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: The Girl Who Died

The Girl Who Died

Dear Steven,

I don’t want to talk about the first half hour of “The Girl Who Died” because it was the TV equivalent of going out to eat alone, ordering your food, then waiting for the longest time at an empty table with no bastard to talk to, because the fuckwit who took down your sizzling picks got talking to a more attractive diner, so your order never made it to the kitchen. You and your accomplice Jamie Mathieson took your sweet time getting to the crux of the story, so long in fact it was clear that you’d completely forgotten about the part of the audience that declines to dine out on the thin gruel of broad comedy.

Breezy was the word to describe thirty minutes of Vikings named after EastEnders characters and cartoons from the ‘60s. I liken it to the ‘80’s song “Rush Hour” by Jane Wiedlin; jaunty and fun, but where’s the beef? I’m not made of stone – I liked the joke about the Doctor getting his fingers trapped and the Viking passing out from the sight of blood, leading to a chain of events that caused the village to be set on fire; a scene comically joined after the event, mid-attempt at putting it out; but all the time you were polishing those gags, shouldn’t you have been concentrating on developing Maisie Williams’ eponymous puzzle piece?

Sure there were a few scenes that established she had a great imagination, was spirited, etc – that was fine, but as her death was pivotal, setting up an uncertain and possibly doom laden second part, should more work have been done to make her someone we cared about? I mean, I was sad when she died, but only the same way I’m sad when I’ve promised myself a cup of tea, opened the fridge to fetch the milk and realise it’s now a day out of date.

Oh fuck, I’ve ended up talking about it.

So Williams died of heart failure, possibly because she couldn’t believe she was in a Doctor Who story that relied on a combination of electric eels, an iPhone and the Benny Hill theme tune to save the say, and a nation wept. But then something weird happened. Despite the Doctor having watched billions of people die and reaching the age of 2000 without feeling the need to resurrect the dead, he decided to inseminate the Viking girl with alien tech because his reflection reminded him of, er, the time Donna (who the audience had repressed) pressured him into saving some Pompeiians? What?

This of course was designed, in part, to explain a mystery which should never have been, namely why the Doctor chose his face. The maddening stupidity of this idea aside, for it was established in the classic series that the Doctor had no idea what he was going to look like in subsequent incarnations – “you never quite know what you’re going to get” being a classic quote you conspicuously DIDN’T revive here, were we really supposed to just accept that the Doctor would wait over a thousand years to action the lesson of Tennant’s Pompeii experience?

If remembering his duty to save strangers from oblivion was so important to the Doctor, why didn’t he pass this genetic note to his next incarnation, rather than waiting for the one after that? He was taking a bit of risk there, don’t you think? Regeneration can warp the memory, indeed Capaldi couldn’t remember what the significance of his face was at first, and little wonder – he’d waited a millennium to hand himself the post-it. A lot happened to the 11th Doctor, including several centuries laid up in Christmas special hell, so he could have been forgiven for forgetting. I suppose the message could have been internalised on a level so innate, so compressed in the sub-conscious, that his body forgot to action it when it came time for the 10th Doctor’s body to give up, but what in the name of plot convenience happened to Smith’s ganglinoid to prompt his later transformation into Capaldi?

Are you telling us that at the moment of the 11th Doctor’s regeneration, part of him was thinking about a bunch of Pompeiians he’d saved from a pyroclastic death centuries earlier? I mean, was it so important to give Capaldi’s first appearance in another role an in-universe explanation? Colin Baker didn’t need a story explaining his turn as Commander Maxil in “Arc of Infinity”. John Nathan-Turner just expected the audience to either forget it or accept the real world explanation, i.e. they hadn’t thought of casting him as the Doctor at that time. Have we come to a crossroads in the history of this show when you start to make JNT look considerate?

All that said the setup for next week is an intriguing one. Though the CG budget for this episode was conspicuously thrift, I liked Williams’ time lapse journey into the future as an immortal “hybrid”. It gave me hope that “The Woman Who Lived” might have a little heft. The premise is great: the Doctor may have inadvertently created a monster thanks to a moment of uncharacteristic sentimentality, a woman who’s watched everyone she loves die and has been forced to adapt to a lifespan covering many centuries. What are the consequences of that decision? What toll will it have taken on Williams? How will she have changed? In the vain hope that the next 45 minutes cuts to the quick and provides some answers that impact on the Doctor and Clara in some meaningful way, I look forward to finding out.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: The Viking breaking the sonic sunglasses was a nice crowd pleaser. Let’s leave them broken, shall we?

P.P.S: The 2000 year diary made me laugh, though I’m inclined to think it didn’t have quite enough pages.

P.P.P.S: Seriously, up the CG budget. The show makes millions for the BBC – start picking their pockets.

P.P.P.P.S: “Immortality is everyone else dying.” I hope that equals a mad Williams in the next episode.

P.P.P.P.P.S: A baby gives the Doctor the vital clue to the group’s survival. Steven, I think the Doctor “speaking baby” was originally a throwaway joke – just a bit of bollocks; no episode should rely on a Time Lord’s improbable translation of an infant’s sobs to work. Perhaps one day we’ll learn how a baby’s tiny, underdeveloped brain can understand the kind of abstract concepts the Doctor refers to in his translation? What – we won’t? Thought not.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: There was a lot of talk in this episode of the Doctor dreading Clara’s death, that he couldn’t bear to lose her, but when he acquired a piece of tech that could make someone immortal he instantly used it on someone he barely knew. Shouldn’t he have taken a moment? You know, asked Clara if she wanted to live forever, maybe? Then she could have taken the spare med kit for her next boyfriend. Still, nevermind.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time: