time with than some Doctors. She is stripped down to her core, everything is taken away from her. It’s a conscious choice to take one of BF’s most popular companions and then give them an exit we could never have seen on TV. I had to pull my car over and cry in a parking lot. That’s how much it upset me to listen to. The only companion that has given me that strong a reaction before has been Donna. Listening to the McGann in the final 10 minutes of this Audio is haunting. His grief over loosing Lucie puts to shame the loss of Rose or the Ponds. Big Finish doesn't have to curate a multi-million Pound endeavor that's the BBC's biggest revenue generator. And occasionally they get to do something like this. They get to produce something brilliant that would never happen on TV.
To say that it’s just a component of creating a staggering body count does it a disservice in my opinion. Listening to the season this story is set in, there is so much going on. This is a culmination of Lucie’s arc in a fitting and appropriate way.
I’m sorry I turned this into a rant. I just feel very strongly about this.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:00 am
Both are excellent Audios in their own right. Earthly Child especially might be a good entry for the book.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:27 am
I understand the point you're going for, but it– well, it irritates me that you're getting there via a series of broad, sweeping, absolutist statements that serve to erase all the messy details.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:33 am
Don't forget the problem of delayed sexual maturity.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:38 am
Goatie, an interesting theory, but it does follow the tendency to de-sexualize the Doctor, just like the Lungbarrow route of the Looms and the Other.
Given that the 1st Doctor is the classic Doctor to have come closest to having a relationship (in The Aztecs), I can imagine him having a family and children.
The idea that the Doctor had a mysterious family that we never learn about seems more satisfying to me than any complex explanations for Susan.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:41 am
The Doctor specifically referenced his granddaughter in last weeks episode ' The Rings of Akhaten' This cannot be coincidental. Moffat has hinted that an old question will be answered in the 50th anniversary episode. Is that question the problem of Susan? It'd certainly be a good place and time to do it.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:47 am
Matthew you said exactly what I was typing as I typed it. I agree 100%.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:48 am
It's a fair accusation, and one I've really opened myself up to. But what was the alternative – an entire two week stretch on one post-new series spinoff line featuring the Eighth Doctor just to build up the messy details of "and by the way, this is in fact an interesting footnote to Doctor Who?"
We've spent basically four months on a Doctor with one televised story covering the single most obscure and marginal era of Doctor Who history. At some point the rabbit hole stops being useful to climb down.
I mean, I'm really eager to get out of an era of Doctor Who where whenever I mention to my wife that I have another audio or book to read she looks at me sympathetically. And where she sighs and lets me get on with it when I need to devote car trips to listening to more Big Finish audios. (And let me be clear, it is not that my wife is not a Doctor Who fan. My wife loved The Web Planet, Power of the Daleks as a reconstruction, and Paradise Towers. She visibly stifled a cheer of glee when I told her To the Death was the last Big Finish audio I was doing.) I could detail the minutiae of why this happens and why despite the obvious good bits this era just doesn't quite get itself to working.
But there's only so long it makes sense to tarry in the weird overlap of McGann and the new series.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:56 am
Part of me really resented what BF did with Lucie. At the very least it bordered on reveling in the torture of a companion. Reminded me of Vengeance on Varos, but without the commentary on the nasties. It's nasty for the sake of being nasty. Just… gratuitous. Indulging in anorak fantasies of sticking it to Rose for completely changing the nature and ethos of the programme.
Yes, it's brutal… and I think that's absolutely the wrong direction for Doctor Who to go in. It cuts against the ethos of the mercurial anarchist whose alchemical arts provide an antidote and antithesis to violence.
The end of this series is nothing more than a call for the return of the spirit of Earthshock. Sorry, but no. Yuck.
April 12, 2013 @ 8:01 am
It is a good character arc for Lucie, I agree. It's the most thorough job of "the Doctor changes his companions" I can think of short of possibly River, which is about six different kinds of special case.
