Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Doctor is Dead; Long Live the Doctor: An Overanalysis of "The Time of the Doctor"

Not what I expected the severed head of a Cyberman to be.
Regeneration episodes are desperate.  The Doctor, more or less, dies.  So it has to be a story that is at least partially about defeat.  The Doctor saves the day, but at the cost of his own life.  The Doctor, therefore, is usually in an extra-desperate situation, because that's the kind of situation where he's likely to die.  It's something you don't get in most shows:  a hero that is, at least partially, defeated every few years.  Superman died once.  Imagine if Superman died every few years!

But Steven Moffat has never been one to follow past patterns, and so he decided to do something that had never been done before.  For the first time in the history of Doctor Who...the Doctor's very death itself was his victory, not his defeat.

I have some friends (from the now defunct 900 Year Diary) who like to criticize a lot of things as "Deus Ex Machinas."  I've heard these same friends of mine use those three words for tons of Doctor Who episodes, as well as other things like Dexter.   They use it so often, I'm starting to think they don't know what those words mean.  So, in the spirit of Inigo Montoya, I'd like to explain that this phrase might not mean what you think it means. From
1.   (in ancient Greek and Roman drama) a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.
2.  any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.
The key point of a Deus Ex Machina is that it has to be introduced at the time that it resolves the plot.  Otherwise, it's been set up already, and not only is it not a Deus Ex Machina, there's really no reason to even complain about it.  The Doctor-Donna is a Deus Ex Machina.  The Time Lords were not.  The Time Lords were in the episode from the very beginning, and not just because they were necessary to save the day at the end of the episode.  The Time Lords were necessary to the plot of this entire episode.  It couldn't have happened without them.  As for their power to hand out more regenerations, while it may have been rude for Moffat not to re-explain this to those who have never seen the classic series, it doesn't change the fact that the Time Lords' ability to hand out new regeneration cycles was established already in "The Five Doctors."  So nothing about it was a Deus Ex Machina.

Now, were there holes in the plot?  Yes.  The regeneration energy does seem to be a little more destructive than it was before "The End of Time," and I always took the destruction in "The End of Time" to be due to him releasing the radiation he absorbed.  But you could explain that away in a million ways, including it being some sort of help that the Time Lords gave him or the side effect of it being such a long time since the last regeneration, or it being a by-product of it being his first of a new cycle of regenerations.  The thing that would have been a little more satisfying to me is if Clara saved the day by giving the Time Lords the Doctor's true name, which she should know!  I thought that was going to be the solution, and it would have been much neater, and might have shut some people up to boot.  Of course, that would have brought the Time Lords right back into a battle with the Daleks, and then everything that happened in "The Day of the Doctor" would have been for nothing.

It might also seem unsatisfying that Gallifrey wasn't released from the crack in the end.  For a moment, I thought maybe the Doctor had fought this whole war for nothing.  But really, that's not the case.  Had any of the Doctor's enemies gotten to the planet, they could have gone through the crack and destroyed Gallifrey at its most vulnerable.  The Doctor didn't succeed in bringing Gallifrey back in this episode, but he did keep it hidden and protected to be found another day.  That's still a big victory.

But even if you weren't satisfied with how the end of the episode resolved the situation set up in the beginning of the episode, how about the way that this whole episode resolved all of the Matt Smith era?  Because it did that very well.  I was completely wrong about why the Doctor's name was dangerous to say.  I never imagined that it would be a situation in which the Doctor would want to say his own name.  It proved that Moffat had taken the 50th Anniversary special into account when he started writing "The Eleventh Hour."  Everything has been planned for the past 4 years, and that became glaringly obvious.

Except for the fucking cot!  Moffat promised to solve all of the mysteries.  He even solved the mystery of what was behind Door 11 (I still like my friend Gary's theory about Adric better).  But not the cot!  What the hell was the deal with the cot?  Did he forget about it?  Because it's still dangling out there, waiting to be solved, Steven!

It became clear that, while Moffat had the idea for this episode from the beginning of the 11th Doctor era, he never intended it to be the Christmas Special.  But I think he did a good job of making it Christmassy.  Setting it in a town where it's Christmas all the time may have seemed a little forced, but at least it was better than "The End of Time" where someone has to suddenly remember every 20-30 minutes or so "Oh yeah, we haven't mentioned for a while that it's Christmas."

The Silence, my favorite villains, return and we find...that they are nothing like what we thought they were.  Really, they were priests.  Priests!  I had my best Doctor Who nightmares ever about priests!  I guess, as a former Catholic, that's strangely appropriate.

Truly, a lot of the stuff about the Papal Mainframe and the Anglican Marines was really confusing before this episode.  In "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone," they not only seem to be helping the Doctor, but are participating in the punishment of the woman who killed him.  Then, in "A Good Man Goes to War," they are fighting against him and supporting those that created the woman who killed the Doctor.  This was easily explained away in one line "The Kovarian chapter broke away."  Simple, yet satisfying, explanation.  Most of the events of Season 5 and 6 were the result of one small sect within the Papal Mainframe going rogue and trying to stop the Doctor by going back in his timeline.  It's unclear, though, why this sect was referred to, in the Tesselecta's computer, as "The Silence," where Tasha Lem, in narration, referred to the creatures themselves as "The Silence."  The naming is super confusing now.  So let's just call the creatures "The Silence," call that sect "The Kovarian Chapter," and assume that the Tesselecta was just talking out of its ass.

Most of the spoilers that I knew about that had been printed in the Sun turned out to be accurate, which means somebody is a huge dick and really did tell all the plot points to a newspaper, which actually had the nerve to print the damn things.  Why would someone do that?  That's not journalism.  That's just being a douche.  The only spoiler that I know that they got wrong was that they said the Doctor would lose a leg before he regenerated, which would have been extra dark.  The spoilers also claimed that the episode would take place over 300 years.  That was partially true.  The first time we checked back in with the Doctor, 300 years had passed.  But who knows how many years had passed for him at the end.  It could have been another 300, 500, maybe even 1,000.  My guess is that the Doctor is now around 2000 years old, making the 11th Doctor the longest living regeneration the Doctor has ever had.

And it confirmed that the Doctor can age within a regeneration.  I mean, we already knew this to an extent, as the 1st Doctor couldn't have been born looking like William Hartnell.  But we've never seen him significantly age within the same regeneration.  But there's one big advantage that this gives us, and, as the guy who had to write and cast the 50th Anniversary special, I'm sure that Moffat did this intentionally:  Matt Smith can now be brought back for future specials no matter how old he is when the special airs.  For the 75th Anniversary Special, for example, they can simply bring him back and his increased age can be chalked up to him being taken from a point in his own timeline during "The Time of the Doctor."  Was it a little bit of a cop out to reset the Doctor to a younger version of himself for his final speech?  Sure.  But didn't we all want to see that anyway?  And I thought it was cool that a very old 11th Doctor looked a lot like the 1st Doctor.

The cameo from Amy was awesome and unexpected.  Two actors wearing wigs because they shaved their heads for other roles stood across from each other: one with a believable wig, the other with a very fake looking one.  But there was one thing about that brief cameo that bothered me, and that's the weird way that the Doctor and Amy touched each other.  It looked like they were going to kiss each other.  Russel T. Davies did away with Jonathan Nathan-Turner's classic series "no hanky-panky in the TARDIS" rule by bringing the Doctor and Rose together.  This angered a lot of the classic series fans, as well as some of the actors from the classic series.  Colin Baker said at this year's Denver Comic Con, he didn't believe the Doctor and his companion should even notice that they're of different genders.  Moffat has done a nice job of kind of playing both sides.  Amy and the Doctor had romantic overtones, but they had to do more with Amy's fear of commitment than any real romantic feelings towards the Doctor.  Amy ended up with Rory, as she was always supposed to.  Even Clara's attraction to the Doctor, which was brought to further light in this episode, is a fleeting thing we know will never come to anything, especially now that she'll be opposite Peter Capaldi's Doctor.  (Somehow, I don't think any young twentysomethings are going to be kissing Peter Capaldi on this show.)  So the way that the Doctor and Amy touched each other in that scene seemed just...inappropriate.  I would have preferred a good, tight, friendly hug between them.

Were there flaws in it?  Yes.  After the episode, I had a debate (which I alluded to above) with some friends from The 900 Year Diary who I almost never agree with.  They loved "The Name of the Doctor," where I hated it (although it's still growing on me).  I loved "The Big Bang," where they found that to be (surprise) a Deus Ex Machina.  (We all liked "The Day of the Doctor," though.)  They pointed out some things to me that I had to admit they were right about.  But, to be honest, not one of those things popped into my head during the episode.  The flaws didn't get in the way of my enjoying my favorite Doctor's last episode.  And, unlike them and some other people, I had no complaints about the episode's pacing.  Moffat hooked me in with his typical hyper-imaginative and complex plot (and the mental image of Clara naked), and kept me hanging on through to the end with the 11th Doctor's greatest speech ever:
“We all change when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay. That’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
And then, we were given the greatest Christmas present of all:  Peter Capaldi's first few lines as the Doctor!  They weren't much, but they were enough for us to see how much fun he's going to be.  Was it my favorite episode?  My favorite 11th Doctor episode?  My favorite Christmas Special?  No on all accounts.  But it was one hell of an episode, nonetheless.

So may I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a wonderful new Regeneration!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

We Must Not Be Afraid to Criticize Our Heroes: An Open Letter to Steven Moffat About Sexism

RIDDELL: You know what I want more than anything?
AMY: Lessons in gender politics?
RIDDELL: A dinosaur tooth to take home. Dinosaurs ahead, a lady at my side, about to be blown up. I'm sure I've never been happier.
AMY: Shut up and shoot.

Dear Steven Moffat,

My all time favorite television writers are as follows:  you, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Sorkin.  Your versatility between genres shows great range and scope.  I fell in love with your writing when I saw the American version of Coupling, and grew to love it even more when I watched the original British version and realized that all of the trite, obvious jokes in the American version of the show were the ones added in by the American writers.  On the night my mom died, I wanted to watch something light to take my mind off of the most traumatic event of my life, but yet still smart enough to engage my mind and make me laugh.  I chose Coupling episodes.  It just seemed to fit perfectly.

Your work on Doctor Who has taken the show to a level that surpasses literally every era in the show's history.  "The Time of Angels," "Flesh and Stone," "A Christmas Carol," "The Impossible Astronaut," and "Day of the Moon" transcend the entire series.  Even Douglas Adams, a true legend in science fiction, didn't write episodes that are on par with any of the episodes I just listed.

But in the past few years, you've been accused of sexism on many occasions.  I've tried to defend you sometimes, as best as I could as a straight white male.  And I stand behind some of the things I've said before.  I do think you've made some incredibly strong female characters, like River Song, who you should be completely proud of.  But I've reached a point where, sometimes, I can't defend some of the things you've done.  I'm trying, Steven.  I'm a pretty big fanboy of yours right now.  So when you write an episode where the gender politics make me cringe, I experience cognitive dissonance.  I find it hard to reconcile how great of a writer you are with how obviously sexist some of the things you do are.  I don't think you hate women.  I'm hoping you're not really a misogynist.  I'd like to think you're lacking some self-awareness right now in a way that is making you come off as a different person than you want to be seen as.

The first time I found myself unable to defend you in any way was in "Let's Kill Hitler":
AMY: I don't understand, OK? One minute [River]'s going to marry you and then kill you.
DOCTOR: Ah, well, she's been brainwashed, it makes sense to her. Plus, she is a woman. (Amy scowls at the Doctor.) Oh, shut up, I'm dying.
Sometimes, at parties, people tell really offensive jokes because they're in an environment where they know that all of their friends will understand that they don't actually mean it.  Their friends know they aren't sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., so they know their friends won't take it seriously when they tell this sexist, racist, or homophobic joke.  Whether or not this sort of thing is okay is a discussion for another time, but I would tend to lean towards "not."  This line from "Let's Kill Hitler" felt like a situation where you were treating the entire Doctor Who viewing public as if they were at one of these parties with you, like you thought that the entire viewing public would see this and say "Oh, well, Moffat's not really sexist, so it's okay."

Steven, people don't all think that, nor is it okay.

People today often put racist/sexist/homophobic comments in the mouths of characters they intend to be stupid, so as to parody that ignorant strain of thinking.  I think of Archie Bunker as one of the greatest examples of this tactic.  You might be more familiar with the British Character he's based on:  Alf Garnett.

You did the exact opposite in this moment.  The Doctor is, arguably, the smartest being in the Universe and is, usually, the most enlightened.  But you showed that, in moments of desperation, he reverts to negative stereotypes about women.  When all niceties have worn off, the smartest man in the Universe thinks that women are moody and vindictive.  That's not an okay message to send to anyone, especially the younger viewers of what you yourself have called a "children's show."

A similar moment happened in Steve Thompson's "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS":
DOCTOR: Take the wheel. Not the wheel. I'll make it easy. Shut it down to basic mode for you.
CLARA: Basic? Because I'm a girl?
DOCTOR: No. (The Doctor snickers)
It wasn't an episode you wrote, but it happened on your watch.  As the head writer, it's your job to watch for offensive little things like this.  It's such a little thing.  The line isn't even sexist until the Doctor gives that little snicker and that look that turns his "No" into an obvious "Yes."  Just like your line in "Let's Kill Hitler," it's such a throw-away line that you would have literally lost nothing by cutting it out of the script.  It takes no effort to say to Thompson "Hey, man, we're going to cut this.  I know you're not sexist, but it's going to make people think that you--and, by extension, all of us on the writing and production staff--are sexist."

I think your predecessor, Russel T. Davies, created the most pathetically weak female character in the history of the show: Donna Noble.  Peri Brown seems like an Amazon warrior compared to Donna.  Donna Noble is a Cathy cartoon with less backbone, and only the great comic talents of Catherine Tate were able to give Donna a few vaguely redeemable moments.  But you gave Donna two of her worst lines in the two-part episode you wrote for her:
(Donna kicks in the door)
DOCTOR: Nice door skills, Donna.
DONNA: Yeah, well, you know, boyfriends... sometimes you need the element of surprise.
This struck me as a pretty strange line. It almost makes Donna seem kind of rapey. We've already seen that she's so desperate to get married that she chose her job based on where she's most likely to find a husband, and then literally begged a man to marry her. So now you're saying that she's such an obnoxious girlfriend that she has to bang down locked doors to get to the men she wants who are trying to hide from her? Or are you saying she has so little trust in her boyfriends that she has to break down their doors to check and see if they're cheating on her? Either way, it makes her pretty weak and pathetic.
DONNA: Wait, no, just... hang on. So... this isn't the real me? This isn't my real body. But I've been dieting!
This is so sexist it borders on the absurd. A woman has just found out that everything she thought was her real life, including her two children, were illusions created by a malfunctioning computer program, and her first thought is "Then I could have had that slice of cheesecake anyway?" You were stuck with a horribly offensive character here who is literally a cobbling together of the worst female stereotypes in Western history, but you didn't have to make things worse by making her out to be clinically narcissistic in horribly stereotypical ways.

In all of these little lines, I wonder how many people these scripts had to go through without anybody convincing you not to keep these lines in the episodes. Especially the one from "Let's Kill Hitler," and the similar exchanges from "The Wedding of River Song" and "The Bells of Saint John":
MONK: Is it an evil spirit?
DOCTOR: It's a woman. (The Monk crosses himself.)
CHURCHILL: Tick tock goes the clock, as the old song says. But they don't, do they? The clocks never tick. Something has happened to time. That's what you say. What you never stop saying. All of history is happening at once. But what does that mean? What happened? Explain to me in terms that I can understand. What happened to time?
DOCTOR: A woman.
Some of the others might have slipped by past some people who were not particularly sensitive or who were too afraid to question their boss, but I find it hard to believe that not even one person told you that these particular exchanges from "Let's Kill Hitler," "The Wedding of River Song," and "The Bells of Saint John" were not okay. And I wouldn't be surprised if that person was Alex Kingston or Karen Gillan. What did you tell them? Did you tell them to calm down? That they were being too sensitive? That it was only a joke? They were right to tell you not to put that on the air. Maybe they weren't even doing it for their own sake. Maybe they were doing it because they cared about you and they didn't want you to make yourself look like a jerk in front of the entire world.

