Category: SIDRAT

Some Idiosyncratic Diverse Ramblings About TARDIStimes

The Chibnall Era – A Retrospective

As we’re literally on the eve of the second RTD era (shall we call it RTD2?) it seems only fair to cast an eye over the Chibnall era now that the dust has settled somewhat. I did keep expecting @phaseshift to post his musings and so kept holding off so as not to step on anyone’s toes so apologies if that’s what I’m doing now. And some of my current thoughts to the Chibs Era (CE) have definitely been informed by this video by VerilyBitchilie which, while full of rather a lot of tedious Moffat-bashing and with an attendant rose-tinted view of RTD’s first tenure, does have some interesting things to say about the most glaring faults of the CE.

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Re-evaluating the Third Doctor

A FEW years back on this site, there was a fairly spirited discussion between myself and the late and much-missed @HTPBDET over the relative merits of the Third Doctor and as this week was the centenary of the birth of Jon Pertwee and there’s been a number of celebrations of that fact around the t’internet, I thought now might be a good time to revisit that particular debate.

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Series 11: the heart of Grace

Some stories are simple.

There is, in Sheffield, a family. A grandmother, a grandson she’s bringing up. A second husband, that the boy (nearly a man) wants to keep at a distance. A dead daughter-in-law, a son who would rather run away than cope with the responsibilities that follow death.

There was, once, a traveller. A grandfather, a granddaughter that he brought up and who left. A later wife, who died. A traveller who tries to help, when he sees that help is needed – but who would rather run away than cope with the responsibilities that follow death.

And then the little family is broken apart a second time, because a monster, a serial killer, decides to come to Sheffield. The traveller tries to help, because she sees that help is needed, but she can’t (he almost never can) save everyone. And one of the people killed, one of the almost endless series of people killed since the traveller ran away that very first time, is the grandmother.

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On joy.

Fandom has a problem.

On one level it is not a new problem. Some years ago @jimthefish, of this parish, coined the term ARSE – A Raging Sense of Entitlement. This is the excessively possessive sense of ownership that some fans have towards the show, that goes beyond mere fannish affection and becomes a bit Mommie Dearest. There is not the tiniest shred of grasp that talents from Verity Lambert, Robert Holmes, Russell T Davies to Steven Moffat and now Chris Chibnall have poured their life force into creating a magnificent ride for us to enjoy and that we don’t own it..

Although Moffat and Davies would pay lip service to the idea the it is owned by the fans, just try making money out of their – or the BBC’s – intellectual property and see how fast M’Learned Friends show up. The ARSE-laden do not get that. So if the show does something that doesn’t fit their headcanon (in the old Usenet days called, more usefully, fanwank) they feel morally slighted and that their childhood/ family/ way of life has in some way been betrayed. It is epically childish and it is rather sad to seen people of *cough* my age acting like this. But it is also easy to mock and perhaps the lodestar of this mockery is Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

The thing is, it is also tiring – and a surge of this sort of nonsense turned the fun and engaging comment section under The Guardian’s episode recaps into a chore, and in turn led to the creation of this place to escape such drivel.

And that was fine. A look back at the archive shows many a hammer-and-tongs argument, with no quarter given and none asked, but not a hint of ARSE. And when the ARSE-y did pop up all they found was smart fans pointing and laughing, and invariably they would slope off.

But then, but then…

A few things happened. Trump. Brexit. Three social media companies that seemed actively determined to promote confrontational and invective-laden content, turning Twitter from a great open conversation into a cesspit and YouTube from a video sharing site for geeks into a platform for Nazis. Facebook contented itself with being complicit in the corruption of democracy, but that’s a bit outside my scope today.

The twin toilet bowls of Twitter and YouTube gave voice to vile spewings that made old-fashioned ARSE look like mild disappointment that the show didn’t have quite the right colour palette this week.

It is a rancid mixed of racism, sexism and loathing for anything “other”, anything fresh, anything that deviates from the imagined and warped and perverted idea of a fantasy halcyon day. It is like they have never heard of Jo Grant, or Sarah Jane Smith or Romana or Donna Noble. The girl is not allowed to talk back, you see. For a few years this bile was largely focussed on Clara, and a few channels that really should have known better bought into the hatred because they mistook the racket for the audience. So the witless got their first small victory, which is bizarre given the extent to which Jenna Coleman and Clara rocked.

But then it got much, much worse. Black and gay Bill Potts got the hate-fuelled hackles up a bit – but the fans lover her so much that they never found much traction. And she was still just a companion.

And then Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor.

This sent those with the economic and social insight of a toddler and the sense of entitlement of a teenager who hasn’t been allowed to use dad’s Platinum Card into a vicious, rabidly sexist, racist and anti-Enlightment frenzy.

And it is everywhere thanks to the cancerous fucking algorithms.

And once emboldened they hunt. Within minutes of The Woman Who Fell To Earth airing a crude sexist slur appeared in a post of this site as did more than one post suggesting that Segun Akinola got the music gig because he is black.

And it’s all the time.

And it sucks the joy out of the simple pleasure of kicking back and watching an episode of Doctor Who.

It’s not just Who. The bile heaped on JJ Abrams for having Rey and Finn – a girl and a black – leading Star Wars: The Force Awakens was quite mild compared to that heaped on Rian Johnson for having the brass-bound nerve to try something a bit different with The Last Jedi. And I have seen people suggest that Star Trek: Discovery isn’t “real” Star Trek because….reasons. Piss off. Of course it is. It just didn’t fondle the wailing fanboy’s warp core.

And then there was this, on Twitter, today.

I’m not talking about caustic remarks – gawd knows I’d have no standing to complain about that – but a pustulant, unrelenting, bilious hatred that makes the Dementors look like Butlins Redcoats. And it cannot be allowed to win.

So how do we fight back?

I think there are two things.

The first is to grasp that we have no obligation to allow – and, indeed, should actively resist – letting the hate-mongers dictate the terms of engagement. They have no moral standing, and we should not suck up to them the way the BBC sucks up to every far right kook it can find. There is no need to leave their posts up, but if they stay it should be as a grim warning, like a skeleton at the city gates. Mock and question their masculinity and wonder how much better they will feel when they finally meet somebody of the opposite sex. Be as obnoxious and belittling to them as you want – and then just walk away, not even looking back to inspect the damage (I may be channelling Georgie Lass from Dead Like Me a bit here).

Or just ignore it, if that’s your preferred route. That’s fine too.

The second thing is much more important anyway.

Enjoy the damned show.

Rediscover the simple, easy delight in wondering where Old Sexy is going to take you this week. Let the niggles wash over you – the slightly ‘Blue Peter segment’ feel of some of the exposition, the slightly sketchy editing in some of the early episodes, the not-quite-as-scarey-as-they-should-have-been spiders – let them disappear like tears in rain. YES I WENT THERE. WHAT YOU GUNNA DO ABOUT IT?

Enjoy the show. Revel in Thirteen. Will Ryan to confront his illness and overcome, yearn for Yaz to find her mission in life and Graham to find some peace to go with his world-weary wisdom. And notice how the editing has improved since the early episodes, and that the new Tardis interior is actually pretty damned fresh, new and unlike anything before and that that is what makes this show so fucking great that it came back from the dead.

And be loud and proud about it.


You know what that stands for. <<This is a link. Click it.

Out of the comfort zone

Okay, we’re just over halfway there. Six episodes down, four to go, and the shape of the new era is starting to be visible, shimmering like the TARDIS in The Ghost Monument.

Well, I think so. 🙂
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Fish fingers, custard & kindness — Looking back at the Steven Moffat era

This has been a blog I’ve been intending to post all summer but with one thing or another, have never quite managed it. But as we’re on the verge of Chris Chibnall taking the reins of the show, it’s now become very much a now-or-never moment. My intention here is not to take the attention from Chibnall’s big moment and we have, let’s face it, spent rather a lot of time already dissecting Moffat’s work. Rather my thinking is that this is the first time this forum has seen a ‘regime change’ on the show and it might be interesting to mark that, as well as provide a baseline for us to work from as we watch the Chibnall era unfold. Read more…

A sense of self in a world of change

The beginnings of a bonkerish theory…

… the Christmas Special is partly set up to explain why the Doctor, after a solid run of thirteen male bodies, regenerates into a female body. And it’s connected with the First Doctor.

Moffat likes his Who metaphors: I’ve argued before that the episodes immediately leading up to the 50th Anniversary could all have been read as metaphors: each representing the various ages of the Before Gap programme. During the Capaldi era, he’s played quite heavily on the metaphor of ‘Doctor Who as legend’, as ‘story’. The Capaldi incarnation of the Doctor is often struggling to retrieve the real person who lives behind the legend of ‘The Doctor’. Robin Hood thought it was better that the legend be remembered; the Capaldi Doctor is not so sure.

Moffat also likes explaining things. The ‘explanation’ is very often a ‘blink and you miss it’, ‘available if you think about it’ kind of explanation, but Steven Moffat is still, at heart, the completist fanboy. The Doctor Falls, for example, sneaked in an explanation for why the Master became Missy after staying resolutely (and misogynistically) male for body after body. Quite simply, having met himself as a woman, the Master now knows (at some level) that he will have to make a gender switch. Missy didn’t ‘just happen’; Missy is part of a Moffat loop.

So I’d suggest that, rather than leave the Doctor’s regeneration into a female body as an ‘Oh, look, I’m a woman now, funny it took so long’ there will be an explanation – just as Moffat didn’t ignore Peter Capaldi’s previous appearance as Caecilius, but briefly explained why the Doctor had unconsciously chosen that face.

Why might that explanation be connected with the First Doctor? Because in a way, William Hartnell’s regeneration into Patrick Troughton was the real beginning of the transformation from ‘programme’ to ‘legend’. Up to that point, Doctor Who was like Journey into Space or Space Patrol. Massively popular, but didn’t outlive its time. It was regeneration that gave Doctor Who the potential to become one of the immortal stories.

But if it was the regeneration of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton that began ‘legendary Who’, then did the regeneration of the First Doctor into the Second Doctor begin the long process of becoming ‘legendary Doctor’? Might the Capaldi Doctor see it as the beginning of the process of losing his ‘real’ self behind a legend? Given that Steven Moffat does like connecting events in-story to the history of the programme, I’d suggest that such a connection will be made.

Are the First Doctor and the Capaldi Doctor still the same person? Is that original 1960’s Doctor Who still the same programme as the bigger budgeted, CGI’d juggernaut that is the 21st Century Who? Or is that moment of doubt in Deep Breath, where the Doctor clearly wonders if there’s anything of his original self left, prophetic on both levels? In all that change, is the core self (the ‘soul’) – of the Doctor, of the programme – still the same?

What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter? What do you hold on to, when your leading actor and your production team go through periodic, complete, changes? When you can be ‘whatever you feel like when you get up in the morning?’

And, in-story, Gallifreyans aren’t just shape-shifters – unlike Zygons, their periodic regenerations shift both body and persona. They must have cultural methods of coping with this – but the Doctor has fled from his own culture. The one and only constant in the Doctor’s life is that his TARDIS likes to appear as a police box. Oh, and that he always regenerates as a white male.

Hold on to that last thought. After Moffat’s finished with the Christmas Special, it’s possible that we’ll be able to see that in a different way.

The production team have one advantage that the Doctor doesn’t have; despite the ‘missing episodes’, there’s an awful lot of Doctor Who history available for instant reference. The production team know what they’re changing from. Even though the latest actor to play the Doctor wasn’t alive when William Hartnell was the one and only Doctor, she can haul the episodes out of the archives, put the DVDs on expenses and effectively ‘remember’ the previous characterisations. If she wants to.

The Doctor doesn’t have that luxury. He’s over two thousand years old; his childhood was so long ago that he tells Bill that he can barely remember whether he was a boy or a girl. He has a photo of Susan and River on his desk – as if he’s now frightened of forgetting his own family. If the Smith Doctor was ‘the Man Who Forgets’, the Capaldi Doctor has become ‘the Man frightened of forgetting too much’. In episode after episode the Capaldi Doctor struggles to remember stories that much of the audience know perfectly well. The Second Doctor told Victoria that his family slept in his memory – which implies that he didn’t need photos; he remembered them without any props. The Capaldi Doctor keeps their pictures on his desk.

What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter who’s over two thousand years old? What do you hold on to, when your memory of your childhood is slowly fading and you need a photo to remind you of the granddaughter who was once so precious?

What do you hold onto when you’ve always hated regenerating?

We first saw the Doctor as an old man with a granddaughter. At that point, regeneration wasn’t even a twinkle in Sidney Newman’s eye; he wanted some actor with a bit of gravitas, and in the 1960’s that meant age.

But once regeneration becomes part of the lore of the programme, you start to wonder why the First Doctor would keep that first body so long that he was literally starting to wear out. Then you look at the Second Doctor (forcibly regenerated by the Time Lords) and all the following Doctors. None of them chose regeneration – except in the sense of ‘regenerate or die’.

Romana, on the other hand, seemingly regenerated because she fancied a new body. She also appeared to have considerably more control over the process than the Doctor does; the only time the Doctor managed to control the process was when the Tennant Doctor regenerated into the Tennant Doctor, by diverting some of his regeneration energy.

Let’s look at this again; it seems that the Doctor has never willingly regenerated – and in fact, once chose to keep the same body. The Tennant Doctor compared regeneration to dying – a ‘new bloke’ walks away. The Capaldi Doctor had to insist that he was still ‘me’, the same person as the Smith Doctor.

But then, unlike those Gallifreyans who regenerate among Gallifreyans, the Doctor generally regenerates surrounded by people who struggle to accept the new body, the new persona. Regeneration, for the Doctor, has become traumatic. Through the eyes of his companions, he sees just how much each regeneration changes him; no wonder that he has to insist that he is, indeed, still ‘me’. And unlike the Master, or Romana, he doesn’t generally start his regeneration process exclaiming ‘great, a new body to look forward to’.

Metaphors again: the Companion is the audience surrogate; their difficulty in accepting the ‘new Doctor’ represents the audience struggle to accept the ‘new bloke’. Until Smith, new Doctors generally had an old Companion or a continuing character (like the Brigadier) to make the cross-over with them and be the lightning rod for any audience confusion. But how far can the Doctor change until they stop being ‘The Doctor’? How far can the programme change the Doctor until the character stops being that Doctor created by William Hartnell, Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman?

Moffat likes paradoxes. At what point in the Doctor’s life will the paradox of Theseus’ Boat come into play? Can the Doctor replace everything about himself over a dozen times, and still be the original? Is he still that little boy who’s afraid of the monsters in the dark?

He tells Bill that he’s not sure whether he was a boy or a girl any more – yet Rule One is: the Doctor lies. Because when he returns to Gallifrey he (twice) goes straight back to the barn where that little boy hid.

He’s changed everything about himself a dozen times. Except for one thing. He’s still that little boy.

If gender selection at regeneration is a true 50/50 chance, then the probability of the Doctor managing all male regenerations this number of times is about 1 in 4000. Moffat’s been hinting that it isn’t truly random; the General loudly insists that she’s never trying that again, the Master has met Missy. The suggestion is that Gallifreyans can, at some level, select which gender they will become. The General prefers being female, the Master prefers being male; so that’s what they usually choose.

And the Doctor doesn’t like regenerating. He’s scared that he’s going to lose himself; that the ‘new bloke’ might be the one who finally makes the break from that original self, that the humans who generally surround him at regeneration might one day be right – regeneration makes him a different person, not just a different persona. So if there’s one thing he can control, one thing he can choose not to change – is he going to dare to change it? Or is he going to always keep that connection with the original self, the little boy in the barn, by always being the white male of his childhood? The little boy and the 2000+ year old man are still, literally, the same man.

If that’s the case, would the Doctor ever dare to regenerate as a woman? Or would that represent, to him, the last, final break with his childhood, his first body, his self?

