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Posts Tagged ‘wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’

Take My Angels, Please

October 1st, 2012 No comments

I was so excited when it was announced that Steven Moffat would be the new showrunner of Doctor Who. He was both a brilliant writer and an über-fan. Most important is that he appeared to “get” Doctor Who. Consider this dialogue from his spoof episode “The Curse of Fatal Death,” spoken to a dying Doctor by actress Julie Sawalha:

“Doctor, listen to me! You can’t die! You’re too nice! Too brave, too kind. And far, far too silly. You’re like Father Christmas, the Wizard of Oz, Scooby-Doo! And I love you very much. And we all need you and you simply cannot die!”

“He was never cruel and never cowardly, and it’ll never be safe to be scared again.”

Moffat had written several of the best episodes of nu-Who, including “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink.” The latter introduced the Weeping Angels, bizarre creatures that were akin to a living game of “Statues”: they could only move when no one was looking at them.

My glee began to turn to dismay by the start of his second full season as showrunner and head writer. The overarcing plot became so complex that not even a think tank of fanboys with a whiteboard could fully work it out. The show was less about the title character and more about Moffat’s pair of Mary Sues, Amy Pond and River Song, both of whom were so awesomely awesome we were repeatedly told. (Tip to writers everywhere: if you have to tell us how great someone is, they’re not.)

What bothered me most, however, was the sloppiness of the storytelling. Gaps in logic abounded. (Pretty much all of “Asylum of the Daleks.”) Major plot points were left unexplained. (A question still hanging from two years ago: how was the TARDIS destroyed by the Silence? Blowing up a TARDIS is supposed to be a very, very, very hard thing to do.) Rules were invented on the spot to fit the needs of the moment. (When the Weeping Angels returned in “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone,” their signature move–killing people by sending them back in time to live out their lives in the past–was conveniently ignored in favor of them simply snapping necks.)

Fast forward to this past weekend’s half-season finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the swan song of longtime companions Amy and Rory. All of the above came into play, and the result had me wishing that Steven Moffat might hand over the reins before next year’s 50th anniversary.

(Major spoilers ahead. Beware.)

Here again, the Weeping Angels changed to meet the dictates of the plot. They weren’t creatures that merely resembled statues, they actually possessed existing statues…including the Statue of Liberty, which was laughably able to walk across Manhattan without anyone looking at it. They returned to sending people back through time…except when they only teleported them a short distance away. And the whole “that which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel” bit (from “The Time of Angels”) didn’t result in Statue of Liberty posters coming to life.

Meanwhile, there was the nagging matter of the Ponds to contend with. Never mind that they’d been leaving the show since last year’s “The God Complex,” their relationship with the Doctor had become so codependent that a regular departure simply would not do. Even though they’d already had expressed a couple of perfectly good reasons for ceasing their travels (the inherent dangers of their adventures; their enjoyment of a “normal” life), it would have to be something Earth-shattering, Rose-trapped-in-a-parallel-universe-ish to get them fully out the door.

And so it was that a new rule about time travel was introduced…”Once we know the future, it’s written in stone.” The idea here is that once the Doctor learns the details of his own future, he cannot (or should not) change them.

Not only does this flatly contradict the entire previous season of Doctor Who–the Doctor wriggling out of the “fixed point” of his own death–it invalidates the core of the show itself.

Let’s now spin back to 1975, Who‘s 13th season, for the classic tale “Pyramids of Mars.” It’s frequently cited among the top stories of the old show, chiefly for the utter malice of the villain Sutekh, an Egyptian god/all-powerful alien who terrifies even the Doctor despite its inability to do so much as stand up from its throne.

One of the most remarked-upon scenes occurred when then-companion Sarah Jane Smith questioned why they needed to worry about Sutekh destroying Earth in the year 1911 when she herself hailed from the not-destroyed Earth of 1980. The Doctor responded by slipping forward in time and showing her the hell-blasted landscape that would result from their inaction.

Granted that it took 13 seasons to make this explicit, but the point here is crystal clear: knowing what the future is “supposed” to be by no means guarantees it will play out that way. The Earth exists throughout much of the Doctor’s personal history–he’s there at its creation in “The Runaway Bride” and at its final destruction in “The End of the World”–but that doesn’t make it “written in stone.” If it was, pretty much every storyline involving a threat to Earth’s past could be safely ignored. One of the central tenets of the show is that the future is something which constantly must be defended.

