SCARVES AND CELERY – “Egggggsssss”: An analysis of “Asylum of the Daleks”

When I last rewatched “Asylum”, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. But it’s a visible step up from Moffat’s preceding three scripts, as he manages to put together an efficient and skilfully constructed episode, after the hot messes of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, “The Wedding of River Song”, and “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”. “Asylum” isn’t quite Moffat back to his best, but it is a strong episode that dares to try something new, confidently setting out the new style for its season.

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ASSESSING STRESS #8: “The Lie of the Land”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And we managed to get the band back together again! Yay us! Scarves came back from the Sahara, and he has started his own religion now, I think, but he managed to come back from us and we had a lovely time meditating together in the astral plane, chatting with the spirit of John Nathan-Turner and all those good things.

Also, we dragged a guest with us! James Kirkland, from Canada, Whovian, and independant writer/director, say hello everyone!

Spoilers follow, obviously.

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Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest UNIT release from Big Finish – Assembled. A tale of ecological activism, overracting lizards, and naked cavemen.

Spoilers follow.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE: A Song for “The Lost”

“If you thought this teenage sci-fi show was secretly hiding a Marxist tract in its name, you’re actually not too far from the truth,” jokingly proclaimed the Radio Times, referring to Patrick Ness’ comments on the choice of title for the show. Once called “The Class,” the “The” was removed, a nightmare for social media tagging but otherwise a decision rich with meaning, in tune with the show as a whole. Because Class is all about social tensions, between marginalization and privilege, played out through the central debate of the Shadowkin and the Cabinet of Souls. It is a politically charged exploration of the failings of the Doctor’s own ideological standings through how marginalized people handle the trauma in his wake, and The Lost is the accumulation of every character and thematic thread into the final world-changing decision. It is a vital story to tell, and one with even more weight in the current political climate.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Moffat Era and three-dimensional screenwriting

Opening cliché statement: the Moffat era of Doctor Who is one hell of a marmite.

It goes beyond the simple outraged and simultaneous cries of “He’s a misogynist!” and “He’s a Social Justice Warrior!” of “He’s repeating himself!” and of “He’s changing the very fabric of the show, the gall!” – the very way he approaches storytelling is divisive. Intentionally so – he’s a media-savvy master ès trolling, that will never hesitate to purposefully provoke and antagonize. Which is why he’s also the best writer Who ever had (sorry, not sorry!) – because that’s what the show is about. Being chaotic and confusing and throwing the whole scope of the time vortex at the flabbergasted viewer. Sure, not everyone has to like it, and sometimes one can rightfully wish for a more subdued vision of the show. Still, he does “get” it; he taps into something that’s deeply, primarily tied to the essence and ethos of Who.

But let’s try a change of perspective, for once. Let’s try not to talk about themes – really, dressing a complete and accurate portrait of the man and his writing style is a bit of an impossible task anyway. There’s way too much to say – you could write books about it, and indeed, books were and will be written about it. Keeping things at a purely structural level: what does Steven Moffat adds to the show? What are the core ideas he brings to its basic skeleton – not the themes, not the writing mannerisms, but the pure, structural ideas – ?

Well, proposition: Steven Moffat has changed, and continues to change, the status of the Doctor Who writer.

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ASSESSING STRESS #7: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

Dear diary. Today, Scarves is not here. Apparently he has joined a bunch of monks and has gone on a spiritual enlightenment journey through the Sahara. That’s weird. I hope those were nice monks, not like the ones in that episode. I don’t really know. Anyway, Scribbles and the other guy are here. And there’s also a guest, one of our contributors/readers. I’m not sure he has given a name to us, though. He’s very elusive. So we’re just going to call him the Elusive Whovian for the rest of the talk. That should work. Goodbye, dear diary. I must get back to eating my curry. See you.

Spoilers follow, obviously. For the episode, “Class” and the Da Vinci Code, if you care about the Da Vinci Code. If you do, we’re kind of judging you, tho.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE: The Brink of Brilliance?

[The following essay includes spoilers for The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure.]

The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure is basically the indispensable Big Finish release. The one last great missing regeneration, after The Tenth Planet animation and The Night of the Doctor. It even comes in an unusual physical presentation, Big Finish’s special edition book sets the perfect size to slot on one’s shelf between their copies of The Ultimate Foe and Time and the Rani. It is the completionist dream. There’s been attempts at this regeneration before, of course. Time and the Rani obviously exists, and multiple books have tried to be the definitive take on that gap. But none starred Colin Baker. None were such a modern professional production as Big Finish. And none, none were in limited edition sets, only 10,000 ever to be made, perfect for your ultimate Doctor Who bookshelf (mine’s copy #1252, hello!). And that’s why I personally wound up with it being the first Big Finish set I ever pre-ordered. It’s the ultimate trivial fanservice product.

As a result, the release remains a very vivid experience in my mind. Working out how the hell to copy over the zip files to my phone in a hurry so I could listen on the go. Starting The End of the Line at around 3AM as I biked through a deserted campus to work on a student documentary. Bingeing the rest the next day in excitement. And my thoughts are recorded from comments I made at the time, cynicism and joy side by side. My take on the regeneration story itself at the time: “And for his final story, that’s a pity. It should have made a case for what makes him matter despite things like The Twin Dilemma, not pretended he was a flawless hero and given him a blaze of glory to go out in. It’s not a uniquely bad piece, just tremendously uninteresting despite the iconic space it tries to fill. It may be better than Time and the Rani, but at least that story has so-bad-it’s-good entertainment value. This one merely passes the time.”

I was at once totally fair and totally unfair, I think. The Last Adventure is a set brimming with bizarre creative choices alongside inspired ones, and it’s an innately frustrating experience. But it’s one worth listening and worth engaging with. Because though I don’t disagree with my past self about it being flawed, I do strongly disagree with labelling it utterly uninteresting. On thematic and narrative levels, The Last Adventure and in particular The Brink of Death is a fascinating work. Not one that necissarily works, but one that’s very worth unpacking.

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SCARVES AND CELERY – “The Image of an Angel”: a thematic dissection of “The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone”

Remember early series five? When Matt Smith was all baby faced, we didn’t know who River was yet, and the Moffat era was in its infancy. What an exciting and new time that was. Today, we’re to revisit the story I feel best captures that time in Doctor Who’s history: “The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone”, and examine the key themes and concerns animating the story, and the Moffat era as it was just beginning.

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GUEST POST: Philosophy is only philosophy in Extremis

by James Blanchard

Steven Moffat’s “Extremis” is one of the few episodes of Doctor Who ever to illicit a physical reaction from me. I spent every minute, of the last ten minutes, saying “oh noooo” as the truth of the story was revealed. I spent another ten minutes just thinking about it afterwards, not because it confused or annoyed me, but rather I was amazed at the sheer amount of philosophical critique and content poured into such a short amount of time.

Extremis” is one of the most overtly philosophical Doctor Who stories ever – in fact, the whole episode acts like a critical timeline of the practice. The story starts in the Vatican, in the ancient, classical world, dealing with classical philosophy of essence and ethics; it ends in the Oval Office, in the modern (or even post-modern) age, with the characters facing the harsh reality of a staggeringly indifferent world. To me, “Extremis” was a fascinating exercise in the use of the Doctor Who universe and its characters to describe how it can be possible to live a good and virtuous life in an ultimately existential universe.

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