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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GUEST POST – All around me are familiar faces: The Return of Old Characters

by Z. P. Moo

 

There’s a lot to be said for bringing back characters from the past to Doctor Who and with rumours of major characters set to return for series eleven it seemed good to take a look at how this has been done by Doctor Who before.

Because while bringing someone back is always good for fanservice purposes and it can work wonders for promotion, this in and of itself is not a good enough reason to do it. If you’ve only got X Character back because you can and only because you can then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. General favourites in this category include but are not limited to Captain Jack Harkness, the Rani, and Jenny. Often Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor will make an appearance (even though he already came back five years ago).

The way I see it, when it comes to bringing back characters it only needs to be done if there’s a reason this character needs to be in that story or some way their presence enhances the story or themes. Otherwise it risks getting in the way of a show that really should be trying to forge ahead into new territory instead of clinging to a vision of the past that arguably never really existed.

That’s not to say bringing back old characters hasn’t worked. Let’s look at four examples of when the show’s revival has got this right.

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GUEST POST – Objectification in “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”

by Ricky Starr

 

The final worthwhile serial in the 2009 run of The Sarah Jane Adventures explores predominantly ideas about art, which is unsurprising, given that it is set almost entirely in an art gallery, and its antagonist (such as she is) is none other than the Mona Lisa, come to life. Perhaps more interestingly, it also examines objectification, primarily (though not exclusively) of women, and sexual politics more generally.

The most obvious starting point in regard to this is Lionel Harding, the curator of the International Museum and a general misogynist. His behaviour is deeply problematic, and he is called out for it at every stage in the episode, as the main perpetrator of direct objectification and sexist behaviour. Prior to the events of the episode, it is revealed that, noticed by the Mona Lisa, he would be prone to staring at her for an unduly long period of time (here quantified as twenty seconds, but the number is simply an analogue for the penetration of a gaze which is disrespectful to the point of objectification). He refused to view the Mona Lisa on her own terms (represented at this point by the rules of the Louvre, but again, it works as an analogue), instead looking at her as an object, whilst refusing to consider that she could be a person on her own terms, with thoughts of her own on the matter of the male gaze. Having been treated as an exhibit rather than a person, it is no wonder that Mona Lisa is interested in “revenge”.

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GUEST POST – “Daleks in Manhattan”: the Depression & the American Dream

by Ricky Starr

 

[Please note: This article is an exploration of Daleks in Manhattan, the 2007 television episode of Doctor Who written by Helen Raynor, in isolation from its immediate follow-up, Evolution of the Daleks. This is for the reason that, although the two episodes ostensibly form a single story, it is the view of the essayist that the ideas explored in the former, and examined in this essay, are not satisfactorily followed through or reconciled in the latter. The second episode will, however, be referred to when it appears pertinent.]

In Evolution of the Daleks, Tallulah looks out at New York, from the top of the Empire State Building, and remarks, “New York City. If aliens had to come to Earth, no wonder they came here”. Of course, she has, in remarking this, missed the point of the preceding episode, but it is an apt illustration of an idea that can be referred nowadays as the “American Dream”: the idea of a glittering paradise where anybody can be successful and achieve mighty things in a personal sense. (The term itself did not become widespread in its use until 1931, the year after this episode was set, but the concept was already a well-known one, and was extremely pertinent to ideas of a prosperous America.)

Yet the American Dream is flawed, much like Tallulah’s outlook in this quotation. She looks upon the Dream, and thinks it good, because anyone can be successful; she fails to see the opposite side of it, which is that it inevitably breeds failure, exploitation and sorrow for others. It allows anyone to be successful, but not everyone. The same is true of the illusion of New York itself: mighty towering spires and monuments to freedom, liberty and the like, hiding the truth, the Hooverville and its desolation, in the centre. This paradox is one that Daleks in Manhattan plays upon extensively and creatively (and which Evolution of the Daleks, like Tallulah, then fails to pick up on- but I digress).

 

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GUEST POST – The Wrong Doctor: Perspectives on “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People”

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.

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GUEST POST – Doctor Who and the Soft Reboot

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.

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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.

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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.

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