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:

Dear Steven Moffat: Oxygen

Dear Steven,

Often in this one-sided meaningless dialogue we’ve talked about – well, I say we, your contribution is more implicit, the spectre of inconsequentiality that stalks many Doctor Who episodes. Yes, it looms the way the imagined expectations of the audience bedevil your writers room.

But Jamie Mathieson’s “Oxygen”, though familiar in design and conception, came dangerously close to providing stakes we could believe in and, hold the TARDIS phone, consequences. By the time the closing credits rolled, Peter Capaldi was blind, his vault protecting mission compromised, and worse he realised he’d ruined his faculties, hitherto successfully maintained for two thousand years, to save Bill. No wonder he was ashen faced and the usually glib Nardole angry and exasperated. The Doctor fucked up (and a half) and there was no handy reset for next week.

It was also nice to see a Doctor Who episode about something, in the best traditions of the series. Not for nothing did “Oxygen” open with a variant on Star Trek’s “space the final frontier” monologue, though with the Whoniverse addition that it was a foreboding place that more often than not would kill you. Trek, at its best, is a morality play, and in that spirit Mathieson’s story blended an off-the-shelf horror premise, killer space suits, with social comment.

The company that ran the station on which space miners were attacked by their own kit, rendered lifeless occupants of artificially intelligent overalls, had done the deed remotely, having decided that the suit fillers were inefficient, wasteful consumers of oxygen. The titular element was a valued commodity in the void, charged by the breath – too valuable to expend on the work shy, docile labourers that failed to hit all those all-important productivity targets.

The Doctor lamented capitalism gone wrong, a message that would have delighted all the Corbynistas at home, inventing a solution that cleverly boosted the surviving workers net worth, making them too valuable to kill. I liked that, even I didn’t care about any of the people in question (Mathieson’s good but he couldn’t quite achieve the holy trinity of great premise, core cast development AND memorable guest characters – but two of three ain’t bad). But it was the Doctor’s decision to put himself at risk, trying to save Bill from the harsh vacuum of space, that added human interest to the story’s stunt complications. The Doctor’s disabled, and a nation rubbed their own bloodshot peepers in disbelief.

I must say, I’m fully on board when it comes to making the Doctor more vulnerable in the run up to his regeneration. It seems to me that if you’ve got that ultimate get-out clause in your pocket, and it’s on the horizon, why not experiment with chipping away at the old man’s ability to do his thing – make him suffer a bit. It adds intrigue to the character and a new dynamic to the stories, the Doctor no longer the quasi-invincible, super-confident supreme being who can always stay one step ahead of the opposition.

Next week is much more tantalising because he can’t see, and with just a half-dozen stories for this Doctor left, why not go further and see how tough it can get for him before his body gives up and becomes someone we can’t yet imagine but will almost certainly despise? Capaldi, the audience knows, is the right man to play the Time Lord in a state of crisis – he has the acting chops to make great work of it – so this is a development that promises much. Let’s hope your gang don’t fuck it up and restore him to perfect health by the end of next week’s episode.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “I thought I sent you to Birmingham for a packet of crisps.” Sadly, Nardole saw through that ruse.

P.P.S: “Relax or die.” I have a self-help tape with that title.

P.P.P.S: I hope we get to hear the Doctor’s crop rotation lecture in full at some point.

P.P.P.P.S: Bill thought of her dead mother in what she imagined to be her dying moments, though weirdly she still hasn’t asked the Doctor if they can visit her in life. Perhaps she needs more oxygen to the brain.

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: Knock Knock

Dear Steven,

As a man brought up by his Mother, a single parent, nursing a lifelong close identification with his old dear, I can imagine I’d do almost anything to keep her going. All mother’s boys feel this of course, and they dread their infant teat merchant becoming decrepit. No one wants to be the responsible one and nobody, and I mean, nobody, wants to wake up one dreary morning, likely a Sunday, and realise that unconditional love is a thing of the past, along with the all the good stuff that comes with it; comforts of childhood like your walking womb’s homemade cheesecake (actually bought from Tesco Express), and idiot advice like, ‘a walk a day cleanses the mind’.

Consequently, millions of manchildren watched Mike Bartlett’s “Knock Knock” and empathised with creepy Hercule Suchet, who’d accidentally gifted his materfamilias a parasitic alien woodlouse that cured her terminal 1930’s aliment (fascism?) by turning her into a humanoid tree. Poirot, grateful to the extra-terrestrial bugs for saving him from the orphanage, intuited that the invigorating isopods would need sustenance to keep them and Mumsy healthy.

He also learned, though it wasn’t clear how, that every 20 years they required a glutinous blowout. His solution was to rent out the eerie family house to students who, in a wry comment on exploitative landlords, found problems with the place coming out of the woodwork.

Sure, this seemed like a risk, as one would think that disappearing students, with concerned parents lurking in the background, would have their absence noticed quickly, and the fact that each and every one of them were last seen at the same address, and that cohorts of missing kids kept registering it just prior to vanishing without trace, might arouse suspicion. But fortunately, David Marple’s character must have chosen young men and women nobody gave a fuck about, as he’d been getting away with it for 80 years.

This apparent plothole was somewhat mitigated by having Bill and her feckless, one dimensional University friends (has she enrolled now, I thought she worked in the canteen) be the latest batch of victims. One had to suspend one’s disbelief that the Landlord from hell, who like a mother lovin’ Fred West, liked his tenants in the walls, would be unlucky enough to dole out a tenancy agreement to the Doctor’s companion. But with stock characters this boorish, (one actually says, ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’), there was no doubting their expendability.

A lesser man would make jokes about wooden performances but I’m not going there. I only say once again that with an episodic rather than serial format, where supporting casts change by the week, it takes writing of wit and economy to get characters in quick and make us care about them. Frequently, your team fail to do this. I can’t even be sure they’ve thought about it.

There was something sad, perhaps touching, about Poirot’s devotion to his Ma – an obsession that had left him alone and housebound, and her senile, unable to remember who he was. But watching the denouement, with Eliza convincing her pensionable boy that they’d had their woodchips and should do the decent thing and be eaten, I couldn’t help but think that your writers have been briefed not to worry about internal plot logic provided they can deliver strong emotional beats.

Like last week’s “Thin Ice”, “Knock Knock” – thought to be so good by you it was named twice, made little sense once end credits had rolled. Why was Pavel’s absence ignored for so long? Because Bartlett read the part of the series bible that demands you foreshadow the threat by engineering a kill, pre-titles. It was odd that no one looked for him, given they were still moving in, but what can you do? You can’t unkill him. Except you can, and Bartlett did – inexplicably wussing out on loading the story with consequences by pressing the reset button and having the lice mysteriously restore the lost characters. If they could do that, why was it necessary for them to be absorbed in the first place? And couldn’t Eliza have had them restore her, ending her wooden torment? Why was she special?

But as Mike Bartlett didn’t give a shit about any of this, why should we? Still, having scribes that actually thought through plot complications and made the horrors of the Whoniverse matter by producing real corpses, would really tickle my balls. What do you think, Steven – maybe have a word? Oh yes, the series is in the can. Nevermind.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: When Bill, in her latest annoying Q&A session, prompted the Doctor to talk about regeneration, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence. We know the old man’s time is nearly up but here was the first suggestion that maybe he too has access to the Internet.

P.P.S: Bill dared to mock the Time Lords. For me this is conclusive evidence that she should not be in the TARDIS.

P.P.P.S: Another week, another nod to Bill’s dead Mother (here represented by a wall mounted picture). Given the overarching theme of the episode, this made sense, but why in fuck’s name has this so-called inquisitive character, who apparently never misses a trick, not yet asked the Doctor to use his time machine and reunite them? Is she afraid to ask or just worried about coming out to her ‘80s parent? Could Bill’s mother be a Tory?

P.P.P.P.S: Bill’s a fan of Little Mix, huh? Well colour me surprised.

P.P.P.P.P.S: I liked the Doctor’s Quincy Jones anecdote. More anecdotes from Peter Capaldi please. Yes, I know it’s too late to ask this now.

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: Thin Ice

Dear Steven,

Since Doctor Who returned in 2005 – an occasion I celebrated with vigorous intercourse with my then inamorata, Bilie Piper looking on appalled, a recurring issue has been the change in format from serial to episodic storytelling. The latter, adopted presumably to make the show friendly for foreign markets, i.e. the Americans, has been both a gift and a curse.

A gift, because if a story’s derivative, clichéd, boring, tonally ill-conceived, or plot rather than character driven, and I insert an unrelated clause referring to the first two episodes of the series here, then knowing it will be over in 45 minutes is a relief. But if the story has potential, say an interesting backdrop, an enjoyable villain, and is character-centred, then single episodes seem too short, necessitating the scribe set it up, move in on and tie it off before we’ve had the chance to savour the ideas. It’s like decanting a fine wine, then knocking it back like a vodka shot. You know, the way you drink it. That characterful lacquer doesn’t touch the sides.

On balance, “Thin Ice” which doubles as a description of where the show stands with its audience right now, belonged in the latter category. We could have more of it; extra time for the story to breathe.

Sarah Dollard, who last year forced Clara to face the raven, something we’d wanted, euphemistically, for some time, is clearly interested in character dynamics and what makes the Doctor tick. So in this high-concept stopover in 1814 London, she used a throwaway monster of the week premise; a giant fish eating poor people below the frozen Thames; to explore the Doctor’s perspective on death and egalitarianism.

He first shocked and disgusted Bill, with his apparent indifference to a boy-thief who was sucked under by the big fish’s legion of finned acolytes. But later had her (irritatingly) bursting with pride with a speech to Lord Bastard, Nathan Barley, who’d planned a frost fair to give the fish sustenance, as it defecated super-fuel or something, that attacked the toff’s social and, gasp, racial preconceptions.

It was a speech unlikely to overturn a lifetime of social conditioning for an aristocrat raised in the late 18th century, but taken together, these two moments were there to give us the measure of the Doctor’s enlightened but pragmatic approach to humankind. He didn’t have time to mourn, he said, and sometimes appalling circumstances meant hard pragmatism. But he had a bottom-up view of society and saw helping the little man and woman as essential to the greater good. Yes, the Doctor was a liberal despite his social advantages. An easy position to take when you have a TARDIS and unlimited resources of course, but perhaps more admirable for all that.

So if the episode’s primary purpose was to tease out, or perhaps reaffirm this aspect of the Doctor’s psyche, what was Bill’s role in this madness? Well, Dollard rightly intuited that because she didn’t know much about the Time Lord’s new friend; the previous two scripts providing no help, as they passed on the opportunity to add depth to said companion; the most effective way to build Bill was to establish her role as the Doctor’s new conscience and moral barometer, the same role fulfilled by every companion since 2005. In pushing for a more considered reaction to the boy lost on the Thames and by having an identity that when attacked by Lord Bastard, roused the Doctor’s fury, we both learned a little about the gap between our hero’s rhetoric and deep feelings, and Bill’s constitution and outlook.

Look Steven, Bill is too earnest for my taste, at least in this stage of her development, and I don’t think everyone on your team should be so allergic to subtlety, but I appreciated the attempt to add both a psychological dimension to the duo’s relationship and provide us with some sense as to what kind of person Bill is. I also suspect you named the character – Bill Potts, B.P, as a tribute to the aforementioned Billie Piper, whose wide-eyed optimism and lack of nuance you’re rehashing. Still, it would nice to take a risk and find a chink her armour, as right now she appears to be the personification of every virtue signalling bore on Twitter, and perhaps we’ll get to that in time, but this was a small turn on the depth dial in the right direction (clockwise).

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: This could have been a serial, Steven, and maybe a good one. We could have revelled in the period atmosphere, explored the social mores of the time, and given Lord Bastard more than a couple of scenes. Any human villain in league with an alien fish, whose industrial strategy is “grinding up children for profit” deserved more than two scenes.

P.P.S: “I care Bill, but I move on.” I hope I don’t end saying this about the show one day.

P.P.P.S: The Doctor gave his hat to some girl then mysteriously, a few scenes later, without revisiting the TARDIS, had a replacement – and not just any replacement, but one full of pies. What the fuck happened there?

P.P.P.P.S: On behalf of the whole world, can I beg you to finally, permanently, rein in Murray Gold? Sometimes, listening to his overwrought scores, is like trying to watch the show while some other bastard plays their music in the background. Less is more. After scoring nine full series, he really should understand that by now. Perhaps hire a second composter to score alternate episodes, thus giving an up-and-comer a much needed chance to provide a contrast and show him how it should be done? I’ll leave that with you.

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: Smile

Dear Steven,

You’d like me to smile, would you? Well, fuck you. Why don’t you tell your writers to focus on great storytelling rather than the uncanny appropriation of everyday things the youth recognise? The bastard youth – who ruin everything by convincing the people who make television that futureproofing their work, ensuring it will still be enjoyed decades hence, isn’t worth the effort. I mean, an emoji episode, Steven? Were you demob happy when you waved that one through? Is there an emoticon for desolation?

You see in TV, momentum matters; the converse of Labour politics. If a series starts strong, it can afford a few duff mid-run fillers because the audience have been captivated early and are now in the habit of tuning in. This run of Who opened weakly with “The Pilot” – a light introduction for Bill. I’d have preferred Bill to have earned her TARDIS wings as a character in a larger, more complicated story – an opening three-parter perhaps, but you can just about get away with froth under the guise of getting to know the newbie. What you can’t do is follow that up with another passive, inconsequential instalment.

Surely the opportunity here, was to devise a second episode that would add depth to Bill’s character and cake on a bit of intrigue regarding the Vault? Instead, we got a show that, the new companion’s stupid questions aside, could have dropped anytime during the series; a cookie cutter story, taken from the episode 2 chapter of Russell T. Davis’s browning series bible, where the Doctor takes his new pal to an alien setting in the future, and low and behold there’s some kind of hidden threat to the human population (see, “The End of the World”, “New Earth”). Episode 3 of the same bible says you follow that up with an episode set in Victorian times, so it was good to see something like that promised next week.

When Bill was asked whether she’d prefer to travel to the past or future, what we knew of her already suggested she’d choose the past, as she’d surely immediately seize on the opportunity to meet the dead mother whose absence she’s felt her whole life. A character-based story could have been built around that meeting, perhaps the gap between expectation and reality the B-Story to a meaty A-Story for the Doctor, but Bill’s a prisoner of a tired formula, so instead had to opt for the future and the thin gruel that is killer emoji robots.

I wouldn’t have lasted long on that colony, Steven, as I experienced my own grief tsunami, watching Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s tale go through its predictable paces. A nice set and sense of scale couldn’t compensate for the shoulder shrugging concept, sigh inducing barely human supporting characters, or indeed, the short-sightedness of developing an antagonist based on a contemporary fad. What else have you got lined up for us, Steven? A cat video planet? Whatsapp world? An antagonist who corrupts Snap Chat as a form of mind control? Is the turgid nature of these ideas and fleeting recognition from excitable kids, really worth the time and expense these episodes take to produce, or would it better just to hire some real writers?

My God, this is what it’s going to be like every week under Chris Chibnall, isn’t it?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Might it be a measure of how thin the script was for this story that our understanding of the situation was entirely contingent on the Doctor’s intuition and analytical mind? Yes, I know that’s how every episode works, but usually we’re fed a few clues, or some straw man or other says something that lodges in the Doctor’s mind, so solves the puzzle. In “Smile”, our hero just walked around and put it all together through observation alone. Fine, but there was nothing for the viewer to do but sit back and let him get on with it. Did we even need to be there?

P.P.S: The TARDIS has broadband does it? If we’re demystifying the thing completely, why don’t we say there’s a branch of Costa in there too? You see, it’s easy to type this shit but it does damage.

P.P.P.S: On which note, “don’t look at my browser history”? So, for the sake of a cheap gag, the Doctor surfs porn now? Are your team actively trying to shed viewers, Steven?

P.P.P.P.S: Let’s hear more about the Doctor’s oath and the Vault soon, for God’s sake, because it’s the only thing of interest happening in the series thus far.

P.P.P.P.P.S: “All traps are beautiful.” Tell that to someone who’s looking at the bloody teeth of a bear trap and what used to be their leg.

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:

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 09:47  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Pilot

Dear Steven,

Recently, I’ve been giving thought to what I’m doing to do without you. Your last series of Doctor Who was looming like a trial date for sentencing following an outrageous and unjust conviction for credit card fraud (the Underhills leant me their account details), and consequently the focus of my empty and joyless life would also be coming to a close. I’d have Star Trek: Discovery later this year of course; a welcome opportunity to transfer my mania and vitriol elsewhere; but something would be missing. You and me.

In a world run by Chris Chibnall, where will I go? How will I live? During our time together I’ve tried abstinence based recovery, self-harm, booze, escorts and amateur taxidermy but the memories remain, the heartache endures. And it’s not acid reflux Steven, it’s the afterimage of Amy that sits on my face to this day, if that’s the right metaphor, and the line that runs from her all the way to Nardole. Who will I meet capable of giving pleasure and pain the way you can? When it’s all over, perhaps I must do what Luke Skywalker did – namely buy an Island off the Irish coast and live there in total isolation.

Perhaps only then will I find peace.

