Review: ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (spoilers)

I was teasing the boys on Saturday. “Of course, the Doctor might regenerate,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t. “We might see the Twelfth Doctor.” Thomas then proceeded to ask what he looked like, and of course I didn’t know. After lunch, he fetched the customisable sonic screwdriver set that Emily got me for Christmas and assembled his own version, calling it “the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and I’m the Twelfth Doctor”. I nodded and smiled and took his photo, whilst working out what I’d say to him when it got to the end of the evening with no sign of a new Doctor.

Then we saw the episode.

The appearance of John Hurt – who, I confess, I’d entirely forgotten was going to appear – threw in a complete curveball at the very end. It wasn’t so much a cliffhanger as a game-changer, a reassessment of who the Doctor was and how we got here. It was also a shameless bit of stunt-casting. It was the First Doctor before he took on the appearance of Hartnell. It was an obvious reference to the Time War. It was the Other before he threw himself into the Looms. It was the final Doctor, who will not live to regenerate. It was brilliant. It was terrible. It was all of the above and none of the above, depending on what you read and what you want to believe. I think we’re beyond the stage now where it matters. This has either been the worst series since the revival or a dazzling return to form, and if you’re on one side then nothing the other can say is going to influence you. Perhaps we should stop arguing about it, stop polluting the pages of the web with our ramblings, and accept that we see things differently.

But this will fall on deaf ears. The enigma of Hurt’s Doctor and who he is will be shoved back and forth across blogs, Facebook groups, sycophantic Dan Martin Guardian columns, bitch-fests from Lawrence Miles and rambling fan videos from incoherent YouTube pundits, and it will long outlast its expected sell-by date. We’re all going to be horribly sick of it by November, and it’ll lead to a glorious anti-climax where you’ll be told something crushingly disappointing. Because ultimately, that’s what Moffat does. He asks you to guess what he’s thinking, but these days it’s seldom interesting or satisfying.

If nothing else, the “bit with Doctor Hurt” (as Thomas referred to it) puts an older actor in the role – something I’ve longed for, and something we’ve not had since Pertwee, who took over the role at 51. Of course, Pertwee embodied a dynamic, action-driven side to the Doctor, gleefully bringing down foes with skilfully choreographed martial arts courtesy of the stunt directors. It was something capitalised on by the relatively youthful Baker when he adopted the role some four years later, to the extent that the dashing sidekick who’d been brought in to do all the stunts was written out after several stories, having been used mostly to provide bumbling comic relief with occasional moments of brilliance. Still, the physical, action-orientated stance of the new incarnation of the programme has prevented the BBC from casting anyone who’s likely to get a heart attack from running along a corridor in a disused steelworks being chased by a monster that isn’t there.

This has meant a spate of younger Doctors; a trend that looks set to continue. Because let’s be clear on this: Hurt’s casting is atypical in that whoever it is, it is not a Doctor who is going to stay the course. He hasn’t said more than two dozen words yet and already we have established that he is a Doctor who either should not exist, a wibbly wobbly anomaly, or an incarnation who has been assigned to a crumbly CG-generated hell (filmed on location in urban Glasgow) because he did or will do something terrible. He is the Doctor’s dirty little secret, along with his secret stash of Sontaran pornography and what he and River really get up to with those handcuffs. (I suspect these two things probably aren’t mutually exclusive. There, that’s put images in your head, hasn’t it?)

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It’s a shame that in establishing this fact, Moffat resorted to the laziest, lamest trick in the writer’s book, which is to end an episode (and indeed a series) with that episode’s title. Some weeks ago, Gareth suggested to me that there would be a feint of some sort and that you’d have a bunch of characters charging into battle, dying in slow motion, bellowing “IN THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR!”. He was joking, but that’s only slightly more silly than what actually happened. I was so busy reeling from this that I didn’t even notice that Moffat also fulfilled Dorium’s “Fall of the Eleventh” prophecy by having the Doctor say “We don’t jump; we fall”.

I mean, honestly. This isn’t a clever reversal. It’s just bad writing. Confounding the expectations of your audience by deflating the balloon because it’s the last thing they were expecting is inexcusable. Making a joke out of a foreshadowing comment that is supposed to allude to the Doctor’s death doesn’t make you look clever or a master of your craft. It makes you look like a smug drama student. It’s like Bilbo Baggins getting Gollum to guess what’s in his pocket – a riddle he asked by accident and then exploited to get out of a life-or-death situation, but to the best of my knowledge no one is approaching Moffat across a slimy rock, threatening to eat him if he can’t guess what’s alive without breath and cold as death.

I remember being eight years old, and sitting at the side of the school field playing I Spy with a couple of friends. They tried, for a good two or three minutes, to guess the ‘B’ I said I’d seen, and eventually gave up, pronouncing me the winner. “Bus,” I said. “I saw one go past a while ago.” It’s cheating, and it’s unfair. But it was technically accurate. And thus it was a plot twist in the story of the game, one that eerily echoed the style of our current chief writer. Which is why the endless praise and shouts of “brilliant” baffle me.

“Yesterday,” said Gareth, “I gave a brief summary of the bits I knew of the episode. Try it, and about halfway through you’ll find yourself thinking ‘This is just really bad fanfic – if anyone had written it last year it would have been ridiculed’.” And he’s right. It reads like bad fanfiction and Moffat gets away with it because we still know him as the writer of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and we cannot quite wrench ourselves away from that image, or from the fact that a man capable of brilliance simply isn’t suited to a role like this.

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Of course, the question of who the Doctor is turned out fairly early on to be fundamentally unimportant, when the words “It is discovered” turned out not to allude to the Doctor’s name at all, but rather the location of his grave. This needn’t mean that the end of the show is in sight. An eventual death does not mean an imminent death, and there was no sign of any corpse inside the Trenzelore TARDIS. One could, perhaps, nitpick over the fact that the interior echoes the current design, but in the grand scheme of things I think there are other aspects upon which I could waste my time. Like the rotten dialogue, or the fact that the design of the Whispermen was strangely familiar.

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Certainly there were good things this week. When the Doctor is informed that his friends have been taken to Trenzelore, his reaction is to sit down on the sofa and burst into tears. It’s a mesmerising performance from Smith, so easy to forget in the blustery of what follows, but it’s arguably the most upset we’ve seen the Doctor since the revival of the show – a frail, fragile moment, and I wish we’d had a little more of that, and less of the angst-ridden silliness that followed.

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In all seriousness, this was good.

Performances aside, Saul Metzstein directed this as well as he’s directed any of his other episodes, with the darkness of Trenzelore effectively realised in the few shots we saw of it. This seemed to be a finale that dealt with metaphysics as much as anything else, and as such sets were almost theatrically abstract, with atmospheric, moody lighting standing in for actual detail. This was an episode of dread, and Metzstein (and cinematographer Neville Kidd) evoked this by juxtaposing tight, claustrophobic shots with wide, angled ones, as if someone were being observed from not far off.

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Similarly, the opening montage showed a certain visual panache, particularly if you didn’t know it was coming – as I didn’t. It was rough around the edges, for sure. The limitations of the BBC’s effects budget showed when Jenna-Louise Coleman was digitally pasted into old footage, standing looking confused in a park while someone who looks absolutely nothing like Patrick Troughton runs past her. But elsewhere, it worked. The tints and grains came out again as Clara jumped through different eras and went through costume changes at a rate that rivalled that of Madonna in Evita. This included a questionable CG-driven appearance from Jon Pertwee, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it encounters with the Eighth and Ninth. Davison was seen lying on a floor, presumably spouting dialogue from what I thought was ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (but which Gareth insists is probably from the beginning of his run), and Clara appeared to linger in the same corridor they used in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ as a tall man in the Sixth Doctor’s frock coat and a blonde wig wanders past. (Presumably it was Sylvester McCoy.)

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The fans’ reaction to this opening, I’m told, has been split: a mixture of yah-boo-sucks directed at the naysayers, while the cynical amongst us have pointed out that it was mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. Still, it looked reasonably impressive, and there was one moment of apparent importance, with an eyebrow-raising encounter back on Gallifrey. Fans of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ will recall that the Doctor did not steal the TARDIS; the TARDIS stole him. This always felt like unnecessary anthropomorphism to me – the sort of thing that people say about their cats when it simply isn’t true – but it was in this singular scene that the police box’s apparent love-hate relationship with Clara was reconciled: through Clara, the TARDIS is able to reach out to the Doctor and influence him. Clara thus becomes the equivalent of a surrogate, with all the complications that that relationship entails. And it’s still silly, because it doesn’t seem to fit. (“I thought from what I read,” said Gareth, “that her meeting the Doctor was trying to save him from the Great Intelligence’s interference somehow. Was the GI whispering ‘go on, take this TARDIS – it comes with its own baby dinosaur’?”.)

While we’re on that, it’s also worth bearing in mind, of course, that the entire falling through time sequence was built on a colossal and quite unnecessarily complicated plotline: that of (the again under-used) Richard E Grant entering the Doctor’s time stream and changing everything he’s ever done. I know that time is supposed to be a non-linear ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff (I have left out the pause, but it was there) – nonetheless, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Grant to go back and kill the Doctor outright before he stole the TARDIS, while he was a frail and feeble old man, and save himself the trouble of having to dimension hop for millennia? But that would have been far too simple, and instead we’re faced with the supposedly Great Intelligence jumping through time, changing history for the worse, with Clara in hot pursuit, striving to put right what once went wrong. It’s like watching five series of Quantum Leap over the course of a few seconds, and we didn’t even get to see Dean Stockwell in a red suit.

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And while I’m complaining, I would like to point out that River Song’s appearance in this was nothing short of a disaster. It’s not that Moffat can’t write love stories. He proved that he could with ‘Blink’ and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, both of whom have touching, unresolved matters of the heart at their core. But the love scenes with River are turgid and unconvincing and riddled with shocking dialogue (I feel a top ten coming on, but I’ll leave that for another day when I don’t feel quite so cross). See for example:

River: There has to be another way. Use the TARDIS. Use something! Save her, yes, but for God’s sake, be sensible! [She goes to slap him and he catches her wrist] How are you even doing that? I’m not really here.

The Doctor: You’re always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you.

River: Then why didn’t you speak to me?

The Doctor: Because I thought it would hurt too much.

River: I believe I could have coped.

The Doctor: No. I thought it would hurt me. And I was right.

How, exactly, are we supposed to cope when confronted with this drivel? It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry at all between Smith and Kingston, but even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton couldn’t polish a turd. Still, we can’t just blame the dialogue – it’s the whole setup. The other part of the problem, you see, is the nature of the Doctor having any sort of lover, simply because it sexualises him and calls to mind the question of what he’s like in bed. It’s an elephant in the room, but that’s what you were all thinking about during that kiss, wasn’t it?

But there was, again, that feeling of smoke and mirrors during the finale: the sense of a beginning, and not an ending. Moffat has a tendency to open up a new mystery just as he’s resolving an older one, and while we now understand the mystery of Clara and no longer care about the identity of the Doctor, another enigma has cropped up to take its place. I wouldn’t mind this, except that some three years later, I’m still not entirely clear on how or why the TARDIS exploded.

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This feels very much like the chief writer stretching out his run on the show to breaking point, and serving up mystery after mystery purely as a guarantee that they will extend his contract, until he can resolve that story arc and start up a new one at the end of the series. Seldom is there any real closure, the way there was even under Davies’ reign, because there is always a new puzzle to be debated and blogged. It’s a trick used in 24, which got away with it (just) on the grounds of being a show that was outlandishly silly. But Doctor Who is not supposed to be silly. It frequently is, and occasionally on purpose, but I seriously doubt that they sit down at tone meetings and say “Right: zany, off-the-wall looniness for that Dalek story, then”. It’s supposed to be a flagship of British family entertainment. It is a show that contains amusing moments and the occasional subtle fracturing of the fourth wall (mostly through a mockery of writer’s conventions that I will grant is done quite well), but it’s taken very seriously by everyone who produces it. Every episode is supposedly lovingly crafted to respect what has gone before and then build upon it for the future.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we expect the show to look too much to the past. Perhaps Davies’ first series in charge was overlooked. For better or worse, he rewrote the rule book and appeared to have little, if any consideration for what had happened before, inventing new monsters galore and cutting all ties with the Time Lords and Gallifrey with a view to building up a new fanbase from the ground up. At the time, we called this disrespectful. We called it dumbing down, and not mindful of the legacy of the programme and its perennial viewers. And then everything changed. Some eight years later, we have a show that is so steeped in its own sense of history and self-importance it has become its own Episode 1: tired, humourless, and far too pompous to actually achieve its aims. Doctor Who is struggling with the millstone of history that is affixed round its neck – racing back and forth through its own history, too concerned with continuity to think about story. It has become the Doctor himself, in that final sequence, submerged and suffocated and seemingly entrapped within his own timeline. We wanted more respect for tradition, and we got it, but the price tag was heavy – and if we may take anything from Saturday evening, and this series in general, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.

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27 thoughts on “Review: ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (spoilers)

  1. Somehow you always manage to catch me at the worst possible time, so I can’t form a coherent comment to save my life. Unfair.

    Email me and remind me to come back tomorrow, I’ll re-read and take notes.

    AND OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT I WAS THINKING!

    • reverend61

      [sighs whimsically]

      Yes, me too.

      • Heeee! Of course you were!

      • I AM WORKING ON IT RIGHT NOW! (thank you for the reminder, which I failed to respond to because I totally suck)

      • The enigma of Hurt’s Doctor and who he is will be shoved back and forth across blogs, Facebook groups, sycophantic Dan Martin Guardian columns, bitch-fests from Lawrence Miles and rambling fan videos from incoherent YouTube pundits, and it will long outlast its expected sell-by date. We’re all going to be horribly sick of it by November, and it’ll lead to a glorious anti-climax where you’ll be told something crushingly disappointing. Because ultimately, that’s what Moffat does. He asks you to guess what he’s thinking, but these days it’s seldom interesting or satisfying.

        Dude, this. Sadly. Honestly, it’s to the point where I don’t even want to venture into WhoPopulated Waters because I know I’ll barely escape with my life. I’m tired of being told my opinion on something is invalid because I’m not ZOMG!Thrilled with the way the show’s being run today, and because I’m not all atwitter at the prospect of TenToo and Rose coming back. I. Don’t. Care.

        If nothing else, the “bit with Doctor Hurt” (as Thomas referred to it) puts an older actor in the role – something I’ve longed for, and something we’ve not had since Pertwee, who took over the role at 51.

        I just got into an argument with my dad about this today. He didn’t watch, he relies on me to recap for him (so of course, said recaps are peppered with sighing and eye-rolling and hyperbole) and when I told him that I was actually pretty excited to see John Hurt (and I had this bit spoiled for me, GODDAMN YOU, INTERNET!) in this role, his exact words were “Yeah, but he’s too old to be the Doctor,” at which point I told him he needed to shut his mouth because he obviously doesn’t get it. It’s like the people who INSIST that the show will ONLY BE GREAT AGAIN IF TENNANT PICKS UP THE MANTLE, to which I say “Fuck. Off.”

        He is the Doctor’s dirty little secret, along with his secret stash of Sontaran pornography and what he and River really get up to with those handcuffs. (I suspect these two things probably aren’t mutually exclusive. There, that’s put images in your head, hasn’t it?)

        Heeee!

        It’s like Bilbo Baggins getting Gollum to guess what’s in his pocket – a riddle he asked by accident and then exploited to get out of a life-or-death situation, but to the best of my knowledge no one is approaching Moffat across a slimy rock, threatening to eat him if he can’t guess what’s alive without breath and cold as death.

        I feel like we might get an awesome episode out of this scenario, someone make this happen.

        It reads like bad fanfiction and Moffat gets away with it because we still know him as the writer of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and we cannot quite wrench ourselves away from that image, or from the fact that a man capable of brilliance simply isn’t suited to a role like this.

        This. But, you know – isn’t that what happens when you let fans have complete creative control? This entire season was fucking fanfic, and not even GOOD fanfic (except for 11 and Rory snogging on the spaceship, IT IS CANON NOW!) – if I read this, I’d tell the “author” they were insane and to watch a few old serials to get a feel for who/what the Doctor really is. Sadly…

        When the Doctor is informed that his friends have been taken to Trenzelore, his reaction is to sit down in the TARDIS and burst into tears. It’s a mesmerising performance from Smith, so easy to forget in the blustery of what follows, but it’s arguably the most upset we’ve seen the Doctor since the revival of the show – a frail, fragile moment, and I wish we’d had a little more of that

        I cried with him. Seriously. When Smith is given something to work with, he’s FUCKING AMAZING. I feel like he’s been underutilized as the Doctor, and that makes me sad when THAT’S WHAT THE WHOLE SHOW IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT.

        Davison was seen lying on a floor, presumably spouting dialogue from what I thought was ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (but which Gareth insists is probably from the beginning of his run),

        Gareth’s right. We just watched that one, and that wasn’t it.

        (HI, GARETH! You should be my friend, too – just sayin’.)

        The fans’ reaction to this opening, I’m told, has been split

        I kind of loved it, actually. I had a lot of fun pointing out things to The Boy, and he loved it, too. Even the 7y/o asked questions about Classic Who, which means we will be watching ALL THE OLD SERIALS while we wait for November.

        But that would have been far too simple, and instead we’re faced with the supposedly Great Intelligence jumping through time, changing history for the worse, with Clara in hot pursuit, striving to put right what once went wrong. It’s like watching five series of Quantum Leap over the course of a few seconds, and we didn’t even get to see Dean Stockwell in a red suit.

        I found this part especially funny because after the #DrunkHP festivities on Friday, I apparently had a conversation with my husband that went like this:

        Me: Fucking Quantum Leap, man.
        Husband: Wait, what?
        Me: I SAID QUANTUM LEAP!

        And I really have no idea why I was thinking about Quantum Leap, but I had the theme song in my head. I was obviously psychic and knew it would play into the following night’s episode of Doctor Who.

        The other part of the problem, you see, is the nature of the Doctor having any sort of lover, simply because it sexualises him and calls to mind the question of what he’s like in bed. It’s an elephant in the room, but that’s what you were all thinking about during that kiss, wasn’t it?

        I already answered this, cos – yes, it’s exactly what I was/am wondering.

        We wanted more respect for tradition, and we got it, but the price tag was heavy – and if we may take anything from Saturday evening, and this series in general, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.

        I don’t think it’s too late. I’d like to see 11 pull off some really great things in his last season (if, indeed, he takes off in ’14 like it’s said he will). I’d hate to think that s5 was the high point for me (which it currently is, as far as NuWho goes) AND for him, but…I guess we’ll see.

        All of this is really the long version of me saying “Great post! I totally agree!”

        Now…off to read the other comments!

      • reverend61

        Dude, this. Sadly. Honestly, it’s to the point where I don’t even want to venture into WhoPopulated Waters because I know I’ll barely escape with my life. I’m tired of being told my opinion on something is invalid because I’m not ZOMG!Thrilled with the way the show’s being run today, and because I’m not all atwitter at the prospect of TenToo and Rose coming back. I. Don’t. Care.

        (Do we know that it’s going to be the Human Doctor? I mean, it might be, but isn’t that going to be silly, and not really Doctorish?)

        But yes, I stay out of the comments threads these days because all I ever get is “It’s a kid’s programme”, or “Stop whining”…

        I just got into an argument with my dad about this today. He didn’t watch, he relies on me to recap for him (so of course, said recaps are peppered with sighing and eye-rolling and hyperbole) and when I told him that I was actually pretty excited to see John Hurt (and I had this bit spoiled for me, GODDAMN YOU, INTERNET!) in this role, his exact words were “Yeah, but he’s too old to be the Doctor,” at which point I told him he needed to shut his mouth because he obviously doesn’t get it. It’s like the people who INSIST that the show will ONLY BE GREAT AGAIN IF TENNANT PICKS UP THE MANTLE, to which I say “Fuck. Off.”

        Anyone who says “Oh, it’s not the same since David Tennant left” is off my Christmas card list, permanently. It reminds me of the conversation between two elderly mayflies in a Terry Pratchett novel, at the end of the single day of their allotted lifespan, in which he discusses them viewing a sunset and saying “You didn’t get suns like that in our day”. Meanwhile, he contrasts this with two bristlecone pine trees, who are so old they view the passage of time very differently: “Oh, was that another winter?”. It’s like that. If you’re a new fan of the show, then welcome. But this is a show that’s been around for fifty years, and whatever I’ve said about shedding links with the past, you need to bear in mind that there have been at least eight previous Doctors before Eccleston turned up. Everyone has their favourites.

        Sorry you had the John Hurt thing spoiled for you. I got off lightly, it seems!

        This. But, you know – isn’t that what happens when you let fans have complete creative control? This entire season was fucking fanfic, and not even GOOD fanfic (except for 11 and Rory snogging on the spaceship, IT IS CANON NOW!) – if I read this, I’d tell the “author” they were insane and to watch a few old serials to get a feel for who/what the Doctor really is. Sadly…

        See my comment to Amra, in which I concede that it may not be the fans in general but this group of fans. (I’m sure the Big Finish team are fans as well, but they do a decent job!)

        I love the image of Rory and the Doctor snogging so much that I used it as the basis for Eccleston getting cross in that video I uploaded the other week…

        I kind of loved it, actually. I had a lot of fun pointing out things to The Boy, and he loved it, too. Even the 7y/o asked questions about Classic Who, which means we will be watching ALL THE OLD SERIALS while we wait for November.

        I loved it too, but I think that’s partly because I didn’t know it was coming. Plus Thomas was watching, and the old Doctors fascinate him, so we had fun working out who they all were. If you watch it again it’s easy to see the cracks, but it hangs together quite well.

        I don’t think it’s too late. I’d like to see 11 pull off some really great things in his last season (if, indeed, he takes off in ’14 like it’s said he will). I’d hate to think that s5 was the high point for me (which it currently is, as far as NuWho goes) AND for him, but…I guess we’ll see.

        If they can ditch the mythology and just get back to telling stories (which they might, once this whole anniversary is over) then he might go out on a high. Bear in mind, however, that when Moffat eventually goes, the likely replacement is Mark Gatiss.

    • Gareth

      Hmm. I can’t work out how to quote things properly, or how to reply to actual post which said it, but:

      “(HI, GARETH! You should be my friend, too – just sayin’.)”

      Hello! I haven’t commented much about New Who recently, as I haven’t watched any of it since “The Rings of Thingy” some weeks ago. However, regarding “The Name of the Doctor”, I’m still annoyed that James left out my theory about the Doctor’s pet budgie.

      • reverend61

        I didn’t leave it out. It’s going to get its own entry!

      • I laughed really had (and may have snorted my coffee) at “The Rings of Thingy” title.

        If I didn’t have 2 littlies invested in the show now (and tbh, Smith to watch), I’d have likely given up like I did for s3-5.

  2. Amra

    I wouldn’t put any blame on bringing the old details back in to the series.

    The fault lies solely on Moffat’s smoke and mirrors act. Writers need to learn that Lost and Battlestar Galactica proved you will only cheese off audiences if you fail to properly resolve things. Pat answers to serious questions, and excessive helpings of sound and fury, are not going to win adherents with an IQ anywhere above “tuber”. Being that this is a scifi show of some considerable depth (at times), the audience may rightly be assumed to possess the power of reason. Davies suffered from the silliness at least as much, but at least he didn’t give false answers. Perhaps The Moff should move more towards a story editor’s role, but leave the actual writing far more to others.

    BTW, good call on spotting the “Hush” villians; pretty much a straight rip. Contrasting Josh’s Master stroke w/this DW episode is striking.

    • Amra

      Hah.. JOSS’s master stroke, not Josh’s. Mea Culpa.

      And we do indeed need more of Mr. Grant, as well as quieter moments w/11, showcasing the fact that Matt really is an excellent actor.

