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. 🙂

The slogan for Series 11 of AG Who was ‘It’s About Time.’

Now, if this was a Russell T. Davies series, that would mean that the Doctor faced a series of death-defying adventures with hundreds/millions/the entire universe at stake. There would be an ample supply of CGI explosions, deep suspicion of those in authority and a big, handbags-at-dawn fight between the Doctor and the Daleks/Cybermen/Time Lords. There will be a massive finale, where the Doctor may end up fighting the Daleks AND the Cybermen AND the Time Lords, and we will be treated to extensive use of CGI, huge spaceships, moving planets and exploding – uh, everything.

If this was a Steven Moffat series, the Doctor would be facing a series of paradoxical adventures where the real solution would be in one character’s past and the other’s future. There would, however, be a lot of deeply sinister aliens, CGI explosions and witty dialogue, together with some serious stretching of the fourth wall. And pay attention, you lot at the back, because there will be a memory test at the finale. The finale will not only include those details from Episode 5 that you missed because you nipped out for a cup of tea (you didn’t spot the jacket, did you? I told you to pay attention!) but it will also include every single villain that we can find a costume for.

But for both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, the series slogan would mean that ‘The Whole. Of Reality. ITSELF!’ was at stake. RTD would have persuaded Timothy Dalton to take the line, and the Moff would have decided he’d already got Peter Capaldi on contract, but both would have gone for a spectacular, explosive, possibly confusing multi-episode finale where the Doctor saves the day. Also the week, the year, and the entirety of the time stream.

And now we have Chris Chibnall. 😀

What can we tell to date? Well, the initial publicity has understandably surrounded the casting of Jodie Whittaker. But what seems to be happening is that Chibnall isn’t only involved in pushing hard-core fans like me out of our comfort zone with a woman Doctor, he’s also pushing us out of our comfort zones with the stories and the monsters.

The Woman Who Fell To Earth
This episode was mainly concerned with the regeneration of The Doctor, and introducing an entirely new set of companions. The ‘monster’ is Tim Shaw, and he fits the now-developing series theme. Yup, he’s a monster. Humans don’t matter, so he casually murders drunks, security guards and worried brothers. He’s also a completely crap monster. Not in the design, the make-up, the costume – or even in the hints that his race (the Stenza) might turn out to be the main villains in the finale. But he is, personally, really inadequate and generally crap at being a monster. He has to cheat to get even halfway there.

The Ghost Monument

The monster is – uh, who is the monster exactly? Epzo is definitely unpleasant, but we find out his ‘don’t trust anyone’ attitude is the result of some serious childhood abuse. And, by the end of the episode, there are signs that he’s learnt at least something. He can work with Angstrom; can make sure she gets her fair share of the prize.

There are hints in the background that the Stenza are ‘ethnic cleansers’ as well as bullies. Angstrom is trying to win so she can save her family from them. The dead scientists were kidnapped and their families threatened. But Ilin, who might be seen as the closest thing in this to the on-screen villain, is cold but plays by the rules (as long as they’re his rules, or he’s scared into modifying them). For example, he warns the remaining contestants about the water.

And the ‘monsters’ of the episode, the Remnants, are very BG Who – not so much a ‘shoe-string-budget’ monster but ‘we’ve got a ripped up old sheet here, can you do anything with it?’ Only this is AG Who, and the ripped up old sheet is lovingly rendered in crisp CGI.

Rosa

Rosa is where the shape of the Chibnall period begins to appear. Apart from the clumsy coda (so clumsy that I wondered whether the episode came in short and Chibnall decided to fill in with an explanation about the real Rosa Parks) this is an excellent episode that impressed a lot of viewers.

Except for one thing that was often noted. The villain is … crap. Again. Are we noticing a pattern here? He’s quite deliberately crap; generally the SF device of ‘chip in head to prevent murder’ is used to transform someone from an antagonist into an unwilling protagonist (for example, see Spike in Buffy The Vampire Slayer).

But in Rosa it’s very obvious the real antagonist is abstract. It’s racism. That means the episode begins to make the overarching theme of this series come clear. It also clarifies Chibnall’s pre-series announcements that there are going to be no episodes where you needed to see previous ones. The audience can drop in and drop out as they feel like it, or they can watch every single episode. But they don’t need to watch everything if they don’t want to – because the antagonist is abstract. Discrimination and prejudice.

Prejudice against the Whittaker Doctor, because Jodie Whittaker is a woman taking on a previously male role. The kind of prejudice Yaz and Ryan face, which isn’t fictional either. I’ve noticed that Tosin Cole, who has displayed some pretty good acting chops to date, is getting a lot of nasty comments about his supposed inability to act.

Funny how it’s always the black actors who ‘can’t act’. Coincidences, huh?

There’s another theme in Rosa which comes up later: The Doctor’s commitment to not interfering in the past has, in AG Who, been more honoured in the breach than the observance. Yes, The Doctor doesn’t nip out to assassinate Hitler when he takes a companion to tea in 1930’s Germany – but Moffat wasn’t adverse to having the Doctor let Rory be the audience surrogate by socking Hitler in the jaw. The Tennant Doctor, in both RTD and Moffat scripts, kind of completely ignores the entire ‘Virgin Queen’ aspect of Elizabethan history.

But the Whittaker Doctor, so far, has had two episodes where she’s had to let things happen that she’d normally stop. She utterly hates having to take this ‘passive’ role – you can see that in the final bus scene in Rosa. But what’s particularly interesting about this is that Chibnall seems to have deliberately placed the previously male Doctor in positions where the former ‘he’ has to act in the passive way that women are socialised and conditioned into in many of our human societies.

This is clearly a deliberate choice, not some unconscious sexism, because Chibnall has also ensured that this ‘forced passivity’ is most apparent in episodes where the female supporting characters either aren’t remotely passive – or, like Rosa Parks, reject that passivity entirely.

Which leads us on to:

Anarchids in the UK

Generally, I thought this one was a Dinosaurs on a Spaceship fun episode for Halloween. But on a closer look, the series theme is apparent. Again, the ‘monster’ is – well, not crap (great CGI, by the way) but not really a monster. The giant spiders are victims, just doing what spiders do until they get experimented on by scientists who were just doing what scientists do – and then dumped into toxic waste which acts on them like radioactive spider venom acted on Peter Parker. They’re not even going to take over Sheffield; the mutagens force them to grow to a size their biology can’t support and they’re not going to survive.

Is the real antagonist the really-not-Trump, he’ll-sue Robinson? Our lack of care for the environment? Or is the real antagonist that abstract theme of discrimination and prejudice? Well, consider.

We’ve got a heck of a lot of sensible, intelligent, female authority figures in this episode. Yaz is a police officer, Jade McIntyre is an expert on the spiders, the Doctor is … The Doctor. Then there’s Yaz’s mum, Najia, who’s the hotel manager and Frankie, the niece-in-law, who clearly states that there’s a problem with the waste processing (or rather, the lack of processing).

And every single one of those women is ignored, negated, even fired by Robinson. He even ignores the Doctor when she tells him the spider is dying anyway.

I’m not sure how many of the audience picked up that theme. That Robinson was an authoritarian, cost-cutting, Trump style corporate bully, yes. But our culture is still in the process of coming out of ‘men have authority, women don’t.’ I’m not sure we yet pick up on sexism as readily as we can now recognise racism.

So – the scientist, the police officer and the President of Earth are all women – and Robinson treats them as if they’re of no importance whatsoever.

The Tsuranga Conundrum

I think this episode was The Beast Below of Chibnall’s first series. An episode which has many good ideas, but looks like it suffers from not having had quite enough time to finish the script. It looks like what we ended up with on screen was a draft which would have filled the original 42 minute slot, but wasn’t long enough for 50 minutes.

So the abstract protagonist was a bit underwritten. The ‘monster’ was – yes, you’ve guessed it! The ‘monster’ was crap. Cute, but crap.

Now, it’s at this point where I start to think ‘Hang on, this is Chris Chibnall. This is the writer who reinvented the Silurians. This is the writer who created the deeply creepy Soloman. He created a living sun that tried to turn the Doctor himself into a space zombie. He’s scared me … spitless’. 🙂

So if he’s produced a series with entirely underwhelming monsters, it has to be because that’s what he wants. And I think this is definitely an area where we regular fans are suffering, because we’ve spent the last ten series expecting the end of the world every other episode – not the S.F. equivalent of a mouse nibbling its way into a plane’s wiring.

Essentially the last ten series (and assorted specials) have consisted of:

  • The Doctor arrives in the new plot
  • The Doctor discovers a problem
  • Things explode. Lots.
  • The Doctor solves the problem

Sometimes the problem can last until the finale, but basically that’s it.
Whereas Before Gap Doctor Who did have those meet problem/solve problem plots, but it also had:

  • The Doctor arrives in the new plot
  • The Doctor discovers a problem
  • The problem is discussed for six solid episodes
  • The Doctor can only solve part of the problem. If that.

For all its faults, The Tsuranga Conundrum demonstrates that older type of Who. The Doctor can help get the ship to safety, but her ‘solution’ to the Ptang is to send the now happily full little beast back out into space. It’s the equivalent of putting the field mouse out of the plane and back into the airport grass.

But what she can’t solve is the war going on in the background. She can’t save the General. She can’t save Ronan. She has to realise that she was nearly part of the problem herself, when her ‘patient’ status and general feeling lousy led her to display that good old Time Lord racism of seeing all the other patients on the ship as less important than one Time Lord.

Mabli has to overcome those self-esteem issues herself. Durkas has to realise that the way he treated Ronan was wrong – and make reparation by letting him lead the funeral. Babies have to be born without the Doctor saving them. And so on.

The Doctor, throughout the last ten series, has never been able to save everyone. In a way, the Doctor’s biggest abstract antagonist is death. As Clara said: to a Time Lord we’re all ghosts. And if you should ever meet The Doctor, better make sure your will is up to date and your next-of-kin has been informed.

But we’ve not, in this After Gap period, yet had a series where The Doctor has had to learn how not to interfere. Re-learn that she can’t sort everything out. Where her main series antagonist is an abstract evil that cannot be defeated, because it’s in everyone, even her.

Demons of the Punjab

Demons of the Punjab brings this theme to the realisation that the Doctor may be fighting evil itself in this series. The aliens in this episode aren’t metaphors for evil. They’re metaphors for redemption – a race that left bodies unburied, the murdered unhonoured – and changed.

We can honour the dead, says this story, even if their murderers never did. We can remember them, list their names, tell our children how they died. We can warn our children of the demons that hide in our own selves.

And this may be why, in this series, the Doctor has attended funerals. If you like, in the AG series, she’s taken a soldier’s view. My mates got killed, I didn’t, I have to carry on with the fighting. So walk away from them, don’t look back, and leave others to bury the dead.

Just as she had to do in this story. The dead might not be buried, but she has to walk away. Prem saved his wife at the cost of his own life. The Doctor can’t save everyone in the Punjab – she can’t even save Prem – but by walking away, she can save Yaz. At least save one. Just one.

But while that’s an attitude that helps a soldier survive a brutal war, it may not be the right path for a Doctor who’s discovering that the Time War is over. That the ‘monsters’ have got smaller, that the battles have got less clear-cut, that not everything can be solved by chasing off the alien-of-the-week or waving a sonic at it.

‘I’m The Doctor. Basically, run,’ works in a war. It doesn’t work when the repentant ex-combatants have formed an extra-terrestrial burial society.

And it’s a problem for us dedicated fans as well. We too want the big monster, the huge explosion, the problem that can be solved by some bit of knowledge that was an arc-word, or turned up in episode 5. We want to be able to get the joke about the Smith Doctor accidentally handing the Great Intelligence a map of the London Underground.

And we’re used to puzzling out logical conundrums, not moral and cultural ones. Is it significant that Mabli’s insecurity reflects the lack of self-belief that our own culture often programmes into so many women? What about the murderers in Demons of the Punjab – is it significant that they are Hindu nationalists? Are we looking at religious conflicts, nationalistic ones, or a toxic mix of both? And why is a cross-cultural family the victim?

It’s a new direction. And we (and The Doctor) are all out of our comfort zones. No more fun puzzles, time paradoxes. No more quick-fix monsters that get sorted out by the finale. No more problems that stay safely behind the screen. Yes, we can watch this on a surface level if we want; that option’s there. But we (and The Doctor) are being confronted with the hard questions.

It’s about time.


63 comments

  1. @Bluesqueakpip – thanks so much for going to the effort of getting this all down!
    I agree with much (perhaps everything!) that you say, but hadn’t quite seen it in as focused a way.

    I’m not sure I need the monsters to be crap so I can focus on the real monster – and I’m not sure which age group this helps, but I agree that its a deliberate decision and not just inability to write scary.

    It also explains why Chibnall hasn’t used existing monsters – it’d be hard to take one that people liked (Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors) and make them crap.
    Though this did happen with Sontarans, but I wonder if Dan Starkey’s wonderful take on Strax simply pulled them into comedic foil more than Moffat intended – so far in fact that Ice Warriors were brought back to be the chilling monster of ‘military honour’.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the Doctor will evolve over the course of the series (ie her arc) and I’ll try to focus on that and not whether Whittaker is still struggling for her tone (though I feel Chibnall is too which can’t make it easy for either of them).

    In terms of monsters (which isn’t your main point but just something that has been gnawing away at me!) I wonder if we might get an episode of ‘the scorpion and the frog’, where the monster is simply acting out its own nature in ways we as humans find horrific.
    They’re not to be redeemed – there’s nothing to redeem them from.
    Its their nature.
    Though whether this is a Dalek episode or we can still hope for making even Daleks non-horrific because they are sentient, I’ll let the more philosophically educated enlighten me!

    But thanks again and I think I’ll read this again as if morals/ ethics is what we have to be bonkers about then… let the thought experiments begin !

    :¬)

  2. No more fun puzzles, time paradoxes.

    You know, that made me think of something.  Does this make sense?  Or am I making too much of something?

    • RTD wanted to engage our minds but mostly our hearts.
    • Moffat wanted to engage our hearts but mostly our minds.
    • Chibnall wants to engage our hearts far, far more than our minds.

    There’s nothing wrong with any of those approaches, but if my superficial analysis has touched on something real (I’m not sure myself), then it would explain partly why RTD’s and Moffat’s tenures had a similar tone, and why Chibnall’s such a different one.

    And, of course, why some of us are outside our comfort pleasure zones.  If you watch this for thought-provoking content, you might get it, but it’s not the goal.

    Am I making sense…or just being bonkers?

  3. Thank you Bluesqueakpip for that considered and well written blog. This is exactly why I’m hoping this site won’t disappear along with Moffat.

    I would add a thought I had about Tosin Cole and the unfounded accusations that he ‘can’t act’. I wonder if the prejudice is not so much racist as regional.In other words are people reacting to his Sheffield accent? I come from a different part of Yorkshire and my ‘full on’ accent makes me sound, to be frank, raight gormless. (I won’t name my home town for fear of causing offence!)

    I live in a different part of England now and have modified my accent significantly as I found that people treated me differently and thought it hilarious to mimic certain words.

    Just a thought about Tosin. Sadly probable that racism comes into it as well. As long as Chibnall targets these particular monsters he will have my vote.

  4. @bluesqueakpip

    Great blog, as ever, Pip. I think you’re definitely right that Chibnall’s intention is to take Who fans out of their comfort zone in the sense of expanding the frames of reference over what a Who story can and should be. More power to his elbow in that regard, I say. Certainly by the time he’s finished there will be no doubt that the show will never be quite so white and quite so male-centric as it has been in the past. And for all the broflake whining at the moment, they’re just not going to be able to claw the show back to its old frames of references.

    Because we have to recognise that the show, particularly in its original iteration, had some significant issues with race. And not just in terms of white actors in yellow or blackface, or the depressing limited roles for actors of colour in the original series. Martin Belam had a good piece on the Graun today and one of things it raised that never occurred to me before was just how much of a culturally loaded symbol it is having the TARDIS appearing as a police box.

    In that sense, Chibnall is doing great work because he’s pushing the boundaries of the show, in much the same way that RTD and Moffat did in their own different ways. But as I said on the other thread, this has to be balanced (for me anyway) by the ways that his writing within the stories itself is failing to hit the mark. Rosa and Punjab, as you say, engaged with complex and not easily solvable cultural issues but there’s still something about the core ongoing drama of this series that I find emotionally wanting.

    I realise this all sounds quite complainey, so should stress that I totally agree that it is about time for this change. The show is (so far) doing well in the ratings and it’s great that Chibnall has brought in new viewers and that Whittaker is inspiring a new generation of fans. I really am so chuffed about that. Who is such a broad church that you’re never going to love everything. Nor, I suspect, should you.

    @kevinwho

    I saw someone, on Twitter probably, offer up this equation: Moffat + Chibnall = RTD

    I’m not sure it’s quite as clear cut as that but I do think that both Moffat and RTD had the insight to bring in other writers who made up for their own personal weaknesses as writers. Thus, RTD would bring Moffat in to do a couple of more complex timey-wimey stories, Moffat would bring in Toby Whithouse to do a couple of more straightforward adventure stories. They both knew that they would need writers like this to vary the tone and make the series as a whole more interesting. Chibnall (so far) hasn’t done this. He’s written all the stories, save for ones that feel like he commissioned with a deliberate purpose in mind. Maybe that’ll change with the coming stories but so far it has made this series rather samey.

  5. @whisht and @kevinwho

    Yeah, I do think part of the increasing quietness is that what we’re used to looking for is no longer there – and what is there is so seriously old school Who (even the Daleks were originally a commentary on racism and the inward-looking fear that produces it) that we haven’t picked up what to discuss.

    Or we might not want particularly to discuss it, because we personally don’t find ‘moral and social commentary’ that entertaining. It is a popular branch of SF, though, and funnily enough, it’s an area of SF that women writers often picked. It’s perfectly okay to decide that it’s not our cup of tea, though.

    @margaret-blaine – it could well be his Sheffield accent – but it’s something I’ve noticed with other black actors, especially the men. Apparently British Equity has an endless supply of black actors who ‘can’t act’. They definitely shouldn’t have leading roles in a major drama series, because they ‘can’t act’, and they certainly shouldn’t gain any acting experience in period dramas, because they ‘weren’t there’. If you ask people how the heck they got the role – against what would have been intense competition, it’s always ‘political correctness’. 🙄

    The Sheffield accent probably doesn’t help; I think he’s doing a very good job with it, but it does make Ryan sound really Northern working class – and therefore, to a lot of people, thick.

  6. @jimthefish

    I actually agree that Chibnall’s struggling a bit, and I’ll probably have more to say on that when I get back from work. 🙂

    We’re probably comparing his first series unfavourably with Moffat’s first – which was a brilliant tour-de-force. I really do think Moffat is a genuine, old-school genius. He’d be up there with Pinter and Dennis Potter if he hadn’t chosen to do comedies and Doctor Who.

    But don’t forget the first RTD series, which essentially threw everything including the kitchen sink at the audience. That was a bit – wobbly. 🙂

  7. @bluesqueakpip  Thanks for this fabulous recap. You’ve solidified the sense I’ve been getting of a thematic arc that deals with what I feel are some of the most pressing issues of our times (not to imply that they are new, of course). The injustice of division. Racism, sexism, classism. Lack of care for our fellow humans.

    I guess I have been missing the old school, Before Gap Who more than I thought, because I’m one of those having no trouble with this new approach. In many ways, ever since Eccleston, the Doctor was becoming increasingly a hero. This might have been part of the reason I took immediately to Twelve’s anti-hero style. (In some ways, he reminded me of Tom Baker.) Thirteen harks back to the traveller of old- adventurer, observer. Always willing to roll up her sleeves and jump in when there’s trouble, but not able to make everything okay. The Ninth Doctor, in one of his most wonderful moments, cried out in joy, “Just this once, everyone lives!” But as the series proceeded, it became less and less a case of “just this once”. It was a frequent criticism of the show that, increasingly, no one actually died. True loss became rare.

    While I’ve always enjoyed reading everyone’s speculation games and logic puzzles, that was never how I engaged with the show, so I don’t find that I miss it. I’m more than happy to engage with the moral issues that you have so clearly outlined.

  8. @bluesqueakpip   Thanks for this fabulous recap. You’ve solidified the sense I’ve been getting of a thematic arc that deals with what I feel are some of the most pressing issues of our times (not to imply that they are new, of course). The injustice of division. Racism, sexism, classism. Lack of care for our fellow humans.

    I guess I have been missing the old school, Before Gap Who more than I thought, because I’m one of those having no trouble with this new approach. In many ways, after Eccleston, the Doctor became increasingly a hero. I think that’s part of the reason I took so well to Twelve’s anti-hero approach (although the heroic starting creeping back in). Thirteen harks back to the traveller of old– adventurer, observer. Always willing to roll up her sleeves and jump in when there’s trouble, but not able to make everything okay. The Ninth Doctor, in one of his most wonderful moments, cried out in joy, “Just this once, everyone lives!” But as the series proceeded, it became less and less a case of “just this once”. It was a frequent criticism of the show that, increasingly, no one actually died. True loss became rare.

    While I’ve always enjoyed reading everyone’s speculation games and logic puzzles, that was never how I engaged with the show, so I don’t find that I miss it. I’m more than happy to engage with the moral issues that you have so clearly outlined.

  9. @bluesqueakpip

    But don’t forget the first RTD series, which essentially threw everything including the kitchen sink at the audience. That was a bit – wobbly

    I know, it always surprises me to see that more than half of Eccleston’s episodes were really pretty ropey. RTD, I think, didn’t really hit his stride until he found an actor in Tennant who was far more comfortable in inhabiting the role of the Doctor, and had, no doubt, learned lessons from s1 on just what kind of tone worked. I think ultimately what saved s1 was partially the sheer novelty and gratitude that the show was back at all and the above-mentioned tendency to have a belter of a story every few episodes. People would be willing to forgive an Aliens of London/World War III if there was a Dalek waiting at the end of it to perk up their interest again.

  10. @bluesqueakpip Thanks for this fabulous recap. You’ve solidified the sense I’ve been getting of a thematic arc that deals with what I feel are some of the most pressing issues of our times (not to imply that they are new, of course). The injustice of division. Racism, sexism, classism. Lack of care for our fellow humans.

    I guess I have been missing the old school, Before Gap Who more than I thought, because I’m one of those having no trouble with this new approach. In many ways, after Eccleston, the Doctor became increasingly a hero. I think that’s part of the reason I took so well to Twelve’s anti-hero approach (although the heroic starting creeping back in). Thirteen harks back to the traveller of old- adventurer, observer. Always willing to roll up her sleeves and jump in when there’s trouble, but not able to make everything okay. The Ninth Doctor, in one of his most wonderful moments, cried out in joy, “Just this once, everyone lives!” But as the series proceeded, it became less and less a case of “just this once”. It was a frequent criticism of the show that, increasingly, no one actually died. True loss became rare.

    While I’ve always enjoyed reading everyone’s speculation games and logic puzzles, that was never how I engaged with the show, so I don’t find that I miss it. I’m more than happy to engage with the moral issues that you have so clearly outlined.

  11. @bluesqueakpip   I really do think Moffat is a genuine, old-school genius. He’d be up there with Pinter and Dennis Potter if he hadn’t chosen to do comedies and Doctor Who.

    I agree; and damn, I *miss* that high-handed sparkle and bravura from Moffat, even as I applaud the kinds of issues being tackled head-on here by CC in the subject matter, the cast, the “little community of not-heroes who really are” rather than the Doctor/companion duo creating and leading little communities of others to victory (or survival) everywhere they go.  Abstraction works a lot less well for me than passion (even messy, wrong, and alien passion — Davros, for example, or Jacoby’s brief but incandescent Master).

  12. @jimthefish

    I think Chibnall is in much the same position RTD was – that is, he’s decided to break out in an old-school Who direction that really hasn’t been seen since the comeback. So he’s learning what works and what doesn’t.

    I think he’s also struggling a bit with the extra time. He’s asked for and got 50 minute episodes, but some of the scripts (Rosa and Tsuranga Condundrum, I’m looking at you) feel like they got written to the old 42 minutes – and there wasn’t enough time to rewrite them so they were correctly paced for the new time slot.

    I agree that Tennant was vastly more comfortable than Eccleston. I’ve got a vague memory that he’d agreed to be the regenerated Doctor while they still didn’t know if there was going to be a Series 2; if one scene as The Doctor was all he was going to have, he was going to have it. 🙂

    As I’ve said – I’m not sure Whittaker is uncomfortable as such; I think she’s playing uncomfortable. That is, the Doctor’s in a state of ‘hang on, that claim of authority worked perfectly when I was a grumpy Scotsman. What’s gone wrong? Why is this idiot completely ignoring me?’

    And some of the audience are automatically looking to Bradley Walsh to provide authority. Don’t get me wrong: his Graham is utterly brilliant. But I’m not entirely sure including an older man – especially an older man with oodles of common sense and general wisdom – in the new line up was the right decision for Whittaker’s first series.

    Though again, it may turn out to be entirely deliberate. We’re only halfway through.

  13. @kevinwho

    I’ve been thinking about your comments, and I’m wondering whether the frustration quotient of seeing The Doctor unable to do anything in either Rosa or Demons of the Punjab is deliberate. I realise that, at the moment, we’re all placing bets on whether Graham survives the series. 😈 I did notice a reference to ‘bucket list’ in Demons, which made me wonder.

    But I’m wondering if this strict adherence to ‘can’t interfere in the past’ is going to give either Ryan or Yaz their motivation to leave? Again, this would be going back to old-school Who. Companions left because they had a reason to leave, not because (as is the case for most of the AG Companions) they were forced to leave.

    Why they left might be different – Ian and Barbara (and many others) left because the Doctor couldn’t control the TARDIS and they got a chance to get back to the right place and time. Others (Romana II) left because they could see a problem that needed long-term help. And still others (Caroline Shaw and Tegan) left because they couldn’t stand the Doctor any more. 🙂 But by and large, they left because they chose to leave.

    But in AG Who, being a Companion and going to exciting alien planets and wonderful locations in the past is clearly so brilliant you’d never want to leave. Moffat played with what you might call the extreme mountain climbing aspect; all his Companions were in some way addicted to the excitement – and like people who climb increasingly high and difficult mountains, choosing more and more difficult routes, they eventually found the section that can’t be climbed.

    But if in what we might call Chibnall Who, the Companions are frequently faced with problems where they have to walk away and let people be murdered, they are in a situation where travelling with The Doctor is exciting, brilliant – and a holiday. If they want to make a real difference, they’re not going to make it by visiting the past. The only place where they can change things is the future – or their own present.

    There are hints that might eventually make Ryan and Yaz leave. Ryan wanted to help Rosa Parks in her fight; Yaz is a police officer who had to walk away from a murder. I think Chibnall is developing companions who have a genuine reason to walk away. It might be on an alien planet, or it might be at home – but it could be that they tell the Doctor that they’re tired of having to always walk away. They’re going to stay somewhere they can make a difference.

  14. @bluesqueakpip – You may well be on to something there.  That makes a lot of sense.

    To look at the consequences, if you’re right, I see a couple of things that could be…interesting:

    • We’ve already seen this Doctor isn’t upset at endings.  I think I mentioned somewhere else here that that removes the reason for visiting companions when they’ve aged.  Will we see Ace again?  Jo (Grant) Jones?  Or at least get name drops?
    • I always figured AG companions were written out the way they were at least partly because getting the actor back might not be possible, so there had to be a reason for the Doctor not to stop by sometime.  After all, if the Doctor needs a police officer’s expertise ten years from now, why not go get Yaz?  But Mandip Gill might have too many other commitments to come in for a day’s filming.

    But I’m digressing from your point.  Chibnall may well be seeding the companions’ departures.  Still, I wonder.  AG companions were always set up as never wanting to leave because they’re the audience surrogates, and heaven knows the producers don’t want us to leave.  So it’ll be a fine line to be treading, setting our surrogates up to want to leave, but for us to want to stay.

    (I haven’t seen too many companion departures in BG Who; Jo Grant’s made sense, as she became Jo Jones, but you’d still figure the Doctor would stop in later.  Sarah Jane’s even more so; sure, she couldn’t go to Gallifrey, but why not come back and say hi?)

  15. @bluesqueakpip – That makes a lot of sense.  You may be right.  It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.  Because a couple of things come to mind for me.  Both more or less follow from something I’m pretty sure I remember right.  I think RTD said somewhere (dvd extra?) something like, “All of time and space?  Who wouldn’t want to travel with the Doctor?”  So with that attitude, of course the companions had to be forced out.  Which leads to:

    1. If the companions don’t have to be forced out, then traveling with the Doctor is obviously less desirable than it used to be.  You know, less fun, less rewarding.  But is that really the best direction to take the show?  If so, I’m sure it’s only temporary.
    2. The companions are the audience surrogates.  Making them decide to leave strikes me as equally dicey in a different way.  Still, as above, that could just be temporary.

    It will sure be interesting to see how it plays out!

  16. @kevinwho

    Agreed for both 1 and 2 – though for 1 we have the caveat that it’s only long term i.e. over the course of a series or two that they begin to realise that staying with the Doctor effectively keeps them permanently on holiday.

    But then there’s 3. – and by the end of Capaldi’s run, 3. was getting really obvious. If the Doctor’s Companions all end up dying, trapped in time, have their memories removed, trapped in alternate dimensions – how could even the Doctor take people on regular TARDIS journeys?

    Chibnall has begun to address the solution to 3. by starting off with the Doctor finally admitting to Team TARDIS that she can’t keep them safe. But, long-term, we’ve got to get out of this problem that RTD started. That the Doctor can now control the TARDIS, get people home reliably, and that the type of character who’d want to travel with the Doctor would never want to stop. And because The Doctor can now get them home any time, pick them up any time, there’s no reason for them to say ‘Had a great time, Doc, but if I ever want to see my family again … bye!’

    But, and it’s a big but, the actors who play those characters must stop. Otherwise they’re going to end up typecast – and instead of being a springboard to a successful career, playing a Doctor Who companion will finish their careers off.

    Now when RTD was rebooting Doctor Who, that point didn’t matter, because, firstly, they didn’t really think they’d make it to Series 2. It didn’t matter if we imagined Rose as staying with the Doctor for ever. By the time Billie Piper left, the idea of ‘trapped in another dimension’ was simply ‘yet one more way for the Companion to leave’. She was the first AG Companion, so there was no problem if it was a little over-dramatic.

    But by now we’re in Series 11 and it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous. As I’ve said before, The Doctor might as well be saying ‘Welcome to the TARDIS, have you made out your will? Next of kin notified?’

  17. @bluesqueakpip

    But, long-term, we’ve got to get out of this problem that RTD started. That the Doctor can now control the TARDIS, get people home reliably…

    This is where me beginning my Who experience so recently is a problem.  When I’ve watched BG episodes where the Doctor can’t pilot, I just shake my head.  I know that’s how it went for more years than all of AG Who, it still just jars me.

    Maybe if the show can establish the TARDIS as really having a mind of her own.  Being determined to take the Doctor and company someplace no matter what the Doctor wants.  For as long as the TARDIS wants to.

    Or maybe just have more real-life-like reasons.  Wanting to start a family.  Having an aging parent to take care of.  Or even just being tired of being so ignorant compared to the Doctor, and wanting to go back to school?

  18. @bluesqueakpip  @kevinwho     Martha left the Doctor by her own choice, and frankly it was the moment when I actually respected her the most. There could be loads of reasons for giving up the TARDIS, particularly when the dangerous aspects have been made clear. It’s a bit like being young and backpacking around southeast Asia for a couple of years. There are those who just keep on going, but most people don’t do it forever. Yaz and Ryan might well want to stop travelling and build a grown up life for themselves.

    And as the companions are, as you say, the audience surrogates, I actually find that choice more relatable, quite honestly, than the choice Clara made.

  19. @arbutus

    Yes, Martha left by her own choice. But have you remembered that her family had just been tortured by the Master for a year?

    There could be loads of reasons for giving up the TARDIS – but RTD had trapped in another dimension, family horribly traumatised, Donna having her memory removed. Then various temporary companions dying, then Moffat had Amy and Rory completely unable to stop travelling, even when they knew how dangerous it was, and finally trapped in the past. Followed by Clara being addicted and Bill getting cyberised.

    I think Yaz and Ryan are likely to want to build a grown up life for themselves; I just think that with the episodes so far, part of that ‘grown-up-ness’ is possibly going to be the realisation that they can’t change their past – but they can change their present and future.

  20. @bluesqueakpip    Oh, I agree completely. I was responding to the idea that a companion leaving voluntarily implied that the experience of travelling with the Doctor was unrewarding. I think it would be great if some of the moral themes that we have been seeing in the series could contribute to the personal growth of the Companions. I feel as though it ought to.

  21. @KevinWho

    Maybe if the show can establish the TARDIS as really having a mind of her own.  Being determined to take the Doctor and company someplace no matter what the Doctor wants.

    Wasn’t that in fact established in The Doctor’s Wife? That the Tardis has a mind of her own and, being able to comprehend all of time and space at once, sometimes takes the Doctor where s/he needs to go rather than where s/he wants to go.

    The Tardis was conceived originally as an unreliable and unpredictable machine, and this was acknowledged in The Name of the Doctor, where we see a Claricle prompting Hartnell Doc to choose it rather than one of the others available because, although it was faulty, it would be more fun.  Moffat’s retcon deals with any remaining discrepancies.

    Whether or not Chibnall subscribes to the idea that the Tardis is fully sentient and wilful, it was mentioned at the beginning of Rosa that it had taken several attempts before they arrived back on Earth, and even then it was not at the intended destination or time

     

  22. @mudlark – Yes, absolutely.  But I was trying to suggest it would have to be more so, if companions could not get home reliably as @bluesqueakpip suggested.

    Finding ways for companions to want to leave without making the audience want to leave would be a good way for the writers to show some ingenuity! 🙂

  23. @KevinWho

    The current conception of the Tardis is as an abstract and, from a human point of view, very alien intelligence governing a space/time machine and having a particular bond with the Doctor. As I see it, she is unlikely to have much understanding of or regard for the needs or desires of the people, human or otherwise, who accompany the Doctor on their travels, but maybe that does need to be spelled out.

    You are right, though, that the companions need to be given the option to bail out whenever they want, and the opportunities to do so, and that they should have some idea of the risks before signing on for the ride; and it is good that Whittaker Doc thought to warn the present crew of the risks. It had begun to seem as if only people who were terminally reckless, or adrenaline junkies, or possessed a death wish had any business even approaching the doors of the Tardis.

  24. @KevinWho

    Maybe if the show can establish the TARDIS as really having a mind of her own

    As @mudlark says, The Doctor’s Wife did address that and didn’t TUAT also highlight CapDoc being able to pilot the TARDIS while BradDoc couldn’t? I know what you mean but I think it makes sense that after 2000-odd years the Doc would have got a handle on it by then. I do know what you mean though. It is a significant change but I suspect a necessary one. The BG series serial format worked by just plopping the regulars down somewhere and giving them 4+ eps to figure out what the hell is going on. AG individual episodes and arcs and so on I think require the Doctor to have a little greater accuracy with the TARDIS. Mind you, Chibbers seems to be ditching arcs so maybe he can go back to the erratic TARDIS trope.

    With regards to the companion leaving issue, it is a problem. I’d be inclined not to give companions goodbyes at all these days, have them drift away, live their lives, move on. That’s what I thought was going to happen with the Ponds and what I think probably should have happened. Similarly, the departure planned for Clara in Last Christmas, of her just dying of old age, seemed to make more sense to me and could have been a template for future companions (plus I feel robbed of not getting Shona as a companion).

    @bluesqueakpip

    I’m not sure Whittaker is uncomfortable as such; I think she’s playing uncomfortable

    Yeah, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. I’m just not feeling that she’s communicating that at all but rather is giving the sense that it’s something she’s trying to conceal with other aspects her performance. I think you can only really buy that it’s a deliberate aspect of character if it’s made more explicit in the writing, so I’m not so much blaming her for giving a bad performance (she’s not, she’s doing great work for what she’s given) as much as I’m blaming Chibnall for underwriting the character of the Doctor (as he has done in pretty much every script he’s had produced.) Unlike Moffat and RTD, he seems to be making the mistake of assuming that the characterisation of the Doctor somehow takes care of itself when it really doesn’t.

  25. @jimthefish

    Yeah, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree in the end. 🙂

    From my point of view as an actor (and with the caveat that Jodie Whittaker is a much, much better actor than I am) the first question that I’d have made a note of, on accepting a role where a male character has just changed (a la Freaky Friday) into a female character, would have been: ‘is this character going to be uncomfortable or having fun with the swap?’

    And we’ve just had the sex-swap Time Lord who was bouncing around having loads of fun with ‘I’m a woman now!’ Michelle Gomez did it.

    I also note that Jodie Whittaker and Michelle Gomez both made exactly the same choice of essentially ignoring all the performances from previous actors. That is, they both chose to play this as a change that’s major enough to reboot the characterisation (whereas Peter Capaldi, for example, incorporated little things from previous actors). Missy and the Doctor are both characters in new, uncharted ways of being Missy and the Doctor, and so the previous characterisations – wouldn’t help.

    Looking at the scripts, there are in fact a number of lines beyond the first episdode where the sex-swap is specified as making the Doctor uncertain, uncomfortable. For example, in Demons, the invitation for women to go with Umbreen and the men with Prem has a moment where Jodie Whittaker is visibly wondering which group she goes with (Yaz reminds her). Then she has a huge place-foot-in-mouth moment where she forgets that she can’t even talk about how she’s never done this ‘women’ thing before. In Ghost Monument, the Doctor says ‘come to Daddy’, before remembering it’s now ‘Mummy’. In one of the other epsodes she comments that she’s still not used to ‘Ma’am’.

    So while you’re saying the new character is underwritten, I’d say that – presuming Whittaker and Chibnall have discussed this – the lines are there. They’re not making a big, hairy, ‘am I a good man’ thing of this, but there’s enough hints to show that the Doctor is still distinctly uncomfortable, and often literally can’t talk about how weird she’s finding being a woman after millennia of being a man.

    Moffat did, incidentally, include a line which implied that reverting to female was a vast relief to The General. So it’s certainly within previous canon that Time Lords can feel uncomfortable with the sex swaps. 🙂

  26. @bluesqueakpip

    Yeah, fair points. I just don’t get that that discomfort is coming from those lines or that she’s projecting a performance as much as fumbling to find a pitch for it. She’s not unique in this. McCoy didn’t find his centre until his later stories, Davison until virtually his last one Eccleston for my money never did.

    I also note that Jodie Whittaker and Michelle Gomez both made exactly the same choice of essentially ignoring all the performances from previous actors

    I’d agree in the case of Gomez, though I do always get brief flashes of Delgado in her performance sometimes. I found it interesting in her last scene with Simm in The Doctor Falls that for my money she was far more The Master of old than he was, despite him having the advantage of having all the traditional literally cosplay trappings.

    But Whittaker I think is struggling to assert herself as the Doctor because she’s clinging too much to impersonations of other Doctors, most notably Tennant and Smith. I’m not sure it’s a conscious decision on her part, in the way it was, as you say, with Capaldi, but merely the way Chibnall writes the Doctor. It would have been so interesting to see how he would have written for Capaldi — I suspect he might have struggled with the character slightly.

    Whittaker is a really strong ensemble actor which is why I think she was given a TARDIS full of people but to my mind it’s reinforcing the Davison comparisons. I’m always struck by just how stronger his Doctor became when he had just one companion. Androzani is so strong at least partly because of the relationship between the Doctor and Peri. I think 13 would totally benefit from a similar dynamic.

    I agree, by the way, that while Walsh is doing great work as Graham his presence might be a mistake and that he is undercutting some essential Doctorly traits that Whittaker should really be getting the chance to demonstrate.

  27. I think this series is a bit too  parochial for my taste. Bradley Walsh is wasted and mis cast.
    The real problem though, are the very poor scripts that want to manipulate our social conscience.

    This is more like “Doctors” than Dr Who

     

  28. Two episodes in a row of angry young men, not devoid of affection or fundamentally evil of themselves, deciding to kill other people for the ‘greater good’. An earlier episode of an angry young man who, well, does seem entirely devoid of affection and fundamentally evil, trying to set back the history of human rights. A species of aliens who hunt humans like humans hunt, well, other animals (are we pests to them?) a reckless, amoral businessman who wants to be president of the USA. And what looks like a very cute weapon/waste disposal method (were the Pting created to clear up space junk?) got out of hand, nearly causing good people to be killed in order to protect the main planet.

    A lot of the complaints about the series so far are about it not being ‘sci-fi’ enough. But I do keep thinking about the tag line. It’s about time. It’s clever because of course the Doctor is a Time Lord. Doctor Who is always about time. But is this series, in a specific way, particularly about time? 13 seems more concerned about interfering with time lines than previous Doctors. Telling companions to tread carefully, rather than just not to tread on a butterfly. So I’m thinking about the changes that might have occurred on these smaller scale, earth never actually in immediate danger episodes. And the behaviour of the Tardis, who always takes the doctor where they need to go.

    So she throws 13 down into Sheffield, to meet Grace, Graham, Ryan and Yaz, and Tim Shaw (and Colin, is it?). Then she takes herself off to another time and place, pitching the Doctor and Companions into the game. Then rather than return to Sheffield, she takes her to the heart of the civil rights movement. She only takes them back to Sheffield when the Spiders are getting out of control. On the waste planet, was the Doctor looking for a specific part for the Tardis? And did 11 order the fez, or did the Tardis?

    If one thing ties all these episodes together it’s a debate about the importance of ordinary people. There’s no such thing as a person who doesn’t matter, we know the Doctor knows this. We see the human race hunted like animals, we see humans treating humans as disposable, we see humans being absorbed into an automated system and a debate about the replacement of human labour with mechanised systems. We see two women, both vitally important people in a vital moment of time. One went down in history, the other is simply a living breathing part of our history, and the grandmother of one of the companions. I love that, in her moment, Yaz’s gran mattered as much to the Doctor as Rosa. We see young men who’s frustration and anger lead them to terrible actions. We see, most of all, consequences.

    So it’s about people. But I think there is a hint in Rosa that this series is also, very much, about time. The effect of all these episodes on the time stream.

  29. @Miapatrick – that’s an interesting take and one I don’t disagree with.

    What you’ve also helped me be more aware of, is that this series might be thematically “Its about time (we did something)”.

    I alluded on another thread that there is a feeling I’m picking up generally (in society) about people having had enough (recent protest marches and movements like #metoo etc).

    But what you’ve drawn my attention to is that we have had examples of characters taking action – but that that action is the wrong kind of action.
    eg Charlie in Kerblam! was someone wanting to take action, but at the expense of thousands of deaths and injuries. He was a terrorist – wanting to terrify ‘those-in-power’ into ‘doing-something’.
    Likewise Manish (the brother in Demons of the Punjab) wants to take violent action.

    But (obviously) the Doctor is advocating a different way – yes we should engage and make a difference and not just say ‘oh that’s the system’/ ‘its just the way it is’.

    But I agree that “Its about time” is a good tagline and deliberately ambiguous.

  30. @bluesqueakpip  Missy and the Doctor are both characters in new, uncharted ways of being Missy and the Doctor, and so the previous characterisations – wouldn’t help.

    Agreed — except, perhaps, as something to push against; a comment on character difference analogous to “These legs used to be longer!” — a moment here or there of reflection on how it feels to be not so much *that* any more, but more *this*; and what’s it good for, this change or that one?  That would in fact stress the newness of this Doctor a bit more than the feathery little touches on the past that CC & crew have written her so far.

    what’s particularly interesting about this is that Chibnall seems to have deliberately placed the previously male Doctor in positions where the former ‘he’ has to act in the passive way that women are socialised and conditioned into in many of our human societies.

    This does underline the real reason, to my mind, for being very chary with historical settings unless they’re *really* way back when (Pompeii; the ancient Britons) so you can sort of assume maybe (?) that there’s enough time ahead to sort out any kinks inadvertently left behind by whatever you did.  The more immediate past is where this Doctor understands that the only legitimate choice is not to “interfere” — except to keep things as they have already been (“Rosa”).  Very not-rebel Time Lordy of her (isn’t that sort of the job of the TLs on Gallifrey, that the Doctor rebelled against?  Early DW is a bit hazy in my memory — at what point did that get spelled out, or am I just making it up?).

    For the future, well, try to turn things into a teaching moment to encourage people (and things, the survivors anyway) to make kinder, less violent choices in creating the future.  So far, history episodes with CC have been about refraining from saving the lives of characters who did die in the past, like Prem. How else could they do history except as preservationists (Time Lords, if I remember them rightly) mainly stuck with the act of witnessing?

    Where do you draw that line between past and future?  For the Doctor, who has been to the end of the universe, everything can be “the past” or “the future” at any moment because of time travel sliding up and down the Arrow of Time in the TARDIS.  I guess we just assume that our Now is the Doctor’s current point of reference as to what can and can’t be actively “interfered” with beyond the boundaries of preserving history as it has already happened?  “Helping” means helping good decisions get made that haven’t actually been made yet; and never mind the fact that the Doctor has been far off enough into the future to be an actor/witness in whose eyes *all* decisions have already been made.

    Agh, my brain; this is why I don’t write time travel stories, myself, and sometimes don’t “get” them when I read or see time travel stories of others.

     

     

  31. @originalfan63  I think this series is a bit too  parochial for my taste. Bradley Walsh is wasted and mis cast.
    The real problem though, are the very poor scripts that want to manipulate our social conscience.

    On the contrary, I think Walsh is excellent.  The role gives him a chance to shine, which the writers are using well.  The writing is competent, mostly, not “very poor”, IMO, and when people complain about “social conscience” or “social justice” or anything with the word “social” in it, they just stop making any sense to me.  SF has *always*, in all ways, been about social issues, for example: outcasts and discrimination (all the X-men stuff, and damn near anything else involving super powers).  Or the ethics of an Apocalypse (a great old novel called “Earth Abides”, among many, many other works).  Privilege and its costs and injustices (any story about a generation ship escaping from a devastated Earth).  Workers and colonial exploitation — look at “The Expanse”, returning soon on a different platform I believe.

    DW is both science fiction and science fantasy, and those genres take off from current issues as SF/F does, so that the stories are linked to problems that modern people care about; why else would you expect anybody but prepubescent boys fascinated by raw power and robots (bigger, clankier raw power) to read them?  Do you really just want Buck Rodgers, and stories on the level of first person shooter video games?  I was watching TV in 63, too; cops, soaps, westerns, and quiz shows, pretty simple.

    But this is now.  In fact, it’s almost tomorrow.  More than almost.  DW is rising to meet that challenge.

  32. @whisht – I agree. But this does make me think very hard about the sci-fi/Chibnl aspects of the Rosa episode.

    As you say, it’s about ‘doing something about it’, but the right thing – peaceful protests like Rosa, not terrorist atrocities like Charlie had planned. If I’m squinting really, really hard for an arc (and I can’t help it, I am), I still wonder if the baddie in Rosa was aiming at the achievement of equal rights for people who aren’t white,  or the people getting above themselves were, in fact, good people, if it was social justice itself.

    So what if, (for crazy argument’s sake) Nottrump was right when he said ‘this is going to make me president’ when he shot the giant spider? What if the consequences of Kerblam! are the re-introduction of wage slavery for the masses, solving short term social and unemployment issues but preventing perhaps an alternative solution where people were freed up to do different things with their time, concentrate on things like art, culture, discovery, and invention. And can’t wiping out an entire planet of assassins, apart from having an air of justice about it, be an interesting twist on changing timelines – rather than changing it by having people assassinated, changing it by preventing the assassinations? In the very same episode we saw the painful acceptance that the death of one person, a good person who did not deserve to die, was essential, couldn’t be changed without wiping Yaz out of existence. Are the tooth aliens really picking random targets, or is there a plan behind it?

    I’m prepared to put all this down to Moffat withdrawal, and appreciate the current series for what it appears at the moment. because what we don’t need right now is an angry god turning up and chasing away the enemy with his name and reputation, or rather, that’s what we, the viewers, don’t have. This series is popular with children, as far as I’ve seen. It’s making them ask hard questions, it’s making everyone think about situations that can’t be solved with superpowers, but rather attention, compassion, and decency, and sometimes situations that can’t be solved at all, not straight away, not by one powerful individual turning up but the combined power of many good people. It’s interesting how easy it is to link this with the first female Doctor, but important to remember it’s actually come with a different, male, show runner.

    Who I do have some compassion for. He’s not only coming after the writer of some of the most highly regarded Who episodes, he’s coming after someone who is equally (it tends to balance out over time) lauded for the genius of his work, and blamed for almost ruining the show. No pressure there: succeed the writer of TGITF, Blink, etc, face inevitable comparisons for Moffat/Eleven’s first series, but also pull up the ratings and bring the casual fans (and fans who just didn’t care for the level of complexity Moffat practiced) back into the fold. Give people important, stimulating television, but give us back old fashioned Doctor Who where you don’t need to follow every episode to understand whats going on. Make people think, but not too much, carry on the ledgend of this timeless warrior for justice, but not to much of the social justice warrior. Respect the history of the show but don’t expect people to know it.

    OK, now I’m imagining Chibnel muttering Jaime from Game Of Thrones’ ‘Obey the king… protect the people’ speech. I think a lot of writers would have responded to this by basically replicating RTD, Ten era, and looking for his own Moffat. Instead he’s decided: Female Doctor, no old villeins, low-sci-fi history episodes dealing with extremely recent and relevant events, and smaller scale, internalised drama. If you can’t please everyone then, to heavily paraphrase Graham, all you can do is try and make something good.

     

  33. @ichabod – When you talk about the Doctor not being able to interfere in (our) recent past, and it putting her in a somewhat passive position, that connected in my head with a recent comment (#65814) by @ismellofhockey about the Doctor being a bit “flat” (which is something my sweetie has also said after a couple of recent episodes). It made me realize why the pure historicals bother me.

    First let me admit that I really dislike history via video. Documentaries, movies, TV shows, what have you, they really put me off. If I get exposed to one and have any interest in the subject, the first thing I do is try to find a book by an author I can check out, with a bibliography and footnotes I can examine. So hard to check sourcing in video.

    So when Doctor Who does a historical like Vincent and the Doctor or even Robot of Sherwood, I can either accept it as entertainment, or do some research as above. But the entertainment part is easier than with a “pure” historical, with no aliens, no other time travelers, etc.

    As Tennant, Moffat and others have said (yes I’ll get citations if you want them), Doctor Who has the most amazing premise, best ever in TV. The Doctor can go anywhere, to anytime, and meet anyone. In the hands of a master, you get stories as extraordinary as Blink or Heaven Sent; in slightly lesser hands, you get Flatline or Father’s Day or Fires of Pompeii. And a host of others.

    Can other TV shows do the same? Nope. Whether it’s the aliens, the time travel, or Time Lord tech, Doctor Who always has something extra, something the Star Treks and Quantum Leaps and so on don’t.

    But with a pure historical, well, let’s consider. Yes, the Doctor can go anywhere, but only Earth; anytime, but only the human part of history, and pretty much has to stay put once there. She or he can meet anyone, but only humans of that era.

    Can other TV shows do that? Well, yes, and quite a few have. Doctor Who no longer has something extra. From extraordinary to ordinary.

    So, it’s not that pure historicals are in any way bad. It’s not that those are stories that the show shouldn’t tell.

    It’s that those are stories any number of other shows can tell. I know some of you like them, and you aren’t wrong to do so. It’s just, to me, this is Doctor Who not trying to follow its own exceptional premise. Not trying to reach its potential, so to speak.

    Again, for me, it’s as if the Doctor had run from Gallifrey by going back in history, abandoning the TARDIS, and leading an ordinary life.

  34. @miapatrick  What if the consequences of Kerblam! are the re-introduction of wage slavery for the masses, solving short term social and unemployment issues but preventing perhaps an alternative solution . . . [The show] is making everyone think about situations that can’t be solved with superpowers, but rather attention, compassion, and decency, and sometimes situations that can’t be solved at all, not straight away . . . 

    Yes; I think that’s exactly the argument for the idea that grand or large-scale interventions should be left to the people whose problem the problem is, not imposed by an outsider (no matter how wise or fair) who then leaves them to deal with the fall-out, whatever that turns out to be, *without* any super-powers; and then there’s concurrent problem of the temptations of megalomania, which Moffat played with.  Moffat demonstrated the perils of being a rebel Time Lord (rebelling against TL non-interventionist rules) to the rebel Time Lord himself; the romance of heroic adventure vs. the corrupting power of — well, power.

    So it makes sense for CC to do *this* instead — fewer heroics on a smaller scale, more patience, more acceptance of things working themselves out, as they must and will, one way or another.  That does look like what we’re looking at — a position that I expect to see challenged sharply by the actions of opponents like the Stenza.

    @kevinwho  . . . about the Doctor being a bit “flat” (which is something my sweetie has also said after a couple of recent episodes).

    I think a lot of Moffat-admirers are feeling this way — for me, now it’s as if I’m seeing live-action Doctor Who comic books, instead of the rich visual “literature” that TV can be when it’s really good.

    Yes, the Doctor can go anywhere, but only Earth; anytime, but only the human part of history, and pretty much has to stay put once there. She or he can meet anyone, but only humans of that era.

    But are any of the historicals purely historical?  Just the presence of the Doctor, and the TARDIS, opens everything up to all possibilities, even though the SFnal additions (the “monster” in “Vincent” is a good example) can be poorly integrated and feel like an add-on, because it’s really hard to handle both the historical situation and what’s interesting about that and the alien invasion or whatever and what’s interesting about that equally well.  It’s a tough balancing act, and often unsuccessful.

    So you feel that it’s as if the Doctor had run from Gallifrey by going back in history, abandoning the TARDIS, and leading an ordinary life. 

    Maybe that’s part of it — the flatness of her character that some of us are uncomfortable with.  I’d like to put it this way: that this Doctor is deliberately working on a smaller, more carefully contained scale than we’re used to seeing; not saving the universe, no armies of Cybermen, just a smart traveler pausing to “stop the monsters”, one by one.  She’s not Wonder Woman, nor setting out to become her.  This is the Doctor operating on what you could call a domestic scale.  And just look at that word, “domestic”, and think of the ideological freight it carries!

    The Doctor is now female — and this Doctor is doing maintenance and repair work, around the universe and forward and backwards in Time.  So, is she “reduced” by this reduced scale?  Or is this Doctor elevating domestic work and concerns to primacy by taking on those smaller things rather than planet-sized monsters and dragon egg moons?

    Knowing that Whittaker is a feminist, and speaking as a feminist myself, I’ll call it validation and valorization (in a modest but firm way) of the domestic, “ordinary” scale, and an argument for the position that when women enter traditional men’s space (action!  Pow-waah!  Saving the day!), they do so most valuably and effectively if they deliberately bring the domestic scale with them and use it to improve the space they’re in, rather than adopting “power suits” and the ruthlessness that men get rewarded for in those spaces, in order to compete for success according to men’s rules.  Which is, of course, what powerful (and would-be powerful) males push back against hardest, so, easier said than done.

    One aspect of that domestic scale is something that CC is good at — a small group of people working together, rather than a bigger-than-life hero with a clever/comic/admiring sidekick — so it’s no wonder that he’s got some good things going among this companion crew.  But maybe that’s bound to dissipate the charge and the multi-dimensionality of the previous style of Doctor, and so she can come across to us as — a bit . . . flat.  Trade-offs like that work for some people, not for others — and of course, it’s DW, so it can, and will, change . . .

     

     

  35. @ichabod – Those are good points.

    …grand or large-scale interventions should be left to the people whose problem the problem is, not imposed by an outsider (no matter how wise or fair)…

    …this Doctor is deliberately working on a smaller, more carefully contained scale than we’re used to seeing; not saving the universe…

    Being from the USA, this is probably hitting me extra-hard.  No, the USA has never been as wise or fair as we wanted to think it was, nor did we save the world, we just helped.  But right now, as we, in my opinion, cease doing what made America great internationally…well, I don’t like seeing the Doctor do so as well.  Even if her reasons make sense.

  36. @kevinwho  No, the USA has never been as wise or fair as we wanted to think it was, nor did we save the world, we just helped.  But right now, as we, in my opinion, cease doing what made America great internationally…well, I don’t like seeing the Doctor do so as well

    We *tried* to “help”, and sometimes we actually did (the Marshal Plan, for example); but all the while, there were elements of the US Military Industrial Complex working at cross-purposes to our ideals, for private profit and private power — the obvious recent example being the second invasion of Iraq, under W/Cheney.  Given the enormous power to plunder, kill, poison, and obliterate infrastructure (and social structures as well) wielded by the US (with, sometimes, its allies), and the morons now in charge of that power, it’s probably better for all concerned for the US to *not* be such a big presence internationally, and more of a sullen, resentful outsider trying to disengage as much as possible, presumably with a view toward coming back harder and meaner and re-taking some sort of control of the world by economic or other force — which is what I see as the GOP/Trumpster goal.

    But I do know what you mean, I think, about the Doctor pulling back to a smaller, less ambitious and also intrusive scale of operations.  It feels — sad, for all the cheerfulness she shows; like a defeat of everything that’s lost with the Doctorly bravura, impetuosity, passion (sometimes wrong-headed), and more introspective qualities that I, at least, have come to love in the character.  It’s much more than that, clearly — there are positive gains here.  But the losses hurt.

  37. @ichabod

    But I do know what you mean, I think, about the Doctor pulling back to a smaller, less ambitious and also intrusive scale of operations. It feels — sad, for all the cheerfulness she shows; like a defeat of everything that’s lost with the Doctorly bravura, impetuosity, passion (sometimes wrong-headed), and more introspective qualities that I, at least, have come to love in the character. It’s much more than that, clearly — there are positive gains here. But the losses hurt.

    Yes.  You’ve hit on it exactly.

    My only hope is this is all part of the plan, that things will scale up later along with the Doctor’s involvement, and there will be redemption for all she’s temporarily given up.  That would be, to use 9’s favorite word, fantastic.

  38. @kevinwho  My only hope is this is all part of the plan, that things will scale up later along with the Doctor’s involvement, and there will be redemption for all she’s temporarily given up.  That would be, to use 9’s favorite word, fantastic.

    Well, you know the Doctor — always changing!  And once a newer, younger viewership has been cemented in, I think the new DW crew will need to stretch their wings a bit more and fly higher.  Or not.  We’ll see!  I assumed that something along current lines was in the offing, in search of that newer, younger viewership, but I didn’t really understand how tough it was going to be for some of us.  But we got past a 15 year hiatus; I think we can handle this, long enough at any rate to see some, er, deeper breaths taken later on.

    Meantime, I’m reverting to more of a “casual viewer” position, in self-defense, for whatever the duration turns out to be.

  39.  

    @bluesqueakpip well thought out, and I feel you nailed it

    @ Margaret-Blaine I never thought of “accentism”…to the American ear, it’s all Brit (and fun)… but we have the same thing with certain regional accents or styles of speech creating instant assumptions about the level of education etc of the speaker. I personally think Tosin Cole is fabulous… his character is understated, a rather familiar type around here. I also adore the Doctor’s (Yorkshire?) accent.

    @JimTheFish …still laughing at broflake….

     

  40. @swordwhale

    Ah , ooh, I think we pressed “post” at the same time. Mine has vanisho: considering my rather long post is probably best left as ‘sailing in the discontinuity of physic chaos”  😀

    Puro and Thane

    Thane: I blame YOU. You broke the internet-y thing.

    I will add though that Cole is terrific and we did have a newbie who said “he’s rubbish” which upset me more than anything. Not sure why. Mean, random comments hurt?

  41. @originalfan63

    are the very poor scripts that want to manipulate our social conscience.

    This is a tad odd. An original fan would be aware of the massive social conscience elements that ‘infiltrated’ early or BG Who at every juncture.

    So it sounds suspiciously like someone doesn’t like people standing against the would -be it the would-be-president in Arachnids or the segregationists in Rosa or not caring, possibly, about British history in and around Yaz’ ancestry…

  42. Its not the subject matter, its the achingly dull dialogue.This Doctor is just so very boring and disappointing.

    I will not be watching anymore episodes.

  43. I’ve been enjoying the discussion, while shouting BEST DOCTOR WHO EVER!!!, and admitting to only recently being able to actually watch on a regular basis (I’ve been aware of the show for eons, watched random episodes with friends, own The Scarf, but with Capaldi could watch on Amazon regularly). Good to see the various perspectives of Ancient Fandom.
    I feel like the reaction of many fans is rather like the reaction my old mustang mare had to anything she did not know personally yet…

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