by James Blanchard
“The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” – the two-part, 2011 story by Matthew Graham – is one of the strangest, weirdest, most infuriating episodes of Doctor Who I’ve ever watched. Part of me loves it, part of me hates; for all the nicely realised horror elements and moments, the superb visual language, the great performances and rich drawing of Amy, Rory and the Doctor, there’s a plot that’s impossible to follow, a pacing that lurches from action sequence to introspective conversation with nothing in-between, and incoherent motivations abound.
The story is open-ended, ambiguous, and not exactly clean in its execution. It is, then, precisely the kind of story to divide up us Doctor Who fans and leave us in love/hate country. But, despite it’s failings (magically appearing and disappearing sonic screwdrivers have given me a serious headache), I think this story is very much worthwhile talking about. There a few topics I want to touch on, but mostly the interest comes with the Doctor, and how, by the end, it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve been left travelling with the wrong one.
by Z.P. Moo
It’s an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan at the moment. We sit on the brink of a new era for the first time since the 2005 relaunch. So I thought it might be good to take the time to look at three such occasions where a similar transition took place – with varying results. Specifically the three attempts to relaunch the series from its 1989 cancellation, those of Paul McGann, Richard E Grant, and Christopher Eccleston.
I’m excluding the beginning of the Steven Moffat years here, you’ll notice. The reason for that is simple: continuity. Moffat had been a regular and (deservingly) popular writer for the show during the time before he took charge, he kept largely the same format, and he kept many of his contemporaries on board. Chris Chibnall, having not written for the series since 2012, seems to be doing no such thing. Not even the music composer is safe this time, the show’s format is getting a shake-up, and there’s the small issue of the Doctor being a woman now (and not a moment too soon to quote one of her underrated predecessors). As much as Steven Moffat’s phenomenal tenure in charge was seen as a clean break from what came before, that wasn’t really the case when you scratch the surface.
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.
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.
by Ruth Long
This has not, by any means, been an easy article to write. It has involved a lot of (at times uncomfortable) introspection, unpacking and examining so many emotions, fears, regrets and hopes from the past five years. But as we enter a new year, a new chapter in my life and Doctor Who’s, and say farewell to another, it feels like the right time to do this, before moving forward.
In casting a woman in the titular role, Doctor Who has done something truly amazing. For a character portrayed by male actors for over half a century, it’s a bold, brilliant and monumental step forward that is rightly being celebrated by many as a progressive new direction in which to take this landmark of science fiction and British television. Chris Chibnall’s vision in this regard is one to be applauded, and I eagerly look forward to experiencing the next era of the show alongside a generation of children who will grow up knowing, and being inspired by, a female Doctor.
But in the jubilation following this becoming a reality, it would be remiss to overlook how we got here; we came the long way round, after all. The significance of the past few series in particular, under the stewardship of Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi, cannot and should not be dismissed. And so as a part of that I would like to share with you one fan’s story and relationship with this fictional universe, more specifically my own. Because Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord, though a remarkable milestone for the franchise, will not be my first female Doctor.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.