Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time Can Be Rewritten 20 (Time Crash)

Convention, apparently, is to place these things in the midst of the end of Frontios while the Doctor is depositing the Gravis, a convention seemingly begun by Paul Magrs’ Excelcis Dawns. Magrs, of course, in typical fashion introduces far more continuity problems than he solves doing this, given that Tegan is on the TARDIS at the time, and anyway, I forgot to write this entry instead of Resurrection of the Daleks at the end of my last stretch of doing this blog, so we’re doing it here.

This also, of course, marks the first time I have to deal overtly with the new series instead of in passing reference. So time to obliterate all notion that I can stitch together some sort of consensus about the series and just start pissing off large sections of fandom, I suppose. I won’t bother playing about - as I’ve said before, anyone expecting the blog to turn sour on the new series is going to be sorely disappointed. Even when I agree with those who criticize it - and I’ll grant that there are deep flaws in the Davies era and fault lines that could turn into deep flaws in the Moffat era - the fact remains that making redemptive readings of the new series is not even remotely difficult. Disliking it frankly requires more effort than liking it, and I just can’t be bothered. If you can, well, I win, because I get more television to enjoy than you do, so there.

But on top of that basic issue there are a few more substantive issues I have with critics of the new series, and Time Crash serves as a bit of a ground zero for them. There’s an objection to Time Crash that gets voiced with some frequency on forums that serves as a perfect moment to repel a general critique of the new series, namely that there’s something wrong with the sequence at the end in which Tennant’s Doctor proclaims Davison’s Doctor to be “his” Doctor. In fact, I’m going to have my Ian Levine moment here and simply declare this objection to be evil.

To be fair, the problem with it is not quite that it doesn’t make sense on its own terms. If you are invested in the idea that the Doctor has a coherent “life” and that he is always the same character then, indeed, the idea of him picking favorites among his past selves is absurd and jarring. I can and will readily grant that. What I not only won’t grant but will remain openly hostile to is the idea that because there’s a context in which that exchange doesn’t make sense this constitutes a problem. And this encapsulates a great number of complaints about the new series, as a strange alliance of people who adore what they think the classic series was and people who just hate Doctor Who in general insist that there are things that don’t make sense or don’t parse, as though their inability to understand something makes them intellectually superior to the overwhelming majority of the audience who has no problem comprehending things.

Because to an overwhelming majority of the audience what happens at the end of Time Crash is perfectly blatant. The fourth wall is not so much broken as made porous and we get a sequence in which both David Tennant and Steven Moffat address Peter Davison and his version of the Doctor. Nobody who was watching the Children in Need telecast for any reasons that extended beyond catching the Doctor Who bit had any difficulty with this. This sort of fourth wall breaking and winking at the audience is, after all, par for the course for a charity telecast. One might as well begin having trouble with “A Fix With Sontarans” or something at that point.

But more to the point, this is a basic comprehension skill for contemporary television. Frames of reference switch rapidly. The postmodernism that we traced the early days of in the Hinchcliffe era is now the default mode of how television works. If you can’t seamlessly and without having to think about it go “oh, this bit is really the show talking about itself and not an attempt to provide a naturalistic depiction of how a quasi-immortal time traveler lives his life” when the show wants you to, you’re just out to sea on the new series. And being out to sea in this way is not a virtue. “I’m not televisually literate” is not a valid objection to anything but yourself.

No, what we have here is an exquisitely crafted eight minute sketch that works well both for people who remember the Davison era and for people who don’t give a crap about Doctor Who and who are watching Children in Need - a portion of the audience that, during Children in Need, one can safely assume is substantial. Everything in it is profoundly influenced and shaped by the past of the series and Peter Davison’s time as the Doctor (right down to the wonderful happenstance of Graham Harper being the director), and, equally, is perfectly suited to its task.

The first half of the piece, for instance, which consists mostly of an extended comedic misunderstanding as Davison’s Doctor fails to grasp what’s going on while Tennant’s (and the audience) are well aware of what’s happening, is gorgeous. Particularly worth noting is Davison’s acting, which is on the one hand spot on for his portrayal of the Doctor (it helps, of course, that he’d been reprising the role for eight years due to Big Finish), and on the other allows him to show off his comedic skills. These skills are worth highlighting specifically, since one of the enduring puzzles of the Davison era is that they hired an actor known for his sitcom roles and then gave him three years of scripts with virtually no comedic material at all.

This gets at one of the things I’ve been meaning to deal with in one of these posts, which is, roughly, why people who think Davison’s Doctor was rubbish are wrong. The usual criticism of him has shifted over the years. During his era the complaint was that he was “bland,” but over time the complaint has turned to the idea that he’s “weak” and “ineffectual,” or, occasionally, “too fallible.” And to some extent Time Crash would seem to nail that, spending half of its runtime with him failing to get the plot. But, of course, the end point of Time Crash is Tennant’s effusive praise for Davison and his “dashing about” and ability to “save the universe with a kettle and string.”

This captures an important divide about Davison - one we’ve already seen in the dismaying failure to give him any decent comedic scripts in his tenure (with Black Orchid being about the nearest attempt). Davison’s Doctor and the writing he got were two different matters. Yes, the writing in the Davison era is too often disappointing, and often strays into grotesquely cynical pieces like Earthshock or Warriors of the Deep. But Davison’s conception of the character isn’t responsible for that. Davison manages a character who is mercurial, tempestuous, and breathtakingly quick-witted. As his ability to squarely hit the characterization of an over twenty-year-old role when put in a comedic context that the original role was never put in demonstrates. He’s the only actor other than Troughton in the classic series who has a version of the Doctor that is this flexible. And like Troughton, he had writers who had little to no interest in using that flexibility. The difference is merely that Davison’s era post-dates organized fandom and all of his episodes are not only surviving but were widely disseminated on videocassette not long after they aired (even if not in official versions). Were Season Five as widely dissected by fandom as Season Twenty, the truth is that their reputations would be similar.

The big advantage of Davison’s approach to the role is that it marked the first time since the 1960s that Doctor Who has actually been a show that, conceptually, could do anything. Given that Doctor Who has long been about injecting the TARDIS into an existing narrative structure, this is important. Davison has enough presence to deform and transform whatever narrative he’s injected into, but he’s capable of doing it in a way that amounts to more than just running around mocking it. (In this regard he largely exceeds the ability of his costar here)

And Time Crash gives him the opportunity to do this to the future version of his own show. It’s worth noting that through the comedic first half, as Tennant goes around making all of the obvious jokes at Davison’s expense (“decorative vegetable”), Davison takes only one real shot at Tennant, but it’s an absolutely scathing one - pointing out that Tennant’s patter really just amounts to describing everything in front of him. Obviously the story isn’t anti-Tennant by any measure, but it’s telling, I think, that it does give an actual critique of Tennant’s portrayal. Even when playing the comedic fool - at his most seemingly ineffectual and fallible - Davison quietly centers the narrative on himself.

Which, of course, sets up the finale, in which Tennant effusively praises Davison’s portrayal. Obviously this moment is meant to work primarily on registers other than as an account of the Doctor’s own psyche. It is an instance in which the Doctor becomes an authorial/actor mouthpiece. But this is still remarkable in that they are serving as mouthpieces for commentary on the classic series - something the new series has done very, very rarely. And what we get is historically interesting, in that it cuts against the received wisdom of fandom without being a flagrant erasure of history. Tennant and Moffat are real and documented fans of the series, but the opinion they give is miles from the documented consensus of fandom.

Of course, the documented consensus of fandom is, for most of fandom’s history, the consensus of a fandom that played a significant if inadvertent role in the series’ cancellation. The fact is that much of what can and should be concluded about the John Nathan-Turner era changes dramatically when it is the lead-in to a lengthy break in the series instead of to the death of the series. Its teleology shifts from the well-worn “death of the program” to the much more interesting “survival of the program” we talked about in the Frontios entry.

And in this regard, Davison’s portrayal of the Doctor is, in fact, absolutely crucial. Because Davison, as Tennant observes, inaugurated the idea of a young Doctor. Previously the role had derived a non-trivial portion of its otherness from the fact that he’s been played as an older male who is iconographically off for the leading man and who derives most of his immediate connotative effect from being “the wise old man.” But Davison throws away all of that and gets by on actually being mercurial clever instead of on the fact that he’s self-evidently the elder statesman in almost any circumstance he can find himself in.

The result is, in some criticisms, a more human Doctor who is too relatable, but I think this misses the point somewhat. First of all, making the Doctor more relatable introduces an interesting alternate mode of engagement with the series. The idea of the companion as “audience identification figure” is deeply entrenched in the series’ logic. It’s been flawed for some time, though it remains the case that the companion is largely there to ask the questions the viewer wants answered. But the relative relatability of the Doctor (and it’s telling, I think, that Davison still excels at moments of being alien and eccentric - he’s majestic at the start of Frontios when Bidmead is writing him eccentrically again) opens the possibility of the audience relating primarily to the Doctor. This seems to me wonderful. The show is, to my mind, wildly more interesting when it suggests being an anarchist alchemist instead of admiring one.

But secondly, I have trouble with the notion that the existence of relatable moments for the Doctor invalidates his alien moments. Indeed, I think the fact that the Doctor can seem relatable one moment and utterly alien the next makes him, on aggregate, more unfamiliar than a character who is predictably alien. The Doctor’s otherness comes not from the fact that he’s consistently inscrutable but from the fact that he flits between a known type of character and a cipher. And swapping the known type of character from a straightforward archetype (grumpy old man, dashing action hero, witty bohemian) to a complex character with relatable traits makes the moments when the Doctor is starkly inhuman far more offputting.

But much of that is an argument for the future. For our purposes at the moment the fact remains that Davison’s Doctor, in hindsight, proved to be as much of a template for the future as Troughton’s did, and that, like Troughton, this is due to his capacity as an actor. The Nathan-Turner years are among the most critically well worn section of the program. Time Crash is a compelling argument that this consensus has become secondary in importance to a new reading. Regardless of what one thinks of the future, the Davison era ought be understood more in relation to the future we have now than the one we had in the 1990s.

85 comments:

  1. I'm watching Time Crash now and, as funny as it is - and I do get a not-overlty-guilty pleasure from seeing Tennant's Doctor being verbally abused for a while by one of his older selves (I adore the ninth and eleventh Doctors, but I really do detest the tenth) - Moffat's dialogue for Davison isn't really particularly 5th Doctor. Lines like "That's a bit undramatic, isn't it?" and the admission that he wanders the universe being "Let's be honest, pretty sort of marvellous," aren't 5th Doctor-like in the least. Added to which the 5th Doctor was very rarely so obviously angry and curmudgeonly. The 5th Doctor's character is definitely being distorted through the lens of the new series; in many ways it's more like a generic view of what an older Doctor Who must have been like.

