ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Jenny: the Doctor’s Daughter

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, 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 discuss the debut of Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter, in audio format! Prepare yourself for loads of running (also, politics), and beware spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Oh boy, this is going to be a complicated one. It’s a tale of two sides, really. In a way, the set works: the objective here is clearly to “rescue” Jenny’s character, who, from Georgia Tennant’s own mouth, really wasn’t developed or interesting enough to warrant a set of her own. That is a success. An impressive one, even – Jenny is a delight to follow, and the writers find some really compelling emotional and thematic angles to explore her. I absolutely believe she can be a good series lead now – and I came in with a lot of skepticism. The problem is … Once you’ve established solid bases on which to build a show, what kind of show do you build? And the narrative of this set goes in some really unfortunate directions. Not all the time – there are interesting and intelligent elements, but, especially in the truly woeful third story, you also get a faceful of some of the most virulent orientalism Big Finish has ever managed. It’s all fine and good to be feminist, but Jenny, as a show, has to prove its feminism can be intersectional and efficient. Because so far … This is the kind of problematic fun that is ripe in some corners of the Davies era, which, for all that I love it, had its fair share of issues there, from the character of Cassandra to the Gareth Roberts episodes, but that is not really acceptable in 2018, no matter how fun it is. And it is fun, that’s the worst thing. It’s a well-crafted, solid set that could give birth to a great series, but not before some serious political editing and soul-searching.

SCRIBBLES: This set exceeded expectations. Not all of those expectations are good. Overall, I think it’s safe to say this is a very enjoyable set. There’s clearly an effort made here to engage with feminist storytelling, which is always welcome, and Georgia Tennant bursts onto the scene with an immense amount of energy and personality that makes her a joy to follow, and the stories overall hit a very strong baseline of quality. Unfortunately, as a story that demands to be read on feminist terms, not all of its storytelling succeeds. For the second time this year, we unfortunately must extensively criticize a story from a box set for political, social justice-oriented reasons, as this set unfortunately has one story that hamfistedly bungles its attempts at feminism and veers into some very objectionable orientalism in the process. Furthermore, while I form my criticisms, I have to note my distaste with Joe Kraemer’s score, which consists of a number of recycled tracks from his main range work that often entirely fails to mesh with the tone of a scene, a problem that is rarely solved by the few new tracks contributed here, such as an overdone lighthearted, comedic track playing over a massacre by Ood. On the other hand, though, there’s a lot to love. There’s some brilliant commentary on feminism and family legacy elsewhere, an awful lot of good humor, and a really sweet coda for the fans. And much as I criticise Kraemer’s work, the theme tune is quite catchy. It’s not a perfect set, and given the arc it seems to be building, it’s very likely future sets could go very, very wrong in the vein of this set’s weak installment. But overall, this is a pleasant experience.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood, series 4: “We Always Get Out Alive”

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, 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 look at the newest Torchwood monthly story (with some delays, apologies! life got in the way, as it so often does). Get in the car, start, don’t forget to call the babysitter, and beware spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: I think this audio leads me to two very different hot takes. The first one being that it’s a really good story, a great horror concept piece with tight character elements. The second one being that the range is still in a bit of an identity crisis right now. This is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does lack the … importance of the first three series, this feeling that you were seeing an absolutely vital, but yet unseen, part of the show. Between this and “The Death of Captain Jack”, there’s a feeling that they’re resting on sure, tried and tested values – this is a lot better than “Death”, because well, experimental two-hander is a stronger basic concept that big gay fanservice piece, but still. The fact there’s now pretty much two ongoing Torchwood range is a bit of a problem too – the pay-off to this audio, in a way, happens in scenes you won’t get until the end of Aliens Among Us. Which are, in isolation, deprived of some crucial setting up and character work. I think there’s a lot of fantastic potential in having both these storylines unfold, but they haven’t really perfected the execution for now. Which is fine – they don’t have to do it right away. But it makes the range into something a bit more discrete, and a bit less vital, even in strong entries like this one.

