The Coming of the Terraphiles: Or, Pirates of the Second Aether!! (Doctor Who)

Book Cover for The Coming of the Terraphiles
First edition hardcover picture. (Source: Wikipedia. Copyright 2011 by BBC.)

Written by Michael Moorcock

Where I Got It: The Library

Blurb: There are dark tides running through the universe—so strong they swallow light and threaten Captain Cornelius’s familiar existence; if unchecked they will absorb the whole of Creation. But for now he tacks into the solar winds, continuing his long search for someone to guarantee his life, his ship’s life and the life of the universe he loves. He sails in from the Rim, still searching.

Searching for the only being he acknowledges as his peer, who might join him or at least help him; who is known simply as ‘the Doctor’.

First Line: “Whoever named the planet Venice named her well.”

This book is a big deal. At least, it seems so to me. Michael Moorcock is arguably the most well-known writer to tackle a Doctor Who novel. Given that TV and movie tie-ins are generally looked down upon in the literary world, it is quite an honor that someone as established as Moorcock would deign to play in a universe that is not his own creation. And to a degree, he doesn’t. This is probably a Michael Moorcock book rather than a Doctor Who book. Why shouldn’t it be? Moorcock didn’t need to write this book to advance his career. Getting him was a boon. You don’t pursue a major artist then tell the artist that his work isn’t good enough—unless you are in television, of course.

This is the conflict that seems to lie at the heart of this book: Is it Doctor Who enough? I’ve read criticism that says The Doctor is hardly in the book and Moorcock’s creations get more page time. That’s not entirely accurate. I found that The Doctor was in most chapters. In fact, to anyone who read the Virgin books or the EDA/PDAs, The Doctor and Amy get as much page time as The Doctor and his companions got in those books. Moorcock is attempting to fully flesh-out his characters and ideas. The Doctor and Amy are involved, but in a more long-term sort of way. This isn’t an adventure like we see on the tele with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. The Doctor and Amy don’t just show up, have some scares, run around a bit, and leave after setting things right. No, in Coming of the Terraphiles, they join a sports team in a competition to win The Arrow of Law. There is a lot of downtime, a lot of character moments, a lot of intrigue, and a lot of philosophizing about Order versus Chaos (a Moorcock staple). In this way, Coming of the Terraphiles almost has more in common with stories like Marco Polo or Reign of Terror in that the story takes place over a great deal of time and we are able to be fully immersed in the adventure. The Doctor and Amy become a part of events as they unfold rather than showing up and forcing them to conform to The Doctor’s ideal. In many ways, I’d say that this is a story that was written to be a novel and work at a novel’s pace rather than be a television story told in a novel. Basically, the story fits the medium.

With the characters, however, we have a bit of a problem. The Doctor and Amy did not ring true to how they are portrayed in the show. Amy was nowhere near as snarky and bullheaded as she often is in the show. The Doctor was more subdued and not as eccentric. I spent most of the novel trying to put my finger on which Doctor I was actually reading. It wasn’t the Eleventh, but the dialog did seem Doctorish. With the dialog, I tried to hear each actor who has played The Doctor to see which vocal inflections fit. In the end, I could hear the Fifth (Davison), the Sixth (Baker II), a subdued Second (Troughton), and possibly Eighth (McGann). (These are in the order I feel fits best for this portrayal.) I was never entirely sure what to make of Amy. I eventually imagined that this was a Fifth Doctor story that took place when the Doctor was travelling with a previously unknown companion named Amy. Suddenly, it fit. We could say that this is an alternate version of the Eleventh Doctor, but the novel precludes that option by implying that the Doctor only exists in one universe.

With regard to other characters, if you are a fan of P.G. Wodehouse, you will immediately recognize the tone and agendas: bumbling aristocracy, domineering matriarchs, and endless nuptial machinations.

In the end, I love this story because it upholds what I feel is the greatest element of Doctor Who: imagination. This story is big on ideas and creativity, with centaur spaceship captains, an iron-masked pirate sailing a spaceship designed to look like a ship from the height of the British Empire, anti-matter agents of Chaos attempting to alter the balance between Chaos and Order in favor of Chaos, and places in the Second Aether that are named after condiments. The novel is lighthearted, fun, and immensely imaginative. These elements cover all its faults.

Final Verdict: While this novel may have missed the mark if you are looking for a straight portrayal of the Moffat/Smith era, it still rings true as both a Doctor Who book and a Michael Moorcock book. However, those who are strictly fans of the new series may not be entirely satisfied.

Asylum of The Daleks

What’s It About?: The Daleks need The Doctor to investigate a crash on a planet that imprisons millions of insane Daleks.

I’ll admit outright that I thought it was good. I was entertained and even came close to tears at one point. I felt that this portrayal of the Daleks was the best the Moffat era had done with them so far, and that the Daleks were probably the scariest they have been since the 2005 episode Dalek.

There were some good ideas in this episode, ideas that furthered Dalek technology and mythology. Nanotechnology that converts organic creatures to Daleks was a good idea and an interesting spin on Robomen and human replicants. I enjoy the possibility of seen more “human” Daleks in the future, so long as they don’t take the place of the pepperpots. I enjoy the idea that the Daleks who have survived The Doctor in the past have gone catatonic. And I’ll come right out and say that I don’t mind the idea of The Doctor being wiped from the memories of all The Daleks. It wasn’t until the closing moments of the episode that I realized that I was growing tired of the Oncoming Storm, “I am The Doctor and doesn’t that make you tremble” moments that have popped up in every Dalek episode since the series return. It had its place for a time, and now I’m glad it is over. So, Steven Moffat is still attempting to reset Doctor Who.

Okay, now the not-so-fun criticism. I am tired of seeing Doctor Who still exist in the RTD shadow. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy parts of the RTD era. I’m happy he brought the show back. But so much of what Moffat has done is still in response to what RTD did with the show:

  • Series five was modeled on the structure of the RTD era.
  • River Song was introduced (by Moffat, admittedly) in the RTD era, and has been in every Moffat series so far, present series included.
  • The Big Bang was an attempt to reset aspects of the RTD era. Why does no one remember the giant Cyber Ship in Victorian England? Because The Doctor reset the universe. Why does Amy not remember the Cyberman/Dalek battle at Canary Wharf or the events of The Stolen Earth? Because of the cracks in the universe caused by the exploding TARDIS.
  • The Doctor became mythic under RTD. His existence is told in stories across millions of planets across the universe. He can no longer travel incognito. Thus, under Moffat, he faked his death.

And, unfortunately, we continue to see the lingering effects of the RTD era. River Song is supposed to be back later in the series. The Daleks have now forgotten The Doctor. Moffat is still resetting Doctor Who. I understand his desire; I sympathize with him because I feel The Doctor works better when people don’t know who he is. But it bothers me that we are still looking back. It bothers me that we are still playing a retcon game.

The second criticism: Amy and Rory’s divorce. Let me be clear. I have no problem with this per se. In fact, I love the idea of exploring the lives of companions who have not had contact with The Doctor for a few years. I love the idea that for The Doctor, life continues with excitement and adventures, but for Amy and Rory, life in contemporary London is the norm. There are jobs. There are bills. There are arguments and disappointments. The Doctor doesn’t see them go through this. The Doctor leaves them at point A and picks them up again at point V, but he remembers them as they were at point A. This is a great idea and worth exploring.

Unfortunately, we don’t explore it. In fact, we don’t even see it coming. Yes, in the Pond Life webisodes we see Amy throwing Rory out, but we never see their problems develop. We never see them struggle. Like The Doctor, we only come in at point V. We don’t see the human drama and struggle that Amy and Rory have faced in their years away from The Doctor. And for people who have gone through painful, heart-wrenching divorces, a madman in a blue box didn’t show up to take them on an adventure that re-affirms their love for one another (or, in this case, a human with a Dalek-stalk in the forehead).

I understand that there probably wasn’t time to explore this dynamic. Do people watch Doctor Who for relationships or do they watch it for monsters and action? Setting up Amy and Rory’s separation would take away from The Daleks and the Asylum and Moffat’s new flirty-sexy girl. Or maybe we could have seen the evidence of the separation over the course of the next few episodes, slowly revealing the antagonism between the couple, then culminating with The Pond’s reconciliation and departure. Maybe we will get more of this. But as it stands right now, they divorce quite suddenly and out of nowhere, and reconcile quite suddenly (Despite this, I still think the reconciliation was done well). We, as viewers, get the high of the Amy/Rory relationship that we have come to love over the last two years without being subjected to too much unpleasantness of Amy and Rory not being together. We get the romantic high without really suffering the emotional low. If I were feeling more cynical, I would think I was being emotionally manipulated.

Final Verdict: Fan consensus, at the moment, rates this episode very high. People are giving it 9/10. Some are saying it is the best episode since the series returned. Some are calling it the best episode of the Moffat era and the best Dalek episode of the new series. I’m tempted to think we are all just deliriously excited that Doctor Who is back on television after a longer than normal break. It would be hard—but not impossible—for Moffat to drop the ball right out of the gate. Indeed, he has written a great opening episode that is one of the best Dalek stories of new Who. It was fun. It did a lot of good things and had some interesting ideas. I think I’d give it a seven, maybe an eight. I’ll see how it holds up on the re-watch. However, when it comes to the episode’s direction, Nick Hurran gets a 10/10.

