Parts 5-9

Possibly the most misinterpreted story of Russell T Davies’ tenure is The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End and depending on your feelings about the completely nuts idea of Davros stealing planets in order to destroy ALL OF REALITY you either love it or hate it. My initial feelings towards this was that it was an over ambitious mess and even by Doctor Who standards was completely over-the-top and unbelievable, which really is saying something and I actually hated it. Incidentally, I felt exactly the same way about Last of the Timelords and The End of Time. However, with the benefit of Netflix, it’s far more rewarding to view Stolen Earth/Journeys End as not as a two parter, but a three parter along with Turn Left, which it actually is. Turn Left is very much the first act of three. Actually, if you want a hugely insightful reading of the Tennant era – and to fully appreciate how good a writer RTD actually is – then it’s possible look at a block of five stories starting with The Christmas Invasion and Turn Left as the end of the first act to fully appreciate the astonishingly huge narrative arc he created.

Turn Left is fascinating, because we get ‘The It’s a Wonderful Life’ version of England through the eyes of Donna and what would have happened if she’d never met him and he’d died in ‘The Runaway Bride.’ Broadly speaking though, what’s perhaps more revealing is that this vision is little different to what Tennant era Doctor Who would look like if told through the eyes of any ordinary person who managed to survive the countless invasions and weren’t amongst the handful he saved throughout these episodes on more of a whim, than anything else. The most that can be said Tennant hadn’t stopped the Titanic wiping out London, modern England would basically be ‘Utopia.’ Just a few billion years early.

When viewed as a three parter, rather than two, it’s glaringly obvious Donna is going to be this season’s Martha. Just as Rose was the season before that and the season before that. Saving the world but at a price. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said, “If a weapon shows up in the first act, you know it’s getting used in the third.” To make it more obvious, Davies in the next two episodes precedes to through every combination of companion at the Daleks, whilst keeping Donna safely tucked away from the narrative, with only the minor feint that “she’s going to die.” Which frankly RTD knew everyone would ignore anyway, because that’s not how Doctor Who works. He could then get on with the business of closing out the Rose storyline which had been hanging over the show for long enough and needed putting to bed. Overall, he came up with probably the most satisfying solution available. The problem of having a Doctor in love or in a relationship is that love and relationships aren’t really compatible with the concept of adventure. It would entail instead not putting yourself or the one you love in grave danger. So it had to be done and closed out. Simple as that.

Where Donna however, fits with Tennant’s Doctor is interesting, because he’s the only Doctor who has been created purely to be loved. In the Christmas Invasion, we wait almost three quarters of the special for him to show up, at which point RTD gives him a long piece of dialogue which – being a consummate theatre actor – he completely nails. Tennant defeats the Sycorax leader and this is where it gets interesting, we’re given the reason his Doctor will ultimately regenerate in his very first outing. He conceitedly changes history. He brings about the end of “Britain’s Golden Age” (apparently Jackie has been twenty quid a week better off) because he believes he knows better. Which will in turn lead to The Master swooping into become PM, which in turn leads to his comeback in The End of Time. The Master is a byproduct of the conceit of Tennant’s Doctor. The Time Lord victorious. Still, in the Christmas Invasion, he is our Christmas present. It’s all there from the start, but we’re a long way from Doomsday, Journey’s End and the End of Time just yet.

“Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long,” the Doctor says at one point, and we’re meant to disagree. And yet why? When the Doctor puts the principle of not being willing to shoot someone over the fate of all of humanity, what are we meant to do with him? For the second time in the Davies era, the Doctor’s vain insistence on not being the one to pull the trigger is set to become the doom of humanity. We are all to be the Master, our worst impulses, the rot that sets in as the universe finally goes black, and the Doctor refuses to save us because of a moral point centering entirely on the question of propelling pieces of metal at high speeds via a controlled explosion at the base of a rifled barrel.

