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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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 – 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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GUEST POST – The Power of the Storyteller: the underrated genius of “Sleep No More” and the late Moffat era

by Z. P. Moo

 

I’m a big fan of series nine of revived Doctor Who. That’s not exactly a secret, but I might as well repeat it. So naturally with it making the leap to Netflix UK recently I took the opportunity to revisit it. Not that I hadn’t rewatched it all before a number of times, but any excuse will do!

But there was always one episode which I had found myself skipping over – the ninth episode of the season “Sleep No More” written by Mark Gatiss. However the way Netflix works shows you how far through an episode you’ve got to, and this one sat there staring at me, making me feel guilty that I hadn’t watched it yet. So I gave in and decided to fix that. I was watching Sleep No More for the first time since its initial broadcast.

And what I found was an episode much cleverer than I’d remembered.

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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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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “The Mother of the Monster”: Alien Resurrection, Who and imagining the Transcendent Human

My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.

Let’s talk about something a bit different today. Well, actually, that’s not entierly true. This is going to be about Who, in the end. We’re just going to look at the show from a different lens, through another monument of sci-fi.

The Alien tetrology. Of course, that very qualifier is debatable nowadays, with Prometheus and its 2017 sequel Covenant screwing the continuity up – excluding them from our field of study today is not an expression of my personal opinion of them (although, you better believe said opinion is not positive), but rather a simple consequence of the fact that the four original movies answer to each other and present a cohesive narrative in a way that doesn’t allow for the organic inclusion of Ridley Scott’s metaphysical two-movies-long commentary on the ontology and theology of the franchise.

Of course, there are plenty of ties between the two franchises, from Ridley almost working for the show while he was still a BBC employee in the sixties, to the influences he arguably got from “The Ark in Space“, to finally the shameless winks, down to the line quoted in the title, Steven Moffat’s paid to the 1979 masterpiece in “Last Christmas“.

But if you ask me, one of the more interesting parallels to discuss is to be found in the ugly duckling of the franchise, 1997 Alien – Resurrection.

A movie which I absolutely adore, for the record, because I’m a hopeless contrarian. And also a movie that used Moffat’s style before Moffat’s style was even a thing.

Intriguing, isn’t it?

Well, if you are hooked, better stop reading and watch the movie, because there shall be spoilers galore after the cut.

 

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GUEST POST – Twelve Must Die (2/2): A Man Who Never Would

by Will Shaw

 

[Content Warning: discussion of sexual assualt after the “read more” tag]

[Part one here]

Not counting Colin Baker, there is only one other Doctor whose moral failing is so explicitly flagged in a way that suggests he has outlived his usefulness. That Doctor, of course, is the Tenth. Like Capaldi, he has a single, defining moment which demonstrates his moral bankruptcy, after which the audience, on some level, is rooting for him to die.

For Tennant, it comes in The End of Time: Part Two. In his conversation with the Doctor on the deck of a silent starship, Wilf asks a question, whose answer will determine the rest of the story: ‘If the Master dies, what happens to all the people?’ At first, the Doctor is evasive:

DOCTOR: I don’t know.
WILF: Doctor, what happens?

But finally, he answers:

DOCTOR: The template snaps.
WILF: What, they go back to being human? They’re alive, and human?

We learn the Doctor has the power to save everyone on Earth, if only he has the strength to kill a genocidal monster. And it’s not like killing is a fresh evil for this Doctor; he has already (torturously) told us that ‘I’ve taken lives. I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own.’ It is in the Tenth Doctor’s power to save the lives of everyone on Earth, and, presumably, his own. Wilf begs for the life of his species:

Don’t you dare, sir. Don’t you dare put him before them. Now you take this. That’s an order, Doctor. Take the gun. You take the gun and save your life. And please don’t die. You’re the most wonderful man and I don’t want you to die.”

And the Doctor’s answer?

Never.’

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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.

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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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