Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.5

Critic’s log, supplemental.

The most memorable Star Trek episodes remind you of old girlfriends, and “Choose Your Pain”, though an unfocused cross pollination of plots like last week, just scraped into this category. I once had a dalliance with a girl, eager to affirm her erotic credentials, who’d read in More that men like the implied edginess that comes from a penchant for BDSM. When our sex finally arrived, the proverbial 3:10 to Yuma, with the opportunity for a little consensual torture, her heart didn’t seem to be in it. But having dropped the tease into conversation as a form of foreplay, she had little choice, trapped in the lie, but to make some masochistic noises – I mean, beyond that implied by her choice of fuckmate.

I was ordered to tug her teats, palm her arse-halves and spout porn star dialogue, all of which I’d planned to do anyway, and there was talk of gnawing on my warp core – the kind of suggestion someone only makes when they’re confident the answer will be a firm, “sorry, the antimatter leak will kill us both”.

This memory remnant was improbably triggered by association as Captain Lorca stood in a Klingon prison cell, flanked by new character Ash Tyler (Landry’s replacement?) and old character Harry Mudd (last seen in live action circa 1967), and was forced to watch as a fellow officer was beaten to death. The ridge-headed bastards had a system for intimidating and dividing POWs, we learned – forcing each to either choose a pounding (the preferred choice of my old flame) or nominate a fellow prisoner for punishment while the others looked on. I thought of she, her boasts calling from the past, and wondered how she’d have handled this impossible situation. Rationally, she’d have chosen someone else, as no one wants to have the shit kicked out of them, but to remain consistent with all that loose talk of being slapped, prodded and superficially burned, she’d have been forced to opt for a kicking, while faking squeals of orgasmic delight as the Empire’s brutish screws stamped on her head.

Would I have stepped in? I doubt it. I empathised with the aforementioned Mudd – a smiley, duplicitous con artist, with 1960s attitudes to women, who struck a bargain with his captors to spy on anyone thrown into his cell in exchange for preferential treatment. This seemed to me the logical play, as well as a suitable reintroduction for the original series character. He’s an odd choice, perhaps, a notably regressive presence in a conspicuously progressive series, but every ideology needs its enemy, every archetype its antithesis, and here was a readymade antidote to Starfleet virtues. We can expect to see him again falling victim to a disease that makes him secrete an adhesive plasm (Mudd Sticks) and an episode in which he’s miniaturised and injected into Lorca’s corneas, having conned an alien doctor out of the only treatment for the Captain’s ocular sensitivity (Mudd in your Eye).

If that was the meat of the episode, and sadly it was, it was soon apparent this was all pretext for advancing the Discovery’s handling of the Spore Drive. “Choose your Pain”, like last week’s instalment, toyed with double meanings (doubles and opposites seem to be the show’s primary theme) by having a parallel dilemma in which the crew had to choose either torturing Ripper the Tardigrade, whose body served as the Drive’s regulator, or freeing the beast and injecting an officer with its DNA, making them a biological proxy, with all the attendant risks, including stellar shattering agony.

This being Star Trek (no, really), Stamets opted to inject himself and follow Mick’s recommendation to let the engine of their success leave. This allowed them to save Lorca from captivity but more importantly, from a series point of view, appeared to open the door to the Mirror Universe. A pre-credits stinger revealed another Stamets staring back from the other side of our version’s speculum; a cliffhanger that bookended an episode that had begun with Mick dreaming about a doppelgänger lit up by spores. As Mick had already teleported using the chamber, we could infer this was some kind of aftereffect – the first definitive sign (though surely not the last) that the drive’s use is either harmful to the universe, to humans using it to transverse the mycelial network, or both.

This plot twist, the curtain raiser to the show’s forthcoming Mirror Universe episode, hinted at why the network isn’t a thing in the series to come, but also, from a Discovery discontents point of view, teased the intriguing possibility that the show may divert into many alternate realities, perhaps ending up marooned in one where Starfleet uniforms look like those in “The Cage” and Klingons enjoy long hair and facial twatling strings. Or maybe, channelling my squeeze of yore, it’s just a ploy to keep us interested.

Anomalous Readings

  • Sweet, awkward Tilly became the first Star Trek character to say “fuck” – maybe the first human to say it since the Third World War. A disbelieving Stamets joined in, ushering in a notable coarsening of 23rd century discourse – one we imagine will be viewed with great embarrassment from the perspective of less profane 24th century historians.
  • The folly of giving a Discovery character a name that’s very similar to that of an original series character was apparent when Saru was made acting captain and everyone called him “Sulu”. Well, that’s what I heard. C’mon team, there was a universe of names to choose from. Are we going to meet James T. Koch next week?
  • Mick gave Saru the unwanted telescope inherited last week, confirming just how indifferent she was to receiving it.
  • Robert April became fully-fledged canon, via Saru’s on screen display of celebrated Captains. He didn’t wonder why three of the five names were Captains of the Enterprise. It might have made me think that someone in the Admiralty had a thing for that line of ships and didn’t much care who was in command.
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Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 17:46  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.4

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Four episodes in, and it’s become clear that the Star Trek: Discovery writers’ room is stocked with agitators. They know the rabid fanbase is watching, ready to eviscerate them for every wrongheaded choice. Bereft, they scanned social media during the series’ pre-production, watching helplessly as Trekkies tore into every cut of leaked information, labelling them everything under the Klingon sun, most notably a shower of bastards, a tureen of cunt soup, a fuck steak with moron wedges, a truckle of knob cheese.

So inevitably a siege mentality developed, plus a certain aggressive attitude towards fan baiting. It was much in evidence throughout “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” – not just an allusion to the interchangeable status of predators and victims in this particular show, and the shifting moral calculus that played out, but the writers’ motto when considering the pained and confused online community – the people Jason Issacs calls spacetards.

So we began with last week’s monster, now interned in Lorca’s zoo, where in time he’d subject it to unimaginable indignities under the cover of darkness he (and up to that point, it) so enjoys. We learned it was a giant Tardigrade – an interesting choice as it recast one of nature’s great survivors (they can flourish in almost any moist environment, including a Richard Curtis audience) as a killer; a rampaging grotesque that Lorca wanted exploited toot sweet. “Weaponise it!” he told Mick, not knowing what “it” was or what motivated it. Fortunately, our man – sorry, woman, is a lot less gung-ho than she used to be and made some fan pleasing noises about trying to understand it as Lorca left to sodomise a caged Horta.

To add to the impression this was going to be 50 torturous minutes of militaristic grandstanding, mocking Trek’s once treasured principles, for the creative team do enjoy their petty torments, security officer Landry, universally despised, grew bored of Burnham’s enlightened pitch about careful investigation and evaluation, and pulled a phaser on the beast to, er, better understand its responses – the 23rd century equivalent of kicking a bull’s low hanging fruit. Symptomatic of this cavalier approach to fortune, she’d named it “Ripper” (Mick preferred “Tard”), and it duly responded by brutally murdering her – a killing that instantly revealed the creature to be sympathetic as well as a great judge of character. Alas, poor Landry, we barely knew her and we didn’t want to.

So far, so awful – but the death of this gun toting dullard was the episode’s turning point – the moment the writers’ pulled back the confederate curtain and revealed it had all been good sport; they were on board with this Roddenberry thing after all. Stupidity would be punished not celebrated on this show. Sense and scientific reasoning could and would win out.

