TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “The Mother of the Monster”: Alien Resurrection, Who and imagining the Transcendent Human

My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.

Let’s talk about something a bit different today. Well, actually, that’s not entierly true. This is going to be about Who, in the end. We’re just going to look at the show from a different lens, through another monument of sci-fi.

The Alien tetrology. Of course, that very qualifier is debatable nowadays, with Prometheus and its 2017 sequel Covenant screwing the continuity up – excluding them from our field of study today is not an expression of my personal opinion of them (although, you better believe said opinion is not positive), but rather a simple consequence of the fact that the four original movies answer to each other and present a cohesive narrative in a way that doesn’t allow for the organic inclusion of Ridley Scott’s metaphysical two-movies-long commentary on the ontology and theology of the franchise.

Of course, there are plenty of ties between the two franchises, from Ridley almost working for the show while he was still a BBC employee in the sixties, to the influences he arguably got from “The Ark in Space“, to finally the shameless winks, down to the line quoted in the title, Steven Moffat’s paid to the 1979 masterpiece in “Last Christmas“.

But if you ask me, one of the more interesting parallels to discuss is to be found in the ugly duckling of the franchise, 1997 Alien – Resurrection.

A movie which I absolutely adore, for the record, because I’m a hopeless contrarian. And also a movie that used Moffat’s style before Moffat’s style was even a thing.

Intriguing, isn’t it?

Well, if you are hooked, better stop reading and watch the movie, because there shall be spoilers galore after the cut.

 

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GUEST POST – Twelve Must Die (2/2): A Man Who Never Would

by Will Shaw

 

[Content Warning: discussion of sexual assualt after the “read more” tag]

[Part one here]

Not counting Colin Baker, there is only one other Doctor whose moral failing is so explicitly flagged in a way that suggests he has outlived his usefulness. That Doctor, of course, is the Tenth. Like Capaldi, he has a single, defining moment which demonstrates his moral bankruptcy, after which the audience, on some level, is rooting for him to die.

For Tennant, it comes in The End of Time: Part Two. In his conversation with the Doctor on the deck of a silent starship, Wilf asks a question, whose answer will determine the rest of the story: ‘If the Master dies, what happens to all the people?’ At first, the Doctor is evasive:

DOCTOR: I don’t know.
WILF: Doctor, what happens?

But finally, he answers:

DOCTOR: The template snaps.
WILF: What, they go back to being human? They’re alive, and human?

We learn the Doctor has the power to save everyone on Earth, if only he has the strength to kill a genocidal monster. And it’s not like killing is a fresh evil for this Doctor; he has already (torturously) told us that ‘I’ve taken lives. I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own.’ It is in the Tenth Doctor’s power to save the lives of everyone on Earth, and, presumably, his own. Wilf begs for the life of his species:

Don’t you dare, sir. Don’t you dare put him before them. Now you take this. That’s an order, Doctor. Take the gun. You take the gun and save your life. And please don’t die. You’re the most wonderful man and I don’t want you to die.”

And the Doctor’s answer?

Never.’

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The Tenth Doctor Adventures: volume II

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 return of Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor on audio formats! Featuring warthogs from space, Ice Warrior terrorists, non-binary swashbucklers, and spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, it does what is says on the tin. There’s not a tremendous lot of observations to add to that – it’s a release whose primary goal is to give people more Ten and Rose stories, and it does that. With efficiency and competency. It’s not a must-listen by any means – and its lack of ambition beyond being a series of pleasant adventure vignettes is noticeable, especially after a first set that may have tripped more along the way, but tried, in its two final stories at least, to offer new and original angles on the characters and their life. But that could have been expected – what’s more surprising is how little they actually do with that TARDIS team. Rose feels more nondescript here that she has ever been in the show – she is given some good material, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no justification as to why exactly the narrative requires her presence. I wasn’t a fan of the first set’s opener, “Technophobia”, but it did rely on Donna’s own quirks and specificities as a character in a way this set never really achieves. The romance between Rose and Ten is a fascinating ground to explore thematically – series 2 gestures in that direction in really interesting way, but there’s plenty of space left – so it’s equally surprising to see how little they lean into it. It’s not that the set is full of fanservice – it’s not character-specific enough to achieve that. Really, the best way to describe it is as a product. It’s a good product, in the sense that it is well put-together, with solid acting, productions, and quite decent scripts. But it’s hard to shake the lack of ambition you feel throughout the set. Nothing shameful or outright bad, but it could – and maybe should? It’s not my place to say – have been better.

SCRIBBLES: It’s hard to praise this set, and equally hard to criticize it. It does with it does with a typical exuberance and energy that keeps things ticking along, and it’s all quite competent, but it feels a bit too safe. Tennant and Piper bring plenty of energy to the proceedings, but the stories aren’t as crafted to their dynamic as they were in the previous volume with Tate and Tennant, and things here are a bit less delightful as a result. Like you say, the romance isn’t pursued as much. It feels crafted to please everyone. There’s just enough chemistry shining through to please shippers, and I’ve seen plenty of enthusiasm from those circles, but equally, there’s little enough that those who can’t stand the pairing to pretend the love story never existed. It’s safe and nice. There’s glimmers of more ambition and character-driven darkness, particularly, surprisingly, from the Ice Warrior romp that closes the set, but overall, it’s just a delivery mechanism for a few more hours of the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler. It works at that, and given their iconic power, maybe that is enough.

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LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Web Planet”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

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GUEST POST – Twelve Must Die (1/2): The Doctor Fails

by Will Shaw

 

There is a leftist critique to be made of transhumanism: that its entire ideology/aesthetic boils down to a declaration that the operations of capitalism work so perfectly that they ought to be applied to the human body itself; that the human race’s perfect realisation is not as squishy bags of meat and hormones, but as machinery, with perhaps a few concessions to biochemistry – as capital itself.

The political implications of this reading are, to say the least, horrifying, not least because the idea of human beings as capital has some obvious parallels in the history of European and American race relations. The small but significant overlap between transhumanist thought and neoreactionism is chilling in its implications, to say nothing of reactionary internet subcultures’ love/hate relationship with the idea of female sex robots.

To put it bluntly, transhumanist visions of the future, or at least the most visible ones, are not built by or for people like Bill Potts. We’re already seeing the effects of this in the real world – concerns about algorithmically-generated redlining, facial recognition software that can’t handle black faces – systems built by and for the privileged, who are usually not actively malicious, but who create systems that crush people underfoot, almost incidentally.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Case for Constance Clarke

If you have been following me and my colleagues’ writing, you have probably realized that we all hold the opinion that 2016 is a year of utmost importance as far as Who is concerned – as the Wilderness Years have proven before, it sometimes is when Who steps back that the most interesting explorations of its identity and possibilities take place. Of course, a fundamental question to ask when you have a postulate like that is “what is 2016”? Which is to say – what are the temporal boundaries you fix to the year as a cultural entity? It seems obvious that it ends with Christmas 2016 and the airing of “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” – but that’s not an entirely satisfying answer, considering how important Doom Coalition was to the ethos of Who during the break. Really, 2016 ends in March, with Doom Coalition IV and John Dorney’s “Stop the Clock”, and 2017 starts in April, with “The Pilot”. It then seems logical to make that stretch of media we’ve decided to study in October 2015, when the first volume of Doom Coalition came out.

But I would actually hazard another guess. For me, the turn Big Finish, and Who at large, takes in 2016 starts in September 2015, with the introduction of Constance Clarke as a companion for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, in the main range audio “Criss-Cross”, written by Matt Fitton (who, as a matter of fact, penned six episodes of Doom Coalition, including the opener to the whole series).

Now, that’s a bit of a controversial opinion. You might not realize that if you’re not bathing neck-deep into the swamps of Big Finish – and honestly, I can’t blame you, this is a chasm you’ll never climb out of –, but Clarke, voiced by the most excellent Miranda Raison, who played Tallulah in the series 3 Dalek two-parter, but who always will be Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast to me (Dragon Age rules and I won’t hear a word against it), is not especially well-regarded. The consensus seems to be that she’s a little bit of a stick in the mud, a rigid joyless character that just hangs in the background being dull.

Which means that, of course, as a hopeless contrarian, I love her.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (4.5/16): “The Husbands of River Song”

Previous entry in series.

Christmas 2015: Doctor Who is on a high, having just concluded a triumphant, rather critically beloved run, closing off the year with Christmas fluff featuring a beloved returning icon about to go off into her own much anticipated spinoff series.

Christmas 2015: Doctor Who is withering.

There’s an interesting paradox about the end of Steven Moffat’s time on Doctor Who. As a show, it’s a healthy thing, well-regarded by critics and fans. But it’s also a clear product of burnout. The Husbands of River Song” is the episode Steven Moffat wrote when he had no idea whether he wanted to hang around as showrunner and was contemplating the end. It was written in the knowledge it could be his last. It wasn’t, but it was enough that the show didn’t return for a full year, the longest it had vanished since it returned in 2005.

That is the crack that Doom Coalition fills.

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LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Romans”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

Continue reading

GUEST POST – “The Next Doctor”: a defence and analysis

by Z.P. Moo

 

As Christmas approaches and we await the coming of “Twice Upon A Time and all its various exciting milestones, it seems a good time to look back at one of the previous annual Doctor Who Christmas Specials to see what it has to offer.

I have no shortage of options for which one to go to. The 2017 one will be the thirteenth such special (How fitting!) and that’s before we start counting that one episode from 1965 and a few of the audios. But I thought that maybe I would go to the 2008 effort, titled “The Next Doctor and written by Russell T Davies.

It’s not a very popular episode but I think that’s unfair. I think it’s extremely prophetic of what RTD’s successor Steven Moffat would go on to, with a study of who and what the Doctor is, and it also deserves praise for exploring some very dark and complex themes that fit perfectly in the narrative that the story tells. Not to mention a generally excellent handling of the Cybermen.

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GUEST POST – “Gridlock”: Alone Together

by Ricky Starr

 

Gridlock“, Russell T Davies’ 2007 masterpiece, is nothing short of a masterclass in storytelling, and a powerful examination of humanity at its very core. The episode is often overlooked, but its contemplation of human inter-reliance, as well as the nature of hope and desolation, is deeply stirring and powerfully insightful. Indeed, it is absolutely bursting with ideas- it is arguably one of the most concept-heavy, concept-driven episodes in Doctor Who history, and yet every single idea within it carries resonance and manages to hold court at least briefly in a meaningful way.

The central concept, of course, is the idea of humanity being separated for eternity in cars, and it is the separation that emphasises the reliance of people on others. Within the episode, we see a variety of guest characters separated from others in the same situation, who are also isolated, and separated from society as a whole, which is represented by the over-city. What does this isolation do to a person? To what extent do people rely on contact and indeed order? It is this that RTD considers most blatantly throughout.

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