Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Who – Twice upon a Time


Since the high point of the 50th Anniversary special, and Matt Smith’s ending close behind it, I have gone a long way from Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who. From the little I have seen of her in the role, I think I have done a disservice to myself over Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, but how would it have been possible to enjoy a single, however delightful, character/actress when I found the writing so tiresome and ridiculous, and the direction it has meant for Peter Capaldi so meaningless and irrelevant?

This year’s Xmas Special marks Moffat and Capaldi’s departure. It’s always intriguing to watch a new Doctor emerge, to try to guess from the seconds of time they are allotted in such Specials what they might possibly be, to wonder if a lost enthusiasm is about to undergo its own regeneration.

Of course, the decision to break with tradition and go with a female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, for the first time has attracted controversy and much head-full-of-shit predictions of doom from a large part of the Whovian audience. One particular YouTuber has poured out a stream of videos castigating the decision, predicting that the show will be killed off, this time forever, and generally being completely Cassandra about the whole thing.

I use the term ‘head-full-of-shit’ for this gentleman and those who flock to ‘like’ his pronouncements of doom because their reasoning is full-of-shit. The key moment came when he said that he had no intrinsic objections to there one day being a female Doctor, providing it was done for the right reasons: apparently, the selection of Jodie Whittaker is solely due to a stridently feminist agenda, crossed with fervent Social Justice Warrior preoccupations.

Do you recall that episode of Yes Minister in which Jim Hacker decides to spearhead the promotion of women within the Civil Service, in an attempt to bring parity forward? This led to a glorious scene where the Private Secretaries all meet to welcome the scheme, to heap praise on it as a worthy intention and one to which they would all lend their support, before going on to explain why a female Private Secretary would be completely unsuitable for their particular Department.

Yeah, full-of-shit, like I said.

In condemning this bozo-esque response, I’m not maligning those with genuine, and reasoned concerns about the idea, or about what we already know of how it’s to be executed, and in particular those who, for some strange reason, plan to actually watch the new series before making up their minds. Weird bunch, aren’t we?

In the end, and of course it literally was the end, Capaldi regenerates, the camera does everything it can to actually prevent us seeing anything of the Thirteenth Doctor, except that her left and right eyeballs are definitely surrounded by women’s eyelashes, then there’s one facial shot, two words (“Oh, brilliant!”) and the usual cheap melodramatic chaos. The Tardis goes haywire (why do they always regenerate inside the Tradis when they know it always wrecks the bloody place?), turns on its side, opens the door and, after a bit of desperate clinging to run out the last of those measly seconds Moffat left to Chibnall, she falls out. Into the raw timestream. And the Tardis vanishes.

Oh, of course I’ll watch the first episode of the next series. But it’s hardly encouraging.

After that long digression, what of the story? What of the meeting of Two Doctors, of Twelfth and First (a lovely performance by David Bradley, echoing my distant recollections of William Hartnell to gentle perfection), both determined to resist Regeneration and die?

Twelve’s got the better excuse. He’s been doing this for so long, he has seen so many people come and go, and that goes for versions of himself too, he’s tired beyond endurance of saving a Universe that never gets better for it, that only wants saving all the more for his doing so. Is he never allowed to seek rest?

One is  the anomaly. He’s the hard-headed, practical Doctor, the rebel who left Gallifrey to learn why Good, with everything it’s got stacked against it, always beats Evil. He wants to claim the right to live and die as himself. If he does so, all that everyone from Troughton to Capaldi will cease to exist. But One doesn’t yet know that he is why Good wins every time (little bit megalomaniacal there, Moffat, but we’ll let you have that one).

The story’s about One learning to accept his future, which comes as a lesson learned from how Twelve resolves the practical problem before them, a case of Frozen Time for which their joint decision to commit Time Lord suicide at the South Pole is responsible. You can read that as a bit of reflexive ego from Moffat, propounding NewWho’s superiority over Old… sorry, ClassicWho, teaching it a lesson: I certainly didn’t miss that implication.

How it’s worked is this: a First World War British Captain facing a scared German Soldier in No Man’s Land, both wounded, both with a gun pointed at the other, neither able to speak the other’s language, is about to die. With the stiffest of upper lips, he is prepared for it, accepts it. Instead, he winds up at the south Pole, with the two Doctors, kidnapped by a barenakedlady made out of CGI glass.

To save confusion, this is not an enemy. This is Testimony, an organisation created in the 5 Billionth Century, that reaches through time to people at the moment of their death, extracts and copies their memories and returns them to that moment, so as not to upset the flow of history. In short, they are granting immortality, to everyone, who’s names, faces, bodies, personalities can be recreated on these women of glass. The dead, all of them, can live again. Including Bill Potts.

Much of the hour is taken up with working through this plot, to find out who Testimony are and learn they’re not baddies. In the end, Twelve and One have to take the Captain back, to the crater, to the frightened German, to his death. By then, hope of a miracle has undermined his stoicism.

The Captain is played by Mark Gatiss. In a way, he’s a stereotype, almost but not a caricature. Gatiss plays him note-perfect, in every quaver and semi-quaver. He may be a type but he’s a human type, quiet, determined, incredibly brave. He breaks your heart just standing there, so clearly baffled by what has happened to him, yet accepting of his fate. He goes without a name until the moment he has to return to his position in the crater, and then that name is both so obvious and yet so heart-achingly perfect: Captain Lethbridge-Stewart.

But Twelve has a trick, one impossible trick.bTime can be cheated, but only because of the day this is, the one impossible day in all the history of War. He moves the scene forwards in time, two hours. From the German trenches, the sound of singing, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. From the British trenches, Silent Night, Holy Night. It’s the Christmas Day Armistice, the troops spreading out into No Man’s Land, shaking hands, sharing food and drink, booting a football around. And two wounded men in a crater receive first aid, and don’t shoot each other.

Of course, it’s all a Moffat cheat, it’s the complete upset of everything Testimony do, it’s changed time, and I can see that even as I’m swept up into the great big swirl of emotion, and I give way to the sentiment being evoked, and to the stoic, quiet man who accepted his duty, who trusted his wife to carry on, whose love for his sons was evident even as he was accepting that his removal from them was the natural way of things, who gets to go home after all. Goodwill and tidings of joy to all Lethbridge-Stewarts, whenever you are.

He’s pulled it off, or enough of it for me to give Moffat credit for a beautifully judged finale, only he’s Stephen Moffat and he can’t help himself, he has to go and blow it completely with some twattishly stupid, overwrought, overdrawn-out writing that Capaldi has no alternative but to go Over The Top with, as he rants around the Tardis shouting instructions to the next Doctor as to what he’s got to be, like the next Doctor doesn’t already know after twelve times round the houses, sounding for all the world like Stephen Moffat trying to stamp an indelible stamp all over Doctor Who and tie Chris Chibnall into a strait-jacket.

Then Chibnall gets his, what was it, ninety seconds? and chucks poor Jodie out of the door still wearing Capaldi’s clobber (her own is nothing to write home about either).

So, behind the running around, the outrageous appeals to sentiment (I so did not need Jenna Coleman popping up to play Clara-the-Calamity, even for sixty seconds) there was a deeply affecting story that deeply affected me. Only it wasn’t the Doctor’s struggle with himself to accept Regeneration, which was a hideous piece of ghastly hamming, it was Mark Gatiss and Captain Lethbridge-Stewart, and the understanding that no matter how alien they seem to us now, such men were real, and what they thought and felt was real, no matter how much they had to mask it.

And that made this hour worthwhile to me.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Doctor Falls


Series 10

It’s been something like two whole seasons since I last watched Doctor Who, with not even getting rid of Jenna Coleman being enough to tempt me back whilst Stephen Moffat was still there. I tended to read the reviews in the Guardian, though not always, doubtful that the praise being lavished on the current series, and particularly on Pearl Mackie as current companion, Bill Potts, was enough to make the series any more palatable to me.

Last night marked the end of the season and the ends of Moffat and Peter Capaldi, who will always go down for me as the Doctor who could have been abso-frickin’-lutely brilliant but in the end was wasted by the flailing/flailing imagination of his writer. It got such a write-up, and gave one massive spoiler away that I felt compelled to break the moratorium and catch the episode whilst it’s still just possible to use the BBC i-Player without having to register.

Given that she’d been killed and turned into a Cyberman, I probably wasn’t getting to see Bill at her best, but I saw enough to think I’d probably concur with the consensus: Pearl Mackie looked like she was a brilliant companion.

As for the rest of it, well, even with two Masters, it was all a bit flat. A lot of it can be put down to my not having seen any of the series to date, but very little of it worked. Take the Master and Missy. It’s been done before with multiple Doctors but this is, I believe, the first instance of two successive versions of the Master hyping each other up. I never felt them to be equals though, the John Simm version was clearly the dominant one (Moffat never could handle strong women), and their fate was a colossal clunker, for all it tried to be portentous.

Missy hugs the Master and kills him, leaving him enough time to reach his Tardis, escape, and regenerate into her. She’s going to go stand alongside the Doctor in his solitary, foredoomed, final battle against the Cybermen. But the Master is so determined not to assist his old friend-turned-enemy, that he shoots Missy in the back, with one of those special, made-up-on-the-spot magic guns that lets Moffat do a big flourish without having to bogged down with consistency, logic or anything remotely plausible, because you see it doesn’t just kill his next regeneration but all the ones after it. It’s a magic destroy all regeneration energy gun, you see.

Never mind that no-one believes that shit for a second, or thinks that if Chris Chibnall doesn’t want the Master/Missy,the showrunner after him won’t bring him/them back in an instant, though hopefully with an actual explanation instead of Moffat’s out of a back pocket and no-one will notice bullshit.

Then there’s the rest of it. The Doctor goes around merrily blasting Cybermen with his sonic screwdriver until the Bill-one blasts him. He sets off an explosion that destroys all of them, blasts them to bits, except himself and the Bill-one. Why are they intact when the more more heavily armoured ones are smithereened? You want an explanation, a rationalisation? Ha, ha! you mad fool.

Up pops Puddle-Heather from a puddle. Don’t ask me, go google her like I did. Remember that bit about how Bill can’t possibly be turned back from being a Cyberman, it’s completely and utterly impossible? And you believed it? Stephanie Hyams snogs Pearl Mackie on Saturday night prime-time TV and we are definitely not in Kansas any more, Toto, and all the better for it, and, hey presto, Bill’s Bill again. She’s Puddle-Bill, mind you, and she’s off on a tour of the universe with Heather, not the Doctor, whose dead and unregenerated body she leaves in the TARDIS.

Now I do remember the impressive effort Moffat put into satisfyingly breaking the Twelve Regenerations cycle, back when he’d do things like put explanations in, so suddenly, with no apparent reason, the first Doctor of that new cycle isn’t going to regenerate, until Bill drops a tear on him, which wakes him up, but only after she’s jumped out the door.

(This is a right mess by now, isn’t it?)

So now the Twelfth Doctor is bubbling over with regeneration energy, but he’s fighting it. We get that by now massively overused line, “I don’t want to go” (is that going to be used in every fucking regeneration in future?) and Capaldi’s fighting it down. He’s had enough, he doesn’t want to change any more, he’s sick of turning into another person over and over again, the TARDIS takes him somewhere where it’s snowing outside and he stumbles out still shouting that he’s never going to change again and it’s echoed by the cliffhanger, the bit that got me to watch this farrago again, the bit where David Bradley does what he did so stunningly three and a half years ago in An Adventure in Time and Space, where he reincarnates old Bill Hartnell, and out of the snow, equally refusing to change, walks the First Doctor…

Cue Christmas Special.

Now I’ll watch that one, just to see how Chris Chibnall gets out of that, though I don’t mind saying I would roll on the floor, kicking my little heels in the air, if they had the balls to make David Bradley the Thirteenth Doctor and roll it round again, not that they will. But I haven’t missed anything whilst I’ve been away, and Moffat hasn’t got any better, and if Chibnall isn’t planning a radical change of pace, I won’t be back for the next series either.

But we shall wait and see.

Uncollected Thoughts: Sherlock series 4, episode 3


Sometimes, no amount of words can be put together to explain a piece of work that you have seen. ‘The Final Problem’ went everywhere and nowhere. It played on fear, love, heartbreak, confusion and the ability of the mind to maintain an ordered account. I found it brilliant beyond my capacity to describe, and will not attempt to explain anything for or to you, when I can’t put it together in a way that does not overwhelm me.

I don’t know how long it will be before, or maybe if, these people can be got together for series 5, but I will do everything I can to live that long.

Uncollected Thoughts: Sherlock series 4 episode 2


I said last week that I couldn’t be objective about Sherlock and I still can’t. Last week’s episode got a lot of abuse for its ‘sexing-up’ and the Bond-ification of Sherlock, instead of the clever, witty, cerebral case solving that, apparently, was the only thing remotely interesting about the first series or two. Some of that criticism was the old, old thing about not letting things change or grow. Some of it, to be fair, was justifiable: I said I never liked the idea of Mary Watson, assassin and mercenary.

Well, given the nature of ‘The Lying Detective’, all about cerebral deduction and the careful trapping of a monster into confessing crimes that, though undetailed, were beautifully conveyed as monstrous by the simple device of having Greg Lestrade push back his chair and suspend the interrogation until the following morning, you’d almost think that Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat (writer of this week’s episode) had been playing for just such a response. Nah, they ain’t that clever, are they?

But this episode was undoubtedly clever, winding an astonishingly convoluted, yet very simple plot into so many curlicues, with hidden motivations and hidden crimes folded into it like the micro-dimensions of string theory, that it became impossible to believe that what we were watching took only ninety minutes of our lives.

To put it at its most basic: John Watson is having therapy for his appalling loss and the unbridgeable gulf it has created between him and Sherlock, only one of which conditions he wishes to resolve. Sherlock, in turn, is back on the smack, collapsing in on himself, driving himself towards death, unable to control his own intelligence.

Both appear to be hallucinating. John is carrying on conversations with Mary, despite her constant reminders that she isn’t real, nor is she independent of his mind. And Sherlock spends an entire night being put onto a complex case by the walking-cane carrying daughter of Culverton Smith, millionaire businessman/philanthropist/serial killer, only to discover that she, too, doesn’t exist (actually, the woman, Faith, does exist, it’s just that Sherlock’s hallucination isn’t her, she just looks alike. She’s not even an hallucination, but lets not get ahead of ourselves).

Sherlock sets out to prove that this highly respected public figure is indeed that most despicable of creatures, a serial killer. Toby Jones plays the part masterfully, a creature of vast intelligence, intellectually the equal of Sherlock, publicly streets ahead of him. Jones treads the delicate line of hiding in plain sight, his every utterance an invitation to see through him, if you actually dare think that. The message that, if you reach a certain level of power and public recognition, you can do anything, was written before Donald Trump was elected, but it’s ghastly apt.

John is drawn into this, against his will, constantly treading his own line between believing Sherlock’s deductive capacities and fearing that it’s all because he’s off his tits. John even puts Sherlock in the hospital where he is directly in Smith’s power, his frustrations leading him to smash Sherlock’s face in.

But it’s a game. An elaborate put-on, a fake. Yes, Culverton Smith is a serial killer, and yes, Sherlock has picked a fight with him because he is a big, powerful, evil figure who needs to be stopped, but that’s not why. It’s not why until we – and John – see the rest of Mary’s DVD, the one where she charges Sherlock with saving John. Where she identifies John Watson as a man who cannot be helped, who will not let himself be helped, but who cannot refuse to help. Who will move mountains to save Sherlock, if only Sherlock can create a scenario where he is in danger. Real, true, palpable danger.

And thus it all comes together, and in a manner that is wholly satisfying and completely believable (to the value of belief that this extraordinarily clever and mannered programme operates), the friendship is restored: Holmes and Watson live on.

Or do they?

There’s a third episode to come and there’s a handful of scattered clues lying around. There’s the hints of a third Holmes brother, Sherringford, that even John Watson susses out. There’s his therapist, with her French accent, the ‘hallucinatory Faith’ and her northern accent, not to mention last week’s girl on the bus with whom John text-cheated. She had a pronounced accent too. All the same woman, Sian Brooke, beautifully disguised.

And a killer. The real therapist is in the airing cupboard. She’s holding John Watson at gunpoint. Her real name is Euros (the East Wind). Her parents had a thing for convoluted names for their children. Euros. Mycroft. Sherlock. The third Holmes brother is a sister. John’s making a silly face. She thinks she’ll put a hole in it. She pulls the trigger.

Oh, mother.

I think we now know how Jim Moriarty has seemingly risen from the dead.


 

Uncollected Thoughts: Sherlock – The Abominable Bride


If we’re only going to get one of these this tear instead of the customary three, then it’s a bloody good job this one was as good as it was. I’m not sure if any spoilers got out, apart from the long-trailed one about the episode being set in Victorian London, but if they did I managed to miss all of them. The Abominable Bride was happily virgin territory for me and I loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Yes, nearly. There’s always something, but we’ll get to that later on.

For the first near hour of the programme, going by the rough estimate of time I was making in my head, it was an immaculate spoof. It was a Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes in every respect, enlivened by a simple metafiction. Gatiss and Moffat took the step of translating their Sherlock and John and their modern relationship very precisely into Victorian terms and introducing this as the ‘real’ Holmes and Watson, both well aware of the public version portrayed in the latter’s immensely popular stories in ‘The Strand’.

Not once did this version of our leading lights lapse into anything verging on 21st century language or behaviour. The closest the programme came to overtipping its hand, and it was dealt with deliberately briefly in order to contain any audience twitching, was the revelation that 19C Mary Watson was herself a highly competent agent, working for the fat Mycroft Holmes.

Actually, the writers could have blown it seriously badly with Mrs Hudson, offended at the limited role given to her literary persona and indulging in bringing her restrictions over to real-life, but the conviction – and straight-facedness – that all the regulars brought to playing their alternate versions carried us over any hurdles this comic approach placed in the audiences’ way.

In fact, for as long as this phase continued, The Abominable Bride was shaping up to be the funniest thing on TV all year (I know this is only Day 1 of 366, but considering how little TV I actually watch now, it’s six, four and evens that it’ll still be so on 31 December).

But of course it wasn’t just a spoof. Why did we ever expect something so simple? The tag attached to the dead Sir Eustace Carmichael read ‘Miss Me?’ Given that the episode had started with a brief rundown of Sherlock-to-date, ending with those very words, was there a viewer who didn’t suddenly tense up and start wondering what was coming?

And a few achronological phrases between Sherlock and fat Mycroft, each commented upon by the other, rammed home that this was suddenly not an amusing little diversion at all. Enter Moriarty for a confrontation with Sherlock (I cannot say how much I love Andrew Scott in this role) and suddenly the plane bringing Sherlock home from his four-minute exile after the killing of Troels Hartman is landing and the whole thing has been a drug-created inner fantasy by 21C Sherlock, trying to work out how Moriarty can be back after blowing his own brains out at the end of series 2.

To do so, he’s built a memory palace to enable him to investigate an unsolved Victorian case where a suicide victim who used the same method as Moriarty came back to life to commit murder and where, by using Victorian methods to solve that riddle, he hopes to work out just how Moriarty survived his own suicide.

It’s been exceedingly clever, and perfectly written and performed up to date, and it retains that level throughout John Watson’s unspoken review of the list of what Sherlock has taken, but once Sherlock gets back into his ‘mind palace’ to conclude his investigation, the programme loses a level of conviction.

We’re invited back into what, so far, has been a perfectly-executed and inexplicable alternate world. Once we go back, we return with the knowledge that this isn’t ‘real’, that it’s all in Sherlock’s mind. The intrigue has gone, and taken with it the intensity, and the uppermost level of conviction. It’s not only not ‘real’, it’s an hallucination, and the rules for how this might happen are rewritten. Anything can happen. The episode has even taken the trouble, earlier on, to remind us of Holmes’ famous dictum about when you have eliminated the impossible…

Now, the show has eliminated the impossible as being impossible.

The Ricotti case is solved with absurd ease, giving 21C Moriarty his way out, but the Carmichael case is given a portentous and ultimately metaphysical solution that digs too deep into metafiction and political correctness. That’s not a term I like, nor one I usually use, but the deliberation in which the secret society is set up, and how it’s been foreshadowed by fat Mycroft as a dangerous, unstoppable opponent who will and must win because they’re right, means that PC is for once an apt term.

Many, myself included, have accused Moffat of being a misogynist writer and the awkwardness with which this solution is applied smells of being an intentional riposte to us critics. Sorry buddy, you need to be a bit more natural than that, especially within an episode that has demonstrated itself as being naturalistic.

Perhaps recognising that they had weakened their episode, Messrs Gatiss and Moffat decided to throw in a few extra levels of the fantasy, including a completely metafictional recreation of the Reichenbach Falls in which Moriarty outs himself as being dead but instead being the symbol of Sherlock’s failures. They’re about to go over the Falls together again when the symbol gets deliberately muddied by introducing 19C John Watson, with service revolver, to tip the balance. nd to tip Moriarty over the edge: it’s his turn this time, after all.

Let me emphasise that I emjoyed every minute of this, but I’m critically aware that the last thirty minutes didn’t hold up the first sixty, and given the closing scenes, I’m pretty sure Gatiss and Moffat were also aware of that.

First, we had Sherlock, refreshed after his O.D., walking away with John and Mary, telling them that he now knows what Moriarty has planned next: oh, by the way, he is dead, no-one survives blowing their own brains out. This neatly gets the writers off the task of coming up with an explanation of Moriarty’s survival, and making it different from Sherlock’s (which was never really explained in the end), though it makes it even harder to get Andrew Scott back for series 5 (I’m electing to treat this as series 4, sorry).

Then we cut back to Victorian London and Mr Holmes trying to convince Dr Watson that his mind-experiment of projecting the future 120 years hence is truly plausible. It’s a very lightweight attempt at a St Elsewhere ending which fooled no-one in the slightest, and thw writers’ lack of conviction showed by having 19C Sherlock looking out of 221b’s window onto a 21C Baker Street street scene.

But if this is the only one we’re getting until atheism-knows-when, then it were well that it be as good as it was, and it certainly was. And bearing in mind how badly Moffat has fucked up Dr Who for me, this was either a case of him remembering his mojo, or one of Gatiss carrying him like Sam carried Frodo up the slopes of Orodruin. I’d like to think it was the former.

Another (and hopefully last) post about the new series of Doctor Who


For no better reason than the obvious one

I don’t want to keep going on about Dr Who especially as I’ve severed myself sufficiently from the programme that I haven’t even read the blogs for subsequent episodes on either the Guardian or TV.com, but another thought has come into my head to further define what I now find so unacceptable about Stephen Moffat’s writing.

No, I’m not talking about his continuing habit of making Clara Oswald into such a puffed-up, self-absorbed, pig-ignorant embarrassment who can’t recognise being out of her depth when on the ocean bed without a bathyscape (sorry, I really loathe the character, does it show?)

The thought arose from re-reading Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction collection, A Blink of the Screen, and the several essays he had to write at different times, defending and defining the writing of fantasy. Despite the heavily advertised SF trappings, Dr Who is and for a very long time has been a fantasy programme. What else is the sonic screwdriver but a magic wand? In particular, under Moffat, it has made its name as a programme in which anything can happen.

But the main problem with Anything Can Happen fiction is that you can’t have simply Anything Happen. Fiction can be greatly enlivened by the employment of the unconventional and the unexpected, but these must in turn obey conventions and be at the very least expectable if they are to succeed.

To take an example: think back to that moment in The Fellowship of the Ring where the Fellowship is racing to escape from Moria, only for the awakened Balrog to pursue them across the Bridge of Khazad-Dum. Only Gandalf stands between the Fellowship and disaster. Imagine therefore that, instead of waxing defiant and breaking the bridge with his staff, Gandalf whips out a Thompson Sub-Machine Gun out from under his grey robes and blows the Balrog to fiery chunks?

Why can’t you do that? After all, it’s only what Indiana Jones did in Raiders of the Lost Ark when that sword-enhanced Arab stepped out in front of him, demonstrating the looseness of his wrist when it came to scimitar-swinging. Indy just blew him away.

But what happened in Raiders was the explosion of a cliche in a manner that, whilst unexpected, was nevertheless completely in keeping with the world of the story. Guns not only existed but had already been used in the film. All Indy did was to refuse to follow a convention of the kind of pulp fiction that informed and underwrote Raiders.

To try a similar trick in Tolkien, who is engaged in the creation of a coherent secondary world in which guns, gunpowder and other weaponry of that class do not function, would be to explode the book, and Middle-Earth with it.

Dr Who has for a very long time, and especially under Moffat, a much looser programme. Anything Can Happen. It continually does. Anything Can Happen, and so large amounts of Anything must keep Happening, every time, so as to continually dazzle the audience and keep them gasping. But the more Anything that Happens, the bigger and brighter and less expected the next Anything must be. It becomes a game of spectacle, which is precisely the point at which a diamond-hard control is required.

And that’s what Moffat lacks. Some of the things he springs on his audience are solely for effect. They cannot be related to the story in any way. Take episode 1 this series, where the Doctor emerges from a fog of dry ice, in medieval times, riding on a twenty-first century tank and playing heavy metal guitar on an electric guitar that is not plugged in because there is most of a millennium to go before there will be anything that it can be plugged into but he’s still rocking it like Pete Townsend.

That’s not even something that was done in service to the plot, but it’s emblematic of Moffat’s whole approach. The trouble is that if Anything Can Happen, and literally Anything Does Happen, then every part of the story ceases to hold any meaning. Dramatic tension, emotional significance, personal development, all these are dependent upon the story holding a real measure of conflict and the realistic possibility of consequence.

But if, at any time, the hero can produce a rabbit of any shape, size or colour out of his back pocket, danger and death and destruction become irrelevant.

Where is the battle if the wizard can, whenever he feels like it, turn the opposing army into pink butterflies? What is the point of the story if it can be resolved by some madcap, off the wall gesture that has no bearing on what has happened thus far?

If Anything Can Happen, there is no point to what does happen or what has already happened.

Moffat obviously used to understand that but he’s lost sight of what is a fundamental requirement of fantastic fiction. He’s fallen in love with the idea of spectacle and incongruity, and lost the ability to control his fiction. At that point, any writer is doomed, usually to see his audience drain away like the dirty suds at the end of the bath. As we now understand is happening.

Dr Who, series 9: A More Collected Afterthought


Just one more thing on last night’s Dr Who that has been nagging me today. The whole point of the episode was that The Doctor is so damned brilliant and clever that he’d foreseen entirely Davros’s plot and had played along from start to finish, whilst being completely in control, because, you know, he’s The Doctor!

So explain to me what part of the Doctor’s marvelous plan involved him deliberately giving up enough regeneration energy to not only regenerate the on-his-last-castors Davros, but also the entire Dalek race, to the point where they are now even more powerful and dangerous than ever before? This was a cunning plan because it achieved… what?

And if he gave up enough Regeneration energy for all that, how many lives does that represent?

Or was it merely that Stephen Moffat is so in love with his own f***king cleverness that he didn’t think this through?

Dr Who series 9: Uncollected Thoughts part 2


Actually, I forgot this was on.

I’ve watched the second episode via the i-Player. It wasn’t as frenetic as the first part, nor, quite, as silly. Instead, it was tedious and long-winded, and boring, and I only stayed to the end out of duty, which for the few of you interested in my words about Dr Who, I’m going to betray anyway.

It just wasn’t worth talking about. It was dull. And Capaldi was as hammy as a ton of hickory ham.

If Moffat ever leaves, someone nudge me. And please, please let Mark Gatiss have the major influence on Sherlock.

Doctor Who Series 9: Uncollected Thoughts


Go away. Please. Just go away.

Well now, that was embarrassingly bad, wasn’t it?

After the announcement that Jenna Coleman was leaving Dr Who, thus removing from the series its single, most glaringly awful annoyance, I made the last-minute decision to rescind my personal ban on watching the series. That was an awful mistake.

‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ was a perfect example of Stephen Moffat’s increasing tendency to throw it a lot of brightly coloured bits of jumble, whirl them around a bit and pretend that the outcome was a coherent story. So, we had, in short order, a fourteen year old boy wandering into an explicable war scene, the Twelfth Doctor all set to help him out of a forest of hand-mines (so much effort for a very weedy, nonsensical pun) and learning that freckle-face’s name is Davros, some guy sliding around on roller skates under a monk’s cowl, looking for the Doctor, Missy freezing aircraft all over the world to attract UNIT’s attention, the Doctor partying in 1128AD with an electric guitar and more anachronisms than you could shake a stick at, a conversation with a very low-key, non-shouty Davros who’s due to die in the morning and the Daleks destroying Missy, Clara and the TARDIS.

That none of it made the least amount of sense, and will make even less after part 2 finishes the story off next week, is exactly why Moffat has, with unbelievable rapidity considering how well he handled the Fiftieth Anniversary, fallen out of the bottom of the dustbin and needs to be removed from control of the show. It has already become unwatchable, and that’s without Clara.

Take Missy’s return. When last she was seen, the Doctor was killing her, permanently, no regenerations, no flowers by request, so as to ensure that Clara, who was intent on doing it out of revenge for the death of Danny (you remember, the guy who got run over by a car when she announced her undying love by mobile phone whilst he was crossing a busy road: talk about Displacement) wouldn’t have to live with blood on her hands.

Nobody believed for a minute that that was the last we’d seen of the erstwhile Master. So, how do they get over this hurdle? What ingenious little story lies behind this latest resurrection? Six words: ‘Not dead. Back. Get over it.’ with one might bound, Moffat frees himself from the curse of rationality forever. He can do anything he wants, and then just flip it without explanation. The last link to reality is this shattered and Dr Who becomes literally meaningless.

Then there’s Clara. She’s in the classroom, teaching badly as always, Jane Austen, brilliant writer, and totally great kisser, and then suddenly, without anyone batting an eyelid, she’s shooting off to UNIT HQ at the Prime Minister’s personal request (which no-one finds in the least bit strange), and it’s not because she’s the Doctor’s current official companion, it’s because UNIT, and Kate Stewart, desperately need Clara’s superior knowledge and understanding of A) how to recognise an alien invasion when you see one and B) what to do about an alien invasion.

Seriously, I am not kidding. Moffat has gotten so totally involved with his jumped-up companion – who is so fucking ignorant she actually tells the Daleks, the Daleks, that they can’t destroy the TARDIS – that he thinks he can sell the idea that a 29 year old teacher knows more about planetary defence than the whole of UNIT.

After that, the bit with the Doctor in the Twelfth Century was basic-level inanity, and not even Clara being exterminated could raise a smile because we know it won’t take.

What made everything exponentially worse is that this fifth-rate, amateurish tripe was based on a supposedly serious idea. Admittedly, it’s a very old idea, one that was explored back in Tom Baker’s day and, what’s more, taken directly from dialogue of a higher standard that this dog.

We saw it all a very long time ago in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, the moment when the Fourth Doctor held up two bare wires that, it touched together, would destroy at source the entire Dalek race, removing them from history before they entered it. It was a moral dilemma of epic dimension. Moffat even had the conversation replayed, as Baker posed the question of what if you had the life of a young boy in your hands that, by snuffing him out, you could avoid untold dearth, destruction and carnage?

That’s exactly what the opening scene did. And the Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor, left Davros where he was as soon as he learned the boy’s name.

The cliffhanger is that the Doctor returns, directly from Skaro, where he’s seen Clara evaporated, mad with grief, toting a Dalek exterminatory arm and ready to save Clara’s life by exterminating Davros to little pieces.

Cheap, inane, moronic. I shall submit myself to watching next week’s second part, then wash my hands of things until Moffat walks. Please, please, please let this colossal abdication of writing standards not have crept into Sherlock as well.

Dr Who: Ok, then, maybe…


With the new series of Doctor Who coming up on Saturday, I have been busy avoiding any trailers or spolilers, though not for the usual reason of wishing to watch the actual broadcast without knowing what to expect: you know, as a drama.

No, this time I’ve been ignoring the programme because of Clara Oswald.

However much of a minority I may have been in, I rapidly grew to hate the Doctor’s current companion the longer series eight went on. Stupid, self-willed, convinced of her own righteousness, cheating and lying and avoiding responsibility for her actions, she was not what I wanted to see in the programme. When you spend roughly a third of each episode screaming at one character’s bone-headedness, one of two things has to give: her or you.

And when the exceedingly risible end to the Xmas Special made it plain that Clara wasn’t going, I decided I had to.

Until just this afternoon, when it was announced that Jenna Coleman was leaving, and before this year’s Xmas Special, because she’s going off to play Queen Victoria.

That doesn’t mean to say that things will be any better this forthcoming season, nor that her eventual replacement will prove to have a brain between her no doubt pretty ears, but I can at least try the series again, knowing that instead of screaming at the screen, I can keep repeating, “this too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass…”