Happy birthday, Doctor Who: Legacy!

All thirteen Doctors!

All thirteen Doctors!

I haven’t written about Doctor Who: Legacy in a while, and I think it’s time. Anyone who’s reading this blog probably already knows at least the gist of the game, but I’ll describe it here anyway. It’s a match-3 game (that’s the general descriptor for any game in which there are colored piece on a board and the point is to move them so that 3 or more gems line up in a row and disappear) based on Doctor Who, in which you create a team of one Doctor and five allies and play the match-3 board to defeat enemies.

DW:L debuted on iOS exactly a year ago with one season’s worth of levels, about twenty allies, and two available Doctors, and since has released on Android devices and Facebook, with three seasons’ worth of levels, over 100 allies, and all thirteen TV show Doctors. During the broadcast window of Series 8, it released weekly content based on the episode of the week, rewarding the player with a new ally or costume. It also has an exclusive Fan Area, with more levels and allies, as well as expert levels that take high skill to beat and reward the player with expert versions of favorite characters. DW:L operates on the “free to play” model (abbreviated F2P), meaning that you can download the game for free and if you put enough time and effort into it, you earn most of its content without spending money (exception: the stuff in the Fan Area), but you can purchase currency which you can use to purchase powerups and content that you want right now or having trouble obtaining.

I’ve been playing DW:L ever since it came out, and I’m still pretty rabid about the game. All of my characters are at max level – well, except for the ones that were released last night, but as soon as they were released, I played until I got all of them; I will spend a lot of this weekend leveling them up. The makers of this game, Tiny Rebel Games, did a brilliant job of capturing the essence of Doctor Who – with its huge universe of characters and enemies, but without resorting to a game type that involved direct combat – while providing a game with captivating gameplay and allowing all fans to particpate by using an F2P model. They’re devoted to covering the entire show, from 1963 to the present, working tirelessly to provide more content on a weekly basis.

Tiny Rebel also has fantastic customer service and community support. If you’re the type to interact with other players, you can subscribe to their feeds on Facebook and Twitter for daily news and announcements, receive their weekly newsletter in your email, and go to the forums to talk about your favorite teams and strategies. They regularly poll their audience for suggestions about gameplay and what characters to include next. Last year, at Christmas time, a player suggested that they add a level based on “The Christmas Invasion”, and they had it designed, approved by the BBC, and out to players within a week.

More recently, I’ve been having problems with the game, and they responded immediately and personally. For many months now, my game, on my iPad 2, which is admittedly pretty obsolete technology, has been getting slow and crashing after playing levels. Back in March, I noticed that the game would crash after playing a level around 25 times. Two weeks ago, that number was down to 6 times (or about every 8 minutes). I sent in a support ticket, discussing the matter (I’m a game developer, so I was able to describe the problem in detail, with statistics), and I received a personal response from the game designer, that they were already aware of the issue and was about to put out a new release that hopefully fix it. He also asked me some specific questions about my experience with the issue, and we talked briefly about it.

The point, though, is that they took the time to work with me and address the issues. Absolutely amazing. Earlier this week, they released the promised update, and my game hasn’t crashed since – it’s still running silky smooth after at least a hundred levels. I wrote back to them to thank them for their wonderful work, and to show my appreciation, I purchased in-game currency. That’s the best way to show support for an F2P game.

And here we come to the point of this blog post. I’d like to ask all of you who play and enjoy Doctor Who: Legacy to support them by buying some Time Crystals. You don’t have to spend much: the smallest increment you can buy is $0.99, though if you buy the $4.99 package or above, you also get access to the Fan Area, which has a lot of extra levels (including the best one for farming Rank 5 Time Fragments, “Jenny”), exclusive allies, and better Time Fragment drop rates. What can you do with Time Crystals? Well, you can purchase allies, buy new team slots (I have seven – one for my battle team, one for farming “Jenny”, and five single-color teams for farming Time Fragments), continue levels that defeated you, and reset skill points. Most of mine have gone towards buying allies that are in the store but haven’t been released in the levels yet (like the five-color Silence pack and the Ood pack).

Those are the things you get for buying Time Crystals, but I’d also like to discuss here why it’s important to support DW:L, and honestly, any other F2P game you might be playing. Now, I know there are plenty of people who simply cannot afford to pay for a game like this, who scrape together every dollar to put food on the table and a roof over their kids’ heads. I’m not addressing this to those people. I’m talking to the people who have at least some disposable income but don’t feel that supporting a F2P is a good idea.

Like I said, I’m in the games industry, and I’ve heard all of the reasons why people don’t like to buy things in “free to play” games. Here are some of them:

  • “They’re ‘free to play’! ‘Free’ is right in the name. That means I don’t have to spend any money.”
  • “I won’t pay real money for pixels.”
  • “It’s just a game.”

