GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #7: “Oxygen”

by Christa Mactire

[Revised 26/03]

This week’s entry is going to be a little more personal than most, since it deals with capitalism and I live in a country that is basically capitalism on steroids, the for-profit entity known as the United States of America, ruled by the President, Donald Trump. You might have heard of him. I’m not much of a fan, to put it mildly.

With that said, let’s talk about Doctor Who and capitalism. While the show has always had something of a penchant for standing against corrupt regimes since at least “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, its history regarding economic systems is a little more thin on the ground. 

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GUEST POST – “Kerblam!”: Can Unethical Art Be Good?

by Mark Laherty

Last month, Elizabeth Sandifer (no introduction needed in this neighbourhood) had a self-consciously nuclear take, one that she says expresses a core truth about her aesthetics: “Kerblam! > Rosa.” She continues, “I’d rather art be effectively distressing than poorly soothing.”

What’s going on here? Well, Sandifer is expressing her position on ethics in art, not for the first time. I’m going to argue against her on this (not, to be honest, with a view toward changing her mind, which I think would be quite a lift, but hopefully I can change someone else’s mind) by going through some of the academic discussion in film and philosophy studies about the relationship between the two. Can a moral flaw make an episode of TV worse? If so, would it necessarily make it worse, or could it possibly make it better? I will be working under the assumption that everyone who reads Downtime understands defending capitalism to be a moral flaw and that we all agree that it’s possible for art to be immoral.

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GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #6: “Father’s Day”

by Christa Mactire

Up until now, the main thrust of this series has been to explain how earlier eras of the show (mainly Moffat) have handled the Chibnall era’s ideas, usually in a better way. But that approach won’t work this time. How can it? Demons of the Punjab was a fascinating episode, a historical the likes of which has never really been done before. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story that is also educational, as the early Hartnell historicals tried to be. Given the Chibnall era seems to be attempting a contemporary version of that era, this makes sense.

Demons is a rare example of what this particular era of the show looks like when all the pieces come together in the right way. The script is fantastic, the guest cast and the regulars are given plenty to do, the score is sublime (recording the show’s theme as an Indian chant was an inspired move), it shows what this era can do when it really tries: tell a beautiful story about human problems and human concerns. If you took the Thijarians out, you’d have a convincing case for the revival of the pure historical, but focused on exploring social problems, like religious intolerance.

There is only one other modern Who story that has added to the list of story types that the show can tell, and it’s an episode that is virtually identical to Demons in terms of plot beats and set pieces if not in content or tone: Paul Cornell’s Father’s Day.

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GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #5: “The Girl Who Waited”

by Christa Mactire

One of my favorite classic-era Who stories is “The Edge of Destruction“. Part of the very first season, it was commissioned entirely to fill out the 13-episode order, most of which had been taken up by An Unearthly Child and The Daleks. Notably, it’s one of the show’s few Bottle Episodes, defined as an episode featuring mainly the regulars and one standing set, in this case the TARDIS console room and various other areas within.

This doesn’t sound terribly exciting on the surface; but the confined space of the TARDIS set, coupled with the fact that our main cast are just four strangers who’ve spent the last ten episodes wandering around pre-historic Earth and fighting off some art-deco saltshakers with a murder fetish and are only now able to catch their breath, leads to some pretty amazing character development work, thanks to David Whitaker’s script.

The template hasn’t been used terribly often in the intervening decades, but I’d argue that “Amy’s Choice from 2010 is close to a straight-up remake (since the Upper Leadworth stuff is just a shared dream, strictly speaking the entire episode takes place in the TARDIS console room), while “The Girl Who Waited and The Tsuranga Conundrum hew more closely to a general Bottle Episode rather than anything TARDIS-specific.

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GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #4: “Flatline”

by Christa Mactíre

The Curse of Fatal Death is surprisingly instructive for how the Moffat era would unfold. Produced for Comic Relief in 1999, the episode starred Rowan Atkinson as one of three eventual Ninth Doctors (or four, including the late Sir John Hurt) with a script by Moffat, it contained a large amount of concepts and ideas that would later appear when he took over as show runner for the BBC Wales revival of Who. There were things like the Master being stuck in a sewer, complicated time travel schemes, Doctor/Master shipping, the Doctor saying he’d put a lot of work into saving the universe, Daleks and the Master working together, and most importantly, the Doctor regenerating into a female form.

Just over ten years later, one of the Eleventh Doctor’s first lines is a surprised “I’m a girl!” Subsequently, the early scenes of “The Doctor’s Wifefeature the Doctor discussing a friend of his, the Corsair, a friend of his who had apparently regenerated into a female form at least twice. In 2014 we were given Missy, the first female version of the Master, and then in 2015, the character of the General regenerated into a black woman, establishing Time Lord regeneration can cross boundaries of race as well as gender.

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GUEST POST – “Twelve Angels Weeping”: a review

by Tori Das

 

Obligatory note: SPOILERS AHEAD. Also, some discussion of body horror and suicide.

Christmas, the stories, the lights and the gifts, the sacrifice and the transformation – and how it can all go horribly awry for you and yours if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a rundown of some of the worst Christmases experienced by people across the universe who are not (hopefully) you, the reader, so that you can feel that much safer and better about your Christmas.

Twelve Angels Weeping is an anthology of stories told from perspectives not often seen or heard in the regular televised or audio format. These are tales told from the sidelines, by those who may or may not be monsters or be pushed into a realm of monsters. It’s an excellent premise with room for some very innovative storytelling. In fact, the promise of radical viewpoints soared so high that there also happened a fall, unfortunately. While there are stories that are absolutely brilliant, some left me with a twinge of disappointment. That the book still makes me feel warm is a testament to just how great the good stories and the illustrations by Alexis Snell are.

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GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #3: “Thin Ice”

by Christa Mactíre

 

If there was a concept that could describe the two hundred and forty-some years of American history, that concept would be race. And more specifically, the fact that large parts of the United States were, literally, built on the backs of slaves. We even fought a war over the ability of white people to claim black people as property. And there exists, today, right now, a not-insignificant number of people for whom the Confederate States of America were totally cool. And now these people have their very own president in the White House; a spray-tanned loudmouth with bad hair and even worse political views. This is the cultural moment in which Chris Chibnall decided to make an episode of Doctor Who about Rosa Parks.

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GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substituion #2: “The Beast Below”

by Christa Mctíre

 

The Beast Below” is… well, a strange beast. Story-wise, it functions as a future-set bottle episode not unlike 2005’s “The End of the World (and even includes a long shot of the Doctor staring out a window with his back to the camera). Narratively, it’s a bit like the old analog conception of a single: a popular A-side that everyone knows, and the less well-known B-side. Thus, “The Beast Below is the B-side to “The Eleventh Hour’s A-side. Put another way, it’s the “This Boy” to “Eleventh Hour“’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

I would say it also prefigures things like the 2014 Scottish independence referendum or Brexit, but I think that’s just happenstance. I will note, however, that the big moral dilemma of the episode and the Doctor’s actions in the climax, plus Amy’s response to them, is basically what you’d get if you took “The Day of the Doctor and only included the bits on Gallifrey: the Doctor has to make a decision that will result in him giving up his name, only for the companion to do something that results in little to no fatalities. Continue reading

GUEST POST – Adventures in Narrative Substitution #1: Introduction & “The Eleventh Hour”

by Christa Mactíre

 

Greetings, DoWntime readers! I’m Christa Mactíre, and like most of you I tuned in to watch the premiere of Doctor Who’s eleventh series on October 7th, 2018, lured by the promise of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and a new authorial voice in the form of show runner Chris Chibnall. While surprisingly grim and dour for a Doctor introduction story, The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a promising start to what could have been a fascinating new era for our collective favorite show. I even, after several years sitting on the sidelines, took a dive into reviews and televisual criticism on my Tumblr blog, which you can find here.

But then the wheels started to come off the train. As the weeks rolled by and the series continued, the flaws that stuck out to me in first few episodes began to feel less like bugs and more like features. The lack of interiority in the Thirteenth Doctor relative to her recent predecessors, the focus on male pain (and especially white male pain) at the expense of women of color, deeply unfortunate racial politics, emphasis on heterosexual relationships after claiming greater LGBT representation, killing off gay characters or making them antagonists, the Doctor’s refusal to stand up to corrupt regimes, the Doctor’s myopic morals in regards to violence and weapons, the lack of wonder and warmth in any of the episodes… I could spend all day listing all the flaws in Series 11, but I don’t really want to. The point is: Series 11 was, in my opinion and in those of several others, one of the weakest seasons the show has seen since it returned, and I wanted something better.

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GUEST POST – Enlightenment of the Daleks: a Theory of their History

by James Blanchard

 

“Temmosus: We’ve changed over the centuries. Why shouldn’t they? The once famous warrior race of Thals are now farmers.

Dyoni: But the Daleks were teachers, weren’t they, Temmosus?

Temmosus: And philosophers.

Ganatus: Perhaps they are the warriors now.”[1]

In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (building on Hegel) posit that the earliest humans realised themselves as individuals, or separate selves from the rest of the world, when confronted with nature. The tree or mountain or waterfall becomes the Other, the thing which the Self realises it separate from. But more than that, the encounter with nature is awful and terrifying, for nature holds absolute power over the early human; it can grant them favour or destroy them entirely. For that reason, the worship of nature and the association of ancient gods with natural forces is common in ancient societies – the forces of life and death are transformed into gods and demons.[2]

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