Thursday, 23 March 2017

CHRONOLOGIES AND TIMELINES: THE COMPLEX HISTORY OF PROFESSOR RIVER SONG

Technically, this essay is another special request. Quite some time ago, someone (and I can't remember who she was - if you're reading this, please come forward and make yourself known!) requested that I work out a chronological history of River Song's appearances on the show. 

It's a pretty big task. So I stalled for as long as possible! But, recently, Doctor Who Magazine made an attempt of their own to arrange River's timeline in a proper order. I only agreed with some of it and felt it wasn't comprehensive enough.

This, of course, spurred me on to finally meet with the request of this sadly-forgotten fan. I just had to do it right. Rather than let that article in DWM stand as the definitive attempt to sort out River Song's life! 



THE COMPLEX HISTORY OF RIVER SONG

No one has a more twisted and confusing timeline than our favorite futuristic archaeologist. This has, of course, made her all the more interesting of a character. Steven Moffat, however, does appear to have her timeline worked out in his own head. If we're watching closely enough, we can see that. Having viewed all of her stories in the order that I believe they should flow, I can see this actual timeline working quite nicely. I'm not entirely sure, of course, if my timeline is the same one that Moff envisioned. But, nonetheless, here goes:



WHERE DOES IT ALL BEGIN?

Okay, if we want to be as precise as possible, then we have to actually take some sort of stance in a long, ongoing debate between the Right to Life and Pro Choice camps. Truth be told, I'd rather not reveal what my real position is on this argument. But, just for the sake of pedantry, let's go all the way back to River's point of conception.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when Rory and Amy performed the deed. It could have happened between The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol. Or it could have occurred between A Christmas Carol and The Impossible Astronaut. As the Doctor, himself, has said: "It's not like they send up a balloon or something!". But, sometime during that period, River Song was conceived.

Which means that, if we want to take a certain stance on a delicate issue, life began for River Song sometime between Series 5 and Series 6. If we want to continue taking that stance, then she exists in her first form throughout The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Curse of the Black Spot, The Doctor's Wife and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. In all of those stories, she is gestating in Amy's womb. We don't know this, of course, until it's truly revealed at the end of The Almost People. Where we learn that Amy has been a flesh avatar the whole time and, in truth, has been in some kind of special incubation chamber. Lots of hints are given that this is going on - but most of us didn't truly clue in to this until those last few shocking minutes of Almost People 

So, throughout all of those stories, we are actually witnessing River's first timeline (if we want to be super-specific and slightly political). Naturally enough, we'll be returning to Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon several more times.


YOUNG RIVER (AKA: MELS)

Okay, let's now step up to what many of a different viewpoint would consider to be River's true first story. Just a short while before A Good Man Goes To War, River is born. She is only about a month old when we see her in this story. Of course, some more trickery is done with a flesh avatar and "infant River" is whisked off at the end of the story to begin her mental conditioning to become the Doctor's assassin. A Good Man Goes To War is another story where multiple versions of River exist. So, we'll be returning here again, too.

But first, we go back to Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon where we see a second version (or, possibly, a first - depending on your own personal beliefs on what constitutes life) of River Song. At this stage of the game - she appears to be just a little girl. Probably no older than Twelve. Most likely, younger. The Silence have begun trying to integrate her into her special astronaut suit that she will be wearing when she kills the Doctor. In Day of the Moon, she appears to break free of the suit. This does not seem to concern the Silence much. They allow her to escape - even though re-capturing her shouldn't be that hard.

It's my guess that the Kovarian Schism of the Silence just needed to prime the suit in some way. That River had to spend a little bit of time in the suit so it could key in to her specific DNA (or something of that nature), When they do come back to retrieve her in her third incarnation and send her to Lake Silencio - the suit will be ready to take control of her actions. So, even though she does escape in Day of the Moon, they're fine with that. They have what they need.

At the end of our beloved two-part Series 6 Opener, we see River's first incarnation initiate a regeneration. She turns into a young woman who will come to be known as Mels. Somehow, Mels seems capable of suspending her aging process. She induces the regeneration in New York in the late 60s and makes her way to Leadworth where she grows up with Rory and Amy in the 90s.

We see through a series of flashbacks in Let's Kill Hitler what Mels was like growing up. She is very violent and reckless. This is, most likely, a side effect of whatever mental conditioning was done to her during her first incarnation. It's also likely that the conditioning drove her to find Rory and Amy as children. She knew they would, eventually, lead her to the Doctor.

