“Peri and the Piscon Paradox”

I want to begin my return to this journal with a review of Peri and the Piscon Paradox. It isdwcc0507_periandthepisconparadox_1417_cover_large such a gem of a story that I’ve been itching to write a full review of it ever since I listened to it the first time about two months ago, and it’s so good, I’ve listened to it a second time since. You see, there are so many Big Finish audios, both plays and audiobooks, that there just isn’t enough time in life to listen to them twice, but this one was worth it.

It’s impossible to discuss this story without spoilers and the twists in it are exquisite and a major part of what makes it fantastic, so I’m going to give a summary review here, and then the rest of this entry is spoilerific, so that if you think you might listen to the audio, you can read the summary review and avoid the spoilers.

Peri and the Piscon Paradox is a multi-layered story that explores Peri, her relationship with the Doctor, and her ultimate fate, all within an exciting adventure that’s in one moment thrilling, then the next moment will make you laugh out loud. At first, it seems like just a basic adventure, but as you get into it, it paints you a deeper picture of Peri than you’ve ever seen before, and really brings to life the personality, dreams, and motivations of a character that was just a shallow screaming companion in a tight leotard on the TV. You know how people say, “If you want just one taste of what the Big Finish audios are like, make sure you listen to this one”? I have about four audios I’d nominate for that, and this is one of them.

Okay, spoilers ahead!

PatPP is a story in the range called “The Companion Chronicles”. The primary performer is the companion, in this case Nicola Bryant, and the story is a hybrid of an audio play and an audiobook: it’s narrated by Ms. Bryant and she does the voices of many of the characters in the story, but other characters are played by other actors. The feel is more like an audiobook in that, as the narrator, Peri is explaining what’s going on and interjecting her opinions on things.

The story starts with Peri and the Fifth Doctor landing in Los Angeles in about 2009 to stop Zarl, a Piscon, a fish-like sentient, from stealing all of the water from Earth to take back to his home planet, which is drying up due to an expanding sun. While attempting to apprehend Zarl, they encounter Peri – a much older Peri, dressed in designer clothing and sporting a rhinoplasty new nose – who informs them that she works for the American government’s secret alien agency and that they’ve got Zarl all wrong. The Piscons discovered that when they die, they often reincarnate on Earth as humans, and Zarl is here because his wife is now human and he wants to join her by dying and reincarnating. However, Piscons cannot commit suicide, so he planned to lure the Doctor here with threats of invasion, hoping that the Doctor would kill him. She explains that the only way to stop Zarl is to kill him, and that in his eyes, it would be a mercy.

The Doctor, of course, refuses to do so, and after the usual chaos of an adventure, the older Peri grabs the gun that was designed to kill Zarl to shoot him. Younger Peri wrestles with her to get the gun away, but eventually loses and older Peri zaps not only Zarl, but his human wife as well. In the confusion, younger Peri manages to obtain older Peri’s pocketbook, and looking through it later, realizes that everything older Peri had told her about her future – that she’d gone back home and married her high-school sweetheart Davey and had three kids, etc. – was all a lie. Younger Peri deduces that older Peri had never returned to him, opting for a more exciting life as an alien hunter, turning her into the hardened killer she is now. She screams that she doesn’t want to become older Peri and vows to go home to her family when she finishes traveling with the Doctor and return to Davey. As older Peri calls after her, trying to fix things, younger Peri dashes into the TARDIS and leaves.

Now, except for not understanding why there’s an older Peri living on Earth, this might have been a great adventure if it ended here, but the story is only halfway done. The second half opens with the narrative from older Peri’s point of view. She’s gone on to get her doctorate in botany and, due to the buffeting of the winds of life, is now a celebrity relationship counselor talk show host in LA. The Sixth Doctor arrives, having only vague memories of encountering her and Zarl and absolutely certain that she had left him to marry Yrcanos on Thoros Beta and not returned to Earth to be a talk show host, and wants to figure out what’s going on. Through a freak accident, Zarl accidentally dies, and in order to prevent the paradox of his previous self not meeting Zarl from occurring, the Doctor dons a fish suit to play the part of Zarl. Things go awry, of course, and to save the situation, older Peri concocts the story of her working for the government and the whole history and philosophy of the Piscons, in order to convince the Fifth Doctor to kill him with a gun that the Sixth Doctor had tampered with to make it a teleporter. Thus, when older Peri “kills” Zarl and his human “wife”, they are simply teleported to the TARDIS.

However, this doesn’t explain how Peri could be here when the Doctor knew she had married Yrcanos and never returned to Earth. A Time Lord appears and explains that they had attempted to fix the problems in Peri’s timelines caused by the Sixth Doctor’s trials by forking her timeline so that this version of her leaves the Doctor after “Planet of Fire” and goes on with her life, having had just one adventure with the Fifth Doctor (exactly what they did with Jamie and Zoe in “The War Games”). This Peri, sure that going out into the world wasn’t for her, returned to Davey and married him, then divorced him later after he abused her so badly, she was left with a reconstructed nose and the inability to have children. Thus, her parting words to her younger self was to warn her to run with the Doctor as far as she could, to get out there and go get what she wants, and to not return to the sweet, blond-haired Davey who you would never suspect will turn psychotic and violent in an instant.

This story leaves you feeling like you’ve just been through a whirlwind, with a whole bunch of elements flying around in your head. Everything that seemed strange in the first look at the events, from younger Peri’s point of view, clicks into place in the second look, when older Peri explains it all. Your sympathies oscillate from the first Peri, who can’t understand how she could possibly turn into the amoral self she sees in front of her, to the older Peri, who is only floating through life, broken and exhausted, after surviving a horrible, abusive marriage. The story does not flinch from painting a realistic, brutal picture of what she’s been through, but neither is it too violent.

The thing that you’ll probably remember most vividly, though, is how the story is told from two different Doctors’ points of view: the Fifth Doctor trying to solve the situation by helping the villainous fish, and the Sixth Doctor trying to convince his previous self to just pull the trigger. In the scene where the two are face-to-fishface, you’ll laugh out loud as you feel the older Doctor’s seething frustration as the younger Doctor very pleasantly tells him to take as much of the Earth’s water as he wants, because he’ll just bring in an ice comet to replace it all, to “clean up after you”. For once, the Doctor experiences firsthand just how difficult it is to defeat himself.

Peri and the Piscon Paradox was written by Nev Fountain, who, I’ve come to discover, has written many of my favorite audios of all time: Omega, The Kingmaker, and the last story in the compilation Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories. I’ve found that his stories are masterpieces that involve lots of hilarity, time travel, and blindsiding twists, but also deal with deeper themes and character development. PatPP is one of his best – I’d rank it just below The Kingmaker, and you should go and listen to it right now.

Gone but not forgotten

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to this blog – over a year, judging by the date of the last posted entry. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one of them is not a loss of interest in Doctor Who. Not at all. Though there are a lot of other things I do, it still consumes my life. I don’t get to watch episodes that often (and there are still many, many classic stories I have never seen), but I’m almost constantly thinking about the show in some way. I listen to audios to and from work. I write fanfiction. I discuss the show with friends, both local and online. I went to Gallifrey One this year and met some of the most amazing people, both fellow fans and people who work on the show.

Part of my inattention to this blog stems from having a sense of not having enough time to keep it up. It takes me a long time to compose even a short, simple post, and usually my posts are neither. I do love to organize my thoughts about different aspects of the show and get them down on paper (I’ve always loved writing), but, as you know, life changes and the time you used to have to devote to an activity evaporates. I would like to start keeping this up and I’m going to try, but I can’t promise anything.

Another large part of my absence has been caused by the show itself. One of my most recent posts was about my disappointment with Series 8. It was written before Series 9 was aired and expressed hopes that the upcoming season would be much better. Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Series 9 made many of the same mistakes I felt it made with Series 8. It continued to deviate from the adventure format that had served it so well for the previous fifty years and instead concentrated on the relationship and friction between the Doctor and the companion. What adventure that was there seemed to be contrived to make a point, rather than a story of conflict and solution that happened to have a broader point (best demonstrated by the terrible writing and setup in the Zygon episodes to push the characters to the final scene and the Doctor’s speech about the follies of war, but also by all of the episodes involving Ashildr). “Face the Raven” was an exploration of the kind of trap that must be woven to catch the Doctor and gave Clara a beautiful and fitting ending, and of course “Heaven Sent” was a masterpiece, but both were thrown away with the travesty that was “Hell Bent”.