The first time an entire episode's plot gave me pause was an episode you didn't write, but which you should have vetoed. When I first saw "The Girl Who Waited," I found it to be the most sexist thing to happen in the franchise since Katy Manning put together an entire character based on an old joke book about blondes. I'm sure neither you nor the writer, Tom MacRae, intended this to be the case, but it's what happened.
OLDER AMY: The me version of you. I refuse to help them. I won't let them save myself.
AMY: Why?
OLDER AMY: If you escape, then I was never trapped here. The last thirty-six years of my life rewrites, and I cease to exist. That's why old me refused to help then. That's why I'm refusing to help now. And that's why you'll refuse to help when it's your turn. And nothing you can say will change that.
AMY: Three words. What about Rory?
OLDER AMY: I called my robot Rory.
AMY: You called your robot Rory?
AMY: Oh, so you didn't call it the Doctor, or Biggles. Our favourite cat?
OLDER AMY: Do remember that summer when he came back to school with that ridiculous haircut?
AMY: He said he'd been in a rock band.
OLDER AMY: Liar. And, and then he had to learn to play the guitar.
AMY: So we wouldn't know he couldn't play it. Mmm hmm.
OLDER AMY: All those boys chasing me, but it was only ever Rory. Why was that?
AMY: You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful. And then you actually talk to them, and five minutes later they're as dull as a brick? Then there's other people, and you meet them and think, not bad, they're okay. And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personality's written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful.
BOTH: Rory's the most beautiful man I've ever met.
AMY: Please? Do it for him.
OLDER AMY: You're asking me to defy destiny, causality, the nexus of time itself, for a boy.
AMY: You're Amy, he's Rory, and oh yes, I am.
(Rory has been waiting outside all this time.)
OLDER AMY: I am going to pull time apart for you.
I once lost a Facebook friend trying to defend your writing.  I tried to defend you from her accusation that Amy is defined solely by the men in her life, Rory and the Doctor.  I still think this isn't the case in every episode, but in this particular episode, it is the case.  Here, Amy is defined solely by her relationship to Rory.  Old Amy won't save herself for herself, so she'll save herself to ensure that Rory has a wife.  Old Amy, in this scenario, has no sense of her own internal worth for herself.  She doesn't want to erase the past decades of her existence to rescue her younger self from this horrible fate, but she'll do it for Rory's sake.  For Rory.  In this moment, her function becomes that of being Rory's wife, and nothing else.

That is a degrading and humiliating message to send to women.  Would you put together a safe driving campaign with the slogan "Buckle up for your husband's sake"?  Amy and Rory's relationship is one of the few love stories in the Doctor Who franchise, but it's by far the greatest because both characters are so strong.  In this moment, though, Amy becomes so weak, and it disappoints me as someone who admires her character.  If she's not willing to save herself for herself, then she becomes less than a person.  She becomes someone's wife and nothing more.

Where "The Girl Who Waited" struck me as incredibly sexist on first viewing, "The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe" made me a little uncomfortable on first viewing, and it took a few more times viewing it for me to figure out what bothered me about this very problematic episode.
LILY: The stars are going inside her. She's taking the whole forest.
MADGE: Oh, this is marvelous. Oh, this is really quite wonderful.
DOCTOR: Madge? Are you all right? Talk to me. Madge, can you hear me?
MADGE: Yes, I can hear you. I'm perfectly fine, thank you.
DOCTOR: Fine? You've got a whole world inside your head.
MADGE: I know! It's funny, isn't it? One can't imagine being a forest, then suddenly one can. How remarkable.
DOCTOR: You're okay. She's okay.
MADGE/QUEEN: She is strong.
MADGE: Ooo. That wasn't me. This is all really rather clever, isn't it?
DOCTOR: She's strong. She's strong. Ooo, stupid me. Stupid old Doctor. Do you get it, Cyril?
DOCTOR: Lily, you do, don't you?
DOCTOR: Course you do. Think about it. Weak and strong. It's a translation. Translated from the base code of nature itself. You and I, Cyril, we're weak. But she's female. More than female, she's mum. How else does life ever travel? The Mother ship!
A friend of mine referred to this as Madge steering the ship by the "power of feminism."  Frankly, I feel it's quite the opposite.  The forest wants to leave and it needs a vessel with which to escape.  So it needs a woman.  It turns down the Doctor and Cyril because they are male, but kind of accepts Lily because she's female and completely accepts Madge, either because she's already been a mother or because she's of childbearing age.

Maybe you meant this to be that women are strong because they can give birth.  But what it really felt like was "A woman's primary function is being a mother."  Lily and Madge's gender is boiled down to one thing:  its ability to carry life.  They are walking wombs waiting for something to pick up and transport.  I'm not a woman, but I can only imagine that, as a woman, it might become humiliating after a while to be told by the media that my main function is as a baby maker, and that all of the other things I do are inferior to my function as a potential mother.  That I'm a machine, not a person with a soul.

Still, that part of the episode was far less offensive than this:
DOCTOR: That's it, focus on Reg. Be careful, but focus on him.
MADGE: Oh, I don't know.
DOCTOR: How did you meet? You and Reg. Tell me how you met.
MADGE: He followed me home. I worked in the dairy. He always used to follow me home.
LILY: Look at Father. He looks so young.
MADGE: He said he'd keep on following me till I married him. Didn't like to make a scene.
There's a certain school of thought that would think of this as romantic, as Reg was so in love he put in all this effort to win over this woman.  Another school of thought, however, would say that Reg doesn't respect Madge's right to consent.  And, right now, the second school of thought is starting to become more popular in some circles, and its making some much better points.

When people talk about the phrase "rape culture," they're referring to a culture that doesn't value a woman's God given right to say "no" to a man.  You didn't invent this problem.  Centuries of both works of fiction and advice we've passed on to both men and women over generations have left us with this idea that, when a woman says "no," she's just playing hard to get.  That women are being told to play hard to get, some say (and I agree with them) is dangerous.  I encourage you to read more about this in this great Rachael Kay Albers article from

Reg took Madge's "no" as a "yes."  Nothing about what she said even suggests she was intentionally playing hard to get.  On the contrary, she seems to have had no interest in him, and he continues to push to try to turn her "no" into a "yes."  This is the kind of thinking that tells young men "When a woman says no, she might mean yes," and that's when some mentally disturbed men start to turn a woman's "no" into a "yes" by force.

I'm not blaming you for the rape of any women, here, but I am blaming the rape culture you contributed to. I'm saying you passed on a very bad cultural norm that needs to be stopped if we're ever going to be able to bring down some of these horrifying rape statistics in this world.

Other people have accused you of being sexist for reasons I disagree with.  Still, I encourage you to look into their criticisms, think long and hard about what they're saying, and try to keep it in mind when you write your episodes.

I don't think we should be afraid to criticize those we respect.  I am an American who voted for Barack Obama twice and, while both my country and my president have disappointed me--and have disappointed me more than you ever could--I still love both of them.  And I believe that to call them on their errors is not a sign of disrespect, but actually a sign of love and respect.

My girlfriend was telling me she felt the same way recently when reading East of Eden by one of her favorite writers, John Steinbeck.  I've heard the most ardent feminists I know bemoan the unfortunate sexism in what they admit is the great writing of Charles Bukowski.  "What's Yr Take on Cassavetes?" asks feminist electro-punk group Le Tigre in their song of the same name about filmmaker John Cassavetes.  "Misogynist!" and "Genius!" are the replies they shout back to each other, demonstrating how difficult it is to believe that the same two things are true of the same man.

Maybe you don't deserve this kind of respect.  I never met you.  You might just be a jerk and a misogynist.  As someone who so respects your writing, I'm choosing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and hope that you're just misguided.

