Monday, 4 November 2013

The Curse of Fatal Death

As a television professional, I think how did these guys get a paycheck every week?  Dear god, it's bad!  Nothing I've seen of the black and white stuff - with the exception of the pilot, the first episode - should have got out of the building.  They should have been clubbing those guys to death!  You've got an old guy in the lead who can't remember his lines; you've got Patrick Troughton, who was a good actor, but his companions - how did they get their Equity card?  Explain that!  They're unimaginably bad.  Once you get to the colour stuff some of it's watchable, but it's laughable. Mostly now, looking back, I'm startled by it.

It’s just, ‘How can we make a version of Doctor Who which lots of people will watch, that doesn’t cost a lot of money?’  While I would love to be involved in such a project, I think you probably need people who are not fans.  I think non-fans should make an awful lot of the artistic decisions about it, and dispose of the notion of ‘canon’ once and for all, I suspect, because every creative team which takes over should be left to do their own version…
- Steven Moffat, DWM 278, 1999

People with huge drama reputations, such as Steven Moffat, you wouldn’t dream of rewriting, and they would come on board with that proviso.
- Russell T. Davies, DWM 373, 2006

Me:  So, yeah.  There’s a theory that I want to check out.  Or some bias that I want confirmed.  One or the other.

Him:  What is it?  Wait.  This isn’t your Steven Moffat theory again is it?

Me:  I haven’t seen it trotted out in public just yet, so this is research toward the paper that’ll guarantee I never get an OBE.

Him:  Right.

Me:  Basically, fourteen years ago, both of the Baker Street Boys submitted back-door pilots to the BBC.  Gatiss produced a fictionalised version of Doctor Who’s origins and Moffat…1  Well, Moffat did something a little bit different. 

Him:  What did Moffat do?

Me:  I’m very glad you asked me that.  I’ll explain later.

Him:  Okay then.  I ‘can’t wait to hear about it’.


Me:  Was that… sarcasm?

Him:  ‘No’.

Me:   ‘Good’.  Anyway.  This is the piece that Richard Curtis asked Steven Moffat to write.  The fact he was married to the producer is purely circumstantial.  At the time, the Moff was a rising ‘television professional’ and well…  Shall we?

Him:  Yes.


We do.  It’s the Tom Baker time-tunnel, trivia fans, well except for the TARDIS.  That’s taken from The Enemy Within.

Me:  I remember watching this when it was on.

Him:  Are you that old?

Me:  I’m older than you could possibly imagine.  Bits of me keep dripping off, that’s how old I am.  Yeah.  It really, really annoyed me. 

Him:  Did it?

Me:  Oh yeah, it was awful.  I thought it was cheap, self-indulgent showing-off written by someone who wasn’t anywhere near as good as he obviously thought he was.  It was rude, snide, pretentious and trying far too hard to be clever.  Obviously, those were just my first impressions.  I’ve had years to grow a bit of objectivity now.

Him:  Can we watch it now?

Me:  Oh, it’s paused.  Yeah, go on.

Him:  Okay.  Anyway, it was for Comic Relief.  So you can’t hate it too much.

Me:  Yeah.  You can get away with a lot when you say it’s for charity and not to be taken seriously.  Which makes it interesting that DWM tried to upgrade it from ‘spoof’ to ‘Blackadder style sitcom’ when they were listing all the different versions of the Doctor back in issue 462.

In his TARDIS, the Master is Skyping the Doctor and scheming loudly to himself.

Me:  Jonathan Pryce does his best, bless him.

The old frenemies arrange to meet on Tersurus, which is already the second reference to The Deadly Assassin.

Me:  Amidst all the tautologies, Moffat still can’t resist showing off his fanboy credentials.

The Tersurons were a proud, ancient race who communicated with gastric emissions.  What larks!  The Doctor’s companion is Julia Sawalha.  She’s supposed to be playing someone called Emma, but for the most part doesn’t quite manage to act, which is a shame as she’s very pretty.  Probably.

Julia Sawalha:  Oh no.  Planet of the Bottom Burpers.

Me:  Yeah, classy. 

Julia Sawalha:  And what happened to them?

The Doctor:  They discovered fire.

Him:  Ha!

Me:  Oh, some of it’s very funny.  And Moffat’s obviously trying to write Blackadder.  The music’s mostly been lifted from the Davison era too.

The Master turns up, bless him, and there’s a bit of back and forward that plays with time travel in a highly refreshing way.  Spikes of doom become a sofa of reasonable comfort as the two Time Lords take it in turns to gazump each other by travelling further and further back in time, bribing the original architect with decent meals.  It’s very clever and very Steven Moffat.  It’s also very Douglas Adams but don’t say that out loud.

And then the Doctor announces that he’s retiring in order to marry Julia Sawalha.
Him:  That’s… That’s largely what he revisits when he takes over with Matt Smith.  Well, some of it at least.  Sort of.  A bit.

Me:  Yup.  I’m not arguing with that.  But the Moff’s big on falling in love with assistants.  And marriage.

