The Zenith – Summer’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date

 Thanks to   icons for the piccie.

Under a cut for length. No specific spoilers in my post, but I can’t vouch in advance for the comments.

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We have reached the zenith. Appropriately, here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s the Summer Solstice – we glory in the light and pick ripe fruit and fire up the barbecue, and relax because exams are nearly over – and it’s lovely, and you’d have to be pretty churlish to point out that it’s all downhill from here, back to shorter daylight hours until we wake up one morning with a nip in the air and in no time at all it’s Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas. The cycle keeps turning.

 

It’s a zenith in the Who-verse, too…

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All is expectation as we wait for the big reveal next week, the confirmation that Moffat is unutterably brilliant. It’s very enjoyable, but it won’t last, because everybody dies, everybody disappoints you sooner or later when you’ve piled too much longing and emotional investment into something that’s worldly and fleeting. You ask an England fan, or a parent at 9.00 on Christmas morning.

 

Moffat hasn’t let us down yet – he’s not yet been under enough pressure to serve up a turkey like Last of The Time Lords or The End of Time. The fanbase hasn’t got to him to the extent where he’s snapped, “F**k you, I’ll do what I like and who cares if it makes sense, you try making this goddam show. I’ve actors to keep happy.” He’s still able to draw on the ideas he’s had years to develop and refine, and indeed they’re very good, and I enjoyed The Pandorica Opens hugely. I’ll miss next week’s, and funnily enough I’m not that bothered. There’s always iPlayer, and I’ve been this way before.

 

But mainly, I’ve lost my show. That’s okay, I’m a big girl and I love to see people having fun. How lame would it be if, instead of enjoying the fact that next Saturday I’ll be hiking in Devon and staying in Torquay, I was morning the demise of Fawlty Towers after a measly twelve shows? Devon in summer is glorious, so was Fawlty Towers in its own way, and as Sondheim once said, a person should celebrate everything passing by.

 

And even if the show reincarnates into something that’s not to my taste, I can still watch the fans. And I can speak frankly, as so many of them do, and present my view on what is really going on. To summarise, it saddens me. The show itself might not mean an awful lot in the big scheme of things, but the things it reveals about people are eternal – they will change their form, but like the Doctor himself, there will be a core of truth that outlives all the regenerations.

 

There is so much intellectual snobbery about DW. It’s the underlying reason for the Rose-hate, because she represents RTD’s vision in its purest form and he’d zero patience with all of that. She was just an ordinary human girl without A levels who loved the Doctor with her whole being. But people think he’s too exalted a being simply to be loved. No, his consort has to worthy of him – cleverer, sneakier, more enigmatic. It’s such an irony that the very people who accuse Rusty of Mary-Suedom exhibit very similar tendencies themselves. They self-identify with whoever they see loving the Doctor, and they don’t see themselves as working-class shopgirls, thanks very much.

 

Frankly, I can’t be bothered working out the timey-wimey plot stuff. I know I’m bright, and that’s partly due to the example of David Tennant giving me the inspiration and courage to go to Stratford and take a Masters in Shakespeare Studies. But I’m not bright in the way that relishes ever more intricate puzzles. To be honest, they bore me. I used to think that meant I was dumb, or depressed, because I live with a very intellectual family and they all love puzzles. But Stratford changed that for me. So I no longer think I’m dumb because I like my stories to have a heart. I’m not ashamed to identify with people who watch soaps – I don’t care for them myself but I do recognise the considerable amount of hard work and talent that goes into them, and if Corrie‘s good enough for Sir Ian McKellern, it’s good enough for me.

 

I think the Doctor has been split in two under Moffat, not physically as in JE but at a conceptual level. One the one side, there is an intellectual parlour game that appeals to the nerdy, who enjoy outdoing each other in fannish obscurity and arcane knowledge. (Having said that, I have some academic types on my flist who love this series, and I enjoy their comments and references – sometimes I join in the fun myself). But to support the parlour game, the show has been distorted and twisted into a highly marketable shape, with huge cynicism. Yes, Moff can have his smart scripts, but to get them made he has to include Stonehenge in the episode that goes out two days before the Solstice, he has to have rainbow Daleks, bring in all the enemies so a new set of figurines can be issued before the end of the school term, and make a football-themed Confidential for the night England play the USA.

 

And so DW becomes a thoroughly modern brand, with a beta version for kiddies and an alpha one for smart, somewhat anal grown-ups. And I don’t fit into either category, so my prediction is that it will sputter on until the Next Big Thing comes along.

 

And my dream is that at that point we’ll get a David/Billie movie with an RTD script, and it’ll be as big as Toy Story 3 because there are still a lot of people who like their smartness with a side order of emotional warmth and honesty, and Pixar are brilliant at delivering that combination.

 

But for now, enjoy. It’s going to be one hell of a ride next week.

 

It’s a very short road

To the ten thousandth lunch

And the belch and the grouch

And the sigh

 

In the meanwhile …

 

There are mouths to be kissed

Before mouths to be fed

And a lot in between

In the meanwhile

And a girl ought to celebrate what passes by

 

(From A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC)


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24 thoughts on “The Zenith – Summer’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date

  1. David conveniently knocking around in the US at the same time Billie is, could get your wish sooner than you think! I’m 100% on board with that!
    S5, in my honest opinion, just didnt have anything to suck me in. I hear E12 is pretty action packed, but I wont be rushing out to watch it!
    (Also .. go you being inspired but DT! He inspires me in other ways .. *Giggles*)

  2. My best friend sang that song last week and it sent shivers down my spine even as I was playing in the band.
    I know how you feel about DW. I no longer feel part of the fandom really and I feel better for it. I’m really looking forward to the finale – going to get some friends round, make an occasion of it, but that’s because it’s something fun and a kind of institution, rather than because I care about it.
    I think there’s a lot in the finale and if Moffat carries off Part Two then a lot of my faith will be restored. I like the hints of the fairy-tale that have been running through the season as a whole, the reunion of all the enemies, the use of Stonehenge. If it was two years ago, I’d be writing an essay on how Amy is Pandora and how this is significant of … something. Now, I’d rather just watch and be aware in my peripheral vision of this aspects.
    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the final episode whenever you watch it, and more importantly, enjoy Devon in summer, because that sort of holiday is much more significant in the great scheme of things than a TV show season finale! 🙂

  3. I wouldn’t call “The End of Time” a turkey; at least not in the dimension of “Last of the Timelords” (the worst series finale so far) or “Journey’s End”. “The End of Time” may have felt unsatisfying but it had many strong redeeming features: Ten choosing to sacrifice himself to save Wilfred, the final exchange between Ten and Wilf, the “It’s my honour” line, the last “Allonz-y!” which was going to be the last moment of joy for Ten, and even though I may not have known it then, it sure did feel that way. Then, there was that final farewell to Rose which put Ten back at the beginning; maybe it wasn’t enough to mend the wretch that was made at the end of Journey, but at least hinted at a cyclic nature. And knowing that cycles can be broken, I do hope that has to be better than getting to the end of a line with no way back, which was what Journey’s End said when it showed Rose choosing to stop struggling and staying with 10.5.
    It saddens me to read what you say about snobbery. I’m not really familiar with the fandom, having only arrived at the LiveJournal community and Gallifrey Outpost this year (though Who has been a large chunk of my life since The Christmas Invasion). From what I’ve seen in these last few months, there is some kind of polarization between the LJ community (heart-oriented, prone to create) and the Outpost (anal, plot-attracted, prone to discuss). Doctor Who walks a thin line between both, but that’s a merit of its own becacuse it’s a line drawn by itself. If it didn’t walk that line, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who.

  4. I’m enjoying this series – but like I’ve said before, it’s for reasons that are different to before – and I think I’m filling what I’ve begun referring to (in my head) as “the emotional void” with timey-wimey plotty stuff.
    It’s a different show, and that’s how I have to think of it – it’s the only way I can think of it, really. It’s still called Doctor Who and still has a central character called “the Doctpr”… and it’s still different.
    I completely agree with you about the marketing aspect, too (I used to work in media and PR, so it’s something that’s really jumped out at me). It also seems to me – although I may be wrong – that there’s been a LOT more promotion and advertising going on for this series than in the past, yet the viewing figures are around the same. I don’t watch a huge amount of telly though, so I could have missed a lot.
    his consort has to worthy of him – cleverer, sneakier, more enigmatic.
    Well, that’s River, right? 😉

  5. Thanks for this essay. I’ve definitely been enjoying this series, but it hasn’t carried my heart away like RTD’s stories could. Moffat has explicitly said that this series is fairy tale-like, and as much as I adore fairy tales they tend to have rather thinly sketched characters. I also wonder how interesting this series will be in rewatch when we already know how the arc plays out and what the clues mean. I can watch the Doctor and Rose giving each other intense looks or the Doctor and Donna snarking off endlessly without it getting old, but you can only wonder how they’re going to repair the cracks once. The cynical pandering to marketing needs is irritating, though I admit I hadn’t thought of the Stonehenge appearance that way.

  6. You know, that’s something that stroke me very early on. I remember when The Eleventh Hour premiered for the press many commented how very similar it was to the RTD era, and how they expected a more definitive rupture with the past. And I remember seeing the episode and thinking how it couldn’t be different. I stand by the fact that heart and romanticism has become inherent to Doctor Who and Moffat hasn’t disappointed me in that, however it is much more abstract and fantasized than RTD’s more realistic and concrete approach.

  7. Right, I’ve finally caught up, so I can dive in on some of the threads I’ve been avoiding!
    Pandorica was huge fun; like you I enjoyed it enormously. But it has to be said that the only way I can watch and enjoy this series is by completely divorcing it from everything that went before (as, I think, Moffat has done); if one tried to see Eleven as in any way the same man – all right, Time Lord – as Ten it would make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  8. Yes, that’s it exactly. I can clearly see him as a progression from Doctors 1-7 and I think that’s what he’s supposed to be. He’s doing that beautifully. But I think the old model outlived its popularity – it had a nostalgic, forelock-tugging feudalism about it; the Doctor might have been a rebel on his own planet but he had very imperialist connections here on Earth. He knew what was best, he didn’t emote and people didn’t argue with him.
    It’s possible that, now we’ve gone through a recession, people will go back to being a bit more command-and-control oriented, but I doubt it. Like it or not, Nine and Ten were the post-Diana Doctors, in touch with the public mood. We like our heroes flawed now and we like to see their inner lives. SM has not re-invented DW, or even built on RTD’s re-invention; he’s taken it backwards. I don’t see that as an awfully good move.

  9. The viewing figures are, if anything, a bit on the low side. It will be explained away by saying people are using iPlayer and so forth, but there is still an increasingly desperate feel about the BBC’s promotion. How interested are people, honestly, in Confidential filming Matt and Karen in America 13 weeks ago? And it’s starting to cause a backlash in the national press – I think journalists, already irritated by the overkill on David Tennant at Christmas, actually resent being expected to promote what they see as a mediocre product.
    Even if DW was the best show in the entire history of the universe, I’d be uncomfortable with the lack of variety in the Radio Times coverage. Surely they ought to be coming up with more than one special show? They get enough of our money, for goodness’ sake. In fact, the situation I grew up with on TV has now been reversed. Back then we exported quality drama to the USA and imported their game show formats. Not any more.

  10. I think that when the DVD sales figures come in, it’s going to be quite the wake-up call. Because the trouble with thrillers is that once you know the answers, you don’t want to re-read the book. It’s depth of characterisation that keeps you going back for more. I can’t see them shifting a lot of DVD box sets for £79.00 this November.

  11. Personally, I stopped caring about rating figures in series 2. Back then, I remember being disheartened at seeing Tennant’s ratings dwindling down and never able to reach the heights of Series 1. Then I went back to Series 1 ratings and realized how a great series finale such as The Parting of the Ways had ratings way lower than Rose. I had to conclude: #1 Ratings come and go, and apart from the usual dump that comes attached to competition from events such as Britain’s Got Talent and a World Cup, are really hard to predict. And #2: the highest overnights do not necessarily go hand in hand with the best episodes. And, as far as I know, the lowest for Doctor Who is still stellar.

  12. Yes, that’s it exactly. I can clearly see him as a progression from Doctors 1-7 and I think that’s what he’s supposed to be. He’s doing that beautifully.
    You’re dead right, and I think that’s also why I’m so much enjoying watching it with First Small Person (about-to-turn-seven); it really is old-style Who for the kids, or for the kids in all of us.
    Whereas when RTD-Who first hit our screens, though the initial emotion at the theme tune and the TARDIS was a huge rush of delighted nostalgia, it quickly became apparent (for me, from the moment we first got hints of what had happened in the Time War, really) that this was Doctor Who for those of us who had loved it in the 60s/70s, and were now grown up. Which isn’t to say that children couldn’t love it too, but it spoke to my inner adult. Moffat’s having an often-very-entertaining relationship with my inner child, with my adult self grumbling from time to time about inconsistent character development and lack of emotional depth.

