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New Who 6.12 Closing Time

On the whole, this was a great episode. Funny, nicely-plotted, and leading neatly and sometimes quite poignantly towards the heavily-signposted events of the season finale. I should have loved it. But what a pity that instead, every time we met a black character, I was jerked right out of the story by the inevitable knowledge that that person was about to die. By the time we got to the three kids in the back-street at the end, I was half-expecting the black one to be struck by a falling piece of satellite debris, just to make up a full house.

This is a long-established problem in New Who, which people like miss_s_b and pickwick have been pointing out for years. So I went into this episode with an already heightened expectation that the black characters would die. But even against that background, this story really stood out as a particularly egregious example of the trope. It's not just that all of the black characters (well, except the kid in the alley-way) were treated as disposable - it's that meanwhile, every single white character survived unharmed.

I don't doubt that it arises unconsciously, and indeed partly out of a well-meaning desire to cast more black actors. There was a great blog post which did the rounds recently (but which I can't now track down), all about how casting agents unconsciously replicate the limitations of established screen representations, only ever placing black actors in secondary roles because that's where they're used to seeing them. But oh my word it really needs to be consciously recognised for what it is and addressed, because it is a serious blight on Doctor Who right now.

And then there was the painfully overplayed joke around the mistaken belief that the Doctor and Craig were a gay couple; and the revisitation of the 'daddy issues' that were right at the heart of Night Terrors as well... And now I've practically talked myself out of even liking this story at all. Oh, Moffat (and your minions), why must you do this to us?

OK, so let's try to get back to the goodness. There were Cybermats! Looking as cute-yet-scary as they always should have done, although it required a little more imagination to see that back in the Seventies. And there were Cybermen dying of an emotional overload, just like in The Invasion! Also, although the thinking-they're-a-couple joke was overdone, I did appreciate the fact that Craig rejected the Doctor's attempt to kiss him not because he (the Doctor) was a bloke euw gross!, but because he (Craig) was already taken. And the Amy-Rory cameo was sweet and affecting, and I liked the way Amy's fame drew cleverly on Karen Gillan's star image as someone whom we all know has also worked as a model.

As for next week's episode, it feels a lot like we're under full steam towards a fairly inescapable end-point now. But of course we all know that the Doctor can't really die - not properly - so there is bound to be some kind of unexpected twist coming up. I'm hopeless at predicting these things in detail, but I would just finish by picking out two small details from this week which I think are likely to be significant.

First, the use of a mirror hiding the entrance to the Cybermen's underground lair. Mirrors and reflections have come up a lot this season, and I'm sure this theme is going to pay off next week, at the very least as another reference to parallel universes, and probably also to someone encountering their double and / or everything being reversed.

Secondly, the name-badge which the Doctor wore as a shop assistant was a very nice way of reminding us all that as far as we and all characters throughout the show's entire history are concerned, "The Doctor" really is his name. If Moffat is going to probe further into that territory, as he has been hinting ever since we first met River, then that is a useful sort of reminder to drop just before doing so.

Anyway, all to be revealed - along with some alt-universe Romans - next week!

[And I will finish and post my review of last week's episode shortly, I swear. I've just been rather overloaded with work and short of available spare brain-juice in the last week. It's half-written, but needs smoothing out from some random notes into something tolerably fluent before I can post it. I hope to get that done before heading for bed tonight.]

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Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Sep. 25th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
Mirrors, of course! Subtle, but the motif was there.
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:28 am (UTC)
There have been a lot of them this season. Though I haven't finished writing my review of The God Complex yet, it will include the observation that the Doctor first confronts the nearly-Nimon in a room full of mirrors and water. Then there was older and younger Amy looking at reflections of one another through the eye-glass in The Girl Who Waited, the TARDIS curiously exploring her human face in a mirror in The Doctor's Wife, Ganger-Jenny smashing the mirror in The Rebel Flesh, and doubtless a bunch of others which I've forgotten now. It is a definite running theme.
parrot_knight
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:36 am (UTC)
I'd noticed and picked up on some of the mirrors in earlier episodes - makes me think of Cocteau's Orphee trilogy, which I saw recently, and which influenced Warriors' Gate in particular - but not this one. Definite symbolism for parallel worlds and the boundary between the living and the dead.
huskyteer
Sep. 25th, 2011 07:44 am (UTC)
I loved the way the Doctor could just walk into a department store and get a job - with a name badge that reads 'The Doctor' to boot - and how his methods of investigation just don't work for humans.

I enjoyed this episode more than I thought I would, but I would have like the ratio of scary Cyberman stuff to funny Doctor-Craig-and-a-baby stuff reversed, really.
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:34 am (UTC)
I don't know - I quite liked the way the Cybermen were very much the sub-plot, really. There's a lot to be said for a light-hearted and largely character-focused episode as a breather before the epic large-scale action which is clearly coming next week.
huskyteer
Sep. 26th, 2011 10:09 am (UTC)
I don't think I like character-focused Who (there, I said it!). I feel it's best left to fanfic to fill in those tempting gaps left by canon.
steepholm
Sep. 25th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
Cybermen defeated by the power of a father's love? Grossly sentimental, as the Doctor himself pointed out - but pointing out doesn't make it okay...

