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May 02, 2010

Eyes Wired Shut

Stuart Ian Burns feasts on Doctor Who: Flesh and Stone

Unlike you might expect, as far as I remember, Doctor Who has never really scared me.  I know this is a shocking admission to make in this august company, and especially considering the title of the blog, but never did I hide behind the sofa.  I’ve been agitated certainly and not just by Graham Crowden’s performance in The Horns of Nimon.  But generally I’m too busy enjoying the visual feast (depending on the era), my mind racing to take in all of the narrative twists and turns and in recent years trying to work out how I’m going to fill out six or so paragraphs afterwards to really jump with terror.  I even blinked quite happily during Blink.  Until Flesh and Stone which more than continued the quality of the first part if not surpassed it.

Amy During the scene in which the Doctor was staging the minimalist Knightmare homage with Amy in the Nightmare of Eden-like forest of the draft, so involved was I that as she tripped on the inevitable tree root I found myself clutching my chest.  Staggeringly I did it again on second viewing even knowing that she’d soon be swept away by the teleporter; I giggled afterwards on both occasions, firstly because I couldn’t believe and secondly because I couldn’t believe I’d done it that second time.  Five proper seasons in and nu-Who finally manages to create a physical reaction in me that wasn’t laughing (Partners in Crime), crying (Journey's End), swearing (Torchwood Season One) or puking (Huw Edwards).

the minimalist Knightmare homage

Part of it must have been to do with my studded Amy Pond obsession; thanks to Karen's performance (a raw mix of the understated and unhinged) she’s firmly become the British ne plus ultra of the manic pixie dream girls (previous contenders include Diane from Trainspotting and Cassie from Skins), psychologically fractured in a way that entirely explains her episode closing nymphomania and also the Doctor’s, um, reticence but utterly adorable to the point that if you dress her like little red riding hood and put her in danger I’m at least going to jump.  As Midnight demonstrated, Doctor Who worries best when it is about the simplest of gestures, when a main character is hemmed in, outside their comfort zone and terrified.  Amy was rendered speechless here, her jibes lost and without the timelord to physically hold her hand only verbally offering some persuasion.

Another element has to be the first of Moffat’s proper (almost) on-screen deaths, in Father Octavian.  Yes it is.  Go and check.  No one human has properly, hopelessly, bought it since everybody lived in The Empty Child.  Moffat’s joked about it on commentaries.  Typically it wasn’t as simple as a neck snap; instead Iain Glenn was called upon to offer both plot information and nobility and as with the rest of the story managed both with an understated dignity.  As was rightly drawn out in Confidential, Matt’s performance was extraordinary here as his face suggested hope just as his eyes reflected despair.  If Octavian could die, well, what could happen to Amy?  All of these elements have to be what led up to me finally feeling Doctor Who in a way I haven’t before.

the British ne plus ultra of the manic pixie dream girls

But it also probably helped that this new version of Doctor Who is so bloody unpredictable.  That after a first episode which neatly set up an unusual base under siege type story, this second part, as is Moffat’s want, dumped the Aliens allusions and was suddenly invaded by the crack and an onslaught of continuity references stretching as far back as The Next Doctor.  As some of us might have seen (or rather read) in Paul Magrs’s novel The Scarlett Empress with its Proppian references, the timelord is well aware that his adventures can have a certain pattern or structure to them but in Flesh and Stone even he seemed surprised and disorientated to find himself coping with parallel storytelling, on the one hand (with its forefinger swirling about) wrapping up the present adventure and on the other throwing forward to what we have to assume will be the series finale.

Where is this leading?  We’re still no wiser about River Song; she’s apparently not who he thinks she is, but has killed someone who we’re to assume is the Doctor but like their proposed future marriage that may be misdirection.  In trying to explain the apparent continuity error of the Doctor suddenly having his jacket back whilst questioning Amy about her memory, Wikia suggests this is some future version jumping back into his own time-stream on a detective hunt which sounds like a very Moffaty thing to do (with the possibility that some of the other inconsistencies groused about here there and everywhere aren’t errors but features).  We know that Steven sent an episode of the series to Russell for a once over – is it because the timelord travels even further back?

Amid this random speculation, we do at least finally have some proper chronology for Amy thanks to date of her wedding -- 26/06/2010.  Which means that The Eleventh Hour (two years earlier) happened in the roughly the same month as Last of the Timelords and assuming she’s twenty-one years old, little Amelia’s appearance in 1996 the year of The Chase’s gothic horror Festival of Ghana, the Eighth Doctor’s first comic strip adventure in Stockbridge, “End Game” and the contemporary scenes of Lawrence Miles’s megalithic novel Interference,  The relevance of all this is probably non-existent in present context but with Moffat, at this point, anything is possible (especially with a copy of Miles's work sitting on his bookself).  At this rate, I’m half expecting the Doctor to sit Amy down and say:  “I had this friend once, Charley Pollard.  She was a bit of an chronological anomaly too …”

Next week:  Being Timelord

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