Friday, May 31, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #7: Jon Pertwee, The Dandy Scientist

Here the Doctor wears something that looks like a cross between a cape and a life jacket.

Most actors to play the Doctor took something from their predecessors.  Where the First Doctor was old and crotchety, and the Second Doctor was full of pure whimsy, the Third Doctor was whimsical and crotchety at the exact same time.  He could be somewhat old fashioned at times, and then, at the same time, he wore a fucking cape!

While most actors who play the Doctor have a background in classical theater, Pertwee, in his pre-Doctor career, was actually much more of a comedian than you would have guessed from his stuffy-ish portrayal of the Doctor.  He put out a series of novelty music albums, including one that has one of the greatest album covers I've ever seen, Jon Pertwee Sings Songs for Vulgar Boatmen:

Jesus, Pertwee looks creepy!
The Pertwee era is really interesting in that it was the first time a major change was made in the format of the show:  The Doctor was exiled to Earth as a punishment by his own people, the Time Lords, his TARDIS was disabled, and the knowledge of how to fix it was erased from the Doctor's brain.  It made a formula for a very, very different type of show.  Sure, by the end of the Pertwee era, the TARDIS was usable again, but Perwee carried the show as it moved almost exclusively to Earth in the present.  It was a wonderful experiment and, while not one that could or should have been carried on beyond a few years, it was still a great idea for a short term change up in the plot of the show.

Pertwee played a Doctor who was irritated with his situation, but also looking to make the most of it.  Trapped in 20th Century Earth, he teamed up with alien-hunting military organization, U.N.I.T., and the irreplacable Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.  Pertwee did an excellent job of portraying the Doctor's pacifism as it came into inevitable conflict with the military nature of the Brigadier and his organization.  Yet, he could still seem to see the good that U.N.I.T. was doing.  Pertwee and Nicolas Courtney (who played the Brigadier) had a perfect chemistry as two friends who are frustrated by each other, and yet still appreciate each other immensely.

Pertwee's era was marked by the unfortunate death of Roger Delgado, the original actor to play the Master.  (Maybe I should do a ranking of Masters?)  Pertwee and Delgado had a perfect chemistry as well, as two old enemies who still seemed to have a respect for each other's intelligence buried beneath their animosity.  The scene in "The Sea Devils" where the Doctor visits the Master in jail and feels sorry for him for a moment, telling his companion how they used to be friends in school, is a touching moment.  When Delgado was killed in a freak car accident, Pertwee had a lot of trouble going on.  He had created such a good friendship off camera with Delgado, that he eventually cited it as one of the reasons he left.

Ultimately, Pertwee did a lot for the series, including showing how flexible the basic premise of the show was.  The only real downside of the Pertwee era was their attempt to portray the hippie movement (like all television, they were about one decade behind the times) through Jo Grant, who was more of an insult to the 60's counterculture than anything, as she was portrayed by Manning as a blithering idiot.

Also, this ridiculous shit happened.
Thankfully, she was replaced with Sara Jane Smith, who showed that feminists aren't all dumb rich college girls.  Seriously, Jo Grant was an idiot.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #8: Paul McGann, The Forgotten Doctor

Paul McGann in the expanded universe outfit that doesn't make him look like a pansy from the 1800s
Paul McGann had the unfortunate dishonor of only appearing on screen as the Doctor in one made-for-TV movie.  And he didn't even get to be in the full 90 minutes of the movie.  Sylvester McCoy spent about the first third of the movie as the Doctor before regenerating into Paul McGann's 8th Doctor.  On top of that, he was stuck in one of the worst stories of the entire color era.  Possibly the worst in the history of the franchise.  Even the most boring episode of the Hartnell era at least has an interesting science-fiction concept that was trying to be intelligent.  They never did anything as stupid as "The Master wants to blow up the Earth using the Doctor's TARDIS and then steal the Doctor's body."  Vin Diesel films have more complex plots than that.  Add in the most horrible line ever uttered in Doctor Who--"I'm half human, on my mother's side" (the expanded Universe material, thankfully, retconned this)--and you have one stinker of a movie.  It was an attempt to restart the series, making the made-for-TV movie a sort of backdoor pilot.  I could write an entire blog post about why this failed, but for now, just take my word that it was shockingly misguided.

None of that was McGann's fault, though.  When offered the chance to restart the most iconic science-fiction franchise in the history of your country, you'd take it, wouldn't you?  And you'd probably be willing to suffer through a pretty shitty pilot if you thought there was a chance at a much better show to come, wouldn't you?

What redeemed McGann in the eyes of Whovians, though were the Big Finish Audio Adventures.  Big Finish in the early 90's started doing a series of individual, one off adventures, randomly cycling between Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy, as they were the only ones who were up for it and not dead (because if Patrick Troughton could have done it from his grave, he'd jump at the chance).  Then McGann jumped on board, and people were so excited to hear more stories from the Eighth Doctor, that McGann got his own spin-off series of audio stories called "The New Eighth Doctor Adventures."  The stories are a lot of fun because, where the television show has to be able to appeal to casual viewers who are just flipping through the channels, if you've gone through the trouble of digging out a New Eighth Doctor Adventure, you're not a casual fan.  So that opens up the opportunity to bring in really obscure villains like Zygons, Eight Legs, and Ice Warriors.  It also works it into a long, interesting plot arc that's as strong as anything Steven Moffat has written.  Strong story arc + Super fanboy references = One of the most exciting stories in the franchise.  And it all hinges on the excellent performances of Paul McGann and his spectacular chemistry with Sheridan Smith, who plays his companion Lucie Miller.

After the departure of Lucie, a sort-of 5th season of the series began called Dark Eyes, which introduced a much less interesting story and companion.  But the four seasons of The New Eighth Doctor Adventures definitively prove that, had there been a revived series of Doctor Who in the mid-90s, and if it had been given strong writers, it could have been extraordinary!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #9: Sylvester McCoy, The Master Manipulator

For those of you who may have been wondering, it's not a fedora, it's a pork pie.

Here, we start really getting into the category of my least favorites, rather than the ones I actually dislike.  Sylvester McCoy was brilliant, there are just a lot of brilliant men ahead of him on my list.  McCoy had one of the hardest acts to follow. Unlike Matt Smith and Peter Davidson who had to follow in the footsteps of the most popular Doctors of their eras, or Patrick Troughton who had to follow the original Doctor, Sylvester McCoy had to follow up the most unpopular Doctor in the history of the franchise.  Colin Baker's era (not Colin Baker himself, the era, I need to stress that) nearly killed the series.  The three years that they got with Sylvester McCoy seemed more like a courtesy granted by the BBC simply because the show was so iconic.  The show lasted 26 seasons, but really, it was cancelled in season 22.  McCoy was brought in as a very last ditch effort to save a franchise that was already doomed.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Doctor Who is written on drugs.  I don't know what their plan was to save the series after the Colin Baker era debacle, but it seemed to involve much harder drugs, because the 7th Doctor's episodes got fucking bizarre.  On a Doctor Who message board, I once challenged anyone to try to explain to me the plot of the 7th Doctor episode, "Ghost Light."  Surprisingly, several of them could explain it, although at least one of them admitted to be on drugs himself when watching the episode.  But it's known that all of the actors in the episode were confused as fuck as to what was going on.

There also seemed to be a little bit of a "fuck you" to the critics of the 6th Doctor era during the 7th Doctor era.  Because, while the show was trying to rebound from accusations of it being gruesome, dark, and starring a pretentious Doctor, they only fixed two of these three things.  Sylvester McCoy was more likable, the stories got less visibly violent...but the Doctor got crueler.  What Sylvester McCoy's Doctor is known for is for being a master manipulator.  I truly believe that, when the 10th Doctor, in "The End of Time," talked about getting so good at killing that he could trick people into killing themselves, he was talking about the 7th Doctor.  7 was so jovial, like an eccentric (young) grandfather.  But just beneath the surface was a boiling anger.  And he didn't need to unleash that fury in a fiery rage.  He would slowly manipulate his enemies into creating their own destruction for him.  He didn't get mad.  He got even.  Few people complained about the violence in this era, because it wasn't as blatant.  The Doctor didn't try to strangle his companion or throw someone in an acid bath, but he did destroy Skaro by simply leading the Daleks into thinking they wanted a certain object, a weapon, without telling them that it would actually destroy the planet.  The extent to which the Doctor's pacifism applies to Daleks varies wildly, as it is certainly an interesting ethical conundrum for a pacifist to decide whether or not it's wrong to kill a living, sentient being whose only purpose in life is to kill.  But in "Remembrance of the Daleks," the Doctor's speech to Davros as he and his planet burn together is bloodcurdlingly cold.  Nothing Colin Baker's Doctor did was nearly as...devilish.

DAVROS: You have tricked me!
DOCTOR: No, Davros. You tricked yourself.
DALEK 2: Omega device returning.
DALEK: Impact minus twenty five.
DOCTOR: Do you think I would let you have control of the Hand of Omega?
DAVROS: Do not do this, I beg of you.
DOCTOR: Nothing can stop it now.
DAVROS: Have pity on me.
DOCTOR: I have pity for you.
DALEK: Fifteen.
DOCTOR: Goodbye, Davros. It hasn't been pleasant.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #10: Christopher Eccleston, The Non-Doctor

"I’m constantly told I’m not funny and I’m not charming, and they were some of the demands in the role" - Christopher Eccleston, being very correct

When asked why he wouldn't wear a flamboyant costume like the other Doctors, Eccleston literally said that it was because his Doctor wasn't going to be a "tosser."
Keeping with the "first is worst" theme, the first Doctor of the classic series comes in last place, with the first Doctor of the new series in first to last.  His place on this list is going to piss off a lot of people, but I stand firmly by it.

I'll confess, as much as I seem to know about Doctor Who, I'm actually a very, very recent convert.  I just fell so in love with it that I went back and watched every episode, started digging out obscure Doctor Who comics and audio adventures, and two different sonic screwdrivers (a 9/10 one and an 11 one).  I actually began my love of Doctor Who watching the new series from the beginning when they were already well into the David Tennant era.  So, they say that your first Doctor will always be your favorite, but Eccleston was my first, really, and he's just one spot up from the bottom on my list.

Let me be clear:  it isn't that Eccleston wasn't a good actor.  He just wasn't a Doctor.  The three new series Doctors each had a very different position that they started from.  Tennant was already a die hard fan of the show who was said to be able to quote the classic series "chapter and verse."  Matt Smith was not a fan when he became the Doctor, but made damn sure he did his research before taking on the role, which caused him to fall in love with the 2nd Doctor.

Christopher Eccleston had never seen an episode of Doctor Who, and made a conscious effort not to.  I doubt he's seen one since.  He never seemed to fully understand what he had gotten himself into with Doctor Who.  We all complain about his refusal to return for new episodes or audio books, but I think that part of the reason for that is that he doesn't fully understand that it's expected of one of the Doctors. He said that he chose to take the role because he was interested in working with Russel T. Davies, not because he was interested in Doctor Who (which makes me seriously doubt his intelligence and sanity).

Christopher Eccleston has no muscles or fat in his body whatsoever.  Only bones.
The idea of one man with 12 different faces is an idea so bizarre and so wonderful that it seems to blow my mind, only for it to be repaired so it can blow again.  It's a concept that seems brilliant and impossible at exactly the same time.  Part of the fun is trying to imagine these very disparate people as being the same man, and both believing it and not believing it at the same time.  When you watch the Doctor's in order, there's a mostly gradual progression that can allow you to believe that William Hartnell and Matt Smith are the same person in a way that you couldn't really believe if you just watched their episodes in isolation.  But each regeneration strays from his predecessor just slightly so that the combined effect is more believable (with the exception of a few large leaps in personality, most notably the jump from the 5th to 6th Doctors).

But 9 is the oddball out, as putting him up against pretty much any other Doctor in the franchise will still look strange.  He doesn't act like any other Doctors in the history of the franchise.  He has little sense of humor.  He lacks the Doctor's whimsy.  He's never happy.  He's not flamboyant.  He can fade into the background in a crowd of people.  He doesn't really seem to like most people.  He's not the Doctor.

The one thing that 9 now has going for him is True 9, and that's something he can thank Moffat for.  True 9, as we get to know him, might help us get bridge the monumental gap between 8 and 9.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #11: William Hartnell, The Crotchety Old Fool

Every Doctor Who blog should include a ranking of the Doctors. Who is best and Who is worst in Who? So, with the series now on hiatus, I thought it might be a little fun to count down the Doctors, from worst to first. I call it "The Order of Rassilon."

I look forward to hearing who agrees with me, and who vehemently disagrees with me. So we're going to start it out with the worst in the history of the franchise, the First Doctor, William Hartnell.

I wear a weird ugly hat now.  Weird ugly hats are cool.

Yes, he started the franchise.  Yes, the original show couldn't have survived without Hartnell's unbridled enthusiasm for the show, keeping everybody's spirits up during filming.  Good for him.  Punk wouldn't have gone anywhere without the Sex Pistols, but they still sounded like a special ed class playing guitars.  Honestly, I don't know what it is about Hartnell that made the show so popular that it could survive a replacement of every single cast member (several times over).

Famously, film was so expensive during the black and white era and they had to keep shooting even when things went horribly wrong.

If this was the stuff that was deemed suitable for air, I want to see what exactly a Hartnell blooper reel would look like.  What's the stuff that he fucked up so badly that they couldn't salvage it for television? I'm sure it has to exist.  He'd have to have, like, wet himself or something.

As old and feeble as he looked, would you believe that Hartnell actually played the role from ages 55 through 58?  My dad is 79 and he looks about 20 years younger than Hartnell did in his Doctor Who years.  He must have done some really hard living in his younger years.  I imagine him waking up every morning and drinking a big glass of paint thinner and smoking about a carton of cigarettes.  When they brought him back for the 10 year anniversary episode (keep in mind, 68 years old), he was so feeble that they had to write the script in such a way that Hartnell could perform the entire episode sitting down.

He could have shot this on the can and nobody would have been the wiser.
So yes, when it comes to Doctor Who, first is worst.  But then again, the whole point of the series is that it's supposed to be constantly renewing itself, and constantly getting better.  For all we know, Hartnell might have been very proud of the fact that every Doctor that followed him surpassed him.

Probably not, though.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It begins...

I'm as tired as you are of the Obama meme, but I wanted to kick off my official Richard Ayoade for 12th Doctor campaign in earnest, and I felt that I should do that with a campaign poster.  A better one will come eventually.

Until then, I want you to look at this man's face, and then think to yourself:  "How perfect of a Doctor would he be?"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He Who Must Not Be Mentioned: A Doctor Who Book Report on The Valeyard

I am the Valeyard!  Marvel at my completely impractical faux samaurai outfit!

Some people have been tossing around a theory that the John Hurt Doctor is not the "True 9th Doctor," as I've referred to him.  Some have suggested that he's either a pre-Hartnell Doctor or The Valeyard.  I realize now that dialogue in the episode doesn't specifically declare John Hurt to be an incarnation from between the McGann and Eccleston Doctors.  But him being either pre-Hartnell or The Valeyard seems unlikely.  The Doctor, before the Hartnell Doctor, was "The Other."  This has never been mentioned on TV, but was elaborated in the novel Lungbarrow.  Even though this is an idea that started in the TV writers' room, I don't think it was ever meant to be stated explicitly on screen.  Even if I was a writer for Doctor Who, I wouldn't touch "The Other" with a ten foot pole.  And I love the plotline about The Other.  It's just not something that needs bringing up.  The suggestion that Hurt could be The Other rests on the fact that The Other is someone who didn't bear the name of "The Doctor."  But the 11th Doctor said that the John Hurt Doctor isn't The Doctor because he broke the promise of the name.  When he was The Other, he didn't have that name or that promise yet.

The Valeyard is more plausible, but there are still major problems with that theory.  But, because of this rumor, and also because "The Name of the Doctor" was the first mention of The Valeyard on the show since his final appearance in "The Ultimate Foe," I got some requests to talk more about The Valeyard on here, including my friend Tim Veilleux, who specifically requested a book report.

The 22nd Season of the classic series of Doctor Who was an unmitigated disaster.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't think it was the acting of the new Doctor, Colin Baker (who I'll hopefully meet at the end of this month!).  I don't think it was that the writing was bad.  It was because it was fucking gruesome.  A few years ago, a website called Topless Robot did a great article on why Colin Baker wasn't entirely to blame for the unpopular 6th Doctor era, because he was getting screwed left and right.  The most amazing one to me was the fact that BBC Controller, Michael Grade, who claimed to hate the show because of its poor production values (he controlled their budget), was fucking Colin Baker's ex-wife!  So Colin Baker had a target on his back from day one.

Besides the violence, the other main complaint was that the 6th Doctor was brash, pompous, and insensitive.  As the Topless Robot article points out, this was actually an attempt at an arc.  The 6th Doctor was supposed to regenerate as a dick, lose his companion, and gradually remember why he was the Doctor.  However, the fact that the Doctor got meaner and that the stories got darker made fans so upset that they never got to finish this arc.  Some of the fans started to join in with the chorus of critics who had been calling the show too violent for decades.  The season is solidly disturbing.  In "Vengeance on Varos," the most notorious serial, criminals were tortured on live television for the viewing pleasure of the people of Varos.  Two people fall into an acid bath, and, depending on how you interpret the scene, the Doctor might have pushed one of the guys into the acid bath.  Two different serials during the season were about cannibalism*.  But if you truly watch these episodes and pay attention to them, you'll see some really creative episodes, just not ones that you'd expect on a children's television show.  The sudden shift from Peter Davidson's friendly 5th Doctor and his science-oriented era to Colin Baker's ultra-pompous 6th Doctor with grim and dark morality tales was just too much for the audience to handle.  Michael Grade (I imagine on a phone call while he was literally inside Colin Baker's ex-wife) put the show on an 18 month hiatus.

An attempt was made to soften the change in tone by casting Colin Baker alongside Nicola Bryant's cleavage, high pitched screaming, and horrible fake American accent
When the show came back, executive producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner, and head writer Eric Saward, put together a season long plot line called "The Trial of a Time Lord."  The Doctor was put on trial by the Time Lords for the second time for the same offense:  interfering with the affairs of other species.  If you know the history of what was happening behind the scenes with Doctor Who's near cancellation, you'll notice that the season is a perfect metaphor for the show being "on trial" after Season 22.  The Doctor defends himself against allegations of being violent, and he claims that he only resorts to violence in the direst of emergencies.  However, there was quite a bit of argument between Nathan-Turner and Saward about how dark the story should be.  So some forced rewrites supposedly added to the highly confusing plotline I'm going to attempt to relate to you.  The writers of the show didn't successfully explain the Valeyard in 14 episodes.  I'm going to try to explain him in one blog post.  Here goes nothing:

The Doctor's prosecutor in this trial was known as The Valeyard.  Context suggests that the term "Valeyard" is a Gallifreyan word for "Court Prosecutor."  The Valeyard shows two of the Doctor's adventures as evidence of the Doctor's guilt, allowing two serials ("The Mysterious Planet" and "Mindwarp") to be aired within a larger framework of them being "evidence."  It is explained that every TARDIS has a device in it that records all the events that happen to anyone in the area, including people who the Doctor was not in contact with.  It could literally record the actions of side characters in the story when they weren't near the TARDIS or talking to the Doctor or his companion.

Oh, don't worry, this plot gets fucking weirder.

The Doctor then shows another serial as his defense ("Terror of the Vervoids"), which he claims is from his future.  If it seems ridiculous that the Doctor would find an adventure from his own future, show it, and then not significantly change the course of events when he got to that point in his timeline in the future, that's because it is ridiculous.  What's sillier is that the charge of genocide is added to the Doctor's charges after watching "Terror of the Vervoids" in court, despite the fact that it hadn't happened yet.  Apparently, on Gallifrey, you can be executed for future crimes.  However, it was an awkward but necessary plot device to explain the change of the Doctor's companion mid-season.  (Just trust me on this.  We're getting into such complicated shit here, I'm really worried about my sentences not making any sense.)

"Terror of the Vervoids" is actually a pretty good episode if you can look past the fact that the villains are walking vaginas.
The Valeyard seems to be a particularly harsh prosecutor as he calls several times for the Doctor to be given a death sentence.  The Doctor insists that the evidence being shown at his trial is all altered from what his TARDIS really recorded.  This defense falls on deaf ears, as everyone on Gallifrey insists that, since this information is all recorded in the Time Lords' "Matrix," it can't be altered because the Matrix is tamperproof.  Tamperproof is one of those words like "unsinkable":  It always seems to be a challenge.  In a bizarre twist (in a serial already full of bizarre twists), the Master shows up to prove that the Doctor is right and that there is absolutely a way to tamper with the Matrix by tampering with the Matrix himself.  He then reveals the truth about the Valeyard:

He's a future version of the Doctor.

Well, he's sort of a future version of the Doctor.  The Master describes The Valeyard as such:  "There is some evil in all of us, Doctor, even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation. And I may say, you do not improve with age."  The phrase "somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation" is very confusing.  The Doctor is supposed to only have 12 regenerations, meaning there can only be 13 Doctors.  Therefore, I always took it to mean that somehow this creature spins off from the Doctor in the midst of his final regeneration, creating a physical manifestation of the Doctor's darker nature.  However, my friend Patrick pointed out the problem with this sentence of the Master's.  He said that it suggests that there have to be more than 13 Doctors for the Valeyard to have been created between the 12th and the final manifestations because "integers don't work that way."  But that assumes that the Valeyard is a full "Doctor."  I never took him to be as such.  Just a part of the Doctor, not one of his full regenerations.

The Time Lords had somehow screwed up and moved the Earth two light years through space, and renamed it Ravolox.  They made a deal with The Valeyard that he wouldn't rat out the Time Lords if they let him prosecute the Doctor and take his remaining regenerations.  The Valeyard, after being figured out, resorted to trying to blow up the courtroom.  The Doctor defeated the Valeyard in a bizarre, trippy battle inside the Matrix, but, in the final shot, we saw that the Valeyard was still alive, disguising himself as a member of the Time Lord high council--a cliff hanger that was never, ever picked up on.

Not a single moment of this story was written without the assistance of acid
"The Trial of a Time Lord" can be very interesting if you watch it closely and appreciate the subtext about Doctor Who and the BBC.  But the plot makes no sense whatsoever.  How can the Doctor look at future adventures of his own self without breaking laws of time?  How can the Valeyard be trying to kill the Doctor and get his future regenerations?  Shouldn't that kill the Valeyard himself?  How was the Valeyard created?  If the Valeyard survived and infiltrated the high council, what happened afterwards?  Why does the Valeyard wear a hat that makes him look like a penis?

The Valeyard is probably the most written about character in Doctor Who fan fiction, because everyone is still dying to figure out what the fuck he is.  I admit to writing a fan fiction myself that explained his creation in that the Dream Lord found a way to manifest himself in a physical form and then regenerated into the Valeyard.  It's as good of an explanation as any.

In 1991, Virgin launched the Virgin New Adventure Novels, a series of novels that continued the Doctor's adventures, and were often much more adult than the TV show ever was.  According to the Doctor Who Wiki (and we all know how trustworthy wikis are), the following memo was issued to writers of the novels:"Anything featuring the Valeyard is out — he's a continuity nightmare, and a rather dull villain."

The TV writers must have gotten a similar memo, because as soon as "The Trial of a Time Lord" was over, the Valeyard never came back, and neither did the 6th Doctor.  Colin Baker became the only actor to be fired from the role of the Doctor, forcing Sylvester McCoy to shoot the 6th Doctor's regeneration sequence the following season by wearing a blonde wig and never letting us get a good look at his face.  Officially, the 6th Doctor regenerated from hitting his head on the TARDIS console.  This might have been even more offensive to Colin Baker than being ousted by the guy who was fucking his ex-wife.

