Saturday, 5 April 2014

Series 7: Part 5 - The Paradox of The Doctor

Now we come to the end of this retrospective. It's ended up being a bigger project than I anticipated; it's something I initially conceived as just being the one post... and here we are at Part 5. Having come off the back of the outstanding Day of The Doctor, it was only a month wait until The Time of The Doctor would air. In the time between, anticipation grew, rumours spread, and I basically predicted what was going to happen. Then, on an otherwise lovely Xmas Day, it happened...

The Time of The Doctor - 1/10
"I will always remember when the Doctor was me."

This is my least favourite episode of Doctor Who. Yes, including Fear Her. I genuinely prefer to pretend that it doesn't exist and make up Eleven's swansong entirely from scratch in my head. I have absolutely no qualms giving this story my first and only 1/10.

Okay, the episode has a cool poster, at least.

I will now attempt to explain the plot, so hold on to your spectacles: A message is echoing through time and space (again), calling thousands of species to one planet, The Doctor included. Summoned by the Papal Mainframe, The Doctor is sent down to the planet to investigate the source of the message. It's coming from the Time Lords, calling through the cracks in time caused by the exploding TARDIS is Series 5. They're asking a question only one person in the correct universe could answer: Doctor Who? The planet is Trenzalore, of course, and a stalemate between The Doctor and his enemies arise to stop the Time Lords from coming back and reigniting the Time War. The Papal Mainframe dedicates itself to The Doctor's silence (aha), and The Doctor spends around 900 years defending Trenzalore from the deadliest forces in the universe.

There's also the biting problem of the Eleventh Doctor actually being on his thirteenth (and final) regeneration, thanks to The War Doctor, and Ten's not-regeneration in The Stolen Earth. We all know the Time Lord council can hand out new regeneration cycles, I wonder if that happens at some point. To be fair, snarking aside, the whole twist with the Time Lords being on the other side of the crack is pretty clever and I liked it, even if it was a bit too soon.

"His name is The Doctor. All the name he needs."

Right, now I can start digging in. This episode is completely incoherent. I don't just mean the plot makes no sense - though that is true - but there isn't much of an artistic vision to this episode. You know, a concept or an overarching theme. We say goodbye to Clara twice in near-identical ways, flitter from contrasting plot lines bearing no relevance to each other, and then the climax just sort of... happens, with minimal build up. The centuries-long time jumps in The Doctor's extensive stay do nothing to help it from feeling like just a series of loosely connected set pieces just barely held in place by a poorly defined stalemate. It's almost like no one involved in this episode actually knew what it was about.

Furthermore, there's no sense of pacing. For an episode which needed to bring about a conclusion to a tonne of story arcs, Time of The Doctor wastes a lot of time bringing in new things which are utterly pointless and taking needless detours. Among other things, we have Clara's Christmas dinner barely justifying the episode's status as a Christmas special; the entire character of Handles, who serves no unique purpose; and the Papal Mainframe being taken over by the Daleks. This leads to the episode becoming too busy and rushed and this in turn creates lots of awkward cuts and uncomfortable shifts in tone and PoV. I would go as far to say that this episode has the effect of someone describing a story to you, rather than a fulfilling experience.

Not-River Song.
We now come to a slightly more nit-picky issue, and that is Tasha Lem - Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe. I am personally quite sick of supposed old friends who we have never seen before being trotted out because it takes too much effort to actually craft a relationship. But Tasha Lem takes that already annoying trope and makes it even worse by having that handy pre-existing relationship be a mere one-dimensional shadow of The Doctor's relationship with River Song; her dialogue consists of either exposition or really creepy flirting. This is made almost explicit when Tasha overcomes the Daleks influence, much like she has been "fighting the psychopath in her all her life". That's a line which would be almost passable for River, but for Tasha Lem it just comes completely out of nowhere. I would be uncomfortable with Tasha Lem being in almost any story, but it's especially frustrating in this one, particularly when her role could have equally have been filled by an already established character like Madame Kovarian.

Even more nit-picky (Feel free to ignore this one if you like!) is that I don't care for this episode's clear reuse of music. Nearly every episode does it and it's never usually a problem, but it's very obvious and jarring here, because the tracks which have been lifted are rather closely tied to their original contexts - i.e: They're not generic themes you can get away with recycling. Among others, we have the climactic 'Final Days' and melancholy 'Four Knocks' returning from Tennant's final episode, the epic 'Remember Me' from Clara's jump into the time stream. Even The Doctor's regeneration theme is just 'Infinite Potential' from The Rings of Akhaten. I was expecting a variation of an existing theme for Eleven's final moments, but ripping it wholesale even strikes me as lazy.

"Why didn't I get a flashy light show?!"
One more nitpick (sorry) - even the regeneration itself is a disappointment. With apologies to Peter Capaldi, his first moments are basically a poor retread of Tennants and Smiths: An exclamation about an odd new body part; in this case it's newly coloured kidneys; and a crashing TARDIS. Maybe they're trying to make it a running joke, but it's not working. Though his first scene does have new music!

After all this we still have not yet got to my largest point of contention: the episode failed to give almost any of the story arcs a satisfying pay-off. If they are covered at all, most of the problems - some of which I've been waiting years for - are just 'resolved' in a single throwaway line; I'm paraphrasing, but it is as pathetic as "Kovarian blew up the TARDIS, she's part of a rogue chapter." Some of these could have an entire episode dedicated to them. I never expected that, of course, but I was definitely hoping for more than a single lines worth of explanation that we could have easily been given before.

There are also things which have still not been explained. Madame Kovarian, for example: Who - exactly - is she? It's never stated exactly why she hates The Doctor so bitterly, rather than just wanting to preserve his silence. No reason is given for her going rogue. Why was making River Song necessary? I mean specifically River Song, instead of just any old plan to kill The Doctor. I feel this is probably linked to Kovarian wanting to hurt The Doctor personally in addition to killing him, but with no explanation to why that is, there's nothing here either. Very annoying, given this episode presented a clear possible motive: Trenzalore being Kovarians home and The Doctor started a war there.

If The Silents are just engineered priests - rogue chapter or not - why have they been manipulating mankind for centuries in Day of the Moon? How did they blow up the TARDIS? I expect that's what the time machines in Day of the Moon were for, but that's never even slightly hinted upon. What was the fall of the eleventh? Why was the truth field in Trenzalore necessary? If The Doctor would have to answer his name truthfully anyway if the Time Lords were to come through.

It's worth noting that you can make sense of some of these. I've attempted to tie some things up and there's certainly nothing stopping you from assuming Kovarian's motivations. However, some holes are bigger and too important to simply just fill in a few small details and let implication handle the rest. Filling some plot holes requires a lot of 'creativity' (read: making stuff up), and I don't think it should be necessary to delude yourself in order for a plot to make sense. Being able to rationalize your way out of something doesn't alter the fact there are narrative contradictions that should have been avoided in the first place.

The BBC may have found The Web of Fear, but this brings a whole new meaning to "Lost Episode"...

The biggest plot hole, though: What of the events of The Name of The Doctor? In Name, We saw The Doctor's grave. We saw Trenzalore as a desolate wasteland.Clara goes into The Doctor's time stream, saving The Doctor in Asylum and The Snowmen. This leads The Doctor to seek out Clara in the first place, eventually taking him to Trenzalore. This on its own works as a stable time loop, but then this episode comes into the picture: The Doctor regenerates and his grave isn't left behind in the TARDIS, leaving Clara with no time stream to jump into. 
Nothing in The Name of The Doctor can happen if The Doctor's grave isn't there to be discovered. But Clara was the one who persuaded The Doctor to save Gallifrey in the 50th Anniversary! If he doesn't do that, then the events of this episode cannot be started by the Time Lords sending the question out to our universe. So we're in a situation where both The Name of The Doctor and The Time of The Doctor logically both have to happen, but they're mutually exclusive timelines. It's not enough for this to be a rubbish episode, it has to retroactively ruin a few others!

Some mystery is nice but - without wishing to speculate - this honestly feels like a rush job when Moffat found out that Matt Smith wouldn't be staying for Series 8. The episode does have a share of nice moments, mostly underpinned by the beautifully sad 'Trenzalore', but I simply cannot appreciate them in a story which I otherwise find so deeply flawed. Now I've written this post, perhaps I can finally put it to rest for good and forget it even happened. 

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