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My sister originally invited me to celebrate New Year with them, but since we're all sick to various degrees we decided to call it off, which is why I'm sitting at home, sipping herbal tea, blowing my nose every two minutes, and randomly surfing the internet on New Year's Eve. All of which isn't exactly newsworthy, I know, I know. However, in the midst of all this aimless surfing around I stumbled across this:

green_maia writes here:

I think I've figured out why I dislike Steven Moffat's writing.

In RTD-verse, the universe is bigger than the Doctor.

In Moffat-verse, the Doctor is bigger than the universe.

I'd have commented there, but she disabled comments on this entry; I hope I'm not breaking lj-etiquette quoting her here, but I really love this thought, because I've been trying to figure out why S5 left me feeling so meh, but without much success so far.

I don't agree with her post only insofar as for me the point of Waters of Mars is that Adelaide kills herself to stop someone who really has the power to fundamentally subvert the laws of the universe and change the fate of humanity; if Ten merely had delusions of grandeur, then her death would be rather meaningless. For me the parallel that is too obvious to ignore is The Second Coming: Stephen Baxter isn't a fraud, he really is the son of God; it's precisely because of that that Judith convinces him to kill himself in order to give humanity responsibility and freedom.

So IMO Ten is only morally wrong in Waters of Mars, not factually wrong. I'm not a hundred percent sure this is entirely consistent with the way RTD wrote the Doctor before, because right until the end of S4 the Doctor struggling with and against a universe that has Daleks and death and loss and generally doesn't work according to his wishes is such a big, recurring theme. The idea that he actually could change that, not because of something like the solution of the Skasis Paradigm in School Reunion, but simply because he is a Time Lord, only creeps in at the end of S3 when the Master says he has the right to change history, and the Doctor concedes that.

But regardless, for me the premise of Waters of Mars is that what he claims is true, that there really is nothing he can't do any longer, just as the Time Lords would really have abolished time if he hadn't stopped them. Ten's arc at this point effectively becomes something of a theological problem. RTD built up Ten as a sometimes genuinely benevolent and helpful, sometimes wilful and capricious sort-of God not to replace God, but to deconstruct the concept, to show that even being saved is too high a price to allow someone to have power over life and death.

The story of The End of Time is that Ten acknowledges this and voluntarily gives up this power again for the benefit of the universe, and for his own salvation.

In the end green_maia is absolutely right, the underlying idea of RTD's DW is that even if the Doctor can be bigger than the universe, the universe absolutely should be bigger than the Doctor. And while I'm not sure I'd describe Eleven as a God in his tiny universe (I've watched S5 so cursory that I'm reluctant to make any definitive statement about it), she's also right that in S5 the universe did feel a lot safer and more controllable. Memories can be rewritten and time can be changed to achieve a happy ending, whereas in the RTD era the fact that time could be changed wasn't a guarantee for safety—rather the opposite: 'Nothing is safe' (The Unquiet Dead).

And I miss that. I miss the sense of wonder at something big and mysterious and essentially uncontrollable that for me was still absolutely there in the 'Everybody Lives' at the end of The Doctor Dances, but wasn't there any longer when the ghost of River Song was resurrected on a computer HD and we were being told that this was a blessing. Death, of course, is part of the uncontrollable. Death is still the ultimate uncontrollable. In The Doctor Dances Nine says, 'Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once. Everybody lives!' and the 'just this once' made all the difference. That's why, even though I only wanted to write about the deaths I also ended up rambling so much about life and being human, because it's part and parcel of the same thing. It's in DW, and it's also in TW, although there the balance between the wonderful and the terrible is even finer and more precarious.


And there's something else that I think is very, very true and that hope green_maia won't mind me quoting:

Sometimes it seems like people don't choose their stories, stories choose their people. When a story takes over your imagination, it doesn't exactly give you a feeling of agency. The story swoops down and grasps you in its talons and flies off with you and all your frantic struggling is for naught. Or, the story takes off with someone else and you watch as they sail away, scratching your head and wondering what, exactly, they see in it.

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( 68 comments — Leave a comment )
neifile7
Dec. 31st, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you for linking this and adding your thoughts; it's a lovely, thoughtful discussion, and I think I mostly agree. (And at some point, I fully intend to catch up with your other recent meta, and possibly have something to say in turn. :D)
solitary_summer
Dec. 31st, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! :) I just realised she deleted the first entry, though, which I think is a pity because it was such a good thought, and also makes me feel really guilty. It wasn't locked (or I'd never have seen it), so I thought linking should be okay... Damn.
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 31st, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
elisi
Dec. 31st, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
You know, this is rather helpful in showing me *why* people don't click with Moffat's Who. I hesitate to say that you're 'wrong', because of course every interpretation is valid, but I am trying to work formulate my thoughts...

But let me try.

In The Doctor Dances Nine says, 'Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once. Everybody lives!' and the 'just this once' made all the difference.
Remember, this was a Moffat episode. (And thus had very limited input from RTD.) Just like 'Girl in the Fireplace' is Moffat, and is quite literally the Doctor as the hero on the white horse, rescuing the damsel in distress. (I don't think I'm going anywhere with this, I'm just pointing it out for now.)

The thing is, life and death were RTD's specific themes, and he was exploring them in very specific ways. You cannot apply the same methods to Moffat's Who's view of life and death, because they mean different things. You say:

The story of The End of Time is that Ten acknowledges this and voluntarily gives up this power again for the benefit of the universe, and for his own salvation.
This is absolutely correct. He accepts death (which he has fought/wrestled with most of his life as Ten) and we see the result in Eleven: Death is accepted as just another part of life. 'Everything has to stop, or nothing ever gets started', the Doctor tells Amy. The Doctor himself accepts his own unmaking in The Big Bang without any sturm und drang. ('An old man dies, a young girl lives'... Never thought I'd end up comparing 'Sin City' and DW, but there you are.) Abigail accepts her death, and it is never suggested that it is somehow avoidable. Moffat quite simply isn't interested in those themes - they're there, in the background, but not what carries the show.

Memories can be rewritten and time can be changed to achieve a happy ending, whereas in the RTD era the fact that time could be changed wasn't a guarantee for safety—rather the opposite: 'Nothing is safe' (The Unquiet Dead).
Can I point to 'A Christmas Carol' as the perfect example of how re-writing things can make the situation worse? Or just bad in a different way... One of the things I love most about Eleven (and I'd have said this to green_maia, if she'd allowed comments), is how he constantly fails. He is late for Amelia, something he spends the rest of the season trying to make up for; he fatally misjudges the starwhale situation; he is defeated by the new Daleks; he nearly gets Amy killed (it's River who saves her life), etc. etc. - and the consequences of rewriting history completely will not be seen until S6, but I'm pretty sure they won't be negligible.

[cutting here, cause it's getting too long...]
elisi
Dec. 31st, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
Now to go back to my point about RTD vs. Moffat - Moffat's main theme is stories. 'We're all stories in the end', says the Doctor. His saving of River is *hugely* symbolic, considering that she is a walking, talking extra-textual element in the Doctor's life. River is the keeper of the Doctor's story - quite literally. That she ends her life in The Library is hugely important. She is not given a 'happily ever after' - when we see her, in the end, she is telling the story of the Doctor to the children in her charge. She is in many ways a Moffat self-insert, just like the Doctor is at the end of The Big Bang (see icon). And you should listen to what she says:

"When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can't run for ever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor."
Acceptance of death, right there.

But of course, this is the bit everyone latches onto:

"Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call... everybody lives. Sweet dreams, everyone."

This is River reading a story to the children from her book. Maybe the story of Jack, Rose and the Doctor in war torn London. Or maybe the story of Amy, Rory, River and the Doctor at the end of the universe... It's an echo of The Doctor Dances, that one-in-a-million chance that Everybody Lives, and it does makes for a brilliant story. And the story is the point of the whole thing. (Moffat's S4 episodes stand out like crazy amongst the rest of S4, since he knew at the time that he was going to take over and clearly decided to go all-out and cram a ton of foreshadowing, continuity and future references into his allotted slot.)

That's all for now, I'm half asleep. Sorry about rambling, you just made me think! And Happy New Year! :)
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 31st, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 31st, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 31st, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
solitary_summer
Dec. 31st, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
Now I also feel horribly guilty for spoiling your New Year... :(

Remember, this was a Moffat episode.
I know, this is why I picked it out and why it baffles me so much that it feels so different from his other episodes. TEC/TDD are easily my favourite S1 episodes. I don't know what changed after that...

You cannot apply the same methods to Moffat's Who's view of life and death, because they mean different things.
Moffat quite simply isn't interested in those themes - they're there, in the background, but not what carries the show.
I know, and I hope it doesn't sound like I'm blaming him for writing differently. I'm just trying to figure out why his writing doesn't click with me... I hate it when I don't understand myself.
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 31st, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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sensiblecat
Dec. 31st, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
The phrase "all passion spent" comes to mind with Eleven, and at times it's quite comforting.

I've written before that in my view RTD sees the Doctor's story as a tragedy - which doesn't mean it can't be redeeming - and I think he was enormously influenced by "Hamlet". In "Hamlet" we see a character go through all the agonies of knowing he's going to die - because that's what happens when you become a revenger. You have to die to make things right and Shakespeare's audience would have totally bought that. And Hamlet doesn't want to die - he could do so much! You go right up close and walk every step of that road with Hamlet before he goes on a road trip (killing a few pirates en route) and comes back ready to accept the inevitable:

"You will lose this wager, my lord...

....Not a whit, we defy augery. There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be
not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come:
the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves,
what is't to leave betimes? Let be."

I've had a lot of struggles with EOT but I think I can see the argument now that Ten does, finally, accept his death as part of the necessity of limiting his power, a power that could destroy the universe if allowed to continue unchecked. That's what interests RTD, how we as human beings can set moral limits on ourselves for our mutual safety in the absence of a deity.

But Moffatt writes about the Doctor as the eternally unknowable; even when he screws up we aren't in a position to judge or challenge him. We must trust that things will turn out right even when there are underlying issues that bother us. The important thing is that we tell the story; that is what will redeem us by giving us security and hope. And that story can only be told if we don't examine the Doctor too closely, but simply accept who he is and what he is able to do.
elisi
Dec. 31st, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
I shouldn't be here, so I'll be very swift! Love the Hamlet comparison, but I think the main shift in Moffat isn't that the Doctor is unknowable, but that it's no longer the Doctor who is on a journey now, but the Companion(s) - the Doctor is the enabler, the wizard, the guide, and his 'unknowableness' comes from this change in character function. This is why I love 'Space Gandalf' so very much - he's not Frodo any longer (another good Ten-parallel), but the one overseeing the journey. :)
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Jan. 1st, 2011 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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solitary_summer
Jan. 1st, 2011 10:03 am (UTC)
First of all, I'm really glad you aren't offended that I quoted your post. I could still delete or lock this, though, if you'd prefer that, because I completely understand being worried about offending people. I was tip-toeing around for months after CoE aired because most of my friendslist at the time hated it vocally...

Adelaide's suicide stopped the cataclysm and saved the universe.
Adelaide Brooke saved the universe single-handedly. That's how I choose to interpret it, anyway!


Ah, sorry. I clearly misunderstood what you meant.

and even the Time Lords couldn't do everything - they could destroy the universe but they couldn't win the Time War while the universe continued to exist

Very good point.


I think for RTD the story is a vehicle, not an end. As Queen Victoria says in Tooth and Claw: 'And that's the charm of a ghost story, isn't it? Not the scares and chills, that's just for children, but the hope of some contact with the great beyond.' He may not believe in the 'great beyond', but he goes for the big questions regardless: What is life, and how do we live it.

For SM, as elisi points out, the story itself, the process of story-telling and everything connected to that, is much more in the foreground. It's all a clever riddle, a puzzle, story within a story; a game, in a way. This adds a layer of meta that can certainly be interesting, but also diminishes the sense of immediacy, because in a way it removes the viewer from the story. I think you're absolutely right, it feels smaller.
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(no subject) - solitary_summer - Jan. 1st, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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elisi
Jan. 1st, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
Re: Part 2
You know, I've waffled at great length here, but having slept on it, I think this summary (by snowgrouse) really says it all:

I've discovered the main difference between Ten and Eleven (or, well, Rusty's and Moff's ways of writing the Doctor, really). Observe:

Ten: "I. AM. AMAZING!" *Does something amazing, poses proudly*
Rose: *licks teeth*
Martha: *gazes longingly*
Donna: "Harrumph."

Whereas...

"Eleven: Just watch this, c'mon, you'll see, I am ama--" *falls on his arse*
Amy: *facepalm*


Eleven is so charmingly fallible, so reluctant to take himself seriously, so prone to getting things wrong, that saying he is 'god-like' is as incongruous as claiming that the Master is just a little unhinged. IMHO of course! :)

Also HELLO! How's 2011 treating you?
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caz963
Jan. 1st, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
This - the post and discussion - is fascinating and I don't really have anything substatial other than to say that -

I'm just trying to figure out why his writing doesn't click with me...

- it's the same for me. I've said before that I recognise Moffat's a good writer; he writes great, snappy dialogue and he can come up with brilliant plotlines (whether they're as brilliantly executed is another thing, though!)

With SM I absolutely recognise that there are touching elements in his stories, clever elements, and often very pretty images, but at some point I tend to lose interest because it doesn't come together in a way that I find satisfying.

Yep.

And I love the comparison you make between RTD's using the story as a vehicle rather than as an end in itself. I've never tried to say that one is better than the other - and I know that's not what you're doing either - just that one method "speaks to me" more than the other, and that I'm trying to work out why.
solitary_summer
Jan. 1st, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :) It's been an interesting discussion for me, too.

To be absolutely, perfectly, completely honest, I even considered whether I might be influenced by the post-CoE RTD bashing and parts of fandom being very vocal about how SM would ~save Doctor Who~, but I already had the same problem with everything he wrote after TEC/TDD, so I don't really think it's that. And since I'm not the alone in my reaction, it probably does have something to do with different writing styles...
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zanthinegirl
Feb. 4th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
Here on a rec from green_maia. I somehow missed her link when you posted this-- maybe because she took the original post down too quickly.

Anyway interesting post. I like season 5 and Eleven more than you guys do but you helped clarify why Ten and RTD just resonates so much better with me than than the current versions.

Edited at 2011-02-04 07:46 pm (UTC)
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