Dear Chris Chibnall: Doctor Who End of Series Cloister Bellendry

Dear Chris,

You did it. You got to the end of your first series of Doctor Who with (consolidated) ratings at a ten-year high and pull quotes from the very best critic mimicking algorithms tattooed on your length. Yes, it must feel good to know you have the backing of objective and famously interrogative outlets like Radio One’s Newsbeat and Baron Viktor Von Doomcock’s YouTube channel. Oh and there’s Twitter, where the great and not so good rallied to your broad and curiously regional attempt at reinvention. Suddenly this felt like a show for everyone, with only the genre literate and discerning fans excluded. I don’t know about you, but I was getting a little tired of these lifelong natives of the Whoniverse, with their tiresome craving for recognition, banging on about sophisticated storytelling. Bring on the tourists!

The universe always surprises us, the Doctor opined in the closing moments of “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”, but not in a series spearheaded by you. In your version of Doctor Who there’s cliché and redundancy and the non-descript. Jodie Whittaker’s casting, celebrated by some for being ground breaking, as though she was a puppet operated by Warwick Davis, not the Doctor reimagined as a holiday rep, personifies the problem with Project Chibnall.

Whittaker’s Doctor, conceived and cast by you, signals her intellectual credentials but talks like an idiot. She’s immature and trying – an eccentric as imagined by a profound conformist. There’s dissonance here and it plays on the viewer’s mind. Scientists call it Chibnall drag. The Doc, as Bradley Walsh insists on calling her, is a creature of depth and wisdom, but we only know this because she tells us so. And all the while we sit and we say, Miriam Margolyes was available – the Doctor in all but name.

I don’t know how to write up your series, Chris, because I was so bored watching it that my mind often wandered to other things. Things like why does the Doctor travel with the kind of people you’d meet on an HR sponsored difficult conversations course, and why is the TARDIS console room adorned with impractical and garish slabs of pink crystal?

I suppose the only way to break down this shit is to talk about the good and the bad, sometimes with passing reference to the second half of the series.

The Good

  • The titles. No Doctor’s face but the opening sequence was a handsome, cinematic take on the vortex opening of old. Better yet, it didn’t look like something knocked up by a fan. Nothing to do with you of course.
  • The production values. Again, nought to do with you, Chris, but the show had additional gloss and scale in 2018, thanks to what looked like an increase in budget. Allow yourself half a whoop.
  • The score: no more overzealous and ear bleeding musical cues from Murray Gold. Instead, the quirky, sometimes uncanny, electronic stylings of Segun Akinola, who brought of touch of the BBC radiophonic workshop to proceedings.
  • The episode with the frog. “It Takes You Away” was the one instalment this year that had genuine intrigue. At the heart of the story was a conceptually dense mystery, something creepy and compelling. Writer Ed Hime (probably hired because you misheard his name as “Time”) managed to introduce a genuine temptation for one of the characters – something that got them away from asking questions or wandering off to find things on the Doctor’s behalf. Okay, the frog was silly, and should have been the form of something the Doctor cared about and longed for from the distant past, like Peri’s breasts, but this was the kind of standalone Who that works – interesting setup, kooky ideas (killer moths) and memorable madness.
  • The Doctor’s womanhood – the punchline for a couple of jokes but thankfully, otherwise, moot. Given the hype around the change, in-story referencing might have made the first run of episodes unbearable. Instead, we learned the problem with the Doctor wasn’t her vulva but her characterisation as a smiley, child-like cartoon character with a propensity to ruin the mystery of her origin by referring to her extended family in the most mundane terms – “I had five grans”, etc. Marc Platt, one-time Who scribe and author of Lungbarrow, must have watched that scene the way Ian Curtis watched his final wildlife documentary.

Cloister Bellendry

  • The Doctor’s womanhood. For a series with such a high didactic load and a new emphasis on educating the kids, it seemed odd that the Doctor’s sex didn’t complicate more plots. Sure, she was (comically) denied her authority in The Witchfinders by a 17th century king, but more often than not the universe didn’t bat an eyelid at the young woman taking control, threatening enemies and giving the orders. We’re assured the Whoniverse is by and large a woke realm, in tune with its audience, which is great, but the Doctor having to struggle with assumptions and laws in opposition to her identity might have added a hitherto unexplored political dimension of the show.
  • The companions – this TARDIS, in a self-conscious echo of the first series in 1963, had more of a family feel, something infinitely preferable to your predecessor’s propensity to elevate the humble tag-alongs to the status of universal puzzle pieces or canon-shaping golden threads. That said, Steven at least was ambitious about making the Doctor’s friends more integral to the stories in which they featured. Your bunch, nice but ineffectual Graham, nice but mildly curious Yaz, nice but dull Ryan, only seem, like your plots, to have one gear. Stories that might have jabbed a poker into their simple souls and stoked a little complexity – Yaz’s trip to the partition era Punjab to meet her grandmother, Ryan on Rosa Parks’ bus fighting a racist alien, Graham confronted by his wife’s murderer, barely made a mark on these life sized cardboard cut outs. They ended the series as they began it, as background.
  • The plots: Chris, I’m not saying your series was made bland by formula, but here’s a breakdown of all ten episodes.
    • Doctor and friends arrive blind, immediately intuit something’s amiss
    • They arrogantly impose themselves on the situation – insisting they get involved, fortunately encountering little resistance, few questions, just confused people happy to accept Doctor’s authority despite having no proof she’s anything other than an interested bystander
    • Doctor thinks aloud delivering chunks of exposition that relieve the writer of any burden to plot the story in an intriguing way or set up mysteries for the audience to solve
    • Doctor asks unqualified companions to split up and gather information without providing sufficient context (they do, asking open questions in the absence of any concrete information about what they’re supposed to find out and why)
    • TARDIS crew finally encounter monster of the week
    • Doctor provides more baseless speculation that ultimately proves to be correct
    • Supporting cast of the week, harbouring either secrets or malevolent intent, are picked off/exposed
    • Doctor pieces together everything based on information only she has, so a disengaged audience doesn’t need to think/remains passive
    • Monster is actively defeated using technobabble, grandstanding, an act of destruction/situation resolves itself with TARDIS crew as passive onlookers
    • Doctor and crew say their goodbyes and offer a platitude for the road
    • End credits roll with preview of next episode containing similar beats.

Now you can and will argue this is the template that’s been in use for 55 years, but seldom has it felt as conspicuous and undeveloped as it has in 2018. Chris, this series has been routine and one note.

So what’s the prognosis for your series, Chris? Well, if it continues like this, I foresee two things happening. 1) The audience that actually cares about the show and doesn’t have it on as background or filler for their morning commute while they half-watch and half-gaze out of the window, will be chronically under-stimulated and will fall away. Right now, they’re excusing the lack of storytelling nous and vivid characterization as early days syndrome. But we both know you’re not going to get any better or smarter. This is your peak. Soon this open secret will be undeniable, even to the greatest series apologist. 2) The casual audience you’ve courted at the expense of the show’s intelligence and wit, will also fall off, as their fandom is soft and vulnerable to other predatory distractions. Some tuned in for the novelty of a Time Lady, some to affirm their liberal credentials, others just for a stake in the pop cultural conversation. But sooner or later, and I predict sooner, you will actually have to give them a reason to watch rooted in the old fashioned fundamentals – dramatic integrity, psychological depth, mystery, and good humour. If not, and with no more gimmicks to sell, your Doctor Who will wither faster than John Barrowman’s member in Noel Edmond’s mouth.

Regards,

Ed

P.S: What I’m saying is, ignore everything you’ve read about how well you’ve done and start again. The Bill was a popular police drama but it’s nobody’s no.1 on the list of greats, knowhattamean?

