Here is a special series under the BOORISH OPINION category that I'm going to greatly enjoy writing. It's a pretty well-known fact among my fan friends that I like to think for myself. That, regardless of how the rest of fandom feels about a certain matter, if I see things differently - then I am very vocal about it. Some even refer to me as the Great Contrarian.
What fandom probably doesn't want to know is that a lot of the general opinions that I hear from them I find to be poorly thought through. If they had just stopped to ponder how they see things a little bit longer they would have realized their point was feeble. Unfortunately, they stated the first idea that came to their minds. Other fans who also didn't want to think things through a bit agreed with it. And, suddenly, we have a weak idea that is being accepted by many as something valid. Thanks to the internet, an opinion that hasn't been properly considered can spread like wildfire and become part of Popular Fan Consensus within a very short period of time.
So, every now and again, I am going to write something like this that tackles an issue that many fans hold to be a Sacred Truth but I feel has actually been ill-considered. I will also try to address certain trends that I see in the critical thinking of General Fan Consensus that seem to appear over and over. In fact, I'm going to look at one of these trends, right now:
THE SILLINESS OF GENERAL FAN CONSENSUS:
PART 1: "SEEING PATTERNS IN THINGS THAT AREN'T THERE"
Oh, how right the Eighth Doctor was as he watched the inaccurate news broadcast in the 96 Telemovie. We humans seem to be experts at finding and believing in the fictitious elements of any situation. While ignoring a simple truth that seems to be presenting itself quite clearly in front of us.
Fans of a cult series seem to be even worse for this. We pick something apart and claim to see things that weren't there at all. But we're certain we've found something and we have to share it with everyone. Amazingly enough, other fans seem to pick up on it, too. Before you know it, a widely-held belief has developed. And everyone is perpetuating it without really stopping to think about what they're saying.
MAKING MATCHES THAT DON'T REALLY MATCH
The "Seeing Patterns In Things That Aren't There" phenomenon breaks down even more. Fans participate in this process in many different ways. The one I want to focus in on for this particular essay is the "It's Just Like Something Else But It Isn't, Really" Observation.
Every now and again, a new episode has a story element in it that causes it to ever-so-vaguely resemble another tale of some sort. Sometimes, it's a previous Doctor Who story. Sometimes, it's something else entirely. But, because of this ever-so-vague resemblance, fans start crying "Re-tread!" or "Rip-off!" or something to that effect. Basically, the writer is horrible because they completely stole their plot from another source.
One of my favorite examples of this in recent years was when The Shakespeare Code came out. Certain fans swore that it was just Harry Potter all over again. Yes, it did reference Harry Potter twice - but, otherwise, that's pretty much where the similarities ended. These were witches, not wizards. Yes, they cast spells - but in a totally different way than the characters in Potter did. Potter characters tended to utter weird "latinesque" phrases when summoning their powers. Whereas the witches spoke in verse. We even, eventually, see that the Doctor debunks the Magic in Shakespeare Code by pointing out that it is still actually a science. Whereas Potter swears to its bitter end that magic is real. None of the major characters in Shakespeare Code are kids. Nor does the story take place anywhere near a school.
And yet, fans swore it was a total Potter rip-off. Because both stories seem to use magic as part of its central premise. Using that same logic, we can claim that people and cats are exactly the same because they both drink water. Yup, people and cats have a few things in common (more than just the fact that we both drink water, actually). But I would still say that a cat is very different from a human being. But, apparently, fans can greatly dislike logic or common sense. If they want to complain about something being unoriginal - they will jump all over it. It takes only the vaguest of similarities to incense them.
A MORE RECENT EXAMPLE
Okay, so now let's get to the most recent example of the "It's Just Like Something Else But Isn't" Observation that I've seen occur. This is what finally sparked me off and made me decide to write this. I'm just going to say it right away in a poignant single-sentence paragraph:
The Monks and the Silence are not completely the same thing.
As we reached the end of Series Ten's mid-season 3-parter, I kept hearing people saying over and over in fan forums: "Moffat is running out of ideas! The Monks and the Silence are identical to each other!" Even personal friends who enjoy the show were making this claim in conversations. I really couldn't believe how little thought people were putting in to this observation. It was like they were just looking for a quick easy complaint. It seemed as if they were trying look insightful without actually having to employ a whole lot of thought.
So, let's get the important point out of the way: it's not like there are absolutely no similarities between the Monks and the Silence. Yup, both races claim to be influencing humanity throughout their entire history. I get it. That's definitely something they share in common. Just like Harry Potter and Shakespeare Code both have magic. Just like cats and humans both drink water. But that's, pretty much, where the similarities end.
Fandom would have you believe differently, of course. That Moffat can't come up with new aliens anymore so he's doing a re-tread. Let's take a closer look at this notion, then.
JUST HOW MANY DIFFERENCES THERE REALLY ARE
Okay, let's start with timescales. That's where we'll find our first major difference. While the Silence gets mentioned all over the place in Series Five, we don't meet any members of the movement til the beginning of Series Six. At first, all we're meeting are the Priests that delete themselves' from human memory the moment you turn your back on them. These creatures claim right in The Impossible Astronaut (the very first episode we see them) that they've been working this secret agenda throughout the course of human history. It's their biggest bragging right, really. In the end, it becomes the source of their undoing.
The Monks, however, don't start making this claim til their final episode. Before then, the agenda they're working is the exact reverse principle of the Silence's plan. They're more concerned about our future and what sort of role they can play in it. It's only after dominion has been surrendered to them that this whole new false history has been inserted into the human consciousness that asserts that the Monks have been with us all this time.
Which leads us to our next crucial difference between Monks and Silence. The Silence are quite happy to admit that they've been up to no good while they were meddling with our past. That their agenda has been one that advances them but exploits us. Again, it's the exact opposite with the Monks. They're saying that they've been with us the whole time but it's been to help us grow and evolve. That, in fact, their whole influence on us has come from a completely selfless motive. That they just want to do some good in our lives.
And now we reach the most crucial of differences between our two alien species. The one that I find really makes a fan sound dumb when they say things like: "Oh my God! The Monks and the Silence are totally the same!" When the Silence claim that they've been guiding us along throughout our entire history - they're actually telling the truth. Whereas the Monks were completely lying. They had only recently invaded us and then created a false past that we were collectively believing in. See the huge, gigantic difference there, kids? Silence - really did it. Monks - didn't. I don't think you can create a larger difference, really.
That last glaring difference, of course, means that the Doctor must also dispatch these two enemies in an entirely different manner. Because the Silence really had been ruling us throughout our entire history, the Doctor had to use that against them and wake up the humans to their secret oppressors so that they would declare war against them. In the case of the Monks, he just had to dispel their illusion. So even the way in which the two races are defeated are different from each other.
Again, I will admit: there is one core similarity between the Monks and the Silence. That can't be denied. But it doesn't make them complete copies of each other. If that were the case, then the Silence is actually a total rip-off of the Jagaroth. And the Jagaroth is a total rip-off of the Daemons. Since all of these species claim to have been meddling with humanity's development since the Dawn of their Creation.
Fans, I think, need to remind themselves' that science fiction has certain tropes that get re-used from time-to-time (which is the whole essence of a trope, really). If fun and original things can be done with that trope then there is no harm in dipping again from that particular well. I believe that was the case with the storyline that gets created in The Lie of the Land. If you don't feel that was achieved - I'm okay with that. But please don't claim the Silence and the Monks were identical. That's lazy critical thinking. See the difference, there?
I hope you do. And I hope that the next time a trope gets re-explored in the series - you see the difference then, too (unless, of course, it is a legitimate re-hash). Rather than just screaming "Re-tread!" because of a few minor similarities. It's quite annoying when you do that. And it makes you seem quite dim.
Well, that was a fun rant. I'll steer away from opinion pieces for a bit. Particularly since I did just pick on fandom. And fandom is meant to be my actual audience! Mustn't bite the hand that feeds you too hard!