The term “free to play” is a bit of a misnomer. The name “free to play” does not mean everything in the game is free. Yes, it’s free to download the game and you can play it as much as you want for free, but in most of these games, there is either content you can’t get if you never pay, or you’ll find yourself working much harder for things that paying players can get right away. DW:L has a little bit of content you can’t get for free, in its Fan Area, but in general, it went the second route. You might take 40 plays of a level to obtain an ally that a paying player can buy from the store, so it’s really just a matter of which you prefer to do: spend time, or spend money.

The real issue are the second two claims, or specifically, how people view games, especially computer games. There’s a popular view that games are for children, or not serious, or just a diversion. In my opinion, they are just as valid a source of entertainment as books, movies, TV, and music, and no one has a problem paying for those. Take any game you’ve played and enjoyed: Doctor Who: Legacy, hopefully, but if not, let’s try Farmville, or World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty, or even things like Monopoly, or poker, or solitaire. How much time have you spent playing that game? You may have enjoyed it for any number of reasons: the game itself, the strategy, winning, the social interactions… The list goes on. And for most games, people go on to talk about it with their friends, about the characters or items you’ve collected, or the raid last week, or “What’s your strategy for beating that boss?” or “Remember that time we played poker in the dorm lounge?” People devote hundreds of hours to playing games and talking about them, and still consider them less valid as entertainment and media than that movie they paid $7 to see that got 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. (That’s The Decoy Bride, by the way. I will never get those eighty-nine minutes of my life back.)

And there’s the thing: these games provide valued entertainment, and someone makes them. Games don’t come out nowhere. There are probably twenty or thirty people whose jobs it is to create the DW:L software, design the characters and levels, draw the art, test all of it when it’s put together, and reach out to the players to help them with issues and find out what they want, and they do this every week. For the DW:L team, who are all fans of the show, it’s a labor of love, but it’s also their livelihood, what puts food on their tables. They’ve put together a marvelous game, and they’ve offered it as F2P so that as many fans can play it as possible. They could have made it a $15 one-payment-only app, but only a fraction of the fanbase would have even tried it out. F2P makes it so that the people who continue to play the game support its further development.

So think about it. I’m not saying to pay money to all F2P games; I’m asking you to throw a dollar or two in the direction of the F2P games that are really good, that have entertained you and made you happy. Has Doctor Who: Legacy given you 20 hours of quality entertainment? Then support them. You’ll be helping pay for their salaries as well as funding future content and development on the game. And you’ll be getting some Time Crystals in return, to help you enjoy your game more right now. It’s win-win, helping them (and telling them in the most direct way that you like what they’re doing) and getting something for you. If I can get even one person to make a purchase in Doctor Who: Legacy who otherwise wouldn’t have, I would so happy, because I really believe they deserve our support.

Happy 51st birthday, Doctor!

It’s November 23, 2014, fifty-one years after the first broadcast of ‘The Unearthly Child”. The day before, President John F. Kennedy had been killed in Dallas, and so no one was paying attention to a new children’s science fiction show, and the BBC had to re-broadcast that episode the next week, to give this odd little programme a fair chance.  Fifty-one years later, that show is still going (admittedly, it was off the air for sixteen years), with seven million viewers tuning into each new episode. The eighth series of the modern show, featuring the twelfth actor to portray the Doctor for at least a full season, concluded a couple of weeks ago, and in a month, there will be a Christmas special. Beyond the telly, there’s a multitude of books, comic books, and audio plays – hundreds of stories from across the universe and all eras.

It’s almost impossible to describe what Doctor Who is; I think David Tennant said once that it’s impossible to describe the show without sounding like a raving lunatic. It’s generally classified as science fiction, and most of its stories involve aliens or at least some kind of technological gadgetry, but there’s so much more to it. Some stories are action-adventure, others are Gothic horror. There are political dramas, historical fantasies, and, to the anger of some purists, even romances. One week, they’re battling an army on war-torn planet, the next week they’re solving a murder mystery, and the next, they’re shrunk down to microscopic size and climbing through the brain of some creature. You never know what you’re going to get when you tune into an episode, in any of its media. And that’s one of the core attributes of the show. Its main character changes every few years, with a new personality and a new way of putting together an eye-bending outfit that somehow makes sense. If you’re not fond of a particular Doctor (episode) then come back in a year (week) and there’ll be something new for you to like.

But something about the heart(s) of the show stays the same, to keep its audience close in its constantly shifting world. The show has changed a lot over its fifty-one years, starting as a simple children’s show meant to teach science and history, evolving into episodic adventures of a man on the run from his own people and getting embroiled in the machinations of evil aliens and monsters, then, as the audiences tastes changed, developing longer story arcs and delving deeper into the companions’ lives and relationships. But there are three things that I think that make Doctor Who stand out. The first is the construction of its hero, the Doctor, who fights for what he believes is right, no matter what, standing against all the evil he encounters and even against his own race when he must. No matter what face and personality he wears, that’s always him. The second is the quality of the stories. There will always be stinker episodes, and some seasons will be not as good as others, but in general, the stories told are fantastic. The show takes full advantage of all of time and space to tell some of the most wonderful stories ever. The third is its complex history and exploration of deeper themes. The Doctor stands at the intersection of humanity’s everyday world and the rest of the universe. He deals with people on an individual basis, but also comprehends the bigger picture, how all the races of the universe fit together with each other. And he’s been doing this for hundreds of years. Thus, his stories draw on themes, problems, dilemmas from all levels of life, from the struggles of a single person to the grand schemes of the Time Lords, and the audience gets to explore it all with him.