I can't stress enough how ridiculous and hilarious this is.
Baker was fired by the guy who was  fucking his ex-wife!
Thus, the writers seemed always gun shy about attempting to address the Valeyard again after he was such a train wreck.

A few attempts have been made to address the Valeyard in expanded universe media.  My favorite is He Jests at Scars..., a Doctor Who Unbound audio story that imagines an alternate Universe where the Doctor loses his battle against the Valeyard and the Valeyard takes over his regenerations.  It's horrendously depressing, as are all Doctor Who Unbound stories.  My friend Patrick informed me that there's one story where the Valeyard turns out to be Jack the Ripper.  By the transitive property, this means that Vastra ate the Valeyard.  Then again, every evil person in expanded universe media has been accused of being Jack the Ripper.

The timing is all wrong for John Hurt's Doctor to be the Valeyard.  If Hurt is not "True 9," as I believe he is, then when was he created?  The Valeyard is supposed to be created after, or during, the 12th Doctor's regeneration into the 13th Doctor.  Granted, I explained away the discrepancy when I wrote about the Valeyard in my fan fiction, and that could be done in the show just as easily.

The trouble is that nobody's wanted to touch the Valeyard with a Hazmat suit since 1986.  Sifting out the muddled story of the Valeyard would be hard enough if you were doing it with an audience who remembers who the hell the Valeyard is, let alone an audience that probably doesn't remember him.

But what is significant, however, is that the Great Intelligence, in "The Name of the Doctor," explicitly stated that the Doctor will someday take the name of The Valeyard.  I think a lot of people are seeing this as a hint.  But for the Valeyard to be addressed, it would have to be in a very subtle, roundabout way.  It would have to be a plot that fans of the classic series would recognize as being about the Valeyard, but which the new series fans would simply not understand.  It would have to be a plot that is so far in the background that the new series fans wouldn't even notice what was happening.  Even if he could find a way to pull it off, it would probably be career suicide if Moffat tried to address it, and Moffat doesn't like to dip into the past too much anyway.

Thus, I think the reference to The Valeyard was fleeting and not meant to hint at anything.  I think John Hurt is playing True 9, not The Valeyard, or any sort of pre-Hartnell Doctor.  That was the implication that Moffat wanted us to be left with.  Yes, Rule 1, Moffat often lies, and he misled us with the title "The Name of the Doctor."  But, if you remember the secret from "The Impossible Astronaut" as to who it was that shot the Doctor, and it turned out to be River, you'll realize that, sometimes, when we think Moffat is trying to be sneaky, he's actually being blatantly obvious.

*Assuming that you consider any intelligent humanoid eating another intelligent humanoid cannibalism.  If you consider such cross-species consumption to not be cannibalism, then only one serial is about cannibalism.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

War and Peace: An Overanalysis of "The Name of the Doctor"

My Friend (and co-blogger at T9YD) Adam:   I assume you're writing War and Peace right now?
Me: Oh yes! So much to analyze. So much to hate.

Steve:  What I'm saying is, after the John Hurt part--
Susan:  No, no, no, Steve!  Can we just clear this up once and for all:  Alien is not 'really about parenthood.'
Steve:  Well...
Susan:  For just this once, could we manage to discuss childbirth without involving John Hurt.
Steve:  Susan!  No man can do that!
Susan:  Okay.
Steve:  I mean, imagine what it's like for John Hurt.
Susan:  Oh please, can we not!
Steve:  If he was visiting a maternity ward all the guys in obstetrics would be crowding round going "Hey, it's da man!  Cheers, John, you're the one that got me into this racket."
-Coupling, Season 4, Episode 1, "9 1/2 Minutes," written by Steven Moffat

Sometimes, if you sift through episodes of Moffat's brilliant sitcom, Coupling, you can see where some of his motivations in writing Doctor Who really come from.  Here, we see why he cast John Hurt as the estranged 9th-ish Doctor.  If you watch an episode called "Size Matters," I guarantee you that you will never hear the Doctor say "Geronimo" in quite the same way again.

The "John Hurt Moment"
Moffat is a talented writer, and there's so much evidence to support that.  He has bounced between genres freely, succeeding in nearly all of them, from children's programming (Press Gang), to sex comedy (Coupling), to horror (Jekyll), to popular, American animated films (Tintin), to a modern day adaptation of classic literature (Sherlock), to taking the reigns of the greatest science-fiction franchise in British history.  While he's made a few slight missteps (Jekyll, his short lived sitcom Chalk, and some parts of the 4th season of Coupling), he's an excellent writer all around.  He wrote an episode for each of the first four seasons of the revived series, and each one won or was nominated for a major award.  When he took over the show, he had a monumental task ahead of him, recasting the Doctor after the wildly successful David Tennant era whose popularity may never be surpassed.  Rather than try to copy his predecessor, Russel T. Davies, he took the entire show in a different direction, constructing a multi-year long arc that has kept the show extremely popular, despite all of the whiny teenage girls insisting that David Tennant be brought back.  He created some of the most complex and satisfying individual episodes, as well as the greatest overarching stories that this show has ever seen.  He has been, in my opinion, the best writer that the franchise has ever seen, and that's including both Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams.

It is because of all of these things that I must say the following with a very, very heavy heart:

Steven Moffat has lost his touch.  At least with Doctor Who.

This season has been a disappointment from the beginning.  "Asylum of the Daleks" was fun if you ignored the fact that the very premise of it made no sense whatsoever.  "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" was fun but idiotic.  "The Angels Take Manhattan" was the first Angels episode without a strong internal logic to it that tied up the loose ends perfectly. Two of the greatest companions in the history of the series were unceremoniously ejected in the midst of a two-part episode that was uncomfortably shoved into 45 minutes like a 300 pound man uncomfortably shoved into a speedo.  "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of Saint John" gave us hope for a better season, only for those hopes to be dashed by the uncompelling "Rings of Something or Other," the disappointing "Hide," the embarassingly horrible "The Crimson Horror," and an episode that is an insult to the very name of Neil Gaiman, "Nightmare in Silver."

GF:  Do you have to pace around the room like there's a war on while you discuss Doctor Who?  Sit down and discuss it with me like a normal person.

I understand a lot of people loved this episode, including my co-bloggers over at The 900 Year Diary, Adam Stone and Kevin Spak.  Normally Spak and I disagree about Doctor Who, but it's normally me loving the episode that he hates, not the other way around.  I have no idea how this episode is becoming so popular.  With the exception of the last 30 seconds, this episode was a convoluted mess?

"The Name of the Doctor" will hopefully go down in Doctor Who history as Moffat's worst episode, as I hope he never produces anything as convoluted and nonsensical as this episode.  After hearing for almost 2 years that the Doctor's name must never be said, it was barely consequential to the episode.  The title, "The Name of the Doctor," in the end, seemed to have nothing to do with the actual "question," but was a trick phrase to refer to something we weren't thinking of.  The prophesy was not fulfilled.  Dorium said that, on the fields of Trenzalore, no living being can fail to speak or answer falsely.  Well, that didn't fucking happen.  The Doctor was asked his name point blank and failed to answer.  River had to answer for him so that the door could be opened.  It's like Moffat changed his mind about what this episode was going to be after "The Wedding of River Song" had already aired.

GF:  The only good thing about this episode so far is that River is in it.

What the fuck, River?  We were told we would be seeing a "post-Library" River, which was true, but it was pulled off in the most disappointing way possible.  Somehow River can be brought into conversation with the Doctor and other people from her home in the computer in the Library?  That's convenient.  A pre-library River would have been much less convoluted.  River was not entirely necessary in this episode, other than the fact that every Moffat season finale seems to have to have River in it as a requirement.  I love River, but she added nothing to this episode.

The fact that the Doctor was forced to go to his grave would have been interesting, if pulled off successfully.  Moffat said, in an interview after "The Impossible Astronaut," how fascinating he found it that, however far the Doctor travelled, he was moving through all of time and space, and somewhere out there is his grave.  He could always stumble upon it.  Fascinating concept, if it weren't for the fact that Dorium told us it was going to be something fundamentally different.

"It's like my mother always said:  The soufflé isn't the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe."

