Saturday 28 April 2012


Through a combination of time travel and BBC3 scheduling, Four Eyed Gav rewatched some of the final Russell T Davies episodes of 'Doctor Who'. After which he found these words scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper, in what appeared to be his handwriting... 

'Last of the Time Lords': The Power of Prayer 

'Last of the Time Lords', the finale of Davies' penultimate series as chief scripter, contains a curious juxtaposition. 

The Master is crowing over his apparent victory, with Martha forced to kneel before him. But as he swaggers, she simply laughs. He has, she explains, got the whole thing wrong from the beginning. He assumed her plan would be a weaker copy of what he would do, only less daring and ruthless, more constrained by morality. In fact she's done something so different, something which for him is so left field, he was unable to see it coming. A gun? What would she need a gun for? 

It's classic, in quite a literal sense. It's the way evil has been portrayed in the Whoniverse since the first Dalek story. Less an absolute force that opposes good, more a deficiency, a kind of autism. Evil doesn't just do the wrong things in some moralistic sense, evil just does the wrong things. Ultimately it's evil not good which is subject to constraints. It doesn't need overpowering. It needs to be cured. 

And then... 

It seems that Martha has been travelling the world preaching the Doctor's good name to people, how he exists only to do good in the universe. When the population recite his magic name he magically transforms - from the Gollum thing the Master made him - into... well, from here it looks an awful lot like Jesus. 

 I was not at all sure that the Doctor had always been Jesus, so I went back and checked. And indeed, in his early days he was more a stranger, an itinerant, called a “cosmic hobo” by the production team. He'd blunder into situations where he'd normally be initially distrusted. It took a while for the Daleks to start recognising him, and they saw more of him than anybody else. From simple wanderer to galactic saviour, you could call that a bit of a leap. 

Now I'm not a Christian. But I don't object to this because I think Davies is bringing in Christian messages. In fact I think a good writer positively should bring in something of himself, and put a little meat on those plot bones. Previous Who scribe Barry Letts was always working Buddhist messages into his scripts. And I'm no more a Buddhist than I am a Christian, but that seems to me to be things working as they should. No, I'm objecting precisely because that's what Davies is not doing. In fact, were I a Christian, I think I would be objecting all the more strenuously. For the impetus seems to me much more basic and much more base... 

Ticklist TV 

One of the most obvious measures to use when telling fannish from critical writing is it's structure. A critical writer will bend and chop and subject the scruitinsed work to his own scheme. Pieces which merely follow the chronology of episodes tend to be merely fannish. (“And I liked it when the Daleks turned up in their blinging new uniforms. Then I didn't like it when they wore Tommy Cooper hats. Then I did like it when they exterminated Bonnie Langford.” And so on...) 

But the further the Davies era went along the more appropriate that response became. Because the more his scripts came to consist of an acausal string of events, a list of things for you to put your tick or cross against. My response to the end of 'Last of the Time Lords' pretty much is “I liked it when Martha laughed at the Master for being so stupid as to think he would win. Then I didn't like it when everybody prayed the Doctor into being Jesus.” 

How, you may ask, did any of this happen? 

Us fans, we all speculated wildly and enthusiastically about home recording transforming TV. Before it was the most transient of mediums, the screen a virtual etch-a-sketch where one thing replaced another. If you missed an episode you missed an episode. So what else to draw on such an etch-a-sketch but the simplest, most recognisable of shapes? But now things had changed. Scripts could become like novels, developing longer plotlines, building up themes, rewarding repeat viewing. 

But what really transformed TV viewing was a simpler piece of technology, now so familiar we've stopped even thinking about it – the remote control. Before, script writers had to factor in viewers who hadn't been there the last week, and might not be the next. Now they had to take into account those who hadn't been there five minutes ago, and any second now might start wondering if 'QI' was being re-run on Dave. (Channel proliferation is of course the kindling into which the match of the remote was dropped.) 

So how do you stop them doing that? Events, dear boy, events. Something shocking, something unexpected, bursting in every few minutes. The Daleks appear! They have blinging new uniforms! They put on Tommy Cooper hats! They exterminate Bonnie Langford! But she comes back to life! In fact she's now God! And so on... You no longer need to channel-hop, exercising your thumb, not when one programme is willing to simulate that experience within itself. 

Now make a list of all the Events that might happen in a contemporary TV show of an SF bent. Planets explode! The universe in peril! The multiverse in peril! People die! People get better! See how long you can keep it up before the words 'Jesus shows up' inevitably appear before you. Closely followed up by 'Jesus reappears, bigger and badder than before!' Jesus is a reason not to check out 'QI' on Dave. 

Given the circumstances, the word 'risible' would seem an appropriate one. 

(Jesus appearing is of course a convenient deus ex machina device, a way of saying “then everything got better.” Everybody... you, me and remote tribes in Borneo, we have been as one in our complaints. Let's take that as read. Let's stay focused on Jesus-as-Event.) 

But then, just when the trajectory couldn't seem any more clear-cut, when Davies' downward spiral seemed certain, when the most inescapable cliffhanger of all seemed locked in place, then...

Part two here