But before I pack my bag, place an ad for some warning buoys and row out to my new archipelago, I must do my duty and respond to your final Doctor Who episodes. Ahead of “The Pilot”, the new series opener, the hype focused on new companion Bill, Earth name Pearl Mackie, who’d be the first openly gay TARDIS tenant, not to mention the one with the biggest hair. This nod to identity politics was deemed highly significant, because up until now, gay viewers had found nothing in the show to enjoy or relate to – just a parade of stuffy heterosexuals like Adric, Melanie Bush and Captain Jack Harkness.

Bill’s sexuality, apparently being a thing worthy of our attention, would have to be a plot point then, else there’d be a real danger of no one giving a fuck. So I was pleased to see the story pivoted on a love interest for the lesbian debutante, a student called Heather, who Bill managed to keep wet throughout. Symbolically, I felt that was laying it on a little thick. I mean, imagine Clara in the series before last encountering Danny Beige and him being afflicted with a condition thereafter that kept him rigid at all times. But the important thing, if you believe literal identification with the characters is intrinsic to Doctor Who’s emotional and psychological connection with its audience, was that Bill was a confident homosexualist who bestrode the screen looking for knowledge and pussy. The rub was a lack of refinement, the kind that has you asking to take a piss seconds after stepping into an alien time machine.

Which brings me on to my concern about Bill, namely that she’d be a broad, gawping irritant who asked stupid questions and forced the Doctor to explain things we’re highly familiar with, something a companion drawn from the future or an alien world, may be less inclined to do.

One of the tensions in Doctor Who, especially in its post-2005 incarnation, is that between choices made in-universe and those that can be clearly marked as real world, that is – decisions made by the writers and producers that betray the Doctor’s enlightened adventures as a construct born of less cerebral beings. Trivial examples may be the Doctor’s propensity to use kid-friendly idioms, or refer to social media, or to have cultural frames of reference identical to the audience’s. But the real kicker is, why does this genius consistently choose to travel with his intellectual inferiors – people who’d bore his fellow Gallifreyians to death?

I used to liken this to a man moving around with his favourite pets, but if you’re a member of the upper caste of one of the universe’s most highly developed societies, it’s always struck me as odd that you wouldn’t want a little more challenge in your day to day existence. With the exception of Romana (and Romana II) the Doctor’s consistently hung around with idiots. Sweet, kind hearted, inquisitive idiots, to be sure, but from his point of view, morons none the less.

Now we’ve all done this to a degree. Who doesn’t like having a stupid friend? If you’re insecure yet narcissistic, it’s very nice indeed to enjoy someone you can feel superior to, patronise without consequence, and occasionally educate, thereby affirming your intellectual credentials. But as everyone knows, it gets tedious in the end. There’s only so much assured ignorance, vulgarity and senselessness one can humour before it starts to drag. What started as a crutch for a fragile ego soon becomes a test of endurance. Try as you might, you can’t rustle up enthusiasm for a screening of St Elmo’s Fire – your pal’s favourite film. You laughed the first time they insisted David Icke had a point, it was endearing in a naïve way, but now their unquestioning embrace of his theories just makes you angry. And the knowledge they bawled their eyes out when Princess Diana died, unable to return to work for two weeks, such was their grief, is an anecdote, the significance of which has built over time. It’s not fun anymore, in fact the association represents a very real threat to your I.Q.

The Doctor courts clods at the behest of TV’s Gods because they’re a proxy for us, the ordinary fuckwits who watch the show. Their wonder is our wonder, their questions are our questions, and their dull, middling obsessions, are ours too – the irony being that we watch this shit to escape from them from time to time, only to find our awful surrogates mirrored back to us, though in an uncanny way, like staring at your own reflection in a puddle of extra-terrestrial bio-fluid.

In-show, however, it doesn’t ring true. If the Doctor were a real being, he’d leave the likes of Nardole on the nearest space rock, and that goes double for other non-entities like Rose, Donna, Rory and Bernard Cribbins, all of whom, in close proximity, for months on end, would rile most of us, let alone a man eager to test the knowledge and experience of a dozen lifetimes against the most perplexing problems the universe has to offer.

Consequently, Steven, it was clever of you to make “The Pilot”, a sort of ‘Educating Bill’ – with the Doctor as Michael Caine’s character, impressed and enchanted by the inquisitive and open mind of his uneducated student. Bill’s credentials were underlined by her not being a registered student at all, rather a canteen staffer who sneaks into the Doctor’s university lecture series, a sideline he’s developed while lying low for reasons currently unknown. Shit, she even had big hair like Julie Walters.

