GUEST POST: The Sainted Physician – Jesus, Russell T. Davies and the Tenth Doctor

by Z. P. Moo

When you try to figure out who are among the most important figures in human history you tend to get a lot of the same names regardless of how many people you ask. Common choices tend to include your great leaders like Julius Caesar and Henry VIII, scientists like Einstein and Newton who revolutionised how we understood the universe and our place therein, maybe some more unusual but nevertheless valid answers like Hitler might show up, and so on.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Requiem in D-alek Minor

I’m giving in to the inevitable. Daleks, death, and taxes.”  – The Seventh Doctor


I’m putting forward a proposition: “The Lights of Skaro” is the best Dalek story of them all.

Some context is required, though, be it only because it doesn’t have the same fame as “Genesis” or “Power” or the New Show’s episodes. So. “The Lights of Skaro” is the last story on the first boxset of the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, published by Big Finish in 2014, and written by one of the company’s greatest assets, the genius known as James Goss. I’ll do my best to provide a summary, but honestly, this is going to be spoiler-filled and if you still haven’t experienced it, you should absolutely do that right now, by any means necessary: while I can’t pretend to have the exhaustive knowledge of Big Finish that my dear co-editor Scribbles has, I definitely feel like (and he agrees, so here’s your appeal to authority) it’s one of the absolute best releases they ever did.

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SCARVES AND CELERY – Sick of losing people: Unpacking “The Girl Who Died”

The Girl Who Died” remains nothing short of incredible: the dialogue is spot on, in turns hilarious, poetic, pointed, and philosophical. Its exploration of themes surrounding masculinity and warrior culture, gender roles, storytelling, personal identity, and loss are expertly developed; it’s beautifully shot; the characterisation for the leads is spot on; it uses comedy to make serious points, and the final ten minutes are among the best parts of New Who.

Its central trick is much the same as the one “Vincent and the Doctor” employs, telling a seemingly run of the mill Doctor Who monster story/ historical romp that wraps up in 35 minutes because the key beats are so familiar, and use the extra time for a coda that makes the story have a lasting, powerful impact. But this episode does have one major advantage over “Vincent and the Doctor”: it’s written by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, who have more visible passion for the seemingly generic Doctor Who stories than Richard Curtis, so use this knowledge to craft a historical romp that has been made with a lot of skill and remarkable depth.

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ASSESSING STRESS #10: “The Eaters of Light”

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 time, our roster is full, with Scarves, Scribbles and Tibère all there to answer the call (we’ve been doing some tai chi together through Skype, it is di-vine), along with guest contributor Ruth Long (who has already written for us, go check her stuff out! Also, her Tumblr is that way), aka the Lazy Cat, aka the world’s leading expert on Clara Oswald, aka an all-around awesome person.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Yellowface in Green: Science Fiction Orientalism

When I was a kid, I fell in love with Lego. That’s a common story, really, but it’s where this needs to begin. Because one of the many Lego lines at the time was a thing called “Orient Expedition.” It was, basically, knockoff Indiana Jones. An adventurer with a cool hat exploring faraway lands in search of discovering lost treasure, making allies and enemies in each new location.

The title of that line should be a clue at where the problem is: Orient Expedition. The “Orient” is a term with perhaps a bit less circulation in the present day than it once had, but is tremendously loaded all the same. It is, in essence, a term for the general region of Asia, particularly east Asia. Indeed, that’s what the Lego line focused on: an expedition through magical, cool spaces in India, the Himalayas, and China. But how this story is told is key. Because the story of western explorer voyaging into the exotic east is a tremendously problematic one. It is the problem of orientalism. And that’s one that spreads well beyond Lego, impacting our culture on a deep level and even seeping into Doctor Who.

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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 Lives of Captain Jack”. A very rich (we wrote more about it than about some TV episodes!), very Marxist, very gay boxset from Big Finish.


Spoiler- free verdict

TIBERE: It’s a good set. If you got to take the obvious route and compare it to “Diary of River Song”, it works much, much better. It’s just a solid set with a good handle on Jack’s character, that aims for a collection of very specific, if not very original, storytelling beats and generally nails them pretty well. Really, above all it’s a really lovely homage to the tone of the Davies years, mostly series 1 but not only, with tons of fun little nods and fanservice. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s strong – and very, very thematically cohesive – work that definitely feels at home with Big Finish “fill the storytelling gaps” approach. It’s a lot like the Ninth Doctor Chronicles, that we tackled a couple months ago, that way – a loving and lovely little slice of Who exegesis. Although, maybe it doesn’t quite reach the same kind of heights – nothing too new under the sun. But still, it’s a really nice throwback, and, with two of BF’s best writers at the helm, it’s an ultra-competent, well-paced, really fun ride. I’d recommend it.