So, when I say these things, it's because I respect your work so much.  Your writing is too good for this, Steven.  You are possibly the smartest writer in the history of the greatest science-fiction franchise in history.

So, for the love of God, start acting like it!

Trevor Byrne-Smith

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

There is, You Know, Surprisingly, Always Hope: An Open Letter to Matt Smith

Dear Matt,

I have a Doctor Who blog.  I'm known now for my love of Doctor Who.  I wish I could say that I grew up on this show, because you'd think I did based on my fervent love of this television show.  Sadly, it's a relatively new obsession.

Let me explain:  I've always been a nerd.  First it was Star Trek in grade school.  Then I got into Star Wars in junior high around the time that the movies were re-released in theaters in the 1990s.  Then The X-Files in early high school.  I became obsessed with Kevin Smith movies in late high school, which is kind of a meta-nerdism, as it's being a nerd about things that are about nerds.  But his works still create an interconnected Universe that you can follow.  In college, my girlfriend got me into Lord of the Rings, and subsequently Harry Potter.  In all of these, the appeal was that there was a large, interconnected Universe that I could explore and imagine.  The more there was that was available to be learned within that Universe, the more fascinating it was.  I loved finding connections and bizarre, obscure facts.

Frankly, anything that offered me a large amount to explore and learn from appealed to me.  Rock music was the same way, too.  I became a particularly big fan of punk rock, as you seem to be yourself judging by the t-shirts I see you wearing in interviews.  Punk is a much wider and more complicated genre than people think.  There are different types of punk, from crust punk to pop-punk, and various off-shoots from post-punk to alternative rock.  Punk is the basic DNA of all rock music since the 1980s, and I spent countless hours of my life deconstructing that double-helix to look at what it's made of.

In 2007, my mother died very suddenly of lung cancer.  It's the most tragic event in my life, and by far the one that most defines my adult life.  People who know me know how hard this hit me.  I was a momma's boy, plain and simple, and I lost my mom.  The world was suddenly less predictable than I previously thought it to be.  It was chaotic and painful, not orderly and kind.

Suddenly, many of my passions died away.  I didn't want to dig through large Universes of fantasy and science-fiction.  I didn't want to listen to music because it left me in my own head too much.  I started listening to sports radio and podcasts because I prefered it to any form of music.  The basic, primal love of music that had driven me since I was very young had disappeared.  All music started to sound boring to me.  Even punk.  The world was dark and grey and dull and it was something I just walked through with little joy.

After my mother died, the first times I started to get excited about sci-fi or fantasy again were when I stumbled Johnny-come-lately into two major nerd fandoms.  The first was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  A great show, I poured through its 7 seasons quickly, finding much to relate to in the tales of loss and sorrow, as well as the redemption of characters coming from places of darkness and regret.  But with only 7 seasons to sift through, all of which had already aired, I found myself making very quick work of Buffy.  I couldn't find the intense joy I used to find from reading the Star Trek Encyclopedia or the expanded universe novels of Star Wars.

I turned to an ex-girlfriend for suggestions.  My college girlfriend, who I now spoke to very rarely, made me some suggestions for good sci-fi.  I wanted something that I might be able to find that joy and passion in again.  Something that could light the fire I once had for science fiction and fantasy.  She made me two recommendations:  Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who.  The former I tried and found dull.  Years later, I'd give it another try and enjoyed it, but wasn't thrilled by it, and I found the finale utterly stupid.  Doctor Who, on the other hand, was just what I was looking for.

This was just before you started as the Doctor, but after you had already been cast.  Most of David Tennant's episodes had been released.  I started with Eccleston's episodes, which I found silly at first, but which I grew to appreciate more as I worked my way through that first season.  Tennant, on the other hand, was a Doctor I could really grow to love.

Confidence has never been my strong suit.  But, like many men, I've always looked for inspiration in male characters who possess the confidence I often lack.  I think this is the real reason that men gravitate towards action heroes and superheroes.  It's not that they are big and strong, but that they are confident.  It's why less action-oriented characters, like Sherlock Holmes, sometimes draw the same sort of obsession and fandom.  More than strength, I think men value decisiveness, self-assuredness, and the ability to make quick decisions.  The Doctor--and, in particular, David Tennant's Doctor--demonstrates that sort of strength without ever needing to throw a punch.  The Doctor is the pacifist action hero.

But where Tennant sold me on the show, you're the one that made me fall in love.  You were the first Doctor that I got to watch starting from the first episode, in real time.  I watched "The Eleventh Hour" the day it came out, where I had watched most of the other episodes much later than they were released.  Where Tennant's Doctor was as cool as a cucumber, yours was awkward, uncomfortable, and often missed social cues.  My girlfriend, recently, has suggested that I might actually have a mild form of Aspergers that has never been diagnosed, especially in that I sometimes find myself saying things that I think are perfectly kind and polite that other people are offended by.  Perhaps this is why I so relate to the 11th Doctor.  If the 11th Doctor doesn't have Aspergers, then nobody does.

But where the 11th Doctor struggles in social situations, he has as much confidence as any other Doctor when it matters.  No, he doesn't know the first thing about talking to women, but when facing down a legion of Daleks, he won't even flinch.  This is nerd empowerment at its finest.  It makes some of the geekier amongst us feel like, maybe, in a clinch, we might be as brave and as confident as the Doctor.  And, just like Tennant's Doctor, the 11th Doctor never needs to throw a punch. "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."

Your Doctor lit the flame in me that made Doctor Who my new obsession.  I went back and watched every episode of the classic series that still survives, as well as the reconstructions of all the lost episodes.  Every Doctor, every actor, every companion, every villain, every episode.  I've seen them all, Matt, and it was because of the love of the show that you triggered in me when I first saw you climb out of the TARDIS.

It was the first time, since my mom's death, that I found something like this that brought me so much joy.  It was a level of joy I didn't think I would ever find again.  The grey world I used to trudge through now had as many colors as Colin Baker's hideous coat.  I can't say that I don't still struggle with depression, but there's a brightness in my mind and imagination that was lit by the Doctor.  The Doctor has seen darker days than I ever have, but he still assures those around him that "there is, you know, surprisingly always hope."

There is hope, Matt.  There is always hope.  And it's in the joy that you've brought to the hearts of millions of people of all ages around the world.  When you leave the show, I'll continue to watch, because I've fallen in love with the character of the Doctor at his very core.  Even my least favorite incarnations, William Hartnell and Christopher Eccleston, are still part of my great hero, the Doctor.  And it's all thanks to you.  But, while I'm sure I'll love Peter Capaldi, and all the incarnations that come after him, you will always be my Doctor, Matt.  And I thank you so much for that.

Your Fan,
Trevor Byrne-Smith

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Clock is Striking Twelve's: An Overanalysis of the "Time of the Doctor" Trailer (and Other Tidbits)

If this Silent isn't actually singing in this pose in the episode, then that's just a wasted opportunity.

I haven't talked about "The Time of the Doctor" lately, mainly because of the spoilers that were leaked in The Sun a few weeks ago.  I haven't read the entire list of spoilers, just the summary on  If there are more spoilers in the actual article than what I've read, I don't want to know about them.  I regret what I've read so far.  Granted, a lot of the things in the Sun have been confirmed by the BBC since then, but a few things have not been confirmed.  So I know of about two things that are alleged behind-the-scenes spoilers that have not come out from official sources.  I decided not to put them in this blog.  This blog has a spoiler warning, but that's because I try to dig out things that have been released by the BBC and the producers, not stuff they're trying to save as surprises for us for when we watch the episode.  I trust that if it's been released by the BBC, then it's not something that's going to truly spoil my enjoyment of the episode.  Just the chapter titles, like River would say.  Then I try to guess what's going to happen next.  But I'm not going to try to ruin episodes for you.

Also, whoever told the Sun these spoilers failed to even mention the Silence, who are clearly in this episode, so take the Sun with a grain of salt anyway.

But that doesn't mean there isn't still a ton of shit to analyze.  The recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which is completely legit, gives me plenty to work with.  Not to mention the new trailer.

