The best things I’ve read recently (19/11/2016)

Men’s day comes to parliament with hilarious results, China’s selective refugee policy and some worrying rumours about Dr Who

Men of the Commons leave Men’s Day debate to the women by John Crace (the Guardian)

Conservative Paul Beresford was also keen to stand up for men, though he began by insisting he was a feminist because he had a wife and daughters. “Men tend to find themselves at the very top or the very bottom of the ladder,” he observed, a point rather contradicted by his own mediocrity. “We’re encouraging women to be scientists and company directors, so we must do more to help men be hairdressers and tea ladies,” he went on to say, before adding: “I think of the male suicide rate every time I hold the door open for a lady.” As non sequiturs go, that takes some beating.

The upper Han: who is Chinese? (the Economist)

China’s Han-centred worldview extends to refugees. In a series of conflicts since 2009 between ethnic militias and government forces in Myanmar the Chinese government has consistently done more to help the thousands escaping into China from Kokang in Myanmar, where 90% of the population is Han, than it has to aid those leaving Kachin, who are not Han. Non-Chinese seem just as beguiled by the purity of Han China as the government in Beijing. Governments and NGOs never suggest that China take refugees from trouble spots elsewhere in the world. The only large influx China has accepted since 1949 were also Han: some 300,000 Vietnamese fled across the border in 1978-79, fearing persecution for being “Chinese”. China has almost completely closed its doors to any others. Aside from the group from Vietnam, China has only 583 refugees on its books. The country has more billionaires.

Doctor Who Casting Rumors Have Us Scratching Our Heads by Kyle Anderson (Nerdist)

According to The Mirror‘s source:

“BBC management wants a return to the format from the David Tennant era, when you had a dashing male lead and young female companion.

“Merchandising has dropped off sharply in recent years and there is a strong desire to boost the show’s popularity among kids.”

Now, I have a lot of opinions about this, and most of them are to call this utter hogwash. Want some bullet points? Great!

  • The show hasn’t been on for a full calendar year. You want to wonder why merchandising has dropped? Maybe because there’s no show to get people excited about new adventures and new monsters to turn into toys.
  • I haven’t seen nearly the amount of toys and merchandise surrounding the Capaldi era as I did with the deluge surrounding Matt Smith.
  • Also, Matt Smith’s tenure culminated in the 50th Anniversary, when global interest in the show was at an all time high.
  • Pearl Mackie hasn’t even fucking been on the show yet! How can you already say they she’s not going to connect with kids if all of we’ve seen of her is a two minute teaser?
  • The idea of a “return to the format from the David Tennant-era” is incredibly short-sighted and regressive. If there’s one thing the show doesn’t need, it’s a formula that has become so passe.
  • Whether or not Capaldi (who is 58) will vacate the role following series 10, the one thing the BBC absolutely cannot do is have more of the same regarding casting choices. There badly needs to be a shakeup in terms of who plays the Doctor–i.e., not a white guy–and while the source doesn’t say “white” regarding the dashing Tennant-esque Doctor, it shows a clear desire not to think outside the box one iota. When HASN’T there been a dashing Doctor and a young female companion?

Podcast(s) of the week

There are two this week. Ezra Klein’s interview with Ron Brownstein about the psephology of Trump’s victory is fascinating and definitely worth your time. So is the World in Words on the young Arabs in Dubai who speak English better than what is supposedly their mother tongue.

Video of the week

Tweet of the week

A Eulogy for Moffat’s Dr Who

Dr Who has never been better than it is now.

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This is my second post this week about Steven Moffat’s tenure as Dr Who showrunner and the controversy that surrounds it. The first dealt with the charge of sexism both in his writing and in his public comments and mounted a defence of him that conceded his critics were mostly correct.

Today I’m moving from this moral argument to discussing the merits of his run on Doctor Who as art and entertainment. Here I feel able to offer a far more fulsome defence.

I realise that puts me in a minority and the weight of opinion among viewers is that the show got worse when Moffat replaced Russell T. Davies. Before I unfurl my argument against that position, please allow me to acknowledge it has points in its favour.

The Davies era has a lot to commend it. For starters, it brought the Dr Who back. It has some indisputably great episodes like Blink and Midnight. It also had a vibrancy that the show’s struggled to regain since. And Tennant’s charisma allowed the show to blast past points where the writing and directing were rather weak.*

Conversely, what has come since has had its flaws. Moffat’s difficulty writing convincing female characters is lamentable not only in and of itself but because it prevented him nailing certain arcs, in particular River Song’s. And while Smith is an impressive actor and a capable Doctor, he wasn’t the right muse for Moffat. This may be why the show felt very tired by the time Smith’s final series ended. Fortunately, the 50th anniversary and Capaldi’s arrival rejuvenated it.

Nonetheless, for my money Moffat’s tenure – and especially the two series with Capaldi in the lead – are Who at its best. They represent the show rising to the challenge of existing during ‘the golden age of television’. It became bolder, darker and more ambitious. That arguably made it a worse fit for casual family viewing on a Saturday evening – which may partially explain falling domestic audiences. But the swing to that roundabout was that it became a true global hit. And the two most recent series are the first time one could objectively argue the show matched up to the best Sci-fi and fantasy TV produced in the US.

The most obvious sign of this was Moffat allowing story arcs to become more complicated. Indeed, it’s arguable that the Davies era series did not have proper plot arcs at all. Character arcs yes; the Doctor and the companions evolve in ways that can only be fully perceived when one views a series as a whole. But there’s little sense of a plot growing across multiple episodes. True there would often be some hint as to the two-part finale written into earlier episodes. But oblique mentions of ‘Torchwood’ or ‘Harold Saxon’ are foreshadowing rather than narrative developments for the simple reason that they don’t actually develop.

Moffat’s decision to move away from that approach and embrace more densely textured arcs is the most frequently criticised aspect of his work. It is probably true that it alienates occasional viewers. But if a writer assumes that their viewers are invested in the show – watching it regularly and paying attention – then they can repay that investment. The arcs allowed for mysteries that had time to mature and could be mulled over between episodes. There’s also the gratifying moment when – like a gymnast landing gracefully after an impossible pirouette – Moffat ties what look like a mess of random threads into a convincing and surprisingly neat bow. That was true even of the otherwise disappointing series 7. The finale on Trenzalore brought together the ‘impossible girl’, ‘great intelligence’ and ‘name of the Doctor’ storylines in a surprisingly natural, economic and affecting way. And then on top of all of it provided a cliffhanger to lure us into the 50th anniversary.

That hints at another strength of the Moffat era: reliability. While Smith was the Doctor there were a fair number of bad episodes – indeed the one with the pirates is arguably the worst of all – but when it really counted the episodes would be good. The first one would start as you hoped it would go on, mid-season cliffhangers left you intrigued, and finales ended on a high note. Contrast that with, say, a muddled load of nonsense about the Daleks dragging planets through space in order to power a bomb that destroys the universe. And in the Capaldi era things have gotten better still: they’ve stopped making bad episodes. Sure there are mediocre ones like Kill the Moon but they all have something to like about them.

And that’s not the only way the show has improved recently. It’s become more experimental, trying out everything from one handers to episodes that play in cinemas. Not only is this ability to regenerate itself – geddit! – essential for a show going into its tenth season but these high concept episodes are often the most impressive. OK, Sleep No More didn’t really work but look back to Blink or Midnight, or more recently Heaven Sent. I look forward to seeing how the status quo is upended in Moffat’s final series.

Equally important has been the shift in tone. For all their success, Davies’s series often mistook goofiness for charm, and melodrama for emotion. Moffat’s Who has a more otherwordly feel: more like rich, resonant and dark fairytales than anything else. Sadder and scarier, with a more elusive appeal that was all the greater when you found it.  Which, if you ask me, is what the tales of travellers through space and time should be like.

 

*It’s not really a point that needs making for the argument I’m making here but Davies was commendably committed to equal on-screen representation. The show has become lamentably whiter, straighter and more male since Moffat took over.

The very partial redemption of Steven Moffat

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We learned last week that Steven Moffat is stepping down as Dr Who showrunner. Many Whovians couldn’t be happier about this fact. John Elledge in the New Statesman notes that:

In online geekdom, the reaction to Friday’s news that the next series of Doctor Who would be his last was reminiscent of the bit at the end of The Return of the Jedi, where all the Ewoks start dancing. A substantial chunk of the fandom wasn’t just happy Moffat was going, they were crowing: it was less like a TV writer changing jobs and more akin to the fall of a dictatorship.

