Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Complete Guide to New Who

Season 8

8.1: Deep Breath

8.2 Into the Dalek

8.3 Robot of Sherwood

8.4 Listen

8.5 Time Heist

8.6 The Caretaker

8.7: Kill the Moon

8.8 Mummy on the Orient Express

8.9 Flatline


8.10 In the Forests of the Night

8.11 Dark Water

8.12 Death in Heaven

8.13 Last Christmas

Available from and

8.13: Last Christmas

As I’ve said before, children find me a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas.
                             William Hartnell

Unlike Philip Sandifer, (whose TARDIS Eruditorum absolutely everyone should read), I don’t really believe in redemptive readings and narrative collapses and what-not. I was the target audience for a lot of old Who — a little English boy perfectly happy with his monsters and spaceships and corridors and cliffhangers — so I have a built in affection for most of the old stuff. But when an old story was genuinely bad, I don't feel the need to say. “Of course it was bad: it was meant to be bad. That’s the whole genius of it. Isn’t it wonderful that Doctor Who, unlike Star Trek, doesn’t try to do anything as old fashioned as make sense. When correctly viewed all Doctor Who stories are wonderful. Except the ones where Europeans play Chinese characters. You aren’t allowed to like those ones.” 

It is entirely possible that I am parodying his position just the tiniest little bit. 

I am tolerant of bad things. I am happy to say, about a movie for example, “Well that had a lot of what I liked about the original trilogy in it, although I could maybe have done without the kid and the alien”. Some other people are more inclined to say GEORGE LUCAS RAPED MY CHILDHOOD. 

But I am not going to defend the indefensible. 

Season 8 is much the worst Season of New Who, featuring the most pointlessly vacuous companion and the worst Doctor. (Not the worst acted. Merely the worst.) This Christmas special, which somewhat ties the previous twelve parts together, was always going to feel like a kick in the teeth. I see no point in saying that kicking the audience in the teeth is an interesting idea, something no other TV series would attempt; and a challenging commentary on the dental industry.

I’m not going to stop watching. I was ready to give up during the Tennant years, and then Matt Smith happened. But I am not going to pretend that it didn't really, really hurt. 

I’m not saying there’s not a good idea in there. The Doctor fighting aliens in an Arctic base under siege, complete with dark corridors, panicking crew, monsters and cliffhangers — proper old school Who. That’s a good idea. If Doctor Who is fighting aliens at the North Pole at Christmas, then of course Santa Claus is going to show up and help. That’s a good idea, too. And once you have the Doctor and Santa in one story you are bound to tackle the idea that they are both legends, both things that kids believe in. That's an interesting idea, albeit one that we've seen eighteen or nineteen times before. I would have liked a more out-there explanation than "if this is Father Christmas, then we must all be dreaming." (Maybe Santa is literally real in Amy's world, but differs from the fairy-tale character in some some subtle and disturbing ways? Remember the slightly scary Father Christmas in Narnia?) No matter. Nick Frost’s portrayal of the right jolly old elf is good fun; slightly more cynical than we'd expect Santa to be but not a full blown Raymond Briggs’ sdebunking. The banter with the elves ("it’s not racist, you are an elf") made me properly laugh.

This is the wrong season to be doing this kind of thing in,. This is the Season in which the human race has discovered that (depending on what you think the One With The Cybermen was about) there is either definitely no after-life or else that there literally is. And in which it’s turned out Walter Scott’s Locksely is historically real. And that the moon is an egg. That’s not the time to be telling us that Father Christmas can't be real because he's obviously silly. 

The dream-explanation kicks in far too early. I was reminded of the Next Doctor travesty from 2008, where a funny set up about a human who thinks he’s the Doctor gets sidelined after ten minutes by an uninteresting run around involving Cyberdogs and Cyberqueens and Cyber-transformers. The Dream Crabs are all very well and good as a device to get Doctor Who and Father Christmas into one story-line. They too rapidly become what the story is about. 

More Father Christmas meets Alien, please; more Doctor Who in a Christmas fairy tale. Less sentiment. Less Inception. Less True Love.


Oh, it’s all very meta-textual and clever. Shona wakes up to find that she had been intending to spend Christmas watching DVDs: Alien, the Thing From Another World and Miracle on 34th Street. Ho-ho-ho. She has taken the trouble to write the list in large letters because Moffat can't think of a less subtle way of telling us. Thing From Another World is the original Base Under Siege narrative, and it takes place at the North Pole. (The more famous remake takes place at the South.) It's already been pointed out that the Dream Crabs look a lot like the Face Huggers. Miracle on 34th Street is the definitive film about how Virginia should believe in Santa even though he doesn't exist. You aren't being derivative if someone pops up on the screen and says "Hey, look at us, we're being derivative!"

A Doctor Who take on Miracle on 34th Street isn't an intrinsically bad idea. It's become something of a Thing for Doctor Who Christmas specials to be skits on classic Christmas stories. (The Snowmen was Mary Poppins, up to a point; The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe was Narnia, obviously, Time of the Doctor had overtones of Pinocchio and a Christmas Carol was based on some Dickens story the name of which currently escapes me.) And with so many base under siege stories taking place at the North, or more usually South, pole the idea of Santa Claus wandering into the plot of Tenth Planet is quite funny.

But it all goes beyond "sly references" and "derivation" and into a Greatest Hits compilation. Crabs who can only see you when you are thinking of them (with thanks to the Silence and the Weeing Angels.) The world which might, or might not, be a dream (hats off to Amy’s Choice, and Turn Left, and the first five minutes of the One With the Cybermen, and Every. Damn. Episode. Of the Sarah Jane Adventures.) Skipping a character’s life and seeing them when they are old (with permission of Blink, the One With Agatha Christie, Sarah Jane again, and others too numerous to mention.)  The alien which sucks your mind by making you think you are experiencing a special Christmas with dead people (a special guest appearance by Star Trek: Generations). The conflation of the Doctor, Father Christmas and, er, God goes back to the very first Eleventh Doctor story, when Little Amy was discovered saying her prayers to Santa Claus. Further than that, actually, to Moffat's first New Who script, when Doctor Chris claimed in passing to have give Rose a red bike when she was a little girl. Further than that, come to think of it, to Emma's speech in the definitively seminal Curse of Fatal Death. ("You're like Father Christmas, Scooby Doo and the Wizard of Oz, and I love you very much.") And of course, every Christmas episode contains a tonally identical Magic of Christmas speech involving sappy music and someone explaining about how Christmas is totally special even though it doesn't seen to be actually celebrating anything in particular.

