Friday, January 22, 2010

In the most recent season of the dreadful Torchwood, Gwen Cooper had a strange interlude:

"There's one thing I always meant to ask Jack, back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his, a man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world ... except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history when there was no sign of him. I wanted to know why not, but I don't need to ask any more. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."

Well, that's one possible explanation: but there are others. Maybe our intellects are so limited and the Doctor's so vast that it is literally meaningless for us to question him. Maybe we're so degenerate that what seems bad to us is good from the Time Lord's point of view. Maybe the Doctor can perceive all kinds of unintended consequences and knows that there are occasions when saving the world is not the best thing to do for the best of all possible worlds. Or maybe from the right perspective we'll be able to look back and see that during the earth's times of trial and suffering, when we saw only one set of footprints, it was then that the Doctor was carrying us.
You expect closing nights to be a bit self-indulgent. Actors thank each other for being so lovely. They give each other flowers, burst into tears, make speeches and maybe play a silly prank during the very, very last encore.

Remember the final episode of Logopolis? Having saved the universe from The Master, Tom Baker fell off a telescope and changed into Peter Davison. But Mr Producer decided that it would be a wheeze if, before the big switch-over, the Fourth Doctor's whole life flashed before his eyes. This sequence consisted of a series of clips of enemies and companions from the previous seven seasons all saying the word "Doctor!" Tom Baker had been the Doctor for longer than anyone else and this leant a certain gravitas to his last bow. It also established a precedent: when Peter Davison changed into Colin Baker three years later a series of specially filmed cameos of his former companions hovered around his head, encouraging him not to die. 

So maybe the epilogue to The End of Time was simply keeping up a noble tradition of flashbacks and cameos and last night pranks. Admittedly he Tom Baker scene lasted a total of 30 seconds and the Peter Davison one for about 50 while David Tennant's curtain call went on for a full twenty minutes. But that's because Russell Davies believes that everything in new Who should be bigger and better than what went before. When he can't manage that, he just settles for bigger.

Regeneration was never that big a deal. The Fourth Doctor fell from a great height; the Fifth Doctor consumed poison and the Sixth Doctor - well, lets not talk about the Sixth Doctor. The point is that they were all pretty much standard issue Doctor Who stories which just happened to end with the death of the protagonist. But David Tennant is different. David Tennant is the greatest Doctor of all time. David Tennant has been the Doctor for almost as long as Peter Davison, and even longer than Paul McGann. David Tennant is the only Doctor who people who started watching Doctor Who during David Tennant's first season have ever known. There was a clip of David Tennant pretending to be Santa before every, single TV programme during the whole Christmas period. (Has anyone, even Eric and Ernie, ever had that kind of hype?) He is Britain's best loved actor. He is the definitive Hamlet. So of course his exit has to be specially doom-laden; specially epic; specially long drawn out; bigger and bigger than anything else in the whole history of Doctor Who, ever.

Why, exactly did they leave in the two scenes which foreshadow the arrival of a Norwegian prince and then cut the actual scene where the Norwegian prince turns up? Come to that, why leave in the rather irrelevant bit about Fortinbras marching through Poland, if our Dave is only going to get to say the first few lines of "How all occasions do inform against me?" Or let him complain about how the only thing anyone knows about the Danes is that their King holds loud, drunken parties if he isn't going draw the conclusions that the same thing sometimes applies to individuals? And have you ever seen anyone in mental distress doing that thing of pressing the balls of their thumbs on their foreheads? There was certainly a very high quantity of acting. But do BBC 2 audiences really have such short attention spans that they can deal with three hours of the bard, but not four? I remember the days of the BBC Television Shakespeare when the whole evening was given over to unexpurgated Hamlets, with maybe a five minute break for the news headlines at 10PM. Derek Jacobi, who was very nearly the Master, played the Dane; Lalla Ward, who has been married to both Tom Baker and Richard Dawkins, though not at the same time, played Ophelia; Claire Bloom, who everybody but me seems to know is the Doctor's mother, played the Queen; and Patrick Stewart played the King. What's he doing nowadays, I wonder?