Another regeneration is induced fairly early on in Let's Kill Hitler and we see the version of River we know best. A very solid attempt is made on the Doctor's life that ends up failing. River is informed of her true destiny and uses up her remaining regenerations to save the Doctor (however many those may be - we don't know for sure since she is only half Time Lord - so, maybe, she had only half the number of regenerations a Time Lord is allotted). 

It is, at this point, that the Doctor gifts River with a diary. She will be able to use it from hereon in to work out where she is in relation to the Doctor's personal timeline. It will become an invaluable tool for her.




THE SECOND ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT:

We now get to the big moment: a path River is forced to take that will have a huge bearing on her personal freedom for a considerable period of time.

There is a nice coda to Let's Kill Hitler that shows River starting her studies at a university to become an archaeologist. We see her, again, at that university during a second coda in Closing Time. Madam Kovarian shows up while River is actually studying the Doctor's life and forces her back into the astronaut suit and places her at the bottom of Lake Silencio.

Temporally speaking, things get pretty complicated at this point. We see the full assassination during the opening of The Impossible Astronaut. A third (or, possibly, only second) version of River in this story emerges from the bottom of Lake Silencio and kills the Doctor. To all intents and purposes, this second assassination attempt is successful. The Silence is smart enough to make the whole event a fixed point in time (or a still point in time - not sure if there's a difference). So there is no way for the Doctor to avoid it.

There is, of course, a huge digression that happens during that moment in The Impossible Astronaut that we see play out in The Wedding of River Song. River attempts to resist killing the Doctor and creates a whole alternative timeline for a brief period. The Doctor, of course, eventually reveals that she doesn't actually murder him. But, rather, a teselecta version of him stands in his place for that fateful moment. Once she learns the truth of things, she allows the events of the Doctor's deadly assassination to resume.

To the Universe, in general, the Doctor is dead. River is incarcerated for his murder at the Stormcage Containment Facility.



RIVER'S PRISON SENTENCE - BEFORE SHE MUST BECOME A MYSTERY

This is, in some ways, the trickiest part of sorting out River's timeline. We have to listen carefully for various clues that tell us which order the stories involving her period of incarceration happen in.

Knowing the Doctor didn't really die, River accepts her sentence for murder and is sent off to a maximum security prison. The Doctor, of course, starts breaking in regularly and taking her out on all sorts of magnificent dates.We hear reference to a unique birthday gift involving Stevie Wonder and the Frost Fairs of the River Thames. We will also, in a subsequent story, hear about them going to Easter Island and getting to know Jim the Fish. During all this dating, River is getting better at figuring out the security system of her prison and starts breaking out all on her own from time-to-time.

She is, of course, dating a version of the Doctor from after the events of Wedding of River Song so he knows she must not get involved in the Battle at Demon's Run. Madame Kovarian must be allowed to steal the infant version of herself so that events can flow the way they do. Plus, the Doctor just knows that River is not involved in the fight until after it's done. So he tells her that Rory will, eventually, show up at Stormcage and ask her to participate in the battle. She must refuse the go with him. He also informs her that she must visit Demon's Run at some point after the fighting has concluded to explain to him that she is Rory and Amy's daughter.

At this point in time, A Good Man Goes To War occurs for the second version of River Song that's in this story (the first was her as a baby - if you'll recall). This is a tough story to place. It could happen at almost any point in her prison sentence timeline. I place it here based purely on the idea that,when we see her in Stormcage, River appears to be having a very romantic relationship with the Doctor. Whereas the next story in this timeline makes it clear to River that, from this point onward, she and the Doctor are no longer kissing.

Some like to point out that A Good Man Goes To War should happen after The Big Bang since River does confirm to Rory at the beginning of the episode that she's met him, before. But, if you look at the way her timeline is laid out: she met Rory a long time ago. Back when she was still Mels, in fact. From Rory's standpoint, they met for the first time in Big Bang. But River has, actually, known him for ages. He's just finally caught up with her.

I have a pet theory that the first scene with River in A Good Man Goes To War is one version of her. But that we're in an entirely different point in her timeline when we see her at the end of the story. We'll get to that in a bit...

