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:

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Dear Steven Moffat: The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

doctor-who-the-zygon-inversion-header

Dear Steven,

When I saw this Zygon two parter coming down the road, I admit I was nonplussed. These shapeshifters of yesteryear, for me at least, belong in the past. To modern eyes these lumbering, impractical aliens, devoid of personality, are more likely to engender a craving for seafood than fear in today’s impressionable, porn loving kids. So naturally the only way to give them a personality is to invest those traits in the human copies they inhabit, but even there, and credit to Jenna Coleman for doing her best with cold bitch Bonnie, there’s nothing much to see. Perhaps this story could have been the one to realise the horrific potential of the Zygons – sick ones that could only partially transform – a gift for makeup and CG artists, but once again the spendthrift policies of the BBC were in evidence; a small FX budget half spent.

This was one of those stories that made you pine for Who monsters with individual personalities – a race in the Star Trek mould, rather than a Who’s default variety – the uniform monsters with the self same lone characteristic. Counterintuitively, aliens are more menacing when they have relatable human personalities. You’re then free to tell stories featuring those that break from or are exiled by their parent culture, with all the dramatic goodies therein. And whereas Invasion/Inversion, had some red meat – it being a neat allegory about Islamic extremism and the fact that stable nationalism and cultural identity is inherently an interdependent project that relies on all parties recognising their mutual interests – I couldn’t really care about the Zygons. They’re paper tigers, and their lack of guile and intelligence hurt the story.

All that said, this was a story with a gutsy premise; unashamedly political, that made some salient points about war and the character of peace, in the best traditions of the series. It was ballsy to show the Zygon extremists effectively “recruiting” on council estates, in deprived areas – copied parents killing their child in one extraordinary moment; a blissful reminder of what you can get away with in prime time when the terrorists are men in silly costumes.

Yet later the story got more explicit: a downed plane, destroyed by an illegal alien’s missile no less, transmitted in the week IS allegedly bombed a passenger aircraft out of Sharm El-Sheik. Kudos Steven, it was mature of the powers that be not to give into the idiotic imperative to censor anything that uncomfortably chimes with the dark parts of the news agenda and let that go out unmolested.

But I thought Part II was braver still – particularly the gag about the Union Jack parachute and the Doctor’s assertion that it provided “perfect camouflage”. I read that a veiled critique of the myth of a uniform identity, an aside that pointed to the many cultures that exist under the same flag.

It was a point the Doctor underlined in a blistering anti-war speech at the climax. This scene chewing from Capaldi, utilising anger and sarcasm to great effect – the very qualities that make this Doctor – intelligently summed up the futility and lack of cognition that characterise radicalism and the cycle of violence that follows. Perhaps there aren’t many Jihadis who double, pun intended, as Whovians, and perhaps they’re so offensively stupid that they’d read Capaldi’s assault on their bloodlust and grievance mentality as BBC propaganda, but for anyone with half a human brain it was as good a denunciation of terrorist violence as I’ve heard this year…perhaps even better than Keith Lemon’s unexpected and barnstorming anti-war oratory on Celebrity Juice‘s Middle East special.

But story meat aside, though there were more ideas in evidence than actual plot – because Arcadia isn’t rebuilt in a day – this was really a tale about supporting characters. One, Clara, had her impending demise teased throughout, making the nods to her ultimate fate about a subtle as a Zygon with its suckers on your crotch, while the other, Osgood, was someone we wished would stay dead but insisted on sticking around.

I have to say I vehemently dislike the Osgood character, and not because her peak flow’s better than mine. She’s a sop to the show’s many fan girls – she looks like them and talks like them, in that kind of robotic, geeky way you hear at convention Q&As, and that’s the problem: no fucker wants to be reminded they share the Whoniverse with people like these. The thought of her in the TARDIS each week is truly chilling. It would be like being trapped in a lift with a professional bore. Who wants a show obsessed webhead, parroting Moffatisms and pouring over the show’s history?

Can you imagine?

No, Osgood should have stayed dead, instead of being invested with an importance unbecoming of her slight and irritating character. As we’ve discussed many times, Who works best when it doesn’t acknowledge its audience; when it has the balls to say, “we’re doing this – now get on board or get fucked”. Osgood’s existence feels a lot like the real world intruding on my telly screen, and I’d rather that didn’t happen. I want to convince myself that the show’s the province of the great and the good, not cosplayers and masturbators. I suppose what I’m saying is, let’s not see her again; I don’t want to spend another hour getting hoarse, shouting “fuck off” at the screen.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Osgood 2 went undercover in America, apparently aware that DW’s popular there.

P.P.S: There was an odd instance of actors with generic American accents sounding distinctively faux American in part I. Were they fakes, or do all American actors sound bad when guesting on UK TV, much as our cockneys sound uncanny when appearing in US TV and Film? (see Craig Fairbrass in Cliffhanger)

P.P.P.S: “I’ve got question mark underpants.”
“Makes one wonder what the question is.”

Probably the best knob gag ever written.

P.P.P.P.S: Does the copying of Clara give Jenna Coleman an out should she ever wish to return to the series, or at least a way for you to cheat so the Doctor can have Osgood as a companion, impregnated with Clara’s memories and experience – a de facto companion regeneration? I hope not, else I’ll be buying a rocket launcher myself.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time: