Backing Away from the Premise

Everyone’s preferences vary, but one aspect that I’ve long admired about Doctor Who is its willingness to explore its own premise. Let me show what I mean by depicting the opposite, with a short bit of made-up dialog:

Doctor: So, where should we go today, fam?
Yaz: I bet I know where Ryan wants to go.
Ryan: Yaz!
Yaz: What, you don’t like being called “Nubian prince”?
(Laugh track)
Ryan: Stop it, Yaz!
Graham: Now, Ryan, if Yaz is going to be a pain, at least she’s being a royal one.
(Laugh track)

Okay, so I’d never make it as a sitcom writer. But can you imagine Doctor Who as sitcom? Anywhere in time and space, and it’s just an excuse for old and tired comedy routines?

Leaving out The Curse of Fatal Death, Who hardly holds back that far. But think of all the TARDIS can do, compared with what’s asked of it in a typical episode. It’s usually just a vehicle to get the TARDIS team to a location for an episode. A vehicle not much different from an NCC-1701 Enterprise, or a Quantum Leap.

So, should Doctor Who be willing to be much the same as some other show? Or should it show its uniqueness and explore its greatest strength: the scope of its premise?

Now, it’s clear from ratings that seasons-full of timey-wimey don’t draw the audience numbers. But, to me, for Doctor Who to reach its potential, it has to explore the premise, and that’s time travel.

So I can accept no more season-long cracks in time or dates with Lake Silencio. But I do think, and past audiences have accepted it, that every season should have a Girl in the Fireplace or Blink. An Eleventh Hour or a visit from a River Song. And, every big anniversary, a Day of the Doctor.

Old Amy and Amy

The Doctor’s life isn’t linear the way yours or mine is. She jumps around into the past and future, and can meet others who do likewise.

I hope Series Twelve has an episode where time travel is more than a way to go to the past or future, followed by a linear-plot episode. I’d like to see it explore more than just those periods in time, and explore its premise, too.

* * *

There’s another way of exploring a premise that’s worth, well, exploring. I’ll do so by way of illustration.

Let’s look back at the Twelfth Doctor for a moment. What made him tick? He wasn’t the Man Who Regrets or the Man Who Forgets. At first he seemed to be the Man Who Won’t Hug because he felt too much, like the trauma of losing all those companions. But once he settled in, I think he was the Man Who Figures Things Out.

What’s this memory worm doing in my hand? Why is the moon’s gravity so high? Why is my TARDIS shrinking while people are turning into wall decor? And just what is it with the human afterlife anyway?

He likes puzzles, and he likes to figure them out.

Still with me? Okay, now let’s look at Bill Potts. What attracts the Doctor’s attention to her? What attracts the Doctor to her (not romantically)? When she encounters something she doesn’t understand, she smiles.

She likes puzzles too. Of course he couldn’t resist ignoring oaths and other impedimenta to TARDIS travel. He’d found a kindred spirit!

And, for storytelling purposes, we were given a companion whose nature reinforced that of the Doctor, a way of exploring his premise, plus strengthening both characterizations, and setting up the whole season that followed.

What’s up with these smiling robots? Why are we here at the Frost Fair? And look at that whole sequence in mid-Monk trilogy: What’s underway to destroy life on Earth?

But there’s one more aspect to the value of exploring the premise.

Twelve’s and Bill’s nature set up the end of the season as well, much like a Greek tragedy. Because there at the end, Twelve just couldn’t resist figuring out the puzzle of the ship, the black hole, and time dilation. He just had to play with the puzzle.

What was the result? “I. Waited. For. You.”

It all fits together. Twelve’s nature, and Bill’s, and the tragedy that befell them both. The Doctor Falls, just as he has to, given the nature of the premise, because that’s where exploring it led to. Masterful storytelling.


46 comments

  1. I don’t think Chibnall is backing away from the premise. It’s just the puzzle he’s interested in – and interested in letting his writers play with – is the ‘killing your grandfather’ paradox of Time Travel. Or in the case of Demons of the Punjab, letting your not-grandfather be killed, because if he lives then your grandmother will never even meet your grandfather.

    Given that we’ve established in the Doctor Who universe that ‘time can be changed’, and that changing the past can have an effect on any downstream ‘present’, we’ve got some pretty big paradoxes available. I’m not sure Chibnall is going to play with the purely philosophical end of things – that was Steven Moffat’s area of interest, and he explored it thoroughly. But I can imagine Chibbers playing with the personal impact of ‘stepping on a butterfly’.

  2. @bluesqueakpip

    I don’t think Chibnall is backing away from the premise.

    Oh, I do, as noted above.  But I’m going to be really interested to see where the special and Series 12 go.  See, I thought he was establishing a new premise in episode 1, where the Doctor says (as seen in ads/trailers too), “When anyone needs help, I don’t turn them away.”  Except, of course, in Rosa and Demons of the Punjab, when she had to.  Why would she say that so prominently, only to be unable to follow through?  Is this a setup to be paid off in Resolution, or next season?  I’d love to see her conflicted about helplessness, and have a big redemption moment.

    But that’s not all of it.  The very end of the finale has her talking about the wonders of exploration.  Is that a premise to follow on as well?  I’m really wondering where he’s going with it.

    I hope he follows up on both, and gives us a timey-wimey episode every season too.  I can’t see any reason not to.  But Who nose?

  3. The other thing I’m curious about is if there’s going to be any payoff on how the Doctor’s friends have been set up.  Yaz as a trainee cop ought to want to help people, which fits with that ep 1 vow.  But she hasn’t had much chance, or been allowed, to help much of anyone this whole series.  Such a motivation would help shine a light on the Doctor’s own wanting to help.  So I want to see where they go with that.

    Ryan and Yaz also seem motivated by self-actualization.  Usually the Doctor is set up to be someone already pretty darned actualized.  Is some kind of contrast being established?  Hm.

    Then, Ryan and Graham are both grieving, which the Doctor always hid and hid from, but not so much now; she’s attended a couple of funerals.  It seems that the grieving was paid off in It Takes You Away, but that would only be for Ryan and Graham, not the Doctor.  Will we see their grieving help her shed any last remnants of regret over, for example, Bill?

