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:

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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:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Day of the Doctor

Tennant and Bugs

Dear Steven,

As this 50th anniversary’s approached I’ve become morose. How morose? Well if you think John Hurt’s face looks like melancholy personified then imagine a puss 13 times as world-weary. Why should I be in the doldrums? Christ, don’t you read these letters? In my last correspondence I spoke of Graubünden and the clinic that’s been my home these last few months. The therapists here wanted to flog the last bit of Whovian fandom from my broken, bleeding body. It was a surprise to learn this wasn’t a metaphor and there would be cruel and unusual punishment as well as psychiatric care. If I was to get better, they said, there was no possibility of watching the anniversary show.

When a programme is being shown across the world, in the cinemas of 94 countries as well as being beamed into every television in the British Isles and you can’t join in, your mood turns. This morning I sat in the corner of my room and wept bitter, excluded tears until my eyes swelled to the size of Elizabeth Regina’s breasts. I’m not kidding, Steven – David Tennant would have titty fucked my face if he’d been in town.

Thank Omega then, that I chose to end it all by headbutting myself to death. That shrewd decision proved decisive. What no one seemed to know, and certainly not the orderlies who’d chosen this particular room for my detention, is that the corner I was squatting in was a phased area and that if you pushed through you surfaced in the BFI Southbank’s NFT1 just half an hour before the institute’s 3D screening of the episode with no less a set of VIPs in attendance than Matt Smith, Jenna Louise Coleman, Sylvester McCoy and, holy space time, you.

Steven, I’ve never seen an audience with so many hats and scarves. I’d also never sat in an auditorium with you and your family before. Sure, it was disconcerting at first – more so when I realised you and your son had the same hair and that in order to sit in on the action I’d have to discreetly kill a man sitting on his own and fold him under the seat until I could safely leave at the end, but what a feeling! The buzz when you walked in and the crowd applauded! The spark of electricity when Matt Smith took his seat! The ripple of pleasure throughout the crowd as Sylvester McCoy took his place on the left side of the cinema, reserved for those Doctors you didn’t deign to cast! The boos when a few people noticed Rufus Hound! This, Steven, is what it meant to be a Doctor Who fan on the show’s 50th birthday: taking pride of place amongst a warm congregation of mostly mentally well-adjusted people.

So I’m sure you’re anxious to know what I thought of the episode. After all this was the big one. If you fucked this up fandom would hate you until the day you died then desecrate your grave, and not just yours but that of every Moffat until the end of time. Well I’ll get to it in a moment. First of all I have to thank you for the prequel minisode. The gentleman next to me, who may have been the director Nick Hurran, as his companion wildly clapped his credit, was good enough to show it to me on his chatbox and not ask any questions about the man under the seat. Correcting the injustice that we were cheated out of the 8th Doctor’s regeneration was retconing at its finest, assuming such a thing can truly be said to exist in the Whoniverse. It tipped us off that you may be minded to undo some additional errors from the show’s shakey return to the nation’s drool boxes. With that thought held in space and time let’s get into it, starting with…

What went well

For me everything that worked about the anniversary can be summed up in two words: Elizabethan Bust. No, sorry – I mean John Hurt. Initially, like most fans of this fucking thing, I was horrified at the invention of Hurt. A forgotten Doctor? An incarnation conveniently hidden both from the audience and The Doctor himself? This seemed like retconning at its worst, Steven:  a sure fire way to destroy the series forever by doing perverse things to its chronology. But it seems you’re not a complete bastard after all because Hurt’s function was to be one big wizened Russell T. Davis remover. When he popped up in the last seconds of The Name of the Doctor we couldn’t know that he’d be the means by which you’d undo some of the worst decisions ever taken by a Doctor Who showrunner. Hurt’s character was a device to restore two things sadly missing in the show’s post-2005 incarnation: Gallifrey and The Doctor’s moral authority.

Anyone brave enough to rewatch Russell Dust’s first series will now realise how frivolous and stupid the Time War concept was. It’s clear that Davis invented it for two reasons. 1) He wanted to underline the fact The Doctor was all alone in the universe; a point that didn’t needed emphasising as it’s always been an implied dynamic and 2) it sounded cool. That’s it. “There was a time war, a trillion billion people died – the Daleks and the Time Lords – you know, the show’s two greatest staples, wiped out – oh, and it can’t be undone because it’s timelocked…oh and, er, The Doctor did it…he ended it with a mass genocide…he willfully murdered two billion kids. Anyway, never mind that, he’s lonely.”

Wait, The Doctor committed genocide?!! Holy fucking fuck. That’s the worst idea ever dropped into the show’s 50 year time line. Why not make him a necrophile too? I was heartbroken when I realised we’d never seen the Time Lords or Gallifrey again. And how could The Doctor be a true hero if he’d deliberately slaughtered his own race? I know, he did it out of “kindness and charity” or some nonsense but The Doctor’s supposed to be a genius…and a pacifist. Was Russell really telling us that mass murder was his only move? Why not let the war continue and give the odd individual a chance?

So The Day of the Doctor was important because it corrected this canon crime. Finally, belatedly, The Doctor used his famed intellect to avoid obliterating his people. Not only that, Gallifrey is saved. Sure, it’s frozen in time but it exists and it’s populated with Time Lords and that’s all that fucking matters. Not only did you undo Davis’s act of soundbite driven whimsy, but you also managed to create the preconditions for the show’s future. Saved from certain destruction by The Doctor, his people now owe him a big favour. Not just any old favour you understand; he’s earned more than the demotion Kirk got in Star Trek IV – I’m talking a fresh set of regenerations here. Anything less smacks of ingratitude in my eyes and the Doctor’s timing couldn’t be better because with Capaldi and his angry eyes imminent, he’s short on bodies. This and not the great rabbit scene with David Tennant was the anniversary show’s gift to the audience: the promise of another 50 years. Only The Doctor’s old foe, the controller of BBC1, can stop him now.

John Hurt’s non-Doctor also provided the show’s other masterstroke: its critique of New Who, with its penchant for youth, whimsy and pop culture. With Hurt comes gravitas, a quality that for all the likability of the post-2005 Doctors, has been somewhat lacking. Here was an actor crusty enough and sharp enough to arch an unamused eyebrow at the mugging and infantilism of his fresh faced successors. Delight was the only word to describe his contempt for phrases like “timey-wimey” and his serious, bullshit-free approach to the role of the war torn Time Lord. Better yet was this Doctor’s lack of grandstanding and his personification of the old show’s sobriety. His incredulity when Tennant and Smith held their sonic screwdrivers aloft like weapons, showcasing the annoying New Who confusion about what this tool is actually for (who isn’t tired of The Doctor holding it like a gun?), was perfect. Assemble a cabinet at them indeed. You had balls criticising the demographically aware iteration of the show, Steven, not least because you’re responsible for half of it, but in Hurt I saw both a statement of intent for Capaldi’s Doctor and a canny way of introducing this old school sensibility to the post-2005 audience. That’s what I took from it and if I’m wrong you’ll find out just how uncomfortable a sonic endoscopy can be.

