Friday, June 11, 2010

Fish Custard (4)

Or take the one with the statues. It's a "sequel" to Blink and "brings back" the Weeing Angels which were one of the "scariest" monsters in New Who.

Actually, the minute you start describing things as "scary" you've side-slipped away from the actual TV series and into another virtual Who clone in idea space -- "that programme which children watch from behind the sofa". Kids can be scared by anything and everything – Big Bird and Laurel and Hardy and the India Paper edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- but a glance at, say, Robot would be enough to blow away the theory that Doctor Who was always and irreducibly a horror show. The editors of Doctor Who Adventures, Radio Times, and other children's publications continue to ask whether this story is, or is not, as scary as that story. But they all agree that the scariest story ever was Blink, and that Blink was, coincidentally, the work of the present incumbent, sir, Mr Moffat, sir.

Blink was a good story. (I think that it was a very good story, but dissent from those who think that it was a very, very good story.) But the Angel itself was a very small part of the success of Blink. Steven had, in fact, written an angel-free version of the story in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual. The story was – like The Gel In the Fireplace and the Eleventh Hour – and, come to think of it, like Silence in the Library and Curse of Fatal Death and everything else the Moff has ever written – about Time Travel. Not from the point of view of historically accurate portraits of Winston Churchill, or even from the point of view of marrying your Grandad and stepping on a butterfly, but from the point of view of events confusingly starting to happen in the wrong order. Which, come to think of it, is what Time Travel in the context of a story pretty much has to be: a way of disrupting the narrative, foreshadowing, putting effects before causes and carts before horses.

So Blink is about people who are young at one moment and old the next because they've been sent backwards in time; and the Doctor trying to get a message to himself about something which hasn't happened yet. The Statues concatenate all the wibbly wobbley timey wimey ideas that Moffat wants to muck around with into a bloody great lump of plot device. Making them statues which can only move when nobody's looking at them (manifestly a stupid idea) is as good a way as any to signify to us that they are only a plot device and we shouldn't waste too much time thinking about them. It would be a bit like giving your hero a huge and inexcusable lump of technology and signalling the fact that it's never going to be explained by making it look less like a space ship and more like, I don't know, a phone box. (People who have invented something called a Doctor Who Universe go on and on about something called a Chameleon Circuit and thereby miss the absurdity, and, arguably, the point.)

So: bringing back the Angels is pretty much a category mistake, as if there was anything that was bringable backable. Everything which was angelly about them – the fact that they don't move (by the end of the second episode, they have) and the fact that they send people back in time (these ones don't) the fact that you can defeat them by making them look at each other (you can't, for some reason) has been dumped. They have randomly acquired new powers. It turns out that whatever carries the image of an angel becomes an angel and it turns out that Angels can turn people's arms to stone and it turns out a bit later that they can't turn people's arms to stone after all but only make people think that they have turned their arms to stone and it turns out that they can talk to people through the bodies of people they've killed which is only a bit identical to the invisible telepathic alien piranhas in the library.

And – you know where I am about say next, don't you? – none of this matters in the least.

My god-daughter says that she had "always wanted" to see a story with the Angels in it. Well, three years is a long time in television and an awfully long time when you're ten. Having always wanted to see the Angels in 2010 is no odder than having always wanted to see Yeti and Cybermen in 1973. (I never did see any Yeti.) The Angels are things which happened in Doctor Who a long time ago, and things which everyone knows are really, really, scary, even people too young to have seen them the first time round.

The story was as everyone has boringly but correctly persisted in pointing out, a remake of Aliens, plucky marines being picked off one by one by indestructible monsters. The idea of space marines fighting statues that don't move is manifestly absurd. The imagery of stone angels massing in spaceship corridors is manifestly absurd. And that's fine. Daleks are manifestly absurd. Daleks never made the slightest sense outside of the corridors of Skaro. Angels are Moffat's Daleks. They are the scariest thing in the universe because Moffat says they are the scariest thing in the universe. We have a race memory stretching all the way back to 2007 that says that they are the scariest thing in the universe. Even though they can't go upstairs


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