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The voyage of Starship UK and the threat of Overt Morality

April 10, 2010

In an effort to blog more regularly, I’ve decided to review the new series of Dr Who as it progresses. If you like Dr Who feel free to discuss it with me, but if you haven’t seen the episode yet then it’s best to steer clear.

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.

****

So far the new series of Doctor Who has impressed me in several ways. The acting’s great, the sets look pretty cool, and there are lots of nice subtle references for geeky fanboys like me. On top of all that, the main thing I’m noticing right now is the writing. Episode one saw the new Doctor emerging jilty and awkward from a broken TARDIS and go through fish-custard, a 12 year jump and a cheeky Sir Patrick (if that’s not a euphamism it should be) on his way to becoming The Eleventh Doctor that we’ve all been waiting for. The way the episode unfolded, with its sparkling dialogue and intricate storytelling, showed the audience that Matt Smith and his crew, especially head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat, have again breathed new life into this 47 year old show. Considering how much they had to prove after David Tenant’s send-off, so far I think they’re doing very well.

Episode 2 is a different beast (sorry). Here the Doctor and Amy have their first off-Earth adventure together. I wouldn’t call The Beast Below an absolute corker, at least not yet, but it did keep up a lot of the high standards set by episode 1, including the good repartee between the Doctor and Amy. In true Moffat style, everything is not as it seems. The way he uses the ‘Forget’ buttons as a plot device is very effective, especially when the Doctor is telling Amy off for keeping information from him when she can’t even remember doing so, and I thought the option Liz 10 gets of ‘Abdicate’ instead of ‘Protest’ was clever.

There are some parts that are niggling at me though, one of which is the date. In The End Of The World in Season 1, Rose and the Doctor are watching the Earth burn in the year 5 billion, but The Beast Below takes place somewhere around 3307 judging by how old the computer thinks Amy is. Unless I’ve got those 2 sets of dates wrong I’m not sure what’s going on. Does the Earth burn around 3307 and then get ok again and everyone goes back before the year 5 billion, or when Rose sees it burn is there no-one actually living on it because they had to move away the first time? When I watched it I missed what date the Doctor said it was so I was content to let the issue be a minor niggle and just assume it all fitted nicely, but now that I’ve looked up the relative dates I find myself confused. I almost hope that it’s me that’s got it wrong, otherwise all my praise of the writing in the above paragraphs is a bit over-generous if they’ve failed to check their history properly. There’s a lesson to planning an article before you start writing it in there somewhere.

The other niggle was the threat of Overt Morality. In Russell T Davies’ time we saw a lot of episodes where the Doctor, or someone close to him, was faced with an important, morally difficult choice, usually with all of humanity at stake. However, as ever under Moffat, fool on those who expect the expected, and of course subtlety is key. The moment when we realise what Amy’s seen, and that the Doctor’s missed it – just like the point in The Eleventh Hour when the Doctor realises that his plan hasn’t completely foiled Prisoner Zero – shows that Matt Smith’s Doctor can overlook things, can make mistakes, can, like us, be too quick to assume that a new situation is just like an old one. All of this makes him seem less omnipotent or (at times) righteous that he has been before, and, for lack of a more fitting adjective, more ‘human’, and this is a change that I welcome, especially if it comes with a reduction in Overt Morality.

Overall then I can surmise thusly: don’t assume we’re going to see anything just because we’ve seen it before; don’t assume the Doctor is in complete control of the situation; and don’t underestimate the importance of keeping a holistic eye on everything. This last point is particularly pressing if you noticed that crack on the outside of the Starship UK. If you didn’t spot it I’ll give you a clue: it’s the same shape as the crack in Amelia’s bedroom wall, and the same shape as the line on the screen in the TARDIS that the Doctor turns off as he’s persuading Amy to come with him. For those of you you’ve enjoyed the Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Mister Saxon and “missing planet” plot arc hints that we saw in series 1-4, I reckon that’s the start of the breadcrumb trail right there. Or at least it could be, depending on whether or not you think Moffat will do what we’re expecting him to do.

I’ll round this post off with some more of my favourite bits:

  • The young girl was good, and I liked when she said ‘I’m not eligible to vote, I’m 12’. In fact the whole ‘protest’/‘forget’ voting thing was very clever.
  • When he takes the glass of water at the start and says the line about looking for a fish.
  • “They slowed the aging process, keeps me looking like the stamps”
  • The bit with the phonecall. “Which one?” “The British one”, “Which British one?”
  • The trailer for next week, with the incredible effects of the starship fight. Looks all very Star Trek and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Update:

So, the date thing, further investigation (I asked a friend) reveals that someone says the move from Earth in 3307 is only temporary and they’re going to go back, presumably before all leaving again before the year 5 billion. If that’s true then that sorts out that plot hole out nicely.

Another thing I remembered though, on the second watch, was the message Amy gets from herself in the voting cubicle where she’s telling herself to make the Doctor leave. People have been confused as to where this message comes from, as were we, but then we remembered that in the booth there’s a ‘protest’, ‘forget’ and ‘record’ button (can’t fathom why, if you choose to forget why would you leave yourself a message afterwards? That’d just get confusing), so she must have recorded it before she hit forget, which is why we don’t see her doing it and why people may have missed it, especially as we don’t see a record button anywhere else in the episode. Another mystery solved thanks to the Sunday afternoon iPlayer re-watch.

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