charamei: Doctor Who: Spoilers (DW10: Spoilers)
[personal profile] charamei
Bernard, I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel, and of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I would have been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark, staring, raving schizophrenic. - Sir Humphrey Appleby



I think this was basically two episodes, so I'm going to treat it as such.

Episode One is a social commentary episode about the dangers of the British 'democratic' system, the police-state inclinations of our governments and the importance of the election, both as an institution and in terms of the upcoming one. The monsters of the week are the Smilers and/or the Queen, and it was originally written with Ten and Donna in mind.

Episode One is serious, has some real issues to discuss, and makes a lot of insightful points while showing just how well Donna knows the Doctor.

Episode Two is a rather silly story about the giant space whale who will save Britain, and how different cultures - never mind species! - can misunderstand one another's intentions. It's got some good points - it calls back to Torchwood and it puts the Doctor in a nice quandary at the end - but fundamentally, it could be done better.

In and of themselves, these are both perfectly good ideas for Doctor Who stories. (I especially like Episode One, but then I'm the sort of person who quotes Yes, Minister.) But put them together and they don't work. They have radically different themes, moods and feels: they require different plots, different characters. They don't intertwine neatly, and especially not in 45 minutes. And one of them involves a Space Whale.

So... yeah.

Here's my reasoning.

Episode One:

There's a lot of stuff in there about Britain-as-police-state. Porcelain judges watch (and, er, judge) everything. Children cry and everyone knows why, but nobody can help. The Queen is sure her government is keeping secrets from her, and at election time people are faced with a choice that's really no choice at all. So hopefully it's obvious where I'm getting my social commentary plot from. The Smilers are an obvious choice for villain: the Queen would make a good ally as a woman who once thought she was doing the right thing, creating a perfect society, but is now finding that it's gone horribly wrong and there's nothing she can do about it.

As for Ten/Donna (or later in the season for Eleven/Amy) - there were a couple of things. Firstly, the Doctor kept slipping back into Ten's vernacular, especially at the beginning when he was explaining what the UK was doing on a giant spaceship. And second, the scene in the polling booth screamed 'Donna' to me.
  • Firstly, it's far too early in the series for Amy to know the Doctor that well. Hell, he told her he never interferes! And she's not had much experience of him with which to refute that. So telling herself to make sure he doesn't interfere is... I believe the technical term is 'plothole-tastic'.

  • Even if she did somehow magically know that he was going to interfere, to truly understand how soul-destroying that choice would be for him takes, well, time. And close friendship, which is what the Donna/Ten arc is all about.

  • Come to that, the 'making soul-destroying choices' thing is very reminiscent of some of the best and worst moments of Ten. Fires of Pompeii, anyone?

  • The whole 'oh, you're an alien then' conversation felt shoehorned in, and even reused dialogue from Planet of the Dead. (And at no point did he tell her that he's two thousand nine hundred honest, guv. Plothole-tastic!)

Why do I think it's good? Well, partly because I love that sort of thing. But also because the Doctor has a fine tradition of sticking it to corrupt governments, and there was just so much material there ready to be used for a truly biting commentary on the state of the British political system. Yet none of it was used, except for set dressing and a couple of easily-averted threats.

As for Episode Two, well, there was enough of a plot involving the Space Whale that I don't think The Beast Below quite counts as 'Big Brother with Space Whales shoehorned in'. But... yeah, it's a space whale. It's old and kind and it wants to help out so badly that it will continue to do so even after being tortured constantly for 300-ish years, which makes it more morally praiseworthy than even the most sainted of Doctors. For some reason, the Doctor didn't notice it while he was flying above it (so much for the super-observant stuff we got last episode), and it doesn't eat children.

The space whale plot could work. It really, really could: it's thematically very similar to Planet of the Ood, in that it's about a fundamental misunderstanding between humans and aliens that results in the aliens being grievously abused. But it's poorly thought-out and missing in some quite key points of foreshadowing and plot. Well, actually it's missing almost all of its foreshadowing and plot, IMO.

You know what? I totally didn't see the twist coming. Because there were no clues at all. In fact, with all the talk of children in Amy's flashback I thought she was going to say that it was pregnant. Sadly, that would have made just as much sense.

If the production team had wanted to do the space whale plot - and with Churchill and Daleks coming up I can see why they wouldn't want Episode One in this slot - I think they should have focussed much more on the 'last space whale' aspect. Yes, it's a bit Star Trek IV, but it provides ample opportunity to explore how the new Doctor is coping with being the last son of Krypton Gallifrey. And it's relevant to the plot, what with being the space whale's primary motivation and all. As it is, the whole space whale thing just felt tacked on to the side, a canker on a really fantastic story about police states.

Whichever episode they should have used, their mistake was using both of them. Episode One could have been rewritten to be brilliant: Episode Two could have been good and might have made it to brilliance. Both together just make a mess.

Things I liked:
  • Coloured Cockney Queen Elizabeth X

  • The Smilers. Seriously, I love Episode One; I just wish it had existed. I might even end up writing it one day.

Date: 2010-04-12 02:18 am (UTC)
boji: (Tardis Magpie)
From: [personal profile] boji
Hi, popped over from [community profile] doctorwho.

Not that this excuses anything, but on a second viewing I stopped feeling that the episode was as dense as it seemed on first view. Moffat imparts a lot of information (visually, sets costumes etc & told in passing dialogue) at one hell of a rate. Something I found really didn't help.

I'm not sure though that the problem is enough material for two episodes. I think what Moffat's saying is something about adult humans seeing truth in a faulty manner. Children see the truth. Amy sees the truth. But even the Doctor is wrong at the end of the episode. So, I think Moffat is trying to say something about corruption and innocence only he's packed too many political allusions to the present day into the episode.

Which is one reason it feels as crammed as Spaceship UK.

I wouldn't say it's a mess, but I would agree that there isn't a clear cut sense of satisfaction at the end of the episode for all that Amy redeems herself and the starwhale is saved.

As for Amy knowing the Doctor's venerable age I took it that Amy extrapolated it from what Liz-10 said about the monarchy and the Doctor, coupled by what he said about the very bad day which means he's the last of his kind. But, it's not clearly spelt out. Mind you, four psychoanalysts might have taught her to read between the lines.

If you're interested, I wrote meta which can be found here.
Edited Date: 2010-04-12 02:19 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-04-12 11:16 am (UTC)
susanreads: Amelia Pond (from Doctor Who) Demands an Explanation for this Bullshit! (who amelia)
From: [personal profile] susanreads
Also here from [community profile] doctorwho

I agree with pretty much everything you said here. It seemed very crowded, and although the police state setup was effectively conveyed, there seemed to be unexplained jumps in what our heroes were doing; being originally intended for Ten and Donna makes much more sense of that! I missed some of the things you pointed out, but I certainly noticed that the ending felt wrong. So the whale ex machina is going to be OK now, in spite of the way it's been treated, apparently - what about the populace? Are they going to rise up against the apparatchiks and throw them into the Beast's maw? What will the whale eat if it's not being fed dissidents? (What happened to the children it didn't eat during the past x00 years?) Also, there's a whole lot of the setup that doesn't make logical sense, but too many nods to realism to work well in the fairy-tale mode, imo.

Date: 2010-04-12 01:42 pm (UTC)
arch: The 10th Doctor looks shocked/horrified. Text: "! ? ! ? !" (doctor who - ?!?!?!)
From: [personal profile] arch
Also here from [community profile] doctorwho, and this interpretation makes a lot of sense to me! And now I really wish we had gotten Episode One with Ten and Donna. Ten got so much Lonely God stuff and not nearly enough emphasis on straight up kindness. I think it would have done him good to hear this, although I'm not sure whether it would have stopped his downward spiral in the specials.

Date: 2010-04-13 12:22 pm (UTC)
susanreads: The eleventh Doctor says "Everything's gonna be fine" (who eleven)
From: [personal profile] susanreads
I've subscribed to you for your Who meta, and so that I don't miss that fic if it ever happens.

Date: 2010-04-13 08:30 am (UTC)
crywolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] crywolf
Also here from the doctorwho comm. Mainly to reply to Amy not knowing him well. She knows right off the bat that he's lying when he says he never interferes. She has already seen him fight off one alien menace. At the end of that, it's made abundantly clear - in front of her - that anyone who messes with Earth will have him to deal with, and he won't be nice about it.

He's also admitted, in so many words, his loneliness to Amy, when he asked her to join him. His compassion is easy to see. And Amy seems like she's being written as a pretty smart cookie, hopefully as capable as the Doctor (except perhaps in flying the TARDIS). It's also fairly easy to jump from "time traveller" to "alien", especially when he mentions being the last of his kind.

This episode is dense, yes. It has very little padding. I think if it were expanding to two episodes, it would end up with a lot of running up and down corridors just to take up time. And probably a long philosophical discussion over a meal of fish and chips.

Date: 2010-04-14 12:15 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] treesahquiche
I think you've articulated exactly what I felt was wrong with the episode. There was so much story packed in, but there was so much stuff that was only touched upon tangentially. It bothered me. Still, perhaps the point was to have so many unanswered questions. It gives the writers wiggle room in case they want to revisit Starship UK in a later episode (the episode was similar to the one with Nine and Rose on Satellite 5, which they did visited again later in the first series) and it gives fans lots of ideas for discussion, speculation, meta, fanfiction, etc.

I totally did not understand the whole "space whale" thing -- it's a star whale; get it right! -- until someone told me about the Torchwood space whale. I didn't see the connection to the space whale as a TV trope, though. That's pretty interesting.

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