Thursday, May 19, 2011

Regarding Moffat and Doctor Who

I don't really have anything to say about the latest two episodes of Doctor Who -- the pirate one, Gaiman one -- other than I thought that they were fun, and that I enjoyed them immensely (Gaiman's more so than the pirate one, obviously).

I suppose they were both a break from the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey puzzles of Moffat's openers, and that was nice.

Seeing the Tardis in a human body with a human mouth speaking with a voice was beautiful.

Seeing the Doctor bite his fingernails when Rory died (again) was poignant.

Seeing the Doctor so sad, oh so sad, when the Tardis had to leave that human body and him trying to deal with his grief in his little swing has he tinkers with the Tardis and then the closing scene as he asks the Tardis if she's there and the lever goes down in response was so beautiful and so sad that there really aren't words, no not really.

And the idea about how the word "alive" is such a sad word was brilliant and unexpected (I knew Gaiman would never go for the cliche "love" but I couldn't think of what word the Tardis could possibly mean, but then of course, it was revealed and it was beautiful and real and oh so sad yet satisfying).

The Tardis demanding to see her thief and then explaining how she stole him because she wanted to see the Universe was glorious.

I watch Doctor Who for those moments.

But, beautiful and emotionally satisfying as they are, they do not proper blog entries make. Or perhaps, too much was going on at the time when I watched them and I just had to enjoy them and move on, instead of prying them open and taking out all their little parts.

But watching and enjoying the small tastes of fan reaction that I allow myself (I refuse to do more than dabble my toes so as not to get burned out -- and also, time restraints) has given me some thoughts over which to percolate.

I've been thinking more about some of the fan complaints about Moffat telling the same story and to tell something different please:

Creepy Children (Are-You-My-Mummy boy <-> Time-Lord-Girl)
Visual Centric Monsters (Angels <-> Silence)
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey
Something that Appears to Be Evil But Is Actually Trying To Do Good (Pirate, 9's story line in World War II)

I think there are others, but I can't remember them.

I don't actually mind the similarities between the Angels and the Silence. I think they're different enough that it doesn't matter. That's like complaining that the Daleks and the Cybermen are too similar because they're both for genocide in order to promote a master race while completely ignoring their more nuanced differences. It just doesn't bother me because in real life, sentient beings and animals have similar drives.

The only difference between a very hungry tiger with a taste for human flesh and a killer bacteria is that one is more tangible the other. A tiger can be shot. One knows how to kill a tiger. One can also run away from a Tiger.

But, if the bacteria is a nasty one, you might not even know you're sick until it's too late to be cured.

Either way, if all else fails, you still end up dead.

That's how I see the difference between the Angels and the Silence. I, personally, find the Silence to be far more discomfiting than the Angels. I find them to be more complex too.

The Angels seem to be more or less your typical predators (like tigers). It's hard to hate them (for me) because they're just doing what all organisms need to do: eat. I can't fault them for that (which doesn't necessarily mean that I'll just let them eat me, no sir).

But what about the Silence? Their motives don't seem to be driven by a primal need for survival. What do they want? How many of them are there in the Universe? More than the ones on Earth, for sure, since the Fish-Vampire in Venice saw them, apparently - but then that also raises the question of how she remembered them etc.

So, I'll take the Angels and the Silence over the Daleks and the Cybermen any day of the week. In fact, I wouldn't be bothered if there was a long, healthy break before their next reappearance (unless it's something subversive).

I don't mind Moffat playing with time travel in more than a Oh-Let's-Go-to-the-Past-or-Future sort of way. I will admit, I am not a fan of the time-loops that are the effect of their cause (last episode of season 5). But I'll forgive it (like I did with Fringe) if the characters are strong enough.

Plots are dimes a dozen, after all. It's the people that count.

Creepy children. I think that the Time-Lord-Girl and the Are-You-My-Mummy boy are hardly comparable. Of course, they're children, and they're both locked up in a "mask" of some sort. And they're both rather mysterious and don't make sense.

But otherwise, no, I don't think so (I may re-evaluate my position once the story is complete, of course).

I think that the Are-You-My-Mummy boy was an excellent vehicle to explore some good old fashioned social commentary, particularly the stigma of teen mothers, in a certain time and place that is still culturally relevant today. But to be honest, I don't really see any of that with the Time-Lord-Girl, who has the possibility to be so much more (though hopefully she does not function as a mere device a la the Golux).

And let's be honest: creepy children is a time honored trope. It just depends on what the writer does with it. In my opinion, the trope was subverted in the first series of New Who. As for the Time-Lord-Girl -- well. It's too early to say.

The only one I haven't really talked about is the theme that Bad Things Aren't Really Bad Just Mistaken. I don't mind this because the idea of a Bad Thing Doing a Bad Thing Because It's a Bad Thing is boring and simplistic and utterly lacking nuance. And, despite the Pirate's episode similarity to the Doctor Dances, they're not the same story.

Though it's been a while since I've seen 9's story, I recall it as more plot-centric. Sure, we meet Captain Jack, but I can't really think of any dynamic changes going on character wise (for either the main ones or the secondary ones, save for Captain Jack). This isn't to say that there weren't great character moments -- because there were -- but it just seemed very plot centric (though not all Plot, obviously).

On the other hand, the Pirate episode was social commentary slapping superstition in the face. And, I really like that because, even today, people are more willing to attribute something they don't understand to some kind of Nebulous Supernatural Force rather than poking it with a stick and finding out what's going on. So yes, more knowledge > superstition please! I also think it worth noting that this kind of commentary was absent from 9's story in season 1.

I also think that there were some interesting character insights in the Pirate episode that also serve to differentiate and individualize the similar thematic elements -- for example, the Doctor and the Captain. Both wanderers, but having made different choices in their lives.

And even Rory and Amy had some insights as well -- even though Rory died again and haven't we seen this before, tash-take-it?

Well. Yes. We have. Except we haven't.

When Rory first died in the Dream-Lord episode, Amy became very Shakespearian in that she would rather be dead than not to have Rory in her life. Very romantic and all that rot, but not especially helpful. Too Romeo and Juliet for my tastes.

Which is okay, because I think it shows Amy's emotional state -- she's childish. Not quite grown up yet, maturity wise.

The second time Rory dies, Amy can't do anything but weep. And try not to forget him. She is crippled with grief, a greater grief without the small hope that this world is a dream and that they can wake up and everybody can live again.

The other times Rory has "died" doesn't count, I think, because Rory didn't die -- no not really because it was either Mind Games or Red Herrings or Let's Pretend, but, in the end, he was never actually, tangibly dead.

Though, in Gaiman's episode I thought it an interesting dynamic. I don't remember where I read it, but I do agree with the interpretation that Rory's "death" in The Doctor's Wife is more of an insight into Amy's emotional state regarding all the sacrifices that Rory has made for her. Which gives her more depth and dimension.

But, in the Pirate episode, when Rory is drowned and dead again, Amy doesn't react the same way. She's afraid and she's sad but she's pro-active in that she's not crippled with grief, she's not going to kill herself.

For the first time, she takes real action to save Rory. And of course, that has a lot to do with the circumstances of the death -- how exactly does one become proactive when Rory is shot/being-erased-from-existence, after all?

But I still think that the tenor of her emotional reaction is more grown up. More mature. And I like to see that kind of growth in people. And so, even though it is the same, it is still different.

Of course, this is why it's hard being a writer. There are only a few plots in this world (I think it was Asimov who said there were only three), which is why I don't really bother with them when I determine if I like something or not. Moffat does seem to have some familiar themes with which he revisits again and again, but in my mind, he holds them in different lights, exploring them in different ways.

Familiar is not always bad, just as long as it's not stale. And of course, there is the debate of the responsibility of author and reader. Creation is so subjective. Another person's stale is someone else's revelation.

I don't think Moffat has reached that point but, to be honest, it's a little hard to judge when series 5 and series 6 are so obviously halves of the same story. So really, it depends on how season 6 turns out, I think.
And I'm patient enough to wait. I love the Doctor and I love Rory and I love Amy.

I just want to see them live their fantastic, extraordinary lives.

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