Actually, while we’re on the subject –
You were all thinking it, weren’t you?
And while we’re combining cartoons with that series finale, have a few Peanuts.
See you next time, my Sweet Babboo.
Actually, while we’re on the subject –
You were all thinking it, weren’t you?
And while we’re combining cartoons with that series finale, have a few Peanuts.
See you next time, my Sweet Babboo.
I’ve written six Metro articles this week and I’m about spent. There have been opinion pieces and video collections. I’ve written one piece praising Moffat’s legacy, and another that tears down the series finale. I’m sorry folks, but I have nothing left to give.
It doesn’t help that watching this week was problematic, thanks to the Preview website buffering every ten seconds, leading to some peculiar moments where Capaldi’s mouth would hang open mid-sentence in awkward comedy poses. Emily and I endured it for half an hour on two laptops and two different browsers before giving up – I would eventually see the rest of it the following morning when the connection was better. We decided to watch this week’s Twin Peaks instead, because at least that was a download. Ten minutes in the phone rang: it was the school. Thomas was inconsolable on his overnight residential and would I please come and pick him up? The next thing you know I’m bombing up the A34 at quarter past ten on a Wednesday evening. Oh, and did I mention the A34 turned out to be shut?
But I remember watching Peter Capaldi’s very first episode – some days after it had aired – and, having missed the review window, deciding to retrospectively liveblog the experience. So that’s what I’m doing here. If you’d really like another sixteen paragraphs of cynical commentary I can provide that, but you have to ask nicely.
In the meantime, here’s ‘The Doctor Falls’, more or less as it happens.
1:23 – Matrons. Matrons with guns. I’m sure that’s the title of a porn movie. Maybe a snuff film. Could we watch it together?
4:50 – We’re on a rooftop. Missy and the Master are dancing and contemplating a snog. This is two shakes away from masturbation. Literally.
6:05 – “Ten years,” Simm confirms. That answers that question, although he also said it in interviews; Ah, and now we have the exposition. They seem to have fixed the drumming; nothing else explains his apparent good humour. Unless he knows how Game of Thrones is going to end.
7:00 – Thought: maybe the Doctor believes that Simm and Coleman had improbably round faces because his is implausibly long. Maybe it’s a perspective thing. “We say the same thing about you.”
8:11 – “This doesn’t make any sense!” This sounds like every Facebook conversation I’ve had this week about why there are two Masters. Seriously, why don’t these people read?
12:27 – And this is where we came in.
13:10 – What’s with the wailing lament with the drone underneath? It’s like bad Morricone. Which would suggest that we’re being set up for bad Leone. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, only I’m having trouble deciding which is which.
14:12 – Ah, I see what’s going on. We’ve been here before. This is a nice way to include Mackie. It also means she’s not coming back next year.
19:36 – Don’t make her angry. You wouldn’t like where she’s – and there goes the wall. She’ll be useful if the Doctor ever needs a knock-through.
21:56 – And the Doctor’s hand is glowing. But this is clearly the Reassuring Wisdom scene. The stick he’s holding is very Gandalf. Say something for the Tumblr feeds, Doctor.
23:45 – “Where there’s tears, there’s hope.” Oh FFS.
24:48 – Can we assume that there’s some sort of formalised English filter in Bill’s headpiece and she’s not really saying “Stand aside?”. Can we assume it’s something like “Move your flamin’ penguin arse”?
24:56 – As the Master asks “Is the future gonna be all girl?”, the Doctor replies “We can only hope.” That’s the BBC’s diversity quotient for the week then.
29:02 – Simm, it must be said, is brilliant in this. It’s like watching Ainley again, but in a good way.
31:54 – Hazran’s just shot Bill in the chest. If they’re going to have a Cyberman wandering round wouldn’t it make sense to giver her some sort of identifying label? Could they not have got her a badge or something? Or a hat?
34:34 – Prediction: at a convention in November, McCoy will be doing this monologue. Possibly better.
36:07 – Josh: “Man, the Master’s a dick.”
38:48 – If this is a holodeck, why on earth is it a 1930s farm? Why not, I don’t know, a tropical beach? Or an amusement park? Somewhere with chips? And thicker walls?
44:07 – Ah, so that’s how Simm regenerates.
45:06 – Oh, so Bill’s a lesbian? I wasn’t expecting that. Plot twist central here this week.
47:00 – “We shoot ourselves in the back.” That is, it must be said, a perfect way for these two to bow out.
48:37 – “Telos! The ice tombs! Every single child! FOR SPARTA, FOR FREEDOM TO THE DEATH!”
49:04 – The Doctor is confronting the Cybermen and there is no music. It’s actually quite powerful, although you wonder if that’s because they couldn’t afford any more from Murray Gold’s back catalogue after the BMG acquisition.
51:44 – Nice tracking over the wasteland. This is like post-apocalyptic Nordic Noir. With a sobbing robot. I think I may have just subverted an entire genre, and I’ve not even had wine yet.
53:20 – Oh god oh god oh god THEY’RE NOT FUCKING DOING THIS. I don’t know what’s worse: the flashbacks that remind us of who Heather is, the healing power of tears, the choir, the stupid Watership Down thing…how fucking hard would it have been to let her die, Steven? Couldn’t you just do it once?
56:39 – Coming in 2019:
57:28 – Oh, he doesn’t want to go. I wish he bloody would.
58:46– BAFTAs, May 2018: “And the award goes to…Peter Capaldi!”
59:07– So you can apparently stave off a regeneration by sticking your hands in the snow. Bet Tennant regrets going to Magalouf for that final holiday.
59:10 – “Seriously, if he can do this now, how are they going to write themselves out of this corner next time?”
Emily: “It’s like going to the toilet. If you work at it, you can train your bladder. But you can’t hold it off forever. When you have to go…”
59:51 – Kids: “Who’s that?”
Knew I should have shown them An Adventure In Space And Time. Dammit.
Oh, and it was all going so well.
There are some episodes of Doctor Who that contain unambiguously great stories. ‘Human Nature’ is one of them: its tale of a vulnerable, humanised Doctor is sweeping and simultaneously intimate; a vast tour de force of a man who is not the Doctor, and indeed who has stolen the Doctor’s body, and whom we nonetheless grow to love so much we’re reluctant to let him leave it. ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ is another: a strictly local skirmish that opens a window onto the life of a single, tragic figure, heading irreversibly towards the end of his life, inspired briefly by the encouragement of friends, but ultimately not enough to eclipse the pain. ‘Time Heist’ jumps to the scale’s opposing end, and delivers a tale that is light on characterisation but embroiled in a mystery that is sufficiently interesting to draw you in and keep you guessing.
Other episodes are what we might call Event Stories. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ (and its immediate follow-up) might be a decent example: ‘The Wedding of River Song’ is another. Monsters and threats are all present and more or less correct, but the McGuffins serve the dramatic purpose of padding out the running time between the twists. Paradoxically these are usually the ones that people remember, because they are the game changers – the ones that kill, that resurrect, that shine a torch onto the identity papers of heretofore mysterious, enigmatic guest stars.
‘World Enough and Time’ is a classic case of an Event Story. This is not an episode that you watch for the meat, because by and large there isn’t any. Oh, there are Things That Happen. Many of the Things That Happen will have the fans talking: one, in particular, will cause the collective dropping of jaws. Simultaneously, the story is essentially a series of sudden peaks amidst periods of comparative inactivity. Much of the point is that time is passing much faster for Bill than it is for the Doctor and the remains of his crew, meaning that the Time Lord is sidelined for at least half the running time, captured in a series of frozen moments, as if in a pocket universe held in a painting (read: TV screen), while for Bill the years tick by. (We do not know, by the way, precisely how many years it is, although there are undoubtedly fans on the internet already doing the maths.)
Essentially what happens in ‘World Enough and Time’ is this: the Doctor begins to regenerate, a flash-forward that serves to tease the finale early. Then Bill is shot dead, the hole in her chest sudden and gaping, with Bill herself seemingly frozen in time in much the same way that her mentor will be later in the story. Five minutes later she is up and about, a synthetic heart installed in the same manner as the reactor that’s kept Tony Stark alive. She lives a sort of half life in a nightmarish, dimly-lit hospital, accompanied only by a heavily-accented janitor, Mr Razor, whose total absence from the cast list ought to be a clue as to his identity.
What’s curious is the manner in which the story actively mirrors ‘Utopia’ but also mimics both Classic Who and the spoiler-obsessed contingent of the viewing audience. There’s a scene in The Phantom Menace which I rather like (now there’s something I never thought I’d say out loud): as Qui-Gonn and Obi-Wan cross the hangar on their way to a fateful meeting with the Trade Federation, Qui-Gonn castigates his charge for failing to concentrate on the gravity of the current situation. “Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future,” Obi-Wan protests, which prompts the response “But not at the expense of the moment.”
If anything, ‘World Enough’ actively fulfils this prophecy, taking a hammer to the fourth wall and spending much of its running time teasing the fans desperate to jump ahead, by introducing a character who will doubtless irritate many people simply because they’re waiting for the Master to turn up. It would be interesting to see how many people were angrily Tweeting at quarter past seven, annoyed as to why the much-anticipated return hadn’t happened yet, oblivious to the reality. Certainly Simm’s disguise is effective and his acting impeccable, and while many people will undoubtedly see through the ruse immediately there will be a great many more who don’t, even if they were around for ‘The King’s Demons’. This is one of those instances where false memory reigns supreme; watching the episode a second time – as I did, Thursday morning – it is impossible to not see it, and I suspect that there will be plenty of fans ready to lie about the fact that they did.
Certainly it’s not the only time. Missy’s early conversation with Bill and Nardole reeks of fanboy trolling – the morally ambiguous Time Lady, when asked why she’s calling herself Doctor Who, replies “That’s his real name”. It sounds precisely like the arguments I read (and frequently attempt to defuse) on Facebook, and Moffat knows it. Next week’s Tumblr prediction: an image of Missy dabbing, with this caption:
There. I’ve done it so you don’t have to. For reference: it is fine to call him Doctor Who if you want to, and it always has been. Such forms of address have been part of the show since 1963 – if it’s good enough for Peter Capaldi, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.
For all its structural inadequacies, ‘World Enough’ gets an awful lot right. The hospital in which Bill spends the bulk of her time is dark and frightening, echoing the visual design of Silent Hill (the normal Silent Hill; the ‘other’ version would just be too much to cope with). The only thing that jars during these scenes is the fact that she seems so comfortable: it could be a mild form of Stockholm syndrome, but there is something implausible about her acceptance of the situation in which she finds herself, and something atypically mundane about her conversations with Mr Razor. If anything, the Doctor’s companion is perhaps a little too happy with her lot; perhaps it’s the presence of an artificial heart that’s caused her to basically lose her own.
Then there are the Cybermen: shadowy, shuffling and shambling, emerging from the darkness in cloth-covered stages of gradual exposure until the moment we see one of them up close for the first time (and, of course, it’s Bill). Most pleasing of all, the Speak & Spell voices are back, even at the prototype stage, the partially converted patients tapping away at buttons marked ‘PAIN’ like of those V-Tech laptops or talking phones my children have cluttering up the toy basket. The whole thing is a bit Stephen Hawking, and will undoubtedly alienate those fans who prefer the bland, metallic tones of Nicholas Briggs, but it looks like they’re probably back next week, so at least they won’t be whining for long.