P.P.S: Thanks for the let off at Christmas. I have enough on my plate without seeing your attempt at a festive themed special.

P.P.S: I’ve bought Bradley Walsh a Christmas present – a second mode of delivery. Can you forward his address to me?

Everybody do the Chibnall drag:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

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:

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Dear Chris Chibnall: Doctor Who Mid-Series Wangaround

Dear Chris,

We’ve reached the mid-point in your inaugural Doctor Who series; a time to pause, reflect and deplore the many terrible decisions you’ve made while contemplating the most asked question in the universe: what was the big idea that got you the gig?

Don’t say there wasn’t one, because I distinctly remember reading about it – an interview you gave to the Cathode Ray Society, or the Antennae Group, or the Royal Society of selotaping over the ITV button on old televisions, or something. This piece, which I had tabbed but had to close to make room for more Porn Hub windows, quoted a BBC source who was incredibly excited, like the men and women with no critical faculty on Twitter, because you’d made a pitch for the ages. According to witnesses, you sauntered into the meeting, like a man anointed, and wrote the future in lightning – like a woke D.W. Griffiths. But what the fuck did you promise them?

We’re five episodes in now and the Doctor’s mimsy aside, there’s nothing new on display – not that the Professor’s meat curtains are drawn, you understand. Private Eye’s TV critic, ‘Remote Controller’, gave you credit for aiming the series at children and keeping it largely Earth bound. He was apparently unaware that since the magazine’s attitudes were last frozen, around forty years ago, it’s been discovered that healthy adults also enjoy science fiction, and that the best TV examples grow and sustain their fanbase by writing for a mature and discerning audience. Good stories, we now know, work well when you’re four, fourteen or forty, each group, progressively literate in storytelling conventions and nuances, getting something new from the experience.

Your Doctor Who, unfortunately, plays like an earnest CBBC drama, complete with insufferable child-friendly archetypes. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is so unremittingly buoyant and wide-eyed, it’s like travelling in space and time with a Slimming World consultant. Thus far, when she’s not dishing out certificates for weight loss, applauding the slimmer of the week, and promoting the latest range of fat-free microwave meals, the Thirteenth Doctor, unluckily for us, seems fixated on being the most earnest person in the room. In real life such people are exhausting and insufferable. Chris, it’s no different on TV.

If there’s a second dimension to this characterisation, it sure would be great to see it, and soon. The Doctor, it seems, has been flattened out. She’s become an attitude – a set of values. Where’s the enigmatic side of the character, the mystery? Where’s the wit? And who told you that “get a shift on” was a great catchphrase for a two thousand plus year-old refugee from one of the galaxy’s most enlightened and learn’d cultures? Did John Hurt die for this?

Long ago we talked about how your version of the Doctor was likely to be vanilla, and so it’s proved. I don’t mind hearing her boring companions mention Call the Midwife, because that’s their licence fee friendly cultural frame of reference, but when the Doctor invokes the Antiques Roadshow, Poirot and Hamilton, you’re repeating Nu-Who mistakes which are now so well documented, not least by me, that there’s really no excuse to keep making them. The Doctor is not a contemporary middlebrow bore from Planet Shit. What next, are we going to learn she’s read all the Harry Potters and likes Pot Noodles? Actually, forget I said that Chris – I’m terrified you’ll work it in.

So back to your innovative vision for the show. What was it again – to regress to Russell T Davis’s era of creative timidity? Ah yes, because that was when the modern show was at its most popular, wasn’t it? We loved David Tennant singing Ghostbusters and visiting the companion’s council flat and all those other things I’ve tried to block out. In fact, you want to regress further, don’t you? To a time when Doctor Who was imagined as an educational tool for an audience strictly imagined as pre-pubescent. We had “Rosa”, the show that taught kids about the American civil rights movement and racism, and I see next week we’ll be heading to India for a story about partition. Hang on, Chris – hold the space phone, I’ve worked it out. I know what your big idea was!

Identity politics. How could I have missed it? Life lessons for the audience using the characters as lightning rods. Fuck-a-doodle-do, Chris – no wonder the executives who know nothing about genre programming lapped it up. This is why the Doctor has three companions, not just because it recreates the Hartnell era dynamic in the TARDIS, but because, in the absence of an ability to conceptualise exciting stories, it creates space to explore social issues instead.

The more I think about it, the more I think they were conceived with spin-off stories in mind. Take Graham, for example – not just Bradley Walsh but a cancer survivor and, until the Doctor showed up and ruined it, a happy partner in a mixed race relationship. “Rosa” was a shot of racism to the face, but it surely can’t be long until Graham finds himself in ‘60s Sheffield, witnessing first-hand local racial tensions and the struggle of those who defied the bigots to beat segregation. Maybe, given his medical history and association (his dead partner was a nurse), he’ll meet the teenage Nye Bevan and accidentally give him the idea for the NHS, or travel into the future and find the cure for cancer, only to lose it when the vial is ingested by a malicious alien. I’m loathe to share these ideas with you, Chris – they’re probably better than anything you’ve come up with.

Yasmin’s cultural origins are shortly to be touched upon in “Demons of the Punjab” but she’s also a trainee police officer, so perhaps the Doctor will take her to see the Brixton Riots or the Miner’s Strike or get two for the price of one, by showing police oppressing suffragettes. Ryan’s already met his civil rights heroes of course, but his dyspraxia may yet bare storytelling fruit – a journey to a planet where the registered disabled are an undesirable caste, perhaps? Or better yet, could Ryan meet Josef Mengele and kick him in the balls? History’s fun, kids!

Making Who relevant in a thudderingly literal way was a pitch bound to appeal to executives who don’t watch the show, but Chris, it doesn’t have to be this way – you could, you know, use forms like allegory – exploring historical problems in new and imaginative scenarios. That’s science fiction’s greatest trump card – it’s ability to use high concepts to illuminate real world problems, reminding the audience that these things can’t be safely compartmentalised as historic, but are ever present. Oh, yes, I forgot you had a stab at contemporary relevance with “Arachnids in the UK” – something about fracking and Trump, I think? I forgot to add these issue-inspired stories require characters we care about.

In my letters to Steven I mentioned a few times that multi-part stories – the serials of old, always worked better on Doctor Who. From the very beginning it was understood that in a series where the period and location change with each story, time is required to establish each set up, introduce new characters and let the story unfold. It didn’t always work, of course, but it’s still the best way to let the show breathe. This was largely forgotten by Russell Dust when the series returned in 2005, but Steven, lest we deny him the single scintilla of credit he deserves, lumbered with the episodic format (for international sales purposes), attempted to find a workaround with more two-parters and multi-episode, non-linear stories. By returning to single episodes, you’ve once again hamstrung the series’ ability to offer meaty narratives featuring memorable supporting characters.

I could be wrong, though I’m not, but I don’t think it’s just the limited ambition of your writers’ room that’s led to each episode being thin and inconsequential. It’s a by-product of a format that doesn’t afford the, er, time and space, for substance and depth. Imagine instead you’d commissioned four two-hour TV movies. Then you could think big. Instead, you’re compelled, like Davis before you, to frequently return the TARDIS crew to the home of its human occupants to add an overarching sense of continuity – like the kids periodically returning to the house from the secret garden.

After two visits to Sheffield I’m sick of it. I hope when they next go back, in a couple of episodes’ time, it will have been sucked into a time maw – just a hole in the universe. Why not test Bradley Walsh et al. in far-flung, outlandish scenarios featuring stakes we can’t predict? In “Rosa” there was no question that they’d succeed – you weren’t going to have our team accidentally take Parks’ seat, forcing her to stand, and one suspects they’ll be passive witnesses to Indian partition too. Why not take us somewhere where the outcome isn’t fixed and the challenge is to our characters’ values? Why not make them active and have them live with the consequences?

