Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Bad Joke About Periods: An Overanalysis of "The Crimson Horror"

Seriously, I can't be the only one who thought that "The Crimson Horror" sounds lika euphemism for periods, can I?  Or, to a much lesser extent, communism?

I spend a lot of time on this blog bashing Mark Gatiss.  I've even created a little hashtag about how I don't want him to take over for Moffat after he leaves (#anyonebutgatiss) and once I start spending a little more time promoting this blog on Twitter, I'll see if I can get that hashtag to catch on.  But, I want to make one thing completely clear here:  My complaint is that I find Gatiss's writing to be mediocre.  Gatiss's dedication to the franchise, however, is unparalleled and should be commended.  No writer has ever worked harder for this franchise than Mark Gatiss.

Mark Gatiss's very first contribution to Doctor Who came over two decades ago in 1992 when he wrote his first Doctor Who novel, Nightshade.  This was part of what was known as "the wilderness years" of Doctor Who when the show was off the air (1990-2004).  He would continue writing in the wilderness years, and to date has racked up an impressive resume of Doctor Who writing.  Even putting aside his television episodes, Gatiss has written 2 Doctor Who novels, 2 Doctor Who audio adventures, 4 partially licensed video productions (they had the rights to certain Doctor Who characters, but not the Doctor), and 4 officially licensed Doctor Who comedy sketches.  In addition to writing, he acted in 6 Doctor Who audio adventures (5 of which he didn't even write), and 3 of the comedy sketches he wrote.

It was only natural, therefore, that he would have been brought in as a writer for the new revived series when it started.  Since Russel T. Davies had put together the revival, he, naturally, wrote the first two episodes of the new series.  However, he hired Mark Gatiss to be the first writer other than Davies to write an episode of Doctor Who, having Gatiss author the third episode of the new series, "The Unquiet Dead."  He has since written more episodes of the revived Doctor Who than anyone who has not been the head writer of the show.  He also made numerous acting appearances in the show, most of them in episodes he didn't write.  He voiced "Danny Boy" in "Victory of the Daleks" and "A Good Man Goes to War."  He played Gantok in "The Wedding of River Song" (the guy who worked for the Silence and tried to push the Doctor into the pile of skulls) and did such a convincing job that I never recognized him and didn't realize it was him until I just now looked it up for this write up.  But his most famous role in the show was probably as Professor Richard Lazarus in "The Lazarus Experiment," making him the primary villain in an episode he didn't even write.

With such an impressive resume, it's shocking that he's never been asked to be the head writer of the show.  He's written more for the franchise than either Moffat or Davies.  But Davies had the initiative to get the revived series off the ground, and Moffat was nominated for an award for every episode he wrote for the first four seasons of the revived series.  Still, I've seen no indication that Gatiss is resentful that he's been passed over for the role of head writer.  It's possible that he's turned down the offer, although with the love he obviously has for the franchise would suggest that is unlikely.

Now there are rumors that Brian Minchin, who is being brought in as another co-executive producer beside Moffat for next season, is being groomed to take over for Moffat.  I hope this is a rumor because, as much as I dislike Gatiss's writing, he frankly deserves the role more than Minchin.  Minchin has never written an episode of Doctor Who or any of its spin-offs.  Ever.  He has been a script editor for both Torchwood and Doctor Who, and a producer for both SJA and the UK team for Torchwood:  Miracle Day.  He's written one Torchwood comic, one Torchwood audiobook, and one Doctor Who novel.  How on earth is he qualified to take over as head writer?  You should have to have written an episode of Doctor Who before you take over Doctor Who.  This would be the biggest possible insult to Gatiss.

So thus, my beef with Gaiss isn't that he isn't unbelievably dedicated the franchise, but that I find his writing to be consistently mediocre.  "The Unquiet Dead" was okay.  "The Idiot's Lantern" was dreadfully boring.  "Victory of the Daleks" is a lot of fun if you're willing to ignore the fact that the very premise, and most of the episode, make no sense whatsoever.  "Night Terrors" was decent.  "Cold War" was probably his best episode he's ever written.

"The Crimson Horror" is his worst, as well as, by far, the worst overall episode of this season.

When writing episodes, I think it should be a general rule of thumb for writers that, if your episode is about an alien force trying to drive humans off their planet so that they can make it their new home, you need to stop writing the episode and start over because the manifest destiny plotline has been done to death.

Also, the sonic screwdriver cannot fucking cure things.  That pissed me off more than anything this season.  The sonic is a great tool, but it has to have stronger limits than that.  If it can cure things, there's going to be little reason for the Doctor to take action in a lot of situations.  "We don't need to find an antidote, I have my sonic."  That's the laziest writing ever, Gatiss.  Seriously.

