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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Bells of Saint John”

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Matt Smith Jenna-Louise Coleman

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Snowmen”)

(get my downloadable discussion guide to “The Bells of Saint John” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)


I think I’ve figured out what’s been bugging me, on a deep-down, grand-scheme level, about Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who.

It came to me as I was pondering notions of just What The Hell The Deal With The Claras could be: I was suddenly struck with the terrible fear that it would turn out there was no there there at all, no reason for there to be multiple Claras across time and space who keep saying, “Run you clever boy, and remember.”

Cuz that’s what happened with Amy, right? We never found out why her life didn’t make sense, or if it had anything to do with the crack in the universe… which, to most understandings of how stories work, it should have. I had my own ideas about how the mystery of Amy could be connected to the crack in the universe, and I was upset not because my idea turned out not to be what was going on but because there turned out to be no idea behind Amy at all.

We never ever learned why the TARDIS exploded.

I’m starting to be terribly worried that Moffat isn’t concerned with telling a story that is satisfying over the long run, but only with crafting scripts that might be clever in a sporadic moment-by-moment way rather than making much narrative sense. I’m starting to worry that Moffat thinks that because Doctor Who is science fiction, anything goes, at any time, for no reason. But that’s not true: Reality can get away with “It just is,” but fiction can’t. Not even science fiction.

There are moments in “The Bells of Saint John” that, if Moffat isn’t in fact actually trolling us, then he’s simply not concerned with anything beyond the isolated impact of any given moment of screen time. Why is the Doctor hanging out with 13th-century monks, especially if “monks are not cool,” particularly when there must be much better places to get some “peace and solitude” in the big wide universe? Is it only so that Moffat could have a monk cross himself to ward off the “evil spirit” that the mere mention of “woman” brings? Or was it just so the title — “The Bells of Saint John” — could be the punchline of a joke… a joke that also demands that 13th-century monks can read modern English and that the Doctor knows what the hell the monks are talking about when they say that “the bells of Saint John are ringing” even though he’s completely startled to discover it means that the TARDIS phone is ringing?

I’m exhausted just thinking about all the nonsense that went into making the title make sense. And still it’s only a sort of sense that has no bearing whatsoever on the larger tale. The bells of Saint John have absolutely nothing to do with the Great Intelligence scooping up human minds in 21st-century London.

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John

It bothers me less that Moffat is borrowing from himself — “whatever you do, don’t click”; “Clara Oswald has left London, Clara Oswald has been uploaded” — than that Moffat can’t see what he has in front of him right here. Consider the storytelling possibilities inherent in the concept he has before him! This could have been a cautionary tale about clicking on stuff on the Net that you don’t know what it is. It could have been a satire on corporate culture, like how it’s kinder to kill Alexi after he comes back from his holiday rather than before he goes, or that corporate employment is a like a hack on people’s minds (as in adjusting one’s conscience, for instance). The hints of this are present, but they go no further. Again, it’s as if Moffat doesn’t really understand science fiction: it’s not just about a cool idea, it’s where the cool idea takes you. Extrapolating why the Great Intelligence wants all those human minds could have been enough to get us there, but that never happens. It wants the minds; that’s enough here.

It’s very unsatisfying.

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Matt Smith

I liked this episode more than I’ve liked some recent Doctor Who, but even the good stuff here only highlights what’s missing. The TARDIS on Southbank and the line about Earls Court — where there is still an authentic police box — being “an embarrassment” are solid nods to modern London, as is the simple setting for much of the Doctor and Clara’s interaction: a cafe overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Matt Smith Jenna-Louise Coleman

Sitting in a cafe with a laptop drinking coffee… that’s London (if usually without an unconscious person nearby). The Doctor’s wonderment in “I invented the quadracycle” and the suggestion that the 2011 London riots were a citywide activation of the Great Intelligence’s wifi network: those hint at a wider scope for everything, from the Doctor’s life to nefarious alien plots happening all the time in the background of our lives. That’s what makes Doctor Who so cool. So why does Moffat waste so much screen time on having the Doctor have Clara repeat “Doctor who?” over and over, or having Clara ask why he points the “blue box” when he says “mobile phone” (especially since the Doctor only just pointed out how its phone is not supposed to actually work as a phone!)?

Belaboring jokes is particularly annoying when I fear that we’re never going to learn who “the woman in the shop” was who gave Clara the phone number for “the best help line… in the universe.” Or why “run you clever boy and remember” a thing. Or what the hell could possibly be meant by Clara’s insistence that the leaf in her book 101 Places to See “wasn’t a leaf [but] was page one.”

Sure, some things should remain mysterious, particularly in a story such as Doctor Who, which gets much of its mojo from the ongoing mystery that is the Doctor. But not everything can remain a mystery. If there turns out to be no answer to the question of Clara — just as there was no answer to the question of Amy — I’m going to be very very cross indeed.

Random thoughts on “The Bells of Saint John”:

• Oooo, the Doctor’s face appearing in the credits again!

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Matt Smith

Very old-school Doctor Who. I like.

• Um, does the Apple logo here

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John

break the BBC’s prohibition against advertising of any kind? I think it does. After all, they blocked out the Converse logos on David Tennant’s Converse even though they would have only appeared onscreen fleetingly, too…

• Didja notice who wrote the book Clara’s young charge was reading?

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John

• Steven Moffat’s been watching Sherlock, hasn’t he?

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John

Oh, wait…

• It’s nice to see the Doctor enjoying some sensual pleasures, like food:

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Matt Smith

Kinda makes it all the more mysterious and annoying that he’s simultaneously surprised and horrified that Clara is flirting with him. It’s like he hasn’t spend his entire traveling life surrounded by pretty young women.

• That bit in the plane — I can’t fly a plane, can you, no, fine, let’s do it together — is really familiar. Is it swiped from an earlier Doctor Who? Or — this is starting to ring a little bell — does it comes from the original BBC production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Am I seeing Ford and Trillian trying to fly the Heart of Gold together?

The Doctor’s “I can’t tell the future I just work there” is most definitely swiped from James T. Kirk, however.

• Since when doesn’t the Doctor take the TARDIS into battle?

• I really like the suggestion — via Clara hitting on “Oswin” for a username — that made-up usernames might become incorporated into future real names.

• Great quotes:

“There’s something in the wifi.” –the Doctor

“Imagine that: Human souls trapped like flies in the World Wide Web, stuck forever, crying out for help.” –the Doctor
“Isn’t that basically Twitter?” –Clara

(next: “The Rings of Akhaten”)


posted in:
tv buzz
  • Ian

    Uh, Maryanne? Amy’s life didn’t make sense because the cracks in time had swallowed up both her parents and probably half her life history. They explained that way back in “The Big Bang”. Try to keep up.
    Granted, we still don’t know why the TARDIS exploded, but that’s part of the unresolved storyline with the Silence. I’m still suspending judgement in case Moffat’s playing a long game with that one.

  • RogerBW

    Alas, the BBC is allowed to do paid product placement now.
    As for the ever-increasing complications and no resolution, I think of that as Alias syndrome, because that’s where I first met it: if in doubt, simply introduce another deeper layer of conspiracy, and chances are the series will get cancelled before it has to be unwound. It’s why I haven’t been joining the love-fest for Abrams the film director. People who met it later may call it Lost syndrome…

  • I_Sell_Books

    Yes to all if what you said. Because I am really, really, really, hating the dropped threads that Could Be Awesome.

  • Ryan

    I was really looking forward to your review of this episode, because this was the first episode in a while where Who felt new again. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it. No episode is perfect, and yes, I do think that Moffat is repeating a few of his own tropes. Repetition of a spoken line by an autonomous being for example. But, it isn’t enough to spoil or derail the episode of Moffat’s tenure as a whole. A lot of the things you don’t like about this episode, are some the things I liked the most. The Doctor calling the Tardis a mobile phone. It’s funny, because, although he never uses it specifically as a communication device, a police box is essentially a telephone, and the Doctor’s is mobile. It’s one of those funny accurate descriptions of the Tardis, that you don’t think about until you hear it. A bit like Something old, something blue etc. And the episode title itself is clever too. No, it doesn’t refer to anything else in the episode, but in a way, it’s the most important element of the episode. The ringing of the Tardis phone is what springs the Doctor back into action. Yes, it’s a punchline, but a clever one. And I didn’t even remember the line about evil spirits and women until you mentioned. I know you are rightly against the misrepresentation of women in tv and film, but they are monks, and it is ok to occasionally poke fun at men being scared of women. The same as women calling men lazy etc. It doesn’t always have to scream sexism.

    Story qualms aside, you haven’t even talked about the most successful elements of the episode. Clara is very good as the new companion. She seems much more natural at being ‘feisty’ and quick witted. She’s more at ease with the type of dialogue and persona they tried to foist on Amy before they rightly toned her down in series 6. Clara seems confidant and comfortable in the Doctor’s presence, she has a softness and kindness to her. She seems to have less to prove than the way Amy and particularly River Song were written. And what amazing cinematography and directing! The woods scene with the monks were beautiful, and modern day London was photographed in a much more elegant fashion than the ‘gritty’ estates from RTD’s days. And the shot where we follow the pair into the Tardis and onto the plane, was a technical triumph. Its all filmed in one shot, where the camera never stops moving. It’s obviously a literal impossibility, but for that moment I knew what it felt like to travel on the Tardis.

    Ok, so the Great Intelligence’s motives aren’t clear, but I don’t think they’re supposed to yet. It looks like they’re coming back. And on this subject, I don’t think Moffat does leave threads hanging. Amy’s confused life was explained. The cracks weren’t about her, they were never meant to be, but she certainly was a victim of them. They ate away at her life, but with Big Bang 2, she ended up with two memories. There was a specific scene in the Night and the Doctor minisodes, where Amy discussed this with the Doctor. It’s confusing, but it’s explained. Same with the Tardis exploding. It was the Silence. Why?, because of the Question and the fields of Trenzalore. We know why, but we haven’t got the specifics yet.

    I think your dislike for Moffat’s Doctor Who is about a clash of what you have written in your head and what is written on screen. And that clash is informing all of your opinions for the show. I’ve been a fan of the show since McCoy, and although it is different, it’s not radically so from era to era to era. What is it about this one that you don’t like? I think you should try watching the show as a fan again, rather than as a writer. It’s a shame, because you’re missing out on some fantastic Doctor Who episodes

  • Steven Rodney

    Time Flight with Peter Davison mentioned that he couldn’t fly a plane also see The Caves of Androzani where his lack of flight experience forced him to crash land on aformentioned planet

  • WillR

    Couldn’t agree with you more. For example, review after review, I’d see MAJ writing her complex theory about what was going on with Amy, long after the show explained it, and it just seemed to me like she was growing so enamored with her theory that when when Moffat wrote didn’t live up to this alternate story, she became disappointed with the entire show. And now she’s just nitpicking it to death. For me, the first half of the series that aired last year felt a little off, but I was instantly swept away by this episode, which I thought was easily the best Doctor in a long time. And I so agree about the cinematography and particularly the way it captured London. There was such an energy to it and such a deep love for the city. I’d also add that I think MAJ is asking more from Doctor Who’s standalone sci-fi plots than can be supported in a 45-minute episode. I found the episode to be a neat concept but I don’t fault it for not exploring every depth that might be mined from the concept. Short of returning to a longer arc structure for every story, a la classic Who, there’s only so much time.

  • I’m pretty sure Moffat has, in a misguided attempt at building empathy with what he considers his primary audience, decided to have the Doctor react to romantic advances the way a prepubescent (or barely pubescent) child might.

    Seriously. Look at his face, the things he says when he realizes the topic is romance, or worse, sex. “It’s not like that, shut up!” Now, imagine a twelve-year-old saying it.

    River is the only exception. Does he really consider all the other companions too young? He didn’t have those hangups with Rose. Maybe it helps that River is half-Gallifreyan? That wouldn’t make him racist, just specieist :-)

  • Martin

    I’ve often thought that if Moffat had been writing for classic Who, he’d be one of it’s better writers, his stories seem to by crying out for room to breathe and the older, serialised format might suit him better.
    I’m one of the few people that thought series 6 wasn’t arc heavy enough; if every episode had been about the River Song mystery, some plot holes could’ve been filled and it would’ve felt as epic as we were told it was.

  • Moffat’s stories were among the best of the Davies era. He just needs an editor and some oversight, perhaps.

  • It’s funny, because, although he never uses it specifically as a
    communication device, a police box is essentially a telephone, and the
    Doctor’s is mobile. It’s one of those funny accurate descriptions of the
    Tardis, that you don’t think about until you hear it.

    All true. But it didn’t need the underscoring that Clara’s subsequent line brought to it.

  • it just seemed to me like she was growing so enamored with her theory

    I promise you, that’s really not it. As I stated above. But I did want *something* that appeared that Moffat had put at least as much thought into it as I had. Is that a lot to ask?

    MAJ is asking more from Doctor Who’s standalone sci-fi plots than can be supported in a 45-minute episode.

    Don’t you think it’s Moffat’s responsibility to write stories that are suited to the 45-minute runtime?

  • Amy’s life didn’t make sense because the cracks in time had swallowed up both her parents and probably half her life history.

    But *none* of that is reflected in Amy, as a character. She certainly doesn’t act like someone who lost half her life.

  • I’m sure you’re right about all that. Doesn’t make it less annoying. And combined with Moffat’s other apparent attitudes about women, it really rankles.

  • Jem

    i think you’ve hit the nail on the head. One of my concerns about s7 has been the cramming of clever ideas and hasty resolutions. A common response has been that Moffat and other writers are “hampered” by the 45min time constraint. However, surely the show-runners and producers know how much they have to play with when planning the outline of each episode within a series. That is one of their main responsibilities and a firmer editorial hand would resolve this issue. Maybe a more ruthless approach to scipt editing and losing some of the unnecessary clever clever is called for – sometimes you have to kill some of your babies for the greater good.

    Jem

  • Karl Morton IV

    I remember the “we’ll do it together” from the plane from when Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian stole Hotblack Desiato’s ultra-black ship which was on auto-pilot to fly into the sun as the climax for Disaster Area’s gig. But it’s been a while.

  • Froborr

    The Davies era was very much Doctor Who Does Buffy. Play out hints and clues to where things are going, build to a climax, and pay it all off by the end of the season, then reboot next season and do it with a different story.

    Moffat’s era has been more like the X-Files: Pile up mystery after mystery, string us along, make sure every resolution creates five more mysteries, don’t bother actually coming up with the answers to the mysteries if you can possibly avoid it… and just as with X-Files, by the third season I’m finding it harder and harder to care anymore.

  • I wasn’t fond of this episode at all. Sure, parts of it were good, but overall, there was just too much going on making very little sense. Moffat’s Modus operandi, it seems.
    I’m also tired of the mysterious companion. I’d rather go back to the mysterious Doctor.

    And that “Doctor Who” nonsense HAS to stop. Ugh.
    I also find Jenna distractingly attractive. Kind of like how I did with Karen at first. Honestly, I’d kind of like it if he picked some more ordinary looking companion. Or heck, go with something completely different like a non-human!
    Fortunately, the new episode is much better, IMHO.

  • Ian

    How exactly does one act in that situation? Especially since she was never aware that the erasure was happening.

  • Danielm80

    In every other instance, when someone encountered a crack in time, that person was erased from history. Not only was Amy not erased, but she could “remember” people back into existence. This was never explained. There was a quick, handwave bit of exposition to cover it: If I remember correctly, she had absorbed the energy from the crack, because she grew up next to it. But her parents lived in the same house, and they disappeared, so it wasn’t a very satisfying explanation.

    Most of the time, Steven Moffat follows up on his plot threads. We know who River Song is. We know how the Doctor came back after his death in “The Impossible Astronaut.” So I’m willing to trust him when he leaves a thread dangling. I believe that we’ll find out why the TARDIS blew up and what “Silence will fall” really means. I even believe that there’s an answer to “Doctor who?”

    But once in a while, Moffat leaves us hanging. The mystery of Amy Pond was one of those times. There are other examples. I have faith in Steven Moffat, but when he lets us down, it’s perfectly fair to call him on it. That’s what MaryAnn is doing. And while I think that Moffat has solutions to the mysteries he’s introducing, I can understand why other people’s faith has been shaken. We have another six weeks this season to find out if the faith is justified.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This isn’t the first time the TARDIS has rung the outside phone in order to get the Doctor’s attention. This first time, the 9th Doctor’s response was “How can you be ring-ging? You’re not even a real phone?” But it’s still vanishingly rare for the outside phone to ring. Usually he gets calls on the console phone. So, I don’t find it too incongruous for him to say that “It’s not supposed to do that.” As for the rest of it, it’s a fairly simple handwave: the TARDIS made sure the monks could read the outside panels; there’s a cut between the monk telling the Doctor about the bells and them arriving at the TARDIS, plenty of time for the monk to explain off screen. And sitting around with a bunch of monks for months, even years, is hardly a noticeable amount of time when you’re already a thousand years old. There’s certainly no indication that that was the only place he’s been sitting. I should also note that all of this handwaving on my part is done after the fact. None of this bothered me while watching the episode.

    I wouldn’t call it “swipe”, so much as a riff on the line “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.” And even if it is stolen, it’s a great line. I’d steal it. :-)

    As for the shock and surprise at flirting, that’s just a thing that the Eleventh Doctor does with his companions. Neither the Ninth or Tenth Doctors did that (the Ninth largely ignored it, the Tenth was rather pleased with himself for having snogged Madame du Pompadour – and I doubt the Twelfth Doctor will either.

    I won’t argue that Steven Moffat struggles with stories longer than a two-hour teleplay. Even on Sherlock Moriarty’s story only made sense when he was actually on screen. And Moffat did swear up and down that season seven would do away with long story arcs. I wonder if he’s being cajoled by his writers, or pressured by his bosses, to keep trying them.

  • Oh yes. In fact I find it *very* annoying.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I did want *something* that appeared that Moffat had put at least as much thought into it as I had. Is that a lot to ask?

    Actually, yeah, it kinda is.

    How is Steven Moffat to know how much thought you’ve put into it? And how do you know he hasn’t put in as much, or more? I agree that a lot of Amy’s story appears to have been left unfinished. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of thought. He may have run out of time. Karen may have decided to leave sooner than he expected, either because she wanted to or because she wanted more money than the BBC was willing to pay. That’s speculation on my part, but it seems more reasonable than he didn’t “put as much thought into it as I had”.

    And let’s be honest here: you put an inordinate amount of thought into “the Problem of Amy Pond”. And while you were right about a number of things, you were wrong about a number of others. And maybe I’m wrong, but you seemed to never have abandoned the conviction that it was all a “Regeneration Crisis”/dream/fantasy, and that Bobby Ewing would come out of the shower the Doctor would finish regenerating into his Eleventh incarnation having never met such a person as “Amy Pond”.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Did Moffat ever touch “Bad Wolf”? Or (pre spin-off) Torchwood? or “Harold Saxon”? Not that any of those arcs were particularly well handled (read: they sucked), but what I’m getting at is that that kind of “long form” series writing isn’t what Moffat did during the Davies era. So not only did he not have a good model to work from, but his particular skill set didn’t transfer.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The Davies era was very much Doctor Who Does Buffy.

    Well, the fan fiction version of Buffy, anyway.

    just as with X-Files, by the third season I’m finding it harder and harder to care anymore.

    Chris Carter managed to keep me through the first movie, but the point is taken.

  • Paul

    I appreciated this review because of its clarity. It boils down to “I don’t like it because not enough is explained” which is a perfectly legitimate criticism. Personally, I think most shows over-explain, which explains why I don’t have such a problem with Doctor Who at present.

  • It boils down to “I don’t like it because not enough is explained”

    No, not really. My problems are with how random and disjointed it is. It doesn’t seem constructed as a story, just as a series on jokes, one-liners, and cool images or the scraps of cool ideas that don’t connect up in any meaningful way.

  • Yes! That’s it. Thank you.

  • Actually, yeah, it kinda is.

    Okay then.

  • It’s a science fiction writer’s job to come up with such things.

    A story needs to feel organic. Dropping in one line that “explains” everything doesn’t work if it doesn’t feel connected to the whole.

  • Except that it isn’t random and disjointed- though I concur that the jokes and one liners grow irritating- Moffat is writing a plot that requires you to pay attention for longer than a season or two. You (and many others of course) don’t like this method, but that doesn’t mean Moffat is writing something that is ultimately meaningless. Moffat is writing a long game story. That’s kind of the point.

  • Many writers would argue about what exactly the writers job is. Most of the spec fiction writers I know expect the reader to use their imagination and indeed the mantra is show don’t tell. Once the cracks were undone, it was as if the cracks had never been there and Amy had always had a family. So to my mind she never needed to act any differently. Of course, that’s my explanation. Yours might be better and more interesting. But either way it doesn’t need to make or break the story because the story was never intrinsically about Amy and her childhood. It’s about Amy in relation to The Doctor. There’s a difference.

  • If the Regeneration Crisis/dream became canon under Moffat Who, myself and many other Pond fans would be mightily pissed off. What a cop out.

  • RogerBW

    That’s what people said about Alias and Lost and The X-Files.

    They didn’t need to say it about Babylon 5, even though there was a long plot there, because for that show there actually was a coherent scheme.

  • They also said it about the British Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes and those shows DID succeed in telling coherent stories.

  • Isobel_A

    Also, there’s only so much complexity you can insert into a programme that also needs to be understood and enjoyed by six year olds. It might be great to have a purely adult oriented Doctor Who, but that isn’t the Doctor Who we have.

  • Isobel_A

    I liked all of the RTD companions, and I haven’t liked any of the SM ones, except River Song. The Ponds, and now Clara, are too bland and too young and pretty. I don’t object to young and pretty, I’d just like for there to be some other reason for them to be there.

  • Missus Tribble

    This is exactly what I think too. Does MAJ honestly not get that The Doctor would explain about his machine and ask to be notified if the bells of Saint John (“Saint John’s ambulance”? HELLO?) were to ring? He set up the phone call knowing that it would be Clara that the number was given to, as “The lady in the shop” is someone known to him who he has shown a picture of Clara to, or something similar. Smith’s Doctor *always* looks surprised, but it doesn’t mean he actually is.

    Someone is really not understanding Science Fiction here. It’s fiction; anything can happen in fiction and it doesn’t have to make sense. Where would the fun be in that?

  • RogerBW

    It’s fiction; anything can happen in fiction and it doesn’t have to make sense.

    So why does anybody ever put any effort into crafting a story? Gosh, perhaps your position is not the only possibility?

  • Hmm I intepreted that last part to mean that sci fi doesn’t have to strictly make sense because it is not talking about the probable or even the possible. It’s a genre limited only by imagination. That doesn’t mean that a writer doesn’t put effort into creating the story.

    There’s no need to assume that Moffat doesn’t put effort in. At least not yet. He’s a different showrunner to Davies. He’s writing a long game story. Therefore, maybe we need to stop judging and wait till we see the whole picture. It might be an epic cop out and it might not be. At the moment, we just don’t know.

    Me? I believe (maybe foolishly) that there will be answers. Why? Because Moffat has already provided a lot of answers in the show itself (see s5 and s6 with the cracks arc and the river arc) and because his other dramas are written in a similar way eg Sherlock, Jekyll. The other reason? Because the show is reminding me an awful lot of Life On Mars atm which resolved itself in such a wonderful way it remains the best ending to a show I have ever seen. I live in hope.

  • Missus Tribble

    Missing the point, much? Every story takes a lot of effort, whether it’s supposed to make sense or not. Surely you don’t think that Douglas Adams wrote Hitch-hiker in ten minutes, and if you want ridiculously, wonderfully nonsensical that’s the first place you should look.

    If you want everything to be completely logical, find a genre that is better suited to your interests and fictional needs.

  • RogerBW

    But it still makes sense. The people behave like people. The things behave like things. Adams had enough professional pride not to end a story with “and then the thing I’ve never mentioned before happened, and everything was all right”. (He had the self-knowledge to parody this at the start of series 2, in fact, when he’d been forced to resurrect the story that he regarded as finished.)

  • Eh. But the people do act like people on doctor who. The things do act like things.

    “and then the thing I’ve never mentioned before happened, and everything was all right.”

    Ah yes. The RTD approach. What aspect of the current show does what you claim?

  • Bob

    Real life mainly makes no sense-fiction is supposed to make some kind of sense. As a life-long reader of science fiction, I have to say that your description of the genre, as being something in which anything can happen at all, at any time, for no reason, sounds more like absurdist fantasy, or avant-garde surrealist theatre, rather than anything I would readily recognise as science fiction. I also hope you are not suggesting that Dougla Adams’ Hitchiker is ”nonsensical”. Under all of the whimsy, there is a profoundly serious point about the impossiblity of answering life’s Big Questions-because the questions are wrong.

  • Missus Tribble

    I’m not suggesting anything of the kind – my apologies for not making myself terribly clear. I do understand that a serious issue lies beneath the whimsy (I love that word!) and I mean nonsensical as in it’s beautifully ridiculous and – frankly – a piece of genius that only a wonderfully imaginative mind (who might be also a little bit mad) could ever dream up.

  • Bob

    The word whimsy is seriously under-used!

  • Keith

    Anyone notice that part of the TARDIS console start to swing out of place at about 5 minutes in? The shot is from above looking down and they cover it up mostly with a wipe from right to left. It looks like Matt Smith pulled on a lever and the panel wasn’t locked down or something and it begins to swing out. I don’t think that was intentional.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Not only is B5 a unique case, I think people did say such things about it. And in the end it suffered most of the same problems that hurt the legacies of Lost, Alias, and The X-Files.

    First off, outside of the execrable first season, J. Michael Straczynski wrote all but, what, 8 episodes?* For a single person to be that personally and solely responsible for every story decision on a long running TV show is remarkable, to say the least. Certainly no one on Doctor Who, now or in the past, can be credited with that much responsibility. Ditto JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, or Chris Carter.

    For a long time, we knew there was a coherent scheme mostly because JMS had spent two years shouting it from every hilltop to anyone who would listen. Up till about “War Without End”. That was the point that it really felt like there really was a larger story, not just the promise of one. But that would only last another 30 or so episodes, until JMS tried to wrap it all up in time for the end of season 4. Only then did he discover that he was going to get his season 5, another 22 episodes that he no longer had any idea what to do with. So, much like Alias and The X-Files, rather than ending on a high note, B5 just kind of petered out at the end.**

    I can’t personally speak to Lost, as I bailed out a few episodes into season 2.*** But from what I gather, the show did (eventually) form a coherent story, and only crashed and burned (heh heh) at the very last hour. Much like BSG.

    Also, what you’re saying sounds a lot like “[successful show A] sucks because it’s too much like [hugely successful shows X, Y, and Z] and not enough like [moderately successful show Q].”

    * fun fact, from season 3 to the end, the only script JMS did not write was written by current Whovian-darling Neil Gaiman.

    ** The less said about Crusade (the B5 spin-off) and the later TV movies, the better.

    *** ironically, my reason for leaving was because I was getting the sense that Abrams and Lindelof had no real idea how their story ended. What I’ve read about the series finale kind of confirms that.

  • NorthernStar

    It’s actually ITV (and other advertisement funded channels) that are now allowed to do paid product placement. It’s a surprisingly recent change.
    The BBC is publicly funded and it not allowed to fund itself this way. There’s no barrier to them using a product in any given show, such as the Apple laptop here, but it must be for a genuine reason and not as a “buy this pretty!” endorsment. Here it’s a random extra using it and for as part of the plot. The Converse trainers, however, were sported by the Doctor himself and could have been constured as Time Lord Endorement, which is why the Beeb blocked the logo’s out.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I really need to get over my love affair with conjunctions. >.<

  • Not everyone – the Doctor actually stuck his arm inside the crack that swallowed Rory, prisoner zero escaped into Amy’s house through a crack and the Vampires in Venice reported that they escaped Saturnyne through such a crack.

  • I rather think that a good deal of HHGTTG was written in the last ten minutes. And the ten minutes after that…

  • Yes, but which of whose babies? Script writing isn’t quite as predictable science as one might think (see RTD’s A Writer’s Tale for example).

  • This seems to be turning into a very interesting discussion on the limitations of narrative complexity in an extended production process. Are there any conclusions?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Ah yes, Russel Davies and his season ending deus ex machina.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, and Jenna-Louise Coleman are too young and pretty, but Billie Piper and Freema Agyaman aren’t? Weird. ;-)

    ETA: which is not to say that Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, and John Barrowman aren’t amazingly attractive actors themselves. (Or Noel Clarke, for that matter.) In fact, I’d pick those three over any of the others in terms of attractiveness. But they are all significantly older, as well.

  • Bob

    I think what makes this interesting is that Moffat is the first show-runner on Who to consciously attempt this degree of narrative complexity, and with the passage of years, we’re getting some perspective on whether it’s worked or not. I’ve found the lack of resolution-or the seeming lack of resolution, anyway-of some of these story lines a bit irritating, but it only really gets to me if the show dips in entertainment value. When my wife and I watched the two part story that concluded Matt Smith’s first season, we were both utterly baffled by it-but also greatly entertained. A lot of the tricksy time travel stuff was very funny, and it was also good to have a writer on Who trying to use the fact that the Tardis is a time machine in the story, even if neither of us could completely follow it. On the basis of what we’ve seen of Season 7 so far, Moffat does seem to have reined in his tendency for long, over complicated narrative arcs, and I think this has been his best season yet-so far, anyway. Love him or loathe him, nobody could say that Moffat hasn’t put his own individual stamp on the show.

  • You… don’t like this method

    How did you come to this conclusion?

  • I adore Life on Mars. So perhaps you’re wrong about me not liking this method of storytelling?

  • It’s fiction; anything can happen in fiction and it doesn’t have to make sense.

    That could not *possibly* be more the opposite of the truth.

  • Moffat is writing a plot that requires you to pay attention for longer than a season or two.

    Wait. Are you suggesting that the “bells of Saint John” is suddenly going to mean something, as a phrase, later on? Or that it’ll suddenly make sense why Clara has to highlight the Doctor’s comment about how the TARDIS is like a mobile phone?

  • VanessaDK

    Completely agree that Moffat is in love with “cool images” and organizes his plots around them many times. I think it is one of his self-indulgent weaknesses. That said, I think most was explained (or at least tied together) about Amy’s arc except we are missing that *key* piece of the plot, which is — Why did the Tardis blow up?!!

  • Ohiopokey

    After viewing these episodes, I end up considering the questions that are thrown out, rather than necessarily the plot of the episode itself. I came away with the same questions: who is the woman in the shop? why is the leaf considered page 1? and the places you mention Moffat copying himself to me consider him just paying homage to himself and previous arcs (many, as you point out, never completed.) We still don’t know who’s portrait is in the hallway of Craig’s house. Yet we are still led to believe these things matter! at this point, it all detracts from just having a good old time with a fun program. It compels me to repeatedly pause the episode to comment to my husband “do you think that’s a reference to Such and Such?” I really wish I didn’t care so much. And, yes, it has bothered me since The Doctor called Clara the “impossible girl.” It is too close to “the girl who doesn’t make sense.” I hope that her mere existence doesn’t become the major story arc. Bring me back Donna!

  • Danielm80

    Okay, fair enough, but that makes the problem even worse, because the effects are pretty much random.

  • Keith

    Bah! Guess I wasn’t awake yet when I wrote this. Was referring to the second episode that just aired. Reading the review after I’d just seen the second episode threw me off. The console thing happens in The Rings of Akhaten episode.

  • Or maybe I’m suggesting you give Moffat a break for a second about the unanswered big picture stuff and let him finish his story before you judge it. You might like the answers he provides.

  • Absolutely not. That’s you nitpicking about trivial details in a larger episode story plot which in turn is one aspect of an enormous narrative arc.
    I am contesting your statement that it doesn’t seem constructed as a story. There is a story. There is a very definite story. There is also the irritating contrivances that you describe. But the contrivances are small things. They are not the story. Actually, I’m kind of amazed I am explaining this. It is obvious if you read my original reply.

  • From the evidence of your own review in which you state that you don’t.

  • Jamie

    Maybe just accepting that Moffat’s style is much more conceptual than literal would help you not hate it quite as much. Or at least, be able to enjoy some of the episodes in the moment. I DO actually understand where you’re coming from. His style leaves me confused sometimes and my casual viewing friends often seem to think parts of the stories are left unfinished. I think we will learn who Clara is, but I do worry as you do, that we’ll be disappointed in the long run about the mystery. You have some valid worries, just try not to let it cloud your enjoyment of the fun bits. I did see and do see you trying and tried with this review to look at the positives as well since you’ve been having trouble with that. It’s really hard to get a grasp on how Mr. Moffat is rubbing you wrong when his style isn’t really concise to begin with. It has a lot of wonder to it and leaves a lot to the imagination, but then it doesn’t always fill in the blanks in a clear way, so that is confusing. On a lighter note: I wonder if the Doctor might always play the deer-caught-in-headlights card when a woman tries to flirt with him, not because he’s so surprised by it, but because it’s probably his best defense. If he turned on the actual charm, who knows what might happen. :P

  • Exactly. It’s high concept based. It makes sense in a fairy story, allegorical way because that’s the way Moffat is intepreting Doctor Who. It is no longer, to my mind, first and foremost sci fi. I prefer that because I love fairy stories and I love fantasy. Not everyone does but to keep pointing it out like it’s a sign of bad story telling is pointless to me- it’s just another approach to the show that may or may not work for you.
    Incidentally, I love the way that the meta within the show about story telling, memory, mirroring and individuals as powerful keeps folding back in on itself. It’s a very, very fantasy concept that.

  • Jamie

    Yes, once I figured that out and learned to accept it, I was able to enjoy his style much more! I find the wonder in it easier now and don’t feel frustrated about not having all the answers laid out for me. But you’re right, for some people his imaginative style may not work. If definitely can leave the casual viewers confused. I’ve found I can enjoy both the straight forward science fiction, and conceptualized fantasy that lets my imagination run wild. There is something enticing about being given multiple ways of being able to perceive an adventure, a relationship, a memory, etc in how Moffat tells a story. It does have a nice feel to it. When people open themselves up to what he’s going for, it’s easier to sit back and really appreciate the richness in the episodes. And the witty banter too!

  • The portrait is an interesting example of Unexplained Mysteries. However it was never interpreted as part of the plot, nor even mentioned, so I don’t think we can beat up on Moffat for this one.

  • Ohiopokey

    Didn’t mean it that way at all….I used the portrait as an example of the things that scream out to me “This Means Something,” even when they don’t.

  • Well I’m with you on that. There ought to be An Official List.

  • Lisa

    Like you say they are older and more experienced – I felt Karen lacked experience as an actor.

  • Lisa

    yeah because random things then end up meaning something, you are always on alert for these things, which is a distracting way to watch the episodes! why are there no ducks in the pond??!

  • Lisa

    yes it’s like too much sugar!!!! it’s like a 5 year old with TOO MUCH SUGAR!

  • Isobel_A

    I agree that everyone else is also very attractive (and in some cases young), but what I was (obviously badly) attempting to say is that they had character, besides youth and prettiness (which appears to be standing in for character in the case of Amy Pond and Clara Oswald).

    Eh. I dunno. I’m tired of Doctor Who just now. I thought I was going to hate Matt Smith’s Doctor, and suprised myself by loving him. Now I’m finding him irritating and one note, and Clara just feels like Amy mark two, and I didn’t like Amy in the first place.

    And yes, I’d love some cheese with my whine ;)

  • David C-D

    Good point about the flirting. I do feel Matt Smith plays the Doctor like a grandfather trapped in a young man’s body. Did Tom Baker ever have to cope with all this flirting? Or any of the original Doctors? I wonder how they would have managed it.

  • RogerBW

    The original show was made as a children’s programme, so the writers could simply ignore sex at least in terms of plot (the visuals were at times another matter). The new show is claimed still to be a children’s programme, but is clearly regarded by the BBC as a flagship show that should be made to appeal to as many people as possible.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Did Tom Baker ever have to cope with all this flirting?

    Only with Romana II, and only then because he was boinking Mary Tam Lalla Ward. >.>

  • RogerBW

    Wrong actress – Lalla Ward.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    D’oh, and I even looked it up, too. >.<

    Tho, truth be told, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have a thing with both of them. XD

  • Sounds like it’s you who doesn’t really understand what “making sense” is. Adams wrote ridiculous things, but he established a fictional universe in which those ridiculous things made a logical sense. Fiction can be many things, but “nonsensical” is probably the worst.

  • Ohiopokey

    Did we in the US see an abbreviated version of this episode? There seemed to be some clunky segues.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It’s possible, though BBCA is pretty good about not editing for time. Mostly I think that’s an artifact of having to artificially create commercial breaks. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until either the breaks or the commercials aren’t there.

  • We all love Douglas Adams but I think you really have to be going some to suggest that the kind of logical and causal consistency and maturity of character that we are demanding of Moffatt’s work is somehow in the same realm as those we find in Hitchhiker.

  • Not really… I was just replying to a mischaracterization of Douglas Adams. Thanks for replying though?

  • Those of us who enjoy absurdist fiction beg to differ.

  • Pretty sure we’re off into semantics now.

  • Paul

    One thing I admired about RTD was the way he cheekily made his first season deus ex machina so literal.

    Didn’t mean I liked his deus ex machinae any more, though.

  • Paul

    “Boink”?

    So, you’re riffing on Gaiman, are you?

  • That was pretty admirable! Just like how I admired the way that River turned out to be every theory at once with Moffat. Oh you showrunners- bless!

  • No- I don’t think that it is. I don’t think that you and the OP disagree about logic in fiction all that much. The OP was just very unclear about what they meant.

    Even nonsense can have an internal logic. Alice in Wonderland did. So does everything Lemony Snicket writes. So too does HHGTTG. All are whimsical nonsense. All have an internal logic. All tell stories with clear themes and a clear sense of characterisation. As a writer, reader and reviewer of speculative fiction, this is an obvious attribute of the genre.

    Moffat Who does have a very clear internal logic. Doctor Who changes with each new showrunner and each new showrunner interprets and re-envisions the show. Each new showrunner establishes the internal logic they will use.

    Moffat Who is not first and foremost sci fi. It is the BBC’s flagship drama and it is currently interpreted as a fairy story about “a mad man who stole a box and ran away” according to the head writer. The fairy story thing, as I and Paul mentioned in the christmas special thread, has been there since Moffat began writing for Who. He has been very consistent in how he has written the show to fit that. He has a very consistent big picture internal logic.

    In Moffat Who, stories have literal power.

    In Moffat Who, names have literal power.

    In Moffat Who, memory has literal power.

    In Moffat Who, faith in humanity to always live up to greatness is a literal power.

    These things aren’t especially sci fi themes. But they are very, very normal and very, very accepted in allegorical fairy stories and fantasy stories…

    Moffat is going for big concept fantasy themes. Not everyone likes that. It doesn’t mean that he writes willy nilly with no thought at all as MAJ suggests. Given the nature of his complex overarching arcs, I’d say he puts a heck of a lot of thought into what he writes. All it means is that he writes Who differently to how it has been written in the past. He writes whimsical nonsense, but that doesn’t make it illogical, pointless or despicable nonsense.

    I believe that is what the OP was getting at…

  • RogerBW

    While we obviously disagree on whether this is a good thing, I do appreciate your clarification of this reading of the show.

  • I guess that’s the thing in the end. It depends on whether or not you like any given show-runner’s interpretation of the Whoniverse as to how much leeway you’ll give to certain things, if that makes sense…

    Me- I give a lot less leeway to RTD Who because I didn’t agree on a lot of ways he interpreted the show. Moffat is more in line with how I see it. But I recognise that many others do not see it in the same way.

    However, I find it tedious when people continue to expect the rules already established by Moffat to suddenly change to something more in line with their own personal vision of the show. Two and a half series in I think we can safely say that the fairy story allegory approach is here to stay. Besides, that’s what fix it fan fiction is for…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Actually, I first wrote that he was banging Ward, but that sounded crude, so I changed it. Perhaps I should have said he was schtupping her? XD

  • Ohiopokey

    Exactly! It’s like a puzzle for us to put together, stretched out over several years, except we are given a lot of pieces which look like they should fit, and they end up being insignificant red herrings. We end up making a distinction between “stand alone” episodes and arc-oriented ones in a show which really isn’t a serial. The disappointing thing is that I want my mother to enjoy this program, but she doesn’t “get” half of it, because she’s not in on it. I end up telling her to just watch the stand-alone episodes.

    and like other people, I am afraid that Clara herself will become the story for this series. The Girl Who Didn’t Make Sense was never satisfactorily resolved for me, and I’m not ready for another supernatural companion who needs to be puzzled out. I liked it better when the companion had the traditional role: a way for us to observe the doctor through her eyes, explore at his side and rein him in when necessary, rather than herself being the focus.

  • “Even nonsense can have an internal logic.” — how is this not semantics? (rhetorical)

    Anyways, I’d love to belabor the point because what else have I got to do on my day off, but arguing about how I interpret something and why that means I can disagree with it is in my opinion the least rewarding sort of argument possible (with one exception).

  • Jim Mann

    Actually, no, we do not find out what was going on with Amy — more specifically, why the Tardis exploded on Amy’s wedding day. Nor do we find out what caused the Tardis to explode.

    I thought Moffat’s first series was great. He pulled a lot together, and ended promising to answer the question of what caused the Tardis to explode. He didn’t. His second season had some wonderful episodes, but it didn’t pull together as a season the way his first season (or the way Davies final season did so well).

  • I want the fun bits should mean something. Not necessarily anything deep, but they should be in the service of telling a good story, not just fun for their own sake.

    I think Moffat is letting his desire to be clever override all else. If he can be clever within the context of a well-told tale, that’s great. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

  • Jamie

    I think I get what you mean by that. To have the fun bits interwoven seamlessly to fit into the story itself rather than just random things thrown in for the sake of being clever, can make it more engaging for some(many?) viewers. I think you’re feeling that he reaches for being clever over adding substance and that makes the witty lines and things that you want to be enjoying, feel empty?

    Even though I can understand if that’s the case, I am still easily able to laugh at the random witty and silly lines and enjoy the interaction of the characters of each new episode, so maybe it really is just a matter of personal preference in the writing style. His is unusual and not really straight forward science fiction. It took me a while to get used to Moffat’s style and maybe you never will, but that’s not something you should feel bad about, by the way, if you do. You’re not wrong in your opinions since they’re your opinions and there are so many different ways of interpreting everything, as you know, and that’s one of the great things about this show. I do hope you won’t let the current unusual style ruin your love of Doctor Who. Maybe in a couple of years they’ll bring around a new head writer with a more straight forward style once again, that you’ll be able to love. In the mean time, I hope you’ll find some things to enjoy in the current episodes and won’t be too disappointed, as I know how that can feel. Thanks for the response.

  • Jamie

    Very true. I think it’s good though that they reach out to a broader audience. Not sure it needs to be sexualized, but I don’t mind it mostly. It’s a part of life, so why not.

  • Jamie

    Probably! Didn’t I read something about Tom Baker and well whomever played Romana, trying to get them to allow them to have the Doctor and Romana have a romantic relationship on screen? It never happened, but they wanted it to? Something like that. I could have gotten the facts wrong there, but I know I read that somewhere.

  • RogerBW

    I slightly regret that the modern show has been sexed up, partly because it’s such a facile way to appeal to people, partly because it makes it feel to me more like the grottier end of fanfic (which at its worst is renowned for pasting badly-conceived sex onto previously-established characters).

  • The TARDIS will explode when the question is asked. The answers are no doubt in the 50th special. Just because it’s not answered yet, doesn’t mean it never will be. Moffat has been very definite about that.

  • tinwatchman

    :D So you also caught the author’s name, didn’t you? The story of the Ponds isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

  • Jurgan

    So far, I’ve like S7 a lot, certainly more than S6, but can we please have a moratorium on characters saying “Doctor Who?” This smacks of telling a joke and then saying “heh, get it, get it, get it?” over and over again. But I’m afraid those of you reading this in the future are laughing at me and thinking it’s only going to get worse.
    I also fear the exact same thing you do. I try to avoid spoilers, but I saw one gif with the Doctor saying “Clara is impossible.” My first thought was, didn’t we just do this with Amy? Are we going to have another long, drawn-out story about a companion that ends with no real resolution? I like this mystery so far, but I’m skeptical it’ll amount to anything, which keeps me from getting involved. Can’t we just have a normal person as a companion? I was captivated by Rose and Donna (less so Martha), and they didn’t need elaborate fourth-dimensional backstories.

  • RogerBW

    I think that “Doctor Who?” is this season’s Bad Wolf.

  • Jurgan

    “Bad Wolf” was subtle, though- at least in comparison. Maybe I’m just dense, but I didn’t notice it until the end of the season, because the clues were in the periphery. Same with “Harold Saxon-” it was more obvious, but it wasn’t shoved right in our faces. “Doctor Who?” is being hammered over our heads again and again.

  • RogerBW

    I agree that the foreshadowing seems less subtle now. (All the “crack” stuff in season five should probably be added to this discussion. I found that pretty blatant too.)

  • A S

    Doctor Who is fairly explicit about why Amy’s life doesn’t make sense, and the idea behind it is fantastic.

    Amy’s life didn’t make sense because of the cracks in the universe. Because the cracks in the universe had swallowed her mother and her father (and later Rory).
    What about the other things she didn’t remember, like the Dalek invasion? She didn’t remember the Dalek invasion because it never happened. In this respect she isn’t different from ordinary people at all.
    That’s not to say that Amy wasn’t different. She defied the normal rules of time because time itself poured into her head every night from that crack. That enabled her to physically touch younger versions of herself without disaster. That’s why people who had been swallowed by the cracks in the universe came back. Things that “never existed” could come back as long as they were remembered. What made Amy unique was her ability to remember people that never existed. And that ability came from her unusual relationship with time.
    Her life didn’t make sense (especially after Big Bang 2) because she had two complete sets of contradicting memories. She remembered the life she led before her wedding two ways. Her parents (and Rory, though that’s never expressly said) existing, and never existing. In the memories with her parents, she had never not had parents. Once they were restored they had “always” existed. And yet she had the same memories without her parents, because she had never had them. Once swallowed by the crack in the universe, they “never” existed.
    The Doctor says that this is normal. That everyone has memories like this. Being somewhere that they couldn’t have been. But people try and suppress these memories, and when they leak through, people dismiss them.

    The idea behind Amy is that of travelling both branches of a road diverged. it’s a fascinating idea that’s been explored countless ways throughout time. How would your life be different if you made the train that morning? Moffat explores this in a thoroughly new way. He doesn’t take a specific moment and write it two different ways and then follow both. That moment, someone getting swallowed by the cracks in time, doesn’t just remove them from your future, it removes them from your past. He’s not looking at Amy’s life and seeing how it would have been different if her parents hadn’t died, he’s looking at how it would be if her parents had existed. And Moffat provides an interesting solution to the idea that we can only truly follow one path in life. He says that we can follow multiple paths, and that sometimes we do. Sometimes we both make it to that important dinner and miss that important dinner all at once. It’s not that we can’t follow both paths, it’s that we won’t allow ourselves to keep memories that don’t follow a time linearly (from cause to effect). And with good reason–it’s really very sad if you think about it. When Amy hugs her father she’s not just hugging the man who raised her, who was there for every birthday and every skinned knee. She’s also hugging the man who was never there and should have been. That’s tragic, but one hell of an idea.
    I don’t understand how you can think that there was no idea behind Amy. Amy’s the girl who grew up without family in a lonely too-big house AND with girl who grew up normally, surrounded by family in a house full of laughter and love. Amy’s the girl who grew up with two best friends, one of who she ends up marrying (the other is her daughter) AND the girl who grew up without these friends (because in memories where Rory never existed River doesn’t either).
    That makes the fact that she gave Rory up that much more powerful. She knows what her life was like without Rory and she’s willing to have that life again for her entire future. I suppose for some people this makes it less powerful, because since she’d done it for two decades, she knew she could do it again, but that’s not how I see it.

    The idea behind Amy is fantastic even only as a thought experiment. It’s an idea that’s been played with by lots of writers but never quite this way. It’s fantastic. And not just as a thought experiment–it plays out in a fantastic story.

  • A S

    We never find out why the TARDIS exploded:

    Well, that’s not entirely true. We kinda did. The Doctor, not knowing what the Silence is, but knowing that they just tried to destroy the universe via his TARDIS drops the Ponds at home and goes off in search of why they’re after him, taking time out to occasionally wave to the Ponds through history books. Now we don’t know how the Silence managed to blow up the TARDIS, but we know that they did it in an attempt to end “this never ending war”. We don’t know why they are at war with the Doctor, but the Doctor doesn’t either. The Doctor is shocked to find out that they are at war with him. That leads to all sorts of terrifying thoughts–how do you end a war when you’re fighting it in the wrong order. And worse, what if the war isn’t just a stable time loop but an information loop? Think back to Blink for a second, the Doctor doesn’t come up with the words he speaks on the tape, they come from the transcript which comes from the tape which comes from the transcript and so on. The information never generates anywhere. What if this war isn’t just being fought out of order (time loop), but has no cause (information loop)? Whenever the Doctor goes after the Silence it is a reaction. They blow up the TARDIS, they have a little girl hostage in Florida, they kidnap Amy. What if everything the Silence do (sending humanity into space for technology, trying to build a time machine, kidnapping Amy, blowing up the TARDIS) is in response to what the Doctor does to them?
    We don’t know the proper order of things — maybe the Silence try and kill the Doctor at Lake Silencio and then try to blow up the TARDIS — much less the cause. And that means that the plot arc handling the Silence is wrought with all sorts of terrible implications, and I don’t mind having that lurking in the background at all, it’s incredibly powerful. Also, why do you think that the Silence plot is over? I don’t, that never even really occurred to me. I’m not even sure that it should be treated as an ordinary plot arc. The Silence are a formidable enemy and they’ve allied themselves with other big forces. Maybe we don’t see more of this terrible endless war for a few years or even longer…what’s the big deal? The Doctor finally has a proper enemy that can move through time and space the way that he does. Why shouldn’t they battle across the ages? This has been explored a bit with enemies that lives aren’t limited by human mortality. The Doctor defeats the GI in Victorian England and yet it survives and builds up, leading to another conflict in the 21st century. And it survived and we’ll probably see it again. But an enemy living through the ages is different than an enemy that can travel through the ages. With an enemy that can travel through the ages the possibilities are limitless. And getting answers right away would really cheapen that.

  • Guest

    whoops

  • A S

    As for the rest of your issues….

    Why shouldn’t the Doctor hang out with 13th century monks if he’s looking for peace and quiet? We see a fair amount of the Church in the future, why shouldn’t the Doctor also have a relationship with the church of the past? Would it have been awesome to see the Doctor go to another planet for peace and quiet? Sure, but it would have needed a lot more setup. Besides, it’s nice to see the Doctor co-existing with humans of different times. Not coming in to stir up trouble or save people but the simple act of living side-by-side with people. Sure, the Doctor says “monks are not cool” but he’s not talking about his own opinion of monks, he’s talking about how he appears to Clara, a girl in the 21st century. Monks are exactly the sort of thing that the Doctor would find cool, but the Doctor is aware that no one else shares his definition of cool. He’s constantly mocked for his bow ties (Amy refers to them a cry for help) and the hats he adopts get shot off of his head by his own wife. And those people know and love him. He’s standing on the porch of a woman who doesn’t know him from Adam and he wants her to let him in. Being dressed as a monk is not going to help. The Doctor may misremember what social interactions are common in which century but he is self-aware enough to realise that he is pretty much alone in his opinion of what is cool, and that for someone who doesn’t know him, dressing like a monk or wearing a fez might disincline them to trust him.

    Moffat likes telling stories that involve deep loss, taking away what makes our fundamental selves. He is particularly fond of exploring the loss of identity and how much we can lose and still be human. The Weeping Angels displace you in time, taking away everything you know and loved and taking you away from everyone who knew you and loved you. The Library download consciousnesses. Rory was an Auton, and his programming forced him to kill the woman he loved more than anything. Oswin was taken by the Daleks and converted.
    Exploring this concept different ways allows different questions to be asked (is the life you live in the Library any more or less real than real life?). It allows the fundamental question of what is a soul or what makes us human to be explored different ways. Yes, exploring this concept in new ways can mean that you are borrowing from yourself and other great writers, but that doesn’t bother me as long as the take is unique. I was more bothered by the fact that we never found out what the GI was doing with the minds. Were they aware of being in the computer past the first few moments or did they adjust to their new environment and believe it was real (like being in CAL)?
    Also, just because a writer doesn’t go down the path that you would doesn’t mean that they aren’t aware that it exists. Moffat was aware of the potential for this story to be a cautionary tale but that wasn’t the tale that he wanted to write. He discusses this in a few different interviews.
    And I’m glad. For me it’s better to show how villains can come from things that are so familiar–without warning. How danger can lurk around any corner. Exploring this is enough of a cautionary tale without making it obviously so. And I think that a full on satire on corporate culture would be misplaced. Commentary on the real world comes in in just the right amount for me. Maybe they could turn it up or focus it more but I’d hate for it to be the focus.
    I think Moffat understands sci-fi just fine. He leaves us wondering why the Great Intelligence wants those human minds, and isn’t that brilliant. Is the GI planting thoughts or stealing them? Using the energy of our brains, or potential energy? Can our minds be used as disk space? What exactly makes a mind a mind? Sometimes the question is more powerful than the answer. Having time to wonder, to ask the question before the blanks are filled in is crucial.
    The Great Intelligence story is obviously not finished–the Doctor doesn’t seem to know who was behind the events of this story and he certainly isn’t aware that the GI survived. I don’t need to have everything given to me at once. I’m fine with not seeing the GI for episodes, if not seasons. I’m fine with not getting all of the answers right away. Yes, this is fiction and why’s need to have answers–“it just is” is highly unsatisfying. But that doesn’t mean that we need to get the answers right away. The Doctor doesn’t get all the answers up front, why should we? The GI wanting the minds is enough to tell the story of the minds being taken and the Doctor fighting to get them back. There is a larger story that explains the motivations of the actors involved but we don’t need that in order to see and enjoy the simple story of what happens. The show can’t always explore whys; it needs a balance of action and explanation. And I’m fine seeing action and getting explanation later. I think that it’s sometimes necessary in order to really provide dramatic impact.
    Some of the mysteries you mentioned have already been answered. Some we’re still waiting on. But I’m not as supremely wigged out as you are by not having answers. Not having answers doesn’t mean that they will never come. Being introduced to anyone or anything is being introduced to a world of mystery. Mysteries that don’t unfold right away. Some never do.
    None of this is a problem for me when I watch Who, and I hope that other people don’t see it as a problem either. If the writers were to write for the level of explanation that you seem to want I think the show would get very boring very quickly.

  • A S

    “Kinda makes it all the more mysterious and annoying that he’s simultaneously surprised and horrified that Clara is flirting with him. It’s like he hasn’t spend his entire traveling life surrounded by pretty young women.”

    This bugged me too, and I was really worried that this would be the tone for the season–I was so relieved when it turned out just to be a one off.
    The Doctor already spends a lot of his time alone, and it weighs on him. He needs a companion. So when he’s around people and he physically separates himself from what’s going on it feels really odd, and like it’s being forced. The Doctor is an incredibly physical man who has life and death adventures with people he cares deeply for–holding hands, hugging, kissing–these are all parts of normal relationships–they shouldn’t be such a big deal. Especially when things are life and death. In life and death situations people grab someone’s hand to feel that it’s real and that they’re alive. People hug out of concern and sheer joy. People kiss out of pure relief. So I’ve been really glad to see the Doctor being portrayed in a more physically normal way in recent episodes. His holding onto Clara’s hand as they made their way through the TARDIS, his kissing Jenny–all of that feels right and genuine.
    When this doesn’t happen I feel as though he’s stifled and every thing he does physically has too big an import. It turns every tiny hug into a question of sexual tension and I really hate that so I was really worried that the tone in this episode would carry through and make everything awkward all season long. Now that I know that it’s a one off I can both understand it and accept it. Now that I know it’s a one off it’s really very funny. Clara’s flirting is in response to the things that he does and it never really occurred to him how he could be perceived. He knows that other people see the TARDIS and think it’s a box, but he’s never really thought about how a man who totes a big blue box around really looks. How many people have seen him arrive of disappear in the TARDIS but never saw inside; never saw that it was bigger on the inside. Have all of those people thought he was travelling in a snog box? It’s a perfectly legitimate assumption to make and the Doctor’s realisation that this is what people have been thinking of him is properly surprising and horrifying. This episode also makes much more sense post “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” because you realise that he thinks that Clara is having him on. That she’s not human, that she knows who he is and she’s just not telling. So every normal thing she does must be surprising to him because he’s expecting her to be anything but normal. This dialogue really gets extra miles when watching the episode retrospectively.

  • Doctor80

    One problem as I see it is that we haven’t had a story arc stretching over more than one series. In the Davis era there were story arcs leaving mysteries within the one series but things were explained by the end. Moffat seems to like very long arcs that still have questions needing answers. I myself have found it a bit tiresome to try and keep all the bits and pieces from previous series in mind while watching the new ones.

  • Crhis!

    I assume you were joking when you asked if Stephen Moffat had been watching Sherlock!?

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