Come the episode’s conclusion, the Master is back in the frame – reunited with what is almost unambiguously purported to be his future self (not that this will be enough to silence the naysayers) and Bill is a newly-converted Cyberman, weeping real tears instead of oil as she advances on the Doctor. It is a mistake that may not be undone, and that in itself is what makes it so terrifying, but it follows thirty-five minutes of meandering, punctuated by occasional flashes of brilliance. There are – once more – conversations about the Doctor’s eyebrows, although their supposed mightiness is thankfully left untapped. This is clearly an episode in which Moffat intended to drop several radical plot twists and decided that he add comparatively little of substance in between. The net result is not bad, in the way that, say, ‘Death In Heaven’ was – just rather disappointing after the character pieces we’ve had for the past few weeks. There is nothing to match the Doctor’s fire in ‘The Eaters of Light’, the fatherly reassurance he offers when Bill ventures into the TARDIS halfway through ‘The Pilot’, or his weary speech about moving on that provided the unexpected high point to ‘Thin Ice’.
I’m assuming all that’s coming. Certainly the trailer for next week indicates a maelstrom of mayhem and explosions and, I daresay, at least one scene where the Doctor stares at Bill and says “I know you’re still in there”. Whether Bill will actually emerge from her shell, perhaps tearing at the bandages like Jack Napier does in Batman, or whether the Doctor will somehow be able to open the armour, or whether the whole thing will simply be retconned somehow remains to be seen. ‘Redemption’ is mentioned as part of the Twelfth’s closing character development: does this mean saving her later? Is it too much to ask that Bill might actually endure the most horrific of fates without its instant undoing at the behest of the chief writer’s handwavium?
Then there’s ‘Spare Parts’. If we had the time we could find a way of making it fit, but it really doesn’t, and we might as well avoid that argument now, along with the whole question of whether or not Big Finish is canon. There will be some for whom the rewritten backstory is nothing short of sacrilege, but that’s the problem with an origin story that was committed to audio before it was televised: do you ignore it, as Moffat has done? Or do you work in a narrative that half the audience won’t have encountered and risk landing in Ian Levine territory? (Paradoxically Ian doesn’t like Big Finish anyway, so I can only assume that he will view tonight’s retcon with the sort of ambivalence that is liable to make your head explode. Well, we can dream.)
The bottom line (he he. ‘Bottom’) is that Moffat really didn’t have a choice, unless he’d told an entirely different tale – and I’m starting to find the whole ‘urinating on the legacy of Doctor Who’ argument fiercely dull, despite being, until recently, one of its most embittered advocates. Because everyone puts their own stamp on Doctor Who: you’re just a little kinder to the stuff that happened before you got the chance to watch it. No one questions the rewritten Time Lords in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, or. the notion that two Doctors can appear together at once. We shouldn’t question this. I just wish it had been within the confines of an actual story, instead of a collection of vignettes and moments, stitched together into a Frankensteinian whole, much like the shambling abominations that haunt the corridors of the Mondasian spacecraft.
There is no God Is In The Detail post this week, folks. I’m sorry. I really can’t spare the time.
However, here’s some alternative artwork for episode 11, ‘World Enough And Time’ – and yes, the BBC acknowledged that it was a deliberate homage to ‘Day of the Doctor’, but I wondered what would happen if you combined them:
Elsewhere, this recently discovered deleted scene from ‘Forest of the Dead’ goes a long way towards closing up some narrative loopholes.
Talking of Nardole, the inspiration for that costume, when you look at it, is obvious.
Anyway: while I was doing all this, my eight-year-old removed the front from his Yoda torch, and inadvertently turned it into Alpha Centauri.
Normal business resumes next week.
Today’s Who roundup: first, an exclusive BBC production still of the contents of the Vault.
Meanwhile there is chaos over at Bagpuss & Co when Emily brings in her latest Lost Thing for repair.
In fact, just, you know, this in general.
God Is In The Detail is returning! And it will be with you later in the week. But in the meantime, here are the headlines from across the Whoniverse.
First and foremost, the fallout from the forced removal of a doctor from an American flight has drastic repercussions.
Fan reaction to the imminent return of John Simm continues to ignite the internet.
In fact this is Steven Moffat’s week, generally.
And an artist’s rendition of Kris Marshall in the TARDIS goes somewhat awry.
He’s just on the wrong planet, that’s all.
Here’s today’s media round-up. In television, it’s discovered that the Master spent the years following ‘Frontier in Space’ on a remote Scottish island catching up with some old friends.
Wallace and Gromit’s new musical direction is unveiled.
And finally, in the wake of new rules, it’s revealed that the BBC are prepared to take drastic steps in order to ensure you pay your license fee.
I’m off to Wales. See you in a week.
I’m not going to talk about this:
Because it’s not particularly interesting and I’ll probably do a Metro column on it at some point anyway. (Someone has Tweeted that they wanted it to be called ‘The Santa Claus of Axos’, which I do think is inspired.)
If you’re reading in the USA and have no idea what Children in Need actually is, it’s one of those telethon things where newsreaders dance, singers try to act, and comedians appear in tear-jerking videos about abused children, accompanied by tinkly piano music that morphs into Coldplay. It’s all very worthy, but it encourages giving from people who probably don’t give to anything else, so I can live with the big cheques and poor attempts at comedy.
However. Those adverts are so formulaic. So after looking at a meme I made for other purposes last year, and seeing that it’s fairly topical following Missy’s revelation in ‘Dark Water’, I figured this one sort of worked.
WARNING: Spoilers below.
Well, congratulations, Steven. You did it. For a change, you’ve surprised me. Not by producing a belter of an episode, something I thought was no longer within your abilities as showrunner. No, instead you managed the stupid-and-obvious route to a finale, rather than the stupid-and-obscure one.
‘Dark Water’ spends much of its time in a world of half-truths and guarded uncertainty, telling you things it then retracts or twists, and it’s only when we’ve had twenty minutes of nothing happening that you realise its purpose is largely to set up the chess pieces for next week’s explosive finale. It does this by delivering three significant plot developments, in the manner of one of those episodes of 24 that still gets talked about years after its broadcast. Facebook group comments are full of multiple punctuation marks (and poor spelling, but that’s par for the course). The #whoismissy tag clogs up Twitter feeds. Tumblr goes into general meltdown. Gareth informs me that the general mood on Gallifrey Base is “my jaw is still on the floor”.
The problem, as he then puts it, is this: “Surely, if you’re waiting for a revelation, you’re expecting it to be (say) the Master, the Rani or Romana (according to posts), then it’s not jaw-droppingly stunning when it turns out to be one of them?”. I’ve written about this before, but to re-iterate: years ago I saw The Sixth Sense, and figured out the twist halfway through solely because I was looking for it. If you know that something colossal is coming then to say that you were gobsmacked at the reveal is nothing but hyperbole. And yes, I know I’m making a fuss about inappropriate language. I’m an English graduate. It goes with the territory.
Inappropriate language is, indeed, all part of the fun this week, as the Doctor informs Clara that they’re about to ‘go to hell’ – a remark that she understandably interprets as a curse. It follows three minutes of fiery dialogue at the edge of a volcano, in a scene that really couldn’t be more Lord of the Rings even if Jenna Coleman were dancing around the edge with the TARDIS key, bellowing “Precious is ours!”. (Of course, if she were wearing nothing but a groin-covering cloth while doing so, it would have made for a better scene.)
The rot sets in early. The confrontation by the TARDIS is taking place in a kind of simulated reality, a hallucination that the Doctor has allowed to run its natural course. In a nutshell this means that you get to take events to a headline-grabbing extreme just before admitting that the footage that saturated the trailer – and all the speculation that follows – basically counts for nothing, because the whole thing was a dream. I don’t care what it says about Clara’s determination to win back Danny, it was a glorified publicity stunt. I was half expecting her to wake up in a hotel bedroom just as Matt Smith was stepping out of the shower.
“Except,” wail the fans who are convinced this was a masterstroke, “it did happen, because Clara saw it happen, and the Doctor saw it happen. So it sort of did.” Indeed, it sort of did, in the same manner that Amy Pond sort of murdered Madame Kovarian and Rose Tyler / Amy Pond / Donna Noble sort of died, and I didn’t much care for those storylines either. So yes, I can see why the Doctor got upset with Clara, even though it’s hard to believe that a man of his scientific bent would ever actually use the words “go to hell”, except perhaps in his confused, post-regenerative let’s-strangle-Nicola-Bryant phase.
Ironically, this little tete-a-tete follows the only truly effective moment in the episode, in which Danny Pink is killed – suddenly and (more or less) offscreen. When you think about it, the development is obvious – the Doctor and Clara needed a reason to visit the afterlife, and there is none more emotionally cogent – but it is still a powerful scene, Moffat’s tendency to deliver a punch via the use of technology once more working in his favour. There is no kneeling by the corpse, no tearful farewell – indeed, for an episode that is to all intents and purposes about Danny and Clara, the two of them share no screen time together. There is, instead, just Clara, reflecting in her kitchen that Danny’s death was, in Whovian terms, “boring”. And she’s right, and somehow that makes it worse.
What follows is a strange sort of Eurydicean descent into the underworld, with gender roles reversed and Capaldi playing a ferryman of sorts to Clara’s Orpheus. The Poppins-esque Missy is cast in the role of Hades, which would presumably make the amiable (if slightly sinister) Seb the Persephone equivalent. Seb (Chris Addison, doing the best he can with a dog’s breakfast) manages to stay on the watchable side of creepy by not coming across as the sort of bureaucrat you’d expect to find in a place so obviously obsessed with data trails as hell seems to be. He is, instead, the good cop (the contrasting white suit can’t have been an accident) to Missy’s bad: cheerful but agenda-focused, usually wearing the sort of expression worn by HR executives who know there’s been an official complaint against you even though they’re not supposed to talk about it, and trying not to use the word ‘app’. “iPads?” he sneers, when Danny points out this week’s obvious use of product placement. “We’ve got Steve Jobs.”
The involvement of the Cybermen is the episode’s second big reveal, although there’s a little foreshadowing in the shape of an obvious visual motif: a shot of two sliding doors lurching to a close to reveal a familiar-looking design, while Murray Gold drops in his motif from ‘Rise of the Cybermen’. It has the subtlety of a house brick through the window of the only Indian family in the neighbourhood, or – if we’re talking filmic analogies, that moment in The Phantom Menace where Yoda muses with Samuel L Jackson as to whether they killed the Sith Master or whether he’s still out there, just before the camera lingers on Ian McDiarmid for what seems like an incredibly long moment. Or, while Star Wars is on the table –
That’s not a dig. This isn’t 1981. You can’t keep these things secret, and Moffat knows that – this particular cat was out of the bag, through the door and in a different house eating the fish pie on the windowsill before we’d even seen Capaldi fall out of the TARDIS for the first time. It’s a shame, because the reveal takes the form of slow filtering down a glass tank filled with ‘dark’ water, echoing both ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’, and it would have been reasonably effective if everyone in the universe apart from the Doctor hadn’t known it was coming. Instead, we get a lot of chin-scratching from Capaldi, who furrows his brow (and, thank God, doesn’t tell us he’s doing it) while muttering “there’s something very obvious I’m missing…”, in the manner of Inspector Gadget, or one of those TV security guards who’s busy on his Walkman while there’s a fight happening on one of the screens just behind him.
Such jesting is predictable and I thought we’d got it all out of the way in ‘Deep Breath’, but Capaldi does it with flair, and always remains watchable even when he’s been handed a lemon (which is often). The fourth wall breaking continues to be an overused trope, but it does allow for the odd comical moment – “Stop it with the eyes,” he says to Clara, when she’s upset early in the episode. “How do you do that anyway? It’s like they inflate.”
