TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “I wouldn’t have voted for the President, he’s … orange!”: In Defense of Series 10

A good year after the facts, what remains of series 10?

Well, the fact it went down pretty alright is noticeable. There was still the fair share of moaning one must expect when Doctor Who and Steven Moffat are concerned, but it was a pleasantly uncontroversial run of television. Which is also why it’s criticized – for being, quite simply put, a bit pedestrian. A bunch of competent, solidly put-together stories that don’t really push any boundaries or make the show more interesting – yes, there is “Extremis”, there’s the finale, and there’s Bill, who is a ray of sunshine (even though her characterization is purposefully a lot less layered than Amy or Clara before her), but as a whole, the series is, if not a failure, at least a dispensable appendix stuck to a Moffat era which was pretty much completed in 2015. Which, let’s not yield to the sirens of historical revisionism, it really rather was. You can’t look at the double whammy of “Hell Bent” and “The Husbands of River Song” without sensing the end. “Hell Bent” completes the deconstruction and analysis of the show Moffat carried through his entire run, and “Husbands” is a final moment of reconstruction and catharsis that literally concludes with a big-ass “and they lived happily ever after”. It’s as direct as you can get.

So, well, when you hear someone tell you that series 10 is their favourite Capaldi series, or their favourite Moffat one, it does sometimes feel a bit like someone saying “well, the concert was shit, but that one unfinished track that played during the encore was pretty sweet I guess”. And the idea that it’s basically entirely disposable has been gaining traction in the Discourse-generating circles – some of my own coreligionists on here share it, and maybe most importantly, it’s been enforced by El Sandifer, which basically, in the world of the Who analyst, corresponds to a giant “THIS IS THE ENLIGHTENED INTELLECTUAL CONSENSUS”.

So. Let’s be a pointless contrarian and examine why I think all of this isn’t true, shall we?

 

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Knock Knock”: Visual Storytelling and Politics of the Haunted House

I don’t like “Knock Knock” much.

I think it’s obvious if you’ve followed the coverage of last series on this blog – it was my least favourite episode of 2018, and I might go as far as calling it the nadir of the Capaldi era (it’s that or the Whithouse Lake two-parter, really). The general reasons for that dislike are pretty simple: it’s a boring piece of work that conceptually does nothing that hasn’t been done much better before, and sells itself on scares while utterly forgetting to be scary. But, the more I think back on it, the more I’m convinced there is actually more to it – or rather, something lacking at a deeper level. So, let’s investigate.

A good place to start this search, as often with Who, is with El Sandifer, and her review of the episode.

“ …because the culprit in Knock Knock’s abject blandness is pretty obvious: this is 100% down to the malign influence of Blink. And not just in the sense that it’s literally the same house, but in the fact that it’s a house in the first place. Once upon a time, when Doctor Who wanted to be scary it would, you know, do some scary stuff. Monsters stalking the Blitz. Weird Satanic horror on an alien world. Evil tourist busses. Or, frankly, any number of scary ideas from the classic series, only a handful of which were ever “haunted house.” (1)

She is right in identifying Knock Knock as a part of this recent trend in Who history – which then asks the question of why exactly it fails. Why does “Blink”, with what is essentially the same base ingredients, or “Hide”, succeed, while this fails? It all comes down, in the end, to how exactly you define a haunted house, as a storytelling construct and a sub-genre of fiction.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (5/16): “Beachhead”

Previous entry in series.

“Happily,” ended Doctor Who in 2015. And so Doom Coalition 2 begins with a simple story about a holiday.

“Beachhead” is a story that almost feels designed to be overlooked. It’s small, it’s sweet, it’s soft. It exists to set up bigger things and ease listeners in to a new set. There’s foreshadowing of the destruction of planets, foreshadowing of future decisions Helen will make in “Absent Friends,” foreshadowing of River Song’s inevitable arrival… so much of the path is laid out here. But before all that, we get to take a breath with the Voord and some lesbians. It’s a story the Doctor literally sleeps through.

And it’s wonderful.

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GUEST POST – The Impossible Doctor: My Journey with the Moffat Era

by Ruth Long

 

This has not, by any means, been an easy article to write. It has involved a lot of (at times uncomfortable) introspection, unpacking and examining so many emotions, fears, regrets and hopes from the past five years. But as we enter a new year, a new chapter in my life and Doctor Who’s, and say farewell to another, it feels like the right time to do this, before moving forward.

In casting a woman in the titular role, Doctor Who has done something truly amazing. For a character portrayed by male actors for over half a century, it’s a bold, brilliant and monumental step forward that is rightly being celebrated by many as a progressive new direction in which to take this landmark of science fiction and British television. Chris Chibnall’s vision in this regard is one to be applauded, and I eagerly look forward to experiencing the next era of the show alongside a generation of children who will grow up knowing, and being inspired by, a female Doctor.

But in the jubilation following this becoming a reality, it would be remiss to overlook how we got here; we came the long way round, after all. The significance of the past few series in particular, under the stewardship of Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi, cannot and should not be dismissed. And so as a part of that I would like to share with you one fan’s story and relationship with this fictional universe, more specifically my own. Because Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord, though a remarkable milestone for the franchise, will not be my first female Doctor.

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ASSESSING STRESS #13: “Twice Upon a Time”

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, to bid farewell to Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and everyone’s favourite grumpy Scot, Stevie Moff, we are joined by Michelle Coats, media-commentator extraordinaire, mastermind behind the stfumoffathaters Tumblr, and awesome person all around (who you can follow on Tumblr at @disasterlesbianamelia).

Get your tissues ready – the Feelings are coming. Spoilers galore, as per usual.

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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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GUEST POST – Whoniverse, Bring Out Your Dead: Death, Resurrection, and the Obligations of Doctor Who – Part 3: On Clara and Bill’s resurrections

by  A. L. Belmont

 

With the last two companion departures, a great deal of discussion has sprung up about whether Steven Moffat is justified in apparently killing off companions and resurrecting them within a short time frame. There are a lot of assumptions implicit in the argument against resurrection, so in this article series, I’ll analyze what I think are the five key assumptions.

It turns out that a big part of the “should dead characters stay dead” controversy stems from Moffat’s “disquieting tendency” to revive dead characters (because apparently, though I learned in statistics class that two points make a line and three make a trend, in the Who fandom, two points make not only a trend but an extremely distressing one on par with rising global temperatures and political polarization). So this third part examines the roles of death and resurrection in Clara and Bill’s arcs and asks whether either was necessary.

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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 – 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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