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The Cosmology of Doctor Who

So we know that Doctor Who’s cosmology is different from ours. There, the Moon was (according to 1970s theory) an adopted planetoid… which was, in fact, an egg.

Bizarre thing is, Kill the Moon actually fits classic Who’s jump-the-gun science, that Chibnall said “duh” and perpetuated 40 years later. More than fits it; it makes sense of it.

In the Who timeline, where I guess Earth formed around a (coincidentally egg-laden) Racnoss ship, Gaia (early pre-Earth) must never have collided with Theia (another rocky planet in our orbit, that shattered on collision), as seems to have happened in our world.

What this seems to imply, then, is that in the Who timeline Theia must have remained in Gaia’s solar orbit, somewhere far enough back that the two never collided.

Why didn’t they collide? Possibly that Racnoss ship; it may have altered the early accretion of proto-planetary debris just enough to butterfly (er, spider?) effect away a different spacing and possibly greater mass for the two proto-planets.

Which is to say, the fuckery in Kill the Moon just happens to be consistent with the Silurian recounting of events (as RTD’s weird whimsy), which in turn makes Mondas plausible.

Thanks to Peter Harness, somehow a mountain of awful and/or outdated science balances out to plausible consistency.

All praise the Egg.



SR388: A Spelunker’s Nightmare

[ The following post is assembled from fragments of discussion from July 2014, October 2014, July 2016, and August 2017. ]

Long before that AM2R thing, which is exactly what a cynical observer would predict from a fan remake, I’ve often rambled about ways to do a sensitive update of Metroid II, that (unlike AM2R) honors the original game’s tone and thematic material and develops it even further, makes the game even more awkward and upsetting to play:

I still think the best way to tackle a remake is to consider the affect of the original, and try to recreate it. The original is claustrophobic, in part due to feeling lost — sameness, lack of a map — in part to the screen.

So, make light a scarce quantity. The world would be desaturated and have a big focus on environmental light sources — lava, certain bioluminescent plants or animals, Chozo technology. At times it’s hard to see anything. Sort of a Silent Hill aspect.

Samus’s suit may project a slight glow around her, reflecting on things. Generally the glow would extend about as far as the boundaries of the GB screen. Occasionally more or less. The glow from Samus’ suit would give things a sort of monotone hue. Maybe greenish, from her visor.

If you wanted to expand on the game, you could give her various kinds of light beam. Or make her suit glitch out. Maybe special heat and X-ray visors would be needed to navigate certain areas. Glitchily. It would be all grainy and prone to error. Make it go totally dark, for a scripted segment here or there, in the spirit of those segments where you have to blindly fumble around in ball form. Maybe you have to navigate by noise and touch. Maybe a sort of a sonar, so you can hear when the Metroids are getting close.

There might be an attempt at a map, but it doesn’t work right. Glitchy. Staticky. Suggests non-Euclidean space. Some key parts of the interior may not make any sort of euclidean geometric sense. They kind of don’t, already.

This would also play up some of the Zelda-style risk-and-reward progress limitation. You CAN go down there, but… should you?

Also see: Dragon Warrior, Phantasy Star II, Lost in Blue.

But, that’s if I were pressed to reinterpret the game. Insofar as its native form on the Game Boy, Metroid II is basically perfect. The worst I can say is that the control can get a little mushy at times. Speed up Samus’ movement by 125%, maybe tighten collision and response time. Little stuff like that.

Something I really dig about Metroid II is that as designed, it wouldn’t really make as much sense on another console. If you play through as an adult, with a modicum of design literacy in hand, it soon becomes clear to what extent the game actively uses its technical and conceptual limitations to say its own thing.

Unlike Super Metroid the world that it draws doesn’t feel like a playground set up for your benefit. It’s just there. If it’s confusing, then it would be, wouldn’t it. You’re invading this space that was never meant for a thing like you.

The game’s affect is just so subjective.The way the Spider Ball is used nails down how unfriendly the space is. This is a space where we really shouldn’t be, and it’s just by the skin of this overpowered miraculous thing that it works.

When you get to the cramped corridor forcing you to draw a visual parallel between Samus in ball form and the unhatched Metroid egg, there’s not a lot of space left (as it were) to question how expressive the design is meant to be.

It’s supposed to be claustrophobic. It’s meant to be disorienting and upsetting. You’re supposed to lose your way and freak out, the way you probably would in reality if you were dropped into an unmapped hole in the ground on an alien world. Or even ours. Even if mapped. It’s meant to be distressing, in no small part because you shouldn’t be there. The mission is wrong. You are playing the bad guy.

That’s not reading into it. In its closing moments the game tells you how you messed up, and Fusion‘s plot is based on this revelation. (Another irritating thing about Super Metroid is how it not only glosses over this failing; it compounds it. But Fusion gets the story back.) Fusion also gets the claustrophobia and tension back, in a shifted form, where Super throws them out in favor of Whee Shiny Perfect Action.

As far as how Metroid II uses the resources it has, the only thing I would treat differently is the lava. To quote one of many earlier discussions on the topic,

That goddamned lava. What is that? Of all the ways to limit progress. I mean… I can make up some silly theories that kind of work. But how arbitrary is that? At least it’s an apparent phenomenon of the gameworld, even if it’s triggered by discrete player-dependent flags.

Instead of progress clearly resulting from the player’s action it’s just, “What the hell was that rumble? Oh… there’s… a route here. Was it here before? I don’t think so.” Granted, it doesn’t affect me when I’m playing. It’s just in retrospect that it’s so incredibly clumsy and weird.

Of course the game is pretty linear, and it can’t let you miss a Metroid. If there were some narrative rationalization, maybe that would be enough. But then you’re in danger of needless exposition.

On reflection, I would add a horrible piercing screech after the extermination of each set of Metroids and before the earthquake and lava drain. Each time, as Samus strayed deeper into the caverns, the screech would get louder and longer, while the screen would shake with ramping violence. Toward the end, it basically would peak all of the sound output and leave the game a nauseating shaky-cam mess for minutes at a time.

This would serve many purposes.

  • It would make the game more disorienting and upsetting to play.
  • It would introduce the Queen early as Samus’s opponent.
  • It would establish the Queen’s growing pain and anger.
  • It would help to underline that maybe Samus isn’t quite doing the right thing here.
  • And it would resolve the structural weirdness around the lava, which as it stands is a VERY CONVENIENT and unexplained progress limiter.

All of this would be totally doable on the Game Boy. Pretty easy, even, in this engine. Everything’s already set up, pretty much. Just add a screech that gets louder and longer each time, and make the screen rumble longer and more violent each time. That’s all! But, it would make such a big difference to the game’s narrative flow, logical consistency, and thematic unity.

Would this change be on-the-nose, in terms of the game’s themes? Maybe. But done well, it wouldn’t be clear what was happening at first. It’d just add a layer of “huh?”, growing to “oh hell.”

Right now there’s little feedback to completing each wave, and the mild rumble has little impact, the lava drain nothing like an explanation. This would add at least a sense of intentionality to the design, which as designed leaves room for interpretation, yes, but also feels sloppy.

Significantly, all of the scream’s and the rumble’ thematic resonance becomes clear only in retrospect. You get ramping uncomfortable chaos as you burrow in, but aside from feeling increasingly intimidated, it’s only clear what’s happening when you finally meet the Queen, which snaps it all into focus.

Currently there is no clear moment of epiphany, and the Queen’s role consists of sitting there, unseen, until you burst in and kill her. The epiphany comes with the egg, which is great. Really great, actually. But its significance would be enhanced, coming out of the catharsis of that encounter with the thing that had been expressing pain the whole time. “Oh hell,” you’d think, “so that’s what has been happening all along. What… does all of this mean? What have I done?” And then, a baby Metroid imprints on you.

You’re still free to interpret however you like, but this gives a touch of emotional feedback and clarity to undermine any sense of bravado. And all it is is a screech and a more violent screen shake. That’s all it takes to snap it all into focus.



Walks like a Duck, Quacks like a Duck

So, yeah. DuckTales 2017 is, as many predicted, almost more of a re-adaptation of the Duck comics than of the 1987 show. It has the optics: Donald is present as a key team member, Scrooge is in his Comic colors, there are Ben Day dots all over the place. Whatever. But, Jesus.

I mean, seriously, this goes straight back to the comics. And not just Carl Barks. I mean Don Rosa. The first episode combs through Life & Times, with portraits of Scrooge’s parents, a lineage chart for the nephews that includes Hortense and Quackmore, and just generally way more awareness of and investment in the comic mythology, as focused and enhanced by Rosa.

Scrooge and Donald carry something more like their comic personas. Donald is about 60/40 Comic Don versus Cartoon Don here — still recognizably the guy who you can depend on to throw walnuts at Chip & Dale out of spite, but also a more layered character. The Comic Donald is a simple, lazy, fairly unlucky guy way out of his depth in every part of his life. Part of his laziness seems to be a zoned-out avoidance because he can’t handle the life he’s been dealt. But, importantly, when he’s really needed he always steps up and is willing to get, you know, shot in the face if need be to live up to his obligations or protect the people he cares about. He’s a sympathetic character in the way that Cartoon Donald could never be. He also speaks like a normal person, with his own curious idioms and speech patterns, as opposed to an incomprehensible squawkbox. That cartoon element is still present in 2017 Don, because people would flip out if they changed it, but it seems to be played as one more of a million things that makes the poor guy’s life hell. He can’t even get a sentence out, and his lack of an ability to communicate only fuels his bad temper.

Scrooge, meanwhile, is back to being the largely self-centered, irresponsible figure he is in the comics. The first episode goes to great lengths to contrast the two uncles’ parenting styles; whereas Donald is paranoid and overprotective because of his own experiences with life, always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, always sleepy from his against-his-nature vigilance against the horrors of life that may at any moment pounce on his nephews, Scrooge just doesn’t give a damn. He has no regard for danger, and often stirs more trouble than he expects or immediately knows how to handle. But he’s sure he’ll think of something. Which totally Freaks Donald Out.

Long ago he used to assist Scrooge on his adventures, but by the time we catch up here he’d long since distanced himself from Scrooge, to the extent that the nephews barely seem aware that Scrooge was a relative.

Since this is 2017, there also seem to be some ongoing story threads. The very final shot of the pilot ought to be interesting, as it dives right into the biggest unexplained mystery in all iterations of the Duck universe. This is like “why exactly did the Doctor leave Gallifrey?” business. A thing that even Don Rosa steered way clear of touching, except in a passing manner in a late chapter of Life & Times.

It also is consciously DuckTales, in that it borrows from the earlier show’s iconography enough to call itself DuckTales. And then borrows from Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin, and Goof Troop. More than just DuckTales, the show seems to be quietly setting up a new Disney Duck Animated Universe.

You’ve got most of the original DuckTales characters who aren’t useless or annoying (no Doofus or Bubba, I so hope — have yet to hear anything), but they’re remixed and employed in functional roles here. Duckworth is pretty much gone (though I’ve read he’ll appear in some form, later?), while the more-vital Launchpad and Ms. Beakley step into that void and split his duties. Beakley is more vital because she comes with Webby — who now, instead of being, uh, plot luggage, has been upgraded to an audience surrogate — so she’s been made a more general and much more capable personal assistant. Launchpad is just a general hired hand/chauffeur, no matter the vehicle or task. He’s incompetent at everything, but he’s game and presumably he’s inexpensive.

Then you’ve got the odd changes brought about by the 1987 series, which the 2017 one just runs with. Glomgold is not just Scottish (instead of South African, as in the comics); he’s so Scottish that he constantly talks about how Scottish he is. Which… come to think of it may be overcompensation. Is he genuinely Scottish? The way this is set up, I’d be unsurprised to see a long game in here.

Anyway. This is really well-done. The pilot at least is very smart and well-written. They seem to have thought this project through in insane modern showrunner sort of detail, with hints and seeds of future adventures and character development and revelations strewn all over. And nearly everything the characters do, every plot that they embark on, has its roots in character, and in the show’s basic themes (which are themselves rooted in character). You know how Buffy‘s monsters are all projections of the characters’ anxieties and the emotional things they’re going through that week? This is kind of like that, except with Barks/Rosa style adventures that illuminate family tensions and anxieties.

Like, in the pilot, Donald reluctantly leaves the nephews with Scrooge, whom again they’d never met and it seems like Donald has rarely if ever mentioned around them, issuing him (not them) a stern warning to behave while he’s off, because he needs someone to watch them while he goes off on a job interview. That interview happens to be with Glomgold, who Donald is dense or self-absorbed enough not to clock as Scrooge’s arch-nemesis. So while Scrooge gets carried away and winds up on an adventure with the nephews and Webby, Donald ends up becoming Glomgold’s own personal Launchpad. All of which is structurally really cool and which serves as a perfect canvas for exploring what’s going on within and between all the characters, and why it is that Donald is so pissed off with his uncle.

Which… may or may not have something to do with that final shot, again, and that unspoken mystery at the heart of Duckdom.



Response to a biblical literalist

Okay. I mean, you must realize that’s an entirely irrational position. Granted, not everything in life has to be rational. I just see no point in trying to fit the things that you see into an inconsistent, largely unverifiable narrative that a bunch of very confused people wrote a long time ago, as opposed to extrapolating a narrative from the world that you actually see around you. It’s a backwards approach.

It’s especially puzzling when there are written records dating back thousands of years, to the earliest forms of writing, that allow a scholar to trace the origins of so many of the stories in this book. Many of them are based on the predictable pagan musing on why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change.

More interestingly, and most tellingly across so many religions, is this divide between “our time” and a lost golden age of heroes when all of these miraculous things supposedly happened — which lines up precisely with the fall of the bronze age, and all of the suffering and confusion that followed. It was a time not unlike the centuries after the fall of Rome, where all of the rule and the infrastructure collapsed, and order and knowledge became subsumed to feudal squabbles amongst rising fiefdoms. It took centuries of very human struggle before the old knowledge started to rise again, whether discovered in old tomes or relearned through new observations. The superstitions began to take a back seat again, and we got a new enlightenment.

But all through that era — one of the reasons we, culturally today, have this big hard-on (if you will) for ancient Greco-Roman society, art, and architecture is that after the fall of Rome it was basically like Daddy went away. All of Western Europe went to hell, wishing things would be the way they were before, when there were great men (like the fabled King Arthur, who like many classical heroes — Hercules, say — probably didn’t really exist, but was a symbol of the wishes and dreams of a lost noble provenance that a society in decline wanted so much to reclaim for itself. Before everything fell apart and the world more or less ended, things were *Better*.

And this is the dividing line in so many religions that popped up, all around the same time, all around the time that worldwide cataclysm seemed to occur (it’s unclear just what — a shift in the magnetic poles, a massive volcanic eruption) that changed the climate, leading to drought, desertification, mass die-offs. The Bronze Age trade routes went fallow, communication broke down, the Sea Peoples and other raiders tore through the Mediterranean in search of resources, wiping out whole cities along the way.

The myths of the later Greeks (and Romans after them) all refer to this legendary Mycenaean era, back before the world ended and things still were good. Men were greater, fortunes were stronger. It was different; it was better then.

This is the sort of thing that gives birth to religion. It’s shared trauma, shared confusion, mixed with hope and dreams that things will eventually get back to a way they were before. It happens on an individual level, which is to the best I can see substantially why people buy into a systemic belief like this, and it happens on a mass social level.

You can see this happening right now, today, with the right-wing cult forming in the US in particular, but also elsewhere in the world. The great recession was a shitshow, but it could have been so much worse. Yet with even this historically mild crunch, people suffered. They went a bit nuts, pining for a better time, desperate for anything, no matter how irrational, that would give them hope for perceived greatness again. Thus we get MAGA, and Captain Orange. Alongside this, we get the rejection of empirical science and observation. The rejection of consistent, rational storytelling. The damnation of the press for speaking objectively about anything, because people don’t want to hear the facts; they want to be affirmed. It’s societal PTSD.

Not all religions are equal, to be sure. But this is how things start. And several thousand years later, choosing to accept as literal reality the story of, say, the pre-Jewish Semitic peoples of Egypt over the contemporary accounts of the Greeks, or the Babylonians, or anyone else who suffered through that global trauma and made up heroes and mystical forces to comfort their minds and their children and set up a plan for rebuilding their fortunes, strikes me as a very strange way to live one’s life.

To be sure, there are certain noble principles to gain from most systems of thought; empiricism isn’t the only way to perceive the world. But, it seems like it does pay to be somewhat deliberate in examining where these notions are coming from, why they most likely seem to exist, and not presupposing knowledge of anything beyond your own lived experience.

When I was growing up — well, the house I lived in, it was old. Very old. I grew up in New England, and the house had been there probably almost as long as Europeans had been. It was dusty, it was creaky; its systems were in poor repair. If you looked around with the eye of an armchair architect, you could see where the house had been expanded over the decades, and in what rough order. In its earliest form it had been a little shack or cottage, presumably to house the sick people who traveled by coach to the doctor who once lived in the big house nearby. There was another, similar house nearby that had been expanded in a different way — but you could cross reference the two in your mind to give you an idea how things probably went.

Though there were several distinct eras of expansions and changes, you could easily break down the house into the “old” part and the “new” part. The “new” part was clearly a 20th century thing, most of it, with a much more finished cellar beneath. When you went down the basement stairs, you had a choice of left or right. Left, you had the big, easily flooded drab box of concrete that sat under most of the house. My parents used it for storage for some reason, even though everything got soaked on a yearly basis and they were surprised and angry every time. Unless you had a good reason, that was the part of the basement you went into.

Go right, that was a different story. My older sister — much older; I never got to know her well before she moved out, and haven’t bothered since — said she never once went in there, and it’s not hard to see why not. You go in, and it’s just immediately oppressive. Dark. Not just dark, but shadowy. There’s something weird and irrational and ominous there, that grows with every step you take. I never did more than grab a toolbox from the bench inside the door, then dart back up the stairs.

It was an uncomfortable house. Every time a friend stayed over, they reported feeling terrified all night. I distinctly remember a friend from Sweden pulling up once, taking one step inside, and hesitating. “You live in an X-Files house,” he said.

Now. All my life that I lived in that house, I had… experiences. They were difficult to explain though anything but what I saw and felt at the time, though I knew they made no sense. From a young age, I would see these dark figures — like moving shadows, that would hover around me and apparently stare at me, causing me to feel a panic. More than once, particularly at night, I would sit up in bed, or spin off of my computer chair, or dart out of the living room, in search of a “safe” part of the house, where they wouldn’t follow me. It seemed those places were always over on the newer side of the house, while the run-ins I experienced were all over in the oldest part — no matter what floor.

For two decades I figured it was just me — some mental issue. I tried to write it off, as I do clearly have so many other problems that scary shadow delusions seemed to fit. Occasionally I’d tell the stories, if I felt comfortable with the company. I’d tell about the glass TV cabinet in the living room that shattered all on its own, into tiny pebbles of safety glass that fizzed and crackled on the wooden floor for minutes after the fact. Three witnesses in the room, all sitting away from the cabinet, all minding their own business. Maybe it wasn’t just me, ha ha! Yeah, that’s it. I mean… clearly there was something beyond my understanding here. But, well. Who knew.

Then one day I was… I’m not sure; making a sandwich or something, when I heard my mother scream and slam something. She was down in the basement. She hurriedly ran up the stairs, closed and locked the door, and went looking for me. She had been over in the new part of the basement, she said, looking through some boxes, when she looked across into the old section — and there she saw a hunched-over, dark, shadowy figure. She threw a shoe at it and ran up the stairs. I calmly described what I’d been seeing all my life, and asked if that was roughly it. She looked stunned; that was exactly what she had seen.

So, that was interesting. It wasn’t just me, then. There was some kind of a phenomenon.

Now, there are lots of ways this story could go. It depends on how curious one happens to be; how much information is practically available; how much research other people have done into related topics, to create relevant information in the first place. It depends also largely on one’s framework for viewing the world. I have my empirical experience, and my emotions are inclined to fill in the facts of what I experienced to create a narrative that sounds interesting to me and makes my life feel a little special; like I’ve been touched by something uncanny.

It’s like people who avoid spoilers with all their energy, because they imagine that if they know what’ll happen in a story before they view it, they won’t enjoy it anymore. Which is kind of silly, I always think, as surely then your appreciation increases since you have the benefit of seeing and appreciating how things come to pass rather than ignoring the process in search of a finite answer — an answer that, despite all of the significance that one might impart on it, won’t be particularly meaningful in its own right, leading to disappointment. You’ll have missed the route, and felt short-changed by the destination. Surely it’s better to just come prepared?

Me, I value my time and my energy. I like to know if the story is going somewhere, or if this exercise is just going to irritate me in the end. So I tend to study the work as a whole. I mean, if it’s any good I’ll undoubtedly watch or read it again and again. Might as well start breaking it in correctly from the start, so I can get right to work appreciating it.

To that end, I was forced to juggle some dissonance. I had these… strange events, for which I had no ready explanation, and then I had the ready explanation that my emotions told me was almost certainly happening. I could easily have just gone with that, and concluded that there was something amazing and supernatural going on in my parents’ house. It would have been empirically justified, if a bit shaky on the forensic rigor. I imagine some people would hold securely to that little suggestion of a greater meaning in life that spoke specially to them, and would use this to inform a more greatly irrational perspective on the world.

To be sure, I read up on “shadow people” and all of these dubious-sounding phenomena. It was interesting that other people seemed to see something kind of like what I’d seen, but it really did sound like some kind of mass egging-on, people encouraging the whimsy in each other, eager to be a part of something weird of their own, in favor of actually looking for an explanation. Because, here’s the unspoken thing, that would kind of spoil the fun. To make the miraculous mundane would in some ways be to negate all of the time and energy placed in its appreciation.

But, and I’m sure you knew I’d get around to something like this, eventually I hit on what was happening. What was certainly happening. And it explained so much more than my weird ghosts did.

All of the phenomena occurred in the old section of the house — above, and around, the furnace.

Infrasound is a weird thing. It’s the opposite of ultrasound — on the red end of the audible spectrum, compared to ultrasound’s blue end. Low tones, low energy. Big waves, that hold a lot of power even though you can’t hear them. Some animals can, much as some animals can see parts of the electromag spectrum that we can’t. That’s why you get animals freaking out before an earthquake or other large events — because they can hear and feel the low onset that we miss.

But again, even if they’re not doing much with our eardrums, mechanical waves do exert pressure on us — all the time. Especially in this world of our making, with all of this explosive machinery that drives our society, we’re never far from noise pollution. It can make us tense, drive us a little bit nuts, without our hearing a jot. In particular, it can vibrate our bodies. Under certain conditions, it even can set up an oscillation.

Mechanical waves, when you get them into an oscillation pattern, can do some really wild shit, man. If you want to know why bridges are built the way they are, it’s because if the wind gets them shaking and they’re not built just right, the oscillation can shake an entire bridge apart. And it has, and undoubtedly will again, depending on the negligence of the architect or the builder, or both. Hancock Tower, in Boston — for years it was a disaster area, as the windows kept popping out of their frames. For a skyscraper sided almost entirely with glass, this was a problem. There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that the first of these windows happened when an agent was showing prospective tenants around and happened to bang and lean on one of the windows to demonstrate its construction — leading to a rather abrupt exit from the premises, and no doubt a lost sale. It was the wind; the way the wind shook the building. They hadn’t accounted for the oscillation patterns. What they had to do is dig into the heart of the building and set up a stabilizer — basically a huge gyroscope, that would keep the building still against all but the craziest of forces. After that, no more glass on the sidewalk.

So, mechanical waves. Serious stuff. They can tear down a bridge, pop all the windows out of a skyscraper, make planes fall from the sky. What can they do to a human body? Granted, our tissues are more of a dampener than a steel structure. But that just means things get less predictable and even stranger, depending on the frequency. Like for instance, the right frequency of infrasound can vibrate a person’s retina, causing all manner of hallucinations. It also can create a deep sense of fear, panic, anxiety in the chest. It can make a person want to vomit.

It was the furnace. The furnace was old. It malfunctioned. It hadn’t been properly cleaned since I’d been alive. Between that and the acoustics of the old basement, it was generating an irregular yet disturbing stream of infrasound.

My mother got the furnace replaced, and everything changed. The place still had a creepy layout and lighting situation, but that feeling of dread was gone. That deep-seated tension had dissipated. I’ve never heard of another peculiar thing happening in that house. The “ghosts” have been evicted. And now instead of a cute, mysterious little anecdote I’ve got a much more useful set of information that I can apply to other cases.

Stories are fun, and in a broad sense they inform an anthropological understanding of the way that we relate to the world that we live in. I just don’t see the practical value in turning that backwards, and trying to use the stories to dictate the limits and reasons to a much more vast and complicated universe that would be largely the same whether or not someone in the Fertile Crescent had tried to desperately to understand it several thousand years ago. The sun doesn’t care if you pray to it; it’s going to sit there, burning until its fuel runs out — by which time we’ll all be long gone. Walking under a ladder isn’t going to make something bad happen to me; it’s just inadvisable because I may knock into it or something may well fall on me. Actions come before reactions. There’s nothing in my experience that leads me to expect any different.



Twelve Thoughts

I’m staggering into well-trod ground here, I realize, but bear with me. I’m going to lay out a series of thoughts, and let’s see where they may lead.

Thought #1: Steven Moffat has been on a mission lately to wrap up dangling story threads, from River Song and her screwdriver to Simm’s regeneration into Gomez, to the “missing” regenerations between old series and new, to generally resetting the show to its factory settings (as well as that’s even a thing) for the next show-runner to make use of at will — putting Gallifrey back in the sky, putting the Doctor on the run, returning major foes to recurring status. Not all of these threads are his own; some, he inherited from Davies. Some predate Davies, to an extent. If there’s a loop to close, late-era Moffat has gone out of his way to close it.


Thought #2: Moffat also has gone out of his way to cater to Capaldi’s whims. Capaldi said over and over how much he’d like to face off against the Mondasian Cybermen; how if he was to go out, how great it would be to be done in by one of them. Moffat scoffed, and he scoffed. But, look what happened. He’s been sending the scripts (e.g., the upcoming special) past Capaldi for review, taking on board minor and major suggestions, and altering them accordingly. In turn, Capaldi, being a fan since the show’s beginning, has his share of suggestions — not all realistic, but many well-informed and well-intentioned.

Thought #3: In wrapping up his era — in fact, the whole “revival” era of Doctor Who — Moffat is not only returning the show to its factory settings. He’s bringing Capaldi back to his own first memories of the show. Capaldi gets his own Mondasian Cybermen, which is fine — and then as he denies his regeneration he’s transported back to the Doctor’s first encounter with those same Cybermen, which is in turn the Doctor’s first regeneration. Dramatically, this is some good stuff: some by-the-book thematic mirroring, to draw clear metaphors and enhance semiotic coherence amongst far-flung events, creating a sense of epiphany and oneness. It’s kind of like Chekhov’s Gun, or advanced intercutting (a technique with which Moffat overtly experimented throughout series 8, e.g. in “Listen” and “Into the Dalek”), in terms of James Burke-ing a sense of holistic significance on the chaotic and often desperate causality that tends to define the show’s narrative.


Thought #4: Moffat not only hews to Capaldi’s whims; he also seems to take an impish glee in running with off-handed remarks that tickle him enough for Moffat to make mental notes, e.g. the Doctor’s electric guitar. There were no plans to insert an electric guitar into the show, but after the first series Moffat asked Capaldi what changes he’d like to see; Capaldi had no clue, so, being an ex punk rocker, he joked about putting a guitar amp in the console room. Of course that would be silly; he just didn’t didn’t know how to respond to the question, in that moment. So, for no reason other than to rise to the ridiculousness of the suggestion, Moffat did as he wasn’t really told. Likewise at a convention panel, in response to Moffat’s canned joke about Hartnell not returning his calls for the 50th anniversary special Capaldi fleetingly suggested they could have got David Bradley in. And Moffat had a Larry David moment, staring off into space and thinking, “Oh.” So, lo, William Hartnell’s impostor is the Fender Stratocaster of series 10.

Thought #5: There is one glaring, famous unresolved thread of continuity to this series that presents itself in every clip show, at the show’s every anniversary, that people tend to collectively pull up their collars and avoid mentioning, lest they stray into “Paul McGann is the Rani” territory. You just don’t go there, for some reason, like it’s an unwritten law. For someone of Moffat’s impulses and humor, that challenge must seem awfully tempting.


Thought #6: Moffat is not exactly known for the expansiveness of his toolbox. In Capaldi’s era he’s become more adept at using his few tricks more constructively to tell meaningful stories, as opposed to flashing them around at the audience to show how shiny his tools all are (see: the Matt Smith era). Still, his scripts are typified by a few concepts that he uses over and over again. For instance, out-of-sync relationships with extreme time gaps. We first see this with Reinette, where we meet her as a girl, then a few minutes later as an adult, then eventually the Doctor pauses too long yammering about the plot only to find her dead — that he just missed her by moments. The same concept is remixed a bit for River Song, is worked into a monster-based story for “Blink” (e.g., when Sally turns her back only for Kathy to turn up dead, her note for Sally as delivered by a relative echoing Reinette’s for the Doctor), becomes basically the entire basis for Amy Pond, nearly becomes Clara’s exit in “Last Christmas”, and has some of its final echoes in the way Capaldi’s Doctor misses Bill by just a few hours, as a result of getting distracted by exposition back at the top of the ship. Moffat has a half-dozen patterns that he uses over and over, but this one seems to be his favorite.

Thought #7: Earlier, between the filming of series 8 and 9, a certain actor from the show’s past visited the current production and was shown by Capaldi around the TARDIS set. He said to that actor, oh, you need to come back, seriously. Then he went to Moffat, and said, oh, Steven, wouldn’t it be great to see them back? Moffat gave a non-committal response, as one does to that luvvie nonsense. Yeah, sure. Everyone should come back. Put them all in a boat with a single oar, and see what happens. We’ll broadcast it exclusively in IMAX at 2 a.m. Apply in the affirmative; nod and smile; yes, of course, let’s do it. Now let’s move on.


Thought #8: As further evidenced by the selling point of the forthcoming Christmas special, Moffat sort of a has a thing for screwing around with Hartnell’s continuity. He’s had Clara visit the Doctor as a young boy, then several hundred years later shown a splinter of her interfere with the Doctor’s choice of an escape capsule. Outside of the modern era, there’s no other part of the classic series that Moffat has shown such a significant and repeated interest in reinterpreting. This interest is starting to border on an obsession, and considering that Moffat is now brazenly dancing into the events surrounding Hartnell’s regeneration — something already fairly well-documented if one ignores that the episode in question is in fact missing — one wonders how deep this obsession will go.

Thought #9: Throughout series 10 — and here, if you’ve somehow been glazed over with my argument so far, you should be ready to groan — the Doctor has two photographs on his desk, representing the painful dangling threads of his family. One of those, Moffat took the care to resolve two Christmases ago, so for us her portrait is more of a recent, rather warm, reminder — though for the Doctor it’s a certain recent and raw trauma, as obliquely addressed in his Missy flashbacks. The other portrait is the one we’re not supposed to talk about, lest we look like total loons. And yet there it is, receiving regular camera focus — a recent continuity reminder, sitting with equal status beside what we must interpret as another deep-dive continuity reference, of the sort the show seems to do more and more under Moffat (e.g., Hartnell’s face turning up on that dingy machine in “Vincent and the Doctor”). Which is fine. Though, the camera really does like to focus there.


Thought #10: It has become something of a modern series cliche at this point that at the moment of regeneration the Doctor revisits the companions of his recent past. David Tennant’s narcissistic Doctor claimed his “reward” by visiting every major companion of his era, including threatening to bring on a paradox by visiting Rose several months before she ever met him — or, rather, met his previous incarnation. Smith’s Doctor had his weird “Head Amy” moment while Clara stared on. The recent trailer confirmed that Pearl Mackie is making one last round this Christmas, despite apparently having left in the previous episode, and well-informed whispers suggest that her predecessor has also put in at least a cameo.

Thought #11: At the start of the recent trailer, we were graced with a tampered Hartnell quote. It wasn’t the quote, the quote that you’ll always expect someone to use, for instance at the start of The Five Doctors (the previous time that Hartnell’s Doctor was recast with a not-quite lookalike); it was a moment from Hartnell’s final serial, into the final moments of which Moffat has chosen to insert his own final script for the show — in much the way that Hartnell’s visage weirdly morphs into David Bradley, to misdeliver his last few words. The quote used for the trailer was appropriate for its provenance, and yet because of its positioning and because of the expectations set about by prior art, it is conspicuously not the quote that we’re looking for. If anything, it seems to undermine that expectation. To read in some possibly unwarranted motivation, almost to misdirect from that expected quote — and by so doing, to create a dissonance that sets up a certain subconscious expectation.


Thought #12: In the recent past, Moffat has shown great willingness to bring back old characters when it suits the story, and to totally refuse to unless it does. In the forthcoming special alone, we’re already bringing back the (recast) first Doctor, and — to enormous surprise — a recast Polly Wright in some capacity. Clearly bringing back the two of them suits the story that he wants to tell about Capaldi’s Doctor. About facing the regrets and the pain and exhaustion that prevent him from feeling entitled to, or even to want, redemption. It seems to me there’s one deep regret that the Doctor has never addressed, that his fourth and twelfth incarnations may both share with a similar (if in one case more present) ache. If the Doctor is going to move on, and unreservedly accept a new, unburdened life, it may be some therapy to release that pain.

All of which is to say, the Doctor never did come back, did he. At least, not in dramatic terms, in the primary continuity of the television show. He made a bad call, and he knows it, and he’s been avoiding it ever since.

And, all things considered, it seems to me this may at last be his moment of catharsis.