If this episode is any indication of the series ahead, I think we can expect good things.

The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe

Source: Copyright 2011 by BBC.

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Farren Blackburn

Blurb from the Reference Guide: Christmas Eve, 1938, and Madge Arwell helps an injured spaceman-angel. He promises to repay her kindness. Three years later, Madge escapes war-torn London with her children for a house in Dorset. The Arwells are greeted by a caretaker whose Christmas gift leads them into a magical wintry world.

Seeing as I love trees and snow it is safe to assume that I would enjoy this Doctor Who Christmas special from 2011. Add to the mix an enjoyment of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (again, trees and snow) and this story pretty much ticks all the boxes. On the whole, it was light and fun with an interesting—yet mildly silly—mystery. And that’s not really a bad thing, because it is Doctor Who, after all, and silliness does have a place here.

Having said this about silliness, it strikes me as somewhat hypocritical to admit that I found The Doctor’s tour of the mansion too silly. Perhaps a better phrasing would be “over-the-top”. Or, even better, “trying too hard.” I think this is because the tour stands in stark contrast with the scene that immediately follows. Madge is expressing her frustration with The Doctor, which is really emotional unloading. Her husband has recently died at war and she hasn’t told her children. She is afraid to tell them because the joy of Christmas would be overshadowed by the grief of death. The Doctor comforts her by helping her see that her frustration comes from knowing the sorrow that will soon engulf her children. She gets mad at them for being happy when they will soon be so very sad. He tells her that it is most important for her children to be happy now because of the sadness that they will soon feel. It is this moment that shines. It is this moment that makes Matt Smith seem like a wise old man in a very young body. It is this moment that makes his earlier silliness seem forced, almost as if the process of making Doctor Who has interfered a little too much in the story; the production became a bit too self-conscious of its status as a Christmas story that will probably garner first-time viewers. It actually reminded me of the montage leading to the fish custard scene in The Eleventh Hour, which I felt went on too long and was just a bit too forced. Many other people love it, though, so I won’t bang on about it.

Of course, the bottom line is that the story made me cry. Yes, if one of the elements of the story is how it is good to cry when you are happy, then the story should probably make the viewer cry. This one did, so I think it is a success. So, while this episode doesn’t make the top tier of my favorite Doctor Who stories, it is certainly a solid entry.

Doctor Who Series 6.13 – The Wedding of River Song

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb

Silence must fall.  And as The Doctor draws closer to his inevitable death he wants answers.  Why must he die?

Turns out, this was just an elaborate COSplayer and not a real Roman because, really, what sense would it make for Romans to still be using chariots when 21st century technology exists.

 “But if River is not unreliable, there is something gratifying to this classic series fan in hearing River chew-out The Doctor over his reputation, his legend.  I can’t help but wonder if Moffat is moving toward dealing with this problem.”

Is it cheating to use a quote from myself?  Granted, there are no particular rules to this beyond those I make up as I go along.  Regardless, by all accounts I think Steven Moffat did what I hoped.  Well, as best he could.  How does one deal with the reputation of The Doctor?  How does a writer come on to a show with nearly fifty years of continuity and the realization that The Doctor has achieved mythic, god-like status and then resolve to tell interesting or compelling stories without completely resetting continuity (or at least the last five years of it)?  Based upon all evidence given in this episode, this is what Steven Moffat was attempting.  Series five and six, while seeming to be about River Song, were in actuality an attempt to reset the show to The Doctor, on the run, with a TARDIS.  Here’s the thing, you don’t fake your own death, then go gallivanting about the universe bragging about it.  If The Doctor is going to keep The Silence off his tail, he has to stay in the shadows.  The has to be what he once was, a renegade Time Lord trying to keep a low profile.  He may have to be another Hartnell, but I doubt Moffat will take the show in that direction.  And while I believe that this particular Silence/Question arc will one day return (possibly in conjunction with The Doctor’s next regeneration), I am greatly interested in seeing how The Doctor attempts to keep a low profile.

But there is an interesting premise at the core of the question.  If Dorian’s rantings at the end of the episode are at all accurate, the question in plain sight is “Doctor who”?  And Silence legends say that the end will come when this question is answered.  This is the reason Jonathan Nathan Turner made Marc Platt re-write Ghost Light, moving the focus away from The Doctor’s past and to Ace’s instead.  “Doctor who” was the question that existed in the Hartnell era.  Who is The Doctor?  We have been given many answers as to his race and planet, but the exact circumstances to his rejection of Gallifrey have never been answered in the show (sure, much has been written in The New Adventures, but I doubt Moffat is going with those answers).  So, symbolically, if all questions about The Doctor are answered, the show ends.  In theory, at any rate. I personally believe The Doctor stopped being mysterious somewhere around the Pertwee era and didn’t become mysterious again until the McCoy era.  We knew who The Doctor was in those interim years, not because of his background, but because of his actions.  We judged him by what he did.  So, to a degree, the question may be irrelevant.

