Tuesday, 4 October 2011

DOCTOR WHO 6.13 - The Wedding of River Song Spoiler Zone (or Jim'll Fix it)

Shh! Spoilers sweetie!

My giddy aunt! There's been alot of toys chucked from prams over this one hasn't there! So before we get going - and note I speak as a life-long fan, one of whom's earliest memories is seeing the Sea Devils rise from the waves - I'll say this: 

Calm down dear! It's only Doctor Who

And to use Mr Danny Davies' wonderful phrase, a good blast from the Perspective Cannon is in order here! Yes, it's time to practise that ancient and noble, yet seemingly dying out, art of getting a frakking grip!

Now then in the interests of full disclosure, let's rewind to last Saturday night. The credits have just begun to roll and as per usual with a Moffat scripted episode, I wonder how the name of Azal am I going to review that with out letting slip the dogs of spoiler. However this time, I have an additional problem because I'm somewhat conflicted on the now infamous resolution, namely that the figure we saw die on the shores of Lake Silencio was not actually the Doctor, but our favourite Time Lord driving a Teselecta.

You see, I'm feeling disappointed as I was expecting the big reveal to be something I hadn't considered, and so there's an aura of 'oh, what that  it?' floating in the air. However I am of certain of two things - firstly that overall I rather enjoyed this episode but secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I really like the position Moffat has left the character pointed in.

While I'm trying to sort out and generally weigh up this mix of different emotions, I notice that the internet is already beginning to flame, with with all manner of folks screaming 'Cheat!' and some even transforming into the Comic Book Guy, and without a shred of irony, shrieking 'Worst. Finale. Evah!'. And this crowd saying  'Boo! Teselecta! Rewind!' also annoys me, and not just for reminding me of Craig Bloody David but for for reasons we'll get to later.

Anyhow, I pen my spoiler-free review basically saying 'fun episode, divisive end I'm not sure about yet' and leave it at that. Then I make another large pot of Earl Grey and sit down to start pondering this business properly...

Mr Jim's reasoning goes like this...

Sip 1 - As soon as they mentioned the Teselecta in the Previously montage, the thought occurred that this was probably how the Doctor was going to cheat to death.

Sip 2 - Though as the episode progressed and built towards the end, I was still wondering whether Moffat was going to the Doctor actually die... Now obviously he has to survive somehow as we know he's coming back for the Christmas special. But I had concocted a dubious theory - I'd read somewhere Moffat had said that this year's Yuletide special would be riffing on another classic Christmas story and as he'd done a Christmas Carol last year, the next obvious choice would be It's A Wonderful Life. And this tale concerns a fellow being taken out of time at the point of his death, I wondered whether Moffat would have something similar in store for the Doctor i.e. the Doctor would die but in the Christmas special a Clarence analogue would restore him to life...

Sip 3 - I quite liked that idea... that would have been brilliant! Stupid Teselecta!

Sip 4 - But it's not a cheat is it? Cheating would be altering how that death scene played out or making it not happen - but it does play out how we first saw it. Admittedly with a Time Crisis occurring within a split second we hadn't seen the first time, but  it IS the same - the difference is that now we know that the event has effectively been mislabelled - the Doctor only appeared to die or rather a decoy Doctor died. The fixed point happened, and the real Doctor was actually present too, but it's only historical archives that have wrongly recorded that he didn't survive.

Dunks biscuit - And of course that was the point - really like the way now the Doctor is set up to have small adventures - no more Lonely God hyperbole and everybody knowing who he is. Yes, back to being a mysterious man in a box. Me likee.

Sip 5 - And he did set it up too! It's perfectly in line with Chekhov's Gun isn't it - he introduced it five episodes ago and 'fired' it in the final act. Plus there was the business with the Gangers as a red herring. Yes, I did rule out the Teselecta as the solution originally (see here) as it wasn't exactly brilliant at mimicking natural behaviour... But I had considered what if a Doctor was driving it... And honestly as for all this blubbing about beginning of a regeneration means it can't have been the Teselecta, Moffat did deliberately shown us this android turning into a Nazi on a motorbike, so obviously some orange fireworks aren't stretching it's abilities very much at all. Especially with the Doctor at the wheel!

Sip 6 - So not a cheat - and it's not a rewind or reset either. During the Time Crisis, there's plenty of dialogue to confirm that all the events of this season have happened - the Silence's taunt to Rory was very cheeky but most explicitly the scene with Amy and Madame Korvarian... And how she deals with Madame, blimey that was COLD! Still in the words of the legendary Adham Fisher 'the bitch had it coming!'  Damn, she looked hot firing that machine gun... Do I have time for... No, moving swiftly on...

Dunks biscuit again - How does Amy not remember the Time Crisis before this episode though? Hmm... No, got it! It's a case of Who's Time-line Is It Anyway. And the defining time-line is the Doctor's naturally. At the start of the season, Amy meets Future Doctor and see his Teselecta gambit play out. What I'm calling the Time Crisis happens, but it's resolved and every one's none the wise. Her Doctor appears and the season unfolds, so then when he enters the Time Crisis the Amy he meets in that alternate world has shared all those adventures. And so Amy can only remember the Time Crisis after it occurred, which for her happens after at some point after The God Complex. More simply put - the Doctor's time-line sets the continuity for every one else as he's the focus of the Time Crisis!

None of that is probably very important... I should get out more... Where was I?

In the kingdom of Inferno, the one eyed Brig is king!

Sip 7 - Oh yes! Speaking of eye drives, very nice tribute to dear of Nick Courtney. I mean, aside from the lovely scene with the Doctor discovering the Brig has passed away, the whole business with an alternate world and everyone wearing eye patches was a very subtle tip of the hat to the old fella. He used to love telling that tale about the filming of Inferno, in which he played an evil version of the Brig who sported an eye patch and one day on set every one else donned on to surprise him...

Sip 8 - Yes, there was alot to enjoy in this one - live chess, Churchill, Area 52 - but it was not quite as triumphant a finale as usual. This prophecy about the fall and the fields of Trentzalore is intriguing. Now looking at the series timeline, effectively we've got one more series before hitting the 50th anniversary in 2013. So is this the middle section in a Silence trilogy to take us up to the big event? Yes, I think it could be - certainly would fit the tone of this finale... a moody one like the end of Empire Strikes Back!

Dunks biscuit again - Bloody hell! Just realised something - that shot from the 'Coming Soon' bit at the end of A Good Man Goes To War - you know the skeletal hand holding a dying sonic? Obviously that was NEVER any thing to do with the events at Lake Silencio... Is that yet to come?

Sip 9 - But what about the answer to the oldest question in the universe apparently being 'Doctor who?' Can't decide whether that's daft or just rubbish! Surely the oldest question would be something like 'Is there a God?' or 'Why are we here?'... But hold up matey! It's only the oldest question according to the beliefs of the Silence! And they're blatantly Doctor-obsessed nutters! So that does work... and on several meta-levels! You cheeky git Moffat!

Sip 10 - Still a bit disappointed by the Teselecta though. I'd thought of that one! It should have been something I didn't anticipate dammit!

Sip 11 - But I bet alot of other folks didn't see it coming, and most heavily I guess in the general audience... You know those millions poor sods outside the hallowed halls of nerdom, who are either wheeled out as victims of cruel scriptwriters and their complex plots, or the despised element that's making the show is now being crap because it's writing down for them.

Sip 12 -  Hang on! In that case, shouldn't I be patting myself on the back for being a clever dick rather than whinging? Me guessing and the set of expectations I cultivated aren't exactly Moffat's fault are they?

Drops biscuit in tea! - Thank Rassilon I didn't charge onto the net and start shrieking like a twat!

Sip 13 - We're a right pack of gits sometimes aren't we? We can't just say 'I didn't like that one' and move on, we have to make out it's an apocalypse event. And in doing so we're often missing important points. Just because we may feel let down that we guessed, we're too quick to accuse Moffat terrible writing, and  yet screaming 'cheat!' and 'rewind!' shows us to be guilty of the same sloppy thinking we're claiming he's guilty of.  In the case of this episode, the plot mechanics of the Doctor's survival aren't actually the most important thing. The fact is we've been mass debating his apparent death for so long, nitpicking over the scifi bullshit - and I stress I'm guilty of this too - we've forgotten to pay attention to the proper content of the story.

And that's partly why genre work isn't taken more seriously, why there's a split between art and pop culture. Because we're always claiming our favourite scifi deserves to be taken seriously, but when people from the other side of fence pay us a visit they find us squabbling over the specs of spaceships and what abilities androids have built in rather than discussing the themes and character development...

In this season, the real story has been the Doctor coming to terms with the consequences of his actions, of what he has actually become through blithely flying through time and space and helping out as he sees fit. And it has ended with the Doctor deciding to let the cosmos think he has gone and be far more circumspect in what he does...

 And I rather suspect that future Who fans, who will come to this season without the blinkers of expectations over the Doctor's death, will judge this set of stories on the above basis. And they'll find all this hullabaloo rather foolish and somewhat embarrassing, in much the same way we look back at the tantrums, or should that be fantrums over The Three Doctors which was absolutely despised for the heinous crime of making the Time Lords look a bit doddery.

Last sip - One of the great delusions of being in a fan is thinking we know better. However what we often forget is that Doctor Who isn't our show, it a god-damn British institution. And furthermore it's probably the most difficult program on television to write these days. Now there's no brief for the series at the BBC, but in the ruins of the Death Zone on Gallifrey - and yes, yes, I know it's not there any more but don't go missing the point again - there is an ancient prophecy carved into the primordial rock. And it reads thus...

For those who would chronicle the adventures 
Of the One they called the Doctor, 
Beware the legions of the Howling Halls,
For if it is too simple they shalt carp,
If it be too complex they will bleat,
If you recount tales in isolation
You will be accused of pandering to fools,
Yet if thou constructs a serial
They will complain said fools cannot follow it!
Should thou be witty in your tellings
Bile and venom shall follow,
Be thou serious, and kickings will descend,
Show a heart and thy name shall be soap,
And if it be terrifying, they shall bitch
'Won't some one think of the children!'

Yes, as Our Lord truly said "There's no pleasing some people!" (Brian 6 v2). And although I am undoubtedly an obsessive Who, there are still enough corners in my brain not stuffed with Daleks and wooly scarves to realise that I really wouldn't relish being in charge of the show and having to somehow balance these multifarious polarities and try to please millions of people. And obviously you can't please all of the people all of the time and sometimes episodes do falter. 

But more importantly, far too often we forget the fact that both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have managed to pull off this Herculean feat on many many occasions. And as we always claim the Doctor is a great role model, we therefore should act with a little more grace when we perceive they do drop the ball...

Right, I'm putting the kettle again on, anyone fancy a cup? I've got a whole season to rewatch and some Jammie Dodgers...


nicholas butler said...

now I read your blog post I wonder if The Silence are allegorical for The Fans ? Both obsessed to the point of religion whilst needing to blind themselves to what is infront of them only to be reminded in review later on. The Silence want the Doctor Dead, the Fans want The Doctor in their image. Now if I go back and watch the episodes ( gods NO I am not going to do this ) can I replace "the silence" with "the fans" and when Silence Falls can we say Fans Fail ? hmm questions questions ?

Jim Moon said...

With Mr Moffat all manner of tricksiness is possible! According to rumours I've just made up he's so timey-wimey he has his breakfast at midnight!

The Martians Are Here said...

I think that the biggest revelation of this series for me has been your blog posts :). This is the first season that I have actually read reviews and I settled on one english and one american (the onion's avclub review). Both have been very enjoyable and insightful and dare I say it fun. As we are slightly out of kilter timewimey wise in Oz the spoiler free review was my first reading material every sunday morning.

I like your observation of Science Fiction/SciFi. As a writer of SciFi I have attended the many serious writers events where there is that "oh" moment when you mention your genre. Which given I believe SF is the perfect forum to explore controversial topics (and has been used as such) is to say the least annoying. The debate around Dr Who, etc doesn't help, not that I think the writers shouldn't be held to account because I see that as a very positive development but at times it gets a little childish. I wonder for example how far whyndam or clarke would have gotten if exposed to this sort of debate.

The other thing I have done differently is since the Doctors Wife I stopped analysing. As a writer that's almost impossible to do but honestly it was ruining my enjoyment - one of the reasons I am enjoying the reviews - someone can do it for me ;). As a result I did enjoy the series and really enjoyed the ending. Unlike the rest of the twitterverse I didn't see the ending coming probably because I didn't think the Teselecta really "counted" because it couldn't die. I have one quibble there it's the fact the doctor had one of his goofy "aren't i clever" faces when river looked into his eye, maybe that was for river but you would have thought he would have learned by now.
The only change on this series is I would have gone with a different order with episodes like Night Terrors, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex earlier in the series and then had the main storyline as a run of shows only because putting them where they became a little annoying rather than building up the suspense to the end.

Moffat grew as a writer this series, he tried things most worked as with series five there was that nagging "he used the get out of jail card" rather than was clever to the end feeling but taking my writers hat off, who cares it was fun to watch. That is what he is paid to do.

As for the last moments with the Doctor and Dorian, the oldest question in the doctor who universe since it's inception has been "Who is the Doctor" or Doctor Who? Again Moffat being a little clever but I sensed a 50th anniversary setup in the making in that moment.

However, wild speculation aside the other thing I felt with this series was Moffat was tearing down the notion of the Doctor as "warrior" (for the short term at least) which he has been since he returned from the time wars to the older "mad man in a box" travelling the universe which with the 50th anniversary approaching may be a nod to the fact that both new and old will need to be addressed at that time and that will be somewhat challenging indeed.

I am looking forward to the next series now, especially now I can kick back, relax and enjoy my cuppa sans the jammy dodger (curse you british you export you rif raff but not your bikkies) on a sunday morning. :)

Jim Moon said...

Thank you for the many kinds words! It makes all the frenzied post-credits Saturday night scribbling worth it :)

You make a very good point about internet criticism in wondering how past greats would have reacted and coped with it. And thinking about it some of more, shall we say, highly strung writers such as Robert E Howard or Philip K Dick may well have had their curtailed their output due to squalls of fanboy shrieking.

Personally I always endeavour to be constructive in my critiques and if I do have negative things to say I do try and at least weight the tone towards humour rather than venom.

And I do agree that Moffat has a masterplan to take us up to the big anniversary. And while I think that next series we will have a far looser story arc, returning to more self contained adventures and on a small scale, I suspect there will be a strong thematic continuity. His first season had a subtle theme of memory, whereas this season has a stronger binding element of the question of identity - nearly all the stories we've seen feature people or things that aren't what they appear and there's been many questions of what is it that makes you you. So I suspect the next arc will be more based on character development rather than plot arcs.

On the biscuit question, you may not have Jammie Dodgers, but you do have Tim Tams...