Shut up, Moffat.  I know you think that's a profound metaphor for Clara scattering herself over the Doctor's timeline, but it's not.  It's a tortured metaphor that doesn't really work.

Clara's splintering across his timeline was a bizarre explanation.  It works for the ways she saved him in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen," but how did she save him from all the other times that the Great Intelligence tried to kill him?  The only explanation is that the reason we've never seen Clara or the Great Intelligence in any of the classic series episodes is because they didn't reflect the altered timeline that the GI changed.  But that doesn't make sense because, if that were true, we'd never have seen Clara in either the Asylum or Victorian London.  Was she always just hiding in the shadows every time the GI covertly tried to kill the Doctor off-screen, battling him and winning for over 900 years?  That seems highly unlikely.

And somehow Clara could jump into the time stream and make those echoes, but since the Doctor went in (went in where?) and saved her, the echoes still exist, but the original Clara doesn't die?  Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.  Was Moffat tripping when he wrote this episode?  And the entire time between writing and production when he could have fixed the episode?

Furthermore, the sacrifice Clara made was a bit ridiculous because she doesn't seem to have enough loyalty to the Doctor yet to justify such an immense sacrifice.  The mystery of Clara drove a huge spike between the Doctor and Clara, and really kept them from developing a strong chemistry.  Now that they know so much about each other, hopefully that chemistry will really develop over the course of the next season.  But so far, I don't buy that she cared about the Doctor enough to sacrifice her life for him. Amy would have.  Rose would have.  Even Martha or Donna would have.  Clara isn't there yet, and it didn't seem plausible.

The brief glimpses at all of the past Doctors was excellent, and it looks like this might be the closest we'll ever get to a 12 Doctors special.  I started yelling out each Doctor's number as they passed by, until my girlfriend asked me to stop.  What I thought was interesting is that, while Clara adjusted her outfit in each era to make it appropriate to the time, some of her outfits looked suspiciously similar to outfits worn by the Doctor's companions.  The one existing in the same time as the 6th Doctor had an outfit that did not match either of 6's companions in any way.  But the one following the 2nd Doctor seemed to have the same outfit as the 2nd Doctor's companion, Victoria.  And the one following the 7th Doctor looks a lot like the 7th Doctor's best companion, Ace.  Even the 1st Doctor Clara looked a little Susan-ish.  I was hoping to find out that Clara was actually Susan, since the expanded universe suggests that Susan might not be his actual granddaughter, just some girl he picked up to travel with him.  I call this the "Amber Alert TARDIS" theory.

GF:  Why is this guy so intent on revenge against the Doctor?  It would be one thing if he was a central villain throughout the season who was responsible for nearly everything in the season.  We didn't see enough for him to have this kind of vendetta against the Doctor.
Me:  Yeah.  He was an old 2nd Doctor villain, but even if you factor that in, this is only the Doctor's fifth time meeting him.

Good point, honey!  While Clara's sacrifice for the Doctor is a bit of a stretch, the GI's strong desire for revenge against the Doctor is just as much of a stretch, if not more of one.  The GI doesn't have enough of a history with the Doctor to be that hellbent on revenge.  There are tons of enemies that Moffat could have used that would have made more sense in that situation, including the most drop dead obvious choice of them all:  The Master.  But Moffat apparently wanted to use a more obscure villain, even though The Master would have made his whole story arc make sense.

GF:  This season sucked.  There wasn't even a good plot arc that led to this.
Me:  Yeah.  As much as I loved Amy and Rory, I have to admit that it was a mistake to keep them on for half a season.  The first half of the season revolved around their departure so much that they didn't even bother to get the real story of the season going until they left.

That's five episodes that could have been used to better set up this episode, and five episodes that were completely wasted in the process.  They couldn't even make the Great Intelligence the villain in some Amy and Rory episodes?  He wouldn't have to be the primary villain, he could just be someone lurking behind the villain, the secret, silent partner to someone.  But instead, we were given two mysteries (the name, and Clara) that were never developed, just reiterated in dialogue.  Actually, Clara's mystery was reiterated in dialogue without developing the plot any further.  The Doctor's name has barely been mentioned since "The Wedding of River Song," which aired nearly two years ago.  Good luck if you didn't remember that episode.

In the mire of stupidity that was "The Name of the Doctor," Moffat nearly redeemed himself with the last 30 seconds, which did exactly what Moffat said the episode would do:  change Doctor Who forever.  Because now there's a whole other Doctor in there that we never knew about it.  It also means we have a whole new Doctor to learn about, and he's going to be a big part of the 50th anniversary special.  John Hurt was announced as a cast member for the 50th Anniversary special months ago, but I never imagined he'd be a Doctor.  It has rocked my world in a way that I never expected.  My mind has been so set in an 11th Doctor world.  I wasn't prepared to meet another Doctor in this episode, let alone a previous Doctor.  The chronology of the Doctor's lives is stored in a large part of my brain, and I've just been told that there a huge and important chunk in the middle of there that I never imagined was there.  It's a matter of cognitive dissonance.  I'm literally going to need until November 23rd, the date of the big Special, to fully accept this radical change in Doctor Who chronology.  Seriously, this is a matter of letting my brain recover.  It really knocked me on my ass.

But even in rocking the entire franchise, Moffat did it in the most ridiculously convoluted way possible.  I'm sorry to have to admit this, but my girlfriend actually had to explain the ending to me.

(The episode ends)
Me:  (Throws a pillow in the direction) What the fuck was that?!
GF:  I got it.
Me:  You did?
GF:  You've never seen what happened in the Time War, right?
Me:  No.  Even the expanded Universe stuff hasn't touched it.
GF:  Yeah.  That's the Doctor during the Time War.
Me:  But that makes the current Doctor the 12th?  How can that be?
GF:  Because he doesn't acknowledge him as the Doctor.  He said he didn't do things in the name of the Doctor, so he isn't a real Doctor.
Me:  So he ignores him in the numbering system, and that's why he calls himself the 11th, even though he's actually the 12th.

So, here's a list of things that have significantly changed due to the ending of "The Name of the Doctor":

-The last 3 Doctors' numbers, even if they don't acknowledge them, are all bumped forward by 1 number.  Eccleston was now the 10th Doctor.  Tennant the 11th.  Smith the 12th.
-The Doctor can only regenerate 12 times, meaning that there can only be 13 Doctors.  This means that, after Matt Smith, the Doctor can only have one more regeneration before they have to at least acknowledge that the Doctor should be out of regenerations (if they don't decide to just ignore it like Davies planned to).
-The 8th and 9th Doctors* probably didn't spend much, if any time, in the Time War.  The 9th Doctor appeared to have just been regenerating in "Rose," acting as if he had just seen himself in the mirror for the first time.  The 10th Doctor said that he had to finally destroy the Time Lords to keep them from becoming God-like creatures, destroying the rest of the Universe so they could exist as the only creatures, in pure consciousness.  I feel like this is probably the true chronology:  The 8th Doctor regenerated early in the Time War into True 9.  True 9 had a change of heart towards the end, and destroyed the Time Lords, forcing him to regenerate into 9 in the process.  Alternately, True 9 might have regenerated into 9 before he destroyed the Time Lords, and his regeneration caused his radical change of heart.
-The 50th Anniversary special will actually have a past Doctor other than 10, it's just not a Doctor we knew about.
-If John Hurt has already been cast for the 50th Anniversary special (we have), then True 9 is going to be a sort of a villain in the special.
-The Doctor is even older than he claims.  The 6th Doctor claimed to be 900 years old, and so did the 11th Doctor at the beginning of his regeneration.  So the Doctor had to be much older than 900 at the beginning of his 11th regeneration.  This might explain the lie better, because there's an entire regeneration he doesn't acknowledge.  How many years did True 9 live?  Because however many years True 9 lived, the Doctor is probably subtracting those years from the age he claims to be.

