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.

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“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?

“The Dark Husband”

thedarkhusbandUsually, when I decide to listen to a Doctor Who audio, I look through the list of audios I own and choose one that sounds interesting. However, with a couple of hours to kill and no Internet connection, I pulled out my iPod and chose a random  audio to listen to, and it was “The Dark Husband”, the 106th audio in the main range, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex. Unfortunately, it turned out to be pretty disappointing.

Spoilers, of course.

For a bit of a break, the Doctor takes Ace and Hex to what he calls the greatest festival in the galaxy, on a gorgeous planet. When they get there, they discover that the planet is in the middle of a centuries-long war between the two different races on the planet, the red-haired soldiers called the Ri and the bald philosophers called the Ir, who both worship their god, Tuin. The festival does occur as scheduled, as it’s the one time when truce is called and all hostilities are set aside. The Doctor then announces that he actually knew that the planet had been at war and had come here to stop the war by offering himself as the Suitor. He’s immediately proclaimed to be the Dark Husband, and the search is begun for the Shining Wife, and the war is to end when the two are married.

As the search proceeds, the priests of Tuin tie the Doctor up to be sacrificed to the god by fire. Ace fights through the crowd and soldiers to get to him to free him, and is proclaimed to be the Shining Wife, the woman who shows the sought-after bravery. However, before the ceremony can continue, Hex then offers himself to be the Dark Husband, to free the Doctor from having to marry Ace (and possibly for his own reasons as well…) The two are then mind-controlled by the god, and the Doctor discovers that the marriage is followed by combat: the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife are destined to fight until one of them is killed.

Through talking to the Ri and Ir friends that he’s made, the Doctor discovers what’s really going on. The planet, Tuin, is the god that the Ri and Ir worship, and it wanted to create the perfect species but couldn’t decide which was better, strength or cunning, so it created the two races and had them fight each other. Since they couldn’t overcome each other, it then decided that once each side had its champion, the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, the two would fight, and it would transform all of individuals on the planet into the winning race. The problem, of course, is that the two champions were human, so no matter which one won, the planet would not be able to transform the people into the champion’s race and the entire species would die. At the last moment, the Doctor’s Ri and Ir friends declared themselves the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, then chose to die together, forcing the planet to create the species from both of them, at last uniting the two races into a whole.

The overall story was interesting enough, but it went at a plodding pace, with not much happening for most of the story. The side characters – the Ri and Ir friends – were rather two-dimensional, with the Ri soldier only interested in fighting and drinking and the Ir philosopher only interested in making snarky comments; this was disappointing because Doctor Who is usually really good at creating interesting, deep guest characters. It also felt really weird that the Doctor decided to offer himself as the Suitor when he really had no idea what that entailed at all. The war had been going on for thousands of years and no one had ever offered themselves as the Suitor, so you’d think that the Doctor would wonder why.

The one strength of the story was that it had humorous dialogue and the banter was great. It also gave me (someone who doesn’t listen to audios in the right order) a little taste of Hex, though I think I need to listen to some of his earlier stories to really see his character progression.

Bottom line, though, I wouldn’t recommend this audio; there are far better ones out there to listen to.