This was a plausible and effective way to introduce Bill and make us believe that the Doctor would see something in her. The student/teacher dynamic had echoes of the Seventh Doctor’s association with Ace and her propensity to call him Professor, something I’ll take over a young woman smitten by the student entertainment officer she met on holiday any day. That’s not to say I found Bill particularly interesting, she’s a little too wide-eyed and innocent for my taste, Billie Piper reborn, but I could just about suspend my belief and imagine the Doctor might want to peel her layers before discovering there aren’t that many and it might be best to wipe her memory and return her to her chip fryer after all.

Still, not every companion can be an instant smash like Amy or even an impish conundrum like Clara, but if this new pairing’s going to work, particular with Matt Lucas’s vacant Nardole bringing up the rear, Bill better become a grounding influence and fast. We can’t have three people mucking around in time and space, week on week. That would be like being trapped in a lift with that friend who took a fortnight off to come to terms with the death of the People’s Princess.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: We’ve always known the TARDIS had a toilet, do we really need to talk about it?

P.P.S: Bill noticed that TARDIS was an English acronym but she didn’t pick the Doctor up on the fact he speaks English or has a Scottish accent or looks completely human or adopts human social conventions like wearing clothes and employing humour in conversation, so how sharp is she really?

P.P.P.S: Heather, the girl made from alien water, can travel from the UK to Australia in one minute and a further 23 million years and the length of the universe in an instant, so why can’t she catch people when they’re standing right in front of her? Is she trickling down those stairs and moving slowly toward her prey for japes?

P.P.P.P.S: “I’m in disguise”. As yourself, Doctor?

P.P.P.P.P.S: Regarding Nardole’s line about using the shitter, isn’t he an android? Did you forget?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Nice of the Doctor to take pictures of Bill’s dead mother so she had a few. It would have been nicer still to take Bill to meet her Mother and spend some time with her, but perhaps bringing that up would make her seem ungrateful.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: We didn’t talk about this episode’s plot, Steven. As it was a compendium of familiar and tired elements there didn’t seem much point. But I did wonder if you’d spiked Chibnall’s guns by calling it “The Pilot” and making it a sort of re-introduction to the show. I don’t think anyone new will be watching until you and Mr Capaldi have gone, so perhaps you should have saved all those reboot titles for your successor. It also occurred to me, with regret, that we’d probably be getting another version of this episode in a year’s time.

Related:

Dear Chris Chibnall: Think. Are you really the right man to run Doctor Who?

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 Return of Doctor Mysterio

who-christmas

Dear Steven,

By common consent 2016 has been one of the worst years since blogging about Doctor Who began. People talk about Brexit, Trump, the remake of Ghostbusters, but these were just iceberg tips that resembled bellends. This was a year when the worst people in the world got shriller, more self-righteous, condescending, self-promoting, boorish and confident. And those were the people I agreed with.

It made me nostalgic, in a Doctor Who free year, for my good clean internet opposition to your honestly inept, but arguably benign contribution to popular culture. When you’re making bad Who and I’m writing about it, all is well with this ugly rock. But strip us out and the planet plunges into unenlightened darkness – you know, the worst kind of darkness; a new gloomy epoch with no obvious readymade designation.

It’s been such a long year that I’d almost forgotten how much I dread your festive Who specials. It would be unfair to call them an obligation. For me it’s tantamount to an act of self-harm, like spending Christmas with my joyless family and their enviable collection of personality disorders.

The cat’s enlarged pupils and outstretched claws point to alarm and confusion at the perennial decision to seek out the start time for your Christmas episode in the Radio Times, ring said listing, then seek the appropriate clearances to watch in relative peace, unencumbered by the usual inane questions I can expect throughout every other yuletide show. But would your annual efforts play better with enquiries about Peter Capaldi’s hair? And why, if you have an actress called Charity Wakefield, wouldn’t you just call her character the same thing?

We’ve now watched enough of these tinsel time series fag ends to know how they’re conceived. Locked in your den, head in hands, a half-empty bottle of port casting a long shadow over a blank notepad, you finally let those mitts fall away, the nails bitten back and splintered, and your rubbed red eyes, sore from leaking panic, fall on that unrivaled DVD and Blu-ray collection – the pride of the Moffat household, that you promised you’d never raid again for inspiration, but must now turn to one last time.

