Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
In defence of the xmas episode (which I re-watched last night and very much enjoyed a second time):
* There was some great dialogue (loved the "one word" scene and "the dream outlives the dreamer and can never die")
* In terms of how the characters are written, Clara and Amy are basically indistinguishable, but I really enjoyed Jenna-Louise Coleman's performance, which fills in the template differently than Karen Gillian.
* I thought the pacing and plot were handled deftly, helped along by Richard E Grant adding enough menace to make his character work despite very little screen time, and the awesome alien extras.
Andy & Robinson: I agree that cosmically important companions of all kinds are a bit tiresome, but if I have to have 'em I'd rather have the Davies kind than what seems to be emerging as the Moffat kind. The crucial difference is that the Davies companions (if I recall aright) acquire their cosmic importance as a result of stuff that happens to them while they're knocking around with the Doctor, whereas the cosmic importance of the the Moffat companions seems to be a pre-existing condition. @the_admiralgee's responses on Twitter (one, two, three) helped me figure out why that difference is important. If the Doctor starts travelling with someone and then they become super-important to the fate of the universe, that's sort of incidental to their relationship. But if the Doctor starts travelling with someone because they're super-important to the fate of the universe, it undermines the sense that the Doctor likes people for their inherent value and turns him into a sort of Moffat avatar within the story, only interested in the elaborate plot and not in the characters. Meanwhile, the companion's fundamental role in this set-up is to be part of the puzzle the Doctor has to solve rather than an independent agent who helps the Doctor solve the puzzle. If you get what I mean.
Strongly agree with Solo-Arthur's points 2 and 3, Shim's secondly and thirdly, and Andy's reference to Moffat's 'twee retro aesthetic' (the word that always springs to my mind is 'parochial').
Partly it's the companions issue that everyone's picking up on. I can see that people are keen to have a female companion because it adds a bit of balance. But the string of young, attractive female companions who fall in love with the Doctor, and have it somewhat reciprocated, really cheesed me off. I find it really clashes with my Old Who-based image of the Doctor, and it detracts from the alienness of him. Also maybe a little bit skeevy.
Secondly, there was a string of plotlines that were actually about the Doctor. I don't mind a little bit of that, but it turns him from a spanner in the works of a massive universe into What It's All About, and that's much less interesting for me. Similarly, the Doctor as a terrifying legend or a dreadful force of nature (Family of Blood) bothers me when it's a regular thing, though I wouldn't mind people very occasionally knowing something about him or Time Lords. I just think it's far more interesting to be the unexpected wild-card that stirs up a situation and finds out what's going on. And enemies laying plots against someone who can travel through space and time derailed my credibility, because he can travel through space and time: it's really hard to plan for that convincingly.
Thirdly, too much ratcheting up. I personally get jaded by constant world-shaking threat, and by the time we'd got to Daleks plotting destruction of the entire space-time continuum... Small is interesting too. There've been some great small-scale episodes, like Midnight. Old Who was mostly small.
Fourthly, the restructuring of things to have season arcs didn't do anything for me. Having the occasional one, fine, but Doctor Who is pretty much the perfect episodic show, because of the whole 'travelling anywhere in space and time' thing. It doesn't make much sense to have episodes form plot arcs except when the Doctor's actually following up a mystery.
Oh, and it irritated me that they'd written Gallifrey out so definitively, rather than leaving it open. Limits future writers, doesn't achieve much, and just invites further questions.
This episode was okay, but it seemed a weird choice for a special because it's really not self-contained. Having not seen Who for a while, I missed some things and I won't be around to see the Clara 'plot' resolved (probably for the best).
1: Moffatt seems to be writing two shows at once - Doctor Who, and Show That Moffatt Actually Wants To Make But Knows The Beeb Won't Let Him Make, So He's Going To Hammer Doctor Who Into A Shape Vaguely Resembling That Show Instead. This is of course something RTD did as well and seems to be an inherent risk of the auteur showrunner model the BBC seem to have clung to for New Who. (It's also something which probably isn't actually important for those form whom Old Who isn't of particular importance, but if you have seen a reasonable amount of Old Who the difference is jarring. Old Who was gloriously heterogeneous because it was never married to one maker's personal vision, which on the one hand made it a bit designed-by-committee but on the other hand meant that you did have feeling of a genuinely big universe where Anything Can Happen, whereas in New Who there's some stuff which Can't Happen because it'd conflict too much with the showrunner's particular schtick.)
