Posted on May 21st, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Here it is then. The big one.
I wrote at length about what Doctor Who season finales have become and need to be this time two years ago, so won’t go over all that again. I heard it said recently that a fair reviewer should be trying to tackle the following questions. What was the thing under review trying to do? How well did it succeed? Was it worth doing? To try and tackle the first of those questions, let’s go back to Blink.
Blink is a bit of a miracle in Doctor Who terms. A Doctor-light episode created to solve the problem of shooting 14 episodes in a schedule designed for 13, which Moffat agreed to do to make amends for pulling out of the two-part Dalek story. It’s an elegant puzzle-box of a story which stands entirely outside the continuity of the season and the series as a whole (bridging the gap between Martha’s early and late adventures with Ten) and thus accessible to new and old fans as well as casual viewers. It introduces a new enemy with a genuinely creepy and novel mode of attack, it is terribly funny when it wants to be, it is terribly sad when it wants to be and the resolution is properly thought-through and satisfying. And it gave the world Carey Mulligan (sort-of). It’s pretty much perfect.
And Moffat isn’t exactly unaware of this fact. The Weeping Angels are almost the only monsters he has created and then brought back again. We’ve never seen the Nanogenes, the Clockwork Robots, the Vashta Nerada, the Atraxi ever again, and the Silence were created as villains to sustain a season-arc. And the puzzle-box structure of Blink is evident in a lot of the stories we’ve seen since Matt Smith took over – much more than the love story structure of Girl in the Fireplace for example.
So, here we are at the end of another series. What kind of resolution is Mr Moffat ready to provide, and can it possibly match Blink? Well, it depends what you mean by resolution.
Blink provides a number of puzzles to be solved. How are the Angels able to move without being seen? What has happened to Kathy and why? What about those DVD “Easter eggs”? All of these are given proper, coherent answers, but answering those questions isn’t the same as resolving the predicament. That’s done when the TARDIS dematerialises from inside the ring of Weeping Angels, each of whom is suddenly staring another in the eyes, locking them in stasis forever. It’s a completely logical extension of what we already know about the Angels and it’s entirely obvious – as soon as it happens, but crucially not before. The emotional resolution doesn’t come until Sally takes Larry’s hand. Blink works so well because all three resolutions are present, clear and delivered adroitly.
But lately, Moffat has been mistaking resolution of puzzles for resolution of plots and has been putting puzzles ahead of people. He’s always been a daring formalist but it’s starting to lead him wildly astray.
Let’s take this step-by-step.
First there’s that prologue. Full of fan squee, but some bits work better than others. The colourised Hartnell looks very awkward, and it’s a shame that the Troughton and Pertwee footage is of them looking a bit doddery in The Five Doctors and not when they were in their prime. The extras in funny clothes actually work much better. But it’s hard to say at this point what it all means – what it’s all for.
The meeting of the Paternoster Gang, plus Clara and River, in Slumberspace, is great. Full of Moffat wit and dash, with a hint of tension and pathos too. “I think I’ve been murdered” – golly! (Such a shame she was reset so quickly.) They all meet up at Trenzalore – the one place a time traveller must never go; their own grave. Not sure why that should be. We’ve seen people visiting their own graves before – in fact earlier this series – and there was not so much as a Blinovitch flash, let alone a gang of Reapers. This feels grafted-on.
Much, much better is the Doctor’s tomb – a bloated, ruin of a Police Box, victim of size leakage. Absolutely lovely. And then, oh look, it’s REG as the Great Intelligence once more. Except wasn’t it Ian McKellen who was the Great Intelligence? And why the Great Intelligence anyway? A couple of minor skirmishes on Earth and that was it for ten or so incarnations. Even the Judoon have been in more stories. It might as well have been the Ogrons.
REG needs the Doctor to say his own name to open the doors. Moffat, whatever I think of his approach to Doctor Who lately, was never going to volunteer this information because there are only three options, all awful – his name is “Doctor Who”, his name is “Steve” or is name “Zanthanzanzibarthollberrytrumpettitorpergraviformaquizotl the fourth”. He finds an elegant way of dodging it, and – behold the tomb of the Doctor.
REG jumps in and is able to… actually I don’t know what he’s able to do. Presumably not kill the Doctor in any of his earlier incarnations, because then the current version wouldn’t exist either. But even foiling the Doctor’s foiling of his opponents results in his own death more often than not and sometimes it results in the end of the Universe. So REG has been just generally getting in the way? Helping the bad guys out here and there? Tipping them the wink that they had better watch out for this Doctor feller, but making sure they don’t actually kill him or blow up the universe? Why?
Inevitably, Clara goes after them. So, I guess we do have a solution to the puzzle. Clara is the impossible girl, is present in the Dalek Asylum and Victorian London, looking and sounding like Clara because she entered the Doctor’s timeline. That’s the beginning of a solution to the puzzle, but it’s nowhere like as easy to understand as the Doctor inserting Easter Eggs into the DVDs he knew Sally Sparrow would one day own. And what does it mean for all those earlier adventures?
I thought at one point that every previous companion had some aspect of Clara in them. Moffat has been writing an any-companion who is now Every Companion. (Don’t believe me? Try switching the casting of Carey Mulligan and Jenna Louise Coleman. Doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference does it?) This would make some sense of this entering the Doctor’s time-line business, but makes no sense at all of her appearance in Asylum and The Snowmen. And is at odds with that teaser sequence. On the other hand, the teaser is at odds with every single other episode of Doctor Who we’ve ever seen. And what about the episodes with modern Clara in them? If there is a shadowy timey-wimey ghost Clara looking out for the Doctor and Jo Grant on Peladon, the Doctor and Leela on Pluto, the Doctor and Rose on Satellite Five – is there also a ghost Clara looking out for the Doctor and Clara on Akhaten?
So, we kind-of get the answer to the puzzle, except we’ve waited over half a year for it instead of thirty-odd minutes. But we’re no nearer to resolving the threat – if anything the answer to the puzzle has obfuscated what the threat actually is. And there’s no emotional resolutional at all. Clara is a shape to fit a hole. She isn’t a person, so why would I care when she jumps into that hole and fills it? A shame too that this episode had to be tied to the two rottenest episodes of this half-series, Ringpiece with that godawful leaf and Journey with its appalling reset-button-that-wasn’t.
And then, suddenly John Hurt appears and it’s a cliff-hanger ending.
Wait a minute, how is John Hurt a fucking cliff-hanger ending? Far, far too much of this series has been trying to get an emotional response from the viewer out of casting. We are meant to go “squee” when we see Jenna Louise Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks, when we see REG in The Snowmen and now when we John Hurt as Not-The-Valeyard-Please-Anything-I’ll-Give-You-Money-Anything. But within the context of the story it means nothing at all.
Okay, look, I didn’t hate it. The Paternoster Gang are still a joy and still well-used. Fanboy that I am, I did grin stupidly at that pre-title sequence, the journey to the Doctor’s tomb did feel suitably epic and Richard E Grant is a good actor, well cast, who mounts a credible threat. River’s reappearance as her digital self post-Library is a neat spin on the character and Matt Smith is as good as ever. Even the slack editing has been given the week off.
But as far as a star rating goes, well it’s impossible isn’t it? This is all build-up and no pay off. All tickling and no laughter. Which is fine, except that the tickling started in October 2011 in The Wedding of River Song and now we have to wait until November 2013 for the supposed resolution.
I wonder if it will ever come?