So John Hurt worked a treat, Steven, and so too did the meshing of Tennant and Smith. What a nice, slightly antagonistic relationship they had. This was well judged on your part. Multiple Doctor stories have traditionally run with the gag that each Doctor has mild disdain for his other selves, like a grown man meeting his teenaged incarnation and groaning at the stupid shit he used to say. Keeping this dynamic showed your respect for the past, as did the episode’s major coup – the return of 4th Doctor Tom Baker…or at the very least a reprise of his face. Anyone who says they didn’t leap a little when they heard that familiar booming voice is a bloody liar – not least all the women Baker slept with at the height of his fame. Sure, he looked every one of his 600 years and I realise that getting him in it was the only way to ensure he’d watch it, but having him on screen, even for a couple of minutes, made it a real anniversary episode, not just a celebration of your work and your predecessor. Making it an ambiguous cameo (is it the 4th Doctor/the retired Doctor/someone else entirely), was a nice touch, as was foreshadowing his appearance with the scarf draped round the asthmatic. This, in viewerland, is what we call good work.

Yes, there was much to like in this episode, Steven: the door joke, the original titles, the Coal Hill school cameo, Ventolin, and the decision to end with a full set of Doctors, albeit in creepy CGI form. But inevitably not everything could work old fruit, and so reluctantly, because no discussion of the episode would be complete without it, it’s time to talk about…

What went wrong

There were lots of little things I didn’t like about The Day of the Doctor. Even when I could see the mechanics behind the decision I still wanted to climb over the few rows that separated you and I and tear out a few of those curls. These weren’t fatal flaws, Steven – the show still worked, but it’s perhaps worth noting that if you’d posted me the draft script as I requested then maybe some of these problems could have been avoided.

To start with an easy one, and to illustrate in-review that there’s a flip side to every creative decision, Hurt’s Doctor. A) He really should have been Paul McGann – I think you’d have achieved many of the same dramatic effects and B) ahead of the episode you assured us that his inclusion wouldn’t change the numbering of Doctors, because he wasn’t The Doctor. Yet at the close of this episode he was. He didn’t kill the Time Lords and his future selves welcomed him back into the fold. Alright he won’t remember it but the numbering system applies in the real world, not the Doctor’s, so it’s now a given, surely, that Hurt is the 9th Doctor, the absent and too damn good for the likes of this show to return to it for the likes of us, not even for one fan pleasing regeneration scene, Eccles Cakes the 10th and so on? What, did you think no one would notice? You put it in an episode watched simultaneously in 94 countries!

So with the Time War unlocked and the Time Lords survivors we at last have an idea of how it was possible for there to be a Gallifrey sanctioned book entitled “A History of the Time War”, as seen in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. What isn’t clear, however, is how Matt Smith’s pre-Day of the Doctor Doctor got a copy. When he ultimately gets to Gallifrey will he pick one up, then travel back in time and give it to his younger self who’ll then deposit it in the TARDIS library? We know he hasn’t read it because surely the events of this episode would all be in there and that being the case The Doctor should have known what to do from the very beginning. Seriously Steven, why did you let that idea through? It’s almost as annoying as Matt Smith’s hair continuity.

A weapon with a conscience is a good idea, I was with you there, until you decided that its manifestation would be Billie Piper. This is one of those instances where real world anniversary considerations trumped plot logic. If the device had searched through the Doctor’s time line to find a form that would make an impact on him, maybe to dissuade him from using itself, wouldn’t it choose someone who meant something to the Doctor at that stage in his life? Why should John Hurt give a fuck what Rose/Bad Wolf thinks? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to show him Ace? Or Adric? Or Susan? Anyone in fact, except a person from his future. Sure, I knew why she was there, Steven – it was for the so-called fans, but I’m a fan and if you’d asked me I’d have told you that I could happily live my entire life and never see Rose or any variant thereof, again. Still, you didn’t ask and you’ll have to live with that.

Why doesn’t the Doctor know roundels are called roundels? I know they’re called roundels, the audience knows, every fucking fan-based publication in the universe knows – why doesn’t the Doctor? “Round things” sounded silly, Steven. If you’re going to write this show do the research for God’s sake.

Why do Gallifreyian kids dance around maypoles and dress like renaissance children? Is this a stupid question? I thought Gallifrey was thousands of years ahead of us, after all the 1st Doctor, 50 years ago, made a point of telling Ian Chesterton that his people were moving though space time while they were figuring out the wheel, so does it really make sense that their kids would look and play like 16th century tadpoles?

Other than that, just little things, Steven. I don’t like Zygons really; they look like something you’d find in an oceanic trench (but the running gag it set up with Tennant insulting Elizabeth was almost worth it). UNIT: I know it had to be in there but let’s be honest, it was of a time and that time is not now. You’re not Russell Dust – why use them? Capaldi’s angry eyes: nice to see them but where was he at the end? Shouldn’t he have been there, standing amongst his selves? After all, he helped disappear Gallifrey along with everyone else. Clara’s teaching: when did she get her QTS? I thought she was a child minder? Is the Coal Hill school now one of Gove’s academies? What would Barbara say if she knew that unqualified staff were now taking lessons there? And finally, why didn’t Clara already know the backstory to Hurt’s Doctor before she and Smith were standing in front of the Arcadia painting? Are you saying that following the climax of The Name of the Doctor she neither asked for more information nor got any? Man, I miss the days when the role of companions was to ask questions.

So that’s it Steven, congratulations on your mostly successful 50th anniversary Doctor Who – probably the most difficult episode to write in the show’s history. Given the scale of the challenge and the weight of expectation you handled it well. Sure, some plot points made little sense (The Doctor spent all his lives working out how to put Gallifrey in a parallel pocket universe? Er, what?) but you managed to pack in all the Doctors, a rabbit and some tits into a 75 minute monster and come out smelling like Amy Pond. No mean feat. Above all you made a show that gave cynical bastards like me hope that the Christmas farewell for Matt Smith may be worth watching and that Capaldi’s new Doctor will mature a programme that’s always thrived on reinvention just when it needed it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a clinical suite to return to. Happy anniversary!

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

More to sate your anniversary cravings:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver

Dear Steven,

I’ve endured a few difficult weeks in my time; having my groin pulped by Neil Gaiman, being shanghaied and marooned in the future, going to the cinema and watching Spock try to beat a man to death in Star Trek Into Darkness; but oh my, this seven days has been the worst.

I thought I’d found my sanctuary in the Doctor Who Commune but it was not to be. Following last week’s breakdown in the social order over a 330ml measure of carbonated water with sugar and vegetable extracts, all the old certainties disappeared. The Face of Bow, our wise old head from East London, made the position clear during the clean up, an unedifying process in which pieces of shredded testicle and gouged eyes flattened by stomps from heavy boots, had to be removed from our old home. ‘The dream of a utopian society built on the principles espoused by The Doctor is over,’ he told us, before adding, ‘not least because you’re a mondas of psychos’, Mondas – the Cybermen’s home world, being the collective noun we’d agreed upon at language committee.

Thus I found myself cast out and sans abode, forced ultimately to book myself into a hostel for Whovian refugees. This niche branch of the YHA accommodates those who find themselves at a loose end because their fan-based sub-culture has imploded. If you think about it, it’s a minor miracle that something so relevant to my circumstances exists. Today, finally able to sit down and share my thoughts on last night’s metal-march, I’m writing to you laid out on the lower bunk in my dorm room. I’m not sure what the woman above me is supposed to be but there’s a lot of overspill from her outfit hanging down. It looks to be made of rabbit fur and chewed gum. Your guess is as good as mine.

So last week we discovered that Mark Gatiss and Neil Gaiman had fallen out in the recent past. How do we know this? Because Gatiss did the writer’s equivalent of moving out of 10 Downing Street and leaving a dead rat stapled to the inside curtain of the PM’s office for his successor to deal with, bequeathing two irritating kids to Gaiman and ensuring he’d have to use them with a short but wholly implausible scene in which these precocious tykes, despite both sounding like imbeciles, had used the internet to uncover Clara’s time travelling experiences. It wasn’t clear why a picture of a Soviet nuclear Russian submarine crew would be readily available on the web, or how, unless the now retired Sub captain had tagged Clara on his Facebook, those kids would have found it (did they google ‘My babysitter in unusual locations’ and just get lucky?), but they did and used this evidence to blackmail Clara into taking them on her next adventure.

Incredibly, The Doctor agreed to this, instead of doing the obvious and using his sonic screwdriver to wipe their brains or time travel to frustrate their web search, retrospectively mopping up the evidence, so Gaiman’s second stab at Who began with a group, somewhat redolent of an annoying children’s TV serial, arriving at a creepy space theme park on a planet that was once derelict, then commercalised and was now run down and empty; a space allegory for London’s Greenwich Peninsula.

Though I wanted to believe that Angie and Artie were part of Gaiman’s grand design and been specially requested by the author in order to facilitate his plot, I just couldn’t buy it. He stuffed words into their mouths like, “put me down, I hate you” which suggested he loathed them as much as we did and they had next to no purpose, other than to give The Doctor and Clara something to rescue, though I’m inclined to believe they’d have put themselves out for anyone (as is their wont). Ah, you say, but the theme park’s a little juvenile, right? The kind of place you’d take a couple of kids that had been dumped on you for the afternoon? Possibly, but then Clara’s such a wide-eyed girl child, I could imagine she’d enjoy a few rides herself and The Doctor, clearly spurred on by fond memories of the place, obviously likes queues and overpriced food and drink as much as the rest of us. No, I have to conclude Gaiman was the victim of an attempt at sabotage, and was thus aggrieved that he didn’t show his displeasure by having both brats torn limb from limb by this new generation of upgraded cyberbastards.

In part the episode was a disappointment. It was a chock-a-block with all the quirkiness and mischief we’d expect from Gaiman’s quill, but there was none of the menace promised by this reboot of The Doctor’s old enemies. The Cybermites were an interesting addition, so too autonomous body parts – I can’t wait for the episode featuring the last cyber-cod piece in the universe, but in 45 oddball minutes the most terrifying innovation was a galaxy lead by Warwick Davis; a perverse idea when one considers that the real power behind the throne would be Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Gaiman did have one excellent idea, however; The Doctor’s half-possession by The Cyber Planner (supported by the Cyberiad); a schzoid setup that had Matt Smith playing chess with himself for both control of his own faculties and the lives of his charges. As well as giving Smith the chance to channel Steve Martin in All of Me and do the world’s worst impression of Christopher Eccleston, this funny idea enabled us to get inside the Gallifreyian Ganglinoid’s mind as he fought a rearguard action against the nosey Cyberiad who were desperate to plunder his memories and consciousness for flaws and weaknesses. What they discovered shocked both them and us; apparently The Doctor has sexual feelings for Clara. This should have been a no no for Gaiman, who as a old fan of the series, might have been sympathetic to the view that the Timelord couldn’t see a member of an inferior species, 950 years his junior, in penetrative terms, yet he ran with the conceit, going as far as to tease a confession of love (though he pulled back at the last moment by attributing the offending words to the Cyber Planner) and closing the show with a Dirty Doctor scene in which our hero’s gaze uncharacteristically focused on his companion’s rear. As a sexually retarded viewer I’m happy to objectify Clara but it feels wrong when The Doctor does it. Was this a line added by Gatiss at a later date, Steven? Are you taking sides in this destructive conflict?

The scenes in which an upgraded Doctor wrestled with himself were very effective, thought I, despite the libidinous undertones. I enjoyed the anniversary tease; the shot of all previous Doctors, though it made me sad to think I won’t be seeing most of them in November’s episode, and the kid’s “thank you for having us” raised a smile, though it hardly compensated for all the tears I’d endured because of them in the previous 40 minutes. All in all it was fine; a little off the beaten track, reminiscent of an old Who story (and no worst for that) but not in the same class as The Doctor’s Wife: a classic if you ask me, so it’s a pity you didn’t.

We’re once again at that point where we look ahead to one of your finales with both anticipation and dread. Next week’s episode could be the one that breaks not just this uneven series but the show entire. Two revelations are promised, perhaps interrelated – the true identities of both The Doctor and Clara. We’ve noted that River will also be returning, it’s not clear why, but the notion that she’s somehow involved in this sharing of information makes my blood run cold. I hope you know what you’re doing, Steven. I can vouch for the instability of a lot of ex-commune members and they all have your home address on their membership cards.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I’ll be writing to you, ahead of the finale, on Friday, to suggest pet-theories and warn you against those grievous errors you can’t afford to make. You’ll then have a few hours to re-write and re-shoot the episode before transmission, so get the gang together in preparation and make sure the technicians’ union don’t get wind of it.

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Hide

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Dear Steven,

A violent kick in the guts: that’s the feeling you get when a word or phrase, benignly dropped, unlocks a suppressed memory, something you’ve kept in your mind’s attic for years; the door barricaded with paint tins and stacks of vintage porno mags.

Tonight’s trigger word was “Ghostbusters”. As soon as I heard it I was back there, stuck in the era of Russell Dust and David Tennant, like a wounded horse in a bog. I could see the 10th Doctor, that hyperactive show off, pratting about that fucking awful coral console room in his pin stripe suit with some object resembling a proton pack strapped to his back, giving the gormless, easily amused Rose, a karaoke rendition of Ray Parker Junior’s famous ditty. She laughed, as was her wont, and I winced, wondering now, as then, why a thousand year old time-traveller, to all intents and purposes a demi-god, wise with the knowledge of a hundred thousand civilisations and the entire sweep of the universe from birth to death, would have the same cultural reference points as a 19 year old girl from early 21st Century London.

Neil Cross’ second episode was only just beginning and already I was contemplating the appalling possibility that as we got closer to the show’s 50th anniversary and that multi-Doctor story featuring that Virgin Media sell out, the stories would veer toward the same tone and style. The condition, known medically as Tennantus, was coming back.

Well feel free to drown me with a thousand gallons of marshmallow, I was wrong. I enjoyed Hide more that any other episode this season and if arrested and forced to say why in a series of marathon interrogations without access to food, water or proper legal counsel, I’d say that it worked because it did what few other offerings this year managed; it surprised and advanced the characters.

As it began there was every reason to think this was going to be an atmospheric, yet essentially formulaic instalment, featuring a creepy house and an alien masquerading as a ghost. This being Who, we dismissed the phantasm’s spectral credentials immediately and looked to alternative explanations, knowing this universe is too rich and complexed to house anything as trite as an afterlife.

What initially seemed to be a straightforward mystery happily, delightfully, turned out to be anything but. In reality it was an investigation into our two favourite time travellers; a long overdue bit of digging while the incidental plot played out in the foreground. Dougray Scott’s solider turned scientist noted the Doctor’s deceitful side, a canny piece of observation that complemented the warning given to Clara from Jessica Raine’s psychic, that she shouldn’t trust the Galifreyian ganglinoid as he had “a sliver of ice” in his heart. She neglected to say which one but we took the point. Add to this an interesting bit of innuendo, The Doctor’s suggestion that “every monster needs a companion”, and you couldn’t help but wonder if Cross was trying to tell us something. Sure, the bow tied lank wasn’t talking about himself but this episode had more double meanings than a Carry On film. For once it was worth listening to everything everyone said.

Clara was at it too. Morbidly reflecting on her place in the universe, having seen the Earth’s final years during one of The Doctor’s experiments, she reflected that from the Timelord’s point of view she was both not yet born and long dead. “I am a ghost” she told him; words which carried extra power as they came from a woman we knew to have died twice. What did all of this mean in the grand scheme of things and why, for the love of Omega, does the TARDIS not like the precocious imp? Clara’s really noticing it now and so are we.

This after all was one of those rare episodes in which the time machine spoke, literally, using its on board projection system, figuratively, with the Cloister Bell tolling for The Doctor, assuming it’s not Clara it was bonging at, and through obstinacy, keeping its doors closed to her when she tried to effect a rescue. Yes, something’s afoot with this girl and it could be that the Doctor’s one permanent companion, his ship, is a lot closer to solving the only mystery left worth a fuck than the man himself.

So yes Steven, you can pull all my levers and twist my knobs if this episode wasn’t deeper than imagined. I enjoyed the irony that The Doctor’s true motive for visiting this haunted house was to meet a powerful psychic in the hope she’d reveal Clara’s secrets, only for the same woman to give his companion an insight into him. I also enjoyed the lashings of lore – not least the off-camera visit to Metebelis III, The Planet of the Spiders, and the action taking place in 1974, the year said serial went out. It was a bit of old series continuity that showed Neil Cross to be a paid up fan who, having got an RTD era episode out of his system with his debut, finally wrote one of his own on a superior second outing.

Indeed Cross reminded bastards like me that you can pack a lot into these 45 minute episodes if you litter your story with human (and inhuman) interest, while providing some decent questions for the viewers to chew over. Chuck in some sharp direction and a couple of nicely understated guest stars and we’re in business, Steven. It’s been a long year but tonight I finally had cause to wake up.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Noted with dismay your decision to name the series finale The Name of the Doctor. So sure am I that this is an allusion to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, not least because the episode that follows it features Billie Piper, that I’m going to read the bastard and send you a special letter on where I think you’re going with the anniversary special and what you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, the most important of which is DON’T REVEAL THE DOCTOR’S IDENTITY. Do keep an eye on the doormat!

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Bells of Saint John

Clara and The Shard

Dear Steven,

Ring-a-ding-ding, Doctor Who’s back, and not a moment too soon. This was the icing on the stodge for me because it caps an extraordinary run of good luck that began shortly after the Christmas episode. When I last wrote to you I was a homeless pauper; ignored by the public, rejected by squats and not quite what the Big Issue were looking for, though I gave a great interview and they’d keep me informed of any future vacancies that should arise. Then, one day, with my tether frayed at both ends, I met Managra, a former vagrant who was now helping those who were less fortunate bounce back by paying them for sex.

Managra told me that society, in its current configuration, was a kind of madness and that only by rejecting it and its preposterous conventions could I attain true happiness. He asked if I wanted to be happy. I said I did. And so he absorbed me into his commune. No ordinary revolution in microcosm, Steven, but a Doctor Who commune: a place where we lived with both webbed feet rooted in the show’s mythos and values.

‘It’s not just an excuse to dress up and validate a lifestyle based on infantile fantasy and the avoidance of real-world responsibility then?’ I’d asked on the first night, as I was measured for my Ice Warrior costume.

‘No,’ he replied, and Steven, that was good enough for me.

Tonight, on a sofa bookended by Hamuel: The Gaseous Interlocutor of Darvil and Bare Breasted Latrex of the Anti-Sontaran Star League, I settled down to see The Bells of Saint John, the first in what promises to be a short run of episodes that tops out a season that began when most of us were kids. Following the Christmas reintroduction of Clara, we were chomping each other’s bits to find out more about her origin and how a woman who’d died twice could still seem so fresh and precocious. Would you throw us a bone or let us rot in a fetid pit of maggots fattened on questions? ‘I don’t care,’ I told the others, ‘as long as I find out who she is.’

Well we didn’t find out who she was but we did learn that she’s powered by a fate engine, or something. Present day Clara has a very similar job to her Victorian counterpart, the home’s Wi-Fi password is an acronym of the last thing she said to The Doctor before she died (the first time), her name in Asylum of the Daleks is a contraction of her real moniker and the colloquial use of the word “win”, and the story, about the consciousness of everyday fucks being uploaded into the digi-ether, foreshadowed her ultimate fate in the Dalek Asylum.

What were we supposed to conclude from this, Steven? That present day Clara was a forerunner to the one that ended her life as a memory pattern, but perhaps some kind of successor to the one who died in the 1890s? What’s that? We’re not supposed to conclude anything? In fact why don’t you just wait and find out you spoiler hungry bastard? Alright, I’m just trying to take an interest.

So with absolutely no fucking idea who or what Clara is, and whether we’re supposed to read anything into her copy of Amy’s book, we were left to enjoy another slight but fun episode that gently satirised the digital habits of the viewership. Long before Clara cracked her Twitter gag, we’d surmised that talk of losing your soul to the internet, the victims becoming an amorphous, abstract mass of servile automatons, was a wry comment on social media and the fashionable shift from real-world experience to self-commodification in the hope that turning ourselves into live content will provide the attention, adulation and cool that it would be impossible for us to attain in flesh and blood social situations on account of natural disadvantages, personality disorders and the very lack of self-awareness that fuelled our online celebrity fantasies in the first place.

With the point well taken, we enjoyed the clipped banter between the Galifreyian ganglinoid and his CILF, the reminder that you should never judge a book’s cover, because it may come to life and turn your mind into a void, and the bittersweet realisation that if The Doctor breaks into a young woman’s house, puts her to bed and eats her food, it’s fine, but when we do it we’re put on a register and obliged to visit a police station every fortnight: a vivid illustration of why TV is better than life.

The commune says hi, by the way.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I enjoyed the revelation that the London Riots were a consequence of The Great Intelligence’s mass activation of London digi-slaves. Of course this will be scant comfort to those caught in the fracas who now languish in prison and certainly no comfort to the family of the man who stole a gingerbread biscuit and later died in the clink. Anyway, it was a smart gag. Sleep well.

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Snowmen

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Dear Steven,

What did you get for Christmas? I know what I’d have bought you, if you’d shown some seasonal kindness and lifted the postal embargo: the classic pamphlet, The Rudiments of Drama by Joseph Hesterkefilis. It would seem a ludicrous purchase for the head writer of TV’s most successful juggernaut but even seasoned hacks may require the odd refresher. I recently rediscovered the charms of Idiot Blogging for the Undiscerning Webhead, and you’ll see some of that remastered technique in what follows.

Assuming you were ever rooted in the dramatic tradition, being a one-time jokemonger, you need to be reacquainted with Hesterkefilis’ basics now. You have lovely ideas, you ejaculate whimsy and you use gags and word association as a balm to bind those elements together; a technique I once used in English Literature essays to fell examiners; but we’re now wise to this misdirection, we know your act, and we’re starting to crave the kind of involvement in the affairs of man (and feminoid) that only carnivorous snow can understand.

The Snowmen, your perennial Doctor Who special, confirmed that you’re officially the Heston Blumenthal of Christmas iconography. In previous years you’ve reinvented Dickens, given us a new flavour of C.S Lewis and now you’ve taken the central conceit of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and made it sinister. No longer will our little darlings bound through the snow, hoping to fly to the North Pole to meet Santa with a friend built from crystalline cloud cum. Instead, parents in the coldest parts of the land are attempting to comfort Eustace and Pancetta, who’ve soiled the winter wonderscape with mulled urine.

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing you understand; God knows it’s easier than starting with a blank page, but I worry that you’re too busy stripping the detail from stories to notice the skeleton underneath. Dickens, Lewis and Briggs have one important thing in common, they all wrote by hand. Well, that and they devoted a great deal of time to getting the story right before adding the original detail.

A Christmas Carol is considerably more than the sum of its iconic parts. Yes, it’s about Scrooge and the three spirits, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, but fundamentally it’s a well-structured tale about a man bent out of shape by circumstance and bad choices who’s ultimately redeemed via a supernatural precursor to therapy. The characters are vivid, as types often are, the telling is straightforward and the message couldn’t be clearer. There’s conflict, Scrooge is excavated and consequently we never lose interest. Dickens, incidentally, was a funny writer like you, he loved a gag, but he never forgot his principle task.

Your Snowmen had some jokes, some of your favourite chestnuts (which many families will have consumed by an open fire), for example the monster that repeats a single incongruous phrase and slowly chases The Doctor and friends while he explains the plot, not to mention some great images – the spiral staircase to the clouds, Clara’s bust – but it didn’t hang together too well. This hour never felt substantial. You can take a fork and mash Channel 4’s yuletide centrepiece with The Turn of the Screw, Conan Doyle and any other late Victorian shit you can think of, but without structure and dramatic red meat, what is there for the adults to cling on to? Clara, you say? Okay, I can see you came to this argument well prepared.

It seems to me that you could have been forgiven for wasting Richard E Grant and having a generic “hidden alien menace plots to destroy world” story, if you’d pulled harder on the two threads that had caught our attention from the get go.

The Doctor, traumatised by his failure to permanently separate Amy from Rory, had retired: an embittered loner. Those of us that had suffered similar heartache could relate to this enforced reclusivity. Then you had the mysterious, generously apportioned Clara: cor blimey barmaid by night, well-to-do governess by day. A shrewd customer to be sure and, we suspect, based on her sort-of appearance in Asylum of the Daleks, not what she seems.

Well the Doctor never seemed more than a mite cankerous – too involved in a plot we didn’t care about to tell us how he felt or why, while Clara, busy jerking off the eyes, spent too much of the running time playing the minx and doing Downton Abbey impressions, when a little more time on her character might have paid dividends. In fact she only became interesting in the last ten minutes when it became apparent that she wasn’t Amy’s replacement at all, but River Song’s: the temporally affected, space-time head fuck that’s going to keep Internet forums in business until the summer.

What a pity, I thought, knocking back the last of the Elderberry Wine, that you hadn’t pared back the broad comedy and the yuletide monsters, and brought these two front and centre. Then we’d have had an episode, Steven: something to soak up the blended brussel sprouts. Instead you buried our Christmas Feast in a bowl of colourful canapés.

Nevertheless, some of those bites were rather tasty. I like the new opening credits. Aside from the major bonus that the sequence finally includes The Doctor’s face, it was interesting to see something that looked like Doctor Who fucking Star Trek during a fireworks display. The new TARDIS interior is moody and functional, a little reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor’s console room. The Victorian setting and the Doc’s new garb also had a streak of McGann in the thinking. Do I take it you’re a fan, and does this mean we may see him again in the 50th anniversary special? I wish you’d reply once, you self-important creep, these are real questions y’know. Oh, and I enjoyed the return of The Great Intelligence and with it, the allusion to The Abominable Snowmen. You showed some of yours in this episode, Steven. Angle your shank a little more in the next episode and have Commander Strax stand on a landmine, would you? We’ll call it a late Christmas present.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dear Steven,

Right, down to business: no tangential wank, no horsing around and certainly no mention of the cease and desist letter from Messieurs Cork, Bench and McKettridge, accepted under duress, in which you inveigh against our private correspondence while stuffing the corpulent wallets of these guileless proxies.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship?! Are we now in the reductive phase of Doctor Who, the era marked for the under fives? What’s next week’s episode called, Doctor fights the Monsters? Perhaps the week after that we’ll be enjoying Bad Man Does A Thing and the week after th- look, you get the idea.

I warned you, didn’t I? I warned you, that if we returned to the days of the inconsequential, self-contained 45 minuter, you’d end up with an episode like this: a high concept disposable wipe. My mind has already tossed it into the bin, where it joins many artefacts that we won’t discuss here.

During the course of this light-touch romp, I was forced to consider that you and writer Chris Chibnall, who filed down his teeth writing episodes of Torchwood, had been the victim of a rare split-possession, the spirit of the late Who producer John Nathan-Turner, compelling you to raid your black book of chortle merchants for guest star casting.

When Doctor Who was in trouble in the mid-late ’80s, most agreed that you could measure the decline by the presence of light entertainment personalities in key roles; a sign that JNT and his retinue of halfwits had fallen to the twin maladies of camp and stupidity. Tax cheat Ken Dodd and the unwelcome sight of Hale and Pace, told us that someone, somewhere, wasn’t taking our beloved time traveller seriously. Now in 2012, with those dark days thought to be buried and the topsoil watered with urine from committed Whovians, two pairs of hands have broken the surface and given us the finger. Whose hands? Mitchell and bastard Webb, that’s whose.

If I want this pair of spacks on my Who, I’ll ask for them, thank you very much. What I don’t want is to tune in unawares, only to hear their whiny, gormless voices emanating from a pair of robot bodies. This was the worst piece of voice casting since Brad Pitt in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be fun for the kids, but which kids? Do we really want to cater for tadpoles that crack a rib at these charmless mechanoids?

Which isn’t to say that some of the humour didn’t work in Chibnall’s ragbag of miscellaneous shit. When Queen Nefertiti, whose presence suggested a tombola approach to scripting, asked Amy if she too was a queen and she answered, with a puffed up chest, “yes, yes I am”, I was mirthful. I also chortled during the robots’ powerdown – a little nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rory’s Pa cutting down our hero with “thank you, Arthur C. Clarke”, but three moments do not an episode make.

There were too many cheap laughs, adding to the aura of indifference that accompanied the story. I’ll do the cock and ball jokes thank you, there’s no need for your writers to follow suit. Also, if we’ve reached the point where the Doctor has to smooch Rory to raise a smile (I’m of the opinion that Rory shouldn’t be touched by any of the principle characters) then you may as well tell Chibnall and his fellow hacks to pack away their crayons and return to their alcoves. It’s not enough to sell each episode as a “blockbuster”, Steven. If you want them to be truly unmissable, they must advance the characters, tell a great story, deepen the lore and, please God, provide talking points of interests.

When I start work at the underground nuclear silo next Tuesday, part of the government’s Civil Defence Initiative, what am I supposed to discuss with my bunker mate as we develop cabin fever and place our shaking, sweaty mitts on those launch keys – why is it Amy and Rory’s mobiles still work in space? Actually, that really annoys me, Steven. I know that Russell Dust established they could, back in the ninth Doctor Era, but it’s bollocks, isn’t it? Just give the TARDIS crew communicators or something. Oddly, I find their working iPhones harder to accept that an alien ark full of dinosaurs. Each fictive realm must have some real world limits, else they become free-for-alls; a flight of fancy spectacular where anything goes, and in Who, as in life, rules provide structure and add weight to our interactions. Laws matter: except those on harassment, which are patiently absurd.

You’ll notice I haven’t discussed the story in any depth because there wasn’t one. A backstory to be sure, but that’s not quite the same thing. I know, you’ll say there was a mystery to be solved here, but it was paper-thin. Plus, Chibnall’s got to get his head straight. Does the Doctor disapprove of violence or not? If not, why allow David Bradley’s Solomon to be killed at the close? I know he was a bastard and he killed that dinosaur, oh and those Silurians, ah yes and had Rory’s Dad shot, though in fairness he was one of those broad, wide-eyed comic characters of the kind we came to despise during Davis’ tenure, so conflicting emotions, but it seemed a little cold blooded.

I’m sure a man of the Doctor’s intelligence could have found an alternative – you know, putting the tracker orb on the little ship and sending it off on autopilot, perhaps? But then he couldn’t have enjoyed a vicarious revenge of behalf of all those that had suffered. A question though: shouldn’t our man espouse the principle that it’s justice, not revenge that must be served? Why not take Solomon to the oubliette on Tankaris 9 and force him to spend eternity there with only his robots for company? That would have been a proportionate sentence. Were I a child, looking to this show for moral guidance, I’d have a headache this morning.

So that was that – Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: fun but already fading from memory. I’d dare to suggest that the series couldn’t withstand too many throwaway episodes like this, not if you want to keep the constituency of viewers that can stay up as late as they like and were looking at more than Nefertiti’s head gear. This show has the most potential of any on the air. That’s a fact. Is it to be a frivolous romp for the tots or a mind-bending adventure that keeps us all enthralled, entertained and insatiably curious? It’s up to you, Moff features.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

This year’s correspondence:

Last year’s:

 

Dear Steven Moffat: Asylum of the Daleks

Dear Steven,

I’m back! Did you miss me? I visited your humble hovel early last week, hoping to have a pre-season chat. You know, shooting the shit while munching on Sontaran themed chocolate teacakes, that kind of thing. I accept that tears up the understanding between your lawyers and mine, but I can’t believe you’re still angry with me, not now. I returned your kids didn’t I? I was just a little upset, y’know, what with the news that this season would see you write out Amy Pond, the feminoid that gives my otherwise empty existence meaning and purpose. It was an overreaction, I see that now, but I think your tadpoles enjoyed their weekend, tied to the underside of Waterloo Bridge, watching the boats pass below. Ask them, they’ll tell you.

Anyway, I came knocking and was impressed by what you’d done with the place. The additional locks are a nice touch, so too the electrified wire mesh over the windows. I also liked the mock TARDIS doors that have replaced your old front entrance and the Dalek statues either side of the pathway. What a nice, self-indulgent touch.

You weren’t in, you may remember. I briefly spoke to your wife though. What an odd lady, denying you’re still resident. The sad look in her eyes suggested that you weren’t happy, despite all media reports to the contrary. As I looked deep into your spouse’s puss, I wondered if you’d missed our weekly correspondence in the last year. Perhaps, you reasoned, Dr Who meant very little without it. So, despite my better judgement, because I’m a very busy man, Steven, I’m recommitting finger to key to give you the guidance and insight, the addendum to your labours, which has become invaluable to you; essentially the blade that sharpens your creative faculties. With that in mind, let’s point our eye stalks at this week’s opener, Asylum of the Daleks.

For me this was the curtain up that promised little and delivered much. When first I heard you’d be reintroducing the automatous murder droids, I had a moment. You might call it necrosis of the soul. I never doubt you, even when I loathe you, but it seemed to me that after a season in which you were heavily criticised for experimentation, rolling a boulder into the calm lake of audience expectation, you’d been cowed.

Reports that the artists formally known as Kaleds would be back to do their genocidal shtick, that each episode would stand alone, perhaps be more straightforward, made my spleen swell to twice its normal size. I felt like a debonair, more sexually potent version of Dan Ashcroft from Nathan Barley; “the idiots are winning!” But Asylum wasn’t the episode I’d feared. It didn’t ignite a series long arch like last year’s Impossible Astronaut and it wasn’t as fresh, feeling like your favourite jumper with a few new patches sown in, but one important seed was planted, an early Christmas present you might say, and there were gilded touches aplenty. Yes, this was solid without being stolid.

Before we get to the mind fuck material – mecha-loons, Dalek zombies and meeting The Doctor’s new companion long after she’d died, let’s talk about fleeting hope. Amy’s not long for this series but praise Davros, she’d finally seen sense and ditched that limp, feckless, guileless martyr that passes for her husband. Though you didn’t allude to it directly, or at all, I inferred the real schism in their relationship had occurred because of a yearning she felt deep inside; the dream she couldn’t disclose, i.e. her need for a man who looked and sounded a lot like yours truly. Perhaps she’d seen me during my incarceration in the Land of Fiction and it was love at first lech. I went out with a Scottish woman once; I have an affinity with them, like I have with cats, so of course she’d be drawn to me: an Englishman with cut glass vowels and a spine (or similar). Oh, my poor baby! Forced into space with this supine, boorish ex of hers. You’re a cruel man, Steven. Why must you make my darling suffer so?

Once Amy began to go insane, as people often do in Asylums, and spoke of her ruined womb, I became nigh on inconsolable. My feline companion Rupert found himself used as a furry sponge, soaking up the tears. Still, the theme of madness, of dreams that were increasingly indistinguishable from reality, was potent, and touching in that final, typically tricksy reveal of yours. Poor Oswin: a beautiful, occasionally irritating girl that got the full Locutus, and now has the ultimate form of locked in syndrome. There’s something oddly touching about someone saying “remember me” in that wretched, robotic drawl. What a tragic, touching moment.

Still, I could stomach more of her, if she can reign in the over familiarity. When she looked at us, pleading that we keep her in mind, as she’ll be back in a new guise, later/earlier in the run, I stood ready to take her on. No girl can replace my Amy of course but when the love of your life takes flight, transforming you into a broken husk, you can either spend years contemplating suicide, forging dead end emotional ties to porn stars, as I did, or you can say, ‘okay, I’m ready for a new woman in my life’. I’m not there quite yet, Steven, but I know the moment’s coming and I’m preparing myself for it.

So, was I satisfied? I know you can’t sleep until you’re certain. Well, broadly, yes. I can’t hide my continued irritation at Rory’s survival. He’s clearly indestructible, a point underlined by the fact that he can avoid death in a room full of pepperpot psychopaths who only live to kill. The Daleks, for all their big talk, are clearly galactic imbeciles. Am I really supposed to be intimidated by a gang of aliens that can’t finish off the kind of guy who probably owns a Harry Potter pillowcase, in a tiny room?

Still, I was pleased that you closed a self-created plot hole by episode’s end. Having fooled the universe into thinking he was a goner, I wondered whether the Daleks’ knowledge of The Doctor’s good health would blow his cover. I’m not suggesting they’re gossips you understand, but you know how word gets around; they were bound to mention they’d seen him to someone. So it was a relief when Oswin Dalek, or whatever her name is, “hacked into the Path Web” and deleted his deets from the master enemy file, or something. It’ll be nice for the slimy Stephen Hawkings to regain some of their confidence and face future encounters with our man sporting new levels of hubris. That, and referring to someone who looks and sounds like Matt Smith as “the predator” is plain ridiculous. Can you imagine him with dreadlocks?

The little touches made the difference on the night, elevating this episode above average. I liked the Dalek suicide bombers; your subtle condemnation of Islamic extremism in Saturday prime time is duly noted and appreciated. So too the satirical barb aimed at the fashion industry and the unpaid interns that fill its ranks. Appendages growing from their foreheads? You said it, old chum. Oh yes and it was nice to see Skaro again. It looks terrible, but then it’s probably winter there, isn’t it?

Not a stellar opener then, not least because it looked as though Amy and Rory were reconciled at the close, but good enough. I just hope you haven’t lost your taste for the slow burn; that is, patience and attentiveness rewarded. Standalone episodes are all well and good but this is a show that works best when it thinks big; after all, in the old days some adventures were 6 episodes long. I don’t say you have to return to that but try and keep it ambitious, for God’s sake.

Interesting ghostly new titles, by the way. Not a hint that all the characters are dead I hope.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

Returned to sender – letters from yesteryear:

Dear Steven Moffat: Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia

Dear Steven,

Women eh? Who are they and what do they want? This was the conundrum that bedevilled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As an author he made an imaginative leap that seems misjudged to this day. He dared to suggest that women were, to all intents and purposes, people too. To our eyes, as to those sunk in Victorian faces, females appeared slight, inconsequential creatures. They were little more than adjuncts to male sexuality and so of course, it remains. What separated them from men, those fully paid up members of the human race, was their soft intellect. Conan Doyle understood that women, though a feast for the eyes, were a hunger strike for the mind. Who could talk to them? Their obsession with whimsy and superficial toss, their odious materialism, their fixation on beauty, their lack of common sense; what a necropolis for substance!

Doyle knew that women made life a misery for the industrious half of the species and that’s why his hero, Sherlock Holmes, was blissfully unburdened by romantic entanglements. The author understood, as his readers did, that if Holmes were to succumb to the tyranny of romantic infatuation, if he allowed himself to be co-opted into madness by the animalistic imperative, then his masculine intellect, built on reason, clarity and the kind of self-confidence that you get straight out of the box when your penis is delivered, would be fatally compromised.

To underline this point he created, in A Scandal in Bohemia, a cautionary foe for the great detective, Irene Adler. Adler, who Doyle told us had “the face of the most beautiful of women” but also a male learning engine under the hood, was a Columbo prototype; she looked foolish, on account of her appearance, but her wits were weaponised.

I imagine that when you read the original story you shared readers’ concerns about Adler’s masculine abilities, despite being conscious of Doyle’s satirical intent. With no other advantages, we’d expect a lady character to use her femininity’s retarding effect on the male mind to give her the edge. What man, even Sherlock Holmes, could resist a pretty face, a well-apportioned chest and a bountiful rear, right? This has been the kryptonite of progress for generations. So yes, like us Steven, you read the original text and were befuddled. You thought this a joke too far.

I imagine Strand readers of 1891 shared your shock that Adler triumphed over the great detective using her brain. She wasn’t a damsel in distress, Holmes didn’t get to save her and she didn’t use her beauty to distract him – he saw her as nothing more than an actor in his latest case; no, when it came to it she simply outthought him and was gone before the pipe puffing genius knew what had happened. Conan Doyle created the female intellect for gawd sakes! Clearly you read the story and thought, like many Victorian conceits, how fanciful it seemed. I can therefore understand your decision to change it for this 21st century update.

It takes real bravery to mark up the shortcomings of a legendary scribe like Conan Doyle. I applaud you for refusing to play it safe. Your version of Adler made more sense to me, and I suspect to most of the 2012 audience. ‘Twas quite a wheeze, literalising the only thing we really knew about her, that she beat the men in her life, turning it into her profession. She’s a dominatrix! Naysayers, who like to tie their tackle to the feminist flagpole, will say this was only superficial smarts on your part. Sure, they’ll bleat, it gave “the woman” a modern pretext for procuring blackmail material while having a little fun with the character’s raison d’être, but it also relegated her to the status of a calculating prick tease. She’s still a brain but one that’s now using her sex to stay on top; her intellect, like a grateful sidecar passenger, invited to enjoy the ride. Brains is the new sexy, indeed!

Still relax, Steven. No matter how backward this seemed to some, I was fully on board. The new Adler was a woman I could understand. Her power came from her sexual yield. She was so conscious of this that she used her measurements as her safe’s password combination. It showed real masculine cunning to recast the character’s intellect as feminine complete with corresponding flaws. I hyenaed as I considered the millions of female viewers who’d be enamoured by this boisterous belle; you’d made them the perfect proxy. She was sassy but lost unless she was a sex object. The ladies would see her as a strong character, though we knew her to be weak: a woman utterly reliant on male patronage for sufficiency. In a society where the ladies objectify themselves to get on then tell themselves that’s independence, it was biting social commentary indeed. Better yet the fems that love the show but are unable or unwilling to extricate themselves from this feminine fallacy would love you for making Irene a seductress. You reasserted the male primacy that Conan Doyle had so carelessly ceded 120 years ago.

This Adler not only failed to beat Sherlock but, in a reassuring twist, was ultimately felled by her own feminine emotions. Let’s face it, she only got as far as she did with the help of your camp and juvenile Moriarty. She may have been a match for Holmes on paper, but when it came to the crunch she had no answer to the question his masculine logic posed. The final rug pulling moment, with Holmes saving Adler from death, saw the familiar pattern of gender relations fully restored. What a flourish, Steven! Purists won’t like it but I suspect that Arthur would have been quietly relieved. He knu he’d dun a bad.

As to the rest, I thought you did a reasonable job refurbishing Doyle’s story. With most of Europe having had sufficient nous to dismantle their monarchies and go for full democracy, it made sense to move the Royal portion closer to home. It was an enjoyable and necessary reminder that we remain a naïve and immature nation enamoured with fairytales about Prince and Princesses. Sherlock could have made the point that the real scandal was that the British people had a Royal Family at all, not that they’d care about their sexual proclivities, but it hardly needed saying. We know they’re all degenerates anyway, Steven; the shock would be to find out that they weren’t having every orifice plugged by ladies dressed as SS officers, at the taxpayer’s expense.

If the plot felt less assured when you ran out of source material (terrorist cells, the plane full of dead people from the movie Millennium), so what? I enjoyed the sharp one liners and Paul McGuigan’s direction; his style, the roving eye, is a good match for the detective’s method; though not the bromance, which though harmless enough, is fast becoming a bit of a Holmesian myth. Look, I know this is an update, and we’re all far less repressed these days, but it seems to me that any notion of Holmes and Watson as a couple misunderstands the dynamic of their relationship.

Theirs is a friendship built upon mutual respect and, in Watson’s case, intellectual curiosity. Watson was married at the start of A Scandal in Bohemia, so it’s fair to say that Sherlock wasn’t filling in as life partner, sub-consciously or not. I know audiences love this stuff – the Guy Ritchie movies are built on it – but between you and me, I find it rather tedious. Holmes and Watson are not in love, anymore than Holmes was in love with Irene Adler. He admires them both for their unique qualities, venerates them certainly, but love? That’s a stretch. Add elements by all means, Steven – update attitudes and situations, but don’t presume you know these characters better than Conan Doy- no wait, hang on…

Sincerely,

Ed