Okay, enough of that.  As to the episode itself, I went in hoping I wouldn’t dislike it as much as Let’s Kill Hitler, and I didn’t.  My wife certainly didn’t like it, but I enjoyed it for what it was.  As a resolution to the River Song arc, it was good enough.  It fits, and for a story that was being made up as it went along, it fits quite well.  And the episode had some great moments, from The Doctor playing cowboy while searching for information on The Silence to The Silence completely fooling Amy Pond’s military organization.  Madam Kovarian has become an interestingly portrayed character, but I still want to know more about her because her motivation seems quite lacking.  And I feel there are quite a few major conceptual holes in the portrayal of “time gone wrong”, not least of which is the concept of time as a mystical force rather than a unit of measurement.  But I really don’t feel like going in to that right now.  I’m contenting myself with the fact that the story of River Song holds together.  It may not have been the most interesting way to tell the story, nor was it the most compelling story that could have been told (Because when you really look at it, it is merely a love story told out of order.  The story didn’t demand an out of sequence narrative.  The entire River Song story could have been told in sequence just as effectively, if not more so.)  But it holds together well enough.  It works.  And I’m happy that the show seems ready to move on to something else.

Okay, I'm a bit irritated that I didn't see that part coming.

Doctor Who Series 6×12 – Closing Time

Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Steve Hughes

The Doctor, while on his farewell tour visiting old companions, gets back in touch with Craig and discovers a mystery at a local department store.

Just in time for Christmas.

 “No, that’s impossible and also grossly sentimental and oversimplistic.”

I’m trying very hard to think of how to say I didn’t like it.  I would love to be witty or clever about it, but in reality, I just didn’t like it.  I’ll admit that The Lodger wasn’t one of my favorite episodes from series five.  I almost view The Lodger as an experiment, not in the Warrior’s Gate or Ghost Light way, but in the “Doctor Who has never done ‘romantic-situational comedy’ so let’s try that” way.  There were some good laughs in the fish-out-of-water/Time-Lord-out-of-TARDIS side of the plot, and a bit of a creepy “who is upstairs killing people” plot.  But in all, The Lodger was a nice departure from Doctor Who, where we visited a different genre for a bit, but then back into the TARDIS for anywhere, anywhen, anygenre.  And now we’re back at The Lodger.  Or are we back at Night Terrors where a father’s love saves the day.  Night Terrors may have been a rehash of themes in Fear Her, but give it to Gareth Roberts for a quicker turnaround in rehashing the climax from a mere three weeks ago.  At this point, I’m starting to wonder if someone on the Doctor Who crew is either trying to reassure a father figure, or reassure himself about being a father.  And maybe that’s a fair focus if someone on the show is attempting to inspire and comfort insecure men about being fathers.  I can’t speak for England but here in the US, men are continuing to live as adolescents even after they have children.  Perhaps it is due to apathy, or perhaps due to fear of responsibility and being able to live up to the demands of fatherhood.  Good for you if you are wanting to inspire men to be better fathers, but are we going to be doing this every week now?  Doctor Who has a tendency to delve into formulas, but I wouldn’t have pointed toward fatherhood as the predominant formula of the current era.  Are we going to discover that the mastermind behind The Silence is The Doctor’s father? Ahem.

Formulas.  They aren’t necessarily bad.  Person of Interest, which I have been enjoying, has a stated formula, but it can still tell compelling stories within that formula.  The Avengers has a formula that worked from week to week.  The X-Files was no different.  A formula is only as weak as its writing.  But the problem I see with Cymru Who in this current series is a formula based entirely around suspense and humor.  Often, I feel that stories this series have been a bit underdeveloped because of the need to convey both suspense (because we want to scare the children) and humor (because Matt Smith does humor well).  The God Complex (a story I have given quite a bit of thought to because I feel I should like it more than I did) had an interesting premise at its core, a premise that explored faith vs. non-faith, the individual vs. automation and technology, but both of these philosophical questions were merely mentioned because the majority of the episode was spent in the suspenseful fleeing from a minotaur and humorous lines from David Walliams.  And when we did get a scene that centered around faith, it was Amy’s faith in The Doctor, not a society’s struggle with and abandoning of faith.  In Closing Time, we have more humor and suspense, this time with Cybermen, whose identity was really pointless.  Any generic monster would do, but I suppose Cybermen would have had that extra geek-out factor.  Perhaps, if fandom had not responded to the heart-warming comedy, they would at least quiver with excitement because the Cybermen have returned in a story that may or may not have been inspired by the Big Finish Companion Chronicle The Blue Tooth.  I’m quite curious on that part.  (And if we are going to be mining Big Finish for material, is there any chance at bringing one or two Big Finish writers aboard?  Just a thought.)