Eventually the Doctor and Clara find their way out of the mausoleum (which looks, by the way, suspiciously like the Temple of Peace) and then there are conversations about death that will “change your way of thinking”, because the dead – as it turns out – continue to feel pain. The short-term sensation of being burned alive, therefore, is presumably far worse to endure than the long-term reality of having your body slowly devoured by worms. There may be a further explanation pending next week, but I wouldn’t count on it.
And then there’s that last revelation. Slowly, tantalisingly, it’s teased out. There is a robot-related feint which fools nobody (except, again, the Doctor). Then there is the revelation that Missy is a Time Lord (“Time Lady, please”. And for a moment, for one glorious moment, you think that Moffat may actually be about to resurrect a long-gone character and give her a chance to shine. I’m not a big fan of arcs – that’s no secret – but if anyone deserves one, it’s her. It builds and builds. The Cybermen stomp across London, in scenes that echo ‘The Invasion’. Danny contemplates deletion. The Doctor panics. The whole thing seems, as far as Missy’s concerned, to be a colossal joke.
And then the punch line is utterly deflating.
Look, it’s not that I mind the idea of gender change on a physiological level. Regeneration isn’t a closed book – if anything, I’ve found the one-size-fits-all approach adopted since 2005 rather silly, and it was nice to see Moffat circumvent that back in January when Smith became Capaldi.
The problem is that this has territory-marking written all over it. You can almost visual the producer’s meetings, in which Moffat pleads with the powers that be to let him have a female Doctor. “Look, just one. Please. Tamsin Grieg’s free and wants to do it. Plus you know there’s a world of stuff I could do with the Long Game connection.”
“Steven, the answer’s no. It just creates far more problems than it solves. Have you not thought about the biological implications? You’ll have to do a parents’ leaflet.”
“But I’ve only got one more bet-you-can’t to do, and then Mark has to buy me a PlayStation.”
“Look, I don’t give a toss about what you get up to in the BBC bar, we’re talking about pissing all over a fifty-year-old institution.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m still on ‘No’, Steven.”
“Can I bring back the Master and turn him into the Mistress?”
“…That is utterly, utterly lame. And that’s before we get to the S&M implications.”
“I can get Isobel Pickwell.”
“One series. That’s it.”
I know I go on about the territory marking far too much, but it’s difficult – after Clara, the War Doctor and heaven knows what else – not to read it into every situation. The Master returns, only he’s a woman, clarifying once and for all that Time Lords can lose more than their memories when The Big Change hits them. Seriously, Steven, you just couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You couldn’t leave it for the next showrunner to deal with; far more fun to have a go yourself without actually doing the central character any lasting damage. Plus, as Gareth points out, this is “ignoring that Big Finish did it – which, to be fair, we should, because it was an awful story“.
None of this is really fair on Michelle Gomez, either. The fact of the matter is that she acts her socks off in every scene she’s in, and is far more of a Master than John Simm ever was (Prime Minster or Hoodie mode). The kiss throws up all sorts of insinuations as to the nature of their relationship (and casts the whole ‘brother’ thing in an entirely new light) but it’s no worse than much of the fanfiction that’s flooded the internet, so it isn’t something to get upset about. Begrudgingly, if we have to have a female Master I’m glad it’s her. Following a similar train of thought, I have to go to the dentist in January to have a tooth extracted, and after the last time (during which I passed out in the chair) they’ve told me they’re going to sedate me. That’s all well and good, but it still doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy the experience.
There are good things in ‘Dark Water’. Clara is almost bearable. The Cybermen are always fun to watch, even in their bad stories, and they haven’t done a single Matrix zoom yet. Danny’s tragic past is at last put to bed, or at least put out into the open. The Nethersphere is visually impressive, once you get past the idea that the consciousnesses of the deceased are living inside a colossal disco ball. The writing, while far from Moffat’s best, isn’t exactly his worst, either. And Rachel Talalay directs with flair, teasing the best out of her performers.