SCRIBBLES: I think the term for all this is “extremely competent fanservice.” Your mind will not be blown. You will not be shaken to your core. You won’t hear much that’s really too novel. But what you will hear is very well tailored to what it wants to be, channeling a series 1 tone and some political storytelling to create a pleasant love letter to the character. The format is a bit like “The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure,” really: a tribute to the phases in the life of a character, each showcasing a different aspect of what makes Jack a loveable character and each, while perhaps not saying anything new about him, showcasing the many aspects of his self. If you love Jack and the Russell T Davies era, it’ll be a bit like slipping into something comfortable and familiar from your childhood. It does what Big Finish often does well, a pleasant little nostalgia trip through new stories.


Spoilers follow.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Extra Post: On Steven Moffat and bad criticism

Steven Moffat is not a perfect writer.

It’s obvious, really – no writer is. And, as an author with a very clear style and strongly delineated themes, of course there are going to be patterns and recurring flaws in his writing, and of course said writing is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m a fan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn a critical eye to his era and notice weak episodes, bad runs, and flawed storytelling in places.

But apparently, I missed a memo, because this man is a terrible writer, the devil, and also he shot my dog, ate him, baked him in a pie he then proceeded to serve to a bunch of Satanists in a black mass presided by Richard Spencer, Beelzebub and the ghost of Chairman Mao.

Silly me.

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ASSESSING STRESS #9: “Empress of Mars”

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, in what is starting to feel like a running gag, Scarves is sitting that one out. He was out at a cricket match. Little known fact: he’s actually the Fifth Doctor. I mean, he does have “celery” in his username. That’s a giveaway if ever there is one. But still! We soldiered on, and, for Queen and country (aka Michelle Gomez and the United Nations of Whozistan), we tackled the latest episode of series 10.

But eh, we have a guest! A jack-of-all-trades Who that we are only going to refer to as “Timey-Wimey” here (apparently he has a hit on his head, that’s why, don’t go and ask me, I know jack shit about it).

Spoilers follow, obviously. For both the episode and the fifth series of Game of Thrones, because of a shitty Tibère joke.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION #5: Torchwood, series 3 – “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “torchwood_ cascade_ CDRip.tor”

And tay, Tibère andribbles tackle e ltest Torcood audio, “torood_ casDRip.tor”


[critical programm error]


Spoiler-free verdict –

TIBERE: It’s a terrific audio. One of the best of an excellent range, really – maybe other episodes hit harder emotionally or have better character development, but this is a serious contender for tightest, best-constructed script so far. It’s complex, and voluntarily hard to approach and listen to, and I can get that it’s not necessarily for everyone, but it does what it does perfectly. It’s a continuity-heavy, meta, weird-ass triumph. And I love it.

SCRIBBLES: “torchwood_cascade_CDRip.tor” keeps up the pattern of this audio series, which is to say, it uses the trappings of Torchwood to tell stories daring and strange and unlike anything else we’ve really seen before. It’s a difficult story to dissect, at the very least on first listen, and builds a lot on the context of previous audios; certainly, some of its structural tricks wouldn’t work without hearing other audios, like “Zone 10“. But for fans of this range so far, you’ve gotta check this one out. It’s continuing to push and provoke with some of the most interesting aspects of Toshiko Sato, already one of the strongest Torchwood characters in my mind, and does inventive and clever things with the format beyond just the storytelling in a way that really makes for a compelling listen. Recommended for sure.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Game of Thrones, the Fantasy Ghetto and “To the Death”

Fantasy and science-fiction are misunderstood genres. Of course, they have their tropes and clichés – any sort of written or spoken production has. But they are extensively, and sometimes exclusively, defined through the prism of these tropes and clichés. They are not a niche market and a counter-cultural phenomenon anymore – even if some underground isles might subsist here and there –, because the mainstream narrative and the cultural industries saw in them a great source of creative ideas for big releases with a large target audience (which of course is not without creating a certain amount of tension and the always more important emergence of a culture of fan entitlement); but a deep engagement with these specific forms of storytelling might still raise a few eyebrows. Everyone’s going to see the next Star Wars movie, but there will always be, for the foreseeable future, a certain idea of emotional immaturity or whatever the hell attached to its narrative and people that attempt to engage with it at a more profound level that “let’s occupy my brain for a couple of hours” – even if those ideas and feelings are turned on their head and worn like a badge of pride by moviegoers and bloggers and hardcore fans everywhere.

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