Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wrestling with Timelords; or, how I learned to start worrying and doubt Steven Moffat

One of the nice things about blogging is that you don't always have to keep to your beat. So while this blog mainly concerns itself with trans issues, poetry and politics, I can occassionally indulge myself by wittering on about some of the more minor subjects on which I waste cognitive capacity, such as sci-fi, professional wrestling or, in this case, both.

(It ought to be pointed out that from this point on the reader must consider the phrase 'Spoilers, sweetie' to have been uttered in the husky tones of Alex Kingston.)

First, some context. After reading a chance link from a friend, I came across Lawrence Miles' Dr Who Thing, wherein quondam Who-scribe Miles voices, among other things, his concerns about current Who-showrunner Steven Moffat. Now, Miles clearly has a little bit of an axe to grind, but that's understandable: an intellectual property he takes seriously and for which he used to be fortunate enough to write has now moved decisively in the direction of a kind of sci-fi he can't stand. But it did set me pondering what I thought about the reign of Grand Moff Steven, and particularly how it contrasts with the Russell T Davies (RTD) run, which I enjoyed a great deal.

Today, those thoughts crystallised with the news that in 2012, we won't get a full series of Dr Who, but a series of 'specials', rather like the awful 2009 run of the show, in which lazy, overly dramatic foreshadowing replaced the things that had made RTD's run up to that point so much fun: good forward continuity and a drip-feed approach to foreshadowing which was far more effective than 2009's 'have someone say something dramatic at the end of the episode' strategy. What worked really well in the RTD series was the way that mentions of Bad Wolf, Torchwood, or Mr Saxon would be scattered throughout the series in a way that piqued the viewers' interest and kept them guessing. Think about how subtly some of it was drip-fed as well: Bad Wolf in Series 1 was used as the name of a power plant, for heavens' sake. Sure, they lampshaded the fact they'd hidden the clue by the end of the episode; but if you knew Welsh and had been paying attention, you'd have spotted it from the start.

Compare that with Moffat's way of introducing his big unifying plot-point in his first series, and the beginning of his second: to have characters constantly shout 'The Pandorica will OPEN! Silence will FALL!' at the Doctor during dramatic moments. Not exactly subtle, that.

About the only half-interesting thing about Moffat's Motifs was the fact that they both meant the opposite of what we assumed. The Pandorica opening was, we assumed, some kind of container that would unleash ultimate evil. In fact, it was a prison for Matt Smith's Doctor. The dangerous thing wasn't the Pandorica opening, it was when it shut. In fact, when it opened the second time, that was actually a good thing.

How 'Silence will fall' panned out was, if anything, even more ridiculous. Instead of the Doctor being silenced, we were instead treated to a new alien race called THE Silence...which fell. Boneheaded literalism at its worst. But from a  certain point of view it might seem cool, because it wasn't what the fans expected. It was a swerve.

And that was when I realised what worries me about Steven Moffat. The thing about Moffat's writing which really worries me, more than budget cuts on the show, more than Lawrence Miles' musings, more than anything else.

What worries me about Steven Moffat is that he is Dr Who's Vince Russo.

Let me explain. Vince Russo was chief booker (a position roughly analogous to Moffat's show-runner position, though dealing with steroid cases drenched in baby oil rather than RADA graduates, so probably a slightly more pleasant working environment on the whole) in the WCW wrestling promotion. And he gradually destroyed said promotion due to his obsession with throwing swerves into storylines. Used sparingly, this can be a good tactic in a wrestling promotion: a large part of your audience has seen how most storylines pan out before and thinks it knows what to expect; so throwing them a curveball once in a while, as long as it adds something to the storyline, keeps things fresh. Russo's problem was he began to use swerves all the time, and he would throw in swerves which made no sense in the context of the storyline, just because they were swerves. Russo became obsessed with booking in such a way that the expectations of smart marks and internet wrestling geeks would be confounded. This pissed off the geeks because they saw through it, and it confused and upset the more mainstream wrestling audience because stuff was happening which made no sense whatsoever and was also kind of ridiculous and what in the crap was David Arquette doing with the Championship Belt, for Hogan's sake? It was a complete mess, but in Russo's view, it was working brilliantly, because, hey you didn't expect that, didja?

And that, to be honest, is what I fear in Moffat's epoch. Let's face it, 'The Silence' should have been a big clue. Moffat, seeking a way to make a swerve out of a phrase with such obvious implications as 'silence will fall', was forced to invent an entirely new alien race, with a convenient amnesia-inducing superpower, purely to service a pun. The existence of the Silence is hard to square with other elements of Who mythology, and the way the Doctor deals with them is out of character on a number of levels - but ha ha, do you see, the Silence fell! You didn't expect that, didja?

And this leads us, inevitably, to the revelation that River Song is Amy Pond's daughter. Does it make sense chronologically? Just about, I guess. Does it make sense emotionally, in terms of Amy's character? Or in terms of River's arc? I'm not so sure about that. How old is River? Does she age at a normal rate? Does she regenerate (and if so, why doesn't she regenerate when she dies at the end of the Silence in the Library two-parter?)? How does a human parent deal with a baby who's part timelord? How will this be dealt with when Karen Gillan finally leaves the show? What about the rather horrid emotional aspect of River's revelation - the exploding Amy, the exploding baby, the whole damn women-in-fridges ickiness of the origin? Has any of this been thought through?

I rather think not. To be honest, River's Revelation doesn't really seem to be something thought-out and planned. But it's a swerve, and I worry that, to Moffat, that's all that matters.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah. I'm left wondering if some of the earlier moments that've felt like fluffed characterisation to me were swerves to him - the ending of The God Complex where it should've been bloody obvious to The Doctor, say. Stopped watching after S6 and the special for a reason, alas.