The upshot was that a little understood monster turned out, in the finest ”Devil in the Dark” tradition, to be a gentle giant that had no interest in ripping women, only nurturing its surroundings. It feasted not on flesh but the celestial magic fungal spores that powered the Discovery’s teleporter. Mick was finally enabled to utilise some of her expensive Vulcan education and deliver a result for the crew – namely the organic component that regulated the ecosystem on which the stability and accuracy of the spore drive depended. This allowed her to usurp on board fungi expert, Stamens (autocorrects to Stamets), who was weirdly sceptical of the entire endeavour, despite the relationship between forms of fungi and the natural world being his speciality, and save the besieged colonists on Corvan II at the expense of some worthless Klingon lives.

Thus, a depressing discretion of Trek’s hallowed high ground turned into something altogether more palatable and interesting. Speaking of palatable, the Klingon B-story revealed that T’Kuvma cultists L’Rell and Voq had eaten the remains of Georgiou. It was that or the last of the sarcophagus ship rations. There was no talk of flavours but one imagines Mick tasted bitterness when she learned she’d inherited the late Captain’s telescope. As her mind had been trained in the Vulcan way she wouldn’t attach sentiment to an inanimate object, and she was now on a ship that could, thanks to her, teleport to any star in the universe at will, rendering the scope useless. What a galaxy.

Anomalous readings

  • A power shift occurred at the back end of the dull Klingon B-story, with L’Rell and Voq exiled to the Shenzhou’s dead husk, with new swinging dick Kol now in charge of the war effort. This sets up the possibility of a change in the enemies’ objectives and the possibility that Discovery will pair up with the cultists to win the war using good old fashioned regime change – sorry, diplomacy.
  • So, Saru’s fear erection is attributable to his threat ganglia, huh? I suppose fear erection was unfriendly terminology.
  • Saru to Mick: “You will fit in perfectly with Captain Lorca.” Saucer of milk, table two.
  • It’s synthesis at this point in time, not replication. I wonder if Mick will be retconned as the one who coins the term we know and love, perhaps because she, like us, hates synthesis.
  • “They can blame whatever happens on my curiosity.” Writers, why not just show us Mick’s character, rather than composing clunkers like this? You don’t have to piss us off all the time…and please stop using the word “piss” when laying down Mick’s dialogue.

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.3

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Star Trek: Discovery is still bleak. In chapter three we finally met the titular starship and her largely cynical and downbeat crew. Sure, there was levity in the form of Cadet Tilly – a special needs crewman who’s free to serve on board an experimental vessel during a mission that may determine the future of the Federation, despite an unspecified personality disorder and an allergy to polyurethane. It was hard to believe such allergies won’t be cured by the 23rd century (after all you can take a pill that clears up kidney dialysis) but there were other signs here that Discovery was at least one remove from the utopian future we’ve enjoyed in previous Treks, and I’m not just referring to “Black Alert” which insensitively went off when Mick sat on Tilly’s non-allergenic sheets.

“Context is for Kings”, an approximation of a real pilot episode, featuring as it did the principle ensemble cast and veiled allusions to their mission, was, in some respects, boilerplate Trek – an investigation into a disaster befalling another ship, Discovery’s sister the Glenn. The mystery involved an alien monster and/or scientific experiment gone wrong, two old favourites.

The Discovery’s captain, Lorca, played hardboiled by Jason Issacs, with an in-show excuse to only be lit for mood, namely some kind of optical affliction, captured the prowling creature of unknown origin at the close, adding it to his secret collection of zoological specimens (a pet Tribble betrayed a weakness for collecting aliens), suggesting a certain moral flexibility. Those desperately searching the new ship’s corridors and crew quarters for the enlightened, optimistic Starfleet officers of old, started to sense a pattern. The crew of the Discovery, bar sullen Saru and silly Tilly, look like the kind of gang the Enterprise used to meet when investigating wrongdoing – the sort of officers that could, and you sense, will, fuck that Tribble.

There was the brooding and joyless Landry, chief of security, who with absolute certainty had beaten a prisoner or two before breakfast. Lieutenant Stamets (autocorrects to Stamens), who appeared to be an autistic genius who shed not a tear when his BFF on the Glenn had his body warped by organic space travelling fire flies. And then of course there was Mick the mutineer, hated by all who’d been forced to give up a career charting nebulae to kill Klingons, and brought to the Discovery by Lorca to employ the brain we’re told she possesses but have yet to see at optimal efficiency; a mind that doesn’t do wit or cutting putdowns.

Her job was to help turn the ship’s defining, er, discovery, into humanity’s greatest innovation – an organic propulsion system with the means to cross a quadrant of the galaxy in just 1.3 seconds. Had this taken off, Voyager would have been back in the Alpha quadrant in less time than it takes for Usain Bolt to run the 100m. And therein, cried all of Trek fandom, alert at long last, was the problem.

If Discovery is canon, and not a dimensional variant, we know Starfleet’s secret project must come to nothing. Not only is the idea a potential series killer, for the ability to travel anywhere, instantly (Lorca’s demo allowed Mick to see Andoria and Romulus in less time than it took him to explain the technology) takes the Trek out of Star Trek, but it’s also conspicuously absent from all the sequel series. This is tech to make warp travel redundant – something like the Iconian gateway seen in ST:TNG’s “Contagion” (that, perhaps not coincidentally also featured the destruction of the series’ sister ship), so where is it later in the 23rd or indeed the 24th century?

We’re left with a plot device that powers the ship’s mission and series future direction – a wheeze that allows Lorca to collect species and plant samples from distance worlds to satisfy his deviant desires – that ultimately can’t be developed. Our hope at this early stage, is that this newly found intergalactic ecosystem will spin the story in a cautionary direction, a la the Federation’s foolhardy flirtation with the Genesis project, with similar galactic threatening implications. That, or it transports them to a universe where everything looks right.

In these first three episodes, Discovery’s teased us with the kernels of fascinating ideas such as these, while undermining its potential with dislikable characters and a gloomy tone. There’s a curious lack of optimism on this ship, something even the DS9 crew found time for when facing the existential treat of the Dominion. That’s right, the deaths of billions didn’t stop Miles and Julian enjoying a game of darts but 8,000 casualties in six months (tiny by space standards) left the Discovery crew looking like they’d been issued with ration cards.

It left me hoping that Tilly’s dream to become Captain comes true quicker than she dared hope. That kooky redhead may have somehow got past the tutors at Starfleet Academy but at least she’s fun to be around. Remember fun, kids?

Anomalous readings:

  • I’m glad someone pointed out that a barely discernable difference in the colour of uniform stripes denotes department. I just wish I could tell a person’s rank. Alas, it was so much simpler once…and will be again, I’ve seen the future.
  • I think the world’s now pretty clear on why CBS sued Axanar Productions, and it wasn’t because of copyright infringement. Those mad canon loving fools had inadvertently stumbled on the exact period in Trek history this mob are determined to reimagine. No wonder they lawyered up. Can you imagine a feature length alternative pilot to the official series free to view online? CBS certainly could.
  • “Shit, that worked.” What a very Vulcan thing to say, Mick.
  • Burnham’s jumpsuit looked a little like the Cage-era uniforms this series doesn’t recreate. What a tease. Go on, Discovery writers’ room – tell us the colour’s adopted at series end in tribute to Mick’s successful contribution to saving the Federation, make our day.
  • Starfleet must be wary of Lorca – the bastards didn’t even put a chair in his ready room.
Published in: on October 2, 2017 at 21:40  Comments (1)  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.1/1.2

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Since the death of Gene Roddenberry from a rare venereal disease that originated on Betazed, I’ve never trusted Star Trek showrunners and I never will. I can never forgive them for seven insipid seasons of Voyager – particularly the episode where Seven of Nine fought The Rock, though it’s better than you remember it. I can never forgive them for firing Ron Jones, the John Williams of episodic television, because Rick Berman thought, in a foretaste of the madness that would eventually kill movies, that his grand orchestrations were too conspicuous – they gave episodes too much personality. I can never forgive them for “These are the Voyages…” until this week, Trek’s TV goodbye and Enterprise’s finale – the most Cronenberged hour of television ever made. Fuck, even Voyager’s turgid, weightless, technobabble ridden last hour didn’t turn out to be a lost episode from a different series.

Yes, since the Great Bird of the Galaxy was brought in by the cat, it’s been a rocky road for Trekkies. Half of them are so traumatised, they deny Deep Space Nine’s greatness, treating it like a black sheep, so they can rationalise not watching it back when, opting instead to ogle Jeri Ryan’s conspicuous Borg implants.

Now, 12 years after that Enterprise episode, 42 minutes of TV that left even die-hard fans saying, “maybe the show needs a rest”, we have Star Trek: Discovery. Debuting 30 years after The Next Generation, with considerable suspicion, given its aesthetic debt to J.J Abrams’ polished but hollow counterfactual Kirk flicks; the buzz pre-transmission that co-runner Alex Kurtzman (autocorrects to Colonel Kuntz), perhaps due to some unresolved rights issues, would contrive to diverge from the Holy Canon; it’s a show the internet declared stillborn without going through the rigmarole of watching it.

This wasn’t the journey into the franchise’s future many wanted but a return to its hallowed past, and there were ominous drum beats foretelling a Trek that had little ambition to provide the joyful escapism we associate with the show’s colourful future, rather serve as a heavy-handed allegory for today’s conflict between a less than benevolent, morally confused America, and its cack-handed war on religious extremism.

Fine, we said. But don’t make our new Trek bleak. In a world of Donald Trump and suicide attacks from medieval-minded miscreants looking for absolute moral certainty in a world of nuance, what would really pull back our foreskin was the old franchise’s winning brand of progressive, upbeat characters, trying to impose sanity on an otherwise irrational and sinister galaxy.

Well, pour me a large glass of Romulan ale, Discovery’s bleak. That’s not to say it’s bad – there’s plenty of interesting ideas crowning in these first two episodes, but “Please Stick with It, Parts I & II” might have been a better title than “The Vulcan Hello/Battle at the Binary Stars”. Because despite a great deal of production value and committed performances from the principle cast members it deigned to feature – bar Michelle Yeoh who’s stiff as a Klingon stand up comedian, but thankfully dispatched by pilot’s end – plot trumps character in this opener, which is just as well because said characters are not yet inspiring confidence.

This is a good moment to pause and emphasise that this was not a traditional Star Trek pilot. Back in the episodic, non-serialised days of yore, a Trek opener’s principle function was to introduce the ensemble, basic relationships and all, and establish both setting and set up. By episode’s end you knew who you were dealing with, where and why, and were ready for those first adventures.

But “Please Stick with It, Parts I & II” are the opening chapters in a TV novel, and consequently, emboldened by format and brazenly confident of holding onto a fickle audience for the duration of the remaining 13 hours, the inaugural ninety minutes bets the space house on setting up the show’s central pillar, excluding all else. This is a redemption arc for insubordinate hothead and diplomacy disaster area, Michael “genderfluid” Burnham (“Mick” to her friends). Her mission will be to help the crew of the Discovery (reserved for Chapter 3) tame the Klingon religious extremists – advocates of racial purity, who see the Federation as a mongrel imperialist cabal, that she inadvertently spurred on to war when carelessly martyring leader T’Kuvma, despite being the only Starfleet officer to recognise the cultural implications of doing so.

Critic’s log, this is an intriguing setup. The new, old Klingons have never looked and sounded so alien, or been so strongly drawn – not the snarling, head butting, blood wine swigging bores of old for this show, rather something altogether more grounded, malevolent, yet with motives well defined enough to illicit some small measure of sympathy (the idea of a religious Klingon sect, roaming the galaxy in isolation, blindly following scripture, is something co-creator Bryan Fuller has lifted from a Voyager episode called “Prophesy” which fortunately no one saw). But the initial misstep here is a failure to contrast this unfolding threat to the 23rd century with equally engaging Starfleet characters.

The trouble with Mick is that she’s, well, lacking dynamism. That doesn’t mean she won’t endear herself to us later, but for now Sonequa Martin-Green struggles to make her Klingon-hating, Vulcan trained xenoanthropologist, more than the sum of her narrative parts. I think I preferred the cold logician who arrived on the Shenzhou to the competitive, Saru-baiting showpony that faced the Klingon fleet seven years later. Of course, the fact she’s an impulsive know-it-all is what leads both her and the Federation to the edge of ruin by pilot’s end, but it’s a nigh on kamikaze gambit to tell this part of the story in near-linear fashion, risking the casual alienation of viewers who might have hoped to meet a character haunted by her flaws but driven by Federation principles to do better next time, rather than a cavalier fuckwit who declares herself the enemy at episode’s end.

Would a dedicated flashback structure have worked better here? Then at least the Discovery and her crew might have featured in their own fucking pilot episode. But if you’re feeling generous you can say it’s a bold and unapologetically serialised approach to telling the story, that says to viewers, “there’s upfront pain but payoff aplenty, trust us – and besides, if you want a Star Trek pilot where you meet all the characters and tour the new ship and everyone learns something at the end, you’ve got all the others. So, fuck you Trekkies. Fuck you and your Rick Berman-trained mind.”

So, Discovery’s a mixed bag on her first journey out of space dock. I was intrigued by Saru, the Kelpian scaredy-cat that Burham patronised and undermined for most of the first two episodes (one hopes setting up an antagonistic relationship to come). And I liked the cut of returning character Sarek’s jib, even if James Frain’s performance isn’t a patch on Mark Lenard’s (he’s very much Zachary Quinto’s father, rather than Leonard Nimoy’s). But the opening couplet’s central relationship, that between Burnham and Captain Georgiou was somewhat undermined by the latter character’s marked blandness.

Had the interplay between Martin-Green and Yeoh been electrifying, heartbreaking – then maybe it would have been possible to give a shit about their seven-year relationship and Burnham’s (apparently) uncharacteristic betrayal. But I felt nothing but relief when the would-be Vulcan neck pinched her, nothing by irritation when she came to, and nothing but adulation when T’Kuvma buried a blade in her chest. It was, apparently, a key moment in Federation and Klingon history but one didn’t feel it, such was the lack of human interest.

Beyond all that, and those early (and maybe still to be realised) fears that Discovery would diverge from canon, it was reassuring to hear the right stardate convention used, and little details that suggested shared DNA with the original series – a computer that prefixes operations with “working”, familiar sound FX on the bridge. But this is also a show that liberally borrows from the J.J Abrams’ movies – it straddles new and old, spreading its bets, suggesting, maybe threatening us, with the divergence to come.

That “we’re fucking with you” vibe is the real story of these opening episodes. Space, thanks to a bit of NASA-style mission control patter, feels dangerous and foreboding here (as it is). The show, from its prestige titles to the moral ambiguity hotwired into its plot twists, seems styled to agitate rather than entertain. We’re a long way from Q’s simple test of virtue and adrift without heroes. If they emerge over the next 13 weeks we’ll say it was a worthwhile experiment. If not, Star Trek Discovery will be added to Donald Trump’s long list of crimes against liberals. First he killed our politics, then our utopia.

Dear Chris Chibnall: On the matter of casting Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor

Dear Chris,

Now we’ve had the first peek into your showrunner’s brain and met the actor you’ve chosen to be the Doctor, I think it’s time we talked about how it all portends for your era as chief cock.

Jodie Whittaker then. Jodie Whittaker. I admit, Chris, I sighed, much as I did when I found out Star Trek: Discovery was going to be a prequel. Most of the chatter will now focus on her Gallifreyan growler, but know this is a distraction. Identity politics are turgid at the best of times but irrelevant on a show about a character from a race that can and does change appearance and sex. Besides, Steven (remember him?) foreshadowed the change so heavily, going so far as to make it an underlying theme of Peter Capaldi’s last story (pre-announcement) that he may as well have had the Twelfth fix the TARDIS chameleon circuit and change the exterior to resemble a giant bottle of rosé.

We’ve all felt it coming, the acrid smell in the air that lingered after the Ghostbusters remake. Hopefully, you won’t make the mistake they made and imagine the casting’s enough. There’s still a job of writing to be done. You sensed the groundswell of pressure, manifest in social media chatter, signaling an expectation, you embraced the call for equal representation, but did you understand that Twitter and its newspaper affiliates have the luxury of focusing on the superficial because they don’t have to script 13 hours of drama a year? Their imaginations can remain safely in neutral while yours, as Doctor Who überscribe, has to shift from second (Broadchurch/Torchwood) to fifth.

Still, you’ve gone for it, forgetting that not a single member of the target audience was represented by William Hartnell’s original casting, because then the thinking centred on the Doctor’s relationship with his audience, not this notion he should reflect them and their gender politics, but no matter – we have Jodie Whittaker and we must embrace her, for if we don’t the show’s brown bread.

Naturally, I foresaw some problems with the Doctor’s sex change ahead of the announcement. I think of these as practical considerations and I list them now so you can consider them ahead of that first writers room meeting.

  • The Doctor could be impregnated by a Zygon, thereby hugely complicating her relationship with the species.
  • While the Doctor’s pregnant and on leave, her enemies would have the space to mobilise, collaborate and take over the universe.
  • The Daleks will no longer take the Doctor seriously, thanks to Davros’s rampant misogyny, inevitably eroding her confidence.
  • The Doctor will get her dress caught in the TARDIS door, ripping it clean off – awkward scenes ensuing at UNIT HQ.
  • The Doc will be vulnerable to the predatory sexual advances of a young & sexually retarded male companion who doesn’t understand boundaries.
  • The Doctor will suffer castration anxiety and related issues, like body dysmorphia, plunging her into a deep depression.
  • The Doctor could catch her reflection and fall in love with herself, thereby losing focus when working on solving life or death problems.
  • The Doctor’s breasts could accidentally depress a button on the TARDIS console, sending her and her companion hurtling into a black hole.

But no doubt you’ve anticipated these and already have workarounds.

But seriously, Chris, for me, the issue is not the Doctor’s sex but their character and what your casting signals in that regard. Before Whittaker was revealed, those who’d studied your work wondered if you had it in you to make something that wasn’t broad and middle-of-the-road. We know you can plot a story, because we’ve seen Broadchurch (if not exactly watched it attentively as you designed it to be looked at while having conversations with others), but we also know, from the same inexplicably popular series, that you don’t do psychological depth and tend to use “everyman” actors that can play your one dimensional archetypes with a certain degree of rough and ready conviction. We’ve seen Jodie Whittaker in your old show for example, and may have respected her performance, but did it register with anyone? Er, the grieving mother, wasn’t it? Well, that’s super but it’s not quite Cracker’s Eddie Fitzgerald. The Doctor is many things but not, you’d surely agree, the man or woman from your local pub.

We were wrong, Chris. We suspected you’d pick someone from the company of actors you’re familiar with, but having failed to register anything in Jodie’s Broadchurch turn or previous body of work that announced her as a strong character actor with the ability to impress their personality on a role and leave an audience salivating, we naturally assumed you’d ask Olivia Coleman. No one wanted her as the Doctor, you understand, but at least she’d cut through on screen. Whittaker’s go-to roles to date seem grounded in the mundane. And whereas that suggests she’s relatable to a mainstream audience, it doesn’t automatically make her a shoe-in for one of television’s most dynamic oddballs.

This matters Chris, because it tells us that your Doctor Who is not aiming to break out, rather hug a general audience close. It suggests that the thirteenth Doctor will be a more grounded creation – a relatable figure (the sheer fucking horror of it) with stories calibrated for mass appeal rather than daring to manifest an edge and reach befitting a show with the world’s most flexible format. After all, this is a series in need of a dramatic regeneration following Russell T. Davis’s risk averse take and Steven’s encore centred on rootless conceptual masturbation.

What really sandpapers the cock is that far from being seen as the inhibited surrender to blandification it is, Whittaker’s casting alone will allow over excited TV critics and social media pundits alike to claim that the show’s innovated, when the only innovation that matters from a dramatic point of view, is the quality of the scripts, the boldness of the stories, and the daring of the writing. Everything else is cosmetic and if fans don’t know this now, I fear they soon will.

If Whittaker’s characterisation is successful (perhaps despite your scripts) then it will not be because she’s a feminoid. It’ll be because, unlike that other import from drama’s school of meat and potatoes, Christopher Eccleston, she understands the Doctor’s nature – the inherent irreverent streak, the mischief, the wisdom, the compassion, the guile – and can play it, balancing these elements in a manner that doesn’t appear forced. That’s right, Chris, we need another square peg in a round hole like a disruptor blast through the guts.

You, in turn, will understand the character better than Steven, stripping out the grandstanding and sexuality that often blighted his efforts, and that’s before he set about rewriting the Doctor’s backstory, fascistically elevating himself from custodian of the show to co-creator without so much as a vote.

If Whittaker’s Doctor is a dud it too will not be anything to do with her estrogen levels. It will be because she didn’t get a handle on the Time Lord’s underlying characteristics, the aforementioned bread and butter elements that tell us, the sad drooling fanboys and girls, that we’re in the presence of someone we know and aspire to be, despite a change of appearance.

Whittaker’s apparent lack of eccentricity or magnetism need not be a handicap of course. Peter Davison made an effective transition by virtue of being nice and earnest, and perhaps that’s what you’re going for – fresh faced and kind, rather than a force of nature. But I tell you, Chris – the risk is that you create a version of the show so inoffensive and mainstream that it loses the interest of the very bastards required to keep it healthy and talked about, the people Steven despised, the loners – the outsiders – the dispossessed. If Jodie’s too much like the dullards we meet every day, she won’t be the only one regenerating, knowhattamean?

You’ve done the easy part, Chris. You’ve cast a woman. Now earn your money and make us care about your version of the show.

Sincerely,

Ed

Published in: on July 16, 2017 at 17:44  Comments (4)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Doctor Falls

Dear Steven,

Your last regular episode of Doctor Who will be remembered for many things, but I suggest two factors above all others. One, your brazen, conspicuous and, psychologists might argue, needy compulsion to leave stains on the series that no amount of retconning can remove, and two, your trademark snafus, plot cheats and audience-baiting irritants – known alternatively as your style. Some will cite it as the reason you won’t be missed. But I’ll miss you, Steven. In my own way.

As with many of your episodes, “The Doctor Falls” didn’t have a story per se, just pay offs to set ups in the previous episode. One might say your approach can be summed up as scenario-driven. You’ve never really been interested in developing a story robust enough to work sans gimmicks and the knowledge we, as an audience, bring to the characters. In that respect your mind works just like a fan fiction author’s, generating riffs on other people’s original storytelling, which you know will resonate with other fans; the kind bloated from all the lore they’ve retained over the years. Lucky we live in a post-modern society, else what the fuck would we do with it all, eh?

‘Fuck you, Ed,’ you’ll say, “The Doctor Falls” was a test of the Doctor’s values as he once again brushed up against his own mortality. Forced to take sanctuary on a solar farm about half way up the colony ship, which agonisingly for those who toiled daily was just one floor below the level of plenty, with its brothels and M & Ms world – he had to wrestle with Bill’s transformation into a Cyberman, two Masters and his failing health. All this, while the Mondasian murder droids, or rather the evolved versions that mystifyingly had skipped the intermediate stage of development between the 1960’s versions and 2000’s versions, worked to ascend to the same floor, en route to those brothels, and attack the colonists. I suppose the scenario needed to be simple, because if it wasn’t there wouldn’t have been time for every character to get a goodbye and/or work their way through an existential crisis.

Sure, the Doctor had only got this far because disorientated from Missy’s blow to the head he still had the nous and time to reprogramme, having been fortunate enough to fall onto a keyboard, the Cyberarmy to chase Time Lords not humans, thus forcing the Masters to break off murdering him and collaborate on an escape, but let’s not think too hard about that. You didn’t.

The least controversial of the introspections from characters who seemed to sense they were in a series finale, at least until the epilogue, was CyberBill, who understandably took the news she’d lost her humanity rather badly. You employed a smart conceit, that her mind’s eye still saw the flesh and blood original, a sort of mental rear guard action against the takeover, and thus, in grabs, with the aid of some good editing, so did we. This allowed Pearl Mackie to fulfil her contractual commitment to be in the 12th episode, while avoiding the inevitable guffaws that would result from watching the Doctor have several heart to hearts with a man in a suit outfitted with household appliances, who spoke like Stephen Hawking.

“We’re not going to get out of this one, are we?” said CyberBill at one point, but as this episode had your name on it, we knew some awful cop out was coming. Everybody lives, right? They’ve been cheating death since “The Empty Child” and they weren’t going to stop now. Unless they’re someone inconsequential like Danny Pink, of course. But who knew your big reset idea would be a variation on the exact same one used this time last year when saving Clara from oblivion.

Fucks, cunts and many other synonyms for you and your writer’s room could be heard across the nation as CyberBill, looming over the Doctor’s body following a climatic sonic shower (the Doc hates guns but is happy to use his screwdriver like one), saw the water girl from “The Pilot” reappear to conveniently reconstitute her into a space travelling biofluid entity like herself, who could return to human form at will, but more importantly, airlift the Doctor’s failing husk to the relative safety of the TARDIS. It wasn’t clear why Bill’s belle didn’t turn up to help earlier in the series, as she can cross space and time in an instant, perhaps before her body was destroyed, but fuck it, why not? Maybe you saw the phrase deus ex machina written down somewhere and thought that translated it was a great idea, rather a hackneyed storytelling device.

Still, you’re defiant to the end. Not for you any shame at repeating the cheap trick from the last series – ending with the Doctor’s companion being endowed with effective immortality and travelling the universe with a companion in tow (perhaps she can tag Clara’s TARDIS as she hurtles by). But as you’ve been around a bit too long and have no new ideas, I suppose you’d have been buggered whatever you did. The only alternative was to keep Bill as a Cyberman and have her die, which would have plagiarised the aforementioned Danny Pink’s fate in the series finale three years ago. So you opted to repeat your happy ending instead. In doing so, you’ve probably made it hard for me to enjoy a happy ending for some time.

Your worst hits continued with your treatment of the Master. Here, we had two versions of one of the series’ most iconic characters – a villain that’s managed to survive 54 years of adventures in various formats but was no match for your legacy imperative. Having re-written the Doctor’s backstory, that of the Cybermen and even that of the Time Lords, you completed your retcon project by having John Simm’s Master become his own character’s killer.

Yes, we’d barely got over Missy knifing the Master, thereby signalling that at long last her conscience had crowned, when an apoplectic Simm, outraged that his future self would ultimately abandon a lifetime’s battle and choose to stand with his oldest nemesis, shot his female incarnation with enough force to ensure she couldn’t regenerate. Suddenly, as the fading old Master descended to his TARDIS, manically cackling, holding the dematerialisation circuit that he only possessed because he’d reminded his older self to give it to him, making this your last use of the hated ontological paradox, we realised why you’d made such a big deal of establishing how bad a Time Lord’s memory could be.

Last week we were asked to accept that the Master, perhaps because of the intervening centuries, could forget he’d met himself on the colony ship. This was a stretch but we suspended disbelief, confident you’d dare not ask more of us. But this week you broke the audience. The nation was asked to believe that the Master would kill himself – actually bring a permanent end to his existence, because of a pang of conscience, but not remember it subsequently. Steven, you’re fucking kidding aren’t you?

One would think that even if Simm didn’t regenerate into Missy right away (we don’t know, we didn’t see it – perhaps to allow for a middle incarnation to surface in future episodes), his freshly minted self would make a serious mental note. Time Lords, we understand, have memory problems post-regeneration, but the mind usually settles, and when it does, wouldn’t the Master recall how he died, but more importantly, how he was going to die? I mean, really die?

Missy, if she is the next in line, would still be coming off the high of being Simm. “I loved being you,” she told him. And she’d be evil at this point. So perhaps it would have been prudent to whip out the old 5,000 year diary and make a capitalised entry warning against ANY RETURN TO THE MONDASIAN COLONY SHIP. After all, if she didn’t get involved with the Doctor when the time came – perhaps elected to stay in the vault, or took precautions to avoid being imprisoned in the first place, she could save herself from destruction at her own hand. But then if she didn’t visit the colony ship, she couldn’t give herself that dematerialisation circuit which she had on her, despite not initially remembering the encounter with her younger self – but, oh hang on, then she couldn’t escape and would probably die there as Simm, and then you’d have a paradox and – ah, why can’t you tell a linear story with proper cause and effect, you lazy fuck?

