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Last year I wrote up the first half of Series Four of New Who, but never got around to doing the rest. We've been re-watching them over the last few days, and now have reached the first of the two Hugo nominees, the other being Turn Left.

(I am a bit baffled that Midnight, which I thought was the best episode on first watching, didn't make the cut for the Hugos. On the other hand I have now acquired the other three non-Who nominees and intend to watch them in due course, which will be interesting as I have literally never seen any Lost or BSG).

(Also just to note that I enjoyed The Unicorn and the Wasp even more the second time round, and that they were entirely right to drop the framing device of Old Agatha reminiscing. I'm glad I've seen it from the DVD extras but even gladder that it wasn't there to clutter up the broadcast version.)

Unlike a lot of people I wasn't overwhelmed by Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. On re-watching, I enjoyed it more, but still feel it is weaker than Moffat's previous New Who stories. Perhaps I am being unfair, and I guess that expecting another Blink is not reasonable. I must admit that as sf, its concept works very well - the intersecting levels of reality, the time-traveller who meets a lover from his own future; and as drama it is pretty effective, with Alex Kingston and Catherine Tate particularly strong, and the utterly horrible creepiness of the ghosting data chips ("Who turned out the lights?", etc).

My two problems with it are both to do with River Song's story. To get the easier one out of the way, her ending is not a particularly happy one; she is still dead, and gets to spend an ersatz afterlife in the computer's memory with her crew rather than with the man she loves. (If you work or have ever worked in a team with other people, just consider for a moment whether you would prefer to spend eternity with them or with your lover.) The script didn't quite do justice to the tragedy of River's story for me.

My other problem is that while the story works as sf and (apart from the above niggle) as drama I'm not so sure it works as Doctor Who. Back in 2006 I enjoyed The Girl in the Fireplace, but rated it below School Reunion, because one of my sources of enjoyment in Who is its dealing with its own mythology, and another is the relationship that we as viewers build up with the regular characters, and TGitF did not deliver much on the second and nothing on the first of these. Now, where at least TGitF had a decent start and closure to the Doctor's love story, with Renette's death ending their relationship, SitL/FotD cheats us because we are asked to care very deeply about the Doctor/River dynamic, without getting the payoff of it becoming a regular plot theme. (No televised return to explore River's past relationship with the Doctor seems likely now, and anyway it would hardly get satisfactory treatment in the time we have left.) So while this episode may well get strong support from Hugo voters who are not regular Who watchers, I was and am surprised by the favour it has found among fans.

So I am really rather agnostic at present as to how I will cast my own Hugo vote in this category. I still have some time to decide, of course.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2009 08:22 am (UTC)
Totally disagree
You seem to be considering a Hugo vote as something based on whether particular story dovetails well with the heritage of Dr Who. But it's not. You wouldn't judge an Oscar vote on the basis of whether No Country for Old Men was an appropriate of Cormac McCarthy's novels, would you.

I found SitL/FotD as good as Blink and that one with the Gas Masks etc. Stephen Moffatt is a genius at forboding atmosphere and I must confess to always being a sucker for the "don't go in the cupboard!" school of horror. Things like Unicorn & Wasp are just light bits of whimsy and often come out as just an excuse to graft a Who story onto famous history by bringing the Doctor into the story in a hitherto-unealised role. A kind of celebrity-fiction, Hello-SF rather than Horror-SF.

I think this is probably because I hark back to being scared by the earlier incarnations and want to relive that feeling in the modern version. Scary, gloopy monsters and Hello Bill Shakespeare don't do that. Things in the dark still do.

But regardless of my foibles, for your own lights you're voting for an SF prize not a Best Dr Who Story. So get on and vote for the best SF story.
May. 27th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)
Re: Totally disagree
I'll cast my vote on whatever basis I like, thank you. And that means treating each candidate not only as part of the broad discourse of literature, but also as an element of its own particular sub-genre, in so far as I am aware of it. Votes aren't meant to be "objective"; they are about as subjective a form of expression as you can get.

(I've only read one McCarthy novel, and it wasn't that one; but my answer to your question is no - I don't think I could cast an Oscar vote on a film adapted from a book I had read without taking my judgement of the adaptaion into account.)

However, I do envy your authentic original memories of the earliest stories - did you see it from the beginning? (Can't remember if you are old enough or not.)
May. 27th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Totally disagree
Well of course you can choose to cast your vote on the basis of how the plots reflect your tastes in knitwear if you want. It's just a minor hypocrisy...

And yes I am old and could have seen the earliest Who's. I'd have been 6 when William Hartnell was the driver. But we didn't have a TV until 1968 and so my first (and therefore definitive Doctor is Patrick Troughton with a dose of Jon Pertwee, UNIT, the Brigadier, the very cool car and being exiled on Earth. I don't know about the timings but it's quite likely I actually saw the early movie before the TV Doctor.

My memories are very blurred - I do have remember being far more scared of the Cybermen than the Daleks, possibly because I did have a battery-operated Dalek and they were obviously not real whereas Cybermen somehow seemed more credible?

I've seen out-takes of the later shows where Tom Baker was forever making lewd suggestions concerning female assistants and K9 (to hilarious crew reaction - not sure if these ever made it into the public domain), but I never watched much from Tom Baker onwards until the new incarnation. I do have some professional connections within the show (clients in it and the like) so I take more than a passing interest these days.
May. 27th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
nmg and I were talking about these episodes only a few days ago and we came to the conclusion that we like Moffat's stories because they are the few that actually use time travel with the plot rather than just an excuse to get somewhere and have an adventure. That plus the feeling of menance he can conjure up.

May. 27th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
I agree re: the Library episodes not being as good as previous Moffatty goodness. I'm not sure where I'd rank it against the one with Madam Pompadour but it's definitely not as good as the gas mask episodes or Blink.

With shows like Lost and BSG, I wonder if you'd miss something about the episodes by not being a regular viewer. Because if they're good episodes you'll still find them to be good (I'm of the 'quality always shines through' opinion) but you might miss some glorious moment that is only made that way by knowing what has gone before, if that makes sense.
May. 27th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
Well, in many ways we're Opposite Who viewers, but not always. I felt Blink was one of the worst episodes EVAR of New Who. The Library two-parter is one of my favorites. However, I agree about River. I dislike her in a number of ways, unfortunately. She's clearly derived from Bernice Summerfield, but has none of that backstory going for her. And now they've introduced a HELLISH continuity problem WITHIN THE DOCTOR'S OWN TIMELINE. She recognized the Doctor -- in a manner that indicates that her entire experience WITH the Doctor was with Doctor 10, as she was surprised to find that the Doctor didn't recognize her.

That means that the Doctor has to encounter her BEFORE his next regeneration. Now, as that's currently scheduled for this season, that means that either (A) they're going to have to have a LOT of River Soong and The Doctor getting close -- and I didn't particularly like her character as shown, so I wouldn't like that, or (B) completely ignore her existence and have the Doctor regenerate, thereby making her existence a Plot Device for ultimately pointless drama.

The rest of the story, including its **WONDERFUL** riffs on The Matrix, kicked a lot of ass.

Turn Left, while not a BAD episode, and perhaps even necessary, is not in my view even close to the top of the episodes from this season. Part of that is because I feel it uses an extremely cheap trick to make it work, and does so in a way that raised a number of false and thus disappointed expectations in this Old Who fan; I thought we were seeing the return of an old, extremely dangerous, and potentially very entertaining adversary, and instead end up with a TOTALLY unexplained one-shot nobody for the story-framing problem.

I loved the Unicorn and the Wasp, but if you're not an Agatha Christie fan you simply Just Don't Get half of it, especially the fact that many of the dialogue lines are Agatha Christie book and story titles. I was LOL LOL LOL through large parts of it while other people just looked at me wondering what the heck I found so funny.

May. 27th, 2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
I'm not particularly a Christie fan, but I have read enough to recognise a lot of the up-front jokes and some of the in-the-know jokes. But this strand of Who stories that are just playing for comedy just annoy me. I'm happy to laugh at Whovian idiosyncracy and unexpected irony, but not at set-up and punch-line comedy routines. This is serious stuff.

And I like Alex Kingston so would be happy to see one of the remaining 3 specials involve her as friend/lover or even as a fleeting regeneration of the Doctor. Test for that would be if Moffat has written any of the other 3 specials.
May. 27th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I've seen any Who eps just playing for comedy. Unicorn and the Wasp does come closest, but it was hardly a comedy.
May. 28th, 2009 09:33 am (UTC)
I'm just interested: Why did you think Blink was one of the worst episodes ever?
May. 28th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)
Mainly because the Villains of the Week in that one should either (A) have kicked everyone's ass within the first few minutes ("we move so fast you can't react fast enough to do anything, so as soon as we're not being observed, we touch you and send you back in time"), OR

(B) been handed their asses within a few minutes by anyone with a brain. "You can't kill a stone? Maybe. But if I knock one to pieces with a sledgehammer and it comes back to life after I turn my back, the bleeding to death will follow immediately."

The fact that no one tried that, or ANY of the other obvious defenses (I put a MIRROR on my back, dude! Now they'll observe themselves if they try to grab me!) made it an Idiot Plot, where the plot only works because the characters are all idiots.
May. 27th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
I'm not as fond of SitL/FotD as the Moff's other episodes either. On a plot level, the Vashta Nerada and the River Song plots seemed not to have a lot to do with each other, and the resolution of the Vashta Nerada plot was a bit unsatisfying. On a character level, nobody surprised me: the dumb girl stayed dumb, the rich bastard stayed a rich bastard. On an emotional level (and this is a point Lawrence Miles made first), the Doctor should LOVE libraries, not find them creepy. And on a meta level, it had two of the most annoying tics of new Who: first, using how great the Doctor is as a kind of super-weapon; second, cheating its way out of having a major character dying. It seemed too much like a Moffat's greatest hits collection, only four stories in -- "Everyone lives!" from The Empty Child + star-crossed time-travel lovin from The Girl In The Fireplace + things that creep up when you can't see them from Blink. I still agree that his average is higher than anyone, perhaps even Robert Holmes, but Holmes had much more range.

