ASSESSING STRESS #7: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

Dear diary. Today, Scarves is not here. Apparently he has joined a bunch of monks and has gone on a spiritual enlightenment journey through the Sahara. That’s weird. I hope those were nice monks, not like the ones in that episode. I don’t really know. Anyway, Scribbles and the other guy are here. And there’s also a guest, one of our contributors/readers. I’m not sure he has given a name to us, though. He’s very elusive. So we’re just going to call him the Elusive Whovian for the rest of the talk. That should work. Goodbye, dear diary. I must get back to eating my curry. See you.

Spoilers follow, obviously. For the episode, “Class” and the Da Vinci Code, if you care about the Da Vinci Code. If you do, we’re kind of judging you, tho.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE: The Brink of Brilliance?

[The following essay includes spoilers for The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure.]

The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure is basically the indispensable Big Finish release. The one last great missing regeneration, after The Tenth Planet animation and The Night of the Doctor. It even comes in an unusual physical presentation, Big Finish’s special edition book sets the perfect size to slot on one’s shelf between their copies of The Ultimate Foe and Time and the Rani. It is the completionist dream. There’s been attempts at this regeneration before, of course. Time and the Rani obviously exists, and multiple books have tried to be the definitive take on that gap. But none starred Colin Baker. None were such a modern professional production as Big Finish. And none, none were in limited edition sets, only 10,000 ever to be made, perfect for your ultimate Doctor Who bookshelf (mine’s copy #1252, hello!). And that’s why I personally wound up with it being the first Big Finish set I ever pre-ordered. It’s the ultimate trivial fanservice product.

As a result, the release remains a very vivid experience in my mind. Working out how the hell to copy over the zip files to my phone in a hurry so I could listen on the go. Starting The End of the Line at around 3AM as I biked through a deserted campus to work on a student documentary. Bingeing the rest the next day in excitement. And my thoughts are recorded from comments I made at the time, cynicism and joy side by side. My take on the regeneration story itself at the time: “And for his final story, that’s a pity. It should have made a case for what makes him matter despite things like The Twin Dilemma, not pretended he was a flawless hero and given him a blaze of glory to go out in. It’s not a uniquely bad piece, just tremendously uninteresting despite the iconic space it tries to fill. It may be better than Time and the Rani, but at least that story has so-bad-it’s-good entertainment value. This one merely passes the time.”

I was at once totally fair and totally unfair, I think. The Last Adventure is a set brimming with bizarre creative choices alongside inspired ones, and it’s an innately frustrating experience. But it’s one worth listening and worth engaging with. Because though I don’t disagree with my past self about it being flawed, I do strongly disagree with labelling it utterly uninteresting. On thematic and narrative levels, The Last Adventure and in particular The Brink of Death is a fascinating work. Not one that necissarily works, but one that’s very worth unpacking.

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SCARVES AND CELERY – “The Image of an Angel”: a thematic dissection of “The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone”

Remember early series five? When Matt Smith was all baby faced, we didn’t know who River was yet, and the Moffat era was in its infancy. What an exciting and new time that was. Today, we’re to revisit the story I feel best captures that time in Doctor Who’s history: “The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone”, and examine the key themes and concerns animating the story, and the Moffat era as it was just beginning.

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GUEST POST: Philosophy is only philosophy in Extremis

by James Blanchard

Steven Moffat’s “Extremis” is one of the few episodes of Doctor Who ever to illicit a physical reaction from me. I spent every minute, of the last ten minutes, saying “oh noooo” as the truth of the story was revealed. I spent another ten minutes just thinking about it afterwards, not because it confused or annoyed me, but rather I was amazed at the sheer amount of philosophical critique and content poured into such a short amount of time.

Extremis” is one of the most overtly philosophical Doctor Who stories ever – in fact, the whole episode acts like a critical timeline of the practice. The story starts in the Vatican, in the ancient, classical world, dealing with classical philosophy of essence and ethics; it ends in the Oval Office, in the modern (or even post-modern) age, with the characters facing the harsh reality of a staggeringly indifferent world. To me, “Extremis” was a fascinating exercise in the use of the Doctor Who universe and its characters to describe how it can be possible to live a good and virtuous life in an ultimately existential universe.

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Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things. And finally, it happened. We got back to a full, four-people crew! Hurray us! Of course we had to extract Scarves from the little hut he had taken shelter in, somewhere near the Balkans, where he was hunting wolves and reading Mitlon, but Tibère had contacts among the French secret service, so it was a pretty smooth ride, all things considered.

And joining us today is David Nirved, writer of Who fanfiction and essays, generally awesome person, and the only hardcore “Fear Her” fan in the world. He’s the one that held Tibbles at gunpoint and forced him to write that article about it, if you recall the oh so old beginnings of this lovely blog. Anyway, let’s dive into it.

Oh, and a random piece of information – we’re going to run an article on the episode’s philosphical themes in the coming days! Stay tuned.

Spoilers follow, obviously. And it should be obvious if you have seen the episode – but be warned that we’re gonna talk about suicide in that talk, so have a content warning.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Mirror Image: “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” and visual storytelling

[A short warning: due to some real-life commitments, also known as finals, I had to put some more elaborate articles on hold – so instead you’re getting this slice of very nitpicky analysis. It’s a bit more low-hanging and cheap that what usually fills my side of the website, I’ll be the first to admit it. Don’t worry, though that’s not what the future of this column looks like, it’s more a little aside. That hopefully will prove enjoyable!]

 “I had this insane conversation with [director Daniel Nettheim] where he was saying ‘This bit doesn’t work. What am I going to do? I’m shooting on Monday!’ ” – Steven Moffat

Tomorrow, “Extremis” is going to air – an episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim. If you’re paying attention to the names of various Who directors, you’d have noticed Nettheim, who has worked a lot on British TV since the 1990s – doing some work on Glue, most recently – has previously helmed the series 9 two-parter, “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion“.

I’m on record as being notoriously cold on that two-parter. It’s not awful by any means, but it’s inconsistent and riddled with weird quirks – an especially unfortunate state of affairs for an episode that tries to tackle extremly dark, difficult and contemporary subjects. But this is not about a complete analysis of that story (although I do have some folders full of notes about it and am intending to put those to good use) – let’s focus instead on one specific aspect.

But first, a proposition: the Moffat era is arguably the first time in Doctor Who’s history where visually-driven storytelling has been a consistent and important feature all throughout the series. Or, at the very least: a lot of Moffat’s talent rests on his ability to craft a cohesive nexus of meaning encompassing both the technical aspects of an episode and its script. The show looks good, very good these days, and has more than its share of absolutely stellar directors, from Rachel Talalay to Paul Whilmshurst.

Which makes it all the more obvious, of course, when someone is not exactly up to the task. If you assume as a starting point that the directing of an episode is a text that parallels and complements the actual script, with every shot and cut being a letter or a punctuation mark – then, well, if that text is not impeccably written, or if it contradicts the script in some key ways, well, we’ve got trouble, to quote Peter Capaldi back in his hotel manager days.

And, obviously, I think this episode has quite a lot of issues at the visual level. Let’s talk about those, shall we?

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Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the new Ninth Doctor boxset from Big Finish, narrated by Nicholas Briggs. The process leading to that post was complex, we can tell you that. Lots of delay. Because of a multitude of reasons, among which a trip to Holland, a bowl full of peas, vicious stairs, a train accident, and capitalism. I know right. Tough times. Anyway, with some hope those two might have some insightful comments. For a change …

Spoilers follow, obviously.

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Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things. And this week, we’re not late! But unfortunately, our numbers are still down. Scarves, alas, is not here this week. This is not because last week’s couple therapy failed when we discovered the therapist was actually the guru of a zoroastrian BDSM cult that sent a hundred masked assassins mounted on tiny Shetland ponies after him, by the way – no, it’s not that at all, just … life stuff. Yeah, let’s go with that, life stuff. So it’s only Scribbles and Tibbles here. But don’t worry, “Extremis” will normally have us return to a four-person crew.

Still, we managed to get a guest to accompany us on this fine day – dear Audrey T. Armstrong, who lives in the country of attractive Prime Ministers and elks, also known as Canada. Also she’s writing stuff for us (watch that space, good things comin’, yo – that’s how young people talk, right?), and, when she’s not doing that (and frankly, that’s a bit sad, who needs a life beyond a niche Who fansite?), she 1) dabbles occasionally in fanfiction ( ) and 2) co-hosts a blog about journeying with a friend through the Classic series  ( )

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – The New Land of Fiction

Scholar Phil Sandifer once argued that Doctor Who “is every single story there ever was and ever could be, escaped out into the universe, and running loose bringing them into being.” Doctor Who collapses barriers created by such things as genre or, as I discussed in a previous essay on this site, continuities. This is the franchise with three Atlantises, that crossed over with the likes of Rapunzel and Gulliver’s Travels as early as the sixties, that rung in a milestone anniversary with a story that neither Doctor Who nor Eastenders fans seem to want to take ownership of, that had an entire official novel in the 90s written as a Sherlock Holmes book. In short, Doctor Who has no limits. It exists as a doorway to an infinite potential of narrative.

Given their new storytelling aesthetics, it’s no wonder Lego has leapt on the possibilities.

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