    Lots of places to take the series based on the characters already set up.

  4. I should add, I think I did a nice job of being convincing, but I don’t expect anyone to agree.  The first half of the post can be summed up as, “I really like originality and uniqueness,” and there’s no reason anyone should share that.

    The second half works out to, “Interlocking and reinforcing conflicts and traits highlights them, which makes for a stronger story.”  True enough, but of course it isn’t everything.

    I just hope I gave the rest of you food for thought. 🙂

  5. @kevinwho

    I think that there’s a sense of “let’s relax the whole time confusion” thing which did drive some people batty. Not me -not at all. But I do remember being pretty sick and because of that I had time on my hands to pronounce on the show, draw timey-whimey arrows all the time & find this spot. If the Doctor were to grieve over Bill -in some other way  -then new viewers (those who switched off with PC) would wonder: “isn’t that story closed?” or “who is SHE?”

    I’ve noticed all the bonkers theorising -which is terrific -over the years – Often posters suggest names from the past during episodes in Bill Pott’s debut: who is in the bottom of the university, in a box? Who made the crack in the wall? Who is Prisoner Zero? I chuckle at some of the fan-desires (which is exactly why we’re here so I’m not against that in anyway) like “it might be Leela or Romana, possibly Rose/Bad Wolf/ Teegan/Susan/Clara/Adric.”

    These characters are never coming back -I’d swear on it. 😉  Half of those mentioned would confuse the heck out of most viewers (I’d be one of them!). Anywaaaay, that wasn’t what your Blog was about….I’ve done a real side-ways treck aaaand I’m turning around and coming back.

    I think that the season’s concerned with ‘grace’ -when to “involve oneself” and when “not to” in the affairs of people -particularly the large scale history of a Rosa Parks and the ‘smaller’ social history of Yazmin Khan’s ancestry: which to Yaz was a “this is news to me” story and developed into a social and socio-cultural quest with Prem’s particular situation ….an important piece of history to leave well alone for different reasons.

    But she hasn’t had much chance, or been allowed, to help much of anyone this whole series

    Yaz’ vow to “help, to do more” is something stretched over time, in my mind. If, for instance, she’d said this and then immediately demonstrated such ‘help’ it would’ve looked more like a formula for the 12th grade: “here’s the way you need and ought to help.”

    But could that help be demonstrated via leaving well alone: through interior monologue, perhaps? I felt that Yaz finding her family in The Punjab and turning away was a very significant step as was why it was acceptable, in Rosa,  for Yaz to sit on the bus and examine the feelings emerging from this event.

    In It Takes You Away, her strident display against Solitract Grace was one of the first things which caused Graham to question -just a little bit -the Solitract, bringing him closer to recognising Grace as imposter.

    In Arachnids Yaz made specific social choices, and through this episode we learned more about her, specifically. In fact, whilst we know how Graham, Grace and Ryan are connected, specific elements of their history were not fully examined -whilst Yaz’s most definitely was.

    I think it’s a question for ‘who are companions and what do they do?’

    In the past it was to tell the Doctor how amazing he was; follow his instructions (snog him occasionally -or want to); seize his Tardis and demand to bring a boyfriend back from the dead and now there are more possibilities. I get the impression that, of all the Adventurers, Yaz’ is the one learning the most: her curve or arc is to listen, to ask “how do we do THAT?” or “what? Won’t that decision just cause this?”

    It’s Yaz who points out issues in It Takes You Away where the house in Norway looks like a barricade or fortification. Yaz deals with Ryan’s pin-head behaviour gaining the trust of Hanne almost immediately. Whilst Yaz is modest about her abilities, Ryan believes he has none so she firmly takes his hand, saying, “both of us, together, right?” when they jump even further to save evil- boy- genius in Kerblam!

    Even there it was Yaz’s idea to return the necklace/token to the child who lost her father. Yasmin listened to answers about about the necklace, was rewarded with information because she listens and retains important information that others might deem unnecessary or irrelevant.  She’s

    On the puzzle front, I’m pretty sure there was an episode (or 3) where one of the companions, possibly the Doctor’s wife, who said “you’re don’t like puzzles, you don’t have the patience. You’re a drama queen….” or something along those lines. Now, I could be confusing this with my own imagination  -or timey whimey: a Doctor from the future!

    😈

    Really interesting discussion @kevinwho   – -thank you.

    Puro and Thane.

  6. Thanks @kevinwho for an excellent post. And I think this thread (with a couple of notable exceptions) shows how this Forum engages with posts with which they may not entirely agree.  Mutual respect, constructive criticism, people adding their own thoughts, ideas, insights.  Luvverly.  Trouble is I end up agreeing with everyone because they’re all good points, well made!

  7. @kevinwho

    Great blog — thanks for posting this and the one preceding it. Really enjoyed reading the.

    I see where you’re going with the argument and I think I agree to an extent, particularly with the second part of your argument. What I would say is that the premise of Doctor Who is kind of hard to pin down. As a show, Who is kind of a loose and baggy monster of a concept that has evolved over time, has had bits jerry-rigged and added to it willy-nilly, in a process that continues to this day. A quote of Marc Platt’s that I’ve always liked is that the real appeal of Who is its sheer plasticity. Beyond the Doctor, companions and TARDIS, you’re really free to do whatever you like. So in that sense, I would’t say that Chibnall is backing away from the premise and you could maybe argue that he’s approaching it in its purest form.

    The problem, for me, lies in something that has dogged all his Doctor Who work. He lacks follow through on his concepts. There are lapses in logic and consistency and narrative cohesion. I don’t really agree with @bluesqueakpip that s11 started rockily and then found its groove later. For me, it started with a promise that it failed to build upon, to the point that it was nearly falling apart by the finale. The one example I’d use is that Graham’s vengeful motivation in Battle pretty much comes from nowhere and is actually counter to anything we’ve seen him express in any prior episode, especially the one that just preceded it. (Compare it, say, with Amy’s killing of Madame Kovarian, which I at least see as the consistent culmination of character beats in stories like The God Complex, The Woman Who Waited and The Rebel Flesh.)

