LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Time Meddler”

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 End of Time: Doctor Who and Visions of the Far Future

by James Blanchard

 

I have always been pretty fascinated by stories about the future – in many ways, it seems to be the only thing worth talking about. Though I do (and probably always will) consider myself a creative writer at heart, I think the interest is what propelled me to take up studying politics at university. History is a disciplin making claims about where we have been – politics makes claims about where we are going. Whether it’s Marx declaring that communism is “the riddle of history solved”, or Asimov’s psychohistory, predicting totally fictional futures within the context of a novel, narratives about the future always have something to tell us about the present. According to the Wikipedia timeline of the far future, by the year 100 billion the light of the universe beyond our local group will have moved too far away to observe: any life left here will see nothing but darkness. Of course, 100 billion years is several times the current age of the universe, but written down like that it barely seems any time at all. And given that we are only human, with a sense of finality only a human can have, I think talking about the future before we lose sight of it is very worthwhile.

Doctor Who, then, as a show about time travel, has never shied away from the future, both near and far. We’ve seen the near-end of the universe several times in recent seasons, though never (as far as I know) an indication of something surviving beyond the end, as one might expect from the show. That said, there’s been many contrasting and competing visions of the future throughout the show’s whole history. To avoid spending all day on this piece, I’m going to focus on just three: the Cybermen, the Time Lords and Gallifrey, and the Testimony from “Twice Upon A Time“. I’ve picked them because I think they each have something very specific say about the present, especially concerning modernity and the relationship of the self to politics, and offer warnings (or, perhaps, a little optimism) about how to comport ourselves, should we want to carry on beyond the 21st century.

Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Monthly Range: “Kingdom of Lies”

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, Scribbles, the Slayer from LA, and Gentleman Tibbles, the Baker of People, tackle the latest Monthly Range story to spawn from our gracious majesty Big Finish. Spoilers doth follow after the tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: I think anyone who has been following Big Finish closely in recent years should already know that Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky are two of the most exciting up-and-coming writers the company has at the moment, and they live up to that trend here. Though I don’t think “Kingdom of Lies” is their most successful outing, and I’d have to confess I preferred the other two, it’s still a wonderful injection of life into the main range, and one that’s been sorely needed. The first half of this audio in particular is a masterpiece in ratcheting up comedic tension, glorying in the ways the farcical, black comedy conceit draws out some genuinely new and hilarious sides to the regulars. While the back half here switches gears into more generic Doctor Who territory, it’s hard not to still be charmed by the lively, energetic wave of newness this leads with. Davison is, I think, a Doctor always best suited by having interesting and overwhelming events to react to rather, and in many ways, this feels like the comedic equivalent of “The Caves of Androzani” at times, gleefully shoving him out of his depth. But that’s not all there is, as Nyssa gets so much to do here that’s unlike anything we’ve really seen her do before, making for one of the freshest and most engaging outings she’s ever had. I wouldn’t call “Kingdom of Lies” perfect, but it’s great fun, and a worthwhile couple hours to spend in the worlds of Doctor Who.

TIBERE: It’s pretty delightful, really. We’ve had our fair share of criticisms of the Monthly Range, recently – so seeing Big Finish trying to re-energize it by bringing strong, compelling authors to helm the first batch of 2018 stories is as exciting as it is entertaining. “Kingdom of Lies” doesn’t exactly rise above the rest of Khan & Salinsky stories – it’s a bit short on character and themes, all things considered – but it’s a clever, well-plotted, incredibly fun ride with some great imagery and even greater jokes. It might lose some steam eventually, but the core ideas are a delight – this trend of making Five the Doctor that waltzes into these strange, comedic environments, initiated by Eddie Robson’s “Time in Office” last year, has done wonders for the character, who at the moment might just be the incarnation the Main Range treats best. There’s a form of loose, almost improvised storytelling that they have been playing with recently and which suits him perfectly – which doesn’t stop the plot itself from running like clockwork. But it really creates this effect of being thrown in an strange, alien, almost Alice in Wonderland-like world and trying to survive while being really confused – and that I think is a pretty wonderful aesthetic. Also, it has Tegan and Adric snarking each other for two hours. Good times.
Continue reading

TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Joseph and the Abyss

What is Doctor Who?

Eternal question. If we’re trying to come up with definitions, I think my personal favourite (because let’s not delude ourselves, Whology is anything but a hard science dealing in cold objective facts) is that it’s a show about the interaction between ordinary life and the immensity of the universe, both as a physical place and as a narrative backdrop waiting to be filled. It’s all about the liminal spaces where these two areas intertwine and clash – creating and destroying life, possibilities, stories.

Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It means Life.”

That’s why “Listen” is my favourite Who story – it embodies, in a way, a platonic ideal, as a story almost entirely devoid of exterior action, of classic plot, where all the tension and stakes are created through the conjunction of daily life and the madness and chaos the Doctor embodies. The show, at least for me, tends to be at its weakest when it strays away from this original fountain of youth – the appeal of the Hinchliffe/Holmes tenure is quite lost on me, partly because it’s focused almost entirely on the narrative aspects, imitating and rewriting, but, lost in the vastness of space, a certain lack of concrete human stakes (as the complete absence of companions from modern days post-Sarah Jane tends to indicate). Thankfully, it has for now very much been a guiding principle of the New Series – for all their differences, I think it’s fair to say that the Moffat and Davies eras share an approach here, where the core drive behind their character arcs is going to be the question of how to resolve this contradiction, this tension. Amy finds it by letting go of her trauma and embracing a reality-transcending love; Clara finds it by abandoning the “real” life and becoming a being of pure imagination, a tale in and on herself; Rose or Donna’s tenure in the TARDIS ends with them being cut from the Imaginary World, the enchanted parenthesis closing in at last but living them better persons, or at least in a better situation, for it.

What the show doesn’t entirely show is how damaging this crisscrossing of the real and the fictional, the small and the infinite, the terrestrial and the celestial can be. Somewhere in the Land of Fiction, there’s a dark, dark abyss, one the show can’t bear to gaze into for too long. It swims into its murky waters every now and then, of course – Amy’s traumatic childhood clearly comes to mind, with the way “The Eleventh Hour”, and series 5 in general, play with repressed ideas, hidden rooms and doors just at the frontier of your perception: Jane Campbell’s sterling analysis of the visuals motifs used to suggest it is one of the best pieces of Who criticism ever written (1). Clara’s arc plays on the same beats – except that instead of dwelling in repressed rooms and invisible monsters, the Abyss (or maybe the basilisk, if we’re nicking that idea from El Sandifer and saying that all ideologies eventually fall down into the Weird and birth weird creatures of thought) explodes, in a vivid, burning wound. The Volcano scene from “Dark Water”, now that’s the bottom of the pit if ever there is one – a moment where the very narrative threads of the show are about to snap, one that is going to haunt the narrative going forwards; even at a visual level, look at the way “Last Christmas” seems to re-use that setting for the bits where the Doctor wakes up and discovers it has all been a dream – like all traumatic events, it persists, as a sneaky frame or a vengeful raven. But the writers can’t get too deep – because Who, and that’s its beauty, is targeted towards an universal demographic, and should, at its best, be empowering, be – and damn all the right-wing crybabies – a safe space. Sometimes, it’s necessary to practice a dark-tinted exorcism to reach that point – that’s essentially what series 8 is, and even that proved to be too much for certain viewers (who are, just so we’re clear, absolutely entitled to feel that way) –, yes, but that’s not the end goal. Televised Who can’t dance with the Abyss forever.

But there’s someone who can.

Continue reading

GUEST POST – The Trial of Doctor Who (2/2)

by Z.P. Moo

 

[Previous part]

Terror of the Vervoids” is an odd story. With a totally different tone to “Mindwarp” before it (thank heavens) and the return of Doctor Who’s only husband and wife writing team Pip & Jane Baker (no relation to Colin) from one of the previous season’s few not-awful stories “The Mark of the Rani“, making them a pair you’d trust with introducing a new character given the success of their previous effort’s titular villain, it’s safe to say that this story has got a lot going for it on paper. And indeed it does a lot right and very little wrong, but what handful of things it does get wrong are unfortunately utterly crucial to get right! Frustrating.

Continue reading

GUEST POST – The Trial of Doctor Who (1/2)

by Z.P. Moo

 

It’s safe to say that the mid-to-late 1980s were a low point for Doctor Who. The Sixth Doctor was seen as off-putting to viewers and with ratings and popularity both on the decline it ended up on hiatus after the show’s 22nd season.

When it finally returned in 1986 it was with a new format: Fourteen episodes forming a single serial split into four distinct stories. The decision had been made that, just as the show itself was fighting for its life, the Doctor would find himself in that same kind of situation within the show’s narrative. Doctor Who was on trial, and so was the show that bears his name.

Thing is, this whole idea is flawed from the beginning. If your show is on trial then why would you want to draw attention to it? The only possible answer is because you’re going to knock it out the park. The Trial storyline didn’t, and that’s an understatement.

Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – A 2017 Big Finish wrap-up

Welcome to a very special edition of DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress: that’s where we assess … stress. Or, more accurately, in that special, yearly edition, reward the best stories of the year – there’s no need for a top of our favourite TV stories (mostly because that already exists, head that way), but, in the wild, savage jungle of Big Finish, maybe taking a step back and coming back to some releases is in order – some we covered here already (and who knows, we might have changed our mind on those!), and some that passed by because we hadn’t the time or the means to talk about them at the time. It’s not a ranked list, just some of our favourites.

Also, since this is intended in part intended as a buying guide for those that only want to enjoy the best of the year, we’ll keep our thoughts general and spoiler-free. Links to the detailed conversations, if they exist, will be provided.

But no more chatter – the curtain rises on the prestigious 2017 “Oh, Brilliant!” Awards …

Continue reading

TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Catalysts: Choice in Doctor Who and Mass Effect

The Cornelian Dilemma is one of the best and easiest ways to create drama. If you’re into the etymology, the name comes from French Renaissance playwright Pierre Corneille, whose tragedies often revolved around a character having to decide between two equally unsatisfying options. In Le Cid, his masterpiece, the main character, manly man Rodrigue, has to decide whether he wants to kill his fiancée’s father, who has committed a terrible offence against his family – if he does, he loses the woman he loves; if he doesn’t, he becomes a honorless pariah. Which, all in all, is an interesting evolution from a former model of tragedy, where the Fatal Flaw(s) of the main character leads them to an inexorable doom: putting the stakes out of the metaphysical realm and into the messy reality of human interaction; tales of Men instead of tales of Gods. Not that the choice is deprived of a moral and spiritual dimension, mind you, but the context in which it is presented, a state of flux and uncertainty, has a deeper sense of verisimilitude to it – look at the Trolley Problem, which is such a good encapsulation of humdrum moral conundrums a TV show recently used it to explain ethics to the Devil (side note: The Good Place is great, watch it).

Unsurprisingly, the sadistic choice is very much part of our current media landscape, be it only because said media landscape is deeply sadistic. Game of Thrones is the biggest show on the planet, after all – pain sells. And while Doctor Who holds itself to a higher moral standard – thank God –, choice can still very much be the coin of its realm. There’s an episode titled “Amy’s Choice”. “Fires of Pompeii”, “Waters of Mars” – should I save people or let history follow its course? “Kill the Moon” – an innocent life versus the future of all mankind, and I’m quoting the text here. And so on.

Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The First Doctor Adventures, volume I

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 go back to the beginning – their Destination being the new First Doctor Adventures audios, starring David Bradley & the cast from An Adventure in Space and Time. Spoilers after the ‘read more’ tag, as per usual.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: The question, really, is what you’re looking for. This is not a faithful recreation of the Hartnell era, not completely. It takes structural and thematic cues from it, as well as characters in basic spirit and name, but it is not a return to the era. With new characters comes a new approach, infinitely informed by the present day. And I’ve gotta say, I think that’s the right thing to do. I’ve been rather hard on the Early Adventures as of late because I think there’s been a tendency to push too hard toward fitting into the past, rather than adapting it in loving new ways. This hits the right balance. I don’t quite adore everything about these two stories, but these two stories signify a fantastic new approach for Big Finish to go in in representing one of my favorite eras. The Hartnell era was never a stagnant thing. It was always full of new life pushing in different directions, building the show that we now know and love and exploring avenues that both created that and ones that were fascinating but unsustainable experiments. Though this isn’t a faithful recreation, it recaptures a lot of the raw energy that I love about the time.

TIBERE: Well, it’s really rather lovely. I think the best way to approach it is to follow Big Finish’s own patterns of classification and consider this to be firmly part of the New Series, at least in spirit. The stories are very much, aesthetically and thematically, part of the Hartnell era, but it’s a modern reinterpretation of it, informed by politics, a cheeky metatextual streak, and a progressive edge. As two pieces of storytelling, these have their flaws – the second far more than the first -, and the actors’ new takes on the iconic performances of the original crew might take some getting used to, but I’d call that set some of the most enjoyable audio Who of the year, for me at least. More than that, they’re a perfect example of what Big Finish can bring to Who storytelling, finding new and very interesting conceptual spaces to explore and analyse.

Continue reading