Dear Steven Moffat: Flatline

Doctor Who Flatline

Dear Steven,

One of the questions, when this series began, was how you and your coterie of scribblers would handle a middle aged Doctor. Initially our focus was on his personality. We assumed he’d eschew being juvenile, be less enamoured with popular culture, and would be less excitable, reflecting the real world differences between a twentysomething and fiftysomething. Such was our obsession with these things that we failed to touch on two other crucial elements, which unbeknownst to us preoccupied you: a) the Doctor’s physicality – that is, how much of a physical role he’d take in his new adventures, and b) the changing role of his companion, relative to the wizened Galifreyian.

In an average season of Nu-Who, “Flatline” could be waved away as a mere companion episode. Indeed, the story gave Clara an opportunity to cut loose and play Doctor for the first time since that embarrassing summer afternoon with Tom Scuttleworth in childhood. But in a season where the audience has good reason to suspect that you don’t quite trust them to embrace an older, more curmudgeonly Time Lord, so have tried to mitigate against this imaginary deficiency by beefing up the younger, more sprightly companion’s role, it looked like both a culmination and coronation.

Of the nine episodes we’ve now had, at least half of them have pushed Clara front and centre. “Deep Breath” gave Clara the lion’s share of screentime, “Listen” retconed the series, making her architect of the Doctor’s psyche, “The Caretaker” reduced the Doctor to a supporting role, “Kill the Moon” had her assume saving the world duties and tonight, in front of an open mouthed nation, she took the sonic screwdriver, assumed the moniker and saved Bristol from a two dimensional menace while the Doctor watched on TV, like the rest of us.

Running around, problem solving, vanquishing foes – typically these are the Doctor’s staples, but now he stands in the background spouting exposition while his former assistant does all the work. Once the Doctor’s companions had to snap to fit his lifestyle, now he snaps to fit theirs. Once upon a time fandom got excited speculating about the Doctor’s true identity. Now, with tonight’s cryptic epilogue, and Missy’s implication that Clara’s her plant/unwitting agent/sleeper assassin, we’re speculating about Ms Oswald’s identity, the Doctor of lies, for the second year running. In short, the Doctor and Clara swapping roles wasn’t just the conceit of Jamie Mathieson’s second story, it was the story of the season.

Frankly I’m amazed you had the balls to let Mathieson be so explicit. The strategy up until now has been about maintaining the pretense this is still the Doctor’s show, while incrementally marginalising him, presumably as a sop to the fucking idiots at home who just can’t get a handle on their Dad being the dynamic centre of their sci-fi universe. These ageist, BBC3 addicted simpletons, who crave young flesh, can root for Clara because she’s either a bit like them or someone to whom they can reasonably aspire. Who’d want to be an aloof, deep-thinking middle aged man with bad hair continuity, eh? Who’d want to occupy the craggy body of a 2,000 year old Time Lord? Oh, I don’t know – a fan of the FUCKING SERIES, maybe?

Now I understand that in this awful modern world of ours, younger viewers have certain expectations. They want their heroes and heroines to be physically dexterous, as well as sharp, like a Peter Cook rebuke. Doctor Who’s competing for their attention with Marvel movies and the like, and it just wouldn’t do to expect the half-formed miscreants to sit quietly for 45 minutes and watch Peter Capaldi think.

The Doctor, it’s believed, has to muck in and act as if he were a Viz character, pushing the world’s largest set of gonads ahead of him in a wheelbarrow. But if, Rassilon forbid, he’s just not up to somersaulting, grandstanding, swinging, running, and defenestrating himself, because he’s been played by an actor who’d rather not and sees the character as more of a man of words than action, then you and your fellow scribes are left with a difficult choice to make. Do you a) try to reeducate the very audience you’ve bred to expect all this shit by telling different kinds of stories that accentuate the new Doctor’s gifts or, and take your time Steven, do you b) reassign the heroic stuff to the companion and make the new Doctor the hero’s fun but eccentric old friend. Note that choosing B turns Doctor Who into Back to the Future.

