Moffat’s mental desktop theme is switched to sitcom

TV Tom Baker in season eighteen reminds me of a bloke I once worked with who was close to retirement. Like Tom, he’d increasingly seen the latitude he’d built up over his years of long service eroded by a new management team who were intolerant of his work practices and an assistant who’d kept him in check being replaced with youngsters who were either inept, bossy or boring. As the day he was due to leave approached he became grumpier and grumpier until he himself was replaced by much younger chap.

It is Tom’s central performance which makes season eighteen difficult to watch, but there’s no denying that some of the surrealist visions that crop up are the best the franchise has produced, not least in Logopolis, the image of the TARDIS having materialised within its own control room, which then became progressively darker as the Doctor and Adric entered successive blue doors to find a similar scene inside. One of the great missed merchandising opportunities was a set of russian dolls in the shape of TARDII.

This never less than sinister image still had the power to shock in tonight’s Comic Relief story, Space/Time and director Richard Senior played it for all its worth, the dramatic music, the over the shoulder steadicam to reveal, monolith dawn of man approach to its enigmatic form from the Doctor. Not even the single spoilery publicity shot of the Amii flirting in front of it dimmed its inexplicability maintained by the strength of Matt’s performance and that now trademark look in his eye which indicates that the man who’s travelled the universe for an indeterminate length of time is genuinely worried.

With only about eight minutes to play with there was precious little space or time to get out a tape measure and step ladder and start mumbling about entropy so instead, Moffat decided to fill them with a filthy version of Time Crash. We’ve seen the predestination paradox story from Moffat so many times now that to criticise him would be like (as I discovered for the first watching the special Only Connect the other night) slamming Peter Gabriel for his unimaginative approach to album titles or Alfred Hitchcock for torturing so many wrongly accused men.

Like Hitch, who by North By Northwest had purified the elements of his chase plot to such a degree that the significance of the macguffin had reduced the point that it'd become an irrelevant microfilm, Moffat’s so aware of his repetition now that the magical lever that solved the predicament was named after the in-joke which fails to explain everything anyway. Perhaps "the silence" isn’t some malevolent being requiring proper name punctuation, but the collective entropy created by millions of viewers trying to work out were the loop of information begins (“But how would Amy know all of that? Who told the first Amy? Mummy when’s David Tennant back on?”).

But bless Steven for offering something more complex than Ronnie Corbett doing a turn and the stream of innuendo and filth that filled out the rest of script was more than a substitute for the teary nostalgia at the close of Time Crash. Remember when in Curse of the Fatal Death, jokes about the Doctor marrying and Dalek bumps being something like breasts seemed contentious? Way before the watershed, this had what seemed for all the world like a masturbation gag, an attack of the porno reactions for Rory and what my friend Karie described as an endorsement for femslash.

And I loved it. As Tom understood, Doctor Who is at its most engaging when its being funny and even a bit naughty, which is why season eighteen is often so depressing.  Because it is for Comic Relief, for Space/Time, Moffat’s mental desktop theme is switched to sitcom not least in referencing a leary driving examiner (a staple of the genre).  In these few minutes his ability to mix poetry and punchline is on full display, “unexpected house” having the same clever linguistic rhythm as “decorative vegetable”. The performances captured the mood perfectly, especially Arthur who’s pre-slap gape probably mirrored a fair few men in the audience.

And trust Moffat to still leave us with a few questions and not just about whether a wobbly lever exists (the most obvious answer being probably not, as least not in some teen bedrooms tonight). What exactly was Amy’s question?  I can't believe that Moffat would leave a thing like that dangling (sorry).  This can't be just a feed line.  It has to be part of the ongoing story arc, dammit.  If The Impossible Astronaut doesn't begin with a cut away to the Doctor in roughly same position and the question "So what was it you wanted to ask me?" I'm giving up chocolate.  Which I really should anyway.  I think the sugar's beginning to effect my sense of perspective.

But more importantly (for some of us) was the "conceptual space" they’d entered, presumably in an attempt to explain the unexplainable to viewers with a keen ear,  the same area of space the Celestis (or Celestial Intervention Agency) slipped into in order to avoid the War in Heaven, first mentioned in the novel Alien Bodies which is laced with Logopolis references and how did Lawrence Miles, the book's author feel about a central piece of his mythology finally being referenced as part of nu-Who but during a bawdy Comic Relief skit?

Either way, the BBC have uploaded both episodes to YouTube. It would be remiss of me not to also offer this link to the donation page.


Allyn Gibson said...

Nice review. I shouldn't have worried about not getting the "Behind the Sofa" fix. :)

Interesting thought on the Celestis, and unexpected coming from Moffat. (I'd have expected it from RTD, honestly; at times I was convinced he went to sleep every night with Miles' books under his pillow.) This reminds me that I should write up my theory on Lance Parkin's The Eyeless; I think the argument can be made that the Fortress is a Celestis weapon from Miles' Time War that "slipped" through the cracks.

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Well, you'll be pleased to know that the Fortress *is* a Celestis weapon from Miles' Time War that "slipped" through the cracks. He's said so in an interview though I can't find the quote sadly. In this one:

He says that he left it deliberately ambiguous as to which time war its from, but I'm sure I've seen him say something more secific about it. Perhaps its in the archive of the eyeless blog:

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Plus he describes the destruction of Gallifrey in exactly the same way he did in his EDAs keeping wide open his own speculation in AHistory that the two time wars are exactly the same event from different points of view.