TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (4/4)


by William Shaw


It’s all the more infuriating, because Sherlock has offered a much better self-critique than any of its YouTube detractors. Unsurprisingly, it comes in series four. Series four, of course, is the story of Sherlock tearing itself apart, beginning by killing off its best character, and meticulously unravelling everything that made the show unique, eventually collapsing into a nice and simple series of detective yarns too boring to broadcast, a hellish condemnation to single vision and Newton’s sleep.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (3/4)


by Samuel Maleski


Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue

– Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes have a surprising number of similarities, when you get down to it. Not just the fact their most recent iterations were both supervised by Steven Moffat. And of course there’s the whole matter of the crossovers between the two, with Big Finish producing some detectives drama of its own, the Virgin New Adventure book “All-Consuming Fire”, later adapted into an audio, or Bernice Summerfield’s “Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel”, where James Cooray Smith has the time-traveler meet Mycroft Holmes and fight an army of Doctor-worshipping clones. No, something simpler – both are far and away from the very simple, chronological life of many cultural franchises, and closer to a vast, out-of-control forest of ideas. I mean, it was the Doyle fandom that first came up with the modern meaning of the term “canon”, until then reserved to Biblical Studies: precisely because, between the Doyle originals, themselves with their share of strange zones of shadows and lapses, and tons of referenced but unseen adventures, and the multiple sequels, prequels, midquels, and rewritings (go rate my Alternate Universe fic where Moriarty is actually a product of Sherlock’s drug-addled mind, it’s called “The Seven Per Cent Solution” and it even has Sigmund Freud!), it became hard to quantify things.

Basically, they’re both clusterfucks.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (2/4)


by Samuel Maleski


We are in front of someone who believes that it’s important to pay attention to the specificities of a piece of media – that it is the content of a text and its unique nature that should drive your analysis, not the pre-set expectations and narratives you bring to it (1). So let’s give him the luxury he denies Steven Moffat and try to see how these videos, and their many problems, fit into the larger context of his oeuvre – and that’s not a mocking word here: after all, why, in theory at least, shouldn’t a YouTube channel have the same intellectual legitimacy as a book or a TV show?

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (1/4)

To this date, DoWntime’s most-read post is a rant about bad Moffat criticism, written in a few hours as an angry response to a video that really annoyed the hell out of me. It was a very enjoyable experience, although I wouldn’t count the finished product as my finest work, not by a long shot.

There has been several reproaches made to that short piece of analysis, on social media and in the comments of the site, about the unfairness of the criticisms raised against this video – as in it had not been given a proper hearing, so to speak. Well, since the author, YouTuber Hbomberguy, has decided to release a second video about Moffat, this time tackling the supposed failings of “Twice Upon A Time“, it’s as good a day as any to have a good, long think about what apparently has become a mainstream school of thought as far as the Scottish showrunner’s works are concerned.

To help me in this endeavour, I have recruited (a nice word for “dragged, kicking and screaming and forced to watch almost two hours of bad reviews at gunpoint”) DoWntime guest writer and media analyst person extraordinaire William Shaw, who has added two essays to the two I myself penned on the topic. By the way, you should absolutely check out his blog, it’s brilliant.

If you wish to get acquainted with the objects of our rants, let’s also provide in this introduction the links to the two videos in question:

This out of the way, let’s dive right in, shall we?

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Follow the River #1: The Trail of the Spore Ships (1/2)

River Song remains one of the most fascinating characters in the entire Who canon. You have to get the Big Finish writer(s) who said it was their favourite range to work on (source: Scribbles’ turn at Gally1, which I’m still very much jealous of). It’s not just that she was an essential character in the way she assumed the role of a Female Doctor – not exactly the first one to go there, but certainly the one who embodied it for the longest time and who made it stick in the general consciousness. She also created an entire universe of images, symbols and themes that are unique to her – we consider each Doctor in relation with a certain environment, after all, with a certain kind of stories, of tone, of imagery, so, for River to truly stand as the equal of the Doctor (and god knows Eleven, as far as specificity of tone and imagery goes, is hard to beat), she needs a world of her own. An ocean of stories for River. And she got one. More than Clara, her clearest analogue and successor of sorts, really – for all that she is a fantastic character, Clara is more directly connected with Doctor Who in general, with the attempts to envision the show as a global entity from which an ethos and a moral can be extracted. River is not so much trying to make the idea of the Doctor persevere and continue, but rather in offering a different and new version of it, better in some respects, worse in some others.

We previously discussed in that very column what “made” a River story, what were the essential, basic aesthetic principles that governed them; but, well, there’s still more to say about her, isn’t there? The Discourse is too tasty to be ignored, and in the wake of the absolutely amazing third Diary of River Song set, I thought it would be a good idea to launch this project: an on-and-off retrospective of River’s adventures, looking at her adventures on television and audio, in an arbitrary order and with no regularity whatsoever.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Doctor Who and Stanger Things: creating nostalgia, creative nostalgia

People sure as hell are feeling nostalgic these days.

Not that it isn’t a normal process in our cultural landscape – storytelling patterns and sociologically-charged imagery are very much cyclical, and know periods of resurgence after some years away from the spotlight. There’s a “nostalgia pendulum”, or “thirty years cycle” at work in here somewhere, to borrow terms frequently used in the film-criticy recesses of the Internet (1) (2). But there’s this ever-present song and tune about living in the age of the remake, of the homage – of nostalgia. Maybe it’s all due to the fact, that, well, times are hard, and when orange demagogues bring the delicate whiff of capitalist fascism to your inconvenienced nostrils, it’s tempting to barricade yourself beyond a prelapsarian fantasy of a time before we were all fucked. Or maybe it’s a consequence of the evolving trends of the TV market – in an age where event television, outside of Game of Thrones, is pretty much dead and buried, there’s quite a bit of room for targeted niche demographics, people that have money in their wallets and Netflix on their computers, and a desire to be pandered to.

It’s not like Who was escaping the trend either. If we take the beginning of the Capaldi era as a starting point – we saw in three series and four years the return of the Master, of Davros, of the Shadow Proclamation, of the planet Karn, of Gallifrey and Rassillon, of basically every Dalek variant ever, of River Song, of the Movellans, of the Ice Warriors, of the Mondasian Cybermen, of the First Doctor, of Ben and Polly. People are feeling nostalgic, I tell you!

But there’s nostalgia and nostalgia. All visions of the past are not equal, or equally worthwhile. Hence – Stranger Things.


[CONTENT WARNING: passing mentions of suicide and abuse]

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Catalysts: Choice in Doctor Who and Mass Effect

The Cornelian Dilemma is one of the best and easiest ways to create drama. If you’re into the etymology, the name comes from French Renaissance playwright Pierre Corneille, whose tragedies often revolved around a character having to decide between two equally unsatisfying options. In Le Cid, his masterpiece, the main character, manly man Rodrigue, has to decide whether he wants to kill his fiancée’s father, who has committed a terrible offence against his family – if he does, he loses the woman he loves; if he doesn’t, he becomes a honorless pariah. Which, all in all, is an interesting evolution from a former model of tragedy, where the Fatal Flaw(s) of the main character leads them to an inexorable doom: putting the stakes out of the metaphysical realm and into the messy reality of human interaction; tales of Men instead of tales of Gods. Not that the choice is deprived of a moral and spiritual dimension, mind you, but the context in which it is presented, a state of flux and uncertainty, has a deeper sense of verisimilitude to it – look at the Trolley Problem, which is such a good encapsulation of humdrum moral conundrums a TV show recently used it to explain ethics to the Devil (side note: The Good Place is great, watch it).

Unsurprisingly, the sadistic choice is very much part of our current media landscape, be it only because said media landscape is deeply sadistic. Game of Thrones is the biggest show on the planet, after all – pain sells. And while Doctor Who holds itself to a higher moral standard – thank God –, choice can still very much be the coin of its realm. There’s an episode titled “Amy’s Choice”. “Fires of Pompeii”, “Waters of Mars” – should I save people or let history follow its course? “Kill the Moon” – an innocent life versus the future of all mankind, and I’m quoting the text here. And so on.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Twelve Shards of Twelve

So, there it is.

When you’ll read this, the Twelfth Doctor will be no more.

I don’t intend to draw an exhaustive account of his tenure. What would be the point? Too much to say, and whatever short summary one can make has probably already been made elsewhere by someone much more talented and eloquent than me.

But I can talk about how I feel. About my experience with him, with his era. Thoughts, and moments, and emotions – little fragments that hopefully will allow me, someday, to patch together a complete narrative.

Here goes. Warning – this is going to get uncomfortably personal, and to talk a lot about mental health, so if these are dealbreakers, sorry, I’ll be getting back to dry, over-written analysis real soon, don’t worry.

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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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