I could go on for awhile restating the massive logical flaws involved in keeping apart the Doctor and the Ponds, but others have done my work. Bad enough that the “written in stone” thing will from now on be cited as one of the “rules” of Doctor Who, but it doesn’t even truly serve its purpose within last week’s story. If the Doctor can cheat his own “fixed” death with a robot duplicate, there’s nothing final about a simple tombstone.

The Fanwankica Opens

June 20th, 2010 No comments

The current season of Doctor Who has been an object lesson in the perils of expecting too much. As I’ve discussed previously, new showrunner Steven Moffat has been responsible for several of the very best episodes of the revived Who. While I knew that it was highly improbable that an entire season could equal the heights of “The Girl in the Fireplace,” I certainly believed that some truly extraordinary television was coming. Yet, with only one episode to go (in England, at least*), I can’t help but feel a bit let down.

Now, of course, it would be silly to actually complain about this season. I’ve been a Whovian for several decades, long enough to have suffered through terrible, incomprehensible and (worst of all) boring stories. Nothing this year has approached the horrors of “The Horns of Nimon,” “Warrior’s Gate,” “Timelash” or “Ghost Light.”** It’s still a very good time to be a fan.

It’s just that Moffat’s reputation as writer, producer and uber-Whovian suggested that we wouldn’t see any of the lazy plotting or dubious decision-making that occasionally marked Russell T. Davies’ run. Then came “Victory of the Daleks,” which threw away its killer premise (Winston Churchill employs the Daleks to fight World War II for him) in favor of a non-story that did little more than reboot the Doctor’s deadliest foes.

The controversial redesign of the Daleks themselves seems another example of something that could’ve used one more pass through the production office. I think that they look great from the front, and I like the candy colors which recall the ’60s Dalek feature films. However, the odd “hunchback” of their profile view just seems off. I know that it’s a minor detail, and that I’ll get used to it, yet I can’t help but be boggled that Moffat looked at it and said, “yes, that’s the one.”

Even Steven’s own scripts have struck me as not quite fully-baked. “The Beast Below” lived up to the series’ new focus as a modern-day fairy tale–and it was certainly a lot of fun–yet in hindsight the plot made very little sense. A couple of episodes later, Moffat revived his dreaded Weeping Angels for a two-parter intended to do for them what Aliens did for Alien. While not entirely unsuccessful, he had to do an awful lot of handwaving and flat-out fudging to turn an entire army of unstoppable monsters into a plausibly-defeated menace.

As the season winds down, I find myself more satisfied by the episodes written by hired hands than by those coming from the pen of the Grand Moff. “Amy’s Choice,” “Vincent and the Doctor” and “The Lodger” have been my favorites to date. And again, that seems wrong. This is the first year of new Who that doesn’t seem to have hit an out-of-the-park homer (remember to insert cricket equivalent here).

Which brings me to “The Pandorica Opens,” the opening half of the season finale. (ALL SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT FORWARD. YOU-HAVE-BEEN-WARNED.)

What’s becoming clear is that Moffat has been playing a much larger game. If some of the earlier episodes have been lacking in logic, it may be because Steven has been focused on the big picture of the seasonal story arc.*** Inexplicable events have been planted throughout, all apparently tied into the over-plot. And I think that’s somewhat a problem; rather than telling fully satisfying tales, he’s been laying down pieces to form the puzzle box of the titular “Pandorica.”

“The Pandorica Opens” is very much in the tradition of Russell Davies’ season-ending spectacles. Once again, there’s an attempt to top everything that’s come before. Previous years have featured mass armies of Daleks, the Master’s total conquest of Earth, the return of Gallifrey and the threat of omniversal armageddon. So, where could they possibly go from there?

How about an unholy alliance of pretty much every alien species the Doctor has ever faced? Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Sycorax, Judoon, Silurians and Atraxi are joined by whatever happened to be lying around the creature shop**** to construct a fiendishly intricate trap for their archfoe. Oh, and to save the universe.

It’s still unclear what’s really going on. Throughout the season there have been cracks in time, presumed to have been created by the explosion of the Doctor’s TARDIS sometime in the near future. The cracks have erased characters from history (including Amy Pond’s fiance Rory) and generally made a mess of things. And there’s an still-unrevealed menace which may or may not be behind it all. Is it, as some have speculated, a future version of the Doctor, his mind broken by his imprisonment within the Pandorica?

As he put it himself, “There’s one thing you never put in a trap, if you’re clever, if you’re smart, if you value your continuing existence, if you ever want to live to see tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap. Me.”