    • reverend61

      I think what I meant by that little closing remark – which is part of a larger argument I may or may not explore at some point – is that a nostalgic look back at Who does not work in the hands of the current team of writers. It’s become bloated and self-reliant but I don’t think it needs to be. It’s just – and I’ve said this before – it’s being written by the fans, and I don’t think the fans can write the show.

      As you say, it’s pat answers to serious questions – if that’s what you’re going to do, why ask the questions in the first place? Davies’s stories were ridiculous, and his writing poor, but lately there are days when I miss him.

      • Amra

        Fan-based productions often outstrip big productions by leagues, actually; it depends upon the specific fans! In this particular case, I think The Moff hit his stride, and then kept going past it. Loved Series 5, mainly. 6 was a mixed bag and started to go off the rails. 7 has had some lovely moments, but wanting to make the show “more bonkers”, as Moff said, bode ill beforehand, and has proven a problem, looking back.

        I strongly LIKE the tie-ins to the classic eps, and want more of them, actually. It is just that nothing will work if no one takes the PRESENT plot details seriously, a belief you seem to share as well. Mysteries are grand, so long as they are actually answered, and actually MATTER. Too many false matters of import, and The Doctor becomes “The Boy Who Cried Bad Wolf”, and folks stop watching as they know there is nothing to watch.

        Furthermore, less comedic sidekicks would be nice: I d/n tune in for comedy hour, tho levity can be lovely, and wit is wonderful. Was overjoyed when Strax got mean this ep, and wish Vastra was a bit less refined, as well. That whole gang could be played a lot darker very effectively, and it would be welcome, imo.

        Even more, a show with character development is better than one without same, but a soap opera is unwelcome (imo). Not a snog in 26 seasons, and then BAM. . . Suspect the show would lose ratings heavily if the flirting and such went away, tho.

        * * *

        Davies could be an utterly *brilliant* writer when he restrained himself (witness: Midnight, possibly the best-written DW ep ever), as he REALLY seemed to channel deep, abiding loss, and the desire to live fully to counter it, but (as you noted) he consistently preferred to go off the chain into utter silliness (let’s have planets in the sky, again!). Possibly worse, the vanity and sycophancy he saddled the Dr. with was horrifying; I wish Moff would stop using the word “clever”, as well. . . We know the Dr. is a genius; we don’t need to hear him crow it, or let others crow it for him.

        Further, Davies’s plot arcs usually ended in Pyrrhic victories, at best, and oft felt like *total* losses, even when they were technically successes. I get catharsis, but much of his tenure was a severe “downer”, with little real need for it.

        The Moff having more happy endings (despite many considering him “dark”), complex but logical plots (at first) and choosing a Dr. who looked odd, acted odder, and was not consistently sympathetic, or universally adored by all he met, was such a breath of fresh air, it was indescribable how happy I was when Series 5 ran. I get the impression Moff is writing from a child’s perspective ofttimes, and trying to keep that spirit, but it feels to me that he has just gone astray of late.

      • reverend61

        OK, I’ll take your point that it’s the specific fans, rather than the slur on fans in general. Nonetheless I fall back on the Snakes on a Plane fiasco to show what happens if you let the fans write the scripts. W.r.t. Doctor Who, the Dalek-Cybermen story was a fanboy’s wet dream and it was a disaster.

        I just think there’s a tendency to pander to the whims of fans, and it doesn’t work. The Doctor’s reference to himself as “Dr James McCrimmon” in ‘Tooth and Claw’ is the perfect example of this. It’s the sort of thing that Davies would have dropped in because Jamie’s presumably one of his favourite companions. But the newer fans are going to have no idea who Jamie is, and the older fans – well, me, anyway – are going to think it’s showing off; a reference dropped in purely for the sake of having it there. When they construct an entire episode around an Old Who reference, as they did in ‘Gridlock’, I don’t mind so much. But when it’s done purely for the sake of making a joke – as it was the other week in ‘The Crimson Horror’, it feels like exhibitionism.

        I think that Davies started well – perhaps better, in fact, than I’ve ever given him credit for – and then outstayed his welcome in the same way that Moffat seems to be doing. He became steadily more reliant on repeated gags and overblown spectacle and the darkness of the Doctor. (As if to contradict that point, however, we might also discuss the giggly, fun-loving Doctor that was Tennant’s first season, which was a near-disaster.) But as you say, when he was writing well, we had episodes like ‘Midnight’, which I’ll agree is a high point precisely because it is so different to what had gone before (and it sees the Doctor totally out of his depth). Actually, if you watch ‘Midnight’ back to back with the otherwise forgettable ‘Planet of the Dead’, you find you enjoy the latter a lot more…

      • I don’t. Because the whole “the Doctor falls in love with his companion and has to be with her no matter what” is what caused me to stop watching the damned thing for 3 years.