    I agree that interlocking and reinforcing conflicts are the key to drama, particularly in Who. It is what I think Chibnall is hoping for but he has a tendency (in Broadchurch too) to get bored with putting in the work to get there, is in too much of a hurry to get to the ‘cool moment’ and then finds that he hasn’t earned them.

  8. @jimthefish

    The one example I’d use is that Graham’s vengeful motivation in Battle pretty much comes from nowhere and is actually counter to anything we’ve seen him express in any prior episode, especially the one that just preceded it.

    No, ‘coming from nowhere’ is when the producer informs Graham he’s been sleeping with Yaz since Anarchids in the UK. 😀

    The vengeful motivation for Graham is easy – and I agree that it’s counter to his normal personality, but that’s the point. That’s why he doesn’t, in the end, kill Tim Shaw and also why Ryan and the Doctor both know immediately that his grief and anger could be about to make him do something that will change him utterly.

    1. Grace was not a ‘turn the other cheek’ person. She certainly brought Ryan up to hold his temper and be a better man than the racists, but faced with an alien thug trying to kill her grandson, she was right in the middle of the fight. In fact, that was the immediate cause of her death – she was trying to stop the sensorbot destroying the crane Ryan was on. When the Doctor had given her every excuse (nay, ordered her) to stay out of the fight once she’d done her bit).

    2. Graham’s immediate response to ‘Stenza’ in Ghost Monument is ‘My wife died because of them.’ He blames the Stenza, specifically Tim Shaw.

    3. He doesn’t express any vengeful motivations after Ghost Monument and before Battle of Difficult Alien Words because he doesn’t meet either Tim Shaw or another Stenza. We are shown, not told, that Graham is a naturally gentle man, that his love for Grace is so powerful that he struggles to leave the fake, and that he is NOT continually trying to get the Doctor to fight the Stenza.

    And this leads us to the situation in the Battle of Some Weird Word Or Other Meaning Desolation where he turns up at the one place and time that will bring him face to face with the monster inside him.

    Fits the theme of this series perfectly, and there’s certainly enough in previous scripts for the actor to work from.

  9. I’d add that Chibnall essentially planted a Chekhov’s Gun in Episode 1, said ‘Have you noticed the gun?’ in Episode 2 and then let us forget about it until the Battle of Thingy, when Graham grabbed the gun and nearly ran amok with it.

    🙂

  10. @bluesqueakpip @jimthefish – I dunno, @bluesqueakpip; I didn’t see Graham as completely out of character in Battle of Wheresit, but grace, grief and acting against pervasive evils seemed to be the season themes.  I would rather have seen the theme of vengeance come up sooner.  (Did it?  Ghost Monument…don’t think so.  Rosa?  No…  Punjab?  Kerblam?  Witchfinders?  It Takes You Away?  Not that I’m remembering?  Maybe it slipped in somewhere, but too subtly for me to notice?  Or maybe my memory’s slipping even more than I thought…)

  11. @kevinwho

    I think ‘vengeance’ wasn’t the theme. The theme was, I think, ‘the monster inside us’. Throughout the series we see racism, overwhelming greed, nationalism, political and religious fanaticism – yeah, and vengeance.

    That’s why the ‘monsters’ were so crap. But the theme was what you might call ‘our inner tendency to **ck things up.’ The monster that lives in all of us, and creeps out while we’re convincing ourselves that we’re good people really. Really. It’s all the fault of those annoying other people who don’t know their place/are poor, and so beneath contempt/don’t realise how oppressed they are/are evil witches/are the wrong colour/have the wrong politics/are the wrong religion/killed our family.

    Or, to put it in Doctor Who terms, it’s all the fault of the Daleks/Cybermen/Sontarians/UNIT/Time Lords … and that’s why the ‘monsters’ this series were so low-key. The series theme is ‘no, it’s US, not the ‘other’. It’s inside all of us.’

    Rosa is terrifying because it both presents a society where that monster was institutionalised and approved by the dominant section of society – and then goes on to suggest that we’re never going to be able to permanently eradicate it. The finale suggests that it’s inside even the nicest of us.

    But what is it that protects us from the monster inside us? Grace. 🙂

  12. @bluesqueakpip – I suppose.  I find the depiction of the American whites in Rosa so distasteful that it almost poisons the episode for me.  Only almost; there’s no chance I’ll watch it again (I’d rather read about history anyway – I can check sources), but I won’t actually condemn it.

  13. I wouldn’t get so aggravated by mentions of Rosa except that I think the episode does not help the season’s theme of the monster inside of us.  Again, I know why Krasko and the American whites were presented the way they were.  But as far as the theme of the monster inside ordinary people was concerned, only some people in the episode were presented as actual people rather than caricatures.

    I know, I know.  It’s just me.  Sorry. 🙁

  14. @kevinwho

    I find the depiction of the American whites in Rosa so distasteful

    Yeah, it’s not fun when the boot’s on the other foot, is it? 😈

    It was, artistically, the right decision. Because if you’re trying to write an episode where you discuss just how bad things were under Jim Crow, and why protests such as Rosa Parks’ were so courageous – the last thing you need is to split the white characters into ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’. In fact, the fictional Elias Griffin Jr. may be a perfectly nice guy – Krasko presumably picked him as the driver because he wouldn’t have had Rosa arrested.

    But if the purpose of the episode is to make kids realise just how horrible things were, you don’t want them left with the impression that racism was just one bigoted bus driver. You need to see the waitress refusing to serve Ryan, the police officer (with his powers of arrest and his gun) actually checking the damn motel room, the guy assaulting Ryan with utter impunity.

    And if the theme is ‘the monster within us’, then we can’t ‘other’ the Montgomery racists, and pretend that we’d be different. We have to see the social, legal structures that push the non-racist Graham (representing us white folks) into being the white guy that Rosa is supposed to give up her seat to. Even though he’d have far rather given up his seat to her.

  15. I understand.  But I stand by my contention that the Montgomery whites should not have been dehumanized to the extent they were depicted.  I would have been happy just to see one face in the background turn away, or look uncomfortable.  Nothing more.  History is clear that those folks did very little, as in just about nothing, to help the African-Americans.

    But they were still human.

    Let me put it this way: If every supposed person of color in a minstrel show hadn’t been portrayed as lazy and easily frightened and all the rest, doing so would have undercut the message that African-Americans were inferior.  So portraying them that way might be right artistically, but, in my view, not morally.

    Human beings are human, even when being inhumane.  Caricaturing does not help us repress the inhumanity that each of us has within.  It was a terrible idea in minstrel shows, and it was bad in Rosa.

    (This is why I’d rather read about history than see television or movies try to show it.  If done right, a few hundred pages lets the people be brought to life, even the ones whose choices we deplore.  Shoot, just googling or searching on Wikipedia for “lynching souvenirs” shows the effects of racism against African-Americans far more vividly than anything in Rosa.)

  16. Oh, @bluesqueakpip – I know you were kidding/teasing about the “boot on the other foot,” but I don’t identify with the Montgomery whites.  Shoot, out of the current TARDIS crew, I think I identify most with Yaz…the one whose gotten the least to do.  Now what does that say about me?

    I digress.  I just wanted to make that non-identification explicit.

  17. @kevinwho

    I would have been happy just to see one face in the background turn away, or look uncomfortable.

    What’s making me feel really, really uncomfortable about this is that – basically – the black writer is being criticised for making her own oppressors less than sympathetic.

    And that the ‘real problem’ with a story about the systematic, legal, social, economic racism so pervasive that people could be murdered and the state would acquit their murderers – if the murderers were white and the victim black – is that she didn’t make the white people doing all that stuff well rounded enough.

    Why is a story about black people fighting back against their own oppression suddenly all about the depiction of the white people doing the oppressing?

  18. @bluesqueakpip

    What’s making me feel really, really uncomfortable about this is that – basically – the black writer is being criticised for making her own oppressors less than sympathetic.

    I can see that, and I’m not making my point well enough.

    Why is a story about black people fighting back against their own oppression suddenly all about the depiction of the white people doing the oppressing?

    It’s not.  What I am really struggling with about this episode, and have been big-time since the day after it was on, is that I feel like if I don’t object to the depiction of the whites in the episode, then why should and how could I do so when blacks have been caricatured in the past?

    So the line I’ve drawn is that caricatures of individuals, like not-Trump, are okay, but not ethic/racial/religious/etc. groups.  That’s how stereotypes and worse start.

    And I think the difference in our opinions is that you’re seeing the depictions of the whites in this episodes as being of a bunch of individuals, whereas to me they’re being grouped, because they’re all being depicted the same way.  I.e., if they were individuals, they’d have individual characteristics and personalities, which I didn’t see.

  19. Let me add one thing.  When @bluesqueakpip says –

    Why is a story about black people…

    – I can’t say that’s wrong.  But I will say it’s the way I try not to think.  It’s a story about people, and some are oppressing others on the basis of skin color.  So it’s accurate to say black people and white people.

    But I don’t want to think in terms of race.  I don’t want to group people on that basis, and prefer not to group them at all.  Robert B. Parker, in his Spenser detective novels, once had Spenser say something along the lines of, “I prefer to judge people on a retail basis, not wholesale.”  Ever since I’ve read that I’ve tried to do the same.

    Because even though the conflict in the episode, and in the history it depicts, is race-based, I don’t want to even approach endorsing that view.  When I view the episode, the conflict, and the history, I don’t want to start grouping people the way those oppressors did.  Because, at least in my mind, then I’m letting the oppression continue.

    The episode did a good job on presenting Rosa Parks as an individual, not some kind of saint (although from what I can tell she came about as close as anybody).  But I really don’t care for the way others in the episode appear to be depicted solely on the basis of skin color.  I think doing so is wrong regardless of skin color.

    Doctor Who has been presenting entire species that way since the start: Daleks, Cybermen, etc.  I don’t mind, because I don’t think that festers thinking of real people likewise.  At least I hope not.

    But when real people are depicted, I want them depicted as real people.  Not one-dimensional caricatures based on skin color or anything similar.

  20. @kevinwho  @bluesqueakpip      Great discussion. My take is that the story isn’t being told from the POV of the white population of 1950’s Montgomery. I think I can fairly assume that all these people had family and friends that they cared about, worked hard at their jobs, prayed for the well-being of their children, and so on. They were also complicit in the oppression of their black neighbours. This was a time and place where, as I understand it, that attitude was particularly prevalent. Yes, there were probably some who disagreed; but in Montgomery, they were probably very small in number. I don’t think it unreasonable that Team TARDIS didn’t happen to encounter any of them on this occasion. (We also can’t know what the people watching felt in their hearts, and it doesn’t matter; if they disagreed, they were still complicit by not speaking up.)

    In the past, I would have been more likely to share your point of view. Having grown up Canadian at a time when we were taught that civil rights and affirmative action meant that we were putting these issues in the past, it has been a bit of a shock to me recently to discover that the monster has been within us all these years. As a result, I tend to put my own responses to things under a microscope more rigorously nowadays. I’m also increasingly likely to draw a pretty firm line about what I accept from others. Sometimes, frankly, I don’t care to see both sides.

    There’s also the fact that it’s pretty impossible to tell a complete story in 45 minutes, without sometimes leaving out the shades of grey. Example. We know a lot about Ryan’s character because we’ve watched him over multiple episodes. But initially, we were given a young black man with a dead mother and an absent father, raised by his grandmother. This in itself is a huge stereotype, which I think was even commented on after the opening episode. But it’s also reality for a pretty big number of people, in both the UK and North America. You need time and space to fill in the grey areas, and the writer of Rosa had other things to say in that space.

    My thoughts only! I enjoyed your post, although I find myself more interested in the second form of “premise” than the first. What makes the characters tick, how and why do they end up where they do. Although, given the “team” aspect of the current era, I don’t expect the same intensity, I hope that there will be a bit deeper exploration of the Doctor’s relationship with her companions.

  21. @arbutus – Thank you for the kind words – shared with @bluesqueakpip of course!

    There’s also the fact that it’s pretty impossible to tell a complete story in 45 minutes, without sometimes leaving out the shades of grey.

    Absolutely.  My one real wish with the episode was that they do what they have to so they can tell it “right.”  (Whole can of worms in that last word.)  To be honest, I wish they’d taken out Krasko entirely, and told the story of Montgomery without him.  I think they could have given a more nuanced view.

    Your point about Ryan is excellent.  Set up the stereotype, or so it seems, and then show how it’s not that simple.

    And your point about Montgomery’s population is undoubtedly true too.  Anyone who resisted would probably have to leave town or get ostracized (or worse).

    No, I probably just need to get over it.  I don’t expect Nazis in WWII movies to be fleshed out, after all.  I don’t know.  The episode just leaves me uncomfortable – and not the way the folks behind it wanted.  I don’t want my love for Who to be lessened the way this episode left it.

  22. @kevinwho   I’ve just seen your last post. I love it on principle. But I’ve learned that many people of colour actually prefer to be viewed as people of colour, rather than through a colour-blind lens that, in their mind, takes away a key part of who they are. Personally, I don’t have that relationship with my ethnicity, but obviously a lot of people do. I think this is such a tremendously complex issue, because as you say, people are complex. Whole groups of individuals are never going to see things in exactly the same way. I feel as if we need to have flexible point-of-view (except that makes it harder to have principles at all!) Maybe it needs to be more like the Doctor’s view on guns. Did she say fluid? I find myself using that word in all kinds of ways lately. It saves me a lot of stress in my life!

  23. @kevinwho    I had the same thought about Nazis. I left it out, I felt like I’d said plenty already! If Rosa really doesn’t work for you, your best approach might be to credit it for trying to say something important, even if the result was flawed for you. And “saying something important” is part of what we love about the show. Trying counts!

    Now I’m off to deliver a Christmas bread to my niece, and get some groceries. I misguidedly agreed that we would have a traditional 12-dish Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper, and I’m trying to get as many of said dishes in the freezer as possible this week, so I don’t drive myself totally mad over the weekend!  🙂

  24. Definitely don’t do that!  Back in the day my sweetie would run herself into the ground overdoing for holidays.  But they’re supposed to be fun!

    Don’t worry, I don’t condemn Rosa.  It just doesn’t work for me.  Fortunately, I’m not everybody. :}

  25. @psama0169 – Various people on this forum have various feelings, but we strive for reasoned discussion.  Read this blog post if you haven’t already, and take a look at the comments.  We’d love for you to participate, but there’s not much of anywhere to go from “I’m exasperated.”

  26. @psama0169 – I think RadioTimes reported she’s coming back for next season.  Personally, my reservations are regarding the showrunner and the writing.  But I’ve talked enough about that for now.

    Look around, see what you think.  We love to talk about Who here.

    -Kevin (Who?)

  27. @bluesqueakpip

    Sorry, don’t agree. There’s a world of difference between there being ‘enough for the actor to work with’ and actually being decent writing and while in terms of character work for Graham you could argue for the former but not, to my mind, for the latter. I don’t really buy that the moments you cite give remotely enough justification for the motivation ascribed to him in Av Kolos. In terms of the character work in s11, Ryan would have been a better fit for this role and having Graham talk him down would have been dramatically been more satisfying.

    The key problem with the examples you cite is that they’re pretty textbook examples of telling rather than showing and as such they’re just not strong enough to carry the dramatic weight for such a reversal. This is a long-standing problem with Chibnall’s writing, in my view, and you can see examples of it littered through Broadchurch but the one in Who that comes to mind is the Silurian doctor who is transformed inexplicably from Joseph Mengele to Dr Finlay within a matter of minutes. I’m sure I could find others, particularly in Torchwood, but I’d rather dance naked through the fires of hell than sit through an episode of that again to find them.

    It’s a problem of Chibnall failing to put the work in for his pay-offs, something that both RTD and SM implicitly understood, particularly it came to companions. We feel for Rose because we’ve seen her act upon her growing love for the Doctor through a number of actions, not just because she’s had a couple of lines seeded through previous episodes. We empathise with her feelings rather than just understand them. Same with Donna. Her fate is tragic because we’ve seen her grow and act upon that growth, not just have a couple of lines saying ‘I’ve pure grown me’. The example I used above with Amy and her murder of Madame Kovarian is the same. It doesn’t jar, although it may shock, because we’ve seen her anger at the Doctor in failing to save Rory in Amy’s Choice and we’ve seen how fiercely she’ll protect her loved ones and we’ve seen her steeliness and determination in The Woman Who Waited. Same with Clara. Her ‘death’ makes sense to us not because of what we’ve been told but of what we’ve seen. (Where CC probably does get brownie points over RTD and SM is that he doesn’t sabotage these moments with last-minute reversals. Although he does create his own problems because he can’t seem to then outright kill his antagonists, neutering the impact of this stories. Is there anyone really who remotely gives a toss about seeing Tim Shaw again at this point?)

    All of which is a shame because I think CC’s work with Graham is probably the most interesting thing about s11. A companion using the Doctor and the TARDIS to get over bereavement is a fascinating idea and it’s a pity it was so mishandled in Av Kolos. Part of the problem is that it also relies on stronger character work from the Doctor than we’ve seen so far. To what extent does, or should, the Doctor feel responsible for Graham? Maybe if we’d had one companion less this could have been built up a bit more. Or if CC hadn’t been so terrified of depicting the darker, more questionable, aspects of the Doctor’s character and allowed us to see a few moments of self doubt. A companion openly defying their Doctor should be a Very Big Deal and it really wasn’t. We, as the audience, blew off the Doctor forbidding Graham to act in that way just as easily as Graham did. I just can’t imagine that being the case with pretty much any other Doctor/companion pairing. Not even Davison.

    @KevinWho

    Fascinating discussion on race. I must admit that I think I’m with Pip on this one. I didn’t really have a problem with portrayal of citizens of Montgomery. First of all, you’ve got to streamline something in 50 minutes (although I would have started with execrable little speech at the end). But the premise of the story wasn’t ‘all white people are racists’, it was that ‘systemic racism is pervasive, destructive and requires bravery to be defeated’. And for me, the scene with the activists at Rosa’s house was enough to get the point across that there was an undercurrent of social awareness to the problem.

  28. @jimthefish

    I’ve resolved, even before New Year’s, not to dwell on episodes that leave me depressed.  So I’m not going into much detail when I answer.  Don’t let that stop you from doing so in response. 🙂

    First of all, you’ve got to streamline something in 50 minutes (although I would have started with execrable little speech at the end).

    Ultimately I wish they’d allotted the right amount of time for the story they told, and 50 wasn’t enough, to me, for all they wanted to do.

    But the premise of the story wasn’t ‘all white people are racists’, it was that ‘systemic racism is pervasive, destructive and requires bravery to be defeated’.

    Yes, and I think you’ve pointed out something that bothered me, but hadn’t surfaced in my mind.  Rosa Parks and her bravery defeated systematic racism.  (Okay, it’s still not defeated, and it wasn’t her alone, but bear with me.)  All the Doctor did was defeat the hapless Krasko.  If he hadn’t been in the story, we could have focused on the true hero and villain.

    Of course, by that logic, the Doctor et al. should have been left out.  Oh well, whatever, this just wasn’t my episode.

  29. @kevinwho

    If he hadn’t been in the story, we could have focused on the true hero and villain

    While I agree that Krasko is a problematic character — remember all the talk at the time of how he must be coming back to deepen his story — I think he probably had to be there. If for no other reason than he hammers home the point that racism is not a historical problem and that it quite possibly never will be. Yas and Ryan point out that in their time it’s still something they have to deal with and Krasko shows that it’s something that we will always have to be on our guard for a resurgence (as sadly, we seem to be seeing at the moment). It’s not a problem, say, in the same way that human sacrifice is in The Aztecs, something that can and probably shouldn’t interfere with.

    But take Krasko out and you have a problem. You either have the TARDIS team somehow ‘solve’ racism by defeating a historical racist (or helping Rosa to do so) or you have them do nothing and merely observe which makes for a pretty depressing (and pointless) episode. The former is obviously out of the question on all sorts of levels so you have to go with the latter. And you need Krasko there to at least disguise the sheer impotence of the central characters in this scenario.

    But doing that is not without its problems either. What’s remained with me about this episode were the reservations of Nathaniel from Council of Geeks which I posted at the time and the message of ‘sit back because this can’t be our fight’ which is a problematic one to present at this particular moment in history (meaning ours, rather than Rosa’s).

    In many ways, dramatically speaking, as an episode Rosa has no choice but to fail. What is admirable about it I think is that it probably knew that going in and did it anyway. I suspect it’s not an episode that will age well and indeed I’m really hoping that it doesn’t. Because that will mean that we’re finally getting something right.

  30. @jimthefish – I can’t argue with anything you say.  My original thought, which is impossible for television reasons, is for, in a Krasko-less scenario, Thirteen to announce that this is a pivotal moment, and they dare not interfere, but can observe.  And then the highly paid actors don’t do anything but watch.

    Never mind.  In the end, when I want history, I’d always rather read a book than watch anything.  Doctor Who historicals aren’t ever likely to be my kind of episode unless the science fiction element is really strong.

  31. @jimthefish

    There’s a world of difference between there being ‘enough for the actor to work with’ and actually being decent writing

    Sorry, but there’s also a world of difference between ‘decent’ and ‘brilliant’. Your complaint appears to be that Chibnall isn’t brilliant – or at least, if he is, he hasn’t displayed it this series.

    I’d agree on that, in fact. I think what he has shown brilliance in, this series, is picking writers who are new to Who and shaking the post-Gap pattern up so that we are released from the ‘formula’ just as Moffat released us from fifty years of backstory. It may be that this turns out to be his real strength as the Who Showrunner, and that what he’s going to leave us with is a refreshed and more open format and a wider scriptwriting team.

    But because he’s not been brilliant, you’re apparently insisting that he’s a terrible writer. I realise that you are yourself a professional writer, but I have been handed some bloody awful scripts in my time. This wasn’t one. You think Ryan would have been the ‘better’ choice – in fact, from the acting point of view, Ryan would have been rather boring, because he is young, a bit impulsive and has mentioned before that he has to bite his tongue and ‘be the better man’.

    From an acting point of view, having to be the person who talks his Step-Grandad down is far more interesting than ‘angry young man’, because it involves Ryan using everything he’s learnt from his Nan. He’s nineteen years old, and he finds himself in a situation where he’s got to be the sensible ‘grown-up’ one. It really develops the character when he steps up to the mark instead of joining Graham in seeking revenge.

    Similarly, Graham turning out to be one of those gentle, calm people who go up like a volcano when they finally do blow is far more interesting than yet another episode where Graham is mature and calm. Was it set up enough? I’d say yes: the desire for revenge is an emotion that most humans feel, and we were certainly shown that he had reason to want revenge. Especially since the immediately preceding episode had Graham forcing himself to leave a fake Grace…

    Most writers have faults – you seem to be complaining that Chibbers tends to leave the heavy lifting work in character reversals to his actors and just gives them a few hints. But that *is* what we’re paid for. If we accept a paycheque for a job where we know we *might* turn out to be the murderer, then it’s our job to play the role with that possibility in mind.

    If Bradley Walsh accepts a job where his beloved wife is killed by a murderous alien in Episode 1, it’s really his responsibility to keep in mind that he might end up strangling the toothy bar-steward in the final episode. 🙂

  32. @bluesqueakpip

    I’d agree on that, in fact. I think what he has shown brilliance in, this series, is picking writers who are new to Who and shaking the post-Gap pattern up so that we are released from the ‘formula’ just as Moffat released us from fifty years of backstory. It may be that this turns out to be his real strength as the Who Showrunner, and that what he’s going to leave us with is a refreshed and more open format and a wider scriptwriting team.

    Thank you for that.  That is an insight worth a lot of thought, and I like things I can really think about.

  33. @jimthefish

    Oops, forgot to mention…

    A companion openly defying their Doctor should be a Very Big Deal and it really wasn’t.

    Uh, yeah, that might be because Bradley Walsh was able to rearrange his commitments to come back full-time next series.

    You did notice that the script was written in such a way that it gave a reason for his character to either leave permanently, or become a semi-recurring character?

  34. @bluesqueakpip @jimthefish

    I do want to add that one thing I found disturbing about Chibnall’s tenure, right from the start, was that there does seem to be less emphasis on writing and story.  Now, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but under both RTD and Moffat, the only individual in the opening credits who wasn’t one of the leads was the author, the screenwriter.  To me that always meant that story came ahead of all other elements.

    Under Chibnall, the producer gets the first credit after the leads, then the director, and finally the screenwriter.  I don’t know why he would do that unless he just doesn’t think the writing should predominate.  And maybe it shouldn’t – look at the audience numbers – but I think it should.  A poor story remains a poor story regardless of acting and direction, but a good story can remain beneath even if poor acting or directing pulls down the production.

  35. @kevinwho

    Credits don’t work that way. If you check out the credits for Series 10, you will note that Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie come first, and then Matt Lucas.

    So Matt Lucas is the least important, right?

    Uh, not necessarily. If there’s an ‘And’ in the credits, and the actor is in the last position – with a screen to themselves – it means ‘Matt Lucas is a very well known actor and we’re really happy he’s in the show. Please don’t think he’s your average supporting actor.’ 😈

    The scriptwriters are generally in a similar position. They appear last, not because they are least important, but because they are considered the most important creative in UK TV. Their contracts say that they must have at least equal billing with producer and director – adjacent to the producer and director, same name size, same length of time on screen.

    But if you check out credits in films, notice who gets the last screen in the opening credits. It’s usually the director. Think they’re less important than everyone else?

    Like the ‘And’ in actor’s credits, getting that very last Opening Credit is a coveted spot. 🙂

  36. @kevinwho

    It means that they have correctly argued that they make a huge contribution to the episode. And that, like in many other BBC and UK shows, they should receive title credit for it.

    The most important positions in credits are the first screen and the last screen. They’re the ones people remember most – try memorising any list, and see if you don’t start by remembering the first item, the last item and then getting a bit mixed up about the stuff in the middle. 🙂

  37. @kevinwho

    I wouldn’t read too much into the arrangement of credits. In fact, I’d maybe argue, as Pip points out above, that the writing credit being the last one you see represents a wish to highlight the importance of the writer on Chibnall’s watch, rather than downplay. Especially as more often than not he was the writer in question. Personally, I’m more concerned at the loss of the pre-credits sequence which I think is an essential part of the structure of AG episodes, doing a lot of the heavy lifting that the first episodes of a BG gap would have done. I get why CC might have wanted to get rid of them, with a cold opening being more in keeping with the original series but it either means that you end up with a first half of an episode that has to faff around with set-up or one which is too abrupt in cutting to the chase for a really effective denouement.

    @bluesqueakpip

    It may be that this turns out to be his real strength as the Who Showrunner, and that what he’s going to leave us with is a refreshed and more open format and a wider scriptwriting team

    I’m not sure that’s that much of a legacy though. First of all, I’m not convinced it’s as groundbreaking as all that. While SM did rely on a lot of familiar names (Mark Gatiss and Toby Whithouse springing to mind), he did also bring a lot of new writing names into the show, much of it excellent — Peter Harness, Jamie Mathieson, Sarah Dollard etc. — as well as instituting the ‘guest writer’ slot for Richard Curtis, Neil Gaiman, Frank Cottrell-Boyce etc.

    So I’m not sure just how innovative that actually is, especially as to my mind none of the names CC has brought on board has actually contributed anything as strong as the writers above, with the exception of Ed Himes. Also, as it’s essentially an admin innovation, I’m not sure we can equivocally lay it at CC’s door. For all we know, this could be Matt Streven’s innovation as much as his.

    Although it’s only been one series, I’d say that CC’s lasting contribution will be that he’s dragged Who out of a set of intellectual presumptions that it’s had for the last 50-odd years and that he has modernised in terms of what it will be able to tackle thematically in the future. That in itself is an achievement and I’d say a necessary adjustment but it’s a policy change, or maybe an intellectual shift, if you like. It’s in its creative implementation that it’s been lacking. Both RTD and SM had a vision for not just what they wanted the show to be ‘about’ but how it would ‘feel’ while doing it. I don’t get that feeling at the moment. One impression that I get from s11 is that there were very few tone meetings or if there were, no one paid much attention in them. S11 gets compared to the Davison era a lot but I don’t really see CC as a JNT figure. He reminds me more of Graham Williams — charged with replacing a controversial but gifted producer and with a series of instructions for the top floor on what he can and can’t do.

    you’re apparently insisting that he’s a terrible writer

    No, I’m really not. Or at least I hope I’m not. It’s probably worth emphasising that there are no terrible or incapable writers on AG Who. Never have been. It’s just too big and important a property for the BBC to ever allow that. There are plenty of bad episodes but that’s not quite the same thing. Two pretty execrable episodes in my book are Love and Monsters and Boom Town — both written by RTD who has also produced some of the best stories too. Fear Her is written by Matthew Graham, who also gave us the pretty good Ganger two-parter, as well as many corking episodes of Life on Mars (although also Bonekickers, so it’s maybe swings and roundabouts there).

    With regards to CC, I’d say he’s far from a terrible writer. He doesn’t have the sense of spectacle of RTD and he doesn’t have the gift of intricacy of SM but he is very, very good on character. And he’s good on character interaction. What I will say — and it’s something that I think I’ve been saying on his work right back to Torchwood — is that he can sometimes be lazy. He has a feeling for the big moments — like Graham seeking revenge — but skimps on putting the work in for that payoff.

    A good comparison I think (and one which I think CC almost certainly had in mind) was the Buffy episode Passion (spoilers for that story ahead). In it Angelus kills Giles’s girlfriend Jenny Calendar prompting Giles to seek murderous revenge and is only pulled back from it by Buffy. It’s stunning TV that still wrenches today and it’s my guess that CC was aiming for something similar with Av Kolos but here’s why it works in Buffy and not in Av Kolos. There’s a number of factors that have to be put in place first:

    • – we have to have seen what a badass Giles can be when provoked, as we have in the two episodes in which he deals with Ethan Rayne
    • – we have to have seen the ups and downs of Giles’ relationship with Jenny to understand the impact her death with have on him
    • – we have to have seen just how twisted and evil Angelus is to understand the line he’s crossing here.
    • – and we have to understand just how much Buffy needs Giles, as seen by the opening episodes of that season when he is instrumental in helping her get killing the Master (no relation).

    In terms of s11, we have seen maybe one of those narrative beats (in Graham’s encounters with Ghost Grace in Arachnids and maybe also Faux-Grace in It Takes you Away). None of the others were remotely offered and sticking in a couple of lines that might allude to them is not good enough. As audience members we don’t want to be told this stuff, we want to feel it, and we want to figure it out ourselves. The impact of Giles tooling up to kill Angelus in Passion comes not from what’s purely on screen or what Buffy tells the others to motivate them to help but in us assembling the oncoming shitstorm for ourselves. (I realise I’m very much in ‘teaching to suck eggs’ scenario here but it’s not my intention to ‘splain. I’m kind of figuring this argument as I write it, so it’s more for my benefit than anyone else’s.)

    To steal a line from the might Eric Morecambe, I think often CC is playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. To take another example, his real albatross script — Cyberwoman in Torchwood — I think is slightly unjustly maligned. On paper, it should totally work. A key member of the team is hiding his former girlfriend who is half cyber-converted in the basement of the Hub. That has the potential to be a great finale (better than the one we got, actually) but putting it as episode four was just crazy. We didn’t know Ianto. We didn’t know the team. If his relationship with Lisa had been seeded through s1, if we’d learned more about Ianto, if we’d seen more bonding between the Torchwood members, it would have had all the makings of powerful and satisfying narrative. But CC seemed just to eager to wrest the big emotional denouement from us without putting in the groundwork. Personally, I expect dinner and maybe a kiss or two before I’m expected to put out like that.

    From an acting point of view, having to be the person who talks his Step-Grandad down is far more interesting than ‘angry young man’, because it involves Ryan using everything he’s learnt from his Nan

    I totally agree and I think having Graham talked down is dramatically the far more interesting way to go. I think all I was getting at is that in terms of the scripts that had come before, the expectation would be that Ryan would be the one to go all Charles Bronson rather than Graham. That it is Graham does confound expectations and takes things in an interesting direction. I just don’t agree that it’s been set up sufficiently, that’s all.

    Most writers have faults – you seem to be complaining that Chibbers tends to leave the heavy lifting work in character reversals to his actors and just gives them a few hints. But that *is* what we’re paid for

    What’s that line of Bogarde’s? A good script can often make a bad actor look good but a good actor can never make a bad script better. OK, not directly applicable but you see what I’m getting at. And you’re absolutely right, of course. But CC is also being paid to write strong scripts — better than strong, if you’re the showrunner. To my mind, it’s not good enough to put something in and just hope that Bradley Walsh (or whoever) ‘gets it’ and carries it over. To use a journalistic analogy, if a reporter doesn’t bother to check his facts and just leaves it to someone else in the editorial foodchain to do it for him, she pretty much deserves any subsequent bollocking that might come her way.

    Is Av Kolos a ‘bloody awful script’? It’s certainly no the worst ever seen in Who. It’s possibly not even the worst in AG Who. But it is a bloody terrible finale. It makes lots of bad narrative choices. For instance, the rock-building sequence with the Ux is kind of pointless and we could have got a sense of their power later in the episode and spared poor Phyllis Logan all that awful sub-McCoy era dialogue. (Another defining feature of s11 for me has been the tendency to get great guest stars and just utterly squander them.) I’d have liked to have seen maybe more flashbacks to Tim Shaw on the Stenza homeworld, seeing the savagery he had to compete with, what had formed him. I’d also have liked to see Graham actually engaging in some vengeance or near-vengeance instead of just talking about it. And I think I’d have liked to see Grace in some kind of flashback at the very least. Really, it would have worked better as a two-parter and given the big emotional beats required a bit more room to breathe.

    Failing that, I think I’d agree with @craig that the entire series would have ended on a more satisfying narrative note if the episodes 9 and 10 had been reversed. It Takes You Away would have been extremely quirky as a finale but I think it might just have worked.

    Apologies for the length and for locking horns with you once again, Pip. I’ll sign off by saying that I’ve very much enjoyed our discussions this year and you’ve really helped me formulate how I feel about s11 in my mind. You’ve certainly changed my mind on lots of stuff.

    Signing off for Christmas now. Hope everyone has a great one. And all that remains to be said is ‘And a merry Christmas to all you at home.’

  38. @jimthefish

    Sorry, doing my best not to get involved in CC’s series. I agree with rather a lot of what you write. CC is a talented writer and producing (sorry show running) but S11 has just demonstrated that whilst Characterisation is one of his strengths, telling exciting stories seems to be a very weak one. Similarly he has failed to put together, alongside his producer, an exciting series. There were quite a few strong stories, but that all missed the park from either forgetting there has to be a compelling story alongside characterisation and setting or just failing to deliver. Most series of Who (both AG and BG) have been a mixture of strong and weak stories, but this one has mostly been middling ones. Whilst the production values on screen have been as high or higher then ever, I cant think of a single story here that I’ll be wanting to watch in 5 years time.

    Of course, this is my opinion as a 50 something year old white guy who’s been watching for as long as I can remember. I’m not the intended audience – that’s fine. So long as the current audience size continues, things will be fine.

     

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