As Mr. Tennant said, describe the show, and you sound like a raving lunatic. There’s really no other fictional universe that can do what Doctor Who does, none that has the reach or, honestly, the courage to try. And that’s what draws us back to it, to watch the explorer in his wooden police box, as he travels the universe with his loyal friends. We get to travel with him, see all of time and space and all the nasty, horrible wonderful things out there. Thank you, Doctor Who, and happy birthday!

“Revenge of the Swarm”

revengeoftheswarm_cover_large“Revenge of the Swarm” is the 189th audio play in Big Finish’s main range, and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hector. It turns out that this audio is a sequel to another story, and deals with Hector’s backstory, but I found it very enjoyable even though I knew nothing about either.

A lot of spoilers ahead (this one really requires a full story synopsis)!

First, let’s start with Hector. From what I could gather from the audio, Hector is better known as Hex, a companion who was also a good friend of Ace, but in some previous audio (probably very recently), his memories were captured in a bottle, and then the bottle was smashed, leaving him as a blank slate, with no memories and a different personality than Hex. I’m not quite sure how long he’s been Hector, as Ace seems to know him quite well (or maybe she knows Hex quite well and is very sympathetic toward Hector) but Hector doesn’t yet know much about himself or his problems. He’s certainly not yet that familiar with either the Doctor or Ace.

“Revenge of the Swarm” is a sequel to the Fourth Doctor story “The Invisible Enemy”, in which the enemy was the Swarm, a rapidly-evolving virus with the Nucleus as its central mind. I haven’t seen this episode, so all I know about it comes from listening to the audio, so I really can’t tell you much more, except that the Swarm takes people over and wants to expand and grow. The Doctor finally defeats it and believes it is dead.

Of course it’s not dead. It’s been weak, hibernating without a Nucleus, without a driving intelligence, in the TARDIS computer, waiting for a malleable mind to come within reach. It finds Hector, who’s very vulnerable since his memory and self have been largely removed, and takes him over, and he sends the TARDIS back in time to a space station orbiting Saturn which has been quarantined because it contains a very deadly virus, the most deadly virus known, the one that the Swarm evolved from. While the Doctor is immune to the virus due to his previous encounter with the Swarm, Ace immediately gets infected, and the space station personnel send her, cryogenically frozen, to a research station to get cured.

The main scientist at the research station has a secondary motive, though, to get a live culture of the virus from Ace and experiment on it. She knows that the virus kills all other viruses and bacteria in the host, so she wants to genetically engineer it to create a virus that isn’t deadly to humans but protects them from all other diseases, so that they can explore the universe without fear of alien diseases. The Doctor, realizing that the Swarm caused them to come here because it wants to change the course of history and clone the Nucleus so that the original goes on to be killed by the Fourth Doctor while the clone lives to try to take over the universe separately, cures Hector, and the three of them cause the station to cleanse itself with fire to destroy the Swarm. Unbeknownst to him, though, the Swarm uploads the clone into the station’s computer before the firestom.

Hector, however, hasn’t really been cured. The Swarm re-emerges in him, and he sends the TARDIS back to the research station but two hundred years in the future, when it has become the hub for the hypernet, the Internet of the future that controls the energy and information that flows between all of the human colonies all over the galaxy. He then steals the TARDIS’ dimensional stabilizer and runs off. The Doctor realizes that the Nucleus plans to use the dimensional stabilizer, which controls the materialization of the TARDIS, to drain all the hypernet and convert it into real matter and then download itself into it. As it continues to drain, it continues to grow until it has taken over the entire universe. I’m not going to describe how the Doctor finally defeats the Swarm, but I’ll discuss a little bit of later.

Part of the fun of this episode was that in order to deal with the Nucleus when it was in computers, the characters had to enter the computer, much like in the movie Tron, except that only their minds are uploaded, not their entire bodies; they’re even given motorcycles to ride to escape the Swarm’s hunters. It’s made very clear that dying in the computer will kill them in reality (their bodies would be left mindless), though I have to wonder if the Doctor would have just regenerated if that happened. The whole computerscape does give Ace some chance to show off her personality, as her motorcycle has a cannon and she has a great time blasting Swarm drones from the sky. But in general, the story was very engaging, especially because of its deft use of time travel. It was very clever to clone the Nucleus so that one bit goes on to be the Swarm that the Fourth Doctor encountered while the other bit continued on in this story.

However, one of the best parts of the story dealt with Hector and his first introduction to the more interesting characteristics of the Seventh Doctor. In order to defeat the Nucleus, the Doctor splits the group up to accomplish different tasks, with Hector and the Doctor going into the computer to do their task. They flee the Swarm hunters on motorcycles, but they’re not fast enough, and the Swarm attacks Hector, starting to tear him apart; they don’t attack the Doctor because they know he has immunity which will attack the Swarm and harm the Nucleus. Luckily, the allies on the outside download Hector and the Doctor into their bodies just before Hector dies in the computerscape.

At the end of the adventure, Hector figures out what happened: earlier in the adventure, the second time the Doctor cured Hector, he gave him some blood to give Hector immunity. The Nucleus didn’t know about this, so the Doctor took Hector into the computer, telling him their task would be easy, but actually intending for the Swarm to attack him and unknowingly get infected by his immunity, which then attacked and destroyed the Swarm. The Doctor deliberately did not tell Hector, because he knew Hector wouldn’t do it if he knew, and thus the Doctor made the decision for him, risking his life, allowing him to get torn apart by the hunters, and nearly killing him.

This is a main trait of the Seventh Doctor, manipulating events and being willing to sacrifice people when he can’t know if they’ll survive, and it was beautifully handled in this story. Hector gets understandably angry, and doesn’t back down even when Ace defends the Doctor, saying that what he does is always for the greater good, and Hector has to reconsider whether or not he can stay with the Doctor and trust him; this conflict is left open. This scene was fascinating, as you’re watching Hector figure out both who he is and whether he can condone what his friends are doing.

So, this story was a great adventure supported by great character development and an inspection into the morality of the Seventh Doctor, and it sets up for an interesting next adventure, where we will hopefully see how Hector deals with the Doctor and Ace in further perilous situations. I’m always impressed how these audio stories are so well-designed for their Doctors, as this is exactly the kind of thing that Seventh Doctor is best for.

Like father like daughter?

Something occurred to me today that’s bothered me quite a bit. I hate to think that I’m being over-picky about things, but this one has really gripped my brain and it really bothers me. And here it is.

doctor_who_kate_stewartKate Stewart has appeared three times in the Doctor Who TV series, and all three times, she was co-opted by the Brigadier.

She first appears in “Power of Three”, when we don’t know who she is other than she’s the science advisor for UNIT and has worked on decreasing the organization’s dependence on weapons and the military mindset. As the situation gets out of hand in the episode, she starts to realize that there’s nothing she can do, and the Doctor gives her a pep talk, saying, “Don’t despair, Kate. Your dad never did. Kate Stewart, heading up UNIT, changing the way they work. How could you not be? Why did you drop Lethbridge?” This is, of course, the revelation for the audience that she’s the Brigadier’s daughter, and now your attention is on her as the Brigadier’s daughter and not the leader of UNIT. The Doctor’s first tactic is to encourage her with who her father is, not what she has been able to accomplish. He even says that she must be the Brig’s daughter, since she’s the head of UNIT and changing them, implying that she couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t his blood relation. (Is that really what he said? That’s really kind of insulting.)

She then returns in “The Day of the Doctor”, and while she’s a very strong, capable commander throughout the episode (while human or Zygon), her best scene was when she was facing off with her Zygon duplicate, threatening to destroy London to save the world. When the duplicate doubts that she could do such a thing, she doesn’t say, “Look in my mind. You can see what I’m thinking, and you know that I would do this to save my world.” Instead, she says, “Somewhere in your memory is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. I am his daughter.” Her stand against the threat is based on her father’s strength, not her own.

Her last and most recent appearance was in “Death in Heaven’. (Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.  In this episode, she performs well, though she is mostly powerless to solve the issue at hand, through no fault of her own. But first, on the plane that’s meant to be the base of the “President of the World”, there’s a portrait of the Brigadier. There’s no real reason for it, as the Brigadier retired from UNIT in the 1970s and there have been several brigadier-generals of UNIT since then; the Doctor even pokes her about it, saying, “Ah, I see you’re bringing Daddy along, too.” Then, she is later saved by the resurrected CyberBrig, which is certainly one of the coolest moments of the show (if you don’t feel it the resurrection desecrated his memory; I’m on the fence about that still), but, while it doesn’t insult her in any way, it certainly turns the spotlight away from her and right on the Brigadier.

Is there some rule that Kate is not allowed to be a strong character on her own? Must everything she does be weighed in reference to her father? It’s ironic that she dropped the “Lethbridge” because she “didn’t want any favours,” and yet it seems that the scripts are only letting her into the show so that they can bring the Brigadier back in. She’s a scientist and a leader, direct and decisive, but she is always written as her father’s daughter – or at least, the Doctor seems to think that she’s nothing but that. Which is insulting for both her AND the Doctor – well, perhaps the Twelfth Doctor might feel that way, but it is surprising that the Eleventh Doctor did.

