Archive for the ‘Writers and Writing’ Category
Recently I joined a gym, which, otherwise being apropos of nothing, has allowed me to start listening to Verity Podcast again. The ladies are always great fun, disagreeing with each other in the best way possible, full of nerdery and love for Doctor Who. This season, each Verity gets an episode to gush about her favorite story, and the first of these was “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
“Fireplace” is one of a finite set: written by Stephen Moffat during the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, and as a result, one of the best of the modern series. It’s a beautifully made historical, with monsters and silliness and a smart, courageous woman who just happens to have been a real person. It features one of my favorite TARDIS trios: Ten, Rose, and Mickey Smith. It’s the midpoint of Mickey’s travels with the Doctor, a last hurrah before the peak of his character arc. It’s a brief stop on Rose’s slide out of the Doctor’s life.
For most fans, one of the key peaks and pitfalls of this episode is the romance. Many adore it; many others, feeling differently about how the Doctor should relate to his companions, despise it. When I first watched it, on my whirlwind pass through S2-4, I barely noticed.
I am not a romance fan. I don’t read bodice-rippers. I don’t watch rom-coms. Generally I feel there is too much emphasis in our society on romantic love and marriage as an end goal, as if happily-ever-after were really a thing. I dislike romantic tropes, such as people who hate each other and treat each other poorly discovering they’re really in love. I’m not interested in other people’s sex lives. As a result, I didn’t even notice the romantic arc of Rose’s story until it was over – and then I was so invested, so engaged – and it was handled so well – that I loved it anyway.
With Reinette, I see much that could be interpreted as romantic that doesn’t actually have to be. I accept that she’s probably in love with him – or, in love with the idea of him, as she doesn’t really know him at all. And of course the Doctor loves the kind of person she is: courageous, adventurous, intelligent, pushing at the boundaries of her world. But what breaks his heart in the end is not losing her, but failing yet another fragile being who counted on him. This Doctor takes every failure personally to heart. In addition, the reason he failed her was that he couldn’t wait to get back to Rose. He couldn’t wait for Reinette to pack a bag and go with him; he had to see that Rose was okay, even though he had to know that leaving Reinette’s world for a moment risked leaving it forever. He took a gamble for Rose, and Reinette lost. Of course he feels shattered and guilty.
But not because he was in love with her.
Another question raised in the Verities’ podcast is the recurring Moffat-ism of the Doctor meeting companions in childhood. One of the ladies asked if those who have a problem with River Song’s lifelong entanglement with the Doctor have the same problem with Reinette. However, I see Reinette’s situation as more similar to Amy’s than River’s: each has an impactful experience with the Doctor at a very young age, and builds him up in her mind as a heroic figure he can never live up to it real life. Each develops something of an obsession with him. I don’t feel that the Doctor’s meeting with young River is impactful in the same way: the little girl stuck in a spacesuit already has too much going on to be impressed by the Doctor. My problem with River isn’t as much that she met the Doctor young, as that her entire life was bent and designed around him. Reinette and Amy developed common pre-adolescent feelings for him, some of which were later shattered. River’s problem is on another level entirely.
In addition, Moffat is not alone in having the Doctor cross paths with someone at multiple points in their lives. On Davies’ watch, Nine meets Rose and Mickey as children, though his impact on them at that time is minimal. Ten meets young Elton Pope, whose resulting lifelong obsession gets him in trouble in the end. I’ve said before on this blog that Davies is obsessed with romance: Rose, Martha, Astrid, and it’s rumored he had romance planned for S4 before Catherine Tate agreed to come back. (Which is sort of a two way problem: does he limit romance to a certain age and body type, or did he change direction because of the character Tate established in “The Runaway Bride?”) Moffat appears to be obsessed with sex: vampy Amy, River, Marilyn Monroe, and Queen Elizabeth mostly happen on his watch.
Still, we can’t blame Moffat (entirely) for that.
I have probably written plenty on this topic by now, but in case I missed anything I meant to say, here’s the comment I left for the Verities:
I despise romance as a genre, and I still love this episode. Partly it’s just so well done: I got caught up in the adventure story, and didn’t really notice the love story until later. Also, I don’t see it as necessarily a love story in the romantic sense. I think the Doctor saw in Reinette what he sees in any of his companions, and he was heartbroken in the end because he failed her. Just as he has (in his view anyway) failed so many of them.
I’m not sure I saw it on the first pass but over time I definitely see this as a story about faith. The Doctor always jumps in feet first when there’s someone to save, and to hell with the consequences – and somehow it always turns out. He knows when he plunges through the mirror that there’s no way back, and yet he does it believing that he will make it back anyway. (This gets spelled out even bigger in “The Satan Pit,” where the Doctor destroys the safety net only to come up against the TARDIS in the shadows.) Rose too has faith – and her own desire to save the day. If he had asked her whether he should save Reinette or stay behind with her, I feel quite confident she would have told him to get on that horse – and come back in the end too. Which of course he does, because he’s the Doctor. I think this episode showcases Rose’s compassion and faith as well as the Doctor’s, as well as the strength of their friendship. And I don’t think he abandoned her, in any case: the TARDIS took Rose home once, and I’m sure she’d have done it again if called on. As if Rose would ever have left the Doctor behind. (again, see “The Satan Pit.”)
Madame de Pompadour was quite an interesting person historically. She was married, and was mistress to the King, and was the first of that King’s mistresses to befriend the Queen. (The Doctor’s comment about this being France was dead on.) She was interested in science and art and politics and brought the most intelligent and well educated people together in her house to talk about things. I think the Doctor would definitely have admired her. I really enjoy the way she’s portrayed in the story: smart, fearless, fiery, and also feminine. As in the show, she died of tuberculosis slowly and quite young, leaving behind a grieving King. She’s an excellent choice of character for an episode of Doctor Who. I’d love to see more fascinating women from history on the show.
I could probably go on – the Verities present a whole polyamory angle I would never have thought of before – but for now I think enough is enough.
*what the TARDIS probably contains.
I have been remiss here of late. Other than the holiday special I have mentioned none of the fun DW related things that have abounded.
Well, maybe not abounded as such…
Ages ago, we finished watching the spinoff “Class.” As of yet the show has no future – it has not aired on actual TV and no second season is confirmed – although the series ended on a hell of a cliffhanger. It was a lot of fun overall: well made, well performed, with no more adolescent melodrama than you would expect from a show about teenagers and rather less than the supposedly grown-up Torchwood. Miss Quill, played by Katherine Kelly, is one of my new favorite characters. She is badass, vengeful, unfriendly, and unkind – the antithesis of the pretty blonde alien. I enjoyed the hell out of her.
Unfortunately our DW meetup group more or less disintegrated toward the end of last year. The organizer came down with a series of malignant viral infections, cancelling first the “Boom Town” and “Bad Wolf” screening and then the series-ending three-parter from “Bad Wolf” through “The Christmas Invasion.” Our S1 rewatch effectively ended with “The Doctor Dances” – not a bad place to stop, of course, but I was looking forward to finishing the season among my nerd horde. Still, we could resume come spring. A new organizer has stepped forward, and he hopes to add more social events as well as screenings to our calendar.
I thought I had posted earlier about a certain writer’s return to the show, but it appears I never finished the post. Ages back – last summer? last fall? it was teased that a classic DW writer would be writing an episode for S10. When I heard, I thought instantly of Ben Aaronovitch. Aaronovitch wrote “Remembrance of the Daleks,” in which Ace defends Coal Hill School with a baseball bat, and “Battlefield,” an Arthurian story with the Doctor in the role of Merlin. Both are strong, memorable stories from a difficult time in the show’s history. Since then, Aaronovitch has created his own ongoing series of novels about a young mixed-race London cop who can see ghosts and who learns how to do magic. The Rivers of London series is great fun and very nerdy – any DW fan will relate to Peter Grant right off the bat.
However, it isn’t Aaronovitch. The returning writer is Rona Monro. Monro wrote the very last aired classic DW story, with the oddly prescient name “Survival.” Since then she has written extensively for film, television, radio, and the stage. Her return, and that of Sarah Dollard, marks the second series in a row in which two (or more? 1 writer may still be TBA) episodes are written by women. Yes, a pittance against the 5 or more male writers appearing every season, but better than the long drought of series 5-8. (Not to mention 1, 2, and the vast majority of classic DW.)
I have not seen “Survival” but I plan to fix that before S10 begins.
On the topic of women behind the camera, I note that the director slot has yet to be filled for episodes 11 and 12 of the new series. Rachel Talalay has admirably taken that role the last two seasons. Dare we hope for three in a row?
Finally, the holidays may be over, but I only recently stumbled across the Doctor Puppet’s latest Christmas special. It’s adorable, as always. Enjoy.
I’ve mentioned The Librarians a time or two on this blog. It’s a silly show with a lot of love for Doctor Who and decent entertainment value but not a lot of merit otherwise. The writing tends to be weak, acting over the top, and any point to be made tends to get bashed over the viewer’s head. It’s not bad TV – not as bad as the original Librarian movies at least – but it doesn’t score a lot of high marks generally.
This season, the show’s third, has struck me as particularly flimsy. Stories have been less engaging, less charming than previous outings. Still fun, but extremely lightweight. Then while watching the last episode, I recognized a name in the head credits: Tom McRae.
I recalled the name because I’d looked it up before. McRae contributed two stories to Doctor Who: “The Girl Who Waited” and “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.” (He also apparently wrote a mini-sode of “Night and the Doctor,” which I had never heard of until just now.) Both are solid episodes of Doctor Who. And McRae’s contribution to The Librarians is just as solid.
All other episodes of The Librarians are written by John Rogers – known for Catwoman, Transformers, and Leverage. Occasionally another writer has served as co-writer, but McRae is the first to get an episode to himself. And while he may not stand out on Doctor Who, on The Librarians he surely does. More please!
I put on “Love and Monsters” tonight for the express purpose of cleansing evil Rochefort from my mind with adorable Elton Pope. It worked brilliantly, of course. But I also got something out of the episode I’ve never seen before.
At the end of the story, Ursula has to live out her life as a paving stone. Previously I’ve considered it just a bit of RTD silliness, a little icky if you think about it too hard, maybe a little bit dumb. Forgettable if nothing else. But on this pass I got a whole new take.
People go through terrible things in life. People lose limbs, get paralyzed, suffer disfigurement and pain – and in the end, often find they’re still themselves. Ursula and Elton don’t get the life they hoped for. Ursula doesn’t get the body she expected. But they’re still here; they’re still themselves; they still have each other.
RTD hasn’t been great at portraying disability. His sympathy here may be entirely unintentional. But in the end we have characters whose lives will never be the same, will never, in some ways, be right – and yet those lives remain worth living.
In sickness and in health, for better or worse, as long as we both shall live.
I can’t not wrap up with my favorite quote from the episode: one of my favorites of all time, and one of the truest things ever written:
When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder.
And so much better.
Mostly I don’t listen to the Moff but every once in a while – when he’s not trying to tease something upcoming – he’s got some fun insider tidbits to share. The article below is old, and the headline is bogus, but there’s some lovely stuff about John Hurt, a writer’s world, and Sylvester McCoy.
Behind the 50th
Sarah Dollard (among others) returns!
I am of course delighted by the news. “Face the Raven” was smart, wrenching, and beautiful, and I can’t wait to see what Dollard has on offer for S10.
I have less to say about the other bits included in the announcement. Matt Lucas was funny but not especially compelling. I don’t know Stephanie Hyam or Mike Bartlett. Cottrell-Boyce’s “Forest” was silly but sweet; I won’t mind more from him.
Here’s a little Pearl to help us with the waiting:
Our new showrunner these days is best known for his creation of Broadchurch and its two spinoffs, the American Gracepoint and the French Malaterra. However, he has a long history with the Doctor Who family, as well as a range of other types of shows. His more conventional fare includes the TV movie United; the series Camelot; and 6 episodes of Law and Order: UK. But of course, we really want to know how he treats our favorite Time Lord and his friends.
- “42”(2007): This is a pretty good horror-style episode with great side characters, marred by appalling melodrama between the Doctor and Martha. I almost left it off my rewatch for that reason, but the rest of it manages to compensate.
- “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” (2010): A decent two-parter, once you overlook the rehash of “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” Good character stuff; a dark look at the underside of human nature; and another favorite in the form of Nasreen Chaudhry.
- “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (2012): A weird mix of silly and grim. Tricey and Brian are wonderful, and Amy has a good time too.
- “The Power of Three” (2012): Mostly dull, unless you’re a fan of Amy and Rory’s “ordinary” life. However, there’s lots of Brian, and the first television appearance of Kate Stewart. It’s not her best showing, but still it’s nice to have her.
I haven’t rewatched Torchwood in a long time, so my impressions aren’t as clear. Still, this is as I recall:
- “Day One” (2006): The second episode of the series and Gwen’s first day on the job, this episode sets the tone for the show and establishes a lot of essential character stuff. It’s weird, intriguing, fun in places, but made us wonder what the hell is up with these people.
- “Cyberwoman” (2006): This episode is, as I recall, terrible. Everyone is stupid. The sexualized Cyber-costume doesn’t help.
- “Countrycide” (2006): This episode is scary and gross, and put me off the series originally. I even skipped over it on my second pass at the show. I finally managed to watch it – in daylight – during my great rewatch. It’s classic horror, quite well constructed, but still hard to watch for the non-horror fan.
- “End of Days” (2007): The S1 finale doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend it – particularly coming on the heels of the spectacular “Captain Jack Harkness.” Everyone is pretty much terrible.
- “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (2008): Not great, but
gay Spike James Marsters as Jack’s old frenemy spices things up. I also enjoyed sassy Ianto.
- “Adrift” (2008): A brutal, pessimistic (mis)handling of the mentally ill. This is one of the episodes flagged by fans comparing Moffat’s treatment of disability to Davies’. It doesn’t score well. (Interesting that Chibnall appears on both sides of the line, with this and the Silurian two-parter.)
- “Fragments” (2008): Cool backstory, not much else.
- “Exit Wounds”(2008): Jack’s personal drama gets more personal. I definitely remember rolling my eyes at this one.
A mixed bag of stories, to say the least. If anything I’d guess we’ll get more horror in Chibnall’s Doctor Who. We might even get some interesting character stuff: Chibnall aligns his audience with both Ambrose and Restac, both Jack Marshall and the community that turns on him, both acceptance and fear of the differently abled. I look forward to seeing what he does with Doctor Who‘s characters, what other writers he puts on his team, what new direction he takes from what we’ve seen in the past.