Cleary the nub of this is that many people think the show has gotten worse since Moffat took over showrunner. But if that was all there was to it then I doubt the criticisms of him would be quite so ardent and personal.

Elledge’s theory appears to be that the problem is that Moffat comes across as prickly and condescending in public appearances. That probably doesn’t help but I think that’s not quite it. Being able to warm to someone who’s prickly and condescending is after all a precondition for being a fan of a show whose central character is an often overbearing god like creature.

More important is probably the sense that Moffat is a mysoginist whose female characters are ill served by his writing. My defence of him on this point is going to be very half hearted indeed.

I’m not prepared to follow Elledge in dismissing Moffat’s habit of making comments about women that are some combination of boorish, demeaning and stupid simply as a communication error. It is that but it’s also a substantive problem. Someone in a position of power both in the workplace and in popular culture should be not be saying things like:

There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married – we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.

You tend not to find anything that crude in his writing. Nonetheless, a kind of ‘everyday sexism’ permeates his work. Taken individually his female characters are admirably strong and capable. But taken together they start to look like a collection of either fantasies or jokes rather rounded human beings. And it’s rare for them to attain the depth or complexity of their male counterparts.

Compare, for example, Rory and Amy. His character is very well drawn and it’s genuinely moving to see the steal emerge from inside a man who initially seems a bit of a wet blanket. But despite having more screen time and a bigger role in the plot Amy has nothing like that. She’s as generically feisty in her final episode as in her first.

The most credible defence of Moffat that can be offered on this point is that:

…you can genuinely see him responding to his critics. He didn’t cast a female Doctor (and thank god, given how he writes women); but he did cast a female Master, and he’s repeatedly established that a female Doctor would make perfect sense within the fiction.

The change goes broader than that. Writing female characters remains one of Moffat’s weaknesses but he has definitely gotten better of late. Clara’s initial arc was terrible: she was little more than a problem to be solved. But in the next two series she was given space to develop to the point where she was as near to the Doctor’s equal as any human is ever going to be. She can pass for him, call him out when he’s in the wrong, and eventually sets off in a TARDIS for adventures of her own. Most importantly by having Clara’s exit flip the dynamics of Donna’s, Moffat acknowledged that the show has often mistreated its female characters. Sure you can dispute whether Moffat is in any position to lecture Russell T. Davies on feminism, and he still screws ups with things like giving Clara a controlling dick of boyfriend who no one ever seems to notice is a controlling dick. That kind of thing is undoubtedly a step backward but it seems like there have been more steps forward in Moffat’s recent work.

There’s of course, no one individual empowered to forgive sins against women. And if there was it would not be a man. And there’s certainly an argument that he doesn’t deserve it. The women in his stories have gotten better but that doesn’t make them good. He’s arguably only done that under pressure of public slating. And I have no idea whether he’s making the same kind of efforts as an employer and a public figure that he is as a writer. Nonetheless, any evaluation of him does at least need to acknowledge these efforts.

 

Tidings of logic and joy

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[I forgot to include a spoiler warning. Apologises to anyone who read this and then regretted it]

The seasonal benevolence of the BBC is impressive. For Christmas, they gave us both more Dr Who and more Sherlock.

Even though the residents of 221B Baker Street were back they were not quite as we are used to seeing them. The update has been restored to its original setting. Well sort of. In the end it was all a dream. But that was justification enough to watch the actor/character combos we’ve grown to adore back in action.

It’s quite a romp. Things are allowed to be more knowing, strange and melodramatic than before. And for all of those things the baseline was already high. The freedom to be heightened produces some great moments. The new setting creates opportunities for lots of new comedy. And the return to the age of Conan Doyle allows Moffat and Gatiss to indulge their love for the author – even more than usual.

But that does come at a price. That looseness borders on indulgence and this episode just doesn’t feel as finely honed as a regular episode. The formulation of the various “dreams within dreams” becomes messy. By the end I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to believe Holmes’ solution of the problem. For the first time in the show’s run the cinematography was distracting rather than impressive. And its style of repartee feels anachronistic coming from Victorian mouths.

This makes it a fitting choice as a Christmas Special: entertaining while it lasts but ultimately disposable. I like the kind of experimentation that characterised this episode and series 3. But after a stretch of it, I hope that Moffat and Gatiss will take things back to basic for series 4.

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Which in a way was what Moffat did for Dr Who’s Christmas special. This was coming off the most ambitious series since the show’s resurrection in 2005. It tried out new types of episode like a one hander and was bolder with its themes and character choices. By contrast, this Christmas Special felt like it could easily have been from the Russell T Davies era.

I deduce that it was successful from the fact I didn’t hate it. I have an allergy to the Christmas specials that I tend to find cloying. That’s indicative of the fact that I tend to like my Who dark. I find it funnier when it’s not trying to be comedy and more affecting when it eschews sentimentality. I’ve also generally disliked the River Song story arch partly because I find Alex Kingston grating but mostly because it brings out the two worst aspects of Moffat’s writing: convoluted plotting and women written as fantasies rather than characters. So my not being upset about this episode is actually a significant achievement.

Sure it wasn’t great. It mistook goofiness for hilarity, leaned too much on us finding River a compelling character and had too many cameos from overrated comedians. But it had enough energy and weirdness to carry me through. And I liked the scene where we saw the Doctor bring the restaurant into existence. For dramatic reasons, we usually see what happens when his efforts to manipulate time go wrong or at least only succeed in desperate situations. So it was good to see him living up to his billing as a ‘Time Lord’ and effortlessly play with the course of history to do something special for a loved one.

Of course, I may start to look back on this episode with genuine fondness if it proves to be River’s last.

Whatever my misgivings about these two episodes they were both good pieces of television, and suggest that we’ll have plenty to enjoy when the main series return next year.

Guess who’s back…

My spoiler rich review of Doctor Who‘s assured and unsettling return.

If one was to write a formula for a Dr Who scene what would it include? There’d be a repelent monster of course, there’d be an other worldly setting that also looks like somewhere in Wales, perhaps there’d be a child in peril – Dr Who has always been sappy about children – and of course the Doctor not only to save that child but also to inspire them – because if there’s one thing the show’s even more sentimental about than children it’s hope!

And in the opening of the Magician’s Apprentice that’s precisely what showrunner Stephen Moffat gave us. We begin with soldiers running through a muddy, Somme like battlefield. There’s a steam punk feel: the soldiers are armed with bows and arrows and are being hunted by laser shooting bi-planes. Then we focus in on a single soldier peering into the fog. “Was that a child?” he asks a comrade. He runs after whatever he has seen and calls out to the figure to stop. He does and it is indeed a child – a boy of perhaps 12 or so. The comrade tells the solider to leave now because the enemy is closing in but he tells him it will be alright and he will “catch them up”. By now any seasoned Dr Who fan knows it will definitely not be alright.

“It’s OK, I’m not going to hurt you” the soldier says and we know from his demeanour he means it. The ground begins to shake. The soldier looks first to the floor and then to the clearly terrified boy. “I think we’ve got company” says the soldier before asking “do you know what hand mines are?” The boy – his alarm clearly growing further – nods weakly. “Well in that case you know you’ve got to stand absolutely still” warns the soldier. “Ever seen a hand mine?” he continues jovially, perhaps thinking this will reassure the boy. It doesn’t work. His eyes are now locked on the soldier’s feet, in an expression of even greater terror. The soldier looks down and sees a hand is protruding from the mud and has grabbed his foot. He begins trying to offer reassurance but as he speaks the ground opens up and with startling rapidity he disappears into it.

The camera cuts first to the boy recoiling and then back to the ground. We start to hear a horrible low squelching sound and then an army of hands starts to rise from mud. If that wasn’t unsettling enough it soon becomes apparent that in the palm of each hand is an eye. They turn to look at him. The now utterly desperate boy screams out for help.

Then something in the air changes. We hear it first in the music, the mixture of gusts of wind and violins playing weird low tingling notes stops and the strings begin to play deep, resonant notes. That thing in the air is clearly hope and we Whovians know who represents hope in this ficitional universe.  Something flies through the fog towards the boy and lands at his feet: it’s a sonic screwdriver. And then we hear a familiar voice: “your chances of survival are about 1 in a 100. So here’s what you do? You forget about the thousand and focus on the 1.” The Doctor has arrived to save the day.