There's only one positive thing I can say about Mark Gatiss's writing in this episode, and that's that he does seem to be even better at writing Strax, Vastra, and Jenny shows (we need a more succinct name for those three, if anyone has any suggestions) than even their own creator, Steven Moffat.  This was the funniest that those three have ever been before.  Like I said, Moffat wanted to do a whole spin-off about them, but he's already stretched way too thin as it is.  So they just became recurring characters, but I almost feel like that's better.  Between them and River, the entire Moffat era is carrying on a consistency through it even as the companion changes.  There are now four recurring characters who have appeared (or are scheduled to appear) in episodes with both Amy/Rory and Clara.  The Davies era did this too, but his characters were way lamer.  Also, this wasn't really true of most past eras of the show in the classic series.  Never were there really consistent recurring characters that weren't villains, with the only real exception being members of U.N.I.T.

I think I'm going to need to start making a section in all of these write-ups for comments from my girlfriend.  She's seen all of the episodes of the new series and enjoys them, but has only seen one episode of the classic series:  "City of Death," which I forced her to watch and which she complained about for every second of the episode.  She has no interest whatsoever in the classic series.  She has no interest in rewatching episodes, or in guessing what the future holds for the series.  However, she doesn't like me talking about her on Facebook, so I doubt she'll like me talking about her in here.  So I at least won't mention her by name, and call her just The Girlfriend:

Me:  That was a reference to the Fifth Doctor's companion, Tegan.
The Girlfriend: (Exasperated sigh) I guess there are a lot of inside jokes in this show.

Me:  Mister Sweet?  They're covering up his identity.  He must be someone we recognize.
(minutes pass and Mr. Sweet's real identity is revealed)
Me:  Oh, damn, it's not someone we now.
The Girlfriend:  Not every episode can be a reference back to a past episode.

Me:  I really don't like this episode.
The Girlfriend:  You were predisposed to hate it from the beginning.

(After Jenny asks the Doctor what happened with Clara and the Doctor dodges the question and doesn't answer her.)
The Girlfriend:  That was a dick move.
Me:  But he doesn't know the answer to her question.
The Girlfriend:  Then why doesn't he just say that?

Good points all around.  The reference I was referring to was that the Doctor, after being scolded by Clara for not being able to land the TARDIS where he intended to, talks about having taken a long time to get an air stewardess back to Heathrow Airport.  This is a reference to the Fifth Doctor's companion, Tegan.  Almost immediately afterwards, the Doctor tells Clara, in response to a panicked situation, "Brave hearts, Clara!"  This is the phrase the Fifth Doctor used a lot when speaking to Tegan.  "Brave hearts, Tegan!"

My girlfriend's point that there are a lot of inside jokes is interesting.  She's right.  There have been a lot of inside jokes (or at least inside references) lately.  More than I've seen in any season of the revived series.  In "The Rings of Something or Other" (I completely forget the name of that planet, and I don't feel like looking it up), the Doctor says he has visited this market before with his granddaughter, referencing the First Doctor's original companion, his own granddaughter, Susan.  In "Hide," the Doctor pulls out a Metebelis Crystal from "The Green Death" and "Planet of the Spiders" to enhance Emma's psychic abilities, combining it with the TARDIS's Eye of Harmony, first seen in the Doctor Who made-for-TV movie.  We also see the Eye of Harmony in "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS."

I begin to wonder if, maybe, all of these references are being brought up because they're trying to remind us of things that they're going to bring back in the 50th Anniversary special.  The actresses who played Susan and Tegan are still alive.  And the Metebelis III crystal could come in very handy in a lot of situations.  (Although, I'm not sure why he still has the crystal, as this would probably anger its owner, the Eight Legs.)

Obviously, the biggest thing that happened in this episode was Clara seeing the picture of her other self on the computer at the end of the episode, which means that nothing really big happened in this episode.  Now we're going to be able to see Clara confront the Doctor about this.  We know that we're going to learn Clara's secret in "The Name of the Doctor."  It would be nice for her to have one episode where she knows something strange is going on before we learn...everything.

Next week, the Sandmanman gives us the return of the Cybermen.  There's a rumor going around that these are going to be Mondas Cybermen instead of Cybus Cybermen.  I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I'm going to post a Cybermen book report about the difference between the two before the episode airs just in case.

And don't forget, we're only 2 weeks away from learning the Doctor's name (or, more likely, of just barely missing the Doctor say his own name).

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