  3. Ah, see, I’m afraid I liked it. I’ve been almost completely unmoved by this little half-series, but halfway through this episode thought, suddenly, ‘gosh, I’m enjoying this. And I care how it ends’. It was atmospheric, and felt like things were genuinely at stake for once. I was relieved by the explanation of Clara, which made sense and didn’t come across as a cop-out, and that moment at the beginning where the Doctor broke down was unexpected and, as you say, brilliantly played. And I don’t mind the River storyline – the idea of a Doctor with a sex life doesn’t detract from the character for me, perhaps because I’m more on the casual viewer end of the spectrum.

    There were holes, and plenty of them: Richard E. Grant wasn’t at all frightening, they didn’t make the Whispermen do anything except compose threatening nursery rhymes, and that bit at the end where the Doctor saunters into his own timestream and blathers a lot was lame. It would’ve had much more of an impact if Clara had actually died, though I suppose that would’ve made for a short companion run. I thought they could’ve taken the idea of a Doctorless universe further – a bit like The Wish, in Buffy, which was set an in alternate Buffy-less universe, and was awesome. But still. Perhaps I liked it so much only in comparison to previous episodes, but I was still pleasantly surprised.

    Also, that Doctor Who forum on the Guardian blog…gosh, there are people on there who need some fresh air. I am ALL for passionate engagement with a TV programme, honestly, but not if it gives you a stress hernia.

    Um, this was longer than I thought. Sorry.

    • reverend61

      I don’t think I’d be in any position to complain about the length of comments. Besides, it’s you!

      I also don’t think I’m opposed to the idea of the Doctor having a sex life per se. It seems to fit that version of the character; a young, virile thing. It’s just the idea of him and River, which does not and has never worked inside my head. She’s too much like his best friend’s mum (when paradoxically she’s actually his best friend’s daughter). I don’t want to say the words ‘generation gap’, because given the nature of the show that would be utterly ludicrous, but that’s the way it always feels when they’re together, and I never got that from Tennant and Kingston, even in the sole two episodes where they’re granted shared screentime.

      The Doctorless universe was explored in ‘Turn Left’, with reasonable success, so I don’t blame Moffat for not expanding on it beyond the obligatory scene he included here. The funny thing is, I watched this episode on Saturday and enjoyed it almost as much as you evidently have. But as with all Moffat’s stuff, when you stop and actually analyse it it falls apart, and I wouldn’t mind except that Moffat seems to be determined to produce TV that he can pass off as ‘clever’. Perhaps I should just stop reviewing…

      I’m with you on the Dan Martin blog; that’s why I skim-read the first few comments to get the general feel of things and then get the hell out of there without ever saying anything. The animosity on that forum is shocking. (Martin himself is hopeless, to be honest, but at least he’s nice about it.)

  4. Amra

    Reverend61..

    Seems this page locks replies after the second level, so replying in a new comment.

    Noting will redeem “Planet of the Dead” for me, and I own the DVD box set of the specials, so can watch it at will. The Flying Bus (Chitty-Chitty Bus-Bus, perhaps?) and, especially, “IlovethismanIlovethismanIlovethisman!!!” rendered it unwatchable. Also not a fan of the incredibly slo-mo approaqch of the supposedly superspeed baddies, which came off like Lancelot’s (repeated) rush on the guards in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Tension? Yes. Dragging it out? Not so much.

    “Midnight” blew it away precisely because they hadn’t the budget to take it anywhere to escape the inter-character conflict; real writing thus ensued.

    Classic eps were self-referential many, many times. What is wrong w/series 6 and, especially 7, is not this, but rather that nothing happening now is so bad that it CANNOT BE REWRITTEN. Rewriting has become the hallmark of Moffat, mentioned as early as “Library” at the end of the ep, and Moff should have followed his own advice, as per River’s “Don’t you dare!” Series 5 had a good rewrite plot, but it has become a crutch. Ofc, the “rewrites” are not necessarily via temporal manipulation; of late it has, as noted, been by slanting ominous prophesies into silly, anticlimactic drivel, with a self-pat on the back for the pat-ness. And from whence cometh these prophesies, anyway? What’s with all the rhyming, of late?

    If Mark Gatiss is to become head writer (no, ty), he first needs to write a decent ep . “Unquiet” and “Lantern” were only mediocre, and he lost points for the space spitfires, imo.

    • reverend61

      Yes, the Flying Bus (which actually rips off a children’s book I once owned called The Magic Bus, although probably not on purpose) was basically done for the kids – my son loved it, but I was bored to tears. Lee Evans is an embarrassment, and Zoe from Eastenders is worse. The fact that she steals purely out of boredom and rebellion against social convention does not redeem her, and I get cross by the supposedly crowd-pleasing ending in which she gets in the bus and flies away. I am not tempted to cheer with the onlookers. I just remember how irritating she was in the desert.

      You’re right about the rewriting. Scarcely have I seen a writer with as little respect for death as Moffat seems to have. Nothing is permanent any more. Characters die and then turn up a few weeks later, miraculously unharmed. At first I thought this was simply because he couldn’t bring himself to leave them alone, but I suspect that he’s actually doing it simply because he can. It’s becoming worse than the Marvel universe (where characters are killed off and resurrected so frequently it’s like an episode of South Park). And d’you know, I hadn’t even *mentioned* the rhyming in ‘The Name of the Doctor’, had I? That’s probably because it was so irritating I’d banished it from my head.