So. Martha marries Rose's ex (and not the medical student who she was engaged to last time we saw her) because dark-skinned people always marry other dark-skinned people, don't you know. And the Doctor is standing in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to save them from being zapped with a Sontaran zap-gun. And then he's standing in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to stop Luke-from-Sarah-Jane from being knocked down by a car. And of all the bars in all the the towns in all the universe, he walks into the one where Captain Jack and the dopey one from the Titanic who everyone said was a dead cert for the next Doctor (as opposed to the Next Doctor, which I am doing my very best to erase from my memory) are hanging out, so he can play match-maker. There'd been no previous indication that Alonzo was homosexual, but all the best people are these days, don't you know.

Has the Doctor been hanging out in one bar after another for thousands of years, content in the knowledge that eventually, Captain Jack and some cute gay guy are bound to sit down next to each other? Has he been observing Sarah-Jane from on high, waiting for the moment when Luke crosses the road without due care and attention? Is there always a Guardian Doctor ready to thump Sontarans in the dorsal vent whenever Torchwood personnel are about to cop it? Or has the Doctor just, without warning, between scenes, developed a magic "be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time" power? 

It might be argued that the Doctor is always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time or else there wouldn't be much of a series. Even when the TARDIS is malfunctioning or out of control or operated by a randomiser it always dumps him in a place where something really important is about to happen. But the Doctor himself doesn't seem to know this. When he arrives on the Planet Zog he always has to spend some time talking to the Zoggians, working out where he is, when he is, what's about to happen and how to stop it.
But now, for these six scenes, he can - what? - use his omnipotent telepathic Time Lord consciousness to survey the whole of time and space, spot the moment when one of Sarah's loved ones is going to step out in front of a car and pilot the TARDIS to exactly that moment without even pausing for one nano-second to agonize about the effect that the life or death of a genetically engineered boy genius is going to have on the subsequent development of the 21st century? But if he can survey the whole of Time and Space and see everything which is ever going to happen anywhere and intervene, then why is saving Luke the priority? What about all the other kids who were hit by cars, in London, on that same day? 

What would you do if you had a TARDIS and a few hours and could visit any six moments in times and space and interfere with them with impunity. How would you change the universe? Whose lives would you save? If you could go back in time and speak to your only true love on the day before you met her, what would you tell her? What is the one thing the Doctor would tell Rose if he had one more minute with her? Dunno. The idea of the Doctor seeing Rose on New Years Day 2005 is interesting enough. Or rather. The idea that Billie Piper should walk across our screens one last time is interesting enough. Why on earth should you expect anything to lead up to it, or follow from it?


In Bad Wolf among other places, it was stated that the Doctor inadvertently destroyed Gallifrey while wiping out the Daleks at the end of the Time War. In The End of Time, it is randomly revealed that the Doctor intentionally destroyed the Time Lords because they had a scheme to turn themselves into gods. He thought that this would be a Bad Thing.

So there are two possibilities:

1: RTD had always planned to reveal that the Doctor had lied, or lied to himself, about the reasons for the Time Lords destruction. He has been living this lie, even to Rose, from day 1 and this has informed his personality. Now the truth is out, he will be a very different person.

2: RTD thought the line up on the spur of the moment and just bunged it in because it sounded good?

When Bob Holmes needed a legendary founder for the Time Lords (in Deadly Assassin), the name "Rassilon" emerged from his typewriter. He had evidently forgotten, or never known, that there was already a perfectly serviceable legendary Time Lord founder named "Omega". So now there were two legendary Time Lord founders. And yes, as it happens, I have read the prologue to Remembrance of the Daleks, and no, I actually don't care very much.

So: when the Doctor, out of the blue, refers to the Top Time Lord in End of Time as "Rassilon", there are two possibilities

1: RTD and Steven Moffat have a long standing and detailed history of the Time Lords worked out, and there is going to be a really interesting twist in which the current Rassilon either
a: turns out to be the same person as the original, legendary Rassilon or
b: doesn't.

2: RTD thought up the line on the spur of the moment and just chucked it in because it sounded good.

Old people always complain that young people's music doesn't have proper tunes. That may be because, when you hear something unfamiliar, you focus on what's unfamiliar about it: you say "This music is all drum beat, where's the melody?" because you are so not-used to music with a drum-beat that you don't actually notice the perfectly good melody behind it. It may even be that very sophisticated modern writers use non-standard, but perfectly valid, musical structures ,so that an old person claiming that pop music doesn't have tunes is in the same position as a western person who is unable to discern the melody in Chinese or Indian classical music.

But more often, I think, it's because the young people's music actually doesn't have a tune. It's very natural for teenagers to want to annoy grown-ups, so they very probably play tuneless music, and play it very loudly, precisely because it pisses the old gits off. .

So, maybe when I complain that a story which doesn't follow some discernible pattern of cause and effect isn't a "story", I'm simply marking myself off as a grumpy old man who can't see the point of this new skiffle music. Maybe expecting stories to make sense is as ludicrous as expecting poems to rhyme and scan. Maybe this quasi-narrative is what young people want nowadays. But it has to be said that the Archers and Battlestar Galactica and Cranford and Being Human and the Simpsons are all based around what I can recognize as storylines.

I was very pleased with Walters of Mars because it was a rather traditional bit of Who (multi-racial scientists on a space station being picked off by alien zombies, forsooth) which also managed to do some things with the character of the Doctor and the format of the programme which hadn't quite been done before. The Doctor started buggering about with the laws of time on a massive scale, and I was genuinely interested to find out what was going to happen next. My guess: a Doctor who is not bound by the Laws of Time is the greatest threat that the universe has ever faced: he himself is the darkness mentioned in the teaser for the next episode. In an ironic reversal, the Master has to destroy the Doctor in order to save the universe. Davies has been building up to this pretty much since the show started. 

The Doctor would make a good Dalek. The Doctor needs a companion to "stop" him. If the Doctor had the choice of who lived and who died, he'd be a monster.

But in fact, nothing happened next. Because nothing in new Who has a consequence. The Doctor's agonizing about what he had done and his yelling about "the Time Lord Triumphant" was just a bit of drama-queen histrionics; a scene which existed because it made a good scene but which had. No. Effing. Point.

The problem with the epilogue is not that RTD has invented a new superpower for the Doctor. People invent new superpowers for the Doctor all the time. If Gerry Davis was allowed to invent magic change-into-different-actor powers, then RTD is certainly allowed to invent magic-be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time powers. (RTD invented magic get-into-any-secret-meeting paper, and magic get-into-any-secret-meeting-paper turned out to be quite a good idea.)

The problem is not that magic-be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time powers undermine the whole concept of Doctor Who. The whole concept of Doctor Who has been written and rewritten many times over the years, and doubtless will be again.

The problem is not even that magic-be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time powers raise theological difficulties of the type that were troubling Gwen.

The problem is that the script does not bother to give us one sentence, one word of explanation of where this new power comes from. It does not even seem to be aware that it is a new power, or that any explanation would be thought necessary. The Doctor can, by virtue of being the Doctor, disregard all normal dramatic rules of cause and effect: if Davies feels like writing a scene in a bar, then a scene in a bar he will damn well write. Nothing leads up to it. Nothing follows from it. There. Is. No. Point. 

If you spent too much time thinking about the metaphysics of regeneration, your head would explode: although obviously when I say "your head would explode" what I actually mean is that a "special baddie zapping ray would zap out of your head zapping the baddies who were about to kill you and you would go to sleep for a bit and then wake up feeling perfectly all right."

Why was the Fourth Doctor followed around by a zombie called "the Watcher" who turned out to be a future version of himself? In what way and for what reason did the Fifth Doctor's regeneration feel "different"? Why did the Seventh Doctor spend several hours in a mortuary being mostly dead? Why was Romana able to try on bodies like clothes? Why was the Valeyard?

The simple view of "regeneration" is that a Time Lord's body can, from time to time, repair itself from the inside, but that this process also jiggles up his personality. The Virgin Novels thought that this was due to itsy-bitsy teen-weeny nano-machines in their blood. It's not quite true to say that the current notion of "regeneration" was only established as dogma in the final episode of Planet of the Spiders. Yes, it was sometimes implied that Troughton was simply a younger Hartnell and Pertwee was simply Troughton with a different face, but as far back as The Three Doctors there seems to have been an idea that each version of the Doctor is a distinct person. And there is also a half-articulated notion that each of these people continues to exist in some limbo or afterlife or that they have some kind of pre-existence.

* In the TARGET novelization of the Five Doctors, the First Doctor is discovered pruning his roses in a garden. "The Doctor" we are told "Sensed that the end was near: he had come to this place to prepare himself, to say farewell to a body and a personality almost worn out by now, to prepare himself for the birth of a new self." Does this mean that the First Doctor, in his malfunctioning TARDIS, somehow left Ben and Polly by themselves at the South Pole, nipped off for a quick burst of meditation and horticulture, and then piloted himself back into the continuity before anyone had noticed? Or is Terrence Dicks pointing at some more metaphysical idea: that the Doctor in the rose-garden is in some kind of limbo state between regenerations - almost as if the dead First Doctor spends some time in the afterlife before Reincarnating in his new body?

* In the novelization of the Tenth Planet, the Second Doctor introduces himself as "the New Doctor", as if he was a different chap taking over the position, rather than the same fellow with a slightly different physical appearance.

* In the Five Doctors and the Two Doctors, the Second Doctor appears to have knowledge of events which happened in The War Games - which makes no sense if he's simply been plucked out of time at some point prior to his regeneration. Did Robert Holmes have some notion of Doctor Patrick being borrowed from an "afterlife" in which he continued to exist after turning into Doctor Jon?

* In the possibly not entirely canonical Dimensions in Time The Fourth Doctor sends out a "mayday" message to "all of the Doctors" - past and future - as if they were different people from himself.

* In "Trial of a Time Lord" (I know, I know) the Valeyard is pointedly not "the Doctor at some time in the future when he has turned evil", but "a distillation of his evil side, somewhere between his twelfth and thirteenth regeneration". This may be entirely meaningless - most of Trial of a Time Lord was - but it perhaps it suggests that the production team had some notion that regeneration was something more complicated than a simple sequence of transformations.

* And notoriously, in Destiny of the Daleks, an upstart named Adams who had no idea at all about comedy or science fiction wrote a scene in which Romana went through a sequence of transformations before settling on one she liked. It's open to question as to whether this was intended to be a "regeneration" (or if Adams knew, or cared, what "regeneration" was) - it may just have been a surreal scene to explain the fact that the lead actress was changing. But if it was meant to be a "regeneration" in the established sense, then she appears to be getting her bodies from somewhere.

So: maybe Time Lords by their nature enter into some interim, hinterland state between "lives". Maybe the First Doctor, spends his limbo-time pruning the roses; where the Twelfth Doctor spends his conspiring with the Master and pretending to be a lawyer. Maybe, in between his Fifth and Sixth lives, the Fifth Doctor becomes the Watcher to help himself come into being. Maybe it's the First Doctor, in his after-life in the rose-garden, who appears on the monitor in The Three Doctors; and it would sort out a lot of continuity problems if the three post War Games appearances of Patrick Troughton were not part of the Second Doctor's time line but somewhere between the second and third regeneration.

So maybe the omniscient Tenth Doctor who flits around the universe is a sort of ghost, projected forwards and backwards in time, like the Watcher and the Valeyard. Maybe all Time Lords make this kind of final journey, and we're just witnessing it for the first time.

Or maybe I'm making it all up out of my head and radiation just happens to kill you more slowly than a bullet in the chest does and the Doctor knows he has a few hours before he "dies" and decides to use them constructively.

I'm sure that fans can come up with any number of fan fictional explanations which make perfect sense. 

But they shouldn't ruddy well need to.

Huge parts of the plot were vague and problematic.....Of course in science fiction you can basically make it up as you go along.
The Daily Mirror

Strictly between you and me, I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on....Still, no matter because it’s just as enjoyable to let this whole story, picking up from the Christmas Day special, simply wash over you.
The Daily Star

You probably had to be a Time Lord yourself to make sense of the dizzyingly complicated plot...But this barely mattered: the episode charged forward with such apocalyptic brio it was hard to be unduly worried about what, precisely, was going on.
The Daily Telegraph

There are some sniffy people in the TV industry who have asked, archly why I am now writing genre instead of drama. Obviously they have never watched a single episode of Doctor Who. It's the best drama in the world.
Russell T Davies


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Mike Taylor said...

I thought that The Waters of Mars was a pleasant if unexceptional runaround, elevated by a outstanding last ten minutes that did not just raise the stakes, but changed the game completely. Your putative outcome -- that the Doctor is the Darkness and that Master has to return in order to stop the Doctor -- would have provided the setting for a truly fascinating final two-parser. What RTD actually did was so very inferior (while fun in places, of course) that it leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment as much as disappointment. To be so close to greatness and the squander the opportunity so thoroughly: that is tragic.

Mike Taylor said...

Er. Two-parter. That's what I meant.

Louise H said...

dark-skinned people always marry other dark-skinned people, don't you know.

Slightly unfair given that Donna has just married one. I think that was just RTD thinking that he could tie up a couple of loose ends at once (as if marriage is a suitable conclusion to life, rather like fairytales).

There was lots of stuff I liked, but I have forgotten what it all was now. Oh, the not being killed by the Master and all the raging against the dying of the light. But you are sadly right about most of the plot stuff.

Torchwood cops out less.

Mike Taylor said...

Louise H.'s comment "There was lots of stuff I liked, but I have forgotten what it all was now." is such a perfect summary of my feelings about the two-parter that I feel stupid for not having said it myself.

(You will, Oscar, you will.)

Nick Mazonowicz said...

If you could go back in time and speak to your only true love on the day before you met her, what would you tell her?

Tomorrow, a weird looking scruffy bloke with a guinea pig fixation and an australian will come down from data entry to join you in filing. The scruffy bloke will talk to you a lot about theatre. You will join your local amateur theatre and help out scruffy bloke in his plays. You will become good friends with scruffy bloke and friends with scruffy bloke's friends. About two years later scruffy bloke will split up and get divorced from the current Mrs Scruffy Bloke. Scruffy bloke will then ask you if you want to go to see a play on next week. Now, and this is very important, Scruffy Bloke is asking you out on a date. Answer yes. Do not, and I repeat, do not, say 'what a good idea, let's all go out to theatre, I'll book ten tickets. You will only make scruffy bloke think you are not interested in him in that way and you will both arse around meaninglessly for the next two years.

Sorry, I think that was a rheotorical question, wasn't it?

Nick Mazonowicz said...

There was lots of stuff I liked, but I have forgotten what it all was now

It was incredibly well acted, I found myself moved despite the script rather than because of the script.

Anonymous said...

“I can see how annoying that looks. I can see how maddening it must be, for some people. Especially if you’re imposing really classical script structures and templates on that episode, even unconsciously. I must look like a vandal, a kid or an amateur… The simple fact is, all those things were planned. All of them were my choice. They’re not lazy, clumsy or desperate. They’re chosen. I can see more traditional ways of telling those stories, but I’m not interested. I think the stuff that you gain from writing in this way – the shock, the whirlwind, the freedom, the exhilaration – is worth the world. I’ve got this sort of tumbling, freewheeling style that somersaults along, with everything happening now - not later, not before, but now, now, now. I’ve made a Doctor Who that exists in the present tense. It’s happening now, right in front of your eyes! If you don’t like it, if you don’t join in with it then… blimey, these episodes must be nonsensical. But those classical structures can be seen in Primeval, in Demons, in Merlin, in all of them – and yet we stand with millions more viewers. And I think that’s partly why.”

Mike Taylor said...

Andrew Ducker, thank you ... I think. That was fascinating but deeply headdesky to read. For anyone who didn't guess, the quote from from Russell T. Davies, specifically with reference to The Sound of Drums. I googled it, and found a discussion and summary of the new book here:

Andrew Rilstone said...

It's usually remarks by Tony Blair that make me want to break things.

Unbelievable. Unbe-sodding-lievable.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I really am genuinely walking around my house punching things.

Gavin Burrows said...

Whilst I wish you every success with the Dawkins volume, I have to admit that it’s your Doctor Who posts I read the most avidly. (I am, of course, a nerd.)

”There was certainly a very high quantity of acting.”

True enough. And I think your earlier anaology of composer-turns-jazzman did pithily sum up something. I think you may be overestimating the “it’s only sci-fi” thing a touch, though. I suspect as much of it comes from the demands of ‘Event TV’. Every episode has to have one (preferably several) Events to go on the trailers and get the internet talking, and you end up with whole episodes which are little more than a series of these Events strung together. Watching many shows or films now is like watching a trailer, except it goes on for longer. (You cite The Simpsons as a contrast but that was only true for the classic era. Sadly, the current episodes are strung together in this way just as much as New Who.)

I also suspect, however, that we came into New Who from different angles. When they effectively announced it would not be the charming but silly old show returning but a new, mature reworking of it, I sniffed hyperbole and all but ignored the claims. I get the feeling that, from that point on, you considered them honour-bound to deliver on their promise. Hence I tend to notice the fuller half of the glass more than you. And speaking of which...

”RTD had always planned to reveal that the Doctor had lied, or lied to himself, about the reasons for the Time Lords destruction. He has been living this lie, even to Rose, from day 1 and this has informed his personality.”

In fact, I’d assumed just this all along. (At least since Parting of the Ways, when the Doctor refused to set off the big bomb despite having programmed it himself.) In fact I read Ecclestone’s whole performance as someone with a dark secret to hide, even from himself.

In an ironic reversal, the Master has to destroy the Doctor in order to save the universe. Davies has been building up to this pretty much since the show started...

But in fact, nothing happened next.

Certainly with the opening, with the garlanded Doctor “delaying” and being more of a braggart than usual, that was exactly what I was expecting. However, I think it would be more accurate to say “something much more conventional happened next”. The Doctor’s egocentrism is instead projected onto the Master, who literalises the whole thing about remaking the world in his own image. And of course the Doctor is sort of confronted by this when he realises he must sacrifice himself to save Wilf who “isn’t very important really.”

But of course I’m nitpicking. The villain representing the dark side of the hero is scarcely new and has been done many times before in Doctor Who alone. (Such as with the Third Doctor when he... well, regenerated, come to think of it.) It’s a better idea than the villain representing nothing more than generic nastiness, but the Doctor revealing his own dark side would have been better still. And, after all, that’s what we were promised, dammit!

Incidentally, Glenn Dakin is not only a damn fine cartoonist but a wise old saw on matters Who...

I really am genuinely walking around my house punching things.

Okay, but don’t go waving any knives at any hoodies outside the window...

Andrew Rilstone said...


I may wibble my priorities round and put the "everything about religoius oxford dudes who wrote fantasy" collection on hold and do the "everything I've written on Who since McGann" book, if only so I can call it "The Viewers Tale"

Dr. Mabuse said...

I hope you haven't reduced your living room to rubble by now, Andrew. I too was flabbergasted by that Davies interview quoted above. My mind went to an opinion piece I read long ago, which mentioned casually, "I wonder, when people watched 'Madame Butterfly' if they realized that they were witnessing the end of opera as a living art form? That after Puccini, there would be nothing else?" Art forms do just die sometimes, and when they do, I think it's because the people practicing them follow the Davies path into oblivion: chasing "the shock, the whirlwind, the freedom, the exhilaration" of escaping from the old rules of cause and effect, logic and reason.

But I don't think Doctor Who is in danger of perishing just yet. Whatever Davies thinks he's doing, I very much doubt that the millions he believes are with him have really signed on to some new method of storytelling. I think those millions are following him solely because he had a cute guy as the lead, and they cared very little what David Tennant was doing as long as they could shiver agreeably as he shouted passionately and flashed his dark eyes at the camera.

I liked 'The Waters of Mars' - the monsters were scary, and I felt for the trapped explorers fighting for their lives, even though they hardly had personalities because of their short time on the screen. The ending disappointed me, though, because I'm a moralist at heart. If the Doctor does something very transgressive, I want to see consequences, dammit! Something should happen, besides the Doctor just looking appalled. It's nice that he feels bad, but messing around with time is supposed to be a big deal; do you mean to tell me that after all this time, not interfering was just a gentlemen's agreement among Time Lords, and nothing important happens from breaking this rule? It makes the past tradition seem rather pointless.

I thought that the episode should have ended with all 3 rescued Mars explorers walking together into a subway station, which is promptly blown up by a terrorist attack (or a gas leak; I'm not particular). Then the news reports that flashed before the Doctor's eyes would have said that 3 bodies remained unidentified; oh, and that ALL the explorers had died on Mars. Since no one knew that they'd come back to Earth, no one would expect to find them among the subway victims. I would have liked to find that the Doctor could TRY to break the law, but would somehow fail. Why would that be? What power would be thwarting him? It might have led somewhere, instead of the dead end we saw.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said...
I may wibble my priorities round and put the "everything about religoius oxford dudes who wrote fantasy" collection on hold and do the "everything I've written on Who since McGann" book, if only so I can call it "The Viewers Tale

Now you’ve thought that up, how can you not?

(If there was a suggestions box on this blog I’d be suggesting more stuff on Ye Olde Who, about which we have had only hints and sideways references for these many years But as there isn’t one, I suppose I’d better not.)

Dr. Mabuse said...
The ending disappointed me, though, because I'm a moralist at heart. If the Doctor does something very transgressive, I want to see consequences, dammit! Something should happen, besides the Doctor just looking appalled. It's nice that he feels bad, but messing around with time is supposed to be a big deal

I fear you have misunderstood the ending. The point is the Doctor’s undoings are themselves undone by whathername killing herself, which makes him realise how transgressive his actions were. I agreed with Mike Taylor when he said it...

was a pleasant if unexceptional runaround, elevated by a outstanding last ten minutes that did not just raise the stakes

Andrew Hickey said...

I would buy both the Tolkien/Lewis book and the Who book (and indeed a Cerebus book or a Spider-Man one or a politics one) but must confess I'd be *quicker* to buy the Who one...

Gavin Burrows said...

...but changed the game completely.

Sorry for not finishing the quote before!

Dr. Mabuse said...

"the Doctor’s undoings are themselves undone by whathername killing herself, which makes him realise how transgressive his actions were."

Oh, no, I got that - not that it mattered much, because I never believed that a woman like that would kill herself in such a way. To stop the monsters from invading Earth, yes. Because the Doctor told her something would happen then decided to play around and mess it up - no.

No, by "consequences", I meant consequences to him. Something should result from such a serious sin, and I don't think just looking stricken is enough. This is the equivalent of a human being committing a murder; the Doctor has to be changed in some way by this, and I want to see the change. I want to see 'The Portrait of Dorian Who' - what is happening to him inside as a result of crossing this boundary? What kind of person is he now, and what is he becoming? An evil Doctor is a good possibility. A repentant Doctor, who has to atone in some way is another. Since Davies was so obsessed with the subject of regeneration, maybe he could have created a Doctor who realized he HAD to die because of what he'd done, and worked it into the story that way. But I can't see that the Doctor really was much different afterwards.

Phil Masters said...

Good analysis, Andrew, and I agreed with nearly all of it. The only thing puzzling me was why you or anyone else would bother going to all this trouble over the damn thing.

I kept meaning to review those two episodes on my own blog, but I really couldn't muster the enthusiasm. In the end, I tagged a paragraph onto a post about something else altogether, and that felt quite as much energy as the topic deserved.

As to the points of disagreement - first, I was more bugged than you by the accretion of new superpowers. The Master acquired really spectacular FX as a result of his resurrection not working right, and the Doctor turned out to have the power to give Donna the ability to fire psychic bolts that could deck multiple instances of the Master. The Doctor has been suffering power creep since forever, of course, and none of this was quite as annoying as the sonic screwdriver as magic effing wand, but any comics reader should recognise that titles suffering superpower creep always get into trouble.

And as for the cuts in Hamlet - I always assume that an uncut Hamlet is like a 147 break in snooker. One knows that it's technically possible, of course, and that it's even happened from time to time, and if one gets a chance to see a film of it happening, one may well watch to marvel at the skill and concentration. But it's not the point of the game, and surely only people like Branagh pretend that it might be. The Olivier movie (RIP Ophelia) is listed as 155 minutes; the Richard Burton/John Gielguid film comes in at 191. Apparently, there's a Gielgud-as-the-Prince radio recording that's reduced to 74 minutes. Some editing jobs are better done than others, obviously, but I'd assume that this one was based on the RSC production that hoovered up all the hoofen, so I imagine that there was some sort of theory involved.

But anyway, Andrew - don't worry, the bad man has gone now. And his replacement has a grasp of structure and plot at which to marvel. Never mind The Girl in the Fireplace; this man can write episode 1 of season 4 of Coupling - Rashomon reconfigured as modern urban bedroom comedy - so I'll trust him to do better than The End of Time

Which isn't saying much, I admit.

Sam Dodsworth said...

1) Isn't the Branagh film of Hamlet the uncut text? I found it more coherent than the stage productions I've seen, anyway.

2) "Ultraviolet" is really quite good. I just watched it on DVD and it didn't make me want to punch anything.


Phil Masters said...

(1) The Branagh Hamlet is apparently uncut (quarto text). I've not seen it, but it sounds like it's actually over-stuffed, throwing in wordless cameos by people like Ken Dodd and Gerard Depardieu and John Gielgud, presumably because he can. That's not fidelity, that's showing off.

(2) Ultraviolet (assuming that we mean the UK vampire TV series that was so cruelly left at one series) was indeed good. Umm, why?

Sam Dodsworth said...


The Branagh Hamlet was certainly overstuffed, but I enjoyed it lot more than most people seem to have. (Although I only saw it once and haven't felt the urge to hunt it down on DVD or anything like that.) Using the full text makes a big difference to pacing and goes some way townards answering people like Tom Stoppard who find the play incoherent. We actually see Fortinbras before he suddenly pops up at the end, for example.

The "wordless cameos" were basically visual footnotes - a way of glossing the text without altering it. Some of them were heavy-handed(*), but I thought they were a good idea overall. Baz Luhrmann does a better-integrated version of the same trick in "Romeo and Juliet". There's a lot of showing-off, too, though: the dead Hamlet being carried away as if he were Christ is particularly embarassing.

(*) Hamlet in bed with Ophelia, to explain why his rejection was enough to drive her mad.

On the other hand, the overall standard of acting is excellent. Whoever it was who played Polonius did a particularly good job - you could actually believe in him as a courtier and not just an idiot. If you ever have a lot of time on your hands then you could do worse than to give it a look.

And speaking of acting... the guy who wrote Ultraviolet gives a lot of credit to the actors, and I think he's got a point. But in terms of writing, I think it succeeds because it's the anti-Dr Who. Low-key performances, information-dense, heavy on uncertainty and implication, careful to avoid camp... and a willingness to stop when the material runs out. (You might have got another series out of it, but where would you take the story? Either you'd repeat the first series or you'd turn it into a soap opera.) TV fantasy and SF has been trending away from that ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the result is that everything ends up full of meaningless "drama" driven by handwaving, like X-Men continuity.

Anonymous said...

I watched Branagh's four hour Hamlet in the cinema, and spent most of it thinking "Well, I wouldn't do this scene like _that_." It felt more like a collection of scenes than a coherent movie. Some of them were good scenes, most of them were at least passable, but it never came together into more than a collection of parts.

Phil Masters said...

Branagh's Polonius was Richard Briers (according to imdb). One thing to grant Branagh is that he's identified Briers as something a bit more than just a good comic actor.

I thought that Oliver Ford Davies did a decent Polonius in the Tennant Hamlet - but then, I'm happy to assume that Polonius was a useful enough courtier in his time, but that he's now getting on a bit. I saw a Cheek by Jowl production some years back that convinced me how he should be played; at the end of his big advice speech, Ophelia and Laertes both joined in in perfect unison for "to thine own self be true". Suddenly, you could see how long Polonius had been doing all this stuff.

You may well be right about Ultraviolet; I'd have trusted Ahearne to find something worth doing in a second season (and there were character threads left loose), but it's better to remember one good season than two indifferent ones (God I wish I'd stopped watching Heroes after the first). According to the imdb notes, Ahearne (a) couldn't find anybody else who understood what he was doing well enough to write any episodes for season one, so he ended up writing it all himself, so he didn't have time to outline a season two, and (b) thinks that, yes, it's better to stop before you run out of steam with a strong concept.

And a second season would probably have ended up actually including something in the way of sex, so it's just as well it stopped. (Nothing at all wrong with sex, mind. Nothing wrong with sex in stories about vampirism, even. But the greatest beauty of Ultraviolet was that it completely and utterly refused that cliche, making the code fives charming and deadly in their own way - and so forcing the heroes to be ruthless and brutal - without reducing them to the status of a pack of pretty boys.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

It felt more like a collection of scenes than a coherent movie. Some of them were good scenes, most of them were at least passable, but it never came together into more than a collection of parts.

I see what you did there.