It doesn't make the weirdness of the ending go away, though. The fact that Lucie's death so eclipses everything else, including the death of the Doctor's great grandson, still doesn't quite work. And there is, I think, something cynical about the attempt.
April 12, 2013 @ 8:02 am
If Moffat gives us any explanation of Susan other than her being the Hartnell Doctor's biological granddaughter, I swear I will throw my slipper at my laptop screen.
April 12, 2013 @ 8:25 am
I think the story is weaker on its own than as the end point of the series. Because I think the fourth series is better structured than any of the television series so far. That's because the structure is organised around the characters making choices out of their established character traits (if you grant that 'by any human standards completely bonkers' is an established character trait for the daleks). The television series has been rather less motivated by characters making choices and more by a structure of characters being provoked to express emotions by circumstances. That doesn't work as well. (Martha's character is especially ill-served by this. The Davies-era is worse than the Moffat-era.)
Granting that Nevermore is filler, the only weakness is the Resurrection of Mars, because a) the ice warriors may only be a side issue but they're still the most dull classic monster there is; b) by now Doctor Who is unable to give a definite explanation of why the Doctor can interfere sometimes and not others, and so is unable to give the Doctor any moral argument other than, because I'm a responsible Time Lord and I can tell. Which doesn't work.
So I disagree that the emotional heart of Lucie Miller as a story is that everything is taken from Lucie. It isn't. (Plenty of people in the real world suffer worse disabilities.) I agree that it would be morally problematic if it were. The story is about what Lucie does in response to a situation in which the daleks are winning and the Doctor isn't arriving.
April 12, 2013 @ 9:01 am
Oh, sure. And that's sensible and reasonable. But my problem isn't that you're not covering more of this part of the series. (I'm tingling with anticipation to see what you'll say about Nine!)
It's that you're throwing in nevers and can'ts and couldn'ts that foreclose on those details, consigning them to "don't count" and "didn't make a difference", putting these attempts not only as something that didn't work but as something that never possibly could.
(Also, your wife sounds cool.)
April 12, 2013 @ 9:12 am
But could it have possibly worked? I mean, is an audio series aimed at hardcore Doctor Who fans featuring a previous Doctor and consciously indebted to the wonkiest and wankiest details of Doctor Who history ever something that can work as such?
I'm unconvinced this isn't a basic and constitutive problem of the Wilderness Years. That this isn't the real and central difference between Wilderness Years Doctor Who and Davies Doctor Who: one of them is designed to be huge while the other is actively designed to be marginal.
April 12, 2013 @ 9:24 am
dude, I just want to name check the Borad. Just cause i once name checked the Chumblies to prove i had Doctor Who street cred.
April 12, 2013 @ 9:30 am
@Goatie: Fun fact – Susan's real name is supposedly Arkytior which means "Rose" in High Gallifreyan. Dun dun dunnnnnnn
April 12, 2013 @ 10:22 am
Susan is really a Slitheen! That would be the kewlest.
April 12, 2013 @ 10:39 am
I was going to mention Turlough as well, since he has an arc that on the whole I think works pretty danged well (which I would include Frontios and Planet of Fire into as well).
April 12, 2013 @ 12:19 pm
"It’s all very successful season finale stuff of the sort nobody once got to work in the wilderness years. And it’s also absolutely swimming in Doctor Who continuity."
No, Nick Briggs has done at least one season finale as good if not better than this, prior to 2005, with the closing fourth chapter of Dalek Empire II- Dalek War. Which was not just a conclusion to all plotlines and the series arc, but brought all the character work to their development too.
Let's not pretend either of the above were an RTD creation only.
April 12, 2013 @ 12:37 pm
I would accept a bait-and-switch explanation by which Susan is not the Hartnell Doctor's biological grandfather, but the Doctor is confirmed as having sex. For example, establish that she's Jenny's daughter by way of temporal shenanigans, and then have the Doctor comment that none of his other kids had any kids of their own.
Then confirm that Eleven is asexual. Because obviously he is, just as Ten is obviously bi and Five is obviously gay.
