Doctor Who. Cliffhanger episode. You know what I’m talking about. (If not, step slowly back towards the door you came in through and leave while you still can. There’ll be spoilers.)
I’m not happy. Well, if you’re a writer trying to trigger an emotional response, you will probably say „mission accomplished“, but we’re talking about The Doctor and Steven Moffat and that means we’re not in the mainstream field of mediocre writing but in the master class of the genre. (Yes, that’s a pun. Nice to know you’ve noticed it. We’ll come back to more puns in a momemt.)
I had been too busy to catch up with the latest Doctor, so I had missed the latest two or three episodes. I wasn’t exacly beating myself up for that so yes, this season, like the ones before had failed to excite me the way the episodes of the 9th and 10th Doctor and Torchwood had. My guess is, that I’m just missing Russel T. Davis.
Anyway, cliffhanger episode, the final episode of the season (short season, it seems): I expected something extraordinary – after all, final episode means cliffhanger means the stakes are right up as high as they can get. What I had not expected was that I’d be pissed off even before the title music was playing. Oh hell. Literally.
The whole „let’s kill Pink“ plot had me going „Oh, didn’t expect that, too bad. Well, if you have to write him out, go ahead.“ Right until Clara’s reaction. Which wasn’t Clara, but Sherlock speaking.
I’ve been hanging out in the gutter of fandom for long enough to recognize out-of-character dialoge when it rears its ugly head. „Boring, conventional, “ is what Sherlock has been saying for three seasons. And it’s definitely not a line, lively, bubbly, emotional, chatty Clara would utter. So either this is a reference (as many more „Easter Eggs“ showed up in the episode it might very well be intentional) or it is Moffat trying to express a lack of emotion, detachment taking hold of Clara in the wake of Pink’s demise in the simplest way he could come up with.
Anyway, I had already seen on Twitter that the episode would be about „Missy“ (who due to my omission of watching the most recent eps until then hat been „that Irene Adler throwaway“ to me). So I decided to ignore the Clara nonsene along with the hell-not-another-Christianity-theme for now and concentrate on how Moffat was solving the Missy-riddle.
Next cue: Clara and the Tardis keys. Or „yes, here the writer was definitly moffating around“. This is the Tardis, the blue box that can travel through time and space and all it’s spare keys are conveniently hidden within the same frigging room? And to really embrace the stupidity of the whole „these are the only keys and this is a volcano, the only thing being able to destroy a tardis key for there are no exploding suns or something more impressive around within this oh-so-surprising dream sequence, you have to remember that THIS IS THE DOCTOR WHO CAN OPEN UP HIS TARDIS WIH A SNAP OF HIS FINGERS.
Well, at least he still could in the last season, when it was a huge thing that he does not need the frigging keys anymore. So I’m drawn between „oh, it’s a cue that this is a dream within a dream and will be explained in the 2nd part of the cliffhanger“ and „how much more of the stupid will be thrown at the viewers in this single episode“?
Of course, what one person calls „stupid and annoying“, the other calls „clever“. One of the keys being hidden in a copy Audrey Nifferegger’s „The Time-Traveler’s Wife“ had me squirming (for the main character of the novel is an extremly flimsily camouflaged version of the Doctor) and hoping for River Song showing up really soon.
Let’s make it short and bypass the Cyberman-Ianto Jones and go straight (ha!) for Missy.
Missy. Really? Missy? Apparently Moffat must have introduced that name in one of the episodes I missed and thought it … subtle? I’m so glad that internet users have become less enclined to push spoilers at unsuspecting media users. (After the episode aired it became clear hat basically all of fandom had caught on to that one.)
Anyway MISSY. Yes, of course you can kiss the Doctor on the mouth without much ado. If you’re a) River Song b) Captain Jack Harkness c) The Master in basically every clichée-ridden slash fanfiction ever written.
Now let me explain why I’m so pissed off by Moffat’s decision to gender-bend the Master:
We’re not talking about some run-off-the-mill writer and showrunner. We’re talking about Steven Moffat who is probably one of the most progressive and accomplished genre writers of this generation. We’re talking about the writer who brought Sherlock to the 21st century and who came up with an innovative use of text-overlays to communicate non-verbal action. Unfortunately, this is also the writer who gave you sharks-in-space for Christmas.
Now it seems the show is jumping the shark.
Of course you can sex-up the Doctor-Master relationship. It’s what fans have been doing for fun and it’s not very hard to do. (Yes, again you noticed the puns? Thanks for playing.) The question is whether or not it’s a good means to move character development forward. In my book it does not only fail to move it forward, it is rather moving character development back and in clumsy and most conservative way.
Some viewers might argue that of course this is changing the Doctor-Master-relationship foundamentally, but those viewers are advised to take a dictionary and look up the word „subtext“. If it were a picture-book, the Doctor and Master from „Sound of Drums“ and „Last of the Timelords“ would be plastered all over the pages. There you have yet two other Doctor-Master-cliffhangers – Moffat is seemingly catching on where he left off – with an undercurrent of BDSM-themed scenes and items along with heaps of what could be read as „unresolved sexual tension“. Actually, in these cliffhangers you have subtext hitting you on the head with two-by-four.
But let’s for now be fine with turning subtext into text that’s considered more acceptable for mainstream evening-TV by genderbending one of the characters.
(Takes a deep breath.) It’s the wrong one. Seriously. IF you want to gender-bend one of the remaining timelords, the Doctor would have been the more progressive, more innovative and more exiciting decision. What we got is the coward’s choice.
I already mentioned that Missy (or can we rather call her Mistress or Master-F? Missy sounds so derogatory, I don’t even want to type it) from the start reminded me so much of Sherlock’s Irene Adler, that I actually looked up the actress to check if they only did some make-up job.
Now Irene is Sherlock’s dominatrix (who will have him beg, TWICE, and to whom he eventuelly concedes „let’s have dinner“). At least Irene is Sherlock-the-show’s established-by-screenplay dominatrix, if you still struggle with the whole subject of subtext. What I want to say is: Nobody needs two basically identical characters in two shows written by the same people. That’s not entertaining, that’s boring.
And there’s more:
There are clichées in television – TV-tropes – and cinema that are used over and over again. Overused by the numbers of hurried, uninspired and desperate writers of the entertainment industry.
One of the clichees is that an alpha-woman has to be dangerous, the sexy femme fatale who is a threat to our beloved (male) hero and must be overcome by him or the world will end.
After having a series of strong, self-confident positive female characters on Doctor Who (Amy Pond, River Song, Rose), this female Master is a step back straight to the clichees of 1960s film noir.
Of course it’s also the easy way out of viewers asking for a more diverse reincarnation of the Doctor. While some asked for a change in ethnicity, the probably biggest and most vocal group has been calling for a female doctor for several years. What they got is not a female hero but yet another female baddie – who has to put down in her place by the male protagonist. With a female Master, a female Doctor is even more unlikely to happen, especially if there will be a sexually tinged Doctor/M relationship as seen in the early 1980s with Servalan/Blake or Servalan/Avon Servalan/Tarrant Servalan/any-other-male-character.
So, yeah. I’m still somewhat hoping for an epic shower scene. Unfortuately not the one from Psycho but the one from Dallas. Basically, I’m hoping for a trainwreck to happen.