kaffyr: The TARDIS says hello (OT3 Two)
[personal profile] kaffyr
Here There be No Dragons. You Will Be Saved.

After seeing a lot of the headers and hints of commentary about "Curse of the Black Spot," I was fully expecting to consider the entire thing lame, perhaps even "Victory of the Daleks" lame (although I was pretty certain we weren't going to have a replay of "Spaaaace Whaaaale!!!/Beast Below" lame.)

I'm really pleased to say - whilst being fully aware that this may say more about me than about the episode - that I found it sweet, and worth my time. Maybe just barely, and maybe the sweetness was almost too much, and, yes, the nutritional value was next to nil, but worth my time. And the show team is, of course, awaiting my judgment with steno pads in hand. Ahem.

Oh. Wait. Is it ... oh, no, no ... the Meta Monster! It's come for me again!!!

Curse of the Black Spot  wasn't written by Moffat, but it reflects one facet of what I think of as the Moffat philosphy, one I find fascinating - and surprisingly endearing even as it's incredibly problematic from a structural and philosophical point of view.

No one really dies in the episode. I began suspecting that would be the case as soon as the first pirate disappeared in a smokey swirl of what could only be transport beam detritus. And I quickly decided that our mysterious lady wasn't picking off the weak and lame because they were easy lunch meat. They all lived. A lonely healer found people to heal after its own people died. A son was reunited with his long-lost father, a father was cured of his gold-lust, and reunited with his men, and a becalmed and abandoned ship found a new crew (whether in our dimension or its own is a minor plot point that's easily ignored.)

I liked it. I shook my head at it, and, as a writer, shuddered at the lack of drama. But as a woman of 55, who has become tired unto death of sickness, and war, blood and evil - and, yes, death - I fell prey to its lure.

I know some folks have derided, or mourned, the no-kill-if-at-all-possible theme that's gradually surfaced in the 11th Doctor's run.

Some have suggested that it devalues the glory of "Just this once, everybody lives" back in S1 of the revived series.

Others point out that when no one dies in a story, perhaps it means there is nothing worth dying, or living, for in that story, that there is no conflict, no dramatic tension, no real story, for that matter, and definitely a written product of inferior worth.

And others argue that when no one dies in a story - or more to the point, when no loss is incurred, when nothing is found to be worth pain, loss or ultimate sacrifice - then that story, and its writer, are rejecting an ultimate reality of our universe. Death is, they point out quite rightly. To refuse to recognize that our lives are lived only inasmuch as they are lived with the understanding of death is to reject reality in a manner far beyond the superficial reality-rejection of fantasy or skiffy (or even fairy tales.)

All of those are valid points.

S5 and, it appears thus far, S6, are operating under what Moffat seems to have decided are the rules of fairy - not necessarily faerie - tales, rather than the rules of grand opera under which RTD's stories and season tended to operate. Or at least he's operating it under what he has decided are fairy tale rules, and certainly the only ones to which he's chosen to pay attention. By which I mean that I think Moffat is clearly trying to redesign his Whoniverse into a somewhat gentler place than it has been forever (and I think we can all agree that the Whoniverse has generally been incredibly bloodthirsty since 1963.)

Moffat doesn't mind frightening people, and he's remarkably good at that. Nor does he always refrain from killing - pity the poor White House Bathroom lady, victim of the Silentscetsceohbother, for instance.

But think about it. His most frightening villains, the Weeping Angels, initially didn't kill you, they simply misplaced you in Time. And when they descended into actual killing, they themselves were punished with erasure, not death. The Silentscetscecwhatever generally refrained from killing, preferring memory wipes and behind the scenes maneuvering.

Last year, Prisoner Zero didn't kill anyone, it just copied their appearances; the Spaaaace Whaaaale may have eaten the adults it got fed, but it saved the children; the Krafayis was probably misunderstood, killing only by accident and virtue of its blindness.

Back in S4, Moffat refused to let anyone taken by the Vashta Nerada die. He saved them all - improbably, crazily - in a computer. We can debate the worth of that type of life, or living, but it was life of a sort, and it seems to epitomize Moffat's desire to save people. Finally, go all the way back to his original S1 stories, where the villain turns out to be a lonely child, and its apparently-lost victims are not only returned to life, but returned better than they were, or at least with more legs.

Moffat hates death. He seems to hate it with a passion. I don't think he fears death. But he hates it, and he wants to protect people from it, especially children. It's an illogical desire, to be sure, because we none of us can be saved from death. It's also perhaps an immature desire, reflective of someone who has yet to understand or accept, the ultimate reality of our lives.

There's no mistaking the philosophical shortcomings here. And there's no getting around the pitfalls of trying to write drama with that underlying concept as rather sandy bedrock for one's stories.

There are a lot of places I disagree with Moffat. There are things that make me crazy about the man, his own writing,and what his influence as show runner and strong personality might be doing to Doctor Who.

Over reliance on and re-use of his own ideas (Time loops! Paradoxes!  Very Clever Finishes!)? Yeah, it's bad, it's really bad. Sloppy story telling? *rolls eyes* Attitudes towards women? Don't get me started - really, Do. Not. Get. Me. Started.

But ... but ....

I'm a mother. I know that I would - illogically, immaturely, foolishly and quite fruitlessly - try to protect my child from hurt and death. I have tried to do that since he was born. Moffat's a father; perhaps that's what is part of what powers his writing, and what hamstrings it as well.

I readily admit that my acceptance of the "nobody dies' philosophy, at least for some, although not all, of the stories I consume, also lies in what I said before. I'm getting old, I'm ill, and I am tired of seeing my age and my illness, and the world's sicknesses,  everywhere. I can no longer easily accept it in what I choose to entertain myself with.

That can be a trap. It can lead to consuming nothing more intellectually or spiritually nutritious than, oh, I don't know ..."Touched by an Angel" reruns, I suppose. It can lead to the willing consumption of dramatic pabulum because one is willing to put up with poor quality sham story telling so that one can avoid the pain of loss, of betrayal, of death.

But I'll take that risk occasionally or (as I get older and more tired) more than occasionally. And I can accept it as one of the Moffat quirks I can understand and sympathize with, rather than rage against.

I'm not worried that it's going to kill Doctor Who. Moffat is bright enough, talented enough, and experienced enough in his chosen career to recognize that he can't save everyone all the time without putting mediocrity on the screen. And even if he were that insane, his time with DW will eventually come to an end and someone else, with his or her different worldview and writing philosophy, will take his place. So, yeah, no fears for my beloved show.

If he wants to try to save everyone, he'll fail, but I love him, just a little bit, for trying.




(And sometime, I might actually talk about the actual episode. Maybe)





Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] livii.livejournal.com
Excellent, thought-provoking post!

Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 05:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
Thanks - I swear that I actually started the post with the intention of talking about the mechanics of the episode (and oh, lord, were they creaky and unreliable and just plain badly put together), but the meta ran me down like a dog and demanded I serve it. Heh.

Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sahiya.livejournal.com
Huh! This is very interesting.

It hadn't really occurred to me to see the "everybody lives!" philosophy as a negative in Moffat's writing. I think I'm tired of fearing for my favorite characters' lives. I understand quite well, thank you, that death is part of life, and I think children will come to understand it quite well, too, without Doctor Who shoving it in their faces. One of the things I love most about Eleven is his kindness - he is occasionally very rude but never carelessly cruel, and that is also how I think of Moffat. He loves to drive us crazy but he doesn't want to hurt us, and frankly that is just fine with me.

Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
I have seen the proposal that "everybody lives" - or more generally, just a failure to engage with the dark side in some fashion - put forward in the case of how Moffat approaches the Whoniverse. However, it's a debate that occurs in the larger writing world as well, and others have delineated it far, far more articulately than I can.

In Moffat's case, I may have significant problems with him elsewhere, but this isn't one of them. I find it rather life-affirming and, as I said, sweet.

Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] viomisehunt.livejournal.com
Great Post:
I was kind of in the middle. This is not one of the shows that I'm keeping on my DVR, but as you say it wasn't awful -- it is just that last week was great. This one touched a lot of things and didn't follow up.
And I like the theme of the men not seeing the female presence as a passage to a better life and place.
Moffat's theme of women as nurturers, healers is pretty strong here.
At my age --over ahem, 55--you cringe each time you see certain numbers on the phone. Every one, is getting older and sad news about friends, family to come more often, so the theme of no one dies -- but passes over is as you say, Sweet, hopeful, and full of faith.
River dies in the Library-- a portion of her is saved. Reinette dies; so people die in Moffat's universe -- just not the leads.

I think Moffat has the Peter Pan philosophy:Death will be a great adventure. The pirates go from sea to space.
The Mermaid/Healer reminded me of Gem, the Empath from the Star Trek TOS episode.

Date: Monday, 9 May 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
This one touched a lot of things and didn't follow up.

I think this may be a general shortcoming of both Moffat's writing, and the writing done on his watch, all claims of "it all comes together brilliantly in the end!" notwithstanding. Depending on the quality of the writing otherwise, it can be easy or hard to ignore.

And I like the theme of the men not seeing the female presence as a passage to a better life and place.

I hadn't thought of that, but you're right. It's a welcome change from "women are the bringers of disorder and illusion" which seems to crop up all too often (I'm trying very hard not to think of "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood" right now.)

Moffat's theme of women as nurturers, healers is pretty strong here.

It's interesting that both ideas - men's mistaken perceptions of women as frightening, death-dealing monster, and women's actual identity as healer and nurturer - exist in this story.

At my age --over ahem, 55--you cringe each time you see certain numbers on the phone.

I'll be 56 in about four months, and I've already had to deal with that; I'm currently in the position of wondering, every time my mother's telephone number comes up, how she'll be. And that, too, is, as you've suggested here, probably part of the lure that "no one dies" has for me.

You correctly note that Moffat's Whoniverse doesn't completely eschew or reject death; my thought is that it does so more noticeably, and more directly, that the Whoniverse as interpreted or created by previous show-runners. I'm not so certain, though, about the idea that Moffat's looking at death as a grand adventure, since his dislike for it seems to pronounced. (Although, River's new life in the library is clearly a new adventure, so your proposal is valid ... *thinks thinky thoughts*)

Oooo! Gem! That was one of the Star Trek TOS episodes that stayed in my memory. I was fascinated by the way she and Bones interacted! Nice to know someone else remembers that episode!

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-maia.livejournal.com
*Hugs you*

I've been trying to figure out for over a year now why RTD's writing works for me and why Moffat's writing doesn't. I've read a lot of theories about what the essential differences, but none of the theories make me feel like I understand why I react the way I do. But this entry of yours make it all make sense. For me, it's not about characterization-versus-plot, or modernism, or anything like that. It's about death. The differences in my reactions to RTD and Moffat can be entirely accounted for by the differences in their attitudes toward and portrayal of death. This helps me understand myself much better. Thank you!!!

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
*Hugs back*

If this helped clarify things in your mind, then I am very pleased.

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] peroxidepirate.livejournal.com
"I'm getting old, I'm ill, and I am tired of seeing my age and my illness, and the world's sicknesses, everywhere. I can no longer easily accept it in what I choose to entertain myself with. ... I'll take that risk occasionally or (as I get older and more tired) more than occasionally. And I can accept it as one of the Moffat quirks I can understand and sympathize with, rather than rage against."

THIS, so very much! Thank you for posting this. You put into words what it is that's touching me so deeply about this season of Doctor Who so far, in spite of all the perfectly logical and legitimate criticisms which I can intellectually understand.

(Here via [livejournal.com profile] green_maia, and I'll likely link to your entry in my own journal, if you don't mind!)

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
Hello there; link away!

As I said, I continue to have some real problems with the way Moffat views the world, and the way he organizes his version of the Whoniverse, but this aspect of it resonates powerfully with me.

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] azalaisdep.livejournal.com
It's interesting that you think Moffat's Who is trying to be less bloodthirsty. Because one of the things that really bothered me about the previous week's episode was the way that the Silence were absolutely annihilated. Not just off-screen by the human race - being used as weapons by a Doctor who didn't even let them know why they were doing it - but on-screen by River Song, whose sharpshooting skills were clearly being not just made use of, but actively celebrated both by the writer (that graceful spinning in slow motion shooting again, and again, and again) and by the Doctor, who seemed rather taken with the performance. What my children remembered above all else from that episode was "Doctor Song killing all the baddies".

Compared to which, while I thought this week's episode was doing its best with a noticeably vastly reduced budget compared to the RTD era (ooh, look, most of the crew has already been conveniently vanished, so we can do it with a cast of about six-and-a-half! And we only need two sets!), at least, as you said, nobody died. And First Small Person, who is nearly as into pirates as he is into space, thought it was great fun.

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
I never for a moment thought of the Doctor's strategy as genocide; in fact, he set it up so that the Silence knew what would happen - and he did give them (an admittedly brief) warning. Having set it in motion, he advised them to get the hell out of Dodge to avoid attack. If I were going to look for an analogous situation, I would point to the story of Esther in the Old Testament: despite being a queen, despite having revealed Haman for the murderous racist he was, she was unable to get the King to cancel Haman's plans to wipe out the Jews. What she was able to do was to get the Kingly go-ahead allowing Jews to know about Haman's plans, to arm themselves, and to fight back. In this case, I see the Doctor as Esther.

And, because I have never seen the Doctor as a classic pacifist, but rather as a cunning strategist who can use violence pragmatically even if he prefers to eschew it, I have no problem with his attitude vis-a-vis the Silence. (The Seventh Doctor was quite pleased with himself for having engineered the mass destruction of Daleks on Skaro, if my admittedly poor memory serves me right. He didn't agonize much about it at all; I think there are several iterations of the Doctor who weren't nearly as squeamish as the Tenth, and possibly the Fifth, Doctor.)

(I understand your concerns as a parent, even if I might not share them. Perhaps the episode could provide you with conversational fodder about the ethics of violence for your children, or at least the elder one?)

Still, one of the reasons I liked CotBS was because of the "nobody dies" theme. It will always win me over in the end, dramatic shortcomings notwithstanding.

Also - PIRATES! SPAAAAACE PIRATES!!!!

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] azalaisdep.livejournal.com
I never for a moment thought of the Doctor's strategy as genocide; in fact, he set it up so that the Silence knew what would happen - and he did give them (an admittedly brief) warning. Having set it in motion, he advised them to get the hell out of Dodge to avoid attack.

Oh, interesting. I perhaps need to rewatch the last few minutes - the way I read it at the time was that the Silence were pretty much all going to get annihilated in no time flat. (My reading perhaps influenced by what happened to the ones River got to point her gun at.) The difficulty of having the conversation about the ethics-of-violence being that First Small Person would certainly have taken the message, from that scene of River's and the Doctor's reaction, that Killing Is Cool...

But, yes, SPAAAACE PIRAAAAATES! :-)

Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
Heh. Cutlasses, head kerchiefs, parrots and pieces of eight, ARRRRR!

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