Nothing against secular midwinter festivals. Season Greetings, and all that that entails. Never believed that Christians own Christmas and that everyone else should get out from under our Christmas tree. No objection to Richard Dawkins and Tim Minchin claiming to like carol singing, even if I do think it's a bit like David Cameron telling us how much he likes the the Red Flag and the Interntionales. That Slade Song catches the mood perfectly well. Christmas is about having a lot to eat and drink and being silly with your family and friends and what is wrong with that?

It’s the idea that all over the universe Christmas is a special and magical which makes me want to sick up my mince pie. You never hear people talking about the magical essence of Guy Fawkes night or how in a very real sense people all over the universe get caught up in the spirit of Eid al-Fitr.


Six weeks ago, we had found a quite satisfactory means of cutting the Doctor/Clara/Danny knot. The Doctor chose to lie to Clara; Clara chose to lie to the Doctor; and the Danny chose to remain dead. Before we have even got to the end of the pre-cred sequence this week, that satisfactory ending has been chucked out of the window. Clara is back on the TARDIS. Everyone has admitted that they have lied to each other, and with a single face-slap everything is back to normal. 

Then, in the last five minutes, something uncharacteristically clever is pulled out of thin air. 

Everything in the story has been a dream within a dream. Everyone has been under the influence of the Crabs since the episode started. The Doctor didn’t go back for Clara mere seconds after leaving her behind: he only dreamed that he did. The Dream Crabs can attach themselves to different people in different time periods, but their victims all end up sharing the same dream. (Hand wave, hand wave, hand wave.) So Clara is sharing the same dream as the Doctor, but decades later. She’s a very old lady, dreaming about a person she knew when she was young. And now, in what we are supposed to infer will be her Last Christmas, he comes back to her. She’s spent her whole life believing that she did the right thing in lying to the Doctor, only to find out, when she’s 80 or more, that it was an unnecessary lie. It’s a beautiful scene, reinstating the “gift of the magi” ending but adding a bittersweet little coda. Like Sarah and Jo and Amy, Clara has filled the Doctor-shaped hole in her life by touring Europe, aeroplanes and generally having a fandabbydozey bucket-list crossing-out life. So although they are sad today, their mutual deception was all for the best, probably. There’s a lovely little moment where the Doctor helps Clara pull a cracker, just like Clara helped the Doctor pull a cracker last Christmas, when he was old. 

And then, just at the last minute, out of the blue, it turns out we’re still in the bloody dream world. In comes bloody Father Christmas and up we jolly well wake to rattle around the universe fighting monsters and saving planets, what could be more fun?

It’s an unforgivable cheat. You cheated us into having emotions about your made up characters, twice, and then wiped them away and said they didn’t matter. A story is a promise. You can’t make us care emotionally about the characters and then use “it was all a dream” to put everything back how it was before.

The death of Danny – the whole existence of Danny, come to think of it – and all the monsters under the bed and Daleks and Cyberzombies – all that was so you could return us to the exact and precise place where we started. To reset to where we were in Cold War and Hide, only with a Scottish accent? The nasty Doctor and his vacuous companion off having fun adventures. 

And that isn’t even the worst thing. 

A story is told about Colin Baker and Eric Saward. There is a scene in Trial of a Time Lord where the Doctor appears to torture Peri. Colin is said to have gone to the producer and said “I don’t understand this scene. Is the Doctor mad? Or still under the influence of the baddy’s mind control? Or is he pretending to torture Peri so the baddies will let him into their confidence? Or is the whole scene false evidence concocted by the Valeyard?” 

“I don’t know”, the producer is said to have said. “It’s a nice scene. Play it however you like.”

And somehow, that moment disseminated itself throughout space and time and became the aesthetic on which the new series was predicated. 

The worst thing about Last Christmas is this: the false ending was originally intended to be the actual ending of the story. The O Henry bargain was going to stand; Clara was really going to have lived 60 years without the Doctor. This last farewell was going to be how Wonderful Jenna bowed out of the series. But at the last minute Wonderful Jenna decided she’d like to stick around for a few more months, and the scene was given a happy ending. 

That’s where we are. The touchy feely drama about love has replaced our monsters and cliffhangers show. But the touchy feely drama about love is unable to actually tell a love story. It’s just a sequence of goodbye scenes and death scenes and breaking up scenes between people who never really break up or die or say goodbye. 

Dreams, ha-ha. They are disjointed and full of gaps and they don’t make sense, but you don’t notice. 

Perhaps it is best to assume that the Doctor and Clara have had crabs on their heads forever and will never take them off again.

And what's the tangerine in the final frame mean? Does it mean that Father Christmas really does exist in Clara's world after all? Or does it mean that the Doctor and Clara didn't really run off together and are still dreaming? Or does it not mean anything at all? Am I the only person who is bothered by this kind of thing?


Monday, October 26, 2015


Reporter: And, I suppose, in love?
Charles Windsor: Whatever “in love” means.

3: Love

Some people think there is a thing called “love” which is different from either sexual attraction or actually getting on enjoying each other's company. Two people can be in love without liking each other; you can be in love with someone you hardly know. Indeed, it is theoretically possible to fall in love with someone you have never met -- say, with the painting of the Flying Dutchman in your father's hall, or the David Cassidy centerfold in Jackie magazine. Most of us are rather bemused by the idea of “arranged marriage”: how could you possibly expect to live happily ever after with someone that your friends and family have carefully chosen because they think you might work well together? The idea of "love at first sight" -- that a quick glance at a person's is all you need to know that you are going to spend the rest of your life with them – seems much more rational. 

It works well enough fairy tales like the Princess Bride, where True Love is a rare and mystical force that occurs only once in a hundred years. I even sort of buy the idea of psychic recognition in Elfquest. But I can't swallow it in a naturalistic setting. I always want to scream at Celia Johnson “Go back to your nice husband, your lovely house and your beautiful kids; you’ve barely met the doctor-guy, you definitely haven’t gone to bed with him; are you seriously going to kill yourself over a relationship based on Disney cartoons and British rail tea, you crazy lady?”

This week, Clara tells Danny that she loves him.

Just to summarize: in the One With the Egg, Clara decided to dump the Doctor and commit to Danny. In the One With The Train, Clara decided to stay with the Doctor after all, which involved lying to both of them. In the One in the Forest, Danny saw through this pretty transparent lie, and, being a much nicer man than she deserves, told her that she needed to make a decision, but encouraged her to take time to think about it properly. 

(Am I alone in thinking that Danny’s persona – the endlessly tolerant, permanently bemused doormat -- is rather too close to that of Mickey in the Season 1? The Doctor calls him “P.E” and called Mickey “the idiot”. He didn’t give Amy’s white boy friend any snarky nicknames.)

So, this week, Clara phones up Danny (who she sees every day at work) and announces that she loves him. It isn't clear whether this is love in the sense of "I am going to stop lying to you, stop seeing other people, commit to you and spend the rest of my life with you" or love in the sense of "I am experiencing some warm fizzy feelings towards you.

And we don't find out, because during the phone call, Danny dies. I admit I wasn’t expecting that.

4: Scenes

Conventional story telling is about discovering what a character will do. We know, in general terms, that Hamlet thinks it is his duty to avenge the death of his father. If he didn’t there wouldn’t be a play. We also know that he’s worried about the afterlife and very doubtful about the existence of ghosts. So when he finds his father's murderer alone, unarmed and undefended, its a hugely big deal -- because it means we are going to find out what he believes, how far he's prepared to go, which way he'll jump when the moment comes. (SPOILER: He cops out.)

The scene matters because there is something riding on it: if Hamlet kills the king, the king is dead: is Hamlet doesn't kill the king, he won't get another chance.

In the exciting new form of story telling pioneered by the romantic comedy formally known as Doctor Who, dramatic scenes are just there to be dramatic and scene like. Nothing actually ever comes of them. They are very like Old Monsters: the audience seem to like them, but they never actually achieve very much. The actors put on their sad masks, or their happy masks, or their cross masks, and act really really hard, and then they put them back in the box and everything goes back to how it was before.

The question was never "does Clara love Danny?" Of course she does; whatever love means. The question was always "Will Clara choose an ordinary life with the man she loves (and who is very kind to her); or an amazing life with a man she doesn’t love (and who treats her pretty badly.)” 

So Danny's death is a cop out. It refuses to answer the interesting question (“Who will Clara choose: Danny or the Doctor?”) and replaces it with a boring one: "How would Clara feel if Danny died?”

If Danny died, Clara would feel like any bereaved person feels. She would feel that her loss and her grief is greater than any loss or any grief suffered by anyone in the whole history of the human race. She would blame all sorts of random irrelevant people -- the doctors and the nurses and the prime minister -- for not saving his life. She would feel that she would do anything -- literally anything -- to bring him back from the dead.

This being a romantic fairy story, there is something that she can do: attempt to blackmail the Doctor.

And so we come to The Scene. Everything is riding on this one: Danny's life, the Doctor and Clara's relationship, even, in principal, the continuation of the Doctor's voyages through time and space and therefore the existence of Doctor Who.

There’s a lot I like about The Scene. I like the fact that Clara takes action. I like the fact that she’s a big enough psychopath to drop the TARDIS keys into a volcano. I don’t quite buy the fact that she knows where all the keys are hidden (or is sufficiently naive to believe that she does). I like the fact that she’s applying logic to the story-world she finds herself in: doing the kinds of things you or I might do if we had a time machine. (A lot of us spent quite a lot of time in our childhoods thinking “If I were Peter Parker, I would ask Tony Stark to make an anti-heart-attack breast plate for Aunt May” or “If I were the Invisible Girl I would spend a lot of time in the boys’ changing rooms.”) And I like the fact that when she destroys the final TARDIS key, she’s immediately sorry, not because she’s marooned both of them in Mordor, but because she’s betrayed the Doctor.

And then the Doctor waves his magic doohickey and it turns out that it was all a dream: that there was never anything riding on it and the Doctor knew there wasn't.

So what was the point of the scene? To tell us that Clara loved Danny a really really lot, which we knew already? To provide a reason for the Doctor to try and rescue Danny from the afterlife? But the story would have panned out just the same if Clara had gone to the Doctor and said “Please may we go and rescue my boyfriend from the afterlife” and the Doctor had said “Oh, all right, since you asked so nicely.” Granted, she has shown us that she's willing to hurt the Doctor for the love of Danny, but that's her grief talking. If Danny had recovered from his death then it is highly like that three episodes later she would have been two-timing him with the mad man in a box. And The Scene has not changed her relationship with the Doctor. Indeed, we are specifically told that nothing that happens can ever cause that relationship to grow or develop in any way.

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” asks the Doctor.

What does that even mean?

Does it mean that the Doctor is worthy of Clara’s love because he doesn’t care that she doesn’t actually behave as if she loves him; but Danny is unworthy of it because he expects her to treat him decently?

Does it mean that since Clara being horrible to the Doctor doesn't stop him from loving here, the Doctor is allowed to carry on being horrible to Clara without it making any difference either? Which is a pretty abusive thing to say. What Clara is threatening the Doctor, the Doctor announces that he is really in control, a classic sado-masochistic set-up. The Doctor's only long-term relationship, with Missy, is mutually abusive, so perhaps that is just how he treats people he loves?

Or is the idea simply that the Doctor is literally God-like? Human beings love other human beings because they are lovable. People like God and Doctor Who loves us even though we are not lovable. In fact they make us lovable by loving us. With no Crucifixion it's a very amoral notion of love, but it's a theological step up from Russell T Davies floaty-glowy-jesus-doctor. 

So, anyway. Clara and Danny love each other more than anyone else in human history have loved anyone; so much so that Danny is the one person on earth who is immune to the Cybermen’s emotion dampening devices; and so much so that, for this one person in history, the Doctor is prepared to take Clara into the afterlife to bring him back. But unfortunately, the Doctor’s magic doohickey will only work if Danny follows Clara home, and it will stop working if she ever glances backwards. And they get right to the threshold of the afterlife, when Clara takes a tiny glance behind her and…

Sorry. Wrong story. 

5: Lies

Missy has told the Doctor the true location of Gallifrey. 

The Doctor gives Missy’s magic bracelet to Cyber-Danny.

When Cyber-Danny blows up, his mind is copied back to the Matrix. But the magic bracelet goes with him, even though it’s a physical object. (Maybe his idea of the bracelet goes with him to the nethersphere?) Oh, and the “upgrade” to his mind is reversed, and he gets his emotions back.

The idea-of-the-bracelet, in the copy of Danny’s mind has the power to make a copy of Danny’s physical body (and a physical bracelet) back on earth. 

However, Danny decides that his personal guilt at having caused a civilian death during a war (through absolutely no fault of his own) is more important than Clara’s happiness, and he gives the idea-of-the-bracelet to the dead civilian. Who is presumably delighted to turn up 4,000 miles from his home and 10 years in the future. 

And finally, we seem to have come back to where we started. Deep Breath, rather cleverly, treated the Doctor and Clara as two characters in a drama; and the final scenes tonight seem to do much the same. Forger all the toys and the doohickeys and the continuity, and just play them as characters. 

Before she died, Missy revealed the location of Gallifrey, but of course she lied. The Doctor in turn lies to Clara and tells her that he has finally found his home and will play the wild rover no more. Clara lies to the Doctor that Danny has risen from the dead and they are planning to live happily ever after. 

It’s the gifts of the magi all over again: he lies to her about being happy because he thinks she is happy and wants her to remain so; she lies to him about being happy because she thinks he is happy and wants him to remain so. As endings go, and given that “the Doctor lies” has been this season’s off-the-cuff remark that turns out to be the golden key to the Doctor’s personality, it’s quite a good one. 

Clara loved Danny; but she loves being with the Doctor. Which life will she choose? Having spent the season trying to say “both” it makes sense that the final answer is “neither”.

But of course, everything depends on whether this was a real scene with something riding on it, or a phony. Everything depends on the Doctor and Clara really having sacrificed their own happiness for each others.

Did this scene really happen, and will everyone have to live with the consequences. Or is Santa Claus going to wave a magic wand and make everything go back to how it was before?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

8.11 Dark Water

8.12 Death in Heaven

I remember being rather horrified one summer morning long ago when a burly, cheerful labouring man, carrying a hoe and a watering pot came into our churchyard and, as he pulled the gate behind him, shouted over his shoulder to two friends, ‘See you later, I’m just going to visit Mum.’ He meant he was going to weed and water and generally tidy up her grave..... A six-by-three-foot flower-bed had become Mum. That was his symbol for her, his link with her. Caring for it was visiting her...The flower-bed is an obstinate, resistant, often intractable bit of reality, just as Mum in her lifetime doubtless was. As H. was.
                       C.S Lewis

1:  Old Monsters

In 1964, no-one was particularly calling out for a sequel to what I shall persist in calling the Dead Planet. We didn’t care how how pacifism worked out for the Thals, or if they ever managed to rebuild their civilization. All we wanted was for the BBC to “bring back the Daleks”.

Reports of Dalekmania may have been exaggerated. It was the year of Hard Days Night; the press was adding the word “mania” to everything. But there were definitely lots of Dalek toys in the shops. They only vaguely resembled the TV Daleks, but they were dome-shaped, legless, and had antennae of various shapes sticking out of them, so you could see what they were meant to be.

That’s why people liked the Daleks so much. A toy manufacture, a comic book artist, or a kid with a box of crayons could foul up the arrangement of slats and balls and discs and still end up with something Dalek-like. They are a bit like a clockwork robot, given one more twist so that the human shape is gone altogether, and then physically constructed at life size. We liked Robbie the Robot at the same time and for the same reasons, but he was too obviously a toy and too obviously silly. Yes, you know that the Daleks are not robots and I know that the Daleks are not robots but the distinction between is not one that bothers anyone else. The Daleks are the BBCs outer space robot people. The most robotty robots ever invented.

The story that, for consistency’s sake, I will have to call World’s End was all about taking the toys out of their box and playing with them. It was props, not plot, that everyone cared about.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, every alien to appear on Doctor Who was hailed as “the new Daleks” or “the BBCs answer to the Daleks.” Quarks, Chumblies, Mechanoids: only we fans remember them. The only ones who were remotely memorable were the Cybermen. But they were never as iconic as the Daleks. They men in silver suits, and the silver suits kept changing. There was only ever one Cyberman toy.

If you went to Doctor Who conventions during the classic era (as I am ashamed to say I did) you will know that the one question someone invariably asked the produce was “Are you planning to bring back any old monsters.” The answer was generally “if some writer came up with a great story that happened to feature an old monster, of course we would” which is, being interpreted, no.

The fans were like everyone else. We wanted see the old toys brought down from the attic. This was before the era of DVDs and repeats: the only way I was ever going to see a live Ice Warrior was if one attacked Peter Davison on the telly. But there was another thing as well. Graham Williams and Douglas Adams – and, indeed, Tom Baker – regarded Doctor Who mostly as a TV format. They saw their job as producing fun TV, and weren’t particularly interested in what had gone before. So a once in a blue moon appearance by the Cybermen and a twice in a blue moon appearance by the Daleks was a promise that the Guy With The Scarf still had some connection with the Guy With the Yellow Car.

New Who could perfectly well have jettisoned the history and told us that Christopher Eccleston was playing a brand new character. A re, as the young people say, boot. But it didn’t: the first story was a riff on Terror of the Autons, and the first three seasons had climaxes involving Daleks, Cybermen and the Master. That’s a big pledge of loyalty to the fans, and also a definite aesthetic decision.

But it still feels like “bringing back an old monsters” and “dusting down the old toys”. There’s no attempt to give the Daleks a coherent back-story or sketch out the history of the Cybermen. Iconic villains are reinvented every time they appear. The Next Doctor has no more connection with Age of Steel than Invasion does with Moonbase.

Daleks are evil cyborg fascists who want to rule the universe. The Cybermen are evil robot fascists who want to rule the universe. The Sontarans are evil fascists who want to rule the universe. There is no reason for the Cybermen to be in Death in Heaven, except for the fact that we are meant to be excited to see the old toys again. Moffat loves to quote himself, and he loves to quote old Who. We know we are watching Cybermen because they march down the steps of St Pauls and burst out of tombs. If they’d been Daleks they would have emerged from the Thames and trundled across Westminster bridge. You can be completely sure that if Moffat ever does a Yeti story, they will take a trip on the London Underground and need to go to the lavatory in South London.

2: Cybermen

Black clouds converge over every graveyard on earth. Magic rain falls from the sky. Dead bodies rise up out of their graves. “That’s weird. Look at that” exclaims an extra, possibly hoping for the Clumsiest Exposition of the Year award “How come it’s only raining inside the graveyards?” This is not a Cyberman story. This is some kind of gothic horror story. The creatures emerging from the grave yards shouldn't be outer space robot people but ghosts or vampires of some kind. The urge to bring back old monsters has rendered this story meaningless.

There was a 1985 story in which the Daleks took over an alien funeral home because they needed a supply of dead bodies to make new Daleks out of. Just saying.

Let's imagine that this story was called Day of the Space Zombies. Let's suppose that a previously unknown race of Space Zombies want to invade the earth. Being Zombies, they possess and animate the bodies of dead humans. But nowadays, the human race (i.e English people) mostly cremate their dead, and The Walking Small Urns Full of Grey Powder doesn’t sound as intimidating as The Walking Dead.

What would you do if you were Space Zombie? You’d create a scare story that makes cremation go out of fashion. So when the curtain goes up, we discover the humans have been taken in by a whacky new religion that says that dead bodies remain sentient. Burning your granny’s body hurts her just as much as burning her alive would have done. So the human race (i.e the English) start going to great trouble to house dead bodies in comfortable mausoleums. They can even go and visit them if they want to.

After a few years, when these new mausoleum's are full of perfectly preserved dead people, the Space Zombies Clouds come to earth and drip drip drop the dead people come to life, pour out of the mausoleums, fall an army, and set about conquering the entire universe and world.

It’s an impressively sick idea. Many people do behave as if Granny can hear them when they visit her grave; some of us talk as if a dead person is harmed if their grave is desecrated; a lot of people think that people cannot “rest in peace” without a decent burial. Far from being the one simple, horrible possibility that has never occurred to anyone throughout human history it’s a basic gut-level belief shared by the whole human race. It exists alongside traditional beliefs in Heaven, or a scientific beliefs that dead people are just dead.

In 2006 the Cybermen inveigled themselves into human homes by pretending to be ghosts. Just saying.

This Space Zombie story makes perfect sense -- the kind of story-book sense that Doctor Who is supposed to make, at any rate. It would make sense for the Doctor and Clara to go to one of the 3W mausoleum to talk to Dead Danny. It would makes sense for the dead to rise up out of conventional grave yards. Granted, some of the bodies must be in a pretty advanced state of decay -- we are specifically shown a grave stone dating from the eighteenth century. But it makes some kind of sense for the main thing that Space Zombies need to be human skeletons. More sense than for that to be the essential ingredient of a baby Cyberman, at any rate. If what you have is an army of corpses, then it makes sense that some of those corpses have residual memories of people they loved when they were alive. That happens in Zombie films, doesn't it? The scene in which Cyber-Danny asks Clara to end his suffering would have been much less ludicrous if he had been a resuscitated body begging for a silver bullet. The final reveal, in which it turns out that Someone or Something had saved the life of Kate Stewart would have had far more impact if what we had been looking at was the rotting remains of Nicholas Courtney. (Buried in a fully dress uniform, I have no doubt.) Thinking about it, I am actually quite cross at having missed my chance of seeing the Doctor saluted by Zombie Brig.

The actual script seems to think that we are talking about Zombies rather than technologically upgraded humans. Listen to Cyber-Danny:

“This is the earth’s darkest hour. We are the Fallen. But today, we shall rise. The army of the dead will save the land of the living.”

And, indeed, Missy, who we will come to later, in her Edwardian dress and black umbrella, would have made more sense at the command of an army of spooks rather than an army of sleek silver robots. (Surely if she is in league with the Cyberpeople, she ought to be a high-tech Cyber-Mistress?)

In short: a quite good if a little bit sick for 8pm on a Saturday night idea for a story has been hijacked by the voice of a young boy in the back row of a Doctor Who convention.

“Are you going to be bringing back any old monsters?”

"Why yes." says Steven "Yes, we definitely are." And the whole thing unravels.

The simple, macabre idea that “the dead are sentient” morphs into the confused idea that “the minds of the dead, in the afterlife, somehow continue to feel what their physical bodies feel”. Spirit-Danny feels cold because his remains are in a mortuary; Spirit-Danny would feel that he was being burned alive if his dead body were cremated. But, apparently, he wouldn’t mind too much if his his physical body were allowed to slowly decompose. Surely, if you really thought that the dead experienced what their bodies experienced, you’d be looking either to arrest decomposition altogether or else to disintegrate or incinerate bodies in the shortest possible time?

We've been being teased with the "necrosphere" since the beginning of the season. In itself, the bureaucratic afterlife with patchy wi-fi and unctuous staff is quite funny. It is initially said to be a kind of Gallifreyan hard drive on which the memories of the dead are stored. This is vaguely consistent with the idea that the memories of dead Time Lords are stored on the Matrix. This hard drive contains the memories of everyone who has ever died; not just the ones who have been embalmed by the 3W organisation. In fact, it appears to contain the memories of everyone who has ever died in the universe. The half-faced man, an alien robot who was destroyed some time in the 19th century; and Gretchen, a soldier who was killed millions of miles from earth and thousands of years in the future end up in Missy's "heaven".

What Missy intended to do with this vast resource is, er, copy the minds back into the actual bodies they were originally taken from, with their annoying emotions removed. (Based on Danny's experiences, it appears that subjects have to somehow agree or consent to have their emotions taken away.) It appears that what is needed to make new Cybermen is not human bodies, but human minds. It all seems very complicated, compared with cutting someone brain out with a buzz saw, putting it into Cyberman, and then fitting an "emotional inhibitor", which was the procedure as recently as Closing Time.

What has happened, quite obviously, is that the science fictional idea that human "minds", being complex pieces of software, could in principal be copies onto computers; and the magical-religious idea that "the soul" is the animating principal that makes your body be alive have been conflated. In a magical-fantasy story about Zombies, it makes perfect sense to say that a body in a grave yard would come to live if it's soul returned to earth from the afterlife. It makes no sense whatsoever to say that outer space robot people can download stored memories into skeletons.

Oh yes. In the last five minutes it turns out that the minds that have been copied onto the Matrix can return to earth through a star gate, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature. If you can do that kind of thing without even pretending to explain it, you aren't telling anything that I am prepared to recognize as "a story" any more.

What turns the bodies in the grave yards into Cybermen is not magic fairy dust or magic lightening, but very specifically magic rain. Magic water. There are some dramatic sequences in which magic water flows down drains, floods a mortuary and magics Cyber Armour around Danny. The bodies in the mausoleum are also suspended in magic water: the Dark Water of the title. One can only suppose that this Dark Water was much more significant in the original zombie version of the script. (This couldn't possibly have been originally a sequel to Waters of Mars, could it?) The Doctor's speech -- about every atom of every Cyberman containing the plans to build a new Cyberman so that when Cybermen explode they produce, er, Cyberpollen, spoken as if this was a well-known and long-established fact about Cyberman -- is clearly a last minute handwave to re-postion Magic Zombie rain as Cyber Pollen.

The story appears to be taking place in the present day, from Clara's point of view. The Cybermen emerge from St Pauls only a few hours after Danny's car accident. (His funeral hasn't taken place; his body is in a mortuary rather than undertaker's chapel of rest.) But Clara is completely unaware of the “three words”; unaware that people are now paranoid about cremation, unaware that people spending money on preserving their loved one’s remains. But is 3W is a comparatively recent and comparatively secret phenomenon, what is the point of it? It appears that the Cybermen have gone to a very great deal of trouble to obtain 91 well preserved human bodies. Not even well preserved ones: we are very specifically shown that they have decomposed. It looks very much as if the one component that Cybermen need to steal from humans is, er, their skeleton. Is there something specific about a human skeleton with a human mind downloaded into it that enables Cybermen to turn into pollen. I give up.

Every single element in this story seems to be a magical doohickey. How does the TARDIS find Danny? Magic. How does Missy turn all the dead people in the world into Cybermen? Magic. Why does Danny, alone of all the people on earth, retain his emotions and memories? Magic.

But the purpose of all this magic is to engineer the final scene between the Doctor, Clara, Missy and Danny in the graveyard. And this scene is, I concede, very good indeed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

8.10 In the Forests of the Night

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:

The word within a word, unable to speak a word,

Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year

Came Christ the tiger
         T.S Eliot

The whole wide world has been covered by a great big forest. A great big flame proof forest. Which grew up overnight. A little girl in a red anorak is lost in it. Some wolves and tigers have got out of London Zoo. Nelson’s Column falls over. It turns out that this is okay. They are friendly fire proof trees. Earth was about to be destroyed by a solar flare, so the fire proof trees grew up to protect it. A bit like in Edge of Darkness, only that time it was tulips. The grown ups are going to burn down the fire proof trees; so the children of Clara’s school phone up everyone in the whole wide world and ask them not to. So they don’t. The girl in the red anorak's sister comes home. The end.

It’s never been exactly clear to me what William Blake meant by “the forests of the night”. That sentence is also true if you leave out the last six words. The red striped tiger is like fire; so I suppose it is lighting up a dark forest. “The tiger is so bright it makes everything else seem dark" is the take-away idea. Of course, the poem isn’t about the tiger, or indeed the tyger, but about God. Blake wrote a companion piece about a Lamb. The Lamb represents God. The Tiger doesn’t represent anything. Blake's message is more “woooooo what must God be like if he can think up a creature like that?”. 

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears
Did He smile his work to see?
Did He that made the Lamb make thee?

Bob Dylan wrote a fabulous lyric about his friend John Lennon, who he also sees as illuminating the world around him. 

Shine your light
move it on
you burned so bright
roll on John. 

As everyone knows, C.S Lewis wrote a book in which a Lion represented Jesus. His friend Roger Green wrote one in which He was represented by Tiger. Lewis graciously said that Green's book came first. 

For the third week running, the explanation of what is going on in this story is inaudible. I take it from the pictures that fairies or glowworms magicked the forest big. I am sure this is deliberate. I keep moaning that Doctor Who “doesn’t make sense”, so Moffat is placing explanation shaped holes in the narratives to indicate that it doesn’t need to. There is some sense in this. I would much rather that the answer to “How exactly does the Doctor change from one body into another” were “He just does, okay?” than “Because there are special Time Lord midichlorians in his blood stream”. Old Who was good at bamboozling us with totally meaningless pseudoscience. The story works perfectly well without knowing what the glowbuzzers said.

I honestly do wonder if this is a rejected Sarah-Jane script re-purposed for Doctor Who. It’s about a school. The Doctor is in it, but he really doesn’t do much. The jiggory pokery could have been handled by Luke and several of the perky streetwise kids lines could have done better by Clyde. The final summation, spoken by Danny, is pure S.J. What have we learned today? That the universe is brilliant, that staying where you are is also brilliant; that family is the most important thing; that there's no place like home.

“I don't want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly. There are wonders here, Clara Oswald. Bradley saying please, that's a wonder. One person is more amazing, harder to understand, but more amazing than universes.”

Sarah-Jane episodes were mostly about something. An alien doohickey makes Clyde invisible to his closest friends: that's a scary kid-sci-fi idea, but it also into a gentle metaphor about how we choose not to see the beggars and homeless people on our streets. There is no sign that this story is about anything.

It’s quite nice to see Danny and Clara with some kids. As expected, Danny is entirely believable as a teacher and Clara is entirely not. The kids have been kept in suspended animation since Grange Hill finished. The kids say things like “When I get stressed, I forget my anger management.” Danny says things like “Is the Doctor CRB checked?” There is some incredibly patronizing stuff about how being scared and being angry and being allergic to nuts are not problems but superpowers; and how we shouldn’t give schizophrenics medication but listen to what the voices are telling them, and hey, aren’t I lucky that I have the special ability to see everything more blurry than everyone else, certainly not going anywhere near Specsavers. The problem class pulls together quite well during the crisis, so there is sort of a message about adversity bringing out the best in people.

There’s also some stuff about how forests and wolves appear in fairy tales as symbols of fear; but that’s gestured towards rather than explored. I am not sure that “every few thousand years the whole earth gets turned into a giant forest” is needed as an explanation for why fairy tales have forests in them. I think “they were made up by German peasants who lived near, er, forests” does the job very well. 

The tiger doesn't represent anything, and has nothing to do with William Blake. The poor beast just escaped from London Zoo, along with some big bad wolves. Danny scares it away with a torch. 

There used to be wolves in London Zoo. You could see them from Regents Park. There is a film in which the Great Intelligence is living with the Seventh Doctor in Camden Town. It finishes with the Great Intelligence shouting lines from Shakespeare at the wolves. The wolves were removed to Whipsnade in the 1990s. In the Sarah-Jane Adventures, the International Gallery appears to occupy the space that the National Gallery does in the real world; and while the kids are obviously having their sleepover in the Natural History Museum, it’s referred to as the London Zoological museum, which does not exist. So maybe the wolves escaped from a fictitious London Zoo.

Last week the Doctor and Clara decided to lie to Danny. This week, Danny finds out that the Doctor and Clara have been lying to him. This will lead to one of three outcomes:

1: Clara dumps Danny;
2: Clara dumps the Doctor;
3: The Doctor invites Danny to join them on the TARDIS and they all live happily ever after at least until part 6 of Season 9.

Since Danny spent this week being so absolutely clear that he didn’t want to see the universe and was perfectly happy seeing the earth in a grain of sand, I would place my money on 3.

When Blake said “forest” he presumably meant “jungle”. Which makes me think that the “forest of the night” is probably a bit racist. Dark continent and all that.

My mother bore me in the southern wilds
And I am black, but oh my soul is white
White as an angel is the English child
But I am black, as if bereft of light

Auguries of Innocence I quite like. Jeremy Bentham used it as the epigram to one of his Doctor Who fan books.  

To see a world in a grain of sand
Heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

8.9 Flatline

"You mean you could've taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?"
"No, not at any time. Only when it was funny."
         Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Stories sometimes mean things which their writers didn’t intend. They sometimes grow in meaning after their writers stop working on them. I don’t buy the notion that the whole of Doctor Who — books and comics and CDs and TV and all — has an independent and an evolving sentience. But this story is a genuine example of a TV programme leaping up and saying something that no-one intended it to say. 


About a decade ago, the National Society for the Prevention of Children had a TV advert in which a human actor kicked, thumped, beat and generally mistreated a cartoon child (who popped up, Tom & Jerry style, after each indignity) until the final slogan “real children don’t bounce back” appeared on the screen. This made the point that cruelty to children was a bad thing, for the benefit of anyone who didn’t already think so. A decade before that, the same National Society for the Prevention of Children had appeared on the news complaining about the glorification of bullying and corporal punishment in comics like the Beano. And a decade before that One of Those MPs had tried to stop the BBC showing Tom & Jerry because he didn’t think that you would like it very much if someone put your tail in a food blender or dropped an anvil on your paw. I can't remember his name but he was on John Craven's Newsround. 

There is a continuum between what is realistic and what is not realistic and anyone can tell where we are on that continuum at any given moment. The answer to “This would be wicked if it were real” is always “Yes, but it isn’t”, or indeed “You are clearly not old enough to consume fiction.” No baby is killed, no wife is beaten, no-one is hung, and no-one’s soul suffers an eternity of conscious torment separate from the love of God in a Punch and Judy show. At worst, it indulges children’s slightly morbid fascination with violence and executions and the devil and other stuff they’ve been told by adults not to be fascinated by. At best, it’s a bit of slapstick in which a doll with an ugly face thumps a doll with a pretty face with a shillelagh.

This isn’t to say that Punch and Judy shows and Dennis the Menace and Tom & Jerry don’t have subtexts. Everything has a subtext.

Tom & Jerry is at one end of the continuum. It isn’t a real cat, it isn’t a real mouse, and nothing either party does can possibly harm the other. Kick-Ass is at the other: it wouldn’t be funny if it wasn’t happening in a world where violence is really violent, pain really hurts and gangsters really might take a blow torch to your embarrassing bits. The Simpsons is somewhere in the middle. If Homer tries to strangle Bart we are quite clear that no real boy is being strangled; there is no residual sense that someone ought to call Springfield social services. If we thought it through, we’d probably say “what we are seeing on the screen is a visual representation of a father saying ‘I’m so cross I could strangled you’”. But when Bart’s dog is going to be put to sleep we are supposed to feel at some level “sad”. Or think that Bart is feeling sad. Even though it’s a cartoon and we know the outcome will be happy and probably funny. This sets limits on the kinds of stories that can be told. “How would Homer cope if Marge died?” would involve emotions that a cartoon just can’t deal with.

It’s possible to set up jarring clashes between the two extremes. The three minute anti-cruelty advert was one example. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was another. Oddly enough, I can’t think of an example of campy, silver-age superheroes being made to solve crimes in bleak, modern, drug-soaked America. Your Dark Knight Returns and your Watchmen always involve bleak, modern, drug soaked superheroes in the bleak modern world. Imagine what Roger Rabbit would have been like in a film noir world populated by realistic, three dimensional, furry animals with dark, existential emotions who just happened to able to walk and talk.

Where, on the continuum, is Doctor Who? Is it a cartoon, or is it live action? Is it Punch and Judy, or is it Kick-Ass?

“Oh, Andrew, it can be anywhere and nowhere; a comic strip at one moment and a tragedy at another. That’s the whole joy of it.”

Okay. But where are we, in this episode (or in any particular moment of this episode)? How are the writer’s controlling the movement along the line? To what purpose and effect?


Flatline appears to be a Sarah Jane story about creatures from literally another dimension, who appear (from our point of view) to be pictures and patterns on flat surfaces. However, they have found a way to interact with our world by leaching dimensional energy from the TARDIS.

This makes perfect sense. The problem with saying “The Moon is an egg; the Moon hatched; the shell went away by magic and another Moon appeared by magic and chicken flew away” isn’t that it is obviously scientific rubbish; it’s that it doesn’t follow any kind of logic or pseudo logic. “There were these creatures that appeared to us to be merely pictures, so they sucked the dimensions out of the TARDIS, and became living breathing monsters, but the more energy they sucked, the smaller the TARDIS got” follows perfectly good storybook logic. The final solution follows on nicely from the logic we have just established. The dimensional monsters can suck energy out of objects, turning them into pictures; and they can blow energy back into those pictures, turning them into objects again. So our hero gets a young man who is very carefully not called Banksy to draw a convincing picture of a door. The dimensional monsters squirt energy at it, to try to turn it into a door. But since it was never a real door, this doesn’t work. The energy instead goes into the TARDIS; the TARDIS grows back to its proper size; and Peter Capaldi steps out and does an impersonation of Matt Smith in the very first episode. 

It’s not sciencey science fiction, but it’s an awful lot better than the Doctor magicking the bad thing away with a doohickey.

We are told at various points that the dimension monsters are planning on eating or conquering or destroying the world. The whole world. 890 times as bad as the Holocaust. 900 thousand Hiroshimas. No one seems to care very much.

At one point, the dimensional creature is about to kill Wonderful Clara. Kill her: funerals and embalming and graveyards and nasty smells and flowers and people crying. Death. But no-one seems very bothered by this. Clara is mostly interested in deflecting an embarrassing phone-call from her awful boyfriend. Death is an occasion for romantic comedy.

I mean, I get that Doctor Who is not very serious, but if everyone — the annoying girl from the Moon one, the two other annoying kids from the Cyberman one, the cute English teacher from the perfunctory robot one, the granny who quite likes it when the Doctor comes to Christmas dinner in the nude in the last Matt Smith one — are in danger of being killed or eaten or conquered shouldn’t someone at least try to say something dramatic? You know the kind of thing. “Meh..! They dare Chesterfield, they dare! And, meh, we must dare to stop them!”


Three weeks ago, the Doctor found out about Danny and Danny found out about the Doctor.

Two weeks ago, Clara dumped the Doctor (for no reason).

One week ago, Clara went back to the Doctor (for no reason), telling him that Danny was fine about their relationship. (*)

This week, Danny and the Doctor find out that Clara is lying to them about the Doctor and Danny. And Clara has to be the Doctor while the Doctor is trapped in the miniaturized TARDIS, which forces us all to wonder about what “being the Doctor” means.

In the old days, I think we knew what being the Doctor meant. If you wanted to “be” the Doctor you would try to always do what was right; side with the underdog; hate tyranny; be the sort of person who is often in battles but hates war. You would take an interest in science; construct complicated machines with your meccanno; cause fires with your chemistry set. You would consciously wear unfashionable clothes, respond to meaningful questions with wisecracks, and get thumped. But you would still not be an immortal Time Lord with a vast amount of scientific knowledge and a box that could take you anywhere in time and space. Which is kinda like the whole point of being the Doctor.

Since then, at least two things have happened. The Doctor has been literally defined as the most important person in the universe. Trying to emulate the Doctor is less like trying emulate St Francis, and more like trying to emulate the Holy Ghost. The idea that the Doctor is a role rather than an individual has gained ground — Doctor Matt can talk about “not being the Doctor any more” and say that Doctor John lost his right to use the name. But simultaneously, we’ve been asked to believe that it’s not the Doctor’s advanced knowledge that makes him the Doctor, but some facet of his personality. The fact that a guardian angel popped up and told him not to be scared of ghosties when he was a little boy, for example.

This week, the idea seems is that “being the Doctor” means acting as if you are in charge; mouthing military clich├ęs in an authoritative voice ("I am the one chance you've got of staying alive" while professing to hate soldiers; pretending to have a plan, even when you don’t; claiming that whatever happened is what you planned all along; being callously prepared to sacrifice lives along the way.

Granted, Clara saves the day in the final act by doing the kind of thing that I have been complaining that the Doctor doesn’t do nearly enough: solving a problem by spotting a thing that no-one else has spotted. But the bulk of the episode seems to be about debunking the Doctor. Most important person in the universe? Actually he’s a bit of a fraud; he’s just convinced everyone he’s great.

It seems to be the deceit that the final scene is asking us to focus on.

“I was a good Doctor, wasn’t I?”
“You were an exceptional Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it.”

We’re back in episode 2. There is an ambiguity in the word “good”. A very bad man might be a very good assassin. Only a very good journalist can get a job on the Daily Mail but only a very bad person would want one. Once you are a good Dalek you are no longer a good Dalek. Clara wants the Doctor to tell him that she was a good Doctor. At the beginning of the series, he wanted her reassurance that he was a good man.

I sometimes ask a representative sample of non-fan Doctor Who viewers (or “Mum” as I usually call her) what they think of the show.

Their most frequent comments are

1: That they don’t understand it and

2: That I over analyze it, and that I should just accept it for what it is.

Yes, I cry. Just tell me what it is and I will accept it for that it.

“It can be many things, Andrew, at many different times”

Then tell me which thing it was this week, and how that relates to the thing it was last week, or I swear I will go insane.

If I watched one episode of a Soap Opera I might very well not understand it; but I would understand what I didn’t understand.

Why, I might ask, was Mrs Lady, who had walked out on her husband in Tuesday’s episode, back with him on Friday?

“Aha” the soap viewer would reply “That old man who visited her at the end of the episode was her old parish priest, who is the one person she really trusts. We were supposed to understand that he was going to give her a little talk about the sanctity of marriage.”

Or they might say “Well, it’s been a standing joke since 1986 that Mrs Lady periodically leaves her husband, but always goes back to him. They don’t even bother to show the going back any more.”

Why, I might ask, did Mr Man, who is always so sweet and kind to everybody, being so horrible to his new neighbours?

“Aha” my soap fan would say “That’s because his baby sister died in the blitz, and he still can’t forgive anyone for having a German name.”

That is: things happen in a Soap which only make sense in terms of other things which happen in that Soap; so if you don’t watch the Soap regularly, then you might not know enough to make sense of a particular scene. But the information is out there, and someone can give it to you, and then you do. Unless the information not being there is the point. “Who was the mysterious one-armed man who visited Mrs Landlord during the quiz night?” “That’s a mystery. He’s been in every story since Christmas, but no-one knows who he is.”

In Doctor Who there is an infinitely vast amount of stuff which the die hard Whovian knows about but the casual viewer does not. If you need to know it for the story to make sense, it is invariably explained on screen. No one would say “Let’s jettison the TARDIS’ swimming pool, first mentioned in the 1981 story  Logopolis”. But someone certainly would say “The Cloister Bell is Ringing which means that the TARDIS is about to be destroyed.”

How am I supposed to watch Doctor Who? Is it This Is England or the Bash Street Kids? Is Danny a human being who is going to be hurt? Am I meant to care about his getting hurt? Does it matter that the Doctor and Clara are both behaving like the most colossal shits, or his his emotional pain only pretend pain, like Bart being strangled? Is the question about whether the Doctor is a good man one which potentially has an answer or is just a bit of Yoda philosophy which everyone but me knows is not meant to mean anything.


I hope all this explains why I find the idea that Doctor Who sometimes generates meanings quite apart from what any one writer might have in mind so very appealing right now.

This season began with a halfway decent attempt at Victorian period drama, pulled the rug away with Tom Riley playing Cary Elwes playing Erol Flynn, and then gave up altogether and offered us a magic moon chicken.

And here we are, near the end of it. Watching a story about two dimensional creatures, who are suddenly turned into three dimensional creatures, and who then collapse back into being flat cartoon drawings again.

Surely someone is trying to tell us something? (**)

* Clara is willing to deceive Danny. Danny is stupid enough to be taken in by Clara’s deceit. Clara is willing to deceive the Doctor. The Doctor is stupid enough to be taken in by Clara’s deceit. Or, Clara is stupid enough to believe that the Doctor has been taken in by her deceit. Or, Clara is stupid enough to be taken in by the Doctor pretending that he is been taken in by her deceit. Or both of them know the other is lying and knows they know the other is lying but care so little about each other and about Danny that they don’t care.

** Before going to press, I noticed that I had typed "Amy" for "Clara" throughout. Never at any time have I said "Jo Grant" when I meant "Sarah Jane" or "Turlough" when I meant "Adric. Just saying.