Was it blind luck that your copy of Mr Nanny starring Hulk Hogan, was sandwiched between Back to the Future and Superman: The Movie? Was it destiny that the shelf below contained every Marvel movie to date, and that just as your mouth fell open your young son ran into the room in his Spider-Man pyjamas, asking if you’d come and watch “The Very Best of Shooting Stars”?

Oh, how you loathe the parenting thing sometimes. And you thought of that old Channel 4 shithouse, Supernanny, and somehow it all just clicked. Within ten minutes you had the premise for this year’s episode. In an hour you had a draft. It’s incredible how these things work out. You wouldn’t have to drink yourself to death after all.

So “The Return of Doctor Mysteriostarred an actor who looked exactly like a 30-year-old Michael J. Fox playing 18, as a comic book geek who swallowed a wish-fulfilling alien power source, which the Doctor set up housing for on the roof of a residential apartment block for no reason, and became a DC style superhero with a Marvel backstory. We learned he was obsessively stalking closely following his childhood fantasy fuck; a Lois Lane proxy; nannying her baby by day and attempting to impress her journalistic faculty by night, in a fashion influenced by, but NOT, DC’s hawkish lawyers, simply derivative of the books he read as a kid.

There was every reason to worry that this oddball’s romance was supposed to be the beating heart of the story, after all he hadn’t changed his haircut, PJ’s or glasses since he was eight years old (but then how would we recognise him as an adult – by intuition and understanding of narrative conventions alone?), and his persona was based entirely on comic book clichés. But I was prepared to accept this as an affectionate ribbing of the material you were ripping off. It was also nice to see a story based on comic book heroes, because there’s so few of those nowadays.

I’m sorry to read as a curmudgeon, Steven – particularly at Christmas, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of this shit. Justin Chatwin’s creepy Marty McFly impression aside, there wasn’t any intrigue here. The Harmony Shoal corporation (I think I’ve eaten in one of their restaurants) was a pretty anaemic rent-a-threat, consisting as it did of brains in jars. And though it all hung together okay, the A-story of this would-be Clark Kent successfully completing the family (yawn) of his jilted Lois, integrated without drama or consequence with the invasion B-story, it was hard to escape the conclusion that “Doctor Mysterio” was less than the sum of all the junk that inspired it.

You got a reference in to The Rocketeer, the dinner scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – movies I’m sure you’ve plundered before, if only I could be bothered to raid the letter archive, but I couldn’t have been the only person sitting at home, too tired to move, too broken to change channels, wondering why you couldn’t have written an original piece of, oh I don’t know, Doctor Who?

We’re left wondering if your successors will take your approach to these specials – making them light, irrelevant (autocorrects to irreverent in your brain) and self-parodic – or if they’ll interpret “special” the way we used to think of movie spin-offs from TV shows; an epic adventure with mythos deepening complications. An event. Remember those?

It’s likely no one will be talking about this episode in the weeks to come. In fact, by the time the new series begins, your last, we may have forgotten it completely. Generating that kind of indifference is, I suggest, highly dangerous for the prospects of a show with a fan base as big and obsessive as the Doctor’s. In a superfluous hour of TV, the only question likely to be torturing the internet in the weeks to come is, what does Matt Lucas want, and why did you imagine we’d ever want to see him again?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “Vomiting, hair loss and death.” If that’s not a pitch for a Spider-Man reboot…

P.P.S: Just so you’re clear, no one can remember Lucas’s character from last year, so reviving him here was tantamount to introducing a new character sans context or background. There was just this curious degenerate following the Doctor around. George Dawes without the spite.

P.P.P.S: “We’ll be laughing all the way to the slab.” Wishful thinking on your part.

P.P.P.P.S: Once again Capaldi’s world-weary cynicism won us over for much of the time. But it’s dangerous to have an audience proxy who so closely mirrors their viewing experience. Every time he did a double take, looked bored, or plain confused, I didn’t expect to occupy his consciousness so completely.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Might the aliens have tried a little harder to perfect their surgical technique? Once word got out that the imposters each have an incision scar across their heads and flashing eyes, I think the round up would be short and brutal.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: You’re to be congratulated. New companion Bill looks awful in just about every way. I can wait to meet her. For years if necessary. As a parting gift to critics of your work like me, it couldn’t be better. I can see our last episodes together will be the most difficult yet. It really is going to be a fight to the death; a fight I’m already prepared to concede.