I feel stupid saying this, but I feel that The Doctor has become too important for Doctor Who.  Yes, I know whose name is in the title.  Perhaps I should say that Matt Smith has become too important for Doctor Who.  More specifically, Matt Smith’s performance.  He is a good actor.  He plays humor well, he has a good reparte with children, and he can convey ‘oldness’ when he needs play a scene heavy and tortured.  Looking at what he does well, it is easy to see what the show has become.  The Doctor is no longer a character that writers attempt to capture, it is an actor’s performance that they are writing to.  This same thing happened in the David Tennant era.  After The Last of The Time Lords, it seemed every other episode saw The Doctor crying and being tortured just because David Tennant did it so well.  Now, it seems stories are being written to allow Matt Smith to do what seems to come natural: humor and interactions with children.  We aren’t stretching The Doctor at all.  Now, to be fair, this has happened before.  Jon Pertwee started getting some repeated concepts, things that were written specifically for him, as did Tom Baker.  The difference was that it was a few years into these actors tenure when this happened, and it happened because they demanded it or changed the scene outright.  Here, it is being included in the script from the beginning.  Or at the very least, it seems to be.

Back to Closing Time, with particular focus on the final scene.  I felt the River Song portion to be the most interesting and compelling part of the episode.  Sure, it was completely unnecessary and took away from the main plot of Closing Time, but as I didn’t care for the main plot, I found the final scene to be exciting.  I genuinely am looking forward to seeing how this arc is resolved (if indeed it is resolved).  I did enjoy the majority of The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, and I’m eager to see this final piece of the story, for good or for bad.

Care Bear Stare: Fatherly Love!

Doctor Who 6×11 – The God Complex

Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Nick Hurran

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory become trapped in a 1980s-style hotel with rooms full of fears and a minotaur stalking all inhabitants.

“He saved me and now he’s going to save you.  But don’t tell him that because the smugness would be terrifying.”

A few months ago I was loving The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People, until that story was marred by a cliffhanger that was dictated by the story arc.  Matthew Graham was told to write a story about avatars, and I believe he delivered some excellent material.  Unfortunately, the ideas and concepts raised by that story were undone by the need to reveal that Amy was a Flesh.  So I repeat, an excellent story, ruined by the arc.  In The God Complex, I can see a similar mandate, a need to further the character arc of Amy, Rory, and The Doctor (and by extension, the overall plot-arc).  In The Girl Who Waited, The Doctor effectively destroyed any faith Rory would have had in him, and now The Doctor destroys Amy’s faith in him.  I felt that the end of The Girl Who Waited signposted the end of the Amy and Rory as companions.  Then The God Complex does the same, and even takes things a step farther by having The Doctor drop Amy and Rory back on Earth.  The was another story with a mandate to support the arc, a mandate to provide a reason for Amy and Rory to leave the TARDIS.  Honestly, The God Complex, and otherwise mediocre story, sold the ending.  It effectively set-up the final scenes between The Doctor and Amy.  It seems a shame to me that the more interesting Rebel Flesh/Almost People was ruined by the ending, while so-so God Complex so thoroughly enhanced the ending.  Is it possible that Matthew Graham did too good a job?

But the problem is that I don’t buy it.  As moving as I found Amy and Rory’s departure, I don’t buy for a moment that we won’t see them again.  The script even supports it with The Doctor saying he is a “bad penny.”  So this either means Amy and/or Rory will appear in one-off adventures as necessary (but not as companions) or we are being emotionally manipulated for some series finale (or series seven) revelation.  There is a difference from not knowing what to expect from episode to episode (because the show can go anywhere in time and space) and not trusting the show to be telling us the truth.  Steven Moffat seems to glory in showing the audience something, then revealing that we didn’t see what we thought we saw, which is fine in and of itself, but at the moment I don’t trust the show very much at all.  I feel like I need to keep any excitement or emotion in check for fear that what I just saw will be undone one or two weeks later.  The episode provided a good exit for Amy and Rory, if not rather abrupt.  But I don’t trust that it was an exit.  It wouldn’t be the first time Cymru-Who did this.