    This works for the sketch in context - only a small percentage of the viewers would be intimately acquainted with the characterisation and tics of a Doctor from the early 80s - but the "You were my Doctor," sentiment rings a bit hollow to me when Moffat and Tennant seem to be gushing about a version of the Doctor that Davison has never played before.

    Having said that, you could argue this is par for the course as all the Doctors end up playing an odd distortion of themselves when they return for multi-Doctor stories, particularly Troughton (who is in his three reunions much more skittish, cowardly and grumpy - respectively - than he ever was when he was in charge). And Davison's Big Finish performances are excellent, even though he's pretty much created a new 5th Doctor. By my reckoning it's a better one, a 5th Doctor who can get waspish, annoyed, frustrated and whose firey passions are given more dramatic weight than they were on telly when all he had to rail against was Anthony Ainley going "Heh heh heh." I always felt that Davison was capable of being one of the best Doctors of the series but that his scripts at the time - and the lack of solid direction for the show - meant he was always held back.

    Anyway, Time Crash is good fun but trying to gauge much about the 5th Doctor from it seems fruitless as he bears little relation to the 5th Doctor we know.

    Also, I was wondering if you were going to write a small retrospective on Tegan? For someone who was in the show for a long time, and in all but two of Davo's TV stories, you seemed to pass over her quite quickly in the Resurrection entry when you usually have a pagraph or two devoted to departing companions. Naturally, I'll be expecting at least six paragraphs on Kamelion alone.

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    1. in many ways it's more like a generic view of what an older Doctor Who must have been like.

      Actually I think it's more that he's being distorted by having to say Moffatty lines, which are inevitably more sarky and arch than anything Davison was given at the time.

      Like Dr Sandifer I don't think it's an inherent problem that Moffat really writes variations on one voice when that voice is so witty (though I do think it's a danger, in that the lack of variety can get a bit boring, but it's a danger I think that Moffat mostly avoids if sometimes only barely), but it certainly does mean that when he takes over character that others have invented they suddenly sound distinctively different (you could instantly identify a tenth Doctor line form a Moffat script, for example, even out of context, as against one from a Davies (or anyone else) script).

      This is especially heightened in a comic sketch, where Moffat's cramming in as many of his style of jokes as he can.

      So I don't think it's so much 'Davison seen through the lens of the new series' as 'the inevitable result of Davison written by Moffat'.

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    2. Rewatching all of Davison linearly, one thing that has struck me is just how good Davison is when he does get to be angry, though. He doesn't get given it often, but my God, he hits the handful of scenes where he gets to properly rage at someone out of the park.

      Yes, he gets an idiom that's compatible with the fast-paced dialogue of the new series, doubly so when it has to be comedic patter, but he really does sound to me like Davison's Doctor written to a modern idiom.

      You're right, I did kind of shortchange Tegan last entry. Odd of me. I guess I'll do it with A Fix With Sontarans.

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    3. Davison might not be written like his TV Doctor, but he's certainly written like the Big Finish Fifth Doctor, who is a much more sardonic, snappy, cynical (but good-hearted and caring) personality than the TV version.

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  2. My one criticism of "Time Crash" is that it perhaps makes Davison's Doctor a bit TOO dim and crotchety at the beginning; even when frustrated I really find it hard to imagine my Fifth Doctor yelling "Shut up!" and nastily insulting someone the way he does the Tenth at the beginning. But this might just be my rosy-eyed view of the past getting in the way, since in many ways the Fifth Doctor's my first Doctor and thus 'mine' as much as he is Tennant's and Moffats (even if I wasn't watching at the same time they were).

    "If you are invested in the idea that the Doctor has a coherent “life” and that he is always the same character then, indeed, the idea of him picking favorites among his past selves is absurd and jarring."

    To be honest, while I agree with your overall point, I don't really think it's that jarring at all, any more than it's jarring that Two and Three keep shouting at each other in "The Three Doctors" even though by this logic they're essentially the same guy; it's basically a Time Lord version of looking at yourself twenty years younger and thinking either "God, what was I THINKING?" or "Yeah, I ROCKED back then." You're fundamentally the same person, but it's just different perspectives on your past (although granted, you wouldn't necessarily frame it as "You were MY me.")

    I mean, I can fully imagine the Second Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, if they ever met, flattering each other's bow-ties in a mutual love-in.

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  3. Also, I always thought "Time Crash" was supposed to take place in Season Twenty from the Fifth Doctor's POV? The Tenth Doctor alludes to Nyssa and Tegan, and it would kind of work as an interesting contrast to have a radical shift in direction with the Fifth Doctor suddenly confronted with his future after spending so much time going through his past.

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  4. The problem I feel is that Davison's script editor doesn't have a coherent understanding of Davison's personality as the Doctor. So that the personality of Davison's Doctor is more dependent upon the writer than those of other Doctors, and he's that much more vulnerable to being reduced to a Doctor-shaped plot function in the hands of a bad writer.

    That said, if we play the game where we imagine which Doctors would work in which other Doctor's stories, I think Robert Holmes and Christopher Bailey both write Davison's Doctor as a lot like Pertwee. (If we remember Philip pointing out that Pertwee does his best acting when the Doctor's not quite in control of the situation.) I can imagine Davison and Pertwee swapping Carnival of Monsters and Caves of Androzani.

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  5. Excellent article. I'll be 40 in a few months, and I'm often embarrassed by the way many fans in my age group attack the new series for not being the same as the show they grew up on. Don't they remember when we were young and the stuffy fans from the previous generation tried to tear down everything made after Talons? I adore the new series just as much as the classic series, and the hatred shown at David Tennant's Doctor in particular would keep a team of psychiatrists employed for years. It's fine if anyone honestly dislikes or even hates the new series, but some fans attack Ten as if he had broken into their homes and killed their cats.

    As for Five being out of character in Time Crash, he seems consistent with the grumpier side shown in Four to Doomsday, Frontios and parts of Androzani and Visitation.

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    1. But surely it's more than possible to "honestly dislike or even hate the new series" precisely *because* it's "not the same as the show they grew up on"?
      If you like tea, and someone gives you coffee, saying "I don't like this, I prefer tea" seems a reasonable response to me.
      Precisely because the new series is different from the old one, its faults are ones that the old one doesn't share, and I for one find the faults of the old series much more forgivable than those of the new.

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  6. "Davison manages a character who is mercurial, tempestuous, and breathtakingly quick-witted. As his ability to squarely hit the characterization of an over twenty-year-old role when put in a comedic context that the original role was never put in demonstrates. He’s the only actor other than Troughton in the classic series who has a version of the Doctor that is this flexible. And like Troughton, he had writers who had little to no interest in using that flexibility."

    I don't get this. Tom Baker was the most adaptable Doctor who could work and prevail in any genre, whether it's a war story (Genesis of the Daleks), swashbuckler (Androids of Tara), politcal thriller (Deadly Assassin), horror (Planet of Evil) or even surrealist film (Warrior's Gate).

    Davison was a comedown and far more limited, and not just in comparison to Tom. Even Big Finish with their vested interest in untapped potential still don't make Davison nearly proactive enough. They still depend on him being more fertive or ineffectual, sometimes basing entire stories around it, like Creatures of Beauty. His audios have far less range or impact than the Sixth or Eighth Doctor audios.

    In fits and starts maybe he could be quick-witted, like in Enlightenment where he realises the immortals can't read his mind when he's thinking angry thoughts. But later in the same story he's stopping to toss a coin during the urgency of rescuing Turlough which make me ask "is something wrong with him?"

    Certainly Troughton or any of the first four Doctors could never be described as 'puppeteered', and the free-spirited, strong-willed Doctor never should be. But Davison was clearly puppeteered in his self-defeating and sometimes downright insensible actions. He's not just a victim of lazy writing, but a vested interest in making him procrastinate indecisively and fail stupidly just to be different to Tom Baker.

    So the difference between how Troughton's potential was neglected and Davison's was, is that Troughton's Doctor worked in practice and in theory. Davison's Doctor only worked in theory because there was a vested interest in making him get it wrong, even when the solution couldn't have been easier to find, lying at his feet in abundant cannisters of invader-repellent gas.

    "The difference is merely that Davison’s era post-dates organized fandom and all of his episodes are not only surviving but were widely disseminated on videocassette not long after they aired (even if not in official versions). Were Season Five as widely dissected by fandom as Season Twenty, the truth is that their reputations would be similar."

    Had Davison's worst stories and moments occured in Troughton's era, I sorely doubt the show would survive the sixties. I'm still astounded the show and the character endured past such a dead-end period of chasing disaster and failure.

    Troughton's era predates any production team that treated the character with such contempt, or their notion that the current Doctor has to be a contrived backlash against an all-too successful Fourth Doctor. Frankly I find fandom's concensus on Davison to be absurdly forgiving and even that it was the show's last golden age.

    Sure if Davison's era was transplanted back to the late 60's before organised fandom or awareness of the behind the scenes business, it'd be harder to determine what went wrong or to find the voices within fandom that articulated the feeling or knew how behind the scenes decisions were having a detrimental effect. But still something would have been clearly wrong even if we couldn't articulate it.

    But then back in Troughton's day, we wouldn't have DWM telling the fans how the show was doing better than before here and how 'fresh' and 'poignant' Davison's Doctor was, reassuring us whilst the show and its lead character was torn apart.

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    1. Tom Baker was the most adaptable Doctor who could work and prevail in any genre, whether it's a war story (Genesis of the Daleks), swashbuckler (Androids of Tara), politcal thriller (Deadly Assassin), horror (Planet of Evil) or even surrealist film (Warrior's Gate).

      But Baker didn't work in any of those genres: he just turned up, boggled his eyes, chewed the scenery, stole the scenes, guffawed and left. He didn't actually engage with the genres: Tom Baker in a swashbuckler performed exactly the same as Tom Baker in a political thriller or Tom Baker in a horror; and he didn't even perform as the Doctor, he performed as Tom Baker.

      Colliding genres in Doctor Who isn't just about sticking the Doctor (or a mountebank pretending to be the Doctor) in a story of that genre and watching him trample all over it, pushing himself to the fore and bending everything out of shape. It's also about seeing how that genre reflects and infects Doctor Who, in the hope of saying something about both of them. That's what Tom Baker was incapable of because, as he himself admitted, he wasn't a very good actor: he couldn't even come through a door convincingly. So when Tom Baker's Doctor does a swashbuckler, we learn nothing about Doctor Who or swashbucklers; all we do is watch Tom Baker mug for four episodes.

      Davison, on the other hand, changes his performance according to the type of story. That's what mercurial and adaptive means.

      It's Tom Baker who's limited, because he is always and only Tom Baker. Davison is an immense step forwards.