None of this is to say it was actually bad, of course. I loved Doctor Moon and the Turn Left-prefiguring alternative Donna timeline at the start of Episode 2. Just not as good as I'd hoped.

I agree that Midnight was the best episode of the season, btw. Moffat may be a great writer, but perhaps the best writer for new Who is RTD on a really tight deadline...
May. 27th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
I'm also not sure that I agree about SitL not working as Doctor Who. Doctor Who gets to set up new parts of its mythology as well as exploring the old parts (or, if you will, providing squee).
May. 27th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, but River Song was a one-off. I wouldn't have any objections if she were a recurring character, but she isn't.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 04:18 am (UTC)
May. 27th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
>>the dumb girl stayed dumb, the rich bastard stayed a rich bastard.<< I didn't think either of those things happened, especially not with Miss Evangelista, who I seem to recall gained intelligence when being 'saved' and Mr. Lux's bastardliness was explained and made to be almost a virtue.
May. 27th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
And to complete my contrarian nature, Midnight was the worst episode of this season.
May. 29th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Well, I'll post about it soon and you can explain why!
Jun. 1st, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
Just out of curiosity, you thought Midnight was worse than The Doctor's Daughter, for example?

Ignore me, I've just seen your comment in the Midnight post.

Edited at 2009-06-01 05:30 pm (UTC)
Jun. 1st, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
I loved the Doctor's Daughter, actually. It's not the top-flight episode, but it was lots of fun. I like fun. One of Midnight's cardinal sins was a *total* lack of fun once the plot started moving.
May. 27th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
I am a bit baffled that Midnight, which I thought was the best episode on first watching, didn't make the cut for the Hugos

Agreed - it was fantastic, a brilliant piece of writing by RTD, fab acting all round, and proof that you don't need lots of special effects etc to pull off an excellent, atmospheric story.

I absolutely hate Silence in the Library etc. I don't think that the plot holds up, especially when compared to 'Blink' (also by Moffatt) or, from the same series, 'Midnight'. I think that the characterisation is shoddy and the lack of sufficient backstory for River Song does nothing to take away from the intense arrogance that her character is depicted as possessing. I don't know of many people (real life, not online) who liked her, and more to the point, I don't know of many people who could understand why the Doctor could fall for someone as smug as she seemed to be. And these, for me, tie in with it not feeling particularly like Doctor Who (as you feel as well). Same with GitF, which I also hated. It just seemed that Moffatt was more concerned with giving the Doctor a relationship with someone other than a companion, and ploughing the plot forward to achieve this, but in such a manner that the plot really suffered as a result, and the speed of which the 'relationships' were depicted and developed just meant that they were often very unconvincing.

I could say more but I am knackered after work, so apologies if this didn't make sense!
May. 27th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
I don't like the Doctor to fall in love with human women, he's supposed to be an alien who is several hundred years old. I always feel the writers are letting their compulsion to write love-stories steer them off-course from writing for the Doctor, this particular character rather than just any heroic male lead.

That is the problem, not the fact that it doesn't become "a regular plot theme". There's certainly a continuity problem, in that this long passionate relationship has to develop between now and the next regeneration; we don't need to see that but we would expect to see how the Doctor is affected by it afterwards. As it is, it felt like a great story about someone else.

Totally agree about the rubbishness of the River Song ending, and also the rubbishness of the creepy swarmy thing being frightened off by the Doctor using his cross schoolteacher voice (made 'Midnight' seem even better). Donna's dream-world story had a better ending though. Lots to like, moments of greatness.
May. 28th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC)
I didn't rate SitL/FotD that highly at all. River Song just didn't work for me, and I didn't buy their relationship at all; I loved the idea of the library as a place the Doctor would visit, but then when it turned out to be something a bit different, I just lost it. Where Moffat is ususally good at dodging clichés or at least using them to good effect, "creepy child" just didn't work here. Another Moffat trait - using the things we already find scary (think masks, statues, ticking) - was a great idea, but it still didn't get to me. Loved the name, but it didn't instill anything in me at all, maybe because it seemed to me like they weren't properly explained.

I think Blink is my favourite episode ever, and Steven Moffat my favourite writer, but I didn't get this episode. It just didn't work.
May. 29th, 2009 09:19 am (UTC)
I've just read your reviews of past episodes. You have a knack for stating good points succinctly. In case you're interested in varied viewpoints, here's my review stating the good and the bad of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and Turn Left.
If I had to, I'd probably vote Turn Left, SiL/FotD and 'The Constant' in that order, but I'd be happy for any of those three to win. I think they are all deserving.
May. 29th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
I beg of you sir, DO NOT watch any BSG out of sequence. It's a bit spoiler sensitive that one. Really, do yourself a favour, start from the beginning and work your way through all four seasons.

I promise, it is worth the effort.
May. 29th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
In fact, I would be most interested to hear your comments on it as you go along...
May. 29th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
Sorry, there's no way at all that I am going through two and a bit seasons of BSG just to ensure that I cast my Hugo vote wisely. Apart from anything else, I could hardly do so before the voting deadline!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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