I want to come up with some positives about the episode.  Honestly, the standout moment for me was when The Doctor was talking to the minotaur, who just wanted the routine of hunting and killing to end.  The actor in the suit, combined with the effects of the monster, really conveyed a feeling of weariness and pain.  I was truly impressed and felt sad for this monster.  But apart from this moment, I found The God Complex to be quite mediocre, an episode formed from incomplete concepts and botched attempts to convey humor.  An episode meant to do nothing more than sell the ending.  Matt Smith’s dialogue when The Doctor, Amy, and Rory meet the other prisoners in the hotel seemed forced, as if there was a need for random Doctor-speak.  Often it seems Smith can find humor in normal dialogue, but when the dialogue is deliberately attempting to be humorous or random, it comes across as forced.  It is irritating because all the leads are good actors and they are capable of rising to good material, but it rarely seems they are given that material.  I like Matt Smith, and I think his Doctor has a lot of potential, but The Eleventh Doctor has only really worked for me in a couple of episodes (and a handful of scenes besides) and both of these episodes had excellent scripts with challenging material.  Sadly, apart from its closing moments, I can’t say the same for The God Complex.

Doctor Who Series 6×10 – The Girl Who Waited

Written by Tom MacRae
Directed by Nick Hurran

Arriving on the planet Apalapucia for a brief holiday, The Doctor and Rory become separated from Amy, who finds herself in a different time stream.

"Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere . . . "

After a couple of weeks with episodes that made me feel underwhelmed with the current direction of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited was an episode that made me say “Finally.”  We finally got off Earth, even if it was inhabited by temporally displaced people who only appeared as blurred figures in one shot.  Amy finally got some much needed character development.  And I was finally able to sit and enjoy an episode without feeling irritated or disappointed.  The initial trailer for The Girl Who Waited filled me with concern that it would be a re-hash of Amy’s Choice (Rory’s Choice?) with visual references made to The Mind Robber.  That wasn’t entirely the case.

In a way, I feel that The Girl Who Waited revisited an idea from The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords and did it better, namely the idea of paradox and alternate time-lines.  The scale was much smaller in Girl, but the emotional consequences much more effective.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Amy and Rory’s eventual exit from the show has been set up here, and if it isn’t, it should be.  It is hard to see how Rory will be able to recover from what he faced here, hard to see how he will be able to trust The Doctor after being made to kill an alternate version of his wife.  In truth, if The Doctor had made the choice for him, the divide between these two male leads would have been worse, but there was really no way for the relationship between these two characters to recover.

If I had any criticism of the episode, it would be that the setting was largely inconsequential.  This entire episode was a character piece.  The setting existed solely to instigate the characterization.  While this isn’t a bad thing, per se, it is a further reinforcement to me that setting is becoming less important in Doctor Who.  World-building is less important.  As I discussed this episode with my wife, we realized that our favorite episodes from the Moffat Era are character-driven.  These seem to be the most-effective episodes.  I believe this is the limitation of the 45 minute running time.  It is difficult to do effective world-building and strong plot in 45 minutes.  It is much easier to do escapist spectacle or character development.  Or, I suppose, overly-preachy, shallow social commentary as Star Trek has often proven.  While I enjoy that Doctor Who has done some wonderful character-driven pieces since the revival, my biggest concern is that the show cannot be sustained on character alone.  We cannot have major revelations about Amy or Rory each week, nor are we able to insist that The Doctor is mysterious when the focus of the show is character (although I rather think we should admit that the “mysterious” nature of The Doctor has been long abandoned).

As it stands, however, I am perfectly happy adding The Girl Who Waited to my list of Moffat-era successes.

Doctor Who Series 6.9 – Night Terrors

Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Richard Clark

The Doctor attempts to sort out the nightmares of a young child.

“Well, I suppose it can’t all be planets and history and stuff.”

Supposedly the selling pitch for this story was the premise “What is the scariest place in the universe?  A child’s bedroom.”  But in reality, I wonder if the premise could be re-worked in to “What is the scariest place in the universe?  Sitting on the couch and watching a rehash of Fear Her.”

After watching this episode, my wife and I immediately began talking about Curse of the Black Spot because, as we agreed, both Curse and Night Terrors are perfectly decent stories.  Not amazing, decent.  And while I think Curse had a few plot holes and some real inattention continuity details, it seemed to be a more compelling story.  Night Terrors may have been a tighter plot, but it never really grabbed me.  It never really compelled me to be interested in the mystery or to care about the characters.  I tried, but as I started guessing the plot (and more on that in a minute) I found that the only truly compelling aspect of the episode was Richard Clark’s direction.  He had quite a few great shots and really sold the suspense and made the dollhouse look good.  Whether he directed the actors well, that is another question.  In truth, I felt that none of the performances in this episode rose above that of caricature, and that applies to both secondary and primary characters.  Sure, Matt, Karen, and Arthur do their best with their lines, but they seem to lack any sort of depth in this episode.  Amy and Rory are relegated to nothing more than victims, and while they have played this part in the past, we would still get character moments despite their situation.  I’m thinking most-strongly of The Doctor’s Wife, in which Amy and Rory are victimized by House, but the tortures reigned upon them are specifically designed to play on their insecurities.  Here, they are chased by dolls for half an hour until The Doctor shows up and convinces the child to save the day.