2: We were both glad to see more of the Sontaran nurse and the Silurian lady detective and her ninja spouse. We were also disappointed that they're not going to be full-fledged companions. An ensemble cast of companions is something we both kind of miss from the Tom Baker/Peter Davison era and would also make a welcome and refreshing change from the current companion model (which is getting rather samey).
3: Speaking of samey companions, could we have at least one who doesn't hail from contemporary Earth? If you go with an ensemble cast of companions then you can still have someone from modern-day Earth to be the "Where are we? What is this place? Please explain it to me in such a way that it will also be nicely explained to the audience" character, but even then you don't actually need someone from contemporary Earth to do that, or for the audience to identify with. Victorian-era Oswin would have made a fine companion. Also an irritating one
4: Throwing in a female character who can out-smartypants the Doctor at every turn is a good way to make the whole Who thing a wee bit less patriarchial. Trying much, much too hard to make that character super way coolio results in River Song, who is profoundly irritating and makes me roll my eyes whenever she comes on the screen. Luckily, I suspect River Song is not going to be appearing much any more - if at all - since in the absence of Ponds her presence becomes largely pointless. Unluckily, the new companion seems to be River Song by other means. Ugh.
5: Speaking of companions who are a) a bit of a break from the general pattern they've had for most of New Who and b) able to undermine the patriarchal structure of Who a bit more, how about a companion who doesn't hang on the Doctor's every word and is a bit more willing to talk back to or outright defy the Doctor? (They've flirted with this possibility before but ruined it by having the Doctor usually turn out to be right, prompting the companion to back down and behave by the end of the episode.)
6: For that matter, how about a companion who's travelling with the Doctor not because they are in love with the concept of travelling in time and space (which often but not always is tied in with implied love of the Doctor, and always ends up with Moffatt or RTD gushingly celebrating the fact that they are writing Doctor Who rather than knuckling down to the process of writing Doctor Who), but because they have... well... any other motive at all? For instance, have an episode where the Doctor screws up and a world is destroyed, and a lone survivor stows away on the TARDIS. Bam!, suddenly you have a long-term consequence which isn't resolved in an episode and a companion whose relationship with the Doctor is likely to be a little bit complicated but at the same time kind of has to stick around until they find a place the companion thinks can make a reasonable substitute home or get revenge on the villain who wasted their old world (which is the perfect get-out-of-contract clause for both the actor playing the companion and the Beeb).
Mostly agreed on the second point, although I was just as happy to see the back of some of those plot points (e.g. Amy and Rory's dissolving marriage) sooner rather than later. Also, I think both Moffat and Davies have been guilty of dangling potentially game-changing plot developments and then snatching them away to restore status quo numerous times.
And I think I'm going to concur with Andy in finding Davies' use of the cosmically important companion about as bad as Moffat's. I mean, you have a point about the active versus reactive, but I think it's a bit overly-reductive to characterize Amy's situation as the latter, and the Davies trio as the former - I think the circumstances are more complex than that on both sides of the equation. Also, I think with Amy, at least, Moffat constructed a better justification for the cosmic companion, whereas with Donna and Rose it just felt forced (I could probably forgive making Martha the Wandering Prophet of the Doctor in isolation, but taken along with the other two it feels like more of the same).
But yes, definitely, please can we have more companions who are extraordinary on a relatable human level rather than being effectively demigods of some sort or another?
I discovered that you could re-name and generally customise your squad. So naturally I named the poor doomed bastards after Ferretneurons - though in a slightly comedy way, as everything except the name is randomly generated.
The best thing, though, is when your friends ... I mean ... squad earn nicknames.
Hence my desire to be known forever more as Wardog.
WHY?! WHY?! Why are good soldiers, like Rookie Sonia, going down when people like Lt 'Garotte' Drew are still alive?!
Also I'm slightly concerned because Rookie Mitchell was my first soldier of colour (they are randomly generated). And he died on his first mission.
(PS - I expect everyone to refer me as WARDOG from now on).
But Rookie Sonia was just killed by a zombie. On his first mission.
And, yes, Arthur, you are a sniper and your nickname is Solo.
And your suppose to be our ace pilot! Compare that to Arthur who once put out a Fire in engineering while fending off evil pirates!
Also god-damn it I can't believe I missed that flash sale.
I - LT KYRA - a burly man with an epic tash have recently earned the nickname WARDOG. OH YEAH.
Meanwhile Shim aka 'Dozer' has been showing Rookie Drew how to shoot aliens.
Rookie Drew, incidentally, has been injured in the field EVERY FUCKING TIME I've taken her out. Wtf Rookie Drew?