Monday 23 November 2015

Face the Raven (time shift)

For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.
- Johnny Carson

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

Everybody has got to die, but I've always believed an exception would be made in my case.
- William Saroyan
Him:  Your notes are very sparse.

Me:  I'm interested in your take on it.  I found it really... 

A Long Day's Journey Into Space Badger.

Me:  I thought it was really good.

Him:  Yes.  It had...  It had a good effect.

Me:  Mmm?

Him:  And, once again, the speech...  It tends to be the speeches that make these episodes.

Me:  Yeah.  A lot of what we've been predicting's there.  It's the start of the three-parter that'll conclude the series; Ashildr kills Clara because she had to.  I don't think we'll see Missy next week - I think she'll be back the week after that - 'cause it's obviously been set up by Missy.  The whole thing.  Y'know?  To get the-

Him:  Obviously.

Me:  Obviously.  The weird thing is that the TARDIS landed in 'London' in the same location that Danny Pink was killed, which I thought was an interesting nod.  Some of Steven Moffat's voice was in that.  There was a little bit of rewriting, I think.  But I thought that Sarah Dollard's script was really good. 

Him:  It was a lot better than you thought it would be?

Me:  There's a lot - again, as we had last week as well - there were an awful lot of Neil Gaiman references, amongst other things.  You've also got the Harry Potter thing - the city that's next to us that we don't see-

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  But there's two, specifically...  Two...

Him:  I thought actually it was just a sad little alleyway, and that was it.

Me:  That was all that was there.  There's a Neil Gaiman story - a Sandman story - that's about a bloke that wanders down a street that he's never seen before and gets lost in the dreams of the city.  So that's one.1  Also, there's Neverwhere:2 London Above and London Below; the London that we don't get to see.  You haven't watched that one.  There were similarities with that in it.  Also, there were echoes of Clive Barker's Nightbreed and Night of the Demon - once you get a curse you can't pass it on.3  That was alright.  Because they couldn't go full-Adric anymore - although Clara's death is basically the same as Adric's-

Him:  Yeah.  I was actually thinking that.  I was wondering if this was the same sort of effect that Adric's death would've had on the audiences back then?4

Me:  Well, the thing is that back then we didn't know it was going to happen and we got a silent credit sequence at the end.  It was a shock, because the Doctor couldn't save him and he just... died.  Adric 'faced the raven' by himself, as it were.  Or 'faced the Earth' as it came up to meet him.

Him:  "I wonder if it'll be friends with me."

Me:  Ha!  He didn't get an eight minute speech, and then a slow-motion walk out to-

Him:  The slow-motion was...

Me:  It was really funny.

Him:  Yeah.  It was not necessary.  But the speech was good.

Me:  The speech was really good.

Him:  And the fact that - that she wasn't crying, but that her eyes were really shiny...  Worked as well.

Me:  I thought Jenna Coleman's performance was brilliant.

Him:  Yes.

Me:  And Peter Capaldi was fantastic in that one.

Him:  He always is.

Me:  I'm really looking forward to next week, and then I'm looking forward to the conclusion-

Him:  What if the conclusion's terrible?

Me:  I don't think it will be.  It's going to be the Time War, isn't it?  It's going to turn out to've been Missy and the Daleks.  Or Missy at least.  And the Time War conclusion'll bring it back to...  This time as well, I thought...  I thought it was a bit rushed, killing her off.  Having her hanging out of the TARDIS, doing all the...  She's become more of a thrill-seeker this episode-

Him:  Of all the characters to bring back, why Rigsy?  I guess they had to bring someone back.

Me:  He was very good as well, actually. 

Him:  Yeah.  Maybe that's why they brought him back.

Me:  I thought that the chap with the Harry Potter glasses wasn't terrific, but...  Maisie Williams was good in this.  There's a bit in Sandman as well, where a character called Thessaly saves another character - I think it's Lyta Hall - and it's a similar kind of thing.  The warning that...  "I might've saved you, but you better run."

Yeah, it was competent.  It was nicely done.  The music was...  Some of the music was really good, but we're a long way on from Doomsday

Him:  Whatcha mean?

Me:  Well, Doomsday had an original and... quite gutsy way of using the music to accompany the scene.  That-

Him:  I thought you hated Doomsday.

Me:  No.  Doomsday was great.  The music was brilliant.  Y'know, when Rose gets stuck beyond the wall and everything, and you've got the single bass guitar going, and then it builds up and runs over minutes...  That was...  This time it's more orchestra again.

Him:  It wasn't bad in Face the Raven though.  It wasn't as bad as...  It wasn't DUM DE DUM DUMM MURRAY MURRAY DUM DE DUM DUM DUMMM!

Me:  Ha!

Him:  It wasn't that.

Me:  No, it wasn't.  And, I think the term 'retcons'...  I reckon that might've been suggested by Steven Moffat.  Other than that...  yeah, I thought it was really good.  But then, it's been building to this. 

Him:  With such classics as...  The Zygon Invasion.

Me:  Yeeeeah.  Oh, grief, yeah.  And Sleep No More.

Him:  Before the Flood.

Me:  Before the Flood was alright.  And Under the Lake was brilliant.

Him:  Sleep No More was best of the series.  Ten out of ten.

Me:  Oh, you!  Anyway...  Go on.  Make some more dust noises then. 

Him:  No, I've got to make a raven noise.

Me:  Make a raven noise.

The Him makes a raven noise.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Him:  You've got to make one too.

The Me makes a noise.

1.  Yeah, yeah, Danny the Street too.  But we don't talk about Alan Moore's Scottish Tribute Act here.

2.  And that's the one that conspiracy theorists should latch onto.  Especially after Nightmare in Silver.

3.  Okay, that's not quite right, but you know what I mean.  Rigsy's tattoo serves the same purpose as Karswell's 'Three months were allowed'.

4.  I want to answer this in proper detail, but first I'll have to explain why this 'review' was delayed.  Ready?

Yes, yes it is.

Since Saturday, lots of people have been expressing lots of opinions about Face the Raven.  Some of them are rational, some of them aren't; some of them are reasonable, some of them aren't; some of them are objective, most of them aren't.  Here's mine.

The Him and myself don't venture out of the Arctic very often.  In fairness, we don't venture out of the Hut that much either.  We spent the first part of day of the Raven in a helicopter flying the cold and clear Type-40 blue skies hanging over Britain.  Snow lay across the anorak-shouldered hills like dandruff.  I forgot to take any pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it.  We landed in Euston but our guide Bev was trapped elsewhere - in what Jaques 'Jaques' Liverot memorably described as a 'conspiracy' - so we had to amuse ourselves, like bumpkins down the ages, by pretending not to be tourists. 

It's a tradition, or an old charter, or something.

I showed the Him where Comics Unmasked used to live, before we walked by the massive abandoned dolls house guarding King's Cross.  We soon found the queue to the Hogwarts Express.  I embarrassed taught the now-shivering Him the poached savant variation rules of Mornington Crescent using only a wall-sized tube map and over-enthusiastic hand gestures.  Bev arrived soon after and treated us to some traditional London cuisine (mostly so we could all warm up whilst sneakily recharging our phones using the sockets under the seats).  After that, the Him encountered the Underground in colour for the first time on the way to Trafalgar Square to meet our second guide of the day, Kev.  

Somewhere, there's a daguerreotype, probably hidden in a linty drawer, that shows the person I used to be perched between the paws of one of the lions that was stunt-cast for In the Forest of the Night.  Seemed only polite to try to recreate the image while we had the chance.  Well, it was that or lunchtime arsing about, dodgy salutes, hide-and-seek or Osgood's cover story.5
Photo: Bev
Our two guides led us through the chilled crowds, into the labyrinthine sensory overload of Covent Garden.  Someone else I used to be, performed here a century ago.  I didn't see him, so he's probably died in the meantime. 

After stopping for an exquisite vegetarian curry, we were guided through more bewildering and overcrowded Blade Runner sets until we arrived at our early Christmas present. 

Everything's connected.5
The audience had to sign NDAs, so I'm forbidden from telling you any more details.  Can't even confirm or deny whether Mr Brown wears a massive clock mask (as the photo above unfortunately seems to suggest).  I'm largely convinced he's the Devil.  It's the only explanation that fits all the facts.  Hell of a show.

Kev treated the four of us to an afterhours ice-cream in Leicester Square and then we headed back to his secret lair where we spent the rest of the night playing with cats.

Following an astonishing cooked Sunday breakfast courtesy of the wonderful Penny, we all watched an (extremely) time-shifted Face the Raven.  This was the first time since Deep Breath that me and Him've watched Doctor Who in company, and it was an agreeable experience.  As soon as it finished, the two of us dashed off to record our thoughts.  If a 'warts and all' reaction is good enough for Tom Baker, then it's good enough for me.  We all played with the cats some more and then said goodbye to Penny and the secret lair before Kev drove us back to the Euston helipad. 

Which brings me back to the Him's initial question: "I was wondering if this was the same sort of effect that Adric's death would've had on the audiences back then?" 

Clara's death scene's hilarious.  It`s so cheesy that it teeters on parody.  Adric's death was sudden and shocking. 

I've mentioned that I bore a striking resemblance to Matthew Waterhouse back around when the Doctor was still wearing Tom Baker.  The years've been kinder to Mr Waterhouse than they have to me.  I've written about how heartbreaking I found the death of a character that I identified with on a personal - and largely narcissistic - level several times before.6  And it was.  It was totally unexpected.

A lifetime later, I learned that I was wrong.  The correct opinion is that Adric was, after Zombo, the least-loved boy genius companion.  Of course, you can't help what you look like any more than what you like.  Having endured years of derision for loving comics and the wrong bands, dressing like a weirdo and hating sport (despite being naturally better at it than a lot of my detractors were), apologising for being me was a piece of piss.  There's a lot of it about.  Always has been.

Clara's slow-motion yomp to face her death?  Well, Dean Learner'd be proud.7  And then, Murray 'Itsa Me' Gold hits the 'Weep Now!' orchestral strings setting and takes it to a whole new level of scenery-gorging.

There's a lot made of John Nathan-Turner's decision to keep the return of the Cybermen (and Adric's noble end) from the Radio Times.  Currently, the BBC release spoilerific updates so freely that anyone with Doctor Who as a special interest would've known Clara's death was inevitable.8  It wasn't even a matter of when, but how.

Since Father's Day 2005, Doctor Who's been dealing with death in a way unavoidably influenced by the Petri dish of popular culture that it grows in.  The outside world's now a completely different shape to the one that spun through a lonely void a generation ago.  Communication's made it much smaller for a start.  And...

And, I don't think everyone's going to like what I'm about to type.

The only way that a companion's death in current Doctor Who is going to have the same effect on the original viewers of Adric's demise that his death did, is if it follows the Spooks storyline that The Zygon Invasion so wanted to be, to its logical conclusion.  "You want your grown-up Doctor Who?  Here's your grown-up Doctor Who!"

I blame the Wilderness Years (and people who misread - and continue to misread - Alan Moore) for this.

Doctor Who is a relay baton.  This gets forgotten.  It has to be handed on.  Yes, it belonged to you for a brief period of your life.  But that was your section of the race.  And now it's over.9

On the return helicopter journey, I checked some of the messages I'd been ignoring until after I'd watched Face the Raven.  One of them was from a chap who'd performed in Covent Garden the same lifetime ago.  His personal version of the Him's younger than mine, and therefore still part of Doctor Who's target audience.  I'm envious of the way this chap gets to watch Doctor Who through the eyes of someone it's supposed to be aimed at: someone who doesn't read forums or gossip sites or the Radio Times or Twitter or Facebook or magazines.  But that's entropy for you.

And, through those eyes: Clara's eight minute speech was essential.  Brave, important, truthful and - in a way that's kinder to Terry Nation's tropes than last week - justifies a truly noble self-sacrifice.  Clara's a hero to thousands and thousands of children.  Complaining about it won't change that.  She's a hero to them in the tradition of Greek Tragedy.  Yes, she is.

Clara's slow-motion walk to face the Raven is an astounding piece of bravery.  For thousands and thousands of children.  It's an astonishing lesson in taking responsibility for your actions; in doing the right thing, whatever.

The me that stood next to the lion in Trafalgar Square laughed at the artifice of Face the Raven.  I hope that the me that sat between its paws would be immature enough to appreciate the honesty.
This is still very funny, mind.
5.  None of this means anything/Synchronicity's a wonderful thing.  (Delete to confirm bias.)

6.  Here's one.  Here's another.  The second one's royalties go to Children in Need, but I know both of you already have a copy, so this is just blatant self-promotion.  Bah.

7.  This observation lovingly lifted from Bev.

8.  We've been predicting it since last year.  Not to be smug, but it was obvious.  Name one companion Steven Moffat hasn't killed under his watch.  I've made some comments in the past that suggest Mr Moffat reads the blog - and I'll do it again every time something I've suggested turns up in the show - but I don't really think he does.  It's a mixture of Apophenia (I can't keep covering for you - everyone knows you've met), confirmation bias and detachment.  Y'see, I know Doctor Who isn't - and should never be - made for me.  Or the fans.  Not any more anyway.9

9.  Big Finish make Doctor Who for Doctor Who fans, and do an excellent job of it.  So I'm told. 

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