I enjoyed the comedy in this one, but the back of my sofa has never been more deserted.
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, it was a bit hokey, but it didn't come entirely out of nowhere. Cybermen have been being defeated by sudden exposure to human emotions ever since The Invasion, where they were driven mad by a device which did exactly that. Anyway, I'm a right old sucker for in-story acknowledgements of flaws, to the extent that it even makes me quite welcome the flaws in the first place. So I guess it was more okay for me that it was for you.
gillywoo
Sep. 25th, 2011 10:52 am (UTC)
I really liked this week's episode which given a) how much I despise James Corden and b) how hard I am to please, surprised myself!

It did go a bit deus ex at the end, but it wasn't too bad although if I hadn't enjoyed the rest of the episode so much I'd have probably been throwing shoes at the telly and shouting TRITE B*llox. However, even that was done in a brilliantly knowing way, which made me wonder how much of that episode would have sucked if RTD had written it...talking of RTD - is it just me or did there seem to be a few sly digs at rtd - the kid is referred to as boyo, the dr's comment about the love saves all thing and more?

There seems to be a central theme around parental love in this series so it will be interesting to say how that plays out.

I'm very much looking forward to next weeks' episode.

strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, there were definitely a few nods in RTD's direction - whether digs or tributes is a matter of interpretation! The whole set up of the department store with nasty things lurking in the basement was very like Rose (the first ever episode of NuWho), and I felt that the white female shop assistant (i.e. the one who didn't get killed) was quite a Rose-ish character, too.

Parental love certainly is a theme, but I'm still annoyed by how Amy and Rory are supposed to be just fine about having missed Melody's early childhood and the experience of being proper parents to her together. I hope that will somehow be resolved at the end of the next episode - perhaps they'll get a second chance at bringing her up after all? But even if it is, I feel that failing to explore what should be really huge emotional consequences coming out of that is making everything else that's happening in the series appear really hollow to me.
gillywoo
Sep. 25th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I thought the white shop assistant was very rose too. I couldn't work out whether that was pastiche or parody. I think I preferred to think snidey parody!

I know what you mean about amy and rory not being too bothered, it's very strange, I'm also hoping that they put something in there to resolve what happens to Melody it would be a complete shame if they bypassed that completely in favour of some big bang episode.
danieldwilliam
Sep. 25th, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)

I was thinking about the Dad aspects in this episode & other recent episodes. What with the missing Melody story line there is quite a lot on patenting in this season.

I missed the race element in this story. I missed the bit where the supervisor went missing at the beginning.

Overall, I liked the episode. Not my favourite of this season but top 3.

I still think the major story arc would be better run over 2 or 3 seasons but I'm now keen to see the denouement rather than resigned to it.

strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, it was pretty good - I just found the race thing really distracting. If it hadn't been there, I'm sure I would have loved this. And yes, I'm keen to see how it all wraps up now. I'm trying not to get too excited, as I was a bit underwhelmed by last year's finale, but it will be nice to have closure on some things anyway.
danieldwilliam
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
On a social justice critic I was slightly irritated by the bit of dialogue about what Alfie called his mum (Mum), the Doctor (not-Mum) and his dad (not-Mum until he kills some threatening people*).

Fathers are for physical protection through actual, threatened or implied violence. Men are not proper parents and unworthy of a parental designation until they demonstrate a willingness and ability to violently protect their offspring. You are not a father if you spend time just looking after your child.

Minor irritation and probably outweighed by the fact that Corden's character was actually looking after a baby and had it in a sling having a cuddle.


*admittedly through the power of paternal love but still, it might as well have been magic or a special beam weapon, there were exploding heads.
rmc28
Sep. 25th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed it, but I kept twitching with every long shot of the sling. It's supposed to be chest-to-chest, not belly-to-belly, and the urge to go over and adjust it for the sake of his back was enormous.
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
Haha - yes, I thought it didn't look very comfortable or even secure! I have no experience of wearing such things, but what you say makes absolute sense. Mind you, they did also reveal on Confidential that young Alfie was played by no less than seven different babies, so maybe it was a bit easier to slip them in and out between shots if the sling was hanging down a bit lower than it should have done?
danieldwilliam
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
Aye - I recall how very quickly a mis-aligned sling (or backpack) becomes very painful.
chrisvenus
Sep. 25th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
As for next week's episode, it feels a lot like we're under full steam towards a fairly inescapable end-point now

I kind of feel this but only because people keep saying it. Wasn't the doctor who died meant to have lived 200 years more than the one we've been following for the series? I was genuinely shocked when Moffat on a confidential said something about the doctor dying at the end of the season. I figured it would get resolved in some way but it doesn't feel like the doctor from the last episode is the one who should be about to die. Except he said he did.

I was also surprised because I assumed this being the penultimate episode (as I understand it) that it would be part one of a two parter.