Last Christmas (literally, not the episode of the same name):

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

The Tragedy of the Just Eat Chicken Madras Girl

Just-Eat-I-See-You-Baby-Chicken-Madras-720p-2

A couple of weeks ago I was lying in bed, eyes closed, trying to sleep, but I couldn’t relax. Time passed and I became progressively more anxious. My heart started to palpate, I tasted acid, there was coal burning in my chest and throat, and I started to weep. I couldn’t stop. This seemingly inexplicable surge tide of emotion was, I later understood, the result of the last thing I’d seen before going to bed – 30 seconds of film squatting in my consciousness; memories and a Manson Family of associated thoughts stalking my interiors, wielding knives. The film? Just Eat’s Chicken Madras commercial; adland’s nadir and a demonstrable tragedy for the jobbing actress in the leading role.

I suppose my brain, prone as it is to moral outrage, calibrated to crave justice, internalised the plight of the Chicken Madras girl and couldn’t help but cry out. Sure, it was impotent rage, emptied into the void; I couldn’t help her; but the more I thought about the events that had compounded on one another, resulting in this half-minute humiliation, perhaps the sad anti-climax of a lifelong dream – the culmination of thousands of hours of scrimping, pressing, phone calls, going to auditions and making ends meet with a job at a North London call centre, begging people to up the money they’d pledged when mugged on the high street – well, tragedy seemed an understatement.

I’m not trying to belittle the Chicken Madras girl. She gives a terrific performance in a thankless role. She moves well, indeed naturally, and the camera loves her. I can understand why, of all the thousands of women who auditioned, the director plucked her from obscure poverty. I also understand why, at a time when the last of her nectarines were spoiling in the bowl on the kitchen top, and when the only foodstuffs left in the fridge were Rivita crackers, two weeks past their due date, half-fat cream cheese, and chutney with a surface layer of mould, she leapt on the chance.

Once she’d been fitted for that figure-flattering silver outfit with its dynamic stringy accoutrements, no one could have doubted the choice. I’ve seen the ad many times now, and like Jack Nicholson in The Shining or Jim Carrey in The Dead Pool, I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

There’s no question that the commercial, all thirty punishing seconds of it, will now become this small screen star’s signature role, but should it? I don’t know her, though I’d certainly like to, but I’m sure that when she became estranged from her parents, who after her Oxford graduation, expected her to follow them into the legal profession, she made the break dreaming of critical respect. When she moved to London – giving up on the boyfriend who refused to move from the sleepy village of his birth, she calculated the sacrifice would be worth it. When she shared a flat for a year with a needy bisexual self-harming cokehead who threatened the sanctity of her bedroom on more than one occasion, so she could save money and remain flexible enough to attend auditions in makeshift offices at the summit of squalid Soho walk-ups, staffed by lecherous agency talent scouts who’d guarantee you a part on TV for a blowjob and a fee, she had greater ambitions than singing and dancing to a retooled cover of Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’. And all for what? To sell a takeaway delivery website to lazy cooks.

Just Eat’s ad proves that the Chicken Madras girl is talented and versatile (the premise of the commercial effectively makes it a double role). You wouldn’t blame her if she’d been excited when offered the part, perhaps imagining it to be a springboard to bigger, better things. But watching it back, especially when hungry, it starts to resemble a dead end. It’s not just that the ad irritates, its flat attempt at humour the brainchild of some idiot karaoke loving backside, fat on curry and after-work pub visits in which bored friends listen to him wax lyrical on life in show business, but it makes a fool of an actress with plenty of spicy potential. This ad is the centrepiece of her showreel now, and as such the parts that were once hers in all but name – juicy roles on Poldark, the next series of Line of Duty, a new channel 4 drama about a respectable businesswoman who inherits a brothel from her Madam mother, will now be denied. There’s no seeing past that dance, past the crude sexual objectification of a hot red curry. A career that could and should have peaked in Hollywood movies is now a ruin; a ruin covered in sticky hot sauce.

So the next time you sit down in front of the drool box to engage in a bit of schadenfreude and cast yourself as superior to the Chicken Madras girl, think instead of the waste of talent and the senseless chain of non-creative decisions that lead to the ad’s creation, birthing a trap for an actress desperate to break into an industry whose gatekeepers are crude, manipulative and cynical. All she wanted was to perform. Instead, she was pushed into a showbiz grave. If I were Just Eat CEO David Buttress, I’d consider a written apology, substantial compensation for this fine performer, then blowing my brains out. It’s the least he could do.