There's so much to be learned about True 9, and I can't wait to see what happens with him.  The Doctor's hatred of True 9 seems to be a little irrational.  When True 9 said he did everything he did in the name of peace and sanity, the 11th Doctor didn't disagree with him.  He said it wasn't "in the name of the Doctor."  I could understand the 11th Doctor being mad at him if he thought everything True 9 did was wrong.  But it seems like he knows that True 9 had to do what he had to do, he's just pushing him to the back of his mind so he can ignore it.  Some of us don't have the ability to section off our past and leave it behind, Doctor.  You need to deal with True 9.

I'm guessing this is what we can expect from the 50th Anniversary.

Until then, I'll still be updating, just not with episode reviews.  But stay tuned!  Can't wait for Season 8.

*Since the introduction of another Doctor complicates the numbering system so much, I'm going to come up with my only special system.  I'm still going to refer to Eccleston's Doctor as 9, Tennant's as 10, Smith's as 11.  I'm going to call John Hurt's Doctor "True 9."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Need A Bigger Head: A Last Minute Addendum to my Preview of "The Name of the Doctor"

I was just rewatching "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead," and, to quote the 10th Doctor himself:

"Oh! I'm thick! Look at me, I'm old and thick! Head's too full of stuff, I need a bigger head!"

River knows the Doctor's real name in "Silence in the Library."  But in this episode, "The Name of the Doctor," the Doctor's name will be (supposedly) finally revealed.  But, we were promised a post-Library River in this episode.

See what I'm getting at?

This is the episode where The Doctor is supposed to reveal his name for the first time.  Yet River already knows it long before this episode.


This isn't just the culmination of everything that Steven Moffat's been working on since "The Eleventh Hour."  This is everything going back to "Silence in the Library."

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Answer in the Question

Once upon a time there was a magical man known only as "The Doctor" who traveled all around time and space in a magic machine called the TARDIS that looked like a police box on the outside, but was endlessly bigger on the inside.  One night, when he was flying his magic box, he crashed into the backyard of a little girl named Amelia.  Amelia had a large crack in her wall, and she knew there was something wrong with it.  It scared her.  She heard whispers through it.  So she went out into her backyard and asked the magical man if he could help her with the crack in her wall.

The Doctor opened up the crack in her wall, and found something terrifying on the other side.  He found a prison, where a prisoner known as Prisoner Zero had gotten out.  Prisoner Zero could disguise himself as anyone, and he had escaped through Amelia's wall.  But Prisoner Zero's jailers would not let him get away.  They said that if they didn't find Prisoner Zero, they would blow up the whole world to stop him.

The Doctor stopped Prisoner Zero, and returned him to his captors, thus saving the Earth.  But not before Prisoner Zero gave him a terrifying warning:  "The Universe is cracked.  The Pandorica will open.  Silence will fall."

When Amelia was an adult, the Doctor took her and her fiance with him on his adventures.  But someone called the Silence was chasing after him.  The Silence was an evil cult that believed that it was very important to kill the Doctor before he was someday forced to answer the question that must never be answered, a question that they believed was the oldest question of all time, hidden in plain sight.  They believed it was very important that the answer never be spoken.

The Silence developed a plan to blow up the Doctor's TARDIS and kill him, but they didn't realize that they could blow up the whole of time and space if they did that.  The Doctor's enemies, fearing that the TARDIS would destroy the Universe, locked the Doctor in a mythical prison called the Pandorica so that he couldn't pilot the TARDIS.  But the Doctor wasn't piloting the TARDIS, his wife, River Song, was, and so the Silence were able to blow up the TARDIS, thus destroying the whole Universe.

But before the Universe could be destroyed, the Doctor flew the Pandorica and himself into the explosion of his TARDIS, which reset the whole universe and brought it back.  But it erased him from time in the process.  He had never existed, and nobody could remember him.  Except Amelia.  She knew something was missing, but she didn't know what.  On the day of her wedding, she realized who was missing, and tried very hard to remember him.  She wished and wished so hard, and finally, the Doctor showed up, all thanks to Amelie's memory.

The Silence didn't give up, though.  When Amelia and her husband had a baby girl, the Silence stole her and raised her to be an assassin.  Their assassin, River, however, fell in love with the Doctor, and couldn't bring herself to kill the Doctor.  So instead, River helped the Doctor to fake his death, so that the Silence would stop trying to kill him.  So the Doctor ran off to hide from the Silence, but he still had to worry about the prophesy that the Silence believed:  "On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the eleventh, where no man can refuse to answer or speak falsely, a question will be asked that must never be asked:  The first question, the oldest question in the Universe, hidden in plain sight:  Doctor who?"

The Doctor's name must never be said...

If you write it a certain way, Moffat's entire era reads like a fairy tale or an ancient legend.  There's a very good reason why Moffat's style has been referred to as the "dark fairy tale" style.

In Moffat's first episode, "The Eleventh Hour," Prisoner Zero gave us the prophesy that would fuel the overarching plot of the next three seasons.  "The Universe is cracked.  The Pandorica will open.  Silence will fall."  Barring any other twist that raises another question to be answered next season, what we're likely to be looking at tomorrow is the culmination of everything that Moffat has written since he took over the show.  Seasons 16 and 23 of the classic series had season-long arcs.  Season 3 of the classic series featured one story that was made up of 12 half-hour long episodes.  Seasons 1-4 of the current series had very subtle season long arcs.  Never before has Doctor Who told a story steeped in deep mystery that lasted 3 years.  This is quite an accomplishment that finally comes to a head tomorrow night.  We finally understand why the question must never be answered.

Or perhaps we'll learn nothing at all.  Still, it promises to be a hugely momentous episode.  I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dead Men Tell No Truths: A Preview of "The Name of the Doctor"

In Season 5, right after watching "Flesh and Stone," I correctly predicted that River would not kill the Doctor (as that was obviously what Moffat wanted us to think, so I knew it had to be untrue) and that she would, instead, help the Doctor fake his death to hide from someone and then take the fall for it by going to prison. I accurately predicted, when watching "The Lodger," that the stranded ship was a Silence ship. I accurately predicted what "The Question" was going to be. The only real thing that I feel like an idiot for missing was that River was Amy and Rory's daughter, which I thought was a crackpot fan theory that could never be true.  I made a vow after that to not reject "crackpot" theories and to make sure that I don't rule something out just because it sounds too "out there."

My point here is not to brag.  Okay, my point totally is to brag.  But my point is, I can get a lot of things. Or, at the very least, I know the right questions to ask.  So let's look at the questions that need to be asked before we head into the big finale of the season.

What did the Cyber Planner's clue mean?

I swear to God, every single time I finish one of my weekly write-ups of an episode, I immediately think of something I completely forgot to mention. This week, it was a big one, and that's the big clue that the Cyber Planner gave the Doctor:

"You know you could be reconstructed by the hole you've left behind."

Sometimes, I think that Moffat needs to set up rules for his own Universe that wouldn't be obvious. He did it in "The Impossible Astronaut" where he, essentially, explained to us the rules of the new mystery, that they couldn't go back in time and stop the incident from happening because it would create a paradox. The Doctor broke more laws of time than that when he rescued himself from the Pandorica, so the only reason this was being brought up in that episode was to explain to us that they can't cheat that way in this season. In this season, that'll be against the rules.

I can't imagine how exactly you could "reconstruct" the Doctor by the "hole he left behind," but the rules in this season say that it's possible, and the Cyber Planner wouldn't bring it up if it wasn't incredibly significant and would affect the plot of "The Name of the Doctor." My guess is that this is how the Great Intelligence is going to find out about the prophesy: "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: Doctor who?" We've seen from the preview that the Great Intelligence will be in this episode, and the preview even showed him asking the Doctor his name.

But why does the GI want to know?

I keep thinking of the name "The Great Intelligence." There are some indications that the Great Intelligence's primary goal is to gain intelligence. In the classic series, it wanted to drain the Doctor's brain so that it could absorb his knowledge. Perhaps the Doctor's name is important knowledge, and so the GI wants to know it because it wants to know everything. It's kind of like the Brain Spawn monsters from Futurama.

The Brain Spawn have absorbed so much information that they know that bow ties are cool

Post-Library River?!

This is the most fucking insane clue that we've been given.  River has somehow survived the fucking Library?  This changes everything.  So, how might it have happened?  Here's a few theories:

River Found Her Way Out of the Computer

River's consciousness, at the very least, isn't dead.  The Library is still holding what is presumably the version of her consciousness she had at the moment she died.  She'd just need a body to put her consciousness into.  We never saw in "Silence of the Library" what happened to her actual body.  And whichever future Doctor prepared the screwdriver that saved her probably knew her ultimate fate.  Perhaps it wasn't just a plan to save her consciousness, but a chance to save her life completely.

River Didn't Really Use Up All of Her Regenerations

How exactly did the Doctor and Amy know in "Let's Kill Hitler" that River used up all of her regenerations?  Hell, how did she use up all of her regenerations?  It seems really strange that she would need to use up all of her regenerations to save the Doctor.  If we assume Melody Pond was the first regeneration, Mels was the second, and River was the third (there could be other regenerations in there, but there are strong hints to suggest that there are not) then she could have regenerated up to 10 more times.  That seems like a lot of regenerations to save the Doctor just once.  Again, we didn't see her body after she died.  Perhaps she had to be taken away from the Doctor's sight so she could regenerate in secret.

Everybody knows that everybody dies,
unless you're a recurring Doctor Who character.
Then you can live for-fucking-ever!
Clara is a "Post-Library" Regeneration of River

This would solve two mysteries with one stone, but don't ask me how the fuck it would work.

Which leads us to the next question:

Who the Fuck is Clara?

The problem with this question is that we don't have many clues as to what's happening.  It's an annoying way to handle a big mystery.  So let's sum up the very, very few and very small clues we've gotten about this mystery.*

-Clara was born from two parents who met by complete chance.  She wasn't bred or created.
-Emma, the empath, confirmed that Clara is completely normal.  I doubt that she'd say the same if she met Oswin or Clara Oswin.
-They have all, at some point, used the phrase "Run you clever boy and remember."

That's more or less it.  I still think that the possibility of her being a regeneration of River is perfectly conceivable, but I still can't work out how that would actually explain anything.  I would love it if she turned out to be a regeneration of Susan, but that would make the scene where Clara Oswin kissed the Doctor in "The Snowmen" really gross.  Like Luke kissing Leia in A New Hope.  If she is River, then it's fine.  If she's some random person, that I think River should slap her.  Just because a River/Clara cat fight would be hot.  (I apologize for being a male.)

I also keep thinking of the villain Scaroth, from the classic, Douglas Adams written Fourth Doctor episode "City of Death."  Scaroth had different versions of himself scattered across time, in different centuries, because of his space ship exploding.  The big difference there was that Scaroth's different selves all shared a consciousness and could think as one.  The Claras don't seem to be able to do that.

As opposed to Scaroth, however, the world is richer for having more people who look like Clara.

What is the Doctor's name and why is it dangerous?

I'm still sticking with my the-Doctor-is-a-God theory, which ties into The Cartmel Masterplan.  The much bigger question is going to be how much of this is going to really be revealed in this episode.  I think it's going to cut away very quickly so that, somehow, River will be the only one to hear it.

I'm looking forward to the episode.  There are a lot of mysteries to be solved.  I just hope they all have satisfying conclusions. 

*I’m going to start instituting a new naming system to keep the Clara’s straight, because that’s starting to confuse me. So, from now on:

Dalek Asylum Clara = Oswin
Modern Day Clara = Clara
19th Century Clara = Clara Oswin

Besides being much easier to actually write, it also reminds us that Clara’s three different names are clearly very important. Also, it’s like Moffat made these names specifically for me, as the version of Clara that I have to write about the most is the one with the shortest name. Thank you, Steven. (I can call him Steven now.)

The Silence

I want to address the big news of this week, and that's the BBC's huge cock-up, where certain American fans were accidentally sent copies of the DVD of the current season, allowing them to watch "The Name of the Doctor."  I haven't gone looking, but I'm fairly confident that there's a torrent of it somewhere online, and that there are blogs and other sites that give away all of the spoilers.  I had to spend a long time trying to decide if I was going to watch "The Name of the Doctor" early, or perhaps even blog about it early.  I don't know if I'll change my mind and watch the episode early, but I'm definitely not blogging about it early.  The point of this blog is to link modern episodes to the classic series, and to make predictions about what is to come.  My point is not to spoil the experience for fans.  So, I haven't decided yet if I'll take an early peek at it, but I promise that, if I do, I won't blog about it until after it airs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Borg by Any Other Name: An Overanalysis of "Nightmare in Silver"

Disclaimer:  No silver was actually used in the construction of these Cybermen.
Cybermen are made out of steel.

Let's start this week off with "quotes from the girlfriend":

GF:  Why is the Cyberman moving so fast?  It's like zombies.  The reason they're scary is because they're slow, but you still know that there's nothing you can do to stop them because they'll never give up. Once they get fast, they're not as scary anymore.

GF:  Why is he putting her in charge?  She doesn't really seem to be qualified for that.

GF:  (Regarding the Doctor becoming the Cyber Planner) It's like when Picard became Locutus of Borg.

GF:  Was Neil Gaiman under the impression that he was writing an episode of Star Trek and when he figured out his mistake he just swapped out the characters for Doctor Who characters?

GF:  When your episode is already knocking off Star Trek, to the point where their "freeze chamber" or whatever looks exactly like a Borg cube (she Googled a picture of a Borg cube to prove this to me), you need to do something other than transporting everyone at the end of the episode.  That's just the final nail in the coffin.  It's a "transmatter"?  Seriously!?

She's not wrong

GF:  I just feel like, if you're going to have a season like this without a good overarching plot, you need more interesting individual episodes.  Otherwise it's not worth it.
Me:  Well, I think that he ran into difficulty because of the companion shift taking place mid-season.
GF:  Right! And since then, we've only had one overarching mystery which is "Who is Clara?" which he just keeps saying.  He hasn't gotten any closer to figuring it out.


Okay, she has some points and some things I disagree with.  As a 28 Days Later fan, I actually like fast "zombies."  I think they're far scarier.  But I see her point about the Star Trek stuff.

I outlined some of the main differences between Mondas and Cybus Cybermen in my last post, but I forgot one main thing:  Mondas Cybermen were much less Borg-y.

Star Trek and Doctor Who have always had a really symbiotic relationship.  You can sift through either franchise and find countless references to the other.  They are each their own country's most iconic science-fiction franchise, and they started around the same time.  Therefore, it's natural that these two shows draw influences from each other from time to time.  The Sontarans, for example, were a blatant knock-off of the Klingons.  To their credit, though, the writers of Doctor Who put their own ironic twist on their version of the Klingons:  where the Klingons look like a great fighting force in the galaxy, the Sontarans look like the opposite of intimidating.  They're short, fat potato men.  Where you would expect something that looked like a Klingon to be a warrior, you would expect something that looks like a Sontaran to be a door stop.

As for the Cybermen and the Borg, it should be pointed out that the Cybermen predate the Borg by over 25 years.  That being said, the Mondas Cybermen (the Cybermen of the classic series) were much less Borg-y.  By that, I mean that turning other people into themselves was not their primary objective.  They did it, plenty of times, but it was not the be all and end all of their plans.  For the most part, they sought power.  They sought control over new worlds in lieu of the one they lost attacking Earth.  They tried to change time to bring their planet back.  They tried to gain weapons that would make them a more formidable force in the Universe.

The first Borg episode of Star Trek aired in 1989, the last year of the Doctor Who classic series's run, only a few months before both the Doctor Who finale, and only a few months after the final Cyberman episode of the classic series.  It could not be said that the Cybermen were knock offs of the Borg.  Nor is it that fair to say, the other way around, that Borg were a knock off of the Cybermen.  Certainly there seems to have been some Cybermen to Borg influence, but, as I pointed out before, the Mondas Cybermen weren't that Borg-y to begin with.

The only thing I can say for sure is that, when the show came back for the revived series, the newly rebooted Cybermen had completely gone back and, rather than playing off of the more complex motivations that moved the Cybermen in the classic series, they literally just turned them into a Borg clone.  The Cybermen were not a knock-off of the Borg, but as soon as they had a chance to do a Cybermen episode in the years after the Borg were invented, they turned them into Borg.