April 12, 2013 @ 12:53 pm
Well, I think it can. I think real, lasting art is something that can come out of such a source, as much as it could come out of a low-budget edutainment kids' show in 1963.
April 12, 2013 @ 12:56 pm
Oh, I like that.
April 12, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
I've tried to phrase a response to you Jane, not in terms of confrontation or instigating a fight, but in terms of discussing it constructively. But…as much as I enjoyed it, and enjoyed that visceral emotions it called up in me, part of me agrees. I think in general Doctor Who (especially televised Doctor Who) shouldn't make a habit of this. But sometimes people dear to him should die, and sometimes bad things should happen. I think however that eventually it's time to pay the piper. Either the Daleks, Cybermen, Silence et all are a credible threat, or they aren't. And here we see that in a world without the Doctor, they are a terrible threat that will pull down everything. I don't think it's a shameless grab for publicity in the same way Earthshock is. I think it's an honest attempt to try and conclude Lucie's arc in a meaningful way.
Killing Tamsin and Alex…well yes. That is much more in the spirit of Earthshock and it is a cynical and shallow attempt to get attention. But those deaths do have a different meaning than Charlie's sacrifice.
Pen Name Pending
April 12, 2013 @ 2:00 pm
I kind of thought that reference was really ballsy–because the new series has explicitly avoided answering the question of the Doctor's family. I don't think it has any other plot significance other than reminding the audience "Oh hey, I really was that guy with the granddaughter." Susan has, for a very long time, been a hole in the series that has been ignored because it's hard to reconcile.
Personally, I think the question has to do with something of power the Doctor has been hiding and the Silence either want it or want to get rid of it. Of course, that's just me and I don't really get worked up over this stuff. I just like to see where the show takes me.
April 12, 2013 @ 2:34 pm
Yay, Tommy's back! 😀
April 12, 2013 @ 2:42 pm
…according to one "Brief Encounter" story from Doctor Who Magazine. Not exactly the most accessible text to draw from.
April 12, 2013 @ 3:19 pm
You know, Phil, it's sad, but probably true. The Lucie Miller seasons contain my favourite Paul McGann audio stories — hell, my favourite Eighth Doctor stories period, apart from the mediocre unpublished fan fiction I wrote when I was 15 and treasure only for its personal sentimental value. But when it comes to the wider purpose of the Eruditorum, I can see why you limit yourself to what you do.
McGann is conceptually intriguing because he's a Doctor without an era: never given a decent shot on television or in any medium able to capture a wide audience beyond the already dedicated fans. The Eighth Doctor is a Doctor without a time, existing outside time. It's just one more facet in which the Wilderness Years (particularly the post-Virgin period) is so profoundly disconnected from the world it moves in. You've described the anorak's obsession with continuity and the past of the program, the tendency toward diagnostics of how it all fell apart instead of actual bold new directions, the total lack of influence contemporary developments in drama and sci-fi had on the Doctor Who of the period. The Eighth Doctor's own disconnection from the development of the character of the Doctor overall is just one more aspect of this.
On the bright side, it means the McGann era can truly continue indefinitely. It isn't bound by the past or the future, but can be contained within its own idiosyncratic present. On the shitty side, it's completely disconnected from the past and the future, and contained within its own idiosyncratic present. It means we can get amazing developments like the Lucie Miller seasons cropping up on the radio and from Big Finish in the gaps between David Tennant and Matt Smith seasons, as they did. But that also makes the Eighth Doctor works an obscure cult reflection of Doctor Who in its own underground. The equivalent of a 60s folk-head shutting down your Dylan album and putting on a Dave Van Ronk LP. "I'm gonna hit you with some deep, deep cuts."
That's what the Paul McGann / Eighth Doctor era is. The deepest cuts of all.
April 12, 2013 @ 4:15 pm
Out of anorakish curiosity, what was the plot point brought through from the Sixth Doctor/Charley audios?
April 12, 2013 @ 4:43 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
April 12, 2013 @ 4:45 pm
The Dalek Time Controller and the Azure Viruses.
April 12, 2013 @ 5:08 pm
Yeah, I get the whole "credible threat" line of thinking, too, and it's not like Lucie's character got assassinated or anything. I mean, it worked, I found it moving… but I also think they went overboard. And I can't help but wonder if it's a subtextual sideswipe at Rose, and what that relationship meant for the Doctor and for the show.
There's an anorak element in fandom that can't stand intimate relationship or any hint of sexuality in Doctor Who, and I think Lucie's end panders to that element, as a subtext for Rose. It's the same terribly misanthropic mindset that gave us the Saward years. Frankly, that element of fandom can go choke on a banana as far as I'm concerned; it makes me think Who won't really be free of such pernicious interests until another fifty years have passed and they're all dead, hopefully the first fandom to win a collective Darwin Award on account of failing to reproduce.
But, let's step back and look at the assumptions of "paying the piper" and "credible threat" and all that. Isn't that a rather pessimistic point of view? Doesn't it preclude hope, and foreclose on the eucatastrophe of Fairy Tales? I think there's something blinkered about the philosophy that says the series has to buy into the perpetuation of such violence, as if that's what it takes to press the fear buttons in this subset of fandom. Because there's all kinds of other needs that can be thwarted by villains, all kinds of conflicts that don't have to devolve into "nasties" just for sake of "drama."
To The Death misses something vital, and that's The Moment of Grace. In A Good Man Goes To War, for example, Amy and Rory suffer a terrible loss, a loss shared by the Doctor. And then River arrives, and tries to say as nicely as possible that there's light on the other side. They can't go back and prevent the suffering visiting upon any of them; instead, a different perspective is offered, a small mercy that ameliorates but doesn't eliminate the suffering of all concerned. It's something that can be taken home.
Is Big Finish being honest? Yes, I think they are, by and large. But it's the values put forth, however honestly, I have issue with.
April 12, 2013 @ 6:40 pm
"There's an anorak element in fandom that can't stand intimate relationship or any hint of sexuality in Doctor Who, and I think Lucie's end panders to that element, as a subtext for Rose. It's the same terribly misanthropic mindset that gave us the Saward years."
Is it possible to express a dislike of sexuality in Doctor Who without being labeled a misanthropic anorak? Because I'd honestly like to try.
I am mortally tired of the way titillation and male gaze and beefcake and all the other crap under the mantra of 'sex sells' has permeated popular culture. I'm sick of the insistence that every story has to have people getting it on, or Unresolved Sexual Tension, or revealing costumes, or… you get the point. I can enjoy it when it's a well-done part of the story and isn't just thrown in there as a cheap way to grab attention, but the latter situation is far more common than I'd like. And I think that's also bad from an artistic standpoint, because then it becomes a crutch for lazy writers. (Much like violence, fart jokes, and a lot of slapstick humor. Though I think fart jokes are the worst, in a way; at least you can use violence and slapstick in an intelligent way. 🙂 )
And that's the key reason why I liked the 'no hanky-panky in the Tardis' rule. It made Doctor Who a respite from the barrage of 'sex sells' in popular culture. Even the most notorious example I can think of in the classic series, Leela's leather leotard, had a certain innocence about it – I can't remember any of the other characters particularly leering at her in it, and especially not the Doctor. (And the way she was one of the strongest and most proactive Companions also helped counter the image of her as eye candy – something Peri, alas, didn't have for most of her run.)
So that's why I'm hostile to the sexualization of the new series – not because I'm puritanistic, or misogynistic, but because I think of the hyper-sexualization of popular culture as damaging (and even misogynistic, where it turns women into sex objects). The classic series pre-Saward was a welcome relief from this; the new series feels like it's bought into it.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:15 pm
I can't disagree about a dislike for the anorak element. I am on the same page. That being said…Lucie wasn't in love with the Doctor. At no point is there an implication of romance between them. Had something happened like this to Charley…I would agree entirely. But I think your read might be a little off. No offence.
It's only a depressing point of view if you choose for it to be or if it's the only way to stand against evil. Fairy takes can be dark, and dangerous. Most stories with the Doctor have him saving the day. It's not like "To The Death" is one in a series where the only way is to kill your enemies and the cost is always great. We have many stories that reflect your philosophy. Having one where the cost is great doesn't detract from that. But I think Doctor Who is comprehensive enough that it can encompass both.
"To the Death" doesn't say that there is no light in the end of the tunnel. I believe that the Doctor has a quote that is relevant "There are some corners of the universe that have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe. They…must be fought." This ethos is reinforced here, even when the cost is high, even when the darkness and enemies close in and we can't see the light at the end…we have to stop the dark things at the corner of the universe. Just because there might not be a reward, it doesn't mean the struggle is any less important.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:55 pm
Well, they've mentioned before that the Doctor's had kids, both directly and indirectly. This is the first New Series mention of grandkids, though, IIRC.
April 12, 2013 @ 7:56 pm
Oh, also, nothing to do with the current topic, but: I was reading the Pertwee volume, and I noticed something. On the blog, you seemed to take Dicks's assertion that Jo was meant to be a brainless peril monkey with a grain of salt; in the book version, it seems you take it much more seriously. Is this what was meant in the blog, or is it a change of perspective over time? Or am I just seeing things?
April 13, 2013 @ 12:20 am
Most of you, I'm afraid, are somewhat missing the point. The question of Susan is not 'Is she the Doctor's granddaughter?' She clearly is. The diagetic 'question' is why did the Doctor leave her in such an abrupt and heartless manner on post Dalek invasion Earth and why has he not fulfilled his promise to return? The meta or extra-diagetic question is how the character of Susan may be reconciled and contextualised within the 'unfolding text'.
Froborr- I find your comments particularly puzzling. Why would Susan not being the Doctor's biological descendent be a good idea? How would her being the daughter of a clone of the Doctor be better? As for –
'Then confirm that Eleven is asexual. Because obviously he is, just as Ten is obviously bi and Five is obviously gay.'
Well 'obviously'! What the hell does that mean?
April 13, 2013 @ 12:37 am
Anton, yes, it's a huge problem and Phil does a great job of bringing it to light.
My personal theory is that Dr. Who abandoned Susan to protect her. There seem good reasons to suppose that his children may be dead. How did they die?
Perhaps some evil destroyed the Doctor's children and potentially threatens Susan. Perhaps he believed that his unknown enemy would be more likely to find Susan if she was in his company.
There is also evidence that family ties of affection do not cross over regeneration. Notice that in The Five Doctors, none of the post-Hartnell Doctors interact with Susan or offer her any affection. We see this in the TV Comic too with John and Gillian- the Second Doctor is never addressed as 'grandfather' by John and Gillian.
April 13, 2013 @ 3:21 am
This "anorak" element that dislikes sexuality is pretty unique to Who, and personally I think it stems from the impossibility of tying down exactly who the programme is aimed at, age-wise. In 1963 thing were pretty simple – it was a childrens' TV show, end of. But as time has gone by this distinction is no longer clear. In fact I don't think anyone can correctly label Dr Who as a programme aimed at kids, adults or teenagers. Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood are far more easier to categorise. I might advise a non-Who viewing adult to watch SJA to see if they liked it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they found it too juvenile. I also wouldn't let my 10-year old watch Torchwood because I know it's not aimed at her, she'd probably find it boring, and she might see something violent or sexual that she isn't emotionally ready for yet.
But Dr Who is nowhere near as easy. Parents of young children regularly have to make informed choices about whether or not to let child watch a particular episode because it might be too scary. Teenagers complain at school because the Doctor doesn't snog enough, and stereotypical anorak fans complain because he snogs at all. Each of these groups can legitimately lay claim to Dr Who being aimed at them, and there's no written or stated mandate that says they're wrong or right. I was about 6 when I first watched Dr Who, and now I'm 51 and I still watch it, and I maintain I'm still in the target audience. I don't feel like I'm watching something aimed below me, any more than my 6-year old self felt it was aimed above him…because I honestly don't think it has a target audience. It's basically aimed at anyone old enough to enjoy it…upwards.
Which is where the problems with content have come in over the last 50 years. Tom Baker's head being held underwater, or Lytton's bloody hands are only inappropriate for the target age-group…when a programme has a target age group. And Dr Who doesn't.
April 13, 2013 @ 4:16 am
@Travis: "I am mortally tired of the way titillation and male gaze and beefcake and all the other crap under the mantra of 'sex sells' has permeated popular culture….
And that's the key reason why I liked the 'no hanky-panky in the Tardis' rule. It made Doctor Who a respite from the barrage of 'sex sells' in popular culture."
Well, I'm sympathetic to wanting relief from the cynical commoditization of sexuality, but that's not what I'm seeing in the Revival.
Steering clear of that content is one strategy, yes, but I don't think it's the best one. Withdrawal simply lets other cultural forces lay claim to sexuality; it doesn't resist. The point being, sexuality is such a vital aspect of our humanity, I think we're better served by the show getting into it from a perspective that shows all the dimensions of sex and relationship in a healthy, non-shaming way.
I find the Classic Series much more problematic. Leela's outfit, for example, blatantly satisfies the male gaze; that it isn't lampshaded by the text doesn't make it better, it simply prevents that objectification from being commented on. At least with Sharez Jek the male gaze becomes implicated with villainy — specifically, that he doesn't care a jot what she actually thinks; he doesn't recognize her own needs.
With Rose we move away from the male gaze; female interiority drives much of the narrative, especially when it comes to her relationship to the Doctor. She wants a relationship with him, something emotional and intimate; this isn't "sex sells," this is human need. The Doctor resists; this creates tension, and it's done without being explicitly sexual. We see it play out in scenes like The Impossible Planet where Rose fantasizes about the Doctor having a mortgage, or in Fear Her when she first hears he's a father, and that she doesn't know him as well as she thought.
With Jack, and River to an extent, we get a different commentary all together. Their sexuality is all about who they are, about their pleasure, without arbitrary moral strictures regarding who they want to be with. Pleasure is upheld as something good, and it should be, for there's nothing wrong with pleasure and seeking it in of itself. It's only when someone disregards another person's boundaries and subjectivity that it's problematic, but that's a failure of empathy, not a necessary entailment of desire. Yet even with Jack and River, we see that they are most fulfilled in intimate relationships, not shallow hedonism.
So I can't, in the end, support the hostility to sexuality in the Revival. It suggests that sexuality itself is a problem, when the real problem is the divorce from empathy and relationship itself.
April 13, 2013 @ 4:49 am
@theonlyspiral: "Lucie wasn't in love with the Doctor. At no point is there an implication of romance between them. Had something happened like this to Charley…I would agree entirely. But I think your read might be a little off. No offence."
No offense taken, I'm not entirely sure of my read itself. It's not even the initial read I had of the story. But when Phil pointed out the (now) obvious influence Rose had on the characterization of Lucie, I can't help but make comparisons.
Take, for example, the fact there's no implication of romance. Doesn't that square entirely with the "anorak" rejection of romance and emotional relationship in Who, which was most strongly portrayed through Rose? It's like they're saying, "Okay, we see how important female characterization is, and we can show our chops in doing it, but we're certainly not going to condone this particular dimension of human behavior. We're going to take the icon of this line of thinking and completely strip it down."
No wonder David Campbell is nowhere to be seen, and Susan's child gets killed in the end, yet more evidence of relationship and intimacy erased.
"Fairy takes can be dark, and dangerous. Most stories with the Doctor have him saving the day. It's not like "To The Death" is one in a series where the only way is to kill your enemies and the cost is always great…
…even when the cost is high, even when the darkness and enemies close in and we can't see the light at the end…we have to stop the dark things at the corner of the universe."
When you put it like that, it clarifies my objections. The problem with the Doctor's "they must be fought" philosophy is that it's very black and white, very us and them, and supposedly the show realized back in 1969 that this perspective was lacking. I think it's a terrible model for conceptualizing conflict.
And again, there's the lack of grace. Which makes the end of this story an exercise in nihilism, too. It would work better at the middle of a season — because the climax of a story (and a season) ends up being the point of a story. It's why the whole story is told. And this particular story, I think, ends up being tragedy for the sake of tragedy, and ultimately a rejection of grace and relationship itself.
Speaking of the end, though… what about the rewording of Hartnell's closing speech from Dalek Invasion? Hartnell says, "One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back." But now we have McGann saying, "One day, I shall go back. Yes, I shall go back." I thought that was very curious.
April 13, 2013 @ 6:37 am
But there was romance in the story: Lucie's burgeoning romance with Alex. Not every Doctor-Companion relationship should be based on love. It would have felt greatly out of place here, considering that it wasn't how their relationship had been defined by the previous 3 seasons of audio. I get that you feel very strongly about this and it seems very apparent to you, but I just can't see it in the text.
The thing is…that the Doctor never alter that as his fundamental principal from that moment forward. He gives it nuance as he learns that monsters do not stay that way forever (Ice Warriors) and that the monstrous is often in us (The Gangers). He develops his moral code a great deal as time goes on but he still fights monsters (The Silence), power-mad conspirators (Slitheen), and those who stand against that which he believes (Solomon). Here the only way that he can stand against the evils that prey on mankind is through a proxy…through a companion that has come to see the majesty of the universe and the beautiful things it is full of. And that it is worth any cost to keep those things safe. I think we need to view "To the Death" in the context of "Dark Eyes" where the Doctor does find hope. It opens minutes after this ends, with the Doctor seeking hope.
The ending speech mystifies me as well. Does he mean for Lucie? For Susan? To take his revenge on the Daleks? I'm not sure.
And I'm not sure I could make it through "To The Death" again to listen to it.
April 13, 2013 @ 7:04 am
Withdrawal simply lets other cultural forces lay claim to sexuality; it doesn't resist.
I definitely want to make sure this point is seen. It's a good one.
April 13, 2013 @ 7:23 am
Lucie's closer to Donna in characterisation than she is to Rose. Or to Eccleston's Doctor. (Lots of planets have a north.) She's not far away from Ace. She's possibly closest to Tegan if Tegan were written by people who cared about making her work.
Tragedy isn't a bad thing – see Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, etc. What I think is a bad thing is suffering for suffering's sake. To me Rose and Donna come closer to that than Lucie does. There's no inevitability to what happens to either of them other than that Russell Davies has decided that's the most tear-jerking way to tie off the loose ends. Whereas I think the suffering caused by the daleks invasion – and Lucie is I think here representative of humanity as a whole – is the genuine result of the Monk's selfishness. The Monk is by the way a brilliant villain; he knows he's cutting some moral corners, but doesn't think of himself as an out-and-out moustache twirler.
April 13, 2013 @ 7:48 am
@theonlyspiral: "But there was romance in the story: Lucie's burgeoning romance with Alex. Not every Doctor-Companion relationship should be based on love. It would have felt greatly out of place here, considering that it wasn't how their relationship had been defined by the previous 3 seasons of audio."
No, not every Doctor/Companion story should be based on romantic love, but that's not the point — the point is that, considering Lucie as a reaction to Rose, what does that say about the attitudes towards Rose and all she represents? That's my concern, that's the context I'm looking at here. And I guess that's the crux of the reading — is Lucie really a reaction to Rose? I think there's an argument to made there.
I'm reminded of the Wiles era. It's not without context — it reacts to Lambert's era, and what the show came to stand for in the cultural milieu. The context paints Wiles' work in a different light than looking at it standing alone, going in a new direction purely for "dramatic concerns."
"I think we need to view To The Death in the context of Dark Eyes where the Doctor does find hope. It opens minutes after this ends, with the Doctor seeking hope."
I'm glad to hear it. But is it enough? To The Death ends without a grace note. There's nothing to uplift after the darkness, no ray of light. And that's how it is for eighteen months. It's like it's taking a stand against the principle of consolation. And I think it's fine in ordinary fiction, but in Mythology? I'm not so sure.
Fiction takes us through Life, but Mythology takes us through Death.
However, I want to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there's more to that last line than meets the eye. It's obviously playing on Hartnell's speech to Susan at the end of Dalek Invasion, and it's obviously been altered. The key phrase is "go back." What does that mean, go back? Could that possibly be a key to unlocking not a philosophy of Life, but a philosophy of Death?
Go back. Sounds like time-travel. Sounds like memory. Even resurrection. Possibly regret. Remember the end of The Fires of Pompeii, Donna imploring the Doctor to go back? The Doctor saying he can't, he can't go back. Hmm.
Hmm. "Will you go back? To your cloud?"
"Because for one person to have seen all that, to taste the glory and then go back, it will tear you apart."
April 13, 2013 @ 10:09 am
@Matthew – I too agree that mystery is better than long-winded and questionable explanations. That's why I apologized on behalf of my brain. I posted it in the hopes that Moffat will read it and decide he can't use it on account of someone else thinking it up.
April 13, 2013 @ 10:22 am
Don't worry about it. Strange & convoluted fan theories are fun.
April 13, 2013 @ 7:16 pm
I suppose the context of Lucie as reflection of Rose is one I'm just not interested in. I just don't have anything to say about it. I admit there is a very unflattering reading to be made there. On the other hand, is not one of the central tenants of this blog to do redemptive readings? I mean we can look at ANY companion in Doctor Who and come out with a damning critique of them. But why would we? Isn't there more interesting things out there? It might not take away from Doctor Who's pile of bad things…but we can sure add to the pile of good ones.
In terms of the modified quote, most people miss the fact that it's referencing something the Doctor says in the very first episode:
"Susan and I are cut off from our own planet. Without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back, yes…one day."
Viewed in that light it's a promise. That one day, when the Doctor is ready he will stop running away. He will turn around and confront the thing's he's left in his wake. When the pain of everything he's been forced to leave has faded, when he is at peace.
April 14, 2013 @ 4:31 am
"I suppose the context of Lucie as reflection of Rose is one I'm just not interested in. I just don't have anything to say about it. I admit there is a very unflattering reading to be made there. On the other hand, is not one of the central tenants of this blog to do redemptive readings? I mean we can look at ANY companion in Doctor Who and come out with a damning critique of them."
Yes. And I think they only thing I find damning about Lucie in this story is as a reflection of Rose. As you say, there's a lot that done right, and it's clear that the Revival has had a good influence in those developments, too. It's not like the new approach has been outright rejected, and the most important part of it — character driven stories driven by fully fleshed out characters — has been fully embraced.
And, as I think Phil pointed out earlier, one of the functions Big Finish performs is to act as a counterweight to the current television series. Because of its unique position in terms of its medium, its constituency, and even its "mythological" location on the Other Side of the Time War, it can go places that the popular television series can't and balance out the Myth's overall polarities.
It has the opportunity to be alchemical, and that's ultimately a good thing.
April 14, 2013 @ 11:14 am
And its abscence from the screen is the most unkindest cut of all.
April 14, 2013 @ 4:36 pm
Ah — ta.
August 11, 2017 @ 8:53 pm
“I mean, is an audio series aimed at hardcore Doctor Who fans featuring a previous Doctor and consciously indebted to the wonkiest and wankiest details of Doctor Who history ever something that can work as such? ”
…Yes….Of course it could. Comic books reconciling continuity problems do that sort of stuff regularly.
“ And so they are all, like Susan, stuck, unable to mature or develop. Which has added problems given that the companion is typically a gendered role.”
Didn’t like…every New series companion change, mature and develop…with some of them lasting a season beyond the one where they matured?
Pretty sure Amy and Rory existed for one and a half seasons beyond when they matured.