Friday, July 21, 2017

Eyes Down...

...removing any traces of the slave trade from Bristol might require half the city to be pulled down, and not just the plaques of signs with Colston's name on it....
Nigel Currie

Until recently, until a lot of publicity was given by the Bristol Post to a very small but vociferous minority of mainly non-Bristolians, the majority was not even aware of Colston's link to slavery...
C Stephens

All these do-gooders who want to change the name of the Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol an other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution and are usually under 18 years of age.
Wendy Fryer

If the name of Colston Hall has to change, the suggestion to change it to the "Corstan Hall" [after Jean Corstan MP] is a good one...It has absolutely no connection with the slave trade, so should not offend those minority groups who are trying to change it, whilst happily living here in this great city. These people should shut up or move somewhere else
P Collins

What a great suggest naming one of the new trains after Edward Colston. What a great way to remember a truly great Bristolian who, ok, was linked with the slave trade, but...
Mr G Briggs

Sunday, July 02, 2017

10:12 The Doctor Falls

Oh Steven Moffat.

Oh, Steven Moffat.

You were so nearly there. So nearly there.

I watched The Doctor Falls with my Doctor Who watching head on, I promise. Not with my “I have to make smart remarks about this on the blog” head on. But within ten minutes, the little voice inside my head was saying: "This. This is what New Who was meant to have been like. Always."

It was clear from the beginning that I was watching a piece of television that fundamentally took itself seriously. A bit of television in which the actors were were playing characters and no-one had got around to saying “but you can ham it up if you like because it’s only some shit about robots on a spaceship.” If you were one of those hypothetical people who didn’t know what Doctor Who was, you wouldn’t have definitely known your weren’t watching a new Scandinavian police drama, or Daphne Du Maurier adaptation. Not until the robots came on. It was just TV drama, like any other TV drama, telling a story, as well as it could. 

I spotted no smirk; no “don’t worry kids they are only silly robots” moment. 

The episode was fundamentally interested in Bill’s predicament at having been turned into a cyborg; and the Doctor’s need to do the right thing. If you had Never Watched Doctor Who Before then the horror of the human who has been turned into a robot was absolutely clear from context. And you could tell that the old, wise man had really loved the young woman who had been cyborgized, and was trying to let her down gently. 

But no-one has really never watched Doctor Who before; everyone in the world knows that the Doctor and the Cybermen are old enemies, almost as old as television itself. That's one of the bits of raw material that the story has to work with, just like, I don't know "rich people are moving into the lower class areas of London" is one of the bits of raw material that Eastenders has to work with. Jokes and in-references were there for those of who have watched the old episodes, but they were funny in themselves and not (I suppose) confusing or distracting to people who didn’t get them. When the Doctor shouts "Voga", you can tell that he is (like a soldier) shouting the name of a previous battle against the Cybermen. But I happen to know that it's a reference to Revenge of the Cybermen. That's as it should be. 

The resolution of 50 years of continuity angst about whether Cybermen come from Mondas, or Telos or a parallel earth and why the design keeps changing is genuinely clever. Wherever there are humans, they eventually evolve into Cybermen; parallel evolution. 

Of course, there is a problem with treating the Master as a serious character in a serious drama. Fairly obviously, he isn't. We first met him in the days of Adam West and John Steed. The Radio Times explicitly presented him as a comic book villain. Depth is one thing he can't ever have. He believes in a cruel God who made him in his own image: evil for the sake of being evil. John Simm plays it with camp self knowledge but never descends into camp absurdity. (The ludicrousness of Last of the Time Lords is entirely avoided.) I suppose, in a sense, he and Missy are the “comic relief”, the boo-hiss pantomime villain to be set against the existential horror of the Cybermen. But you can really feel the evil. The Evil Capitalist in the One With the Fish says that the Doctor’s speeches would inspire anyone with a shred of human decency. Here, the Doctor makes a genuinely inspirational speech and the Master casually says that he wasn’t listening. It’s the kind of moment where you actually want to punch him. 

I am not sure whether the handling of Bill’s transformation was very brave or very cowardly: I would like to have had more scenes embracing the absurdity of Bill’s lines coming from the Cybermouth. I suppose this was the whole reason that the Hartnell-era Cybermen were brought back: because we can believe that there is some of Bill left under the gauze mask better than we could believe there was some of Bill left under the silver CGI cyber-helmet. The conceit that we see BIll as herself, while everyone else sees her as a Cyberman is not entirely original. I kpet thinking of that episode of Frasier where the attractive young gym teacher he is dating turns into the abusive coach from his childhood. But it works. And it assumes that the audience is intelligent enough to discern what is going on.

Most of us probably thought that Missy had not reformed, but was pretending to be good to fool the Doctor. A few of us may have thought that she had genuinely stopped being evil, and that she was going to be the Doctor's friend or companion for a few seasons — at least until some future producer comes up with “What if Missy turned evil?” as an idea. The actual resolution — Missy kills her previous incarnation, to ensure that she comes into being, but he kills her, because she really has turned good — was not one I had predicted. Comic books have mostly stopped pretending that a this months story is the definitive, final, one-lives-one-dies confrontation between Batman and the Joker or Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. Readers know that however thoroughly the villain is killed, a few months down the line, the status quo will have to be restored. If Harold Saxon didn’t stay dead after the funeral pyre ending of Last of the Time Lords, she is not going to stay dead after being zapped by her past self. But for the minute I’ll pretend that I believe she's dead and enjoy the elegant finality of the scene. 

The Doctor’s last stand, farewell to Nardole, dozens of exploding Cybermen. I liked absolutely everything about the first fifty three minutes and seven seconds of the episode. 

And then, as exclusively predicted in this channel, someone activates the My Little Pony magic lilac love ray and makes Bill becoming a Cyberman didn’t happen. 

If at the very last moment the Water Nymph had popped up and held Bill’s cyberhand, just for a second, dropping a teeny weeny little hint that Billy Potts body is a rusting in the grave but maybe her soul is going to go dripping on  I wouldn’t have minded. Not that much. But Moffat doesn't know when to stop. He can't leave things alone. Never have one good bye seen if six will do. We had to go through definitely revivified ethereal Bill and a definitely physically present Heather physically moving the Doc back to the TARDIS and floating off round the universe with silly music playing much too loudly in the background and although it only lasted for a few minutes I. Just. Wanted. It. To. Stop. 

The puddle monster absorbed Heather’s physical body; Bill’s physical shape has somehow been extracted from the dead Cyberman and turned into magic lilac pony water — despite that fact that most of her remains have been long-since destroyed. What is the magic puddle meant to have done? (Moffat is a little vague about minds and bodies and hardware and software: we found out in Death and Heaven that it if you upload someone's mind to a computer it becomes possible to retrieve their physical form.) 

I hope that this is the last we see of Bill and that we won’t have to  see her corpse endlessly violated in the way that  Wonderful Clara's was — killed and unkilled on a weekly basis. Clara was never really a character, so it didn’t matter so much, but Bill was enough of a person that I’d like her to be allowed to rest in peace and not be reincarnated as an onion to make us cry over and over again. 

I didn’t properly get the coda about the Doctor. I understood that he was prepared to die to save the Mondasian colonists because it was the right thing to do, but I don’t know where the not wanting to regenerate idea suddenly came from. David Bradley was good enough at doing Hartnell’s lines in the docudrama but I could honestly have missed that fact that the person who shambles on at the end was meant to be the First Doctor. 

Maybe there’s a fabulous idea for a two-Doctor Christmas special with a light touch and witty repartee between the First and Last Doctors, just like there was between the Two Masters. Or maybe Moffat is going to bow out with a terribly ill-judged attempt to overwrite Doctor Who mythology from the ground up. 

“How did you find me?”

“I left you my tears, remember.”

Oh, Steven, Steven, Steven. What were you thinking of?

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Controversial Appendix. (Please don't mail bomb me.)

A person on the internet says that it is typical of Stephen Moffat’s gender-politics that, quote, “the boy master has to come back to show the girl master how to master properly.”

Corollary #1: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, we all not be able to do any more multi-Doctor stories, because it will imply that the Thirteenth Doctrix needs a man to help her out. 

Corollary #2: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all subsequent Doctrices will have to be feminine, because a female-to-male regeneration will be a tacit admission that boys are better than girls.

Corollary #3: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all discussion about Doctor Who will have to be suspended: anyone who thinks that the Doctrix is a bit Peter Davison and not at all Matt Smith will be assumed to be saying that boys are better than girls and episodes will only be criticize-able in terms of what they reveal about the incoming producers gender politics.

The Doctor can change his physical form: this is a natural part of his life cycle. Each form is very different, but all the forms have irreducible characteristics in common. This wasn’t always the case; but it has been an established part of Doctor Who, and of the person-in-the-street’s perception of Doctor Who since at least 1981. In the new version of the show, the present form perceives regenerating as actual death, but all his memories and experiences are preserved in the new form. 

It doesn’t follow that the Doctor can turn into absolutely everything. There are lots of things he couldn’t be. He couldn’t be cruel or cowardly. He couldn’t be stupid. He couldn’t be a man of action who punches first and asks questions later. He couldn’t really be young. Matt Smith was young, but Matt Smith’s Doctor was very, very old. He can be Northern or Scottish and I assume Welsh, but he can’t cease to be British. This is not a matter of canon. There is no logical reason why a Time Lord should adopt a particular planet and then only be able to regenerate into a form which comes from a particular part of that planet. We’re talking about how the TV series works. 

I think that the Doctor is irreducibly a boffin. I think that being a boffin is slightly different from being a geek or a nerd or a techie. It carries an implication of being old; being unfashionable; and being the guy who can cobble together a computer which very nearly works, as opposed to the guy who makes the great scientific breakthrough. (The TARDIS is very much a boffin’s spaceship. It is fantastically advanced, but it seems a bit jerry-rigged and isn’t quite reliable.) 

Doctor Who can definitely evolve: Tom Baker said in 1977 that the Doctor simply can’t become interested in romance because he simply doesn’t have those kinds of emotions. The first time he flirted, with that heart surgeon in the American one, and with that French lady in the second season, we all freaked out. But then we stopped freaking out and it became the new normal. We also freaked out about the Doctor being half Time-Lord on his father’s side, but we ignored that and it went away.

If the Doctor ceased to be a boffin, would that break the show? Or would it interesting shake things up and become the new normal? Would it really cosmically speaking matter is the guy in the TARDIS was cool and stylish and brave but needed someone else to explain the science to him — provided the brave unscientific time traveler fetched up on interesting locations and had exciting adventures there? 

The question is: is “boffin” a male stereotype? And if boffin is a male stereotype, does it follow that the Doctor has to be male. 

It took me a while to come around to to Missy because I thought her characterization was way over the top. I think that what works about her is her ironical, tricksterish, playful evil — owing something to John Simm, but very little to Roger Delgado. This may surprise you, but I thought that the opening scene where she plays with the term “Doctor Who” worked really well. Not (yawn!) because it means there is some canonical grounds for saying that the main character really is called Doctor Who and that Frankenstein really was the name of the monster, but because it showed Missy transgressing the boundaries of the script, understanding the rules of the show and deliberately breaking them, talking about “assistants” and “companions” and understanding that Bill and Nardole are “exposition and comic relief”. She knows she’s in a TV show. And that’s a very interesting way of playing the Doctor’s ultimate foe. 

The point of Missy is not “what would the Master be like if she was a woman”. The point of Missy is that she’s a very interesting piece of utterly over-the-top characterization. I don’t know if her particular style of camp had to be played by a female, but it is now very hard to imagine it being played by anyone apart from Michelle Gomez.

So, my tentative conclusion is that a female Doctor would be a really, really bad idea, but might still be really, really good for the programme, and even if it was really, really bad for the programme it might still be the right thing to do.

It is not true to say that the Time Lords no longer care about gender and gender stereotypes. Tom Baker would have looked very odd indeed in one of Romana’s frocks.