Look Steven, you can do whatever you want – we can’t stop you (yet), just know that if Clara remains the focus of the show (an awfully risky strategy to adopt in a new Doctor’s inaugural year) then you risk devaluing your greatest asset – this impossibly complicated, multi-faceted alien with the experience of eleven lifetimes, whose name is on the title card. If, as we now suspect, Clara’s a big part of whatever revelations await us in the finale, and the focus on her has been building to this moment (retrospectively justifying her character’s special treatment) then fine, but this better be a twist for the ages. To paraphrase the Doctor (remember him?), it needs to be huge.

So that aside “Flatline”, mini-TARDIS and all, was a better effort from Mathieson than his debut last week. “Mummy on the Orient Express” was concept mash, whereas this felt more imaginative. The influences were plain as day; it’s clear Jamie likes Innerspace (as do your entire team as this is the second time it’s been alluded to this season after “Into the Dalek”) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I liked the notion that made me think of the Trek sequel – the idea of an alien with difficulties communicating, inadvertently causing death and destruction, though its motives be good. Well, after seeing the Dimensionoids kill a few Bristolians, the Doctor concluded they may not be so good after all and designated them monsters. This was less about their true nature, I felt, as the Doctor didn’t really know anything more about their motives at the end than the beginning, rather than underlining that Capaldi’s Time Lord is far more ambivalent when it comes to fostering harm on his enemies than some of his predecessors. Killing the occasional villain is, for this Doctor, a necessary evil, and one he’s fully capable of rationalising. What this will mean for him when he catches up with some of his old foes and the collateral damage registered on the way at Chez Missy, is anyone’s guess. Well, not yours – you already know. Obviously.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Another day, another annoying teen helping to save life as we know it. Steven, promise me that next year Capaldi will only solicit help from middle-aged men and women. I’m begging you.

P.P.S: I had nervous system wallpaper once, what of it?

P.P.P.S: A mercifully brief bit of Danny this week. We learned that a) he’s “territorial”, which was a big fucking surprise, given his passive possessive shtick in previous episodes, yet b) he fails to react when he’s talking to Clara on the phone and it sounds like she’s having sex at the other end. What an enigma!

P.P.P.P.S: Is there any reason to believe the Doctor would have heard of the Addams Family? Yet weirdly he knew what Clara meant when she alluded to Thing.

P.P.P.P.P.S: “You were an exceptional Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it.” Now whatever could that mean?

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Dear Steven Moffat: Mummy on the Orient Express

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Dear Steven,

When I imagine the Doctor Who writers’ room I see a tiny office, about the size of a centenarian’s prostate, with a couple of wretched chairs; torn seat covers and wine stains. On one side of the room there’s a stand with a giant writing pad affixed with a saltire bulldog clip, on the other a tombola. I see you with a cigarette filter and a worm of ash hanging from your trap, while your collaborator anxiously tries to brainstorm the best ideas he can (there’s a ‘no feminoids allowed’ sign on the door) using whatever three things he’s plucked from the revolving drum of damnation. Last week Peter Harness got “moon”, “spiders” and “abortion”. This week Jamie Mathieson pulled “Poirot”, “Egyptian Mummy” and “Outer Space”. When he begged you for a forth spin you gave in and he was relieved. Then he got “Frank Skinner”. I suppose you should be careful what you wish for.

I’ve heard it said, and I’m sure you have too, that genre splicing is one of the show’s strengths, after all the sky’s the limit, right? But watching Mummy on the Orient Express, I did wonder if Mathieson struggled just a little bit, as he tried to cobble together a story using his four plucks from the drum. I couldn’t help but think that if he’d written the episode the other way round – you know, thought of a compelling story first then grafted on genre elements afterwards, it might have felt more substantial. Look, I like Poirot, okay? I enjoy an arrogant older man questioning a group of ciphers in period dress, solving a mystery and unmasking a killer. I like mummies, though not the one from those Stephen Sommers’ movies obviously. I like space. And yes, I can even admit to a closet appreciation for Frank Skinner, who was so dry in this story that my lip cracked watching him. All the elements were fine, yet the episode was no greater than the sum of its highly familiar parts. Instead of an involving horror story we got something that resembled ITV’s Sunday night schedule hijacked by the staff of Forbidden Planet.

I don’t want to sound like one of the records you’ve broken when tossed at the heads of those unfortunate scribes that questioned why they had to use the tombola, but I think this was the latest exhibit in the ever-building case against 45 minute episodes. What a shame, thought I, trying to work out where I’d seen David Bamber before, going on to realise that he was your Matalan version of Basil Fawlty in Chalk, that the fallout from last week’s breakdown in Doctor-Clara relations wasn’t explored in greater depth. When you get the monster of the week out of the way, plus the supporting characters we care nothing about, and factor in the exposition, there’s about 5 minutes left for the stuff that matters.

Poor Jamie Mathieson had no choice but to use great economy in trying to unpick why Clara Oswald, the world’s luckiest school teacher, with all of time and space at her fingertips and a legitimate excuse to spend time away from her grey sky boyfriend – a woman with 12 weeks holiday a year from the obnoxious, impertinent kids she’s forced to teach as it is, with an exclusive option to extend her breaks indefinitely, would consider giving that up because the Doctor had forced her to take on a little responsibility.

We got something about him having been “high handed” and “arrogant”, and she was quick to point out that she didn’t hate him, which was big of her when he’d liberated her from that impossibly dull existence, but I have to say I still didn’t get it. Yes, the new Doctor’s a callous pragmatist that’s decided at 2,000 that he no longer has the inclination to sugarcoat bad news and play the matinee hero, but that makes him enigmatic, surely? Isn’t this a guy you’d want to be around, if only to study? Alright, she doesn’t feel a hundred percent safe around him anymore, but one’s tempted to say, “grow up Clara – the universe is fucking dangerous. If you want a life without risk, guaranteed to calcify the soul, bed in with Danny and spend your weekends visiting the Tate Modern, listening to his hollow pronouncements on art, reading the Guardian to one another and drinking cocktails from old jam jars at a North London gastropub decked out in fairy lights.”

Even at the end, when the Doctor had once again treated Clara to, what from her perspective would be a thrilling adventure, full of novelty, awe and intrigue, she was still labouring under the impression that she was in a position to dictate the terms of the gig. The Doctor had to keep her safe and get her home on time, she said. He agreed, because he didn’t want to hand her over to the man who’s fast becoming the Yoko Ono of this band, but he secretly must have been thinking, ‘no problem, Clara – I’ll tell all my enemies and the as yet unknown horrors of the cosmos to take it easy on us as I wouldn’t want you to miss sex and pudding night with your yawn of a boyfriend.’

I like Clara, Steven. She’s alright. But as we’ve discussed in previous weeks, she is indulged beyond belief. When I hear she has expectations of the Doctor coming round to dinner from time to time, should they part company, and watch as she makes it clear that her ongoing participation in the Doctor’s adventures is conditional on him fitting whatever he’s got in the pipeline around her social life, I long for the days when the TARDIS’s navigation systems were shot, when the Doctor had no fucking idea where he’d end up week to week, and a companion got on board with the understanding that getting back to where they were picked up was a matter of luck rather than choice, and in all likelihood they’d part company with the Doctor a trillion miles and a thousand years from where they started. When it was over, no, they wouldn’t be seeing him again (probably) and no, he absolutely would not, and would not even contemplate, popping round for dinner from time to bastard time. He’s a crusading Time Lord not Joanne from teacher training college.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “Our Last Hurrah” would have been a better title for this episode.

P.P.S: I hate the fact that Clara can call Danny from any time and place in the universe on her mobile. I know the RTD era established this was possible, because apparently the TARDIS has better network connectivity than all earthbound providers combined, but it’s stupid and it takes something away from the closed world of the Doctor and his companion. When they’re away I want them to be fully away – isolated and divorced from the mundane realities of the audience. Can you imagine a companion picking up a phone in the classic series and placing a reverse charge call to their mother in Eastbourne from the Cornubula Mines on Xendaris? No, me neither.

P.P.P.S: Jelly Babies in a classic cigarette case. Nice touch.

P.P.P.P.S: “I’m disappointed by your breakfast bar…and all of the dying.” My priorities would be in that order too.

P.P.P.P.P.S: A couple of nice call backs this week, one to The Doctor Dances, “are you my Mummy?” and the other to Red Dwarf. It’s about time we saw more hard light holograms.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: For all its dramatic weaknesses, I thought this was Capaldi’s best airing of the new Doctor’s character yet. He’s a bit of a cold fish but there’s more flavour in the meat than we’ve had for some time.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Who sent him those free tickets, Steven? Missy? I’d never accept a freebie from a stranger. Well, not unless it was something I really wanted to do, like take a trip on a vintage train hurtling through space.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Hang on, hold everything – stop the clocks: was this the episode when the, I thought we’d all agreed, sacrosanct rule that there’d be no unspoken sexual tension between the Doctor and Clara got blown out into space? Was she looking at the Doctor when she told earthbound bore Danny that she loved him? Why all the relationship innuendo in this episode, did Mathieson not get the memo? And now Clara’s lying to her beige beau, are we hurtling inextricably toward our ultimate nightmare: a love triangle finale?

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Dear Steven Moffat: Kill the Moon

kill the moon

Dear Steven,

To start at the end, there was a weird anti-democratic undertone to this week’s moon-sized chunk of horror schlock. We learned that the Doctor and Clara went for dinner in 1937 Berlin. The in-story reason for this was to illustrate that it wasn’t the Doctor’s business to make the big calls in human history (because he didn’t kill Hitler), the thousands of times he’s saved the planet and its dominant species aside, but it raised the question of just what the fuck the time travelling twosome were doing there. Had the Doctor stumbled on a great eisbein place while observing Nazi intimidation and the persecution of Berlin Jews at the hand of stormtroopers first hand? Had Clara asked to eat out in a fascist capital? Did either of them think twice about supporting the Nazi economy? It’s easy enough to imagine the two of them necking Berliner Weisse, harder to envision our heroes laid back, comfortable and taking in the atmosphere as an old brownshirt pummeled a suspected homosexual on the next table. I hope they didn’t leave a tip.

Then there was the vote. Earth was asked to decide whether the Moon creature should be allowed to hatch or be vaporised by a hundred nuclear bombs. Understandably Clara wanted to take soundings. The Doctor, a 2,000 year old genius with a deep and practical understanding of the universe and the ethical quandaries thrown up by the same, decided he didn’t have an opinion on this occasion. No, he wouldn’t be drawn so he’d let a hawkish astronaut, a teenage girl and an occasional galactic hitchhiker decide instead. At least Clara had the brains to realise that a wider pool of opinion needed sampling, so she called for a global plebiscite.

Unsurprisingly, given the potential threat from an orbital creature a quarter of the planet’s size that no one knew anything about, those on the ground voted with their light switches for annihilation. A disturbed Clara, forced to take ultimate responsibility for the decision by a buck passing Doctor, made a snap choice and overrode the species’ call, thereby overturning the largest, most inclusive show of democracy in human history. Yes seven billion had voted, many for the first time, with turnout at nearly 100% but fuck it, it didn’t feel right to a twentysomething English teacher from Blackpool who likes to eats out in Nazi Germany. Did you check writer Peter Harness’s politics before you hired him, Steven?

These political oddities aside, “Kill the Moon” pivoted on Clara’s moral dilemma. The days of the Doctor holding a couple of wires aloft and asking, “do I have the right?” as in Genesis of the Daleks, are clearly over. Instead, in keeping with the companion-centric shift in this series, the episode’s meat was in Clara’s hands (so to speak). This was an interesting development, one that changed the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. It forced her to think for herself for a change, taking off the stabilisers as the Doctor put it, but it also illustrated the difference between this incarnation of the Doctor and his predecessors.

Capaldi’s man is more aloof – not just alien but alienating. Here was the Doctor saying, “this is your world, not mine, you decide its fate while I untangle this yo yo”, and that spoke to a new attitude that Clara understandably found uncomfortable. A Doctor who’s on hand for guidance rather than there to make the big decisions is clearly not the same man who used to lead from the front on the universal stage. I recall getting a similar reaction the first time I refused to pick a restaurant after a Saturday movie. Two angry people and myself stood in the street for three days, growing cold and emaciated.

I believed the Doc when he said that fucking off to check which levers Courtney had touched and moving them back was about conferring respect on Clara, but you can’t blame her for being uncertain – this Doctor’s a lot more ambivalent than most. A moral crusader would be one thing, a Time Lord that didn’t give a widow’s tits another, but one that looks like he changes his mind a couple of times an hour? That’s not someone you’d feel safe with. Little wonder, then, that despite a favourable (if autocratic) outcome, Clara had one of those tantrums that people sometimes have when they’ve had a fright, are now safe, but are pissed off with the person that made them scared in the first place. Her calling time on her travels (for now) may have been a surprise, but it undoubtedly advanced both characters. How this is revisited and what it will mean for the two of them in future crunch situations will be interesting to see. Will Clara go all the way and tell the Doctor to “fuck off” next time?

Other than that, the only other moment of note in “Killing Keith Moon” was the Doctor’s aside about being unable to see some moments in time. Things, he said, had to be decided in the here and now. I liked that, Steven, and choose to read it as giving predestined outcomes the finger, which of course is a subtle way of critiquing the accursed ontological paradox you’re so fond of. I hope you took that line in, old fruit. If this episode had any weight at all it was because it wasn’t about catching up with decisions already made but making choices now, with all the consequences unknown and unknowable. Think on.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “What is Courtney Woods?” asked the Doctor. Well, quite. Is this import from CBBC there to up the show’s young-load? What do I have to do to stop her appearing in future episodes, carve off my leg? Well okay, you bastard – send me a guarantee and I’ll get the sawdust in.

P.P.S: “I’m not sure I won’t keep on regenerating forever.” If the Doctor got a new set of regenerations he should be fairly sure they’re capped at 12, but it was an interesting aside. Is this is the episode that guaranteed the 200th anniversary?

P.P.P.S: Returning to Courtney, why would the Doctor have a child-sized space suit handy? I suppose he could have travelled ahead, seen himself with Courtney grasping her throat and turning blue on the surface of the moon and made a mental note to get one made, but this seemed a little weird to me.

P.P.P.P.S: “I’ll smack you so hard you’ll regenerate.” That old threat.

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Dear Steven Moffat: The Caretaker

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Dear Steven,

Last week, with some prescience, we discussed Clara’s apparent difficulty in balancing her TARDIS life with her moribund career as a secondary school English teacher and her relationship with Danny “Mr” Pink (played in Reservoir Dogs by Steve Buscemi). Though you hijacked his credit, as is now your wont, we discerned from “The Caretaker” that this also preoccupied veteran Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts. His episode didn’t settle the issue; the Doctor’s still happy to travel with Clara on a piecemeal basis, as he manifestly wasn’t for the duration of the classic series (making it unlikely he’d change his mind in his autumn years); but we gained some understanding as to why the choleric grey head might be prepared to indulge his latest friend. The Doctor wants Clara to be happy, that is snuggled and sexed, and he knows he can’t provide that kind of universal experience, so like a single Dad who’s afraid of an empty nest he’s prepared to give Clara her space, while being suspicious of her boyfriends.

Much of “The Caretaker” was concerned with Clara and Danny’s relationship and whether the Doctor would approve of the union. On paper this was not a story to inspire confidence, as it read like the programme debasing itself with maudlin family drama, but the execution was a great deal more intricate, with Roberts using a variant on the fish out of water setup employed in his old episode, “The Lodger”, to chip away at the dynamic governing the Doctor and Clara’s bond.

The Time Lord’s initial assumption, that Clara was riding the floppy haired, bow tied Adrian, simply because he looked like his former incarnation, was a neat little aside that spoke to the Doctor’s self-regard, while his dismissal of former solider Pink as a cleft-brained grunt, and the assumption that he could only be a physical education teacher, underlined his contempt for violence and those associated with prosecuting it. For her part, Clara craved the Doctor’s approval, a scene in which she thought she had it being gently touching, and it was this shift to a firm Father-Daughter dynamic that leant the episode a little psychological punch.

If you ask me, Steven, the Doctor was right to give Pink a hard time for being allegedly second rate, just for the wrong reason. He concentrated on his apparent lack of brains when in truth he should have rounded on Clara for dating someone with so little personality. Honestly, does he have to be so beige? What does a vivacious and energetic woman like Clara see in this walking yawn? I’ll bet he shaves his pubic hair, doesn’t he? And don’t tell me opposites attract, or that she needs a safe counterpoint to the manic other man in her life, she’d still want to laugh from time to time, wouldn’t she? She’d still want to feel alive? So interesting though the episode’s final flip was, with Danny transmogrified from boyfriend under scrutiny to scrutinising boyfriend, warning Clara that he wouldn’t let the Doctor push her too far (such was his distrust of rousing authority figures), one felt like saying, ‘you should be more interested in keeping Clara interested, mate.’

What did I want to happen, Steven? Did I want Danny to be incinerated by the mechanoid hunter-killer thing, or for Clara to realise at the end that there just wasn’t room for a middle of the road relationship when you had all of time and space to explore? Perhaps both, but if we must have this fucking coupling and attendant issues, then I suppose “The Caretaker” did a good job of fleshing out the problems. Now we know that Clara’s place in the TARDIS is under threat from a protective no mark and the doubt he’s placed in his girlfriend’s mind. It’s just a niggle of course, but it’s reasonable to assume that seed will grow, perhaps paving the way for the character’s exit sometime later. I’m happy to go down this road if it means exploring the new Doctor’s manipulative tendency and his attitude to his companion’s emotional entanglements, but if you want Danny to be something other than Clara’s doubts personified, you’ll need to imbue him with charisma and vitality, fast! Sure, he can somersault, but can he make us care? I’m glad we survived the mechanical threat but I’m less enamoured at the world being saved by the planet’s dullest man. I owe my life to a guy who probably subscribes to the Times Literary Supplement.

So other than the framing story, which wasn’t much of anything, what else is there to say about this episode? Six in and it’s clear that Capaldi’s still getting a handle on his version of the character. This was an important story in that respect, as it allowed the new man to indulge himself a little, underlying his alien credentials and allowing some flashes of temper. I’m all for this Doctor being brash, brutal and rude as it distances him from his student entertainment officer predecessors. I realise he’ll never swear, but couldn’t you let him have just one venomous rant, perhaps drowned out by the sound of the TARDIS’s engines?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Why let that pupil Courtney aboard the TARDIS? Are we showing it to everyone now? I hope the fact she coated the console room in vomit will ensure this kind of casual day tripping ceases.

P.P.S: I enjoyed the fried severed hand. More of this casual violence please.

P.P.P.S: No warning was given that Chris Addison would be in this episode, ahead of transmission.

P.P.P.P.S: Does the policeman’s presence in Missy’s afterlife break the link with other victims, as he wasn’t killed as a direct consequence of the Doctor’s actions, or was the killer robot drawn there because of the TARDIS’s frequent trips to the area? The Doctor alluded to local activity, or some shit. Is that what he meant? I’m sorry if I missed the vital detail, I had to break off as the cat got tangled in my hammock.

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Dear Steven Moffat: Time Heist

time_heist_5

Dear Steven,

Despondency, sluggishness, boredom, confusion, apathy: did you feel any of these co-authoring Stephen Thompson’s time waster, or were these treats reserved for viewers? The kindest thing one can say about “Time Heist” is that will be quietly forgotten. The show was one long memory worm, challenging each and every brain that grappled with it to hold onto a single, salient detail. I made notes, Steven, but I look at them now and struggle to recall when they were written. If that sounds unlikely, given I’ve spent the better part of this paragraph talking about how little I thought of this installment, it’s surely no less ridiculous than a half man, half computer remembering the time he deleted all memory of his friends and family. How would he know?

Look, there was a germ of a good idea here. The villain of the week growing old, regretting their sins and contacting the Doctor to right an historic wrong is a story we can get behind. The conclusion was humane, neatly inverted our expectations of the heist sub-genre, where we typically expect all gains to be ill-gotten. But God damn you and your separatist sympathetic locks, you’ve gone and done it again: you’ve drawn a circle on a piece of blood stained paper, handed it to your collaborator and said, “there’s the shape of your plot, just add details”. Two ontological paradoxes in a row! Surely you can find another way to make these time travel stories work, can’t you? What’s that, you can’t? Well let me turn that frown upside down and explain what you should have done.

The Doctor’s holidaying on the planet Xendaris and he encounters the wizened, embittered form of Madame Karabraxos. She explains that she’s recognized the TARDIS from her people’s big book of cosmic symbols, and wants to know if it’s true that he has the ability to time travel. Initially he fobs her off but she persists, begging him to listen to her story. Eventually, desperate to be alone and salvage some of his break, he relents and lets her tell the tale. From there you proceed much as you did. The Doctor materalises in Clara’s shower as she’s toweling down and forces her to join him on this bank raid, they arrive, act on Karabraxos’s tip off they’ll have to wipe their memories to stay one step ahead of the Teller Beast and your piss-weak pastiche of Hustle plays out, complete with intrusive transition effects and irritating slow motion.

By plotting it this way you lose the illusion that the story’s got a clever shape, because the relationship between cause and effect is straightforward, but crucially the episode would now make sense. Save the Xendaris scene to the end and close with the Doctor stroking the old woman’s hair and promising her that he’ll get to the vault and redeem her slave owning soul, perhaps moments before she croaks, and you’ve got a touching ending. You’d also have a moment of pathos, a dramatic conclusion – you know, something memorable. But fuck all that, you went for your favourite trick and consequently a nation scratches its crotch, wondering how the Doctor could have been recruited to rob a bank by an old woman when she only had the means to contact him because he’d already completed her request. Seriously, man, stop it. Stop it before I go to your next script book signing with a grenade in my pocket.

So the episode was impossible, flat, not particularly compelling, often incoherent and reworked a plot point from Die Hard (namely the vault with multiple locks that needs an external miracle to cut the final circuit) but what really bothered me was this practice of Clara having a life on Earth and travelling with the Doctor at the same time. I don’t like it and I think it brings into question why Clara should be our man’s exclusive companion.

It seems to me that if you’re a TARDIS mate you should commit to it full time. There’s no reason not to really because once it’s over the Doctor can drop you back to whenever you left. Alright, some of your friends and family may wonder why you’ve acquired longer hair and crow’s feet overnight, or perhaps half won’t notice, retrospectively justifying your decision to take an extended universal holiday from them in the first place, but this allows the writers a certain freedom. They don’t need to worry about keeping pace with the companion’s personal life or their career, because the Doctor’s both combined.

Ah, you say, but we’ve never had the opportunity to explore a woman’s attempts to “have it all” on screen before, i.e. juggle a career, love life and adventures in time and space. Yes, and with good reason. The show’s called Doctor Who, not ‘My friend the Time Traveller’. Increasingly the Doctor’s a cockblocker and bad lifestyle guru, showing up at the wrong moment, fluffing reassurance; he’s like an autistic Dad. His universe seemed somehow bigger when he took his companions away from it all and the focus was on him. It was a less a case of “where do you want to go?” more, “this is what’s happening, now look out!” or “where the fuck are we?” In short, the Doctor used to pick up hitchhikers, people who were grateful to be going anywhere at all, now he’s jostling for attention with the rest of their weekly schedule. If his next incarnation looked anything like me it would tell would-be associates, ‘sure we’ll drop in on your home town once in a while, if there’s time’, knowing full well there wouldn’t be.

I like Clara these days but I’m not sure I care about her dates or what’s going on in the staff room. I accept she’s interested and wants a normal life, but that’s not the deal. The deal is that you pack some clothes, get in the Police Box and forget about the humdrum, repetitive, everyday nonsense that weighs down the rest of us. Were I offered a ride in a time machine, you can bet your life there’d be a million places I’d want to visit before I got nostalgic for the pub on the corner and work breaks at Starbucks. But why shouldn’t Clara have a boyfriend, you ask? She should, let her enjoy a full and vibrant sex life I say. It’s just that she’ll have to give up her place on the TARDIS and let someone with no commitments have a go.

The dip in approach begs another question. If the Doctor’s prepared to take time out to pick up and drop off his companion at regular intervals, giving them a parallel existence, why not have ten companions, or twenty? Why not leave Clara for a little while and pick up James Corden for a couple of years, or Bob who the Doctor occasionally visit in space prison, or Maisie, his favourite 17th century Cornish prostitute? Don’t say the Doctor doesn’t have time; he’s got all the time he needs.

So I say the time has come to make Clara choose, Steven. Join Doctor Who as a full time space traveller or settle down to a life of teaching and coupling. I want to enjoy adventures in the farthest reaches of the universe without having to break off to visit Clara’s flat, because she’s due out for dinner and absolutely must have a few hours to get ready beforehand.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I thought I saw a half-second of John Barrowman in tonight’s episode. Please say it ain’t so.

P.P.S: Two naked aliens on a family show? Steven, I’m shocked.

P.P.P.S: “C’mon then, team not dead.” A brief moment of levity in an otherwise dull three quarters of an hour.

P.P.P.P.S: A cyborg who makes a clichéd data processing computer noise when he’s calculating something was flat out idiotic. What next, an episode where the Doctor shows up at Coal Hill as the new caretaker?!

The Old Adventures: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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