      Gatiss did a couple of mediocre episodes, one shocking one and then a couple of reasonable ones this series – ‘Cold War’, which wasn’t bad, suffering as it did because it simply wasn’t an Ice Warrior story, and then ‘The Crimson Horror’, which was tremendous fun, despite being all over the place…

  5. Amra

    @ sj (since no “Reply” link is available)

    If Donna had not come along, I would never have watched Series 4; the “romantic subplot” of everyone wanting to snog 10 made me want to slap Davies, and this is even that I found Billie to be one of the hottest creatures ever; the Dr. should not get involved in THAT way. Donna was a very welcome break from that.

    I d/n even watch the specials after “The Next Doctor”, due to the incessant sycophancy finally just getting to be too much. “That Doctor on high”? Really, Russel? “But not once, no sir, not once, not ever, has he ever been thanked.” Wrong. Especially, in those seasons!

    When Amy crushing on 11 was rebuffed by him, things began to look better. For a time. .

    • reverend61

      I liked the Donna storyline, although I got a bit fed up with the “No, no, we’re not a couple…” stuff.

      I think we just need to get rid of River Song, probably by dumping her at the bottom of a lake, which basically fits thematically with her character.

      • Amra

        The “not a couple” bit was indeed annoying, but at least they weren’t a couple.

        River. . .

        While I like her in theory. . In practice: not so much.

        Alex is a good actress, but no one believes the relationship because of the generation gap w/Matt, and because Moff consistently writes such bad plots for her. Really bad plots, with worse dialogue. “Cloying” hasn’t got an inch on what these two have between them.

        The whole relationship could have been properly palatable if it were rather more oppositional, say w/River trying to bend things to a different path (she IS part TL, after all!)

        As to your amusing suggestion:

        River in a lake has already been done (“Astronaut”), and she survived it. The Dr. in a Lake has been done, as well (in a way): Jackson Lake became the Dr.

        River Song/Melody Pond, Jackson Lake, Adelaide Brooke. . Water, water, everywhere, but not a plot that thinks.

      • reverend61

        It is the dialogue. River’s supposed to be a worldly (universely?) sensible woman whose job it is to consistently show up the Doctor, ostensibly by knowing more than he does. She’s Moffat trying to write Romana I, in a way. But it doesn’t work because no human – even one with regenerational capabilities that make no sense whatsoever – is able to do this without coming across as smug and irritating, which River consistently does.

        As you say, Kingston can act. She proved that in ‘Forest of the Dead’. Heck, she proved it in ER. But she always comes across as a sassy older woman, which isn’t true chronologically, but…oh, look at it this way, it would be like watching Kirsten Dunst get it on with a twenty-something in Interview With A Vampire, twenty years after she’d been bitten. Technically not wrong, as she was a woman trapped in a girl’s body, but still *wrong*, because she was a woman trapped in a girl’s body. Doctor Who has similar issues with the Doctor / River age gap, which is always going to look icky, and for that reason alone the kissing / innuendo-laden scenes are scenes that Moffat should never have touched, precisely because they don’t work.

      • Amra

        Actually forgot that River DID try to bend things her own way in “Wedding”, but it was such a botch job of a script (on several levels) that I’d mentally blocked it.

        Would like to amend my earlier statement to read: “The whole relationship could have been properly palatable if it were rather more oppositional, say w/River trying to INTELLIGENTLY bend things to a different path, AND NOT BE GUSHING SENTIMENT IN THE PROCESS.”

        Turning River into a “Spy vs. Spy” subplot might have worked far better.

    • I liked Donna when I watched her after the fact. I gave up and stopped downloading the episodes as soon as they aired in the UK (we haven’t had same day airings here for very long), and don’t know that I would have started watching again were it not for my sons taking an interest.

      I still wish I could wipe the majority of 10’s storyline from my memory. No. Thank you.

  6. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who is still wondering just why the TARDIS was exploding in season 5. I know it probably had something to do with the Silence, but I’ve always wished that Moffat would explain it (although I’ve basically given up hope by now).

    • reverend61

      I think we could probably assume it was the Silence. Their reality-denying nature would explain how they could sneak on board and destroy the thing without anyone even knowing they were there, but it would be nice to *know*.

      Either that, or Moffat is planning this as part of some colossal endgame, because the Silence are linked to the Asking of the First Question – and that *hasn’t* been resolved yet, however much we might like to hope it has. The appearance of Hurt’s Doctor supposedly sends this off in a new direction, allowing ‘Doctor Who?’ to fade into the background like the exploding TARDIS – and it may yet happen that way, or this may be all connected. In any case, a quick Google tells me that you’re most definitely *not* the only person still wondering why it happened!

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