Even at the end, the question is arbitrary. Somehow shooting a diamond and consigning Rassilon to death in the hell of the Time War is acceptable, but shooting Rassilon himself is not. Letting the Master walk into the Time War is acceptable, putting a bullet in him is not. Apparently “how the Master started” has everything to do with projectiles and nothing to do with an actual system of ethics. Wilf’s military service renders him noble, but the use of a gun is wrong. There is no substance to this, just a mess of would-be principles masquerading as morality. That’s why Tennant’s Doctor is so, well, irksome.

However. On top of this, running parallel with The Christmas Invasion, there’s an angry underlying narrative about Barack Obama ending the recession with a great financial scheme – although as Ginger tells us, it won’t reach people like him. It actually doesn’t, because The Master (The former PM) kills him. So we’ve gone from ‘Britain’s Golden Age’ to a homicidal lunatic running the country, to a recession under the Doctor’s watch and them the former PM returning from the dead to go on another mad homicidal spree against Britain’s working class. When this is contrasted with the reason Tennant’s Doctor overthrew Harriet Jones in the first place, his arbitrary system of ethics seems even more dubious. Even by RTD’s standards which are frankly bleak and deeply cynical, there’s little doubt that Harriet Jones doesn’t at any point in the three stories which she appears act in anything other than good faith. She may perhaps be infact the most sympathetic portrayal of a politician ever to appear on television. Although it’s a clear allusion to Thatcher and the Belgrano, unlike Thatcher, she acts out of what could be described as a rational fear for the safety and well-being of humankind. What causes her to panic and call for the destruction of the Sycorax? Well actually, it’s because of The Doctor telling her there’s probably going to be a lot more invasions and next time they mightn’t be so lucky, and yep, it’s all down to sending out probes into space and getting noticed. So she acts. Then The Doctor arrogantly deposes her.

Still, not that she needed redeeming per se, she does sacrifice her life in order to get in touch with The Doctor in The Stolen Earth. She dies a true hero, whereas Tennant’s Doctor will go onto die an arrogant, feckless narcissist who believes he can pick and choose who he can save. Because he allows a kind old man to live, because after wiping Donna’s memory and erasing the amazing woman she’d become, he gives her material wealth, but only after robbing her of the gift of knowing that there’s a huge world outside of neo-liberal Britain. The gift of knowing that there is more to life than materialism. Because he hooks up two broken hearted men in a bar, because he saves the life of two people he’d fucked over. Mickey whose girlfriend he stole and Martha, who after being the most competent companion in the history of Doctor Who, a person who travels the entire world, valiantly spreading a message in order to defeat The Master and save humanity, is not unlike Harriet Jones (no relation) in being consigned to the Doctor’s personal dustbin of history,  and all because she takes a job with a military organisation. One which he himself had hypocritically worked for in the seventies (!) Not to mention the conceit in this relationship too. I struggle to see how for a promising young junior Doctor, who was at one point the only person capable of averting total oblivion in marrying a hapless mechanic who has subsequently wound up as a ‘freelance’ read: jobless paramilitary, whilst being shot at by the rubbish Sontarans on an industrial estate is anything short of a regression.

In the Waters of Mars, it’s actually a relief when he is finally called out on his shit and this is ultimately the point where he has no choice but to go. It’s interesting by the way, that the production team consciously chose – and this is undoubtedly a conscious decision, as it was the same production team in the End of Time who in probably the most weird, ostentatious use of CGI in history and a moment of insane micro-attention to detail used The Mill to correctly colour in the Noble’s Turkey in order to reflect the correct time of day on Christmas Day – chose to show the 2050’s to be little different in what we’d expect to see design wise to an episode set in the present day, and I write this six years on from the original airing. From the outset, we see a modern interior, with prints of the Queen Elizabeth definitive postage stamp on the wall, the web pages are what we’d expect to see when we click onto the BBC website, the technology is distinctly, little more advanced than we’d currently be capable. Even the robot is until The Doctor upgrades it, completely underwhelming. This is Davies’ vision of the future throughout his time on the show. Fixed and bleak. Even at the end of the universe itself, there’s little progress beyond a slight change of skin colour. (In recent months post Brexit, there’s particular sequence in ‘Utopia’ which has taken an astonishingly prescient and bleak connotation to the present.) Davies’ idea of material social progress is bleak, bleak, bleak. Take even his vision of spaceships in the future, while the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation has shades of Virgin Atlantic, what Davies offers up for luxury outings in ‘Midnight’ is Ryan Air meets Mega Bus. On some level it’s difficult to see how with this in mind in the End of Time, or even Journey’s End, the Time Lords or Davros wouldn’t just be doing us a favour by putting a full-stop on reality. In Davies’ vision of the future, there’s absolutely no aspiration. Only the conceit of ‘pot luck’ that you may be that ordinary working class person (un)fortunate enough to be saved by the Doctor and cast back onto the gruelling wheel of slow if not nonexistent social and material progress. Whilst unlike the Daleks, the Time Lord’s at least aspired to at least becoming beings of consciousness as reality and time melted away. They are however, still Lords. As is the Doctor, and everything that entails.

It all ends with the destruction of the TARDIS caused by Tennant clinging to life and unleashing a pent up wave of destructive regenerative energy. The world he leaves is no further forward. I’ll probably, eventually at some point do a write up of where Moffat’s ‘Day of the Doctor’ which effectively rewrites the cynicism and conceit of Tennant’s Doctor and where that fits together with this narrative. Thankfully, when we get to Moffat, time can be rewritten, and rewritten again until you get it right.

Like Tony Soprano, his death is written from the start and foreshadowed in big bold letters across the screen. Of course, with Doctor Who, the story can never end.

3 and 4: The Pirate Planet, the Stones of Blood and Digression

The Pirate Planet or ‘Douglas Adams’ ode to drug addiction.’
Interesting, because it’s a rarity and exists as a story where the people don’t actually really want the Doctor there (in the sense that “We’re fine,” not in the say, Daleks on Skaro we’re going to kill you, or you’re atleast going to die a painful death from radiation poisoning way. By the way, what happened with the Daleks’ dependency on radiation, anyway? Speaking on whom, the premise of the Pirate Planet bares some similarity to the Daleks ridiculous plan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth where they plan to hollow out the Earth’s core and presumably drive the planet around the universe like a sports car. Me neither. Conceptually, The Pirate Planet makes a little more rational sense. The planet materialises around other planets at which point they plunder the planets entire mineral wealth before moving on elsewhere. In this case however, the planet turns out to not actually be a planet at all but a section of the Key to Time. Which going back to my original point, really accentuates how fucking insane the premise of The Daleks Invasion of Earth is. Although I’m sure I’ll get around to writing something on that at some point as despite the craziness, some aspects of it I absolutely love. However, I digress. It’s an interesting story, just don’t try and think about it too much, like for instance, people who are unwittingly complicit in the Pirate Captains scheme acting against their own material self interest and ultimately coming around to fuck over themselves and their own material self-interest. Then again, there’s working class people who vote Tory. You say tomato, I say…

