It’s like a synopsis of the McGann era.



"You didn't always take me where I wanted to go."
"But I always took you where you needed to go"

TV We’ve always suspected it and now Neil Gaiman has provided a confirmation. Over the years, over its forty-seven years, Doctor Who has invented itself and reinvented itself, its premise, bolting on new mythology, discarded other pieces that have stopped working, just like the characters of Auntie and Uncle in The Doctor’s Wife in fact, and more often than not it’s changed our perception of the stories which have gone before. It’s impossible to watch the sixties episode now without thinking of the Doctor as a Time Lord, the Meddling Monk too, even though the word wasn’t even uttered for six years. Similarly ever since the TV movie we’ve all had that nagging doubt about his parentage.

It’s not often that a single line of dialogue has the capacity to somewhat reconfigure the premise of the series, perhaps even change the narrative of all its stories across all media. Yet there it is and in one of the best episodes of the modern era, thank goodness. No longer do we need to worry about exactly why the Doctor and his entourage always seem to pitch up at the just the right moment in a planet’s history, from Cardiff in 1869 to Cwmtaff in 2020 or wherever the Ainley Master happens to be during JNT era. But unlike Dr. Sam Beckett, this Time Lord Doctor is driven by a known force to change history for the better, Sexy existing across all of time and space and plonking him down were she thinks he’s most “needed”.

This wasn’t the only nugget in what was a love letter to the franchise, the perfect golden anniversary episode a couple of years too early celebrating the semantics of the franchise just as it reinvented some of the syntactics. I’ll leave it to someone who’s better versed in the worlds of Neil Gaiman to analyse how it fits into the rest of his work (other than he seems like using architectural features as character names). Yet the man is clearly a "we". In his stage directions he described House as a Totters Lane at the end of the universe for goodness sake, and only a fan would be impish enough to create a corridor of doom and lead the production team to spend the entire OB working in a quarry.

As you might expect, the compilers of the continuity section of the TARDIS Index File entry for the episode are very excited. As it notes, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a TARDIS in humanoid form, there was Marie in Alien Bodies and Compassion. This TARDIS has even had limbs before, in the last huge anniversary story Zagreus, taking the image of the Brigadier though it fails to mention that in that story, the relationship with the Doctor can best be described as fractious and jealous. What it also doesn’t notice is that this isn’t the first time we’ve heard from a sentient House (cf, The Chimes at Midnight). It’s like a synopsis of the McGann era.

All of which means that the episode is kryptonite for reviewers seeking an original thought. I’ve not read many yet, but chances most of the eight to ten paragraph long opinion pieces you’ll read elsewhere will probably open in much the same way as this thing, give or take the references (has this sorted out Bad Wolf too?). They might pinion themselves on the other confirmation that Time Lords can change gender (the fight for Exile's canonicity starts here) or the way the publicity teased (quite successfully if my writing has been anything to go by) that Idris was herself some old Time Lord friend of the Doctor’s in much the same way as House teased the Doctor about the potential for surviving Time Lords.

There was no more apt an episode to broadcast in the week when, to put it lightly, Moffat went off on one about spoilers. I will admit that initially I was disappointed that the “old friend, new face” wasn’t one of the potential Time Lords, that the thing we’ve not seen since The War Games was a hypercube not the War Lord as may have been hinted.  Then I realised that actually the whole point of drama is to surprise and that in their own way correct predictions are just as insidious as spoilers because the emotional core of what you’re witnessing becomes swept up in your personal elation at being correct. Being wrong, as I was here, made the sounds emanating from Suranne’s mouth just right.

We might try to seek some controversy elsewhere in a futile attempt to prove that episode wasn’t perfect. We might note the misunderstanding in relation to the meaning of “pull to open” which probably refers to the door on telephone box within the telephone box rather than the door to the telephone box itself which despite the handles have only ever really opened inwards apart from in The Eleventh Hour and the Cushing films where they opened outwards but the films are wrong and strange whereas this piece of dialogue was just strangely wrong. We might also consider that if that’s all we have to worry about, when in the preceding episode a whole character disappeared from the story without anyone in the story noticing, we need to take a good long hard look at our priorities.

Instead we should all just sit back and marvel. Marvel at Suranne Jones’s performance in which she was able to communicate the non-linearity of the TARDIS’s Ophelia-like premonitory pronouncements and make sense of a seven hundred year old organism which finally has the power of speech (Zagreus accepted). Their relationship wasn’t unlike that between the Doctor and River, the equal measures of attraction and exasperation but running much deeper and intensified due to the limited possible exposure. After her exaggerated turn as the Mona Lisa, it would be easy to dismiss Jones as someone who can’t really do Who, but by half-way though, I was ready to through Amy and Rory to the sidewalk.

Which is unfair of course, since Gaiman’s structure gave them both moments to shine, Rory in finding a logical reason for keeping House at bay, Amy in becoming wrapped up in another psychological horror. In the writer’s original version, these sections would have seen Amy going solo, and though you might argue that the many deaths of Rory have reached the point of self-parody, Karen has still somehow managed to make each seem very real which it still should be. Amy won’t ever become blasé about this because there’s always the possibility that at some point it might be true and this had an even greater ring of truth to it because of the faux-Rory’s tip into madness, his love for her apparently turning to hate.

I cheered twice during the episode. Once during the dialogue at the top of the review and secondarily when these two strode onto what’s now the old TARDIS set, explaining why it was hanging around Cardiff for so long, cameoing in a dozen post-RTD Confidentials. To see the two of them, and Matt, walking around that set was indeed incongruous, as incongruous as Peter Davison in Time Crash or Sylv in the TV movie’s cathedral. As Gaiman prosaically identifies in Confidential, clothes might maketh the man, but console rooms do too. That all of these auxiliary rooms have been archived gladdens will gladden the heart of any librarian who understands the magnitude of what’s lost when you destroy part of your history though its ambiguous as to whether it’s still there now, of course, thanks to House.

He might not have his face on the title sequences, but one of Wales’s most famous sons finally makes an appearance albeit in voice form. Giving it some of the Richard Burtons or Gabriel Wolfs, his rich baritone communicates threat even more than a thousand Daleks simply because we don’t know what he’s capable of. Gaiman uses him to contrast the warmth of the real TARDIS, protecting the passengers within its innards when it has the power to crush them. In Star Trek’s When Silence Has Lease, a similar entity tests the crew by cutting off their air; then it was at least in the search for scientific knowledge. House is just sadistic, making him one of the few sentient entities the Doctor has no quarms about evacuating.

As is ever the case with nu-Who the climax was a blub fest, and not just in the household of the Blue Peter winner who was able to see their work up on screen (and in a slightly less obnoxious way than in Love and Monsters).  As one wag on twitter has said (its doing the rounds I don't know the original source), the Doctor burned up a sun to say goodbye, the TARDIS burned up a body to say hello.  Rory makes a good point, as a nurse he should have been able to go some way to saving her and he might also have noted that what we're watching is the face of the person who died to give Sexy a sexy mouthpiece.  Though I suppose like Margaret Slitheen you can only really relate to whatever's been put in front of you and go with that.

Richard Clark’s direction might initially have seemed a bit bland, but arguably in understanding that this was an episode in which every word counted he kept away from portraying the junkyard too frenetically with handheld cameras kept to a minimum, especially noticeable around “Idris” who’s mental state another director might have chosen to heighten with weird camera angles and wide-angle lenses. Murray Gold’s choice of music was equally unshowy mainly relying on the core themes, again perhaps so as not to pull the viewer out of the moment. A special word though for the costume designers tapped perfectly into the element of make do and mend, of found clothing (not unlike the tv adaptation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere).

After last week’s disappointment, this was a winning return to form, a stand alone episode which still had the capacity to add substantially to the unfolding text. In terms of the ongoing story, we were reminded once again that this is “a younger version” of the Doctor we’re watching, his future uncertain and there was still room for a nugget to ruminate on. I’ve suggested before that Silence in the Library can’t be a coincidental episode title and the TARDIS’s enegmatic "The only water in the forest is the River..." suggests that Forest of the Dead isn’t either. Who wants to bet that by the end of this series we’ll be travelling back to that library and rescuing the older River from the databank, a certain space suit her new means of travel?

No comments:

Post a comment