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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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 – Tales of Metal Men

Warning: this article countains heavy spoilers for the Big Finish audios “Legend of the Cybermen” and “The Crystal of Cantus“. Proceed at your own risks.


You belong to us.

You shall be like us.

A great Doctor Who monster is not defined by its catchphrase, by its design, or by its ideological persuasion. Nor by the number of people it kills, or how efficiently it drives children to hide behind the sofa.

No – the best of the best, the most memorable antagonists the show are produced, are defined by how well they fit the very nature of the show. That’s part of the problem with the Daleks, really – they are embodying precisely everything that is alien to Who. They are an unknowable other. Which is why they’ve been increasingly retconned, as time went on, into symbols of the show’s history and past, a test that the Doctor must past, more than actual long-term opponents.

Who is a show about stories. It’s an infinite libraries of tales, stretching as far as the eye can see, across every dimension you can imagine. And the monsters it spawns are monsters that dwell within the storytelling itself. The Weeping Angels rewrite the life of their victims, and the narrative of the show. The Silence wants to erase the Doctor Who narrative altogether.

And of course, we have the Cybermen. A force of narrative corruption. That’s not the most original of observations – Phil Sandifer did some of his best work on the topic. But it remains true. Their mantra of transformation and replacement is not only applying to the humans they want to unify and cure – it’s also a threat addressed directly to the show. Who is plural – a whirlwind of ideas clashing against each other. To quote the Doctor, it is “forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond”. Unity and order are the death of a show that thrives on chaos: they destroy this strange space of storytelling, this dreamscape created by hundreds, thousands of different individualities.

That’s what defines a good Cyberman story. It has them going against the show itself.

Let’s go, then. Here are some tales of metal men.

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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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SCARVES AND CELERY – The Series Nine Finale Trilogy: Part Three, “Hell Bent”

Writer’s Note: I’m Afraid I don’t have any new posts ready this week – I’ve been working on some other projects, and getting things sorted in my personal life. However, I do have the last of my old blog posts on the series nine finale trilogy to share: an essay on the excellent, though contentious, episode “Hell Bent”. I think now’s an especially appropriate time to share this post, as it goes rather nicely alongside A.L. Belmont’s excellent continuing series of guest posts on death and resurrection in Moffat’s Doctor Who. 

 

I actually find “Hell Bent” more interesting (not necessarily better, but more interesting) than “Heaven Sent”, which I also loved, and was masterfully put together, but worked as you’d expect a Moffat puzzle box to work (the first time I saw the burnt hand in the pre credits, I thought “That’ll probably turn out to be the Doctor“). By contrast, I found it much trickier to figure out what this episode was doing, but once it became clear, I was delighted. Rejecting the epic for the personal is a Moffat era theme I rather love, and I think it’s one that’s done particularly well here, unfolding slowly but methodically over the course of three acts.

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SCARVES AND CELERY – The series 9 finale trilogy, part two: “Heaven Sent”

So, obviously, this episode is amazing and an out and out classic. And it rests entirely on the brilliant work of four people, all of whom bring their A game: Murray Gold, who delivers his best soundtrack for the show, Rachel Talalay, who gives Doctor Who the best direction it’s ever had, Peter Capaldi, who gives an astonishing performance, and Steven Moffat, who crafts an utterly perfect script. The only criticism I’ve seen of it comes from Phil Sandifer (who, to be clear, still rates the episode as a good one), who makes the not unreasonable claim that it unfolds much as you’d expect a one hander starring the Doctor, written by Steven Moffat, to unfold. But while I agree that a story where Moffat tries something new (such as “Listen” or “Hell Bent”) is perhaps more interesting, watching him, and the other three key figures in the episode, do the things they are brilliant at as well as they can, is still an utter joy.

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