Thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”

Years ago, a little more than a decade now, EB Games put me and thirty-odd other managers through a pilot management training program. Our instructor was a man by the name of Harry Friedman. He had created a sales management training program, and EB wanted to see if it would work for the company. I remember something he said in one of the seminars, and it’s stuck with me all these years. He was talking about hiring employees, but I realized that what he said applied just as well to creative endeavors:

You can polish crap, but at the end of the day it’s still crap.

That piece of wisdom came back to me as I was walking down Baltimore Street yesterday afternoon. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society was holding a screening of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Doctor Who 50th-anniversary special, and I’d gone. I took the train in from Hunt Valley, then caught a bus, which though it was the right bus went out of service far from my destination, and then I walked the remaining distance, probably twenty-five blocks, because it was easier. Upon leaving, I decided not to fool with the busses at all, and I walked straight into downtown and picked up the light rail there. That left me a great deal of time, alone with my thoughts, to reflect on “The Day of the Doctor.” And that brought me back to, “You can polish crap, but at the end of the day it’s still crap.”

In the moment, I loved it. When I thought about it, I didn’t.

There’s something about Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who that makes it well suited to a communal experience — I’ve experienced that twice in my life now, the first time at the “Asylum of the Daleks” screening in New York — but that wasn’t why I loved it in the moment. It hit all sorts of fun buttons and ran off an hit more fun buttons before I could stop an think about the buttons it had just hit. And the crowd, who was giving emotional feedback as things were unfolding on screen, reinforced the feeling of fun.

Then, as I walked into the city and the sun fell behind the skyscrapers downtown, I started to think about what I’d seen. Some of it I liked. Some of it I thought was really clever. And some of it didn’t make any sense at all. I was forced, once again, to confront the reality that, like Brannon Braga’s Star Trek: Voyager work, Steven Moffat writes popcorn that is best consumed with the brain turned off.

The cleverest thing about “The Day of the Doctor,” the thing I think Moffat deserves great credit for, is the way he wrote the RTD era, not by rewriting the text but by rewriting the assumptions that underlay that text. We’ve known for eight years that the Doctor ended the Time War, that he used the Moment and locked Gallifrey in a Time Lock, and he destroyed both the Time Lords and the invading Daleks. What we learned yesterday is that that’s not precisely true. The Doctor had the Moment, the Doctor intended to use it, but he found a different and very unexpected solution, one that produced the result that the Doctor has believed to be true for 400 years, but wasn’t what actually happened. The Doctor is at last absolved of the guilt he has carried for centuries (and that has overhung Doctor Who since its return in 2005) for that final, genocidal act against his own people because he saved them, essentially, in the Bottle City of Kandor. In true Marvel Comics fashion, “Everything you thought you knew about the RTD-era was wrong!”

Not quite as clever, but still very interesting, was the role that Billie Piper played. Piper, as I imagine everyone knows, was Rose in the first two seasons of the relaunched Doctor Who, and she was an integral part of the series’ success. Russell T. Davies realized, rightly, that television audiences in the 21st-century needed more out of an audience identification character than Doctor Who had done in the original run of the series, and thus she was a fully realized character in her own right, and the stories had as much to do with her as they did with the Doctor. The Piper that appeared in “The Day of the Doctor” was not Rose. The promo pictures for the special showed Piper in tattered clothing, suggesting a post-apocalyptic setting. For some reason, I thought she might be an avatar of Bad Wolf, the temporal energy that possessed Rose at the climax of the first season in “The Parting of the Ways.” I’m a little muddled about who she was; she’s the sentient interface of the Moment (the ultimate Gallifreyan weapon), but John Hurt’s Doctor also calls her Bad Wolf. Perhaps she was both — time itself as a weapon. She plays an intriguing role in the story, conscience and muse to a Doctor who has seen great horrors, even participated in them, who has had enough and wants to end it. And she gives him the gift of seeing who he will become if he goes through with his plan, and he gets to see how his own conscience will weigh upon him. She is, in a way, the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The thing I was most intrigued by was John Hurt’s Doctor. We learned at the end of “The Name of the Doctor” that the Doctor had an incarnation who was unworthy of the name “the Doctor.” “What I did, I did without choice, in the name of peace and sanity,” he told the eleventh Doctor in the dreamscape of his timeline, who retorted “But not in the name of the Doctor.” We learned recently in “The Night of the Doctor” that Hurt’s Doctor was the successor to Paul McGann’s Doctor and the Doctor who fought the Time War. Now, in “The Day of the Doctor,” we saw that Hurt’s Doctor desired to end the war — and himself — after centuries of life. I’ve long wanted to see John Hurt as the Doctor, so the revelation that he would be a heretofore unknown incarnation of the Doctor was a delight. I was curious to see how the episode would deal with a Doctor who had been forced by circumstance to do dark things “not in the name of the Doctor.” I don’t know that “The Day of the Doctor” entirely succeeded there. Oh, Hurt was a delight (and I imagine that he was the Doctor’s Merlin incarnation), but I didn’t feel that he was any darker than any previous Doctor. For that matter, I’m not sure why Hurt was strictly necessary as a forgotten incarnation of the Doctor; the role could have been filled with McGann or Christopher Eccleston. There’s always been a bastard lurking beneath the Doctor’s surface, and I wanted to see a Doctor who had had centuries of being an unremitting bastard and what that would do to him. What we got was a tired Doctor who hadn’t yet done the thing that his successors had blamed him for and made him unworthy of the name “Doctor.” In that sense, Hurt’s Doctor didn’t quite work. In retrospect, Hurt’s appearance feels very much like an excuse for stunt casting a name actor as the Doctor.

Another Doctor that didn’t quite work for me, though for different reasons, was David Tennant. At the beginning of the year, when it wasn’t clear who was going to be in the fiftieth anniversary special, I remember some friends making impassioned arguments why Tennant shouldn’t be involved. I don’t remember the arguments posed, alas, but I remember my response. I did want to see Tennant return, because he would have to play a new facet to his character. For once, Tennant’s Doctor wouldn’t be the smartest, cleverest man in the room because there would be a Doctor who knew more, experienced more, lived longer, and, most importantly, remembered this. We would see a new side to Tennant’s Doctor as, for once, he was in someone else’s adventure. We didn’t get that. What we did get was a character who had no narrative purpose at all except to get the MacGuffin plot going. Don’t get me wrong, Tennant had a lovely rapport with Matt Smith and I was thrilled to see it, but there wasn’t a scene where I felt Tennant was essential. Again, I thought there was going to be a payoff when, in the shack, he hears Hurt say “Bad Wolf” and he would have second thoughts about the plan that Hurt and Smith were coming up with, that he might believe this was a trick, but no, there’s no payoff to Tennant’s appearance at all. Tennant’s Doctor was superfluous to needs. The story would have functioned without him with minimal rewriting.

As for the MacGuffin, that would be the Zygon plot. In the 1560s, the Zygons have impersonated Queen Elizabeth I and have some sort of secret lair beneath the Tower of London. In the 2020s, paintings that aren’t actually paintings explode in the National Portrait Gallery, and from those paintings emerge Zygons. The whole purpose of this plot is to introduce the concept of the stasis paintings and to bring Smith and Tennant together, but once that is done Moffat loses complete interest in the Zygons. Was their lair destroyed in the 1560s? Were they definitively stopped in the 2020s? We have no idea. There was a point, when the Tennant and Smith Doctors have tricked the humans and Zygons into negotiating a peace treaty that I had an “Oh, damn!” moment — neither knew who was human and who was Zygon in human form, so when the Zygon handed her human counterpart the inhaler she needed two of the people in the room knew who they really were — but there was no payoff to that. This is a typical Moffat problem; he sets up a Plot MacGuffin, and then dispenses with it when it no longer serves his purpose.

The climax is puzzling. On the one hand, it suggests that the Doctor has always known that the Time War would happen as all thirteen Doctors — William Hartnell to Peter Capaldi — arrive to save Gallifrey. At some point during Hartnell’s time, he began a calculation in the TARDIS that didn’t complete until Smith’s or Capaldi’s incarnations, a calcuation that would place Gallifrey within a Zygon stasis painting. On the other hand, it states that the two past Doctors most involved, Hurt and Tennant, won’t remember (Hurt, because he regenerates immemdiately into Eccleston) or will remember only fuzzily (Tennant, because we see that Smith does fuzzily remember some of this). At least Hurt’s Doctor regenerated, absolved of the guilt of what he was about to do, no longer the mass-murderer of billions of innocents as he had planned, yet for four hundred years three Doctors will continue to think of themselves as the nightmare that never happened.

In the moment, all of those things that bother me now worked. I enjoyed seeing Tennant slip back into his Converse trainers and make ridiculously over-the-top and overly dramatic speeches. I was moved by John Hurt’s plight, especially when the Moment brought the tenth and eleventh Doctors to the shack as he was about to press the Big Red Button and end it all and they weren’t about to let him do it alone. In private, I might’ve squealed as past and future Doctors rushed to Gallifrey’s rescue or when the Curator (who, by the way, appears in Amelia Williams’ novel Summer Falls) appeared at the end to discuss the painting known variously as “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls” with Smith’s Doctor.

By the way, the Curator? I think he’s exactly who he appeared to be on screen. I don’t know how. I don’t care how. Magic suffices.

It’s in retrospect, when I don’t need to keep up with the story’s forward momentum and can think about what it’s doing and why, that I begin to dislike “The Day of the Doctor.” It was pretty to look at, generally well-made, and very much less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s not polished crap. Maybe it’s just a flawed piece of work. It wasn’t very deep, it wasn’t quite an anniversary special — it was the culmination of the last eight years, not the last fifty — but in the moment “The Day of the Doctor” was fun. It was popcorn.

And in the right time and place, popcorn sufficed.

The Year of Two Doctors

The Radio Times had a curious article this morning. As we know, Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who at Christmas, to be replaced by Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It). It turns out that Smith had a plan to continue with the series, and it turns out Steven Moffat said no.

Matt Smith had worked out a series that starred him and David Tennant.

Said Moffat: “Matt told me that he’d worked out this plan that they’d both continue in Doctor Who: do five individual episodes each and three together — would that be ok? It was a nice plan. I think if I’d said yes they’d have gone for it.”

Two Doctors, in a single series! My god, this could have been brilliant!

When “The Name of the Doctor” aired this summer, the BBC released a video of Matt Smith and David Tennant together on the set of the anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” and the two actors had such chemistry and rapport that I immediately wanted an entire series with the two Doctors teaming up.

Obviously, that mad dream of mine wasn’t what Matt Smith had in mind.

His structure for the season makes a lot of sense, though — five solo episodes for each Doctor, plus three team-up episodes, especially from a production standpoint. A plan like this would have limited the filming so each could have pursued other projects; we’re talking five filming blocks each for Tennant and Smith instead of the usual seven. It would basically be taking the “Doctor-lite” concept (where an episode is shot at the same time as another that doesn’t need the main cast) to an extreme.

In terms of narrative, I’d imagine a team-up episode would kick off the season, perhaps introducing a “Key to Time”-like threat that the eleventh Doctor knows he can’t handle on his own, so he calls in his tenth incarnation and they split up, each doing what they can. Throughout the season there could have been cameos (filmed in later filming blocks) as the Doctors check in on each other (because the audience would want to see the two Doctors together as much as and as often as possible). Finally, there would the two-part season finale where the two Doctors have to work together directly to deal with the threat. This could also be very timey-wimey, as the eleventh Doctor would remember the tenth Doctor’s adventures in this larger adventure, unless the eleventh Doctor doesn’t and that becomes a plot point.

This would have been a very new concept for Doctor Who, though one of Johnny Byrne’s Doctor Who film scripts from the 1980s had two Doctors, with the younger and more inexperienced Doctor acting, for all intents and purposes, as the older Doctor’s companion. It would have been a very unique concept, the kind of thing that only Doctor Who could do.

And it would have been fun.

Oh, Moffat, how could you say no? How could you be an implaccable enemy of fun? I know I’ll love Peter Capaldi, but I will now, forever, wonder what “the two Doctors” season would have been like and how much fun it would have been.

On Doctor Who Casting News

The news has broken on casting for November’s Doctor Who anniversary special — in addition to John Hurt, the special will also guest star David Tennant and Billie Piper.

Fandom, naturally, is sharply divided.

There is wailing that there’s no Eccleston from the new series. Classic Doctor Who fans are wailing that the pre-new series Doctors aren’t represented. “Doctor Who is fifty years old! Why is the special limiting itself to the last ten?”

There is wailing that it’s Tennant. “We’ll be treated to hyperactive gurning!”

There is wailing that it’s Piper. “We’ll be inflicted with wubby dubby Wose!”

And I can’t entirely say that any of these wailings are wrong. My immediate reaction to the news this morning was, “Really? No, really? Really?”

You have to remember, I didn’t really want a multi-Doctor story for the anniversary. But if we had to have one, I wanted something that broke the mold.

That said, I’m not opposed to David Tennant and Billie Piper in the anniversary special. And if that’s all the kisses to the past that appear, I believe there will be a reason for it.

Tennant in the special doesn’t bother me.

First, in Steven Moffat’s four scripts for the tenth Doctor (five if you count “Time Crash”), he never wrote Tennant’s Doctor aS the hyperactive caricature of fan memory.

Second, in the anniversary special, Tennant wouldn’t be the lead Doctor, and he would have a new aspect of his character to play — how does he react to his future self? How does he react when he confronted by a situation when he’s not the smartest guy in the room? “Silence in the Library” actually gives us a clue; the tenth Doctor is stupidly thick when it comes to River Song.

Nor does Piper in the special bother me.

First, I don’t think Moffat will make the same mistake Russell T. Davies made in the fourth season where Davies thought that the emotional climax of the season rested with Rose, not Donna. I don’t expect that the climax of the Anniversary Special will revolve around Rose, basically.

Second, look at “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Moffat had no interest in writing the wubby dubby Wose. Hell, it’s even arguable that, based on “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances,” Moffat had no interest in writing for Rose at all.

Thus, I’m not expecting a tenth Doctor/Rose-centric story for the Anniversary Special. They will be in it. They will do things. But sixty minutes is not a lot of time, and he’ll have to keep the incumbent Doctor central.

Moffat’s not stupid. He knows that 2006 is not where the series is today, and the audience today doesn’t want to see a lost episode from that era to replace “Fear Her.”

No, let’s speculate on John Hurt.

Could he be Borusa? The Doctor’s father? A pre-Hartnell Doctor?

Or maybe he’s someone that the Doctor saved as a child from a [Insert Monster Here] in London 1963, and the Doctor has periodically checked in on the child as he grew into adulthood and old age. Though that might be too derivative of Paul Cornell’s short story, “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years,” a charming little story of the tenth Doctor and a boy named Tom.

Enough about the future! There’s new Doctor Who tonight. Let’s focus on that, and stop worrying about a special that’s still eight months away. :h2g2:

On Doctor Who, the Celestis and The Eyeless

While Doctor Who fandom this weekend has been preoccupied with questions of predestination and Amy Pond’s flirtatiousness thanks to “Space” and “Time,” the two Doctor Who mini-episodes produced for Comic Relief while waiting for the season debut in five weeks, I’ve had other Doctor Who thoughts in mind, specifically about a two-year-old Doctor Who novel, thanks to this review of “Space” and “Time” by Stuart Ian Burns.

dw-eyeless-bookAt Christmas 2008, BBC Books published The Eyeless by Lance Parkin. The fan-favorite author of books such as The Dying Days (the first original eighth Doctor novel — and Virgin’s last original Doctor Who novel), The Infinity Doctors, The Gallifrey Chronicles, and Ahistory (a comprehensive chronology to the Doctor Who universe, Parkin’s debut “New Series” novel was highly anticipated. It would be a novel with the Doctor on his own, exploring a mysterious artifact — The Fortress — on a desolate world, while faced with a very dangerous enemy who wants to claim it for their own.

I thought The Eyeless was quite good. I enjoyed reading it. The story flowed. I thought it got a little thin at the end. I kept mentally comparing the book to Steven Moffat’s “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” two-parter from the fourth season (the story that introduced the Doctor’s future wife, River Song). And in some ways, I thought The Eyeless was better than Moffat’s story.

The Eyeless wasn’t perfect, though. I was looking forward to Parkin’s take on the tenth Doctor, and in the end I wasn’t entirely sold on the Doctor’s characterization. The tenth Doctor, who was very much a Tigger-ish character, seemed far too Eeyore in The Eyeless. Yes, I could see him at a dark, somber, and morose point emotionally after “Journey’s End” and the mindwipe of “Donna.” I could even buy the callousness the Doctor shows toward Alsa, one of the characters the Doctor discovers on the desolate planet. But the somberness never felt that it was in reaction to anything. The story that preceeds this story isn’t there to justify the Doctor’s behavior.

In truth, I remember thinking at the time that The Eyeless would have made more sense as a post-Time War/pre-“Rose” ninth Doctor. (Parkin, as I recall dimly from reading the book two years ago, was in the camp that believed that the ninth Doctor did not regenerate immediately prior to “Rose” and that there was a gap of some time between the end of the Time War and the start of “Rose.”) The Eyeless portrays the Doctor cleaning up the mess of a Time War. He’s doing mop-up, because he’s the only person who’s qualified, he’s the only person who can. “Rose,” for instance, is a story of mop-up from the Time War, and it’s not inconceivable that in the decades or centuries after the Time Lock of Gallifrey, the ninth Doctor wandered wandered, cleaning up the mess — the weapons, the refuse — left behind, until the day he met Rose, whereupon he began wandering for an entirely different reason. He was learning how to have fun again.

The tenth Doctor, it always seemed to me, was past that. A mop-up from the Time War doesn’t make sense for him. Something must have led Ten to Acropolis and the Fortress. Something must have put him in this frame of mind. And what that is, I thought, was missing from The Eyeless.

Unless there’s something more complicated going on in The Eyeless than it appears at first glance. That it is about the aftermath of a Time War, but not the Time War everyone familiar with the revived Doctor Who would automatically think of.

dw-eyeless-audioOn Acropolis, an artifact appears suddenly and unexpected one day. It’s the weapon of a combatant in a Time War, and when the weapon emerges it destroys an entire civilzation.

The Fortress. Who built it? Why did they build it?

When reading The Eyeless, I bounced back and forth between the Time Lords and the Daleks, that this was a weapon they put in place to win the Time War, before the Doctor burned Gallifrey and ended the War once and for all. Ultimately, I settled on a Dalek weapon; the Doctor, in a late moment when he’s tempted to use the weapon himself, has the word “exterminate” manifest in his mind.

Except, I wasn’t happy with either choice.

Until a chance glance through Alien Bodies suggested a completely different interpretation of who built the Fortress. And where it came from. And what it was for.

dw-alienbodiesThe Fortress is clearly a Celestis weapon. In Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies, the eighth Doctor and Qixotl (also known as Drax from “The Armageddon Facto”) have a conversation about who the Celestis are — basically, they’re the Celestial Intevention Agency taken to a logical extreme — and how they took themselves out of time. Miles’ The Book of the War expands upon that brief conversation, going so far as to describe the “shadows” that the Celestis create when they took themselves out of time.

This matches with what we see in The Eyeless. The tenth Doctor explains to the council what the Fortress is and how it works in very nearly the same words that Qixotl describes to the eighth Doctor the Celestis and how they removed themselves from time in Alien Bodies. The implication to Alsa is that it’s a Time Lord weapon (when the Doctor and Alsa are talking about the number of alien species, and they come up with different numbers because she’s counting the Fortress as a creation of a different species), which still broadly fits the Celestis, as they are just evolved Time Lords. Further, the “ghosts” inhabiting Acropolis are just like the “shadows” that the Celestis create.

It looks like a Celestis weapon. It acts like a Celestis weapon. It probably is a Celestis weapon.

So, if the Fortress is a Celestis weapon from Lawrence Miles’ Time War, how did it turn up in a universe where that War never, ever happened?

We have Dalek-Caan to thank for that.

Dalek-Caan broke the Time Lock when he rescued Davros. Stars started going out, things began bleeding across the universes and timelines, Rose managed to cross the void. An artifact from a timeline that no longer existed could have “bled through” the walls of reality. An artifact like a Celestis weapon.

Which explains why the Doctor has gone to Acropolis to disable the weapon. He knows it shouldn’t be there. He knows a little of what might have happened, he knows a little of who the Celestis could have been, and that little bit is enough to make him the most qualified person in the universe to disable it. Now that he knows that things are bleeding through from other realities thanks to Dalek-Caan’s machinations, he’s going to have to put things right.

So, that’s my theory. The Fortress is a Celestis weapon, and the tenth Doctor ultimately ends up fighting the last battle of Lawrence Miles’ Time War.

And, to be honest, this whole theory — Dalek-Caan, cracks in the Time Lock, things slipping through from pre-Time War time periods &dmash; serves to explain pretty well how the Doctor ends up in Trevor Baxendale’s Prisoner of the Daleks.

It’s a weird thing to muse on, two years after the book came out, when there are more important and more pressing Doctor Who matters to consider, like who the Silence is, who was the important man River Song killed, and who is River Song, really? But the idea about The Eyeless has always nagged at me, and while I’ve shared it with a few people, I’ve never really shared it publicly.

Chances are, I’m overthinking it, anyway. :)

On Sorting Out the Doctor Who Comics Chronology

Of interest probably only to myself, I’ve been trying to work out a chronology of the Doctor Who comics set between “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time.” From the Doctor’s perspective, in what order did they occur?

Here’s what I’m currently thinking, with television adventures bolded

“Journey’s End”
“The Time of My Life” (Doctor Who Magazine #399)
“The Big, Blue Box” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who Annual 2010)
“Ground Control” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who Annual 2010)
The Forgotten (IDW Publishing mini-series)
“The Time Machination” (IDW Publishing one-shot)
“The Next Doctor”
“Think Twice” (Doctor Who Magazine #400-402)
“The Stockbridge Child” (Doctor Who Magazine #403-405)
“Mortal Beloved” (Doctor Who Magazine #406-407)
“The Age of Ice” (Doctor Who Magazine #408-411)
“The Deep Hereafter” (Doctor Who Magazine #412)
“Onomatopoeia” (Doctor Who Magazine #413)
“Ghosts of the Northern Line” (Doctor Who Magazine #414-415)
“The Crimson Hand” (Doctor Who Magazine #416-420)
“Planet of the Dead”
“Silver Scream” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who #1-2)
“Fugitive” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who #3-6)
“Tesseract” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who #7-8)
“Don’t Step on the Grass” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who #9-12)
“Old Friend” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who Annual 2010)
“Final Sacrifice (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who #13-16)
The Waters of Mars
“Room With a Deja Vu” (IDW Publishing one-shot)
“To Sleep, Perchance to Scream” (IDW Publishing, Doctor Who Annual 2010)
The End of Time, Parts One and Two

There’s very little on this list that’s certain.

“Final Sacrifice” ends with the TARDIS on its way to Bowie Base One, so IDW’s run of Doctor Who comics must go there. And “The Time Machination” has to go at some point before “Final Sacrifice” because of the Torchwood agents.

Putting the Majenta stories between “The Next Doctor” and “Planet of the Dead” is based on nothing more than a gut feeling based on the Doctor’s willingness (or lack thereof) toward taking on a traveling companion in the TARDIS.

“Room with a Deja Vu” I placed near the end because the Doctor seems far more depressed and detached in this story.

The stories from IDW’s Doctor Who Annual 2010 can go anywhere, except for the profoundly moving “Old Friend” which leads directly into “Final Sacrifice.” The first story, “Ground Control,” just goes sometime after “Journey’s End” as there are flashbacks to both Martha and Donna. “The Big, Blue Box” finds the Doctor in an especially pensive mood, and I see that as matching the mood at the end of “The Time of My Life” very well to the point where I could see one leading into the next. “To Sleep, Perchance to Scream” makes sense in the gap between “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” because it shows the Doctor approaching his death (he sees the eleventh Doctor in his mind).

I would place Sarah Jane‘s “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” after “The Waters of Mars.” The solo Doctor novels in 2009 would most likely go between “The Next Doctor” and “Think Twice,” except for Lance Parkin’s The Endless which I would place after “Journey’s End” and before The Forgotten.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, but it makes sense to me. :tardis:

On Counterfactual Doctor Who Musings

Over the weekend, with the world still in the afterglow of “A Study in Pink,” Sherlock‘s debut episode, reports began to surface in The Sun and The Daily Mail that Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch had been offered the role of the Doctor after David Tennant decided to leave.

Really? The Sun? Really? The Daily Mail? Really really? People took this nonsense seriously? It’s the Daily fucking Mail, for fuck’s sake.

The sum entirety of Cumberbatch’s quotation in the Daily Mail article is this: “‘David [Tennant] and I talked about it but I thought it would have to be radically different. And anyway, I didn’t really like the whole package — being on school lunch boxes.” Which is a far cry from what the reporter opens the article with: “Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch has revealed he was offered the role of Doctor Who, but turned it down.” All we have confirmed is one actor talking to another actor about a role, a role that ultimately went to someone else; anything more than that is a stretch, and there’s certainly no indication that Steven Moffat and Piers Wenger approached Cumberbatch in mid-2008 before auditions for the eleventh Doctor began. The Daily Mail‘s article isn’t impossible, but I tend to think that they stretched things a very good ways to get a sensationalistic story.

Journalistic integrity. *sigh*

Thinking about this over the weekend prompted a thought that I’d filed away in the back of my mind for a later day.

Consider the counterfactual where David Tennant decided to do the fifth season of Doctor Who.

We know from page 375 of The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter that on April 16, 2008 Tennant met with Steven Moffat to discuss the fifth season.

Tennant had previously decided that he would leave the series when Russell T. Davies did, and a series of specials after the fourth season was decided upon as their exit. Davies charts in TWT:TFC that in April 2008 Tennant was having a “wibble” — he intended to leave, everyone from outgoing producer Davies to incoming producer Moffat knew he was leaving, but he wasn’t sure. And so, on April 16, Tennant and Moffat met to discuss Moffat’s vision of the series and the season story arc, and according to Tennant he even read a script, “The Time of Angels.”

What if Tennant decided that he wanted to act in the fifth season, instead of just watching it?

(I’m going to leave the specials aside. We would likely have had both “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars” as something very similar to what we got. But on the other hand, the world would have been spared the indignity of “The End of Time.” The existence of “The End of Time” proves Leibniz wrong; we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.)

Would the fifth season — the cracks in space, Amy Pond, River Song, the Big Bang II, all of it — would it have worked with Tennant as the Doctor?

The reason I filed the thought away — as it’s a thought I’ve borne since April — is that, at one point, I would have said “Yes” unreservedly, but as time has worn on I’ve had more… complicated thoughts.

I very much enjoyed Doctor Who this year. It is not flawless by any means, but it was, taken on the whole, very very good. After a few years of Russell T. Davies’ penchant for elevating manipulative emotion at the expense of plot and logic, to have Steven Moffat put together an entire season of episodes that told a large-scale story and gave the observant audience enough clues along the way that they could puzzle out the finale was refreshing (as I did here). Moffat didn’t take his audience for granted, and that was very much appreciated by at least this viewer.

One of my issues with the fifth season was the sense that Moffat wrote the eleventh Doctor like the tenth Doctor. “Matt Smith’s saying Tennant lines,” I remember saying at the office a few weeks into the season. “I’m waiting for a genuine Smith line.” In a way, that was true — Moffat believes, and not incorrectly, that the Doctor is the same person, no matter which body he wears, so of course the Doctor is going to say the same sorts of things in the same sorts of way, no matter which face is saying them this week. Case in point: Moffat’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which I cannot imagine with any other Doctor than David Tennant, was written for Eccleston’s Doctor. Supporting evidence: Tennant read the script of “The Time of Angels,” which ultimately starred Smith. Is it any surprise that the episode where I felt that Smith was uttering dialogue most like Tennant dialogue was “The Time of Angels”? Look at the scene as the Marines enter the cave maze and the Doctor babbles at length; that’s Tennant dialogue, not Smith dialogue. There is nothing in the first five episodes — “The Eleventh Hour” through “Flesh and Stone” — that David Tennant couldn’t have done. Nothing.

But then, once Moffat stopped writing all the episodes, once we reached “The Vampires of Venice,” Matt Smith’s Doctor took on a different tone. The dialogue stopped sounding like recycled Tennant dialogue. “The Lodger,” even though it began life as a Tennant comic strip, was so not-Tennant that I can’t imagine it working with any Doctor other than Smith (except possibly Colin Baker). My fear with “The Pandorica Opens” was that there would be a reversion back to the Tennant-esque Doctor as Moffat was again writing the character, and while the Doctor’s taunting of the starships hovering over Stonehenge was the story’s most Tennant-esque moment, the Doctor’s conversation with Rory in Underhenge — “The universe is big. It is vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things happen and we call them miracles.” — was, at least for me, an anti-Tennant moment, the moment where Smith reached far back into the series’ DNA and pulled out the quintessential Troughton-ness of the Doctor. “The Pandorica Opens” was Smith’s “The Evil of the Daleks” or “The Tomb of the Cybermen” with Rory as Smith’s Jamie. Tennant’s Doctor was old, Smith’s Doctor was ancient.

Something else, too. Tennant would never have been as awkward with River Song as Smith was. She could annoy Tennant, she could confuse Tennant, but she couldn’t fluster him. I cannot imagine Tennant asking “Are you married, River?” with all the gravitas he can muster (Smith drops his voice an octave in that scene), only to have it blow up spectacularly in his face and finding himself without a clue of how to recover.

Also, I can’t imagine Tennant wearing a fez. :h2g2:

On the other hand, it’s pitifully easy to see how easily “The Big Bang” could have been a regeneration story had Tennant stayed for the fifth season — the Doctor pilots the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS and sacrifices his life, resulting in a regeneration that coincides with the “rewind.” Indeed, considering the visions other Doctors had of past adventures and lost companions when they regenerated, I’m convinced that the rewind was intended for a regeneration sequence, with the transformation occurring at roughly the point where the Doctor says, “I think I’ll skip the rest of the rewind. I hate repeats.”

I think Tennant could have done the fifth season, but he would only have been okay with it. The fifth season works as well as it does because it’s a season of desperation. The Doctor’s seeming confidence masks the fact that, just below the surface, things are going very wrong. I bought Smith as desperate. I never bought Tennant’s attempts at desperation such as “The Waters of Mars.”

And the worst thing if Tennant had done the fifth season? There’s no guarantee we’d have had Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor when Tennant left; he might have found other acting work and been unavailable.

I’ve tried to imagine that alternate fifth season, and I think that’s an idea I’ll leave on the shelf. I love what we got. I liked Tennant’s Doctor a lot, but I like what I’ve seen of Smith’s Doctor more. :D

When’s Christmas, again? I need more Doctor Who, and I need it now

On Doctor Who’s “The End of Time”

The trouble with being a writer is that, occasionally, I’ll try and outthink a story as I’m reading it or watching it. Neil Gaiman wrote about this very thing in an introduction to a story or a novel I read a few years ago, that because he’s a storyteller, he knows the tricks and he can peek behind the curtain. Stories don’t often surprise him anymore, and the ones that do are the ones that resonate with him the most. (I suspect it was his introduction to The Swords of Lankhmar where he wrote this, but don’t quote me on that.)

It’s a very Sherlock Holmes thing to do — the writer puts a bunch of puzzle pieces on the table, the story starts to put them together, a rough picture is formed, and… what is the rest going to look like?

I’ve played this game with Grant Morrison’s plan for Batman, and I fear that my idea is more interesting than what DC Comics will do. Or when I theorized about Jack Harkness’ “secret” in Doctor Who‘s third season, even though it’s rather ludicrous. (I’m still fond of that idea, by the way.) Or when I posted my theories on “Journey’s End” and how everything was Rose’s fault and Francine Jones had the Master’s ring. Theories!

Naturally, like millions of Doctor Who fans, I had my theories on where and how the tenth Doctor’s era would end. I thought there would be a reset button. I thought that the narrative perspective of the finale meant that some sort of “switcheroo” would happen in lieu of a regeneration. I even thought, vaguely, that the Doctor might die irrevocably, and that the new Doctor would come from a different — and earlier — point in his personal timeline.

Naturally, I was wrong in everything I thought. No Orwellian retroactive rewrite of history here; I can admit that no, there was no reset, there was a regeneration, there was no permadeath for the Doctor. Everything happened, maybe not in the most interesting of fashions, but also not in the most shocking or mind-blowing of fashions. The finale was pretty much what I expected. It was adequate.

Russell T. Davies had put some interesting pieces on the puzzle. Strange pieces, to be fair. Six billion Masters? Timothy Dalton? A mysterious woman that only Wilf could see? Davies, who had amped up the finale each year — Daleks attacking far-future Earth, Daleks versus Cybermen on present-day Earth, Master conquering present-day Earth, Daleks stealing present-day Earth — surely had some sort of bombast in mind. Something explosive. Something that would blow the doors. What was it all adding up to?

Last night, BBC America showed us what it was adding up to in “The End of Time, Part Two.”

Which, frankly, wasn’t a lot. The ominous narration from Timothy Dalton was replaced by a lengthy flashback sequence. The six billion Masters are solved with a magic handwave. The mysterious woman is never directly explained, though novelist David McIntee explains who she is and leaves no doubt. The plot is thin, and what there is of it is handled largely through long expository conversations, long emotional conversations, David Tennant gritting his teeth and looking angry with his lip curled, Timothy Dalton furrowing his brow and being all shouty, and John Simm ranting. There is a curious stage play quality to the whole thing, despite a few shots of burning planets in the sky and scenes lifted wholesale from Star Wars and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The plot, such as it is, ends, and yet there’s still twenty minutes left to go. This worked for Peter Jackson in The Return of the King, but I’m unconvinced that it ever worked for Russell T. Davies in Doctor Who. In the third season, “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood” ended with a Return of the King-like ending as the Doctor unleashed “the fury of the Time Lord,” and it carried the story on long past its natural ending and, in my opinion, seriously weakened a strong story. And, “Last of the Time Lords” had multiple endings as well, which didn’t drag as badly. The extended sequence of goodbyes is affecting, and there’s a sense to closure to the Doctor getting a chance to say goodbye to the people he’s met in his travels, but it’s also pure fan service to no good end.

The end of David Tennant’s era as the Doctor was a surprisingly subdued affair. The bombast I was expecting, the sense of “I have to top this!” from RTD I feared would be present, these were nowhere to be found. And despite all of Davies’ cageyness in interviews that it might not, we have a regeneration and a new Doctor.

I’ve been occasionally critical of Russell T. Davies over the years, and I’m glad, honestly, to see him leave. I think he sometimes elevates emotion over plot, character over logic, and I’ve thought he could use a strong script editor to say, “Dude, rewrite this, it doesn’t work.” Despite thinking that Davies ended his era on a weak note — I don’t consider any of the stories of the “year of specials” to be anything noteworthy — I have to give him props for bringing Doctor Who back from wilderness and making it not just a show for those of us in our anoraks but making it a show for everyone.

Thank you, Russell T. Davies.

Now, bring on spring. Bring on Steven Moffat. Bring on Matt Smith. And absolutely, positively, bring on Karen Gillan. :)

On Doctor Who and Narrative Perspective

Before this website becomes a Doctor Who-free zone for the week, because I don’t want to think about what I watched on BBC America last night, I wanted to share an observation and insight I’ve had.

For a very long time, going back to the spring, I’ve thought that Russell T. Davies might not show the regeneration from David Tennant to Matt Smith. The reason was the movie rumors, which were growing in intensity at the time. It seemed to me that Davies might not want to write a definitive ending to the tenth Doctor, because leaving the tenth Doctor’s era open-ended would make it easier to tell a big-budget story. I thought Davies would find closure to the tenth Doctor, but he wouldn’t write in a hard ending.

I suggested this very thing, offered these very reasons at a panel at Shore Leave in July, only to have Kathleen David tell me that I was daft. And her reasoning wasn’t wrong — Davies wouldn’t go all this way, and then pull up short and not show a regeneration. I can’t argue with that.

I do, however, stand by something I said at that panel, that “The End of Time” will not measure up to Children of Earth. ;)

I’d largely dismissed the idea of the non-regeneration ending for Davies’ era. The set photos of Smith wearing a tattered Tennant costume are indicative.

But then Davies says, in the midst of a recent interview, something like this: “Though whether there’s a regeneration on its way, or whether we’ve got some final tricks up our sleeves, you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Well, that’s cagey.

And then, watching “The End of Time I” last night, I noticed something.

Timothy Dalton is narrating the story from some point in the future. He already knows how this story — the Doctor, the billions of Masters, Wilf, all of it — will end.

Dalton’s present is the tenth Doctor’s future. No, I don’t mean this in the sense that Dalton is a future Doctor or even the Valeyard. But the narrative framework for “The End of Time” is such that everything we see has already happened. Notice how Dalton describes the Doctor as the Master’s “Saviour.” The Doctor will save the Master. We don’t know what yet, because we don’t have Dalton’s perspective. These events are already fixed. We aren’t seeing them as they unfold. They’re past. Which means that in the present of the story’s narration, the Doctor might well be Matt Smith, not David Tennant.

Thus, we could have a situation where Dalton, in narrating the story in the second part, takes us to an end of the tenth Doctor’s story, not necessarily regeneration but certainly some kind of closure, and then we’re presented at the end the eleventh Doctor as a kind of fait accompli. We would have a narrative ending for Tennant, one that leaves him available for future films but removes him from the television series, and we would have Smith, with an open beginning, much like William Hartnell in “An Unearthly Child” or Christopher Eccleston in “Rose.”

Ideal? No. Possible? Yes. The episode’s narrative conceit makes it possible. Perhaps, even likely.

On Magnificently Mental Musings

As some of you know, I have a theory about where Russell T. Davies, henceforth RTD, is taking Doctor Who before he’s done next week.

My theory is that it involves RTD pressing a Reset Button on his way out the door. The reasons are both narrative and personal. It lets RTD have his spectacle with no consequences. He can make the threat as big as possible, make it as public as possible, things that would change the fabric of society irrevocably, and then returns things to a status quo not unlike the present day, that kids behind the couches can relate to.

However, that theory is not without its consequences. Not necessarily within Doctor Who itself, but certainly for the Doctor Who universe. Because the past few years have shown us that Doctor Who is not alone. There are other shows to consider, like Torchwood and Sarah Jane. It really depends on what kind of reset button RTD presses. Is it a small button, that maybe only undoes a season or two? Or is it a big button that wipes out the entirely of the RTD-era?

RTD is not a writer who does things small. He’s a showman. He loves his spectacle. Naturally, I think RTD would gravitate toward the large reset button. To be more specific, I expect that, when RTD passes the baton to Steven Moffat, the baton is going to be pretty much the same baton that RTD received from Philip Segal not long past the turn of the millennium. I expect that the mythology of the past five years — the Time War, the destruction of Gallifrey, the “lonely god,” Bad Wolf, all of it — will be gone. Erased.

But where does this leave the spin-offs? John Barrowman has been talking recently about another season of Torchwood, while RTD has been trying to walk that back. (I actually cite this as a point in favor of the reset; if history is being reset and the Time War-era timelooped, the Torchwood Institute wouldn’t exist.) Sarah Jane would be relatively unaffected by a reset, but Torchwood would be mortally wounded. To be honest, you could even argue that Jack Harkness wouldn’t have become immortal — if the Daleks didn’t take over the GameStation, if Jack Harkness didn’t fall in battle, if Rose didn’t absorb the Heart of the TARDIS, then Jack Harkness wouldn’t become a fixed point in time. Indeed, Jack Harkness might never have left his life as a trans-temporal grifter behind…


We know that Jack Harkness is a fixed point in time. What, however, does that mean?

Here’s my theory.

Let’s suppose that the history of the past five years (and the history before that) collapses on itself, and that history reverts/reboots to its pre-Time War state. Rose made Jack into a fixed point in time. What if that is something that cannot unhappen? Jack’s not a time lock; he’s not a dam in the time stream. He is, rather, a part of the time stream.

So what happens to Jack? Well, that’s where we go magnificently mental…

Jack becomes an artifact of a timeline that no longer happens. Does Jack retain his memories of that timeline? Does Jack retain the memories of the GameStation, of Torchwood, of traveling with the Doctors, of Owen and Gwen and Tosh and and Ianto and Alice and Stephen. But Jack arriving in Cardiff in the 1880s, Jack working with Torchwood 3 for a century, Jack having a family — these didn’t happen anymore. All of the people he knew in the “old” timeline may exist in the new timeline, but they don’t know him. He’s now a stranger to them. Or in the case of Alice and Stephen, they may never have existed at all.

Talk about something that would fuck with Jack Harkness even more. He’s already lost his grandson. Now he’s lost his entire existence.

All of that said, this sounds way too X-Men. Really. It does. Survivor of a timeline that no longer exists. Yeah, definitely X-Men. :lol:

On “The Waters of Mars”

So I’ve watched last night’s Doctor Who, “The Waters of Mars.”

It’s slickly made. The effects work was especially nice. Graeme Harper acquitted himself well behind the camera. I loved the mention of the Ice Warriors.

I thought it was incredibly boring.

The plot is rather linear. The Doctor arrives at Bowie Base One on Mars (and yes, Virginia, there is life on Mars), has a geek moment, and then announces that he needs to bugger off. The twist, for once, is that the Doctor doesn’t want to get involved. And it’s not like events force him to get involved; they actually don’t. He really is allowed to bugger off, once it’s clear the situation is generally under control and he can’t do anything. But then the Doctor has an attack of conscience, goes a bit mental, resolves the situation, saves the people, and announces that he can do whatever he wants. Then bad things happen. The Doctor buggers off in the TARDIS. The end.

The problem with the episode is that it wants you to think that it’s playing with some interesting ideas, when it really isn’t. It’s trying to look more important than it is. There should be a massive philosophical exploration of destiny and fate versus free-will. The questions that the eighth Doctor and Badar wrestled with over when the Doctor can interfere with history and when he can’t in Lawrence Miles’ Interference are absolutely relevent to this story. Why can the Doctor topple this government, but why can’t the Doctor save that life? “The Waters of Mars” hints at that — yes, the Doctor says he can’t get involved — but there’s no depth to it. It’s so… because the Doctor says it’s so.

No one would try to discern a coherent philosophical system from Doctor Who, though Doctor Who and Philosophy is forthcoming from Open Court Press in 2010, and there’s a website called Doctor Who and Philosophy (which has a not unattractive design) and a Facebook page, too. So, okay, okay, people are trying to discern coherent philosophical systems from Doctor Who.

The point that I’m trying to make, since I went off on that tangent about Doctor Who and philosophy, but not Doctor Who and LEGO, is that there’s a big idea that should be at the heart of the episode — when can the Doctor get involved, and what limits his involvement — except that it’s handled poorly and off-handedly. It should have been the dramatic engine of the episode. Instead, kids at home were probably wondering why the Doctor wasn’t trying to save everyone. Just saying “I can’t be here” isn’t enough. Just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough.

RTD sometimes let the spectacle get in the way of the ideas. There were ideas, but they came too late, and the groundwork for the change in the Doctor’s personna from geek to god wasn’t established well enough before it happened. In this episode, anyway. One could argue that this — the monster in geek’s clothing — has always been a part of the tenth Doctor’s characterization, from his toppling of Harriet Jones’ government to his genocide against the Racnoss to his cruelty toward the Family of Blood.

I was bored with “The Waters of Mars.” I wasn’t engaged by it.

Yet, I’m still looking forward to Christmas and the regeneration. It’s the event that RTD has been building toward, as should be fairly clear by now, for his entire tenure as Doctor Who‘s producer. I like novelist Jon Blum’s ideas on where this may go.

Personally, I think RTD has been heading for a Reset Button, and I’ve thought this as far back as the third season. RTD is passing on the box of Doctor Who toys, and there’s one toy that he took out of the box and hasn’t used — Gallifrey and the Time Lords. It’s not RTD’s toy to take out of the box permanently, though; it was in the box when RTD received the box of toys from Philip Segal, and it was in the box of toys when Segal received them from John Nathan-Turner. For Steven Moffat to have the same box of toys to play with that he had, RTD has to put the Gallifrey/Time Lord toy back into the box. Maybe it will be overt, maybe it will be subtle (like The Gallifrey Chronicles, come to think of it), but the toy will go back in, and Moffat will inherit a toy box with all its toys intact. :tardis: