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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Flesh and Stone”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: “The Time of Angels”)
Oh my god, Steven Moffat is a ’shipper.

The whole notion of ’shippers and ’shipping came from fandom, from the fans who watched a particular show — like, say The X-Files — because they were intrigued by the subtextual relationship between certain characters — like, say, Mulder and Scully — as they went about their contextual business — like, say, investigating a mysterious murder that might have alien involvement. ’Shipping was a way to interact with and deconstruct a show from a fannish perspective: it was like adding your own icing to an already delicious cake and making it even more yummy.

But as is increasingly obvious with Doctor Who under Moffat, what once would have been subtext is now the text, with the ostensible text almost an afterthought. Yeah yeah yeah, this episode is all about the Doctor and Amy and River escaping from the Weeping Angels, but who cares? We knew that was gonna happen. What this entire episode is really about is feeding the ’shipper desire to see everybody get it on with everybody else… or, actually, about teasing that desire without satisfying it (because then it’s over, and that’s no fun). If X-Files ’shippers were all, Hey, what if something superhot were secretly going on between Mulder and Scully? Moffat — and so by extension we viewers — is all, Okay, so something superhot is clearly going on between the Doctor and River Song, and clearly Amy Pond is trying to get something superhot going on with the Doctor, but what is it all really about?

Okay: the Doctor and River. In the space of three short episodes featuring River Song (and the awesome Alex Kingston), we’ve gone from “The Doctor’s what?” to “No, she can’t really be the Doctor’s wife — that’s too obvious. Something else extrainsidious and strange must be going on here.” And it almost doesn’t matter what that something extrainsidious is, or even if River does in fact turn out to “merely” be a lover of the Doctor’s (which would be extraordinary enough, for where this show came from), because it’s the hashing over the possibilities she represents that’s the real fun.

Maybe she’s not his wife. Maybe the woman we see in this episode isn’t the real River Song. Holy Christ, maybe she did kill the Doctor!

That’s what I see happening. (Or having happened. We need more verb tenses for the timey-whimey stuff.) “She killed a man, a good man, a hero to many,” Octavian tells the Doctor, about River. “Who?” the Doctor asks. “You don’t want to know, sir, you really don’t,” Octavian assures him. But I think already at this early stage, he suspects that he already knows whom River killed: I don’t think those tears in his eyes are just for Octavian’s sad end.

And so by the time he asks River about it, he’s had time to think, so he is more sure of the answer by the time she admits she killed “a very good man, the best man I’ve ever known.” Who could be better than the Doctor? Look at the look on his face

as he asks her, “Who?”

“It’s a long story, Doctor. Can’t be told, has to be lived. No sneak previews.” Basically: spoilers!

(I wonder, too, in that way that lets me get totally immersed in the story and at the same time wonder about the fakey production side of it: How much does Matt Smith know at this point in the shooting about what the deal with River is? Has Moffat told him, at a minimum, what the Doctor suspects is going on with River? Or has Moffat just said, “Look, dude, just look really sad and heartbroken when we shoot this bit, okay?” Because it makes a huge difference whether the actor knows what’s actually coming, or if he’s just guessing himself what the appropriate reaction to River is at this moment. And it also matters if Moffat hasn’t told Smith, and then when Moffat sees Smith’s reaction, it makes the writer reconsider where the story goes from there. Because that could happen too!)

And then all this stuff runs through my head pretty much simultaneously:

= My heart is breaking for him, because he knows, and he doesn’t know what to make of it, and because he’s already in love with her: he fell in love with her in the Library…

= But she can’t have really killed him, Grandpa: she just can’t, I know it. It’s all about some sort of secret plot to pretend that he’s dead and he actually regenerates and she has to nobly take the fall for his “murder” because it saves the universe somehow and I just– You’re reading it wrong, Moffat!

= Wait: “I might have done enough to earn a pardon this time” (emphasis mine)? So River has had past excursions from prison in attempts to earn a pardon? Has/will the Doctor been/be involved with some of those?

= Anyway at some point we’ll have to see River’s first meeting, from her perspective, with the Doctor, but they can’t wait too long or Alex Kingston will be too old. Unless River gets erased by the crack in the universe… oh fuck, that’s what Moffat’s gonna do, isn’t he? Bastard!

So basically, Doctor Who makes me a basketcase anew every week.

Oh oh oh, but I love Octavian. I love how Moffat creates Octavian for us. Octavian totally does not know the Doctor at all, but he thinks he does! “You’re the only one who can manage this guy,” Octavian says to River. “But that only works as long as he doesn’t know who you are.” But that assumes that the Doctor’s reaction to who River is would be the same as Octavian’s reaction to similar news, and Octavian is a very different man from the Doctor! The Doctor is clearly intrigued when he learns that River has been in prison:

which is clearly not the reaction Octavian expected!

And then there’s Amy.

I was already worried about Amy, because I figured that the problem of Amy — and of the crack in the universe — was gonna be resolved by Amy getting rewound to childhood, or Amy getting erased entirely. And it sure as hell sounds like that could be where the Amy story is going. We see the soldiers get erased, and then the Doctor tells her: “If the time energy catches up with you, you will never have been born. It will erase every moment of your existence. You will never have lived at all” (I knew it!)

But what if it’s worse? Amy says, about the crack: “It’s following me. How can it be following me?” What if she is the crack…?

What if Amy is not Amy? What is Amy is… I dunno. Something else.

I don’t know what that means, but it sounds creepy and ominous, and that’s what Moffat does best.

And knowing what it seems like we know about Moffat being a ’shipper, and adding new levels of ’shipperness to the ’shippering, this:

cannot possibly be as simple as it seems. It cannot be merely that Amy fancies the Doctor. Much as I fancy the Doctor myself, that would just be too boring. This is, hmm, the universe itself trying to distract the Doctor, get him out of the way so that he can’t stop, hmm, something happening that the universe wants very badly to happen.

And no, I don’t know what that means, either.

Random thoughts on “Flesh and Stone”:

• Okay, now we know that Amy is from our time: June 26, 2010 is (supposed to be) her wedding day. Of course, that can still change…

• Hey, I was mostly right about what was gonna happen after they jumped. Last week I said: “they’re all gonna jump waaay up into the wreckage of the ship, right?” Right!

Yeah yeah yeah, you’re very smart. Now shut up. <⁄ Princess Bride grandfather >

• I just noticed that the new sonic screwdriver is a lot more, ahem, phallic than the previous ones:

Oh my god, what is he doing to it?

I think Matt Smith is deliberately being very naughty here, to see who would notice. As if we mightn’t. *snort* Doctor Who and a dirty mind: they just seem to go together.

(Of course, the Anthony Ainley Master’s sonic screwdriver tissue compression eliminator, many years back, was a big black dildo, so this is not unprecedented in the show.)

• There’s something about Amy’s purple-painted fingernails

that is terribly sad and poignant…

• More vacuumpunk:

Or else it’s the washing machine.

• Oh, no! Not Octavian!

I liked Octavian. He was my kind of priest; there aren’t many men I could say that about. And he would have made a very intriguing companion. Damn.

• “The forest is full of angels, you’re gonna have to walk like you can see,” the Doctor tells eyes-closed Amy, and the angels “will assume you can see them.” But wait, that makes no sense! That’s sort of like saying that if you could look at Schroedinger’s cat out of the corner of your eye, it would remain indeterminately half dead and half alive. Shouldn’t the Angels need to be actually observed in order to be quantum locked? If an Angel runs through the forest and Amy doesn’t see it…

• Some seem to think that there’s something special about the Doctor’s jacket what gets stolen by the Angels, because it reappears. I don’t see that it does reappear, however. The jacket he’s wearing in the coming attractions for the next episode:

is clearly not at all the same jacket that was stolen by the Angels:

Or is there something I’m missing about the jacket?

The only thing I thought when he lost his jacket to the Angels was, I hope he’s got the TARDIS key in a trouser pocket…

• Oh, god, I so thought he was gonna kiss her!


Doctor Who has never been more gorgeous to look at than it is now:


• Great quotes (again I could just repeat every line of dialogue — Moffat is a genius):

“We’re being attacked by statues in a crashed ship: there isn’t a manual for this.” –the Doctor

“A forest in a bottle in a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?” –the Doctor (dude, you had her at hello…)

“We’ve got comfy chairs: did I mention?” –the Doctor
“We have no need of comfy chairs.” –Angel Bob
“I made him say ‘comfy chairs…’” –the Doctor

“I hate you.” –River
“You don’t.” –the Doctor

“Doctor, I’m scared.” –Amy
“Of course you’re scared, you’re dying. Shut up.” –the Doctor

“There’s a plan?” –River
“I don’t know yet, I haven’t finished talking.” –the Doctor

“I’ll do a thing.” –the Doctor
“What thing?” –River
“I dunno, it’s a thing in progress. Respect the thing.” –the Doctor

“Amy, you need to start trusting me, it’s never been more important.” –the Doctor
“But you don’t always tell me the truth.” –Amy
“If I always told you the truth, I wouldn’t need you to trust me.” –the Doctor (bastard: I’d kill him)

“A Cyberking, a giant Cyberman walks all over Victorian London and no one even remembers…” –the Doctor (and here we see retconning in progress actually as the actual text of the show that needs to be retconned: brilliant!)

“River Song, I could bloody kiss you.” –the Doctor
“Ah, well, maybe when you’re older.” –River (nice commentary on the he’s-too-young criticisms that were lobbed at Smith)

“You’re a time traveler now, Amy. It changes the way you see the universe, forever. Good, isn’t?” –the Doctor

“You, me, handcuffs. Must it always end this way?” –River, to the Doctor

“Can I trust you, River Song?” –the Doctor
“If you like. But where’s the fun in that?” –River

(next: Episode 6: “Vampires of Venice”)

MPAA: not rated

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