I’m back and angry…

Hello gentle reader.  Sorry to have been away so long.  December was busy, a virus ran through our house, and then I had to go interstate to visit sick relatives and bereaved friends, and post-trip I was pretty bloody tired.

So what brought me back out again?  What was it that got me all fired up and angry?  What got me so very annoyed that I could not avoid hitting the keyboard?

Steven Bloody Moffat!

So that’s why I love myself. But enough about me. Why do YOU love me?

I read this today – “Steven Moffat has defended criticisms that his stories contain plot holes.

In an interview with BBC Radio 2, Moffat addressed the issue for both Sherlock and Doctor Who and explained that he thinks clever viewers are able to join the dots themselves and don’t always need an on screen explanation.

He said: “I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained.

“Sometimes you expect the audience to put two and two together for themselves. For Sherlock, and indeed Doctor Who, I’ve always made the assumption that the audience is clever.”

That’s the whole of it, but here’s a link to the site.

What I dislike about this is the cynical, utterly transparent, manipulative intent of his comments.  What he’s essentially saying is, “No, it’s not that I’m leaving plot holes, it’s that people who criticise my writing aren’t very clever, unlike people who like what I do.”

It’s Moffat attempting his own version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. [1]

He’s broadly attempting to do two things.  One is to make people think twice before criticising him, lest they be perceived as being a bit dim.  The other is to bolster the support of those who enjoy his writing in an uncritical way, by telling them that by enjoying what he does, they must be more clever than those who are critical.

Well, I’m bloody calling him on it.

When he says, “I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained.” he is 100% right.  But most of his critics aren’t complaining about things that happen off screen that you can figure out with a little logical extrapolation.  They are complaining about him setting up some sort of premise or rule, and then later changing or breaking it without any sort of explanation.

They are complaining about things that match his very own definition of a plot hole!

 

In my post looking at Series 5, I give Moffat the benefit of the doubt a few times. I work to come up with solutions to things that aren’t explicitly stated. I try to look for things that might have been intended, and suggest those as possibilities.  It’s not my job, I’m not the guy who is being paid to tell a supposedly coherent story, but I do it all the same. Where I take Moffat to task is the bits where there is no reasonable explanation to things.

So, let’s just go for a simple, straight forward version of a thing that Moffat has done that can’t be explained.  The Crack.  I won’t go into lots of detail, because I’m doing that in the Moffat Master Plan posts.  But here is a quick rundown.  Mind you, even a quick rundown needs a lot of words, because here I will be going out of my way to actively explain as many of the plot holes as I can.

 

The Eleventh Hour – The Crack is two parts of space and time that should never have touched.  The Crack doesn’t glow or anything else.  The Doctor opens it, and it leads directly from Amy’s bedroom to the Atraxi prison.  Then it snaps shut without a trace.

Now the Doctor does say that maybe things will go horribly wrong, so let’s say it was always Moffat’s intention that the Doctor’s interference with it would change the nature of the Crack.

 

Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks have glowing versions of the Crack, but we don’t see their effects on anything.

 

In The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone we learn that the Crack will remove you from history if you get too close.  It’s pure time energy. Again, I’ll be charitable and say it was always Moffat’s intention that the Doctor’s interference in Eleventh Hour would cause this side effect.

 

The Vampires of Venice Rosanna talks in detail about the Cracks. Some are tiny, some are huge. Some lead to other places, and some have only ‘silence and the end of all things.’  Note, this is not The Silence, because the interpretation here is literal.  We even have a moment where her dialogue about silence is repeated when all the sound fades from the final scene.

This contradicts the idea of the Crack removing things from history, because we don’t have a literal silence associated with the Crack in any other story.  But again, I’ll be charitable and say this is all because of the Doctor’s actions in Eleventh Hour.  The Cracks no longer lead to other worlds because of the Doctor.  While you can argue that it’s subtly implied by a couple of lines of dialogue in The Eleventh Hour, it only works if we take a hell of a lot on faith.

But you know, let’s give Steven the benefit of the doubt.  He always figured that we’d all be clever enough to know this is what he intended, and the natural extrapolation of what he said in that interview is that unlike every other person on the planet, he never makes mistakes.

 

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood has the Crack. And now, even though if you get too close to it you will be removed from history, the Doctor puts his hand right in it.  Okay, maybe it’s because the Doctor is a Time Lord.  Maybe we’re meant to assume that’s why he’s okay, even though in Flesh and Stone he said if he went into the Crack, it would close. But he doesn’t go fully into it, he only puts his hand in.

But then, the Crack actively reaches out for Rory!

Tendrils of light reach for his body, and Rory is removed from history.  He didn’t get too close.  It took him.  It never, ever behaves in this way again.  So by Moffat’s own definition, there is a plot hole.  It’s something that can’t be explained.  And the only reason it’s the first is because I’m being very bloody charitable.

 

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang So the Doctor restarting the Universe causes him to start skipping back along his own time stream.  Okay, I don’t know why, but I’ll accept that.  And the Crack won’t close until he’s on the other side of it and erased from history.  And because Amy has lived with the Crack for a chunk of her life, if she remembers him, she can bring him back.  I’ll accept all that.

And because I’m being super charitable, I won’t even get hung up on the fact that in Pandorica Opens Amy had a picture of Rory in the Roman book from her bedroom, even though he’d been removed from history in Cold Blood.  It can’t be explained, but I said I’d concentrate on just the plot holes to do with The Crack, even though that sort of counts.

Amy will have her parents back again, the ones that were taken by the Crack.  We’re never given an explanation for why it never took Amy.  I mean it was in Amy’s bedroom wall.  She was around it for a bare minimum of 8 hours a night not to mention during the day.  But somehow it managed to take her parents and not her.  There is no explanation for that.

So there’s another plot hole.

 

In The Time of the Doctor we get the last appearance of the Crack.  Even though we were lead to believe the Doctor had closed it forever, in fact he hadn’t.  But let’s ignore the fact that that means stepping into the Crack in The Big Bang was a pointless act by the Doctor if he always thought it would reappear.

It’s putting out a signal that a Cyber Head can translate and determine as being Gallifreyan in origin.  However the Doctor, a Gallifreyan, in a Gallifreyan made TARDIS with all its computing power and translation ability, and with his long established knowledge of even a rare language like Old High Gallifreyan, can’t figure out what it was saying or even realise it was Gallifreyan in origin in the first place.

Oh wait, no sorry, that massive friggin’ plot hole doesn’t count because it’s not the Crack that’s the problem there.  The Gallifreyans obviously chose to broadcast a message throughout all time and space, specifically aimed at the Doctor, in a coded form that he couldn’t possibly understand unless he happened to still have the Seal of the High Council from half a dozen regenerations back.  That’s not Moffat’s fault, that’s the Time Lords being stupid, just like all those people who think he has plot holes in his stories.

Fortunately the eleventh Doctor always carries the Seal of the High Council in his pocket.  Apparently. [2]

But now the Crack actually leads to another universe, and waiting on the other side is Gallifrey, ready to return.

Not other worlds, because remember Prisoner Zero and the Saturnyne fish folks came from other worlds to Earth.  No explanation for the change, nothing for me to be charitable about, so it counts as a plot hole.

The Crack doesn’t have ‘the silence and end of all things’ that Rosanna mentioned, because it since has turned out that it must have been a reference to The Silence after all, in spite of all the evidence.  There is no explanation for the change, no way for me to dress it up, so plot hole.

Oh, and now it would seem the Crack isn’t dangerous to be near, since the Doctor spent years and years sitting next to it, and it never reached out tendrils of light and took him.  Why didn’t it do that?  Surely it’s not a plot hole?

I’ll ignore the fact that the Crack has been broadcasting its message through all of time and space, even though it brings up all sorts of problems that can’t possibly be more plot holes even though they have no explanation.

Oh, and now it turns out that the Time Lords can open and close and move the Crack at will.  No explanation for that.  They just do it.  But I’m sure Moffat just intended us to assume that, well, it’s the Time Lords.  They can do whatever they want with Cracks in the skin of the universe, as they need to.  You know, a bit like Moffat.

I will accept that they had to wait until the eleventh Doctor was at the right point in his timestream to call on his help.

So, if I’m being super charitable and making huge allowances for what Moffat may have intended even though he never made it very clear onscreen, that’s five plot holes to do with one of his central concepts.

Five.  If I ignore a huge amount of other stuff.

 

Let me be clear here. I don’t expect perfection.  I don’t expect there to be no plot holes ever.  That’s unrealistic and unfair.  And I’m quite happy to make allowances for things that make thematic sense even if from a plot point of view they don’t quite hold together, it’s why I’m a huge fan of The Rings of Akhaten [3] – despite its flaws, thematically it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of work.

And I’m quite prepared to forgive minor flaws in plot if the character stuff flows and gives us a really great human story, like in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.  It’s not about the dinosaurs, or Nefertiti, or Ridell, Solomon, the Silurians, or Amy, Rory, or the Doctor.  It’s about Rory’s dad Brian discovering that there’s a bigger, wider world out there than he’d allowed himself to experience.

I’ll even give a production a pass for artistic license. Every other time the Doctor uses the vortex manipulator in The Big Bang, he disappears from one spot and reappears in another. But when he uses it to take the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS/sun, it physically flies there. Why? Because dramatically it’s the right thing to do. You can’t explain the change, but it doesn’t matter. Doing it that way gives us time to watch the Doctor’s reactions as he sacrifices himself to save the universe. You don’t get that if he simply disappears and reappears at the centre of the explosion.

I’m not saying every story has to be this great thematic piece, or a moving story of one person’s awakening, there’s nothing wrong with a fun story, an invasion story, a scary story.  They all have their place.  But you owe it to your audience that they be internally consistent.

 

Now I’ve gone to a huge amount of effort here to be nice, but with the comments in that interview, he’s being insulting to everyone who watches his work.

Steven Moffat has shown time and again that he can be an amazingly good writer.  Sadly, since becoming the show-runner of Doctor Who, even being a consistently good story teller has slowly become the exception to his writing rather than the rule.  But he not only thinks he’s doing a good job, he thinks he’s doing a great job.

It’s like the Dunning-Kruger effect – he can’t see that he’s not actually as smart as he thinks he is.  He’s started to believe his own press.  He’s been told he’s a bloody genius so many times that he now can’t believe that he’s not.

Oh, we still see flashes of the old Moffat – I thought The Bells of St. John was a fabulous story, and most of The Day of the Doctor was good and enjoyable – but generally his stuff doesn’t hold together any more.  Timey-wimey was a good joke the first time.  But now when Moffat has no explanation for something, it’s gets trotted out with a knowing wink to the audience.

“Hey folks, I know you like this joke, so here it is!  Again!  So I don’t really need to make sure this stuff holds together, do I?  No… and look, every time I do something with time that doesn’t hold up, just excuse it by saying it’s “timey-wimey” and we’ll both have a giggle and be happy.”

He does the same thing in Sherlock now.  “Oh, you all know Sherlock is really clever and good at deducing things, so you won’t mind if I have him make more and more outlandish deductions without explaining them, will you?  Because it’s funny when he does that, and funny excuses everything!”

It’s laziness in writing, and I use that in its most deliberately insulting manner.

 

Leaving the audience to work some stuff out for themselves? That’s good writing. It engages the audience, makes them identify with what’s going on. But you have to approach it right.

Doctor Who now is a puzzle show, where you’re meant to engage with it as it builds towards an end of season finale.  Every season has at least one mystery arc.

A well-written mystery story works on a bell curve.  At one end you have the people who won’t see the answer until it’s unveiled to them in the finale.  At the other end you have those people who will figure out the mystery a short way into it.  The big bulgy bit in the middle of the bell curve is everyone else.

Here’s the thing though.  A well written mystery works that way because a good writer layers in information, hints and clues throughout.  It works through cause and effect.  We’re given clues to the plot, or to character motivations and other things, and we’re able to piece together what we know as we go.  That’s what engages us about the mystery – as we get the hints and clues, we theorise on where things are headed, and it doesn’t matter if we’re wrong.  It doesn’t matter because the writer has done something clever, and we can appreciate that they gave us all the clues and still managed to outwit us.

Good writing is about being consistent, and taking the audience with you on the journey, even if they don’t know where they’ll wind up. Making sure that, at least in retrospect, the audience can understand how A leads to B leads to C, and that those things happen in a satisfying manner. It requires planning and attention to detail. It requires caring enough to try to make things fit together properly.

Good writing is about showing your audience some respect, and Steven has very little respect for his audience.

 

When you write something, anything, and put it out there, you’re essentially saying to people that you have put in the effort to try and make this worth their time. They may not always enjoy the finished result, but it shouldn’t be because the writer didn’t care enough to try and make it internally consistent.

Now, go back and look at my run down on the ever-changing Crack.  Find me one explanation for why it reached out and grabbed Rory, something we never saw it do at any other time.  Explain to me how getting to close to the Crack can remove you from time and space, but Amy and the Doctor, quite separately, were able to be next to it for decades and longer without being swallowed up.

Now I’ll happily admit that that’s nit-picking. I’d be quite happy to let it go as a conceit if everything else held together and made sense.  But it doesn’t.

And that’s just the Crack. Trust me when I say the moment you try to examine The Silence, the whole River Song assassin thing, The Great Intelligence storyline, and the Impossible Girl rubbish, it all falls to pieces.

No one sets out to write badly.  Everyone writes the best story they can.  And I believe that Moffat does too.  However, he has a low opinion of us, and a highly inflated opinion of himself.  He doesn’t think he has to try any more, and that’s not only bulldust, it’s arrogant and insulting to all of us.

Steven Moffat is paid as a professional to tell us stories.  That are worth the time and emotional commitment that we put in because they will be satisfying and internally consistent. That’s his job and a chunk of the time he’s not doing it.

 

Now if he’d come out about the accusations of plot holes and said, “Look, these are highly complex shows, with highly complex narratives.  Sadly plot holes creep in with even the best of writers for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes its because you realise that it doesn’t hold together too late to be able to change it.  Or you decide that modifying events will actually allow you to tell what you believe to be a better story, even though it causes other issues.

So while there may be plot holes, I have never done anything less than try to tell the best stories of which I’m able, to make them enjoyable, and I hope the audience can find their way clear to forgiving us when we do make mistakes.  Yes we are the writers, but we’re also human and fallible.”

I could have respected that. The plot holes would have still annoyed me, but he’d have acknowledged them and appealed to me as a fellow human being to be forgiving of the flaws.

Instead he said, “If you find fault with my shows, it’s because you’re stupid.”

So he can go and get stuffed.

 

 

 

 

1. I was trying to explain to someone why Moffat’s comments had annoyed me so very much, and my wife came up with The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s so very accurate I had to credit her, rather than pinch the idea and pretend it was all mine. Which is what I normally do ;P
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2. The fact he has the Seal on him is awfully clumsy, but I’d forgive if the other stuff all held together. It doesn’t. One bit of writing advice I saw once that has stayed with me is, “Coincidences that get the characters out of a problem are bad. Coincidences that get the characters into trouble are good.”
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3.Yes, I’m one of the four people (and one ocelot) who thinks that The Rings of Akhaten is a fantastic story.  At the same time, it’s also a prime example of the problems you get sometimes if you don’t make things clear enough to the audience.  I write about the pros and cons of the story here.

I will say that I think anyone who is critical of this story, but not critical of Steven Moffat’s writing, is being horribly unfair.  Rings is far more internally consistent than many of Moffat’s major arc storylines.

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