I could go on, but I won’t – there’s no point other than to complain. Just like with Series 8, Series 9 left me angry and upset that the show that I loved so much was just so bad. The announcement that Steven Moffat was leaving after Series 10 and Chris Chibnall was going to be the new showrunner elated me, because I could hope that he will turn the show away from its current angst-fest direction and steer it back to a more story-driven course. Mr. Chibnall’s Doctor Who episodes have the adventure feel to them, even though some have been, well, terrible (I’m looking at you, “Power of Three”). And, of course, I’m a huge Broadchurch fan, and I’ve always loved “42”.

But back to my point. I stopped writing here after Series 9 debuted because I want to keep this blog to its purpose, which is documenting my explorations into the Doctor Who universe and fandom. While that does mean criticizing the show when it deserves it – and there are tons of episodes and audios out there that are just plain bad – I want to keep the tone of this blog positive; after all, I still love Doctor Who. There is, sadly, very little positive I can say about Series 8 and Series 9, and since, at the time, Series 9 was the only thing to really talk about, I had nothing to say here. And then, of course, I forgot about this blog for a while.

Hopefully, though, I’m back, to talk about all the things I love about Doctor Who. That means the classic show, the modern show from Series 1 through “The Day of the Doctor” (well… Series 7 was really shaky…), and the Big Finish audios. I think that a lot of my posts are going to be reviews, to jot down what I liked or didn’t like about things, especially the audios (there’s just too many of them to remember). And there’ll be a bit about the fandom itself, as I attend conventions, recommend some fan artists I like, and discuss DW fanfiction. There’s just too much to love!

“Short Trips: Repercussions”

Short_Trips_RepercussionsBetween 1998 and 2009, BBC Books then later Big Finish published 32 books of short stories in a series called “Short Trips” featuring all of the classic Doctors. The idea of this appeals to me mostly because I rarely find myself sitting down to read an entire novel, but short stories are nice bite-sized chunks. These books are all out of print, but I’m working on collecting them, and the first of these that I’ve read is “Short Trips: Repercussions”.

Spoilers to some extent.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I knew that the stories all had to do with the repercussions of the Doctor’s actions, and that it dealt with how the Web of Time is affected by his meddling, but that’s a pretty vague notion. What I didn’t know was that the stories were all connected to each other by an overarching story. At the very start of the book, Charley wakes up on an airship that she knows is not the R101, but she doesn’t know where she is and the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. She asks around and she finds out that everyone on board knows the Doctor. Some of them like him, some hate him, and some are indifferent, but they’re all going in the same direction; what direction that is, Charley doesn’t know. The Steward on board suggests that she learn their stories, and that forms the basis of the anthology. It’s all rather like The Canterbury Tales in that all of the stories are titled “The _______’s Story”, everyone has a story to tell, and they help pass the time on their journey.

As Charley hears the stories, she realizes what they all have in common: everyone telling the story had their life significantly altered by the Doctor, usually either by chance or as a result of something he was doing that was only tangentially related to them. For example, when visiting a planet where a colony had died years back, the Doctor discovers the ghost of girl who wants to come back to life. He realizes that the girl and the colony had been killed by a semi-sentient lichen, and having accidentally brought some of the lichen into the TARDIS had given the lichen the ability to project a shadow of the girl’s consciousness. This tormented ghost of the girl should never have existed, but he created her by accident. The point is that whatever the Doctor does has repercussions: some bigger than others, but it’s something he always has to be aware of.

In short, I enjoyed the book. Of the sixteen stories, there were two or three that I really didn’t like, but the rest were average or above. These are the tales I enjoyed the most.

“The Rag and Bone Man’s Story”: Unlike most of the stories in this book, the repercussions for this man were beneficial, rather than harmful. While at Coal Hill School, Susan uses what amounts to a good luck crystal to try to get her fellow students to like her. When it backfires, she buries it, and the protagonist of the story finds it. It brings him incredible luck, giving him a comfortable life and a family. This story was well-written, and didn’t end in misfortune and despair, as I expected it to.

“The Inquisitor’s Story”: The titular Inquisitor condemns the Doctor for having saved the life of a child that was being executed at the time because their seers had foretold that the child would grow up to be a cruel, brutal tyrant who caused a civil war in which millions had died. That foretelling had come true, and when the Doctor returned to the world, he was taken prisoner to pay for the deaths of all those people. This story explores all of the ways to view such an event and the results of that action. The characterization of the Doctor in this story was perfect.

