Friday, May 31, 2013

The Name of the Doctor (7.14)

There's something forgotten I want you to know
The freckles of rain are telling me so
Oh it's the old forgotten question
What is that we are part of?
What is it that we are?


The Half Remarkable Question




It didn't have to be like this.

I think that before 2005, most of us imagined that New Who would be Doctor Who: the Next Generation, or Ultimate Doctor Who. We imagined that it would be be like the Paul McGann movie or the infinite number of New Adventure. We expected someone to take all those years and years of disconnected storylines and build a modern TV SF universe out of them. We thought it would be like Firefly, only with jelly babies.

Some fans believe that that is what we got. But then some fans believe that is what we already had. Give a fan three wildly inconsistent dots and he will always be able to draw a line between them; and believe that the line he has drawn was there all along; and that the line is good deal more interesting than the dots themselves.[*] If you are one of those fans -- if you don't quite see why I think Star Trek: The Next Generation and New Who have radically different relationships to their source material (and that Star Trek and Doctor Who were very different beasts to begin with) then you'll probably be happier ignoring what I have to say here and remaining lost in miasma of your self-created universe. 

And I really do mean happier. I really do wish I could take the blue pill, or possibly the red pill, and rejoin you inside the collective hallucination. But I can't. I can only watch what's been put in front of me.


"You could have taken you hand out of the cuff at any time?"
"No, not at any time. Only when it was funny."

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?



I began this series of digressions by claiming that people ask three questions about Doctor Who: "What does this mean to me?" "What does this mean?" and "What is this like?" None of them can ever really be answered. That's why they are such good questions. 

People who ask "What does Doctor Who mean to me?" may very well embrace "The Name of the Doctor" as a validation, as the fulfilment of a promise, as proof that there really is some continuity between this show and the one which their ten or twelve year old self fell in love with. But they may just as well denounce it as a horrible violation of all their childhood memories; a trivial piece of graffiti scrawled across a sacred text. Clara -- Clara, who we only met last Christmas! -- watches the Doctor and Susan -- the Doctor and Susan! -- leave Gallifrey and cracks a joke. What next? Children's entertainers at the Last Supper? Lawrence Miles response to the episode was to post a colour photograph of a man's bottom on his website. You sort of see his point.

People who ask "What does Doctor Who mean?" will certainly be fascinated by "The Name of the Doctor". It's about as meta-textual as you can get, and it gives us dozens of hermeneutic knots to unravel. It reaches back to a point before Doctor Who started and forward to a point after Doctor Who has ended and sideways to a part of Doctor Who we have never seen before. It contains the whole of Doctor Who, including itself. At the same time, it undermines and destabilizes and changes everything which has gone before. God knows how much "canon" is left when you have had a Time War which changed history, a crack in time though which bad ideas like the giant Victorian Cyberman seem to have leaked out, and the literal, story-internal "rebooting" of the entire universe. But whatever canon is left has been overwritten. All the Doctor's victories are retrospectively revealed to have been caused by the self-sacrifice of Wonderful Clara. The Doctor has always had plot immunity -- we know that he can't ever be killed off 'cos he's the good guy and the programme's got his name on it. But that plot immunity is now part of the fictional meta-story: he can't be killed because Wonderful Clara will always and has always been there to save him. (The whole premise of Doctor Who, that the Doctor ran away from Gallifrey in a malfunctioning TARDIS, is revealed to be the result of a last minute whim of Wonderful Clara's.) The last 50 years are now to be understood as a manichean conflict, like Blake's angels struggling over a new-born child, where the Angel of Light is a Victorian baddie in a frock coat, and the Angel of Light is a Victorian nanny with a liking for egg products. 

"I was born to save the Doctor" says the Ultimate Final Archetypal Companion to End All Companions. To save the him? Isn't that getting everything a little bit back to front? 

These are relatively easy questions. It's the third one I have the problems with. "What is the 'Name of the Doctor'? What is it like?"

I think "Name of the Doctor" is like one of those playground puzzles in which the convict rubs his hands together until they are sore; uses the saw to cut the table in half; puts the two halves together to make a whole; jumps through the hole and shouts until he is hoarse and then jumps on the horse and rides away. Like that Salman Rushdie story where the car breaks down and everyone has to stand round it being really really quiet because it goes without saying. It is driven by the logic of language, the logic of puns, the logic of dreams, not the logic of science or the logic of logic. It is a world where things work if they sound as if they ought to work. Clara's Mum's leaf brought Clara into existence, in a manner of speaking, because if not for the leaf her Mum would never have met her Dad. Presumably, the world is full of magic bunches of flowers and magic banana skins and magical delays due to scheduled engineering works outside Didcot. But we are inside a dream and once you have spoken in that manner, it becomes somehow literally true and the Doctor can use that leaf to magically call Clara back from the wibbly wobbly time-world. 

I think that "Name of the Doctor" is like a cubist painting. where you can see the shape of the woman and the colour of her dress, but where any suggestion that a portrait might resemble its subject has been abandoned in favour of a celebration of pure form. There is no cause and effect in "Name of the Doctor", nothing resembling a normal narrative. It's just scenes and images. Condemned men bargain for their lives; there is seance in a dream world; there is a gothic graveyard in no particular place. Richard E Grant is allegedly playing the Great Intelligence, who is tangentially connected to a villain who appeared in two lost, or at any rate mislaid, black and white episodes. But he isn't really playing the Great Intelligence, or Dr Simeon, or anyone else. He stands at the Doctor's grave in his Victorian costume and demands the Doctor tells him his greatest secret. It's not a beat in a story. It's a scene that stands by itself, like a piece of fan art: the Doctor facing down a sort of generic universal spirit of our impression of what a Doctor Who villain should probably be like. The final moments of the episode are pure, abstract mindscape. 

It looks great. Many of us have imagined the Doctor's flight from Gallifrey in our heads, and the little scene looks exactly how we imagined it. If the Doctor has a final resting place then the weird graveyard stretching to infinity is what it ought to be. The Great Big Scene, in which we see the Mysterious Man and a caption confirms his identity, is undeniably powerful. But nothing leads up to it or follows from it. It just is. [**]



"My name is Slartibartfast."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Slartibartfast."
"Slartibartfast?"
"I said it wasn't important."
      The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

"But Andrew," you ask "What about the people who don't ask questions about Doctor Who? What about the ones who, you know, just watch it. What will they have to say about this episode?" 


Well, they are mainly saying that they didn't understand it. But then, that is what they always mainly say about episodes of this kind. I don't understand what they mean when they say they don't understand it.  

Are they complaining that there is too much sci-fi jargon: that when someone says "crossing my own time-line" their brain switches off, in the same way my brain switches off when someone says "but first, sport"?


Are they complaining that too much is left unexplained at the end of the episode? Soap operas have questions in them too, I suppose, but I imagine that the questions are more clearly signposted. When a character you thought was dead walks into the Rovers Return in Ambridge someone says "Oh my god! It is Bruce, former lover of Sheila who we all believed died in a bizarre sheep shearing accident five years ago but who's body was never found! How can he possibly be here?” Mysteries and loose ends and unexpected twists there can certainly be, but they must all come with neat, safe, friendly labels marked "mystery", "loose end" and "unexpected twist". [***] Doctor Who, bless it's hearts, still expects the audience to do some work.

We know -- because Joseph Campbell told us -- that all moviefilms must begin at the very beginning and go though to the very end and leave no unresolved issues. This is the reason that we keep getting reboots and prequels. The Origin of Spider-Man fits, and the Origin of Batman can be made to fit, into the Journey of the Hero. We see Spider-Man before he was a crime fighter, we see the point of crisis which made him decide to become a crime fighter, and then we see him actually fighting some crime. If there was a scene in which he decided that he was finished with crime fighting, we would have the perfect circular narrative. That is why the Spider-Man franchise ended, which is to says started all over again, after only three movies. Spider-Man becomes a crime fighter is a Story. Spider-Man fights some crime is not a story. (The latest Batman series had to be presented as a limited three part trilogy, with instalments that were very nearly called Batman Begins, Batman in the Middle and Batman Ends.) There were, depending on how you count them, twelve Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 1940s. They never "rebooted". Even when Johnny Wiessmuller got too old to swing around the jungle in his knickers, they just wheeled on a younger man whose name escapes me and everyone else and carried on as before. They didn't feel any need to perpetually revisit the shipwreck and that landed little Lord Greystoke in the jungle. A fresh adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs book is on the cards, but a new series is unthinkable. Modern audiences would claim not to understand it. "We don't care about these sinister Nazi ivory hunters who are trying to rob the pretty lady of her inheritance" they would say "We want to know why there is a white man living in the jungle, how he learned to talk to the animals, if he will ever leave, and what it says about the human condition." [****]

But I think it is most likely that when the ordinary viewer complains that he doesn't understand "Name of the Doctor", he is making the same complaint that I am making when I talk about "magical realist" construction. 

Why can some of the Doctor's friends sniff a magic candle and meet up in a dream world; and if they can do this, why have they never mentioned it before? There isn't an answer, of course, any more than there is a physiological or genetic reason why Peter Pan never grows up. I don't think that the ordinary viewer can accept this. I think that the question occurs to him, and he assumes that there must be answer, but that the writer is withholding it from them for some reason. That's what a question without an answer usually means, isn't it? That someone is hiding something from you? 

"Why don't Mummy and Daddy love each other any more?"

"Why does God allow suffering?"

"Why was it necessary to invade Iraq?"  

Hush child. Just because.


"After all, you were with him from the beginning"
"From before the beginning, young fellow. And now, it's after the end."

Citizen Kane



"Just because" is used far too much in New Who, and far, far too much in "The Name of the Doctor". But, compared with the narrative-free "Hide" and "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", "Name of the Doctor" is actually relatively easy to "understand". As a public service, I shall therefore spend a few moments explicating it: 

The Doctor's Enemy knows that the means to destroy the Doctor is hidden in his tomb. 

The Doctor knows this too, but also knows that his own tomb is the one place he must never go.

Why? Well, if the Doctor could keep meeting up with himself then Doctor Who would get very complicated and very silly, so there is a rule that says that the Doctor can never meet himself, except in special anniversary stories. "Crossing my own time line" is a rather more sciencey way of saying "being in two places at once". We've all spent 50 years convincing ourselves that "being in two places at one is taboo" so it makes a kind of sense to say that "being at the place of my own death" is super dooper taboo. 

The Doctor's Enemy kidnaps the Doctor's friends and takes them to the place he mustn't go, so of course he goes there. 

It turns out that the Doctor's tomb is the TARDIS itself, grown to massive size.

Why? Well, the TARDIS has always been the biggest "just because" in the whole programme. 

"Why is it bigger on the inside than the outside." 
"Because it's dimensionally transcendental."
"What does dimensionally transcendental mean?" 
"It means it's bigger on the inside that the outside."

Inside the dream-world, it makes perfect sense that when the TARDIS dies, the magic should leak out and make it bigger on the outside as well. 

It turns out that it -- the tomb, the TARDIS -- can only be opened when someone says the Doctor's name.

Why? Up to now the Doctor has always opened the TARDIS with a yale key, or a strange alien key, or occasionally with a snap of the fingers or a magic ring. Just as the series increasingly fetishizes the Doctor himself, so it is starting to fetishize his name. It isn't just a thing which we don't know, or even a thing that we can't know. It's a thing which no-one knows, the biggest secret in the Universe. When Ace asked the Doctor "who are you" she was presumably asking what is identity was, what is role was in the universe, expecting an answer like "Omega", "The Other", or "Time's Champion". But it isn't the Doctor's identity which we are supposed to be worrying about. The name itself has become a Word of Power. Granted that, it makes dream-sense for it to be the magic word that opens the TARDIS.

Now it gets complicated. Several seasons ago the Doctor met a lady called River Bloody Song, who knew his true name, almost definitely. From this, we were supposed to infer that she was his wife, even more almost definitely. He didn't know her at all: they would meet in his future, but her past. (There is a book called The Time Traveller's Wife, which I have never read.) She apparently died, but the Doctor kept a sort of a copy of her in the computer in the Biggest Library in the Universe. He has met her several more times since then, always in the wrong order, and at the end of the last season, he married her, sort of. She also turns out to be the daughter of one of his companions, but that's not important right now, probably. She is one of the friends who is summonsed to the dream world, and it's the version of her from the after-life in the library computer which has arrived at the Doctor's tomb. At first it seems that only Clara can see her (Why? Because they are "telepathically linked".) Then it turns out that the Doctor can see her as well. (Why? This is a classic example of what I'm calling "magical realism". The Doctor says that "you are always here to me...I can always see you" which is, of course, the sort of thing which lovers say to each other, but it's only true in a manner of speaking. But in the dream world which is Doctor Who "you are always here because I am always thinking of you" becomes literally true..)

In order to save everyone's life, River Bloody Song says that Doctor's name and opens up the TARDIS. However, the Doctor's body is not in the tomb: instead we find a wiggly line representing all his journeys through time and space. But at some level this line actually is the journey itself, or the Doctor himself ("my own personal time tunnel"). So the Doctor's Enemy can physically jump into the line and appear in every place the Doctor has ever been, and either tempt him to do bad things or just interfere so he loses. This changes history (again) so the Doctor never existed (again) and the universe starts changing (again) — planets he would have saved blink out of existence, the good Sontaran turns back into a bad Sontaran, and so on. (Which is, being interpreted "Look after the universe for me, I've put a lot of work into it"; and in another place, it is written "Maybe the universe itself can't bare to be without the Doctor.")

But Clara realizes that she can save the day by throwing herself into the timey wimey line as well, so she will also appear at every place the Doctor has ever been, but to help him, not harm him. Copies of her appear all through history: the original is destroyed. It isn't exactly clear if she counteracts the bad things the Doctor's enemy did and returns things to the status quo, or whether she retrospectively changes things for the better.

So, Clara gives her life to save the Doctor and becomes a sort of a godlike being, the lynchpin of history, in the same way that Rose and Donna and sort of Amy did. (Never mention Martha Jones, who only became the most important person on earth, and an alternate earth, at that.) However, she isn't really dead as long as we remember her, so the Doctor steps into his own Timeline (whatever that means) and uses the magic leaf to stop her from dying (whatever that means.) The timeline now appears as a sort of wibbly wobbly dimension, populated by force-ghosts of all the Doctor's previous selves. Through the magic of TV we see Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Davison, Colin Baker's clothes, a little bit of Eccleston, lots of Tennant, but no McGann. Then we see another person who Amy Clara doesn't recognize. The Doctor says that his name isn't important, because the Doctor is the name he chose, but this is a version of himself who disgraced that name -- the Doctors worst secret. We are left knowing that there is a twelfth version of the Doctor who will someday do a bad thing, but not when or what or why.

This is a cliffhanger, like "Who killed Laura Palmer" or "Will Dick Barton arrive in time to save Jock and Snowy from the bomb."

I honestly don’t see why anyone would find any of that hard to understand. 


Clyde: "Can you change color or are you always white?
The Doctor: "No
Clyde: "And is there a limit? How many times can you change?
The Doctor: "Five hundred and seven"
Clyde: "Oh."


The Sarah-Jane Adventures


Who is the Bad Doctor?

I see three options.

1: He is the 12th Doctor -- Smith's potential replacement.

At some point after he regenerates, the Doctor will do a Terbil Thing. We have been warned many times that the Doctor is only a slither away from turning into his enemy: well, it's finally going to happen. This could provide a recurrent bad guy to replace the Master. More likely, it could provide a running theme for season 8 (particular if Smith expects to have had enough by 2015) — the Eleventh Doctor trying to avoid taking the steps which turned him into the Twelfth. The Evil Twelfth Doctor will not be specifically identified with the Valyard, because only Doctor Who fans remember Trial of a Time Lord, and they think it was shit. On the other hand, and I realize that tenses are vague when you travel in time, the Doctor seemed to be talking about the Terbil Thing as something which he Has Done, not something which he Will Do.

2: He is the 8.5th Doctor — the one in between McGann and Eccleston.

We never saw the regeneration, after all, and we already know that the Doctor did Terbil, Terbil Things during the Time War. The trouble is, we know what he did -- he ended the war by destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords all at once. And although he regrets having dones this, it isn't a secret: he told Rose and Martha (at least) what he did, and and even boasted about it in "The Doctor's Wife."  I can't believe that the Big Secret That The Doctor Will Take To His Grave And It Is Discovered is something we already know.

3: He is the 0th Doctor: the person the Doctor was before we met him in 1963.

In which case the  Terbil Terbil thing he did was done on Gallifrey, and very possibly it was the reason that he ran away to start with. (His explanation "because I was bored" has always lacked a certain...gravitas.) Hints were dropped in the last days of Old Who that the Doctor had a dark secret related to the dark times and ages of chaos on Gallifrey, and indeed from the Baker era onwards the whole point of the Time Lords was that they had closets full of skeletons. I don't know how a Minus Oneth Doctor can be made to fit in with all the other things we have pieced together over the years about his pre-TARDIS life — his mysterious Mentor, his relationship with the Master, his not especially stellar academic career — and with the fact that the Time Lords themselves have referred to "Hartnell" as "the First". I imagine that the answer will be "by cheating". 





"Good. One more thing. Your name."
"What about my name?"
"It's too long. By the time I've called 'Look out...what's your name?'" 
"Romanadvoratnelundar."
"By the time I've called that out, you could be dead. I'll call you Romana." 
"I don't like Romana." 
"It's either Romana or Fred." 
"All right, call me Fred." 
"Good. Come on, Romana."

The Ribos Operation




What would have happened if Doctor Who had not been cancelled in 1989?

Well, it would have been cancelled in 1990 or 1991. 1993 would have been the best time to cancel it, on the 30th anniversary. But if, somehow, it had limped on, as fixed a point on the BBC schedules as The Archers and Blue Peter and very little else, you can be pretty sure that Season 49 would have been as unlike Season 26 as Season 26 was unlike season 2. If Doctor Who had not been cancelled, it is quite likely that we Very Old Fans might be sitting around lamenting those almost forgotten days when the TARDIS was still shaped like a Police Box, and smiling at the young whipper snappers who assume that the Doctor had always been a lady.

I suppose those changes would have been incremental; I suppose that successive producers would have put their stamp on the show, one deciding that it was too scary and the next deciding that it was too silly. We would have been unable to pin-point the moment when it stopped being as good as it used to be. It would -- like Superman or Bond or Catholicism -- have carried on being a process, a tradition, a tree which gives out new shoots from time to time. But the seventeen off-air years gave it a chance to freeze and harden in everybody's memory, to become something more than a television programme. It's a holy icon; the lovingly embalmed body of the Dear Leader. You can genuflect to it; you can get whip up a cheap sensation by desecrating it; but you can't bring it back to life. 

People will pay good money to hear good musicians doing good recreations of Beatles songs. If the musicians look and dress like the Beatles, so much the better. I think that being a tribute act is probably an honourable trade. But it doesn't leave much space for artistic development. I suppose that some clever musicians could try to imagine what John Lennon and George Harrison would look like if they were alive today, and dress like that; try to imagine what a group of elderly Beatles might have sounded like if the were headlining Glastonbury 2013; try to write a pastiche of what the Lennon and McCartney partnership might come up with it if it came back together. It might be an interesting thing to do. It might produce some clever tunes, or an interesting contribution to Beatles scholarship. But it obviously wouldn't be the same thing as a Beatles reunion. It is impossible to step into the same river twice. 

What is Doctor Who like

It isn't a programme in it's own right. It isn't a continuation of Old Who. It isn't a conjecture about what Doctor Who would have been like if it had never been cancelled. It isn't a critical comment on the old show. It isn't even a tribute act. 

What, in the end, is it? 

And why is it so very full of questions which cannot be answered?


[*] Where the dots are Dead Planet and Genesis of the Daleks and the lines are War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks, obviously.

[**] It may very well go somewhere in the anniversary special, of course, and it may even go somewhere as interesting as some of the constructs which fans are building up in their heads. More likely, it will be a huge let down, like that-was-most-definitely-the-Doctor-and-he-is-most-definitlely-dead

[***] I have no idea if this is how soap opera are actually written. It is certainly how Harry Potter is written, and I think it is how Dan Brown writes.

[****] Did I mention Solomon Kane? Good movie, actually, based on a set of Bob Howard pulps that are rather better than Conan, probably because Kane was never as popular as Conan so Howard never had a chance to get bored with him. Like Conan, Kane is something of an existentialist, always look for the heroic acte gratuit, always in media res, always referring to previous, unseen adventures. Where Conan loves fighting for its own sake and is a mercenary, Kane is a Boy Scout, always in the middle of saving a lady he hardly knows from pirates or dusky skinned natives or devil worshippers or indeed dusky skinned devil worshipping pirates. We don't know why; we don't know how he comes to be a Puritan holy man and a magician, but when he claims to have helped Francis Drake sink the Armada and been at Flores in the Azores with  Sir Richard Grenville we are inclined to believe him. (There is a poem in which he quits adventuring and goes home to Devon.) The unique selling point of the character is his mysteriousness. The movie concluded that cinema audience would not understand a character who did not have a motivation or an origin, and gave him one. The whole film was his origin. He only turns into Robert E Howard's Kane in the final frame. Nice movie, actually, if what you felt the world most needed was Pirates of the Caribbean with sex and demons in it. I believe there is an American TV series about what Sinbad was doing before he became a sailor. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spoilers!

1: pretty good
2: does the magical realist metaphor thing to a silly extent .... What does inside my time stream even mean....and the leaf.....
3: Does it strike you that  Moff imagined this as the anniversary special, and all the little cameos of past Doctors were planned as actual guest appearances?
4: DoctorWhoBuddy says " I can't remember the last time there was an episode with that much talking in it"
5: Really liked the idea of the Doctor's grave
6: Atmosphere of whole story very fine, actually.
7: Expected the mysterious man at the end to be The Great Intelligence who has after all been the Doctor twice, nearly
8: Actual ending genuinely surprising  although arguably more structurally surprising than anything  in the sense that it is not the way Who stories generally end.
9: In a sense it was one of those fan endings -- it isn't immediately clear what follows from it.
10: Are we supposed to think that Matt Smith is going, or are we actually getting the pay off on five years of hints about the Dark Doctor and setting up mysterious man at the end as a new ongoing baddy.
11: Congratulations on keeping it secret.
 12: All told, pretty good.

Nightmare in Silver [7.12]


Obviously, to say that a story scores 100% on the Ril/Moff scale is not saying a great deal. It's only saying that what we have just watched was a competently assembled piece of drama in which I could suspend disbelief from beginning to end. "Okay, you have just told me a story: now we can talk about whether or not it was a story worth hearing."



That said I am awarding Nightmare in Silver, charitably, a perfect score of 100%. I say charitably because, if I were feeling uncharitable I would say that the two kids were such caricatures of knowing drama school brats that one could hardly take seriously a single scene they were in.

Neil Gaiman's last outing felt very much like a Neil Gaiman story into which Doctor Who had accidentally materialized. Nothing wrong with that: we have established that  Gaiman is the Second Greatest Living Writer. But I was more interested in finding out what  a Doctor Who story written by Neil Gaiman would be like and that is what this piece essentialily was. It had a lot of recognisable Gaiman themes -- fairgrounds, whimsy, victoriana, grotesques, silly costumes -- a sort of gypsy steampunk vibe. But it was recognisably a Doctor Who story in which the Cybermen get defrosted, try to take over the universe, and get defeated.

I am not sure why it is was set in a themepark, but I can't think of any particular reason why it shouldn't have been. I am pleased that the parallell worlds theory has been abandonned and we just kind of accept that there are Cybermen and they are baddies. I liked the fact that, given that this was the best theme park in the universe and the Doctor is (as has been established) somewhere between Father Christmas and WIlly Wonker, he would naturally have a golden ticket, and therefore forgot that "gold" is one of the things Cybermen are vulnerable to. I thought the idea of the Doctor playing chess against himself was clever and funny, although it went on for rather too long. Warwick Davis is always good value, and no, I didn't see that coming, although probably I should have done. 

So. To keep old Doctor Who fans happy -- to keep this old Doctor Who fan happy, at any rate -- you don't need to do a pastiche of Old Who. (I expect Neil Gaiman could have written a pastiche of Old Who if he had wanted to, and I expect that might have been fun.) There were a few odd references to the Old Days: Cybermen waking up from their tombs, and a million cyberboots stomping across the landscape -- but arguably those have stopped being references to old stories and are now just part of the vocabulary from which cyberstories are constructed. All you have to do to keep an old Doctor Who fan happy is to drop the soap opera and the post-modern bullshit and the foisted-on story arc and just tell us a bloody story.

100%, Neil. You have Made. Good. Art.

*

Which leaves us with the extended prologue for next week. Clara and the Doctor do a monologue to camera, in which they both say that they didn't know very much about the other before the season finale, but then they found out, and were quite surprised. (Rather well done.)

It doesn't tell us the answers, but it drops some pretty broad hints about the ball park in which the answers will be found. Clara is not mysterious merely because she keeps dying and coming back: she is mysterious because she is exactly the sort of companion that the Doctor wants and needs. Since Wonderful-Rose, every companion has been exactly the kind of companion the Doctor most needs; but granted that what the Doctor wants is a facility with wisecracks and that quality which, if possessed byba female, is always called "fiestyness" -- a sort of heroic joy -- I'm happy to accept that Rose was special and Donna was special and Amy was special and Clara is a special replacement for Amy that he acquired "on the rebound." So, fairly clearly, it is going to turn out that Clara, being The Perfect Companion, is actually part of a trap that someone has set for him. Not a person at all, but a Plot Device disguised as a person, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Sister. It is also pretty clear that Clara's Thing is related to the TARDIS because we keep being told that Clara and the TARDIS don't get on; and I think it will be something to do with the kids, because I can't see any reason for their being in the One With The Cybermen except as a set-up for the metaplot.

As to the Doctors thing, we ae being led down a fairly tranparent garden path. The title of tomorrow's story is The Name of the Doctor and Moffat has repeatedly said that the story will reveal the Doctors greatest secret. What he has pointedly not said is that the Doctor's greatest secret is his name. The expression "Doctor who?" has been very heavily lampshaded all through this "season": the One With The Daleks ended with Him jumping up and down in the TARDIS saying "Doctor who?" over and over again, and when Wonderful Clara asks his name, he says "I love hearing her say that." At the end of last season, the Doctor removed all references to himself from history. That idea has not really been followed up on on. I liked the Cyberplanner's remark that he was still visible in the universe by the shape of the gap.

So. Predictions.

The Doctor's name used to be reasonably well known. When he turned up on planets and said "I'm Doctor Fooblenurdle" people said "Fooblenurdle -- not Fooblenurdle who has a Terrible Secret associated with something he did in before, during or after the Time War?" "Yes, that Fooblenurdle" replies the Doctor. When he removed himself from history, he also removed all knowledge of his name. As part of the season finale, we will learn what the terrible thing he did before, during or after the Time War was (which will, of course, have another even deeper and darker secret hidden inside it); but it will turn out that his name is literally unknowable. This is why he likes it when people ask him what he is called: it reminds him that he's covered his tracks successfully.

Clara is a construct, created by the TARDIS, based on the Doctor's memory of souffle girl, in order to prevent him going to the only place in the entire universe and world where his most deepest and darkest secret can be revealed. That's why she can't die: the TARDIS keeps rebooting her and reinserting her history at a different point.

Also: River Song is Amy Pond's daughter.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Crimson Horror [7:11]


This is going to be a very boring essay.


The Crimson Horror scores a massive 95.42% on the Ril/Moff scale. It follows that I am not going to have anything particularly interesting to say about it. 

Critical analysis tends to kick in when you are thinking "Ooo...look at those people acting / singing / doing special effects very well / quite well / badly". And if the acting, singing and special effects are doing their jobs, then you shouldn't be aware that you are watching Actors, Singers or Special Effects. You should only be aware that you are watching Sherlock Holmes, Brunhilde or Archie the Inventor doing the kind of stuff that they do. This is why it is possible to love something terrible, like Flash Gordon, and hate something excellent, like Jackson's Lord of the Rings. It is also (come to think of it) why so many theatre critics seem to hate plays and so many restaurant critics seem to hate eating out. And why the True Fan sees everything from Star Trek to the Clangers as providing documentary information about "real events" which "really happened".

So, an actual honest review of the Crimson Horror would go something like this:

Woot! Woot! Funny Sontaran. 
Woot! Woot! Scary lady. 
Woot! Woot! Quite good joke about Sat Nav. 

If a Doctor Who fan from 1983 who knew nothing of Paul McGann or Big Finish could be whisked forward and told "This is a piece of TV from 30 years in your future" he would instantly recognise The Crimson Horror as Doctor Who: a mixture of silly comedy and fairly dark horror; with a recognizably crackers super-boffin in a silly costume at the centre of it all. (What a relief that for the last three weeks Matt Smith has been mostly willing to bounce around be clever and brave and out of his depth and mostly avoided going on and on about how the universe is big, so big, so lonely, lonely, I can't tell you how, big, lonely, I'm so, very very sorry)

But equally and more importantly, if it could be contrived that someone from 2013 were completely unaware of there ever having been a programme called Doctor Who but nevertheless turned their TV on at 7PM on last Saturday, I think that they would have had a very good time, and wanted to come back this week for more of the same. (The fact that "more of the same" is the one thing Moffat is congenitally unable to provide can be discussed in a different seminar.)

Whacky action; part Avengers, part Holmes; full of mad sci-fi trappings but not trying at any level to be "science fiction"; excited by the characters and situations, definitely not taking itself seriously but not exactly taking the piss either. Joyful allusions to vaguely Victorian imagery — dark satanic mills; terrible revivalist meetings; the strange factory, part prison, part health farm; the blind daughter;, the monster in the attic, sort of; the people in suspended animation, kept under class covers, like taxidermists displays. All held together by a science fiction premise that's so perfunctory it's practically not there. And at the centre, the absolutely spot-on decision to hire one of the world's most famous actresses to play — there is no other way of saying this — a pantomime dame. 

The thing it resembled most was "Talons of Weng Chiang", and it was absolutely nothing like that. The last two seasons of Who have consistently made me say "This is doing the same kind of thing that the the Moffat / Gatiss 21st century Holmes reboot does so very much better". This episode made me feel "Why would anyone now want to go back to Sherlock, which is exactly the same thing but without lesbian Silurians, pacifist Sontarans and jurassic shrimps?"

Fans notoriously like closure and completeness. They like to feel that it would be theoretically possible to read every episode of Captain America that there has ever been, and that if they did, it would all hang together as one huge epic cycle, even though it isn't and they wouldn't. New Who, when it has it's head screwed on, resists that kind of closure. Vastra first appeared in "A Good Man Goes to War"; but had no real introduction scene -- she was presented in such a way as to imply that we ought to already know who she was. She then appears as if she were a long-established character in the 2012 Christmas special. Although there is some duterocanonical material explaining where she comes from, there is no real point of origin to follow her back to. There never is. We are always in media res. (We always have been, of course. This is why telling us the Doctor's name would be a really. stupid. idea.)

I suppose you could say that the whole idea of a Silurian operating as a detective out of Victorian London, and the whole idea of a Sontaran driving a hansom cab are just as much fan-pleasing references to Doctor Who mythology as a long wander round the TARDIS with quotes from old episodes playing in the background. But it doesn't feel like that; I suppose because the idea of a soldier who has ostensibly become a pacifist but who still thinks of every problem in military terms is intrinsically funny, even if you have never seen Time Warrior. You and I know that the Silurians have appeared many times in the past but the red leech has never been mentioned before; but if the red leech were an old foe and the Silurians a new addition to the the mythos, "The Crimson Horror" would have been pretty much the same story. Fans have no advantage over casual viewers; it's a glorious silly muddle whatever your starting point. References to old stories are the icing on the cake. In fact they are the tiny little silver balls that are sprinkled on at the last minute to make it look pretty. In Journey to the Center of the the TARDIS, they were the whole cake. 

"The Crimson Horror" is clearly the kind of thing that Moffat wants to be doing; this is the kind of thing that Moffat ought to be doing. Fun, bonkers, deconstructed, non-linear narratives in which loads of clever ideas are chucked out at a pace you can't quite keep up with. Dear Mr Moffat, please make Doctor Who like this one and like the one with dinosaurs and maybe even like the one with the cowboys and never ever make one even a little bit like the one with the TARDIS ever ever again.


NOTE: The only thing which keeps the story from scoring a maximum 100% is the epilogue in which Clara's terrible kids realise that she is a time traveller because they have found pictures of her in the olden days on the Marvelous Mechanical Internet and have never heard of cosplay. And they are in it as supporting characters next week. Oh, god.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Journey to the Center of the TARDIS [7:11]

Years ago, when I didn't know any better, I wrote, in the sense of planned out in my head, a Doctor Who story which might have been called "The Pillars of Hercules".[*] The Doctor, for good and adequate reasons, has to travel further than he has ever travelled before — to the very edge of the Universe, pursued by all his worst enemies, who want to get there first. The Doctor narrowly wins the race, and discovers that the Universe does indeed have a literal, physical edge, marked by a big scary door. He steps through the big scary door (which is blue) and discovers that on the other side is...a junk yard at 76 Totters Lane. The whole of Time and Space has always been inside an old fashioned police phone box. 

I also "wrote" one in which, for equally good reasons, the Doctor has to go on a long journey through the TARDIS. The further he goes, the stranger it becomes, corridors going from white hexagons to bricks and eventually to landscapes and planets, a whole universe in its own right. As he travels, horrible monsters confront him, until he finally gets to the very centre of the TARDIS where he finds a white hotel room, an astronaut and a big blue monolith a four poster bed, asleep in which is a familiar figure in a floppy hat and scarf, endlessly dreaming.


The trouble with both these ideas — the trouble with all self-begotten, masturbatory fan fiction — is that they are not stories. They aren't even ideas for stories. They are just free-floating ideas in the mind of someone who has spent too much of their life immersed in one particular TV show. Suppose the Doctor and the Master were brothers, we exclaim! Suppose Holmes and Moriarty were the same person! Suppose it turned out that Daleks were the human race, way, way in the future! Suppose it turned out the Doctor's worst enemy was actually an evil future incarnation of himself! 

Okay, supposing they were and supposing it did. Why would that be interesting, particularly? What follows from any of it? Nothing whatsoever, so far as I can see. A long journey is a long journey, even if there is a quite a good punch line at the end of it. 


Not that all self-begotten fiction is automatically bad (and not that there is anything reprehensible about fans thinking up new stories about characters they love.) When you have a very well defined "universe", then very interesting stories can sometimes bubble up from inside it; some universes are created specifically as cooking pots in which stories can stew. Tell a writer that a cowardly, dishonest trader has been forced into a marriage of convenience with an obsessively honourable warrior woman, and he could probably develop a rom-com, a tragedy or a farce from that basic idea depending on what kind of writer he was. It doesn't become a less legitimate rom-com, tragedy or farce because you can state the premise as "The one in which a Ferengi has to marry a Klingon." It's perfectly good shorthand; a perfectly good way for viewers and actors and producers to grasp the idea behind the story without pages and pages of exposition. It may even be that if no-one had thought of Star Trek, no-one would have thought of telling that particular story; that "Ferengi" and "Klingon" are conceptual tools which faciliate "The House of Quark" and  "Spock" and "McCoy" are conceptual tools that facilitate "City on the Edge of Forever". 


But Star Trek is — to borrow an expression — a story-making machine. Doctor Who really isn't. "Mad Dalek" doesn't evoke narrative possibilities in the same way that "Klingon Civil War" does.


I am sure that we have all sometimes thought "just how big is the TARDIS; how far does it go; are there parts of it that the Doctor never shows us, parts of it that he himself doesn't know?!" But answers to those sorts of questions are, at best, components of stories, and not even the most important components. They are not stories in themselves, and they are certainly not things you can serve instead of stories. 


Tell me that the Doctor is going to show us parts of the TARDIS that we have never seen before, and my first question is not "What parts?" but "Why?". And you had better have a good answer.


I may possibly be giving out the impression that I don't really  have anything to say about "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS." This is because I don't. For anyone keeping track, it scores 8% on the Ril/Mof scale: I barely made it past the opening credits. I am honestly tempted to type the words "beneath contempt" and pass on to next weeks story. 

I suppose I had better cover the things I liked about it. I liked the title, although I am fascinated by the theory that a target audience who are assumed to be spooked out by Scooby-Doo ghosts are also wryly amused be references to Jules Verne. I liked the big spaceship; I liked the idea of a space salvage team; I liked the Aliens-out-of-Red-Dwarf imagery; I thought that the characters had a little bit of potential and wouldn't mind seeing them in a story where they actually had things to do. I quite liked the way parts of the TARDIS seemed to be quite like Hogwarts School: the idea that a Time Lord encyclopaedia is something you drink rather than something you read. I believe that the Great Big Story Arc that started in the final Sly McCoy season and was partially completed in the first few novels would have turned Gallifrey into Gormenghast. I started chucking things at the screen when the TARDIS was inside the big spaceship being manipulated by big mechanical claws. 

When Doctor Who was a 60s throwback, an embarrassment to the BBC made on a shoestring budgie and kept running only because cancellation would generate adverse reaction from people who hadn't watched it for years, aberrations like "Time and the Rani" and "Timelash" were perfectly understandable. When Doctor Who is such a major part of the BBC brand, hailed on Radio Times covers and Christmas idents and expensive exhibitions in Cardiff, you would imagine that someone would be making some kind of attempt to control quality a little bit. I can only assume that the Power That Be have a genuinely phobic reaction to science fiction — they don't understand what it is about or what it is for, can't focus their mind on it for more than a couple of minutes, and assume that The First Men in the Moon, Ben 10, and Do Andrews Dream of Electric Sleep really are all pretty much reducible to "Mr Gobbledegook was walking down the road." Since none of this stuff makes any sense, why should they care that this particular bit of stuff doesn't make any sense? 

Oh well. Very little harm was done. At least there weren't any Big Revelations. There is always a danger that a Terrible Writer will introduce a Terrible Idea that other Terrible Writers feel the need to follow, and suddenly "Time Lords Have Twelve Lives" or "The Doctor Is Half Human On His Mother's Side" is one of those things about Doctor which everybody knows. (There are still fans who seriously believe that Matt Smith's successor will be the final TV Doctor because someone once said that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times and that can't be unsaid.) I suppose we got to see the engine room and the Eye of Harmony (which was actually kind of cool) but there is no reason to think that the Engine Room and the Eye of Harmony will look anything like that the next time we see them. When a show has been running for fifty years, we sort of accept that the sets and the costumes will not be completely consistent from decade to decade; but I think it was a shame to enshrine the idea that the TARDIS interior looks like whatever the Doctor wants it to look like quite so explicitly in the story-internal series mythology. The tension between "rickety old box of tricks" and "most advanced ship in the universe" is one that it would have been better not to have resolved. The Series 1 - 4 console room was rather nicely re-imagined as being made of coral — because TARDII are grown rather than constructed; but it had lots of random bits of anachronistic technology stuck on because as the Doctor travels, naturally he repairs it from what's available The insight that the TARDIS is like a camper van, both a vehicle and a home — was a spot on observation. Now we have to pretend that he had merely configured the desk top to look like that.

Back in 1964, in the twelfth and thirteenth ever episodes of Doctor Who, it was established that the TARDIS was intelligent, sort of, and there has always been a yummy ambiguity about whether the Doctor personifies the TARDIS in the way sailors sometimes personify their boats, or personifies it because it actually is a person. Neil Gaiman, generally accepted to be the Second Greatest Living Author [**] contributed a silly story last season in which the TARDIS accidentally becomes incarnated as a dippy goth chic with a crush on the Doctor whose one-liners aren't quite so good as Delerium's. Like a lot of things in New Who, it was a clever twist on the established mythos that we should have grinned at and then never spoken of again. Instead, it's become another of those things which everyone knows and which has to be smirked over in every subsequent episode. The Doctor would make a good Dalek, ha! The Doctor once wore a fez ha-ha. The Doctor and the TARDIS are like an old married couple, ha-ha-ha! 

You could have done something with the idea of the TARDIS being violated by salvage men. I think they probably needed to be cosmic salvage men from a higher dimension who regarded Time Lord technology as mere junk. The amount of gobbledegooks that had to be invoked to create a situation where three ordinary guys with a big spaceship could, or thought they could, steal bits of the ship made it hard to even think of the thing as a story. Turning off the TARDIS's indestructible button so Clara could learn to fly it? Setting the TARDIS for self destruct? Pretending to set the TARDIS for self destruct? Stealing bits from the special cosmic TARDIS Christmas tree room? I really wish writers would take the trouble to rub out their construction lines. Yes, in the first Alien movie there is a human who surprisingly turns out to be an android, and the look and feel of the space craft today is a little like that in Alien so of course one of the characters is an android who surprisingly turns out to be human. Possibly because his comrades have tricked him into thinking he is as a black joke, or to steal his inheritance.  

So, all that is left is two bits of information about the extremely interesting and fascinating great big story arc.

1: Clara's Thing

The Doctor asks Clara why she keeps dying and coming back. Clara doesn't know. No-one really expected Clara to know. So we can ignore that bit. (I am pretty sure that Clara's thing will turn out to have something to do with the TARDIS, because there have been so many references to the TARDIS not liking her. Perhaps she is the reincarnation of the Master's TARDIS.)

2: The Doctor's Thing

Clara reads a passage from a book which Aslan has specifically told her not to read from. The book reveals the Doctor's (oh, god) True Name. She is mildly surprised and asks him about it; he is mildly surprised that she is mildly surprised but there is a big red reset button and everyone stops being surprised and forgets. So it appears that:

a: His name isn't "Doctor" or "Who", which were my first and second bets

c: It is a name which means something to Clara: he has an identity, he is someone other than who he claims to be.

c: It isn't a name which is significant within established mythos — he isn't Rassilon or Omega or The Other because Clara would have no reason to recognise those names. 

d: It's got something to do with the something he did in the bloody Time War.

Ho hum. I admit to being intrigued as to where Moffat is going with this; he's been at it for years (since the story which introduced River Bloody Song, in fact) so he is obviously going somewhere. The "who is River Song" reveal was quite cleverly handled, sort of; I suspect he has got either a very clever answer or (more likely) a very clever twist about why we aren't going to here the answer after all. 

But the trouble is, like the episode, it's self-generated fan-fiction. "What is the Doctor's name" is the kind of thing, like "Who ws Susan Foreman" an "What happened to Peter Parker's Mum and Dad" which is only interesting to someone who is already quite interested in Doctor Who. And it's not like it's really a "secret". It's not like every produce for 50 years has known the Doctor's names and origins but not told us, and when the secret is revealed we will see all the previous stories in a different light. It's not even as if a secret sealed manuscript by Sydney Newman has been discovered and opened in the presence of twenty four bishops. No-one knows the Doctor's name because he hasn't got one. Moffat is going to make something up. If it's a very good thing, then it will become a true thing, like the Doctor being a Time Lord, and no-one will really believe that there was a time when we didn't know it. If it's a silly thing, then everyone will just ignore it and the series will carry on as before.

It's just such an amateur, sophomoric way of writing. "There's this thing called the TARDIS. No-one knows how big it is" "Then let's do a story in which we find out how big the TARDIS is!" "There is this character called the Doctor...no-one knows his name" "Then let's reveal his name! It will be the Biggest Thing Ever! And while we are at it, let's give Harpo a speaking part, and introduce us to Conan's Mummy and Daddy and take Judge Dredd's mask off, reveal the name of the second Mrs De Winter; write a prequel to Watchmen."

Why only twelve disciples? Go out and hire thousands. 

Beneath contempt. Move on.


[*] As everyone knows, the Pillars of Hercules stood at the very edge of the Ancient World. Spanish Pieces of Eight had an engraving of the two pillars with a serpent wrapped around them: that is where the US dollar sign comes from.

[**] Terry Pratchett

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hide [7.10]

"This house is exactly what you would expect in a nightmare. Yes, we're in a world of dreams. Creaking doors, thunder and lightning, monsters and all the things that go bumpety bumpety in the night. "
             The First Doctor -- The Chase




How to write your own Doctor Who story.

1: Introduce monster.

2: Introduce supporting cast.

3: Demonstrate that situation of supporting cast ironically mirrors the situation of the Doctor and Rose.

4: Demonstrate that situation of monster ironically mirrors that of supporting cast.

5: Pull solution to monster out of thin air.

6: Show that solution to monster pulled out of thing air is also solution to supporting cast.

7: Hint that solution to supporting cast would also be solution to Doctor and Rose, but can't be applied, because if it did they would live happily ever after and the series would end.

8: Rinse and repeat. 


For example:

a: Monster is time traveller, lost lonely and alone, needing contact with other humans to help it. 

b: Other monster is apparently scary alien, but actually lonely and needing lurve and a place to be happy in. 

c: Supporting cast are Repressed Scientist and Empathic Assistant 

d: Repressed Scientist is lying about his past, origins, name etc because of terrible unspecified things he did during a war; Repressed Scientist's Empathic Assistant is attracted to Repressed Scientist but can't say so.

e: Solution to monster is to take a risk, reach out to it with your feelings, bring her home, etc.

f: This is also the solution to the other monster.

g: Solution to scientists is to take a risk, reach out with their feelings, etc etc etc. 

h: Solution to the Doctor and Clara would be....

This formula was established in Season 1, and yes, I suppose I am about to say that New Who isn't as good as it used to be. The formula worked at the beginning of the Doctor Who revival because the backstory was only gradually unwinding: we didn't know which bits of the Doctor Who "universe" had been carried over into New Who, and we didn't know what this new Doctor was going to be like. So, in Episode 2, "The End of the World", Rose see the earth destroyed, which turns out to reflect the Doctor's own situation  — which we didn't know about  — of having witnessed the destruction of his own planet. Similarly, the threat in "Dalek" — one Dalek, last of its kind, not even a proper Dalek, alone in the universe — reflected the Doctor's situation, which we were only just getting the hang of, being the Last of the Time Lords. It also introduced us to the idea that this Doctor has a bad side and revealed that the Time Lord's adversaries in the Time War were the Daleks.

But seven, or really eight, or actually arguably nine, seasons on, there is nothing about the Doctor left to reveal. There is a big tease going on about his True Name, but you can bet that this is going to be more or less a clever trick. So each week, we have a monster that ironically reflects the fact that the Doctor is, like, cosmically lonely, looking for love, the last of his kind, has a potential dark side, carries the weight of the universe on his shoulders, I've seen so much, I'm sorry, jammy dodgers, I'm so very sorry... Things which it is really not worth symbolizing because they are now just taken for granted facts. Huge fantasy artifices are being constructed in order to tell us things we already know and which weren't particularly interesting in the first place.  


*

Toilets are not, in themselves, particularly funny; but a skilled comedian like Ben Elton or Geoffrey Chaucer can make an adult laugh at a toilet joke. But if you want to make a child laugh, you don't need to bother with the joke. Just saying the word "poo" is enough. Similarly, a skilled story teller can construct a story about a  haunting in such a way as to scare an adult. But if scaring kids is your thing, you don't need to worry about the story: at a particular age, they seem to be just programmed to find ghosts scary.

See also: clowns. 

I wonder if the whole New Who project has been hog-tied from the beginning by a misunderstanding of what it means to find a TV show "scary". Being afraid of the Daleks (because they might kill you) is not the same as being afraid of a ghost (because it shouldn't exist). But that is different again from being afraid of a story with a ghost in it, or a story with a Dalek in it. Mr C.S Lewis asked us to consider how we would feel if someone told us that there was a lion in the next room; and compare it with how we would feel if someone told us that there was a ghost in the next room. He also said that growing up in Ireland, he had met people who honestly believed in both ghosts and fairies, and who were un-bothered by the former but terrified of the latter. 


If I were in an old house and heard unexplained banging noises and felt drops in temperature, I would probably think that there was a burglar in the building, or that the boiler was about to blow up. And that might "frighten" me, because being beaten up and having hot water poured over me are not things which I particularly enjoy. But that's not what we are talking about when we talk about being "scared" by ghosts, and that's why grown-up ghost stories are relatively unlikely to involve creaky floors, clanking chains, and things with sheets over their head that go woo-woo. The ghost story that actually "frightens" us is the one where we are unexpectedly visited by an old friend, have a drink with him, and find out a week later that he's been dead an buried for six months. Physical danger frightens us; ghosts creep us out. Somewhere in between is the weird yucky feeling we get in the presence of snakes, spiders, dead bodies and Nigel Farage.

Hide is heavily trailed as being a "scary" Doctor Who story. It isn't remotely creepy or uncanny, and the monster is less dangerous than the one which nearly set off a nuclear war last week. It is constructed on the the assumption that I am eight years old and will be sent into paroxysms of delighted horror every time a grown up says "ghost...boo!". I'm not and I wasn't and I don't, as matter of fact, believe I would have been. I had far more nightmares about nuclear war than I ever did about ghosts. Thank you, again, Mrs Thatcher.

The first quarter was pretty well done; but it was a pretty well done episode of the Sarah-Jane Adventures, rather than a pretty well done episode of Doctor Who. It seemed to be running through the standard tropes of ghost stories (it does indeed show every sign of being a dark and stormy night) and going nowhere very interesting with them. Mr Scott and Ms Raine (who my mother tells me features prominently in a popular TV show about babies) turn in good performances as the Repressed Professor and his Beautiful Empathetic assistant, always assuming that you believe that "she's- not-worth-risking-a-single-hair-on-your-head-for-not-to-me" is the sort of thing an actual human being might say. 

I liked the idea that the Professor has become Obsessed with ghost hunting because of the people he killed during the war, although this seems to rather take for granted that "inexplicable apparitions" and "post-death survival" go together like "metaphor" and "perfunctory". (Surely that's what superstitious natives think? Serious Paranormal Investigators know better.) I liked the confrontation between the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS, shoehorned into the script though it undoubtedly was. I don't buy the idea that, because the Doctor can travel forward in time to a point where any given person has already died, every person is, from his point of view, a ghost. I'm not even sure what that means. There is a very nice episode of Sarah-Jane in which Rani is sent back in time by a man with a funny hat and meets Lady Jane Grey. There is no expectation that she should be less engaged with her new friend's tragic situation because, from a certain point of view, she's already been dead for five hundred years. I thought that the use of the TARDIS to get at the explanation for the ghost was quite fun: I like the idea that the entire history of the human race is, for the Doctor pretty much just a short detour and a minor subplot. 

The noise about pocket dimensions made no sense at all, and to be honest, I had very little idea what was supposed to be happen during the last twenty minutes. I sometimes complain that Doctor Who has offered us a reasonable "magic" solution to a situation, and overlaid it with an unconvincing scientific gloss. This one I couldn't even follow as magic. The Doctor needs some weird equipment and the Repressed Obsessed Professor's Beautiful Empathic Assistant because the TARDIS can't go into the pocket dimension except at the very last minute when Clara persuades it that it can. Oh well.

The monster that was chasing Future Lady around the blasted heath was genuinely alien, and the dreamlike quality of those sequences were about as close as we got to "scary" in this "scary" episode. Did you notice that it was credited as "the crooked man"? Would anyone like to bet folding money that the episode was going to be called "the crooked house" write up to the very last minute?

The final 30 seconds are one of those times when my jaw drops and I find it impossible to believe that I am actually watching Doctor Who. Or, indeed, anything that has been put together by a professional writer. Lots of writers, I guess, change their mind about how their story should end in the process of writing it. Most writers go back and do a second draft and put in foreshadowing and clues and stuff. But Doctor Who is the bestist and most wonderfullest and most seriousist bit of proper grown up drama on television, so there's no need to bother. "It's not a ghost story, it's a love story." You're just not trying, are you?

I pretty much stopped taking the episode seriously during the scene when the Doc and Clara were by themselves in the music room, and there was a scary cold spot and a scary banging. (The episode therefore scores a weak 33% on the Ril/Moff Scale.)

"I know I'm a teeny tiny bit terrified" says Clara "But I'm an adult. There's no need to actually hold my hand". 

"Clara" says the Doctor "I'm not holding your hand", whereupon they scream and run down the stairs.

I grant that, on the fifth viewing you find out that there is a reason for this. It seems that the genuinely horrible monster chasing Future Lady is not genuinely horrible at all, but merely looking for a lover, and presumably holds hand with Clara across the dimensions because he's lonely. But at this point in the story, it feels less like something out of a ghost story and more like something out of a pantomime. In the, er, quintessentially splendid "Ghost Light", Ace was scared of Gabriel Chase because it freaked her out when she was a little girl. ("Ace tells the Doctor about her worst nightmare" explained the Radio Time "So he takes her there.") In the also pretty good "Satan Pit", the Doctor claims to be unnerved by the devil creature but because the idea of something coming from "before the universe" doesn't fit into his world view. Here we have two people who kept their nerve on a nuclear sub when an alien was about to blow up the world screaming like two kids on a ghost train pretending because they think they are in a room with ghostie. 

So. A ghost which isn't frightening, wrapped up as a metaphor for stuff we already know, with a more than usually meaningless magical-science explanation.

And it's "MET A BEE LIS" not "MET TEB A LUS"