I did quite enjoy it though otherwise. I take your points on the black people dying but I did enjoy the rest. The doctor is starting to get a bit whiny annoying with his "I can't have companions" (didn't we cover that with tennant already)? And also I'm a bit unsure about the whole amy and rory thing. him leaving them still feels a bit weird to me and their cameo seemed a bit gratuitous.
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, we have got so used to end-of-season two-parters that it seems very odd not to be getting one this time. I think it's going to be a very packed episode next week!

On Amy and Rory's cameo, I've heard some speculate that it was done mainly so that the actors' names could legitimately be included in the closing credits, thus preventing fans who were scouring casting details in advance from being pre-warned about them 'leaving' last week. That does sound like the kind of thing Moffat might do, too.
weepingcross
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
Indeed, there's an incredible amount to wrap up in 45-50 minutes next week. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing how the hints will be resolved that the escalation in the cosmic status of the Dr over the last 6 years (or longer if you count Sylvester McCoy's last season) is about to be undone. What are we going to end up with and how are we going to get there?
strange_complex
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Except that that same kind of undoing was meant to have happened with the Tenth Doctor at the end of RTD's era, and it didn't seem to last very long! I think I'm mainly looking forward to seeing the tensions which this season has kept throwing as us being resolved so that we can get back to something a little more normal and less fraught.
nalsa
Sep. 26th, 2011 08:51 am (UTC)
Hm. I genuinely thought that the ending of the cybermen component of the ep was possibly one of the worst - and cheaply-written - examples of sentiment conquering all. Maybe I'm just old and curmudgeonly, but really, a love feedback loop causing the cyber's heads to explode? I expected better from Roberts.
strange_complex
Sep. 26th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's a bit of a Roberts thing to dash off rather rushed and non-sensical endings. I remember being really bothered by the ending for The Unicorn and the Wasp, which was another one of his. I was less bothered this time, partly because the Cybermen had been so little of a threat all along anyway, and perhaps also because I was already too bothered by the treatment of the black characters.
venta
Sep. 27th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC)
I didn't really like the sentimental aspect of it, but more than that I disliked the throwaway nature of the Cybermen subplot. Oh look, Cybermen. With massive, massive subterranean base. Oh look, gone now. Back to the baby!

segh
Sep. 26th, 2011 10:09 am (UTC)
Every time we meet a black character? Like Martha, and Doctor Moon?
strange_complex
Sep. 26th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Sure, obviously there are exceptions, but I think the overall trend is pretty clear. It's certainly something I've found myself commenting on for previous stories.

Who fans have from time to time done systematic analyses of the ways underprivileged characters are treated on Doctor Who, and I've managed to track down one about female characters, but can't find one about black characters right now. Indeed, there may not be one, though I've definitely seen one about queer characters somewhere in the past.

From my unsystematic observations, though, I would strongly expect any such analysis to show a well above average death rate for black characters. There has also been discussion about just how positive the treatment even of Martha really was since back in season 2. It's a real issue, and I think it may even be getting worse at the moment rather than better.
kernowgirl
Oct. 2nd, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, I've been really noticing the race thing too ever since you started pointing it out. I think part of the problem with New Who is that they're very good at killing off people you care about, i.e. those that are portrayed in a positive light. And of course, to be politically correct, they want to portray black characters in a positive light.

The natural follow-on is that the black characters are more likely to get killed off... although even then, you'd expect more to survive, but that's where you do get into the unconscious tendency to follow stereotype and let your most prominent people be white, I suppose.

I enjoyed the episode--loved the bit where Craig was taking the doctor's declaration of love seriously and almost eagerly, enjoyed the first time they got mistaken for partners, but yeah, that got overdone.

Also, because I do have a baby, I got a big kick out of the baby's cry being the emotional trigger. I know it was a bit mushy for many people, but for me it rang completely true. And I don't think of it as being mushy, because when you've spent months subjected to your hormonal response at the sound of your baby's crying, you don't view it in a particularly sentimental light!

That said, I spent the entire episode leading up to it thinking that Craig wasn't nearly enough of an emotional wreck to convince as a new parent...

Sorry for commenting a week after the fact and when you're all into the latest episode. We've got behind in our viewing again. :p
strange_complex
Oct. 2nd, 2011 09:17 am (UTC)
That's fine about commenting now - after all, I only got round to reviewing the episode before this one nearly two weeks after it had aired!

I think you're right that the problem with the black characters getting killed off arises from a well-meaning attempt to cast black actors in non-evil roles, but it isn't quite just a desire to portray them positively that gets them killed. It is that they regularly play minor secondary characters, who are generally quite liable to die in an action-adventure show like Doctor Who. And as this episode proved, even within that category, they seem to be more liable to die than their white equivalents. Of the two shop assistants we met in the first scene, it was depressingly predictable that the black one would die while the white one survived - but there wasn't really any other significant difference between those two characters. :-(

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the season finale. It managed to avoid racefail of the type we saw in this story - but probably mainly because it simply didn't feature any black characters. :-/
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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