SCRIBBLES: There’s something of a throwback feeling to this audio, really. It’s been a long time since we heard Gwen in action, and even longer since the early days of the Torchwood monthly range in which two-handers were the de facto production necessity, rather than dramatic choice. I have mixed feelings about the result here. On the one hand, the characters are exceptional as ever. Gwen and Rhys have always been fantastic characters, and sure enough, you can absolutely get an engrossing hour about them talking about their feelings in a car. But on the other hand, there’s something a bit safe about it. The two-hander structure starts to feel more limitation than dramatic impetus after an exceptional first half-hour or so, with the plot, once it kicks in, feeling like more of an afterthought. That isn’t necessarily bad; the selling point here is the character work, which is exceptional and worth the price of admission. But the pacing of the story has an unfortunate effect of frontloading the character work, before focusing entirely on the less effective plot, which leaves the story feeling less substantial in the end than it deserves to. This is a good story. A very good one, even. But it could have gone further emotionally, or at least saved the biggest things it has to say for a more opportune moment.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”: how Who murdered one of its own subgenres

Who is an extraordinary show in that it basically has spawned its own little galaxy of varied subgenres. You can narrow down what a typical episode of a given show look like; and, across the televisual landscape, there are plenty of recurring patterns – but Who is unique, since it possesses a kaleidoscope of variants that are uniquely its. The Hartnell Historical; the Davies Space Romp; the Hinchcliffe gothic rewriting.

And of course, the Base under Siege. It even has its own acronym – the BuS. It’s generally considered to have been spawned and codified by the Troughton era, its use alongside iconic monsters like the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen solidifying the formula.

It’s also not all that good. Or rather, it’s incredibly limiting – there’s only so much variety you can introduce in a set-up that basically boils down to “humans inside, monsters outside, monsters kill human”. At the same time, it’s deeply tied to the memory of some of the show’s most glorious hours, and it’s a tried and tested formula – think, I don’t know, slasher movies. At one point, it becomes straight up impossible to make a workable product out of them if you take the premise straight – because the codes have been so integrated by the audience (to the point where the parody or metatextual reinterpretation of the codes themselves, as seen in the 1990s with Wes Craven’s Scream, or Freddy’s New Nightmare, were clichés in and on themselves – the link with Freddy isn’t all that far-fetched when you consider one of the main figures of genre subversion in contemporary Who is Rachel Talalay, who got her start working on the franchise, and this aside is getting way, way too long), but, eh, be it only by the force of habit, you’re pretty sure that it’s going to draw in a certain kind of audience.

So it’s not surprising that the creative powers that be ended up having a sort of love-hate relationship with bases under siege. Well, not until the old guard of writers pretty definitely left the show, which puts us around the McCoy years – which carry to the Virgin Publishing era, which itself, as Scribs outlined with considerable talent, was the soil in which the New Series itself grew. But when, finally, you’ve reached the point where political self-aware writing is, if not the norm, at least a major part of the Who ethos, you end up with a tricky relationship to the genre. I mean, just look at the Davies era – the purest example of a base under siege story you’ll find there is probably “The Waters of Mars”. It’s a textbook case – beyond textbook, even. And it ends up with the morality of the Doctor being shattered, and the viewer being forced to reconsider the philosophical dynamics anchoring the show as you ponder the implications of a woman shooting herself in the head in fear of the Doctor. That … That is not neutral.

So, how did we get to that point? Let’s have a look.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – A statement regarding Chris Hardwick

Disclaimer (added 6/17/18): This post is written entirely under the assumption that all allegations are entirely true. Given the oblique nature of Chloe Dykstra’s comments, the promise of evidence and witnesses, the rarity of false rape accusations, and the actions of the accused’s peers, that seems reasonable to this writer, though due process has yet to occur. Should anything be proven inaccurate, this post will be edited to match.

I’m a geek. I’m from San Diego. You can probably infer where this is going. Though it hasn’t quite been an annual thing (tickets are hard), I’ve always treated going to Comic Con as something of a tradition.

And as a Doctor Who fan above all else, my favorite part of that tradition? The Doctor Who panel in Hall H. I’ve camped out overnight Satudays on a number of different years for that brilliant Sunday morning. I wrote about the experience for this site last year, about just how much this crazy labor of love entails (sometimes, you’ve just gotta suffer no sleep and get sent off into the day with a donut courtesy of some heartthrob off Supernatural). And every time, it’s been worth it. 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. 2017. Again and again, to see my favorite show on earth on the biggest pop culture stage.

Enter Chris Hardwick.

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GUEST POST – Chris Chibnall, Lizard People, and the reversal of narrative dead-ends

by Z. P. Moo

 

We’re getting a new showrunner in the form of Chris Chibnall!

Old news, I know, but one thing I recently noticed on a big marathon rewatch of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was that in all his pre-showrunner contributions there is only one classic series monster that we have seen Chibnall’s vision for.

That being the Silurians. In a total of four stories he has written for them in two. That’s half his portfolio of Doctor Who scripts, which means it is a good idea to take a closer look at these reptiles and see what new perspective he could bring to them.

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GUEST POST – Halfway Out Of the Dark, or why “A Christmas Carol” is so damn good

by Jonne Bartelds

 

It’s pretty much impossible to pick the best Doctor Who episode. After all, there’s 50+ years of televised content, not to mention the Expanded Universe, which, like our own actual universe, just keeps on expanding. Then there’s the fact that Doctor Who is so varied, spanning so many different genres, writers, directors, styles. Doctor Who, as a whole, is essentially a whole bunch of different shows, which all attract different kinds of people. So I don’t think you can objectively pick a best episode, and I won’t. What I can do, is make a case for my favourite episode.

Picking a favourite episode is still hard, though. There are so many I love, and which one I love the most tends to shift depending on my mood. But the one I always end up coming back to is A Christmas Carol. It is without a doubt the best Christmas special New Who has had (and with this much smaller pool, I think I can say that objectively). It is the rare episode of Doctor Who that I would actually consider nearly flawless. Everything comes together in such a beautiful way. It is funny and heartbreaking, it is dark and yet full of hope, and it is gorgeous.

The phrase ‘halfway out of the dark’ pops up a few times. Let’s talk about that, because it is really the core essence of this episode.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#2)

Elevator Trouble

Once we have set up the idea of an imaginary selfscape that one needs to access and modify to reach some sort of transcendence, central in the imagery of the Moffat era, there’s yet another interesting motif that comes up – elevators. There are a lot of elevators in sci-fi, generally speaking, and there are some nice ones in the Davies era, but Moffat’s tend to have a special sort of meaning. I mean, look at the second episode of his era, “The Beast Below”, which, despite some obvious rough edges, very much is an impressively forwards-looking program for his tenure – the pre-credits scene’s tension pretty much entirely rests on a child trapped in an elevator that threatens to plunge him into the depths of a mysterious underworld.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Jago & Litefoot Forever

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. Beware of spoilers after the “read more” tag, old chap!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles say goodbye to Jago and Litefoot, discussing their last adventure, a tribute to the late Trevor Baxter.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: Oh, gosh, this is a sensitive story to discuss in general. It’s an audio that’s impossible, of course, to listen to without knowledge of the real world context that surrounds it. It’s a series finale of necessity rather than narrative design. It’s an affecting tribute act, really, that knows its limitations. As such, it’s difficult to say this is the ideal production to end a range on, but equally, it’s about the best thing one could hope for, and it makes the emotions land where it matters most in paying homage to adventures that will never end, even though they have. You know if you’re going to buy this audio, really. It’s for if you’ve followed all the adventures prior and want one last bit of closure, not for standing on its own as a story. I, for one, felt the closure. And I think that’s the quality that matters most.

TIBERE: I mean, there’s only so much rational analysis can do here. There are flaws to this story – quite a few – and qualities – quite a few as well -, but it just is secondary to the big question of whether it provides emotional closure, if not necessarily to the characters, at least to the viewer who has followed them for over fifty hours. I think it does – it’s a suitably touching celebration of these characters, a bit sombre but never less than hopeful, with some delightfuls call-backs (a shame so many were spoiled by the trailers, but oh well). It’s a good testament for the range, I feel – just like it Jago & Litefoot wasn’t always great but always was this warm, lovely comfort food you could rely on; “Forever” isn’t the best story of all time, but it doesn’t need to be, considering its warmth. Could it have been more? Maybe, but I got what I wanted and expected, and I feel at peace with the loss of the amazing actor that was Trevor Baxter.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#1)

What’s interesting about adventures in space and time is that they always will create, eventually, a certain definition of space. Every fictional universe ends up having its own peculiar geography – and I’m not just talking about a political landscape with factions and planets and systems. In the very ways the action and plot proceed, the edges of a system of thought, of a unique architecture, are revealed. Take, I don’t know, Star Trek. The patterns that eventually emerge – down from the ship to a planet, up from a planet to a ship, from a ship to a starbase, up and down the familiar corridors of the vessel – are part of the identity of the show, of its rhythm, just as much as the plot elements, the Borgs or Klingon or whatever.

Who is no exception. Of course, it’s always more complicated with Who – because it’s not so much one show as several equally important visions both following each other and existing concurrently, in a sort of sloppy narrative gangbang. So it’s pretty much necessary, if you want to write a superficial overview of the architectural tropes of the series, to limit yourself to only one of these … areas, I guess, sectors of the Land of Fiction. Let’s do Moffat’s. Because obviously – I’m a fanboy, in case you didn’t get it earlier.

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