It’s just the final, crushing disappointment of that last reveal. It’s a thoroughly inane solution to a potentially interesting problem, and my hunch – that it would be a colossal let-down – has sadly proven correct. As far as ridiculous cliffhangers go, it’s up there with ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, because in one foul swoop the arc has become all about Who Missy Is, as opposed to what (s)he might be up to: the more interesting question, by far (Doctor Who does the afterlife – potentially fascinating) but now destined to fade into the background so we can concentrate on the relationship between the Doctor and his erstwhile school chum, and how it might have changed now that they have to use separate showers in the gym. I’m not saying don’t bring back the Master. Just bring him back in episode one and let us get to know him properly. Don’t rock the boat under the pretence that you actually care about gender equality. Don’t give the internet any excuse to have conversations like this.
Some months ago, when I sort-of reviewed ‘Deep Breath’, I remarked that “there are two possibilities: either the name ‘Missy’ is a deliberate clue pointing to something that sounds quite horrendous, or it’s a deliberate red herring designed to make the fans think that something’s going to happen, and this sort of tedious tomfoolery is exactly what makes the clue hunt so interminably dull.” The former, then. I’ll admit it caught me off guard, largely because it smacks of a man who’s finally decided that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s a line that Moffat seldom, if ever, seems to tread. Unfortunately, while we still have to wait until next week to be sure, it seems to me that the line is pointing straight downwards.
I was lucky enough to get freshly pressed this week (all right, luck had nothing to do with it; it was all thanks to SJ, to whom I am incredibly grateful). The post in question was a retrospective of my grandparents as seen through the eyes of an adult revisiting childhood haunts. We took the boys down to the town I visited every summer, and showed them round the sights.
But you don’t want to read all about that, do you?
Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, Thomas and Emily and I started on ‘The Mind of Evil’. It is wonderful vintage Who. There is a mad scientist (all right, it turns out to be the Master) channelling an alien intelligence through a machine that sucks the evil out of men’s minds. In an early sequence in the story it does this to Neil McCarthy (later to be seen in ‘The Power of Kroll’), reducing him to a childlike simpleton. There’s a nuclear missile and poor Jo gets captured and recaptured so often I lost count. There are wobbly steps, less-than-substantial doors and the Brigadier gets to have a lengthy (and really pretty violent) gun battle towards the end of the tale. It’s wonderful, despite some occasionally questionable acting and the fact that four cliffhangers out of five feature the machine about to scare someone to death. (One of those is by proxy, but it still counts.)
It’s also shot at Dover Castle, its walls and battlements serving as the exterior of the prison where the bulk of ‘Mind’ is set. As is traditional with Classic Who many of the entrances were used more than once, but the central square that surrounds the great tower was immediately familiar.
The observant among you will recall that this is the place where the Brigadier spoke through a loudhailer and then turned to gun down a prisoner who’d climbed on the wall behind him, causing the deceased convict to take a spectacular western-style tumble.
Of course, we couldn’t do that, so I had to improvise.
We almost didn’t make it to Dover Castle. This has nothing to do with chronic tiredness from the lengthy journey down the day before, or the fact that no one could find their water bottles, or that we got lost on the Folkestone one way system. No, it was because in the B&B the boys were anxious to explore the room next door to ours.
I had to explain that no, it didn’t contain a crack in the fabric of the universe, although they were having issues with the plumbing.
I’m sure there are other Doctor Who related places to visit in Kent. But I didn’t have time to scout locations near our planned route or actually watch the stories they filmed there. Kit Pedler is buried in Graveney, which was too far away to visit, and I’d have found it hard to resist the urge to leave a can of oil or something at his graveside. But discovering this fact did make me wonder about doing a tour of deceased Who veterans’ resting places to pay respects in some form or another. It also made me wonder what they all got up to once they left the show – those that disappeared from the public eye (or who were never in it). Do they wake up one morning in a mysterious village with their identity stripped and where a giant balloon chases them every time they try to leave to work on other science fiction programmes? Do they all write books as gossipy and vindictive as Matthew Waterhouse’s autobiography? Or do they simply get other jobs?