Posts Tagged With: chris chibnall

Notes on the Thirteenth Doctor

Dear Fandom – 

1. Within certain social parameters, the role of Doctor Who is to entertain. The ideal candidate for the Doctor may be black, Asian, Inuit, Native American, gay, bisexual, androgynous, non-binary. Or it may be a thirty-something white male. You will have to deal with that.

2. The fans do not have control over the show. There is a good reason for this.

3. Just because we’ve never had a female Doctor before, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to work.

4. Just because we’ve never had a female Doctor before, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work.

5. New incarnations come and go all the time. Change is part of the show. I cannot believe we’re still having this conversation.

6. “Nurse Who”? Really? That’s the best you can manage?

7. Jodie Whittaker may be brilliant. Or she may be dreadful. You don’t know. Neither do I. But do not fill the gaps with a worst case scenario and think you’ve developed an unshakable prediction.

8. I thought Matt Smith was going to be a trainwreck. Then he opened his mouth, and all was forgiven. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

9. The ‘Yeah, it really worked for Ghostbusters’ argument is founded on false logic and we both know it.

10. The notion that you believe your £150 license fee entitles you to any sort of stake in this is frankly laughable.

11. Stop calling Doctor Who a liberal left-wing show. It isn’t.

12. You do not get to say who is a ‘fan’ of the show, whether that person likes a particular Doctor or hates them. They’re just someone with an opinion. That opinion may be worthless, but the bar of acceptable levels of service to a particular programme is not and cannot be set by you. Sorry.

13. Those of you who say you’ll stop watching: we’ll believe it when we see it.

14. Whether you’re left or right wing, your ‘passion’ for the show and the fact that you love and care about it so deeply does not entitle you to be a dick. That’s the same argument Isaac used on Dom in Holby City to justify his emotional and physical abuse. Didn’t work then either.

15. To suggest that Whittaker got the part simply because she’s a woman – whether you’re a sceptic decrying such a move or a feminist celebrating it – is nothing short of insulting. It insults the performer, it insults the writer and producer and it insults the BBC.

16. Memo to the BBC: it doesn’t help my argument when you start talking about ‘a commitment to diversity’. Button it.

17. Women: please stop assuming that everyone who begins a sentence with “I’m not sexist, but…” really is sexist.

18. Men: please stop beginning sentences with “I’m not sexist, but…”. It just isn’t worth the hassle.

19. The fact that Ian Levine has gone on a complete rant about this should tell you all you need to know about how you should be reacting yourselves.

Cordially yours,

Brian

P.S. Please stop using the word ‘Whovian’. It is a silly name for silly people.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Review: ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’

Watching ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was, I thought this morning, rather like ordering the mixed starters in a Chinese restaurant. Rather than offering us a coherent narrative, Chris ‘mixed episodes of Torchwood’ Chibnall offered up a platter of random elements which more or less fit together. It was a stark contrast to last week, which at least tried to be consistent (even if it was dull). Chibnall didn’t even try here: there was, instead, a series of comedy vignettes loosely strung together by a frayed piece of string that we might call a plot. It was forty-odd minutes of insanity. And – let’s get this out of the way – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This one was plugged as Snakes on a Plane, without the plane, or the snakes. Such comparisons are inevitable but not really fair: the snakes, in David Ellis’s 2007 misfire, are the whole point of the film, whereas the dinosaurs in this installment of Who, while impressive, are a McGuffin of comparatively little importance. Because what this episode is really about is Rory’s Dad. It had to happen: we’ve had two and a half years of the Ponds managing more or less by themselves, with Amy’s parents resurrected at the end of series five only to vanish into complete obscurity, while her husband hasn’t even got a look-in until now. Credit should go to Moffat for keeping away from the soap opera family sagas that dogged Davies’ run, but perhaps it’s the very absence of detail that’s made me curious: who is Rory’s family? Does he have one? Last night, we sort of found out.

After a madcap opening which saw us go from ancient Egypt to the plains of Africa, which echoed ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and which, I feared, was setting us up for a catastrophic fall from grace, we visit the Ponds. Some time has elapsed since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and Rory’s dad, Brian Pond Williams, is fixing a light bulb, which is something that Rory apparently can’t do himself. Brian’s a gruff, grumpy character quite unlike Arthur Weasley (who, for some reason, I somehow expected him to be playing) – quite stunned to find himself suddenly inside the TARDIS, which has materialised around them all. The Doctor takes everyone into the bowels of a colossal spacecraft “the size of Canada” (which enables them to go from beaches to jungles to grimy steel without worrying about the tone) and immediately jumps on Brian, before getting cross with Rory for bringing him along, much to Rory’s annoyance.

