DOCTOR WHO: SEASON FNARG ROUNDUP
One step forward making two steps back
Riding piggy on the bad boys back for life
Lining up for the grand illusion
No answers for no questions asked
Lining up for the execution
Without knowing why...
What about the world today?
What about the place that we call home?
We’ve never been so many
And we've never been so alone
You keep watching from your picket fence!
You keep talking but it makes no sense!
You wash your hands and come out clean!
Fail to recognise the enemies within?
You say we're not responsible
But we are, we are, we are, we are!
Well, having been banned from GB yet again - this time for complaining about being cyberbullied right infront of Mr. Steven W Hill without him apparently noticing (or "needless and consistent aggressive behavior" - I have time to devote to the blog once again.
So, Season Fnarg has come and gone. The first ever - in the history of anything - season of Doctor Who I was worried was going to be complete shit. Seriously, that's a new one on me. Every other season, story, Give-A-Show-Slide-Projector bit of Who I always sat down with a reasonably open mind, willing to take a few punches in return for something worthy. I always gave a chance to the show, from The Aztecs to The Space Pirates, Colony in Space to the uncut Brain of Morbius.
And only a few, a very few times was my loyalty disappointed - The War Machines made me ashamed and guilty I'd wasted the best part of $50 on that video of cliched bollocks I hadn't even enjoyed. The Idiot's Lantern and its hideousness is well documented, but I certainly didn't sit down to watch it in the mindset of "this is going to be complete rubbish".
Yet, as the Eleventh Doctor's debut year drew closer and closer, the more apprehensive I became. I remember the TV Movie and the bafflingly cool trailers that had the Eighth Doctor snogging some strange woman who was claiming the Time Lord was "the right guy". I was a tad concerned, for the first time understanding the horrible fear we all have of "Americanized" Who. But whatever its flaws, the movie was an exciting and emotional rollercoaster we gleefully watched THREE TIMES THAT NIGHT. We never watched it again.
But the TV Movie was an American coproduction thing, after seven years in TV limbo, run by people that had next to no links with the original series. If anything was going to go hideously wrong, it was there and then! Surely a gap of three months between the RTD and Moffat era, using the same sets, production team, locations and actors couldn't be that bad?
Well, obviously it could!
Now, Moffat has clearly done a good job as executive producer and head writer. That's a fact. But in all other respects he's been a complete and utter failure. He simply can't fulfill RTD's role as media favorite and spokesman for the series - he's just not enough of a manipulative showoff to do so. Worse, he hates spoilers and thus refuses to discuss any plot or narrative. He was denying the Silurians were in the series up to and including after The Hungry Earth was screened. WHY?! I mean, given the fact Matt Smith mentioned the green sods on more than one occasion, I'd have assumed the cat was out of the bag. But Moffat refuses to commit himself and thus surely numerous viewers were mildly disappointed when these lizard people turned out to be Silurians after all. Because Moff's attitude suggested there would be something new.
And there wasn't.
See, he's just crap at this. He has a new headline cast of characters, but what does he do? Say the actors are pretty good. Well, forgive me for expecting nothing less! When RTD was in this situation, he promised that the audience would "absolutely love" the Ninth Doctor and Rose. OK, your mileage may vary on that point, but it was the right thing to say at the time. We don't want unlikeable fuckwits for audience identification, and it would be very VERY easy for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and River Song to fulfill that critera. Did we get any reassurance things would actually be any good? Did we get any info at all?
No, we bloody well didn't.
I must restate that yes, ultimately, the finished episodes were good. But that's four months/two years of having absolutely no shred of evidence that they would be. Silence in the Library, easily Moff's worst story, declared a future of River Song being smug, a Doctor halfway between God and the Fonz, and alien armies shitting themselves in terror at the mere sight of him. Would ANYONE want to watch such a show of divine self-satisfied egomania? Especially if this incoherent recycled script of absolutely sod all nightmare fuel is typical of it?
(Thankfully, Silence in the Library wasn't the set text for this season but actually a Press Gang episode Going Back to Jasper Street which by stunning coincidence I happened to catch last Sunday. Given that it features a little girl being traumatized by a harmless-seaming phenomenon in her bedroom, and the plot device of "coming back tomorrow but actually it takes ten years to do so"... it's all capped by Mr. Sullivan announcing that the paradox of a unique carving having two separate histories as "a freak wormhole in the time space continuum" linking the girl's bedroom to the end of creation and that the main cast will "have to act quickly if they are to save the universe", getting the distinctly Amy-ish retort of, "Of course we do, it's Friday lunchtime!" and the Eleventh Doctor-style bitching of "Are you never satisfied? I've just saved the entire universe!!!"