It's Not Susan

In my last blog, I insisted that the actress Orla Brady was going to be playing Susan in this special.  This is because her character, named "Tasha Lem," is supposed to be someone from the Doctor's past.
Well, DWM squashed that hope in my heart.  This is what it said:

"Tasha Lem is an old friend and someone from the Doctor’s distant past. Someone who knows him very well, but we have never met. She’s the Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe."

So it can't be Susan or Jenny.  But...Susan's mother, perhaps?

The Trailer

The trailer is badass.  It confirms the basic plot revealed in the Sun spoilers:  The Doctor must fight a siege on a town called Christmas (the town's name has been confirmed elsewhere) on Trenzalore from a combined onslaught from the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and Silence.

I have to give Doctor Who TV credit for figuring out something about the trailer that I should have found blatantly obvious:  the Daleks say "The Doctor is regenerating."  Why is this weird?  The Daleks shouldn't know who the fuck the Doctor is!  Totally forgot about that.  What's changed since the end of "Asylum of the Daleks."

Why are these 4 species working together in the siege?  It seems highly improbable.  The Daleks and Cybermen don't get along, as seen in "Doomsday"--although they worked together well enough in "The Pandorica Opens."  The Angels don't really communicate with other species, and they have to murder someone and rip out their voicebox to even do that.  And the Silence are supposed to be trying to keep the Doctor from ever getting to Trenzalore, so I don't know why they're joining in.

On a more symbolic level, though, they represent the best of the old and new villains.  Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure that the Daleks and the Cybermen are the only active villains remaining on the show who originated in 1st Doctor episodes.  The Angels and the Silence are probably the most iconic of the villains that have originated from the new series, or, at the very least, from Moffat's episodes.  It's pretty appropriate that these four should be the ones to take down the Eleventh Doctor.

The Silence

The Silence are my favorite Doctor Who villain of all time.  They terrified me in the most fun way imaginable.  I had nightmares about them, and then tried to go back to sleep so I could continue the nightmares because I was really enjoying them.  So I was thrilled to hear that they were coming back.  There are still a lot of questions about them that have yet to be answered.

And one that I thought was answered, that apparently was not.

Moffat has told us recently that we should be asking why they're called The Silence.  Um, I thought we covered that.  They're a religious order, or sect, named after their primary belief, that "Silence will fall when the question is asked."  Wait, there's more than that?  I have no idea what that could possibly be.


Doctor Who Magazine says this episode will have a "fair bit" of nudity.  Uh...say what?

Regeneration Breakdown

It seems that, almost daily, I see another new article on my Facebook feed about an interview with Moffat where he either confirms that Matt Smith is the 13th Doctor, technically, or he re-explains the numbering to us.  Maybe some casual fans might still be confused, but if you're enough of a fan that you're looking up interviews, haven't you figured this out a while ago?  Eccleston was the 10th regeneration, but since True 9 didn't call himself "The Doctor," True 9 doesn't count in the numbering.  Tennant's Doctor regenerated without actually changing his face, which makes him technically the 11th and 12th regenerations.  Matt Smith is 13, and therefore the final regeneration, so the regeneration problem will have to be addressed in the special.  Doctor Who Magazine even confirmed this by releasing a small section of the script:
CLARA: But you don’t die. You change – you pop right back with a new face.
THE DOCTOR: Not forever. I can change 12 times. 13 versions of me. 13 silly Doctors.
CLARA: But you’re number eleven, so -
THE DOCTOR: Are we forgetting Captain Grumpy? I didn’t call myself the Doctor during the Time War, but it was still a regeneration.
 There's not even a question of it anymore.  The 13 Doctors Problem will be addressed this Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

She Will Be Home for Christmas: Some Initial Thoughts on "The Time of the Doctor"

We didn't even get a chance to get over the brilliance of the 50th Anniversary special before the information about the Christmas special started pouring out.  First, we got a teaser trailer at the end of "The Day of the Doctor," which revealed a few key things:  Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Silence, Trenzalore.  Knowing Moffat, the inclusion of these four villains doesn't necessarily mean that any one of them is going to be a central villain.  They could all play a very small role in the episode, much like "The Pandorica Opens."  However, a recently released poster showing the Doctor holding a severed Cyberman's head in his hand suggests that, at least the Cybermen will play a major role.

That the episode takes place on Trenzalore is not a surprise to anybody who's been paying attention.    The plot of the Eleventh Doctor's final episode has been obvious since "The Wedding of River Song."  "On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked, a question that must never, ever be answered."  The Doctor's going to be on Trenzalore, in a situation where the entire planet acts as a sort of truth serum, and then he's going to be asked his name (which is, for some reason, dangerous for him to say) and this will lead to his regeneration somehow.

Then the title was released, which is "The Time of the Doctor."  This suggests that Moffat thinks of this episode as part of a sort of trilogy with the two episodes before it, "The Name of the Doctor" and "The Day of the Doctor."

Then, Moffat finally came out and said, the Doctor definitely has only 12 regenerations, not 507 (fuck you Davies!), and that he is currently out of regenerations!  Obviously, the show's going to continue as there's already another Doctor waiting on deck, but the Doctor is supposed to be out of regenerations right now and that will be addressed "head on" in the Christmas special.  His interviews have heavily implied what I've already guessed:  That he used up a regeneration in "The Stolen Earth" without actually changing his face.  The pervading fan theory seems to be that River fixed the whole thing when she gave him her remaining regenerations in "Let's Kill Hitler" (presumably that's 10 more regenerations, unless there's another River regeneration we never saw).  This seems a little obvious but, remember, every now and then with Moffat, the easy answer is the correct answer (e.g. "Who is the impossible astronaut?")

However, would this mean that River's in the Christmas Special?  Nothing has said that she will be, but I can give you a list of about 100 reasons she fucking should be.

Then came the most intriguing news, at least to me.  Irish actress Orla Brady will be appearing in the special.  Who is she?  I don't know and I don't care.  Here's the part of the announcement that entices me:

"Brady's character is someone from the Doctor's past, with the plot of the festive episode revolving around her."

She's Susan.  She's Susan, she's Susan, she's fucking Susan Fucking Foreman!  If there was a bookie who took obscure bets on Doctor Who, I'd put a lot of money down on this woman being Susan.

Show your work?  Sure.

1.  I've been saying for a long time that the Doctor's role as a father (or grandfather) is going to come around in a big, big way.  The biggest hint is the cot in "A Good Man Goes to War," which Alex Kingston (River Song) told us in a Doctor Who Confidential episode, is a big hint.  The Doctor says it's his cot, but Kingston told us that someone else slept in it.

2.  The Eleventh Doctor has had a pretty self-contained story.  I don't think Moffat wants to wait until Capaldi's Doctor or later to unravel what he's started.  Right now, it looks like the hunt for Gallifrey is the only thing set up in the Matt Smith era that's going to be resolved in the Peter Capaldi era.

3.  In "The Day of the Doctor," there's a scene where Clara takes a nice big, long look at the picture of Susan on Kate's board that she has put up in the Black Archive with all the information about the Doctor.  It's a set up for a scene where Clara acknowledges that she knows who Susan is.

Now, "The Night of the Doctor" made the audio stories officially canon, which means the Doctor has reunited with Susan since her last appearance on the show in "The Five Doctors" (presumably the most recent we've seen her in her timeline is "The Dalek Invasion of Earth").  But the show is still long overdue for the return of the first ever companion, especially since she's related to the Doctor and, therefore, should have come up in some way, shape, or form by now.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Doctor's Carol: An Overanalysis of "The Day of the Doctor"

Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day. -The First Doctor in An Unearthly Child

Once upon a time, an old man got bored.  So he ran away from home, and shit got crazy.  It's a simple story, and it's held up for 50 years, and now thirteen different actors playing the titular role.  The infinitely flexible premise could potentially go on forever.  No show has ever proved as flexible and as durable.  And yesterday, the whole world celebrated how powerful, flexible, and ultimately endearing the show has become.  16 years of cancellation failed to kill it.  Much like the title character, the show has proven infinitely regenerative.  And just because it's hit the 50 year mark doesn't mean it shows any signs of stopping.  This was far from a finale.  This was a statement to the world that the show is still going strong and has many more stories to tell.  I regret that I'm a late-comer to this fandom, but, in case you haven't noticed, I'm damn well dedicated it, and was glad to join in on the celebration.

The old saying goes that bad writers steal, good writers borrow.  If that's the case, then Moffat is very good at borrowing from Charles Dickens.  Because that's what this was.  I mean, I'm not the only one who got that, right?  Billie Piper as Bad Wolf as The Moment as The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  It's a 12 Wonderful Lives!

The 1963 opening titles?  Nice touch.

I have to admit one thing I was completely wrong about.  Some people suggested that Billie Piper would be playing another role other than Rose.  Their reasoning was that her outfit was bizarre and she was only seen talking to True 9 in the trailer.  I insisted that the stuff about her only talking to True 9 in the trailer was a coincidence, and that Rose had often tried out some bizarre outfits that didn't quite work (like the Union Jack shirt).  I was wrong, but I have to admit that I was happy to be wrong.  Billie Piper as the guide was a way more interesting idea than somehow awkwardly trying to put Rose into an episode where she clearly would not have belonged.  And, while I'm not crazy about Rose, I loved Billie Piper as The Moment.  Her first few moments as The Moment were probably the best acting she ever did on the show.  She played a sly, sexy, wise, and powerful entity that was ultimately smarter than the Doctor himself.  Bad Wolf as the Doctor's savior.

I was going to write a big Eve of the Doctor write up to go up on Friday and give some of my opinions on things you should know for the episode, as well as a few predictions.  Unfortunately, I pulled a back muscle at work, and it's hard to write a blog while you're lying with your back flat on the floor to try to realign your spine.  I was going to try to give a little explanation of the Zygons.  Actually, at one point, I wanted to write one of my Doctor Who Book Reports on the Zygons.  But there's not enough information--or enough interest in me--to fill up one entire blog about them.  They're not a bad villain, but they're mostly unremarkable.  The only significant thing about the Zygons is that they have the technology--not the biological ability, mind you, but the technology--to turn themselves into other living creatures.  I knew that there was nothing else Moffat could possibly want them for other than their ability to shapeshift.  And boy, did he use that one.  Although, I don't understand why they needed to keep some humans hooked up to their machine to turn themselves into humans, and some of them they could pull it off on the fly.

There was a poll I saw asking people what they were most looking forward to in the special, and one of the options was the return of the Zygons.  It got the least votes, but I fail to see how it got any votes at all, or why it was even included on the list at all.  Who cares that much about Zygons?  Even Moffat didn't intend to use them for anything particularly big.  The Zygon plot was a parallel story designed to do nothing else but show the Doctor what he needed to do.

I was about 20 minutes from the end of the episode and thought "Why is Moffat focusing so much on this mediocre Zygon storyline?"  Then came the moment where Kate asks the Doctor if he's ever had to make the calculation of sacrificing the few to save the many and he said that he did it once, but that it was the wrong decision, that's when I realized what Moffat was doing.  I realized that this was the story that was going to teach the Doctor that he had to save Gallifrey, not burn it.  It was a parallel story to teach a lesson.  And I realized it was going to result in the Doctor saving Gallifrey.

That's when I started crying.

The other thing I was going to do in my "Eve of the Doctor" blog was remind you all about the significance of Queen Elizabeth.  Trust Moffat to take a one-off gag and turn it into a major plot point of the most important episode in the history of the series thus far.  Gareth Roberts, one of the better writers on Doctor Who right now, introduced the joke in the end of "The Shakespeare Code" where the Virgin Queen is ready to kill the Doctor for reasons that he didn't know because he was meeting her out of order.  Davies and Moffat seemed to appreciate the joke, as they both took it and ran with it.  Davies had the Doctor marrying Queen Bess in "The End of Time (Part 1)," and Moffat brought it up in "The Beast Below" and "The Wedding of River Song."  Not only is it hilarious to blow up such a small joke into something big like that, it's also the only thing that tells us where this episode takes place in the 10th Doctor's timeline.  Presumably, this has to take place, for him, between "The Waters of Mars" and "The End of Time," as that's when he said he married Queen Elizabeth.

Similarly, the "it doesn't do wood" line, which began way back in "Silence in the Library," became such a major plot point, it actually resulted in the ultimate outcome of the episode.  The Doctor finds a way to finally take down a wooden door using his screwdriver, just that it would take 400 years to pull it off.  It turned out that that wasn't necessary, but it was the inspiration for the end of the episode.  Because the same exact logic used in taking down that door was used to save Gallifrey.  If anyone is going to come in and try to tell me that saving Gallifrey was some sort of "Deus Ex Machina," I will again direct them to the fact that the definition of a Deus Ex Machina is a solution that comes out of nowhere and was not set-up in the episode.  The scene with the screwdrivers and the doors is what set up the plot to save Gallifrey, and that, by definition, is not a Deus Ex Machina.

In related news, I want a smaller word or phrase to have to type out than "Deus Ex Machina" because it comes up a lot when writing about Doctor Who.

The last thing I was going to predict in my post--and I swear this isn't just 20/20 hindsight--was that the Time Lords would be re-established in the Universe by the end of this episode.  I was half right.  The cool thing is that he saved Gallifrey (probably), but now has a new mission in life:  to find the planet he saved.  But there's a problem now, and one they never addressed in this special:  In "The End of Time (Part 2)," the 10th Doctor says that he had to kill the Time Lords because they wanted to basically destroy all of time, space, and existence itself and ascend to a higher plane of existence.  It could be that they were only planning to do that to destroy the Daleks, but it sounds like the kind of megalomaniacal plan that wouldn't change once its original justification is removed.  So basically, I think they would probably try and pull it again once they're removed from stasis.  This means the Doctor has a pretty tough task ahead of him when he does find Gallifrey:  he still has to deal with some crazy ass Time Lords after he's rescued them.  That's not entirely unprecedented.  Honestly, the Doctor's relationship with his own people is a strange one, one of antagonism, but not hatred.  He disapproves of his own people's actions, and they disapprove of his.  But that doesn't mean he wants them to die.

My friend Dawn pointed out that Osgood is probably, somehow, Clara's sister.  I didn't think of this until Dawn told me, but now it makes perfect sense.  Her name sounds a lot like Clara's last name (I'm assuming Osgood is a last name), and her Zygon copy said she was jealous of her more attractive sister.  But, while Osgood and Clara didn't share much screen time, they did see each other enough that, if they knew each other, one of them should have said something.  The most likely scenario I can imagine is that Clara doesn't know she has a sister, and Osgood knew but kept it a secret for some reason.

Speaking of Clara, the idea of her teaching at Coal Hill School was a stroke of genius.  I mean, is it a bit of a stretch for her to go from being a nanny to a teacher?  Maybe a little.  But she's teaching at the same school as the Doctor's first companions, Ian and Barbara, and a sign says that Ian is now the Chairman of the Governors at the school.  So, clearly, it was a little nepotism that got her the job, with the Doctor calling in a small favor.  Still, a great idea.  I hope she's still working there when we see her next.

I'm not touching the part about Clara meeting Kate out of order.  I can't think of a less interesting or important mystery to bring up in the episode.

I have one apology to make.  Months back, I did a write-up of a trailer that turned out to be a fake.  I didn't realize this until yesterday when I realized that not a single shot from that trailer appeared in this episode.  I don't know how a fan made trailer was that deceiving.  I didn't recognize a single shot or line from the trailer from a past episode.

Peter Capaldi's brief cameo made me stand up and applaud.  (I was watching this with a group of Whovians on a projector at a store that was primarily used for Magic: The Gathering tournaments, so it was not that weird to stand and applaud at a science fiction show.)    It was a brief moment, but it was a glorious moment.  As the Doctors unite, 12/13 won't stand idly by.  He's certainly going to lend a hand.  I like him already.

When the girlfriend saw the mind eraser devices in the Black Archive, she thought this was going to be the convenient way to make it so the 3 Doctors don't remember each other.  She thought this was a little lazy, but she didn't find it nearly as lazy as what actually happened.  She thought they were going to intentionally erase True 9 and 10's memories because, otherwise, the 11th Doctor couldn't ever get involved in this situation and keep himself from destroying Gallifrey.   Cool idea, but the show's never really been that worried about that type of paradox.  And the simpler explanation that, once the timelines cross, the memories of the other Doctors were erased, has two benefits:  1) It explains all the other multi-Doctor episodes (except "Time Crash," which it actually contradicts directly) and 2) It allowed for the 13 Doctors United scene without anyone having to stop off and erase 8 other Doctors' memories.  (The girlfriend found the Doctors United scene lazy as well.)

The Doctors United scene was beautiful and touching.  Yes, it required a bit of a stretch in logic.  Yes it was a little cheap to bring in all the Doctors in stock footage rather than in live action.  But, come on, that scene was fun!  For the first time, all of the Doctor's regenerations worked together.  The man who has saved so many worlds is finally able to save his own, united with all of his selves.

Tom Baker's cameo, however, was a little bit more interesting of a moment.  Rule 1, Rule 1, Rule 1!  Why do I let Moffat convince me that he's not lying about things?  He's proven himself to be a big fat liar before, and then he does it again and I believe he's not lying this time.  He's kind of like my ex-girlfriends in that way.  So I let him convince me that he was telling the truth when he said there would be no classic series Doctors in the special.  He's going to try to couch this into language, saying that "No, he's not playing a Classic Doctor," and he'll be wrong.  He knows what we really meant when we, the fans, bombarded him with questions about which past Doctors would come back.  He knew full well that we didn't think that past Doctor actors playing different parts (which may or may not be future Doctors) didn't "count."

So Tom Baker is a future Doctor?  The character of The Curator was left very ambiguous so as to explain the significant difference in age between Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor and Tom Baker now.  But basically implies that, somewhere in the distant future, the Doctor will "revisit" some of his old faces.  But only his favorites.  A bizarre idea, to be sure, but one that makes a little more sense than pretending Tom Baker is the same guy he was in the 70s.

The return of Tom Baker is so significant simply because of his obstinate refusal to return for decades.  It was 2009 before he agreed to come back to do audio adventures.  Hell, he even refused to do the 25th Anniversary special!  Thankfully, Moffat must have been more persuasive than the late Jonathan Nathan-Turner was.  I'd have to look this up, but this might give Moffat the record as the person to have written for the most different Doctors in the series:  4, 5, 8, True 9, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Moffat has said that the next regeneration, Peter Capaldi's, is going to be dark.  I thought this made sense, as Season 7 was pointing the show in a darker direction.  But, after this episode, I don't see it.  This should be the happiest and least-dark era of the Doctor's life since before the Time War started.  The Doctor will always have blood on his hands, but now he has gallons less than he thought he did.  Why would the 12th Doctor go darker?  It seems like he should be facing the Universe now with a much lighter heart than he has for the past 7 seasons.

I guess it all depends on what happens on Trenzalore.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Physician, Heal Thyself: An Overanalysis of "The Night of the Doctor"

"I'm not half human on any side."
Is it a burden to always be right about Doctor Who?  No, not really.

Okay, I wasn't the first to guess it.  And Paul McGann's Twitter slip-up made it kind of obvious.  But it was Moffat's careful wording about the casting that made it kind of obvious that he was trying to hint at something big.  But I was still so pleasantly surprised when I woke up this morning to find Paul McGann in the prequel, as a part of me still believed it was too good to be true:

In 1996, Philip Segal tried to relaunch Doctor Who with Doctor Who:  The Movie.  As I've explained before, the movie was a dumbed down disaster, but not an ounce of the blame belongs to McGann.  However, McGann was redeemed with the truly brilliant New Eighth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish Audio, that let us know how good a show Doctor Who would have been with McGann at the helm.

Today, Steven Moffat further proved that point, with this little surprise.  We were promised this minisode would come out this coming Saturday, but I guess they pushed it up a few days to put it out exactly on Paul McGann's birthday.  What a birthday present:  the release of the episode that does in 7 minutes what Segal failed to do in 90.

One of the biggest questions fans have had since the launch of the new series is:  How did the 8th Doctor regenerate?  We assumed, for a long time, that he regenerated from McGann into Eccleston, but now we know that to be false.  So now we finally get to see how 8 regenerated into True 9.  Will we somehow get to see how True 9 regenerated into 9, allowing us to know how every single regeneration happened?  Well, unless Eccleston's lying, he's not in the special.  Still, they managed to regenerate Colin Baker into Sylvester McCoy without the cooperation of Colin Baker, so I guess anything is possible.

The planet the Doctor lands on is the planet Karn.  Even I forgot about this freakin' planet that only appeared in the Fourth Doctor serial, "The Brain of Morbius."  Basically, it's a planet that's been colonized by the Time Lords.  That's more or less all you need to know.  I didn't realize this when I first watched the minisode.  Understanding that these women are Time Ladies makes the whole thing make a lot more sense.  The Sisterhood of Karn are the keepers of the Sacred Flame which produces the Elixir of Life, which can be used to give someone immortal life.  Hence why they could bring the Doctor back after his crash.  They are semi-autonomous from Gallifrey itself.  Hence why they not only have Time Lord technology, but they have also improved upon it.

When the Doctor drinks the elixir that the Sister has made for him, he rattles off a list of names of friends to say goodbye to:  Charlie, C'Rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, and Molly.  If you're wondering who all of these people are, they're the Eighth Doctor's companions.  But here's the awesome thing:  they're all companions from the audio adventures.  This is literally the first time that anyone on screen has acknowledged that the audio stories are, in fact, canon.  The BBC has stated publicly that they are, but nothing on screen has ever confirmed that until now.  Nobody has ever crossed the audio or the novels over into the TV show.

Also, the list specifically ignores the Eighth Doctor's one and only on-screen companion, Grace Holloway.  Considering how my recent trip to Denver Comic-Con taught me how Daphne Ashbrook, who played Grace Holloway, is a blatant fame whore, I'm quite glad they slighted her.  You can read more of my opinions on Ashbrook in my write-up about Denver Comic-Con.  Hell, Molly and Tamsin spent about as much time with the Doctor as Grace did, and Tamsin fucking betrayed him!

Are there flaws in this minisode?  Sure.  I thought that the Doctor's insistence on not getting involved in the Time War was overcome a bit too quickly.  In fact, the whole thing moved a bit fast.  It's a pretty significant story to be told in 7 minutes.  But you have to give Moffat credit, as there wasn't much else he could do.  He could never make a full length episode out of this.  Who would want to watch a 60 minute long 8th Doctor episode in 2013 other than the die hard fans?  And it's not really even a 60 minute idea.  Ideally, this is about a 15-20 minute story, but there's really no venue for Moffat to tell the story in that length.  He told it in the format he could get away with, and did as well as he could.

Also, Moffat wrote the 8th Doctor the way that Moffat writes the Doctor, not the way that the 8th Doctor has been written in the past.  The dialogue is very Moffat-y, and really feels like it belongs in Matt Smith's mouth--maybe Tom Baker's--but not Paul McGann's.  The line about going to the back of the ship because the front crashes first is the kind of funny, silly line you'd expect from the 11th Doctor.  And this particular exchange doesn't sound anything like what we've heard from the 8th Doctor in the movie or any of the audio adventures:

OHILA: No. We restored you to life, but it's a temporary measure. You have a little under 4 minutes. 

DOCTOR: 4 minutes? That's ages. What if I get bored or need a television, couple of books. Bring me knitting.

That kind of sarcasm isn't very 8-ish.  But I think it can be forgiven because it's so damn funny.

This episode also addresses something I've been wondering for a while:  can the Doctor age within a particular regeneration.  Presumably, the Doctor's first regeneration, the Hartnell Doctor, had to have spanned from his birth to the end of "The Tenth Planet."  That means his childhood and adolescence were all a part of that first regeneration.  So he must have aged significantly within that regeneration.  But can he continue to age and come to look older within a regeneration?  The 11th Doctor has been alive for about 300 years now, and he still looks 12 (although the make-up department looks like they're trying to age him up a little, but certainly not 300 years worth).  This minisode suggests it is possible, because 8 looks 17 years older than we last saw him (as that's how much older McGann really is).  But, more significantly, the ending shows a young John Hurt as True 9 that was actually taken from stock footage, which suggests that True 9 aged very significantly within his regeneration.

It also raises one question:  If True 9 aged that much within his regeneration, then how freakin' long was that regeneration?  We all know the Doctor lies about his age.  How old is he, really?

The question people haven't been asking since the new series came back but which they should have is this:  Why would a pacifist join a war?  Sure, the 6th Doctor had a pretty dark side, and the 3rd Doctor karate chopped people, but by and large, he is a peaceful man.  Why would he become a soldier?  Apparently, it's because he realized that both sides had become so equally evil that he had to put a stop to it once and for all.  He made a very reluctant choice, and came to regret it.  But did he?  It seems he regrets what the war did to him, but understands, reluctantly, that what he did in the war was necessary.

We just don't know, yet, what exactly he did.

Moffat has fallen in love with these little minisodes, going all the way back to "Time Crash."  In addition to the ones that are put out online, the DVD Boxsets are peppered with these little jewels.  Moffat seems to love writing short stories about the Doctor. Some of them, like "Time" and "Space" are incredibly clever.  Some of them, like the Pond Life series, tell us some really interesting information.  Some of them, like "The Battle of Demons Run:  Two Days Later" provided some information that should really have been put in a full-length episode for it to make sense.  And some of them, like "He Said, She Said" are so pointless that I feel bad for the animals who were killed to make the gelatin to make the film that these pointless little stories were shot on.

But "The Night of the Doctor" is the masterpiece of Moffat's minisode obsession.  Never before has a minisode provided such crucial information.  When looking back on the history of the series, "The Night of the Doctor" is going to need to be seen as equal in importance to any full length episode, because it shows us one of the regenerations, something that is fundamentally important to the history of the Doctor's life.  Furthermore, it's a very good regeneration episode, and it should always be seen as an important part of the series.  If "The Day of the Doctor" turns out to be a complete disappointment, then I'll just be able to watch "The Night of the Doctor" on repeat for 90 minutes and pretend that's the 50th Anniversary Special, and I'll be sufficiently mollified.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beyond the End of Time Itself: An Overanalysis of the New Trailers for "The Day of the Doctor"

RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart. 
MASTER: That's suicide. 
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be. 
DOCTOR: You see now? That's what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them. ("The End of Time Part 2")

This weekend, the BBC released another full trailer for the 50th Anniversary Special, "The Day of the Doctor," as well as a short clip from the episode, both of which are above.   If you remember, I already gave my analysis of the first trailer they put out a few months back.  Then the BBC put out this teaser trailer that everyone but me felt the need to dissect and analyze.  Personally, I think trying to learn anything from a trailer that has literally no footage from the episode is fruitless.  It's a cool looking trailer, but it tells us nothing we didn't already know.  But this trailer is an actual trailer that gives us some new information, so it's time to dive in.

If you ask me, it seems pretty clear that this episode is, first and foremost, the sequel to "The End of Time."  "The End of Time" told us how The Time War ended, and this episode is going to show us in greater detail.  I'm not surprised that fans speculated that this episode would be titled "The Time War." I think we're finally going to see what really happened.  Perhaps, we're going to see the very moment when the Time Lords and the Daleks were destroyed.

The 10th Doctor, the 11th Doctor, and True 9 are somehow brought together for this episode.  But the 10th Doctor says in the trailer "Why are we all together?  Why are we all here?"  That means that they didn't just stumble upon each other, or seek each other out by choice.  Something forced them together, a direct violation of the Time Lords' First Law of Time (which they broke when they felt like it).  Furthermore, there's something that never dawned on me before:  If they can meet True 9, then the time lock is broken.

In "Journey's End," we learn that the entire Time War is "time locked," meaning nobody and nothing should be able to get in or out of the time period in which the war happened.  However, Dalek Caan found a way to break through, yet it cost him his sanity (not that Daleks are really sane to begin with).  Then, in "The End of Time," Rassilon found a way out, but it was not easy to pull off.  True 9, as far as we know, only existed in the Time War, and his regeneration almost certainly happened in that war.  This means that either the 10th and 11th Doctors, along with Rose and Clara, are going to be breaking into the time lock, or True 9 is breaking out.  My money is on the former.

It's never been known when and exactly how the Doctor regenerated into the 9th Doctor.  Up until "The Name of the Doctor," it was assumed that Paul McGann's Doctor regenerated into Christopher Eccleston's, but now we know that's not true.  That leaves us with 2 regenerations we've never seen on the show, and a lot of wiggle room as to when things happened.  However, there's one important clue:  In the beginning of the episode "Rose," the 9th Doctor checks himself out in the mirror, and it looks like it's for the first time.  "Ah, could've been worse. Look at the ears. "  So True 9 presumably regenerated into 9 moments before the events of "Rose."  I think it's fairly safe to assume that his regeneration occurred because of the event that caused him to end the Time War.

It's been said that Eccleston was approached to come back for this special, but that he turned them down.  I've been wondering about this:  was True 9 supposed to be in the script, or was he added into the script because Eccleston turned down the special.  Is True 9 playing the role that Eccleston's 9 was going to play?  This would have required Moffat to completely ignore the mirror scene I mentioned earlier, but perhaps the special was supposed to be about how Eccleston's 9 ended the Time War.  Regardless, it's going to be very difficult to do this story without Eccleston, if this is the story I think it's going to be.  How do you not show True 9's regeneration into 9 if Eccleston refused to come back?  Maybe Eccleston is lying, but I doubt it.  He does seem like he's too much of a dick to come back for the fans.  But maybe he's going to surprise me.

The other little clip they released, referred to as "But That's Not Possible!"  Other than introducing a character in the background, who's supposedly going to be named Osgood (I don't feel like unraveling that little puzzle) and who seems to be wearing the 4th Doctor's scarf.  The whole clip seems pretty pointless to me.  It tells us very little.  UNIT (it sounds like Kate Stewart) is showing the Doctor a painting, and Clara sees something that she thinks is "not possible" (a phrase that is used often on Doctor Who and is almost always proven wrong).  I couldn't understand what Clara was shocked by the painting.  My girlfriend said "She saw herself in the painting."  That would be interesting, as the painting is clearly of Gallifrey burning to the ground.  But I'm afraid we're looking at a much more commonplace and tired plot device:  Clara saw the same image in a dream that's in the painting.

Next Saturday, the minisode "The Night of the Doctor" will be released.  The description they've given out says:

"The 50th Anniversary features Matt Smith, David Tennant and a mysterious incarnation played by John Hurt. Only one appears in this mini episode, 'The Night of the Doctor.' But which?"

I'm thinking of the phrasing of this.  "Only one appears in this mini episode."  One of those three?  Or one Doctor?  Moffat said that no other past Doctors will appear in the special.  He said nothing about these minisodes that he's so fond of making.  Furthermore, Paul McGann, the 8th Doctor, seems to have potentially let something slip on Twitter.  Back in October, Paul McGann said on Twitter:

"Spent forty minutes this pm having to imitate Matt Smith’s dramatic delivery in VO. You have been warned….”

After fans got crazy excited, he followed it up by saying:
“I should explain. It was by way of an aural experiment to find out how similar we might sound. We didn’t. And he’s better looking too.”
What the fuck does that mean?  What kind of aural experiment?  For what?  What could that possibly mean?  It sounds like a weird, fumbled excuse that he came up with when he realized he had just said way too much.  Even if Moffat is telling the truth about none of the past Doctors coming back for the special, that doesn't mean that none of them can come back for the minisode.  Plus, he's one of the easiest Doctors to bring back because we know so little about him.  He could have stayed in that regeneration long enough to really, truly age within that regeneration, which would explain the 20 year age difference since the last time we saw him.  You can't really say that about any other Doctor.
I think McGann is in "Night of the Doctor."