Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Handwave Too Far

I feel dirty today. Dirty and used. On Saturday night, Russell T Davies used me and abused me and lured me into his silken embraces with shiny toys and sugary treats, playing on my well-known fascinations in order to seduce me to his dark, dark side. I was his plaything, to do with as he wished.

And his fiendish plan nearly worked. Oh so nearly...

Turn Left is heroin for fanboys, to juggle the metaphor a bit. Or, if we must stick with the unintentionally dodgy subtext of the first paragraph, a big bag of gobstoppers for the rotting sweet tooth inside us all. It's so slickly done that it's very easy to ignore the fact that it's really the contents of a blender wrapped up in a rainbow coloured blanket, and pretend that it's actually a terribly clever reminder of the Doctor's Godhood and an affirmation that humanity will keep on keeping on, no matter what.

Or is it?

No it's not! It's a big, huge, mental mad rush of sensation and noise and swirly colours and sound and fury and EVERYTHING! Quick, someone get me a bib and keep on spooning the episode mush into my mouth, just in case I stop swallowing the damn stuff whole and start thinking about it instead an...sorry about that. Sugar overload.

It's only after the sugar high has worn off and you're coming down with a bang, that you realise that the whole magnificent edifice is, in fact, made up of nothing at all: the Emperor's New Clothes where even the Emperor and the horse he rode in on has turned out to be made up of smoke and mirrors.

But, crucially, only for fanboys.

Fanboys might wish to complain that it's not even internally consistent with last Christmas ('I'm the man whose going to save your lives, and all six billion people on the planet below' the Doctor says in Voyage of the Damned, but luckily by six billion he meant seven million and by the entire planet, he meant everything south of Northampton and north of the Channel) - or indeed last month (that ATMOS system turned out to be a bit shit and the Sontaran invasion easy to nullify after all, didn't it?).

And they'd be right - apparently if the Doctor dies then aliens will be able to attack Earth with impunity, but fortunately it'll also turn out the Doctor was exaggerating the danger in order to make himself look good, like an IT support guy pretending that rebooting requires a degree and ten years network experience.

But fanboys are basically scum, so we can ignore their doe-eyed bleating and consider what Real People think.

Norms (as the scummy fanboys have been known to call them) are like a different species. A species which matters much, much more.

They matter because they'll only buy the plastic action figures, crappy magazines and plethora of tie-in literature so long as they're enjoying the show (fanboys will, of course, buy it all whilst moaning like old women on HRT about how crap the series is now and how Pertwee dumps on Tennant from a height so great that Tennant would need a hell of a long ladder to even see Ol' Big Nose).

Norms love Turn Left. They don't care about consistent continuity or diegetic integrity or any of the other arty, pseudo-high brow drivel that fanboy scum use to pretend that they're seriously criticising an important narrative text and not slaveringly obsessing over a kids tv programme.

What the norms want is the Cybermen going toe to toe with the Daleks because they remember those two baddies from before and it seems a natural story to do.

They want to see the Master dancing across the room to the Scissors Sisters and the Doctor turning into Dobby the House Elf, because that's the kind of thing you get at the pictures nowadays.

They want cat people in traffic jams, Dalek hybrids who resemble Al Capone with his head stuffed in an octopus, the Doctor nailing every young white female in sight, Big Brother spoofs, blow job jokes, farting Slitheen, Scooby Doo chases and Mavis Riley from Coronation Street getting killed by that guy from The League of Gentlemen (presuming they've heard of that).

They want Gary Russell, not Lawrence Miles.

In light of this week's episode, it's also fair to say that they want It's a Wonderful Doctor Who Life, and going by the trailer for next week they presumably also want a super-hero team up of all the good guys at once! It'd obviously be better if the Doctor Who Fantastic Fifteen was up against all the bad guys put together, in a tag team match up of seventies ITV wrestling type proportions, but if they can't have that then the next best thing is having the Daleks fighting against Sarah-Jane and Martha and Captain Jack and Rose and Ianto and K9 and (for all I know) Morris the bionic gladiator from the Iron Legion comic strip from Doctor Who Weekly in 1979.

Bugger, just outed myself as fanboy scum, haven't I?

I loved Turn Left when I was watching it and will happily watch it again, but really - it's not brilliant or particularly clever, it's got some genuinely dodgy directing and acting in it, it contains the series' worst alien baddie (the plastic time beetle from Toys R Us), it only works because Davies fudges the previous stories he references, it has some odd fancies (labour camps in Britain at the drop of a hat?) and is, when all's said and done, an alternative universe story so although everyone dies, it doesn't matter later - or, more importantly, at the time either.

You can handwave most of this away, but there shouldn't be any need for handwaves in such a simple story and - fun though it was - I'm now thoroughly past the point at which the sheer weight of handwaving required is acceptable.

So I loved it and disliked it at one and the same time - well sue me, I'm fanboy scum, me.

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46 Comments:

Blogger Scott Liddell said...

Actually, you're on to something there:

"The Doctor Vs Alien Vs Predator"

That would be great, in a way only Tony the Tiger can annunciate...

3:55 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Man, I love that you can write, like, 400 words on that while I wrote 4. You must be a fanboy* ;)

If the big season finale is as bad as Trial of a Timelord, I do hope you'll step up and do a similar share of the workload while I just write two lines of sobbing or whatever noise turns out to be appropriate. :)

Oh, plus, can I add a Lol on Scott's comment? Done.

(*I told you before, you're blinded by your luuuuuurrrrve for Donna :) )

7:20 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

I'm only writing about New Who in the hope of bursting Rob's bubble ;-)

And don't encourage Scott - he already labours under the misapprehension that he's funny...

7:28 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

I have a bubble?

You may notice that in almost all the incidents that we see in Turn Left, someone else wades in to help out when the Doctor doesn't (since he's dead). Invariably, they're not as good so everything goes quite bad afterwards – which is better than very, very bad admittedly, but not as good as whatever the Doctor's result happens to be. They also tend to die.

In the case of the Titanic, you'll notice that someone does manage to get the Titanic to pull up (given that it's not doing Mach 26 after falling straight out of orbit). If it had struck the Earth at that speed, everyone would be dead; instead, it's just a small, nuclear explosion or something that only wipes out London.

Since you have been proven wrong on one small detail of your review, you must, therefore, by the remorse logic of the fanboy, be wrong in every other element of your review.

Ha. Sussed.

10:32 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "You may notice that in almost all the incidents that we see in Turn Left, someone else wades in to help out when the Doctor doesn't"

Indeed, and who stepped in to save the world from the Pyrovile, the Carrionites and...the other one (I forget who it was, but I had three I was thinking of a minute ago)?

No-one, that's who. So everyone should still be dead.

Ha. Petard. Hoist. Your. By. Own.

Make a sentence of that, if you dare.

11:06 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

The Pyrovile: it turned out that they were adversely affected by sea water and were quietly wiped out by some intrepid Phoenician traders 50 years later.

The Carrionites: The genius of Shakespeare was such that he invented the loudspeaker by creating a funnel out of a piece of paper then shouted a lot, drowning out the power of the Carrionites' words. And then the Globe's audience pelted them with tomatoes, to which they had an unfortunate food intolerance.

Bring it on, bad boy.

11:13 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "You may notice that in almost all the incidents that we see in Turn Left, someone else wades in to help out when the Doctor doesn't (since he's dead). Invariably, they're not as good so everything goes quite bad afterwards – which is better than very, very bad admittedly, but not as good as whatever the Doctor's result happens to be. They also tend to die."

But given how often the Doctor wins simply by someone else wading in, a vague wave of the sonic screwdriver, a lucky break, some random DEM, the idea that he's in some way essential to the universe is weak at best. Other than, maybe, he's a slightly jammier bastard than the rest of us.

11:35 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

That's not jammyness - that's a pocket-sized reality distortion field. You try building one.

Plus you can always argue that whoever does the planning, it's the people who actually implement it who are the true saviours, neglecting the fact they wouldn't have done it without the planner. It's teamwork. And that, in part was the point of the story. The Doc ends up karking it under the Thames without Donna. Can Donna save the world by herself? No, she needs the Doctor (which was the other point of the story).

11:44 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "And that, in part was the point of the story."

Yeah, I knew what it was, but part of the problem was that it really didn't feel like it had one.

And my point, if I had one, would be that a story like this simply serves to highlight how often we've been told how "brilliant" the Doctor is, against how rarely we are shown that. In much the same way as we've had it rammed down our throats how "special" Donna is when, Stuart's lurrrrrve for her and her being one of the many people who happened to bail the Doctor out one time aside, we've not really been shown why.

12:03 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

It's a tricky one, isn't it? A lot of the time, you can sit there, loving Liz Shaw and her braininess, general ability to fix problems and repair alien devices, and wonder why exactly the nu-Who characters are _constantly_ being described as brilliant when clearly they've had their heads hollowed out and filmed with sawdust and mouse droppings.

However, while brain power was what was praised and honoured above everything in old Who – elevating it in the eyes of not very sporty geeks everywhere - in nu Who, it's all about bravery, quick thinking and social skills. Accursed norms and their dislike of sitting in darkened rooms memorising Target books.

These days, the Doctor and Donna save the day by doing the right thing at the right time, knowing when they should run a lot and being nice to people so they'll do what they want them to. Donna's 'brilliant' because she stands up to the Doctor and gets him to do the right thing at the right time. The Doctor's brilliant because he's willing to sacrifice himself a lot and get rescued by other people who recognise he has nice hair – far nicer hair than theirs – so he deserves to live and they don't.

To be fair though, the Doctor did design the omni-fixer (aka the sonic screwdriver) which merely distills his brilliance into a portable device so it doesn't look like he's doing much. I mean, there must have come a point where he said to himself, "You know what? I've spent centuries improvising massively intricate, ultra-sophisticated devices out of old ring pulls and a couple of strands of my assistants' hair at the last minute, just to save the day. And despite my pocket-sized reality distortion generator, one of these days, my luck really is going to run out I'm just not going to find the raw materials when I'm imprisoned in Guantanamo. I should probably prepare for that."

He's the one who then spent 176 days slaving on setting number 13 - wombat retarding using a 0.3g gravity generator - et al, working out how to stick it all into a screwdriver that runs on sound, just in case these problems ever came up, so ultimately he's still the clever one. And he does hack a lot of computers, mess up lots of machines and work out implausible cunning plans. It's just in the space allocated in 45 minutes, we don't get all the working out we used to in 4x25 minutes (let alone 13x25 minutes).

I do wish, just occasionally though, we did.

12:25 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "while brain power was what was praised and honoured above everything in old Who...in nu Who, it's all about...social skills."

{sigh}

And there in a sentence is a big chunk of what's wrong with a lot of New Who.

[plus, while giving some credence to the tomato intolerance of the Carrionites - whether they are a fruit or a vegetable must be confusing for witches - I scoff at your woeful justification for the Pyrovile.

More than that, I laugh in the face of fear and tweak the nose of the dreadful spindly killer fish.]

12:47 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"And there in a sentence is a big chunk of what's wrong with a lot of New Who."

Surprisingly, I'm not absolutely convinced by that. While I agree that the pendulum has probably swung too far in the other direction, it did make the show a bit (more) ridiculous that there was no acknowledgment that brains can't solve every problem.

A friend of mine tried the classic Tombo line "you're a classic example of how the size of the brain and the size of the mouth are inversely proportional" (or whatever it was) on someone when he was growing up. She shouted "Wanker" in his face. The general verdict was that she won that particular fight, despite his having the better line. Better social skills would have told him that in advance.

Balance in all things. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence working in harmony, my friends.

2:12 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "And there in a sentence is a big chunk of what's wrong with a lot of New Who."

You said it. And I'll throw in a

{sigh}

of my own!

2:12 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "The general verdict was that she won that particular fight, despite his having the better line. Better social skills would have told him that in advance."

But that's a problem with the general perception. Most of the time the Doctor these days tends to be a bit of an ass, and if that's applauded as an example of better social skills, then that's a fairly sad indictment of, well, people's social skills generally.

2:16 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"But that's a problem with the general perception."

I wouldn't say so. It's like Tyler Durden's "You're very clever, aren't you?… How's that working out for you?" in Fight Club. It undermines cleverness with simplicity. Ironically, it's more clever since, let's face it, anyone who would come up with a line like that would have to be a bit of a wanker and said young lady was merely cutting to the quick and undermining the pomposity.

"Most of the time the Doctor these days tends to be a bit of an ass, and if that's applauded as an example of better social skills, then that's a fairly sad indictment of, well, people's social skills generally."

Au contraire. No it's not applauded. In most of nu Who, particularly during the Rose series, the Doctor is shown to be a complete arse who needs Rose/Martha/Donna to tell him he's being a complete arse. Isn't it Tooth and Claw where he turns to Rose and asks if he's "doing it again", meaning losing any kind of social skills?

Indeed, I'm sure there's an Ecclescake Confidential where Rusty explains how the Doctor needs Rose to be able to deal with humans since he doesn't really understand them, etc (cf Fires of Pompeii for needing to Donna to humanise the Doctor).

One of the themes of Midnight was that without Donna there to say "Hang on, Doc. Stop going on about how clever you are to this room of psychos or we'll get in trouble", everyone turns against him and wants to throw him out of an airlock - because he's being a complete arse.

2:27 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "Au contraire."

Ah, I only meant applauded in the sense of being described as better social skills as in

"in nu Who, it's all about bravery, quick thinking and social skills"

The quick thinking's easy when the solutions are so simple and/or handed to the Doctor on a plate. The so-called social skills are dreadful, especially if it takes Donna to point out where he's going wrong (and note, I feel that's quite a recent thing, having that counter to the Tennant Doctor).

And the bravery, well, that'd be more impressive if there was actually anything to fear. ;)

3:52 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"Ah, I only meant applauded in the sense of being described as better social skills"

Within the show, the social skills aren't applauded (because they're rubbish). However, the general narrative drive and authorial message is that by working with people rather than telling them what to do, you get better results.

I think that process definitely started explicitly with Ecclescake, but certainly it's there in Tooth and Claw with Rose admonishing the Doctor's habits and the Doc telling Rose not to try her Scots accent.

11:14 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "However, the general narrative drive and authorial message is that by working with people rather than telling them what to do, you get better results."

I don't know where you get that. The Doctor generally swans in and, well, tells people what to do. It's a relatively recent development to have Donna, to all intents and purposes, telling him he's being an ass.

Either way, back in the days of Eccleston, I labelled him Doctor Dolittle because of the, shall we say, inadequate involvement in most story resolutions, and I was told, well, this is a Doctor traumatised by the Time War. Fair enough. And now the weak-as-wotsit endings are being excused because it's all about 'bravery, doing the right thing at the right time and social skills'. And as far as I can see, true or not, it a) doesn't make for very good drama and b) allows for some very lazy writing. After all it's much much easier to type "He's brilliant" (and repeat as necessary) than actually construct a clever story in which we get to see that brilliance in action.

4:56 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

Well, take Tooth and Claw (again. Are you blanking it for some reason?): what happens when the Doctor is an arse, 'fakes' a Scottish accent and hides things? The Queen gets pissed off, exiles him and then sets up Torchwood. Surely that should be warning enough: be an arse and you'll end up with Torchwood.

But since you _insist_

Rose: Doctor is an arse so gets into trouble but Rose saves him after he shows a few signs of humanity, and he realises he needs to work with her rather than by himself
The End of the World: Is nice to Tree Person so gets her help against the baddies. Gets taken to task by Rose for brain invasion by TARDIS without her permission. Patches it up by giving her a nice mobile phone. Social Skill 98 demonstrated.
The Unquiet Dead: Is a tossy fanboy with Dickens, who's unimpressed. When he calms down a bit, Dickens reacts better. Rose helps the maid so the maid helps them stop the gelf
Aliens of London/World War Three: Friendship of Rose allows him to see what's happening on tele since he can't get to Number 10 to find out for himself. Plus probably some other stuff I can't remember.
Dalek: Doctor wants to kill Dalek but can't because he's being an arse so Rose won't let him.
The Long Game: Buggered if I can remember a single bit of it, but I'm sure he was an arse in the BB house and got shunned like an Amish
Father's Day:As above, but substitute church for BB house
The Empty Child/Doctor Dances: Doc realises his lack of social skills means he's rubbish compared with Captain Jack and he gets big feelings of inadequacy
Boom Town: Who cares? Is an arse to the fart monsters anyway, which doesn't impress them much
Bad Wolf: Can't remember much of that at all. Were there even people in that one?
The Parting of the Ways: Doc's legging it pisses of Jack. Bad manners that.

And that's just the first series, which had Jackie spitting at him most of the time because he'd rejected her harshly and was dragging Rose around with explanation or gentility.

The general narrative thrust is that being nice to people is good, being an arse to people is bad. When the Doctor and companion treat people badly, they end up in trouble or find it harder to pull things off than when they're nice to people. The Doctor does come in and tell people what to do, they ignore him unless they have no choice. When they do have a choice again, they start ignoring him again unless the companion smoothes their nerves.

Rose, Donna and Martha are always befriending people who turn out to be useful or willing to make the ultimate sacrifice later on. Kylie gets emboldened by the Doctor enough to save the Earth from the Titanic. And so on.

I agree the resolutions are pat a lot of the time. Ecclescake's Doctor was barely noticeable in the Rose shwo. I get tired by the constant "you're brilliant" stuff, too.

But sometimes the Doctor does come up with a (semi-)cunning plan to save the day – forgive some haziness since I never actually rewatch episodes but: The End of the World, World War Three (with help from Mickey), The Doctor Dances, The Christmas Invasion, New Earth, School Reunion (sort of), The Girl in the Fireplace (maybe), The Idiot's Lantern, Doomsday (kind of), Smith and Jones (albeit with complete scientific illiteracy), The Family of Blood, Last of the Time Lords (arguably), Timecrash, Partners in Crime (with help from Donna), The Poison Sky (partly), Forest of the Dead (ineptly). There may be more, but I'm trying to blank a lot of the episodes.

It's just that it's not always intellect that saves the day in nu Who (and how many episodes of old Who involved saving the day by running a lot and then building an improbable MacGuffin, rather than a genuinely cunning plan a la Hustle, say? Is a Macguffin really that much better a plot resolution than getting some help from some friends?). That might piss of the writers of The Unfolding Text, Christopher Bailey, Buddhists and Jung, but it's better than a Stargate "shoot your way out".

And really, when it comes down to it, this is a kid's programme. If it's a choice, I'd much rather they were being taught that being nice to people is better than demanding respect and knifing them, even if that means they won't know what Stefan's Law is until they're 16.

At the very least, an entire generation of Aspies won't be convinced that they can be very smart and treat people like arses this way (and then write books about it). They might stand a chance of getting laid then, poor loves.

9:25 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "The general narrative thrust is that being nice to people is good, being an arse to people is bad."

I'm not blanking Tooth & Claw - I just think that one example has very little impact on the overall impression of the Tenth Doctor's "era". In which the overall narrative drive seems to be "the Doctor can and indeed will quite often be an arse and yet people will still call him brilliant despite very little evidence to support that assertion". (To say nothing of the fact that most of the resolutions are, in fact, no better than a Stargate resolution.)

So, sure, I'd support a kid's show that was promoting being nice to people, but I'm not nearly as convinced as you that it's "about social skills" and in any case I'd rather support a show that was at least half as clever some people would have you believe it is. Which New Who isn't.

And with this alone:

"cunning plan... Last of the Time Lords"

you lose your argument entirely. ;)

8:19 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

Not my argument, someone else's. I'm open to other people's arguments, amazingly.

I'm not saying it's the narrative drive. I'm just saying that it's a narrative drive.

8:33 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "Not my argument, someone else's. I'm open to other people's arguments, amazingly."

Me too, and that's a good thing. And many a post-application of plot polyfilla has actually been persuasive, although I generally think it's a shame it's so often left to smart folks to fill the holes, iron out the wrinkles etc. Ultimately though it comes down to whether the show in question convinces and sadly many an aspect of New Who leaves me disappointed, dismayed, etc, only one of which would be the Doctor's social skills, and another of which would be those endings.

Another shame is that I'd have loved to have gone through and discussed your list of (semi)cunning plan type endings one by one, but like you I'd need to rewatch a number of them, and frankly that just isn't going to happen! ;)

9:05 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

I kind of like the fact the Doctor has no proper social skills with humans and needs a "native guide". It makes him more alien.

But then I liked the face Sapphire and Steel were so incomprehensible and just didn't act human, even though they looked it.

There's no way I'm sitting through most of the older nu Who stories unless my wife (who wisely chose not to watch them) says she quite fancies seeing what she missed. The weirdest thing she ever said was after the first episode of Torchwood: "That Jack's quite asexual, isn't he?" It was then I realised she'd missed out a few vital episodes beforehand...

9:15 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Damn, I go away for a day and there's some kind of comment explosion - don't you two have jobs! ;-)

9:20 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

I do but, and here's a trick question, which would you rather do - chat about this or edit "Establishing truthfulness, consistency and transferability of a qualitative study by conducting a Convergent Truthfulness Evaluation"?

9:31 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "Rose: Doctor is an arse so gets into trouble but Rose saves him after he shows a few signs of humanity, and he realises he needs to work with her rather than by himself
The End of the World: Is nice to Tree Person so gets her help against the baddies. Gets taken to task by Rose for brain invasion by TARDIS without her permission. Patches it up by giving her a nice mobile phone. Social Skill 98 demonstrated.
The Unquiet Dead: Is a tossy fanboy with Dickens, who's unimpressed. When he calms down a bit, Dickens reacts better. Rose helps the maid so the maid helps them stop the gelf
Aliens of London/World War Three: Friendship of Rose allows him to see what's happening on tele since he can't get to Number 10 to find out for himself. Plus probably some other stuff I can't remember.
Dalek: Doctor wants to kill Dalek but can't because he's being an arse so Rose won't let him.
The Long Game: Buggered if I can remember a single bit of it, but I'm sure he was an arse in the BB house and got shunned like an Amish
Father's Day:As above, but substitute church for BB house
The Empty Child/Doctor Dances: Doc realises his lack of social skills means he's rubbish compared with Captain Jack and he gets big feelings of inadequacy
Boom Town: Who cares? Is an arse to the fart monsters anyway, which doesn't impress them much
Bad Wolf: Can't remember much of that at all. Were there even people in that one?
The Parting of the Ways: Doc's legging it pisses of Jack. Bad manners that."


Hmm, I'm not convinced by this. Generally in the Eccleston series characters *do* accept that the Doctor knows best and he does successfully go around telling them what to do. He can be arrogant and that can get him in trouble at times (at the risible conclusion to 'Rose' for example where swinging on a tarzan, rather than social skills saves the day) but it's also assumed that he knows more than everyone else and what he says goes.

It seems to me that things like the Doctor being nice to Jabe the Tree Person don't count as deliberate examples of better social skills leading to successfully seeing off the baddies. The Doctor has always been friendly to people he likes - it's a perfectly human trait to have and in End of the World, for instance, he's nice to Jabe because he likes her and so she helps him, but to say that's a deliberate trope in the series is stretching it a bit. You might as well say that grinning a lot if a major theme in Doctor Who because the more the Doctor grins at people the more likely they are to like him and so be on his side. And he still tells Jabe what to do in the Stupid Giant Fan Room (tm Galaxy Quest). See also The various friendships in The Unquiet Dead.

In other episodes:

- in Aliens of London, well that's tretching things about a mile too far - the Doctor could have watched a telly anywhere, that's hardly social skills saving the day
- the Doctor decides Adam is to go home at the end of the Long Game (which I think you're confusing with Bad Wolf) and Rose goes along with it without question
- in Fathers Day it's very quickly established that the Doctor is the only one who can save everyone - whcih he does by shouting at them and telling them to get in the church
- in Dalek the Doctor wants to kill the Dalek for emotional and *human* reasons - he doesn't because he's basically better than that, but it's nowt to do with social skills that I can see
- in The Doctor Dances Rose gets a dig at him for not being as cool or as good at dancing as Cap'n Jack, but it's got little to do with the over-arching plot and Cap'n Jack, social skills and all, is shown to be a bit of an incompetent arse whereas the Doctor in full on shouty mode knows what he's talking about and saves the day. Rose even makes the point that when he's stressed he insults species, and recogniases that he needs to do this anti-social thing to help him think and find a solution.

And that's as far as I've got in my current re-watch of series 27, so I can't comment in detail on the other three, but you seem to be giving them away in any case :)

I would say though that the Doctor leaving Jack who he thought was dead is a natural thing to do and the discovery he didn't think that at all is a later retcon and so not really something you can use here.

You've certainly got a point that the relative lack of humanity is a theme in the current season and to some extent in previous Tennant series - it's not always done well and it's not always consistent ('Family of Blood' for example seems to be saying that making the Doctor more human is not something which can be allowed to go on too long as he's not capable of saving the world when he's like that), but Donna's role is undoubtedly largely to bring the Doctor back from the edge at times. Which isn't, I think, the same as 'bravery, quick thinking and social skills'.

Rob: "Rose, Donna and Martha are always befriending people who turn out to be useful or willing to make the ultimate sacrifice later on."

But every Doctor and almost every companion has always done that - actually, every hero in every tv series ever has done the same thing. It's what the goodies do - make pals with other good guys and work together to save the day. It's just that previously there was some attempt to portray the Doctor and his pals as people who save the day using brain-power (and bravery and quick thinking - that's also always been a staple of the show) rather than luck, the intervention of a DEM or the assistant doing something implausible. That the solution using brain power was often just as much a handwave as anything in New Who is a fair point, but at least some pretence was made that intelligence is something to be treasured.

Rob: "Ecclescake's Doctor was barely noticeable in the Rose shwo"

I agree with this, but I just want to repeat what is my favourite blog title, for a post about how Rose was repacing the Doctor as the hero of the seies - "Re: The Rose Show [was: Doctor Who]". I thought that was damn funny :)

Rob: "But sometimes the Doctor does come up with a (semi-)cunning plan to save the day – forgive some haziness since I never actually rewatch episodes but: The End of the World, World War Three (with help from Mickey), The Doctor Dances, The Christmas Invasion, New Earth, School Reunion (sort of), The Girl in the Fireplace (maybe), The Idiot's Lantern, Doomsday (kind of), Smith and Jones (albeit with complete scientific illiteracy), The Family of Blood, Last of the Time Lords (arguably), Timecrash, Partners in Crime (with help from Donna), The Poison Sky (partly), Forest of the Dead (ineptly). There may be more, but I'm trying to blank a lot of the episodes."

There's a few too many inept, maybes, arguably, scientifically illiterate (you could add WWIII with its internet enable dmissile system to that and Dalek with it's 'download the internet') and partlys in there for that to be a very convincing argument :)

Plus 'Last of the Time Lords'? Really? :-)

Rob: "Is a Macguffin really that much better a plot resolution than getting some help from some friends?)."

No, not really - but like I said, making an effort to stress brain-power is one of the things that marked Who out from other shows, and one of the things that nowadays should be marking Who out from crap like SG1.

Rob: "And really, when it comes down to it, this is a kid's programme. If it's a choice, I'd much rather they were being taught that being nice to people is better than demanding respect and knifing them, even if that means they won't know what Stefan's Law is until they're 16."

That's a very fair point, it is a kid's programme - but since I think 'being nice to people who are nice themselves, and them helping you' is one of the building blocks of all of this kind of drama, I don't see why it's proven so hard to make New Who a series in which intellect, not brute force or luck, saves the day.

10:06 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "I do but, and here's a trick question, which would you rather do - chat about this or edit "Establishing truthfulness, consistency and transferability of a qualitative study by conducting a Convergent Truthfulness Evaluation"?"

Replacing "Establishing truthfulness etc" with "Debugging badly written database code with comments only in Danish" and you have an explanation for the length of my reply, above :-)

10:09 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"It seems to me that things like the Doctor being nice to Jabe the Tree Person don't count as deliberate examples of better social skills leading to successfully seeing off the baddies. The Doctor has always been friendly to people he likes - it's a perfectly human trait to have and in End of the World, for instance, he's nice to Jabe because he likes her and so she helps him, but to say that's a deliberate trope in the series is stretching it a bit. You might as well say that grinning a lot if a major theme in Doctor Who because the more the Doctor grins at people the more likely they are to like him and so be on his side."

So because the show's not explicitly saying "the message is…", rather than implicitly saying it, that doesn't count? And even though you list right there a bunch of social skills that have helped improve the situation for the Doctor when "Oi, scummy. Do what I say or I'll lick your face" wouldn't have, you're going to discount them because they're social skills everyone uses or the Doctor has used before? On that argument, there wasn't a message to old Who either. He was just thinking which is what everyone does and he's built gadgets before.

There's only ever been implicit messages. It's just, oddly enough, that social skills-oriented messages are subtler than ones about technology and brain power.

I'm not saying that there's every been an episode where the Doctor and companion's social skills have ever been stated as saving the day. Ultimately, how could they, since a social skill is all about affecting other people, rather than anything else? For a social skill to save the day or more minorly, cause good things to happen that otherwise wouldn't have happened (the converse being a lack of social skills causing the end of the universe or more minorly, bad things to happen) it would have to, for example, persuade everybody in the entire world to think of the Doctor at the same time. Or maybe there would be an episode where behaving badly ultimately almost causes a bunch of people to murder you by throwing you out an airlock. Oh wait, maybe I am...

"- in Aliens of London, well that's tretching things about a mile too far - the Doctor could have watched a telly anywhere, that's hardly social skills saving the day"

Could he? Would others have let him? Maybe if he found a Currys, but would anyone have let him into their house if he couldn't befriend them (social skill number 1)? He's befriended Rose, he listens to her and she's able to persuade her mum to let this strange arse who's rejected her into the house to watch tele with the rest of the family.

"- the Doctor decides Adam is to go home at the end of the Long Game (which I think you're confusing with Bad Wolf) and Rose goes along with it without question"

Doc sends Adam home because he's persuaded Rose that there's a certain standard of behaviour to stick to that her toyboys must adhere to, too. He then praises her (social skill 2) indirectly by suggesting she is an example of the best of the best. Rose could have told him where to go, but doesn't.

"- in Fathers Day it's very quickly established that the Doctor is the only one who can save everyone - whcih he does by shouting at them and telling them to get in the church"

And so the Doctor gets killed because he has to sacrifice himself because now no one else will.

"- in Dalek the Doctor wants to kill the Dalek for emotional and *human* reasons - he doesn't because he's basically better than that, but it's nowt to do with social skills that I can see"

But he doesn't get what he wants at that moment, because he doesn't choose to share with Rose anything really about the Time War or anything that would persuade her (social skill 3) that he's right to pursue his action.

"- in The Doctor Dances Rose gets a dig at him for not being as cool or as good at dancing as Cap'n Jack, but it's got little to do with the over-arching plot"

And...?

"Cap'n Jack, social skills and all, is shown to be a bit of an incompetent arse"

who gets away with shit and gets to come on board the TARDIS as a result


"('Family of Blood' for example seems to be saying that making the Doctor more human is not something which can be allowed to go on too long as he's not capable of saving the world when he's like that)"

More than he doesn't remember how to save the world. And it's ultimately a combination of intellect (which levers to push on the ship), bravery (going on board unarmed, deciding to become the Doctor again, despite what he'll be giving up), quick-thinking (coming up with the plan in a hurry) and social skills (getting everyone to play along with his plan and not chucking him out to the aliens as soon as things got tricky; being able to convince the naughty aliens he's still human) that save the day. He doesn't build a gadget.

"but at least some pretence was made that intelligence is something to be treasured."

Tis true. I'm not saying that I'm not disappointed with the lack of decent resolutions. I'm not saying that the Doctor really does come up with great plans any more (although I don't honestly think that most of the plans he came up with old-Who were that much better).

I'm just saying that if you look back over the last four series (not just the latest), the Doctor is more obviously flagged up as being an arse to people, that being an arse to people gets him into more trouble than it used to, and that the companions and Doctor are having to use social skills to achieve plot resolutions or advancement more than they had to. This makes it a narrative thrust.

10:46 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob : "So because the show's not explicitly saying "the message is…", rather than implicitly saying it, that doesn't count? "

Rather than filking this to death in proper mailing style, I think I'm going to have to settle for saying that what you're claiming as an implicit message in the Eccleston season is, to my mind, just a very, very basic building block of drama.

If you're nice to people they will be more likely to help you - well has there ever been a TV series that didn't say that?

It's a 'water is wet', 'fire is hot' kind of thing, not a 'message' of any description - unless it's flagged up that by being authoritarian and bossy the Doctor positively and demonstrably doesn't succeed. And nothing in season 27 demonstrates that.

So, no - really, it doesn't count.

And the idea that intelligence is what counts *was* explicit in Old Who:

"Superior intelligence and senseless cruelty just do not go together. "

"A face beaming with a vast intelligence. My dear child what on Earth are you complaining about? It's the most extraordinary improvement."

"The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all: knowledge."

"I'm a genius/I'm full of ideas"

"Where are your weapons?'
'In here' (tapping head)

And many, many more.

Again though, solving problems with brains is not the default for television. SG1 and shoot your way out of trouble is far more prevalent - unlike 'be nice to people and they'll be nice to you in return' which is in everything from 'Sesame Street' to 'Ross Kemp Presents Gangs'.

It's definitely being made an explicit theme in the current season and even, sometimes and to a far lesser extent, in the other two Tennant series, but I don't see it at all in the Eccleston season, other than as the general background noise of a kids drama.

On other point, though - you keep saying 'bravery, quick thinking and social skills' as though he first two weren't an absolute staple of the old series...

11:06 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "Damn, I go away for a day and there's some kind of comment explosion - don't you two have jobs! ;-)"

Teehee. Technically I am on holiday, but why I should fritter away my time on this sort of thing I don't know. Other than my also being a sad fanboy, despite any denials I might offer. ;)

But also I've found it interesting and it's not like I can discuss BSG, which I'd much rather. So here we have ended up discussing social skills, while hijacking your blog comments for a lengthy discussion, which must, I guess, be really poor etiquette of some kind. :)

11:11 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "Last of the Time Lords"

Also, even if I go ahead and, for fun, concede that this involved the most cunning plan of the Doctor's ever, it's also, if you think about it, the most supremely egotistical. Which only serves to remind me how horrible it all was.

And really, there can be no good sense in re-opening old wounds and it's just about been long enough now that Last Of The Time Lords qualifies as an old wound. ;))

11:20 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"If you're nice to people they will be more likely to help you - well has there ever been a TV series that didn't say that?"

Blake's 7, Children of Dune, Hustle, 24, Callan, The Sandbaggers, Shameless, EastEnders, Dexter, Touching Evil, Cracker …

"It's a 'water is wet', 'fire is hot' kind of thing, not a 'message' of any description - unless it's flagged up that by being authoritarian and bossy the Doctor positively and demonstrably doesn't succeed. And nothing in season 27 demonstrates that."

By that argument, the message that intelligence is good can't be a message unless it's flagged up that by being stupid, whoever it is doesn't succeed. Duggan in City of Death? Jamie? Leela and her janis thorn?

As for 27, I say otherwise. I've said otherwise. But I'm not prepared to re-watch to prove it ;-)

"And the idea that intelligence is what counts *was* explicit in Old Who:"

And it then undermined its own message. So, for example:

"Superior intelligence and senseless cruelty just do not go together. "

Erm, Pyramids of Mars (Sutekh), Genesis of the Daleks, any story with the Master, The Meddling Monk

"A face beaming with a vast intelligence. My dear child what on Earth are you complaining about? It's the most extraordinary improvement."

And that from the utterly loathesome sixth Doctor? You want to go with "well the sixth Doctor said it it must be something we should aspire to?" He tries to kill Peri two minutes later then spends most of the rest of his adventures killing people (cyanide in The Two Doctors, for example) and generally being kicked around for being an arse.

"Again though, solving problems with brains is not the default for television. SG1 and shoot your way out of trouble is far more prevalent - unlike 'be nice to people and they'll be nice to you in return' which is in everything from 'Sesame Street' to 'Ross Kemp Presents Gangs'."

Well, liberal TV anyway. It's not in everything. And there are plenty of shows that are neutral on the subject, too.

Plus so what if it's a repeat message? If that's the message they're trying to put out (or at least one of them), if RTD is actively sitting there on Confidential saying the Doctor needs Rose/Donna because they're there to humanise him, you can't simply discount it just because other shows are saying it, too.

"On other point, though - you keep saying 'bravery, quick thinking and social skills' as though he first two weren't an absolute staple of the old series..."

Then it was a message of the old series, too. It's just slightly stronger in the new series, because the Doctor gets punished more often for not being nice to people. It's the two sides of the equation(be nice to people and nice happens; be bad to people and bad happens, even if you're a good guy) that is more prevalent in nu Who than in old Who, where you could be Jon Pertwee and no one would mind.

11:51 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "It's just slightly stronger in the new series, because the Doctor gets punished more often for not being nice to people."

Not that I've noticed. He was a complete tosser in the Sontaran two-parter, and yet still someone else came along and saved his own sorry life from that whole self-sacrifice business (which I wasn't convinced he was going to go through with anyway - but, side issue ;) )

Regardless, previous incarnations had a greater degree of charm and (with some exceptions, Colin Baker) if they were obnoxious to anyone, it was usually provoked. These days, he's so utterly full of himself and so utterly buys into his own press as 'the Lonely God' (and particularly the God part), he apparently needs a companion to ground him, rather than, you know, just as a companion. And that's a shame. For me, he's the least likeable Doctor since the Sixth and without even really being sure why, I prefer the Sixth.

12:01 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"For me, he's the least likeable Doctor since the Sixth and without even really being sure why, I prefer the Sixth."

Maybe you've been listening to some Big Finish audio plays ;-)

12:05 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "Maybe you've been listening to some Big Finish audio plays ;-)"

Lol. Not lately. :)

12:08 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Rob: "Blake's 7"

And look where it got them :)

12:12 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "Blake's 7, Children of Dune, Hustle, 24, Callan, The Sandbaggers, Shameless, EastEnders, Dexter, Touching Evil, Cracker …"

We're in the Mirror Universe now :-)

It's in all of those shows that I've seen. policemen and women in 'Cracker' are flattering towards Fitz so that he'll help with cases; Jenna and Blake are nice to one another and so work together well etc; the whole team in 'Hustle' work on the assumption that being outwardly nice to people means they'll do what they can to help you etc etc

I suspect that the reason you've used these shows as examples is because they also feature - as a very definite plot point - people who are basically horrible but still succeed. But it's the very oddness of the rejection of the tenet that 'being nice to people makes them more likely to help you' which makes them stand out (even though they also have people being nice and getting helped as result).

Rob: "By that argument, the message that intelligence is good can't be a message unless it's flagged up that by being stupid, whoever it is doesn't succeed. Duggan in City of Death? Jamie? Leela and her janis thorn?"

Eh...yes? All three of those would have failed and died without the intellect of the Doctor to save them. Left on their own using mere force they'd all have ended up dead (Duggan quickest of all but Jamie not far behind).

Rob: "And it then undermined its own message. "

Indeed - as is the way of a very long-running show. But at least we're agreeing that the power of intelligence was a definite and deliberate theme in pre-89 Who...

You should re-watch season 27 - it's actually worth it just for Eccleston, who is brilliant and manages to raise some of the world's ropiest ever scripts up to watchable just by the force of talent.

He can't do anything with 'Boom Town' obviously - he's an actor, not a deity :)

12:16 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

You wanted examples of shows where "If you're nice to people they will be more likely to help you" is actively shown not to be true.

Blake's 7: How many times were Blake and co nice to people then double-crossed? "No good deed goes unpunished" as Avon put it. Avon chasing Vila in Orbit? Dorian trying to use the friendship of the 7 against them in erm, first one of the fourth series; be nice to Servalan and she'll kill you, stab you, poison you or shoot you.

Children of Dune: Paul creates an empire. He's nice to his followers. His followers decide to go off on a jihad as a result, which is the exact opposite of what he wants. All the guys who don't like the fact he's nice try to kill him.

Hustle: People are nice to the Hustle team. They have their money taken from them for their pains.

24: Jack Bauer's nice to the terrorists. They won't help him so he has to torture them. He's nice to civilians but they won't help him so he has to torture them.

Callan: Callan tries to be heroic and gets shot, put into gulags, ends up in a job he hates, blackmailed and more. Explicitly, in the episode where he comes back from the gulag ("Where Else Would I go?"), he's too nice (Hunter: "He's what an NCO would call a gutless wonder"), so Lonely starts to take advantage of him and disrespects him, and the Section decides to kill him off if he doesn't get his "beat the crap out of people if they don't do what you want" groove back. Nice people who want to get married will have their marriages destroyed by the powers that be.

The Sandbaggers: 99% of all known friends, relatives, bosses, allies will screw you over for their own advantage. Typically by ganging up on you. Every episode.

Shameless: Anyone who's nice to the Gallaghers will get exploited.

EastEnders: When did being nice to anyone in Walford get you anywhere?

Dexter: You can't be nice to people because they'll find out your secret and put you in jail. You just have to fake being nice.

Touching Evil: Be nice to people and you'll end up divorced; separated from your kids; living in a seedy motel room with only a schizophrenic as your friend; shot in the head with brain damage, clinical depression, sequencing issues, et al; set on fire; betrayed;...

Cracker: Be nice to Fitz and he'll use you and abuse you; be nice to a criminal and he'll try to implicate you in child abuse and humiliate you. Be nice to a fellow cop and he'll try to rape you.

There are bleak and nasty shows out there. You just have to cherish them... ;-)

12:35 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Can't say I agree about many of those examples (or would argue that - as with Hustle - the social skills of the conmen in getting people to like, trust and therefore help them is what drives the programme), but you've definitely made me want to see the Sandbaggers :-)

2:58 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

You always manage to find a silver lining to my cloud... ;-)

"but you've definitely made me want to see the Sandbaggers :-)"

As an self-respecting person would!

3:19 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Just bought it for £25 for the complete series 1-3 on Amazon.

I have no will power :)

3:32 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

You hold out for Special Relationship at the end of series one. Now that has a cunning plan. And the first one of series three requires flowcharts to work out what's going on. It laughs all over Spooks, I'm telling you.

3:35 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "It laughs all over Spooks, I'm telling you."

See, and I like Spooks, so anything better is a certain winner.

£25 well spent, I think (if not, I will of course be writing a long-winded review explaining exactly why you can't trust 'that Rob')

3:38 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

And I'll write something tedious about how you try to be nice to people and see what happens if you do... ;-)

3:41 pm  
Blogger kenny said...

Good post, but you get away from the true greatness of the episode which is that Rose was in it.

Not just a snatch of Rose on a TV screen that no one else sees, but Rose was really in it. Lisping oddly, but she was there and that's all that matters ...


oh, and gaun the managerless hertz

12:11 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Kenny: "Lisping oddly,"

Did oyu liek the trout pout look then? :)

Kenny: "oh, and gaun the managerless hertz"

Gaun straight down to the first division if that idiot Romanov doesn't pull something out the hat soon.

12:21 pm  

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