Story arcs

the_tenth_doctor_by_dv8r71-d4osjwxIf you read this blog, it’s really no secret that I prefer Russell T. Davies’ showrunning over Steven Moffat’s. As I’ve said before, Moffat writes fantastic single episodes, but his arcs – both single-season and the Eleventh Doctor’s full run – seem to be overly complicated and confused, with a healthy dose of “let’s tie this thread up with this point, even though it contradicts a whole bunch of other points.”  RTD’s arcs were shorter – there never seemed to be a story arc that spanned the entire Tenth Doctor’s run – and his stories developed very subtly over the season, in opposition to Moffat’s preference of introducing the main conflict in the first episode of the season, then running a number of unrelated episodes with injections of “oh, no, a crack” / “Kovarian’s eyes again” / “I really need to figure out what’s up with Clara” just to remind the viewer that yes, there’s something else going on, so that we didn’t get bored waiting for the season finale.

I was reading an article on a website yesterday about Billie Piper, at some convention, answering “yes” to a fan question that asked if she’d return to do a spinoff based on Rose and the Metacrisis Tenth Doctor (No, it’s not a thing anyone is seriously considering. It was a fan question. Thank the powers that be. Bleah.) and I saw the following in the comments.

“Personally, the progression of their [Rose and the Doctor’s] relationship intrigues me, because I see it as a tragedy, but for different reasons than most. The way I interpret it, their relationship is supposed to hurt Ten to the point of him finding security in his colder Time Lord persona so that he doesn’t have to deal with the pain that his particularly human personality is susceptible to, and it’s supposed to show how Rose’s obsession with the Doctor warps her outlook and crushes any hope for positive growth that she could have had. I’m not saying that to just blindly insult the story or anything; that’s legitimately how I see it play out, and I think it’s actually quite interesting. But the point was made in “Journey’s End”, and I have no desire to it stretched out any further.”

I hadn’t honestly thought of it this way. I’ve always considered series 2 to be the weakest of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s run, as the relationship between Rose and the Doctor was poorly handled, portrayed as the two traipsing through the universe, happy-go-lucky. There was no development, just random depictions of something deeper that might exist between them whenever the writer needed an emotional moment or an excuse for the Doctor to get really angry (by having the villain threaten or hurt Rose), and then suddenly, when Rose was sucked into Pete’s World, we’re shown that yes, he was in love with her.

If, instead, you look at it like the commenter does, it all makes a lot more sense. It’s a story of how the companion, if the Doctor isn’t very careful, becomes weaker and less independent. This story is repeated in series 3: Martha, because of her unrequited love for the Doctor and the Doctor’s inability to recognize it, also devolves, though she has the personal strength to recognize it, overcome it in the series finale, and leave at the end. Donna goes in the opposite direction because this time the Doctor is paying attention; of course, she loses it all due to circumstances beyond her and the Doctor’s control, but the Doctor blames himself for it. Looking at it this way, Davros’ words, about the Doctor taking his companions and transforming them into worse people, has even more weight.

The Doctor, on the other hand, has this “particularly human personality” and each companion hits him right where it hurts. Rose’s departure is particularly painful because of his love for her. Then Martha demonstrates that he’s hurting her even when he doesn’t mean to, simply because he’s still hurting from Rose, and also because while he has a tender human side, he’s still a Time Lord and can’t relate to her like she wants him to. And then there’s Donna, the shining example, to him, of a person whose life he’s ruined. His experience with all three companions drive him towards that “colder Time Lord persona,” into believing that he should be alone: he can’t afford to fall in love, he’s hurting his companions even when he thinks everything is okay, and he ruins the lives of those he touches. In other words, it was all pushing him towards “The Waters of Mars,” towards the Time Lord Victorious, and then his redemption in The End of Time.

Now, I really don’t know if RTD designed the Tenth Doctor’s run to have this epic storyline, but it certainly looks like he at least knew where he wanted the Doctor to start and to end up. And that’s really why I prefer RTD. His stories were about the characters, not the circumstances or the complex time mechanics. Maybe I prefer more of the classic show feel, in which you got to watch the Doctor grow and change through his close friendship with Jamie or Sarah Jane or Ace, his attempts to educate Leela, and the conflict with and death of Adric. And that’s why I like Paul Cornell so much as an episode writer. I’m not saying Moffat is bad in any way. I just prefer RTD.

Difference of opinion

Two great Doctors.

Two great Doctors.

It’s a bit ironic that today on my WordPress newsfeed, I was presented with two different articles, one saying how much writer prefers the RTD and the Tenth Doctor, and the other saying how much the writer prefers Moffat and the Eleventh Doctor. The two posts didn’t really say anything that I haven’t heard before about these two Doctors, but reading them side-by-side, I see that there seems to be a clear break between preferences of the audience.

  • If you care about the Doctor’s characterization and his relationship with the people around him and don’t care so much about the show’s story, you prefer RTD and the Tenth Doctor.
  • If you care about the show’s story and don’t care so much about the Doctor’s characterization and his relationship with the people around him, you prefer Moffat and the Eleventh Doctor.

Yes, it’s a lot more complicated that than, but that seems to be the gist of the arguments that I’ve seen. Tenth Doctor enthusiasts cite his relationship with Rose, his retreat into his shell during his travels with Martha, his friendship with Donna, his love/hate relationship with the Master, and his descent into darkness and the fact that he had to condemn the Time Lords yet again at the end of his life, and individual episodes in which the Doctor suffers a tragedy or personal triumph. Eleventh Doctor fans point at the puzzles of Amy and the Impossible Girl, his story arcs of the Pandorica and the Silence and the Great Intelligence, and individual episodes in which the Doctor engineers a great victory. The Ninth Doctor tends to get shafted in this discussion: I’ve seen lots of debate about whether the Ninth or Tenth Doctor is better, but people who like the Eleventh Doctor tend to not even consider the Ninth Doctor at all.

I’m sure you know which camp I’m in (Tenth Doctor all the way!), but that doesn’t really matter to me. I like the Eleventh Doctor. He’s not my favorite, certainly, but he’s fun to watch and his episodes are good (well, some of them; like every Doctor, he’s got some real stinkers). But I like all the Doctors. The great part of the whole thing is the fact that there are millions of people out there who are all enjoying the show and are so invested in this brilliant fictional universe that they’re sitting there, in their free time, thinking about what it is about the Doctor that they like or dislike. It just amazes me that this TV show captivates so many people like this. I’m sure that it’s like this in other fandoms, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen first-hand. I’ve been a fan of other things before (Star Trek and the Marvel superheroes come to mind), but I’ve never seen this kind of in-depth discussion happen between my fan friends for those other fandoms. With Doctor Who, the discussions I’ve watched and participated in can last for hours. The only thing I’ve seen come even close is Firefly.

So, bring it on, DW fandom! More discussion. More Moffat-hate or RTD-hate or whatever. More love for the Doctor. I want to see it all!

Hard data

Graph of IMDB ratings of Doctor Who episodes

Graph of IMDB ratings of Doctor Who episodes

I found this on my Facebook feed yesterday: Graph TV. It’s a website that reads the IMDB ratings of TV show episodes and graphs them, with the linear regression showing the ratings trend over each season. If you thought the last season of Dexter was disappointing, you should check out what it looks like on this site. Of course, the first thing I did was type in Doctor Who, and the graph is very interesting. I’ve included a screenshot of it here but I recommend going to the site and looking at the real display, because you can mouse over the dots to see which episodes they are and their individual ratings.

The biggest problem with graphs like this (and statistics) is that if you don’t really understand the mathematics behind them, it’s really easy to misinterpret data and use them to support whatever theory you already believe. Now, I’m not a statistics expert, so I can’t draw a lot of conclusions from the graph, but it’s fun to try.

First, it’s important to understand how this data was collected. Each dot represents an episode’s rating, which is an average of IMDB user ratings. You can view the list of episodes, number of votes, and ratings by clicking on the IMDB link below the graph (or just click here), and you can see that each episode has somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 ratings. The graph does not take into account any episodes that don’t have an episode number, so the David Tennant specials (“The Next Doctor,” “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars,” and “The End of the Time) and the final Matt Smith episodes (“The Day of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor”) are not included in the graph.

It’s also important to note the averages of the ratings, because they are hard to read off the graphs. I’ve calculated them, and here they are, with a few tweaks as noted:

  • All 7 series: 8.13
  • Series 1: 8.09
  • Series 2: 8.02
  • Series 3: 8.12
  • Series 4: 8.29
  • David Tennant specials: 8.14
  • Series 5: 8.18
  • Series 6: 8.21
  • Series 7: 7.97
  • Series 7.1: 8.05
  • Series 7.2: 7.92
  • Series 7 with “The Day of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor”: 8.07

The first thing you probably notice when you see the graph is the marked difference between the Russell T. Davies (RTD) era (series 1-4) and the Steven Moffat era: except for series 2, the RTD series’ regression lines have a strong positive slope, while the Moffat series’ regression lines are much flatter, and series 7 has a negative slope. What does this mean? RTD’s episodes get a lot better at the end of the season, while Moffat’s episodes keep a consistent amount of quality. What happened to series 2? Well, the bottom three episodes, “The Idiot’s Lantern,” “Love and Monsters,” and “Fear Her” are clear outliers: only six episodes in the entire run of the show are rated 7.0 or below, and three of them are these three episodes. While you can’t really just drop them out of the graph, if you ignore them for a moment, you see that the rest of series 2 has the same trend as series 1, 3, and 4 and its ratings average pops up to 8.42, which is better than any other season.

What do these trends tell us about RTD’s episodes? RTD’s style was to present us with a number of adventure episodes with hints about the theme tying the season together (you know, “Bad Wolf,” Torchwood, Harold Saxon), then use the last few episodes to tell the overarching story. So, we see that the quality of the episodes improve as they start to tell this story. The actual non-conforming series in this run is series 3, Martha’s season. Its finale, “Utopia”/”The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords”, is rated much worse (though not badly) than the series 1, 2, and 4 finales, but its overall high positive slope is maintained by the fantastic ratings of “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” and “Blink.” Without those stories, unrelated to the overall arc, series 3’s regression line’s slope would be closer to series 5’s slope.

What about the Moffat’s episodes? For his first two seasons Moffat set up story arches that were introduced in the first episode of each season (the crack in the wall and the impossible astronaut), teased us with the story in a couple of episodes during the season but otherwise presented adventure episodes, then tied up the story in the last couple of episodes. Looking at the graphs, we can see that the story arc episodes in general rate very high, but the rest of the episodes have poor ratings. This results in a flat regression line, as both series start high, dip low, and end high. We can see this happen again in series 7, in a bit more complicated way: the impossible girl is introduced in “Asylum of the Daleks,” restarted again in “The Snowmen,” and wrapped up in “The Name of the Doctor,” and apart from those three episodes and “The Angels Take Manhattan” (the departure of Amy and Rory, another story arc episode), the adventure episodes in series 7 are seem to be below average for the entire 7-series run of the show.

Another interesting thing to look at are the best episodes. Take a look at all the episodes that are rated 8.8 or above. They all have at least one of these three qualities: they are part of the season arc, they are written by a very highly-regarded writer (Moffat or Neil Gaiman), or they have something important to say (“The Impossible Planet”/”Satan Pit”, “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”, “Midnight”, “Turn Left”, “Vincent and the Doctor”). Doctor Who is at its best when it tackles interesting themes.

A few more points:

  •  It looks like RTD was just hitting his stride when he left. Series averages were going up, more high-rated episodes, less low-rated episodes. I wonder what his series 5 would have been like?
  • Series 7 was really kind of terrible. Out of fifteen episodes, only four of them rated higher than the average ratings of all of the other series.
  • I’ve been referring mostly to the showrunner of the series, but I wonder how much the different Doctor affects these ratings? How many people who, say, don’t like the Tenth Doctor will automatically rate a Tenth Doctor episode low? Will a Tenth Doctor fan rate the episode higher? Does this cancel out?

One last thing I noticed on this graph was that it supports something I like to tell my friends when they start watching Doctor Who: some episodes are good and some episodes are bad, like any TV show, but Donna had the best season and never had a stinker episode. Take a look at her graph, series 4: not a single episode under 7.6, and four episodes at 9 or above! Her average is 8.29! No other series comes close to that record. Maybe her first episodes weren’t earth-shattering, but they were fun and enjoyable. I’d love to say it’s because she’s the best companion ever (because she is!), but honestly, I just simply think that series was just well done.

 

Fates worse than death

One of the current favorite memes is how Steven Moffat loves to kill his characters. Now, I’m not talking about Sherlock here, because though I’ve watched all of it except the current season, I am not conversant enough with the show to discuss it. I’m just looking at Doctor Who. According to this article, Rory and Amy have each died eleven times (this number is arguable). Then there are other major character deaths:

  • Jenny in “The Name of the Doctor”
  • Strax in “A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Snowmen”
  • River in “Silence in the Library” and “The Name of the Doctor”
  • Clara in “The Snowmen” and “The Name of the Doctor”

I got this list from the web, and removed the Doctor from it because we always know when the Doctor will actually die, so he isn’t relevant to what I’m talking about here. So, yes, it looks like Moffat kills off the major characters quite often. And the meme goes on to compare Moffat with George R. R. Martin, who is known for killing off characters in Game of Thrones. There’s a big difference between the two, though: characters in Game of Thrones stay dead. (At least as far as I know. So far none of the characters I’ve seen die have come back.)

Moffat’s characters don’t stay dead, and thus, I don’t feel that the meme is really deserved for him. So far, we haven’t seen a major character actually die; you could argue for Amy and Rory in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” but their exit removed them permanently from the show specifically without killing them: they were pulled back in time where the Doctor could not ever encounter them (due to paradox) and lived the rest of their lives together. In all of the other cases, the deaths were erased in some way or the death was an alternate version of the character.

There are a lot reasons why you might want to kill off a character: shock value, to deal with themes of grief and love, to deal with themes of loss, for example. In many cases, the deaths in these past series were very emotional, but in others, they were cheapened by the frequency and the meta knowledge that it’s just going to be erased anyway. “Oh, no, Rory’s dead again” is a very popular meme, to the point of not taking the character seriously any more. I think the phrase is “toying with the heartstrings” – kind of a cheap way to evoke emotions. The ultimate in cheapened deaths was Clara’s in “The Name of the Doctor,” in which she made the ultimate sacrifice to save the Doctor, only to have him jump into his own timestream (major paradox?) to pull her out. What would have been a beautiful and heroic death became, well, boring.

The best Moffat death.

The best Moffat death.

I’m going to add one more death to Moffat’s total here, because he wrote the episode: River’s death in “Forest of the Dead.” After a wonderful episode in which we’re tantalized with hints about the Doctor’s relationship with River and an ending in which River sacrifices herself to save the Doctor, the Doctor finds a way to resurrect her within CAL. In this particular case, the resurrection adds to the beauty of the episode and River’s storyline: the Doctor, moving in the opposite time direction as River, realizes that he, in the future, gives her (and therefore him) the means to effect the resurrection, and thus he saves her. River only gets this one death, ever, and it’s fantastic.

Russell T. Davies’ time at the helm didn’t have many character deaths. There’s Captain Jack’s first death, from which he was resurrected by the Bad Wolf and made immortal – this was more of a plot point than anything else, as it set up his character for future appearances and for Torchwood. None of the other main companions die, and of minor companions, there’s Astrid Peth, who dies sacrificing herself for the Doctor, and Adelaide Brooke, who kills herself to teach the Doctor that the Time Lord Victorious is wrong. One other notable death was Jenny, who was resurrected by the Source: another beautiful death that was cheapened by a pointless resurrection.

The thing that Mr. Davies did in his era was establish tragic storylines without deaths. Let’s look at how his companions depart (other than Astrid and Adelaide, mentioned above).

  • Captain Jack is left behind because the Doctor can’t bear to be with him, due to him being an anomaly.
  • Sarah Jane Smith realizes that she has to move on with her life.
  • Mickey realizes that Rose will never love him and that he could really make a difference by staying in Pete’s World.
  • Rose is torn from the Doctor into Pete’s World. When they reunite, the Doctor gives her up because he knows he can’t keep her forever, and she departs with the Meta-Crisis Doctor. (Tragic for him, maybe not so much for her.)
  • Martha realizes her love for the Doctor will never be requited and leaves him.
  • Donna’s memories of the Doctor are torn from her by the Doctor so that she doesn’t die.
  • Jackson Lake parts amicably with the Doctor, but he’s just lost his wife.
  • Lady Christina is rejected by the Doctor because he doesn’t want to ruin another companion’s life.
  • The Doctor sacrifices himself for Wilf.

So many different kinds partings, tragic on one side or the other. Death isn’t the only tragedy: there are fates that are in some ways worse than death. I’m not saying that the deaths in the Eleventh Doctor’s run are banal. I’m saying that there are other ways to tell a story, to make your point, and that having characters die over and over again makes less of an impact each time it happens.

My take on Moffat

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven Moffat, and Matt Smith

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven Moffat, and Matt Smith

I’ve spent the morning doing a bit of thought about Steven Moffat as the showrunner of Doctor Who, and it’s been somewhat disturbing. This was sparked by a blog post a friend of mine shared on Facebook, about sexism in Doctor Who and Sherlock. The post links to a couple of other interesting articles, so I’ve linked them below.

Now, I’m not going to address the question of sexism in Doctor Who. I think that accusing anyone of sexism – or any other form of discrimination – is a very serious charge and requires a lot of research and analysis that I have not done, and so I don’t feel qualified to make any such judgment. However, these authors make very good cases for their accusations and these articles are food for thought.

The thing that is bothering me are the mentions in these articles that people are starting to dislike the show, and I look back on my thoughts in this blog and have to agree, in a way. If you’re familiar at all with what I’ve written, you’ll see that I’m very entranced by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and I’m having a blast watching the classic Doctors. My history with the Eleventh Doctor is far shakier. I started out disliking him, but my last post about my feelings towards him stated that I like the Eleventh Doctor, but I don’t like his stories. I’ve seen most of his stories once only, and I find it difficult to watch them again. The ones I remember liking (for example, “The Eleventh Hour,” “Vincent and the Doctor,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “The Lodger”) I’ve seen multiple times, but it’s hard to convince myself to watch the ones I didn’t like the first time. I watched “Time of the Angels” this weekend and have yet to feel compelled to watch the second episode in that story (“Flesh and Stone”). And so many episodes in the second half of season seven (Clara’s season) was so horrible, it so felt like a waste of time the first time, that I’m not sure I’ll ever watch them again.

Why is this? Mr. Moffat has proven himself to be a good writer: the episodes that are generally considered to be the best in the modern show are predominantly his. Here’s an article that ranks all 83 of the modern episodes from worst to best, and while this list is simply one man’s opinion, we can use it as a guide. Four of the top 10, and eight of the top 20, are written by Mr. Moffat. Russell T. Davies, the previous showrunner and the other most prolific episode writer, doesn’t have as good a track record, with only six in the top 20. However, I think it’s important to look at exactly which of Mr. Moffat’s episodes are highly regarded.

  • “Blink”
  • “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances”
  • “The Girl in the Fireplace”
  • “The Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone”
  • “The Pandorica Opens” / “Big Bang”
  • “The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day of the Moon”
  • “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”
  • “Eleventh Hour”

Four of the episodes are from the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s time, and the top three of those are usually considered among the best five episodes of the modern show. Of the rest, one is the Eleventh Doctor’s introduction episode, and two are timey-wimey episodes that either open or close their season’s story arc. The last one, well, I can’t really comment on because, as I noted above, I don’t like it, but the list author notes that it’s heavily marred by its destruction of what made the Weeping Angels so terrifying in the first place and its preoccupation with the crack.

Looking at this list, it’s very clear to me why series 5 through 7 are nowhere near as interesting to me as series 1-4 or the classic series. First, I think that Mr. Moffat excels at constructing plots that involve complicated time-travel and universal concepts, but when he applies them to season-long story arcs, they don’t translate well and the individual episodes suffer from having to keep the arc going while also dealing with their own stories. His best episodes tend to be season openers or enders, and not the ones in-between. He has stated before that the idea of the cracks being something introduced in the Eleventh Doctor’s very first episode and resolved in the very last episode, with story arcs for each season tying into that, was pretty much an experiment. If that’s true, then I have hope for series 8 to not be so epic and, well, confusing. (It might also be that he’s best when he’s writing for only one episode, when his scope is very constrained.)

Second, I think that Mr. Moffat is a fantastic writer when he’s using someone else’s characters and are constrained by the world they’ve already built, but he is weak when having to create his own characters and his own rules. His first four episodes written for Doctor Who were with Mr. Davies’ Doctors and companions, who had defined personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and all of those episodes are excellent. The last one of those, “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead,” introduced his own recurring character, and while River was strong and interesting in that episode, there has been plenty of debate about the merits of the character in her subsequent appearances. When he became the showrunner, he had to create the Eleventh Doctor and all of the companions, and suddenly the episodes are not nearly as good. I’m not going to comment on Amy, because I don’t feel like I have enough of a feel for her to make any argument for or against her, but Clara is a simply walking plot point, with little personality or purpose other than to exist. Except in her origin episode (“The Bells of St. John”), she seems to follow the Doctor around like a puppy and then suddenly save the day or prompt the Doctor to try again when the Doctor’s best attempts fail (especially in “The Rings of Akhaten,” “The Name of the Doctor,” and “The Day of the Doctor”).

I do have hope for the next season, reasoning that if the Twelfth Doctor is going to be more dynamic and less personable and considerate than his predecessors, Clara will have to develop into a stronger character to realistically be able to stay with him (or, perhaps, she won’t work out with him and be replaced), and it looks like they won’t be doing such convoluted story arcs. And meanwhile, I’m going to try to keep an open mind while rewatching the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons, to find the good stuff, because I know they’re there.

A deeper look

It’s been a few days since Christmas, which is when I watched “The Time of the Doctor” twice. I haven’t had a single urge to watch it again since. You know, I liked the episode well enough, but as it has sat and stewed in my brain, it really hasn’t worked all that well for me. As I said previously, it was a good farewell episode for the Eleventh Doctor, because it summarized his Doctor very well, celebrating his life and being very, well, Eleven. Unfortunately, I don’t think it did anything else really well.

Spoilers again, by the way.

To me, the plot was followable (that’s not a real word), but I’ve seen a lot of people say that it was too obtuse. Looking at the storylines over the Matt Smith years, that’s pretty typical of his plots. Steven Moffat seems to like to surprise his audience, with twists and turns and timey-wimey  stuff. (He coined that term, by the way, in “Blink,” and it’s become his trademark. Sadly, I think it’s also becoming over-used. But that’s a discussion for another day.) Perhaps he tried to stuff too much into the episode: the completely gratuitous humor at the beginning, all of Eleven’s enemies (why did they waste time with the Weeping Angels at all – their appearance was pointless), feel-good scenes of Eleven and the children. There were only three things that the episode needed to do – celebrate Eleven, explain how he gets to regenerate a thirteenth time, and do the actual regeneration – and the rest shouldn’t have gotten in the way of that.

The one part of the episode that really bugged me was how he got the new regeneration cycle. After Eleven leaves to go face down the Daleks, Clara talks to the crack in reality and tells the Time Lord that if they love him, they need to help him – and they do! This flies in the face of everything we know about the Time Lords. They call the Doctor a “renegade” for a reason: because he’s not supposed to be off-planet meddling with other civilizations. From the very beginning, he ran away from Gallifrey because he thinks and feels differently than they do, and the Time Lords have been calling him back ever since, either to bring him to trial for what they consider his crimes or to make him do some task they don’t want to do themselves. More recently in the history of Gallifrey, the Tenth Doctor flew in the face of Rassilon and almost the entire High Council, damning them back into the hell of the Time War. The General of the War Council called him a madman, his worst nightmare. Now, granted, the Doctor brings a lot of this on himself, but it’s been well-established that the Time Lords do not love the Doctor.

Now, they do know that he’s singly responsible for their escape from destruction and that he’s the only person that can get them out of their current situation. That inspires gratitude in people, not necessarily love. The way this should have been pled is, “The Doctor is your only hope for deliverance from the pocket universe. If you want to escape, please help him.” This is the way to move Time Lord hearts: tell them how the Doctor’s continued existence benefits them. The way it was done was simply schmaltzy. I think it was done this way to tug at your heartstrings, but I don’t think people who watch Doctor Who in general are looking for cheap emotional highs. 

And there it is. I’m very glad this wasn’t the 50th anniversary episode, as this would have been anticlimactic for such a momentous occasion. I’m looking forward to the new season (omg, eight months away!) and I’ve got high hopes for Peter Capaldi. And I think Mr. Smith’s Doctor was a fine Doctor. But I think I’ll go watch The End of Time or “The Parting of the Ways” instead.

“Arc of Infinity”

We finally viewed the end of the Omega arc in “Arc of Infinity.” I was actually a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed this episode, since the first one, “The Three Doctors,” was rather weak – it involved way too many crazy dictator enemy rants, minor characters complaints, and wandering corridors/wilderness fillers to be involving. Even the bickering between the Second and Third Doctors couldn’t save that episode.

Peter Davison as Omega.

Peter Davison as Omega.

“Arc of Infinity” had a lot of incomprehensible technobabble, since it involved another Omega plot to return to Gallifrey from the antimatter universe, and that was a bit difficult to follow. It’s main strength was the part of the plot set on Gallifrey. The High Council detected that something from the antimatter universe was trying to enter N-space and that it was using the Doctor’s biodata to do so. In order to break the link, they ordered the termination of the Doctor, even though the Doctor pointed out to them that the only way the entity could get the biodata was if someone on the High Council was helping it. Thus, a lot of the plot had to do with political maneuvering among the council members and the Castellan’s investigations into the matter.

Omega’s plans involved coming through to N-space on Earth, so part of the story involved two hitchhikers who inadvertantly get involved. This drew in Tegan, who had returned to her normal life and was visiting her cousin, one of the two hitchhikers. Thus, when Omega finally did make it through, he appeared in Amsterdam, in the form of the Fifth Doctor. (Two Peter Davisons! Twice the awesome in one episode!) Up until this point, Omega had been portrayed as he had been in “The Three Doctors”: insane, megalomanical, and desperate. As he starts to roam in Amsterdam, he observed the day-to-day lives  of the people, and smiled, the implication being that his joy in being home actually was overcoming his insanity from thousands of years of isolation. This was a very interesting character development, which unfortunately truncated because his Fifth Doctor body began to decay and needed to be destroyed before he turned back into antimatter and exploded. This was the only bad part of the episode: once Omega realized that he was reverting to antimatter, he began running from the Doctor (who was trying to destroy him before he exploded and destroyed the earth). Apart from the question of why he would run, since he was doomed and there wasn’t anywhere to run to, the running sequence took about fifteen minutes – way too much filler. If instead they had used the time to explore Omega’s return to sanity and had him face the fact that he had to be destroyed or returned to the antimatter universe (and/or have the Doctor realize that he had to destroy a now-sane individual), this would have been a superb episode.

All in all, though, it was a fun episode, and the Doctor got to have some great interactions with the Time Lords, which is always a treat. Nyssa got the chance to shoot a few people, and Tegan rejoined the crew of the TARDIS. The one thing that would make Omega’s arc great: a new episode in which Omega returns, played by Mr. Davison. It’s been established in the audio plays that Omega survived this episode in the Fifth Doctor’s form, so it is possible. Come on, Steven Moffat, do it!

Doing it right

With the Christmas special only twelve days away, the hype is building for the regeneration of Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi. While regeneration episodes always make me giddy, I can’t claim that I’m really excited for “The Time of the Doctor.” The greatest part of that is because of the 50th anniversary events: I was so excited for the story of the War Doctor and the appearance of both Mr. Smith and David Tennant in the same episode – and the event was as good as I’d hoped – that I’m still on the fadeaway from it.

Part of it also comes from the fact that I didn’t watch the show until very recently (has it only been 4 months since I first saw “Rose?”) and regret not having seen the handoff between Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith. I still cry every time I watch The End of Time. Can you imagine how heartbreaking it would have been if I had seen it with the rest of the world? And I still maintain my stance on publicizing regenerationsThe End of Time would have been far more dramatic (and traumatic!) if we didn’t know that Mr. Tennant was leaving and therefore the Tenth Doctor was regenerating at the end of the episode.

I do, though, have the advantage of viewing the events in the light of hindsight, after all the dust has settled and we can see how events panned out, and something struck me recently about the Ten to Eleven handover. The last four episodes of the Tenth Doctor were shown in 2010, as specials, rather than part of a season of 13 (or 14) episodes. The reason for this was that Russell T. Davies was stepping down as executive producer, and Steven Moffat was given a year to adjust to taking over.

Think about this. The BBC let Doctor Who basically take a year’s sabbatical to let the show adjust itself to a new leader and a new cast. That’s a year without (or at least with lessened) revenue from one of its biggest hits. Is this a British thing or a BBC? Because I cannot imagine an American company allowing a hit TV show a year off. They’d be too concerned about losing momentum, advertisers, and merchandising opportunities, not to mention the logistics of storing the sets and making sure that the actors and staff will be coming back after a year. To me, though, the BBC, at least with respect to Doctor Who, is more concerned about doing it right, rather than following the bottom line.

There’s been a couple of other instances of this kind of thing. As you know, I’ve been playing the iOS/Android game Doctor Who: Legacy. Yesterday, they posted on their Facebook page,

“As you may know if you follow us on Twitter / FB — we made this game for you the fans and really care what you think. Last week, someone in the community had a really cool idea for a special Xmas level we could release—so we worked quickly with the BBC and we’re pushing to have this in by Christmas Day! This is in addition to all of the content already planned between now and then. Thanks and please keep the ideas coming.”

This might not seem momentous, but it is. Look at what they’re saying: The makers of DW:L, Tiny Rebel Games, are not part of the BBC. They are an independent company, and their request to put in a fan-suggested level, which requires licensing approval at the very least (and probably a lot more), was responded to by the BBC quickly enough that they’re able to promise the content to the fans within a week of the idea being proposed. This is absolutely amazing. I work in gaming industry, and when working with licensed properties, you’d be lucky to get a turnaround time of a month, even when the game team and the property are part of the same company. The BBC must be doing something right: either their management is very efficient, or they are taking the time to be very responsive to their partners.

One last very small instance. I had a technical problem with DW:L on my iPad yesterday, and, not finding a main website for the game (I didn’t look too hard), I sent a note off to their Facebook page asking for help, and I received a reply within ten minutes. This means that their social media team is alive and paying attention. They don’t just consider their Facebook page as a place to put up images to get people to play their game: they use it to engage with their players. Being an avid gamer (at least, before Doctor Who took over my life), I’ve been on many, many forums and support sites, and only the very best get back to you quickly and talk to you as a person. The vast majority say that they’ll get back to you within 48 hours and send you form letter responses of “have you uninstalled and reinstalled” to the most detailed error descriptions you give them. Which do you think makes me want to continue playing the game?

This is why it’s important to do it right. Maybe spending less time and money on infrastructure and support may increase your bottom line right now, but it’s worth the time if you want to build a community of consumers and fans that will endure.

Working the numbers

With “The Day of the Doctor” come and gone, the next argument that has come up is, how are the Doctors supposed to be numbered. Of course, in the show, the Doctors don’t call themselves “the Tenth Doctor” or “the Eleventh Doctor.” They just say, “I’m the Doctor.” But for us fans, we have given them numbered names so that we can tell them apart. It’s a lot easier to say “the Ninth Doctor” or “Nine” than to say “Eccleston’s Doctor.” Typing, too – for some reason, I mess up typing “Eccleston” all the time. We’ve been calling the Doctors by their numbers for years, and we’ve always meant the incarnation number, but the War Doctor has thrown a screwdriver into the system.

Thus the argument: Do the numbers by which we refer to the Doctors need to be changed to reflect the War Doctor being the ninth incarnation, making Mr. Eccleston the Tenth Doctor, Mr. Tennant the Eleventh Doctor, and Mr. Smith the Twelfth Doctor?

We’ve worked this all out, with help from series producer and writer Steven Moffat, and this is how it works. While discussing this, we came upon an interesting revelation, which I’ll reveal below. Remember, you heard it hear first! (Not really. I’m sure this has already been suggested elsewhere on the internet. Nothing on the web is truly original.)

The information I’m basing the numbering on comes from the following two articles, quoting Steven Moffat.

You can read the articles, so I won’t quote them here, but I will summarize them.

  • The numbers we use to refer to the Doctor’s incarnations refer to the different bodies of the man called the Doctor. The War Doctor did not consider himself the Doctor and thus does not count in the numbering system. Mr. Eccleston, Mr. Tennant, and Mr. Smith remain the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors, respectively.
  • John Hurt’s Doctor is called the War Doctor.
  • The Doctor has used up all twelve of his regenerations, because in “The Stolen Earth,” a Dalek shot the Tenth Doctor, causing a regeneration that was diverted into his severed hand and later created the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor. The MCTD is the same body as the Tenth Doctor, so Mr. Smith’s number is still Eleven, but the regeneration that created Eleven was the twelfth and final one.
  • How the Doctor is going to regenerate a thirteenth time into Mr. Capaldi is yet to be seen.

Honestly, it’s a good thing the numbering system didn’t change. Can you imagine the amount of work it would take to retroactively change all of the references on the web to the right ones? And just in conversation between people who want to change and people wanting to keep to the old system, it would be a mess. Personally, I prefer the old system, if only because I think ten, being a happy number, suits Mr. Tennant, while Mr. Smith’s Doctor gets a nice, odd, prime number. Ah, recreational mathematics!

The interesting thing we found, though, is the actual numbering of the regenerations. Here they all are, listed by actor.

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee
  4. Tom Baker
  5. Peter Davison
  6. Colin Baker
  7. Sylvester McCoy
  8. Paul McGann
  9. John Hurt (the War Doctor)
  10. Christopher Eccleston
  11. David Tennant
  12. David Tennant (the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor)
  13. Matt Smith

Now, we visit a bit of history, specifically, from The Trial of a Time Lord, the season 23 story of the Sixth Doctor on trial. In it, the prosecutor is the Valeyard, and near the end of the story, the Master reveals to the Doctor who the Valeyard is.

“The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation, and I may say you do not improve with age.”

This would mean the Valeyard is either the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor or something born out of him. This could make sense. As the Tenth Doctor said to him, “You were born in battle, full of blood and anger and revenge,” which could be the darker sides of his nature that the Master mentioned. The Tenth Doctor sent the MCTD with Rose because he hoped that she could heal him, but if she couldn’t, he could easily become worse and try to get revenge on the Doctor and steal his regenerations so that he could live. It’s also known that there was a scene that was filmed but not used in which the Tenth Doctor gave the MCTD a piece of TARDIS coral so he could create his own TARDIS, and Donna told him how to speed up the process so that he’d have one within his lifetime. (Russell T. Davies has said that it should be assumed that this scene happened, even though it didn’t make it into the show.) Couple that with the Time Lords eventually coming back (if the Twelfth Doctor can find and release Gallifrey), which will allow travel between universes again, and the MCTD could travel across and head back to the Sixth Doctor for the trial.

There are two problems with this theory. First, why does the Valeyard not look like the MCTD? I’m sure there’s some Time Lord thing that can explain this, but barring that, there’s plastic surgery. Not too big a problem. The second problem is, if the trial has already happened, the MCTD already knows that he failed, so why would he go back? The only possible answer is that he’s trying to change his own timeline, which I suppose was the whole point of the Valeyard all along; after all, if he succeeded in taking the Sixth Doctor’s remaining regenerations, the Doctor would have never made it to the twelfth incarnation to create the Valeyard. Which means the Valeyard never existed and the Sixth Doctor still has his regenerations. But then the Valeyard appears after the twelfth incarnation and… Ow, my head! Must… continue… trying… to think… non-linearly… and… non-subjectively!

I’m not really sure how seriously I’m taking this theory (it probably is incorrect, because Mr. Moffat has said that he doesn’t want to mess with the ending of Rose’s story, which is why Billie Piper played the Moment and not Rose in “The Day of the Doctor”), but it’s fun to think about. I especially like the idea of Mr. Tennant returning to Doctor Who in a few years to play the Valeyard. But mostly, I love learning about the vast history of this show and thinking about how it all interconnects.

More thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”

We watched “The Day of the Doctor” again last night, to fix it better in our minds and to get the bits of dialogue we missed while the theater audience was laughing or clapping. And I have to say, I still like it a lot. The scene where Ten and Eleven place their hands on the War Doctor’s on the Moment’s switch brings a tear to my eye.

Remember, by the way, spoilers!

Personally, I think my favorite scenes (other than the climax at the end; I always love scenes in which the situation is resolved by the appearance of multiple incarnations) are the ones in which Ten and Eleven play off of each other. The two Doctors are very different from each other, the One Who Regrets being the emo (for lack of a better word) who has been tormented both by the events of the Last Great Time War and, more recently, by the loss of Rose and Donna, and the One Who Forgets being the child who tries to forget the Time War and the loss of the Ponds. At times, they are in opposition, and at others, they are best friends. Either way, though, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith work together flawlessly. It saddens me to think that they’ll never be brought together like this again. (Unless the Powers That Be produce specials for them, the next multi-Doctor special will focus on future Doctors, not these. And if they only do this for major anniversaries, it will be ten years before the opportunity even comes up.)

The story was really about the War Doctor’s journey to find himself and decide what was the right thing to do. The Moment takes him to see his future incarnations to see what he becomes, and he sees what look like two children: both young and energetic, with glib tongues and an apparent inability to take anything seriously. The War Doctor is disgusted with them (a deleted scene has him lamenting that they never shut up) and wonders how they ever came to terms with the genocide of the Time Lords and the Daleks; he (and the Tenth Doctor) is further amazed that the Eleventh Doctor has willingly forgotten the horrors of the Time War, because he can’t bear to remember them.

But then the War Doctor watches them solve a situation very similar to his own: when it seems that the humans have to destroy a city to preserve the rest of their race, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor force a solution in which the two sides of the conflict must stop the destruction and peaceably work out a solution. It’s this act that makes him realize that these two Doctors are great men doing what they must. They both deeply regretted obliterating the Time Lords and the Daleks, but doing so saved everyone else, and they continue to strive to save the universe that they once saved by activating the Moment. This epiphany gives the War Doctor what he needs to make his decision, and he returns to the Moment to do what he must.

The one thing that I didn’t like in this episode was the emphasis on the deaths of the Gallifreyan children. I felt that this plot point was played for its pathos, and ignored all of the other horrors of the war. First, as I’ve mentioned above, the Doctor commits at least two genocides when he activates the Moment. Both the Time Lords and Daleks are wiped out, but the Moment convulsed the universe, obliterating other planets and galaxies: far more than just two sentient races were destroyed. The power of the Moment to do far more damage than just destroy Gallifrey should have been at least mentioned.

Second, the show implied that the Doctor fired the Moment because the Daleks were about to destroy Gallifrey and if he didn’t destroy both, the Daleks would go on to destroy the universe. But this isn’t the real reason. In The End of Time, Rassilon reveals what the High Council was doing during the final attack on Gallifrey (mentioned in “The Day of the Doctor” when the general complains that the High Council is sequestered).

RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart.
MASTER: That’s suicide.
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be.
DOCTOR: You see now? That’s what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them.

The Doctor didn’t fire the Moment just to stop the Daleks, sacrificing his own people in the process. He fired the Moment to prevent the immediate destruction of the universe by the High Council of the Time Lords.

Now, perhaps Mr. Moffat took the easy route with the narrative, since focusing on the children is a lot simpler (and quicker) for the audience relate to than dredging up the complicated backstory last seen three years ago. (Though, one might argue that the children were doomed in any of the three possible outcomes: killed by Daleks, destroyed by the Moment, or erased by the Final Sanction, since the majority of Gallifreyans are not Time Lords, who are the ones who would ascend.) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to narrative flow.

The change to the end of the Last Great Time War takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s great that the Doctor now has something of a quest to work towards. Eventually he will find Gallifrey and bring it out, and then the Time Lords will be back. The Time Lords are jerks. They always have been. They’ve insisted on non-interference in other planets’ affairs and enjoy taking the Doctor to task for it, and then go off and interfere themselves, to their own selfish ends, sometimes on a planetary scale (see Ravolox). When they go bad, they go really bad (see Borusa and Rassilon), and the Last Great Time War corrupted them even more (only two of them voted against the Final Sanction). I can’t imagine that Rassilon is going to be very happy to see the Doctor when Gallifrey reappears.

I’m also enjoying the mental gymnastics needed to really grok this storyline; the analysis has been fueling the conversation between me and my husband for the past two days (one outcome of which I’ll elaborate on in the next post). I find it difficult to really see how the Ninth and Tenth Doctor (and most of the Eleventh Doctor) comes out of the events here. The Moment wasn’t really fired, but up until the events in “The Day of the Doctor” in Eleven’s timeline, the Doctor thinks the Moment has been fired. Whaaa-? I know that the takeaway is “Everything in the last seven seasons of the show really did happen – just go with it,” but I’m a fan of the backstory and I must understand how it all fits together.  Yes, I know, this is Doctor Who and it doesn’t all fit together, but I try.