Oh, Chris – this series is so crushingly weightless and boring.

I warned you a long time ago that no one wanted a Who that was just alright. If your only ambition to is create a reliable warhorse that can be watched passively, then forgotten the next day – the backdrop to viewers watching Netflix on their phones, then you’re in the wrong job. Of course the ratings are high – you’ve created broad wallpaper for a general audience. These viewers may be many for now, but they’re soft and disengaged. Unless you give them something to invest in and talk about soon, I fear these pop cultural tourists will shortly find another distraction, while the series’ natural constituency, currently watching out of blind loyalty when many better written and less patronising options are available, will eventually succumb to boredom and indifference, and fish out their VHS copy of “Ghostlight” instead.

Don’t take this the wrong way Chris, but you’re a dull writer currently assigned, inexplicably, to head up the most versatile and unconstrained science fiction franchise ever created. The converse would be Isaac Asimov writing EastEnders. Don’t get me wrong, Chris, I’d love to see Asimov’s take on the lives of those cockney miseries, it’s the flip I can’t stand. You’re currently the man who inherited a fortune and bought a villa in Spain.

I’ll be back at the end of the series to see if you packed all the intrigue and imagination into the second block of episodes.

Yours asleep,

Ed

P.S: I note a forthcoming episode is titled “Kerblam!” (your exclamation mark). How old is the target audience now, five? And can you think of any other sci-fi franchise that cut the age of said audience in half between seasons?

P.P.S: Many have compared the P’Ting in “The Tsuranga Conundrum” to Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. I found that comparison a bit generous.

P.P.P.S: After all this, Alan Cumming is still to come. Fuckin’ ‘ell.

A Touch of the Chibnalls:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

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 November 5, 2018 at 12:38  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Dear Chris,

Don’t worry, I won’t be making a habit of this. Steven (remember him?) hollowed me out and filled the cavity with cloudy, foul smelling piss, but as I wrote to you nearly three years ago now, begging you not to take the showrunner job on account of your broad and witless pedigree, and you ignored me, I felt compelled to give my verdict on the first episode of your new series. I’d have done everything differently you understand, except the new theme arrangement and cinematography – that was great, but you know this. I suppose I could leave it there, but where would be the sense? What’s that you say, it would be infinitely preferable to reading your nonsense review, Ed? Wow, Chris – cutting. I wish your writing was that sharp.

Right, so ahead of transmission, all the talk in Wholand was about Jodie Whittaker, a choice I lamented in my second letter to you, on the grounds that she lacked that mysterious, mercurial quality that I suggested was integral to all the best iterations of the character, as instantly suggested in the debuts of Tom Baker and Paul McCann – actors who found the right tone and sensibility from the off. This, of course, was and is a gender neutral observation – there’s nothing intrinsically male about the Doctor; well, apart from his grandstanding, arrogance and taste for women hundreds of years his junior. I worried that Whittaker would play it provincial and bland, like a bowl of rustic Yorkshire broth. She’d be Peter Davison, only less so. And on first sight, that appears to have come to pass. I hate being right, Chris, that’s why it’s such a chore when it keeps on happening.

First episodes are always tough of course, but we usually get a flavour of the Doctor’s personality, even if the poor sod spends most of that post-regeneration story lagged and memory blocked. At the end of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” – a title that riffed on a film with a far more interesting, androgynous alien visitor, by the way; a true outsider and mesmerising with it (God how we miss David Bowie); we’d spent an hour in the company of an impish child who, like the over earnest club rep she sometimes resembled, was prone to overstatement. The boilerplate plot, which I understand was just a routine way of bringing the new characters together – insipid though they were, could have used a little more palpable fear and uncertainty from the new Doctor. You might have been bolder still and identified a gap in her knowledge. But instead Whittaker glibly tossed off the whole thing with cheery abandon; a characterisation that will no doubt be endearing to many, but for me was a just a bit too close to the non-entities she’d picked up in situ.