We’ll know in a few days. And we’ll also know whether Steven Moffat manages to pull his big, timey-wimey ball of stuff into a satisfying story.

*As always, I am using Gallifreyan blogging technology to write this from several weeks in the future, when “The Pandorica Opens” has already aired on BBC America.

**That’s right, I said it. I HATE “Ghost Light.”

***Old-school Who dabbled in season-long story arcs long before the likes of Twin Peaks, but never to the extent that new Who has embraced them.

****Also name-checked were such classic series enemies as the Zygons, Terileptils and Drahvins. Sadly, the budget appears to have fallen short of granting them screen time.

This One Goes To Eleven

April 5th, 2010 No comments

The new series of Doctor Who made its BBC America premiere on April 17, a mere two weeks after it aired in the U.K. If you are reading this review before that date, it’s because I discovered the wibbly-wobbly, time-wimey WordPress hack that allows me to post retroactively. Where I sit it’s Monday, April 19.*

BBC America was certainly brave in choosing to delay the debut of the 11th Doctor. They had to know that Doctor Who fans are no longer living in an era where they have to worry about PAL-to-NTSC transfers. It can’t have escaped their notice that there are several methods by which television shows can almost immediately be shared worldwide. Yet they held their ground, and I salute them.

It was tough waiting out those two weeks.

So, anyway, the 11th Doctor.

It’s a tradition to fear the arrival of a new Doctor Who. Oh sure, most of the time you’ll be fine. You’ll get a Peter Davison or David Tennant, and you can afford to exhale. But every once in a while someone tries to slip you a Colin Baker.

I remember the first time that I saw this early promotional photo of Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor in Starlog magazine. I believe that my first thought was WHAT THE FUCK THEY HIRED A CLOWN. (Yes, my thoughts know where to find the Caps Lock key.)

So, even since Ronald McDonald and his Amazing Technicolor Umbrella, I’ve greeted the announcement of each new Doctor Who with suspicion. And with Doctor Number 11 looking uncomfortably like Crispin Glover (stays Crispin even in milk!), I was especially nervous.

I needn’t have worried. Matt Smith hits the ball right out of the park (remember to insert equivalent cricket term here). He owns the Doctor, playing him as a charming madman.

(WARNING: ALL SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARD.)

His early scenes with Caitlin Blackwood, the child actress who plays the young version of new companion Amy Pond, are a delight. Especially fun is the sequence in which she tries in vain to find foods that the newly regenerated Doctor will like, only to have him repeatedly spit them across her kitchen. Little Caitlin is so good, and has such a rapport with Smith, that for a few moments I hoped for an entirely different take on the traditional Doctor/companion relationship. But I suppose dragging a seven-year-old into an endless series of dangers wouldn’t be such a hot idea.

That’s okay, because the all-grown-up Amy is a bit of all right as well. That’s her to the left, wearing the Dr. Elizabeth Shaw Memorial Miniskirt.

Keeping in mind that Doctor Who is now in the hands of writer/producer Stephen Moffat, the man who brought us the saucy comedy Coupling, it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that Amy’s livelihood involves delivering “kiss-o-grams.” (Oh, so that’s what we’re calling it these days!)

Karen Gillan as Amy is a lot of breezy fun. At first glance it looks like she might be part of one of the all-time-great Doctor/companion double acts.

The introductory story, “The Eleventh Hour,” isn’t much more than an excuse to reintroduce the series and provide Amy and the Doctor twenty minutes to save the world. It’s about an escaped alien “multiform” and the belligerent intergalactic police officers that track it to Earth.

Amazingly, the Atraxi–who resemble an eyeball stuck to a snowflake**–manage to beat even the Judoon for sheer bull (rhino)-headedness. At least the Judoon are competent, if overzealous, law officers. The Atraxi method of recapturing an escapee amounts to broadcasting the same unhelpful message over and over again, then threatening to incinerate the planet.

Again, the Atraxi and “Prisoner Zero” are really just a distraction; the real story here is the first (and second, and third) encounter between Amy and the Doctor. And, as he did in previous scripts such as “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink,” Steven Moffat enjoys playing with the implications of someone whose relationship with time is, at best, relative.

My present-day self can’t wait to catch up with the future me who is writing this review! Only another twelve days until the premiere!

*If you’re seeing this on April 5, don’t worry. You have eight entire days to prepare for the arrival of the meteor.

**Thankfully they do not wear the kiss-o-gram costume!