He tells the boy to pick up the screwdriver and begins telling him about the sonic corridor he’s created which is allowing them to speak even though he’s 50 feet away. This is Dr Who, there’s going to be plenty of mumbo jumbo science! The boy asks who he is. The Doctor replies with some patter about being lost on the way to the bookshop. Trust the Doctor to make light of a desperate situation!  He asks: “which war is this? I get them all muddled up?” The boy looks puzzled and replies “it’s just the war”. The Doctor then asks what planet they are on which confuses him further. In a renewed attempt at reassurance the Doctor says “I try not to understand, it’s called an open mind!” That leads into a pep talk about the choice the boy needs to make: to live or to die.

Moffat has built a moment that’s almost painfully Whovian: the Doctor will – with a bit of whimsy and an assist from Murray Gold’s grandiose soundtrack – inspire an innocent to survive and we can all feel warm about it.

And then he suddenly and grotesquely inverts it. The Doctor asks the boy to tell him “the name of the boy who isn’t going to die today.” The reply comes back “Davros”, followed by ever more desperate pleas for help, ending with an accusative cry from the boy that “you said you would help me”.

It’s a brutal, smart and daring way to begin a new series. It is steeped in the show’s mythology calling all the way back to the Fourth Doctor deciding whether to destroy the Daleks at their moment of creation and pondering

if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives… could you then kill that child?

Yet it jars us out of the complacent assumption that we know how Doctor Who plays out: our hero is supposed to defy impossible choices not sacrifice children to their harsh logic.

It’s quite a tribute to Moffat’s talents that after such a bravura opening the rest of the episode didn’t feel like a letdown. It moved along at quite a pace and with plenty of creepiness mixed more than a little black humour – much of it provided by Michelle Gomez reprising her role as Missy. And there’s also the pleasantly discombobulating sight of Peter Capaldi essentially doing a David Tennant impression. That all led to a confrontation with a terminally ill Davros and a brutal cliffhanger. It was probably too brutal. Moffat may defy the show’s formula for a scene but this is still Dr Who and not Game of Thrones. Does anyone really think he can leave Missy and Clara dead, and the Tardis destroyed? Therefore, we know some timey-whimeyness will have to come along and make things less devastating. I found this certainty prevented the episode’s climax from generating the kind of dread it was supposed to. By contrast, something less brutal, which could therefore potentially be allowed to stand, might actually have been more horrifying.

Nonetheless, the Magician’s Apprentice and especially its opening sequence was a fantastic way for Doctor Who to return. If this kind of quality can be maintained throughout the series then it will be a treat.

5 reasons why this season of Dr Who was the best so far

Season 8 of Dr Who recently finished. It saw the show rejuvenate itself and reach new heights.

A month or so before Dr Who returned this summer, I opined to a friend that I wasn’t really a Dr Who fan anymore. It was just the methadone for my Sherlock addiction. I suspect what drove this feeling was the fact (and it pretty much was a fact) that by the end of its seventh season it had come to feel rather tired. It felt like it was not only running out of ideas but also of ways to repackage old ones.

What a change the past 12 episodes have been. A new Doctor, a new Clara and a fresh approach made it unmissable telly. Here are some of the ways it topped all its predecessors.

Oh and be warned:

 

 

1. The Best Doctor

Ecclestone, Tenant and Smith played the Doctor; Capaldi is now (for me at least) the Doctor. He inhabited the character and his millennium of flaws, hopes, contradictions, wisdom, insecurities and memories. Previous Doctors oscillated between light and shade. Capaldi didn’t need to because he could be both at once. We should not have expected no less from the man who brought us Malcolm Tucker: an awful blend of hilarity and hate. Capaldi’s Doctor is essentially the inverse still: still a figure of both tragedy and farce but this time amounting to a mighty angel not a nasty little demon. He’s a creature so lofty that his at once absurd, intimidating and inspiring. That’s a lot for an actor to convey but Capaldi did it faultlessly.

2. The Best Companion

Now here’s something I didn’t expect to be writing. Last season’s Clara was the worst companion new Who had given us. This time round she was the best. She was no longer a puzzle to be solved masquerading as a manic pixie dream girl. Rather she a fully developed character. And quite a character at that!

Gone was any sense that the companion was the Doctor’s human pet.  Clara came to as to being the Doctor’s equal that any human is ever going to get. She was even able to pass for him when necessary and to put him in his place if that was likewise required. At one point she remarked “you’re not my boss, you’re my hobby”, at another warned him that “if you speak for me again, I will detach something from you” and most pointedly condemned his decisions during “kill the moon”. She was not angry with him prior to show how things really were. He took one view, she found that morally repulsive. And the show never did anything to undermine the validity of her viewpoint.

The character and Jenna Coleman’s superb acting (where was that last season!?) were sufficiently strong that they overcame this run’s main weakness: Danny Pink. He seemed intriguing at the start and he was noble at the end. However, in between he was bland at best and dislikeable at worst.

3. The best/worst monsters

Since Dr Who has returned its best monsters have been those built around a single idea: the Weeping Angels (‘don’t blink’) and the Silence (‘you can’t remember’). By contrast, many of the weakest episodes are those which have tried to restore classic monsters like the Sontarans and Cybermen to their past glories.

The writers seem to have noticed this and we had a slew of successful conceptual monsters: robots you have to hold your breath to escape, a Mommy which kills you after 90 seconds, fear itself and most chillingly creatures which exist only in two dimensions.

4. The Best Big Bad

What do you get when you cross Heath Ledger’s Joker with Mary Poppins? Michelle Gomez’s version of the Master it turns out.

I think comparing Missy to the Dark Knight’s villain makes sense because the secret to both is that they are so unhinged that we’re denied the comfort of being able to guess what they might do next. Rather than maniacally pursuing plans to conquer the universe like Simm’s Master did, Gomez has the more alarmingly personal mission of fucking the Doctor up. Witness, for example, her cruel lie about knowing the location of Gallifrey

And the scene where Missy kills Osgood (*sob,sob*) had the same gasp inducing nastiness as the Joker making a pencil disappear. It was probably the darkest moment the show has given us so far.

 5. More consistency

Dr Who has always been a difficult show to be a fan of.  Giving up 45 minutes of your life to watch an episode has always been a gamble.  You might get pure genius like Blink or Midnight but you were equally likely to have to watch excruciating flops like the Curse of the Black Spot or Love & Monsters.

Season 8 broke this pattern. Sure there were weak episodes but they at least had redeeming features. Kill the Moon was the bottom of the barrel. It was spoilt by unnecessary lunar spiders and an unwanted terrestrial teen. But it did set up the important and effective moral clash between the Doctor and Clara which I mentioned earlier.

And more importantly such quality control failures were rarer than they had been in the past.

Conclusion

Dear Stephen Moffat and BBC Wales,

More of this kind of thing please! 🙂

Love,
Mark

Deep Breath (Review)

So Dr Who has returned with a new Doctor and some very high expectations to meet. And I’m pleased to report that mine at least were broadly met.

True, the episode itself was pretty so-so. It had some impressive visuals and director Ben Wheatley gave it a nicely cinematic feel. There was also plenty of Paternoster Gang which is always welcome. However, it was let down by a villain recycled from The Girl in the Fireplace (an episode which wasn’t that great in the first place) and a rather uneven pace. Also, quite how many villains does the Doctor have to kill before, he and the writers realise that he is emphatically not a pacifist.

However, this episode was always going to interest fans less for its own sake than for what it was going to tell us about the future of the show. And here the indications were encouraging. Capaldi was the perfect blend of mirth and menace for the role and was an engaging departure from the style of Tennant and Smith. He was in short everything we’d hoped we would be.

More surprising was that Deep Breath was a triumph for Jenna-Louise Coleman. I’ve not been a great fan of her time playing Clara. However, with Moffat seems to have taken the opportunity of a regenerated Doctor to renew her character. She’s no longer a cypher nor seemed like somebody constantly doing a Zooey Deschanel impression. As she reeled from the reinvention of her travelling companion, she felt like a rounded and believable character for the first time.

Verdict: 7/10 – not a classic episode but the omens for the rest of the series are good.

Saturday Suggestions: Moffat, the Iran Deal and DC on TV

My top reads from the past 7 days

What Steven Moffat Doesn’t Understand About Grief, And Why It’s Killing Doctor Who by Sarah Siegel (Tea Leaves and Dog Ears)

“Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat and George R.R. Martin walk into a bar and everyone you’ve ever loved dies.”

Why Hawks Should Love the Iran Deal by David Rothkopf (Foreign Policy)

“For the hawks to suggest that the deal freezing Iranian uranium-enrichment efforts above the 5 percent level, halting work on the heavy-water reactor near Arak, and granting daily inspections to Iran’s centrifuge-laden facilities at Natanz and Fordow makes matters more dangerous in the short term is just indefensible on its face. Absent such a deal, all enrichment and technological advancement efforts would continue unabated and without inspections. Iran would almost certainly move more quickly toward having a bomb without this deal than with it.”

America’s Least-Favorite City Has Become Television’s Favorite Subject by T.A Frank (New Republic)

“Veep” is also, in its odd way, the most sympathetic of the shows toward those it depicts. It understands that Washington’s politicians join a fraternity of those who know the difference between symbols and real policy but who must report back to constituents who see only the symbols. If you talk to voters as if you’re explaining things, you’re condescending, but if you talk to them as if they’re on your wavelength, you’re aloof. It tends to make you either a cynic or a hypocrite—and, in either case, a bit of a bullshit artist.

Thoughts on Dr Who’s 50th

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1.       The BBC knows how to make Dr Who into an event

The BBC’s manipulation of different media to build the show’s brand has become formidable enough to be a subject of academic study: my sister’s degree included her writing an essay on it. The buzz they created around announcing the 11th (or should that now be 12th) Doctor was formidable but for this anniversary they pushed it towards hysteria. Expect mini episodes and the like to become more common from now on and what are essentially program length trailers to become more common.

2.       An Adventure in Time and Space and the Culture Show were sublime

Some of the programmes that made up this barrage of buzz building were excellent. Mark Gattiss’ drama about the beginnings of Dr Who was surprisingly moving but the surprise champion (in my opinion) was Matthew Sweet’s unconventional take on the cultural impact of the show. Both were essentially fans’ loveletters to their childhood televisual loves.

3.  Brian Cox is a superb actor

Playing the renegade head of BBC drama and Dr Who mastermind Sydney Newman he stole just about every scene of an Adventure in Time and Space he was in. Why he’s not mentioned alongside people like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Simon Russell Beale I don’t know.

4. I hadn’t realised quite how primitive TV drama was in 1963

So primitive in fact that it seems to have been more like theatre to a camera rather than a live audience. The early Dr Who serials were apparently shot on a single set, with a strictly rationed number of cuts and only 90mins on that to shoot 30mins of film.

5.       The Doctor may be old but Bruce Forsyth has been around longer
Apparently part of the rational for commissioning Dr Who was to see off the damage being done to the BBC’s Saturday night audiences by Sunday Night at the London Palladium hosted by Bruce Forsyth. What was on immediately before the Day of the Doctor? Strictly Come Dancing hosted by Bruce Forsyth!
6.       The US is learning to love Dr Who
Or part of it is at least. The highbrow American magazines whose website I regularly scour devoted a quite surprising amount of space to it. But I think it’s adoption in America has been a bit like the Killings rise in the UK: something mass market has become bohemian and upmarket in the journey.
*Spoiler Warning: I’m now talking about the Day of the Doctor itself and giving away key plots points*
7. Clara remains a plot point not a proper character
Even now the mystery of who she is has been cleared up, she still seems to only be there to instigate the Doctor to do the things the plot requires. She’s very far from feeling like a rounded character in her own right.
8. Maybe that UNIT scientist with the Tom Baker scarf could replace her
With a new Doctor on the way, we are surely due a new companion? Especially given that the current one is so underwhelming.
If so, based on her short time on screen the new UNIT scientist – apparently called Osgood – would seem like a good choice. She’d be like the fans version of themselves on screen and be quite different from any of the companions since the show returned.

9. It seems rather mean spirited of Christopher Eccleston not to appear
I mean how much would it have taken to show John Hurt regenerating into him? Like a day’s work if that.

10. Moffatt knows how to delight geeks
Zygons, lots of in jokes and TOM BAKER!!!

11. Saving Gallifrey makes NO sense!
Unless I’m missing something this is dumb. Wasn’t the reason the Doctor destroyed the Time Lords in the first place that they had become monsters who wanted to destroy the universe? Wasn’t the 10th (or 11th) Doctor killed trying to stop them from bringing Gallifrey back? Didn’t the mini-episode the BBC released earlier this week say that they were now as bad as Daleks?! Why save them?