GUEST POST – The Eyes Have It: Memory, the Self and Politics in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who

by James Blanchard

 

It’s only appropriate that the first thing we see of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is her eyes. It’s not because her eyebrows are especially characterful – well-maintained though they are – but rather, they are the means by which the first few seeds of her identity germinate. We see the TARDIS reflected in her pupils. Her very first act is to observe her reflection. She has two millennia of memories to draw on, but she is also a brand-new person, and the first few images burned onto the back of her eyeballs will have a profound impact on who she will become.

Memory (and the eye as its agent) has been a consistent theme throughout the last seven years of Doctor Who, and perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in the era’s swan-song Twice Upon A Time. Bill (or at least, the immortalised projection of her memories) has a very clear view on memories and their relationship to the self: we are only our memories, they are the essence of our nature. Even though the original Bill Potts (presumably) died billions of years ago, the glass figurine that speaks with her voice shares every possible characteristic with her, and, therefore, is the “real Bill.” Perhaps she took the Doctor’s lesson from “The Pilot to heart; just as life is a city made of time, a billion single snapshots all stacked up against each other, then the individual is a city of memories.

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GUEST POST – Reification and Cosmic Terror: Revisiting “Rose”

by Janine Rivers

 

We must acknowledge the fact that Rose is now a historical artefact.

That doesn’t mean we should abandon our critical lens, separate ourselves from it on any emotional level because we’re now so much more enlightened.  Any good archaeologist will tell you that historical artefacts can be beautiful (or indeed, hideously ugly).  But the world has changed significantly since 2005, and the show itself has grown organically as a part of it.  I say this to emphasise that I am not writing a review – though my opinion will, naturally and inevitably, become clear by the time this piece wraps up – in the sense that it would be a crime to try and read an episode like Rose in total isolation from its cultural context.  More to the point, it would be doing the episode a disservice.

The other consequence of waiting nearly thirteen years to talk about this episode is that an awful lot has already been said.  Phil Sandifer once wrote a very long analysis of the episode, and whilst we often differ in our interpretations, I have to concede that virtually everything he says about Rose is spot-on.  There’s also a whole book on the episode written by Jon Arnold and published by Obverse Books (which opens with the brazen claim that Rose is “the most radical episode ever broadcast under the title Doctor Who”), not to mention a more recent entry in this blog by ScarvesandCelery.  These are all worth reading if you’re interested in the episode, and I’ll try not to cover too much ground addressed by those authors.  But I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have something new to offer, so…

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ASSESSING STRESS #13: “Twice Upon a Time”

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, to bid farewell to Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and everyone’s favourite grumpy Scot, Stevie Moff, we are joined by Michelle Coats, media-commentator extraordinaire, mastermind behind the stfumoffathaters Tumblr, and awesome person all around (who you can follow on Tumblr at @disasterlesbianamelia).

Get your tissues ready – the Feelings are coming. Spoilers galore, as per usual.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Twelve Shards of Twelve

So, there it is.

When you’ll read this, the Twelfth Doctor will be no more.

I don’t intend to draw an exhaustive account of his tenure. What would be the point? Too much to say, and whatever short summary one can make has probably already been made elsewhere by someone much more talented and eloquent than me.

But I can talk about how I feel. About my experience with him, with his era. Thoughts, and moments, and emotions – little fragments that hopefully will allow me, someday, to patch together a complete narrative.

Here goes. Warning – this is going to get uncomfortably personal, and to talk a lot about mental health, so if these are dealbreakers, sorry, I’ll be getting back to dry, over-written analysis real soon, don’t worry.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The New Counter-Measures, 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 put on their spy glasses and set to work trying to decipher the latest set from Big Finish’s underrated Counter-Measures range  – spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: I think, since it was announced, it was clear this would be a different sort of release. Big Finish doing anniversary tributes is nothing new, but Counter-Measures is probably the last place anyone ever expected it. Furthermore, those familiar with Counter-Measures will know that lumbering monsters aren’t the range’s thing. More than any other Big Finish range, this is a political spy drama first, sci fi second. So what this set ultimately turns out to be is quite interesting. It sells itself as the big Yeti tribute act, and certainly there is some of that, but that’s just the hook for Who fans. What will stay with you is the three preceding stories, all of which magnificent showcases of what this range does best. It’s an odd thing to say about a set declaring itself to be “series two,” but I feel in many ways this would make a very good introduction to the range for any curious Doctor Who fan.

TIBERE: It’s a lovely, really smart set that comes from a lovely, really smart range. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Counter-Measures to everyone – it has a very specific tone and a very slow, deliberate pacing that is often really pleasant but also takes some time getting used to – but it has done, and continues to do now that they have rebooted the range as the New Counter-Measures, some great work with its premise. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the best set in the range, and I rather feel it’s the step-down from the frankly extraordinary New Counter-Mesures I, but it knows where its strengths are and develops the series’ mythology and quirks in new, compelling and interesting ways. If you know the range, it’s certainly not going to surprise you – but it’s quality content. That happens to have Yeti in it for some reason. Eh, fine by me.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The War Master: Only the Good

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 Derek Jacobi’s first Big Finish outing as the War Master. We are reviewers, and you will read us – spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: Let’s face it: there’s one reason this set exists, and one reason you know you need to listen to it. Derek Jacobi as the Master. It functions efficiently as a delivery mechanism for a bit more time with him in the role. That, in some ways, is enough. The narrative through-line is, perhaps by necessity, not its strongest point. But it does deliver what you probably want from it most of all.

TIBERE: It’s a surprisingly weird and incohesive set, this one. Doesn’t mean it’s bad – I enjoyed all the stories in it to varying degrees, but there’s a shameful lack of a grander narrative beyond “let’s have Derek Jacobi being awesome and villainous”. I mean, as you just said – it’s reason enough to give it a listen, because he is a fantastic actor that rescues all the bad scenes and make the good ones rise even higher. But there is a certain sense of disappointment there, too, for me at least – it gives the impression of a story that’s almost great, but never quite rises beyond the tantalizing tease of its initial premise.

SCRIBBLES: Good, but not quite great, is an excellent way to describe the set. The moments it achieves best, however, are absolutely electrifying, and that elevates the entire endeavor.

TIBERE: I think it might be a really good entry point into Big Finish, if you have not yet fallen into that rabbit hole and are looking for a way in. It has a strong, interesting tie with the New Series, doesn’t require any continuity knowledge, and gives you what I think is an interesting overview of the most experimental side of Big Finish storytelling (even if said experiments are not always the greatest of successes).

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GUEST POST – The Power of the Storyteller: the underrated genius of “Sleep No More” and the late Moffat era

by Z. P. Moo

 

I’m a big fan of series nine of revived Doctor Who. That’s not exactly a secret, but I might as well repeat it. So naturally with it making the leap to Netflix UK recently I took the opportunity to revisit it. Not that I hadn’t rewatched it all before a number of times, but any excuse will do!

But there was always one episode which I had found myself skipping over – the ninth episode of the season “Sleep No More” written by Mark Gatiss. However the way Netflix works shows you how far through an episode you’ve got to, and this one sat there staring at me, making me feel guilty that I hadn’t watched it yet. So I gave in and decided to fix that. I was watching Sleep No More for the first time since its initial broadcast.

And what I found was an episode much cleverer than I’d remembered.

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LOOKING FOR TELOS: “The Chase”

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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LOOKING FOR TELOS: “The Space Museum”

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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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Prisons of Glass, Prisons of Steel: Feminism, Violence and Exploitation in Who

On a clear day, I can see for miles.

That’s because all the walls are made of glass. All except the walls I’ve built around myself, because I need strong walls that no one can breach.

– Jac Rayner, The Glass Prison, Big Finish, p. 6

 

World Enough and Time” is a controversial episode of television.

That’s not surprising. It is after all, three things: a finale written by Steven Moffat, a piece of television written by Steven Moffat, and a Doctor Who episode – three factors that almost assure some form of pushback is going to be part of its critical reception. What’s more surprising is “where” that controversy originated – the devoted circles of biased critics incapable of reading media properly did their job, of course, but that’s nothing surprising; however, the more traditional fringes of the Who community, which are not known for their overwhelming love of the Scottish showrunner, have generally greatly enjoyed it. A non-negligible share of the criticisms addressed to the episode instead came from the ranks of those who usually stand behind Moffat and have a great appreciation of his work – especially among minorities: while the episode was praised for the way it offered representation for disabled and chronically ill people, it was also severely critiqued (notably by Whovian Feminism, here) for hinging on several extremely iffy tropes. The sacrifice of a female, queer character of color to further the plot was immediately perceived as leaning into fridging, and the well-known “bury your gays” tendencies: now, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know that these critiques cannot be applied stricto sensu to the episode, but many have argued, and I think it is a point worth considering, that the very fact of using these tropes as a cliffhanger, invoking them to create suspense and tension and tease the viewer, is in itself a questionable decision; especially in a series that, as we pointed out in our weekly coverage, seemed up to that point willing to provide a narrative “safe space” of sorts to discriminated groups.

Of course, a critical analysis of “World Enough and Time” on its own seems like an odd choice, in that it is only the first part of a twofold finale; and indeed, a lot of the problems with that initial episode are addressed in the second. There are two counterpoints to make here – first, an episode of television should stand on its own two metaphorical feet, regardless of larger continuity and overarching stories. If an hour of television’s only virtue is that it sets up another, then it’s not good. And then – it’s coherent with Steven Moffat’s own writing techniques: he has always aimed to make two-parters two different and complementary stories, with the halfway point being less of a cliffhanger and more of a radical re-organization of the narrative around different priorities. To quote the man himself:

My thing about cliffhangers is, it has to be a moment that changes the way you’re looking at it. It has to launch a completely different and hopefully unexpected phase of the story. It’s not just a movie cut in half.” [1]

That caveat out of the way, let’s throw ourselves into the rabbit hole and try to untie the intricacies of Bill’s messy, complicated fate.

[Content warning: this article contains detailed breakdowns of problematic media featuring the death of queer-coded characters and some acephobia]

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