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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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – UNIT: Encounters

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 latest UNIT boxset. Spiritus abysso invocat te voco, and all that jazz. Spoilers after the read more tag – also, please do check out our partnership with Ruth Long’s Untold Adventures project if you haven’t!

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: UNIT’s been a hard range to get a hold on, quality-wise, I think. At its best, it’s been exceptional. At its worst, downright baffling. But I’m very happy to say that the change of pace in Encounters, which could have just been an excuse to shove Daleks and Sontarans in, works a treat. This stands strong with the best of the UNIT releases and Big Finish in general, four very solid stories that go great lengths to evolve the characters and their world. If this is setting the tone for the next three sets, announced at the same time, then we’re going to be in for a treat and I’m very glad I pre-ordered the lot.

TIBERE: It’s a really solid set – the change of focus, away from big, multi-parts storylines, allows for some quieter storytelling and for a series of really interesting character vignettes. As good as the range has been before, and it has been really good, it mostly dealt in the realm of broad thematic strokes and political affairs; but this set fleshes out the different protagonists a lot more. Kate Stewart gets some of her finest material, whereas some previous storylines could rely a bit too much on her iconic status and Jemma Redgrave’s excellent acting; and Josh Carter, who we both considered until recently the weakest spot of these stories, makes a lot more sense as a character now. It’s a real return to form for the range, and it lays very solid bases for future developments.
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DoWntime plugs: Clara Oswald – The Untold Adventures

At DoWntime, we love Clara Oswald – it’s no secret.

Which is why we’re very happy to see that Ruth Long – who has collaborated with us on several occasions – is launching a big project: a written continuation of her adventures, following the format of a Doctor Who series and aiming to make all the possibilities “Hell Bent” created into something concrete and beautiful.

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LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Crusade”

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

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.

Continue reading

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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