TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Case for Constance Clarke

If you have been following me and my colleagues’ writing, you have probably realized that we all hold the opinion that 2016 is a year of utmost importance as far as Who is concerned – as the Wilderness Years have proven before, it sometimes is when Who steps back that the most interesting explorations of its identity and possibilities take place. Of course, a fundamental question to ask when you have a postulate like that is “what is 2016”? Which is to say – what are the temporal boundaries you fix to the year as a cultural entity? It seems obvious that it ends with Christmas 2016 and the airing of “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” – but that’s not an entirely satisfying answer, considering how important Doom Coalition was to the ethos of Who during the break. Really, 2016 ends in March, with Doom Coalition IV and John Dorney’s “Stop the Clock”, and 2017 starts in April, with “The Pilot”. It then seems logical to make that stretch of media we’ve decided to study in October 2015, when the first volume of Doom Coalition came out.

But I would actually hazard another guess. For me, the turn Big Finish, and Who at large, takes in 2016 starts in September 2015, with the introduction of Constance Clarke as a companion for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, in the main range audio “Criss-Cross”, written by Matt Fitton (who, as a matter of fact, penned six episodes of Doom Coalition, including the opener to the whole series).

Now, that’s a bit of a controversial opinion. You might not realize that if you’re not bathing neck-deep into the swamps of Big Finish – and honestly, I can’t blame you, this is a chasm you’ll never climb out of –, but Clarke, voiced by the most excellent Miranda Raison, who played Tallulah in the series 3 Dalek two-parter, but who always will be Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast to me (Dragon Age rules and I won’t hear a word against it), is not especially well-regarded. The consensus seems to be that she’s a little bit of a stick in the mud, a rigid joyless character that just hangs in the background being dull.

Which means that, of course, as a hopeless contrarian, I love her.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Romans”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

Continue reading

GUEST POST – “The Next Doctor”: a defence and analysis

by Z.P. Moo

 

As Christmas approaches and we await the coming of “Twice Upon A Time and all its various exciting milestones, it seems a good time to look back at one of the previous annual Doctor Who Christmas Specials to see what it has to offer.

I have no shortage of options for which one to go to. The 2017 one will be the thirteenth such special (How fitting!) and that’s before we start counting that one episode from 1965 and a few of the audios. But I thought that maybe I would go to the 2008 effort, titled “The Next Doctor and written by Russell T Davies.

It’s not a very popular episode but I think that’s unfair. I think it’s extremely prophetic of what RTD’s successor Steven Moffat would go on to, with a study of who and what the Doctor is, and it also deserves praise for exploring some very dark and complex themes that fit perfectly in the narrative that the story tells. Not to mention a generally excellent handling of the Cybermen.

Continue reading

GUEST POST – “Gridlock”: Alone Together

by Ricky Starr

 

Gridlock“, Russell T Davies’ 2007 masterpiece, is nothing short of a masterclass in storytelling, and a powerful examination of humanity at its very core. The episode is often overlooked, but its contemplation of human inter-reliance, as well as the nature of hope and desolation, is deeply stirring and powerfully insightful. Indeed, it is absolutely bursting with ideas- it is arguably one of the most concept-heavy, concept-driven episodes in Doctor Who history, and yet every single idea within it carries resonance and manages to hold court at least briefly in a meaningful way.

The central concept, of course, is the idea of humanity being separated for eternity in cars, and it is the separation that emphasises the reliance of people on others. Within the episode, we see a variety of guest characters separated from others in the same situation, who are also isolated, and separated from society as a whole, which is represented by the over-city. What does this isolation do to a person? To what extent do people rely on contact and indeed order? It is this that RTD considers most blatantly throughout.

Continue reading

TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Woman and the Trap: Who and the Myth of Pandora

Pandora! Imperiatrix! Pandora! Imperiatrix! Pandora! Imperiatrix!

First, let’s quickly talk about mythology.

The idea of a Golden Age can be found in many cultures throughout the world – a large part of our western understanding of it, though, goes back to the Greco-Roman conception of it, later coopted, as all the ancient-world traditions were, by the rising Christianity (here, in the form of the Garden of Eden and the Original Sin). In that context, the Golden Age was a period of harmony between humans and Earth, and between humans and gods, where the human life was considerably longer, the climate constant and pleasant, and survival easy. It ends with Prometheus the Titan bringing the gift of fire to men who have grown contemptuous of the gods – thus pushing the gods, led by Zeus/Jupiter, to punish both him and the whole of humanity. While he is bound in chains and has his liver constantly devoured by an eagle, the gods conspire against mankind by creating the first woman, Pandora – meaning “all-gifted”, or “all-giver” –, to whom they all bestow a gift: they give her guile, ruse and cunning – they make her a deceitful bringer of ruin for all. Yes, that’s a little bit sexist. We’ll get back on that later. Anyway – she bears with her a jar, which later became a box, containing all the Evils, which she then sets free upon the Earth, ending the Golden Age. And that’s a pleasant little myth over and done with.

Of course, Doctor Who is a story about stories – and about myths. “The Myth Makers” was one of its first serials; and later, Bernice Summerfield rode on the Pegasus while the Second Doctor and his companions faced Medusa in the Land of Fiction. But the way it tackles the myth of Pandora is especially interesting – because it’s a very politically charged narrative, seen with our oh so contemporary eyes. It carries deeply unsettling gender dynamics that still exist in our world – not only in diverse theological frameworks, but also as socio-political narratives: just take a deep dive in the world of the alt-right-ish “seduction community” or other “incel” (in-voluntarily cel-ibate) circles, you’ll see. Which paradoxically makes it a very useful tool in times where the show tries more and more to address gender dynamics and its own problematic dimensions.

So. Let’s open the box. Fair warning: the ending section countains some minor spoilers for the Gallifrey and Bernice Summerfield Big Finish ranges.

Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The Time War, volume I

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 first adventures of the Eighth Doctor in the Time war. Spoilers after the “read more” tag – be also warned that our analysis of the fourth story contains some minor spoilers from Doom Coalition IV. We made them as vague as possible, but if you want to go in blind, maybe don’t read that part. Anyway, Sebastian and Talbert wish you a happy reading.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: Well, that was remarkable, wasn’t it? I think both of us agree, as far as sets to bear the Time War name and theme tune go, this is the finest yet by far.

TIBERE: No contest there.

SCRIBBLES: Matt Fitton and John Dorney have long been proving themselves to be the most valuable Eighth Doctor writers, leading the way out of Dark Eyes and into the Doom Coalition era, which I have not been very subtle about being one of my favorite things to ever come from Big Finish. Well, I didn’t believe it possible, but they’ve gone and matched it. This is a wildly successful set, working through extremely fascinating high concepts and genre explorations to slowly scale down to an intimate level, offering up what is in my opinion the single finest characterization as the Doctor Paul McGann has ever received. He is an absolute triumph of a character here, juggling zany passion with scared, wounded emotion in a wonderful way.

TIBERE: The most remarkable aspect of this box set, I think, is the way it is tailored specifically to the Eighth Doctor. The tone and stakes are very different from the War Doctor stories – and, at least personally, I find them a lot more compelling. And that’s a great thing – not only because it gives us a fresh perspective on the Time War, but because, for the first time in forever, we get a set that is actually mostly centered around the Eighth Doctor as a character. Now, he has had plenty of stories, but – maybe because his characterization, established through the cross-media weirdness of the wilderness years, is hard to wrap your head around sometimes – Big Finish has mostly relied on his companions to carry the major story arcs. Doom Coalition is the latest, and obviously finest, example of this, but that also applies to Charley Pollard or Lucie Miller’s tenures. And honestly, I agree with you: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a consistently strong and interesting characterization for Eight – nor a better performance from Paul McGann since at least, phew, “Scherzo”? I mean, there were attempts to do Eight-centric arcs before, most notably the first, Briggs-penned Dark Eyes set, which I do like quite a bit, but as far as I’m concerned, this blows it out of the water. Beyond the story quality, which is pretty damn high, if not without wobbles, that is the real appeal of that new Time War project. I was skeptic, but I’m absolutely charmed – and the opportunity to have, in the coming years, both this Eight-centric series and the continuation of the Doom Coalition storyline running side by side is pretty damn delightful.
Continue reading

GUEST POST – “We’re all stories in the end”: a series 5 retrospective (3/3)

by Ed Goundrey-Smith

 

Series 5 of Doctor Who holds a special place in my heart.

Not least does it pack the full punch of nostalgia, which yes, does admittedly make it very appealing. But for me, it has proved timeless – as I will discuss, the way that the 2010 run has managed to be what I needed at so many different points in my life, is quite miraculous. Yes – not least do I bask in its fairytale magic, but I always get something new when watching Series 5.

So, with the end of Steven Moffat’s era looming, I decided to look at his first run in an analytical way. To see why they have affected me so personally, and why they continue to resonate with me seven years later.

I decided to go back to where it all began, to the little girl who waited.

Continue reading

LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Rescue”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood: Aliens Among Us II

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 next chapter of the exciting Torchwood continuation, “Aliens Among Us”. Read the talk. Enjoy it. Beware the spoilers after the “read more” tag. Take five packages. Take three packages. Leave a comment. Maybe look up our thoughts on the first boxset. Take seven packages.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

TIBERE: It’s still impossible to fully know where the narrative of Aliens Among Us is headed, although we know have some serious clues, and we still can’t pass a definitive judgement on the project as a whole – but as a set of Torchwood stories, this is some absolutely terrific stuff, picking off from the last boxset and expanding the characters in fascinating ways, allowing for some really strong standalones stories.

SCRIBBLES: It’s somewhat frustrating, not having the whole picture. There’s wonderful stories in this set, there truly are. The climax in particular is a favorite of mine from the series so far. But there’s also a slight feeling of a holding pattern, certain beats being held off until the end. Some of that works wonderfully, particularly the end of set cliffhanger. But other aspects don’t, particularly the Gwen plot, being revisited but put on hold with motion. And similarly, a few characters don’t get as much to do in these episodes. On the whole, of course, this is tremendously worth a recommendation. It’s Big Finish doing Torchwood, when isn’t that worth a go? And here it’s with a raw dedication to political fury meaning that elevates the weakest of stories here, all while staying true to the themes at the core of the show from the beginning. Aliens Among Us 2 isn’t quite new ground here, but there is much to enjoy, and some exciting build toward the payoff of the range.

TIBERE: I must admit, I rather enjoy the teasing. It can be a problem sometimes, and we’re certainly going to discuss those, but overall, I’m enjoying the sense of mystery the range is working towards – and the omnipresence of little clues, mysteries and continuity call-backs make it an incredibly intriguing and rewarding object of analysis. It’s not perfect – some characters get a bit sidelined, chiefly Orr, and not all the thematic deep dives land – but it’s unique, challenging and political. Actually – I might take that back a bit. It’s not all that “unique”. That might be the greatest flaw of these stories: while I do really like them, I must say I prefered the first set – because it was carrying a bit of fresh air, presented itself as a reinvention above all things, introducing new characters and problems to deal with. Here, we tread more conventional ground, and while I wouldn’t say the range is playing safe – I mean, that finale! – it certainly does lean a lot more in nostalgia and the classic brand of James Goss-inspired metatextual commentary than in a new bold direction. Still, for what it is, it’s pretty damn fantastic, and if the final set does stick the landing, this will go down as an unmitigated success.

Continue reading