The next story in this sequence is The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. This is where we see the fourth version of River Song (or, possibly, just the third). This is the version that shoots off the Doctor's cowboy hat and then goes to Lake Silencio with him to watch his death. Somehow, between Good Man and Astronaut/Moon something might have been done to River's memory. She doesn't seem to realize that's her in the astronaut suit. This could be a long-term effect of the mental conditioning that was done to her. She knows why she's in prison - she killed the Doctor. But she can no longer remember how exactly it happened. The Silence may have seen just how unstable she was and induced a memory loss of some sort so she couldn't try to travel back in time and interfere with her second assassination attempt. The Doctor seems to believe something was done to make her forget the attack at Lake Silencio as he is speaking to her in Wedding of River Song. However, it could be entirely possible that River does actually remember all this but is pretending not to. She does quite a bit of this.

The Doctor's first kiss with her at the end of Day of the Moon becomes a brutal milestone for River. She realizes, at this point, that she's dealing with a Doctor who no longer knows the full extent of their relationship. From hereon in, she must be very careful of anything she reveals about herself. Even worse, she knows she can no longer kiss the man she loves.



RIVER'S PRISON SENTENCE - AFTER SHE MUST BECOME A MYSTERY

The chronology becomes easier to work out again from this point, onward. This is due mainly to the fact that the next few stories make direct references to each other.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang is the next adventure that takes place. We know, of course, that it happens before Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone because River says at the end of their battle against the Weeping Angels that he will see her again, soon - when the Pandorica Opens. During Pandorica Opens, Amy talks to River about the Fall of the Byzantium. River tells her that hasn't happened to her, yet. This helps solidify the whole timeline even better. Thanks Moff for making this part easy!

So, just to be clear: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang happens next. After that, we get Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone.

Of course, we must also mention that we see a second version of River in The Wedding of River Song who appears near the end of the story. This one openly claims to have just finished climbing out of the Byzantium only moments earlier. She lets Amy and Rory know that the Doctor isn't truly dead. That they will see him again. She appears to have used her Time Agent Bracelet to make this trip. Somehow, she's keeping it hidden from the security systems of the Stormcage Containment Facility.

I also believe that, at this point, she makes another trip with her time bracelet back to Demon's Run. She arrives just after the big battle on the asteroid has concluded. Upon the Doctor's instructions during her early days of incarceration, she makes this trip to reveal to a past version of the Time Lord that she is Rory and Amy's daughter. So it is actually a third version of River that we see in her second scene of A Good Man Goes To War. One that comes from this time. I place that moment here because she is using a time bracelet to get to Demon's Run. She only acquires the device at the beginning of Pandorica Opens. So that fateful second scene of Good Man Goes To War must take place after the events of Pandorica Opens/Big Bang.

How's that for a ridiculously over-contrived attention to painstaking details?!

Shortly thereafter, the Doctor embarks on a mission to erase all records of himself from the Universe. This, of course, causes River's prison sentence to be revoked. How can she go to jail for the murder of a man who never existed?



FREE AGAIN -  BUT SOON TO DIE...

And so, River is allowed to roam the Universe, once more. She begins to get involved in all sorts of capers as she explores her career as an archaeologist. She's also managing a bit of time travel, here and there. Partly from the Time Agent's travel bracelet that she acquired and partly from secret hi-jacks of the TARDIS that the Doctor doesn't even know about.

She will, eventually, investigate the high level of time distortion going on in Manhattan during the 1930s. There, she runs into the Doctor for the first time since she's regained her freedom. The Angels Take Manhattan happens at this point. Amy gives firm instructions to her daughter to take care of the Doctor since she will never see him again. River nods affirmatively and we get the impression that the two of them do travel together for a bit in the TARDIS. But, eventually, River goes off on her own adventures, again.

At some point before she becomes entangled with King Hydroflax, River must write the Melody Malone novel that the Doctor will use in Manhattan to defeat the Weeping Angels. She will, somehow, get it to Amy in the 1930s. Amy will add an afterword and then publish it. River will, probably, get a copy of it and go back into the Doctor's timeline and slip it in the pocket of his blazer.

How River gets the manuscript to Amy isn't entirely certain. We're led to believe that the complex paradoxes surrounding the Williams' also makes it impossible for Professor Song to see her parents again. But we could be wrong. Or, perhaps, River just sent them the final draft of her book in the post.

As she accomplishes these last few tasks, River is getting nervous. She can see that the diary the Doctor gave her way back in Let's Kill Hitler is nearly full. She knows her end must be near. She has even heard rumors that her date with the Doctor at Singing Towers of Darillium will be her last one. She will die shortly, thereafter.

The Husbands of River Song happens next. Much to her surprise, she learns of a new incarnation of her husband that she didn't know existed. She also learns that nights on Darillium last twenty-four years. She and the Doctor have a protracted final date before she must leave him and face her doom.

On that date, of course, he gifts her a sonic screwdriver.



DEATH AND RE-BIRTH:

And now, at last, in that beautifully contrived way, River's first adventure becomes her last.

Sort of...

After a long rich, history with multiple incarnations, she encounters the Doctor in his Tenth Incarnation on the planet of the Library. The events of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead transpire. To all intents and purposes, River appears to be dead. Only in a last-minute epiphany, does the Doctor realize what his future self must have done with that sonic screwdriver he gave her on Darillium. He is able to save her to the Library' hard drive where she lives on as a sort of digital ghost.

That digital ghost makes one last appearance through a shared dream with Clara and the Paternoster Gang that eventually leads her to the Doctor back in his Eleventh Incarnation. The Name of the Doctor takes place at this point. They have a very touching reunion where the Doctor reveals just how deep his love goes for her. That he hasn't gone back to the Library to see her because it's just too painful for him. He even claims to see her all the time.

We can't say for sure that her timeline is truly done, yet. River points out that the Doctor still has a live feed with her. Which may have been just something to indicate that Clara is still alive even though she's plunged into the "scar" his death has left in the Time/Space Continuum. Or, it could point to something more.

That, maybe, River will appear to him again sometime in his future.

We'll have to wait and see...



I think that sorts out everything. This has, easily, proven to be the most difficult CHRONOLOGIES AND TIMELINES essay that I have ever written. Hope it didn't give you a headache!!   











Wednesday, 15 March 2017

SECOND ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL!!!

It's hard to believe I'm still keeping this thing going on a regular basis after two solid years. But here we are: celebrating the second anniversary of Pretentious Doctor Who Essays. 

I've decided to post the second part of a series of articles I wrote for a fanzine a friend of mine was making way back in the day. It's, basically, a biographical piece that details how I first discovered the show when I was but a young lad. It discusses that most pivotal of events in a new fan's life: handling your first regeneration!  


Whocology 101:   An Introduction to the Greatest TV Show, Ever!

Episode Two:   "The times they are a-changin'..."                 

                                                                                                                       

In my continuing mission to present the Television Program "Doctor  Who" to the unschooled, I will maintain my format of simply recounting to you how I discovered the show.    For some reason, folks seem to like the "biographical edge" I'm adding to this presentation of dry facts and figures!  
         
Just in case you missed my first installment: I explained that I initially came into contact with this quirky British series when I was but a young lad of Twelve or so - growing up in the bordertown of Windsor, Ontario. I'd watched my first few episodes on a weird local channel that came out of Detroit. Having relished the deadly efficiency of a well-aimed hat in the tale: Destiny of the Daleks, I was now sold on the idea that this strange mysterious traveler known only as the Doctor might become my greatest hero.   

The biggest problem was, of course, that the Doctor really was mysterious.    Not just in the way the character was being portrayed, but the premise of the series completely boggled me, at times.   If nothing else, I really needed it explained to me how this big white gleaming control room could fit into this tiny blue telephone booth!    What was the whole science behind that?!
   
But there were greater questions than that (how the console room fits in the phone booth, by the way, never really did get properly explained!).   The Doctor was this tall, curly-haired madman with bulging eyes and a ridiculously long scarf.     But he was, very obviously, brilliant.   Far too brilliant, in fact.   I was getting the impression  that, even though he looked human, he was an alien of some sort.  What kind of alien was he?    Where did he come from?    Why had he chosen to become a sort of intergalactic crime-fighter?  These were all things I wanted to learn.... 

I was lucky to discover that this attractive blond woman he was travelling with also hailed from the same alien race. As I continued following the show on the weird Detroit channel, I learnt that both the Doctor and the attractive blond (named Romana) were known as Time Lords. And that the impossibly large phone box that they stepped in and out on a regular basis was a TARDIS. A craft capable of taking them to any point in time and space.
  
This was established to me through various bits of passing dialogue.    And though it still didn't tell me much, it was enough to keep me going.    The premise was definitely cool: advanced aliens flitting around through time and space in a really eccentric manner. As they did, they righted wrongs and defeated evil menaces wherever they went. They were also very witty and articulate about it as they did!  
            
I decided I would just keep watching the show and try to pick up odds and ends about the Doctor's background whenever it came up in throwaway dialogue.    It was the only way I could learn about the series, really.  Bear in mind, this is the early 80s. There may have been some sort of internet already floating around out there.   But, by no means, was it particularly accessible to a 12-year-old boy who wanted to learn about some cheap-looking British sci-fi series.   So I couldn't get all my questions answered with a few clicks of a mouse as we do, nowadays. 
            
Which was alright, really. Something I discovered, quite quickly, was that part of what makes Doctor Who so fun is that it has a very "shadowy" mythos behind it. Even now, there's really not all that much we know about the title character. And the more mysterious he remains, the more charm he seems to wield.   
            
So those early days of not really knowing what this Doctor fellow was all about had a unique sort of piquancy to it. Instead of trying to load us down with all kinds of ridiculous expository dialogue like a lot of other science fiction TV shows do, Doctor Who allowed its viewer to just sit back and enjoy the adventure. The facts, in many ways, were somewhat irrelevant.    Just have fun watching this zany character actor, Tom Baker, portray an eccentric alien who continuously wanders inadvertently into danger and ends up saving the day through all kinds of creative improvisations.  
            
In many ways, there is no better way to enjoy a science-fiction television program.
            
Nonetheless, the geographical location I grew up in provided me with an excellent convenience. Living in the Windsor area meant I received television signals from Ontario, Michigan and parts of Ohio.   Within a month or two of finding the series on the weird local Detroit station, I also discovered that Public Broadcasting Stations loved to show Doctor Who. It was, in fact, one of their best money-makers during pledge time.  Now, had I been living in any other area, I would've had only one PBS station servicing me. But living in Windsor meant I could watch Doctor Who from PBS stations that came from Canada and the States.   
            
Basically, this meant there was a glorious time during my adolescence when I could watch Doctor Who on four or five different stations a week!
            
By some sheer coincidence, these stations were all running, more or less, the same era of the show as I started watching it.   It was Tom Baker as the Doctor, Lalla Ward as Romana (yes, that's really the name the actress used!) and their silly robot dog, K9.    Though I had found an article or two in some sci-fi magazines that talked about how old the series was, I had always assumed that this was the "basic line-up" for the show: the Doctor, Romana and K9 travelling through time and space together.            
            
And then, suddenly, the most incredible thing happened: 
            
The Doctor changed.   
            
I'm not talking a minor change, either.    That had already happened.    I had noticed that Tom Baker had radically altered both his costume and his portrayal during the last few stories I had watched (what I would, later, learn to be Season 18). I had also noticed a few other signposts that a big change was to come.    Romana and K9 had left the Doctor - and a young mathematical genius named Adric had climbed aboard.
    
But nothing could prepare me for the size of the change that had awaited me, this time. 
            
I had neglected watching one of the channels that was showing Doctor Who for a few weeks.   It was running the show on a night when I was, generally, enjoying the social life a teenage boy is meant to have (although a tremendous geek at heart, I was still blessed with the ability to inter-relate with other people who weren't into the weird "cultish things" I enjoyed!).  But it happened, one time, that my social plans during that particular night of the week were cancelled and I was stuck at home.  So I decided to see how the series was coming along on that particular channel.  
            
I could not imagine the surprise that awaited me as I tuned in that night.    
            
The story opened with Tom Baker lieing on the ground - not looking in a very good way.    Oddly enough, he didn't seem bruised or battered - but his performance seemed to insinuate that he knew he wasn't much longer for the world.   
            
"What the hell?!"   I immediately remarked to myself,  "Is the Doctor about to die?!"
            
Some people gathered around his prone figure.   I only recognized one of them. It was Adric - the mathematical boy genius.   The two women with him were unknown to me.   
            
There was some rushed dialogue between the Doctor's three friends and then Tom Baker closed his eyes for the final time.    I was now seriously freaking out.   This great sci-fi series that I had discovered had just killed off its main character.   What the hell was going on?!     
            
And then, something really amazing happened.  
            
This strange white figure appeared in the distance and walked towards Tom Baker's dead body.    One of these two women that I didn't know suddenly uttered:   "The Watcher.   He was the Doctor all the time!"    And then the white guy merged with Tom and the two of them, in some cheap 80s special effect, transformed into an entirely new person.
            
My jaw hit the floor.    
            
The Doctor was suddenly being played by a new actor. 
            
An actor who wasn't the slightest bit like Tom Baker.     Well, he was equally tall.    But that's where the similiarities ended.     This new bloke was called Peter Davison.    He had straight blond hair and looked nearly 20 years younger than Tom.   
            
It wasn't just the physical characteristics that made him different. All the mannerisms had changed too.   This new  Doctor seemed intensely neurotic and far more vulnerable than Tom ever was.    And while Tom always seemed to be the person in charge in all his scenes (even when he was busy playing the buffoon), Peter seemed to get bullied about quite easily.     Particularly by this mouthy Australian air-hostess he'd recently taken on as his companion.   
            
All this sent me into the deepest state of shock, of course.    A mental state that, apparently, all fans of the show go into when they witness this weird metabolic process that the show's format refers to as a regeneration (or, at least, that's what it calls it, these days) for the first time.  Apparently, every so often, the Doctor must induce one of these regenerations in order to prolong his existence.  Sometimes it's just due to the fact that he's growing too old.    Other times, it's because he's fatally ill from a virus or radiation poisoning.    Other times still,  he's been brutally injured from a great fall or a surgical accident that pierced his extra heart.  There was even one time he had to regenerate cause he fell off an excercise bike!  But this was another part of the show's established mythos that I was only just beginning to familiarize myself with.    And I had to admit: I was getting acquainted with it in the most brutal of ways.  
            
Had I been  a teen in Brittain, where the show is a huge cultural icon, someone else might have given me the nod and let me know that Tom Baker's Doctor was soon to die.   But living where I was meant that being a Doctor Who fan made you a bit of an island onto yourself. There weren't a whole lot of people who were even familiar with the show.    And many who were, had dismissed it as being "too silly" because of its poor budget.   
            
So I had to face my first regeneration all on my own. Completely unprepared. I had very much fallen in love with this show through the wild interpretation Tom Baker had given to the role. But that had been suddenly and harshly ripped away from me. His Doctor was gone - never to return.  And this new guy ... this Peter Davison, was the man in charge of the TARDIS. It was not going to be easy accepting him, of course. Particularly since one of the first things he did was tear up Baker's simply magnificent twenty-foot-long scarf!   
            
Fortunately, one of the pre-requisites of casting the Doctor was to hire someone positively brilliant.    And good 'ole Petey Davison was no exception to the rule.  As his first story concluded, my fierce loyalty to Tom was already being put aside.  I liked this new guy.   He had a very different sort of charm to him that made him very amiable. And it was kinda neat to see him so much more sensitive and aware of both himself and his environment than Tom had been. As Peter stuck that fateful piece of celery to his lapel and climbed into his poorly-landed TARDIS, I had decided he was as much the Doctor as Tom had been. Perhaps even more. Because this was a Doctor I would be following right from his very beginnings.    Whereas I had stepped in on Tom's reign while it had been nearing its end. I would feel all the more connected to this new Doctor because I had witnessed his birth.     In fact, I probably consider Peter more "my Doctor" than Tom because it was through his travels that I really got to know the ins and outs of the series. I might have started with Tom - but Peter was really the one who took me along on the journey.  
            
And as my initial shock subsided, I also realized another key element in the effectiveness of this television series. In any other show, a huge dependence rested on the stars of the program. They were a vital ingredient to its success.  This was particularly true of a lot of the American TV that I was watching.  I had seen any number of US shows face cancellation within weeks after a main actor was written out and the audience was not able to accept the replacement.  Some had gone on to survive, of course.  But very few.  
            
But in Doctor Who, this appeared to be a vital ingredient.    Not only did companions come and go on a regular basis (some, as I would soon find out, even died!).  But the Doctor, himself, could change in the blink of an eye.  No specific "name" could ever be all that firmly attached to the series because no specific "name" was ever allowed to stay throughout the entire course of  Doctor Who's long history. This applied to both on-camera and behind the scenes. As I would later learn, the show's various eras were, oftentimes, divided by the reigns of various producers that had worked on the series. So even the ultimate creative force behind the show was replaced on a regular basis.  
            
In the simplest of terms: in Doctor Who - the show is king.    And all the people involved with it are but its humble subjects.  Serving their ruler for a period of time and then being sent along to other projects when their presence was no longer needed. Some servants stayed on longer than others.  Some were respected and appreciated more than others. But, ultimately, the continuation of the series was the most important thing.    And one of the things that helped it stay alive was the fact that a stream of new talent was constantly being fed into the creative team while the old talent slowly but surely moved on to other things.     
            
This basic principle has always been one of the things that makes the show so much more vital and downright entertaining than most of the other stuff that's out there.    And even as a young adolescent, I recognized this quality (perhaps more subconsciously than consciously) and appreciated it enormously.  
            
Doctor Who always has been and always will be about change.    And I can see no better crux to put the central basis of your television series on. 



Want to see what Part 3 will cover? Hang around for another year! 

Want to read Part 1? Here you go: 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

UNADULTERATED BOORISH OPINION: UNSUNG CLASSICS - PART 2

I decided that, since I did an UNSUNG CLASSICS post on a Classic Series story, I needed to equalize things and talk about a New Series story, too. So, here we are: doing another UNADULTERATED BOORISH OPINION essay to re-dress the balance (it could be entirely possible that I also just really enjoy doing these and wanted to do another one!). 


The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon


The Doctor dies.    He doesn't, simply, regenerate (though an attempt is made).  He flat-out drops dead and ceases existing.    It's the moment we've all dreaded to see: our hero falling, once and for all.   And it all happens within the first ten minutes of an entire new season.     Never has Doctor Who done a bolder a thing.

Though this is a mind-blowingly effective way to grab our attention, it is far more important that the rest of the story is as equally-compelling.   And that is what truly makes Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon the masterpiece that it is.   Its breath-taking first few moments could have completely overshadowed everything else had the rest of the plot not been just as exciting.    But Moffat is fully aware of this potential pitfall and skirts around it beautifully with a storyline that never stops delivering.   

The whole adventure, for the most part, moves at breakneck speed .  Making only a few brief stops to enjoy wonderful character moments like Rory listening to his wife profess her love to someone and wondering who she's truly talking to.   Or River lamenting the non-linear nature of her relationship with the Doctor.   

It also actually manages to drop a few more bombs along the way. Amy revealing that she's pregnant or the fake deaths of the Ponds and River Song in the pre-titles of Day of the Moon are almost as shocking as that opening sequence at Lake Silencio.  

We also get a new race of creatures that, even though they work in a similar manner to the Weeping Angels, somehow don't feel like a cheap rip-off.   In fact, they are almost as iconic and memorable as the Angels.    And they are definitely just as creepy!  

This is the chief reason Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon ranks so high in my books.   It not only does the most unthinkable thing you can do in Doctor Who - it also remembers to make the rest of plot just as damned good.   If not better.   The fact that it does so for not just one but two full episodes makes me truly stand up and applaud Moffat.    He is the master story-teller that many make him out to be.   And, while Blink and Empty Child/Doctor Dances or even Eleventh Hour all seem to get higher praise from most of fandom, I think this is truly Steven Moffat at his best.    Because he gives himself the greatest challenge as a writer and then lives up to it. And such an act deserves far greater appreciation than it seems to be getting.  
            
But living up to a challenge is not the only positive attribute in this tale that deserves honorable mention in this review.    There's so much more....
            
Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon uses many of the conventions that Moffat is famous for.    We've got a timey-whimey, non-linear central premise.    A monster that plays upon primal fears.    Some naughty double-entendres that almost cause the story to lose its "suitable for family viewing" status.  We've even got another script in which a child has a prominent role in the cast.  While we've seen Moffat play with all these of elements before, he does it most deftly in this tale.    And this is because he needs to make way for a new convention that we haven't really seen him use in Who before - he's actually giving the story a bit of a soap-opera feel.  
            
Soap operas are as popular as they are because they take great time to focus on the relationships between all the characters.  They make those relationships suitably turbulent so that we can't help but become totally engrossed in them.   In most other forms of story-telling - the relationships serve the plot.   But in soaps, we see the reverse: the plot serves the relationships.   
            
And Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon puts far more emphasis on relationships than other Moffat stories have.    Even the underlying story-arch in Series Five of Amy trying to make up her mind over the Doctor or Rory is very much kept in the shadows most of the time.   But, suddenly, Series Six seems to totally change emphasis.    We constantly take breaks to see what's going on between Rory and Amy or the Doctor and River Song.    But never at the expense of the plot.    Unlike the RTD days - where the soap opera element is far too prominent - Moffat knows exactly how to use this device.   Not just in the season opener, but in the rest of the season as well.   But he does this so well in this story that even in the action-packed final minutes of the tale, we are just as excited to hear Amy call Rory "stupid face" as we are to see the Doctor take down the Silence.  
            
Although, let's talk about those final moments a bit more.    The Doctor finally "taking down the bad guy" is often my favorite part of a Who story.   Even in something like Timelash, I still like watching the Doctor cry out "Nobody loves you!    Nobody needs you!   Nobody cares!" as he hurls that nasty Borad into the Kontron Tunnel!   Those sequences in Who where Good triumphs over Evil and rubs its face in it a bit are always enjoyable for me.   In some instances, they're even enough to cause a weaker story to rise a bit in my appreciation of it.    If that climactic scene where the Doctor tells off a bad guy and then hands him his just-desserts is well done - it can really save the whole adventure.  
            
Astronaut/Moon's victorious villain tell-off moment is, without a doubt, the best of its kind.   The Doctor's total confidence as he offers the Silence a chance to surrender is played pitch-perfect by Smith.    The dialogue he's given to create that smugness is perfect, too.    Of course, the way the rest of the TARDIS crew plays off of him just adds to the wonder of it all.    River Song is hilarious as she, somehow, causes her death threats to sound like proclamations of love  for the Doctor.   And I laugh at Amy's "Is this important flirting..." line no matter how many times I watch the episode.    The whole thing is a masterpiece, really.  
            
The fact that the Doctor uses a "hoisted by their own petards" technique to defeat the Silence is the icing on the cake, here.   In fact, this is one of my favorite methods of seeing the villain get taken down.   Sadly, creating this sort of conflict resolution can be a very tricky piece of writing. So we only see it come along so often in the show. On some occasions, it's not even all that well-handled.   The ending of New Earth, for instance, uses a similar principle.    But folks weren't so excited about that one!    But here we have to stand in awe of Moffat's wonderful way of causing the Silence's own powers to bring about their demise.    It's a really brilliant piece of writing.   That Smith and all the other actors in the scene understand that they've got something really good here and play it to absolute perfection just makes it all the more awesome.  
            
But, of course, the brilliant ending of The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is only one of its many great elements.    There are so many other great things that this story accomplishes.    All those lovely twists and turns in the plot, the super-creepy monsters, the actual death of the Doctor, even the comic relief of Richard Nixon coming along every so often to bail out our protagonists are wonderful attributes to this story.   But let's not forget that this tale also sets up a whole slew of delightful mysteries that will, slowly but surely, get solved throughout the course of the season.   The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is not only a piece of magnificence, it also lays some wonderful foundations.    Without a doubt, one of the best season openers Doctor Who has ever produced.      


AFTERTHOUGHTS: WHY IT'S NOT AS WELL-APPRECIATED AS IT SHOULD BE

I think that, while Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is a great thing when it stands up on its own, there's some stuff that occurs after it was shown that has lessened its effectiveness.

Series Six, itself, is very complicated. Even Moff admits he may have made it too contrived. To be honest, I love a really a complex story arch like the one Series Six had, but I can see the point others are trying to make. It is possible to go too far with how you're layering your stories. Which means that the Series Opener gets lumped in with the rest of the season. It may have been brilliant and pretty straightforward in the way it presents itself - but it's now considered just part of the over-complexity. And, because of that, it's not as revered as well as it should be.

The second major factor that depreciates its value is the fact that it involved the Doctor feeling certain that he's going to die. It's the first time we've seen this in the New Series and it's handled magnificently. But, in a short while, we'll see Time of the Doctor roll out. Once more, the Doctor is sure he's going to perish. And then, again, in The Magician's Apprentice/Witch's Familiar, he's convinced he's about to meet his end. The Doctor facing his ultimate demise has happened just a little too frequently over the last few seasons. Again, Astronaut/Moon becomes part of this problem and we remember it less fondly because of it. We shouldn't, really. But, somehow, its shine is dulled.

So, really, if we can just forget what comes afterwards then we can appreciate this story for the gem that it is.





All right. Balance is restored. We can move away from UNADULTERATED BOORISH OPINION essays for a bit. In fact, let's get ready for Pretentious Doctor Who Essays' Second Anniversary Celebration.