The Stones of Blood effectively takes place at a pseudo stonehenge, has a pseudo villain and a literal cliff-hanger. I was recently reading something about cliff-hangers and the correct way to use them which I thought was fascinating. Essentially you know that the person who is “hanging from a cliff” isn’t going to die. It’s a way of making the audience engage with the plot. I used to watch Batman when I was six or seven. The campy 1960’s one and I unashamedly loved it and still do. I think in fairness, having the capacity to enjoy something like that is a prerequisite for enjoying Doctor Who and ultimately why I enjoyed the classic series so much. The first episode of Batman I ever saw ended on a cliffhanger where, I can’t remember if it’s Batman or Robin are caught in a trap by the Catwoman with a choice of opening two doors. The episode ends with the opening of a door that contains a tiger, unleashing it into a small room. Now, I was an evil child and I used to hope that Batman and Robin were killed and just for a change the villain would win. However, the fact that it wasn’t for whatever reason years later until I saw the resolution of that cliffhanger and I actually can’t remember how they got out of it, I just remember that what was far more interesting was engaging with the story and coming up with my own ideas for how that may turn out. Of course, in modern Doctor Who, Steven Moffat understands this fully and has brilliantly mastered how to do the cliffhanger. He probably does it better than anyone I can think of in the history of television or cinema actually. Moffat doesn’t actually bother insulting the audience with the conceit that there’s a possibility a main character is going to die. Of course, the most beautiful execution of this was after ostensibly killing off Sherlock, in the next episode where he brought him back from the grave, he didn’t even bother to explain how the suicide was faked, instead just presenting a series of meta  fandom squabbles. The point being, that it really doesn’t matter. It’s a hook for the viewer to latch onto. That was the brilliance of the cliffhanger to Time of Angels where the question is not of the Doctor dying but of “Why is the Doctor firing a gun?” His resolutions are usually equally inventive. Moffat has learned that the best place to start the sequel is in a completely different place to the cliffhanger. Doctor Who is by far more interesting when the writers just throw cool sounding hooks out there, for example post ’05: Bad Wolf, the jaws of the Nightmare Child, the Hoarde of Travesties, the Meanwhiles and Neverwheres led by the Could’ve been King, the Silver Devastation, the cracks in time. It’s more fun to speculate, than have an outright resolution. Intriguingly then, probably Moffat’s biggest failure in his time as show runner was also as a result of a cliff-hanger. When Matt Smith’s second season started off with the cliff hanger of The Doctor being killed outright – a brilliant premise –  right at the start of the episode – and The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon are good – it had the unfortunate result of the season finale being reduced to merely tidying up loose ends or, just being about what trickery the Doctor used to survive, which was far less satisfying. Moffat is by far at his best when he just throws hooks out there and leaves them hanging like he did with Sherlock than he is at tidying them up. Fortunately, I think he figured that out though, which is why his two-parters and season finales have been more satisfying. Even his Cyberman – the most rubbish of recurring villains, and turning them into Ironman-esque cyborgs instead of humans obsessed with survival doesn’t improve them at all – with Missy as the Master reveal worked reasonably well. The fact that Chris Addison and Michelle Gomez are brilliant helps a lot. The Dalek two parter the following season had flaws but had enough intriguing combinations and loose ends to overall make it reasonably successful. The only combination it didn’t really try was Michelle Gomez and Davros. Of course the point is, that Missy abandoned on Skaro leaves a lot of potential for an active mind. The final three episodes of the season is where Moffat nails his formula again, and they’re brilliant. So as a result of those season 8 and 9 two and three parters, at any point you can have Clara and ‘Me’ cruising around time and space in an American diner, Missy delightfully scheming with Davros, anyone brought back from the dead and pretty much anything you can think of being only a line of dialogue away from becoming a reality in Doctor Who.

By the way, I’ve been considering how to do the next Star Wars. As we’ve established, starting where we left off would be a pretty rubbish way to do it. Start years into the future where Kylo Ren has learned discipline and went back into the shadows and where Rey is a fully fledged Jedi but has suffered some pretty bad injuries, (presumably a knee replacement will be in there somewhere going by the way she runs) – and some big losses including that stupid fucking robot C3PO and Luke Skywalker to give Kylo his promotion to serious villain  – we know Jedi don’t really die anyway so who gives a shit. Put the alliance on the back foot. Have Finn turn villain too because he’s been rejected when Rey chooses celibacy and the Joseph Campbell monomyth only to have him redeemed in the final part.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

The Alliance have suffered great tragedy at the hands of the enemy. The Sith Lord Kylo Ren has long disappeared and the pilot Po Dameron, is sent on a mission to safely return the injured Jedi commander Rey who has been seeking a Macguffin to complete her training… However, the weird Voldemort dude from the last movie has chosen to finally reveal himself. ”

Actually starting off the movie with that Snook dude is probably far enough out of left field to work.

“Your manner appeals only to the homicidal side of my nature”

Part 2 – Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

This is part one of the famous ‘key to time.’ Doctor Who’s first attempt at a season long story arc. What’s astonishing is that whilst the premise of a ‘key to time’ is rubbish and frankly everyone knows it, the story is nonetheless absolutely brilliant. 
The reason I love Doctor Who is that it’s driven by concepts. It is a show built on ideas. This is a story that starts off with the Doctor meeting God. This isn’t the first time the show has dipped its toes into theology. The writer of this, the brilliant Robert Holmes (more on him later) previously wrote a story where The Master summoned the devil. Which actually as a concept is quite difficult to top. Many years later, in the brilliant Satan Pit, the Doctor will again meet the devil, with the brilliant premise of a creature that existed before ‘time’ itself – don’t think about that too hard – and the script strongly alludes to the fact that the beast was jailed by the Doctor’s own people. This is an intriguing proposition. In the Ribos Operation, the allusion is therefore very much that the Doctor has outgrown his own people and therefore exists somewhere between The White Guardian, who although he persuades the Doctor to take on his mission under by threat of death and looks like a plantation owner, we will assume here is “good” and the Black Guardian who well, if the White Guardian isn’t all that good, the Black Guardian is a whole lot worse. 
However, this is where Holmes’ craftsmanship as a writer comes in. He knows the premise is absurd. Tom Baker plays the Doctor, absurdly and then we introduce a new character, the brilliant Romana played by Mary Tamm, who nails it by refusing to take the narrative seriously. She basically plays both a mirror of the Doctor and in a cute piece of meta-fiction, the relatable companion, by treating it all as a bit of a joke. This is a brilliant way to handle introducing a super attractive, super intelligent alien who ostensibly appears out of thin air. By the way, what makes Romana ‘super attractive’ is not that she’s strikingly beautiful, it’s because her character possesses a mystique and is frankly kind of awesome.

That’s not the only thing that’s brilliant. No-one in the history of Doctor Who writes a villain quite like Robert Holmes, it’s telling that he is the writer who introduced The Master (and is the only person to ever write him properly), introduced The Sontarans in the Time Warrior – to be clear he didn’t create The Sontarans, and it’s intriguing that his villain in this piece was a Master replacement. Holmes is of the school where he is impossible to imitate. If you wanted to imitate him, then you’d do well to remember that he doesn’t reuse old stock characters, he invents new ones. He also wrote the brilliant Caves of Androzani where Peter Davison is violently put through the mill by a bunch of deranged psychos in a serial that both combines Dune and basically foreshadows The Revenant. Here, he brilliantly gives us some somewhat pathetic conmen in the fashion of ‘Count’ Victor Ludwig trying to flog a planet to a nutso tyrant. For a low budget seventies TV show where absolutely no-one is taking it seriously, it manages to ascend astonishingly close to being the most brilliant antithesis of Star Wars in the fundamental rejection of that style of narrative. However, I would go further and say that with Ribos’ lack of pretence it almost overtakes it. I didn’t really want to do this as a review, but seriously, this is brilliant and probably one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who ever.

Part 0.5/1 – Apocalypto

This is the start of what I hope is a really epic writing project. Yeah dude. Not really, it’s really because have to sort out this tiredness. This lazy mental block which inhibits constructive thinking: forming connections, creativity, creating solutions, linking… neurons. This grey cloud which inhibits my creative mind. 
The last time I was imbued with any kind of creativity was at the end of 2014, where to be honest it was probably down to a couple of factors such as modafinil mixed with lots of coffee, removing myself from social media and one of those rare bursts of emotional energy which was involved with meeting an amazing woman. Sparking a brief, amazing adventure. A perfect storm.

Now I’m just in a sort of malaise, drifting into a convoluted form of escapism, which in itself is not all bad, although at the same time escapism is somewhat ‘hedonistic.’ 

Even with this in mind I’m more worried about my striking inability to form connections with what I’m seeing. To make intelligent propositions out of the narrative in front of me, to form a cognitive and spectacular world view (interesting: I hadn’t considered that my inner life is considered by myself to essentially be more ‘real’ and is more important to me than the outer world (which isn’t mine) however, out of this world it is important to me to be able to construct for example the most beautiful and remarkable aspects of it into my own inner world, or an inner world.) ‘The Dreamscape’ a conscious dreamscape.

However, in my mind that must also always be linked with a conscious ability to draft that out onto paper, into words or into pictures and paintings and drawings, to make it more tangible and physical and real. This is my frustration: that my conscious dreamscape isn’t in some sense a physical reality.

To be fair, this would also explain the precipitous amount of literature, escapist and other media purchased. It is – a false – physical manifestation of the dreamscape, to try and own it and control it and make it somewhat real. Fascinating. Like the ‘great red dragon’ it is in a sense not just about escapism but about becoming. This also explains the physically tortuous narratives prevalent in my stories. It is about ‘feeling.’ Pain and dirt, is associated with the physical realm. It’s about feeling inspired.

The writing project as I’m going to loosely call it, is the somewhat ambitious analysis of 365 films/TV serials and 52 books in as many days and weeks. I’m not entirely sure how I’m to facilitate this, as an analysis also requires background reading and well, most crucially, time. It’s more a loosely knitted exploration of media.

The first film is an interesting one. Mel Gibson’s Apocalyptico. The wilderness and the sense of fear seem to actually be a good place to start for where I feel I’m at with my life right now. 

However, that’s largely where my gonzo piece ends, the movie focuses on a tribe of Mayan hunter gatherers and in particular one young man amidst an inordinate amount of historical inaccuracies. The movies early promise in that it would deal with something interesting like manhood, tribalism, impotence quickly give way and little more than twenty minutes in, we face our first narrative collapse when the majority of tribe are slaughtered brutally during a raid and the pregnant wife of ‘our hero’ is ostensibly left to die in a well. Brutality overtakes storytelling. The violence is typically in line with much of the castle scene in Braveheart, however rather than where in Braveheart where he is atleast motivated by his wife’s murder, here our main character is tied up and barberously tortured with little hope of escape and whilst the visuals are at times stunning and even captivating in themselves, a narrative collapse illicits consequences. There must be a price to be paid. 

Probably the most promising sequence which ultimately amounts to well, almost nothing, is the creepy little psychic girl with the facial disfiguration. This is followed by a sequence in a quarry – where all of the Maya slaves are covered head to toe in white chalk dusted symbolising for all intents and purposes the coming of the white man. In conjunction with the ‘sacrifices’ being covered in blue paint to represent the sea, it’s a nice bit of foreshadowing.

The sequence leading up to the temple is both dark and aesthetically beautiful. A stunning piece of cinematography and almost certainly the highlight of the film.  

Then there’s a little more foreshadowing as the Mayan priest talks of “The sickness.” Right at the start of the movie, fear was associated with sickness, the collective subconscious foreshadows the end of their civilisation. 

This is followed by a tediously long chase sequence, considering the movie has just spent the past forty or so minutes alluding to the fact that the Mayan civilisation is about to come to an end anyway, it’s low stakes. It’s difficult to invest in the prospect of Jaguar Paw dying at the hands of a bunch of nutters when, well, you know that inevitably he’s going to die at the hands of a bunch of nutters, albeit Spanish ones. 

This is torture porn. You really have to beat the movie hard to get to a generous analysis like this.