So you took it upon yourself to kill one of the series’ longest standing characters. A pity, as your predecessor presumed to murder all the Time Lords, leaving precisely none for Chris Chibnall to play with. And don’t talk to me about Gallifrey being safely tucked away in a pocket universe, I really can’t think about that right now. All I know is, the Rani, the Corsair – I’m never going to see them. Thanks a bastard.

Look, you had the right to murder the Master, but permanently? The get out clause of an intermediate incarnation aside, this seemed to me like Hitler issuing the order to blow up Paris. Didn’t you get the e-mail from Chibnall begging you not to tie his hands? The one that said, leave everything as you found it? Previous producers understood the Master was too good a character to end forever, so left the door open. You’ve presumed to write the final chapter of the character’s story. Still, you presumed to re-write the Doctor’s…and that of Davros…and the Cybermen…so why not the Master too? For the same reason that German general binned Hitler’s order. Let the future have something, will you?

This was all exasperating stuff, but we weren’t skinny dipping in this shit to learn the fate of Bill and the Master, rather what would happen to the Doctor? Last week you opened by teasing the regeneration of this version, but knowing you as we do, we cried bollocks, conscious that he couldn’t go until the Christmas Special. It said so in his contract.

Sure enough the Doctor did not regenerate, though both his body and the TARDIS desperately hoped he would. Apparently, he’s sick to the back bloody teeth of losing his identity and having to adjust to being a slightly different person, and with the imagined failure to redeem Missy fresh in his mind, one can understand why he’d come to the conclusion that renewal held no discernible purpose. It was just window dressing, right?

He wanted to carry on as he was for a bit, and why shouldn’t he? Well, biology that’s why, and the risk that if he kept holding back those bodily ejaculations of energy, he’d risk doing irreversible damage. When you have to go you have to go, so no wonder the cloister bell rang out as Capaldi’s stubborn Doctor stumbled out onto the ice, a location chosen by the TARDIS, only to be confronted by, holy living fuck, the First Doctor?!

This may not have been the regeneration story we wanted, Steven – you know, one brimming with intrigue, intricate plotting and a story that made sense, but it was undoubtedly the one the childhood Peter Capaldi would have liked to have been in. Capaldi, we realised, was the luckiest manchild who ever lived. He became his childhood hero, got to face his favourite childhood foe and, in these closing moments, meet his Doctor. Well, David Bradley’s version, sort of reprising his role from that anniversary special about the making of “An Unearthly Child”, but who gives a shit. It’s the First Doctor! For the first time since 1983! And the last Capaldi story will be a multi-Doctor story effectively spanning the show’s history. Talk about any requests!

The idea of the First Doctor reminding the Twelfth of regeneration’s benefits, though he hasn’t yet experienced it of course, unless your final fuck you, as discussed last week, is to establish otherwise, is a pretty exciting prospect. Not so much a hand over, but a hand up and hand off, with the new Doctor crowning following a considered reflection on his life to date and more importantly, what he’s yet to do. The nature of such a story amounts to more retconning of course, albeit in the best traditions of the series this time. If you can resist some of the shit we experienced in “The Doctor Falls” – cop outs, cock ups and cultural vandalism – it may yet be a swansong to be proud of. If not, I’ll try and make the response a swansong I can be proud of.

Until we lock bodies and plunge into the proverbial Reichenbach Falls.

Ed

P.S: No offence, but I hope the future isn’t female. I have a wang you see. Oh, I see, you were dropping another hint about the next Doctor. It better be Miriam Margolyes, Steven. I’m not kidding.

P.P.S: So goodbye, Nardole. You left him with a bunch of kids. I wouldn’t have.

P.P.P.S: “Without hope, without witness, without reward.” Sounds a lot like my experience of critiquing this show. I wonder if I’ll miss it.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: World Enough and Time

Dear Steven,

The moment of truth has arrived. It’s winter in the garden of Moffat and the last flower just died. Soon the gate will be locked and a “keep out” sign erected. Chris Chibnall’s waiting, ready to pour concrete.

As the two of us prepare for redundancy, the last grain of life’s meaning ready to drop through the hour glass, there’s just time for me to put my affairs in order and run the warm bath I’ll be bleeding into. For you, there’s one last opportunity to shape the show’s lore. That shape may resemble your face, like the Doctor’s beaming from the vortex in the opening credits of yore, but no one can stop you now, can they? Not now your writer’s room has been sealed and its occupants turned into soup. You love Doctor Who, Steven, but you love your Head Writer’s God-like powers ever more.

“World Enough and Time”, based very loosely on the writings of 17th century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, and perhaps not so loosely on the award winning Star Trek original series fan film of the same name that also features a gravimetric distortion and supporting character displaced in time, then brutalised, though I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, was significant because it was informed by your departure. We watched it, conscious that you’d want to make valedictory etchings in the series’ bible, but also, with one eye on the succession, plant seeds based on requests from Mr Chibnall.

In the series bible category, you added to your other zingers like Clara being responsible for the Doctor’s psychological disposition, The Doctor creating Davros’s winning personality, the War Doctor, and many other affronts to established continuity, with the revelation that “Doctor Who” was our hero’s full name. Missy told us he dropped the “Who” because it was too much, literally conveying the mystery a nameless Doctor preferred to imply. In reverse engineering this odd decision, though the Doctor was careful not to confirm it, allowing it to be reversed, we can assume you saw the chance to have one final joke at the expense of pious fanboys who break into uncontrolled rage when a layman (or casual viewer) makes the mistake of confusing the title with the title character.

Your other contribution to the TARDIS wiki was to tell the Cybermen’s origin story, your own version of “Genesis of the Daleks”, which in case we missed the point, was spelt out by John Simm’s Master at the close. I suppose you had the idea when mulling over Peter Capaldi’s regeneration, so thought, why not prequelise the first regeneration story, “The Tenth Planet”? Granted, that serial established pretty much how the mechanoids came into being but it lacked detail. Consequently, you were free to once again make one of your own creations pivotal to the mythos, poor Bill becoming the first canonical automaton.

My feelings for Bill have remained lukewarm throughout this series. She was likable but broad, lacking the spark that elevates the best companions to the status of beloved characters. Perhaps, knowing she was a short term prospect, you designed her to be little more than the Doctor’s undoing. You certainly weren’t interested in developing her in any real sense, not even giving her the chance to meet her dead mother, the one event that might have deepened her character given the importance this imagined matriarch had when it came to Bill’s sense of self. I’d like to have seen that fantasy tested against hard reality, but apparently there weren’t the episodes. This one, quite rightly, was about the Doctor and his hubris – his very own Kobayashi Maru – a no win scenario.

The shock opener, with a notably aged Capaldi trying and failing to hold off a regeneration somewhere cold (The Snowcap base from “The Tenth Planet”? Christmas?) was a great way to kick off the finale, instilling just the right amount of foreboding. Followed by talk of managing Missy – “I know I can help her” – for reasons that were more about shoring up the Doctor’s identity, and a casual dismissal of the risks involved in putting Bill and Nardole in her care, this signalled doom for the current TARDIS crew. I wish you didn’t have to leave the show to toy with the notion of the Doctor making catastrophic errors of judgement, with serious consequences for the main cast, but fuck it – I’ll take what I’m given.