It’s all a bit Byzantium, isn’t it?

No one has time to be grumpy for long, because that’s when the main door opens, and we find out what the vessel is being used for. “Dinosaurs!” exclaims the Doctor. “On a SPACESHIP!” Which would be a wonderful reveal to take us into the opening credits, were it not for the fact that a) it’s the episode title, b) it’s been on all the promotional posters, c) it’s been flogged to death in the press releases.

So much for spoilers. There was at least one surprise in store, although given Chibnall’s Who-related history perhaps we should have seen it coming: the ship is an ark formerly piloted by the Silurians (presumably to escape the disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs, which the Doctor really should remember). Unfortunately, the one Silurian actually present in the episode is visible on camera in a thirty-second pre-recorded video, which we can’t really see properly anyway because Amy is blocking the view, and that’s yer lot. I know that the new Silurians shamelessly rip off V (at least physically; otherwise we’re in chicken and egg territory), but it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated. Perhaps more surprising is the revelation that it’s pronounced ‘sy-loor-ian’, which means I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. At first I thought Amy was bringing a Scottish lilt to things, in the manner of Kevin Lindsay’s mispronunciation of ‘Sontaran’ in ‘The Time Warrior’, but apparently not. Still, I suppose the occasional clanger on my part is to be expected when you do your Who correspondence over the internet.

Make the most of this. There won’t be any more.

There are no Silurians hanging around because, as it turns out, they’ve all been killed by the evil Solomon, who is nursing his injuries in a shuttle hidden in the depths of the ship. Solomon is played with sinister flair by David Bradley, recently seen in Harry Potter.

Specifically –

You can almost hear the phone call.

“David? It’s Keith. Got something. They want you to play an evil trader in Doctor Who. The writer describes it as ‘Half businessman, half Somali pirate’.”
“Sounds fun.”
“There’s a problem: They blew the entire costume budget on CGI and they want you to bring your own outfit. Do you still have the Filch costume?”
“Yes, as it happens. Warner Brothers didn’t want it for the museum. Apparently sadistic caretakers just aren’t glam enough for the displays.”
“Every cloud, though.”

On the other hand…

Well, we could be here all day.

In the absence of any other plan, the gang (as the Doctor refers to them – “It’s new”) – decide to split up and look for clues. It’s not entirely on purpose; an inconvenient teleport zaps Rory, Brian and the Doctor down to Glamorgan, only as it turns out they haven’t actually left the ship – the beach is nothing but an enormous engine, as we discover when the Doctor asks them to dig, and Brian inexplicably (but amusingly) produces a trowel from his pockets, in much the same manner as Mick pulls out salt and pepper from his jacket in The Caretaker. Or, on the other hand –

These scenes are really designed to give the three men a chance to Be Funny together, which – to be fair – they manage quite successfully. Smith seems to have regained his sense of humour after last week, boyishly declaring “I’m going to look at rocks!” before wandering off, although it isn’t long before they’re back and looking at a swanky computer screen.

We have to overlay it like this, of course, to make it really obvious that they’re looking at a screen.

While the Three Stooges are running away from pterodactyls, Amy has the rather tedious job of wandering round the rest of the ship, stumbling across a sleeping dinosaur that can’t be much bigger than a rhino before musing “At best guess, a tyrannosaurus rex”, suggesting that either she doesn’t know her dinosaurs or it was just a really, really small one. Her main role in this episode, however, consists of interacting with the two supporting characters, both of whom are there to provide crucial narrative support at one particular moment, rendering the rest of their appearance entirely pointless.

Riddell. The only Riddell here is ‘What the hell is he doing in this story? Really?’

Amy deals with this by having the two of them argue about gender politics, before drawing their attention to the screen.

There’s something awfully familiar about this.

It really is mind-numbingly tedious. And so is Amy, who seems to have been so drastically rewritten this series it makes me wonder what on earth I saw in her the first place. Last week she was laughing in the face of danger; this week she’s pressing buttons, because apparently that’s the sort of thing the Doctor does. Rarely has Karen Gillan had me looking at my watch, and it isn’t really her fault, but for the first time last night I found myself grateful that we’re facing the imminent departure of the Ponds.

Meanwhile, the Doctor et al. appear to have met a triceratops, which, in This Week’s Funny Moment, slobbers all over Brian.

Which, in turn, calls to mind this little moment of comedy gold.

The triceratops, of course, behaves exactly like a dog, adhering to dinosaur film principle #1: any herbivorous creature must be friendly, sweet and not in the least intimidated by humans. The canine-like behaviour extends to the point that it runs to fetch the golf balls that Brian throws for it. The whole thing is very silly, but it’s hard not to raise a smile when the Doctor, Rory and Brian leap on its back and gallop through the halls of the spaceship, or feel a pang of sadness when Solomon and his robotic cronies subsequently gun it down.

Tally ho, and all that. Apologies for the blurring.

Ah, yes. Those robots. I have no idea what the casting directors were playing at here, but bringing in Mitchell and Webb was a mistake: amusing for one line, when David Mitchell faces down the Doctor and says “We’re very cross with you”, and then swiftly grating. (Besides, if we’re going with hulking monstrosities with silly voices, Suburban Commando got there first.) Reduced to a one-scene cameo with amusing dialogue this could have been another celebrity cameo in the manner of Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride, or Bill Bailey in ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’. As it stands, their pre-recorded patter swiftly becomes tiresome: the robots-behaving-like-children thing ages faster than Sara Kingdom at the end of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, and Mitchell saying “You’re going straight to the naughty step” would have been funny if he hadn’t said more or less exactly the same thing to Webb in the Mac advert campaign.

The ship is still speeding towards Earth, where the military has No Choice But To Shoot It Down, despite the Doctor’s reassurances that everything is OK. The ethical ‘dilemma’ as faced by the Earth is epitomised by the pained look of one particular commander.

Because even Indian people experience angst.

Up on the ship, the Doctor has a plan, but he has time to chat to Amy first and reassure her that he’ll never leave her. “You’ll be there until the end of me,” he promises, to which Amy quips “Or vice versa”. This grants the Doctor the opportunity to give her a Very Serious and Worried Look.

Said look is presumably designed to dangle the prospect of Amy’s death in front of our noses until ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, in which Moffat will reveal that it was all a bluff just before he actually kills Rory.

Speaking of death, the end of the episode sees some dubious moral choices: the Doctor saves the dinosaurs by freeing Solomon’s ship, allowing him to escape, but reversing the signal so that the missiles pursue him instead of the dinosaurs. It’s technically possible for him to escape, just as it was technically possible for Johnny to have escaped at the end of Mad Max, but this is the closest the Doctor’s come to outright murder in a while, and it’s not a comfortable place for him to be. Meanwhile, Riddell the hunter has taken care of the approaching velociraptors – with the help of Amy, who has inexplicably developed fantastic shooting skills in the same manner that washerwomen and market traders develop chorographical skills in musical numbers. This is an excuse for another bit of fancy gunplay, as rather than take a side of the room and stick to it the two embark on a dazzling display of shooting-past-each-other, while finishing – as Gareth pointed out – in the middle of the room, whereas standing right by the door would surely have been the safer option. Riddell is, of course, using tranquilisers, which absolves him of moral responsibility so presumably we won’t feel bad when he heads back to Africa and starts shooting real animals again.

Things have thankfully come on a bit since ‘Invasion’.

Brian gets to be a hero, piloting the ship out of danger with the help of his son, although Chibnall missed a trick here – there was the potential for more banter in the manner of parent-child driving lessons, but instead all we get is Williams shouting “I’M FLYING A SPACESHIP”. Nonetheless, he’s the focus of the nicest scene in the episode, which consists of nothing more than a quiet sandwich lunch (with Thermos) at the open door of the TARDIS, looking out over the Earth. It’s wordless, understated and really rather lovely.

Brian’s experience on the ship, of course, has given him the travel bug, and one of the final images in the episode is Amy and Rory’s kitchen wall, adorned with photoshopped postcards of his excursions. Well, being chased by pterodactyls and getting shot by robots is one way of curing hodophobia. It does rather recall the subplot in Amelie where the titular heroine gets her father out of the house by kidnapping his gnome.

This was cliched, hackneyed and immediately obvious from the moment they first appeared on screen together.

For all its structural issues and inconsistencies, ‘Dinosaurs’ was a riot. It was silly, and outrageous, miscast and occasionally poorly written. It was also very, very hard to dislike (and I wanted to. I really did). Because stories like this need to be fun, in the way that Snakes on a Plane wasn’t. Regular readers here may remember that a couple of months ago I predicted that ‘Dinosaurs’ would be rubbish. And I stand by that, because it was, but it was a fun, silly, highly amusing sort of rubbish, and so in many ways not really rubbish at all. Perhaps it was the Chardonnay, but I enjoyed last night’s Who more than any other I’ve seen since 2010. That can’t be a bad thing.

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The (Jurassic) Ark In Space

I’m sure Comic Con is great. And I’d love to see San Diego. But I’m glad I wasn’t there for the Q&A I’m going to talk about tonight, because I suspect it would have set my teeth on edge.

A lightly spoiler-ish article on io9 – forwarded to me by Gareth – details the Grand Moffat’s plan for the new series, and on the face of it, the outlook isn’t pretty. As much as I look forward to every new season of Who, hopeful that it’ll in some way eclipse the last in terms of quality – or, perhaps, atone for some of the sins of previous episodes (I’m looking at you, Ms. Raynor) – I think it’s fair to say that this one has me as unexcited about the show’s return in autumn as I’ve ever been.

Let’s start with the trailer.

To anyone under the age of ten or who happened to love Cowboys Vs. Aliens, this is undoubtedly brilliant. To anyone who was watching TV in 1993, or who happens to have seen TV that was made in 1993, it rips off at least two episodes of Red Dwarf. I was one of the few who thought ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ was overrated in the first instance; I have no wish to see it remade by the Doctor Who team. And that’s before we even get to that shot of a Dalek eyestalk, which is in itself oddly reminiscent of Return of the Jedi.

Yes, those Daleks. Moffat assures us that we’ll see

“more Daleks than you’ve ever seen in one place — and every generation of Dalek.” And it looks fantastic, now that the visual effects are just being completed. “Lots and lots and lots of Daleks. All the things you see when you close your eyes.”

Maybe I’m in a minority here, but when I have nightmares about Who, they don’t involve Daleks. They involve reruns of ‘Fear Her’. I’m not frightened by the Daleks; overexposure has rendered me completely indifferent to them. The Daleks are no longer scary, and thus no longer appealing. And there is a glint of fanboyish glee about Moffat’s desire to get the gang together, as if he were a chubby, bespectacled ten-year-old appearing on Blue Peter or The Antiques Roadshow with his collection.

I didn’t even object to the Power Rangers Daleks, despite the cynical (and rather obvious) collect-the-set marketing ploy. It’s just that I don’t trust anyone at the New Who offices to be able to do anything interesting with the Daleks. And making the Daleks interesting is crucial to their success, and the very reason why so many of the post-2005 Dalek episodes have been second / third-rate: include the Nation’s Finest, and you’ve got a clear ratings winner, so there’s no need to actually come up with a story, just a different setting (Daleks in Churchill’s England / depression-era New York / the Black Forest). Chuck in a couple of cries of ‘Exterminate!’, add some trigger-happy military types who don’t know what they’re dealing with and who are certain to meet early and untimely deaths, and you’ve got yourself an episode. I’m not unremittingly nostalgic for Classic Who, but the unfortunate truth is that Dalek stories are lazy, because the last time they did anything genuinely interesting was back in 1988.

Things don’t improve with the second episode of the series which will, apparently, be called ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, which calls to mind obvious (and, one would assume, quite intentional) parallels with Snakes on a Plane. No episode with such a title, you may think, could possibly fail on any level. I’d counter thus:

1. The last time Doctor Who did dinosaurs, they were shit. The story wasn’t, but the dinosaurs were. I know they were on a shoestring, but still. Just saying.

2. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ is written by Chris Chibnall, who also wrote ’42’ and the season 5 Silurian episodes, all of which were shit.

3. Snakes on a Plane is also shit. It’s not even mindless entertainment, fine-if-you-don’t-take-it-seriously, so-bad-it’s-good shit. It’s just shit. Irredeemable shit.

I think that’s enough shit to be going on with, don’t you?

Meanwhile, at an arc level…

How did Moffat come up with the idea that the Doctor’s name was “the first question?” someone asks. “To be honest, it’s been there from a start. He never gives his name. Other Time Lords do, but he doesn’t. Clearly, his name is very important. Only I know why. We actually find out the truth” about the importance of the Doctor’s name.

That Doctor. His refusal to give his name is indeed unique, and categorically unacceptable. I was just discussing the sheer bloody-mindedness of it only the other evening, in the pub with my mates the Rani and the Master. That was before we were interrupted by the Other and the Meddling Monk, who wanted to borrow 20p for the pool table.

Elsewhere:

Someone brings up the idea that the Doctor leaves the brakes (the “blue boringers”) on when he flies the TARDIS — and Moffat notes that River Song was probably winding the Doctor up about that — because you might notice that when she flies the TARDIS, it still makes that same wheezing, groaning materialization noise.

Yawn, the brake-crunching, pull-to-open, needs-six-people-to-fly-it-TARDIS. But here’s a thought – and I voice it aloud despite the fact that it’s going to stomp all over everything I’ve just written. We might, to be honest, be at the stage where we have to stop taking these throwaway remarks seriously and just accept that the continuity of Who is one big mess. As, of course, one would it expect it to be, with a multitude of writers and guest writers and chief writers and script editors, all with their own ideas as to what the show should be, and that’s not to mention the novelisations and comics and BF productions, with inconsistencies and disputed canonicity. Consider, for example, the Doctor’s regeneration limit – established as twelve in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and adjusted accordingly thereafter until, in the SJA ‘Death of the Doctor’ story, it was mentioned by the Eleventh Doctor that “there isn’t one”, a story that was promptly picked up by the Guardian and made into a front page web article for a few hours on a Tuesday evening.

Moffat’s consistently making silly jokes, and while the remarks about the TARDIS brakes have no doubt stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate amongst the engineers who post at Outpost Gallifrey or wherever the fans hang out nowadays, there is nonetheless the strong possibility that he just put it in because he thought it was funny (and it could have been, except it came from River, who is irritating). Similarly, Father Christmas is probably not called Jeff (now that was funny) and the Doctor probably didn’t throw the TARDIS manual into a supernova (although I’m sure the story where he did just that exists somewhere). And yes, the pull-to-open thing in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ was wrong. But that’s the point. Under Moffat’s reign (and, to an extent, Davies’ before it), episode writing is a dialogue, a nod to the fans, an acknowledgement of their presence and – often – a subtle dig at them. Every episode is going to be pulled apart and analysed to death within hours of its transmission, and the writers know it. Such things are thus put in to purposely wind us up, and they succeed.

The truth is that Doctor Who can be whatever the chief writer wants it to be, because it’s transcended continuity. There are certain fundamental ground rules – no true love, no kissing, no beards – but that’s it. The fans have spent years shoehorning and explaining and reconciling continuity, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. For example, Tegan’s appearance in A Fix With Sontarans‘ is non-canon, because the story is non-canon, because it’s a story that occurs within the context of a children’s programme hosted by a chain-smoking northerner in a tracksuit – and the subsequent fanfiction attempts to reconcile Tegan with the Sixth Doctor, while undoubtedly well-meant, were frankly silly.

Besides, the Doctor lies. At least this one does, because that’s how Smith likes to play him and Moffat likes to write him – and ultimately they’re the ones calling the shots. Personally, I’d consider the revelation of the Doctor’s name to be a clear violation of one of the unwritten rules – but they’re myrules, not his. However much I may have whinged this evening, the fact remains that mine is a singular viewpoint, and my own views of what Who ought to be are always going to be different from even the most like-minded friend or colleague or fellow-blogger. Phillip Pullman said that writing isn’t a democracy, and Doctor Who – despite the collective input I mentioned earlier – isn’t really a Jungian collective. It’s whatever the person in charge makes it. The bottom line – and the only question we should really be concerning ourselves with, when all is said and done – is whether or not the creative decisions made at the top make for good television. Because ultimately that’s the only thing that really counts. So perhaps we should be viewing series 7 in that light. Roll on autumn – and bring on the dinosaurs.

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