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

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

Dear Steven,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed

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

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

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

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: World Enough and Time

Dear Steven,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Eaters of Light

Dear Steven,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

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

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

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

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: 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: