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12 June 2008 @ 09:23 am
Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead  
I have the feeling I'm not going to be too thrilled with post-Davies Doctor Who. Steven Moffat seems to be the Morgan and Wang of Doctor Who to me: someone that vast quantities of the fanbase insist is the most genius thing ever, far better than the creator/recreator ever could be... where I see early brilliance rapidly degrading.

(Short reviews: Empty Child/Doctor Dances: genuinely great. The Girl in the Fireplace: had its moments, but over all fairly mediocre and seriously flawed by Moffat's "the Doctor is in love with MY special fairy princess!" thing. Blink: Strong first three quarters sabotaged by forcing the characters to be total idiots at the end to push the plot along, not to mention the supposedly terrifyingly fast monsters becoming slow as molasses.)

Silence in the Library starts well; spooky setup, creepy messages, mysterious double world. Then the expedition arrives, and I shortly realized that yes, we had another of Moffat's special fairy princesses on hand. And just like in Girl in the Fireplace, the actual companion(s) are quickly quarantined into a subplot that has no real connection to, and more importantly no impact on, the progress of the main plot. So that Moffat can expound on just how wonderful and unique the princess is ("everyone loves her, including the Doctor! she can read the Doctor's mind!" "she knows the Doctor's true name, not like any of those *lesser* companions! she and the Doctor had a long romance across time!")

This is not to bash all one episode characters; I kept comparing her to Ada in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, a character I _adored_. I loved that Ada was a cool strong character and her conversations with the Doctor were wonderful. But she wasn't a special fairy princess -- she was a strong, smart woman full of personality. And she wasn't used at Rose's expense; Rose's side of the plot was equally key to a successful outcome, since she helped get people to safety and had the coolness of mind to eject the demon-spirit back into the black hole, sabotaging its final escape.

In comparison, Donna basically swans around in cyberspace for half of the episodes. Nothing she does affects the success of the main plot; nothing she does even affects her own rescue. She doesn't even come to the solid conclusion on her own that she's trapped in an illusion; she in fact turns away from that information to cling to said illusion. Now, Catherine Tate does a yeoman job here, fighting to give the sequences emotional weight, but it doesn't make up for the featherweight in plot.

In fact, all the characters suffer in comparison to TIP/TSP, where a half dozen characters were each given their own individual personality and value. It's as if Moffat, having assigned them the roles of victims 1 through 4, didn't see any further need to spend time developing their characters -- hell, two of them didn't even get *any* characterization, making the sketchy "featherbrained" and "realistic in the face of death" pair veritable symphonies of depth in comparison.

The result is that I cared increasingly less as they got eaten. The first had the one real flash of brilliance in this pair of episodes -- the group standing around horrified as the woman's fading neural ghost pleaded against the dark. The second one at least was mildly creepy, but "ooooooh! mobile skeleton in a suit!" had less impact with every rendition, resulting in the final "he's been having a conversation with a skeleton! ooooooh!" one being a yawn.

And what the hell was the nonsense with the screwdriver at the end? The computer was perfectly capable of recording anyone in a suit, as demonstrated by the end. The exact same suit that Song was *already wearing*. So the frantic running around with the screwdriver was pointless.

And as a solution, it struck me as not particularly good, for either side. A bunch of reproductions of people stuck forever with each other in a computer. And a bunch of eternally starving Varada -- given there are still trillions of them after a hundred years, they apparently don't die off -- waiting for people to forget again and send an expedition.

It's possible that Moffat as producer will be slightly less annoying; he'll be able to make the his special fairy princesses the companion, instead of finding an excuse to put the actual companions in a box so that he can expound on how wonderful his characters are. And if they show up for more than an episode or two maybe they'll get some characterization beyond "they are super special and the Doctor loves them best!"

But mostly I'll be hoping he's smart and hires Paul Cornell to write more episodes.
 
 
 
Alix (Tersa): Dr Who - Pondering Ten (bibliophile1887)tersa on June 12th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
I realized considering it more this morning that I disagreed with your reaction to the "special fairy princess" thing, at least for the moment.

When you were ranting about it last night, I'd assumed it was because he'd had a track record of making such characters. And then I realized, no, out of the four episodes, this was only his second "special female character" that might be classified as the type of character you're railing against. It's half his episodes...but it's also only half his episodes.

If you base the rant that half his episodes have this schtick, then half his episodes also involve the plot device of mundane characters "meeting him" before "he's met them" (Blink, this two-parter).

They're both tropes, and unless he does it a *third* time, I don't think it's a trend, just something he should probably avoid going forward because it'll get old fast. Which is the other reason I am less worried about future seasons, because he can't do this every single episode. Plus it's not as if Davies wasn't at the helm for some really bad awful episodes even worse than this one. :)

Lauratavella on June 12th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)
It's a trope I don't like, though, and I think it's bad writing. It's asking me for something the writer hasn't earned; you could say that Rose was a special fairy princess at the end of season 1 of Doctor Who, but that had been *earned* with a season's worth of making me care about the character. Instead, Song was just parachuted in and I was informed that she was special and that I should care more about her than Donna, certainly that she was vastly more important to the Doctor than Donna.
VanderVeckenxthread on June 13th, 2008 05:11 am (UTC)
That's really interesting - I saw that she was parachuted in, and that she expected The Doctor to care about her. And furthermore, that the basic tension of the show was cracking open 'meeting someone out of order in time' - that the Doctor will care about her in the future, but right now she's relatively some random (although a random with an extremely interesting piece of information).

And what the hell was the nonsense with the screwdriver at the end? The computer was perfectly capable of recording anyone in a suit, as demonstrated by the end. - I think you missed a stitch, there. The computer didn't initially have a good copy of Ms Evangelista, it only did after the screwdriver's copy was uploaded.
Lauratavella on June 13th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
That's really interesting - I saw that she was parachuted in, and that she expected The Doctor to care about her. And furthermore, that the basic tension of the show was cracking open 'meeting someone out of order in time' - that the Doctor will care about her in the future, but right now she's relatively some random (although a random with an extremely interesting piece of information).

I think if this hadn't been the *second* time he did this, put the actual companions in a plot box that had no effect on the story, stripped them of agency so that he could spend all his time on how wonderful *his* character was, I'd be less annoyed -- Song at least was less insipid than Reinette. But I dislike Canon Sues of this sort, where the leads of the series are lessened so that the special one can look specialler.

It's totally possible to make great, strong guest characters and not have them be annoying; I again point to The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit. Hell, even his first two parter; Nancy and Jack are both interesting characters, and while Rose doesn't *drive* the plot, at least her curiosity and actions have effect on it.
Lauratavella on June 13th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Also, your theory about the screwdriver (that it was recording everyone) is interesting and would make some sense; it'd be nice if the show suggested it. But the doctor doesn't mention any of the others at all.
Madeline the Edifyingzdashamber on June 13th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
My thought was that the screwdriver had a longer "battery" to keep brains alive, because the Doctor knew that he'd be too gutted in the first few minutes to think it over. I'd have liked some explanation for the appearance of the others, though, too.