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Blue Stripes

September 2012

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Blue Stripes

Two observations about Doctor Who and Torchwood and their showrunners

Just re-watching some old episodes here, including one of my favourites, Turn Left. And two things struck me, about Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. Now, I know that there are fervent camps on either side of the divide, but I'll admit, I'm agnostic about the whole thing. I think they each have their strengths and their weaknesses. There are MANY SPOILERY SPOILER THINGS IN THE SPOILERY BIT BELOW THIS NOT-VERY-SPOILERY BIT UP HERE. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN S4 OF THE REBOOTED DOCTOR WHO, AND DON'T WANT SPOILERS, DON'T KEEP READING. SAME GOES FOR THE END OF TIME AND TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH. DON'T SAY YOU WEREN'T WARNED.

NO, REALLY, SPOILERS (Sweetie)! :)

My first observation is that much of what I hear in complaints about Moffat's Eleventh Doctor seasons can, to some extent, be laid at the door of Mr. Davies. Consider: the final Davies efforts:

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End: the stakes are literally the universe, with billions of Daleks holding the pistol to the puppy's head.

The End of Time: Stop the Master, or the Time Lords will come back, and this time, it's PERSONAL. That is, the stakes are: the universe, with the Time Lords holding the pistol, et c..

Children of Earth: The terrible drug addict aliens are back, and if we don't let them snort our children, they'll exterminate the human race! That is, from a solipsistic human p-o-v, the stakes are the universe, with the 456 holding the pistol, et c..

Each of these is the note RTD chose to go out on. His penchant for always having to keep raising the stakes would make him a lethally bad or extremely lucky poker player, but it means that you're left, when the Doctor/Torchwood/someone saves the day when the stakes were so high, wondering: Now what do I do for an encore to that?

RTD chose to go out, in each case, with a story that pushed the risks to 11 - which made for some interesting TV, granted, but it meant that Moffat had nowhere to go but up. One of the rules I learned as a director in community theatre is that if you start at a high point, you've got nowhere to go, that is, if your scene has to peak with a huge fit of anger, you can't start the scene there and work only upwards, or your peak will be out of your reach.

Discuss amongst yourselves. Don't be rude.

Second observation: much of what irritates me about the endings of RTD's big go-big-and-go-home shows has been the lack of agency. Taking Donna's memory away, after the Doctor-Donna hybrid thing. Why not just ask her? "Hey, Donna, I need to wipe all this out of your memory, or the universe will end, is that okay?" And she gets to say, "Well, I don't like it, but the universe ending, so, okay." It's not much agency, but it'd make it a lot less...rapey?

Similarly, at the end of Children of Earth, when Jack sacrifices his grandson Steven (who looks, btw, eerily like my cousin, also named Steven, did at that age) to defeat the 456. Again: why not just ask him? Why not just say, "Hey, Steven, look, I know this really blows, but we have a way of saving the entire Earth here, every single human there is, but it's going to cost your life. Would you do it?"

If he says no, well, then they force him, as they did. But it's a freaking STORY. We can write it how we like. Wouldn't it have been glorious and blubworthy and awesome if they'd written it so the kid got to be brave, and choose?

Okay, that's your two topics. Be nice to each other, and to me, but express yourselves.


I think most people find it far easier to imagine that one would do something terrible to someone else for the greater good than to believe an individual would willingly agree to have something terrible inflicted upon themselves for the greater good. I suspect this may be especially true for reasonably well off, white, cis, otherwise privileged men, who for all they may claim to know nothing of privilege, in my experience have a pretty good "innate" sense of "My well being and wants and needs will be met at others' cost rather than my own cost".
I said exactly the same thing about grandson Steven when that aired. I was sorta frothing at the mouth about it. Because it would have been TRIVIALLY EASY for Jack to convince Steven to "volunteer" to be a hero.

And then the pain would have hit.

And he'd have been crying and screaming that he didn't mean it, he took it back, and begging for his mother.

Rather like a WWI doughboy when the mustard gas hit.

And it would have been amazingly blubworthy and affecting and hit like a punch to the gut, and I still would have been angry at Jack, but not angry over the SAME THING, and I would have liked the whole thing a lot better, instead of being in a "Story: UR DOIN IT RONG" rage for a week after.

Same thing applies to Donna although I don't have as clear a rewrite in my head.