THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (4.5/16): “The Husbands of River Song”

Previous entry in series.

Christmas 2015: Doctor Who is on a high, having just concluded a triumphant, rather critically beloved run, closing off the year with Christmas fluff featuring a beloved returning icon about to go off into her own much anticipated spinoff series.

Christmas 2015: Doctor Who is withering.

There’s an interesting paradox about the end of Steven Moffat’s time on Doctor Who. As a show, it’s a healthy thing, well-regarded by critics and fans. But it’s also a clear product of burnout. The Husbands of River Song” is the episode Steven Moffat wrote when he had no idea whether he wanted to hang around as showrunner and was contemplating the end. It was written in the knowledge it could be his last. It wasn’t, but it was enough that the show didn’t return for a full year, the longest it had vanished since it returned in 2005.

That is the crack that Doom Coalition fills.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (4/16): “The Satanic Mill”

Previous entry in series.

It’s kind of hard to get around a simple fact as far as “The Satanic Mill” is concerned. Something is wrong here. That sense pervades fan reception of the story, with one fan review aggregator giving it the lowest score of the entirety of Doom Coalition at 6.7 and prominent Big Finish reviewer Doc Oho giving it a quite savage 2/10. It is, quite generally, viewed as a misfire.

There’s understandable reasons for that: it’s fairly evident that the story has issues. The climax is an easy one to pick on in particular, with the Doctor literally waving his sonic screwdriver to get out of it. But more than that, there’s a concerning question of authorship. “Edward Collier” is not a name credited to any other Big Finish release ever, not even a short story. The extras don’t have any interviews with “Edward Collier.” No promotional material seems to be available from Big Finish featuring “Edward Collier.” It feels concerningly likely that the story is the product of multiple authors trying to salvage something workable, applying a pseudonym for the final product like “David Agnew” of old. It suggests that, from some fairly early stage of production, something went wrong.

But here’s the thing I think, on top of all of that: “The Satanic Mill” is bloody brilliant.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (3/16): “The Galileo Trap”

Previous entry in series.

“The Galileo Trap” is a bit of an oddity in Doom Coalition. In the midst of a quite heavily serialized story arc based in intense ensemble character dynamics, the range takes a step back for a fairly standard genre mashup romp of space cops and gangsters meets classical Rennaisance Italy imagery. The logic behind this is at once bizarre and quite reasonable. With Helen at the heart of what the story is progressing, it only makes sense to put her through the paces of a Doctor Who romp.

The opening scene, in comparison to the first two of Doom Coalition, is quite telling. Those stories open with quite enigmatic sequences, establishing two of the major threats of the arc quite bloodlessly. They’re all about establishing the concepts of the Eleven and the Red Lady, the former establishing his many personas and impending escape and the latter her enigmatic pervasive image. “The Galileo Trap,” on the other hand, goes for the familiar. A dirty great alien dog tears some poor red shirt to shreds. It’s the pre-credits from a hundred Doctor Who episodes, and plenty of other shows besides. The lack of originality there, really, is basically the point. This is Doom Coalition doing Doctor Who business as usual.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (2/16): “The Red Lady”

Previous entry in series.

As with all articles in this series, this essay will include full spoilers from the entirety of the Doom Coalition saga to provide the most complete possible picture, despite being built around a single installment.

In its second hour, Doom Coalition begins.

There’s two important things to understand about The Red Lady,” really. The first is that it is an utter, utter classic. Immediately upon the release of Doom Coalition, it more than any other story received heaps of praise. On fan response aggregate site The Time Scales, for example, it’s one of the highest rated Eighth Doctor Adventures, averaging a 9 and tied for the second most acclaimed story with To the Death,” behind only A Life in the Day,” another script by John Dorney for Dark Eyes. It even won an award for Big Finish, gaining the Scribe award for tie-in audio fiction in 2015. It’s something of a phenomenon.

scribe award

Writer John Dorney holding a very well-deserved trophy

That’s the first of the two things. The second is that it’s all about new companion Helen Sinclair.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (1/16): “The Eleven”

What was Doctor Who in 2016? In the midst of one of the most tumultuous political years in recent history, between Brexit and Donald Trump and all the like, Doctor Who was a ghost. Not until Christmas did it return and make a light and fluffy statement that would define the approach the following year, crafting a safe space of recovery. But in the midst of that devastating year, the Doctor was silent.

However, in the shadows, some remarkable things happened. I have discussed before how perfectly fitting the spinoff series “Class” was at finding a space for Doctor Who in the midst of such a moment of political wounding. But there was one other series that fit distinctly in this moment, bridging the show through a year of chaos for the progressive world to the reparative show of 2017. Big Finish’s Doom Coalition.

