...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Day 3919: DOCTOR WHO: Closing Time


"A BABY ELEPHANT needs two GAY DADDIES who LOVE each other!"

Hooray! Hooray! Mr Gareth Roberts once again uses ME as inspiration for Dr Woo!

(Having previously had me as a PUB in "The Shakespeare Code"!)

Sorry Mr Gatiss, but Mr Gareth gets MY VOTE for next showrunner!

I wonder if he could be persuaded that Dr Woo should be a fluffy elephant…

While I brush up my photo for SPOTLIGHT, here is Daddy Richard's latest review.

Well, with that cliff-hanger, and Moffat's history, it's certainly not going to be River Song in the astronaut suit shooting the Doctor.

No doubt much of the shenanigans in "The Wedding of River Snog" will be about getting her out of and whoever else it is into that spacesuit in time for a…

"…this is where it gets complicated!"


(My money, if you ask, is currently on the Doctor himself)

It was nice, though, wasn't it, of Gareth Roberts to write a forty-minute show just so that Moffat could have the last five minutes for a teaser for next week's season finale.

I do have to say special kudos to the director for the way that Francis Barber's Madame Kovarian appears, Cheshire-Cat-like, out of the shadows of whatever space-library River is studying in. First her mocking voice reciting the creepy nursery rhyme that Mark Gatiss wrote for "Night Terrors"; then just her pale pale face and wicked grin; then her slinky leather catsuit; and finally she steps forward into the light, just as the Silence materialise in similar style out of the darkness behind River.

And Alex Kingston is particularly good at doing the "oh my god! The Silence! What are they… [forgets] What are you talking about?" look.

As plots go, it does seem bafflingly over-complicated, though:

the Silence kidnap Amy from Twenty-First century Earth to Demon's Run in the Fifty-Second century in order to give birth to Melody…

…who they then take back to the Nineteen-Sixties and organise the entire Apollo programme to manufacture the spacesuit for her even though they must have access to fracking time travel technology and can just get one from anywhere in the future…

…and then they let little Mels escape to the Nineteen-Nineties to go and become young Amy's best friend and grow up together…

…so that at the first second (having inexplicably skipped Amy's wedding) opportunity she can hijack the TARDIS at gunpoint and make the Doctor take them to the Nineteen-Forties when she tries to kill him and then, for no adequately explored reason, changes her mind and saves him…

…after which he equally inexplicably dumps her (even more inexplicably is allowed to dump her by Amy and Rory) in some future time zone – although almost certainly, since she knows Dorium who dies at Demon's Run, not later than her own date of birth, so not strictly her native time either – where she becomes a student and eventually doctor of archaeology…

…and only at that point do the Silence drop by again with her old spacesuit and, we conclude, take her back to the Nineteen-Sixties again in order to have her kill the Doctor. Again.

Is Madam Kovarian is trying to outsmart Moffat himself, perhaps?

And why is the astronaut called "impossible" when, frankly, the whole plan is that the Silence have organised the space race so that 1969 is the earliest time that it would be "possible"?

Is it because River's head appears to be too large for the helmet in the CGI inset at the end? Or is that a cheap shot?

All this and no doubt much less will be made clear in the last episode of the series.

But, just as in "The God Complex", Moffat appears unable to tell his big story arc without intruding into other people's stories in blatant rather than subtle ways.

The fact that this story is very much about the Doctor having decided to go to face his death (or at least to go and try and cheat his way out of it) should be subtle enough a reference to the story arc without needing to have the Eye-Patch Lady almost literally making a song and dance about it.

Anyway, in the meantime we have a story that can't in all fairness be called a "Cyberman story" but one that does have Cybermen in it.

In a way, the Cybermen are completely appropriate for this adventure because, let's face it, they're a bit tired and past it.

Ironically, that has almost been their defining characteristic since they were introduced. The Cybermen of Mondas, who we first met in "The Tenth Planet", were always the living dead who had stuck around way past their sell-by date. And after their planet blew up, they were most often depicted as infiltrators and saboteurs, skulking around the Solar System hoping to infiltrate the sort of big space bases or space stations that the Sixties just knew were the future.

But as a metaphor, of course, they evolved as quickly as their appearance, from a paranoia about spare part surgery into Doctor Who's space commies – a, perhaps, necessary parallel to the Dalek space Nazis – the emotionless "other" seeking to undermine "our way of life" and turn us into them.

Maybe that's why the series since 2005 has found it so hard to use them effectively. With the fading of the Cold War, the collapse of communist Russia and the realignment of Red China as a sort of capitalist dictatorship, their underlying frisson has lost its edge.

Where the Daleks' representation of hate, bigotry, xenophobia and outright war remains an ever mutable but relevant threat, we no longer have quite the same existential fear of the communist infiltrator.

The nearest modern equivalent – if they even exist – is the home grown terrorist and they don't pose the same threat to our sense of self. Not least because they – be they separatist, or neo-Nazi, or religionist – self-define as other. So the terrorist bombers want to harm but not subsume us.

That was the quintessential threat of the Cybermen, and it's so odd how, in this age of individualism, that the loss of self has not been at the forefront of the Cyber stories, which have instead concentrated on the visceral, physical intrusion of – to put it crudely – having your brain scooped out and stuck in a tin can.

Really you have to blame Russell for this, because "Rise of the Cybermen" ought to have been a morality tale about consumer immortality, buying upgrades and "apps" for our physical bodies, but chickened out and muffed it. He almost pulled it back by having them be a metaphor for industrialisation or mechanisation in "The Next Doctor". But then there was that hilariously silly Cyberking.

So the new series stories have ended up trading on the Cybermen as iconic just because they are iconic.

Moffat has, actually, been even more guilty of this than Russell: having them turn up to fill out the crowd scenes in "The Pandorica Opens" (even though there shouldn't be any Cybermen – Mondasian or Cybus version – left in the universe by that point) and then having a whole legion of the beggars standing around waiting to be blown to bits by Rory in "A Good Man Goes to War" because, hey, if you want a big Star-Wars-y pre-credits explosion you better have someone baddass to blow up. Baddass and completely disposable.

(Though to be fair, the Cyberhead chasing Amy in "Pandorica" went a long way towards understanding what made them scary again.)

All of which is coming round to say that it is almost traditional that a Cybermen story won't be a very good story for the Cybermen.

And that Gareth is hanging a particularly shiny lamp on it by having them invade a shopping centre, of all places.

They invade a shopping centre because it's built on top of the crashed Cybership and that is just typical of the Cybermen's usual modus operandi. Just check out the "Doctor Who The Adventure Games" computer game "Blood of the Cybermen", out of which Gareth may be explicitly taking the piss. (Blood? Blood??!)

Given that the Cybus Cybermen didn't appear to use spaceships – just marching between dimensions, like you do – I suppose we can guess that these guys are leftover Mondasian/Telosian – i.e. native to our universe – Cybermen. Which means that their spaceship could have crashed during "The Invasion" (1970s ish) "The Tenth Planet" (1980s ish) or "Silver Nemesis" (1988, naturally) all of which see Cyberfleets destroyed in orbit – you see, they're always doing that sort of thing. Or they could be time travellers.

But if there's one thing about the Cyber-conversion process, it's that it really ought not to be very reversible. I can fully appreciate Gareth's desire for that "they're not really going to do that…" moment, but the price is letting Craig out of the Cybercontroller suit…

Yes, yes, it is a fat Controller, as per "Attack of the Cybermen"

…meaning that that fantastic sequence from "Pandorica" is now reduced to the amazing ziplock Cyberhead. Sigh.

And really, it could have been avoided. There are only a couple of things: one line of "begin full conversion" and a use of that whooshing/slicing knives sound effect they use to indicate the Cybbus scoop-and-serve Cyber-conversion. Drop those, and you could handwave about these Cybermen just having to connect up a controller to the brain machine because they're out of bits.

Does satirising the way that a classic monster has been undermined really justify further undermining them?

There isn't really even a cursory attempt to contrast the emotionlessness of the Cybermen with the emotional content of the story that Gareth is actually telling.

The crux of this story is that blokes don't listen to each other enough.

This is most obviously expressed when Craig (and baby) falls asleep on the sofa while the Doctor is delivering his deep and meaningful confession that he expects to die. But significantly, the Doctor does not listen to Craig either.

Because what Craig is saying is important, probably the most important thing and it's repeated in many different way throughout the story. In fact, it's so heavily stressed that it is almost as though Gareth is making his own case in reply to Moffat's thesis, as laid out in "A Good Man Goes to War" that the Doctor is distorting all of history, that his legend is too much, too powerful.

And what Craig says is this:

"It's not your fault, Doctor. You do good. "

The Doctor appears to have developed a death wish (again – see also Christopher Eccleston) this time based on the way that people around him have died or been left with shattered lives: Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy and above all Melody.

But Craig is right: people are safer stood next to the Doctor, safer under the eruption than waiting to get hit by the consequences.

And it's not like they don't have a choice.

"Offer a child a suitcase of sweets and they'll take it," says the Doctor in "The God Complex", even as Rita is telling him he's got a God complex; "offer someone the universe and they'll take that too."

Well, who's to say they wouldn't be right to? Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy and Melody: not a one of them would give up a second of what they gained by stepping into your mad old blue box. Not one second. All of time and space? Every star and every planet? Of course it's worth it. Of course it is.

In this equation, Doctor, we are all children. The TARDIS offered you all of time and space when she stole a Time Lord and ran away. And you took it.

But in the meantime, there's a lot of hilarity to be had with the bromance/gay agenda. The Doctor has a couple more nice fallible moments (he gets the shop lift working but hasn't worked out where the Cybermen are concealing the teleport; he assumes the ship is up in space when in fact it is buried down underground). And there is much fun with the return of the Cybermat.

It's a nice Cybermat too. Cute and then horrific. Though I notice they shy away from the suggestion – I think it's from "Bernice Summerfield: The Crystal of Kantos" – that the Cybermen make Cybermats out of humans that are too small for full conversion. I guess suggesting that the Cybermat had been someone else's baby was a bit too near the knuckle. Besides, its teeth are too big.

There were some nice turns from the guest cast. Jolly decent of Daisy Haggard to agree to do just two scenes, bookending the piece, and she was lovely in both. And all the staff in the store were lovely little character pieces, though I admit to sharing the slight disquiet that both Shona and George – the two black characters – got killed and cyber-converted and killed again at the end.

Special praise though to the wonderful Lynda Barron, lovely to see her in the show again too, as the sweet Val, with her noticing and her wonderful misconception of the "relationship" between the Doctor and Craig.

And then there was the cameo from Amy and Rory. Which was a shame. I mean lovely to see them, but the series couldn't even maintain the fiction that they'd left for just one week. Russell, if he'd still been in charge, when he had money to burn, of course, would have even changed the title sequence to Matt Smith and James Corden.

Though oddly, for me, this was the only thing to suggest a passage of time in the years rather than months. For Amy to have named the fragrance and come up with the advertising tag line, which she obviously has, then clearly a fragrance house has asked her to put her name/face to a product – like Kate Moss, Elizabeth Taylor or ahem Thierry Mugler (at which point I must declare an interest) – which means she must have become a successful and famous model. Which is a bit of a waste of her talents but at least shows her confidence has paid dividends and is a semi-logical progression from kiss-o-gram. But would presumably take time. At least a year from conceiving the fragrance, through testing to a full launch.

So time has passed for Amy and Rory to make a life, and time has passed for the Doctor to brood on his faults and change his coat.

Two hundred years, though? It's taken him two hundred years to bring himself to this point? Almost a fifth of his entire life? Really?

It makes the tenth Doctor's swanning about between "Waters of Mars" and "The End of Time", not to mention his protracted victory lap of companions, seem positively brisk.

It just doesn't seem credible. The whole of the season (and much of the tenth Doctor's arc as well) has been telling us that the Doctor just can't hack it on his own. The very last scene of "The God Complex" shows him destroyed to be alone in his beloved TARDIS. And all of this story is showing him as accepting, virtually serene. So how can it make sense that he's been putting this off for two centuries? He would have found someone else. He would have picked up more companions. Partners, I suppose we will have to call them now. He would have had more adventures. Look at him: he can't say "hello" to a baby without the Cybermen turning up!

And then to choose Craig Owens of all the people he's met to just drop in on. I mean why not Will Chandler from "The Awakening". Or Altos and Sabetha on the planet Marinus? Or Meglos? Or, to be honest, why not Susan?

He'd think of Craig because and really only because the adventure of "The Lodger" is recent. Which really it really isn't if this is two hundred years later. So obviously it's not.

Look, you can make of it whatever you want it to be, but for my personal canon I'm going to assume that at most a few months have passed for the Doctor since he dropped off Amy and Rory; that he is really about seventeen-hundred but has been claiming to be nine-hundred for most of the last five incarnations; and that when he says eleven hundred in "The Impossible Astronaut" he's not really two hundred years older, he's just being a bit more honest. A little bit.

However old he is, Matt Smith remains wonderful as the Doctor. Gareth writes him plenty of eccentricities – his air kissing, his new power of "shush", I particularly loved the way that the Doctor seasons Craig with the pepper mill before giving him a neck massage. But it is subtle and layered. The eccentricities themselves are a show that the Doctor is putting on, as you can tell from the moments where he drops them. It's never entirely clear, for example, whether the Doctor really can speak baby or if he is just making it all up for Craig's benefit. I mean, if he really knows what Alfie is saying, why can't he stop him crying in the scene where it's just the two of them?

So I'm pretty glad he's not going to be dead at the end of the next episode. Even if I'm quite wary of how he's going to get there.

Next Time… And they were all wearing… oh, you know the drill. It's "The Wedding of River Song"

Doctor Woo concludes tonight at 7.05pm!

1 comment:

Malcolm Todd said...

"it's certainly not going to be River Song in the astronaut suit shooting the Doctor"

Funny how you can be dead wrong and kinda right all at once... ;-)