Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Time

As a kid, I used to marvel at how my mum would manage to co-ordinate a full Christmas roast and, through some miracle of logistics I couldn’t grasp, everything from spuds to stuffing, sprouts to stuffing would be ready to dish up on the plate at around the same time.

This year’s Doctor Who Special felt like a Christmas dinner gone wrong. Appropriately enough, given Clara’s problems getting her turkey cooked on time for her Christmas with the family. Souffl√© girl can’t handle poultry – who knew? Disparate ingredients – meat, veg and entirely too much stuffing – emerging from the oven in various states of readiness and flung at the plate without a great deal of thought to organisation or  as to how it might all come together in a wonderful meal to sate all manner of Whovatarian appetites.

One key feature of those Christmas dinner plates of yesteryear was that they were entirely too small to accommodate all the food my mum liked to pile up on them. Nobody would ever go hungry when she was catering. Of course, the only recourse when faced with space limitations is to build upwards so we were each served our own food mountain. Substantial, somewhat daunting, but loaded with good stuff and somehow, despite the immobility brought on by conquering this edible Everest we’d all be raising our hands to the question, “Who wants pudding?”

The Time Of The Doctor was only an hour long. In that respect, very much a dinner plate too small for the meal it was expected to hold.

Christmas theme. Matt’s departure. Capaldi’s intro. Daleks. Cybermen. Cyberman head. Weeping Angels. Every alien under every sun amassed around a planet. A weird space-church fending them off. Gallifrey looking to return through the cracks. Silence falling. Naked Doctor gags. Silence falling. Etc.

And yet, expanded to full feature length – say, an hour and a half – the sort of duration you’d need to tell a story of the epic scale Moffat appears to have had in mind, I don’t get any sense that this would have fared any better or left me wanting more.

As it stands, I wasn’t at all keen on rewatching the episode and settled for just a second viewing of the closing fifteen minutes or so, to clarify a few issues in my mind.

Viewed from a safe distance of a few days afterwards, it’s easier to appreciate the bright spots and shinier moments. Taken individually, there are some tasty morsels and delicate touches. There’s a particularly sweet moment between Clara and her nan at the Christmas dinner table, for example, ending in her making a wish and the return of the TARDIS.

But therein lies one root of the overall mess.

While the Doctor makes his stand to defend A Town Called Christmas, Clara is pushed out, removed from it all, with occasional revisits to catch up on how the Doctor’s ageing is progressing. We can feel for her, as she frets over the Doctor’s fate, wondering what’s happening all those light years and centuries from the dinner table, but we, like her, have been effectively distanced from the situation.

Obviously it’s the only way to tell a story of this nature without ageing – and presumably killing off – the companion alongside the Doctor altogether or removing her altogether. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have Clara to stick around and preferably not under a fairly poor geriatric make-up job. That notwithstanding, a Doctor who has to stand in defence of a population and watch his companion die, leaving him utterly alone, well, that’s the more powerful story. Albeit a bit of a downer at Christmas time.

Safely detached from proceedings, we’re shown very little of how the Doctor actually defends this idyllic community with its Truth field and its teeming population of approximately ten men, women and children. It appears to involve striding forth with the Silence against a backdrop of explosions and/or standing and shouting at the Dalek invasion force while the town gets blasted to smithereens. Last I checked, these were not the optimal tactics, even for defensive forces with a spot of military clout. For a progressively decrepit old geezer with a stick, a sonic screwdriver and perhaps a packet of Jammie Dodgers tucked away in a pocket, it’d be remarkable if he lasted five seconds.

Yes, it’s the usual Doctor Who grandstanding. Utterly devoid of substance. Brave speeches with nothing to back it up. The Daleks and all his other enemies appear to be fooled by it but it gets less convincing every time I see it trotted out.

Talk fast and hope something good happens. More and more, it seems that’s all the Doctor has got. And it’s all very amusing to throw that in as a joke but in the face of the overwhelming odds the writers love to pit him against, all it does is expose the weaknesses in the plotting and the scripting. As well as, arguably, the wisdom of constantly writing your protagonist into such corners.

Luckily, the Doctor does have allies. Allies apparently more powerful than the Gallifrey that’s looking to seep through into our dimension. Because while the amassed alien forces were all set to destroy the Time Lords if they so much as poked a Prydonian Chapter House into our dimension, they were held at bay by a single space church and a strange lady priestess.

For all I know, she may be the most powerful being in the universe. Alas, we don’t know a great deal about her, other than she can pilot a TARDIS, commands the Silence (who can admittedly be quite scary but whose principle ability with regard to their enemies amounts to being eminently forgettable) and, like a worrying majority of DW females born from the pen of Steven Moffat, has a serious case of the hots for the Doctor.

Anyway, as far as I can gather the space-church is precisely powerful enough to hold off the largest force of aliens ever gathered in one place – including the Slitheen, no less – but not powerful enough to concern said aliens that maybe they should be focusing on destroying it instead of Gallifrey. I confess some details may have escaped my notice due to increasing disinterest.

Whatever the true extent of their powers, it’s apparent that only the Doctor and the Silence are up to the quantity of the striding around in front of explosive backdrops that a protracted defence requires. And the Silence aren’t quite functioning at their best as, in one clumsily handled scene, Clara repeatedly forgets them then remembers that she forgets them. A bit like jokes, if a monster needs explaining then the delivery’s probably flawed.

But why bother with clever solutions when you can conjure a miracle out of the hat? Especially at Christmas. Christmas is a time of miracles.

After all the centuries of asking the Doctor’s name, Clara ultimately persuades the ancient and wise Time Lords to forego formal identification procedures by pointing out that he is the Doctor. The Doctor is who he is. The Time Lords are really old, you see, and it helps if you spell out the bleeding obvious. Whereupon they open a massive crack in the sky, puff out a spritz of Vortex, the new fragrance by Gallifrey, so that the Doctor can breathe it in and shoot awesome rays of destruction from both arms, thus lifting the siege around the planet.


So that means Gallifrey can safely pop into existence now, right?

Well, not that I noticed.

No, but this level of energy expenditure takes its toll on the poor old Doctor and triggers a regeneration. This, I think, is supposed to amount to dramatic cost. But these days, regeneration is not so much a mini-death but more of a ticket to a new job. There’s generally time to hang around, say your farewells and, in this case, change your clothes.

At least on this occasion, it’s not as prolonged a departure as Tennant’s. It’s not a major galactic tour, merely a jaunt back to the TARDIS to leave clothing strewn all over the floor, to get dressed so that he can symbolically discard his beloved bow tie that he’d just put on for the purpose.

(Side note: I'm also left picturing a Time War fought by Time Lord suicide bombers, all primed with Vortex energy to destroy the Dalek fleets, each one happily surprised to discover the detonations triggered new cycles of regenerations. Why the tactic never worked, I guess we'll never know.)

The gift of Vortex (by Gallifrey) is also a means of addressing the tricky issue of the thirteen-incarnation limit, investing the Doctor with a new cycle of regenerations that none of us realised he needed yet. Until a nifty exchange of dialogue in this episode explained how there’d actually been two Doctors who looked like David Tennant and what with the War Doctor and everything, well, that’s thirteen right there. Blimey, if only they’d gone one further and explained the past incarnations of the Doctor seen in The Brain Of Morbius that might have sewn everything up even more neatly.

The hallucination of Amy Pond is a welcome touch. Imagining Karen Gillan is, I believe, quite a common condition among males, even without the impetus of impending regeneration, so it’s fair enough. Besides, she kind of had to be present in some way, because all in all, Matt’s Doctor is/was her ‘raggedy man’. And Doctors have often been visited by the floating heads of past companions at the very least during these difficult moments of transition.

Either way, the universe can’t let a Doctor depart without making a speech. But less is more. And these delayed effects and strained contrivances like a ‘reset’ – what? – just serve to detract from the emotional potential of the moment. We’re supposed to be sorry to see Matt go – and I am – but most of all I felt sorry that this fell far short of the departure story he deserved.

And so the role of the Doctor is handed over to Peter Capaldi.

Not a great deal to comment on here as we are not given much beyond the now customary observation on some new physical feature – “Kidneys!” (prompting one to wonder what the first female Doctor’s first exclamation will be – “Ovaries!” was my wife’s suggestion). And a spot of amnesia relating to TARDIS piloting skills. But there’s energy and enthusiasm in the delivery and Capaldi has an intensity and presence that might arise from experience and seniority or might simply be a product of him being a talented actor.

Doesn’t matter. What matters most is that he is a promise of change. We’ve seen our change of Doctor, now there’s huge potential here for a change of direction. I’m looking forward to what happens from here on.

All this might sound like a merciless savaging but it’s not intended as such and the episode almost certainly wasn't as dreadful as this review probably seems like it makes out. It’s only an impression coloured by the level of disappointment I felt while watching The Time Of The Doctor on Christmas Day evening. The potential highlight of the holiday viewing for me (DVD goodies aside) and there it was, singularly failing to grab my attention, to intrigue, involve or even entertain me.

There’s a risk, I guess, in having a momentous birthday close to Christmas that folks will combine your presents and by December 25th you’ll have opened all the best ones. Result: a Christmas Day that could feel a little anticlimactic. Moffat gave Doctor Who such a whopping 50th birthday present, I got the impression he was spent out. Exhausted his creative budget.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe for one moment that Moffat is ever guilty of lazy writing – I’ve consistently been an admirer of his contributions to the series. And The Day Of The Doctor was such a phenomenal achievement, there can be no doubting his love and understanding of the show. This story just asked too much and gave not nearly enough.

Talk fast and hope something good happens, said the Doctor. For the audience, that becomes keep watching and hope something good happens.

