THE BIG FINISH ROUND-UP – August & September 2018

Welcome to DoWntime’s increasingly late column, Assessing Stress. Or … rather, its new, renamed iteration.

In order to get the site more focused on analytical content, we’re premiering a new formula for these posts, getting straight to the essential of the past month’s releases. Or, well, past two months, in that case. These new round-ups aim to be as low on spoilers as possible and give the readers a taste of what to expect, but critical discussion will sometimes require sacrifices, which will be annotated accordingly.

The Lady Christina set got its own coverage – and the Class sets might still receive theirs, or will be found on one of the following months’ round-ups.

 

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GUEST POST – Halfway Out Of the Dark, or why “A Christmas Carol” is so damn good

by Jonne Bartelds

 

It’s pretty much impossible to pick the best Doctor Who episode. After all, there’s 50+ years of televised content, not to mention the Expanded Universe, which, like our own actual universe, just keeps on expanding. Then there’s the fact that Doctor Who is so varied, spanning so many different genres, writers, directors, styles. Doctor Who, as a whole, is essentially a whole bunch of different shows, which all attract different kinds of people. So I don’t think you can objectively pick a best episode, and I won’t. What I can do, is make a case for my favourite episode.

Picking a favourite episode is still hard, though. There are so many I love, and which one I love the most tends to shift depending on my mood. But the one I always end up coming back to is A Christmas Carol. It is without a doubt the best Christmas special New Who has had (and with this much smaller pool, I think I can say that objectively). It is the rare episode of Doctor Who that I would actually consider nearly flawless. Everything comes together in such a beautiful way. It is funny and heartbreaking, it is dark and yet full of hope, and it is gorgeous.

The phrase ‘halfway out of the dark’ pops up a few times. Let’s talk about that, because it is really the core essence of this episode.

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GUEST POST – The Wrong Doctor: Perspectives on “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People”

by James Blanchard

 

The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” – the two-part, 2011 story by Matthew Graham – is one of the strangest, weirdest, most infuriating episodes of Doctor Who I’ve ever watched. Part of me loves it, part of me hates; for all the nicely realised horror elements and moments, the superb visual language, the great performances and rich drawing of Amy, Rory and the Doctor, there’s a plot that’s impossible to follow, a pacing that lurches from action sequence to introspective conversation with nothing in-between, and incoherent motivations abound.

The story is open-ended, ambiguous, and not exactly clean in its execution. It is, then, precisely the kind of story to divide up us Doctor Who fans and leave us in love/hate country. But, despite it’s failings (magically appearing and disappearing sonic screwdrivers have given me a serious headache), I think this story is very much worthwhile talking about. There a few topics I want to touch on, but mostly the interest comes with the Doctor, and how, by the end, it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve been left travelling with the wrong one.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The Diary of River Song, volume III

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, Scribbles and Tibère say “hello sweetie” and get ready to face the metaphorical representation of Death, as they cover the latest batch of adventures from everyone’s second-favourite time-travelling archeologist! Spoilers … (after the ‘read more’ tag, of course).

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: The consensus between us is, I think, that this has opened 2018 on a high note. It’s easily the most exciting River Song set yet, and it is very much her story, centred on her character and mythology. Though the presence of Peter Davison is felt throughout, the focus never wavers on the character this story is about. And it’s all the stronger for it. If you are a River Song fan in any way interested in her audio content, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. Because this is, without a doubt, the best bang for your buck of River Song audio content. So if you’re on a budget, pick this one up, and fast, before the pre-order price slips away forever, because you won’t do better. Though there’s niggles–Big Finish could still stand to indulge some of the more unscrupulous sides of River or showcase her bisexuality–the overall production has a lot to say about some of the most important aspects of her character, while exploring her personal mythology further than anything since the days of series 6 onscreen. It’s a treat.

TIBERE: It’s one of the best sets Big Finish has put out in a long while, I think it’s fair to say. Up there with the like of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield I or Doom Coalition IV – it’s just a triumph. There are many factors that contribute to this, some really spoilery, but I think the main two are, first, as Scribbles put it, just how tailored to River the story is, how deeply it is drenched in her character and her imagery, and then, how coherent the narrative is. There’s a level of attention to details and themes here that’s truly spectacular, and the symbols and images echo from one story to another in subtle, surprising ways. Also, maybe more than any other New Series release from the company, this is incredibly close to the actual text of the show, building off events we saw on screen and exploring their ramifications and consequences – there’s this real sense that you’re listening to something not only good, but important, that makes you learn new and crucial things about that character and that might even have an impact on how you’ll approach the original, televised narrative in the future. Sure, it gets a bit too heteronormative and non-polyamorous, but there are some good steps in the right direction and the personal focus of the stories more than make up for it. As far as Big Finish’s approach to “filling the gaps” goes, this might be one of their greatest triumphs. Yeah, it’s just a bloody wonderful story and you should check it out – plus, it’s continuity-free, so, as said Scribbles, definitely pick this one if you want an introduction to River’s extended universe content.

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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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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.

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GUEST POST – “We’re all stories in the end”: a series 5 retrospective (2/3)

by Ed Goundrey-Smith

 

(Previous entry)

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

GUEST POST – “We’re all stories in the end”: a series 5 retrospective (1/3)

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.

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SCARVES AND CELERY – Missed Opportunities: “The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People”

I don’t tend to write ultra-critical articles on this site, as while negative reviews can be fun to write, and entertaining to read, they’re not often useful for this site’s M.O. of trying to understand what a Doctor Who story is doing, and discussing the wider ideas and concepts raised by the things said story does. Redemptive readings, or positive reviews, are, in my experience, much more useful for saying something of substance about a piece of media. But there is clearly a place, and a value, in negative criticism. We can’t pretend that all media is good, and trying to understand why bad media fails, outside of sensationalism and clickbaity headlines, is often a necessary, if genuinely tricky, process. And I think “The Almost People/ The Rebel Flesh” is an example of a story where the failures are worth trying to understand. It’s a story that, given my preferred type of Doctor Who, I could easily dismiss as being uninteresting and worthless because it’s a traditionalist base under siege. But traditionalist Doctor Who still has a worldview that’s worth exploring and understanding, and can be entertaining and good television when done right (see Tibere’s excellent article on “Into the Dalek”). And for what it’s worth, I think the themes of “The Almost People/ The Rebel Flesh” are genuinely worth unpacking, particularly because the way the story fails to communicate those themes lead to interesting things to say about the worldview it conveys. So this article is not going to be an “Oh my god, this story SUCKS, the characters are one dimensional and the dialogue’s LAME” type of piece, although there will be some of that. Instead, it’s intended to be my fumbling attempt to explain why the last two-part story Doctor Who that aired for three years failed to communicate the ideas I believe the production team were aiming to communicate, and instead ended up expressing some more, and here I’m going to use a word that can stir up some angry feelings in certain people, problematic sentiments in its failure.

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