And then we go back to meeting the First Doctor. Because it’s not just a question of whether the Capaldi Doctor remembers that long ago self. It’s a question of whether that long-ago self can recognise his incredibly older, much regenerated self – as still himself. The Doctor’s met himself before, of course. But those other meetings were much closer in time.

If the First Doctor recognises the Capaldi Doctor as himself, as ‘Doctor Who’, even after thousands of years and over a dozen regenerations, then those ever-changing personas were just … personas. The core self, the soul, has always remained. The Doctor has always been the Doctor. The Doctor Who of 1966 is still recognisably the Doctor Who of 2017.

But there’s more. Because the Doctor (and Doctor Who) has changed. You can see it in the role of the Companion, you can see it in the way the man who would kill a primitive human now counts humans as friends, you can see it in many, many ways. It is not just a matter of that original self being able to recognise his future self as himself. It’s a matter of the Capaldi Doctor being able to recognise that the changes that have happened weren’t all bad. He is, after all, still scarred from nearly committing genocide. He’s still haunted by the thought that he might not be a good man. He’s scared that his changes might have been for the worse.

So meeting his original self also becomes a matter of recognising that it might not necessarily have been a bad thing to change some aspects of that original self. Some childish things we keep. Others we put away. Sometimes, what we need is to look in the mirror of our old self – and realise that we like the way we’ve changed.

Did the Doctor ‘lose himself’ by becoming the legendary ‘Doctor Who’? Or was the ‘change’ he’s so worried about really ‘growth’? Did becoming the legend make him more truly ‘The Doctor’ – and is ‘The Doctor’ who he truly wants to be? Is the legend something to live up to, rather than to deny?

If his first self recognises his current last self, then the Theseus Boat Paradox has an answer. However many times the body changes, the person within the body is the same person. However many different personas there are, the self remains. His ‘self’ (or soul) is the constant thread that runs through the Doctor’s lives. Regenerations are not a way of losing oneself; they’re the Gallifreyan way of changing and growing. Humans struggle to understand that – but the Doctor isn’t human.

And with that understanding, he can not only choose to regenerate. He can choose to step outside the self imposed limits of the previous regenerations. He no longer has to cling to that little boy by always being a boy; he can recognise that, man or woman, he will always be the same person as that boy.

And recognising that, secure in that core self – he might choose to no longer be a good man – but try to be a good woman, instead. After all, he’s just seen how it appeared to change Missy for the better. Maybe it’s time to try a major change

But she might keep the hoodie. 😉

Time Lords: Time Locked, and I’m loving it.

It’s over eight years since Russell T Davies bought back the show. In doing so he consigned the Time Lords to a Time Lock, and then started to tell the viewer how noble and great they were. Then he bought them back just to demonstrate how mad they’d become.

As we approach the 50th, I’m always intrigued when I see the very genuine desire from some on our forum (amongst others) for the Time Lords to return to the show. Also, the 12 regeneration rule seems to be raising its head with SM answering a question or two about it.
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Coming Soon: The Greatest UNAUTHORIZED Doctor Stories!



This is a working cover for a book I plan to publish this month.

“Welcome to my world”: a dialogue on choices

Clara: I just hope I can keep them alive.
Doctor: Ah, welcome to my world.

And welcome, one and all, to a debate which drifted across several episodes and at least two episode forums. For the ease and edification of those who were trying to follow it, and with the agreement of the main participants, I’ve now compiled it in one blog.

Have fun. And remember: always consult The Doctor before ingesting hemlock. 😉

Jimbo McMaster
Just like to say that I’m happy that this episode (and this series) has dealt with the whole sometimes-you-have-to-do-bad-things-for-the-greater-good issue, which I think is ignored in earlier eras of the show. The kind of life the Doctor leads would require him to sometimes make these sorts of choices a lot more often than, say, the Russell T Davies era ever made him do (I don’t think there are any examples at all in Nine or Ten’s adventures, although admittedly the destroying-all-the-Time-Lords-thing is a good example of that sort of decision-making, albeit off-screen). Read more…