...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 4521: DOCTOR WHO: The Hurt Doctor


A History of the Time Lord, as recounted by Lawrence Miles, Kate Orman & John Blum, Paul Cornell and Kate Orman again:

"Once Upon A Time, the Doctor died, and because he was a time traveller, perhaps the most travelled time traveller ever, his body, or rather his "biodata", the "time DNA" of his journey through eternity, was a source of incredible energy, a fountainhead of information, a weapon of unspeakable power. And, by a quirk of fate, the Doctor crossed his own timeline to discover his body and fight his enemies to stop them taking advantage of it...

"Once Upon Another Time, the Doctor nearly died when he was in San Francisco, and this little death left a scar on the surface of the Universe. And the Doctor was travelling with a perfect companion, too perfect a companion, who was everything he wanted in a friend and assistant, and was impossible. And one day they came to San Francisco again and in order to save the Doctor's life, his companion jumped into the scar and was rewritten...

"And Once Upon A Time Again, Ace died on the Moon – having mistakenly believed it to be Norfolk – and found herself inside the Doctor's mind where she met with versions of his earlier selves who dwelt there now that they were passed...

"And Once Upon One Final Time, the Doctor, living in fear and dread that one day he should fall and become the dark future self he had witnessed, the Valeyard, denied a part of his own past, a part of his own memories, a part of his own self, and walled up his earlier incarnation in a Room with No Doors, and in doing so became the thing he feared, for although he was Time's Champion, he had become ruthless and calculating and without the passion for life that had made him that earlier self, and so he set his foot upon the path that led to the Valeyard, and healing came only with sacrifice and opening the Room with No Doors, and only in realising there are not three Doctors or Five Doctors or Seven or Eleven, that he is and always was and always will be the One Doctor."

"Alien Bodies"; "Unnatural History"; "Timewyrm: Revelation"; "The Room With No Doors" (and most of the rest of the New Adventures).

(And I'm not even going to mention that a certain blogger might once have suggested that the Doctor's name was such a big secret because it was used to lock away the Medusa Cascade...)

Why is it that when Mark Gatiss copies the tropes of Universal or Hammer Horror, of ITC drama or The Avengers, or borrows from Conan Doyle or even Who's own long history we call it "pastiche" and applaud in delight, and when Steven Moffat does this it feels like stealing?

That's not to say that it's not done exceeding well, pleasing both to fans who get the references and to the public who are impressed by the spectacle. And although it's almost all lifted from, particularly, Miles's "Alien Bodies", Moffat has a gift for translating those ideas to the screen and even adding a thing or two of his own – I'm thinking specifically the dying TARDIS grown to enormous size as the internal dimensions leak out (which Marie did in "Alien Bodies", if less grandly) and the bits of his relationship with River (even if she is herself stolen from the Time Traveller's Wife).

For once Moffat delivered on the promises made, with a real "reveal" of the Doctor's secret. Typical of Moffat, it was a smoke-and-mirrors reveal of a different secret to the one he was leading you to expect: not the Doctor's name, but a Doctor you never knew about, and because that Doctor didn't live up to the name of "The Doctor". (He even takes the trouble to foreshadow this twist with the wordplay double-meaning of "The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave, and it is discovered".)

And it is a genuinely satisfying answer to the puzzle of the Impossible Girl, and this time around it appears to have been worked out properly in advance, i.e. knowing what the answer will be and fitting the questions together to frame it, rather than trying to stick a "solution" that she never needed onto River Song, or frankly closing your eyes and saying really hard "I do believe in fairies" to unkill the Doctor in "The Big Bang".

(Although... does this retroactively mean that "The Snowmen" is a paradoxical alteration of the Doctor's past by the Intelligence as Dr Simeon going back and creating the events that lead to it adopting the guise of Dr Simeon? Worse, is the present day Clara a paradoxical echo of herself?!)

There are hugely moving moments along the way: Madam Vastra's tears for Jenny; the Doctor's tears for himself; the fate of River Song; or of the TARDIS, with her dying console room dressed as the "Logopolis" cloisters too; most of all the clips and look-a-like extras of the earlier ten Doctors. Whoever it was doing Colin (...could it be Sylv in the wig again?), they get the walk exactly right, just the pace and arrogance; the one doing Tom is ever so very nearly on the money too, with just about the right sort of bounce to the run and swish to the scarf. And of course the colourised Hartnell is a delight, no matter how imperfectly the colour is done. (Least said about the poorly rotoscoped-in second Doctor the better, though.) The clips used ("Dragonfire" aside) appear to be from stories set on Gallifrey – "Invasion of Time", "Arc of Infinity" and "The Five Doctors". Is that significant? There's also probably some sort of gag to be made about mining "The Five Doctors" for past-Doctor footage; sadly no one clipped the clip from Shada and photoshopped Clara onto the Clare bridge in Cambridge.

It's actually quite a thin story, though: in danger of being, like the Great Intelligence's Richard E Grant-shaped avatar, fruity on the outside and hollow on the inside. The Paternoster Gang are lured into a trap by some, excuse me, "intelligence" about the Doctor from a condemned murderer, and then kidnapped to Trenzalore (and how? and when did the Intelligence obtain Time Travel? or Space Travel for that matter? Isn't it still stuck on the Astral Plane?), and the Doctor comes to get them. Cue intriguing explanations of what the tomb is, and what's inside, and why it's a really bad thing that the Intelligence does next. But ultimately it comes down to the Intelligence stepping into a special effect, and then Clara stepping into a special effect which we're told cancels the Intelligence out, and finally the Doctor going in after her, and rescuing her from a BAFTA anniversary montage.

Where was the real sense of threat? Yes, we see the stars winking out (again) – surely more of a reference to Moffat's own "He's saved every planet in the Universe at least twice" speech in "Curse of the Fatal Death" than to Russell's season four "The Darkness is Coming" arc – but even if we hadn't seen that before (twice, nod to "The Big Bang" as well) it's still a distant and anaemic threat of disaster. And other than that, we get the Doctor writhing on the floor going "arrgh arrgh". Which, to be fair, does happen quite often as well. (Perhaps if his regenerations had unpeeled and he'd vanished in a poof, it might have been different... Though it would have denied him the agonised "no, don'ts" as Clara contemplates sacrificing herself for him. And it might have been nice to have an idea of how she changed from the girl who needed double-daring to go ghost hunting in "Hide" to being the sort of companion who'll die literally in a ditch for him.)

I could probably have done with at least one more story this season with the Great Intelligence getting its plans for universal domination thwarted, and – since it was the one I didn't particularly like – I'd have stuck it in where "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was. It seemed pretty phlegmatic about its set-back in "The Bells of St John", rather than the vengeful/suicidal character expressed here; I'd have liked something more to get from there to here, to set this up as a real grudge match – Buffy structured its seasons that way, with a "Big Bad" introduced at the start, getting a major plan beaten in the middle and then their apocalypse gambit for the finale. Also, where did those "whispermen" come from? And do the "whispermen" and the "Silence" have anything to do with one another?

Richard E Grant's lugubrious performance as the Intelligence was not given the screen time that it richly deserved (and along with the sort-of Eccleston looky-likey and that reveal at the end, was this the episode with the three Ninth Doctors?)

However, the Eleventh Doctor is really coming into his own, with Matt Smith out-Tennanting Tennant (and in a good way) in the moment where he learns he has no choice but to travel to Trenzalore. Implicitly mirroring the end of "The End of Time" where the tenth Doctor throws a stroppy fit when death and destiny come to stare him in the face, here the eleventh weeps for himself but faces the inevitable with a determination to do his duty.

Meanwhile, Alex Kingston gave us a more subdued River Song than before, a post-mortem River who seems ready to drift away, if only she could say goodbye to the Doctor, if only he wold let her. Does it seem that Moffat is resiling from his earlier "nobody dies" ending to the Library story when he has the Doctor tell River's (data) ghost that she's only an echo? It seems like the right moment and the right way to let River go, although not without some regrets; I had wanted to see her develop her relationship with at least one other Doctor, not least because her remarks to Ten in the Library implied she was familiar with several faces, and that she really ought to be able to sort out the order if she only actually knows two of him.

Is Trenzalore, ruined and burnt, actually Gallifrey? (And in which case, is Moffat robbing Craig Hinton's "The Crystal Bucephalus" too?)

Does this episode fulfil the prophecy of Trenzalore as imparted by Dorium at the end of the previous season? Maybe. Arriving on the planet by falling from orbit might count as "the Fall of the Eleventh". We might not have guessed that the "Fields of Trenzalore" would be lava fields. And River's silent answer to the Great Intelligence's question might satisfy "Silence must fall when the question is asked". But how does the Doctor manage to get out of "When no living soul can lie or fail to answer"? And why were the Silence so damn keen to shut him up before he could get there and (not) answer?

The fact is, the battle, the tomb and above all the Doctor's remains all prove that the Doctor must return here again.

And Moffat's been setting up the mystery of the Doctor's name for a long, long time, ever since "The Girl in the Fireplace". It could have been just a bit of chicanery to add some deeper-seeming mystery, but he's kept on coming back to it. This may be all the explanation we get. He has, after all, got form for stumbling on the dismount. But it seems to me that there is still more of this story to tell, and that he's probably keeping it for when he, or Matt, choose to call it a day.

So is he planning on doing "Curse of the Fatal Death" with live ammo? That is to say, using up all of the Doctor's remaining incarnations and outright killing him?

Let's start by asking which Doctor that John Hurt is playing, then? The dialogue and the costume (Eccleston's leather jacket over McGann's waistcoat) surely point to Hurt playing the Time Lord who fought in the Time War, although you can make a case for him being a future incarnation, with Clara claiming to have seen all the Doctor's eleven faces and the – unexpected and pleasing to my fan heart – namecheck for the Valeyard. There's also the possibility that he might be a pre-Hartnell incarnation.

And perhaps without intending it, Moffat has opened this possibility up, solving the contradiction of the "Morbius Doctors", those eight mysterious faces (also known as "the production team") that appear during the mind-bending contest in "The Brain of Morbius" between the eponymous once-President and our hero. How can there be "pre-Hartnell" incarnations? And is this not flatly contradicted by the (faux) Hartnell incarnation's own statements: "So there are five of me now," and "The original, you might say," in "The Five Doctors" (themselves engineered by Nathan-Turner to "correct" the earlier "error" of the Hinchcliffe production team). Well, now it's clear that they could be earlier incarnations of the Time Lord who later calls himself "The Doctor" but he doesn't acknowledge them as among his proper selves as they had not yet chosen that name.

Having said that, the accusation against Hurt's incarnation was that he broke the promise implicit in choosing the name of "The Doctor" not that he'd never made the promise yet. Still, the possibility that the "first" Doctor was fleeing Gallifrey because he'd just regenerated after doing something truly terrible must exist. (In fact, I used to toy with the idea that the Valeyard in the future was doing what he was doing because he was the only incarnation to remember what the pre-first Doctor had done in the past and was trying to put it all right.)

Wherever he goes, though, Moffat has now managed to use up twelve of the Doctor's supposedly thirteen lives. And answering the question of "What happens after thirteen" is very likely something that appeals to him. Having mentioned the Valeyard (and "the Storm" and "the Beast") the possibility of a "dark" incarnation as the literal "final enemy" might be one that appeals to the adaptor of "Sherlock", or another possibility that was raised was that the Doctor actually burned up a regeneration in "Journey's End" (an example of, consequences, the things Russell usually got right but failed so terribly on there, ironically to be fixed by Moffat who never has any?), meaning David Tennant was actually the eleventh and twelfth Doctors, and Matt is the thirteenth and potentially last.

I've raised before the possibility that the Doctor was infected by Dalek nanogenes during "Asylum of the Daleks", and on top of that the way that the Doctor killed Solomon (as referred to by the Great Intelligence this week) and his behaviour in Mercy. Season 7b seems to take this even further, with each episode this half-season alluding to the idea of "The Doctor as Monster". Literally in the case of "The Crimson Horror", where Ada calls him "Monster" while Matt Smith does the "Frankenstein thing" with the arms (actually from "Ghost of Frankenstein", even though the Monster and blind person is from the original "Frankenstein"). But in "The Rings of Akhaten" we drew parallels between the Doctor as Grandfather and the Mummy that was called "Grandfather"; in "Cold War" the Doctor is reflected in Skaldak, the Ice Warrior who lost his world and his granddaughter; in "Hide" the Doctor himself says "Every lonely monster needs a companion"; in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" Clara says he's scaring her more than anything in the Ship, and he's destined to become a time zombie; while in "Nightmare in Silver" the Doctor is literally being turned into the monster in the form of the Cyber-Planner.

None of this gets paid off. Yet. But could still be taken as an indication that Moffat (a) knows what he's doing after all and (b) is aiming for Matt to go all Dark Side on us before the end.

And if the question "What happens after thirteen" appeals to Moffat, then the answer "We get a woman Doctor" – see "Curse of the Fatal Death" – is also one that doubtless appeals to him.

Whether that means calling in "the Doctor's daughter" or handing the TARDIS keys over to River Snog, or to Clara or creating a new female character (or letting his successor do so... as if!), I would not be at all surprised if that was his game plan.

The 2013 series has done a lot to redeem Moffat's reputation from the unsatisfactory and unfinished arc of 2010 and the morally-bankrupt convolvulations of 2011. Although episodes, particularly early on, have suffered from perhaps too few redrafts, a "that'll do" attitude, and perhaps the forty-five minute format being just too short for a one-off movie of the week every week, more thought seems to have been given to the series as a whole piece, with it feeling more unified and with an arc that was actually answered, and a Doctor who was a little less likely to commit whoops genocide. (Even if he does then permit the blowing up a planet-full of Cybermen!)

Next Time... Rose wakes up and finds the Tenth Doctor taking a shower and... what? What? WHAT?


Obviously, his name is actually Doctor Whotraveleswithsusanianandbarbaravickistevenkatarinasaraoliverdodobenandpollyjamievictoriazoedrelizabethshawalistairjojograntsarahjaneharryleelaknineknineagainromanasharonadricnyssategansirjustinturloughkamelionperierimemfrobisherevelynhenrygordonandgeorgegrantmelaniedorothycalledacebennysurprisesummerfieldrozandchrisdrelizabethkleincharleyluciesamfitzcompassionanjitrixizzyfeykrotondestriirosejackjackiemickeymarthadonnawilfamyroryriversongandclaraoswinandlovesthemallalungbarrow. The Second.

(Hat-tip Andrew Hickey via Facebook for the graphic.)


encyclops said...

Terrific review -- thorough, fair, and full of recommendations of books I need to catch up on!

Andrew Hickey said...

Great post. But the graphic wasn't originally by me, but by finalowen on Tumblr. I just shared it.