All I ask Steven, is that Bill, unlike Clara, stays “dead”, and that whatever happens to Capaldi in the concluding episode bleeds into his Christmas swansong. Rumour has it you wanted to do something different with regeneration in your final act. I wondered, having seen two Masters on screen, whether we’d get two Doctors for Christmas, the twist being that one of them was a brand new incarnation – a “meet me before you become me”, scenario, mirroring the Master’s experience in this episode.

And so it was, with this sort of impotent speculation in mind, that my thoughts turned to that final Christmas episode and what you and Chibnall might have agreed to do with it, assuming he got a say. In a fleeting but surely important aside, Capaldi’s Doctor told Bill that he couldn’t quite remember who he’d been in his youth. Man, woman, genderfluid blob with tendrils? Damned if he knew. It was all such a long time ago. There was loose talk of Time Lords not attaching importance to gender stereotypes etc, though if I’d once had a different set of genitals I think I’d have made a mental note, whatever my identity.

Now, one can see this as foreshadowing the episode’s double Master plot twist (unforgivably ruined by BBC marketing and last week’s “next time” preview), or it could be a tip off that the next Doctor will be a feminoid. “World Enough and Time” laid the ground with so little subtlety that I half expected the Doctor to reveal his favourite bra to Bill and Nardole. I know you like to prepare the audience for changes television execs see as huge but the audience take in their stride (see Deep Breath) but there no ignoring the timing of this conversation.

But there was another aspect to this rooftop conversation with Bill, before the storm, that made millions of ears prick up. Missy didn’t recognise herself because John Simm’s Master was in disguise, but here in the Doctor and Bill’s late night burger chat was the implication that our hero, even if presented with an openly early version of himself, might not recognise it. We’ve never known a version of the character who called himself “Doctor Who”, that person, particularly if they possess a set of dugs and a fouf, would predate William Hartnell. For a moment I contemplated the awful possibility that Chibnall’s big idea, the risk that got him the job, was to go backwards rather than forwards and hand over the show to a hitherto unseen Proto-Doctor – the forerunner to everyone we know. Failing that, could he be gearing up for a series-long story where Capaldi’s successor revisits his beginnings? For the record I think the former idea is highly problematic and would take a pose a challenge for a writer of much greater depth than Chibnall. If the only thing that happens to the Doctor next year is that he ends up with a clitoris, I think many of us will say we dodged a space bullet.

Still, the climax of “World Enough and Time”, the meeting of Masters, was an excellent denouement, even if all the surprise had been drained away by spoiler-heavy previews. On the basis that a long-lived Time Lord’s memory, nursing so much incident, could fail to recall the time you met yourself (as foreshadowed in that rooftop chat between the Doctor and Bill), Simm’s tease of his identity was a great moment, even if it wasn’t clear how exactly the old Master recognised his future self – he only had a slow, silent moving video image to go on after all, and we know Bill didn’t give the game away as he alluded to a personal realisation. But as cliffhangers go – two Masters, Bill a Mondasian Cyberman, Simms as the first Cyber controller – this was one of your best. Hard to believe you’ve only got one rug pull left before you join Russell T. Davis at the BBC’s retirement home in the Welsh Valleys. It was good of them to let you film the hospital scenes there.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Eaters of Light

Dear Steven,

There was much anticipation in Doctor Who land when it was announced that Rona Munro, the woman who became the ultimate hostage to fortune by writing a classic series serial called “Survival” at a time when BBC mandarins were plotting to axe the show, had been brought out of storage to pen a fresh chunk. Well, as we now know Steven, those bastards did it. Munro’s story, featuring a lesbian Cheetah woman and the horror of Hale and Pace, turned out to be the very last of the 1963-89 run. That misfortune made her an immortal part of Who lore. Perhaps that’s why you thought of her when it came to finally bringing back a member of the old guard – a historic bridge between two epochs of time travel chicanery.

With 28 years to think of a new story, which many would call plenty, Munro might have produced something a little more substantial than “The Eaters of Light” – an episode that played like dips from the Time Lord tombola – interdimensional locusts, Pict warriors, the lost Roman ninth legion – and as ever the limited single episode running time didn’t give the new characters much time to develop beyond their core motivation. Yet, a tonal shift was evident, which combined with old school BBC standbys like remote native locations and smoke machines, gave the story a classic era buzz.

Perhaps it was psychological projection, maybe just fantasy, but I’m sure I detected a hint of the McCoy/Aldred era in the deadpan witticisms and line delivery. It’s almost certainly insanity, but when Capaldi said he was “very very cross indeed”, I heard the 7th Doctor. But truthfully, I hear him every day – in the supermarket, at the massage parlour, on Pornhub, watching The Hobbit. I don’t know why.

And maybe it’s a good job there was more dry comic patter than usual, because Munro’s plot was a real snooze fest. No fucks were given – indeed they remained sealed in their boxes – about Romans and tribal Scots coming together to defeat a luminescent alien. The Doctor’s willingness to sacrifice his future to guard the portal that separated the monster realm from ours meant little because there was no possibility of him following through. I’m not sure how the united enemies entering the gate helped – apparently they were stuck there in perpetuity or something, and I didn’t care.

That’s the problem with single episodes, Steven – either the scribe hired can work out how to inject a little psychological intrigue and character-building detail into the fleeting scenario or they can’t, but if they can’t, we’re left with a truncated serial that has no depth, just a concept.

Much as I dread Chris Chibnall’s arrival as show runner, one thing that came out of his recent interview in Television, other than the shocking, depressing titbit that the BBC begged him to take the job, proving the powers that be don’t watch the drool box, was a hint that in order to meet the Beeb’s revamp remit – be bold and take risks – he may innovatively go back to the ‘60s and revive the serial format; possibly even extending a story over an entire year. Groundbreaking, if it’s 1986 and the story is “Trial of a Time Lord”.

If you want my opinion, and you don’t, I think that’s a good idea. As I’ve said many times, I wouldn’t go that far – I’d just commission four great screenplays a year and divide them up, but as Munro’s re-emergence has us looking backwards, let’s remember a time when Doctor Who stories had time to breathe and supporting characters a chance to make a fleeting impression. Wouldn’t that be nice? But Chibnall, if you’re watching – no return to Hale and Pace cameos please. Do take it seriously, there’s a lucky geek.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “I’m against charm.” Me too, Doctor. Me too.

P.P.S: The words “wi-fi password” should never again feature in a Doctor Who story. I know you insisted on this so Rona’s off the hook.

P.P.P.S: Fuck, John Simm’s Master returns next week for the grand finale, just as we’d got over him. Rest assured I’ll be watching through the haze of a damn good bottle of wine. No, not the shit you drink. Decent stuff. Decanted.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Empress of Mars

Dear Steven,

We don’t have many episodes left together, so it was a matter of some regret that with just four episodes remaining, you followed the recent trilogy with yet another disposable three quarters of an hour. “Empress of Mars” has Mark Gatiss’s slapped on it, and assuming this was his final contribution to the show, nothing became his legacy like this fun but frivolous slice of genre mashing Victoriana.

