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?