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Doctor Who and the Decent Two-Parter - EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!

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June 9th, 2008


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12:05 am - Doctor Who and the Decent Two-Parter
I got a very nice phone call a few weeks back breaking the news to me that Stephen Moffat was stepping up as Doctor Who's show runner once Rusty Davies finally makes his step down. The call was made to me because the caller said of all the people she knew to make this announcement to, she wanted me to know if only to see what I'd eventually write. Then, of course, I didn't write, because it's been dang hard recently trying to actually sit down and type make words on screen without some form of interruption or distraction.

But Moffat taking over Davies' position? This can only be a good thing. This can only be a damned good thing. Even if, in four years' time, we're sitting around complaining of yet another formulaic Moffat script for Whoever-The-Doctor-Is-By-Then, the changeover will still have been a good and welcome one. I mean, at least Mr. M's formulaic tendencies don't run towards flatulent aliens camping it up, one-dimensional supporting characters, endless shots of crowds running outside and pointing at the imminent Threat Of The Week (or hugging with a hoorah once the threat has been neutralized) and "DO YU LIEK ME CHECK ONE [ ] YES [ ] NO [ ] OH GOD ANGST ANGST ANGST" soap opera bushwah.

Case in point: The most recent two-parter involving The Library (with capitals, yes). I'll say right off the bat this is good stuff, man, this is really good stuff. The second part was amazingly well done, and turned many conventions on their ear, conventions which I'd gotten quite tired of. I mean, let's compare what would have happened to this story had Russell T. Davies written it.

Delve? Let's. Don't be too scared.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The Doctor and Donna find themselves in a library containing all the books ever written and a gigantic computer keeping copies in "the biggest hard drive ever."
THE RUSTY WAY: The Doctor and Donna find themselves in a library containing all the books ever written, only a gigantic computer is in the process of transferring everything into e-book format so all you need is a Kindle to read it.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The Library is abandoned, and while the lifeform readout says there's a zillion lifeforms, we only see two... humans, that is.
THE RUSTY WAY: There's people in The Library, only they're all too absorbed with their Kindles to notice anything awry, even when PEOPLE START DISAPPEARING. This is because THE TECHNOLOGY IS EVIL AND THE KINDLES ARE EVIL.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The library is infested with invisible creatures who lurk in the shadows and who can skeletonize a cow in fifteen milliseconds flat.
THE RUSTY WAY: The library is infested with invisible creatures who lurk in the shadows and who can skeletonize a cow in fifteen milliseconds flat, but they also belch every time they eat something for comic hilarity!

THE MOFFAT WAY: Eventually a team of scientists and archaeologist show up to figure out what's gone wrong with the Library. The team is headed and bankrolled by one of the members of the family that built and owns the Library. He appears to be only looking to protect his business interests and his OMG Sekrit Patent on what truly powers the Library.
THE RUSTY WAY: Eventually a team of scientists and an archaeologist show up to figure out what's gone wrong with The Library. The team is headed and bankrolled by one of the members of the family that built and owns the Library. He appears to be only looking to protect his business interests and his OMG Sekrit Patent on what makes The Library so awesome. A cavalcade of suspicious looks and sneers when nobody else is looking at him confirms that yeah, that's what he's only here for.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The corporate dude has a personal assistant who's very pretty but also very stupid. Nobody likes her except Donna, who is nice to her. Quite predictably, the assistant is the first one to die when things start to go all pear-shaped, but her death scene turns into one of the eeriest and most evocative ghost scenes in the history of the show. She later returns as an ghostly figure who helps Donna, since Donna was nice to her.
THE RUSTY WAY: The corporate dude has a personal assistant who's very pretty but also very stupid. Nobody likes her but Donna, who is nice to her. Quite predictably, the assistant is the first one to die when things start to go all pear-shaped, and that's the last we hear of her. However, Donna gets to lecture the others about how they should've been nicer to the assistant when they had the chance.

THE MOFFAT WAY: Two of the teammembers are named Dave for no apparent reason. The team dubs them Proper Dave and Other Dave. This has no real purpose except to show us that the group has some kind of unity.
THE RUSTY WAY: Two of the teammembers are lesbians for no apparent reason. This has no real purpose except to prove that lesbians exist in the future (sorry, Time Chasers already confirmed this for us) yet we're reminded of this at every convenient and not-so-convenient opportunity. In fact, their names are Lesbian Anita and Lesbian Sue.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The whole thing is watched on television by a little girl who has a curious interest in the story as it appears that The Library is all in her head. She turns out to be a virtual reality simulacrum of the actual Library computer.
THE RUSTY WAY: The whole thing is watched on television by a little girl who has a curious interest in the story. She turns out to be a little girl watching the Doctor Who program JUST LIKE US, and her urging them on or warning them to "not go that way" turns out to be MAGICAL COMMAND ECHOES from across time and space, you know, kinda like The Neverending Story. She also spends a great deal of time doing this from behind the sofa. At the end, she claps her hands to show she believes in Time Lords.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The corporate dude turns out to have been trying to protect the little girl in the library computer, because she's family. He ends up helping and all is well.
THE RUSTY WAY: The corporate dude turns out to have been trying to protect his financial interests and after delivering a sneering, campy monologue, meets his demise ironically, probably at the hands of one of those creepy Library helper robots.

THE MOFFAT WAY: The library computer turns out to have been a savior when the shadow creatures first invaded, transferring all the people who were around into its virtual reality banks to keep them safe.
THE RUSTY WAY: The library computer turns out to be a villain, using the EVIL KINDLES to suck people into its memory banks, thus using their knowledge to, uh, get smarter or something.

THE MOFFAT WAY: Donna enters the virtual world and gets married and has kids and learns to play the flute. No, wait, that was Picard.
THE RUSTY WAY: Donna enters the virtual world and oh it's just like home so we get to deal with her mum again. Crazy old granddad is nowhere to be seen, and that's how Donna eventually realizes she's in a simulation.

THE MOFFAT WAY: There's this archaeologist named River Song who appears to know the Doctor very well, only it's all timey-wimey so while he is meeting her for the first time, she's seeing him for the last time. It's pretty clear, however, that the two have some sort of intimate relationship.
THE RUSTY WAY: Oh we don't need this complication, so instead Rose jumps out of a book to help save the day! HOORAY!



dear god I think I hurt something

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:zhym
Date:June 9th, 2008 05:22 am (UTC)
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I'm looking forward to Moffat running the show too, but I think part 2 was his weakest so far. Then again, I can cut him lots of slack because his episodes are all some of the best of New Who.

Problems with Forest of the Dead:

1. Everybody lives. It's been done, and much better (and by Moffat) in The Doctor Dances. It didn't play as well second time through, especially because...

2. You call this living? So, River Song, galactic archaeologist, The Doctor's Um Friend, gets an eternal afterlife as a soccer mom? And that's happy?

3. And anyway, that's not really them in the Library computer. It's afterimages—ghosts, literally, in the machine. I thought they established that. What's left in the magic blinky neck thingy isn't the person, it's a ghost image of that person. Plugging that image into a computer and making the image think it's in a world doesn't bring the person back, it just makes a copy of her personality. Maybe that's better than nothing, maybe not, but it certainly doesn't merit chipper "everyone lives" music.

4. Song's death was predictable anyway. After Part 1, I figured Moffat wouldn't be able to resist writing a story that made the first time the Doctor and River met also the last time. He loves that kind of time-travel crossed timelines stuff. I'd hoped he wouldn't, because that's a little cliche by now.

5. Suddenly the Vashe Narada (or however it's spelled) are sentient in a group? Okay, I guess I can buy that, maybe, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.

I also think that in a pair of episodes based on monsters in shadows, they'd have done a better job when filming to notice where the shadows are. But maybe that's a "I should really just relax" issue.

Maybe it's just that the first part was so great that it built up too much expectation. The week's delay also gave me time to figure out all the puzzles. Presented as a single two-hour episode, I'd probably lose some of my complaints (like River's fate, or the obviousness of the little girl's role).

Overall, though—wow. Lots of ideas thrown in. The ghost images. Big Library with no one in it. "Saving" people to disk. The whole River Song thing. And the first hour of the two-parter was spooky spooky.

Yeah, Moffat at the helm should be fun. We likes Moffat.
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From:derspatchel
Date:June 9th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
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"Everybody lives" will be Moffat's "flatulent monsters" if he's not careful, that much I know.

However, as has been pretty much pointed out, sub-par Moffat is still some of the best stuff we've gotten, so while I'm not willing to completely overlook his faults out of sheer blind fanboyism, I sure don't mind mentioning when he's done stuff right.
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From:fourcoffees
Date:June 9th, 2008 08:18 am (UTC)
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THE RUSTY WAY: Incredibly soppy voice-over at the end while the Doctor shows that yes, he can open the TARDIS by snapping his fingers.

THE MOFFAT WAY: ...oh wait.
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From:derspatchel
Date:June 9th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
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...yeah, that was a little... uh... out there.

"Not now, Donna, I've got to modify the TARDIS so that it can open when I snap my fingers. How cool is that?"
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From:mmcirvin
Date:June 9th, 2008 12:51 pm (UTC)
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I thought the second half was some of Moffat's weakest Doctor Who material, but weak Moffat is still unusually good New Who; complaining that it wasn't up to the level of "Blink" or "The Empty Child" seems churlish.

As I've said elsewhere, the self-conscious mythologizing of the Doctor as Ultimate Hero bothers me. Davies is a major offender here, especially in his Tenth Doctor stories; he wasn't as bad with the Ninth, I think because Christopher Eccleston conveyed in his acting that the Doctor is the kind of guy who punctures that self-important puffery. But Moffat was laying the same kind of hero-worship on pretty thick in the second half of this story.
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From:derspatchel
Date:June 9th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
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I do agree that TEH DOCTAR IS HERO OF ALL TIME AND SPACE!!1 is pretty eye-rollingly bad (culminating in last season's finale which was just plain embarrassing) but I kinda liked the way Ten got the shadow pirahna to listen to reason by actually playing up his rep.

"Check the damn library. See all that shit about me that people have written? Yeaaaaaaah. Go ahead and try to mess my plans up if you still wish."
"...okay, you've got a point. Um, carry on. We'll just be over here in this corner, devouring more chicken legs that your archaeologist pal keeps throwing at us."

Considering the shadow pirahna were layered into an already-thick layer story, this was the easiest way to deal with them now (they'll be back, I'm pretty sure, since you don't come up with such a cool-sounding name for such a bad-ass threat and then leave them be like this.)

But you're right, the Doctor is usually very low-key about his accomplishments. Most regenerations wouldn't have tried something like that but then again, they didn't think they were the last of their species.
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From:sanspoof
Date:June 10th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
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I didn't even have a problem with the lamer parts of part 2 because the timing was so reasonable. RTD's timing is SO BAD and that's what I dislike the most about his work. It's probably not even his editor's fault, since he dialogs up everything so heavily.
(I've noticed that one of my personal weirdnesses is that I don't even care what characters SAY, half the time, so long as they sell the saying of it well. Attitude/flavor is more important than writing, in my head. This may be compatible with the Moffat.)
Did get sick of 'Spoilers!' though.

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