This marks the beginning of a sixteen-part series breaking down the sixteen story-long saga released from late 2015 to early 2017, in connection with the current state of the televised show, world politics, and the series’ own internal themes. Each entry is likely to feature full spoilers for not only for the individual story discussed, but the arc as a whole, which was planned from the beginning with reprecussions criss-crossing forwards and backwards across its entirety.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Asylum of the Pond

“Asylum of the Daleks” is, on the whole, a very well-regarded episode by the fandom. Gorgeous direction on the part of Nick Hurran, clever ideas from the script, and a shocking turn from Jenna Coleman all combined to make it, if not the most memorable Doctor Who series premiere, a solidly well-liked one. At the time of writing this, it holds a very solid 8.8 on IMDb, just above the rather beloved “The Waters of Mars.” That also puts it as, judging by that site, as the third best regarded opener to any series of Doctor Who, after only “The Eleventh Hour,” also at 8.8, and “The Impossible Astronaut,” at 9.0. In other words, it’s a very, very well-loved episode. But there’s one subplot to it that tends to come under a lot of scrutiny in the episode. Indeed, to continue the IMDb example, reviews of the episode on that site describe it as having “come out of nowhere” and “very contrived, but the rest of the installment really made up for that.” I’m talking, of course, about Amy divorcing Rory.

And, ever the contrarian, I must take a different perspective on the whole thing. Yes, it absolutely is illogical and out of nowhere, but that, for my money, helps make it the strongest and most meaningful part of the episode.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Stars in Their Eyes

“A Star in Her Eye,” proclaimed a potential title for the opener to series 10 of Doctor Who. That single, central image exists at the heart of the episode we all know as “The Pilot,” following Bill on her first journey through space and time. What’s more, however, is that it is an image that spans an era. It is there for the Doctor at his very earliest in “Listen,” and is what he longs for at the end in the devastation of “The Doctor Falls.” Even the first thing we ever saw of the Twelfth Doctor was just eyes, in a brief glimpse, as an offering of hope at the Doctor’s most triumphant moment. Stars in their eyes unite the era with a very specific aesthetic meaning, one of queer wonder for outcasts. And they offer a whole community of viewers that same hope.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – (Belated) San Diego Comic Con 2017 recap, Sunday edition

It’s difficult to scoop a Comic Con panel that is instantly widely reported, particularly when all footage is almost instantaneously available. And that, indeed, is why I have delayed so long in writing up this post. Because, the Doctor Who panel? All online. Twice Upon a Time” trailer? All online. Lovely Capaldi tribute video? Online. But the one thing I can share is the personal experience of being there. You can get far better quality photos and video of everything I was privileged to see in person, and have been able to from the beginning. But I can share a bit of the experience of camping out for Hall H, the holy grail of Comic Con experiences.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – San Diego Comic Con 2017 recap, Thursday edition

This entry’s going to be a little bit different. As was mentioned previously, I have had the privilege of attending this year’s San Diego Comic Con, something I have not done in some time. As a trip to Comic Con covers so many different areas, this entry will be divided into largely unrelated subcategories, each to discuss some of the most prominent and exciting things I got to explore, in roughly chronological order.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – The Power of the Not Dead

It’s inevitable at this point, really. This week, there’s outcry over what happened to Bill in World Enough and Time.” Give it twenty-four hours, though, and we’ll hit something new: outcry over Bill still being alive.

It’s a common trope in Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who for characters to die temporarily, only to have their stories continue on in some manner. To put it lightly, this has attracted a fair bit of criticism. As one Tumblr post puts it, “I’m sick of all this ‘everybody lives’ bullshit. When no one dies in a story other than the villain, there is no tension, no drama, no excitement to see the Doctor prevail.” This line of criticism is quite widespread. It shouldn’t be surprising to know that Bill’s fate immediately was leapt upon not just by hurt viewers hoping she’d make it out okay but by this particular fandom mindset hoping she’d stay dead for an arbitrary sense of consequences. Even before the episode aired, reviews bemoaned it with comments like, “will any of it stick? It’s hard to get 100% invested in the things that transpire when you have that nagging suspicion at the back of your mind that it can (and likely will) be undone.”

But this fundamentally misses the point. There are shows that thrive on uncertainty of survival and high stakes drama. But that approach is not one that in any way fits Doctor Who. Our Tibère/Sam wrote a nice piece on the problems of applying that storytelling logic to Doctor Who here. The gist of the issue is, programs like that encourage a cynicism and lack of regard for character that is alien to this program. Doctor Who is a character-driven adventure story generally told through the lens of the companion. They’re the main character. And while shock death of a main character may be well and good for upping the stakes in a Hitchcock thriller, it encourages detachment from the characters that ground the show in something like Doctor Who. In this show, killing characters isn’t the way, and bringing them back typically offers far more wealth of storytelling. Killing offers less investment and less reason to invest in the hearts of the stories. Resurection offers new directions for the story to live on.

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