Of course, this is positively subtle compared to UneXpected where one character finds his childhood TV hero somehow become a real person and is apparently stalking him, Colonel X, played by Michael Jayston and obviously not based on the Third Doctor or the hideously typecast Tom Baker, no siree bob. Michael Sheard turning up to save the day is just a complete coincidence, yes indeed...)
What's more, this silence on all fronts made the usual disasters found during filming (did you know that 80% of the first episode was a last-minute remount at huge expense and effort?) seemed truly disastrous. Why? Because no one would acknowledge it was happening! Everything had a negative slant - Amy's character was a couple of one-liners compared to the novella provided for Rose Tyler. The console room was too expensive, too difficult to film in and the time rotor keeps breaking. Scripts are being abandoned at the last minute. Everything's over budget. Of COURSE the whole series is stuffed, since there's no one saying otherwise!
And then those bloody awful trailers. Explosions! Guns! A psycho Doctor, a companion that does nothing, and no new monsters! Then a detailed mini-movie so UNUTTERABLY CRAP that even the ABC insisted on cutting out the Doctor groping Amy and ripping the arms off helpless statues while ColdPlay wafts in the background! Hell, look back at them now and they make even LESS sense as a publicity campaign than before - that funky liquid blue vortex never appeared in the season, even though it's arguably a hell of a lot better than the flame/smog one we're forced to put up with. Only the Doctor's mention of a flickering star he thought he'd "fixed" has any extra resonance, and even that's undermined by the truly awful performances of the leads.
So, in conclusion, Moffat is completely useless at bigging up his own show. This probably won't be a really big problem next year, since it's clearly a success, but it's a sadly universal view that Season Fnarg needed to prove it WASN'T crap, rather than be good. RTD never had that problem.
What's next? Well, keeping in mind this season was originally a Tennant saga kicking off with a story called Zero, we can't complain that the 'end of the universe cause of time cracking' is far too similar to that of RTD's specials, which weren't even written at the time and didn't remotely feature any end of the universe at the draft stage - unless you take a REALLY dim view of JK Rowling, Chelonians, sword & sorcery spider centaurs and single-parent Vinvocci families. Certainly, Moff has grasped the concept of the story arc and held it by its throat in a way one wished his predecessor had. The season finale pays off every story bar Amy's Choice, making it all utterly crucial to the ongoing saga. Moff's even written the broadcast details into the story for Cliff's sake!
The first scene of The Eleventh Hour has Amelia note that she's waited since Christmas to summon up the Doctor for his Easter resurrection! The Doctor mocks the democratic processes just before a major election, and teams up with Churchill as the latest PM is knocked out of the running! Within weeks of a colation being formed, it turns out all the Doctor Who monsters have formed an alliance! There's a football-themed episode with James Cordon the same weekend as the World Cup! Bloody hell, the last episode is SET on the very day it's broadcast! Doctor Who has never clung onto the cultural zeitgeist to such a degree. Can you imagine what would happen if the BBC had slammed the Eurovision Song Contest into the middle of the season like the last few times? Bad things, people, BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD things!
Moff is very much of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought and made it clear from the outset that some things would be exactly identical to the RTD era - pre-credit sequences, emotional journeys, the old layout of episodes with introduction of a male companion that's hastily written out, celebrity historicals, Daleks in the finale. Most if not all worked out fine, but one thing I think Moff should have abandoned like a hot brick is Doctor Who Confidential.
As I've said, Moff is not an incredibly outgoing person, and often very self-deprecating. He's utterly uncomfortable talking about his writing or the day to day hassles of production (if only for fear of spoiling things), and ends up spending what little time he's willing to appear in the show explaining the plot on the grounds no one understood it on their own. The choice of Alex Price (who? Exactly! He's the Oedipus Vampire in Venice) as the voiceover for the show makes it dull and uneventful. Never before has a behind-the-scenes saga needed such padding, with huge amounts of the finish episodes played sans any kind of commentary. Presumably because no one can discuss things honestly without fear of ruining future plot developments, there's just a huge amount of "so... yeah" type obvious statements and focussing more and more on SFX-free action sequences that are just plain dull.
There's next to nothing memorable or interesting about the Confidentials, with boring music, graphics, montages and notably several episodes try to talk about anything - and I mean anything - else. Want to find out more about Flesh and Stone? Tough, we'll talk about them new fangled computer games. Interested in the politics of Cold Blood? Screw you hippie, we're focussing on the DW tour bus. Eager to find out more about The Lodger? Stuff the horse you rode in on, Karen Gillan is at Greenwich Meridian flirting with a female astrophysicist! Of course, the annoying thing is these digressions are INCREDIBLY more entertaining and interesting than what we're missing.
Around thirteen hours of Confidential and little resounds inside my mind. Matt Smith and Amelia Pond having good off-screen chemistry. The sheer amount of detail in Starship UK that NEVER COMES ACROSS ON SCREEN. Moffat admitting there is absolutely no thought put into the half-human Smiler beyond it being cliched and cool. Winston Churchill comparing the Eleventh Doctor to Rocky when it comes to his cool punches. Mark Gatiss giving an itemized list about why his story is historically inaccurate, humilating all those who were just congratulating him on that very point. A cut scene where the Doctor complains about Daleks talking so slowly. Alex Kingston on wires during the "fly into the TARDIS", then accidentally kicking Matt Smith in the bollocks. Repeatedly. The Amy seduction scene needing a retake because Miss Gillian got too carried away to be shown on British television. The lady and her Croatian goat. The incredibly fake gondola. The "80s rock hair" of the Vampire girls. The original redesign of the Silurians. The incredibly lame attempts to emote after Rory's death. The mini-doco about Van Gough. James Corden's increasingly pathetic attempts to be funny on screen. The mock Match of the Day episode, which stopped being amusing after its appearance in the trailer. The fake horse. The one-armed man playing the Cyberman. The anti-fez agenda. Moffat trying to put a spin on the fact he hasn't actually finished a story and demands us all to stay alive next year to get the answers (crucially, never once saying ANY of it will be worth waiting for.)
That said, Authurian Legend - the Confidential for Amy's Choice - is utterly, utterly brilliant. Arthur Darvill, who plays Rory Williams, takes over proceedings for an episode focussed on him and his character. And is STUPENDOUSLY CRAP! It's all a joke, of course, with Moffat's description of Darvill being hilarious the only clue this isn't some awful real-life documentary ala The Office. Boasting a huge, Nigel Verkoffian ego, Darvill strides Cardiff like a collussus... for up to seconds as a time before his fellows rip the shit out of him for being a pathetic loser. For example, no sooner has Darvill bragged about his combined mullet and pony-tail as a hunky look the pretty girls would fall for, we cut to Karen Gillan all-but-vomitting in disgust at it. Or the makeup lady sniggering at him. Or Matt Smith bouncing in the background, pointing at the offending follicles and laughing like a mad man.
Darvill bigs himself up in every scene and in every scene is knocked down harder. His opening speech about him being the heart and soul of the new series is shown over him eating alone in the canteen with everyone avoiding him. His speech about how crucial he is to the ongoing plot balanced by Smith and Gillan hopping onto the Tour Bus and traversing the company, with no one even knowing who Rory is. As Darvill explains the huge respect his costars have for him, he discovers that the Eleventh Doctor has a "big nose" mime to refer to Darvill's character.
Even the prop grunts are shown to hate him. His body double refuses to turn up for the fight scenes and when he does turn up completely blanks Arthur. When Arthur has to club a pensioner, he first shatters the club accidentally - requring glowering prop men to fix it while giving Darvill death glares - and then accidentally beats up the little old lady instead of the stunt woman he's supposed to.
In a final, desperate bid to make himself look cool, Arthur decides to try and humiliate Karen Gillan in an interview where he basically calls her fat numerous times (what with her pretending to be pregnant and all). Alas, Gillan crushes his puny spirit by announcing she feels all "womanly and mature" unlike the pathetic little boy Arthur Darvill is, and then invites the audience to admire her massive lentil-filled fake breasts while he squirms in his seat.
But for true hilarity, one cannot beat the sequence where the TARDIS crew are being covered in fake snow. With a cocky expression, Arthur gets the camera's attention and asks Matt Smith, "You think they've got enough for your chin?" Matt doesn't even bother to look at him as he says, "No, I think they used it all on your nose." Arthur sags into a miserable silence. Laugh? Laugh? I nearly went to Ethiopia!
Onto the characters.
As Jared so rightly pointed out, the personality of the Eleventh Doctor is clearly an undilated distillation of Moffat's own belief how the character should go. Like Rob Holmes before him, Moff in the driving seat looks like he was writing for Matt Smith back when Eccleston was in charge. The new Doctor has next to no social skills, is incredibly rude and flippant, yet has definitely learned the lessons of his past self and lost any hint of snobbery. While the RTD Doctors may have inspired others to make most of their lives, this one genuinely believes the little people are freaking awesome and well worth dying for. Where as Mickey eventually had the Doctor's grudging respect, Rory earns the Doctor's undying admiration.
The Doctor is, if anything, as much a return to the pre-Time-War state as possible. There's little to no angst or brooding. Even when he's leaving his companions for what he thinks is the final time, he's laugh and joking even by himself. Human depression seems slightly beyond his understanding, he fobs off the annihilation of his species as "a bad day", and certainly believes in second chances. For all fear of his allmighty godlike wrath, much of his stories are spent proving he's anything more than a madman who won't shut up. His badass reputation doesn't ultimately do him any favors - Liz 10 assumes he can sort out the situation and leaves him with the choice to commit murder; the Daleks use his ego-boosting to kick-start the replicator thingamajig; the Dream Lord thrives on it; it's used to humiliate him in the football game; the Alliance is formed by it and it gives them an excuse to gang up on him. The last episode makes it clear that if everyone forgot who the Doctor was... things wouldn't be that different.
As to Amy, well, she an interesting case. Mad Larry likes to pretend that Moff is physically incapable for writing for normal women (given his preponderance for "warped, repressed, power-mad bitches"), but it's clear he seems to like these nutbag ladies rather than thinking they are the rule instead of the exception. Amy's a witty, sarcastic and thoroughly desensitized young lady thanks to the abandonment she suffered from the Doctor and her parents. Rather like Lucie Miller, she really does care about others... but she hates admitting it. She wants to be aloof and refuses to be phased by anyone and anything. She's like a female Avon in some respects, someone who got burnt and doesn't want to risk it again. Of course she'll quip at big emotional moments and whine in annoyance at the slightest provocation: it's a lot easier to slag the Doctor off for biting her hand than the fact he just saved her from a fate worse than death.
Amy's got some hardcore skeletons in her cupboard too. The episodes show she's been suicidal and has something of a death wish, not to mention an interest in petty theft and has been in trouble with the police. Are we supposed to believe that a stunningly gorgeous babe like Amy has only ever had Rory's attentions to court? The fact she's a high-maintenance stripper is not to be forgotten, and the shocked reaction to the fact she was cheating on Rory reminds me of a Chemlsford 123 gag: "She's not a virgin, is she?" "Yeah, came as quite a surprise to a few of us, actually..."
Rory of course gets the least to work with. He's the poor buttmonkey, bottom of the pecking order, Mickey in all but name. But unlike Mickey, he stands up for himself off his own bat and takes Amy and the Doctor down a peg. True, he doesn't get much character exploration, but he gets enough - from his tender playing with a child's mobile to helpfully shutting up that Venetian black guy. He's one of the quiet ones, and given the fact there's another whole series to explore his character. Mind you, he should beyond dying every other episode. It's gone from the emotional impact of Adric to the emotional impact of Kenny from South Park.
And onto River Song. Well, I must say the recent Hope Springs made me rather depressed that Alex Kingston was lumbered with such a rubbish part. Nevertheless, Moff has rehabilitated her to an extent, admitting that her future relationship with the Doctor may not be remotely a good thing. Not only has he out and out hinted she's his murderer, but emphasized she's callous compulsive liar on the run from the law. Someone who's wiki entry causes a Dalek to wet itself is not someone we should either trust or admire, and the Doctor's seeming attraction to her in the final episode is - let's be honest here - not much different to the flirting he and the Master had going. Speaking of which, where is he anyway? John Simm made it quite clear to Moffat he would be up for a regeneration scene at the very least...
And to the stories? Well, it's no secret Moffat is (like myself) a deep lover of the Fifth Doctor era and thus must be kicking himself he's taken over just as Neauvou Fifth Doctor David Tennant has buggered off, leaving us with a character it's not entirely inaccurate to dub The Sixth Doctor Done Right. Nevertheless, the whole season has a comforting bouquet of early-eighties JNT and Eric Saward. The Eleventh Hour clearly has Castrovalva on its mind with broken TARDISes, illusions, a race against time; The Beast Below has more than a hint of Frontios about it with a corrupt dying outpost of humanity living atop gooey body-snatching monsters and enemies what never kill on screen; Victory of the Daleks reminds strongly of The King's Demons with a baffling plot to slug us some merchandise while the villain runs away from a historical setting; Crash of the Byzantium is a typical Earthshock style kill em all; the plague-fearing alien brainwashing colony on historical Earth recalls The Visitation; psychic alien dream controllers in a rural village is the Mara guest-starring in The Awakening; The Ground Beneath Their Feet is obviously Warriors of the Deep; the Crafayis is the bastard offspring of the Ergon and the Myrka; The Lodger is Black Orchid for the Noughties; while the season finale with the end of the universe, ancient conspiracies and tests of character for the companions in surreal sights is clearly the Black Guardian Trilogy after a particularly nasty car accident.
I don't see any of this as plagiarism or recycling, and if anything it's given the year a consistent tone the likes of which was oft. sorely needed - compare Planet of the Ood to The Sontaran Strategem. The difference in quality and tone actually aches, even though both are good in their own way. The dominance of comedy writers is a good move too, in my opinion. The best comedies should be, in my opinion, the perfectly-plotted episode of Black Books, The Grapes of Wrath, which is not only funny but has every single scene drive the story forward, like the string of gags that lead to a Goodies-esque Frankenstein parody. This is probably why Victory of the Daleks and The Ground Beneath Their Feet came out rather lame - Gatiss is into comedy characters rather than plotting, and Chris Chibnall's finest comedic moments seem entirely unintentional. We weren't meant to laugh at Cyberbikinibabe bitch-slapping a pterodactyl, after all.
But looking back at it objectively, the worst episode of the season is probably The Beast Below. It requires too much hard work to understand, let alone enjoy, giving none of the ideas room to breathe and is the most blatant rip-off of the Davison era, its most famous stillborn son, The Song of the Space-Whale. Let's be honest here people, Liz 10 is the only character in the whole episode that remotely counts as "memorable", and my own take on Nurreg (an anal retentive space pilot who insists beginning every sentence with "My captain sah") has much more of a personality.
There are some other episodes that could have been better, but we simply cannot judge yet. I could say that the B-plot of The Lodger is a complete waste of time and they should have stuck to Meglos' return... if I knew for sure the other TARDIS wasn't an ongoing plot feature that might return one day. (BTW, what about that huge Blue Peter competition to create a new TARDIS? Whatever happened to that one, huh?) Similar, the loose ends with Daleks and Silurians could/are/maybe leading into sequels. Or not. It would be criminal to judge Eleventh Hour without acknowledging how much of it is setting up the new format, but the trouble is we still don't know how much. What the hell was the stuff about no ducks in the duck pond? Were they all swallowed by the crack as well? Or did Prisoner Zero eat them?
Given the two years run up to the Eleventh Doctor, the spin-off material is remarkably thin on the ground. I haven't really read the latest 11DAs, though they seem to be post-Rory, while the first DWM comic strip Supernature bears depressing similarity to my last-ever-Dalek-story-ever-ever-ever Forbidden Territories, with an alien planet causing everyone to mutate into alien freaks. This also gives the artist (struggling to make the Doctor NOT resemble David Tennant in a bow tie) the instant opportunity to draw Karen Gillan stark naked. Let's hope Rory never finds out about that particular event.
So, all in all, Season Fnarg has been a success, probably the best season since 2007 in consistent quality, likeable characters and a story arc that actually made sense. Moff and Matt have re-won our trust and even the news that the Christmas special is going to be SLIGHLT delayed after it got completely deleted off a harddrive hasn't lead to panic in the streets and riots in homes. Plus, it's shown some certain internet allumni for the backward, ungrateful scumbags they are. Bar Kyron Mallet who has mysteriously disappeared from the realm of mortal. Hee-hee-hee.
Has Gabriel Chase come up with anything new to say?
Nope. "Constantly evolving" my ass...
And after all that, there's little else to say beyond this incredible photo of the original costume the Eleventh Doctor was set up to wear...