“The Schoolboy’s Story”: Bobby, an intelligent but timid boy, travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, but he finds that telling people about his adventures, and maintaining that he’s telling the truth, as his parents and teachers have always told him he must do, doesn’t have the effect he expects.

“The Juror’s Story”: I heard about this story, and it’s the reason I bought the book, and it didn’t disappoint. The First Doctor is on trial for murder and is pleading self-defense, having killed a young girl who he claims was a werewolf and was about to kill him. The debate in the juror’s room slowly changes the opinion from all but one saying he’s guilty to a unanimous vote of not guilty. How the verdict is transforms so completely is just wonderful Doctor Who.

“The Tramp’s Story”: The Doctor saves a tramp’s life. Why? This one is a little hard to get into, as it’s written in snippets from the point of view of a number of people who are tangential to the tramp’s story, but once you get used to the cadence, it’s rather brilliant.

 

 

Voices in the Library

You have a better chance to survive an episode of Doctor Who if you have a last name.

You have a better chance to survive an episode of Doctor Who if you have a last name.

This is a bit of a stream-of-consciousness character exploration post. I’m a bit of a non-stereotypical fanfic writer because I find that I prefer to write about how minor characters react to meeting the main characters, and my stories often end up exploring how the characters change after meeting the Doctor. Because of this, I spend a lot of time thinking about specific interesting characters to figure out what their history and motivations were, and how their outlook and goals might have changed due to the events in their episode. Most recently, I’ve been thinking about “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”, which has a range of guest characters in the expedition that set out to find out what happened in the Library: Strackman Lux, who funded the expedition, Miss Evangelista, Lux’s personal assistant, Proper Dave, the pilot, Other Dave, Anita, and River Song. You might think this post is about River Song, but it’s not. Though she is at her most interesting and independent at this point in the overall Doctor/River story, this post is about the others.

My thoughts started out with trying to figure out what everyone’s role in the expedition was. We know that River was hired by Lux to explore the Library and Miss Evangelista is Lux’s employee, but the other three characters are more or less interchangeable except that we know that Proper Dave was the pilot of the ship. (We might also assume that he has other skills and isn’t just a pilot, because if he was just a pilot, he would have stayed on the ship, where he’s most valuable.) When they’re ordered to do things, they all do them and don’t show any particular aptitude for anything in specific. It’s not even really clear if they’re employees of the Felman Lux Corporation or if they were contracted specifically for this expedition; the only thing that’s really clear is that they aren’t River’s employees or students, since they don’t seem to know her at all. Further, they all seem to have undefined personalities, and more or less exist story-wise to be eaten by the Vashta Nerada. Anita’s given a few more lines to emphasize River’s whispering of the Doctor’s name into his ear, but beyond that, she’s not really distinguishable from the other two, making the Doctor’s statement that he liked her (as opposed to the two Daves) rather odd: what exactly was it about her that made her stand out?

The only truly interesting character in the group is Strackman Lux. He’s portrayed at first as rather cold and only interested in protecting his interests, but we find out that he was actually trying to protect his family – in specific, Charlotte. He becomes a much more sympathetic character at that point, but there’s more to him. The question is, what exactly is his relationship with Miss Evangelista? It’s implied that he’s the CEO of the Felman Lux Corporation and behaves like he owns the universe, so why did he choose Miss Evangelista, someone who obviously doesn’t have any skills and is very much a liability, to be his personal assistant? The first impulse would be to suspect that she’s his mistress, but neither of them show any interest in the other (and even if he might be able to hide such a relationship in a business situation, she wouldn’t be able to). He shows no exceptional remorse when she dies. On the other hand, he doesn’t take part in the rest of the crew’s mocking of her lack of intelligence, and in fact, is the only one of the expedition who encourages her: when she’s offering the contracts to the Doctor and Donna, he mouths her words along with her and is satisfied when she succeeds. A possible explanation for all of this is that he’s responsible for her in some way – for example, the daughter of someone he loved who died and left her parentless – and he’s providing for and nurturing her as best as he can without actually considering her to be family. This is sort of a Snape/Harry situation, without the additional hatred that Snape felt for Harry. Considering it this way, Lux is actually a fascinating character, with a selfish, business-only surface hiding a stronger moral core.

Of course, we’ll never know if this is how the character was envisioned, and certainly, with the very few lines and scenes that Lux gets, this scenario is not well-supported, but this is exactly the kind of thing I love to think about with this show. What’s hidden in the background? Where did these characters come from and where will they go? The characterization of Anita, Proper Dave, and Other Dave was disappointing, but there’s definitely a deeper story with Lux that’s worth exploring. And that’s what keeps me coming back.

“The War Games”

The War Lord, the War Chief, and the Security Chief

The War Lord, the War Chief, and the Security Chief

There’s just so many classic Doctor Who episodes that it’s often very difficult to choose one to watch. So, one night recently, we decided to roll a die to choose the Doctor, and it came up ‘2’. I then listed out the Second Doctor episodes we have, and we both yelled out at the same time, “The War Games”! I believe we both had the same idea in choosing that one: we wanted to see the Second Doctor’s regeneration into the Third Doctor.

I pulled down the DVD and opened the case and read the labels on the discs: Episodes 1-5 and Episodes 6-10. Ten episodes! That’s nearly five hours for one story! With a bit of trepidation, we started it up and settled in. We ended up watching the first four episodes on one night, then the last six three nights later.

Summary first, so spoilers!

The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land in the trenches what seems to be World War I, where they are arrested by the British forces for possibly being German spies. The commander of the British forces, General Smythe, runs them through a farce of a trial, condemning the Doctor to death, declaring Jamie a deserter from the Scottish regiment and ordering him to be sent back there, and sentencing Zoe to return back to civilian lands. However, it’s very obvious that he’s using some kind of hypnotic suggestion to convince the soldiers to believe that the three outsiders are spies. After the Doctor escapes being executed, the three of them, plus Lieutenant Carstairs and Lady Jennifer (a nurse), who seem to have broken through the hypnosis, begin investigating and find that they’re not on Earth, but instead are on some alien world which is partitioned into multiple areas, one for different Earth wars, and the soldiers there have been lifted from their times on Earth to fight the battles here instead. This turns out to be all an experiment run by an alien called the War Lord, to find the best human soldiers to create an army with which to take over the universe. The War Lord is assisted by a renegade Time Lord called the War Chief, who provided the space-time machines (the SIDRATs) used to transport the soldiers to the battle zones. The Doctor defeats the War Lord, but cannot contain him or return all the soldiers to their appropriate times, so he is forced to call in the Time Lords to take care of it. After finding the War Lord guilty of his crimes and dematerializing him, they also find the Doctor guilty of interfering and force him to regenerate, exiling him to Earth.

Ok, summary done.

With such a short summary, it’s impossible to convey just what happens during the episode that takes five hours to tell the story. There’s a lot of fleeing different armies that consider the TARDIS crew spies, traveling around trying to find out what’s going on, and then later, the aliens trying to contain the Doctor and figure out why he’s there and what he’s trying to do. There’s a bit of cat and mouse going on as the Doctor learns more and more and starts trying to sabotage what the aliens are doing. The most amazing thing about this episode, though, is that though the story takes five hours, it is riveting throughout the whole thing. It is paced a little slow for modern tastes, as are most of the classic episodes, but there actually was never a moment the entire time in which I sat there unentertained. There was always something going on, and it all was important. I have a tendency to play Doctor Who: Legacy on my iPad while watching shows, and I kept it next to me during “The War Games”, but never once had any urge to play it – I wanted to keep my eyes on the screen. As a counterexample, I play DW:L all the way through Arrow episodes, because though they’re interesting enough, the plots of the individual episodes and the characters are never compelling enough to warrant my full attention.

One of the side plots of the episode was the relationship between the War Chief and the Security Chief. The Security Chief didn’t trust the War Chief, especially when he found out that the Doctor was a fellow Time Lord, suspecting that the War Chief called him in to assist him in overthrowing the War Lord. The War Chief did intend to overthrow the War Lord but not with the Doctor’s help, and he hated the Security Chief because he was always in his way. Both characters were played almost to a hammy extent, but it worked well, giving them both very alien personas.

It’s always a little difficult taking the special effects seriously in these old serials, and the thing that made us giggle the most were the computers and the SIDRAT controls. In this episode, they were basically refrigerator magnets of different shapes. Need to dematerialize the SIDRAT? Twist that U-shaped magnet on the panel. How about deactivating the control panel? Just take the magnets off the panel. It was absolutely hilarious, but on the other hand, it was rather ingenious. Why do highly-advanced Time Lord controls need to look like levers and toggles and dials? Why can’t they be simple-looking inscrutable shapes on a flat panel?

So, bottom line, this was an excellent episode that was completely worth the time. I’m not sure I will watch it again, simply because it is so long, but it was enjoyable and I highly recommend it as a fantastic classic story.

Thoughts on Series 9

DWTMAI realized today that Series 9 has been in production for a few months now and I hadn’t even thought about it. I mean, not at all. And that saddened me. At this time last year, we were barely able to hold in our excitement for the next season and didn’t know how we would be able to survive the anticipation until August. What a contrast! This year, I don’t even know when the show is slated to return. A co-worker mentioned that he heard it was this fall, and my first thought was simply, “Yes, that’s a reasonable time.” I didn’t even bother to go look to see if there was a more precise date.

What happened? Was Series 8 that disappointing? I have to admit, yes. I try very hard to keep this blog positive, and because of that, you might notice that I’ve posted very little about Series 8. There were a couple of great episodes – “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” had me on the edge of my seat – but for the most part, I found them to be average or below, with a couple of real stinkers. (Sorry, Mr. Moffat, but if you have to tell the media that you believe that despite popular opinion, you think that in a few years that people will realize that “In the Forest of the Night” was fantastic and that it will be emerge to be a classic, you’ve pretty much tacitly admitted that it was terrible.)

But you know, one bad season doesn’t doom a show, at least in my eyes. The presence of some good episodes and interesting themes and plots demonstrates that the show has the potential that captured my imagination two years ago. The thing is, in order for me to have faith in that potential, it also has to demonstrate that something’s going to change, and that, unfortunately, hasn’t been evident.

My problem with the current show centers around Clara. During Series 7b, she was a non-character: simply a chipper, bubbly companion that served as a puzzle for the Doctor to solve, with a personality and skill set that changed depending on what the episode plot needed her to do. Sometimes she was bold and confident, other times she was scared and timid. Sometimes the TARDIS disliked her, other times the TARDIS did what she wanted and talked directly to her (something the TARDIS doesn’t do with any other companion and was explicitly mentioned in “The Doctor’s Wife” that the TARDIS doesn’t do, even with the Doctor). Then she became the Doctor’s savior, making everything he’s accomplished dependent on her, which was both an interesting mechanic and a disappointing deconstruction of the hero. And then suddenly, in “The Time of the Doctor”, she fancied the Doctor, something there was no hint of before this.

Once the Clara puzzle was solved, we hoped that she’d be developed as real person. For the first time since Moffat took over the show, the companion was given some other person in her life to interact with that wasn’t a member of the TARDIS crew: Danny Pink. I’ll admit that I didn’t really like the character of Danny – ill-defined, whiny, kind of always had a deer-in-headlights expression – but it always felt to me that he existed not to be Clara’s life beyond the TARDIS but to provide someone to oppose the Doctor. He was presented as an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, and yet the PTSD never manifested except in his reactions to the control-happy Doctor; meanwhile, the Doctor, having been designed as soldier-hating, only viewed him as a soldier and refused to consider him anything else.

The writers worked really hard to bring Clara and Danny together – making Clara to basically force herself on him after Danny refused her multiple times, and then again after Danny told her to get lost at the end of their disastrous date – almost as if they couldn’t imagine that these two people would normally hook up. But once they kissed, suddenly they were in love. I remember Clara talking to him on the phone and saying, “I love you,” the episode after that first date, and it was shocking to hear that; no show time was spent showing that their relationship had gotten serious. That’s one of the major problems with Series 9: it tried to give Clara a life and a relationship, without actually developing them on camera. And since Danny was only important as Clara’s hanger-on, he never developed on his own. Danny only appeared whenever they needed to make the point that Clara had a reason to not want to travel with the Doctor, to show Clara lying to one or both of them, or to have Danny argue directly with the Doctor. To me, the only time that Danny actually appeared to mean something to Clara was in “Last Christmas”, in the dream sequence where she’s celebrating Christmas with him. In all other interactions, I wondered why Danny (or Clara, for that matter) was sticking around.

So, Clara’s normal life didn’t work well, but what about her self? She didn’t start well, trying to deny that the Doctor had changed and hoping to find a way to bring the old Doctor back, even though she’s the one person who knows exactly what regeneration means and how the Doctor changes faces and personalities. Then, throughout the season, she fixates on two things: lying and trying to be the Doctor. Multiple storylines dealt with her calling the Doctor to task for what she decided was lying, while simultaneously lying to both the Doctor and Danny. Then she starts trying to be the Doctor without really understanding what being the Doctor actually means. After a series and a half of adventures, you’d think she’d know that the Doctor is a complex blend of exploring, universe-guarding, moral choices, and self-sacrifice, but instead, she thinks it’s a formula that she can follow to lead people out of danger. And when she does successfully follow her formula, she demands to be complimented on  her performance.

All in all, Clara comes across as very self-absorbed, obsessive, and controlling. I disliked Rose Tyler because of the way she manipulated her men – the Doctor, Mickey, Adam, Jack – leading them about by their noses and flaring with jealousy the moment they looked away, but Clara actively sets hers against each other to secure their devotion to her. And unlike Rose, who was a teenager with a background that explained how she became the woman she was, Clara had an about-face in personality between Series 7 and 8, as if the writers suddenly decided she needed personality flaws to be interesting and started adding them. There was no character development, just sudden shifts, much like the sudden shift from her first date with Danny to being deeply in love with each other.

Then, at the end of “Death in Heaven”, Clara and the Doctor has one of the best scenes in the entire series. For each character, things have turned out poorly, but the other believes they’ve turned out well. Both characters realize that their lives and their relationship has been terrible for the past year and that it would be better for the other person if they went their separate ways letting the other person think that everything turned out well for them: the Doctor thinks that Danny is alive and that Clara will be happy with him, and Clara thinks that the Doctor found Gallifrey and is going to return to his people. Sacrificing their own welfare, each of them puts on a happy face and tells the other that everything’s great, and they part.

Oh my god: character growth! Two selfish characters (yes, the Doctor was selfish all the way through the series, too) learn to give up what they desperately want, for someone else. It was a gorgeous scene, and with Clara in particular, it strengthened her in a similar manner as Martha’s departure strengthened her… only to be dashed one minute later with Santa appearing to tell the Doctor to go fix her. Yes, it doesn’t completely negate her moment of growth, but she no longer needs to follow through on her sacrifice for the Doctor (and vice-versa). And at the end of “Last Christmas”, everyone’s happy and she doesn’t have a care in the universe again, because she’s back in the TARDIS. She’s not even mourning Danny anymore, because a dream her mind invented told her that she doesn’t need to. I once read an article which talked about how the story arcs of the Eleventh Doctor moved him away from working through moral problems and towards “cheat codes” so that he didn’t have to make choices, and this trend continues in the current show.

And that’s why I am not enthusiastic about Series 9. No, I don’t like Clara, who is returning, but that’s only a very small part of the problem. It’s the writing, the poor plots, and the schizophrenic character and development design that’s turning me off, and all the way to the end of Series 8, that trend continues. Is it likely that it’s going to change in Series 9? I don’t see any evidence of that. I could see myself enjoying Clara if her story and personality and reactions were in any way understandable (I point back to my opinion of Rose, another character I don’t like, but whose story I liked because the character was well-developed and progressed naturally in response to her experiences), but it doesn’t seem likely that their handling of her, or the Doctor or any other character, is going to change. I’ll watch the new series when it debuts, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Sorting the Doctor

Hogwarts_School_of_Witchcraft_and_Wizardry_Coat_of_ArmsAt work, we use the program HipChat as our official IM client, which is particularly useful because it makes it easy to set up chat rooms to work with people remotely. Of course, one of the first rooms we set up was for discussions of <i>Doctor Who</i>. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the one who set it up. We have about eight regulars in there, even though there are plenty of people in the company who are devoted fans, as well as quite a number of casual fans.

I’m not quite sure how we got on the topic, but today, we started Sorting the Doctors into Hogwarts houses, and it was quite an interesting exercise. We had to first agree what the houses stood for, since their descriptions in the Harry Potter novels aren’t always consistent (Hufflepuff is described as comprised of people whose main trait is loyalty, yet the founder of the house is said to welcome all comers) and aren’t always realistic. (Why are all the evil kids in Slytherin ? I think Sluggy Freelance said it’s so that it’s easier to keep an eye on them.) This is what we came up with.

  • Hufflepuff – Loyalty, and to a lesser extent, compassion
  • Slytherin – Cunning, which is not the same as evil. Possibly domineering and/or manipulative.
  • Ravenclaw – Intelligence, a devotion to learning and exploring
  • Gryffindor – Courage, with an emphasis on doing what’s right

Then came the Sorting. It’s harder to do than you think. All of the Doctors are brave (though some more than others), but does a particular incarnation favor a different trait more? Are you actually considering the definition, as opposed to the way the students were portrayed in the books? For example, when we discussed the Fifth Doctor, everyone immediately said Hufflepuff, because he’s known for being placid and calm and, well, “vanilla” was the word that was bandied about. However, that’s the way the Hufflepuffs were portrayed in the books, but the trait we’re looking for here is loyalty, which is not particularly applicable to the Fifth Doctor. Sure, he was devoted to his companions, but beyond that, he was a scholar and an explorer. Not a Hufflepuff.

So, without further ado, here is the way we Sorted the Doctors.

First Doctor: Slytherin

I will admit, our group is not particularly conversant with the First Doctor, but we all agreed immediately that he belonged in Slytherin. He was definitely the master of his TARDIS crew and always convinced that he knew the best.

Second Doctor: Hufflepuff

The Second Doctor is probably the least Gryffindor of all the incarnations. He’s another one that we’re not too familiar with, but from what little we do know, he was very protective of his crew (we’re most familiar with Jamie and Victoria).

Third Doctor: Ravenclaw

UNIT’s scientific adviser was always working in his lab, and then once he was able to leave Earth, he enjoyed exploring. I would put Gryffindor as a secondary choice.

Fourth Doctor: Gryffindor

The Fourth Doctor could be Ravenclaw or Slytherin, but we decided that his courage is really what set him apart. He walked into any situation without fear, taking control and turning it around.

Fifth Doctor: Ravenclaw

As I discussed above, the Fifth Doctor’s life was devoted to exploration and learning.

Sixth Doctor: Gryffindor

Our first instinct for the Sixth Doctor was to put him in Slytherin, because of his reputation of being supercilious and manipulative. However, even though he was very arrogant, he always displayed a strong desire to do what’s right, no matter what it takes. And that puts him in Gryffindor.

Seventh Doctor: Slytherin

This wasn’t even a question. The Seventh Doctor is easily the most cunning of the incarnations, using his unremarkable physical appearance to lull his enemies into thinking they have the upper hand and then easily turning it around on them.

Eighth Doctor: Hufflepuff

Another incarnation the group in general was not familiar with, in my (limited) experience, the Eighth Doctor was fanatically devoted to his companions. His love of exploration would make Ravenclaw a secondary choice.

War Doctor: Hufflepuff

Interestingly, we chose Hufflepuff over Gryffindor for the soldier. His defining trait is his compassion, not his courage.

Ninth Doctor: Gryffindor

Coming off the Time War, the Ninth Doctor wanted to make up for his sins by doing good wherever he went. That was his driving force, and it puts him in Gryffindor.

Tenth Doctor: Ravenclaw

This was a hard decision. The Tenth Doctor was certainly brave and tried to do what was right, but was also the most tempted by power, and so could easily have been a Gryffindor or a Slytherin. However, his main focus was exploration, and his love of technology puts him in Ravenclaw.

Eleventh Doctor: Hufflepuff

This was also a hard decision. All of the Eleventh Doctor’s storylines (the Pandorica, Lake Silencio, the Impossible Girl) were all about his manipulation of events and his enemies, and so our first instinct was Slytherin. However, we decided that his defining trait was his devotion to Amy, and to a lesser extent, Clara. Thus, Hufflepuff.

Twelfth Doctor: Slytherin

The Twelfth Doctor is all about cunning and manipulation.

So there you have it, all of the Doctors neatly Sorted. Four Hufflepuffs, three Gryffindors, three Ravenclaws, and three Slytherins. There’s certainly a lot of room for discussion here: the four Houses overlap a lot, and no realistic character embodies only one personality trait. What do you think?