I do honestly think that this has all happened as a side-effect of the writers wanting to pay homage to the Brigadier, but they’re playing that card too many times at the expense of an otherwise great character. They need to stop relying on nostalgia and let Kate be her own woman, and perhaps she’ll become as iconic to the current series as the Brigadier was to the classic show.

It’s finally over…

It saddens me more than you can imagine to write that I am so glad that Series 8 of Doctor Who is finally over. This has been one painful trip. To think that just three months ago, I was giddily excited about the new season and meeting the new Doctor, though a bit apprehensive of another season of Clara, a companion I’ve never really liked. Well, sadly, though I love Mr. Capaldi’s Doctor, there’s not much of this season that’s worth anything. I’ve been avoiding writing about the season as much as possible, because I had wanted to not complain, but now that it’s done, here’s how I’ve felt about it.

Before the season started, the press releases were telling us that the show was being taken in a new direction. The new Doctor would be dark, they said, and you wouldn’t always be sure if he was going to keep the companion safe. And they told us there were consequences if you choose to run with the Doctor, that it’s not just travel and fun. I was a little apprehensive about this, because, you know, why should they have to tell you what to expect? Part of the essence of good storytelling is having the audience think about the story you’re telling and figure these things out for themselves. I was particularly concerned about their emphasis on the “consequences for the companion”, since we had already learned from Rose, Martha, and Donna and their families that being with the Doctor causes everyone to get hurt. As Martha put it, “He’s like fire. Stand too close and you get burned.” Why should they think it’s such a great new novel idea when the first five years of the show was all about that?

"I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around somewhere, but let me complain about the fact he's not Matt Smith anymore."

“I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around crazy somewhere, but let me complain about the fact that he’s not Matt Smith anymore.”

However, I went into the season premiere, “Deep Breath”, with anxious anticipation, and, well, it was as bad as I’d dreaded. I’ve already written a review of it, and going back and reading it, I still pretty much agree with how I felt back then. It horrifies me that I didn’t remember that I had gone to the theater to see it – I have such bad memories of that episode that I don’t even remember going out for it. To summarize, though, I found that “Deep Breath” was way too preoccupied with Clara being unable to accept the new Doctor, that it was way too talky (the Doctor basically talked the robot to death), and its attempts to draw clever parallels were obvious and heavy-handed. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the trend for the entire season.

Apparently, the “consequences for the companion” was a code-word for “making Doctor Who into The Clara Show“. Much of the season concerned itself with Clara, either her relationship with the Doctor or her relationship with Danny Pink, to the exclusion of the Doctor from the show. Few of the episodes weren’t mostly about her, and some even marginalized the Doctor without being an actual Doctor-lite episode (“Kill the Moon”, “Flatline”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and to a large extent, “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven”). Clara herself was neurotic and manipulative, spending most of the season lying to both the Doctor and Danny to keep them well-heeled, while simultaneously complaining to them if/when they lied. Her mood swings were impressive, going from hating the Doctor in one episode to “everything’s fine” the next (which was a lie, of course, along with blaming it all on Danny). And her relationship with Danny was simply dysfunctional, starting as a sexual predator (forcing him to go on a date with her, then returning multiple times after that date had gone south twice, even showing up at his apartment uninvited and kissing him; can you imagine if their genders were reversed, how offensive she would be?), then lying to him repeatedly, even when monsters are attacking and he’s trying to figure out what’s going on simply to survive (yes, tell him you’re just rehearsing the school play; very clever).

Danny himself was poorly characterized. He was supposed to be a PTSD soldier, but apparently all that means is completely emotionless and spineless except when he can insult the Doctor. Granted, the Doctor probably started it, but still, Danny had no personality except in those moments. In general, though, the main problem here is that the season was completely about Clara and her relationships, and she was not interesting at best, offensive at worst. There were good episodes this season that were damaged by her simply being there. I remember being completely enthralled by “Mummy on the Orient Express” until the scene cut to Clara, and she ruined the atmosphere with her complaint about having to lie to the woman to get her to go to the lab. (And she didn’t have to lie; there were other ways of persuading the woman to go to the lab without lying. But she chooses to lie, and then yells at the Doctor later that he “made” her lie.) And then the end of that episode, where suddenly everything’s fine and she only told the Doctor she hated him because Danny wanted her to – that was unbelievable. I could go on, but I won’t.

Listen to me talk!

Listen to me talk!

There were some good episodes, if you squinted Clara out of the camera frame; “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” are the two standouts, as long as you chop off the final scene in both, where Clara does her attention-getting schtick. Both of these had interesting adversaries, lots of problem-solving, and well-designed horror scenes. And I think that’s the problem. Most of the rest of the episodes were designed to have the characters talk about philosophical themes: “Deep Breath”, “Into the Dalek” to some extent, “Listen”, “The Caretaker”, “Kill the Moon”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” all fit this bill. “Death in Heaven” was particularly bad for this: with its lead-in with Cybermen invading London, it spent most of its 60 minutes (15 more than usual) with the Cybermen simply standing around while the main characters talked. It’s okay to transform what’s traditionally an action-packed adventure show into a philosophical drama, if you do it well, but it rarely was. Perhaps they tried too hard to keep the action-adventure format. Or maybe they just don’t know how to do philosophical drama. Either way, these episodes devolved into heavy-handed sermons, usually with contrived plots to set up the discussion and pat, unsatisfying conclusions. Tack on melodramatic scenes meant to tug at heartstrings (Really, her sister was in a bush? What?), and all you have is a mess.

And I think that’s the problem. I can’t say for certain, but it really does seem to me that the writers were told to elicit specific emotional responses or say specific lines or handle certain themes, and the plots were shoehorned in around them. The thing is, the audience is not stupid. We can tell when something is contrived, when you’re trying to manipulate us, and this season reeked of manipulation.

Now, you might note that I haven’t discussed the Capaldi Doctor himself yet. The Doctor was wonderful, as was his actor. He was very different than his predecessor, with a very alien outlook and an inability to really understand how humans think, resulting in his being abrasive and insulting a lot of the time. While he’s older and a lot less action-oriented than the Smith Doctor, he still had a sharp wit and brilliant logic. A lot of people didn’t like his arrogance and tendency to insult people, either directly or accidentally, but I think that people who feel the Doctor shouldn’t be like that are forgetting Tom Baker’s and Colin Baker’s Doctors, and to a lesser extent, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. Unfortunately, Capaldi has had to endure less-than-stellar episodes, and I’m hoping that a new companion will make things better for him (I’m not anticipating an improvement in the writing).

No, this is dark.

No, this is dark.

I am very disappointed in two things, though. First, the promise of the “dark” Doctor. Now, maybe this might be due to my definition of “dark.” To me, a dark Doctor is one who teeters on the edge of corruption, who is close to giving in to his dark side. McCoy’s Doctor was dark, because he was manipulative and actually sacrificed his companion to further his goals. Tennant’s Doctor courted the dark side multiple times, with a tendency towards cruelty (“The Christmas Invasion”, “The Runaway Bride”,  “The Family of Blood”) and tempted by power (“School Reunion”), ultimately giving in to it (“The Waters of Mars”). Capaldi’s Doctor showed very little darkness. He let Clara fend for herself in “Deep Breath”, though he believed that she was fully capable of surviving, and while the Rusty looked into his mind and saw hatred, the Doctor’s actions were never affected by it. This Doctor is less dark and more, well, grumpy.

The other thing is the promise we had at the end of Series 7.2. What happened to the search for Gallifrey? When the Smith Doctor talks to the Curator and discovers that Gallifrey has survived, his eyes gleam with hope, and the final scene is that of all twelve Doctors with the voiceover that he finally knows where he’s going: home.  He finds out that Gallifrey is behind the crack at Trenzalore and spends the rest of his life defending the planet, but once he regenerates, Gallifrey doesn’t come up once. He doesn’t spend a moment searching for it until the Master appears. What happened to going home and finding his people? Was he really satisfied with the confirmation that Gallifrey was stuck somewhere – doesn’t matter where, as long as he knew it was still around? At the end of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Doctor actually had a purpose, for once in his lives – a quest, you might call it – and he forgot it. Instead, we were given a season of soap opera.

This season has been bad enough that I’m not excited for the Christmas special, and don’t actually care if there’s a Series 9 or not. I love the new Doctor, but if the show is going to continue to be as maudlin and condescending as it has been since Series 7.2, then, it’s time I moved on. I’m nowhere near finished viewing the classic series. I’ve hundreds of hours of Big Finish audios to listen to, and that’s just in the main range. And, of course, there’s Series 1-6 to enjoy on rewatch. The current show has a lot to do to recapture my imagination.

The journey never ends

I have this perverse attitude that I don’t want to do something long, but then do two or more short things that take up more time than the long thing would have. In specific, I almost never sit down to watch two-part episodes of the modern Doctor Who. I don’t have this problem with the classic series, maybe because they’re four- to six-part serials of 25 minutes per part, so I don’t mind watching a couple and then, if I feel like it, go do something else and watch the rest the next day. But for some reason, modern stories with two 45-minute parts are daunting to me. I don’t have a problem watching “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” any time it’s suggested to me, probably because I love that episode to bits, but any other two-parter elicits a groan from me, and instead, I sit down to watch a single episode. Then another. And often another. And then kick myself that I didn’t just sit down and watch the two-parter.

Three episodes, but worth every minute of it!

Three episodes, but worth every minute of it!

Because of this, I actually haven’t seen most of the two-part episodes more than three or four times (and I know I’ve only seen the three-part “Utopia” / “The Sound of Drums” / “The Last of the Time Lords” twice, even though I love it to death). I didn’t really realize this until I sat down to watch “The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End” this week. As we got to the scene were the Doctor suppresses Donna’s memories, I realized that the fanfic I had written that referred to that scene was written in February, and I hadn’t seen the episode since. That means it’s been at least nine months since I’ve seen one of my favorite episodes, and it’s all because for some reason, I won’t start two-part episodes. That’s just crazy.

Be that as it may, I thoroughly enjoyed watching TSE/JE for the first time in a very long time, and it amazed me how much subtext was written into it. Maybe it’s because I’m writing my own stories, but for some reason, I’m starting to see a lot more subtlety in the RTD-era episodes than I have before. (I have no idea how much subtlety the Moffat-era episodes have. I like to think that Moffat is not a subtle writer, but I’m perfectly willing to admit that I know and understand his seasons a lot less well than I know the RTD seasons.) Everything that happens in TSE/JE was written to highlight Davros’ reveal of the “Doctor’s soul.”

Rose, not at her most flattering

Rose, not at her most flattering

All of the Tenth Doctor’s companions return in this episode. Jack, of course, is part of Torchwood. Martha is part of UNIT, and she goes to prepare the Osterhagen Key. Sarah Jane goes to the Crucible armed with a Warp Star. Most tellingly, Rose comes to find the Doctor armed with the biggest gun in the show, and Mickey and Jackie, who follow her, are also armed similarly. She even pauses in her search to threaten some petty looters with it. Remember that the three came from Pete’s World, where the stars were going out, and they had no idea what was causing it, and though the Doctor always tried to teach them non-violence, they came armed with weapons mighty enough to kill Daleks in one shot. Jack, Martha, and Sarah Jane knew what they were up against, so they at least have a reason to feel that violence was warranted; Rose had no such excuse. She’s the prime example of the character who the Doctor molded into a soldier, and this might very much be why the Doctor chose to place her back in Pete’s World.

(This is a common argument. Not only was Rose very much a soldier when she returned, but she had already been building the dimension cannon to break down the walls between the universes when they started seeing the stars going out. She knew that the cannon would start breaking down the universes, but still chose to do so just to return to the Doctor. Discounting the at least two years he had to move on from her, this character development, towards violence and irresponsibility, could have soured him against her.)

Interestingly, the one person who didn’t follow the Doctor, and the one person who he has condemned for violence, Harriet Jones, is the only true pacifist here. I’ve written before what a magnificent character she is, and this is one of her shining moments. In “The Christmas Invasion,” the Tenth Doctor’s very first full episode, she disagreed with the Doctor about what was right for the defense of planet Earth. Both of them were right: the Doctor sees things from a different view and wanted to protect the Sycorax as much as Earth, and did not like that they were shot in the back, while PM Jones knew that the Earth couldn’t let itself rely on the Doctor to be there every time danger lurked. In TSE/JE, she stood by what she believed, but works for it not by raising an army or developing weapons, but by building a communications network to contact the Doctor when he was needed.

Davros and Dalek Caan

Davros and Dalek Caan

The soldier companions converge on the crucible, with Rose and the Doctor imprisoned, make their threats, and reveal the Doctor’s soul, as described by Davros. This is what breaks him, and what makes him vow never to have another companion, which, of course, leads to his downfall in “The Waters of Mars.” The problem, of course, is that the Doctor is far too willing to blame himself for everything, and even though the judgment passed on him is given by an enemy filled with hatred for him, who he knows is completely amoral, the Doctor still completely agrees with him. Interestingly, though, the most objective judgment comes from Harriet Jones, the one person in the entire story who can be called neutral: she neither follows the Doctor nor hates him. She tells Jack, “And you tell him from me, he chose his companions well.” She sees that they are all brave and trying to do what’s right, and that sometimes what’s right requires violence, but they aren’t needlessly violent. Sadly, Jack never passes on her message, something the Doctor needed to hear.

The only other non-violent character in the story is Donna. She gets infused by the metacrisis and is able to stop the Daleks, but that’s the thing: she stops the Reality Bomb, confuses the Daleks’ circuits, and defuses the energy generator by sending the planets home, but she never attacks anyone. She even tries to stop the Metacrisis Doctor from destroying the Daleks. And for her efforts, she’s rewarded with a mind-wipe. Only the Doctor’s soldiers survive this conflict. It’s all very well-woven.

Probably a half an hour before the Doctor is alone once more.

Probably a half an hour before the Doctor is alone once more.

The conclusion of the story continues to reinforce the Doctor’s problems. Sarah Jane tells him, “You know, you act like such a lonely man. But look at you. You’ve got the biggest family on Earth,” and immediately runs off to her own family. Jack, Mickey, and Martha similarly leave, and of course, Rose, Jackie, and the Metacrisis Doctor stay in Pete’s World. They all unconsciously reinforce to him that he’s just a friend that they once knew but have moved on from, almost more like a co-worker from a job they left long ago. “Hey, it was great seeing you again. We did some great things together. Let’s go out for drinks sometime.” Of course, the Doctor contributes to his own problems by making decisions for everyone else like he always does – he forces Rose back to Pete’s World, insists that the Metacrisis Doctor stay with her, and removes Donna’s memories against her wishes – but in the end, everyone contributes to his eventual loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and self-hatred.

Much of this is readily not apparent until you watch the episode two or three times, but it really is beautiful. There are a few quibbles with the narrative that are certainly justified, especially the rather deus-ex-machina-y ending with Donna suddenly beating Davros, but the deeper story is where it really is all at. Oh, and I have to mention that Dalek Caan is one of my favorites ever, with his manipulation of the events as he decreed, “No more!” His soothsayings were also very clever: the Dark Lord (oo, the Doctor as the Dark Lord, that’s chilling), the Threefold Man, “The Doctor will be here as witness, at the end of everything,” meaning, of course, the end of everything Dalek. In my opinion, while this episode isn’t the best at straightforward plot, it really shines with theme and character development.

“Square One”

squareone“Square One” is the second audio play in the first “Gallifrey” series. There’s really not much more of an introduction I can give for it here, so let’s just go to the description and discussion, shall we?

A few spoilers ahead. I’m not going to describe the whole plot.

While the Temporal Powers are responsible for overseeing time, lesser time-sensitve races want their say in the way the the universe is governed, and to work these things out, the Powers schedule a summit, where issues can be discussed and treaties can be forged. However, since the Powers, as well as the other races, really don’t trust each other all that much, they don’t want anyone, especially Gallifrey, to dominate the proceedings. So, they draw up a set of rules by which the summit must operate. The high leaders of the Powers or other races may not attend the summit, but instead must send lesser individuals to represent them. The actual proceedings are to be broadcast to the universe, but nothing outside the summit chamber may be released, so that the delegates can feel secure about meeting with other races and making treaties and alliances without the media watching. During the summit, the delegates cannot leave the planetoid, so entertainment is brought in to give them relaxation and recreation. Contact with their homeworlds would be limited. All of the security is handled by a secure network of droids, and any other computers or androids that are brought in have to be connected to the network, and any advanced circuitry disabled. The summit itself is organized by a Time Lady named Hossak.

For the Time Lords’ part, Lady President Romana sends Narvin as the Gallifreyan delegate, but she suspects that there is more going on, and she sends Leela to the planetoid with K-9, posing as an exotic dancer (Leela, not the tin dog). Arriving at the planet and settling into her role, Leela doesn’t find anything untoward, except for a very lecherous Nekkistani delegate named Flinkstab who tries to appropriate her for himself, until she finds another dancer, Lexi, dead. Though she realizes that the only person who could have done it is Flinkstab, she’s discovered with the body by the security droids and is immediately accused of the murder. And then she arrives at the planet and settles in to her new role, and when she meets Lexi, she realizes that she saw her dead. Later that night, as she’s dancing, Narvin is having a discussion with Pule, a delegate of the Unvoss, when Pule’s drink explodes and kills him, and the Time Lord is accused of the murder. And then Leela arrives as the planet and before settling into her new role, she knows that she’s living through the same day over and over, and contacts Romana to come figure out what’s happening.

The episode is an enjoyable story, with plenty of machinations and schemes to unravel. So far in this series, I am really loving how well-drawn the characters are. Narvin, who, as a more traditional Time Lord than Romana or Braxiatel, is always convinced of his superiority and is insulted to find that Romana used him to her ends. He rants and sputters at her about it, and she calmly shows him how she’s made him look better, not worse, for the role he played. Romana and Leela two strong women, completely opposites of each other but equally capable. Leela is not clever, but she sees clearly where others do not and is steadfastly moral and always brave. Romana is savvy and not blinded by the grandeur of being a Time Lady, and though she knows that her people don’t agree with her on a lot of things, she’s strong enough to stand against them when she needs to. And, having had more contact with other civilizations than most of the Time Lords have had, she’s more able to understand and predict the other Temporal Powers’ attitudes and actions.

I think one of the things that really appeals to me about these “Gallifrey” audios is that the audience is not being persuaded to think that the Time Lords are right or good. Since the story is being told from the Time Lords’ view, we have a predilection for thinking so, but as things progress, we start to see how petty and manipulative they are, and some of their goals are not necessarily good for anyone but themselves. This allows for a deeper exploration into the Temporal Powers, and makes for far more satisfying political storylines.

I’m very happy so far: I was eager to start listening to this series, and after two episodes, I’m still excited to hear more. I will say that audios take a lot of energy and concentration to listen to, because there aren’t any visual effects to distract you, so there are no pauses and the 1.5 hours of a play is thick with important dialogue, so I can’t really listen to more than one every couple of days, but I’m definitely loving them when I can.