And I’m glad to say that we can at least end on that note of optimism. Because even if you’ve had a bit of a disappointing Christmas in the Doctor Who universe, we can all look forward to a Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.24

Time Of The Doctor

Christmas time brings a tear to the eye
As Matt's Doctor bids us goodbye
A Doc with grey noggin
May do much less snoggin
But we'll miss his Fez and bow tie

SAF 2013

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.23

Day Of The Doctor

Daleks and Zygon art vandals
Are a lot for three Doctors to handle
Then comes the curator
Oh wow! It's Tom Baker
It's a cake with thirteen bright candles

SAF 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.22

Night Of The Doctor

The return of Doc Eight Paul McGann!
On the planet of Karn he crash lands
The episode's brief
There's no time for grief
As he's replaced by the Elephant Man

SAF 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.21

The Name Of The Doctor

The Doctor must stay anonymous
With his tomb his doom his synonymous
Time is unfurled
And without soufflé girl
There might be no more geronimos

SAF 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.20


We first heard the term timey-wimey
In a tale of Weeping Angels, Cor blimey!
It chills to the marrow
And we meet Sally Sparrow
So forgive this wibbly-wobbly crimey-rhymey

SAF 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.19


Rose Tyler's not very scholastic
She's enlisted to fight living plastic
In the end she goes forth
With a new friend from the north
A strange bloke who keeps saying "Fantastic!"

SAF 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.18

Silver Nemesis

A live statue has many suitors
Like witches and mean Nazi shooters
Throw in some Cybes
For anniversry vibes
That aren't so much silver as pewter

SAF 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.17


Mel's gone to Iceland in space!
Says the tagline for this debut for Ace
In a moment of folly
The Doc hangs by his brolly
And the villain just melts his own face

SAF 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.16

Revelation Of The Daleks

In a landscape of peaceful white snows
Lies the funereal Tranquil Repose
The Daleks are led
By Davros' head
Next time he'll return as his nose

SAF 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.15

Vengeance On Varos

Sil is as nasty and vile
As Varos TV's violent style
It entertains plebs
Like I'm A Celeb!
But without the bushtucker trial

SAF 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.14

Arc Of Infinity

On Gallifrey the plot starts to thicken
By the Sixth Doc the Fifth Doctor's stricken
It's part of a plan
Based in Amsterdam
By the Great Omega and his Chicken

SAF 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.13

Time Flight

At Heathrow they're ready to board
For a flight to the past in Concorde
It's a temporal abduction
And a case of production
Tackling stories they couldn't afford

SAF 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.12


The Minyans are all going grey
On a quest for a ship gone astray
Their people are slaves
In underground caves
Thanks to Colour Separation Overlay

SAF 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.11

The Seeds Of Doom

One pod from an Antarctic ledge
In England grows big as a hedge
Chase is a nutter
Who's churned up like butter
And fed to the meat-eating veg

SAF 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.10

The Ark In Space

On a space Ark there's cause for concern
Survivors of an Earth left to burn
Watch Noah mutate
And face some debate
On the number of 'r's found in Wirrrn

SAF 2013

Monday, December 09, 2013

New Advents in Time And Space No.9

Invasion Of The Dinosaurs

London's prehistoric invasion
Sparks a city-wide evacuation
A T-Rex's rage
Starts a new Golden Age
But it's not Supermarionation

SAF 2013

Sunday, December 08, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.8

The Claws Of Axos

Axon skin has a bright golden sheen
But underneath their intentions are mean
They've no claws in particular
They're much more tenticular
Re-used five years later, painted green

SAF 2013

Saturday, December 07, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.7

Spearhead From Space

To Earth plastic footballs come crashin
As does a new Doctor who's dashin
The fight he must win
Gainst shop mannequins
In cutting edge seventies fashion

SAF 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.6

The Enemy Of The World

Floods and earthquakes cause worldwide hysteria
Salamander plays global superior
Pat Troughton stars twice
One's naughty, one's nice
In lost episodes found in Nigeria

SAF 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.5

The Abominable Snowmen

Yeti are the cause of some drama
For an alien-possessed ancient Lama
That's the sort with one 'L'
And a small sacred bell
In a Welsh Himalayan panorama

SAF 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.4

 The Highlanders

Our first story with Jamie McCrimmon
On historical content is skimmin
The Doc in a frock
Is no' a great shock
Where the menfolk wear skirts like the women

SAF 2013

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.3

The War Machines

Into chaos London is thrown
By WOTAN's army of drones
In today's tech
He wouldn't match specs
With most average mobile phones

SAF 2013

Monday, December 02, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.2

The Crusade

In a time long before Arab spring
The Crusaders were doing their thing
Richard was gaffer
To Ian of Jaffa
In the original Lion King

SAF 2013

Sunday, December 01, 2013

New Advents In Time And Space No.1

Doctor Who Limerick Advent

Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat
We did some limericks last year
So we'll have some more of that

Beginning with...

The Daleks

With lands ravaged by nuclear pollutants
Skaro's home to two bands of disputants
The Daleks and Thals
Will never be pals
In this tale also known as The  Mutants

SAF 2013