  13. The promotional aspect was what Stephen Fry was actually getting at last week, as well – it wasn’t an attack on DW, it was about the fact that they only promote one or two shows to that degree – and he was perfectly right about that.
    And yes, it does seem that the Beeb have thrown money at the US market this series, which they didn’t before. Which is weird, because I’d have thought David was a much more marketable commodity than Matt – but then, I’m biased. *g*
    I think the DWCs this season have been very poor, actually. They were often a bit hit and miss, but some of them were really informative – not so this season, really.
    Given that the schedules now allow for only one major slot per night – 9-10pm weekdays, you have to wonder where the money is going. I’m a staunch supporter of public funding for the BBC, but I do think that those who argue that it should be using the money to do things that other channels don’t</i make a very good point.

  14. THIS.
    My girls are 10 and 7 – so the eldest has been watching and enjoying since 2005, but you’re right about the fact that RTD reinvented the show for his generation (I’m the same age as him and the show!) as much as aiming it at kids.

  15. Very good observation. Rusty wanted to take the Doctor much further than anyone had ever gone before. He almost made him human, but in the end he seemed to be going round and round in angsty circles because any resolution to the difficulties that raised would have killed the show.
    Also, I think he became a bit addicted to Tennant doing angst and being Hamlet. Which is understandable – it happened to me.

  16. And it’s sort of funny, because back when Tennant started in “The Christmas Invasion”, it seemed he was going to be a lighter, more physical, swashbuckler Doctor. And then Rose’s departure changed everything.

  17. in the end he seemed to be going round and round in angsty circles because any resolution to the difficulties that raised would have killed the show.
    I’m still frustrated that for all sorts of reasons (if TWT is to be believed, more practical than storytelling) he never wrote the ending as it originally occurred to him, of the hand-in-a-jar turning into TenTwo at regeneration, so that fully-human-Ten could be given his happy ending with Rose while Eleven sailed off into new skies.
    Sure, in theory that ought to have been just as tragic and unworkable, because in theory Eleven would still have been the same Doctor. But I’m not sure Rose would have felt that; I wouldn’t have felt that, even though I could recognise it intellectually; and frankly Moffat clearly doesn’t feel that Eleven=Ten in any way so what would have been lost?…
    Also, I think he became a bit addicted to Tennant doing angst and being Hamlet. Which is understandable.
    And so say all of us 😉 They were bloody fantastic at it, too; they just didn’t quite know when to stop.

  18. Ahha! thanks for the heads-up on that – one of our ex-academics has a chapter in it (I vaguely knew she was writing for it but had forgotten the details) so have persuaded the Media Studies librarian to buy it, yay!

  19. Hi. I wandered over from a comment you left in someone else’s post, so please forgive my intrusion. 🙂
    I’m curious to know, at which point do you think Ten’s angst became overkill? (I’m wondering because I thought Ten’s Lonely God angst was necessary for him to snap in WoM. For me, WoM was the logical end to Ten’s story.)

  20. It’s such an irony that the very people who accuse Rusty of Mary-Suedom exhibit very similar tendencies themselves. They self-identify with whoever they see loving the Doctor…
    I am sure I must miss a lot of subtleties about Doctor Who simply because I am not British. And I guess I must finally some clean and admit to my own measure of Mary-Sue-ness in my regard for Donna as she is the one out of the three companions that is most like me – not only physically (heavier, redder, older), but personality-wise (mouthier, insecure, difficulty believing in her own worth). I see that now.
    It makes sense in light of my sadness over what RTD did to Donna. This may sound over-dramatic, but when he (Ten?/RTD?/Both?) took everything away from her, it was like once again, people like me were being told, “OK, party’s over! You were brilliant for awhile, but now the clock has chimed and it is time for you to be a pumpkin again.”
    I didn’t identify with Rose at all because I’m not beautiful, blonde, and young. I thought she was selfish and immature – but of course she was – she was nineteen, just like we all were at nineteen. Brave and sensitive, definitely, but still, nineteen. That’s not Rose bashing, is it? It’s not meant to be.
    I didn’t identify with Martha because I’m not beautiful – she was gorgeous, the physically prettiest of the three IMHO, and her character was supersmart- medical-doctor-smart.
    So that leaves Donna, winning-lottery-ticket-married with 2.5 kids-making-do Donna. The lottery ticket felt like a slap in the face. See? I’m taking it personally again, and I shouldn’t be. “It’s just a TV show,” I tell myself. Then why does it bother me so?
    I’m not bright in the way that relishes ever more intricate puzzles. To be honest, they bore me. I used to think that meant I was dumb, or depressed, because I live with a very intellectual family and they all love puzzles.
    I don’t always understand the timey-wimey stuff in DW, but having read around on the different DW LJs for the past few weeks, I am always impressed with the intelligence of the discourse I find. More often than not, I find myself thinking, “Wow, that was a very good point, I wonder why I didn’t understand it that way?” I can only figure it’s one of two things: 1) I am, in fact, not that bright, or 2) it must be a cultural thing. I can only guess that DW to a British person means something different than it does to an American fan.
    BTW, regarding the marketing thing, does it mean anything that BBC America promotes the hell out of Season Five DW more than it ever did any of the other Seasons? In fact, I only found out about NuWho by accident. I happened to be surfing the channels and found it – there were never commercials for it or anything.
    Anyway, thanks for tolerating my ramblings. Please disregard if it’s complete crap!

  21. Nice to hear from you. I think you are absolutely right about Donna – her fate upset many viewers more than Rose’s, partly because Rose’s was well trailed and felt inevitable once it came about. I dislike the whole concept of a fantasy show like DW ending up with characters making the best of a bad job. Heck, we’ve got real life to give us that. Whatever my issues with Moff, I think he ended the last season on a much more appropriate note for the show.
    As for being clever, there’s more than one way to be intelligent. I think the point I was trying to make was that one way is the deductive, puzzle-solving kind of intelligence (it’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that SM has now launched a brilliant Sherlock Holmes series), and the more nuanced, interpretive kind of comment you get on the best DW forums. What saddens me is when one kind is automatically regarded as superior, whilst the second type is dismissed.
    As for promotion, I think BBC America is desperate for this to be the relaunch that leads to DW finally becoming mainstream in the USA. Julie Gardner, Louise Tranter and RTD himself, all people very closely associated with New Who, are now in LA getting behind it. So yeah, the publicity has definitely moved up a gear with this season.
    Thanks for the comments!

  22. I found your comment about Rose not being worthy of the Doctor very interesting. It sounds like a class thing to me. Just because she may not be as clever or well-educated as somemone like River Song, or solidly middle class, doesn’t mean she’s not worthy. If it’s true that she isn’t good enough, then following that logic, Elizabeth Bennet should never have wound up with Mr. Darcy.
    My perception in the States is that math/logic/computer abilities/intelligences are more valuable than more ‘liberal arts’ intelligences – languages, the arts, literature, etc.
    As a teacher, not only do I have an MA, but am required by law to keep taking graduate classes throughout my career. I could have a PhD but will always be regarded as second-class professional – unlike doctors and lawyers and businessmen, so I see what you’re saying about whose smarts are valued and whose are ‘not so much’.
    I admire your studying Shakespeare. I’m sure it’s not easy. There’s so much to discover and requires a command of so many other subjects outside of the plays themselves, it’s mind boggling!
    (BTW, what is your take on the play/movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?)
    Eleven gelled for me in Vincent and the Doctor and especially in The Lodger. As much as I love Ten and his angsty ways, he never sat still long enough to be quietly encouraging the way Eleven was in The Lodger. My favorite scene was him absentmindedly puttering with the electronic doo-dad while he talked to Craig and Sophie. It was sweet to see how he ever so gently ‘tricked’ her into coming ’round to reallizing she had to figure out what she wanted out of her life. His smile to her was just lovely! MS played that with the perfect touch. I believed he was my favorite old uncle.
    I have not watched the finale yet, but it is on my TIVO.
    And my dream is that at that point we’ll get a David/Billie movie with an RTD script, and it’ll be as big as Toy Story 3 because there are still a lot of people who like their smartness with a side order of emotional warmth and honesty, and Pixar are brilliant at delivering that combination.
    I have a similar dream for something with Catherine Tate and David Tennant. So much zing between those two and so little time. Animated or not, the RTD part it also completely optional.

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