Friday, August 02, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (2)

"Now, Mr. Spigott, you, a one-legged man, are applying for the role of Tarzan -- a role which, traditionally, involves the use of a two-legged actor....And yet you, a unidexter, are applying for the role. A role for which two legs would seem to be the minimum requirement."
                                        Not Only...But Also
Could Spider-Man be black?
This is a meaningless question.
Spider-Man is a fictional character, with a background and a history. As a matter of fact, that character is a white, teenaged, male New Yorker, born around 1948. (Or "about 25 years ago" if you believe in Marvel Time, or "In 1986" if you prefer the Ultimate version.) I suppose there could be a storyline in which someone injects him with a magic potion and his skin went black. A good writer could write a good story based on that premise, and a bad writer could write a very bad one. 

But that isn't what you are asking, is it? You are asking "Could Spider-Man have been black?"
To which the answer is yes, of course he could have been. Steve Ditko and his very talented scripting assistant could perfectly well have told a story about an African American teenager who was bitten by a radioactive Spider and learned that with great power must also come etcetera etcetera etcetera. 

Would that have made a difference to the story? Yes: in the same way that it would have made a difference if Uncle Ben had been Peter Parker's natural father, or if it had been Aunt May who had been shot by the burglar. Change any part of the story and you change the story. I suppose that, in 1963, even in New York, it would have been relatively uncommon for people of colour to get science scholarships to major universities or work in photo-journalism. I imagine that the bullying of Peter Parker by Flash Thompson, or his hounding by J Jonah Jameson would have felt different if it had been white guys picking on a black guy. Could a story have been written along those lines? Yes, emphatically. Would it have been such a good story? Steve Ditko was a genius at the the top of his game working with the best dialogue-writer ever to work in comics, so yes, I imagine he would have produced a good story on any subject he felt like. Would Spider-Man have still been basically the same character? It depends what you mean by "the same". Is any character who can stick to walls and shoot webs essentially Spider-Man, or is it all the little details that made Spider-Man who he is?
If you take the former line—if it's the costume and the powers that maketh the hero, as opposed to the specs and the over protective aunty—then being Spider-Man is a job and that job could be done by someone other than Peter Parker—black, female, disabled, gay, a born-again Christian or an alien from the planet Zog. In the Ultimate universe, Peter Parker is currently spending a year dead for tax reasons and the "job" of Spider-Man is being performed by an Hispanic youth. It works fine.
But that isn't the question you are asking, either.
The question you are asking is "Could a black person pretend to be Spider-Man. In, like a movie or a TV series."
And the answer is—well, maybe.
Almost definitely.
If we were talking about legitimate theatre we wouldn't even be asking the question. Everyone—everyone except Quentin Letts—accepts colour-blind casting. If the director casts a black man as Macbeth, it wouldn't occur to us to think that Macbeth actually was a black man—that there were African noblemen in tenth century Scotland. Theatre is all about suspension of disbelief. The cut-out tree in the middle of the stage doesn't look like a tree; it's an instruction, saying "please imagine that this scene is taking place in the forest of Arden." Eke out our performance with your mind, as the fellow said. It's fairly common for female actors to play male roles. No-one claims that Richard II really was a woman or Juliet was really a man. We just pretend.
Movies are a bit different, because the whole fun of movies is that you don't have to use your imagination. What we see on the screen is what the pretend people on the screen can see. If a character looks black or female or disabled, then we take it for granted that they are black or female or disabled in the story.
So, the question you are asking is "Does it matter if the character we see on the screen doesn't look like the character we see on the page of the comic book?" Does it matter if Peter Parker has light skin in the comic and dark skin on the screen? Would it be okay for Mary-Jane, who has long red hair in the comic, to have short black hair on the screen? Can blonde comic-book Gwen become brunette movie Gwen? Does Prof X need to be bald? Could we cope with a ginger Lois Lane? Why do all the good examples I can think of involve hair? 

Ditko's Spider-Man was a science nerd, and "science-nerd" is a much more irreducible part of Spider-Man's fictional DNA than "white New York male". In the original comic, this nerdiness was represented by test tubes, microscopes, museum exhibitions and piles of books. In the movie, and in modern comic book versions, the chemistry equipment is replaced by computers, the internet, the internet and computers. Because that's what 21st century nerds play with. "Changing things" is, in this case, the only reasonable way of leaving them the same. Changing "radioactive Spider" to "genetically modified Spider" for the benefit of modern kids is no different from changing "spider" to "araigne" for the benefit of French kids. 

Peter Parker, as created by Steve Ditko, grew up in the 1950s. He called women "gals" and Russians "commies", wore a waistcoat on informal occasions and thought "I bet you're still wearing a Vote for Dewey badge" was a clever topical reference. Yet many of us seem to be able to accept that the young man who remembers the Beatles and lost friends in the Vietnam war is the "same persion" as the young man who was a teenager when the World Trade Center was destroyed; but somehow think that if his hair or his skin is the wrong colour he is just not Spider-Man. 
In 1963, Peter Parker's Aunt May was already a Very Old Lady, prone to have heart-attacks at the drop of a pin -- in her 70s, or even older. A New York lady who was born in the 1890s is very likely to have been an immigrant. I think everyone now agrees that Peter Parker was -- like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and the guy who wrote the words --  a second generation immigrant, say of Austrian or Czech  Jewish heritage. This is why Peter Parker is rejected by his peer group, and bullied by Flash Thompson. He's a foreigner; an outsider. 

It follows that movies which represent him as an all-American white kid are just as false as the ones where he plays with a microscope rather than a computer. If you want to set Spider-Man in the 21st century and remain remotely faithful to the original, you'd have to make him the kid of some refugees who came to America in the 1990s; non-religious himself, but greatly influenced by Uncle Ben's Somali Muslim or Punjabi Sikh heritage.

(I'm serious, by the way.) 

This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (1)

In the future, everyone will be Doctor Who, but only for fifteen episodes.

I have become disengaged from Doctor Who.
Don't worry, this is not going to be one of those "I swear on Uncle Ben's grave, never again shall I watch this travesty" essays. I am sure that fourteen months from now I shall still be going on and on about how Patterson Joseph is not as good as Matt Smith.
But right now, I don't care, although I care very much about not caring. It no longer matters, but it matters that it doesn't matter. I imagine that this is what divorce or loss of faith would feel like. It doesn't, I am happy to say, feel anything like grief.
Matt Smith was what was keeping me watching; and Matt Smith is going. So we will have months and months of speculation, and two massively over-hyped specials. Then we will have a new series, though not for a year, in which yet another new actor has yet another go at figuring out what the new show is all about, and then quits when we have barely had time to get used to him.


When we hear that a comic or a book or a TV show which we quite liked is going to be turned into a movie, we go through three stages.  

Stage 1: Faith
The new movie is going to be the Exact Same Thing as the book or comic we loved so much, with the pictures we made up in our head magically translated onto the big screen. "Will Benedict Cumberbatch be playing that extremely obscure character that only fans remember?" we say "I wonder how he will deliver that particularly special line we love so much?" The answer always turns out to be "No, of course he won't" and "They not only cut that line, but cut the whole chapter and replaced it with a fight scene." But we still go through the "Faith" stage next time around.

Stage 2: Revulsion 
This stage is often very brief; no more than a momentary flinch or shudder when we realize that, in fact, the movie is going to take a sledge hammer to the book or comic we love so much. Arwen is going to wield a sword. Lois is going to know Superman's secret identity from the beginning. The Doctor is going to be Rassilon’s illegitimate son and the TARDIS is going to be a rap singer. They are taking out Captain Kirk altogether and replacing him with James Dean. We sometimes get angry at this point and say that no-one should be allowed to touch the icons of our collective past. We used to say that bad remakes and disappointing prequels were like "someone raping our childhood" but in the light of what has happened to the whole of 1970s popular culture, that analogy no longer seems in particularly good taste.

Stage 3: Retrenchment  
Once we reach this stage, we claim it is the only reaction we ever had, or anyone could ever have. We never remotely expected the movie to be anything like the book. Anyone who did expect that is a colossal geek. Just because Tom Baker didn't play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle it doesn't follow that no-one can play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle. You have to put all thoughts of the original book, comic or TV show out of your head and ask "Was it or was it not a good movie?" And if you reply "No" then that also proves you are a colossal geek.
And, indeed, there are no hard and fast rules, about turning books into movies or anything else. Maybe you can re-imagine Hamlet as a ninja and make it work. People have successfully turned samurai into cowboys and back again. But if I am excited about the idea of a new Star Wars movie (and, with a hundred yards of reservations, I really am) then I'm excited because I want to see X-Wing Fighters, lightsabers and Luke Skywalker's kids. If I find they've cut out all the space ships and lightsabers and replaced them with bum-jokes and flirting then I have the right to become disengaged. "But was it a good movie in its own right?" is a non sequitur. I wasn't promised a good movie in it's own right. I was promised a sequel to Star Wars.


As we go through the triennial "could the Doctor be black" argument, many of us are getting are our retrenchment in first. Don't ask how an ethnic minority Doctor, or a female Doctor, or a female ethnic minority Doctor might be consistent with or inconsistent with what Doctor Who has been up to now. Ask only if it is a good TV series in it's own right.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

i have a few more things to say about dr who followed possibly by things about superman movies, naughty 1970s tv personalities, winnie the pooh, spider man, weak internet analogies for communism, god, etc

but in the mean time please listen to me speaking words about music in my voice 

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?"
"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?'" 
"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


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

Dinosaurs on Spaceship

When we met Amy, she was a little girl writing a letter to Santa. Well, not so much writing, as praying: a sort of farewell to the RTD era which had embarrassingly re-branded the Doctor as a Jesus figure. 

Of course, the Doctor turns up in answer to her prayer: her imaginary friend, the Raggedy Man of her dream. This becomes one of the new new show's running themes. Last Christmas, the Doctor was a gift-bringer somewhere between Santa Claus and Willy Wonka; this year he was a sort of male-Mary Poppins, living on a cloud. It's an established part of the mythos that if children wish hard enough for the Doctor, he will sometimes hear them. 

The Doctor as Santa Claus. Hold onto that concept, as we turn to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship the episode when new new new Who finally figures out what it was supposed to be about, and then hopelessly buggers it up. 

When the Doctor arrives on the space ship, we see him running across the floor and then skidding to a halt. 

Later on in the same episode, we see the Triceratops do the same thing. Run; stop suddenly; skid to a halt. 

When the Doctor hitches a ride on the back of the dinosaur he cries out "I am riding a dinosaur!" 

Later, when Rory and Ron Weasaley's Dad are, as a result of a perfunctory plot device, left flying a space ship, Mr Weasley cries out "we're flying a spaceship!" and "this is better than golf!". 

Indeed, when the spiky dinosaur shows up in the pre-cred, the Doctor cries out the name of the episode, with evident delight. 

And when The Great White Hunter is making his dramatic last stand, he announces that he's never been happier. 

(Last week, when Amy found herself in incredible danger from the most evil creatures ever invented, she exclaimed "Is it bad that I've really missed this?") 

Summary: everyone is having fun, and everyone knows that they are having fun. 

Now: even when you were a little kid, you probably knew perfectly well that real war was no fun at all, without pompous grown-ups telling you. The difference between playing "war" and having a war is obvious to everyone, except Miss Walker and certain Guardian columnists. I am quite sure that there were lots of kids in January 1964 having a great time "playing" Daleks; but you could hardly imagine Ian or Barbara saying "whoopee! This is fun!" as something scary chased them down a corridor. It was fun for us because it was scary for them, and we knew that it was scary for them because they were treating it as if it was real, not as if it was a game. 

We are asked to pretend that you can make a triceratops go where you want it to go by throwing a golf ball: the big lizard smells the grass on the ball and chases it. This is there primarily so they can do the "What have you got in my pocket?" "My balls" joke, which isn't funny. The second time they try the stunt (though not the joke) the dinosaur catches up with the ball, picks it up, and drops it at their feet. 

Now, I don't know much about the behaviour of triceratops, but I am pretty sure that that's not what a rhino or an elephant would do. Or a crocodile. We've forgotten for a moment why the big green chap was chasing the ball, and made him into a puppy chasing a stick. Because it's fun. Because we're only playing. 

What is John Riddell doing in the story? He's a contrast with Queen Nefatiti, I suppose: there is a certain amount of mileage to be got out of Classically Chauvinistic Male and Powerful Historical Female. And Moffat wants to give us the impression that the Doctor has a life apart from the little slice that Amy sees -- other companions that we've never heard of. A lady from ancient Egypt and a man from the Olden Days are too cool, off-the-wall semi-companions for him to have. But I rather fear that the main reason he is there is that someone start brainstorming "dinosaurs" and immediately came up with "wassisname, Muldoon, from the good Jurassic Park film."

Which is not a bad reason, actually, providing what you doing is playing at dinosaurs. 

So a playful version of Who, a cartoon Who, a bunch of adults where are quite clearly kids having a great time, being delighted by each new danger. And it really is playful and fun: like a child excitedly making up stories about his favourite characters, not like a geek joylessly putting the Jurassic Park Action Figure next to the Queen of Egypt Action Figure. The whole of the Third Doctor's era was a game, after all: the relationship between Roger and Jon makes no sense if you believe for one moment that the Master really was a psychotic mass murdering villain next to whom Hitler was basically just a bit naughty. Sword fight in a castle? Leaving the pretty lady in a death trap? They are playing at goodies and baddies, and loving every minute of it. 

And that's the problem. If you are playing at Doctor Who, you have to do it playfully. You can't drop a serious villain who had done something seriously villainous into the middle of it. You can't make him pathetic and evil at the same time. You can't make cold blooded genocide the subject of a game. 

Was there really no better way to manoeuvre the Doctor into a spiffing yarn with cartoon dinosaurs than wiping out the Silurians? We are meant to like the Silurians. The idea that they've hung around in caves for a zillion years, been nuked by the Brigadier, only to get casually wiped out by a travelling junk-dealer seems unfair. And don't say "life isn't fair": we don't want to learn harsh life lessons during a game of dinosaurs, thank you very much. The Doctor treats the whole thing oddly lightly; when he's setting up the McGuffin in which Rory and Brian fly the spaceship home, he makes a weak joke about monkeys and then laments that he didn't have a Silurian as an audience. That makes him seem callous. Under the circumstances, that's like sliding straight from the liberation of Auschwitz to the one about the the comedy Nazi and Jewish mother-in-law. 

Some people had a problem with the Doc killing the baddie at the end. That didn't worry me so much. Haven't the people who said it was out of character spotted that acting out of character is part of the Doctor's character? The question of whether the Doctor does or does not show mercy to his enemies, and the question of whether that does or doesn't make him a bad guy himself has been the main thing the show is about since Boom Town at least. Next weeks episode is called "A Town Called Mercy", for fred's sake. In the same way that Amy and Rory are endlessly trapped in the moment of falling out of love / falling in love and Amy is trapped in the moment staying with the Doctor / leaving the Doctor, the Doctor, this Doctor is trapped in the moment of becoming the dark Doctor / stepping back from brink. But it sits badly in a story in which people run around and banter with the comedy Dads while admittedly having a great time. 

Which is a shame, because it seems to me that "Doctor Who is a silly, crazy romp in which you get away with things you could never get away with in any other kind of drama" is a refreshing, fun model of what the series could be. If we can't have Moorcockian insanity like Let's Kill Hitler and The Marriage of River Song every week (and I think it would get tiring if we did) then at least let's have this kind of mad silliness. 

So. Fun romp. People playing at Doctor Who. Clash of registers between the silly and the serious. What does that have to do with dinosaurs skidding to a halt, or, indeed, Santa Claus?

Well, obviously, people are shown running like that because that's how people run in cartoons, and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is "coded" as a cartoon, in the same way that Asylum of the Daleks was "coded" as being frightening. Once the Doctor has gathered the pulp fiction characters and various Amy's and Rory's into the TARDIS, he remarks, and I do not quote: "I have a gang now. Gangs are cool." 

A gang? 

Well, we know that since 2003, Doctor Who has been modelling itself on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, without ever managing to be quite as good. Buffy was always about a group of friends, and the changing cast of gay witches, mortal demons, reformed vampires and teen werewolves which made up the supporting cast was occasionally referred to as "the Scooby gang." And of course, the non-existent companion Emma famous told the non-existent Twelfth Incarnation of the Doctor "You can't die.....You're like Father Christmas! The Wizard of Oz! Scooby Doo!" 

"Like Father Christmas and Scooby Doo."

Father Christmas.

And Scooby Doo.

We knew that Curse of Fatal Death was Moffat's personal love letter to the show and letter of application to the BBC. But we probably never realized how literally he was going to end up taking it.

Asylum of the Daleks 7.1 (cont)

Terrence Dicks used to say that the point of a Dalek was that it was pure evil with no redeeming features, but that you wished you could be a Dalek and exterminate bully or teacher or policeman or whoever was being rotten to you that week. Yeah. But that's just as true of the Cyberpeople and the Icepeople and every other damn creature ever to appear on Doctor Who and there wasn't Icewarriormania in the 1960s and there was arguably Dalekmania, which was a bit like Beatlemania. I don't remember that, but I do remember Womblemania. Then we decided we'd had enough manias. 

The point of the Daleks is that the actual physical nuts and bolts look and feel of the design is incredibly cool. I don't know why "thing which glides", "thing which has no legs", "thing with hidden wheels" is such a great idea, particularly. But when the Daleks are being well operated, gliding around in formation in Planet of the Daleks or the bits that are left of Masterplan, it never fails to make me smile. 

R.I.P, Ray Cusick. The nicest, most modest, most deserving Gold Blue Peter Badge Winner I ever saw from some distance on a panel at the National Film Theatre. 

If I told you that there was an axe murderer in the next room and you believed me, you would be scared. If I told you that there was a ghost in the next room and you believed me, you would also be scared. You would be scared of the axe murderer because he might kill you; but you would be afraid of the ghost just because he was a ghost. 

I suppose that most of who hid behind the sofa during Doctor Who were experiencing the second kind of fear. We were afraid of the idea of monsters -- strange weird funny looking things. We weren't following closely enough to know that what was actually frightening about them was that they are a metaphor for anti-Semitism or that they were going to put a neutron bomb in earth's magnetic crust. 

Sofas generally have their backs to the wall. It is more or less impossible to hide behind them.

But there is probably not much point in talking about why, or if, the Daleks are scary. Fifty years of pop cultural history says that these rather old fashioned outer space robot people are the most evil creatures ever invented. 

Nothing wrong with a baddie who is pretty much just a symbol for evil. That's what we have baddies for. 

Evil. Cool. Metaphorical. 

When we first met them, rather before my time, they were intolerant, inflexible, bigoted people in general, and the Nazis in particular, although they were also pathetic, little school bullies hitting back at the Thals because the Thals hit them first. By the time I arrived, they were a nasty fascist technological empire, which was a metaphor nasty, fascist, technological empires. This week it turns out that they are all about the-evil-that-we-carry-within-us, or part of a discourse about what-it-means-to-be-human and, in particular what-it-means-to-be-the-doctor and what-it-means-to-be-a-human-asking-what-it-means-to-be-the doctor. Which is what Doctor Who is now about, and the only thing it can be about it. And I think that it very nearly almost works. 

Daleks hate; humans love; when humans are turned into Daleks, all the love is taken out of them; which is why we have a lady who likes soufflĂ© who who has been turned into a Dalek, except she still loves, so she hasn't. 

And the Daleks admire the Doctor, because of the purity of his hate for them. Which, of course, was a big, big, clever, clever twist in 2003, when the only-Dalek-in-the-universe turns round and says to the just-turned-out-to-be-the-only-Time-Lord-in-the-Universe "You. Would. Make. A. Good. Dalek." But now it's just one of the things which is taken for granted and has to be re said in every episode. 

I preferred the model in those Big Finish Dalek Empire plays, which argued that the Daleks understand love very well: love is not that much different from hate. It's friendship they find completely impossible to understand.

If you were following the plot, then part of what made the Daleks frightening was the idea that the creature inside the machine was so terrifying and disgusting that you could hardly bare to look at it. The dying Dalek's claw coming out from under the cloak in episode 2 of Dead Planet caused more nightmares than a hundred extras going into negative and falling down. 

Season 1 of New Who gave us a single Dalek that could threaten a big military installation and wipe out a whole city of it escaped, and finished on a pretty convincing Dalekageddon; Season 2 reduced them to silly robots trading camp insults with Cybermen; by the end of Season 3 they were back to their accustomed roles as canon fodder who can't shoot straight and can be picked off by any amateur with a zap gun. I suppose this is part of the process: figures of horror in Dead Planet, mocked in Dalek Invasion of Earth, comic relief in the Chase; evil fascists in Genesis, hopeless slaves of logic who can't go upstairs in Destiny. 

But it is really really odd that Asylum of the Daleks, the nineteenth  story whose stated aim is to make the Daleks scary again, has so little confidence in the creatures that it treats them mostly as figures of fun and offers us completely different things to be scared of. 

The "fear" element comes from a space ship full of undead humans; a sort of combination of the spacesuit zombies from Silence in the Library and the Are You My Mummy zombie from the Empty Child. It's not actually scary, of course but it uses images which are "coded" a frightening. The "fear" element comes from the use of images which are "coded" as frightening. 

Children are told from an early age that ghosts are scary, which means, I think, that they play a game in which when one of their friends puts a sheets over their head they have permission to scream. (I have literally no idea what a sheet-ghost is meant to represent, by the way: a corpse in a burial shroud?) TV shows like Scooby Doo and Rentaghost are based on the idea that ghosts are frightening, but treats them as funny. If they actually thought about what a ghost represented, they might find it sad or upsetting, but they wouldn't necessarily be scared. A lot of people felt that the movie version of Caspar the Friendly Ghost-- in which Caspar is the ghost of a specific boy who has died -- took all the fun out of Caspar. My sister was inexplicably annoyed when I referred to the cartoon that my nephew and niece were enjoying as "Caspar the Dead Baby". 

The one bit which is actually "scary" in the sense of possibly catching us an making us think "that's a nasty idea" is the conceptual, mind control twist: the idea that Amy might be turning into a Dalek without realizing it, the idea that you could be losing your memory and not knowing. This is scary. But that has nothing particularly to do with Daleks. The idea of the Daleks sucking out people's emotions so they become Daleks is not really the Daleks usual schtick. It's much more a Cyberman thing. 

So maybe I'm actually misreading this. Maybe I am assuming that because there is so much talk about Amy and Rory, that the episode is about Amy and Rory. But perhaps it isn't. Perhaps Steven Moffat is one of us, and is really interested in the Daleks because they are scary-cool, and perhaps the object of the exercise is to show us as many Daleks and as many types of Daleks as he possibly can. Perhaps he is putting in the human back story to misdirect grown ups in the expectation that is target audience (eight years olds and geeks) will identify it as mushy stuff and ignore it. 

Fans always ask "Will there be any old monsters". John Nathan-Turner, in the olden days, took this to mean that fans liked the idea of old monsters and started to put lots of old monsters into Doctor Who. If the new race of snarling fibreglass fascist stormtroopers had the label "cybermen" on them, then this was fantastically exciting. Never mind that they had nothing to do with any previous version of the monster. They were Cybermen. The show was Honouring Its Past.

So: can we tune in, sit back, geek out, and love Asylum of the Daleks because there are mad Daleks, emperor Daleks, a whole parliament of Daleks, references to previous Dalek stories and a really, really silly joke about eggs. A thousand Daleks are a thousand time more exciting than one Dalek, yes? No?