My wife says this episode is a revisiting of ideas in Fear Her and Girl in the Fireplace.  The Fear Her comparison is quite apt because we once more have a child who is haunted by something frightening, who actually controls and makes manifest the fears.  The danger can only be overcome by the empowerment of the child and the re-uniting of the child and emotionally detached parent.  The primary difference between the two stories would be that Gatiss switched the genders.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was intentional.  But the similarities exist.  It makes me wonder if New Who is spinning its wheels a bit.  In addition to revisiting Fear Hear, Night Terrors also seems to tick the boxes of Moffat-era stories.  A child plays a prominent role.  The child seems to know more about the situation than anyone else.  The child must save the day to some degree.  Creepy looking monsters.  Sneaking through dark corridors rather than running through them.  At least we didn’t revisit the “timey-wimey” concept this time around.  It makes me a little sad that the show doesn’t really seem to be reaching much at the moment.  Almost self-consciously, this episode references that the TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space, but instead they visit a child on what is presumably present-day Earth.  And in a few episodes we revisit Craig from The Lodger.  We seem to be regressing here.  Although, present day Earth is probably cheaper to realize.

More on guessing the plot.  Part of this is due to the parallels to Fear Her.  Part of this is also due to Gatiss as a mystery writer.  Some of my favorite scripts by Mark Gatiss have been for Marple or his script for Sherlock last year.  However, I have found his Doctor Who scripts (with the exception of The Unquiet Dead) to be varying degrees of “meh”.  More accurately, they seem to be descending degrees of “meh”.  I would go so far as to say that I think Gatiss is a better mystery writer (or at the very least, dramatizer) than Doctor Who writer.  Perhaps it would be fun to see him write something more “whodunnit” than “a mystery with an alien” as Night Terrors seems to be.  At times, this episode was mystery, at times horror, but almost never adventure and Doctor Who needs the latter in great abundance.

Doctor Who 6.08 – Let’s Kill Hitler

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Richard Senior

After summoning The Doctor to find out how goes his search for Melody Pond, Amy, Rory, and The Doctor find themselves hijacked by Mels, childhood friend of Amy and Rory.  The destination: Germany 1939. 

"Ah, but I knew you would replace the gun with a banana so I went back in time and had the man who GREW the banana genetically engineer a banana gun..."

 “And the penny drops.”

Oh, where to begin.  Let’s start with the positives.  I really, really wanted to love this.  Is it truly a positive if I’m appealing to my own good intentions?  Probably not.  Regardless, I don’t want to spend my reviews of Moffatt-Who talking about how the show isn’t as good as it once was or how we are now watching spectacle rather than actual drama.  I’m afraid that if I complain about the show too much that I will be forced to decide whether or not to keep reviewing it.  I’d certainly hate for people who read this blog  to say “why do you even watch the show if you don’t like it?”  But after Let’s Kill Hitler, I feel more excited that this block of episodes has more non-Moffat stories.

Sorry, let’s start again.  I loved seeing Amelia Pond again and thought the flashbacks were quite fun.  The scene where Amy accuses Rory of being gay was amusing.  Sure, the scenes screamed retcon and you knew that Mels would be important in some way, but they were fun enough to make me dismiss the obvious.  I liked the robot.  I liked the idea of a group of time travelers feeling some sort of temporal obligation to bring judgement upon war criminals.  It is an interesting idea that, on its own, could have created a compelling story that gave rise to questions about justice or vengeance, and whether or not punishing “dead people” (as the Doctor accused them) is entirely ethical, and where does The Doctor come off criticizing them anyway?  Yes, good idea and good potential.

But instead, we have River Song.  Instead we have a type of conclusion to the long-running River Song arc.  The first reaction to this episode was that it was quite abrupt.  Sure, in real-time, we have been waiting all summer to discover how The Doctor’s search for Melody Pond went.  But imagine the future, when people sit down to watch series six on DVD.  In this future scenario, the amount of time that passes between episodes  is only as long as it takes to switch your DVD.  Thus, you find out that River is Melody, then about three minutes later you get Melody Pond, super weapon, killing The Doctor and running amuck in Nazi Germany.  As much as I’ve been concerned about the story-arc’s affect on the pacing of series six, I think that this episode kills all the dramatic tension of the search and what happened to Melody between her time in the space suit and her time in this episode.  It is possible that Moffatt is planning more “timey-wimey” storytelling, but I’m not sure he is and, quite frankly, I think it is becoming increasingly unnecessary.  More often than not his scripts are less about telling a good story than they are about being clever and having funny dialogue.  They are about keeping the audience on their toes and tricking us, confusing us, pulling the rug out from under us.  Moffatt is obviously having a lot of fun, and that is great, but I’m starting to wonder if he is telling good stories, or just showing us cool set-pieces and giving us clever dialogue.