The concept of Flashman versus the Ice Warriors was fine, but like other brundle-episodes, Gatiss’s “Robot of Sherwood” claws at the mind, there was nothing more to the story than its one sentence pitch. I enjoyed the setup; an imperial garrison, imagining they’ve conquered Mars for the Empire and enslaved its only remaining native, unwittingly help said colonial free his combative dormant species. But what I suppose I missed was the moral dimension that might have made this thing about something. You can say that’s Star Trek’s domain and you’d be right, but morality plays induce reflection and therefore tend to live longer in the memory that episodes that don’t test the character’s assumptions and sunny optimism.

Sure, you could argue the Doctor got to extol the virtues of peaceful co-existence and all that shit, but honestly, who cared? The Colonel got his honour restored, not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, and the Ice Warriors took their place in the Galactic League, or whatever, having been reconciled to leaving their now barren homeworld. Super. But you’re aware that Peter Capaldi doesn’t have much screen time left, right? Shouldn’t this precious chunk of temporal real estate have been used for the start of his run in – I mean, more than the last 30 seconds? Perhaps others were too busy enjoying their nostalgia to feel cheated but I did, Steven. I did.

The only real point of interest offered by “Empress of Mars” was further insight into the Doctor’s pop cultural knowledge. Initially I was cheered by the news that this 2,000 year-old alien genius, invested with knowledge of countless planets and civilisations, hadn’t seen The Terminator. It’s a great movie, but I just couldn’t picture our hero sitting down to watch a fictionalised story of time travel, killer robots and apocalypse. The constituent elements constituted a child-like view of the day job. And having barely survived the Time War, one imagines the last fucking thing he’d want to enjoy as entertainment was a story about a scorched planet overrun by machines. So, a big thumbs up there, but then I remembered this was the same man who had seen Ghostbusters and knew the theme. A fact he reminded us of in one of the series’ worst ever moments.

No, the Doctor hadn’t seen James Cameron’s movie or John Carpenter’s The Thing – again, one imagines for obvious reasons. But he had seen Disney’s Frozen and once again, for the benefit of a throwaway gag, we were left wondering when our favourite Time Lord found the time to watch a fairy tale aimed at Earth children and what compelled him to watch it in the first place.

During your time as showrunner you’ve never managed this problem, despite the damage it does to the unreality of the show. The Doctor should be divorced from all the transient crap that preoccupies us, because he’s an alien and that being the case, there should be some distance between him and the audience. Let us aspire to be him, rather than relate to him on a personal level. We got through the entire classic run, 26 seasons, without the Doctor referring to his movie collection, favourite pop hits or top 3 computer games. I’d like to believe Chris Chibnall will reinstate the Doctor’s dignified silence on this front…but he won’t, obviously.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Missy’s out then. So I suppose the meat of the series, Capaldi’s goodbye, begins next week. I’ll be sure to set my crotch watch.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Extremis/The Pyramid at the End of the World/The Lie of the Land

Dear Steven,

As someone who’s campaigned for more long form Who, a return to the storytelling ethos of old, a time when stories had room to breathe, I thought I’d wait until this three-parter concluded before giving you the benefit of my esteemed judgement. And when I say that, I’m relying on a Monk-like retconning of history to furnish the statement with credibility.

I know these stories are planned and filmed half a year before transmission, so you, Peter Harness and Toby Whithouse would have known nothing of the snap election, but it seemed to me this strange, enjoyable blend of Dan Brown, The Mummy and Nineteen Eighty-Four, had a timely quality if you will (and frankly, even if you won’t) that significantly improved its potentially yawn inducing alien invasion of Earth premise.

In the Monks we had a pious enemy that made a fuss of free will, the notion of consent, while clandestinely doing everything they could to crush independent thought. The dry husks, humanoid in appearance, but lacking communicative dexterity, vitality, colour or warmth, used advanced computer simulations to wargame their strategy for taking over. In “Extremis” we learned they’d anticipated every rear guard action, every counter argument, using, as Nardole helpfully put it so others didn’t have to, something like the holodeck in Star Trek. Then, in “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, they used this information to prey on a vulnerable, frightened, ill-informed populace to effect dominion over the population. Bill – a naïve youth – was groomed to give the world away, the aliens requiring our consent to establish their global protection racket. Her love of the Doctor, the closest thing she had to an elderly relative, was used against her as the Monks promised to save the old duffer and restore his faculties for a sky-high fee. Her vote duly acquired, “The Lie of the Land” saw the Monks established as our conquerors, initiating a ruthless programme of mass indoctrination, designed to naturalise their reign – propaganda that retooled all humanity’s achievements as their own. The order was recast as our traditional rulers and the guardians of social order.

Watching this, just days out from an election, I and millions of others, dropped our four chocolate desserts,  cupped the breasts of our high class escorts, and screamed the same question at our televisions. Were the Monks a thumping great metaphor for the Tories?

“You are corpses to us”, “In darkness we are revealed” – shit, Steven, these could have been Tory slogans. In fact, they felt so familiar I had the check the Conservatives’ website.

It surely wasn’t incidental that they were ultimately defeated by a black woman’s idealised view of humanity – an image plucked from the halcyon days of the 1980s – when Labour’s opposition was underpinned by absolute moral certainty (as well as ideological confusion, but let’s not get into that).  The imaginary version of Bill’s Mum, whom she’s inexplicably chosen not to supplant with the real thing, despite knowing a man with a time machine, represented love, youth, empathy and, being a psychic construct, the immaterial. She was, essentially, a spiritual manifestation. The antithesis, in other words, of Thatcherite materialism.

Once the world remembered the era Bill’s dead teat merchant represented, a time before the odious assumptions that bedevil today’s unequal society became embedded, and therefore problematic to reverse, they rallied to change their society and the Monks, realising the game was up, moved on, rightly fearing a backlash that would see more than a few members of the order forcibly brought down hard on those pyramid tips.

In a story where blindness was a structuring theme – the literal being joined by classics like false consciousness, ignorance, short memories and deference to authority, it was reassuring to enjoy this positive propaganda that tried to have it both ways by first telling us to think for ourselves, then suggesting that maybe the Doctor had the opportunity to fix a few problems with human thinking – namely racism and, the big one, people talking in the cinema. Hard to argue with that, except of course if one believes in free will, one has to accept that some people will always make bad choices. Though if they choose to talk at the flicks while I’m there they’re risking their lives.

Yes, Steven, this was the right story at the right time. What a pity the average viewer would be too young to vote, even if they managed to see past the sci-fi camouflage and internalise its message.

Of course that could all be bollocks.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: The Veritas surely represented Dan Brown’s novels, no? A book that once read makes people commit suicide? I was in hospital once and the only book nearby was the Da Vinci Code. They had to move me to intensive care.

P.P.S: Missy has a 1,000 years to kill in the vault and all she’s been given is a piano? And why is there a containment area within the vault. Isn’t the vault its own containment area? I mean, she could wait by the doors, then run out, but it seemed cruel to further limit her space for a millennium. Couldn’t you just put your ear to the door and if you heard snoring, go in?

P.P.P.S: Why do all computer monitors in this show has to have a conspicuous computer-like font? Are you concerned that if you show something that doesn’t look like a TV computer display, we won’t understand it’s an image generated by a computer? The audience have their own, you know.

P.P.P.P.S: “It would be easy to believe their lies.” Too easy, kids. Think on. Election day’s this Thursday.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Would killing Bill have been so bad?

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time: