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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”


[previous: “Last Christmas”]

warning: spoilers!

So it looks like this is going to be yet another season of me being disappointed in Doctor Who. It breaks my heart, but Steven Moffat’s idea of what the show should be simply does not speak to me anymore. He, as a writer, has all of time and space, the entire universe and all of history to explore and play with… and he keeps coming back to the same monsters, the same villains, the same ideas over and over again. (Oh, look: Clara is a Dalek again!) He keeps circling around the same stories until they disappear into themselves. Doctor Who is eating its own tail under Moffat’s direction.

Is no one their own person in the Doctor’s universe? Is there nothing and no one that he has not had an influence in creating? This time, it’s Davros. “Who made Davros?” Of course it’s the Doctor. Except it isn’t. If “Davros knows, Davros remembers,” then Davros remembers that the Doctor saved him from the “handmine” field and showed him mercy. Moffat wants us to think it’s the opposite, that the Doctor abandoned the child Davros and that this was the beginning of Davros’s hatred, but that cannot be. This is time travel! From Davros’s perspective, the Doctor did nothing but save him, barely even hesitated to save him. But that’s the same problem with the “one last night” that Clara and Missy have in which to find the Doctor. This is time travel! They have literally forever to find him when time travel is on the table.

It’s pointless to nitpick Moffat’s stories, because he doesn’t care about telling a cohesive story. He has his cool ideas — “handmines”! (*groan*) “the planes have stopped”! “invisible planet”! “the Doctor plays rock guitar”! — and it doesn’t matter if they have nothing to do with anything, are not woven into the fabric of the tale. There is no tale, not in the traditional sense. There is only pantomime. Moffat’s Doctor Who is a pantomime of Doctor Who. Almost literally: the Doctor in sunglasses playing an electric guitar in medieval England while announcing Missy’s entrance with “It’s the wicked stepmother, everyone — *hiss*!” is exactly the sort of thing you’d see in a Christmas pantomime in England.


Why is the Doctor in hiding? (Why does he believe he is about to die?) Why is he in hiding in a place and time where he is engaging in outrageous anachronisms so that, it would seem, he can be found? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is the joke that the Doctor has taught ye olde people how to say “dude.”

How are the Daleks supposed to be scary when they’re merely panto villains for Missy to mock? Only possible answer: the Daleks are no longer meant to be scary. They are meant to be seen as cultural icons divorced from whatever narrative purpose they once served. They are no longer characters or even props in a story. They are signifiers of Doctor Who as a pop-culture phenomenon. They might as well be selling candy bars.

Doctor Who has become a meta representation of itself. The show has become its own T-shirt.

We know that Moffat’s intentions are precisely that we not question anything. He tells us as much. The Doctor drinks tea in Davros’s chair. “Where did I get the cup of tea? I’m the Doctor, just accept it.” The putative coolness of the immediate moment is all that matters, and nothing else.

But I can’t just accept it. This is not the sort of storytelling that made Doctor Who so satisfying in the past. Where is the adventure? Where is the excitement of seeing new places and meeting new people? Where is the unsmirking belief in the Doctor?

I don’t believe a word of anything that happens here. The sentimental conversation between the Doctor and Davros about compassion and sunrises and such is an embarrassing example of the worst excesses of fan fiction.


But of course, this is all a joke, too. The Doctor and Davros are only fooling each other, haha! But the truly interesting version of this same story wouldn’t have tried to fool us as well, with the sappy closeup (was Davros crying?) and the sappier musical score. We would have actually seen both of them scheming, pretending, acting with each other.

And still, all of the themes dealt with here are retreads from one of the greatest stories from the classic show, “Genesis of the Daleks,” which is what this clip is from:


The only thing these two episodes made me feel — apart from the sadness that Doctor Who is no longer my show — is that I want to watch “Genesis” again.

Will I write about upcoming episodes? I honestly don’t know. I will at least post open threads for you all to talk about them, if you so desire. Stay tuned.

Random thoughts on “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”:

• Missy’s got nothing but a pointed stick:


But she’s also got some rope. You know, the nice strong rope she tied Clara up with. Maybe she could get some more useful stuff from wherever she got that rope from– Oh, never mind.

• Great quote:

“See that couple over there? You’re the puppy.” –Missy, to Clara, about her relationship with the Doctor. Except… why isn’t the square locked down and shut off to civilians? Why the hell is UNIT letting random people walk their dog through a square where a psychopathic alien supervillain is having a chat that the fate of the world might depend upon? Oh, never mind…

[next: “Under the Lake”]

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  • Dave B

    Yep. All I can say is yep. Everyone’s doing their best but it all just rings a bit hollow. Man, Capaldi deserved better.

    Missy does bring some joy to it, but only because she’s such a psychopath you can forgive her for not adhering to the narrative rules. Almost.

    That mush about how she and Clara survived being atomised was bearable until you realised Clara wasn’t even wearing a time watch, so wtf.

    The thing is I know Moffat can do it – like he did with Day of. But its like he’s always writing the script on the bus in to work. There’s nuggets of imagination and style… but in between its just rushed waffle. And it makes me bored and sad that we’re meant to just accept those runny bits, otherwise we’re not getting into the spirit of it.

    Ray bans. Sure. Whatever.

  • Yeah, sadly, I am 100% in agreement.
    Let’s be honest. The show sucks now. Ok, it’s sucked for a while now, but I just don’t want to say it out loud. I think back to Tennant episodes, and maybe even some Smith episodes, and remember how invested I got in them. Laughed, cried, actually FELT things.
    What the hell happened? *sighs*
    What baffles me is all the people who seem to love these Capaldi episodes. I just don’t get it. What are they seeing that we’re not? Are these newer viewers? People who just have no concept for story and character? I don’t know.

  • RogerBW

    I found myself going off the show a year or two before most other people I know did, so I think I have some idea of the feeling you’re talking about. Some of it’s a convert effect; this is a show I’ve loved a lot, so it took me a long time to become fed up with it, but conversely once I had I went far in the opposite diretion. (I’m not entirely in sympathy with the STFUMoffat crowd, but I do think they make some good points as well as some bad ones.)

  • Jurgan

    “Is no one their own person in the Doctor’s universe? Is there nothing and no one that he has not had an influence in creating? ”

    Even more, Moffat himself is determined to overwrite all of DW history with his own take. “Day of the Doctor” was a fun episode, but I hated that he overwrote the entire backstory Davies had created. He overwrote the Doctor’s origin by having Clara be involved at the beginning. He sped up the regeneration cycle because he wanted to write a story to give the Doctor a new set of regenerations (and the answer he came up with amounted to Clara crying at the Timelords and saying “pretty please?”). Moffat is determined to make the show his, which is fine, but he’s going about it all wrong. I know it’s time travel, which means the temptation to muck around with the past is always there, but if you want to create your own era of a show, you do it by looking forward and creating new things to get excited about, not looking back and rehashing everything that’s already been done with your own twist.

  • Danielm80

    I actually really liked these episodes until Fridge Logic kicked in. Every New Who episode falls apart if you give it serious thought (the chronology of “Day of the Doctor” makes my head hurt), but this story didn’t fall apart until after I switched off the television.
    The episodes did suffer from the same problem as mid-’90s Star Trek, though: Every villain has to be a good person deep down. There was a heroic Klingon and a funny Ferengi, and eventually we got a sexy recovering Borg. I generally like Moffat’s sense of compassion, and I like the idea that no one is a villain in his or her own eyes. But I didn’t need to see the Doctor bonding with Davros. Moving as the scenes were, they felt a little too much like slash fiction.

  • Stephen Robinson

    I liked what RTD tried to do with the Daleks. 2005’s “Dalek” demonstrated the threat even a single Dalek could pose. And I thought the Cult of Skaro was a great way of resolving the problem that had led to Davros’s creation — the belief that the Daleks had become nothing but a bunch of props screaming “exterminate!” without any real personality for the Doctor to engage on an intellectual level. Even after “Evolution of the Daleks,” when you were down to one Dalek again (just like there was just one Time Lord), there was potential for that one Dalek to be an individual foe that the audience would come to know and fear. But unfortunately RTD couldn’t resist bringing back Davros (I’ve never been a fan of the character), and Moffat took it in a worse direction with “Victory of the Daleks.” Soon, we had a whole fleet of disposable Daleks again, who just showed up to be killed.

    But one Dalek working to restore his race’s former glory — something that truly contrasted with the Doctor’s actions — had a great story potential. Oh well.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah. I don’t expect consistency – that would be unreasonable – but piddling all over everything like an insecure dog marking his territory doesn’t endear me to the person doing it.

  • Stephen Robinson

    I wish Capaldi had gotten his own showrunner, as Matt Smith did. This allowed the series to essentially “reboot” itself totally. I’m also of the opinion that the 9th and 10th Doctor “eras” are essentially the same one.

    I think DOCTOR WHO itself “regenerated” every three years or so — the show it was with Hartnell was very different from how it was with Troughton and later the color, earth-bound Pertwee series.

    Coleman’s departure is a positive, because it will help define Capaldi’s Doctor. Inherited companions are a nice transition for the audience, but it’s ultimately a relationship founded with the previous Doctor. You’ll note that once Sarah Jane Smith — the Fourth Doctor’s inherited companion — left, the Doctor’s companions were either stowaways (Leela, Adric) or forced on him (Romana), which was very in character.

  • Stephen Robinson

    I also didn’t enjoy the Harry Potter elements that continue to exist in the series (and in fairness, RTD introduced a lot of them). The snake guy is a Voldermort lackey. It’s almost laughable to imagine him appearing in “Genesis of the Daleks” when Davros is a more grounded character as basically Skaro’s Mengele.

  • Maria Niku

    So how many times has Moffat used the frightened child theme by now? Seems like an awful many. I love Missy in the sense that she’s hugely entertaining, but there’s not much depth there, as there continues to be not much depth to anything. I suppose I keep watching because I love the idea of the Doctor.

  • Jamie

    Yes…That’s what I’m missing the most. No coherency, and certainly no depth. Only icing, no cake. His hyperactive style of writing this show is like he’s afraid to not throw a bunch of things in to distract people from the fact that he isn’t really writing any actual stories, he isn’t giving us fully developed characters, or deaths with any real weight to them, or anything else, because, ooh look, an old school monster for fans to fawn over, and new stuff like sunglasses for fans to giggle about. He treats the audience as if we all have the attention span and depth of a gold fish. I’m still not sure why so many people seem to enjoy it just the same.

  • RogerBW

    It’s written for a modern audience who watch lots of other television too. Much more than the original series, it assumes that you’re versed in the way current TV works and presents things.
    I’m not the target for it any more, and I’ve just had to accept that.

  • I know it’s time travel, which means the temptation to muck around with the past is always there,

    The old series had a rule — some sort of Time Lord law, though it seemed to be more of a natural law of temporal physics than a matter of legislation — that the Doctor could not cross his own timeline, or travel into his own past or future (or, if I remember correctly, into the past or future of Gallifrey or the Time Lords as a race). It was, I’m sure, a rule invented by the show in order to avoid precisely the sort of narrative abuses and cheats we see all the time now. There is NO drama or suspense if everything can be erased and mistakes can be fixed and the Doctor gets endless do-overs.

    The show needs a major reboot, and that rule needs to be brought back. I fear we’re going to end up at a point (if we haven’t already passed it) where fans just pretend that a huge portion of Moffat’s tenure simply never happened, as far as the Doctor’s larger canon is concerned.

  • Only icing, no cake.


  • Maria Niku

    I’m strongly tempted to start thinking so already.

  • Dave B

    Yeah, agreed. Coleman’s a talent – but I never quite warmed to her until right at the end of Smith’s tenure. But she’s almost getting in the way of Capaldi. There’s still a chance he can shake something loose from the role. Something we haven’t seen yet.

  • Stephen Robinson

    Clara Oswald is my least favorite modern WHO companion. What I disliked about Rose (the Mary Sue-ishness and “this is an awesome adventure where people are dying!”) is cranked up to 11 with Clara. But more problematically, Clara lacks any of Rose’s positive traits: Yes, Billie Piper is conventionally attractive, but Rose herself is intended to be somewhat normal from a working class background. Clara works as a schoolteacher but has a wardrobe that implies she takes kickbacks from her students. And my god, the motorcycle! Also RTD fleshed out Rose (as he did Martha and Donna). This was a positive change from the classic series where companions rarely had fully explored lives outside the TARDIS. Clara’s life is mostly ad hoc — Danny’s relationship with the Doctor was more interesting to me than his with Clara. Her family in TIME OF THE DOCTOR was a prop to serve that particular story.

    I also wish the series wouldn’t have this resistance against the Doctor having companions who aren’t from present-day Earth. Nine seasons into the original series and there was a diversity of gender, age, and background. The Second Doctor, after Ben and Polly left, never had companions from the present. And the tension between Danny and the Doctor reminded me of the First Doctor and Ian. This is a product of a mostly working TARDIS — an opportunity somewhat lost from TIME OF THE DOCTOR when the Doctor asks , “Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?” He could legitimately have been rusty after centuries of staying in one place.

    The Doctor basically always traveling with his best friend limits story options. The new WHO companion has (well, sadly, with the exception of Martha) been the most important person in his life. I thought when the Doctor turned down traveling with the soldier at the end of INTO THE DALEK that it was like shutting the door on a potential Leela.

  • Stephen Robinson

    RTD implied that the laws of time were more fluid now that the Time Lord were gone, which I thought was an interesting acknowledgement of what the impact would be on the universe if such a powerful race ceased to be. However, very early on, he demonstrated in “Father’s Day” that breaking the laws of time had serious, often fatal, ramifications without the Time Lords around.

    And naturally, if breaking the laws of time were as easy as Moffat made it (see “A Christmas Carol,” where the Doctor deliberately goes back to change the life of someone so he’d behave differently in the present), then the Master would have never lost a battle in the original series. He had a TARDIS after all. He could just go back and “fix” things as he liked them.

  • RogerBW

    See, you say all those things about Clara, and I agree, but to me most of them were also true of Amy Pond.

  • David_Conner

    Moffat’s writing kind of reminds me of Jeph Loeb’s comic book writing. Both love clever lines and “big moments,” and seem to start from those, then work backwards to fit them into actual stories. And Loeb’s most creatively successful works seem to be in large part due to very talented collaborators (artist Tim Sale in particular.)

    Both are frustrating to read/watch, because they’re talented enough that the lines often *are* clever, and the “big moments” *do* deliver… at least when considered in isolation. But the aggregate is usually a sloppy mess.

    I think I’m a little more on the positive side of the ledger than many fans wrt Moffat, as the overall positives of the show tend to outweigh the negatives for me… but that doesn’t stop the negatives from being extremely annoying. And even the better Moffat stuff tends to be covering well-trodden ground.

    (Loeb, incidentally, is now Marvel’s Head of Television Production or somesuch, where he seems to be a better fit than Moffat in a similar role.)

  • David_Conner

    I saw some Internet commentator give what I thought was an even better description: “Pandering to Tumblr”

    I mean, you just *know* one of this episode’s big moments was there to generate a meme about no matter how cool you are, you’ll never be “Doctor on a tank playing electric guitar” cool.”

    I wrote the above before doing a Google search, but sure enough, here you go….

  • RogerBW

    And where is the flamethrower?

    How quickly they forget.

  • althea

    Reading all the comments – and very astute observations they are – has reinforced the discomfort I’ve felt since Capaldi first appeared. In that first episode I thought the Doctor had gone insane. It surprised me that Clara didn’t cringe at his behavior and come to the same conclusion. The Doctor has always been erratic, and flippant, but there was nothing endearing or comic about him. He’s just deranged. He’s like a Norman Bates, just waiting to snap while he tries to keep you engaged. It may be down to Moffat’s failures, and Capaldi is just completely lost in his efforts to interpret a Doctor that makes no sense at all. But the two of them may be enabling each other. The wreck got started when Moffat came along and picked up speed with Capaldi.

  • I don’t think any story gave me as mixed feelings as this one.

    On one side, I can’t say it sucked, because I *loved* it. I laughed at the right times, I was sucked into the plot, I enjoyed the bantering and most of the twists. As far as enjoyment is concerned, this is the Twelfth Doctor’s finest hour yet.

    But is it real? No, not for a second. I don’t enjoy it because it’s a good story, I enjoy it because I admire the insanity that it consists of. I have never seen a TV show get so far up its own arse than this in these two episodes.

    Doctor Who has become The Feast Of Steven.

  • Stephen Robinson

    I don’t disagree. I think Clara reinforces weaknesses in Moffat’s ability to write female characters. Those weaknesses were present with Amy but now I think they’ve reached a crisis point.

    It also helped that the relationship between the Doctor and Amy was more consistent. She might have had some romantic interest in him early on that he nipped in the bud and she demonstrated her true love for Rory. But Clara was a bit all over the place — she and 11 were written with a strong romantic edge, which I thought wasn’t good for 11 and conflicted with his marriage to River (Moffat later hastily wrote out River as “dead,” though she always was). The past season was about Clara getting to know a new Doctor, but it wasn’t as effective as Rose/10 because we didn’t know who Clara was.

    I agree with others who believe that Capaldi’s Doctor suffers from having Clara as his companion or his “carer.” For one, I never bought his attachment to her. His new incarnation is a dick to everyone…. but Clara. Why? Why would any affection he have for her as 11 carry over when so little else did? I think Moffat forced the pairing and frankly two so different Doctors can’t work with the same companion. Until we see who this Doctor meets and bonds with on his own — without memories of him as someone else — we won’t truly know Capaldi’s Doctor. And learning that in the actor’s third season is a problem.

  • RTD implied that the laws of time were more fluid now that the Time Lord were gone, which I thought was an interesting acknowledgement of what the impact would be on the universe if such a powerful race ceased to be.

    True. But we haven’t seen that as a consequence. The only use this has been put to is cheating in the storytelling.

  • Radek Piskorski

    I absolutely loved this episode. And the entire season 8.
    By the way, Genesis of the Daleks is the only ClassicWho I’ve ever seen. It was embarrassingly bad.

  • Radek Piskorski

    Well, I always thought Matt Smith was an idiot, so there was a limit to how much I could like him.
    But isn’t it *adorable* that your only explanation for why we like Capaldi!Who is that we’re STUPIDER than you?!

  • I was asking, not accusing. I said “I don’t know”.

    Capaldi isn’t the issue. Most people like him in the role. It’s the horrible writing/stories.

  • What did you find embarrassingly bad about it?

  • Jonathan Swift

    So happy to see someone who is not totally gaga over Doctor Who. You cannot just slap the title on and Moffats name and it is gold. I fear what the new Sherlock season will be like as the 3rd season derailed a bit for me although I still enjoyed it.

  • Jonathan Swift

    For me my favorite of the new companions is Donna. Seems to be the only one who doesn’t wanna jump in the sack with the Doc or is madly in love with him.. although that worked with Rose and Martha to some extent. The same problems with Dr. Who were present in Sherlock season 3.. even bringing back Moriarty.. something else from the lexicon would work just as well. But it seem that just the name Moffat is supposed to be golden. No wonder tv shows in UK normally run 2-4 season long.

  • Jonathan Swift

    They had a very strong episode where the Doctor thinks he has the right to change history during the waters of Mars episode.. in which his happy endings were self corrected when the woman gets upset at the doctor and out of spite it seems kills herself to correct his fiddling with time. We learn then that his time as that doctor is at an end and he does get to have some fun by helping out friends so long as he doesn’t mess with major events of history.

  • Jonathan Swift

    I don’t mind the comment about him on the tank as well.. it is kinda cool in a stupid way. What bothered me was the whole scene of him in medieval times while shredding up during an “axe battle” which I only remember seeing maybe in Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure and at the end of the movie “Crossroads.”

    And my feeling on Doctor who now being there root cause of every other character in the shows is kinda like how Forrest Gump is just everywhere in US culture.

  • RogerBW

    For my preference this started to go wrong towards the end of the old series, with the Cartmel Masterplan. One of the keys to the old show is that the Doctor isn’t supernaturally important: he’s just “a” Time Lord, without the resources that most of them have, who has a taste for turning up in troublesome situations. The new show is much more prone to say that everything is about, or because of, the Doctor (or, worse, Clara), which (for me, I’m not claiming this is true in general) tends to rob stories of mystery: like the stories an evangelical Christian tells, they always come back to being about the same thing in the end.

  • LorinGeitner

    It’s a revelation that Doctor Who is a panto? A show aimed primarily at children, which has almost always put compelling imagery and clever dialogue ahead of narrative coherence?

    Yes …. its a panto.

    The question is: is it a _good_ panto?

  • RogerBW

    At its best, it manages to have compelling and clever stuff and tell an actual story.

  • LorinGeitner


    I don’t watch Doctor Who expecting *either* quality science fiction _or_ greater literature.

    Once in a while, it gets close to the _former_. Even more seldom, it has flashes of the *latter*.

    BUT …. taken as a _panto_, both Matt Smith and Capaldri are consistently _enjoyable_, and *that* is what _matters_!

  • Only someone who has literally never seen this show could say that it

    has almost always put compelling imagery and clever dialogue ahead of narrative coherence.

  • LorinGeitner


    Ad hominem.

  • Danielm80

    No, your description of the show just doesn’t match the series she’s been watching for several decades.

  • Not in the least.

  • LorinGeitner

    “Ad hominem” means that it is an argument directed at the _person_, not towards the *content* of their statement.

    Personal attacks are, per se, ad hominem, but not all ad hominem arguments are personal attacks.

    What makes an ad hominem argument a fallacy is that is addressed the *person*. This is irrelevant to any intelligent discussion: whatever someone’s personal characteristics is irrelevant, if their statement or observation is accurate (or defensible).

    Thus, in this case, the statement: “Only *someone* who has literally never seen this show could say that it” is characterizing _me_.

    Therefore, although not a personal attack, it is, indeed, an “ad hominem”.


    In this case, whether I have never seen Doctor Who is irrelevant if my statement is accurate, or if there is cogent evidence I can cite to support it.

    Now … if she had written “that doesn’t match with _my_ experience”, that would not be ad hominem because it would be stating a position, and supporting it — if only with personal experience.

    *Better* would be: “That doesn’t accord with my experience: can you cite instances in which Doctor Who has put compelling imagery or clever dialogue ahead of narrative coherence?”

    But …. that would be a *different* question!

  • Danielm80

    If you want to argue over the phrasing of the sentence and ignore the main point she was making, that is your right, but it doesn’t prove her wrong. In fact, it hardly addresses her argument at all.

  • LorinGeitner

    How am I to know what argument she is making except through her phrasing? This is the internet. I don’t have her expression, or tone of voice to go by, so that, perforce, requires me to rely on the actual _words_ present.

    As written, this is a clear ad hominem — which is a logical fallacy.

    As such, it doesn’t constitute an argument.

    I’m always willing to respond to substantive arguments. Such has not, yet, been made, however.

  • LorinGeitner

    Hmmnnn …. do you remember *this* image?:


    Captivating, striking image, any way you look at it.

    But does it make any _narrative_ sense?

    If the weeping angels can’t move, in anyone sees them, and the Statue of Liberty is a giant weeping angel, that would mean:
    1. There is some significant amount of time when no one is looking at that statue — in one of the busiest harbors in the world
    2. That no one, in one of the most populace cities in the world, has noticed it suddenly appearing and disappearing from its base
    3. No one, in such a densely populated city, never noticed it appearing next to this hotel or
    4. If they noticed it appearing, they didn’t _stare_ at it in amazement (making it incapable of movement, and, hence, no threat to our stalwart heroes!)

    Now …. they could have partially “saved” this in terms of narrative coherence if there had been a shot of a newspaper headline — “The Statue of Liberty disappears again!” — although, that would still leave open the question of how can it appear next to this building, even in the middle of the night, in Manhattan, and *not* have crowds gathering to gaze at it in wonderment?

    Now …. its true that fiction depends for its effect on a willing suspension of disbelief — but that is something that has to be _earned_ by the storyteller, by setting narrative groundwork to make such suspension of disbelief tenable.

    This image was presented for graphic effect, and shock value, but makes no sense in the context of the story, because there was no exposition established to pave the way for it.

    Hence — a compelling image — but one that, for a significant part of the episode, pushed me out of buying into the narrative.

    And this is not atypical — in the course of a day or two of thinking about it, I’ve remembered numerous such instances — this one, is but one of the most extreme …. and *ludicrous* …. examples.

    Now …. if I was watching the series with the assumption that is was serious literature (TM) setting out to articulate enduring truths of the human conditions, or, even, gauged it by the standard of “quality science fiction”, in which implausible things can be accepted so long as some scientific principle or phenomenon is set out in the exposition to support suspension of disbelief ….. I would have given up on the show _long_ before this episode (probably back when I started watching it regularly, in the Pertwee era).

    BUT …. if we go on the assumption that it is, essentially, a children’s pantomime, being performed by quality actors and written by (mostly) competent, if less than literary, writers, then it merits being evaluated by the standard of good pantomime: Did the actors create engaging and endearing characters by their performance? Was there some clever dialog? Did they make the occasional effort to slip in something intellectually engaging for the adults? Were the (sometimes narratively incoherent) visuals at least visually engaging?

    For my money — and part of the reason I’ve been watching this show for a good part of my life — it does fulfill that lower standard on a pretty consistent basis.

    Doctor Who is a pantomime.

    Doctor Who has *always* been a pantomime.

    But I enjoy watching it because it is, at least, a *quality* pantomime.

  • Danielm80

    You seem to be responding to this section of the review:

    It’s pointless to nitpick Moffat’s stories, because he doesn’t care about telling a cohesive story. He has his cool ideas — “handmines”! (*groan*) “the planes have stopped”! “invisible planet”! “the Doctor plays rock guitar”! — and it doesn’t matter if they have nothing to do with anything, are not woven into the fabric of the tale. There is no tale, not in the traditional sense. There is only pantomime. Moffat’s Doctor Who is a pantomime of Doctor Who.

    She’s saying that Moffat’s stories are written in a different style than earlier versions of the show.

    You’re saying that the show has always been written that way. But to prove it, you cite a fairly recent episode, written by Moffat.

    Here’s what MaryAnn said about that episode:

    “The city that never sleeps” is ideal hunting ground for creatures who can move only when no one is watching them? How does that work? The Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel? How does that work? Even if there are some brief moments when no one is looking at the very large, very prominent, very famous landmark in very busy New York harbor, which is overlooked from all sides by big apartment buildings occupied by the denizens of a city that never sleeps, surely a few people will eventually notice that the Statue has left its plinth and is now frozen in the middle of a Manhattan street?


    So you both seem to be in agreement about Steven Moffat. But you’ve been arguing that the show has always been written this way. Would you like to give a few examples from earlier eras of the show?

  • LorinGeitner

    The passage you cite is, I think, a little deceptive on its own: Maryann has only really started expressing dissatisfaction with the start of Capaldri’s era, as I recall, so I cited a pre-Capaldri who which exemplifies privileging striking visuals over narrative coherence.

    That said, its hard to think of an episode of Doctor Who that _doesn’t_ do so — either on its own, or within the greater context of the overall established continuity.

    In “The Daleks”, the Daleks can only exist in environments with high levels of radiation, and can only move on flat, metallic surfaces …. in “Daleks: Invasion Earth”, they are suddenly able to get about on earth, without much background radiation, and somehow negotiate the cobblestones and curbs of London …. or, even, apparently, move about on the _bottom_ of the Thames!? Hunh!? Yes …. the image of Daleks emerging from underwater, and moving in formation past London landmarks was visually striking …. and utterly incoherent, given the physical limitations which have been previously established.

    According to “The Aztecs”, it is *impossible* for time travelers to alter the past — which creates a pleasing narrative tension to see how Barbara’s plans are going to be undone. But …. in “The Time Meddler”, suddenly, it *is* possible, and the Doctor has to stop the villain who is setting out to do so? Um …. yeah ….. OK ….. pull the other one: it has bells on!

    Most any episode where there is a classic, eye-catching image similarly either violates established continuity, and/or narrative plausibility. In “The Next Doctor”, a giant cyberman strides across London in the late 1800s (which the Doctor takes care of with a weapon that oh-so-conveniently, and without prior mention or explanation, comes to hand at just the right moment) …. but in the earlier RTD ep in which the cybermen invade, they appear to be something no one on earth has seen before? No one noticed that it was similar to the engravings of a history of London in the late 1800s, which would, presumably, have portrayed the cyberking? (How could such a being _not_ been featured in the history books, after all?)

    At their best, some Doctor Who episodes have been internally consistent. Many of them, however — especially the ones with the big, famous, iconic images — fall apart with the slightest application of critical thinking. And all too often, the big bad is defeated not on the basis of any mechanism which has been established before hand, but rather via the power of (to use Terry Pratchett’s memorable phrase): “makeitupasyougalongeum”.

    Speaking of Lord Terry: “People say Doctor Who is science fiction. At least people who don’t know what science fiction is, say that Doctor Who is science fiction. Star Trek approaches science fiction. … Doctor Who on the other hand had an episode wherein people’s surplus body fat turns into little waddling creatures. I’m not sure how old you have to be to come up with an idea like that. ” (http://boingboing.net/2010/05/03/terry-pratchett-doct.html)

    Can’t get much more pantomime then the visually appealling, utterly ludicrous, Adipose — in an RTD, not Moffat, episode!


  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Maryann has only really started expressing dissatisfaction with the start of Capaldri’s era

    Oh, no, it started somewhere in Season 5, become a dominant theme of the blogging around “Let’s Kill Hitler”, and hit full swing before “The Angels in Manhattan”.

  • LorinGeitner

    You might be right: I’d have to check those posts myself to confirm.

    Unless — perhaps — we can get Maryann to weigh in about when, precisely, she started becoming dissatisfied with Moffat’s tenure?

  • Almost from the beginning of the Matt Smith era.

  • I really have *no* interest in my comments threads getting cluttered up with arguing about arguing. You clearly knew *exactly* what I meant, and yet you thought it would be fun to derail this thread with your pedantry. If you would like to discuss the show in good faith, please do so. For instance, you *could* have cited evidence for *your* contention from the get-go, but of course that would be impossible, because you went with a overly broad and sweeping generalization about a series with a 50-year history that falls apart with the slightest poke.

  • LorinGeitner

    I only knew what you had written.

    I cannot read your mind …. only your words.

  • LorinGeitner

    That said, I *entirely* agree with you that the this is “a series … that falls apart with the slightest poke”.

    I still enjoy it, for all its manifold absurdities, implausibilities and internal inconsistencies. There is a certain frisson seeing such capable actors give their all, with (mostly) straight faces, to something so patently meant as a light divertissement, and by their effort and skill, sporadically raise it to a level that approaches _art_, if only for a scene or two at a time.

  • Bluejay

    I *entirely* agree with you that the this is “a series … that falls apart with the slightest poke”.

    Except that she didn’t say that about the series. She said that about your claim about the series.

    If, as you say, you only have her words to go by, you might want to take even more care in not taking those words out of context.

  • Danielm80

    He’s not interested in actual discussion. He’s interested in evading actual discussion. He’s going to seize on every ambiguity in sentence structure and every technicality of grammar or word usage that he can find. For example, he’s about to diagram the last sentence in MaryAnn’s comment and argue that, technically speaking, she was referring to the TV series.

    In the meantime, Moffat will continue to produce episodes in which the characters’ personalities change, arbitrarily, from week to week, and come up with plots that blatantly make no sense. But that won’t bother LorinGeitner, because he, personally, likes the acting, and he, personally, doesn’t take the stories seriously.

  • LorinGeitner

    Actually, if you look at the next sub-thread, I already provided a series of examples which illustrate my contention. Not a single comment on _that_, so far however.

    BUT …. for all the claims that what is desired here are substantive discussions of the show, *this* is the thread that is getting the most activity.

    Hmmmnnn ……..

  • LorinGeitner

    In the next sub-thread, I have already pursued the actual discussion, by posting a number of examples.

    BUT …. it seems that this meta-discussion is much more popular. I guess its always _easier_. and cathartic, to make personal comments than to address substantive points.

    But if you want to discuss whether my assertion has been adequately backed up, and are willing to put aside personal comments, I look forward to reading what you have to say!

  • Danielm80

    As I suggested in my previous post, there’s a difference between an episode with a few plotholes (which describes most episodes of Doctor Who), and a whole run of episodes where the characters’ personalities keep changing dramatically for no obvious reason. I also get irritated when the Doctor’s behavior flies in the face of reason (“Let’s Kill Hitler!”) and when the Doctor repeatedly calls attention to an illogical time paradox (“Before the Flood”) and when the scenes barely make sense as I’m watching them (“Angels in Manhattan”).
    The show has always had bad episodes and stories based on pseudoscience, but at this point, Moffat and his team of writers seem to be making stuff up in the moment, with no regard for what’s happened before. Moffat is a talented enough writer that, sometimes, the episodes keep me entertained, anyway, but I’m wondering if he’s written so many episodes that he’s gotten frazzled.

  • LorinGeitner

    I remember that episode!

    Yep! — The motivation for the suicide seemed pretty weak: “I was _supposed_ to die, but you managed, somehow, to save me! I’m just gonna *kill* myself, in that case”?

    The show has always vacillated on when, and to what degree, the Doctor can intervene and influence past events — largely on the basis, I suspect, of narrative convenience: Want the Doctor to be a tragic hero? Explain that he can’t chance _this_ because this even is a “fixed point in time”. (What does that even _mean_? Fixed by _who_, or what reason?) Want the Doctor to be a hero that we can root for? He can triumph, in an explosion of (affordable) special effects, and leave no lasting impression on the human populace. And if he has left too much impression on the human populace over decades of storytelling? Create a season-long plot ark that reboots the entire universe, such that Amy Pond is the only one to remember him (unless, of course, in a _subsequent_ story, it would be important for a given character to remember him!)

    I wish they would settle on one, coherent, understanding of time and causality and *stick* with it!

  • LorinGeitner

    I just came across the expression “Fridge Logic”, and I entirely agree — Doctor Who is a case in point!

    I’m not sure if the new Who is _more_ subject to it than Who Classic, however.

  • LorinGeitner

    All too much television, today, seems to be written for short-attention-span theater, in my experience.

  • LorinGeitner

    Good turn of phrase, and all too accurate.

  • LorinGeitner

    Never made the connection with Loeb’s comic books before, but I think you have a _point_!

    Is it entirely or primarily the fault of these two writers, though, or is it endemic to the form of serialized television catering to audiences with short attention spans, little training or awareness of critical thinking, easily distracted, but hungry for clever lines and striking images?

    I see many of those fault in most modern television, but — yeah! — I have to agree with Maryann on this point — lately, Moffat is taking those tendencies and dialing them up to “11”!

  • LorinGeitner

    You are correct that I enjoy the acting, and don’t take the stories seriously. I also enjoy the (sometimes) clever dialogue.

    Doctor Who is frivolous entertainment … that said, it is *well*made* frivolous entertainment, at the very least (which puts it ahead of 98% or more of what I find on the boob tube) …. but it is also, seldom, *more* than that.

  • Danielm80

    I’m okay with Fridge Logic. I watched “The Day of the Doctor” four times before I noticed that the War Doctor’s time travel storyline makes no sense whatsoever. It’s still one of my favorite episodes. What bothers me is when the episode falls apart as I’m watching it.

  • LorinGeitner

    Good point.

    I think there might be a case to be made that Doctor Who has become *more* pantomime since Moffat. (Although, I also think that its always had more than an element of that, by its very nature).

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