Melody Pond is supposed to have been raised as a super-weapon.  She is supposed to kill The Doctor.  And yet, all it takes is one meeting between the two of them for The Doctor to break her programming?  She kills him then saves his life just because he is interesting?  I suppose it is possible that we will revisit this idea, that perhaps she really will “kill” The Doctor and that her conditioning hasn’t quiet been broken yet.  But on the topic of death . . . .

My second realization was that regeneration is becoming a magic wand, and that regeneration itself is being completely neutered as a concept.  Sure, The Doctor can’t really die because practically: the show would end, and he can regenerate into a new body and have a new personality.  But that new body and personality mean that regeneration is a type of death and an old friend is gone.  But over the course of Cymru Who’s existence, we have found that wounds incurred during the first few hours of regeneration will heal, Time Lord body parts can absorb regeneration energy and thus negate the need for regeneration, regeneration energy can give someone super-powers which allow them to fly and shoot lightening from his or her hands, and, finally, that another Time Lord (or Time Lord-Human hybrid) can channel regeneration energy to heal the wounds of another Time Lord, possibly burning out remaining regenerations in the process.  This was the explanation for why River Song didn’t regenerate in Forest of The Dead, and I understand that.  But it also means that death in Doctor Who is even more meaningless.  I’m sorry, but where I’m concerned, Melody using her remaining regenerations to save The Doctor is a cheat.  I was half-expecting the revelation that The Doctor was a Ganger and, frankly, I would have found that more interesting.  How many Doctors are running around out there?  Why did The Doctor send a Ganger instead of arriving himself?  But no.  Magic wand.

All this said, I’m glad that we seem to be filling in the gaps of the arcs that have been with us since Moffatt took over the show (well, since series four, technically).  While this episode failed to excite me to Doctor Who’s return, I am happy that Moffatt’s name will not be appearing on very many episodes in the next few weeks.  As The Doctor said near the end of Day of the Moon, I’m ready for adventures.  I’m ready for something not so arc-driven.  I’m ready to see something new and different, anywhere in time and space.  I want to see something imaginative.  I certainly hope I’m not asking too much.

Doctor Who, Steven Moffat and “Season One” Questions

In the most-recent post on LOST, I brought up the idea of arc-storytelling and “season one” questions.

“In pondering this first season of LOST, I have come to the conclusion that any show that deals with arc-based storytelling succeeds or fails based primarily on one qualification.  Any questions raised in the first season MUST be answered by the end of the series.  Therefore, any show that deliberately raises multiple questions and messes with the heads of the audience with cliffhangers and outrageous revelations must answer in a satisfying way the mysteries that drew people to the show.”

I looked at how this rule was addressed, most-likely unconsciously, in Babylon 5, The X-Files and Battlestar Galactica.

After the series six premiere, Trevor Gensch from The Doctor Who Podcast made the statement that Steven Moffat is supposed to be writing Doctor Who, not LOST.  Indeed, this most-recent series has seen deliberately obscure and occasionally misleading questions.  The Silence turned out to be a play on words, being an actual race rather than the result of an event.  Steven Moffat is a careful plotter and has been with Doctor Who since the show returned, so in a way it is difficult to evaluate his “first season” questions.  Here is what I propose: Steven Moffat’s “first season” starts with Silence in The Library/Forest of the Dead, then continues with series five.  Thus, the questions become Who is River Song, what is The Silence, what caused The Cracks, and finally, why did The TARDIS explode.  We have been given partial answers to some of these questions.  We now know that River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter, but we don’t know any significance apart from this.  Who is the “good man” she killed and is this the bad day she has coming?  What is the exact nature of her relationship with The Doctor?  Likewise, we now know that The Silence is an alien race, but we don’t know why they were on Earth and why they were manipulating humanity.  The cracks in the universe were caused by The TARDIS exploding, but we don’t know why The TARDIS exploded to begin with.  Thus, we are getting partial answers, and these lead to more questions.  At this point, it is hard to tell if Steven Moffat is slowly giving us pieces so the answers will make sense or if he is being deliberately obscure.  So, a question to any Doctor Who fans who are still reading . . . what do you think are the “season one” questions for the Moffat era?