The Moffat Master Plan – Series 5

Warning – Some spoilers for Pyramids of Mars, Image of the Fendahl, Mawdryn Undead and Father’s Day. Major spoilers for City of Death, all of series five, and bits of series six and seven.

Steven Moffat’s first season, series 5, blew me away. I still think it’s his strongest by far and it seemed a very canny and clever beginning to his run. It was enough like Russell Davies’ era Doctor Who not to alienate the fans who had come on board in the last few years, while at the same time gradually shifting the mythos.

The theory I quickly developed, as I watched that season for the first time, was that Moffat was going to slowly remove the seeming godhood that had been bestowed on the Doctor. To take him back to being a simple wanderer who wasn’t known to absolutely everybody. I suspect he’s still heading in that direction, but it’s become more distorted with time, and Moffat’s admitted fear of the audience becoming bored, so he seems to keep straying back and forth.  I may well be wrong.  I hope I’m not.

After becoming disenchanted during series six, to the point where for the first time in my entire life I didn’t care about the show by the end of the season, I went back to look through series five again to get the taste out of my mouth.

While I knew it was not a perfect run, it was solid, held together, and made sense.

Or did it? Continue reading

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The Moffat Master Plan – Prelude…

Since coming back in 2005, Doctor Who has become a show based firmly on the Buffy model. An over arcing story for the season, with episodes that build the arc peppered throughout the run, usually building up to a major conflict and/or big bad.

The original series had done arc story-lines before, but generally handled them differently. The very first Hartnell season when viewed as a whole is about the first Doctor learning to be a hero from his human companions. Other seasons had ongoing stories or themes. Season sixteen was all about the Key to Time. Season eighteen had the constant theme of decay and stagnation, and also incorporated two trilogies of stories before it put the universe itself in direct peril for only the third time in the show’s history.

For instance, the arc for season 8 was about how the Master loves being a complete dick to the Doctor. I didn't say it was a complex or clever arc.

For instance, the arc for season 8 was about how the Master loves being a complete dick to the Doctor.
I didn’t say it was a complex or clever arc.

Since coming back, the enforced arcs building to big end of season showdowns have given us the potential end of the universe five times in seven years. Where the original series was contented to simply try to end the series with a solid story, admittedly not always successfully, the new series by its nature has to try to give us a massive, ‘important’ story to finish the season with.

One of the problems with this is the perceived need to build-up to that finale. Russell Davies’ way of handling this was to have a word or phrase pop up throughout the season, keeping the audience guessing until the end where we would then find out what it referred to.

It wasn’t always successful, and as story or arc building goes, it really is a bit light on. It makes a show of knowing where it’s headed, while really not doing much in the way of work toward actually layering hints or clues. Indeed, the very first year Bad Wolf wasn’t originally intended to be anything special. Before the series aired, the fans went nuts over leaked pictures trying to figure out what the graffiti on the TARDIS meant, figuring it had a deeper meaning. Davies decided to start layering it in to bait them, without any real idea where it was headed. The truth is, Bad Wolf originally had no more importance to the show than than being a one-off piece of random graffiti on the TARDIS.

I am Bad Wolf.  I reached this conclusion in a completely illogical way, but I'm allowed to do that because I'm Bad Wolf.  So Blah!

I am Bad Wolf. I reached this conclusion in a completely illogical way, but I’m allowed to do that because I’m Bad Wolf. So Blah!

The problem with constructing an arc is, you have to be on your game. If you’re really going to build up an over-arcing mystery to a satisfying conclusion, one that will hold up to basic scrutiny, you need to think about where you’re headed and plan carefully for that future destination.

Instead of being a show about the adventures and the people the Doctor and his friends meet, it has become a series about the Doctor and his companions. Hence the continual need to have companions who idolise, fancy, or romantically love the Doctor, and the end of season stories often involving things that directly affect members of the TARDIS crew on a personal level, usually leading to unlikely destinies for those characters.

The destinies of the companions these days make some of the surprise sudden departures due to unforeseen romances and the like from the old series look brilliantly restrained.

K9 and Leela elope together leaving the Doctor alone once more.

K9 and Leela elope together leaving the Doctor alone once more.

Doctor Who as a series now isn’t about the stories, it’s about the season’s clues. Fans obsess over any little detail that might have something to do with that season’s arc. All too often stories are treated by fans a means to get the hints to the finale, rather than having a point in and of themselves. The fact that the story may be an excellent stand-alone is considered less important than the arc. Indeed, some stories are badly hurt by having aspects of the arc poorly grafted in.

Once Steven Moffat took over, he made a show of having a better idea of how to layer in hints and clues that would pay off. Certainly his first season had some very clever story-telling scattered and hinted at throughout. But for every bit that pays off and works, there are several other bits that don’t hold together.

Now, in fairness, virtually no series can hold up to close inspection. There will always be bits where things are a bit hand-wavey, or simply don’t add up or hold together. However, in turning Doctor Who into a show where the clues scattered throughout are meant to be of crucial importance, in actively inviting the audience to pay close attention and to treat all manner of things and moments as potentially being vital story elements, it also invites us to be more critical of when these things don’t add up.

Moffat’s storylines are full of glaring inconsistencies. While it’s painted as an incredible layered puzzle, in fact it’s even less well constructed than Davies’ run.

I’m usually the guy who is surprised by all the plot holes and such I haven’t spotted that my friends have. Minutes after watching something, when others are saying, “But what about the such-and-such?” I’m sitting there amazed that I missed the errors that seemed so obvious to others. In fact, it’s become one of my judging criteria – if I don’t spot an issue until after the film or episode is over, I figure they’ve done a good job. But if I spot it while watching it for the first time, if it’s something so glaring that it spoils my suspension of disbelief, then they must have been pretty bloody slack for someone as clueless as me to spot the issue.

I’ve spotted a lot of issues with Moffat’s seasons on a first viewing.

And in going through them to research for this little run of posts, I’ve found even more inconsistencies. So over the next few articles I’m going to run through the season arcs in detail, since the new series wants us paying such close attention.

I’ve suffered for my obsession, and now it’s your turn.

Here are a few of questions that have yet to be answered.

  • When will we see the fall of the Eleventh on the Fields of Trenzalore? Because surely the events in The Name of the Doctor don’t count as the fall…
  • The Silence wanted to stop the Doctor from answering “the question that must never be asked.” His name. But he didn’t answer that question at Trenzalore when asked it, so is that arc now over?
  • Why does the “Most Important Leaf in the Universe” change to a radically differently shaped leaf? (Actually I know the answer to this one, and it’s both really annoying and quite telling)
  • So who was it wanted to blow up the TARDIS in the first place in Pandorica Opens?
  • Who was saying, “Silence will fall,” in the TARDIS?

Except for the leaf, I can actually see a couple of ways to tie these questions together and give some satisfactory answers. And I really hope Moffat does just that. I’d love to have all those elements that have annoyed me be explained or retconned in a way that works.

It’d be nice to have faith in the writing again.

Altitude

Altitude – 2/10

altitude

What can I say about Altitude? Some of the cinematography was nice, and there’s an interesting twist I didn’t see coming around an hour in. Oh, and it’s in focus, and the effects are actually pretty good. And the acting isn’t terrible.

Other than that, it features three unsympathetic or unlikeable male characters, and two female characters who are passable. That’s probably its biggest flaw – the characterisation. But it’s a really huge flaw for a film of this type. Pretty much everyone makes at least one really bad decision, acts in a way that is horrible, and does something particularly stupid.  It’s not a case where they each do one of the previous things, they each do all three.  At least once.

Basically it’s bloody hard to care about any of these people, or indeed the film.

Purely by accident, I saw Cube, then this – and Altitude really highlighted the importance of decent characterisation.  They are essentially the same type of film – a group of people trapped in a confined, high stress environment in which they have little-to-no control.  The difference is with Cube we care about or understand the characters and their actions and motivations.  With Altitude, we don’t give a damn.

I can see how people would say it fits within the broad cosmic horror definition, but really, it’s just a really weak episode of Twilight Zone that’s been blown out to 90 minutes. Actually, as a 30 minute short film, I suspect it would have been much, much better since there would have been less of the characters.

I’d spoil this one something rotten like I did with The Forgotten, but except it missteps so badly right from our first introduction to these people, I really can’t be bothered giving it any more of my attention.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Cube

Cube – 8/10

cube

What’s nice about the first film is we know nothing about the universe it’s set in. Yes we learn stuff as we go along, but it’s still a situation where we don’t know enough. This one fits the cosmic horror bill mainly due to the characters not having any control or ability to influence things. They don’t know the rules, though they do figure some of them out as they go. There’s other elements as well, but that requires spoiling the film, which I’m reluctant to do.

Cube‘s real strength is as a character piece. Throw a bunch of people together in an enclosed, high-stress environment, and watch them react and interact. They shift and change, have layers and secrets, and all these things make it an intriguing watch.

When characters are inevitably killed it’s gruesome and gory, but not too over the top. I get the feeling the main reason for the nastiness of the deaths is to sell the danger, and make those scenes where we know there’s a trap that much more tense.

16 years later, Cube is still a classic, and proves once again that flashy special effects can’t beat good writing and characterisation.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Messiah of Evil

Messiah of Evil – 6/10

messiah-of-evil

Messiah of Evil isn’t a bad, film, but it struggles to be as good as it could be. I like movies that many would consider slow, but I found this a little… well, slow. The core story is ok, and the threat increases nicely, but it does everything at a very relaxed pace.

That said, some sequences work because of this. The scene at the cinema works precisely because it takes ages to get where it’s going. The audience knows what’s going to happen, and the build up to the inevitable is nicely handled, even if the resolution feels a little less satisfying.

Some good character actors get to show why they’re popular, but sadly it feels at times with the leads as if the director has grabbed the first take each time. There’s some lovely design work for the artist’s home, and some creepy ideas, but it all just can’t quite make it past the pacing.

It’s rare I say this, but I think it’s a film that deserves a remake. Keep the same script, with minimal changes, just improve the pacing. Or make it as a 45 minute short film.

Definitely worth a look, but keep expectations low.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

50th Anniversary Trailer Breakdown

Okay, seen a couple of lists about the trailer, some have drawn some pretty long bows, some have missed elements that I spotted.  So here’s my list. I’ve put up framegrabs, then highlighted and numbered most of the relevant bits.  If you click on an image it will jump to a full sized version.

I haven’t always gone for the clearest shot of an object, but this already runs to 19 images and 90 entries total, so I was trying to get the most bang for my buck. With the way I’ve presented it, you should be able to figure out where it is on screen and check for yourself.

But mostly I only cover the elements that I’m fairly certain of, there’s very little supposition in my list, and I debunk (possibly incorrectly) one or two other theories. I did skip one or two shots of Daleks where I found it impossible to narrow down the type or story.  I have no doubt I’ve missed a few things, but I think I’ve covered most of them fairly well.

01

1. The policeman seen in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. Fred Rawlings was the first actor seen in the show.

2. This bike is potentially one of the most anal retentive bits of continuity.  It appears clearly in some of the set photos for An Unearthly Child, but you can’t see it in the episode.  Or maybe it’s a nod to the bike Tom Baker rides in Shada.  What? You want a bike seen on screen in an episode that was broadcast? Okay, it belongs to Pigbin Josh from Claws of Axos.  Happy?

Continue reading

The Ugly

The Ugly 8/10

The Ugly

This is the first one that I found listed that doesn’t quite work for me as a cosmic horror. There are certainly elements, and it looks like it might be going in a very creepy and odd direction, but then goes for something a little more predictable.

That said, it’s a very well done little film. It has some subtle and stylish moments, some interesting character development, and some lovely visuals. It’s not perfect. The ending doesn’t work, and the film goes for a few too many moments where we see something horrific only to have it turn out to be in a character’s imagination, which actually robs some of the other genuinely odd creepy moments of their oomph.

But I’m damning with faint praise. It’s certainly clever, disturbing, and good enough that I’m interested in checking out the director’s other work, and I’ll certainly be watching it again.

For those curious, you can buy a copy here.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Classic Who – Less is More

No, I really do enjoy watching Classic Who this way.

No, I really do enjoy watching Classic Who this way.

So, it’s been less than two days since Enemy of the World and Web of Fear were released to iTunes, and I’m already seeing people posting about how they’ve watched both stories already. And unsurprisingly, some of these folks are saying, “Well, they’re good, but not that good.”

Now everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that opinion has to be fairly arrived at.  And I maintain my stance that especially on a first watch, spreading out Classic Who episodes, rather than watching them together in clumps, is the way to do it. Continue reading

Yellowbrickroad (very minor spoilers)

yellowbrickroad – 9/10

Yellowbrickroad_MoviePoster

Stunningly good in the way it builds and immerses the audience in the creeping weirdness and horror experienced by the characters. It’s not perfect, but it does what it does very, very well.

Like Uzumaki, it tells its story excellently. It picks when it will hold back, and when to go for broke. And even then it makes clever directorial choices – the first scene of overt violence is ridiculously over the top, but it’s shot silently except for a character’s horrified reaction – which helps to sell it magnificently.

And other choices – those of the kinds of characters and the ways in which they are affected, the break down of their psyches, the ways in which they act out or draw in to themselves. They may not always be the best choices, or most surprising, but they are interesting ones.

And I may be misremembering, but I don’t think it used any incidental music. All music heard is also heard by the characters. Not a new thing, but again, it suits the film’s immersive quality.

Probably the only issue I have is with the ending. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s a divisive one.  Most will either love or hate it, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Over all, this is the best of the films to date in terms of solid film-making, leaving me unnerved, and also fitting the whole “cosmic horror” angle I’ve been watching for.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Red Sands (very minor spoilers)

Red Sands – 8/10

Red Sands

This really takes its time to build up to what is going to happen, and then goes about doing it in mostly character-driven ways. I really enjoyed this low budget but well made film.

It mixes subtle moments of weirdness with the occasional gory bit, into a mostly quite effective horror piece. Some of the effects are a bit obvious, but they serve to tell the story.  Some of the best effects moments are brilliantly restrained and fleeting, helping to enhance to weirdness. They’re moments where you want to go back to see them again because they were just so quick and odd.

It certainly makes me want to check out the director’s earlier efforts.

My only real complaint is that the opening bit that mentions and talks about the Djinn feels like an unnecessary add-on. I think it may have been an even stronger movie without any of that there to tip the audience off. Then again, some people would have been put off by the lack of any explanation, and there’s nothing to suggest what they are up against actually is a Djinn.

I could see people being a bit divided on this one. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but in terms of telling an interesting and different character-driven horror tale, I thought it was very good.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.