The Doctor:  Without even knowing I was looking I have found a woman to love.  A woman more fascinating than all my travels through time and space.  A girl more exciting than an escape up a ventilation shaft.  A lover more thrilling than an army of cybernetic slugs.

Me:  Yup.  Very big on marriage.

The Master pulls a handle and a trap door to the sewers opens beneath him.  What larks!  It takes several hundred smelly years to climb back up, so he teams up with the oldest adversaries of them all to lead us up to a cliffhanger.  I should say at this point that we’re watching the two part version. 

Him:  Darleks.

Me:  Rowan Atkinson plays it totally straight. 

Him:  Yup.

Me:  Anything else you want to say there?

Him:  He plays everything totally straight?  I’m saying that legitimately, because he does.

Me:  That’s also one of the reasons this works.  Jonathan Pryce is slightly more bearable than I remembered him being.  He’s certainly no John Simm but he’s playing what he’s been given: pantomime villain.  I’m seriously hoping that Ben Wheatley’s episodes with Peter Capaldi reintroduce the Master because I think that Michael Smiley would make a damn good Master.  And opposite Peter Capaldi.  We could be looking at something very special then.  There’s still hope.  The Moff’s not going to leave without doing his version of the Master.  I just hope now he’s got this thorough kicking out of his system, he feels able to show the character a little bit of a respect.

Him:  Let’s hope he does.

Me:  Eh?

The Master’s been reaugmented by the Daleks, because it probably seemed funny at the time.  Daleks are still Moffat’s kryptonite - he’s totally incapable of taking them seriously, which is a bit of a problem when you’re writing Doctor Who.

Me:  ‘Squelchy’.  He’s good, but Moffat needs someone to stop him more than the Doctor does.

A Dalek knocks the Master back into the sensorite and the gag continues.  Luckily, it’s a damn good one.

Julia Sawalha:  These corridors all look the same.

And, because it’s time for a cliffhanger, suddenly there’re lots and lots of Daleks

Me:  Did that shot remind you of anything?

Him:  What?

Me:  Asylum of the Daleks, perhaps?

Him:  Not really.  Should it have?

Me:  It’s copy-and-paste pretending to be awe-inspiring.  Anyway, it’s a traditional ending to have when you can’t think of a proper cliffhanger.


We recap.

Our heroes are tied up.  Julia Sawalha points out a plot hole.  The Doctor will explain later.  The Master now has Dalek bumps.

Me:  Crikey.  It’s a new paradigm of Dalek.

Him:  Dar-lek.

The Doctor will explain later.

Me:  The Doctor explains later now.  Explaining later’s cool.

There’s some sassy dialogue that kills a bit of time and reminds us it’s a comedy. The Daleks announce they plan to betray the Master.  The Doctor warns his old foe through farting, so the gag from earlier pays off.  Julia Sawalha asks a Dalek why they’ve got chairs.


Follow that line through to its logical conclusion and you get Strax.  And possibly a spin-off series.

The Daleks blast stuff, mostly because they haven’t and we need to wrap this up.

The Master:  You fools!  This Zektronik beam controller will now not only explode, it will implode!

Him:  Ha!

The Doctor’s dying and so the music goes all Under the Pharos Project.

Me:  Keep an eye on this.  Count the regenerations…

The Doctor farts out how he loves Julia Sawalha.  Jonathan Pryce has the decency to look embarrassed.

Julia Sawalha:  You’ve.  Killed him.

The Master:  I think not, my child.  This is only his ninth body.  He has many, many more.

Him:  He looks just like Matt Smith!

Me:  Data maybe.

What ho, chums!  It’s Richard E. Grant!  The Tenth Doctor!

Me:  All of these actors were linked with the part of the Doctor at one point or another.  Richard E. Grant was the Shalka Doctor of course.  And the Great Intelligence.

The Doctor:  Nice tits.2

Me:  Yup, it’s a Moffat Doctor alright.  Apart from that hiccup there, the dialogue would fit unnoticed into a current story.

What ho, chums!  It’s Jim Broadbent!  The Eleventh Doctor!
Me:  And so would this Doctor’s.

What ho, chums!  It’s Hugh Grant!  The Twelfth - and final - Doctor!

Me:  RTD loved this version.   

Him:  How about R2-D2?

Me:  Unavailable for comment.

Of course, we’re at the end now.  The Doctor can’t regenerate any more.

Me:  And this might very well be how Moffat’s going to deal with the regeneration limit, so let’s pay attention to what gets said here.  Because whatever happens here…

Him:  Yeah!

After an almost impassioned speech, the Master decides to become a goodie and so do the Daleks.  The Doctor regenerates into Joanna Lumley anyway.

Me:  Pure Moffat.

What ho, chums!  It’s lovely Joanna Lumley!  The… um… Valeyard or something...

The Master and the Doctor pair off.  The Master’ll explain later.

Me:  God help us.  Thoughts?

Him:  None.  Thoughts?

Me:  I think I’m onto something.  You’ll notice that the Moff has wrapped up the whole of Doctor Who there.  That’s a legitimate final scene for the series, I’m sad to say. 

Him:  Yup.

Me:  The Daleks are good, the Master and the Doctor have resolved their differences.  And the whole issue of the Doctor becoming a woman is dealt with.

Him:  Yup.

Me:  Anything else you want to say?

Him:  Nope.  I’m fine.

Me:  Okay.  I’ll get on with nailing my theory up in public somewhere then.

0.  I’m not going to mention either Chalk or Jekyll, so this footnote isn’t here.  Move along.

1.  Gatiss recently mentioned that fans were likely to be up in arms after viewing The Pitch of Fear II: An Adventure in Space and Time.  It’s a shame that there wasn’t room to fit in either Hancock’s ex-scriptwriter or David Whitaker. Personally, I thought that Rob Brydon would be an excellent choice for playing Terry Nation and not least because he could do the accent proper, like.  It’s not all bad news though and I’m sure all fans will breathe a grateful sigh to hear that Mr Gatiss - if the rumours are true, it’s unconfirmed at time of typing – has managed to cast himself.  Again.  And, let joy spurt unchecked, according to the always-trustworthy IMDB, the other Baker Street Boy has finally got himself an Equity card. 

2.  And, in this line, almost everything that went wrong with Doctor Who from the hiatus onward – including the TV Movie – can be seen.  Grant delivers it magnificently because he doesn’t care about Doctor Who as a series and never really did.  Ironically, it’s because he hasn’t brought tons and tons of baggage to these few brief seconds that Grant’s able to actually play a version of the Doctor that works.  When he makes an effort, it all goes wrong.

At this stage, Rowan Atkinson could pick and choose the roles he took on.  He’s thought a lot about how he wants to play the Doctor, and he understands what he’s doing.  He plays it straight down the line – which isn’t easy because Moffat’s given him some really difficult material to work with.  Blackadder was really, truly funny because every line was fought for over days and days of increasingly-excruciating rehearsals.  The Curse of Fatal Death is many things, but worthy successor to Blackadder ain’t one of ‘em.

The “nice tits” line should have been cut by a script editor, but it’s hard to imagine television professional Steven Moffat (© New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club 1995) allowing anyone with scissors anywhere near his words, so we’re left with the writer’s voice interjecting over the top of the script in a clunky, cumbersome way designed to show off to his mates.  It’s an example of the excesses that fan-writing can reach when no-one’s telling it to grow up and do it properly.

All the dark and gritty fallout from Alan Moore’s bad mood in the 80s is contained in those two words.  It also drives an awful lot of the New Adventures books that were doing the rounds at the time, none of which count.3  Worst of all, it’s a clique being shown who’s the boss in a misjudged attempt to shock.  In other words, it’s the song that Nirvana sprayed all over Jonathan Ross as a ‘rebellious’ alternative to Lithium, which was what they’d been booked to promote.  The Man was duly stuck it to by the playthings of noted philanthropist David Geffen.  Many, many dreadful poems were composed that evening and bedrooms up and down the country remained untidy. 

3. There’s an analogy about the purity of a creative gene-pool that we’ll be coming back to one day, but you might just have eaten so we’ll leave it for today.4 

4.  Just kidding.  Here're some thoughts.

Fans should be kept as far away from Doctor Who as possible.  The moment they manage to inveigle their way in at a creative level they desperately add continuity references, fix tiny plot-holes the public really couldn’t care about and generally attempt to make the show the way it was when it was good.  The problem with Doctor Who is – of course – it was only good when you were young.

This is very difficult to understand.  Doctor Who carries a hell of a lot of love with it, and that’s a problem.  The show doesn’t grow with its audience – if it did, it wouldn’t have one.

Fan-fiction’s all well and good, but it’s even cliquier than a local music-scene and results in jobs for the boys, which is a terrible cultural base to fertilise ideas in.  The gene-pool needs a fresh injection of blood and imagination or you’ll end up with the cultural equivalent of a left-handed cricket team comprised of haemophiliac haemovores.  The in-joke replaces the story and you’re casting your mates because your other mates will find that hilarious.5 

Moffat has a lot of good points.  He’s highly intelligent, imaginative and very funny with an original viewpoint that sets him high above the clique of fandom that he sensibly distanced himself from.  Moffat’s always thought of himself as far too cool to be a Doctor Who fan, that’s why he keeps describing himself as a ‘television professional’.  Doctor Who’s part of what he was doing before he grew up/found girls.  Personally, I totally agree with his quote from 1999 at the start of this entry.  Doctor Who needs someone who isn’t a fan in charge of it, for the reasons shown above, because otherwise the show’ll eat itself and die screaming within no time.6 

Of course, that doesn’t mean for one moment that Moffat isn’t a fan, which is where the theory that I need to nail up in public comes in. 

6.  That’s why the DWM comic strip became unreadable immediately after jettisoning Steve Parkhouse.  When Steves Moore and Parkhouse were in charge DWM contained a professional comic strip as good as anything you’d find in 2000AD or Warrior.  As soon as they were forced off the strip it descended with dizzying rapidity to sub-basement fan-pleasing lows, which is where it remains to this day: a high-priced fanzine strip with the odd original notion that just happens to be drawn by some big-hitters.

This is meant as no disrespect to fanzines. 

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