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    2. I think, at least, that there's more of a line between Tom Baker and Baker's Doctor than there is between Pertwee and his role. But the core of what you're arguing is sound, I think. Baker appears in a genre and turns it into a Doctor Who story. Davison and Troughton can appear in a genre and turn it into a version of that genre deformed by Doctor Who. As, in his own way, could Hartnell, actually, for which he never gets enough credit.

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    3. I guess the problem is that like any other Doctor, Davison's portrayal was informed and shaped by the writers, who in turn based it on his portrayal...and so on. You can see this working quite well with Pertwee, whose Doctor eventually ends up a kind of "Best of" version of himself, whereas with Tom the actor himself mainly drives the portrayal of the Doctor, dragging the writers along with him. However with Davison, because the portrayal was so...subtle, shall we say...the writers tended to fall into a "generic Doctor" mode, which gave Davison in turn little to work on. By the time Androzani came along, these 3 years are basically the template for any future revisiting of the 5th Doctor. The 5th Doctor is portrayed the way he is in Big Finish because that's the way he is (or at least the way he's remembered).

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    4. Davison and Trout were good actors, but Tom was a personality who could act, and therein lies the difference. I have, for the longest time, called the Davison era "bland" for a lot of very good reasons. I found his Doctor bland not because Peter couldn't act but because the overwhelming majority of his scripts didn't give his Doctor anything interesting to say. Peter clearly did the best he could. When given an interesting script, he certainly made something of it. The overlit sets, the lack of emotional beats and the general lack of intersting characters made this era bland and unexciting. The Davison as written in Frontios (and we should note that the book of Frontios is even more interesting than the televised version by far) and Caves is a great character, and Peter plays him quite well. 3 years of that character would ahve really given us something to talk about. Someone needed to tell Saward and JNT that arguing and bitching are not the only ways to show character "conflicts". ITs what permeated the Tegan/Doctor dynamic as well as the Doctor/Peri dynamic.

      I'm going to say right here and now, for the record, that i continue to think that Philip overrates the fan industrial complex. No amount of fan bitching can fix the bad science in the Twin Dilemma. So if the vast majority of us fans hate that story, its some bizarre massive group think, its likely because it was a bad story. So there.

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    5. Based on the asides so far I will be somewhat surprised if Philip declares that The Twin Dilemma is an underrated masterpiece.

      The problem with the fan industrial complex is that I doubt they were complaining about the arguing and bitching. Based on my later experience, I'd guess they were probably telling Nathan-Turner that they really liked the way Avon bullied Vila in Blake's 7.

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  7. @ David

    "The 5th Doctor's character is definitely being distorted through the lens of the new series; in many ways it's more like a generic view of what an older Doctor Who must have been like. "

    @ Scott

    "My one criticism of "Time Crash" is that it perhaps makes Davison's Doctor a bit TOO dim and crotchety at the beginning; even when frustrated I really find it hard to imagine my Fifth Doctor yelling "Shut up!" and nastily insulting someone the way he does the Tenth at the beginning."

    The point of Philip's argument is that Time Crash is not about portraying the Doctors as "The Doctor," but that it's a very deliberate breach of the 4th Wall. And it goes both ways: while Tennant is praising Davison (his original portrayal, we must assume) Davison is simultaneously engaged in commentary.

    So, postmodern televisual literacy: If Tennant is "the fan" in this piece, the audience identification surrogate, then Davison isn't just talking to Ten or Tennant, he's talking to *you*. And now his attitude becomes abundantly clear. He's saying that fandom has a patter that examines only the surface of things, most often to generate insults. No wonder he's angry.

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    1. Absolutely true. I understand that; but that doesn't mean it still doesn't stick out as a bit glaring and awkward when looking at it in context of the character of the Fifth Doctor, for me at least.

      And we have to at least partially look at it in context of the character of the Fifth Doctor for the simple reason that postmodern televisual literacy only takes you so far. We're watching Tennant and Davison comment on each other, true, but we're also watching the fictional characters of the Tenth Doctor and the Fifth Doctor interact for as part of a little mini-adventure, if only because the audience doesn't actually want to watch the "David Tennant Praises Peter Davison While Peter Davison Simultaneously Critiques David Tennant and the Fandom of Doctor Who" Show during "Children In Need", they want to watch a bit of "Doctor Who". Ergo, while it's not JUST about this "Time Crash" IS, at least partially, about portraying the Doctors as "The Doctor"; it wouldn't be a piece of "Doctor Who" if it wasn't.

      It works on several levels, absolutely, but that doesn't translate to it working SUCCESSFULLY on all those levels at the same time (or at least COMPLETELY successfully; I don't HATE the way the Fifth Doctor comes off, it just strikes me as a bit jarring). And for me, personally, one of the levels that it doesn't quite work on -- and I have to stress that I otherwise really enjoy "Time Crash" -- is the initial characterisation of the Fifth Doctor it presents. However way you look at it, the characterization of the Fifth Doctor was at least partially sacrificed for a postmodern moment, and for me it didn't quite pay off.

      This is, of course, at least partially because I have the baggage of having watched Peter Davison's previous portrayal of the Doctor before ever watching "Time Crash", which is naturally going to affect my viewing experience. But nevertheless, being postmodern doesn't by itself automatically get you out of every pickle.

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    2. It's also kind of more annoying to read in this way, since according to this approach it kind of comes off as a slightly smug little bit of fan-baiting, since the criticism they're essentially making of me as a fan in making this criticism -- that I'm shallow and only pay attention to surface details -- is a criticism they wouldn't even have cause to make of me if they hadn't changed those surface details in a way that would slightly annoy me in the first place.

      I mean, I can take being called out on being a bit of a stuck-in-the-past and complaining about not getting some of the surface details right when they arguably don't matter, but when I'm only complaining in the first place because they've deliberately provoked me into doing so it seems kind of unfair to then use it as a stick to beat me with it.

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    3. I think I have to agree a bit more with Scott here then Phil and Jane. I'm certainly literate enough in televised postmodernism to understand what's going on, at least I'd like to think I am (and I kind of resent the implication that the only reason I might be criticizing "Time Crash" is because I'm not), but that doesn't mean I automatically have to *enjoy* or *appreciate* the kind of postmodernism on display or the way it's executed.

      I found the way Tennant/Doctor and Davison/Doctor spar with one another in the beginning and then how Tennant/Moffat fawns over Davison at the end really off-putting not because it was "breaking character" or because the fourth wall stuff was messing me up but because I thought the writing and dialogue sounded conceited. I'm certainly not opposed to the creative team using time travel to tip a hat to the show's past via postmodern symbolism, I would just have done it differently.

      I've been known to come down hard on the New Series, but I don't actively hate it in practice. I in fact rate the Christopher Eccelston season as one of my favourite seasons in the franchise and there's more than a fair bit of the Tennnant and Smith stories I enjoy as well. However, I still have some concerns about the fundamental operation of the show at this point and I don't think they're totally invalid or inappropriate. Maybe I just have a philosophical disconnect with Davies and Moffat, but that's only because I have a large canvas of experiences with Doctor Who to call upon and I approach all fiction from a writer's perspective, not a reader's. That's just what I do. And I mean I think it's only fair to point out I've seriously criticized huge swaths of the Classic Series too: I've not been shy about my dislike for Seasons 3, 5, 11, 13, 15 and, well, pretty much the whole Saward era, so it's not like I'm totally stuck in my ways and yelling at the damn kids to get off my lawn.

      I bear no ill will to those who are die-hard New Series fans, even if I don't typically relate to them. We all have different backgrounds and perspectives after all and it was because of them we still have the show today. I certainly can't take that away from them.

      I used to have a professor and mentor who would say the only reason to criticize something is because you love it and care enough about it that you want to see it succeed and do better than you feel it's doing now. Otherwise why would you bother or care?

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    4. To be fair, your argument isn't the one I was savagely attacking there, Josh. But complaints about the very existence of the "you were my Doctor" bit are a real line of criticism about the episode that exists, and one that seemed to me in need of stark opposition. Your critiques of the new series are interesting. And will require many blog entries to meticulously dismantle and lay to waste. ;)

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    5. I didn't think you were directly attacking me, Phil, but you must know I can be a self-conscious kind of person and I felt the need to cover my backside, so to speak.

      I'll be anxiously awaiting our future dialogues on this subject-I'm sure they will prove endlessly enlightening ;-)

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    6. @ Scott

      It works on several levels, absolutely, but that doesn't translate to it working SUCCESSFULLY on all those levels at the same time (or at least COMPLETELY successfully; I don't HATE the way the Fifth Doctor comes off, it just strikes me as a bit jarring). And for me, personally, one of the levels that it doesn't quite work on -- and I have to stress that I otherwise really enjoy "Time Crash" -- is the initial characterisation of the Fifth Doctor it presents....

      I mean, I can take being called out on being a bit of a stuck-in-the-past and complaining about not getting some of the surface details right when they arguably don't matter, but when I'm only complaining in the first place because they've deliberately provoked me into doing so it seems kind of unfair to then use it as a stick to beat me with it.


      To be fair, I found Davison's latest portrayal jarring, too. That said, in getting into the matter of characterization, we're already beyond the surface details. Frankly, I think Davison's comment on Tennant/Fandom has more to do with rebutting the *obvious* obvservation that age has taken its toll on the actor.


      However way you look at it, the characterization of the Fifth Doctor was at least partially sacrificed for a postmodern moment, and for me it didn't quite pay off.

      In the end it paid off for me, because I read it as a more idealized version of how Davison wouldn've played the part, a sort of retrospective acknowledgment that he could given the role a bit more of an edge, overall. And, maybe, I'm more forgiving because this is a Children In Need special, so the story already comes with a very different context than a regular episode.

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    7. @ WGPJosh

      I found the way Tennant/Doctor and Davison/Doctor spar with one another in the beginning and then how Tennant/Moffat fawns over Davison at the end really off-putting not because it was "breaking character" or because the fourth wall stuff was messing me up but because I thought the writing and dialogue sounded conceited.

      What was conceited about it? And what is it about "conceitedness" you find off-putting?

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    8. To be sure arrogance is a major part of the characterization of Tennant's Doctor so I have to be careful in the way I respond. That said, I still find something unpleasant about the exchange that goes beyond what I'd expect coming from that character and it's directly related to Steven Moffat turning him into "The Fan", ergo, himself:

      Tennant's Doctor explicitly calls Davison's Doctor "his", and this not only makes a great deal of sense but it's also very appropriate given that he is both Steven Moffat and David Tennant's favourite Doctor. However, the way Moffat writes the line and the way Tennant delivers it comes across to me as a slight against, well, every other Doctor. In particular, the bit about "Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you're young".

      First of all, I know that comment was probably meant as a commentary on William Hartnell, but it goes beyond that straight into unfortunate implication territory for me. Make no mistake, Tennant/Moffat is *explicitly* saying Peter Davison's Doctor was the first time he could enjoy the freedom, wisdom, experience and maturity that comes with being young (...as weirdly constructed as that sentence is). However, since he's *also* writing off the impish, imperious Patrick Troughton and the freewheeling, Bohemian Tom Baker with that quip it becomes puzzling. As applicable as it might be to Hartnell and *maybe* Jon Pertwee, to say Troughton or Tom Baker were trying to act "old, grumpy and important" seems to me nothing less then a badly, badly, wrong and flawed reading of both characters and evidence Moffat doesn't even really know what he's writing.

      More to the point though, when taken in the context of some of Moffat's other comments about the series, namely about how he feels that Peter Davison was the *only* good actor to ever play the role of The Doctor in all of the Classic Series, the whole scene, and really "Time Crash" in general, starts to feel really crass, immature, confrontational and pugnacious to me. It's like Scott said: It feels like the show is deliberately trying to start a fight with me and I don't feel like I've done anything to deserve that treatment. No wonder Moffat likes the early Nathan-Turner era so much.

      If the show's going to use postmodernism to comment on itself, I'd prefer it to not do it in a way that is intentionally and explicitly designed to alienate whole segments of the fandom. If I were in charge of New Series Doctor Who and tasked with doing a nostalgic crossover with my favourite Doctor I would *definitely* have my characters praise them up and down, but not to such an extent it implies my story is the only legitimate one and writes off everyone else's experience as rubbish and stupid. My problem is not the expectation of literacy in postmodern television, it's the fact that's being used to insult and troll me and I did nothing to provoke it.

      Frankly, "Time Crash" is to me just another example of how Steven Moffat is an insufferably smug, conceited and defensive showrunner.

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    9. I'll grant that Moffat is dead wrong about Troughton in general - to the point of being factually wrong that Troughton didn't have much of a post-Doctor Who acting career, a fact he cites as evidence of Davison's skill as an actor.

      That said, Troughton did play the part as a grumpy old man - just as a much more charming sort of grumpy old man. And even Baker relied on the Doctor's capacity to be an elder statesman. Put another way, it's impossible to even imagine Davison delivering a line like "I'm a Time Lord. I walk in eternity." So I think the line - which is, I agree, primarily about Hartnell (who Moffat seems to rank just about dead last as Doctors go) - still accurately identifies a difference between Davison and his predecessors.

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    10. @ WGPJosh

      Given how you took the lines and the delivery, I can see how you had the reaction you did. I didn't take it the same way, in part because of the "alchemy" of the situation. To resolve the Time Crash, the Doctor triggers a supernova and black hole at the same time -- this is the unification of opposites that's at the heart of alchemy.

      What's going on at the end of the scene is a balancing act. It began with a whole string of crass insults (all directed at Davison) so it must end with some genuine praise. And to highlight that praise, the Doctor invokes his First self as an "opposite" to his Fifth self. He's not writing off the selves in-between, he's just picking the one with the highest contrast -- and in so doing, he's putting a redemptive spin on the criticisms of Hartnell's portrayal, that it's an act to cover up the Doctor's insecurity of youth. Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker didn't really need that kind of retcon.

      At this point in the minisode, the whole tone of the piece shifts. It becomes a love-letter, and the delivery of the lines are full of compassion. If you're taking it as implying anything negative about the Doctor's other iterations, then you're reading more into it than what's there. It's not conceited or vain, it's heartfelt and rather sweet -- especially since what transpires is so focused on what Tennant mined for his portrayal of the role. To lay the charge that this is Moffat's way of trashing other Doctors or ridiculing your experience as "rubbish and stupid" is frankly way off base.

      And I still don't get how the end is conceited. Tennant isn't going on about how brilliant his portrayal is, he's giving credit to the man who inspired him -- if anything it's humble, not conceited. And there's nothing in those lines about the writing of Who at all, making it hard for me to "see" what it is you're seeing that points to Moffat's authorial vanity.

      If anything, I'd have thought you'd point to the timey-wimey line (and the type of paradox it refers to) as what's conceited, and given that it's played for laughs I'm not so sure I'd agree.

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    11. @ Phil

      See, I never read Tom Baker as an elder statesman. I read him as an antiauthoritarian Bohemian super-nerd. His claim to authority is not his age and experience IMO, but how clever he thinks he is and whenever he tries to invoke experience he gets shot down by Romana. He may be smug, self-satisfied and drunk on life and his own ability to devour scenery, but "old" and "grumpy" are two words I would never use to describe him. His "I walk in eternity" line seems to me be less about his age and wisdom and more about the fundamental alienness Baker brought to the role for the first time since Troughton. Speaking of...

      At his most human, Troughton reminded me of the archetypical Fun Uncle (in contrast to Hartnell's grandfather), the one who was a little bit younger than your dad, unmarried, bounces around from house to house and takes you on all sorts of fun adventures your parents wouldn't because he has likes kids and gets along really well with them. When he's at his least human, by contrast, I found him straight-up Lovecraftian (and it goes without saying this is closer to my preferred portrayal). Again, the words "grumpy" and "old" never crossed my mind when watching Troughton.

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    12. @Jane

      That's a lovely, nuanced reading and I wish I could agree with it completely. I would strongly reject the claim that I am "reading too much" into the episode, however, and would politely ask if we can abstain from using that language, especially since we're well into magic hermetic alchemical mysticism here, which, to be honest would probably get us very strong words and jeers in any other Doctor Who forum. I could retort and say your alchemical reading of the episode is just as off-base and there's just as little evidence to support your reading as there is mine, but I won't partially because I don't entirely disagree with you and we've taken it as a given premise that alchemy is a fundamental part of what Doctor Who is on this site but mostly because I hold to the belief that any reading is valid if you can sufficiently argue and defend it.

      The thing is there was a literal line in "Time Crash" that caused me to interpret it a certain way: It's there, I even reproduced it word for word. That automatically makes my reading valid, or at least worthy of consideration, no matter what Moffat intended because I can draw on textual evidence and my positionality to defend it. Not only can I do that, but I can call up quotes Moffat *himself* said that give me even more ammunition. If his intent was something else, and I fully grant it might have been, I argue that should have been more clear in the finished product he delivered to screen.

      By the way, I'm in no way calling David Tennant conceited. By all accounts he seems to me to be a very lovely man. However, arrogance *does* seem to be a major component of his *character* to the point it's pretty commonly accepted as his tragic flaw. That said, that's not even what my argument is: What I'm claiming is that it seems to me *Steven Moffat* is a conceited *showrunner* and in "Time Crash" Tennant's Doctor becomes his mouthpiece (which is even what other commenters, including yourself if I read you correctly, have claimed today). No, Tennant's not going on about how brilliant he is, he, and by association Moffat, is going on about how brilliant his *favourite era* of the show is and how it's *better* than any other era. This is Internet Forum Wars material ascended to the level of narrative text and I don't feel that kind of petulance should be commended. At least that's what I took from it.

      As for the "timey-wimey" plot, aside from me utterly detesting Moffat's incessant use of that almost-baby-talk Buffy Speak, I always figured it was little more than an excuse to get the two Doctors together and something Moffat didn't feel the need to coherently explain the technical details of. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but it got the job done. That seems to be a staple of Moffat's writing and I'm not prepared to debate the merits and demerits of it right now. Perhaps that makes me thick and intellectually lazy. I don't know. All I know is I have my own set of experiences and I know I had them.

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    13. a "redemptive spin on the criticisms of Hartnell's portrayal, that it's an act to cover up the Doctor's insecurity of youth"? Yes, and, it turns out, a pre-emptive comment on the 11th Doctor who, it was rumoured before series 5, was even going to be both the 11th and the 1st Doctor (which, of course, turned out to be true come The Big Bang).

      As for the 4th Doctor being smug and self-satisfied? I think should separate the actor from the role here. Tom Baker was these things. The 4th Doctor wasn't, and as his character is self-centred to the extent of autarky it is hardly surprising that he doesn't even pretend to be operating on the same level as the other characters.

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    14. @WM Keith:

      But I don't think the production team knew Tennant was leaving at this point, nor am I even sure he'd made that decision yet. This was only the end of his second of 3.5 seasons, so Moffat *couldn't* have been writing with that in mind, could he? Especially not as he seems to think all the Doctors are the same character with the same personality.

      I think it's almost as hard to separate Tom Baker from his Doctor as it is to separate Jon Pertwee from his: To me, they both start out a certain way but slowly start to inject more and more of their own personality into the role before ending up essentially playing caricatured versions of themselves. And I think Baker's Doctor was definitely smug: I'm rewatching Season 15 now and there are moments he's outright cruel to and dismissive of Leela to the point he lies and denies his mistakes (a lot of which was due to Baker's early friction with Louise Jameson and adamant belief Leela was too violent and he should be the only one on the show). Also, a good deal of Season 16 involves him fighting with Romana and resenting her presence because she's more competent then him and cramps his style. I mean, that seems to be almost the definition of self-obsessed to me.

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    15. @ WGPJosh

      First, I apologize for the "reading too much" comment. Sorry.

      I rarely read what the show's writers have to say about the show they write for -- partly because of my experience in the admittedly outdated school of New Criticism, which eschews authorial comment, intent, and history, preferring to focus on the text; partly to avoid spoilers; partly because of my experience with LOST, where the writers lied left, right, and center about their show -- a tactic I admire, btw, because it makes them unreliable narrators, which helps to mitigate their "authority" over the text, not to mention taking the wind out of fandom's tendency to invoke The Powers That Be to score points. (I absolutely loathe the "canon" wars in Who fandom, preferring to take it all as "apocryphal," in every sense of that beautiful word.) Nonetheless, it's your choice to consider Moffat's comments about the show in your reading, and it was wrong of me to discount that aspect of your experience.

      Second, I think I now understand what you mean by the "conceitedness" of that segment. Like I said, I've read little to nothing of Moffat outside of the actual text, so I have no idea that he strongly prefers the Davison era to others. Please clarify for me: has he said the other Doctors and their eras were "rubbish and stupid?" If so, I have to concede your point in its entirety.

      On the other hand, if it's just a matter of "this is our favorite era and we're going to laud it," while there is the conceit that Moffat and Davies -- you have to include the actual showrunner at this point, methinks -- get to have their say as kings of the castle about what they liked best and what's influenced their take on the show, I have to disagree that by virtue of heaping praise (and scorn) on Davison's work and comparing it to Hartnell's while passing over the ones in between they have "explicitly" denigrated the other performances. Maybe it'll help to broaden the line you quoted:

      "I love being you. Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you're young... and then I was you. It was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shouted -- I still do that, the voice thing, I got that from you! Oh, and the trainers. And..." (he puts on spectacles) "snap."

      Is it a retcon to say that the Doctor was acting old, grumpy and important when he was "young"? Absolutely. There's no way on earth Hartnell had that in mind during his performance, and I can see the conceitedness behind such a retcon. But the implication isn't that his performance (or any of the others) was rubbish or stupid, but rather that we can view their performances not only as aspects of the Doctor's development, but also as reflections of the process of trying to be "the Doctor." And I think there's a truth to this covers the whole gamut of Who. When it comes to Time Crash's commentary, it's "explicity" true -- Tennant says "Oh, the brainy specs! You don't even need them, you just think they make you look a bit clever." Later, Tennant puts on his "brainy specs" -- snap! -- showing that *his* version of the Doctor is also trying to be "The Doctor." This isn't conceitedness, it's humility.

      In the end, I have to look at the alchemy of it all. Yes, the whole thing is conceited and smug, but it's also humble and self-effacing -- at the same time. There's that wretched unity of opposites again.

      When Tennant says, "All my love to long ago," we have the opportunity to read this as Moffat's apology. Depends on whether you want to summon that kind of grace within you, whether it's true or not.

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    16. Off the top of my head, Moffat's comments on Doctors have been to suggest that he's really not very fond of Hartnell, that he thought Troughton was quite good but was let down by the people around him (he's suggested that some of his companions should never have gotten Equity cards), that he liked Tom Baker in general but took issue with his scene-stealing, that he thought Davison was extremely good, that he's enjoyed Colin Baker on audio but not in the program, and that McCoy has grown on him considerably over the years. I can't think of anything he's said about Pertwee one way or the other.

      So I think one can safely restrict the critical aspects of Time Crash to Hartnell's portrayal. I agree that Troughton and Baker were not "old and grumpy and important" as such, but I think it is fair and accurate to say that Davison provides a more radical break with this tradition - that his Doctor is out of the shadow of Hartnell's in a distinct and meaningful way that none of Troughton, Pertwee, or Baker were. But I think a sort of combination of Occam's Razor and the preference for redemptive readings wins out here. It's more than possible, as Jane illustrates, to read the line as talking about Hartnell and Davison more or less exclusively. Moffat's comments on Doctors in general indicate no active dislike for any Doctors save for Hartnell. And Davison's Doctor does meaningfully provide a turning point in the role of the Doctor. Given all of this, the sympathetic reading seems to me more compelling than the "conceited" one.

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    17. Very good and fair points all of you, and I appreciate you taking the time to humour a cynical old curmudgeon.

      The reason I take the author's word somewhat seriously is that I subscribe to a view of meaning inspired by the post-structuralists where authorial intent is one of three dynamic, interacting spheres that allows us to have debates about textual meaning (the others being audience positionality and the actual text). I'm not one of those people who think the author's word is "The Word of God" and invalidates any other reading (I in fact also loathe the concept of "canon", particularly in Doctor Who), but on the other hand I typically think the authorial intent should be taken into consideration when possible, probably because I, like I said, approach all fiction and all my debates about said fiction like a writer.

      Sometimes the text and the audience's experience render it null and void because the author didn't express themselves properly and the text takes on a life of its own, as it always does (I in fact just did a big essay on a recent case where that very thing happened), but I still think it's something to think about. It's why I can't enjoy things like, say, the John Wiles era: I can't separate his politics from the stories that made it to screen under his watch and his detestable colonialist worldview taints everything made in Season 3 for me (save for I guess "The Gunfighters", "The War Machines" and "The Savages").

      In terms of Steven Moffat, my biggest gripe with him is how loud and outspoken he's been in his critique of the Classic Series and the flat-out meanness and condescension of a lot of it. He's called it things like "slow", "embarrassing", and "limited by the relatively meagre talent of the people who were working on it". Granted he made some of these comments in the 90s and perhaps his opinion has softened over time (and I'd certainly hate to be held to the same opinions I held in the late-90s and early 2000s) but then again in addition to his exaltation of Davison, Moffat has a number of times implied McCoy's Doctor was only good in the Virgin NAs, and knowing that and how The Dream Lord was uncomfortably close to McCoy in appearance and personality (to the point it drew comments on a number of forums I saw and not just from angry, bitter me) leads me to believe perhaps he hasn't.

      Moffat has also been quoted as thinking the only good episode of Doctor Who in the entirety of the 1960s was "An Unearthly Child" and has called the rest of it "shit" (his words, not mine). If he's that dismissive of it he surely can't be a fan of David Whitaker and thus I'm unconvinced he's as talented at alchemical storytelling as many claim he is. Keeping this in mind, and knowing what "Time Crash" is about, you'll perhaps forgive me if I'm thinking about this every time I watch a Moffat-penned story and hesitate to give him the benefit of the doubt in an episode like this.

      I mean, if we're going to attack David Yates for complaining about how poor Doctor Who is and how much it needs to be fixed, why did no-one raise a word of opposition to Moffat after saying horrible things like this? Where was the fan outcry then? There gets to be a point where one's level of unnecessarily vitriolic and outlandish statements reaches a critical mass and becomes completely unforgivable and I'm *almost* there with Steven Moffat.

      But all this is ultimately tangential. I'll concede the point that the "grumpy" line was meant to be about Hartnell exclusively, even if I don't quite buy the alchemical mirror theory about him, Tennant, Davison and Smith going on here. The line works well enough in its original context, though I still wish it'd maybe been a bit clearer.

      And I should sign out before I cause more problems and stick my foot in it even more...

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    18. Moffat's actual quotes on the other Doctors:

      Steven: How could you? I'm talking retrospectively now, when I look back at Doctor Who now. I laugh at it, fondly. As a television professional, I think how did these guys get a paycheck every week? Dear god, it's bad! Nothing I've seen of the black and white stuff - with the exception of the pilot, the first episode - should have got out of the building. They should have been clubbing those guys to death! You've got an old guy in the lead who can't remember his lines; you've got Patrick Troughton, who was a good actor, but his companions - how did they get their Equity card? Explain that! They're unimaginably bad. Once you get to the colour stuff some of it's watchable, but it's laughable. Mostly now, looking back, I'm startled by it. Given that it's a children's show, and a teatime show, I think the Peter Davison stuff is well constructed, the characters are consistent...

      Andy: They are consistently crap.

      David: One dimensional and cardboard.

      Steven: That's true, but if you can point at one example of melodrama where that's not true, I'd be grateful. Peter Davison is a better actor than all the other ones, that's the simple reason why he works more than all the other ones. There is no sophisticated, complicated reason to explain why Peter Davison carried on working and all the other Doctors disappeared into a retirement home for lardies. He's better and I think he's extremely good as the Doctor. I recently watched a very good Doctor Who story, one I couldn't really fault. It was Snakedance. Sure it was cheap but it was beautifully acted, well written. There was a scene in it where Peter Davison has to explain what's going on, the Doctor always has to. Now some drunk old lardie like Tom Baker would come on to a sudden, shuddering halt in the middle of the set (and) stare at the camera because he can't bear the idea that someone else is in the show. But Peter Davison is such a good actor he managed to panic on screen for a good two minutes so he had you sitting on the edge of your seat, thinking god, this must be really, really bad. He shrills and shrieks and fails around marvellously. And he's got the most boring bunch of lines to say and I'm thinking 'Oh no, this guy's wetting himself! We're in real trouble!'

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    19. http://nzdwfc.tetrap.com/archive/tsv43/onediscussion.html

      From the same 1995 interview, which is described as an alcohol-fueled, wildly rambling discussion:

      "If you judge on what they were trying to do - that is create a low budget, light-hearted children's adventure serial for teatime - it's bloody amazingly good. If you judge it as a high class drama series, it's falling a bit short. But that's not what it was trying to be."

      "I think Doctor Who is a corkingly brilliant idea. When they were faced with problems like the fact they were going to have to fire their lead they came up with some wonderful ideas; the recasting idea is brilliant. I think the actual structure, the actual format is as good as anything that's ever been done. His character, his TARDIS, all that stuff is so good it can even stand being done not terribly well - as one has to concede it was done."

      "It's not that I don't like it, but I wouldn't care to show it to my friends in television and say look, I think this is a great programme, because I think they might fling me out!"

      "As a television format: Doctor Who equals anything. But unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn't sit anybody I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say 'watch this, this is a great show.'"


      So, yeah, seventeen years ago we've got a television professional with conflicting feelings about the show. Obviously he loves it, but that's tempered by his position and experience in the television industry. So I don't take his negative comments as the kvetching of fandom, but as the reflections of a television professional -- not to say he's invoking the Word of God, but that this perspective has some critical training most fans don't have, not to mention he has to answer for himself in his day job.

      He was also posting to Usenet in the 90's. River's speech about the Doctor's name at the end of A Good Man was posted by Moffat in 1995, which he self-effaces as "stupid" and "silly." Not exactly a conceited position.

      Mostly, though, holding someone to task for what they said in the mid-90's, given the context of that discussion, seems to me a bit uncharitable.

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    20. Sounds like Moffat was trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you're young.

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    21. I certainly hope I didn't come across as taking Moffat to task. Even if he still held every one of those opinions, that would be his right. I was just posting what he'd said to give context -- having read that interview, it becomes much easier to see jokes about periods of the show other than Davison's as being mean-spirited, *even if that's not how they were intended*.

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    22. The context of the mid-90s is important. I think Moffat's views can be put in the context of fandom, but the main context has to be oppositional. The presumption of 90s Doctor Who fandom was tremendous - as though bringing back Doctor Who was the most obvious thing in the world and a surefire hit, and the BBC were morons for not doing it. Or that the only problem with the TV Movie was really just that Fox didn't market it enough and scheduled it poorly, and if they had they'd have had an automatic hit on their hands and there would be a series. Or, more broadly, that the only people who had made any mistakes with Doctor Who were Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell, and that the hiatus and cancellation of the series were wrong and just because of poor scheduling.

      From that perspective having a visible force in fandom who was, in fact, a reasonably seasoned television producer who knew the industry talking realistically about the show and its quality was not conceited. Fandom was conceited in the 1990s in its assumptions about bringing the show back, and Moffat was being realistic about the fact that, yes, he adored the show, but no, its cancellation was not some terrible injustice and there were real difficulties to be faced in bringing it back.

      Conceited would have been if he'd followed that by saying that he did know how to bring the show back and make it successful. Whereas in practice he's said openly that Davies did a much better job relaunching the show than he ever could have.

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    23. If I may be so bold, I still think there's a kind of middle ground you can reach between praising every single second of Doctor Who ever put to film and everyone involved in it and actively *trashing* every second of Doctor Who ever put to film before 1981 or that you and your colleagues didn't make yourselves and everyone involved in it who wasn't Peter Davison and Paul McGann. Can't we say that yes, *some* Classic Doctor Who was crap, but there was a lot that was really good too, or at least watchable?

      I don't think Steven Moffat loves Doctor Who. I don't even think he likes it. I think he loves the *idea* of it, but he only like the show if there's involvement from Davison, McGann, Davies or himself and I'm sorry, I haven't seen anything in anything he's said, written or that has been written about him to really convince me otherwise.

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    24. If I may be so bold, I think Moffat occupies that middle ground. It's more than possible to love Doctor Who while simultaneously recognizing that, from the standpoint of a modern television professional, that the production of the Classic series was quite weak.

      Anyways, if you haven't seen anything about his love of the show, I'm obliged to give you some.

      ~~~~~~ 2009 ~~~~~~

      Tennant: You grew up watching Doctor Who. What was your era?

      Moffat: I remember Patrick Troughton being bewilderingly the Doctor, and being confused by that, and really from the start of Jon Pertwee I was watching every single episode devotedly.

      Tennant: This is Studio 8. In this very studio, TC8, we had ‘The Sea Devils’ was in here, ‘Planet of the Spiders’ was in here.

      Moffat: Jon Pertwee turned into Tom Baker somewhere in this room.

      Tennant: Well, quite a few studios were used for ‘Planet of the Spiders’, but let’s just say he did.

      Moffat: All those events happened in this very big, dull grey room. I don’t know about you, but I got interested in background stuff, how television was made, because of ‘Doctor Who’.

      Tennant: Yeah.

      Moffat: It wasn’t really background information about television I was researching, it was ‘How do they make Doctor Who?’.

      ~~~~~~

      Moffat: I rather liked season 18, though found it a bit dry and uninvolving, and thought Tom was a bit off. Adored the next three seasons, and thought (and think) Davison was superb. Colin Baker’s two seasons, and Sylvester’s first – well, I’m afraid I found very little to enjoy there, though honestly I tried!

      Colin is a good actor, and he’s been good in many things, but I didn’t think he landed the role of the Doctor. On telly, anyway – he’s been good on audio. And no, the costume and the scripts weren’t helping. Really enjoyed the last two seasons of ‘Doctor Who’, though – some plunges from grace, but some cracking stuff too. You’ll never quite convince me that Sylvester is an appropriate choice for a BBC1 leading man, but clever people like Paul Cornell think otherwise so what do I know? Preferred him to Colin and (ooh, the heresy!) William Hartnell, so that’s gotta count for something.

      ~~~~~~

      Most fans are delighted with just about all of ‘Doctor Who’. Really, they are. But mixed in with that are some insanely vocal ones who go on about how they hated it every single week. Which raises the question, ‘Why are you fucking watching it then?’. If ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ had been shown in the 80′s (or the 70′s, or the 60′s), we’d all have fainted of joy on the spot. All of us!

      Some of us had to go to school the Monday after the Giant Rat (in Talons of Weng-Chiang)!! No, really! Think about that! Added ten years to my virginity, that did, Giant Rat Monday! Oh, I haven’t forgotten! (But) I want Robert Holmes brought back to life just so I can tell him he’s a genuis, ’cause I don’t think he knew.

      ~~~~~~

      Moffat commenting on his infamous 1995 interview:

      "Paul Cornell and Andy Lane were the main interviewees, cos this was over ten years ago and they'd written New Adventures - at the time I had no real connection to Doctor Who at all (goodness, was the world ever so?) If I'm right, it's available somewhere on the internet, and oh God, it's vile. Well, I'm vile. Full of myself, pompous, and dismissing all the writers of the old show as lazy hacks. Dear God, I blush, I cringe, I creep. I walked out of the interview, high on my own giddy genius, and wrote Chalk, one of the most loathed and derided sitcoms in the history of the form. The thing about life, you can always rely on it to administer a good slap when required.

      Find it, read it, hate me - I did."

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    25. This exchange does contradict a lot of what I'd read about Steven Moffat before, so I do appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I can't comment on things if I don't know they exist, and to be fair to me in all the sources I looked at the only opinions of Moffat's cited where his extremely negative ones from the late-90s and early 2000s, including a number semi-official biographies. It does seem odd he's contradicting himself so blatantly, but I've always felt that was a trademark of his as well and perhaps age and experience have allowed him to approach things from a fresh perspective. If he's changed his tune since his earlier comments then I take back a lot of what I said about him.

      I certainly believe it's possible to occupy both mindsets-That's actually exactly what I was trying to say (and initially criticizing Moffat for not doing). I mean, that's just basic intellectual criticism, right? There's grey area that exists between "Flawless" and "Evil". Goodness knows I'm very critical of massive parts of the Classic Series myself, though I guess I have a more positive view of the production team over the years then others seem to. If Moffat's softened his tone and is willing to approach the series from a more nuanced perspective now, then good for him-I'm genuinely happy. I still have issues with his writing style, but that's a battle for another day, isn't it?

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  8. Although I felt that they stretched the joke of Davison's Doctor not understanding what was going on a bit too thin, this was a real gem. And I loved Moffat's clever in-story explanation for why past Doctors look older when they meet their future selves. You know, just in case it's needed in a couple season's time.

    However, I did take issue with the cheap-shot gay joke directed at the Master and his "beard." Similar to how Moffat undermined all of Davies' attempts to rehabilitate the Daleks, here we have a sketch that takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Master's big return, a story that saw him more insane and dangerous than ever, and ended with the Doctor weeping bitter tears over the body of his erstwhile nemesis. Then just moments later he slags off Ainley's portrayal with a flippant gay insinuation? It was jarring and disappointing I thought.

    Plus, Time War this, Time War that. If Tennant is looking at "his" Doctor, he's also looking at a version of himself when all his friends and family, his home planet in fact, were all still alive. And we don't even get a touch of wistfulness from him, even when delivering lines like "All my love to long ago"? I know that in the context of Children in Need you don't want a lot of breast-beating, but just a hint of the sadness inherent in nostalgia would have been nice.

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    1. And if we can't get a hint of the sadness inherent in nostalgia, at LEAST give us the violence inherent in the system! :)

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    2. I treat the "he just had the Master die in his arms" issue much like I treat the fourth wall break. It's not moments after the Master died in his arms. It's several months after.

      As for the beard joke, I think that's the funniest moment of the series. I mean, Ainley's Master was, as I've pointed out, breathtakingly slashable. As was Simm's, and there's a ream of fanfiction happy to prove it. So I thought the acknowledgment of that was an absolutely delightful hat-tip to a large portion of fandom who had been pointing out key parts of that for decades in the case of Ainley.

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    3. You know, I saw Peter Davison play Spamalot. The actual fifth Doctor going, 'I am King, you know!'

      Doesn't get better than that.

      (I heard that Davison in Time Crash was wearing the same pair of trousers Baker wore for the regeneration scene. If that's not true I don't want to know).

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    4. Seconding Phil on the beard joke. One of the best exchanges Moffat ever wrote.

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    5. The beard joke *didn't* really please the slashers, though, because it's the Doctor joking about it not long after the big emotional scene. Kind of like if Runaway Bride had contained the Doctor saying "My friend, Rose, she was a bit of a chav."

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    6. Certainly I know several who love the joke. I think the Rose comparison is off, though. The problem is that Doctor/Rose shipping is clearly authorially intended. Whereas Doctor/Master shipping isn't, and only the most problematically delusional of slashers think it is. For most of the slash community there's no expectation that the show is going to overtly and consciously support your reading. And so the fact that the Doctor is over the Master "too quickly" wasn't as big a deal to them as the Doctor potentially getting over Rose was to that shipbase because the Doctor/Master slashers are already necessarily reading against the grain of "Doctor Who as documentary about quasi-immortal time traveler" and so don't have their reading challenged by the fact that Time Crash assumes an audience who didn't just watch Last of the Time Lords, and thus provides a Doctor who doesn't act like he was just in Last of the Time Lords. Because breaks like that are part and parcel of how the slash reading has to work anyway.

      (Again, there are some slashers who do not think this way. Then again, there exist real-person slash fans who comb interviews for signs that their preferred actors really are getting it on. So yes, delusional slashing happens, but I think most slashers are more than capable of making the code-shift needed to go "Yes, but a Children in Need special aired months after Last of the Time Lords isn't really picking up seconds after it."

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    7. It's just a typical throwaway one-liner from Moffat in joke-machine mode, isn't it? I wouldn't try to read anything more into it than that.

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    8. It wasn't even the best joke in "Time Crash," although I did find it funny and not remotely offensive. The funniest joke, IMO, was "You've changed the desktop theme!! What is this, coral?!?" Which is even more hilarious when you realize that joke wouldn't have made the least bit of sense back in 1983 when we were all still typing in DOS.

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    10. "Time Crash assumes an audience who didn't just watch Last of the Time Lords, and thus provides a Doctor who doesn't act like he was just in Last of the Time Lords."

      And yet the audience is assumed to remember Anthony Ainley?

      If it wasn't supposed to take place immediately after "LOTTL" then they might not have wanted to reprise the end of that episode as the top and tail of this. Instead they made a special effort to fit this mini-episode into the continuity of the show.

      I am not getting overly worked up about what is ultimately just a bit of fun within a show that is ultimately just a bit of fun. However, I still found the joke cheap and glib. And your trying to justify it with reference to the slash-verse gets zero traction from me.

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    11. And yet the audience is assumed to remember Anthony Ainley?

      No, the audience is supposed to get the play on the double-meaning of 'beard'.

      Which as I say is probably less people than remember Anthony Ainley. But still, that's the joke.

      But, still, the most important thing to remember about Time Crash is that doesn't just assume an audience that had just watched 'Last of the Time Lords', it assumes an audience most of whom didn't watch 'Last of the Time Lords' at all.

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    12. All this discussion of Anthony Ainley and beards just reminds me of how lots of people on the Intertubez were furious over the fact that neither Jacobi nor Simms had any facial hair and that was just wrong! Seems to me that if you know so little about Doctor Who that you had no idea at all that he had a recurring villain called the Master who was usually recognized by his beard, then you probably wouldn't have recognized the Fifth Doctor either, nor would you have understood the idea of regeneration or why there are two people standing around calling each other Doctor. Honestly, I think "the Master's beard" has enough cultural relevance in 2010 to justify using it for a throwaway joke. Hell, "Spock's beard" only appeared onscreen once, and it was enough to justify an entire TV Trope (and, IIRC, a popular indie band).

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    13. The other aspect of the beard joke is that even if you don't get the joke, the tone of the scene still makes it clear that there is a joke there. So if you don't laugh, you still know what you missed. We're talking about a maybe ten second stretch of the episode where comprehension might waver. Things like that happen all the time.

      The reprise exists because people are reasonably likely to remember "oh yeah there was a cliffhangery thing about the Titanic." Maybe they even remember the basic plot of Last of the Time Lords. But the DVD set wasn't out yet, and hardly anyone came into Time Crash actually in the emotional state of having just seen the Master scenes in it.

      This, to me, is the key thing. The relationship between the Doctor and the Master doesn't exist in either of their heads, as they haven't got heads. It exists in the audience's head. The intensity of it is related to what the audience has been prompted with, not what the characters have diegetically been doing lately.

      Put another way, if you were to show a flashback of the Master and the Doctor together on Gallifrey shortly before they met again for the first time in centuries, in audience terms their relationship would be stronger there than it was in Time Crash, when the last Doctor/Master scene is, in audience terms, months old even though it was hours ago for the Doctor. In terms of how emotional relationships work on television, diegetic time is almost but not entirely meaningless.
      In the middle of Children in Need, several months after Last of the Time Lords had aired, the Doctor and the Master had no particularly intense emotional relationship simply because that wasn't fresh in the audience's mind.

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    14. One thing I missed, though, and to be fair:

      However, I still found the joke cheap and glib.

      Oh yes. But then a lot of Moffat's humour is cheap and glib. And he knows it: the far-more-than-semi-autobiographical Joking Apart was all about a man addicted to cheap, glib humour who couldn't stop himself from making a cheap, glib jibe even as doing so was destroying his life and driving away everyone who ever cared about him.

      It's almost certainly the best thing Moffat has ever written.

      But, it being cheap and glib is entirely independent of whether it's funny, and some people do find Moffat's kind of cheap, glib jokes very funny indeed.

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    15. Watching the show, I always had the impression that the epilogue of Last of the Time Lords played out over several weeks, or even a couple of months, as it would have taken time for the Doctor to put the TARDIS back together, Martha to track down this timeline's version of the people she knew in the Master-written timeline, the US, UK, and UNIT to get their shit back together, and for Captain Jack to track down the cast of his own show. And given that he was talking to a version of himself who was used to the campier Master and knew nothing of the Time War yet, it makes sense to me that the Tenth Doctor would make a joke that showed off his cultural knowledge instead of a tearful admission.

      And when I use the term "Master-written timeline," I think I know where you're going to go with your eventual analysis of this story, Phil. Last of the Time Lords is an episode where the Master starts writing Doctor Who.

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    16. I honestly never got the "beard-as-gay-companion" reference; I just assumed it meant facial hair. Still not convinced it doesn't, frankly.

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  9. Which I posted in the wrong place...

    It doesn't really fit anywhere, emotionally. I mean isn't this about five minutes after burning the Master and losing Martha? Never mind, it's me! It's the best me!

    I think the fourth wall does tumble, but partly because we all know that Davison's a favourite and that last speech is a fanboy talking. It wouldn't be there otherwise, it has no actual purpose beyond that. For those that have a problem with that sort of thing it's almost impossible to "make it fit the story" as the Watsonian tries to.

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  10. "Nobody who was watching the Children in Need telecast for any reasons that extended beyond catching the Doctor Who bit had any difficulty with this. This sort of fourth wall breaking and winking at the audience is, after all, par for the course for a charity telecast. One might as well begin having trouble with “A Fix With Sontarans” or something at that point.
    "
    Or, indeed, "... and a merry Christmas", etc.

    No, the major issue with the new series is one of transubstantiation. The Doctor is reduced from a gnostic, duophysite demiurge to a messianic cockney git.

    " If you can’t seamlessly and without having to think about it go “oh, this bit is really the show talking about itself and not an attempt to provide a naturalistic depiction of how a quasi-immortal time traveler lives his life” when the show wants you to, you’re just out to sea on the new series. "
    And if you think that's a load of trite, obvious, unbearably smug, condescending twaddle that in no way substitutes for entertaining television, you've got bit problems with it. Sorry, but I don't watch TV to see Russell and Co. masturbate over their own brobdingnagian self-worth. This is the over-riding problem I have with both Moffat and Davies, though Moffat at least seems to understand that he is meant to provide functional television as part of the deal (on occasion), and has dialled down some of the horrendously mawkish, two-dimensional check-box writing.

    The most blatant example of why this is annoying is in "The Eleventh Hour", where Rory repeats everything which happens on screen back to us. Yes, Steven, very clever, very metatextual of you. Now stop titting about and give us a narrative, not a smug undergrad's commentary on one.


    "Everything in it is profoundly influenced and shaped by the past of the series and Peter Davison’s time as the Doctor (right down to the wonderful happenstance of Graham Harper being the director), and, equally, is perfectly suited to its task."
    This is the other problem with it. It's postmodern irony and clever-clever dribbling about, layered over the top of gratuitous continuity fanwank. And all the smug winking and knowing nodding in the world won't disguise the fact that at bottom, fanwank is fanwank. I just don't see the difference between "Time Crash" and pointless references to "Power of the Daleks" in a Missing Adventure.

    I suppose the issue is: I expect Doctor Who to work as a thing independent of itself, and not to rely on devouring its own tail.

    "The first half of the piece, for instance, which consists mostly of an extended comedic misunderstanding as Davison’s Doctor fails to grasp what’s going on while Tennant’s (and the audience) are well aware of what’s happening, is gorgeous."
    Unfortunately, it's competently executed... old hat. It was old hat in the 16th Century.

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    1. If you don't think Russell T Davies provided "functional television", I have a stack of viewing and appreciation index figures to show you.

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    2. I really have to say this is incredibly mean-spirited of you. I have a 9-year old daughter to whom Matt Smith is now "her" Doctor, although she enjoys watching David as well.

      Far from being smug condescending twaddle, I like to think that the last 3 seasons of Doctor Who will become a cherished memory of her childhood, in the same way as the Doctor I watched when I was her age did for me, and (I assume) your Doctor did for you.

      I sincerely hope that if Doctor Who is around when she is 20 or 30 years older that she respects the children growing up with their Doctor, as she grew up with hers.

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    3. I think the biggest difference is that Time Crash relies on a social memory of the character, not on references to trivia. Which is, to some extent, a matter of reading the audience. The Missing Adventures can safely assume an audience of die-hard Doctor Who fans, and write appropriately to that audience. And I've usually been of the view that this enables them to do things that are pleasantly unique as a result.

      Likewise, at this point, Doctor Who is in its 49th year and is a major part of British culture. To the point where the Children in Need audience can be safely assumed to be able to get a story like Time Crash. When that's your audience, you ought write to them. Doctor Who has, by this point, become popular mythos. The idea of Doctor Who in the general case looms larger than any given story.

      The thing that the contemporary series gets that the Nathan-Turner era (which faced the same problem) doesn't is that the general case is a social memory of Doctor Who, not a fandom memory. So one of the things the series does - and it is firmly one of the things - is engage with its own place within the British cultural landscape. It had to. Indeed, I think a strong argument can be made (and I intend to make it over the course of the Eccleston series) that the series' awareness of its place in the larger cultural landscape was part and parcel of how it claimed such a large place within it.

      And as Iain points out... the argument that the new series is not functional TV and does not provide a narrative beyond its own navel is rather spectacularly disproven by the material reality of loads of people without a deep fannish investment in Doctor Who loving the hell out of the series.

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    4. What wasn't old hat in the 16th Century? There'd been at least 22 centuries of drama prior to AD1700.

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    5. Far from being smug condescending twaddle, I like to think that the last 3 seasons of Doctor Who will become a cherished memory of her childhood, in the same way as the Doctor I watched when I was her age did for me, and (I assume) your Doctor did for you.

      That, and hoping that at some point she will develop taste and critical faculties, are not mutually exclusive. I have plenty of cherished memories of childhood watching cartoons that I now realise are utter rubbish.

      It's postmodern irony and clever-clever dribbling about, layered over the top of gratuitous continuity fanwank. And all the smug winking and knowing nodding in the world won't disguise the fact that at bottom, fanwank is fanwank. I just don't see the difference between "Time Crash" and pointless references to "Power of the Daleks" in a Missing Adventure.

      The difference is that Steven Moffat is indisputably an absolute master at a particular type of quick-fire wordplay-based comedy, and Time Crash is, while not his best example (I'm pretty sure that's still the cushion scene) still pretty damn good.

      More importantly, most of the jokes are funny not just whether you have a folk memory of Doctor Who but even if you have never heard of the programme before. The register-switch of 'decorative vegetable' is a standard joke form, as is the double-meaning of 'beard' (and that joke probably went over the head of far more people than the Doctor Who ones! I had to look it up to check what it meant) and as is the forced bathos of 'describing what you see in front of you'.

      Dr Sandifer says that 'the Children in Need audience can be safely assumed to be able to get a story like Time Crash': but the point is that they don't need to 'get' anything about Doctor Who to get most of the jokes. Of course if they don't know their sci-fi they will have trouble with the plot, but the plot explicitly doesn't matter and that's another joke that you don't have to know any Doctor Who to get.

      Now comedy is very individual and if this isn't the sort of thing you personally find funny, then you won't see the appeal. I could never see the appeal of Friends, either. But trust me that if you do, this is entertaining television.

      In this way, of course, Time Crash differs from almost everything else which has ever been written about on this site, where there are objective standards by which it can succeed and fail. But for a comedy skit there is only one goal, which is to make the audience laugh, and if you happen to like this style of comedy, then Time Crash will make you laugh.

      If you don't happen to like this style of comedy, it won't and that can't be helped. It's not a flaw in you or Time Crash: nobody will laugh at anything, no one thing can make everybody laugh.

      But as a bit of knockabout doubletalk, a Mitchell & Webb approach to sci-fi, Time Crash works and it's not trying to be anything more.

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    6. Interesting that you mentioned Mitchell and Webb, because David Mitchell in one of his Soapbox rants came off as quite hostile towards the new series despite the fact that Olivia Munn and Patterson Joseph have both worked on DW. Which gave me a sad because I keep trying to imagine Mitchell as the 12th Doctor just because he would be so different from every other Doctor we've seen.

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    7. Agreed on the cushion scene!

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    8. @ Alan

      If it's the Soapbox rant I think you're referring to, then IIRC Mitchell's issue wasn't really the series itself (although I have no real knowledge of what his views on the new series actually are), but it actually seemed more hostile to hardcore fans, and even that (again IIRC) was essentially just making a point similar to the ones that Phil has been making over recent posts about the different natures between the "fan" who just watches and enjoys the show and the "fan" who gets intensely devoted to all the stuff surrounding it.

      Interesting you mention Mitchell as the 12th Doctor, though, because I DO remember seeing an interview where he said he'd quite like to go for the role of the Doctor but doesn't think he'd be right for the role as it's currently being presented (which seemed like a bit of a self-deprecating dig at his own handsomeness more than anything else).

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    9. (which seemed like a bit of a self-deprecating dig at his own handsomeness more than anything else).

      Which is really funny when you think about how Matt Smith is not classically handsome and how the series itself has commented on this fact. ("I've had worse!" "Blimey!" "Hair of an idiot.") Honestly, Davison and Tennant are the Doctors who, IMO, are good-looking in the traditional sense as opposed to just personally magnetic.

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  11. I thought Christopher Eccleston's version of The Doctor was magnificent. I was totally stunned. My only "problem" was the sheer insanity of casting him, knowing in advance, that he'd be leaving after ONLY ONE season. I mean-- WTF?? (And in typically retroactive fannish B.S., some people have actually tried to convince me recently that this was not so. Of course it was. Every single thing I ever read about it, before, during and after, said so... so where does this, "Oh no they didn't" nonsense come from?)

    That said... I was just as surprised when I wound up enjoying David Tennant EVEN MORE. There, I've said it. WHERE are all these Tennant-haters coming from? I mean, MY GOD, I can underatand people hating Peter Davison's Doctor (and I'm totally baffled by all the love and devotion and obsession his version gets, especially the one person who told me he had "NO interest" in ever watching ANY of the other Doctors-- I'm not making this up!!). I pretty much enjoyed Tennant's run... up until The Master showed up. I just didn't like that storyline at all. Oh well.

    I haven't seen "TIME CRASH" (nor am I likely to anytime soon) but the idea is amusing and I can see Tennant saying what he did. Because, to me, from the very first moment he appeared on screen, I've seen Tennant as "Peter Davison-- DONE RIGHT". (As opposed to Peter Davison as he actually was-- which was 3 years of disaster interspersed by spurts of inspiration which, like watching the movie MOONRAKER, are all the more maddenning and infuritating because those hints show you what COULD have been, what SHOULD have been, but NEVER WAS-- dammit!!!!)

    I have my own problems with Tom Baker, but they come in particular scenes in particular stories, like odd bits that drive you crazy in otherwise decent stories. While I got to like Baker after only one single episode ("ROBOT Part One"), he's long been my 3rd-favorite (behind McCoy and Troughton), as a character. But the stories he appeared in may be the finest the series ever saw in 26 seasons on the air. Which goes a long way. With Davison, the problems are both the stories AND his character. And the rest of the cast. And the wardrobe. And... oh never mind.

    I might as well ask again while I'm here... has anyone here seen "CAMPION" ?

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    1. I like David Tennant fine as an actor. I just disliked the role he was playing because I found his Doctor to be condescending, patronizing, flighty and arrogant. But I don't blame Tennant for that because that's the part that was written, and we know that the writers meant for the Doctor to have those traits because they wrote scenes in which Joan Redfern, Sally Sparrow and Donna Noble all specifically called him out for having them.

      Similarly, I think Colin Baker is a perfectly fine actor who could have been a successful Doctor, but he was crippled from the start by JNT's decision that he should play the character as (as someone here said) a psychotic circus clown. Stripped of all the stupid ideas foisted on him, Six's primary character trait is a sort of bipolar syndrome in which he alternates between manic energy and morose grimness. In other words, pretty close to Eccleston's Doctor. Put Colin in a crisp black, somewhat modern suit and pretend that seasons 24-26 (plus the movie) never happened, and you could insert Colin rather easily into "Rose." Just swap the Northern accent for Received Pronunciation. ("Lot's of planets have posh diction!")

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    2. Eccleston decided to leave the role after shooting had begun on series 1, due to clashes with producers and a dislike for the workplace culture. A fuller account in his own words is here:

      http://badwilf.co.uk/?p=820

      The "he was only ever going to do one series" stuff is a PR retcon.

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    3. It was a PR retcon to avoid generating bad publicity for the show straight off the bat, when no one knew if the Doctor Who revival was going to be a success or a disaster in terms of finding an audience. I remember being shocked and saddened when I discovered that Eccleston was only doing a single year (especially because I still thought the show had to stick to the canon of 13 Doctors maximum, so thanks Phil for curing me of that). Be aware as well, the news of Eccleston's limited tenure was an accidental leak. The regeneration was supposed to be a surprise.

      When I saw his portrayal, his talent was clear, and as I revisit his year on DVD now and then, I see new dimensions and elements in his character. It does sadden me a little that we never got the chance to see Eccleston explore those subtleties in more detail over several years. I think he (along with Troughton, Davison, and Smith) was one of the most flexible actors in the role. Just compare Nicky Hutchinson, DCI Bilborough, Jude Fawley, the Ninth Doctor, and Destro.

      But his comments about the directors fit with how he did PR for the show in early 2005. He never went into much detail about his time on the show, but spoke a lot about how much he respected Russell T Davies. When asked about his reasons for taking the role, he'd say it was a different kind of role than he had played before, but that he mainly wanted to work with Davies again after The Second Coming. And he kept quiet about his real reasons for leaving until well after Davies left the show, and he no longer had personal connections with any of the production staff.

      The narrative clicked: Eccleston hated Euros Lyn and the rest of the directors, who were all overstressed and angry during production, so bullying the lower-ranking staff. The 2004-5 shooting was stressful and chaotic, because the team had never produced a show of that complexity in so short a time. They were learning on the job, and the process put them all on edge. If Russell Davies was the only person Eccleston still respected, it would have been only natural to keep quiet about his real reasons for leaving. Davies poured his heart into Doctor Who, and Eccleston didn't want to risk sinking it for his friend.

      I'll always be a little sad about the missed potential of the Ninth Doctor, and I'm sad there was such bad blood between Eccleston and so much of the crew. But we got a fantastic performance and a fantastic year from him. Thanks in a good part to Chris Eccleston, Doctor Who really can be a story that runs from '63 to infinity.

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    4. That's the clearest, most coherent, concise and eloquent explanation for what the hell happened during the 2004-5 season I've ever read, so thank you very, very much for that Adam and Iain. I loved that season, still do, and that gives me even more respect then I already had for Chris Eccelston and his tremendous talent and integrity. On top of that, I finally have closure for one of my favourite eras of Doctor Who.

      So yeah-thanks again for clearing that up!

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    5. @ Adam I think you're spot on. And even if they had cast Eccleston as a one-season Doctor, I still think that would have been a brilliant idea, because it gets the regeneration concept out of the way straight off the bat. Just how weird is the idea that the lead character can change actors? If Eccelston had done 3 seasons of super-popular Who, imagine how much bigger a hurdle it would have been, and how much more alienating for the general audience, when the time came. As it happened, the regeneration cliffhanger was just the wild, surreal capstone to a first season that was full of surprises anyway.

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    6. It helped garner Eccleston the cultural and ethical credibility to take all that sweet, sweet G. I. Joe money too. ;-)

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    7. For all we know, the G.I. Joe set could have been a model of industrial harmony.

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  12. I am bemused by the people who were expecting something other than fourth-wall breaking fanwank in a DW Children in Need special, other examples of which included "Dimensions in Time," "The Curse of Fatal Death" and the Doctor posing as an English teacher in order to find out why Lauren Cooper (i.e. Catherine Tate) is "bovvered."

    As for the "you were my Doctor," there's actually an explanation other than Fourth Wall fanwanking. Davison was not only the youngest Doctor, he was also first Doctor to ever be young. Matt Smith ages 200 years between "The God Complex" and "The Wedding of River Song" but it has no apparent effect on his appearance. While the First Doctor's age was never clearly stated AFAIK, it seems unlikely that he was more than 300 in "Unearthly Child" and IIRC, Baker said he stole the TARDIS as an adolescent. That, to me, implies that the First Doctor aged relatively quickly into the form of an old man and then stayed that way for a long time. Which means that Davison was the first time since the Doctor's early childhood that he could actual enjoy the experience of, well, being young. Since Davison's successors all comported themselves as much older and less cheerful Doctors, I can see why the Tenth Doctor would be nostalgic for that part of his life where he could imagine himself as young and carefree, despite all the death and loss that came with it.

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    1. I am bemused by the people who were expecting something other than fourth-wall breaking fanwank

      It's not that we were expecting something other than it. Just that we would've liked something in addition to it. Time Crash only works on the level of the self-indulgent in-joke. It doesn't really work on any other levels as well. And only working on one level leaves it feeling flimsy and insubstantial.

      Yes, the other examples you gave have a similar only-really-work-as-in-joke-approach, but unlike Time Crash they don't even pretend to be in continuity, so they're not under pressure to also work on that level as well.

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    2. Time Crash only works on the level of the self-indulgent in-joke

      No, it doesn't. It works mainly on the level of a non-self-indulgent out-joke; or, to put it another way, as a comedy skit aimed at an audience most of whom know little of Doctor Who but some of whom will find witty wordplay like 'decorative vegetable' funny.

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  13. I am bemused by the people who were expecting something other than fourth-wall breaking fanwank in a DW Children in Need special, other examples of which included "Dimensions in Time," "The Curse of Fatal Death" and the Doctor posing as an English teacher in order to find out why Lauren Cooper (i.e. Catherine Tate) is "bovvered."

    True -- "Time Crash" is surely the least fourth-wall-y of that sequence (and the only one declared canonical by Davies & Moffat).

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  14. I have to admit that I loved 'Time Crash'.

    If I have to examine why it's probably something to do with the fact somehow Doctor Who the 'thing' is a mashup of the actual narrative (what it is that happens in universe) and the narrative of the creation of what it means (everything else from fanzines to fandom to this blog to talking to excited ten year olds about the latest episodes). What it means, as I think the whole point of this blog points out, is a lovely mix up of all those things.

    On a personal level, the character of me has gone through a number of different version. I do indeed get wistful for past versions of myself, so don't have any bother with the idea of a man who literally becomes another man would be able to look at his previous selves as if they were seperate.

    I also don't have any bother with 'the real world' meaning of the exchange between the character of the Doctor and a previous version of himself co-existing with that.

    I think we all have as much affection for 'The Story of Doctor Who' as we do the story of 'Doctor Who' and its the collision of those two that make 'Time Crash' work for me.

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  15. Indeed. The title of it would have better been as 'Meta-Crash' Because 'Doctor Who' is, fittingly, an ongoing meta-textual event happening simultaneously in past, present and future, across various media and constantly subject to revision, regeneration and re-definition. Its protagonist, 'The Doctor' reflects this, being a creature with one foot in Fiction and one in Reality. He exists as both a fictional construct and a real person (the 'character' of the actor portraying him). This can present difficulties and dizzyness to anyone attempting to watch it as merely a saturday evening kids TV show. A bit like a two dimensional drawing trying to regard a section of three dimensional space they can only observe slices through, never the whole construct. If I were a smart ass I'd say it was all a bit Dimensiony Wensiony. I look forward (and backward) to the 100th anniversary celebration in 2063 where all the Doctors from film, TV, literature, Psionic podcast, myth and cigarette cards, that ever where and ever would be combine forces to destroy a hologram of a dream of Terry Nation.

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  16. "midst of the end of Logopolis while the Doctor is depositing the Gravis"

    *cough*

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    1. "Depositing the Gravis" does sound awfully euphemistic.

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