I’m sorry Chris, I know I sound despondent, but I don’t know why a show with this rich a history and detailed a mythos is compelled to reset when there’s a change of the guard, and why said return to square one must always, in the Nu-Who era at least, be a dull UK city based adventure, featuring a group of earthy, blue collar characters who meet the Doctor while facing a second-rate alien threat. Didn’t you get this gig on the promise that you’d innovate? It looks to me that you were counting on the people you made that promise to not owning televisions.

What about taking those new cameras and pointing them at a set depicting a colony in deep space, a city like Starchaser’s Toga-Togo, full of creatures and AI and things that look like Jimmy Savile? Why not have companions that show a little of the universe’s variety, maybe even challenge the Doctor’s values? What’s that – it’d alienate the newbies? Well, fuck you Chris. The show’s 55 years old, if the cunts aren’t interested in it and its history by now, perhaps they should stick to YouTube clips.

Is this a show for the whole family or not, because if it is, it should also be aimed at the adults who grew up watching it. All you need to do is tell a compelling story. If it’s good, any kids who don’t know what’s what will be compelled to find out more. When I discovered Doctor Who properly, as a teenager, having enjoyed a smattering of the original run, I went back and watched the 26 seasons that then existed in order. If you become a fan of something, you tend to gobble it up. Oh, and children are a lot more canny than you believe, by the way – they understand high concepts, adult stories. You can talk up to them. You don’t have to reintroduce everything. Half of them will have seen Game of Thrones and Altered Carbon, and lots of other crap I haven’t seen. You’re a bit like my old History teacher, who fast forwarded through the brief sex in a VHS presentation of Highlander, apparently unaware that half the class had used local tramps to buy porno mags the previous weekend.

So you barely touched on the whole change of sex thing – I suppose that was to be expected. Steven had prepared the ground so thoroughly, what more was to be said? But as gender politics is white hot right now, this was a bit of a missed opportunity. Imagine the headlines if a primetime BBC show had featured a prolonged monologue on gender dysphoria, following the Doctor’s unexpected loss of penis and testicles. She’d acquired an inch with every regeneration after all, so this de facto castration might have hit her hard. Indeed, there was no scene when the Doctor and Bradley Walsh argued about whether the Time Lord could just appropriate female gender identity, just because her cells said she could, and whether said identity, acquired as it was, constituted a parody of femininity; womanhood as imagined by a man.

Walsh was quiet on the big issues – the Doctor having skipped those formative years as a female, with attendant problems like the assignation of cultural stereotypes and discrimination, the traumas and tribulations of adolescence, dealing with predatory male sexuality and toxic masculinity in early relationships, not having to deal with oppression as a sex class, not having to worry about beauty standards and archetypal expectations like getting married and having children. One imagines he’ll judge her for roaming the universe and not settling down in future episodes, but a discussion here and a direct challenge from the new Doctor, might really have shaken things up.

And that was it, I suppose. A glossy but empty new Doctor Who, that felt very familiar, but not in an exciting way. More like a programme you’d seen years ago and remembered being quite good but when you sat down and watched it again it had nothing for adult eyes; nothing that went over your head as a child. Perhaps you’ve got lots of great stuff coming down the pipe – psychological depth, moral conundrums, impossible choices, surprise deaths, new weird and wonderful guest characters, and memorable villains. Maybe you, unlike Steven, can tell a story. But I’ve seen Torchwood, and so justifiably fear the worst.

Yours, etc.

Ed

P.S: Please don’t include stuff like YouTube in future – it instantly dates episodes.

P.P.S: “Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman.” The Doctor has never been Scottish. She’d know that.

P.P.P.S: Right, so the Doctor’s got a northern accent, but why? It’s a pity she spoke before she fell, because otherwise you could have established a new precedent, that she copies whoever she hears first. And then we could have lamented that she didn’t fall into a Jamaican bar in North London circa 1974, and adopted the patois. Instead, she was a perfect fit for the area she fell into, a terrific piece of celestial luck.

P.P.P.P.S: The new companions – Yazz, Terry, Wilf – I forget their names, were very quick to believe the Doctor’s “I’m an alien” story. They didn’t even question why she sounded like she was from Huddersfield and talked about being a Scotsman. Wouldn’t the obvious conclusion have been that she was nuts and couldn’t you have mined some comedy from that? Her taking them hostage and forcing them to help – them being terrified, something of that nature?

P.P.P.P.P.S: “It’s a long time since I bought women’s clothes.” Oh yeah? When was the last time?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Alan Cumming coming soon? Oh Chris, you’re too early in the job to hate your audience.

The Way It Was:

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:

(The Last Ever) Dear Steven Moffat: Twice Upon a Time

Dear Steven,

When the moment came to let you go I broke down. “Twice Upon a Time” – your goodbye to all that and mine, left me teary and tired. Not because it was your final contribution to Doctor Who you understand, I was desperate to see you go for reasons I’ll be reprising shortly; no, it was the death of promise; the moment your era passed into history and any hopes we once held for it turned to Jodie Whittaker.

Peter Capaldi was a fine Doctor but he looked a broken man as he staggered round the console room, searching for profundities, only to realise his God was the writer of Chalk. The crags in his face, the shadows under his eyes, told the story of a man who’d dreamt he was a Time Lord, his childhood hero, and loved it. But now he was awake and conscious of the audience for the first time, though he’d sensed them often if your scripts are anything to go by. For the first time he knew he’d been the Doctor during a period of creative bankruptcy.

When you took over from Russell T. Davis I was one of many people who breathed a sigh of relief. You were going to adjust the tone, we thought; making it more reminiscent of the original series; a show that (usually) took itself seriously. And under your watch we fully expected, and for a short time received, a version imbued with the wit conspicuously lacking from the Davis run.

But, as we’ve discussed to the point of mutual disregard, your occasional contributions to the Davis era flattered your understanding of the series while hiding one crucial piece of information: you can’t write drama. That’s pretty fucking important on a show that needed to mature now it had gone through the pain of being re-established. It was like discovering my murder defence at the Old Bailey hinged on someone with no legal training but an encyclopaedic knowledge of Rumpole.

On your watch the show had better jokes but was loose and dispiritingly light, disinterested in dramatic payoffs that would lend weight and consequence to its best setups. Everybody lived, no-one we cared about died, and the reset button was pressed many thousands of times. Fuck, you even did it at the death, with Clara’s memorygram appearing to Capaldi’s Doctor despite a recollection of their adventures being detrimental for reasons both you and the audience have forgotten. Nothing mattered in your Doctor Who.

But most egregiously, your era double downed on tiresome self-awareness. How appropriate then, that your final story was closer in tone and content to your very first Who script, the Comic Relief spoof, “The Curse of the Fatal Death”.

The prospect of Capaldi’s Doctor meeting the First was tantalising but perhaps we should have known a real story, something plotted, perhaps with a memorable adversary who inadvertently made the importance of the Doctors’ role clear to both as each struggled to find confidence and purpose, was never really on the cards. Instead, “Twice Upon a Time” went with a comic conceit that embraced self-parody.

The First Doctor, an import from the 1960s in your brain, was saddled with archaic social attitudes, particularly toward women, that signalled he was to be remade as a vessel for playful nostalgia. The Twelfth Doctor, meanwhile, like some product of 2017, was embarrassed, and a fully paid up member of contemporary society. He dropped all the usual clangers – “spoilers” (in reference to there being a World War 2; perhaps the glibbest introduction to that conflict ever filmed), referred to his predecessor as “Mary Berry”, and name checked Dad’s Army. He even acknowledged that on your watch the whole show had become wearingly meta, noting in response to an alien compilation of his greatest grandstanding moments, “they cut out all the jokes”.

It was all very lip curling while being an absolute betrayal of both characters.

This is what we won’t miss, Steven – a lead writer who doesn’t understand the difference between the information the characters have and the knowledge the audience brings to them. The First Doctor is not a product of 1963 or indeed any period in Earth’s history, any more than the Twelfth. Both men travel extensively throughout time, come from an alien culture and have a perspective and understanding that transcends transient social attitudes. So it makes no sense that either should represent the eras in which their adventures were transmitted in our world.

You could, for example, have chosen to focus on the different temperaments of both versions (or indeed their similarities) but instead, for the sake of some easy gags, put a highlighter over anything that might casually differentiate two eras of television; something that makes no sense in-universe. I was half-expecting the Twelfth Doctor to explain the difference in TARDIS sizes to Bill by talking about aspect ratios. There is no question in my mind that this joke appeared in the first draft script.

Watching this reprise of Hartnell’s Doctor did indeed make me nostalgic, but only for a time when the internal logic of the series fashioned dialogue and forged plots, even if the character’s ignorance of the contemporary TV landscape was now, thanks to you, an affectation.

I’d love to talk about the story but once again, and hopefully for the very last time, there wasn’t one. The two Doctors (“snap!”) met, discovered a futuristic memory archive that gave form to its files, deposited a solider (inevitably a Lethbridge-Stewart) from Ypres who’d fallen through time back to the 1914 battle, so you could tick the Christmas blue box and have a depiction of the armistice, agreed life had meaning, so on balance they should probably go on, and the show ended.

And that, Steven, is all. All from you and all from me. I wish, following all those years of vigorous conceptual masturbation with Matt Smith – a period that must have left you feeling like a rusk, you’d hired someone like Jack Thorne to write a few meaty screenplays for Calpadi which could have been broken into parts. Instead, you broke him with Doctor Who fan fiction – often funny, sometimes fun, but rarely storytelling of quality that will stand up to repeat viewings. In short, you gave your audience of YouTubers too much of what you thought they wanted and not nearly enough of what the show needed.

Your legacy? A failure to instil storytelling principles that a future showrunner would find hard to reverse. In short, your stewardship has made Chris Chibnall both possible and (if internal BBC reports are to believed) desirable. Can you imagine Netflix or HBO hiring Chibnall to spearhead their most popular exports? No, me neither and that’s the heartbreaking point.

Chris and Ms Whittaker will continue without us, Steven – new blood splashing into the open mouths of an audience that’s forgotten more than we ever knew about what made Doctor Who great.

I hope one day, despite the acrimony between us, and me rubbishing your work for the past 7 years, you’ll accept my invitation to invite me to your place, and we can put the past behind us and watch the show together; maybe bond over a mutual contempt for Chibnall’s broad tastes, while indulging the lie that it was all so much better when you were in charge and Who was funny, if meandering and meaningless.

I’ve been asked what I’ll do now. Truthfully, I don’t know. There’s Star Trek: Discovery to sneer at of course, but what we had – well, that was special. Still, I’ll find purpose somewhere.

You see Steven, there are shows out there where creativity’s burning; where writers sleep and critics dream. Stories made of smoke and characters made of straw. Somewhere there’s a writer reappraising the work of John Nathan-Turner. Somewhere there’s incomprehension. Somewhere else, the tea’s getting cold.

Now if you’ll fuck off Steven, I have work to do.

Yours forever in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: You don’t have Chris Chibnall’s address, do you?

The Complete Adventures in Space and Time Wasting

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 December 26, 2017 at 13:54  Leave a Comment  
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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 even 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: 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: