It’s a good discipline, writing for other sites besides your own. It gives you an awareness of different audiences. Blogs make for a tendency towards self-indulgence; it’s easy to embark on bouts of madcap silliness, unnecessary sidetracking anecdotes that could easily be trimmed; or excessive waffle. None of this is particularly harmful, but when you’re working for someone else – whether paid or unpaid – you generally have to rein it in.
I’ve been writing for The Doctor Who Companion for the last four years, and its predecessor, Kasterborous, for some time before that. It is an eclectic mix of features and analysis, run by a team of writers with diverse views and opinions, united by their love of Doctor Who. My pieces for them tend to be features, exploring particular aspects: for example, what do TARDIS reveals tell us about the companions witnessing them? Is there a case to be made for headcanon? And if the Doctor were a biscuit, what sort would she be? The editor is a thoroughly nice chap, willing to indulge my occasionally ridiculous prose and lengthy discourses, (“I don’t care that it’s long,” he tells me. “The readers can take it. We’re not BuzzFeed.”)
Series reviews work like this: episodes are assigned to individual writers (or we volunteer for them) and published soon after initial broadcast. A few days later, we’ll publish collective reviews from the other writers, three-hundred word summaries of their thoughts and feelings on the story of the week. And it’s a tradition at BoM that I’ll eventually gather them up and reproduce all my contributions in here.
This year’s assembly took a little longer than originally anticipated – the DWC was offline for quite some time in early spring as we rebuilt it, and then all this happened. So it’s been a good few months since ‘The Timeless Children’, which may not be a bad thing because we were all thoroughly sick of the shouting, weren’t we? For some of you, this collection of rambling thoughts will be a chance to revisit and reappraise episodes you haven’t seen in a while; you may find that your opinions have changed. For others, it’ll be a reminder of pointless cameos and tedious plot twists. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to keep your head down over the next week or so, because I’m doing these in batches.
Links to the full write-ups have been provided where they exist, but unfortunately a few articles got lost in the migration process and we’re still trying to get them back. At least you’ll be able to read my contributions, if nothing else. Oh, and as you go through these, you may eventually come to the conclusion that I wasn’t taking this brief entirely seriously. You’d be right. I no longer take Doctor Who seriously; as a consequence, I now find it tremendously fun to watch.
Spyfall, Part One
Somewhat awkwardly for an opener, I reviewed this one, so there is no summary. But here’s a paragraph that’s as good a precis as I can provide:
‘I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). Spyfall strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably okay: some people like candy floss.’
Spyfall, Part Two
‘There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of an ashened, ruined Gallifrey some 10 or 15 minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about its destruction. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the torched citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands, there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking blank and forlorn?
Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of Deadly Assassin aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed.
The rest of it is average: Graham is enjoying his laser shoes, while Yaz has apparently forgotten how to be a police officer, having decided that her role this week is to sit in the corner and look helpless while the men get to have all the fun. But the biggest problem with Skyfall Part 2 is that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel 200 years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine – the pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that the only people who tend to listen are stranded in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. There is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.’
INT. RAINBOW HOUSE. DAY
[On an unimpressive CRT television, the Rainbow personnel – GEORGE, ZIPPY, BUNGLE and GEOFFREY – are watching the closing credits of Orphan 55.]
GEORGE: Ooh, that was wonderful, Geoffrey! So exciting!
GEOFFREY: Yes, it was, George, wasn’t it?
BUNGLE: Yes! All those aliens and things blowing up! Ka-BOOOOM!!! But I did wonder, Geoffrey –
GEOFFREY: What did you wonder, Bungle?
BUNGLE: Why did the Doctor take everyone with her to go and rescue Benni? Wasn’t it dangerous for them all?
GEOFFREY: Well, I expect it would have been quite dangerous for them to have stayed, wouldn’t it? All those creatures running around trying to gobble them up. I know what you mean, though. I thought they might have put something in about that.
GEORGE: Perhaps we just couldn’t hear it, Geoffrey. They do talk awfully fast, don’t they?
BUNGLE: Yes. Still, at least there weren’t any frogs this time.
ZIPPY: Huh. Well, I thought it was rubbish. All those stupid monsters!
GEOFFREY: Didn’t you find them scary, Zippy? I know George did. [George is clutching at his blanket and whimpering softly.]
ZIPPY: Why would I find them scary when I share a bed with this lot? And the ending was boring.
BUNGLE: It was supposed to be warning us about climate change, Zippy!
ZIPPY: I already know that, Bungle Bonce. I still thought it was silly. Why did they have to go on and on about saving the planet?
GEOFFREY: Well, because it’s important, Zippy! We’ve only got one planet, haven’t we? We’ve all got to work together to take care of it.
ZIPPY: I do take care of it!
GEORGE: Is that why you always throw your crisp packets over the garden wall?
ZIPPY: I don’t!
GEOFFREY [brandishing a selection of cellophane wrappers]: Oh, yes you do. I found three of them there this morning!
ZIPPY: Yes but – well… [He harrumphs and rests his head on a floppy hand.]
BUNGLE: It’s funny, though. I don’t remember seeing Yas this week. What was she doing?
[There is a thoughtful silence, with gratuitous head scratching and chin-rubbing, as the four of them consider this.]
GEOFFREY: Oh well, never mind. I expect she was there somewhere. The Doctor needs to have someone standing around looking gormless.
ZIPPY: Yeah. You’d know about that, Geoffrey.
GEORGE: Oh, Zippy. You’re such a tw*t.
BUNGLE: Well, I do know one thing. I don’t think I’d want to go on holiday to a place like Tranquility Spa.
GEOFFREY: Oh? Why not, Bungle? Are you worried about furry things that look even less realistic than you do?
BUNGLE: No! I haven’t got any swimming shorts that fit me!
ZIPPY: You walk around the house stark naked!
BUNGLE: Well, yes, but I put my pyjamas on at bedtime, don’t I?
GEORGE: That engineer was funny, wasn’t he? His little boy knew much more than him. I felt like that was trying to tell us something, but I can’t really work it out.
BUNGLE: Ooh, Geoffrey! Rod, Jane and Freddie know a song about dysfunctional family relationships, don’t they?
GEOFFREY: Yes, you’re right, Bungle. Do you know, I think I’ve got a cassette somewhere. I’ll see if I can fish it out. But before we listen to it, I think we’d better say goodbye, don’t you? [Through the fourth wall] We’ll see you again soon. Take care of yourselves. Goodbye!
Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror
‘I have a question for the floor. Why is it that, whenever Number Thirteen meets anyone famous, it takes half the episode for the penny to drop? Mistaken identity often enhances a narrative, but it jars when the pudding is overegged. Are we really supposed to believe that there isn’t a visual dictionary in the library, or that no one checks the readouts to see when and where they’ve actually landed? It’s happened twice this year, once with Ada Lovelace and once with the pioneering inventor who graced last night’s episode, and on both occasions the audience has been quicker on the uptake than the Doctor – who manages to wander into and escape from the Niagara Falls power station without having a clue that she’s in the presence of the man responsible for building it.
I’m not going to say that’s my only hang-up with this episode – we could also talk about the historical revisionism, the TARDIS crew’s apparent apathy to new wonders and situations and the sub-par villains (honestly, when did Doctor Who monsters get so dull?) but this was, perhaps, the first time this year it’s felt like we were actually watching the show as it used to be, for better or worse. Here’s a litmus test: you remove Whittaker from the equation and you substitute another Doctor and it still works. In this case, it’s quite easy to imagine Tesla happening with Tennant at the helm, perhaps in the company of the perenially clueless Martha. Certainly the story has that vibe to it: a world on the brink of destruction, the tortured nature of misunderstood genius and the hungry prejudice of a placard-carrying mob.
We might question why the Skithra opted for Tesla, rather than someone who’s actually going to understand the technology they’re throwing at him, but this was never really about them: it’s about Tesla and Edison and the rivalry between them. That Tesla is whitewashed while Edison is made something of a pariah should come as no great surprise to anyone, but it’s to Nina Metivier’s credit that she avoids turning the light bulb pioneer into an out-and-out villain: Edison gloats and generally behaves rather selfishly, but he also expresses remorse over the loss of his staff (“These were men with families!”), he doesn’t cut and run, he doesn’t try and sell out Tesla to the villain of the week, and at the end he extends a hand of friendship, even if he’s only following the money. A well-rounded supporting character. In Doctor Who. And there was me thinking we’d left those days behind.’