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 – 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 (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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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Goodnight Moon, I want the Sun

Kill the Moon“.

Now that is one hell of a mountain to climb. Not just because it is a key episode in series 8’ arc (and really, in character arcs that expand all the way to series 10 and the end of the Capaldi era). Not just because it is a complicated mess of jumbled thematic throughlines. But also because it is a little bit controversial. Tiny bit. Teensy tiny.

The amount of sheer, vicious hatred that story generated is kind of impressive. With a large chunk of the fandom also praising the episode, it degenerated into a not-so-civil war of rather impressive proportions. I was there, I saw it, it was brutal. Now, things have calmed down a bit. Maybe the broadcast of the possibly even more divisive “Hell Bent” soothed that rift. Then again, the conflict surrounding “Hell Bent” and the one surrounding “Kill the Moon” are very different. “Hell Bent” kickstarted something that is, at its core, nothing more than a war of aesthetics – the tradition, the mythos, the figure of the Doctor, on one side; the reinvention, the feminist subversion, and the problematic role of the companion on the other. Considering the ideological positions of this site, there’s not much point in telling you about which of these aesthetics we consider to be the best one for the show and the one that most accurately represents it, in spite of all the YouTube edgelords protesting that the episode is an unreviewable piece of garbage. But the point is that both sides have a relatively solid position – “solid” is not a synonym of “justified” or “valid”, but at least there are two sides with a couple of big arguments there. The text of the episode is not really the key feature of the discussion – unless you belong to this strange category of people that claim to have understood nothing about the episode while confessing they weren’t paying attention to it.

Kill the Moon” is unique, in that while it was and still is the subject of oh so many debates, nobody seems to be able to agree on whatever the hell it’s about. The battle, here, is very much about the text of the episode, and how to interpret it, and above all, what the fuck that text even is in the first place. That is, if you ignore those dismissing the story on the grounds of its scientific and chronological (within the show’s diegesis) inaccuracy. Which you should, because it’s the most boring argument one person can ever make about Who.

So here we have our question. What is “Kill the Moon” about?

Here’s a possible answer, from someone who loved the episode on first watch, hated it on second, didn’t understand anything on third, and now is back to loving it on fifth.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS: Rivers and Signs – a class in Riverology 101

There is a corridor. And at the end, there is a door.

The protagonist is drawn to the door. But she must not open it – there is something behind it, something awful. Awful, but awe-inspiring too.

The corridor wound downwards; there was an almost imperceptible ramp to the thickly carpeted floor. The heavy hangings on the wall muffled my footsteps, even my breathing. For some reason, it grew very warm; the sweat sprang out in beads on my brow. I could no longer hear the sound of the sea.

A long, a winding corridor, as if I were in the viscera of the castle; and this corridor led to a door of worm-eaten oak, low, round-topped, barred with black iron.“

That’s how Angela Carter describes it in her short story, “The Bloody Chamber”. It’s an old fairytale trope – one best exemplified by the figure of Bluebeard, the man who kills his wives once they enter a closed room in his castle. The room where he keeps the corpses of his previous wives. It’s sex and death and horror all kept closed behind a door – and the protagonist, while she’s supposed to keep away, still longs for the big, frightening mysteries hidden behind.

That’s also the metaphorical conceit at the core of James Goss’ audio story, “Signs” – the third one in the first volume of The Diary of River Song, the Big Finish range devoted to everyone’s second favourite time-travelling archeologist from the fifty-first century (sorry dear, Bernice Summerfield takes precedent). Or, as I know it – the only good River story on audio. Which I’m gonna spoil, by the way, sorry about that.

Where does it succeed when other Big Finish stories have failed? And most importantly, what makes a River story? Those are the action items.

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GUEST POST – Whoniverse, Bring Out Your Dead: Death, Resurrection, and the Obligations of Doctor Who – Part One: On the nature and responsibilities of fiction

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. I’ve been following the controversy and find it interesting that the general anti-resurrection argument has shifted from “Moffat should not kill companions” to “If Moffat is going to kill a companion, they need to stay dead.” As one Redditor put it:

“People don’t care that he doesn’t want to kill his characters. People care that he keeps repeatedly killing them, and then bringing them back. Either kill them, or don’t, because what he’s doing right now is cheapening death entirely. It’s difficult to take any kind of death seriously when it’s so easily undone all the time.”

The Redditor also said that Moffat apparently doesn’t really understand these criticisms, and I’m quite sad about that because that means nobody has really mounted an effective counterargument to these (excellent and very valid) points. Not that that’s a problem, necessarily. Maybe this is all just gut feelings in the end, and I have a gut feeling that dead characters do not have to stay dead, but you have a gut feeling that dead characters have to stay dead, and we should all just take a deep breath and get off the Internet. Nonetheless, I’m going to be that person who insists there’s some deep reason behind everything. So let’s get to it.

I’ve noticed a lot of assumptions implicit in the anti-resurrection argument as represented here and elsewhere, so I’d like to dissect what I think are the five main ones. Parts 1 and 2 of this series treat the death-resurrection combination in the abstract. Part 3 examines the specific cases of Clara and Bill, and part 4 looks at death and resurrection in the context of the show’s ethos. This first part asks whether death in fiction has to work like death in real life, and whether resurrection is technologically possible in the Whoniverse.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – The Power of the Not Dead

It’s inevitable at this point, really. This week, there’s outcry over what happened to Bill in World Enough and Time.” Give it twenty-four hours, though, and we’ll hit something new: outcry over Bill still being alive.

It’s a common trope in Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who for characters to die temporarily, only to have their stories continue on in some manner. To put it lightly, this has attracted a fair bit of criticism. As one Tumblr post puts it, “I’m sick of all this ‘everybody lives’ bullshit. When no one dies in a story other than the villain, there is no tension, no drama, no excitement to see the Doctor prevail.” This line of criticism is quite widespread. It shouldn’t be surprising to know that Bill’s fate immediately was leapt upon not just by hurt viewers hoping she’d make it out okay but by this particular fandom mindset hoping she’d stay dead for an arbitrary sense of consequences. Even before the episode aired, reviews bemoaned it with comments like, “will any of it stick? It’s hard to get 100% invested in the things that transpire when you have that nagging suspicion at the back of your mind that it can (and likely will) be undone.”

But this fundamentally misses the point. There are shows that thrive on uncertainty of survival and high stakes drama. But that approach is not one that in any way fits Doctor Who. Our Tibère/Sam wrote a nice piece on the problems of applying that storytelling logic to Doctor Who here. The gist of the issue is, programs like that encourage a cynicism and lack of regard for character that is alien to this program. Doctor Who is a character-driven adventure story generally told through the lens of the companion. They’re the main character. And while shock death of a main character may be well and good for upping the stakes in a Hitchcock thriller, it encourages detachment from the characters that ground the show in something like Doctor Who. In this show, killing characters isn’t the way, and bringing them back typically offers far more wealth of storytelling. Killing offers less investment and less reason to invest in the hearts of the stories. Resurection offers new directions for the story to live on.

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