Another reason the modern, Cybus Cybermen are so much more Borg-y than the classic series, Mondas Cybermen is that the Mondas Cybermen weren't as automated.  They didn't need a less robotic person, like John Lumic, Mercy Hartigan, or, in this episode, the Cyber Planner, to speak for them.  There was always a lead Cyberman who was able to have conversations with the Doctor that almost hinted at crude emotions.  The Mondas Cybermen considered themselves to be above and devoid of emotion, but their desperate desire to restore their home planet suggested otherwise.  There was always at least one Cyberman with enough personality to taunt the Doctor.  The Cybus Cybermen are so robotic that they can't really threaten or intimidate the Doctor.  They function as an anonymous whole, just as the Borg do (or as they did before the introduction of the Borg Queen).

Now, it was rumored that these were going to be Mondas rather than Cybus Cybermen.  While this was never stated outright in the episode, these Cybermen had a few old Mondasian traits.  The first was their weakness to gold.  The Mondas Cybermen's respiratory units were clogged up by gold (but not, I should point out, by having a thin strip of gold-colored paper stuck to their faces).  Early on they could also be destroyed with certain chemicals found in cleaning products, as the Doctor mentioned.  They were able to overcome the chemical weakness, but never really the gold one.  There has been no indication before that Cybus Cybermen share this weakness, although, since they are parallel, there's always a possibility that they share the same weakness. The fact that the Doctor could partially fight off the Cyber Planner's control using gold was a hint that these might have been Mondas Cybermen.

Another hint towards them potentially being Mondas Cybermen is the Cyber Planner.  The Cyber Planner actually only appeared in 2nd Doctor Cybermen episodes, "The Wheel in Space" and "The Invasion."  Again, since Cybus Cybermen are parallel, it's possible for them to have a parallel Cyber Planner, but it still hints towards Mondas.

There were a lot of other nods back to the Mondas Cybermen as well, but none that definitively proved that these were Mondas Cybermen.  One is their facial design, which was a little more old-school than we've seen in the Cybus Cybermen.  The longer mouth looks a little more Mondasian, particularly like the Cybermen in "Tomb of the Cybermen" (unlike the Daleks, the Cybermen's design has changed significantly over the years).  This episode also bore a striking resemblance to "Tomb of the Cybermen" in certain plot elements, which makes sense as Gaiman said that he was partially inspired by "Tomb of the Cybermen" for this episode.  The plot of "Tomb of the Cybermen" is that a group of archeologists,  believing that the Cybermen are now extinct, look for the fabled "Tomb of the Cybermen" on their adopted planet, Telos, only to find that "tomb" was a codeword for "fully functioning cryogenic storage units that the Cybermen can easily be awakened from when disturbed."  The insistance that the Cybermen were extinct and the fact that they were in similar "tombs" shows a strong influence from "Tomb of the Cybermen."

And while we're on the subject, why the fuck did they think that the Cybermen were extinct?  We, as viewers, know that the Cybermen were still alive as recently as "Closing Time."  But that could have been a small ship that nobody else in the universe knew was still out there.  So then we have to go back to "A Good Man Goes to War" for our last Cyberman reference.  There, the Cybermen were a huge military presence in the universe, one that was feared by all races.  They had massive fleets all over the galaxy.  They didn't seem very extinct to me.

Therefore, it's possible that what they really meant was "Mondas Cybermen are extinct."  Still, that's not definitive.  As many fans have pointed out, the Cybermen in "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Closing Time," and even (I think) in "The Pandorica Opens" all lack Cybus industry logos.  This could mean that they were Mondas Cybermen.  Or it could mean that they no longer had any loyalty to their creators, Cybus Industries, and stripped themselves of their logos.  What is more likely, as I've stated before, is that the writers don't care about the different types of Cybermen anymore.  Cybermen are just Cybermen, they exist all over the universe, and they don't think the backstory is important so they just focus on the Cybermen's present.  I understand why this simplifies things, but it also reduces the Cybermen to a much less interesting character than they were in the classic series.  It just makes them Borg.

And, of all people, I thought Gaiman would be up for ferreting out this distinction between Mondas and Cybus Cybermen.  His script for "The Doctor's Wife" was so nerdy that even the stage directions had classic series references, referring to the bubble universe as a "76 Trotters Lane at the end of the Universe."  "The Doctor's Wife" was filled with so many fun, fanboy references.  "Nightmare in Silver," unfortunately, lacks most of these, and when it does indulge it is very subtle.  Harkening back to the old Cybermen was a little cool, but there was a lot more he could have done.

The choice of setting was almost Moffat-esque.  This story could have taken place virtually anywhere in the Universe, but Gaiman thought it would be more fun to place it in an abandoned amusement park.  And he was right.  Like I said, whenever Gaiman thinks he's being scary, he isn't scary, he just creates a general air of creepiness.  But he's always good at creating that air of creepiness.

The Time Lords invented chess?  That's a nice "Fuck you, India" from Gaiman.

The addition of the children that Clara was taking care of was very interesting.  I was happy to see that. Moffat might be moving towards putting them in the TARDIS with the Doctor on a regular basis.  There's an upside and a downside to it.  The upside is that, after having two companions for so long (Amy and Rory), a single companion makes the TARDIS seem a little lonely.  Certainly, the show has always gone back and forth between single and multiple companion eras, but something about the Doctor-Amy-Rory dynamic was so good that I think I at least want to see the TARDIS turn into a sort of family home again, regardless of who the characters are.  The downside, of course, is that it's much more perilous for him to be bringing small children into danger.  It's one thing for him to bring fully consenting adults wherever danger may rear its head.  It's another thing to do the same with kids.  It might not be something that parents groups are going to want to see.

It might also help if Clara and the Doctor started to click a little more.  Clara is a wonderfully strong companion, I strongly believe that, but I don't feel like she and the Doctor have the kind of chemistry that Amy and the Doctor had at this point in their relationship.

Matt Smith did an excellent job of playing himself and the Cyber Planner at the same time.  If we ever needed to see Matt Smith play an evil clone of the Doctor, we now know how good he'd be at it.  He can play a villain just as well as he can play a hero.

The greatest quote this week from the Doctor Who message board Gallifrey Base was this:  "Is this the part where you regale me with a long list of dramatically interesting televised chess scenes?"  He's right:  Playing chess is not very exciting unless, as we saw in "The Wedding of River Song," the queen gets increasingly and fatally electrified the more you move it while futuristic Andy Warhol people cheer you on.  But the Doctor's "mate in 3" ploy was pretty cool.

But let's be honest, that was a bit of an easy ending.  If the midget Emperor just activated the bomb at the beginning, none of this would have ever happened?  I understand why he wanted to preserve the planet and why he didn't want to be the emperor, but at least one person died, and there were more lives lying in the balance, two of them children's.  Just activate the thing, you dick!

Overall, I found this below average for a Gaiman episode, but above average for a Cyberman episode.  It was a good bit of fun with the old Cybermen, and it subtly revelled in Cyberman lore, but not quite in the joyful way that Gaiman did it in "The Doctor's Wife."  Still, I want him to write a lot more episodes so that he becomes a viable candidate to take over for Moffat when Moffat leaves.  Hey, it's not impossible, right?  #anyonebutgatiss

But we now come into the season finale, which looks like it could change things significantly, even if--as I suspect--it will not actually reveal the Doctor's name.  And it will be nice to get the Clara mystery out of the way.  I was interested in it at first but, as the girlfriend pointed out, all we've gotten has been the Doctor saying over and over again "She's not possible!"  Very few clues have emerged.  We're not very much closer to knowing who she is than we were before.  It could have been a great mystery, but it's time to just get it over with if they're not going to add anything to it.

But the Doctor's name is something much bigger.  It is the culmination of everything that has come so far in the Moffat era, as well as the culmination of the great prophesy we were first introduced to with Prisoner Zero's cryptic warning:  "The Pandorica will open.  Silence will fall."  We now know what the Pandorica and the Silence are, but their entire purpose had to do with keeping the Doctor from going to the fields of Trenzalore.

Next to Trenzalore.