R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Tag: Doctor Who

Let’s Talk About: Moffat’s Doctor Who

The Time of the Doctor

This’ll be a quick post with not a lot of structure. I’m trying to turn these “Let’s Talk About” pieces into looser articles where I don’t have to have a central point or something.

Anyway this morning it hit me that my experience watching Steven Moffat’s three seasons of Doctor Who has been largely defined by questions. What do I mean by that? Well, when watching a Moffat episode (especially ones he writes himself), my wife and I end up pausing the show every few minutes because we’re asking questions.

“Wait… How does that make sense?”

“If he did this thing now, then how could he do that in the past?” (or some other time-travel related question)

“Does this mean he changed the future?”

“I’m confused. How could that happen?”

Over and over. And I really don’t think being confused should be the core feeling one gets while watching Doctor Who. But it’s not that we’re stupid (in my opinion) or not paying attention. I’d like to think that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I’m pretty good at keeping up with sci-fi shows. Same thing for my wife. She’s not a writer but she gets hyperfocused when she’s watching something she loves, and Doctor Who definitely falls under that category.

So I think this comes down to Moffat’s fundamental flaw as the showrunner: he tries so damn hard to impress the viewer with how clever he is.

Doctor Who the Silence

Sometimes it creates “ah-ha” moments, but for the past few episodes–the end of season 7 and this year’s Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” in particular–those moments never came. Instead the episodes were marked by either me or Erin calling out “Pause! So wait, what…?”

The emphasis on plots, timey-wimey twists and turns, and clever surprises can sap an episode of its emotional, character-driven moments. I really enjoyed Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, but I was more sad to see David Tennant go than I was last night. Instead of feeling sad last night, my mind was occupied with trying to untangle years of plotlines (exploding TARDIS, the Silence, warrior priest soldier people, crack in the wall, etc.) rather than savoring Matt Smith’s final goodbye. (Okay his last couple of lines about changing from moment to moment were real good)

So another chapter of Doctor Who is over and a new one begins. I’m excited to see how Peter Capaldi will play the character. I just hope that I can start watching the show again without having to ask “How does that make sense?” every few minutes.

Doctor Who Season 7

Side bar: I think having Matt Smith’s last episode be the Christmas episode was a mistake. The show tried to mix normal Christmas-special stuff with Regeneration-stuff plus tying up Moffat’s loose ends. That’s way too much disparate stuff to cram in a single episode.

Side bar to the side bar: Here are a couple of articles on i09 (here and here) about “The Time of the Doctor” that I liked. Check ’em out. They also touch on some of the episode’s highs and lows.

Repost: When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

This is reposted with some minor adjustments from my gaming-related blog over at Destructoid, but I thought it was worth sharing here.

The original article talks about how the interactivity offered by videogames made me feel in ways that books, TV, or movies couldn’t. There’s definitely something powerful at hand when you can take ideas from one type of media and apply them in another. Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t have affected me emotionally if they hadn’t used good characterization and storytelling techniques perfected in places like books.

When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

Originally posted on Destructoid 3/19/2012

I want to talk about Mass Effect 3, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about the ending; I haven’t gotten that far yet. Instead I want to talk about how it made me experience one of the most awesome moments in gaming ever. Better yet, it combined my love of the Mass Effect series with my love for Doctor Who. There will be spoilers for those playing through Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time. I played the original back in 2011, years after it was released. I’d heard the name of the game before that, but nothing about more about it. I picked up a deeply discounted used copy and decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Despite certain flaws, the game grabbed hold of me. I loved the space opera story, the meticulousness of the in-game universe and backstory, and the music. (The soundtrack deserves an article all its own).

As soon as I finished the game, I bought a copy of Mass Effect 2 and proceeded to play it through twice back to back. I enjoyed its many improvements and loved its character-oriented story. My companions became my friends, especially ones carried over from the first game: Tali and Wrex.

At first I felt like the character interactions in Mass Effect 3 were lacking compared to Mass Effect 2, and I missed seeing my old squadmates. Then I got to the Tuchanka mission and everything changed.

You go to Tuchanka to earn the krogan’s support by curing the genophage (basically a sterility plague) that’s affected their species for years now. But there’s a twist. Another species–the salarians–implores you to sabotage the genophage cure because they’re afraid that once the Reapers are defeated, the krogan will go on another bloody rampage across the galaxy like they’ve done in the past.

Since I’m playing as a Renegade, I decided to do the “evil” thing and agree to sabotage the cure. Several times during the mission I had to lie to my companions, including Wrex, about my intentions. I know it’s just a game, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

In order to rationalize my decision, I ended up turning to Doctor Who. In that show, one of the running themes is that everything has its time; everything dies at some point. That’s what I told myself as I progressed through the mission, inching closer to the point when I’d stab Wrex and his entire species in the back.

I thought: The krogan had their time before. They devastated their world with nuclear war. They got a second chance when the salarians uplifted them. Then they blew it again with the Krogan Rebellions. It’s just their time to go now. Everything has a time.

I told myself that over and over until I reached the mission’s climax. I was in a crumbling facility with the salarian Mordin (also one of my favorite characters) seconds away from deploying the genophage cure. Mordin decided he had to make sure it deployed properly. The game presented me with a terrible choice: let Mordin go cure the genophage and potentially unleash the krogan on the galaxy again or murder him and basically doom the krogan to a slow extinction.

My resolve crumbled. Then in my mind’s eye I saw Matt Smith (the current Doctor) standing there in his coat and suspenders. His head is lowered and he’s saying, “Everything has to end sometime…” Dramatic pause. You think he’s going to go through with it, condemning an entire species to death. Then this song kicks in. The Doctor looks up with a maniac’s grin on his face, he points right at the camera and shouts, “…but not today!” Then he saves the day.

As soon as I saw that in my head, I leapt to my feet, pointed at the TV and shouted, “But not today!” My girlfriend in the next room probably thought I was crazy. It didn’t matter that I was ruining my pledge to play as a Renegade; I couldn’t bring myself to betray a friend, murder another one, and condemn a species to death on a mere possibility of a future disaster. I let Mordin go cure the genophage. And then the game ripped him away from me.

That mission affected me deeply on multiple levels. I felt so much for these fictional characters that I couldn’t betray one of them. Then I was devastated when another one was taken from me. But multiple types of media are able to make you care for fictional characters, so it couldn’t just be the fact that I cared.

No, Mass Effect 3 really brought home how the interactive nature of videogames allows the player to experience feelings that TV, movies, or books can only show them. I’ve watched all six seasons of the current Doctor Who, but I’ve never had a moment where I felt like I was in the Doctor’s shoes. This Tuchanka mission did that to me. I felt like I had the weight of galaxies and entire species on my shoulders.

I feel like that kind of experience has to be unique to videogames. Movies and books have played with my emotions before, but nothing quite on this level. Rather than absorbing things passively, I had agency (within the confines of the game’s mechanics and narrative of course) and the ability to change things on a galactic scale. Mass Effect 3 was the perfect game to make me experience something like this because of how well the characters were written and presented since the first game. I doubt I would’ve felt the same way if this type of decision had been presented to me in a different game.

Humanity, Empire, and the Ood – Reactions to Doctor Who S04E03 “Planet of the Ood”

I just finished watching Doctor Who season four episode three–“Planet of the Ood.” I felt moved to write something. It’s not a review and definitely not a formal essay. That’s why I’m calling this a reactions piece–a rambling, hopefully coherent piece that will share my thoughts about the episode.

For those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is an extremely long running British television series. And also for those of you who also don’t know, I’m from the US, and I just started watching the show this year. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that the series has a fundamental British-ness about it–whatever that means. I believe that “Planet of the Ood” exemplifies the series’ British-ness, especially surrounding concepts like empire and the Other.

The episode opens with the Doctor taking Donna to the Ood-Sphere, an ice planet and home of the Ood, in the year 4126. During the course of the episode, he remarks that they are in the middle of the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. Little warning bells went off in my mind as soon as he said that. And I think this is where the series’ inherent British-ness is really apparent. This is a sweeping generalization, but I feel like because empire played such a huge role throughout the course of British history that the fabric of empire has been imprinted on the modern British psyche–for better and worse.

I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re supposed to draw parallels between this Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire and the British Empire. What’s interesting is how many critics praised the episode for its commentary on slavery, but I don’t see it. Not the commentary itself–I saw that–but why the episode is deserving of so much praise (on those ideological grounds).

The Ood are a perfect Other. They’re humanoid, but distinctly not-human. With squid-like tentacles where a human’s mouth would be and a strange appendage attached to their heads, the Ood are both fascinating and terrifying because of how similar and how strange they are. The fact that the Doctor and Donna fight for the Ood against oppression is supposed to be seen as a major victory.

In the episode we learn that the Ood are being sold in three human-dominated galaxies as the perfect servants. In fact, they’ve been bred and surgically manipulated to be that way. Obviously there are parallels with slavery on Earth, and when the Ood finally free themselves the Doctor and Donna pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The Ood are free because they deserve to be free because slavery’s bad. We get it. It’s very surface level.

The problem comes down to the inherent British-ness of the series. The way I see it, Doctor Who sees slavery as bad (because it is) but doesn’t seem to recognize that empire is just as bad and leads to things like oppression and slavery. The concept of empire, with its unequal power structures, creates Others its less fortunate subjects–some of them slaves. If the Doctor was really trying to stop slavery, he wouldn’t just fly away in the TARDIS after helping the Ood. Instead he’d go help dismantle this Second (Supposedly) Great and Bountiful Human Empire.

I realize that this is just a TV and that the United States also has a tumultuous history with empire, but I can’t help but feel like the episode missed the point a little bit. And now my train of thought is starting to come apart. I know there’s a lot more that could be said about empire, the Doctor, the Ood, and the Other, but my brain’s tired and I need to go to bed. I’m going to keep watching the series because for the most part it has an element of absurdity to it that’s pretty awesome. I just hope the next episode they try to do some serious commentary it’s a little more successful.

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